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One Thing Radio Has That Everybody Else Wants

liveEvery day radio DJs and talk hosts do something that strikes fear into others…

They crack a mic and talk to thousands of people at one time “live.”

That’s right, “live!” and without a net (other than a 7-second delay for dumping curse words.)

I can hear your sarcastic mumbling from here, “Woo hoo! Wowzers. Big deal, buddy. Why’s that something to write about?”

Well, it turns out people like “live” and radio has it in droves. However, for some reason we are taking this huge attribute and for the most part scuttling it.

Meantime, others are scrambling to capitlize on “live.”

knock-knock-liveRyan Seacrest is building an empire on “live.” He has “live” voting on American Idol and “live” performances, a “live” radio show (sometimes replayed and repackaged), a “live” countdown to New Year’s Eve and tonight he launches a new TV show called, “Knock! Knock! Live.” It’s billed by Fox TV as “the show where anything can and will happen.” They can say that because it is “live.”

“Live” is more thrilling. It makes it more dangerous, more daring, and more exciting. Though somehow radio doesn’t feel that way. We no longer view “live” as special, so our listeners don’t either and I believe that’s a mistake.

But even more than how it feels, “live” creates an instant community of people experiencing something at the same time. It makes it more special because we aren’t just watching or listening to something, we are bearing witness to it. There is something powerful to having a shared experience. Media companies of all shapes and sizes get that and are trying their best to capture it.

It is in fact one of the cornerstones of Apple Music’s Beats1 channel. It’s a shared, global, listening experience. It’s “live” from London, New York, and L.A. and you are listening “live” wherever you are anywhere and everywhere in the world.

After a successful and funny “live” show in the spring, NBC renewed the fairly average sit-com “Undateable” for 13 episodes this fall with the caveat that all the episodes are broadcast “live.” Let us not forget the enduring success of Saturday Night Live.

TV and radio networks also spend hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to “live” sporting events, because historically those are the most watched and listened to events – ever.

Tom Leykis has a bit called “Be Funny Live” on his New Normal Network internet radio show and it is so successful he created a sold-out event at a comedy club around the premise.

You can listen to your favorite band or artist on your device as often as you want, but seeing them “live” is light years better.

What’s the attraction to Periscope? It’s “live” video that you can interact with in real-time.

“Live” tweeting events and pre-recorded shows is almost more entertaining and enjoyable than the actual event or show.

I could go on…

At this very moment in time when “authenticity” is one of radio’s buzzy buzz words, the industry has a real opportunity to own the “where anything can happen” moniker. Unfortunately, we seem so restricted by our companies, brands, managers, and stock holders that rarely anything does. And the audience doesn’t anticipate that it will.

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For the Love of Ratings and Your Livelihood, Tweet Smart

twitter-logo-breakI’ve started to wonder if twitter is inherently negative. Don’t get me wrong, I love twitter. But, recently I’ve noticed an avalanche of stories involving radio and twitter’s dark side; threats, trolls, listener backlash, industry bullying, and firings over tweets. We talk about it extensively on this week’s radio stuff podcast.

Is it Twitter’s fault?

“You really can’t say it is all twitters fault,” says Lori Lewis, Jacobs Media’s Digital and Social Media Strategist, on the Radio Stuff podcast. “All of these folks are not using Twitter constructively, nor are they using it strategically. So when they shoot off at the mouth, they say in appropriate things, if it just backfires on them or nobody is interacting with them, it’s absolutely not Twitter. It’s every individual’s use of the platform.”

Oh. Okay, so why do this? Why put yourself out there? Why participate in social? And if you choose to do it how do you do it right?

Thankfully, Lori Lewis has some suggestions.lorilewis_1323706974_59

WHY BE SOCIAL? IT’S A RATINGS THING.
“I can’t tell you how many talent I get to work for and their ratings correlate their social use. It’s amazing and could be coincidence, but there is a major market radio station, they have one talent that is a social brand – the midday personality – he outshines the entire radio station weekly after weekly after weekly — he’s always number one. Now, he’s the new person on the radio station. Everybody else is legendary. Everybody’s been there for decades and they don’t participate in any of the social tools and while their ratings are good, isn’t it ironic that the social brand really outshines them?”

AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA AT YOUR OWN PERIL
“You’re just making room for your competitor. You don’t have to Twitter. People don’t have to embrace social, but all you’re doing is making it harder for yourself and making it harder for your future. This is where the puck is going and if you think it’s cute to say you don’t know those apps, you don’t use those platforms – that’s your prerogative, but there’s someone younger and faster ready to take your place.”

USE COMMON SENSE
“It takes skill to humanize a brand and come off naturally. You really should watch your grammar. There is nothing attractive about using the letter ‘u’ for you. We don’t have to look like 12-year-old girls when we are tweeting. I think you have to remember at the end of the day that social is as public as face-to-face and it’s almost louder than it is face-to-face. Because, when your tweet shows up in my live feed and you are cussing or you have bad spelling or grammar or it’s just not funny – it’s just substandard – it’s almost more offensive.”

STUDY THE PLATFORM
“Twitter is the most simple platform of all the social tools out there. Yet, you really have to study it. You really have to listen. Listen to the founders of Twitter, listen to the CEO Dick Costello, and listen to all the VPs of brand development. How are they expecting users to use the platform? And then when you have studied it enough and you have watched people who are really winning on Twitter, you start understanding the strength and you start using twitter appropriately.”

BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT YOU TWEET
“So many people think the social space is an unrestrictive playground and they can say and do whatever they like. And you know what? You can, but so can your bosses. And if you are the voice of a radio station, if you are the face of a brand, — it doesn’t matter if you are on the air or not on the air – it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have any affiliation with a brand and you say something that is questionable, that gets a rise from a lot of people, your boss also has the right to do and say whatever they wish too. And people really need to get over themselves.

trollTAKE CONTROL FROM THE TROLLS
“One of my favorite things is just to block people. But there’s no golden rule out there. I see this happen more on Facebook, because the comments lay there more publicly than looking at tweets. There’s no rule that you have to let those comments sit there for everyone to read. Delete that stuff. If it’s inappropriate, if it’s vulgar, if it just doesn’t fit, if it’s weird…there’s no rule that it has to stay. Trolls will bait you and they will get you to say things you would never ever say in public.”

Read more from Lori Lewis in her MERGE column on All Access

International Radio Day

radio heart

“Whew! What a party.” – what nobody said after International Radio Day on August 20th.

Yep, you missed it. No worries, seemingly everyone did.

There was barely a blink of a mention on twitter, except relief from one host who made it through another day without being pink-slipped.

Others were more blunt.

And then there was the vitriol.

So, International Radio Day comes and goes. Again. I didn’t do anything either. But it does seem like a wasted opportunity. A little like being sooo busy saving the true meaning of Christmas that December 25th comes and goes and you don’t notice.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it seems to me that if there’s already a day carved in the calendars radio ought to do something with it. In fact, there are two days; World Radio Day is in February.

Maybe we can pick a spot to set up a 10×10 tent or have the world spin a wheel.

Identifying Hit Stories

“Go find a group of guys in your target demo, eavesdrop on them, and listen to what they’re talking about.”

rick scottThat’s one way Sports Radio consultant Rick Scott of Rick Scott & Associates suggests you know if you have a hit story on your hands. I called Rick up after the arrest of ex-Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. To me, it seems like manna from heaven for sports talkers who typically have a hard time finding talk-worthy topics in June and July.

“It’s life. Sports is a microcosm of life.”

Rick agrees, this is a whopper of a story, “When it happens in sports there is a magnifying glass on it because all of these athletes are special performers who make a lot of money, they’re in the spotlight, and like any other celebrity people have an interest of what’s going on.”

What surprised me is the lack of interest outside Boston and some other select cities. On the Wednesday night’s #SRCHAT on Twitter, hosts weren’t engaging with the story. Owen Murphy recapped the conversation on his “Steal This Idea” blog here, but among the highlights were these gems.

  • One host said: Scale of 1-10 it’s a 2 in my market. People are amazed it happened, but it won’t be a day to day listening driver.
  • Another said: it was a news story, but I found it a difficult topic to drive a show with today
  • And another said: it’s not that big in (my market). It’s fun to riff on but not attracting new audience

Rick doesn’t buy it,

“Anybody who says that I think is being naïve.”

During our interview on Episode 8 of the Radio Stuff podcast, Rick points to the speed of these stories circling the globe as being a major reason why markets who aren’t seemingly connected are still interested. Fans have access to all the news now and they’re interested in hearing what local hosts think about these big stories. (He joined us at 39:00 into the podcast to discuss a radio ideas festival and then Hernandez. You should listen to the whole exchange.)

Once you know you have a hit, what do you do with it? Rick has taught many hosts and PDs the “Topic Tree” method of topic development. Imagine the trunk of the tree as the core story and the branches are all the different ways you could talk about it.

“You sit down and say what are the various angles? You may want to take it from the angle of him being an athlete, you may want to take it from an angle that he’s had a troubled past and this isn’t the first time he’s been into trouble, you may take it from the standpoint that athletes don’t get exceptions — nobody gets a free pass, and  you just branch it out from there. There are so many different avenues you could go and that’s what is great about it – we each have different views and opinions and take it down a different path. And that’s really what the audience is looking for – that insight, that perspective — what does this mean?”

Hernandez Topic Tree

Aaron Hernandez Topic Tree Sample

There you go.

  • Play the hits.
  • Find a way into the story.
  • Make a topic tree.
  • If you don’t think your listeners care, eavesdrop on them.
  • Don’t be naïve.

A Journey Into “Instant Unemployment” and How to Avoid It

steveBefore we get into this, I’d encourage everyone to read Steve Gleason’s guest column as Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com and support the Gleason Initiative Foundation’s efforts to find a cure for ALS, if you’re so inclined.

THE LEAD IN

When I was PD at ESPN radio, Colin Cowherd would tell me his that his job is make me nervous at least once a day and my job is to trust that he knows where the line is. That works most of the time. But, as demonstrated by the guys in Atlanta, it just takes 2:10 to erase everything you’ve done up until that moment.

I get it, PDs ask a ton from talent: be funny, relevant, insightful, entertaining, credible, unique, distinctive, opinionated, memorable, edgy, but not offensive, and appealing to a younger audience — for four hours, live, every weekday. And don’t say “uh.” And break on time. And promote the ticket giveaway. And tease better. And…

That’s hard.

Talent will cross the line. It happens (see: Lex & Terry) . In most cases, I’ll defend the talent and I have in many cases. The Atlanta case is indefensible. It’s making fun of a guy who is dying a horrible death from an even worse disease.

RADIO SPITS THE BIT

update: Nick Cellini has deleted his twitter account.

Nick Cellini has changed his twitter bio to read “short order cook.” Nick was one-third of the Morning Mayhem on 790 The Zone, all of whom were fired yesterday for…this (Audio, transcript). Go ahead listen and read it before we dive in — context helps.

It’s a “stupid” gag they did about Steve Gleason, the former Saints player suffering from ALS. All three broadcasters; Nick Cellini, Chris Dimino and Steak Shapiro have apologized. Too little, too late.

Cellini tells AccessAtlanta.com that the dismissal is “a relief, really. The station is a sinking ship.”

Shapiro, who once co-owned the station under Big League Broadcasting also spoke out, “The ironic thing for me is that I’m an aficionado of the Saints and Steve Gleason. The bit was ill-advised.” He added the bit was not representative of the work they had done four hours a day for 16 years.

Dimino posted a long apology on facebook and realized, “how quickly a stupid and worse than that non thinking moment can change all of it (19 years in broadcasting, 30 years as a grown man, and 10 years of being a father.)”

HOSTS ALL A TWITTER

The bit had broadcasters across the country abuzz.

Rich Eisen (@richeisen) from NFL Network tweeted,

“I just heard the stupid ass Steve Gleason “bit” on the Atlanta radio station and it’s beyond appalling. Those guys deserved what they got.”

Mitch Levy (@kjrmitch), the morning guy on 570 KJR in Seattle had a string of tweets late in the day,

“While I’m sure that I’ve been over the line too many times to count, that’s about as mean-spirited & tasteless bit I’ve ever heard in radio. We all do and say things on-air at the spur of the “live” moment that we’d like to have back. But, this was a premeditated, thought out, pre-produced attack on a good man who’s losing his battle with perhaps the most vicious & senseless disease. Really had to image that someone at that station who was aware of the “bit,” didn’t say “stop” before it aired.”

Heath Cline (@heathradio) is the afternoon host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC,

“How could anyone have thought this was going to be funny. Thing is, I know those guys are capable of much better. I’ve heard them do it. Baffled how they misjudged things so badly today.” This is a spattering sample of the reactions. There were also a lot of “OMGs.”

Another interesting perspective on the mishap comes from Chadd Scott, APD and host at 1010 XL Sports in Jacksonville who was fired from an Atlanta sports station in 2011 for tweets. He claims his negative tweets about Delta Airlines, a major station sponsor, lead to his dismissal. He tweeted when he heard the news yesterday,

“Feel bad for friends @NickCellini & @chrisdimino. I’ve been in their shoes & know what today feels like.” “I only ever “wanted” to work at 1 station & it wasn’t ESPN, it was 790 the Zone years ago & I did. That WAS such a good station.” “All 3 made big $ for failing station & bit gave 790 a reason 2 dump salary.”

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?

“What lessons are to be learned from this?” I asked on Twitter. Bean, from KROQ’s Kevin & Bean (@clydetombaugh) tweeted back at me,

“Morning show host truth: Your company has no opinion of anything on your show and probably doesn’t even listen. But, if somebody ELSE complains then it is easy for them to say it’s obvious what you did was wrong and stupid.”

How do you know when a bit has gone too far? Shan Shariff (@newschoolSS), the host of “New School” on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, responded.

“Larry, as you know, TOUGH question. Best answer I have is feel. If I wouldn’t even make the joke off-air to my buddies, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t say it on-air. What these guys in Atlanta did was just sick. Interesting side note: I actually sent this to my guys this afternoon as a warning to watch the line. We tend to flirt with it.”

The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to 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 not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).

I’ve had to deal with many obscene, indecent, and profane incidents with varying degrees of controversy over the years. The hosts who I had to terminate are the ones who wander into at least two of these four areas: personal attacks, lack of filter, off-brand remarks, and negative intentions. Here are some ways to avoid your own “instant unemployment” in the future.

  1. Don’t Get Personal. Being edgy is okay (depending on your station brand), but know your target. Keep your sights on actions, decisions and behaviors and avoid getting personal. Nobody likes a bully. Attacking people’s traits, conditions, impediments, handicaps, etc. is just mean, not humorous. While there are some exceptions, people generally do not respond well when you ridicule or are disrespectful to someone who has been touched by misfortune.
  2. Appoint someone the “content filter.” One person on the show has to have 51% control and veto power on all content. If you don’t, no one on the team has the authority to kill a bit. If that person doesn’t green light the proposed piece, then re-edit, re-write and/or re-record it or trash the bit. Get it right before you air it.
  3. Be Consistent. Make sure the bit is reflective of your show and station’s brand. The Atlanta guys say this bit wasn’t what they typically do – so why do it? Be authentic to yourself and serve the expectations of the listeners.
  4. Have pure intentions. If your intentions are to honor someone with a parody, are all in jest, and in the spirit of camaraderie — listeners will pick up on that. If you’re vengeful, spiteful and trying to tear someone down – that too will come across. If you find yourself preparing a bit with a negative intention, might I suggest canning the bit? Otherwise, it’s likely to cost you your job.

Why Social Media Is NOT Radio’s Magic Bullet and Four Other Revelations

Five Radio RevelationsOkay gang, every day someone in radio asks me what’s new? what’s next? or how can we be better? There are millions of theories, philosophies, and tips for success. These are five things that I keep going back to. They aren’t the only things. They aren’t necessarily the most important things. They’re five things you can do today to improve you, your show, your station.

 

1. Be Consistent. Everyone on your show / station should have a defined role that the listener can depend on. And your show should be dependable…for whatever the audience can depend on it for; news, big opinions, laughter, stupid jokes, three songs an hour, passionate rants, or whatever. Deliver it without fail.

2. Get Personal. If you’re trying to be neutral or unbiased, you’re lying to yourself and the audience. Every word, detail, and piece of audio you decide to use or omit is a choice based on your bias. Stop trying so hard and use your reactions to stories and events (or music) to create and drive your content (yes, even if you’re a news anchor or reporter.) Have a point of view. Even Paul Harvey delivered “News and Comment.” Why can’t you?

3. Embrace Emotion. Don’t drain the emotions from your content…use them; laughter, tears, fear, rage, embarrassment, etc. Emotional moments create the stories and memories in life that people remember and share. No one ever asks what was the most neutrally satisfying moment of your life. Stop striving to create it.

4. Stop reading and start sharing stories. Every day I hear radio hosts reading AP wire copy, newspaper or internet stories. This is lazy and boring and often leads to stumbling, because they’re written for the eyes not the ears. Take the time to read it off the air and tell me the story or relate the story to me the way you would if we were friends.

5. Snap Out of It! “Social Media” is NOT a Magic Bullet.

Yes, find a way to connect and have conversations with listeners through facebook, twitter, text, email, your website, and other platforms.  Don’t just use them as promotional platforms. Like radio, content is king, and users will “unlike” you faster than you can blink.

Here’s the kicker. It is time to stop talking about “social media” as a comprehensive solution to radio’s mid-life crisis. The difference between users and applications of Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Four Square is vast. Offering “social media” as a solution is like offering “transportation” as a solution for going from LA to NY, instead of car, train, boat or plane. Be specific with your strategic vision. Pick a lane and drive it.

Twitter Doesn’t Break News. Shhhh, Don’t Tell Anyone.

Everyone is getting excited, because Twitter reported the death of Whitney Houston 45 minutes before traditional news sources. Actually it didn’t, some guys named Big Chorizo and Aja Dior M. did. Social Media sites don’t break news, they allow others to break news through them.

The graphic below is from mashable.com.

An unscientific survey of friends shows most found out about Whitney’s death through social media (Facebook, twitter), though most can’t cite the source behind the information. Surely, Twitter doesn’t want to claim credit for Big Chorizo’s breaking news, or it opens the social media site up to massive legal issues. But, that doesn’t diminish the power of twitter.

Mashable notes that over 2.5 million tweets were sent within the first hour after Houston’s death.

To me, this is the shifting news paradigm; People are learning about and talking about breaking news stories in break-neck speed.

For years, news organizations have spent millions building news brands (first, fast & accurate — eyewitness news — on your side, etc), yet in today’s world we consume the information so quickly we don’t stop to see where it came from – and in most cases we don’t care. In fact, an initial prank report that Whitney Houston had died from a bee attack was believed by several dozen twitter users before it was debunked. And keeping up with the speed of news is a dangerous game as CBS Sports discovered by prematurely reporting the death of Joe Paterno.

A friend of mine was espousing how TMZ was ‘the source’ for the Whitney Houston story and how amazing it is TMZ has established their brand with celebrity news in six years or so. However, just because TMZ reports something is it automatically worth repeating? My observation is that TMZ is willing to report on stories and facts with limited confirmation, paid information, or single source. Which is why everyone else gives TMZ credit for developing celebrity news and facts in situations like the deaths of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. If TMZ gets it wrong, the brand isn’t tarnished. If CBS gets it wrong, the world sits up and takes notice.

UPDATE: Here is a real example of how TMZ puts credible sources in jeopardy.

Whitney’s funeral is in Jersey and there is still debate over where she’ll be laid to rest – Newark NJ or Atlanta GA – even according to TMZ. Makes me wonder if the “debate” is real or a way for TMZ to save face.  Sure, it is a minor detail, but it is a microcosm of a larger issue; followers think they are getting information from a trusted source “WSB” and may not remember pr notice that WSB was sourcing TMZ. So, if Whitney is ultimately laid to rest in Newark some WSB followers will think WSB got it wrong.

So, what is a credible news team supposed to do in this out-of-control, I-want-it-first-I want-it-now society?

At the radio station I program, we removed most of the TV monitors from the news room and replaced them with tweetdecks about a year ago. We use them to see what’s trending, mine and develop unique stories and keep us on the front edge of the artificial news cycle, instead of chasing news papers and TV stations.

News teams (and talk hosts) should strive to tell an interesting story or share a unique detail instead of breaking the news. As we are learning, when the news breaks, most don’t recall where they learned it. It’s what you do with the story after it circles the globe in 23 seconds that will define your brand.

UPDATE 2/15/2012: Two concepts: “Verification” and “Curation”, are key to the future of news. More on Twitter as a breaking news source from CNN