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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Leykis’

Eight Ingredients of Remarkable Radio Shows

There are a lot of remarkable radio shows in America and they each have found success their own way. Which means there are far more than eight things to consider when trying to build a show up, but this is a great start.

These tips ring true to me which is why I isolated them from original interviews I conducted with each of these hosts. All the conversations can be found on the Radio Stuff Soundcloud page.

Notice none of the talent talk about billboards, bumper stickers or social media. Great shows can benefit from those things, but bad shows cannot be made great with marketing.

RELATED: SEVEN INGREDIENTS OF GREAT RADIO TALENT

And now, eight ingredients of remarkable radio shows.

beanyellowtee (1)

Gene “Bean” Baxter

Be consistent, but not predictable. “Show up every day, be prepared, and evolve.” Gene Baxter a.k.a. Bean of Kevin & Bean explains, “We’re not the guys, generally, that are doing the same bit we did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We’re looking for new things to do and new things to talk about. As hard as it is to get young people to listen to FM Radio these days I think that’s why we’ve had some success bringing them along because we are still trying to talk about contemporary things.”

Be authentic. “There’s a lot of fake conservatives on the air, a lot of comedians disguised as political pundits, and I avoided the temptation to do that,” Tom Leykis remembers when he was offered an opportunity to be a conservative talker. “I chose to go my own road and that means to not lie about who I am, to not pretend about stuff, to say what I mean and mean what I say.”

Build a team you can trust. I chatted with Elvis Duran about this at Radiodays Europe this year, “Being surrounded by people who get the message and understand that what we do is monumental to so many people. The people we work with and support us are the most important people without them I could never see myself going to work every day by myself. I couldn’t do it.”

Strive to be interesting. ESPN host Colin Cowherd advises host to stop worrying about being right, “Just try to be interesting. It’s not about being right. Guys tend to want to be right instead of get it right. Just be interesting. Try to get it right. Try to find compelling topics that everybody can play along with.”

BJ and Larry

BJ Shea, Larry Gifford, Producer Steve

Everyone knows their role. The BJ Shea Morning Experience in Seattle has a big crew, but everyone has a job. “What I do right is not get in the way, because what I used to do is get in the way” BJ explains his job is to be the host – NOT the producer, “I would think that I have to run the show, I’d have to be part of the planning and I’m an attention-deficit mess. I disrupt everybody else. My ideas are good in the moment, in that manic, bi-polar high moment where, “Holy Cow! This is the greatest idea ever!” and my entire life I have ruined everything because I really shouldn’t be that guy. I should be performing. So, Steve truly is a producer. He is in charge of the whole show. If Steve doesn’t like it, it doesn’t air. And I would say probably – honestly – 10% of my ideas get used. And I give Steve a lot of ideas. But, I also empower him to say this is it. I’m kind of afraid of Steve now. It’s kinda cool. I’ve made Steve the boss of the show to the point that I don’t want to disappoint him.”

Appreciate the audience. “More radio hosts, especially new ones getting into the business, have to get back to basics, understand sports and connecting with their audience,” JT the Brick of Fox Sports Radio refers to sports talk, but his point is actually format-agnostic. “I think there is a big disconnect now between the super successful sports radio hosts who don’t go to any games, don’t meet their audience, and preach to their audience about how good they are or how good their show is or what they believe is the future of sports. Compared to the hosts, hopefully like I am, who continues to want to touch, and shake the hands and kiss the babies and meet these guys, because that is the connection I think you need to have.”

Tom Leykis in his Burbank studio.

Tom Leykis

Create a show filter. A filter helps your focus on the right stories and influence HOW you talk about them. This may not seem like a formula for success for an active rock morning show, but BJ Shea swears it works, “The soul of the show is relationships. Whenever we’re talking about anything I’ll always bring it back to relationships and basically the key relationships are familial, you got your husband/wife, brother/sister, mother/father, and then that of course can translate into the work place. That’s the soul of our show, because it hits everybody.”

Remember radio’s mission. “I’m a radio personality,” says Tom Leykis. “I’m not here to get people elected or get people impeached. I’m here to generate revenue. So many people in our business now have forgotten what our mission is. My mission is to get as many people to listen to your station as possible and then to get advertisers to buy those ears and compensate us so were drowning in money.”

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Top 10 Posts of 2014!

Each year I find it gratifying to look back and take stock. It’s been a fun, frustrating-at-times, insightful, enlightening, empowering year thanks in a large part because of you. What I write on these pages is a reflection of what I’m experiencing in the world as it relates to radio. Here are the posts that drew the most attention this year for one reason or another.

photo 310. Stop Questioning, Start Creating. This was a talent-focused piece on how to best engage listeners and a plea for the world to stop asking so many questions. It’s an engagement device that really doesn’t work as well as you think it does.

9. 1,000 Miles of Radio Listening. This entry was inspired while moving my family from Seattle, WA to Atascadero, CA. It reflects my time in the role as a real radio listener. (Spoiler: Radio remains, to my dismay, mostly cliché, predictable, forgettable, and crammed full of poorly written commercials.)

8. Radio is Overloaded. I WANT to love radio, but I am increasingly dissatisfied with the return on my investment of time.  Gang, we got a spot problem. There’s way too much clutter.

PETE CARROLL LOMBARDI 27. Building a Championship Team. Sometimes we need to look beyond the four walls of the studio or station to be inspired for greatness. This entry focuses on Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and how he built a World Championship team.

6. How to Quit Your Radio Job in 10 Steps. There is going to come a time when you want out of your radio station. Here is how to do that with dignity and grace.

5. Fun Cannot Be Formatted. This was a 50% inspiration and 50% kick in the ass. A major portion of people in radio have forgotten how to have fun. The future success of the industry depends on the spontaneity of personalities and giving them permission to try new things and fail.

4. Six Tips for Co-Hosting a Radio Show or Podcast. Co-hosting a radio show or podcast seems like it should be easier because there are two of you, but that also means there are twice the problems. Here are some tips to get you started in the right direction.

3. Making Sense of Another Radio Firing. Anthony Cumia, the second half of Opie & Anthony, was fired by SiriusXM over the weekend for a series of offensive tweets he made about African-Americans after a woman physically assaulted him in New York City. I examine the firing from a radio perspective.

Leykis12. Seven Hours with Tom Leykis. This my takeaways from spending the day with former radio star turned internet radio star Tom Leykis. Tom doesn’t hate radio. He says he’s been doing it too long, made too many millions off of it and has too many friends still in it to hate it. “I love radio. NOT the appliance, but the concept.”

1. Prepare for the Pink Slip. This entry is the most viewed blog post of 2014 and it also originates from my day with Tom Leykis. It is full of advice from Tom to those of us still working in the traditional radio business.

Prepare for the Pink Slip

If you have a job in radio right now, Tom Leykis has a message for you.

Iceman-Radio“I’m sure in 1947 the ice-man didn’t see Frigidaire coming and thought the idea of a machine that would cool items would be ridiculous. Sure enough, nobody shed a tear when the icebox went away. Where did the poor ice-man go? Nobody cares!”

Leykis, in an interview with me on the Radio Stuff Podcast, believes radio stations are about to become yesterday’s news.

“They don’t see it. They don’t plan for it. A lot of people are going to be in a world of hurt when the ax comes down. I know they don’t want to hear what I’m saying.”

While you’re still working in radio, Leykis suggests the following:

Don’t be a company man. Many of the companies we know today will be gone, sold, or consumed. At some point there is going to be a fire sale of stations that people overpaid for and everyone will be working for someone else like Google or Facebook or for no one at all.

Don’t assume your job is forever. Assume you have 2 months to clean out your office even if you have more than that.

Get prepared. Make sure you have your own website with your personalized URL. (Tom secured “BlowmeupTom.com” in the mid 1990s. When his show disappeared off radio everyone went to BlowmeupTom.com to find out what was going on.) Also, get your own email address separate from the radio station. This allows your listeners to find and connect with you when they come in with a clipboard one day and say, “Alright, you’re done now.”

Keep Listener Emails. You can use them later when you need to build up a new audience especially if you’re doing an internet project. Tom combed through 10,000 emails over 2-years to build a database and reach his listeners to start his new business.

Tom talked directly to “big stick” talk hosts who rely on call letters, national lead-ins, and big signals for success. “Do you really think after you walk-out of that station you’re going to have numbers that big? You have to look at yourself and say, ‘Is my content unique? Is it special? Can it stand on its own without a big signal or Rush Limbaugh on before me?’ Can my stuff stand on its own? I think a lot of people have not been honest with themselves. I think a lot of people have not looked in the mirror and said, ‘you know what – I need a better act.’”

Is it time to start your podcasting career?

Seven Hours with Tom Leykis

Leykis1When Tom Leykis showed up for lunch at Avant in Buellton he was decked out in his trademark, dark sunglasses, mussed up hair, a black shirt, and a Cheshire grin. His voice was softer than it once was and rough like sandpaper. The effects of a black mold infection years ago in his Hollywood Hills home.

As we sipped local wines and grazed on our trendy lunches we turned to the thing we have most in common; radio. Tom, not unlike his on-air persona, is full of opinions and certainty when it comes to the business. And let me tell you – he’s done his homework, he’s put in sweat equity and he deserves a seat at the table. It’s why he was invited to Talkers New York 2014. It’s why countless, nameless talent and executives still call Tom to see how he’s doing it;

“IT” =  Internet Radio, Making a Profit, Having Fun, Engaging with Fans, and Learning the World of Terabytes and Bit Rates

The reality is Tom’s entrepreneur spirit is the driving force. He wants to make money. He wants to make radio. And so he’s doing it. (Tom isn’t shy about the fact the New Normal LLC will turn a profit this year and generate more revenue than Clear Channel and Cumulus combined.)

“The radio business model has been broken,” he told me. “I don’t know if the model can ever be fixed. But, the good news is there is still an audience for what we do.” There are approximately 35,000 unique listeners a day to the Tom Leykis Show according to data from Triton Digital. And it’s growing.

DesRS 61 coverpite his bemoaning big broadcast companies and calling out executives by name, Tom doesn’t hate radio. He says he’s been doing it too long, made too many millions off of it and has too many friends still in it to hate it. “I love radio. NOT the appliance, but the concept. I divorced the appliance from the concept a while ago.” He likens radio’s resistance to new distribution channels to the Rolling Stones insisting their music only be heard on 45rpms. That would be ridiculous. Of course, they created content and put it on albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s.

And that’s radio’s new normal.

Tom (and others like him) has discovered, “people want content and will go wherever they have to go to get. Who the hell was Marc Maron five years ago?”

After a chat for the Radio Stuff Podcast
around his kitchen table and a two-hour discussion of radio between Tom, me and his listeners it was time to bid The Professor goodbye.

For the record: Tom assumes people think he’s crazy, but he’s out to prove them wrong. He told me he’s having more fun, believes he’s more creative, compelling and entertaining than ever and promises his proudest moments are still in front of him.

 

 

And the #1 Radio Story of 2013 is…

top 5Here it is. The Top 5 Larry Gifford Media blog posts of 2013. No surprise that new and social media resonated with readers. Readers were riveted by the poor judgment of colleagues in Atlanta and a little scared and confused by the ratings hit Talk Radio formats took in 2013. But, nothing captured the hearts and minds of radio folk more than the sudden death of radio’s Kidd Kraddick.

Rode Rec25. Five Apps All Radio People Should UseI realized the other day how much time, energy and money I’ve saved thanks to online, iPad and phone apps. I have more apps than I need, but some seem especially useful for radio work. So, from one radio guy to you — here are five apps that you may never have heard of that just may change your life or at least make you more productive and effective.

Nate Riggs4. How Radio Can Better Embrace Social Media A post from 2011 that still resonates today. “Don’t try to do everything all at once. Pick one thing that you’re going to do 110% and get really good at. If it’s a Facebook page invest your time and energy in building a community around that Facebook page and engaging in that community. I think it’s a perfect complement to radio, because radio is traditionally a push medium; we listen to radio.” – Nate Riggs

steve3. A Journey Into “Instant Unemployment” and How to Avoid It Three Atlanta talk hosts are fired following a poorly planned and executed “comedy” bit. The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to and around the “line” everyday. They are the stunt actors of radio willing to dive off the top of a building, walk through fire, or wreck a motorcycle to get a laugh, to get some ink, and to increase ratings. And we love them for it. From time to time, they’re going to cross the line. It’s going to happen. PDs need to be there more of than time than not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).

rush-pubshot2. The Free Fall of Talk Radio

Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.

It’s political fatigue. It’s too repetitive. It’s too depressing. It’s too angry. It’s too boring. It’s humorless. It’s predictable. It’s not entertaining. It’s all commercials.

Former radio star, now internet radio sensation Tom Leykis chimes in, “Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”

He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?

KiddKraddick1. Kidd Kraddick’s Last Selfless Acts

There’s really no way Kidd could have understood the impact he’s had on so many people and the radio industry in general. He even made an impact to radio friends around the world. The reaction on Twitter, Facebook, and coverage in news has been overwhelming. One listener credits Kidd for “restoring his faith and belief in FM radio.”

And I too have found myself caught up in it. I didn’t know Kidd, but I’ve respected him from afar and have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. No one. Which, in this ego-fueled industry, isn’t just rare – it’s an anomaly. It’s the exception to the rule.

To honor Kidd’s legacy, I have extracted some of the rules of life and radio he’s left behind. These rules come directly from words and phrases used by his family of colleagues and listeners.

If you missed the rest of the countdown you can catch up on blog posts #25-16 of the year here, and #15 to #6 here.

Thanks for making 2013 so great. I raise my glass to you and wish you  a bright, ratings-filled, drama-free 2014!

Here’s a link to the Radio Stuff Podcast New Year’s Special which counts down the most listened to episodes of the year.

Arbitron Panelist,”F— this!”

“The first couple days I’m wearing this thing and I’m turning into radio just trying to get these points and then finally I said, ‘Well, f— this.’” – Former PPM panelist

PPM

How many times have you wanted to say ‘f— it.’ to Arbitron? Those were the words of a caller I will call “Joe” to the Tom Leykis Show on New Normal Network.

Listen to the comments in context here.

This is a taboo topic of conversation for terrestrial radio and it would disqualify a radio station’s ratings faster than you can push “scan” when the Kars-for-Kids commercial starts up. However, it was the Top Story on Radio Stuff’s podcast. (editor’s note: Arbitron emailed their responses to our questions, so we had a British bloke voice the answers on the podcast. It’s worth a listen for that alone.)

DISCLAIMER: As a programmer, I have praised Arbitron for measuring my genius programming with precision when ratings are high and cursed them when they dropped. (Certainly there must be a sampling error, no?)

ARBITRONADO2

Joe v. Arbitronado

So, I sent the audio from “Joe” to Arbitron’s Director of Programming Services Jon Miller and asked him what he thought. He says it sounds like things are working the way they should.

 “Arbitron has safeguards in place to help ensure the integrity of our PPM ratings. In this case, the panelist’s comments are a demonstration of some of those safeguards, such as calling households if their compliance in carrying the meter falls off.”

Caller Joe complained to Leykis:

man-141052_640 “I started getting all these phone calls. I’m thinking you know who the hell is this calling me? We’ll it’s Arbitron. So apparently this meter has something that can tell when you’re moving and when you’re sitting still. And so when I’m not moving, they’re calling me – pretty much harassing me about why am I not wearing the meter and they can’t get accurate ratings and I need to be wearing my meter. Well, after about two weeks of this, they called me and said, “You’re not wearing the meter!” and I finally said, ‘alright, fuck this. Send me a box and I’m sending all this shit back.’”

Miller wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the company’s behavior as harassment, but the calls are part of the quality control.

“Arbitron monitors compliance with its instructions, contacts households who aren’t complying and works with them to improve their carry habits whether through coaching or other incentives.”

The 2010 Broadcast Architecture study on PPM panelists talked to one woman who clipped her meter to a ceiling fan, Joe plopped it down in front of a radio, and I’ve heard that others have attached them to pets. So, Jon Miller, how do you know when a panelist is cheating.

“The PPM has a motion detector built into it allowing us to capture both the motion records and media exposure from that day. There are thresholds for how many hours of motion a day we require for our panelists to be counted in the days ratings, and the more they wear the meter the more incentives they receive.”

And then there’s sample size. It wasn’t brought up by the caller, but it is commonly heard uttered in anger and echoing through the hallways outside PDs offices.

“PPM’s sample sizes are designed to deliver the same level of statistical reliability as the Diary survey, but with less total sample. We accomplish that by surveying listeners for a much longer period of time (28 days in just one PPM survey month) compared to the one-week diary timeline. This level of detail, thousands and thousands of days of measurement across a single month, allows us to see so many granular things with PPM data that we just can’t with the Diary.”

Parting Shots

“If Arbitron is the standard in terms of traditional AM and FM radio then it’s a flawed standard.” -Joe the caller

Joe’s point would be more valid if he wasn’t just complaining that he wanted to earn the money without doing the work.

Jon offers some real valuable insights here for everyone in radio.jonmiller

“One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen over the 5+ years that PPM has been in use is how much and how fast listening habits are evolving and changing. Nothing stays static in PPM, and we’re finding that radio listening is dynamic. This continually motivates broadcasters to continue offering compelling content on stations with clear and strong brand images, so that they can cut through with listeners in an ever more crowded media world.”       – Jon Miller, Arbitron VP of Programming Services

Clear. Strong. Brands. Cut Through.

And I would add this:

“PPM isn’t perfect, but it’s all we’ve got.” – Larry Gifford 

Upon Further Review

We can’t force our ideal listeners to participate – it’s a roll-of-the-dice and sometimes you roll snake eyes.

Arbitron is weeding out at least some of the cheaters. Good.

We can’t know “true” listening behavior without NSA quality spy equipment and the violation of our listener’s constitutional rights.

Stations and panelists are both trying to game the system. Makes me wonder who Arbitron is gaming.

The sample size is what it is, unless stations want to spend even more ridiculous amounts of money to be told your station is still – awesome, sucky, irrelevant, vital – depending on the time of the month.

The success or failure of your station is in the hands of Caller Joe. Good luck.

The Free Fall of Talk Radio

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From New York to Los Angeles, in Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and D.C. at big stations and small there is an alarming story unfolding in talk radio. Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.

It’s political fatigue.

It’s too repetitive.

It’s too depressing.

It’s too angry.

It’s too boring.

It’s humorless.

It’s predictable.

It’s not entertaining.

It’s all commercials.

The list of once great stations that have dropped out of the top ten reads like a radio station all-star line-up: KFI, WABC, WLS, WMAL, KABC, KIRO, WBAP. And it’s not a fluke (pardon the pun.) This is real. Arbitron is noticing it too.

“…for the first time since we began keeping our format records, it (news-talk) recorded two consecutive books below a 9 share, finishing at an 8.7 in July. Now summer is historically the lowest time of the year for News/Talk listening, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results as August and September approach, but it’s worth noting that the format’s summer shares have declined about 10% since 2011.”

– Tony Hereau, Arbitron Media Insights Manager

Down 10% in two years as a format in the 48 PPM markets?!

Editor’s note: I’m sure radio ownership groups understand and have lowered revenue projections accordingly.

THEY DON’T LIKE US, LEYKIS. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?Tom Leykis

Tom Leykis, former radio show host now internet trailblazer at NewNormalNetwork.com, believes he was in the epicenter of the downfall of talk radio.

“It was in 1994.”

Leykis was a guest on Episode 13 of the Radio Stuff podcast (listen). He recalled broadcasting from the NAB the year his show was launching into syndication and everyone kept talking about a panel featuring talk radio consultant Ed Shane. As Leykis recalls, this was Shane’s message:

“It’s important, for your talk radio station to be successful, that everyone have the same opinion as Rush.”

Leykis takes it a step further.

“So in other words, the secret to Rush Limbaugh’s success was not his years of experience or his time as a DJ or the fact that he had great timing or was a good comedian, that he made good use of sound, but no, no, no – the reason for his success was that he was a political conservative.”

From there after, every station Leykis approached to syndicate his show would ask what his politics were. It wasn’t always like that, “Previously, they only cared, ‘do I get ratings? Will I help the station make money? Will I make noise?’ Suddenly I was being asked, ‘Are you a conservative?’”

Leykis believes that was the moment talk radio went from being a mass appeal format to being a niche format. And the problems with talk radio today stem directly from a consultant misreading the tea leaves.

Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”

He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?

And he cautions up and coming talkers, “Don’t go to a radio station, because you’ll never be allowed to develop your talent. Develop a podcast, develop a streaming live show, develop your own product, and learn how to sell it and become an entrepreneur.”

OKAY, SO NOW WHAT?

Maybe it is political talk’s fault. I happen to believe it’s likely a perfect storm of new media, new listener expectations, new social and political attitudes, and a general fear in radio of taking risks and being wrong – in every department.

Here are a couple of steps I believe are necessary for talk radio to attract new listeners and remain relevant.

1. DEMAND SHOWMANSHIP

Talk radio needs more storytellers and fewer alarmists. Talent need to entertain, emote and put on a show, as much as they provide insight, deliver information and add context. Radio station leaders must support talent and encourage them to be amusing, insightful, emotional, apolitical, curious, experimental, and positive while giving them permission to fail. And fail hard sometimes — without fear of being fired.

2. FIND ANOTHER REVENUE STREAM

Radio stations need to stop abusing the listeners. The quality and quantity of radio’s commercials is appalling. I mean holy smokes gang have you tried to listen to an hour of radio recently? Effective immediately commercials that don’t meet your standards or match your brand should be rejected. Be the first guy in the room to say, “Hold up! That spot sucks. It’s not going on our air.” Be bold.

And – this will be even less popular – reduce spot loads. It’s time. Thanks to DVR, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand audio, and satellite radio spot loads seem to be worse than ever. Until recently people were accustomed to sitting through commercials or flipping back and forth between stations, because it was the penance you had to pay to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a kooky talk show host. Now radio is the last place on earth (with the exception of movie theaters) where consumers are forced to sit there while commercials are crammed down their throat.

No fast forward.

No more patience.

No more listening.

Just look at the growth of online radio, on-demand audio and NPR. So what’s that mean? Radio needs to figure out a dual revenue stream. The future of financing big radio is commercials and__________. You fill in the blank.

Editor’s note: If you say commercials and banner ads, I will scream.

BOLD PREDICTION

Talk radio isn’t going to die, but it is definitely going through a mid-life crisis. The next 18-months the entire format will be redefined, programmers will be less focused on gaming PPM and more focused on listeners, commercials will sadly still suck, and Rush Limbaugh will be replaced by someone else as the face of the format.