Tommy Kramer Tip #167 – What you SHOULD want out of phone calls

One of the things I get asked about a lot is phone calls. Some PD’s think that putting a lot of phone calls on the air is the whole point; that putting people who’ve never had any sort of training in mass communication, speech, acting, or writing will somehow be better than an air talent who’s had years of experience and doesn’t ramble on about insignificant details when he or she is telling a story.

It’s not that I don’t like callers being on the air; I’ve done shows that were extremely phone-intensive. But you have to have a sense of what the real point is. So think of it this way:

You don’t want to take phone calls. You want to take verbal photographs from people. If what’s being said doesn’t make you see something, or imagine in your mind what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes, it’s not worth airing.

And let me clarify that you want snapshots, not movies. Every second that you let a caller continue to talk, you face being driven off a cliff. If possible, record and EDIT every call. In a Talk format, be prepared to simply cut off a caller, then go on to make your point, or hit the button to go to the next thing.

Whenever I tell a group of people this stuff, someone says “But won’t that sound rude?”
No. What’s rude is subjecting the Listener to a boring, information-driven call that seems ten times longer than it actually is. Frankly, the listener deserves better than that.

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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 #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.

Tommy Kramer Tip #89 – Make the Caller the same size

Actor Bill Murray talked recently in an interview about living in Paris for a while, and going to see a series of silent films. And how even in a movie with no words spoken, he clearly understood the plot and could feel for the characters. I think radio at its best is the other end of the seesaw. Anything we do on the air – without pictures – should be able to stand on its own merit, too, and engage people.

He also talked about how the most important thing he learned in Second City, the famous improv factory in Chicago, was to not try to be larger than the other person in the scene. Murray learned to give the other person what they needed to just settle down and be the part they were playing—to “make the other person the same size,” instead of mugging for the camera or trying to dominate the scene.

Besides guests or co-hosts, this also applies directly to phone callers. We’ve all heard “Make the caller the star.” Well, that sounds good, but a lot of talents just aren’t willing to give the caller what he or she needs. And sometimes you can give too much, and it runs off the rails because callers are real people, not trained personalities or entertainers.

So a better thought might be to just make the caller the same size as you, to take out the pressure and competition for “the moment”. The caller will either make it on his own, or there will be a place that you can save it. And remember, unlike improv, we can edit the phone call before the listener ever hears it.

Look, radio is more than just saying words or selling your “brand” (which is only a name if there’s no Value in it). Shoot for higher than that. Be someone, but also be willing to share the sandbox.

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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 #23 – Further phone bit thoughts

We hear the “Topics and phone calls” thing WAY too much nowadays, but there are times that it’ll work—like if you want to give something away. I’ve done this a lot over the years. “The best suggestion wins” is a great way to get listeners on the air for a very specific reason, and avoid the typical “please do my show for me” sound of mindless “what do you think?” responses about a lukewarm topic.

So let’s dive into this just a little deeper…

First, a phoner only works when it begins with a real-life story or observation. Otherwise, it just sounds like some generic radio bit.

So if you have something that does get some response, think about these things:

1. Vary your resets. If you get into each call the same way, it gets stale really fast.

Here are two examples I heard just the other day. (The names were changed to protect the stupid):

[1st break] “KNRL and Sheryl Crow with ‘First Cut is the Deepest,’ it’s 8:15, I’m Seymour Farquad, hi, who’s this?”

[2nd break] “KNRL with Bruno Mars and ‘When I Was Your Man,’ I’m Seymour Farquad, hi, who’s this?”

When the “opens” are almost identical—either in your wording or in the order of the basic elements—to the person in the car, it’s “been there; heard that” followed by a click. (We never want the click.)

Instead of just rattling off the “basics”, use a different, concise “camera angle” each time, and more people will stay with you.

2. Never carry a phone thing over the top of an hour, into the next hour. Since that’s a likely tune-in place, the listener just tuning in has no idea of why this would come up. Plus, to someone who did hear some of the previous calls, it can seem like you’re just “milking” it, which makes you come across like a one-trick pony. New hour = new material.

3. Always remember the Golden Rule of phone calls: Any call you run better be as good as the best song you play. Otherwise, I’m gone.

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Tommy Kramer
Radio Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2013 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #22 – The Rule of the 3rd Call

We loooovvvvvve to see the phone lines lit up. It seems to validate that the Listener is interested in what you’re doing on the air. (Actually, this can be a false impression, since only a tiny fraction of the audience makes up the entire pool of phone callers. But we’ll go deeper into that another time.)

Here’s how you tell if you have a topic that’s working, or just a bunch of blinking lights on the phone bank. It’s a litmus test that I refer to as “The Rule of the 3rd Call.”

If the first caller agrees with you, and the second caller disagrees with you, what does the third caller do?

If all the third caller can do is repeat what one of the first two callers said, it’s NOT a Topic. It’s just a poll.

If you want to do a poll, just say that. “We’ll decide this right now. Let’s take a poll. Next 10 callers, yes or no.” Then give the phone number, tally the voting as you go, and proclaim the results to be the absolute gospel truth. (The purpose of a poll is to come to a conclusion.)

One key to really making a Subject work is to avoid putting things on the air that lean toward “yes” or “no” responses.

What you want to elicit are EMOTIONAL responses from callers. Incidents or stories they relate based on what the Subject you’re talking about MEANS in their lives is what truly compelling radio is about.

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Tommy Kramer
Radio Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2013 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #21 – Phone calls: 7 fundamentals

I hear from so many air talents, “How do I get more phone calls?” The first thing I ask them is “Why?”

Yes, phone calls can add a dimension to any show, but only good calls. Unfortunately, most of them are not good. Most phone callers you hear on the air either just kiss up to the deejay, try to be a co-host, or prattle on too long, so the momentum sags. Start with the thought that any call you run had better be as good as your best song.

Now here are the seven basic rules for phone calls (in music formats), and the real secrets of how to solicit and use them on the air.

1. NEVER ask a question to solicit phone calls. “What do you think?” only invites the same caller that you used yesterday to call in again, because most people don’t believe that you really want their input, and/or don’t have time to call in anyway. (It’s a strange phenomenon that asking “What do you think?” only attracts people who DON’T think.) Make STATEMENTS that trigger emotional reaction, instead. Then, if you simply must solicit calls, say “Maybe there’s something I’m missing” or “Maybe you see something here that I don’t” and give the phone number. No “I want to hear from you” or anything else. Your NEEDINESS is NOT a reason for me to call. If you sound like you NEED phone calls, you either won’t get them, or you’ll only get bad ones. Really useful responses have to be driven by emotional reaction to something that’s said, not manufactured “topics” or nebulous “Tell us your story” solicitations.

2. Avoid “regulars.” The minute a caller is identifiable, damage is done. You give off the vibe of being a “closed community” of people that have somehow gotten into an “inner circle” made up of “favorites” that get on the air. This does not welcome in new callers.

3. You don’t need the old-fashioned, “And you had a question…?” lead-in to a call. Set the subject up, then cut to the “meat” of the call. No extra verbiage required. Also to be avoided: “Ginger had a comment…” I don’t know “Ginger.” Her name doesn’t matter. Plus this “narration” doesn’t have an organic feel to it, so it puts the call into the realm of “artificial radio stuff.”

4. Phone calls are NOT conversations. They’re sound bites, used to further the subject and the forward momentum of the show. So you don’t need the gratuitous “politeness” of “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine, how are you today?” stuff on the front. Just cut to the POINT of the call. And cut off the “Okay, thanks for calling. Have a nice day” stuff, too. Real life may be about manners, but great Radio is about MOMENTUM.

5. In the “body” of a call, remember that the moment anything is repeated, the call will AUTOMATICALLY sound long, no matter what the actual length is. So anytime you have a bad connection and have to repeat something, or the caller goes off “chasing rabbits” instead of staying on subject, cut that part out.

6. You don’t have to find the perfect beginning point, voiced by the caller, to air a phone call. You can intro it live by giving the subject line, then play the “sound bite” from the call that serves your purpose. Example: You say, “I lost my rental car the other day in the airport parking lot, ‘cause I couldn’t remember what I rented” into a caller saying “I always tie an orange ribbon to the radio antenna so I can see it.”

7. ONE point made per call. The minute you go into a second point with any call, IT’S TOO LONG.

I love good, judicial use of phoners on the air. But like everything, it has to have a useful strategy behind it, and be done well. I promise you that if you use these techniques, the calls you do choose to run will sound noticeably better.

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Tommy Kramer
Radio Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2013 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #11 – Real People Can’t Talk

As radio continually beats the concept of “telling stories” to death, it’s important to remember that real people can’t talk.

That’s why—in music radio—we edit phone calls, so we can tighten them up, take out redundancy and sentences that don’t add anything, and remove irrelevant names of people we don’t know (or care about). Real people—people who are not trained professionals—aren’t likely to have the skill set to hold the listener’s attention as they tell a story. The average person is likely to go off “chasing rabbits” at any moment, which you know if you’ve edited very many calls. They mean well; they just don’t have the “chops” to keep it from bogging down.

And normal people usually aren’t great writers, either. They tend to stiffen up and use “print language” when they write, instead of the natural, everyday “street talk” that we want to use on the air. Keeping in mind that only people with cataracts want to be read to, when you do want to put someone’s email or Facebook posting on the air, please don’t just read it verbatim. The way it works best is for you to tell as much of the story as you can in your own words, just quoting an occasional line from them. That way, you can keep the story moving, leaving out repetition and unnecessary details that can easily make a genuinely heartfelt story come across like an A. A. meeting.

Now please don’t misinterpret this to mean that you shouldn’t put phone calls on the air, or share someone’s Facebook comment or email. Those ingredients are great, IF you make them airworthy.

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Tommy Kramer
Radio Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2013 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.