Posts Tagged ‘Talk Show Host’

Broadcast Interview Scruples

October 25, 2015 5 comments

The relationship between a broadcaster and an interview subject has triggered my curiosity. Let me tell you why. About 6 days before the Canadian election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to the radio station I work with and made himself available for an interview. He rarely talks to media and it was certainly topical and timely, but the host had hesitations. There were conditions.

Jon McComb didn’t want to be shill for the Prime Minister and had no intention of turning a valuable segment of his show into a seven-minute infomercial. To make matters worse the Prime Minister’s handlers wouldn’t confirm if it was going to happen, when it was going to happen or where.

Jon was ready to walk from it.

I suggested that just because the conditions are laid out it doesn’t make them law. I advised Jon to do the following:

  • Ask one question each about the economy and housing. Any question. They wanted the whole interview about these topics, but editorial we weren’t willing to give up control. Economy and housing are big issues that we would have addressed anyway so there wasn’t much of a “give” there. But we were also interested in legalization of marijuana and other issues.
  • Do not worry about the seven minute time constraint. Keep asking questions until you get the interview you want. If they cut you off that is another story to share.
  • I also suggested complete transparency to the audience. I urged Jon to tell the whole story; his feelings, misgivings, observations, how he was treated, and what conditions we agreed to.

20151009-stephen-harper-023-2He did all of the above (listen here) and it turned what could have been a boring, seven minute political campaign interview into an hour of great radio which fueled conversation for a day. It also created news for other outlets: Vancouver News and Huffington Post.

The question at the heart of this particular interview is that there were conditions put forth and we didn’t go running through hills in opposition. We calmly considered the situation and looked for a way to make an interview with the leader of Canada a reality.

Some journalists are critical of what we did and see it as an affront to democracy and free media. I applaud their integrity and principles as journalists. But Jon isn’t a journalist. Jon is a talk host. He has an honest relationship with his audience and is obligated to inform and entertain every day. He did that with tremendous effect in this case. That being said, I would not have put a news reporter in the same position.

From a big picture perspective, talk shows negotiate conditions of interviews all the time.

  • What time?
  • Where?
  • How long?
  • About what?
  • Live or recorded?
  • How much $$$? Some organizations pay for newsmakers, I have only paid regular contributors in my career (ie. Columnists, athletes, beat reporters for other organizations)
  • What can I promote? Web addresses, products, events. We all agree to interviews with worthwhile spokespeople so we get access to them and they get their message out.

Some things are not negotiable. After all, I do have some scruples. I say no every time when a guest insists on using pre-agreed questions, wants to review the interview before it airs, have any say over edits or control over how it is presented on air.

The truth, which might be hard for some to swallow, is whether it be movie stars, authors, experts, politicians, celebrities or everyday people at the heart of every interview there is an unspoken quid pro quo. In all cases the radio station is attempting to get information, personal stories or access and in return the interviewee is receiving a platform, fame, access to our listeners, association with our brands or positioning as an expert. We don’t sell it that way and we don’t discuss it out loud, but deep down, buried in the unconscious recess of their existence, people who agree to an interview with the media are doing so because they get something from it.

So about those conditions. Is it better to take a pious position and reject all conditions out right or or be forthcoming and transparent and develop great content for the radio?

I am really interested in hearing how you view the topic. Please add comments by clicking the link at the top of the page.

The Secret Ingredient to Tasty Talk Radio

If you were a baker that sold cake, would you put a sign on your door that just said, “We sell cake!?” Probably not. You may have 57 varieties of cake, all made with personal touches that you, as the baker, have included. The cakes are a reflection of you, your experiences, your tastes, your lifestyle, and your creativity. You will also consider your consumer and potential consumer – your cake evangelists – the people who you want to buy your cakes and tell your friends about it. So you put a sign up, “Gluten-free, fat-free cheese cake” or “Grandma’s secret recipe Spice Cake.” Both tell a story much different than just “cake.” So, I wonder why so many talk hosts are busy selling “cake?”

Here’s the deal. No one is going to become an evangelist or super-fan of your show because of the topics you choose, but they will tell friends about your show based on your treatment those topics. 

People who listen to spoken word radio want to be entertained, informed, challenged, educated, and offered insight and perspective. Your job as a host is to make them think about a story or issue differently, even if it’s just for a second.

Too often I hear hosts yammering on about the big story of the day, because it’s the big story of the day. They hit all the hot buttons, they’ve read the stories, and they describe it well enough. But they don’t take the listener anywhere unique. There is no payoff. They are just filling time. It’s as if the host is saying, “Well, there’s that story. What do you think?” Instead of, “Here’s this story and here’s what I think.” In the cake analogy it would be like going to a bakery and the baker saying, “Here are the eggs, flour, baking soda and chocolate. Build your own cake.”

As the host, your perspective of the topic is more important than the topic itself. When your fans wake up in the morning they already know, for the most part, what is happening in the World. What they really want to know is what you think of it, how you process it, how you perceive it, and why you believe it’s relatable and relevant.

Stop ‘hosting’ your show — unveiling topics like Bob Barker reveals a showcase showdown — and start being a personality. Drive your show with your compelling stories, perspective, and opinions. “YOU” are the secret ingredient that makes your show worth listening to and talking about.