Tommy Kramer Tip #170 – Learn from Mike Nichols, Part 1

Mike Nichols was one of the most talented people ever. Grammy Award-winning improv comedian with his partner, Elaine May. NINE time Tony winner for directing on Broadway, Academy Award winning Director (The Graduate), and on and on.

One of the plays Nichols directed was Neil Simon’s most brilliant work, “The Odd Couple”. If you know the play (or the movie), you know that some of the funniest scenes are Oscar Madison’s poker nights, with great character actors playing each part. But in rehearsal, it wasn’t working. So Nichols huddled up with the actors and told them, “Lines delivered as ‘punch lines’ don’t work. It has to sound ACCIDENTAL to work.”

In radio, it’s the same, even when it’s not about being funny. In something as simple as bringing up a subject, just one sentence – even just one phrase – can make the difference between sounding like you’re just sharing something, as opposed to “presenting” or “announcing” it. (Or even worse, just reading something. Eww.)

If you haven’t mastered this “accidental” sound yet (and about 90% of air talents haven’t), get some help. We’ve all heard enough “heeeerrre comes a punch line!” people on the air.
Radio’s still a great way to make a living, and there’s no time limit. You can do it ‘til you drop dead at the microphone – IF you know what you’re doing.

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #169 – Listen to Yourself

In this age of voice-tracking and syndication, I often come across people who never listen to themselves on the air.

In the old days, we had cassettes, usually one for each day of the week. And I’d take the cassette, and play it in the car as I drove home or ran errands, just listening to the show. Not to see how “wonderful” I was (I don’t think there was ever a show that seemed perfect to me), but to have an accurate feel for how I – or we, in my team show days – came across on the air, and to pick up on little “crutch” habits or words I used too much. Maybe I laughed too often as a sort of reflex, for instance. After HEARING it, I could start working immediately on CORRECTING it.

Okay, cassette days are gone. But they’ve been replaced with truly incredible technology. We have computer audio files that we can access remotely, we have devices for our phones or computers to record the show, and there’s simply no excuse anymore for not really knowing how you sound on the air.

If you want to get better, listen to yourself. At least once a week. PDs often don’t have time to do aircheck sessions much anymore. And if your station doesn’t use a Talent Coach, you can get into some nasty habits pretty easily. (One woman I worked with laughed like a water buffalo being electrocuted. But she was totally unaware of it. Had she EVER bothered to listen to her OWN SHOW, she’d have realized it herself, instead of having to have me tell her about it. Boy, was that session not fun.)

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #166 – Character vs. Caricature

“Look at how she treats me…” immediately followed by the guy who said it laughing at his own remark.

That’s what I heard an air talent do the other day on a team show that I was listening to.

Sometimes in coaching, I ask a talent “What were you trying to do there?”
What that question really means is something I really don’t want to print. : )

Besides the fact that this line was just a useless, extraneous remark, when you point something out like that guy did, it only gives off the vibe that you really didn’t like it – or even worse, that you’re just trying to draw attention back to yourself.
Don’t “explain” it or comment on how you’re “mock”-being-taken-advantage-of. Just let it sit. People will like you more. When you over-act (or overreact), you become a caricature instead of a character.

If I’d been that guy’s partner, we would have had a serious talk after we got off the air about his killing the moment.

Sometimes it’s the little, tiny things that make or break that connection with the listener.

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #159 — The Greats are the Greats for a Reason

The Beatles. John Grisham. Jack Nicholson. Meryl Streep. Jack Nicklaus. Vincent Van Gogh. Michael Jordan. Movie Director John Ford. Steve Jobs. All Greats in their chosen fields.

And believe me, the Greats are the Greats for a REASON. There’s something about each of them that’s not only special, but it would stand as great in any era. That’s why people will still be listening to Frank Sinatra when they can’t even remember Nancy Sinatra. People will still be watching “Casablanca” (even though it’s “only” in black and white) and understanding the nobility of the struggle against a regime that wants to limit freedom, and understand the sacrifices that have to be made to preserve that freedom, as long as that video exists.

Either the theme, or some individual skill set made a great thing (or person) great. And yes, this certainly applies to radio. Whether your “great” was Wolfman Jack, Robert W. Morgan in Los Angeles, Fred Winston in Chicago, Ron Chapman in Dallas, or your local morning guy that no one in a neighboring state knows – but you still love (in my case, Larry Ryan in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana) – magnetic, truly entertaining air talents get put in the “Greats” folder and STAY there.

But here’s the hidden factor: the greats are great for MORE THAN ONE REASON. Think of it like an old 45rpm record – gotta have an “A” side, and a “B” side. Your “A” side gets you noticed, but it’s not enough to sustain you. You also have to find that other thing, like a pitcher coming up with an excellent slider to go WITH his hundred-mile-an-hour fastball, to get to the level of TRULY Great.

Because truly great equals MEMORABLE. The Beatles didn’t just do one great song. Jack Nicholson didn’t just do one great movie. And Michael Jordan wasn’t just a great shooter.

I hear a lot of jocks now, and a lot of STATIONS now, that have no “great” quality of any kind. So it’s impossible for them to come up with that “memorable” quality because they have no foundation of greatness to build upon. If that describes you, or where you work, get help NOW. Because the millennials EXPECT great, and have no patience at all with mediocrity. Get a great Consultant, and map out a great Strategy. Get great air talent, or at least people with a spark that makes them stand out at a party or a backyard barbecue or in a play, then hire a great Talent Coach to develop them.

If you don’t, you’ll just fall into the abyss of “okay, but not great.” Remember, all dinosaurs had to do to disappear from the Earth was stand still.

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #146: Yet another lesson from John Wooden

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden has influenced people in all walks of life. On the surface, I guess it’s easy to think that this may not include Radio, but there are things he preached that we can adopt to our benefit—and the listeners’ benefit.

Re-examining his “Pyramid of Success” today, I saw two items of significance:

Industriousness:
“Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick; no easy way.”

Above that, on the next level of the pyramid, is Alertness:
“Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team.”

What this means to those of us in radio is that talent is not enough. We’ve all known jocks (or Program Directors or General Managers) that had amazing skills, but didn’t keep working at getting better. Back in the Dark Ages when I first worked in Dallas for radio pioneer Gordon McLendon, we had a guy who did weekends and occasional all-nights named Nick Alexander. Nick was the low man on the KNUS totem pole. (That staff had more people inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame than any other.)

We did group aircheck sessions regularly, where all the jocks listened to a tape, and gave their observations—some pointing out good things, and some pretty blunt assessments of what didn’t work. Nick got beaten up pretty badly in a couple of those sessions, but he took the whippings like a man. He worked hard to become a better air talent, and eventually became a fine jock, then went on to become an extremely successful Voice Actor, heard on hundreds and hundreds of commercials, and making about ten times more money than I will ever make.

…and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He deserved every break he got, because he understood what Industriousness and Alertness were all about.

I’m sure Coach Wooden would have liked him.

– – – – – – –
Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2016 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #135 – Chinese Handcuffs

No doubt you’ve seen “Chinese handcuffs”, that little woven tube that TRAPS your fingers inside it. And the more you struggle, the tighter it gets. You have to relax to get free.

The same thing goes for what you do on the air. Don’t overthink what you’re doing, and don’t try too hard. Make it simple, and easy to consume. If you try to do too much or it gets too complicated, that can be a lot to ask from someone who’s just on his way to get a burger.

Allways try to make each break the very best it can be, even if you’re just intro’ing a song. Simply let yourself get into the moment, and engage.

– – – – – – –
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 #134 – Bob Dylan’s Method

Even the Beatles were inspired by Bob Dylan. Fifty years after he exploded onto the music scene, you probably still hear Bob Dylan’s songs every single week, in all sorts of different formats, by dozens of different artists. And even though he’s got that raspy voice nowadays, thousands of people still pack the house when he plays.

I saw an interview with him once when the notoriously tight-lipped Dylan answered a question about his “method” by saying, “Take what you KNOW, and build on it.”

That’s great advice for anyone in radio, and there are several different ways for us to apply it:

1. Never bring up a subject that you really don’t know about.

2. Never pretend to know something you don’t. (It always shows.)

3. Never be satisfied that what you’ve “always known” is still valid. Update, upgrade, learn more all the time.

And as my friend Valerie Geller says, “Always tell the truth, and never be boring.”
Note: Get Valerie’s new book here. (There’s an audio version, too.)

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_14/190-5088797-6317507?url=search-alias=stripbooks&field-keywords=valerie+geller&sprefix=valerie+geller,aps,240

– – – – – – –
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 #132 – Table for Three

Besides working with young talents to help them accelerate to “warp speed” really quickly, there’s one other area of coaching that really lights me up – helping “seasoned pros” update their sound, so they come across as being in the 21st century. Losing old habits isn’t really that hard. LOTS of old dogs learn new tricks.

Recently, a veteran broadcaster on a Talk show that I coach needed to take a hard look at his vocal approach. His vision was that he was sitting at a table for eight or ten people, and needed to project loudly enough so that everyone at the table could hear him.

That probably was what most people thought when he first started, that a BIG voice that “PRESENTED” everything was the right sound.

But not now. Things are more intimate than ever. No one wants to feel shouted at. So to bring him up to speed, I told him to think of the show as a table for three – him, his partner, and me (the listener). Anything past that will be too loud, and not really sound like you’re actually talking to me, instead of at me.

Sounding animated, indignant, or excited about something is a different matter. My buddy Mancow has that down to a “T”. But shouting everything only worked well for one person: the great Foghorn Leghorn.

– – – – – – –
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 #124 – You’re a Role Model…whether you want to be or not

Just the other day, I heard from a young man who said he does a Talk show, and wanted some coaching. He described his show as “focusing on politics, current events, and whatever else comes out of my head, with my main influences being Imus, Limbaugh, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Wolfman Jack, etc.”

I felt like I was on the old TV show “Lost in Space”, with the robot saying “Danger, Will Robinson!” First of all, that’s a pretty diverse list of influences. Wolfman Jack? I loved the Wolfman, but for a talk show host? That’s like wanting your hair to look like Moe of the 3 Stooges.

Anyway, as with every inquiry, I asked him to send an aircheck, so I could see where he was in his skillset and then determine if I could help him. (I don’t take on clients just because they want to pay me. I live for making radio great.)

Turns out, he was a college kid, working on a college station—which, of course, was horrible. (No repercussions, meaning ratings = no learning.) And his show was just disjointed rants, screaming at the listener to make his points, and pretending to talk to (read that “lecture”) political candidates like Hillary Clinton in this case (who, of course, is not listening to you).

However, I really couldn’t blame him. He was just parroting back his version of his role models, without really understanding that (1) just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you, and (2) those influences may not even be valid in today’s hummingbird-attention-span era.

I did try to help him, giving him a free coaching session, but the operative part of this is realizing that you are a role model, whether you want to be or not. Someone is listening to you, then trying to imitate you, as a first step toward finding himself.

So today, ask yourself “Am I a good role model?” I’ll tell you right now the biggest single factor in becoming one: don’t sit on your can thinking you’ve got it down and you don’t really have anything left to learn or to prove. Because the last thing you should ever want is to be cited as a role model for someone who doesn’t sound good.

– – – – – – –
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 #118 – What you can learn from Bill Murray…and Larry Ryan

It would be hard to imagine anyone who’s more welcome to join a party than comedian/actor Bill Murray. His “business model” is unique. He has no agent, no “handlers” buzzing around him, no business cards to pass out. But what he DOES have is that he seems imminently approachable.

You see him at the Pebble Beach golf tournament, accepting home-baked cookies from a woman, then sharing them with other people around the tee box. Then you click to another channel, and he’s at Eric Clapton’s giant “Crossroads” event, not only being an emcee, but sitting with people in the crowd, watching the artists play, just like a normal person. Then he’s in Austin for SXSW, walking down the street, eating barbecue and shaking hands with everyone.

But radio people at a remote or station event? Mostly, they’re huddled up in a corner, talking to each other. Their physical posture and manner suggest that going up to one of them just to chat would either get a perfunctory “thanks for coming” response or be downright unwelcome.

Sure, Facebook and Twitter are good ways to connect, but believe me, shaking someone’s hand makes far more impact. My friend and mentor Larry Ryan in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, is a great example. I can’t count how many times we’ve been eating lunch or just walking down the street, and someone has come up to him and said something like “Hi, Larry! We met a couple of years ago at the Mardi Gras parade.”
Larry will ALWAYS greet them warmly, and if he can’t quite place them, say “I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.” Then he makes that person feel like an old friend, has a short conversation, wishes them well, and we go on.

The result? After 50 years on the air there, Larry Ryan is a legend in Shreveport, still pulling excellent ratings on an Oldies station. And I guarantee you that when he does retire, a lot of people will still be writing his name down in their Arbitron diaries. Months later, they’ll think he’s just been on vacation for a couple of weeks. (If you think that’s an exaggeration, you’re wrong. When I was Corporate Talent Coach for Paxson Radio, we saw diary entries for one jock who had been DEAD for two years!)

– – – – – – –
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.