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I Didn’t Die in 2013 and Other Great Things

taking stockIt’s the time of year where I like to take stock. How’d we do? At Larry Gifford Media this burgeoning empire based on a blog, we – and by “we” I mean I – had a great year and I appreciate all the support. Just last week the blog hit a milestone of 25,000 page views. 10,000 of those coming in 2013.

THE WORLD IS WATCHING

2013-09-08 13.33.18

When you dig into the numbers, visitors to the blog originate from 88 different countries. The most hits come from the USA, followed by UK, Canada, South Africa and Greece. (Side note: I’ve been to US, Canada and UK this year – looking for invites from friends in South Africa and Greece – hint, hint.)

SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING…

How are people finding the blog? Knowing this can be disturbing and fun.

Somebody searched “larry gifford obit june 2013” – Apparently, someone thought I died – or wished I had. That person was either heartened or bummed upon discovering I was alive and well. Another searched, “you’re mean go away cat.”  And for some reason the blog popped up for this search “if you spill something on yourself chance you’ll miss ‘mary tyler moore.’” I have to believe the people searching those terms were very frustrated in what they found. Hopefully that wasn’t the case for everyone.

I find people’s names attract the most people to the blog. Here are the top 13  search terms used to find LarryGifford.com

  • Complaint
  • ways in which radio  has embraced social media
  • tom leykis
  • steak shapiro
  • larry gifford
  • the nba
  • keep looking up because that’s where it’s at (Kidd Kraddick)
  • jim cutler voice over
  • lex and terry fired
  • life is good radio
  • paula deen parodies
  • jimi hendrix vocal range
  • bruce gilbert fox sports radio

endofyearTHE TOP POSTS OF 2013

In the coming days I’ll be unveiling the top 25 blog posts of the year.

Here are #25 through #16

25. Covering Colin Cowherd

24. Eight Things I Takeaway From HIVIO

23. TV Writers Taking Cheap Shots at Radio

22. Beware of “The Line”

21. How Do You Get Better? Improv(e).

20. Unsolicited Advice: Don’t Do This

19. How to Handle Host’s Controversial Comments

18. Lessons from NextRadio, London

17. Four Things Hosts Can Do To Improve Ratings

16. Seven Take Aways from Mike McVay

DON’T JUST READ, LISTEN TO ME

Radio Stuff Podcast LogoThis year I also launched THE RADIO STUFF PODCAST with co-host Deb Slater this year. It’s been tons of fun and really interesting. A couple of the blog posts listed above were inspired by podcast segments. It’s been great flexing my “hosting” muscles again and extremely rewarding talking to so many interesting and remarkable people around the world who make radio so special.

Thanks to you and everyone who has read, listened, talked about, shared, liked, commented, or agreed to be interviewed. Wishing you and yours a great holiday and a safe, happy, ratings-filled 2014!!

Seven Take Aways from Mike McVay

Mike McVayCumulus Senior Vice President of Programming Mike McVay knows a lot about radio. He’s been in the business since 1969 as a talent, PD, consultant and futurist. In his current role, he heads up programming for over 500 radio stations nationwide.

Deb Slater and I chatted with Mike this week on the Radio Stuff podcast. It was a wide-ranging interview that went well beyond the ten minutes he had promised us. He was gracious, accessible, frank, funny, and insightful.  You should really listen to the whole thing. Really.

Here are my seven big takeaways from Mike McVay.

1. If you are on-air at a Cumulus radio station bring your “A” game each day, don’t phone it in, because he’s listening.

icfsw1sMcVay: “I still dial in on a radio when I travel. I carry a Sony ICF-SW1; a small, 10 channel, digital radio. And the reason I carry it on the road with me is I want to hear the local station and their commercials and the imaging.”

McVay: “Lew Dickey said it best in a recent weekly meeting I had with him. Air talent that are live and local are fewer and fewer, so those air talent who are live and local need to really make every break count. They really need to be in the community, they really need to show why live and local is so valuable. Because where we have live and local talent we do excel. If we’re going to be live and local, the air-talent need to grasp that every time they turn on the microphone it is a rare opportunity and a privilege that they should take advantage of. “

2. If you are an air talent looking for work follow Mike McVay (@mikemcvay) on twitter and get his attention.

McVay: “I find myself actually finding new talent on twitter. One of the reasons why I tweet so much and I’m so involved in social media is because other people at the same level or same position I’m in in our industry don’t. And so I thinking making me accessible is a good thing.”

3. If you are a PD at Cumulus you are being closely watched.

Slater: In the 20-months you’ve been there what impact have you made?

McVay: “…and I’ve been able to help educate and direct our program directors. Having been a consultant for so many years, I’ve become a teacher. If anything I hope I’ve helped to make our PDs better.”

Slater: What keeps you up at night?

McVay: The greatest thing that worries me is individual programmers and individual air talent who are going through the motions, who don’t share the passion that we at the top of the food chain at Cumulus share.

Gifford: What’s your biggest programming challenge?

McVay:  Getting your people to use the tools and resources you give them and then have connectivity to a market. I can show you markets where our program directors take the tools we give them and they excel in the market and stations in the market are highly rated. I can show you other markets where the PDs take the exact same tools and for whatever reasons stations don’t excel. Now in some cases, one could argue the competition is better, but other cases I think I could argue that our PDs don’t embrace the systems the way they should. They don’t use the tools they way they could. As a result, the stations don’t perform as well.”

4. Radio says it wants change, but those who try to change get ridiculed. img_5844-e8f87ffb9a3a8a76a991840d72fb281e36d9cfeb-s6-c30

McVay: “Someone challenged me that putting Huckabee on, putting Geraldo on, hiring Michael Savage are crazy ideas and my response was I’ve been coming to these conferences for ten years. I hear all of you sitting in this audience complain there isn’t change, that we need to do something to get new and younger demos. Well, if nothing else, give Cumulus credit for trying something. Some things we try are going to fail. Some of the things we try are going to work. Everyone should be hoping that what we do works, rather than belittling it, because if it works, in this lemming business everyone will then run off the cliff and do what we’re doing.”

rush-pubshot5. Rush Limbaugh isn’t going away anytime soon.

McVay: “He’s not done. We are continuing to be big fans of Rush. You have to keep in mind that many of the things you read in the trades are taken out of context. And we are fans of Rush Limbaugh and, you know, the demise of Rush Limbaugh is greatly exaggerated. He continues to be one of the highest rated talk talent in America and all of us should want to have the ratings that he has.”

 6. It’s a great time to be in the radio business. Believe it! 

McVay: The opportunities are greater today, because there are so many more outlets. There are 12,000 radio stations, limitless internet radio stations, and opportunities for you to be heard. You may not make the type of money that people in broadcasting made in the past, but the opportunity to be on the air is greater than it’s ever been before.

If someone sits down and believes there is no opportunity for them in radio, then that is a person who is not creative. They are closed minded. If you really want to get the message out, you’re going to find a way to do it.

7. And one final thought…

McVay: People in broadcasting mostly need therapy, because they have a great inferiority complex.

The Truth Can Hurt, Which is Why So Many People Avoid It

I set out to write a blog post about the things that annoy me about hosts / talent / personalities who apply for jobs. I’ve been going through mounds of mp3, CDs, even a stray tape or two. Listening through just a few minutes of each demo can be a struggle. But, then I realized – someone is telling these guys/gals they have talent. One of three things is certainly happening.

  1. These “talent” are being lied to about their talent by people who mean well.
  2. They’re getting bad advice from PDs or fellow talent.
  3. They’ve stopped listening to the people in their life that know better.

Leaders: I implore you to stop lying to people about the size of their talent and stop dishing out decade old, stale advice.

Hosts: If you only hear what you want to hear consider yourself at the top of your success. You’re never as good as “they” say you are and never as bad as your harshest critic. But, you must always strive to be better.

In an effort to be helpful, here are four things you can start doing today to be better a host.

Know What Big Story Your Show Is About Each Day.This is my “pick a lane” advice. Be about something each day. If even it’s a slow news day, it is better to be about something than trying to be about everything. What’s the thread holding your show together? It is not picking one story to talk about for three hours; it is picking one story that you want your listeners to remember you for that day and giving it more and better treatment than everything else.

Immerse Yourself in Details of the Stories You Want to Talk About. When you “play the hits” of the day, whatever they may be. Do your homework. Read up on it. Read everything you can. The more you read the better chance you have of finding a unique angle and creating a more memorable, substantive conversation.

Edit Your Own Audio. How can you tell the story, the way you want to tell it, if someone else is deciding what the key characters are going to say? Editing audio is not beneath you. Why leave the heart and soul of your show up to a $10 an hour board op. In my experience not only does editing your own audio give you certainty on a topic, it makes your treatment memorable and remarkable.

Do Not Let Segments Dictate The Length of a Story. Drives me crazy when hosts look at the clock and see they have seven minutes and look to see what topic they can stretch to fill the time. You should take the necessary time you need to tell a story and make your point and then move on to the next story or angle. It takes discipline and preparation. Don’t do your listeners any favors by “filling” the last two minutes with idle chit-chat on the topic. Give me a quick hit of something else, that’s great. Respect my time.

These four concepts are a good starting point. If it resonates with you, try it. Let me know how it goes.

What Radio Can Learn From Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen SXSW PhotoBruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker this year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. For fifty “drive-way moment” minutes (three quarter-hours), The Boss was a talk show host, guiding us through the history of his music experience with very little music or singing, but instead with his story, his memories, his personal experience, his reactions, observations and his passion.

He was addressing young musicians, but the lessons transcend to radio.

ADVICE FOR RADIO HOSTS (the quotes are direct from Bruce Springsteen)

Be a catalyst of conversation. Your show is a, “Joyous argument starter and a subject of long, booze-filled nights of debate”

Stop complaining and start creating content. Who cares about how people get your show – radio – live stream – internet – mp3 – facebook – twitter? “The Genesis and power of creativity is consistent over the years. The elements don’t matter. Purity of human experience and expression is not confined to guitars, tubes, turn tables or microchips. There is no right way or pure way. Just do it.”

Be Authentic. “We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all about just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, influences, personal history and at the end of day it’s the power and purpose of your (show) that still matters.”

Fake it until you make it. Go to small markets, or host a podcast, an internet radio show, or offer to do weekends and overnights. “I had nights and nights and nights (1,000 nights) of bar playing. Learn how to bring it live and bring it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you. Your ticket is your handshake. These skills gave me a huge ace up my sleep. When we finally went on the road, we scorched the earth.”

It’s amazing how Springsteen can appreciate where he came from, where he’s been, those who blazed a trail, is still self-deprecating about how he steals/borrows from everyone/every genre and remains self-aware enough to recognize he’s getting old, the game is changing, culture is evolving and in order to be relevant he needs to find a new way. This seems like a good model for radio.

His influences should be and can be your influence as well.

Animals “Gotta Get Outta This Place”“Youngsters, listen up this is how successful theft is accomplished.This is every song I’ve ever written. I found their cruelty so freeing.They were brave, they challenged you, and made you brave.”

Gifford interpretation: Be brave. Don’t be afraid to borrow from those before you.

Bob Dillon“The first thing he asked was ‘how does it feel?’…’to be on your own’ – parents couldn’t understand incredible changes happening in our world.’Without a home’… he gave us the words to understand our hearts. He stood back and in took in the stakes we were playing for and laid them out in front of us.”

Gifford interpretation: As a talk host, tell us how you feel, explore how others feel, give us the words to understand our hearts.

Country Music. This music is “stoic recognition of everyday reality and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other get through it. It was reflective, it was funny, it was soulful. It was rarely politically angry, it was rarely politically critical.”

Gifford interpretation: Country music is what successful talk radio hosts are doing today.

Hank Williams “Why does my bucket have a hole in it?” – Hank help launch the “search for identity and became an essential part of my nature. I was not downtown, bohemian or hipster. Just an average guy, with a slightly above average gift and if I worked my ass off on it – and country was about the truth emanating out of your sweat.”

Gifford interpretation: Use your curiosities in life to fuel your show.

Woodie Guthrie: “Somewhere over the horizon there was something…he tried to answer the question why the bucket has a hole in it.”

Gifford interpretation: Search for answers to big questions. Give listeners hope.

Bruce Springsteen’s parting shot should be used by all creative people as a mantra and guiding light:

“Rumble, young musicians rumble. Open  your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And take yourself as serious as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have iron clad confidence. But, doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town…and “you suck!” It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at the same time. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have and then remember, it’s only rock n roll.”

Watch Springsteen’s keynote address here. It’s worth it.

Know Your Demo

Talk show hosts, news anchors, editors, producers, production staff, and programmers need to always know and remember who is consuming the content they are creating. What is your target demo? What news, events, and entertainment were influential and formative in their lives?

If you focus your programming towards a 40-year-old woman or man remember that they were 18 in 1989. That was the same year George Bush Sr. became President, Ted Bundy was executed in Florida, and the Exxon-Valdez spilled 240,000 barrels of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. That was the year Microsoft released its first version of “Office” and Fox debuted a little cartoon show called “The Simpsons.” At the movies, When Harry Met Sally was released along with Back to the Future II, Driving Miss Daisy, Parenthood, and The Little Mermaid. On the radio, these high school seniors were listening to Bobby Brown‘s “My Prerogative,” Paul Abdul’s “Straight Up,” Mike and the Mechanics “The Living Years,” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”

Yet, listen to some news-talk and music radio stations trying to cater to these listeners and the references are still off. I still hear mentions of the Mary Tyler Moore, The Odd Couple and Abbott & Costello. Mary Tyler Moore’s Show was off the air in 1977. It was formative for women who are now in their late 50’s and early 60’s. The Odd Couple came out in 1968. Which means you’re targeting a 61-year-old. Bud Abbott was born in 1897. 114 years ago. Hello radio, it’s time for everyone to update our reference points.

Try this exercise. Let me know how it goes.

Where “60 Minutes” Missed the Mark with President Obama

I wrote on Facebook and twitter today that I was still cringing from Steve Croft‘s interview with President Obama on “60 Minutes.” There are many things I would have done different. The whole point of having the President go on a show like “60 Minutes” is to have him tell the story from his perspective. In order to tell a story properly you need to start at the beginning BEFORE the moment of change or conflict of the story. This puts your interviewee chronologically in line with the events as they happened so he/she can take you through the emotional journey instead of reflect on events from a mental space. Thus, question #1 from Steve Croft to Barack Obama immediately put the President in a head space aside from being hyperbolic, and closed.

STEVE KROFT: Mr. President, was this the most satisfying week of your Presidency?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President. Obviously bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism, but a mass murderer who’s had eluded justice for so long, and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope.

And for us to be able to definitively say, “We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States and who had been the rallying point for a violent extremist jihad around the world” was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.

Notice how the President responds to the hyperbole “most satisfying week of his Presidency.” He down plays this point and takes the wind out of his own sails by putting a qualifier of “one of the most” on it AND pivoted from his Presidency to the United States of America. Talk about down playing the importance of an event in your career. Sheesh. Ideally you would start at the beginning of the story – maybe even 9/11 – and work your way through the events. IF you ask this question keep it open and let him define for himself.

What was this past week like for you?

How was this past week different than other weeks of your Presidency?

How satisfying was this week of your Presidency?

Similar mistakes are made in question #2.

KROFT: Was the decision to launch this attack the most difficult decision that you’ve made as Commander-In-Chief?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly one. You know, every time I send young men and women into a war theatre, that’s a tough decision. And, you know, whenever you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or Bethesda [Naval Hospital] and you see the price that our young people pay to keep this country safe, that’s a tough decision. Whenever you write a letter to a family who’s lost a loved one. It’s sobering.

This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man.

Again, the President qualifies his answer and down plays the difficulty.

The next question is actually three questions in one. I’m not sure Steve Croft could have given him more exit ramps to give an answer without giving an answer. The more questions you compile into one – the less information you get. The interviewee then has a choice to answer the question that’s easiest to answer. Ask ONE question at a time and keep it open-ended.

KROFT: When the CIA first brought this information to you . . .

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: What was your reaction? Was there a sense of excitement? Did this look promising from the very beginning?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It did look promising from the beginning. Keep in mind that obviously when I was still campaigning for President, I had said that if I ever get a shot at bin Laden we’re gonna take it. And that was subject to some criticism at the time, because I had said if it’s in Pakistan and, you know, we don’t have the ability to capture ’em in any other way, then we’re gonna go ahead and take the shot. So I felt very strongly that there was a strategic imperative for us to go after him.

Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”

Leon took that to the CIA. They had been working steadily on this since 2001, obviously. And there were a range of threads that were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all together. They did an incredible job during the course of a year and a half to pull on a number of these threads until we were able to identify a courier who was known to be a bin Laden associate, to be able to track them to this compound.

So by the time they came to me they had worked up an image of the compound, where it was and the factors that led them to conclude that this was the best evidence that we had regarding bin Laden’s whereabouts since Tora Bora.

But we didn’t have a photograph of bin Laden in that building. There was no direct evidence of his presence. And so the CIA continued to build the case meticulously over the course of several months. What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was: “Even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let’s also start building an action plan to figure out if in fact we make a decision that this is him or we’ve got a good chance that we’ve got him, how are we gonna deal with him? How can we get at that?”

And so at that point you probably had unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success this week.

Look at it again. The first of the three questions – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? – is a great question. But, the President picked the easier of the three and latched on to it, “It did look promising…” – and then he went straight to talking points. When you offer a closed question like this the interviewee can only affirm your personal hypothesis of what happened. In this case the answer is either yes or no. This is interviewing on a hope. You HOPE the interviewee expounds on what they’ve answered. Unfortunately for “60 Minutes,” the President didn’t. He went from 2010 and leaped back in time to before his Presidency in 2007 and talked about how this was a campaign promise and how hard he worked to get this done from day one.

That’s just the first three questions. I could go on and on. Croft asked if it was hard to keep the secret, did he want to tell Michelle, did he tell Michelle? The President ducked the answer with a general statement. Never answering if he talked about it with the First Lady. Again, too many options or exit ramps for the President to escape direct questioning.

When preparing for interviews have a goal, start at the beginning, ask one question at a time, refrain from hyperbole, ask open-ended questions, and don’t test personal hypothesis. You’re conducting an interview to get information, perspective, insight or reaction that you don’t already have – so don’t try to guess the answers. Get out-of-the-way and let the story be told. Great questions to use in an interview include…

– and then what happened?

– how did that make you feel?

– when did you know?

– why did you do that?

– how was that?

Ask lean, neutral, open-ended questions.

…and don’t interview on a hope.

Newsletter Poll

Some have suggested the “Let’s Talk About It” newsletter, shouldn’t be called a newsletter (Lets Talk About It – Issue IX – March 2011). Here is one e-mail, ““You asked in part of your newsletter if we had any suggestions. I always hated the word NEWSLETTER. Sounds like something they’d hand you as you pick up your kid a Day Care.”

sign up for “Let’s Talk About It” for free at www.larrygifford.com