About tommykramer

Tommy Kramer has spent over 35 years in radio as an on-air talent, Programmer, and Talent Coach, and has worked with over 300 stations in all formats, specializing in coaching morning team shows, but also working with entire staffs. In addition, he works with many premium voice actors that you hear every day on Imaging, Radio and TV commercials, and Hollywood Movie Trailers. Tommy was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2003. Call Tommy @ 214-632-3090 (iPhone), or email coachtommykramer@gmail.com

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #257 – Avoid the Obvious

I’ve written about this before, but recent listening to stations in three different formats, it begs being revisited.

Here’s the magic key to becoming someone out of the ordinary on the air: Avoid the Obvious.

Example: Years ago, doing a morning team show in Dallas with my wonderful partner Rick “The Beamer” Robertson, there was a massive wreck on I-35, one of the city’s main arteries. It turned out that a huge truck full of books was involved, and we knew we needed to talk about it. Immediately upon seeing the story, Rick said “set it up, then throw it to me.”

I opened the break with a warning to anyone traveling in that direction, saying they should get off I-35 NOW and find an alternate route, or they’d surely be WAY late for work. I added the detail that a truck overturned that was full of books.

Because no one had been hurt, Rick then said that the books were a shipment of thesauruses, and “The wreck was awful…”
Me: “Really?”
Rick: “Terrible”
Me: “Really!?”
Rick: “Dismaying”
Me: “Wow”
Rick: “Tragic”
Me: “Uh-huh”
Rick: “Appalling”
Me: “…uh, yeah, got it.”

With just a little imagination, Rick saw a different way to handle it than anyone else. That’s what made him special.

And not doing the obvious will make YOU special, too.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #256 – Content is CONTACT

Talking to a PD the other day about “the clock” on his station, I heard this vague explanation of how he didn’t want his jocks to talk over song intros because that’s not Content. Instead, he wanted Imaging pieces – some of them “dry” voice – to always play between songs because “you can’t do Content over these short intros today” and he wanted his air talent to stop down for Content.

But here’s the problem with that: to a large degree, Content is CONTACT.
In the heyday of Top 40 and Hot A/C, we knew that most of the time we could do SOMETHING besides just intro a song (like promote a contest opportunity coming up, or a station feature, promote another person on the air, give some sort of information, or do a quick quip), or that even if we WERE “just” introing a song, we could at least give the listener some sort of vibe about being engaged with the music.

A human being, right here in this moment, actually making contact with the listener, even if was just to comment on the weather or what kind of day it was. As opposed to a nameless, faceless voice quacking about how wonderful the station is, or “marketing your aspirations” (a Ries and Trout term), ala “The perfect mix of songs for your workday” or some other tired, beaten to death claim that NO ONE BELIEVES.

Shortly after deregulation, when it was decided that companies could own a gazillion stations, Personality began to die, except for someone – often stopping in the middle of songs in what should have been a music sweep – deciding to talk for a while about something. Used to be, you only stopped the music to do “Content breaks” going into stopsets.

And it worked. Boy, did it work. And it still does, on stations that actually want to have Momentum. I could write a million words on this, but it’s often like describing a rainbow to a blind person.

Look, you can’t win the “x songs in a row” or “x minutes of music” battle. Spotify and Apple Music OWN that. (Unless you can play 48 million songs in a row like Apple music. I’m betting you can’t.) People WANT personality. People want Contact and Companionship. If all you are is a juke box/hype machine, well, good luck with that. Maybe the next owners will decide to do something different. Something “retro” but ultra-modern at the same time.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #255 – There’s No Such Thing as a Break thats Too Short

Maybe you haven’t thought about this in a while, but in moving back from five and a half years in Hawaii to my home town of Shreveport, Louisiana, I’m resetting the stations on my car radio. As a result, I’ve been listening to a lot of different stations recently. And I’m hearing a lot of things on music stations that I thought had been killed off a long time ago…

The “first in, last out” (FILO) thing where every break mandatorily starts with the name of the station, then also ends with the name of the station. (This was always ridiculous. Why do you want to sound like you somehow forgot that you said your name a few seconds ago? And why would you EVER put the name of your station right next to a commercial break? Think about it: You = commercials is not a good impression to lock into the listener’s brain.)

Jocks mindlessly repeating the stupid “positioning statement” (or slogan), as in “96.7 KKIV, your best variety at work.” Geez, this just sounds awful. Every single time they open the mic, robots repeating a phrase that even THEY don’t believe – and that’s what it sounds like.

Jingles singing a bunch of words that are just “print copy” set to music. “The best variety and the home of the Kidd Kracken Morning Show…96.7 KKIV” Why not just sing the phone book?

So-called “interesting” items plucked from a website, someone’s Facebook page, or a “prep sheet” that no one could possibly care about. “Brainbuster” questions that Siri can answer in two seconds. The definition of non-Content.

But the main thing that’s hit me is that most jocks can’t shut the heck up. They just prattle on, spelling out the not-very-entertaining ending to the prattle they’re talking about like they’re explaining it to a four-year old.

I’ve said this before as part of a couple of other tips, but let’s give it a special, stand-alone status: There’s No Such Thing as a Break that’s Too Short.
This is an all-out assault on reading crap off a computer screen. It’s Brevity vs. Rattling-on-for-no-apparent-reason-other-than-you-CAN’T-be-concise.

Here’s what really works: Try to say things one time – no repetition – then hit the next element and turn the mic off. You’ll be amazed at how this simple thought de-clutters your station. And please stop trying to tell the listener what to think about who you are or what you do. Believe it or not, people actually make up their own minds. Instead, be a good neighbor; a friend who doesn’t waste their time. Trust that it WILL work. And you’ll stand alone like the only oasis in the desert.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #254 – Think With Your Heart

A lot of shows struggle with getting any really viable phone call feedback from listeners. They tap into a subject, maybe offer an opinion, do a solicitation for feedback, give the phone number, then…nothing. Waves of silence. No phone lines lighting up. Or if there is a call, it’s pretty much the same type of call they got last time (often from the same tiny pool of callers) with pretty much the same type of comment they always get. The safe, predictable, no-new-ground-broken feedback loop.

Here’s one way you might be able to change that: think with your heart. Analytical subjects with “left brain” solicitations tend to lie there, flat as a pancake.

But when an EMOTION is at the center of the subject – and especially when you express an emotion instead of just an analytical opinion – people react differently. (Both callers and people who don’t call, but actually start listening more closely.)

This is based on an acting tip. When you focus on the Emotion that the scene is trying to convey, a blown line doesn’t hurt the flow. When you’re married to the words, a blown line causes an awkward pause that the audience can feel.

This is why I often ask “What emotion is this break about?” Because without emotion, there’s very little chance of connection. And CONNECTING with the listener IS the job.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #253 – Your Show as a Demo Tape

Whatever you do well, congratulations on that. I mean that sincerely. The good things that you do each day make a great impression.

Similarly, when you say things more than once (as radio continues to do, trying to beat a thought into the listener’s head), or you do “the moral of the story” obligatory recap at the end of something, or say radio clichés (like “on your Monday morning,” “Hump day”), or do something silly and outdated (like “The Mindbender Question of the Day” or “This Day in History”), those make an impression, too. As my friend and partner Alan Mason says, “Everything counts.”

So, weed the garden regularly. Listen to your own show at least once a week. Add new ideas all the time. Consistency = Good. Predictability = Bad.

Think of your show as a demo tape. Because to the listener, it actually IS.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #252 – Hire STARS

Way too often, radio stations settle for hiring B or even C-level air talent, because they think they can’t afford better, or that an A-level talent will be “difficult” or just too expensive.

The reality, of course, is that when you hire a STAR, it changes the whole culture of a station.

Whenever you hire a racehorse, the other horses think “Why am I hitched to this plow?” Hiring a major league talent serves as a beacon for the other members of the staff, and makes them start trying things that lead to more and more “memorable moments” – and that’s what stations need to reach a new level of performance and establish a “learning and performance” vibe that runs through the hallways, spreads to every other department (particularly Imaging and Production), and infuses the Sales staff and management with a brighter outlook every single day.

Hire stars, or people who can BECOME stars with coaching and direction. When you settle for less, you’re putting a cap on what you can become. Plus, when you already have stars onboard, other stars want to come work for you.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #251 – Talking to Your Best Friend

Something happens when the mic goes on. Most people assume a delivery that’s either “giving information” or “making an announcement” or “presenting” something to the listener.

…as if the listener is some distant stranger who has this break arrive like an unwanted, slick, glossy ad for life insurance – for your pet goldfish.

But the great talents all know that no matter how important or significant a thought is, you still want to say it like you’d say it to your best friend, over a cup of coffee, like he or she is just 2 or 3 feet away (not 15).

By trying to sound more “important”, you become less important. By simply sharing a thought in a normal tone of voice (and normal volume level), you imply that “Hey, we’re buddies. Let me tell you something.”

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #250 – One Bad Apple

Chemistry is everything.

In a team show, one person not dedicated to making his or her partner better will ruin the show. In a solo show, a weak news person, traffic person, or weather person will be a giant flat tire in the mix. Don’t settle for that. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.

Pursue EXCELLENCE. I’d rather train someone how to do it well than settle for an experienced, but mediocre person who isn’t giving it his or her best effort.

If you have a traffic reporter who’s just giving an accident report, remind that person of how people live, what they’re tuning in to hear, and how to relay that information concisely, with personality. We’ve heard enough traffic updates that Siri could do better.

If you have a weather person (and yes, this ESPECIALLY includes TV weather people on radio) who’s just about wordy, rambling forecasts with vague temperature ranges, or talking about next weekend’s weather on Monday, remind them that all I want as a listener is (1) the high today, (2) the low tonight, and (3) whether we’ll get rain or snow. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

To be a great radio station, you can’t have weaknesses. There are lots of people who’d love to learn. Find them, and phase out the people who don’t. Believe me, it’ll be worth it.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #249 – Board Work: The Lost Art

Being a truly great talent also means being (or at least, having) a truly great board op. Many (maybe I should say “most”) people on the air today don’t even realize it.

It’s somewhat of a lost art now, but my generation of air talents were groomed to run the board PERFECTLY. We prided ourselves on precise segues, excellent and consistent levels, and hitting the next song or sound bite within a Content break at exactly the right time, after a brief, concisely focused intro. At stations where I worked, it was mandatory. If you couldn’t run a tight, flawless board, you couldn’t work there.

The proliferation of voice trackers today hasn’t helped. Whether they can hear the music themselves, or someone at the station is inserting the voice tracks, there’s very little (if any) thought given to quality control. You hear a song end (or the jock start talking too soon), then, somewhere after that, another song begins as they lurch forward. No momentum. None. Stop, start, stop, start – the OPPOSITE of seamless forward flow. Total lack of any sense of timing.

The good news is that this current state of affairs gives you a huge opportunity to take a somewhat subconscious but extremely tangible advantage over your competitors. There’s a reason to use it. Great movie directors (James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, etc.) know that the editing and sound engineering is an enormous part of their success. So I have to wonder why radio has largely forgotten about this area. Sadly, the reason is usually that no one is even thinking about it.

Yes, the computer runs the show a lot of the time now, but you can program in perfect cue tones, etc. It doesn’t take long.

Most radio today is so sloppy, my generation laughs at it. Your generation of listeners doesn’t laugh. They simply hit another button, or turn it off entirely and check their Facebook pages or watch something on Netflix. That’s why ratings are largely in the dumpster now for so many stations. No standard of excellence. So it just comes down to who has the best Content. That’ll always be a huge factor, but at-work listening, in particular, can be increased dramatically with better flow. If you don’t get what I’m talking about, well, that’s kind of sad. But you can actually DO something about it – if you want to learn.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #248 – More Crayons

I talk a lot about “crayons” – meaning, that just like in elementary school, learning how to use each crayon results in a different picture. In radio, “more crayons” is about finding more variations on a theme.

The two most typical endings are to say something funny, or to weigh in with a somber “summary” or “conclusion” to something. These are fine — essential, actually — but if they’re the only two crayons you color with, they’ll get pretty predictable.

My process is to strip everything away, until a talent begins again with the little “eight crayon” box that we got in first grade, then learns how each can be used.
Eventually, you move to the 16-crayon box, then the 32, then the beautiful 64-crayon box with the sharpener in the side.

The purpose of this analogy is to remember the essential storytelling ingredients, then add other things to avoid being predictable.

You want to be consistent, but sameness is a different thing – and one to be avoided. It’s a fine line, but this is why every talent needs coaching. No one is just born with the innate ability to craft information and stories into something cohesive that doesn’t waste the listener’s time. We have to work at it. There are far too many shows that are basically just the same things every day, always using the same crayons. Don’t let your show be one of them.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2018 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.