Tommy Kramer Tip #117 – It’s a SHOW, not a Shift

Radio guru Lee Abrams used to tell us, “It’s a SHOW, not a ‘shift’.”

This was a foundational thought, a reminder to make sure that we didn’t ever think of our air work as being like an assembly line shift worker in a factory, putting in rivets, over and over, to the point of boredom.

But there’s more to it than that, from a creative standpoint.
Since radio is an audio medium (no camera), that means we can’t divert the eye, like on TV. Everything shows on the air anyway, so the goal every day is to make sure and SHOW SOMETHING.

Show your creativity. Show your sense of humor. Show your concern. Show your empathy. Show your skepticism. Show your intelligence. Show your goofiness. Show your skill set (editing yourself well, for instance, or finding just the right music for something instead of using a generic Production music bed). Show that you’re a citizen of your neighborhood, your city, your state. Show what kind of neighbor you are.

Often, in coaching sessions, I start with “What did I learn about you today on the air?” Originality isn’t just some nebulous goal; it’s the process of revealing.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #116 – What do do in Washington D. C.

A friend of mine is travelling from here in Hawaii to Washington, D. C. next month. Great city, Washington. Many things to see and do.

One thing he’s doing is taking his girlfriend to the JFK Center for the Performing Arts to see an a cappella group sing Beatles songs.

Why the Beatles? Why not some other group or artist? You could do folk songs, or show tunes, or the obvious for a group without musical instruments, barbershop quartet.

Well, probably because Washington D.C. is a tourist town, not just our nation’s capitol. And more people on Planet Earth know songs by the Beatles than anyone else.

But I think it’s also because the Beatles have the most varied library of songs. Rock, ballad, baroque, kids’ sing-along, anthem, Country—you name it, the Beatles did it. (And of course, in those songs are some of the greatest lyrics ever written.)

That’s the way your show should be—consistent in terms of people being able to tell that it’s you, but incredibly varied in its Content from hour to hour, day to day, week to week.

I KNOW that you can do it. But you may need help. We all “get by with a little help from our friends.”

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #115 – The Dangers of Repetition and Repetition

Repeating a bit or a game later in the show is something that some consultants and talent coaches believe in, but I don’t. Think about “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” as a good example of why.

After it was hatched in the United Kingdom, the U.S. version of the show was launched in “prime time” by ABC in August of 1999, and was originally hosted by Regis Philbin. The original network version was the highest-rated of all television shows in the 1999–2000 season, reaching an average audience of approximately 29 million viewers.
That’s pretty incredible, and it made a LOT of money. But then, of course, ABC overexposed it, running it multiple times a week, and sure enough, the audience got tired of the show. It was cancelled in June of 2002. Yes, it has limped along as a daytime game show with several different hosts—I think the most recent is Chris Harrison, but they could use George Harrison—who’s dead—and probably get the same results.

It’s very tempting to think “If it worked once, then do it again a couple of hours later.” But know that at some point that’s going to come back and bite you. I’ve heard a lot of “paint by numbers” morning shows, and so has your listener.
Burn material like jet fuel. Constantly be trying to come up with new stuff. Artistically, creativity is a muscle, and it has to be exercised or it atrophies.

But what about “benchmarks?” If you actually have one or more (and no, “Battle of the Sexes” isn’t one), run with it—but only ONCE a show. (Maybe just once a week.)

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #114 – Time versus Timing

It’s not the time it takes to do a break, it’s the TIMING.

Many times in a coaching session, I’ve criticized a break, and the talent has said something like “but it was only a minute and ten seconds long.” But as we all know, the actual “stopwatch” time of a break means very little.

I get the feeling that if most jocks were doing Hamlet, they’d say “To be or not to be that is the question” instead of “To be, or not to be. That is the question.”

When you rush, or run sentences together, it makes the listener feel antsy.

Often, the way to get on course in your air work is to simply think of how real life conversation unfolds. If someone is just a little hurried when he talks to you, it smacks of an agenda. Or even worse, like he’s just trying to get the conversation over with. Discomfort is the emotional takeaway.

Real people breathe, and pause between thoughts. I’m willing to bet that in real life, you breathe, too.

So beginning today, try to slow down just a little bit. Pause when there would be a comma or a period if what you’re saying were written out. It’ll only cost you a second or two of total time to sound much more real and engaged in what you’re saying. It’s a conversation with the listener, not a speed-reading course.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #113 – Double Duty

Recently on a station I work with, a contest winner call led to a dramatic and touching story. My wife was listening to it with me, and tears came to her eyes as she heard the winner talk lovingly about his son, who has several serious medical issues.

As a coach, I saluted the morning host, Dave Arthur, because people don’t just open up to someone like this unless they TRUST you. However, from a time standpoint, the call could’ve used a couple of edits. There was a lot of medical talk—many ailments (with those Latin names), and we always have to guard against the mediocre audio quality and partial dropouts that are indigenous to cell phones and could force a listener away. I showed him where an edit or two could’ve cut some of that out, and allowed him to wrap it up with both congratulations on the win, and a hopeful and heartfelt thought Dave had offered to the dad.

Then we went on to how things can serve Double Duty. I would have run the edited call on the air, then put the entire call on the website (or link to his Facebook page). Now you’d have the opportunity to promote that different door to the station with something like “There was a lot more to that call that we didn’t have time to air, but you can hear the whole call at ktsy.org. It’s amazing.” Re-purposing it that way could have created two related but distinctly different “moments” for the listener, and spurred some traffic on the website.

Many stations don’t have the savvy (or sadly, the work ethic) to do this sort of thing, and it results in missed opportunities. I’ve worked with several syndicated shows where website visits are the currency for clients.

Two lessons from this:
1. Don’t EVER waste the listener’s time on the air. Hard decisions have to be made sometimes in order to accomplish this.
2. Your website has to offer something of VALUE besides just lists, promotional items, and “USA Today”-type lifestyle stuff. (We’ve seen enough recipes for your special combination Hungarian/Mexican goulash tacos.)

My friend and colleague Alan Mason says “Everything matters.” He’s right.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #112 – Audacity: a lesson from Gordon McLendon

Research is finally showing what we always knew—that talent really does matter if you want people to listen to your station. So here’s a little history lesson. If you’re not familiar with Gordon McLendon, he was one of the true pioneers of radio. McLendon established the first mobile News units in American radio, the first Traffic reports, the first jingles, the first all-News radio station, and the first “easy-listening” programming. He also was among the first broadcasters in the United States to editorialize on the air, and he made headlines doing it…often. Nicknamed “the Maverick of Radio,” McLendon perfected and spread like wildfire the Top 40 radio format created by Todd Storz. (Storz and McLendon were kind of that era’s radio version of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.)

Gordon had highly successful stations in many markets, including Dallas and Houston. And he was one of the first guys to bring FM radio into the spotlight by selling AM Top 40 giant KLIF in Dallas, then turning around and beating them with his FM station, KNUS. (I was part of that staff.)

One of McLendon’s mantras was “Be informative, be entertaining, or be quiet.”
However, those of us that worked for him and had heard stories of how volatile he could be knew that the “quiet” thing was not really an option. So we thought of it as “Be informative, be entertaining, or be fired.”
Because above all else, McLendon loved Audacity—always Audacity. He wanted PERSONALITIES who weren’t afraid to push the envelope.

Now I’m not saying you need to break the rules, and certainly you don’t want to do anything that would get the station in trouble with the FCC. But like Mr. McLendon, I am saying “Show some guts.” Never settle for just being another cookie-cutter, plain vanilla jock. (If you need some coaching on this, call me.)

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #111 – Analytics and You

Professional baseball is heavy into analytics, often referred to as ‘sabermetrics.’ They study every player’s performance in every possible situation, and make decisions accordingly.

As a PD or air talent today, PPM is our new sabermetrics drinking fountain. With all the new analytics—being able to see exactly where people lost interest during a break, the ratio of male artists to female artists, where spotsets should go, etc.—it can seem like data is making all the decisions. (And that’s not even counting the importance of an actual social media strategy.)

I like math. I was the little kid who could rattle off baseball players’ stats. Analytics are fun—and if you need an example of how they can be used, look at that dramatic “three players on the right side of the infield” shift in baseball today that drives most batters crazy. That’s a direct result of analytics making teams better by being smarter. (And “the shift” just looks so cool.)

So dive on in! Use every single tool that can tell us what the audience wants (and what’s ineffective, too). Personally, I’ve made an effort to absorb as much as I can about the workings of PPM from people who are much smarter than me, with the sole goal of keeping on learning, moving forward, all the time.

However, from a coaching perspective, let me add this:
All the analytics in the world won’t help you be different, be original, or make that person in the car or office think of you as a “must” listen. You still have to MATTER to the listener, or you’re just the voice interrupting the playlist. More on that in the next tip.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #110 – Seinfeld on the use of Music

On June 9th, 2014 at the Paley Center in New York, Jerry Seinfeld talked to David Letterman about his “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” web series.

About 19:25 into the interview, Letterman comments on the incidental music that moves “CICGC” from one point to the next. That’s where you see coffee being poured, Jerry and the guest walking into the diner, etc.

Jerry then compares using music in this show to using it in the “Seinfeld” TV show, saying “If you put music under a scene that has actual written narrative, it ruins the scene. But since this has no drive, no point, the music doesn’t fight with it and it just seems to kind of carry…(it) fills in the little gaps.

Now I don’t think that’s 100% true for radio, because our medium is a little different; we don’t have video to engage the listener. But I do think there is something to be said for asking yourself “Do I have a narrative?” “Does it need music?” “Am I talking over music when I should be just talking?” On a lot of stations, it’s almost getting to where jocks CAN’T talk without a music bed under them. Some stations even require it. (Bless their pointed little heads.)

I recommend using music when it’s appropriate, like a John Williams movie soundtrack – to heighten the mood or the drama of a given ‘scene’. But if it’s just generic uptempo Production music, used as a crutch to create an artificial sense of momentum (which it doesn’t actually do), you’re just trying to cover up the fact that you don’t have a narrative; you’re not telling a story.

Now that I think of it, maybe that would be a good bit in itself, taking real life, semi-boring or technical conversations about brake shoes or roof repair, and putting ridiculous music underneath them.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #109 – Everything’s the Opposite

This tip is sort of dual-purpose…a guideline for Management and Programming, and how it should affect you as an air talent.

The late, great singer Harry Nilsson used to say “Everything’s the Opposite,” meaning that everything turns out to be the opposite of whatever it claims to be. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but there’s a lot of truth in it. (“Military Intelligence” and “free” offers come to mind.) Radio’s full of examples.
Let’s take a look at a few typical claims, and then the other side of the coin—what the listener thinks:

Your claim: “50-minute music hours.”
Listener’s thought: We can all add and subtract. Eventually you’re going to spew out 10 minutes of commercials.

Your claim: “No-talk triple plays.”
Listener’s thought: So when you open the mike, that’s a bad thing? Surely you didn’t intend to say that. Oh, and those recorded identifiers or Imaging pieces you play between songs? They’re TALK.

Your claim: “No-repeat work days.”
Listener’s thought: Wait a minute. That means that I’ll only hear my favorite song once in eight hours. So if I tuned in and only heard the end of it, I’m pretty much S. O. L. for the rest of the day.

I’ve heard jocks unthinkingly say “Hope you’re having a great day!” when there are snowdrifts eight feet high, and the roads are impassable.

And we’ve all heard stations use some form of “We care about you and your family,” but every contest winner they have is identified first as a number. (“Hi, you’re number nine.”) I don’t know about you, but I don’t assign numbers to my family members. “Have you met my sister, Number 7?” seems rather impersonal.

Why not just give up those empty claims and failed gimmicks? Make your station (and your show, on the air) about Values, and about being of service. People will notice. The only Positioning Statement you really need is the name of the station. Then PROVE what you are.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #108 – Good phone calls don’t just “happen”

This tip is specifically for music radio.

Good phone calls don’t just happen; you have to create an atmosphere that fosters them. When someone opens up his/her heart or fragility to you, that’s not an accident. If they thought you’d be rude or dismissive or not really listen to them, they’d never call you. And it’s not 1995 anymore. Nowadays, the standard throwing out a topic, then saying “What do you think?” just sounds like you want the listener to do the show for you. (I call this “using the listeners as props.”) To get really good phone calls, give me something to REACT to, and you can’t keep me from telling you what I think. You don’t have to ask.

A remedial lesson: How to put a call on the air

When you run the call, just say your thing & then cut to the caller’s comment. You don’t need “Hi, how are you” stuff, and you don’t need to say something like “Darren’s on the line…” (Where else would he be, on the toaster?) or “Jennifer has an idea…” We don’t “narrate” like that in real life, and we don’t “introduce” another person’s comment at the dinner table. And by the way, no one cares about the caller’s name, unless it’s a prize winner. (In Talk Radio, however, the name does serve a couple of purposes—to distinguish one caller from another, and to mention the city or area the call is from.)

The main thing that will set you apart is if you establish a really high standard for phone calls. Just because someone calls doesn’t mean they should get on the air. Like a film editor making cuts in a movie, if it’s not great, leave it out.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2015 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.