Tommy Kramer Tip #216 — Jump-starting getting to the Next Level

Okay, so you’ve got all the obvious skills as an air talent. But the reason people hire me is that the obvious skills aren’t the ones that actually engage people emotionally.

People who’ve worked with me know that I teach a lot of radio techniques by NOT using radio as an example. (And I’m also fortunate to work with several extremely successful voice actors that you hear every day on national commercials and movie trailers.)

So to be a better air talent, or to try and transition to the voice acting world, here’s a simple first step:
Watch great movies, and soak up WHY the great actors ARE the greats. Here are several movies to watch that I recommend:

The Maltese Falcon.
Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre — all three completely different from each other, all just great vocal studies. Yes, it’s an old black-and-white movie, but it’s a dialogue and acting clinic.

Anything with Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford.
Hard to beat these two. These guys just embody the “everyman” image, but can also play heroic parts. I’d pay to watch Hanks read a parking ticket.

Lonesome Dove.
The best mini-series ever on TV, with the great Robert Duvall in one of his two favorite performances ever, and the wonderful Tommy Lee Jones.

Mama Mia.
Yes, the ABBA movie. With Meryl Streep, an acting (and voice acting) class herself, and other standout performances from the entire cast, especially the three male stars. If you sneer at it just because it’s ABBA stuff, well, get over it.

The Godfather.
If you don’t like the violence or subject matter, okay, but you should watch something with Marlon Brando. He understood better than anybody the power of delivering a line softly, rather than being loud.

Anything written by Aaron Sorkin.
The West Wing, The Newsroom, The American President (if only we had one like Michael Douglas in this movie), Moneyball, The Social Network, etc. Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best screenwriter on earth. He really gets “emotional investment” (an acting term that I preach all the time).

Have fun watching, and LEARN.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #199 – Too “up” isn’t Real

I’ve been working with a morning show recently that only has one “gear”. The male partner is “Ron Radio”, talking to the listener like she’s 20 feet away (when, in reality, the listener is just a couple of feet away, in the car). The female partner, who’s new to radio, has what I guess a lot of people would call a “bubbly” personality. And, of course, she’s unnaturally loud, too – following his lead.

The problem here is that their too loud, “way too up” approach doesn’t quite sound real. And if you’re ALWAYS “up”, then when something really bad happens that you need to comment on – another school or mall shooting, or God forbid, another plane flies into a building – chances are good that it’s going to sound either sort of bi-polar, or insincere.

I cringe when I hear a PD tell a talent to “have more energy” or to “smile” when they talk. This inevitably results in an almost “terminally giddy” sound, and you’ve got nowhere to GO from there.

You need lots of vocal and emotional “gears” so you can make smooth, believable transitions between different types of subject matter. The minute I hear someone who’s too loud or too “up”, we start working IMMEDIATELY on fleshing out vocal approaches that convey all sorts of different emotions. We already have too many “announcers”, and at least one too many Kathy Lee Gifford.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

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 – Being yourself…unless…

We hear it all the time. “Be yourself on the air.”

Being yourself IS what you want to be, UNLESS your natural “self” is too exuberant for the intimacy of radio.

Loud talkers, for instance. Those jocks that seem to SHOUT everything. Over the course of coaching somewhere around 1700 people, I’ve dealt with a lot of these foghorn types, usually old Top 40 jocks who make “announcements” or “present” things. And they always say the same thing when I point this out: “But that’s just the way I talk.” (Actually, they say “BUT THAT’S JUST THE WAY I TALK.”)

Well if that’s true, you’ll need to change.

To become a great talent, you need to fully understand, master, and be able to control your “instrument” – your voice.

When you SHOUT at me on the air, you’re forgetting that I can hit a button and turn you OFF. And believe me, I will.

If you need to get loud to express excitement or outrage, back off the mic a few inches, even turn your head away from it. That way, I still get the Emotion, but I also still have functioning eardrums.

– – – – – – –
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 #126 – Splitting sentences up

You’ve heard this, and you’ve seen it done on TV commercials, too. One person starts a sentence, but then it’s split up as another person continues it. I saw a TV spot where EVERY sentence was split up among several different people.

And I can’t count how many morning show promos have been done this way.
[1st voice] “Hi, I’m Snarf…”
[2nd voice] “and I’m Garfle…”
[1st voice] “from the Snarf and Garfle show…”
[2nd voice] “All this week, we’re giving away tickets
1st voice] “in the alley next to the Keith Urban concert…”
[2nd voice] “you could be the winner…
[1st voice] “and get mugged by a drug dealer!”

This is just editing gone crazy.
Give yourself permission to sound more plausible. Don’t split sentences up.

In real life, when someone finishes the other person’s sentence, it’s either too “cutesy” or just downright annoying.
Plus, you destroy the rhythm of the copy when you do those half-thoughts. It’s difficult to match the other person’s tempo and emotional vibe, so it ends up sounding choppy.

One person does the greeting. The other does the main message. The first person then tags it. Each completes his or her own sentence. You get the same effect—an energetic read—without having to rush like your pants are on fire. (And it sounds more real.)

– – – – – – –
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 #122 – Say my name, say my name

Time for a little “basics” check. How good are you at saying the name of the station? There are a lot of different factors that play into this supposedly simple thing…

First of all, you should say them first—the first thing out of your mouth when you start a break. Not just “somewhere in there”. There’s a reason the Jif label is on the outside of the jar. They don’t put it inside with the peanut butter.
When you say “That’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed Sheeran on 92.9 KSLL” that’s about Ed Sheeran, who’s on 1200 stations, one of which happens to be yours.
But when you say “92.9 KSLL and Ed Sheeran with ‘Thinking Out Loud,’” it’s YOUR song. You own it, and that’s the kind of music that YOU play.
Ownership MATTERS.

Yes, I’ve heard PD’s say “but it sounds more conversational to just drop them in at random.” But branding isn’t about being “conversational”. It’s about branding. (Which, by the way, is why you shouldn’t just segue two songs back-to-back without a short produced piece or a jingle between them that gives your name. You’re just throwing away a branding opportunity. PPM will never measure someone who doesn’t tune you in a second time because they don’t remember who you are.)

But let’s move on to the performance itself—the art of saying the station’s name. Here are just a few of the techniques I coach:

1. As a voice actor, you have to be able to deliver it in multiple ways, with several different inflections and variations in timing. It’s easy to just toss the name out like a robot, which always sounds like you’re just trying to get it done with so you can get on to the more “important” stuff. (I’ve actually edited together every time a talent says the station’s name in an hour so he or she could hear the bad habits that have set in — same tone of voice every time, same inflection, always going down in pitch at the end—there are tons of them.)

2. Matching the pace of the song. (Fast song, uptempo delivery. Slow song, slower delivery.)

3. Matching the emotional “vibe” of the song. (Sad song, more somber tone. Happy song, more upbeat delivery.)

4. Starting on the same NOTE the song is on. (The great Marice Tobias also teaches this.)

…and there’s more, but in John Lennon’s words, “I have to have money first.”

Suffice it to say that unless you’re good at saying the name of the station—the first thing you should master—chances are that people won’t remember you, and ratings won’t be as high as they could be. I’ve seen Arbitron entries for stations that don’t exist anymore, and air talents that have been DEAD for two years. That’s the power of good branding.

– – – – – – –
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 #121 – The Beau Weaver Tips

Beau Weaver was simply the best radio jock I ever heard, period.

Now he’s now a very successful voice actor based out of Los Angeles, and still one of my closest friends. We first met and worked together as babies several hundred years ago, when Gordon McLendon hired us as part of the staff at KNUS 99, the station that put FM on the map in Dallas.

We were all very young, and constantly running thoughts and techniques by each other, trying to find ourselves as jocks and Production talents. The other day, Beau reminded me of how he’d often play me a spot or promo that he’d done, and I’d keep repeating two things to him: “Don’t use your voice, and don’t try.”

Those are still the two starting places, either for young talent, or for old pros trying to update their sound to still be valid in the 21st century. Let me explain why…

Don’t use your voice.
When you “use” your voice, it sounds phony. The broadcasting world is still far too stocked with people on the air who just LOVE their own voices, and “puke” too much or shout at the listener in an effort to sound “big” or to “impress” them. (Are you listening, Kenny Albert? I’m not 40 feet away. There’s no reason to scream at me.)
Just talk.

Don’t “try”.
It’s not that you don’t want to give it a professional effort. Of course you do, but when you try too hard, you sound strident. That doesn’t bring anyone closer to you; it pushes them away. You pull people toward you by really understanding your “instrument”. Study great actors, and you see the value of LESS volume, less projection. For instance, Tom Hanks doesn’t have what radio people would call a great voice, but he can make you cry. Here’s another great example: Matt Damon at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” at that graveside, turning to his wife and softly saying, “Tell me I’m a good man.” It gets me every time.

Until you fully realize all the techniques available to you that can sway people, you’re just going to be one more voice in a sea of voices, quacking away on the air every day. (And good luck trying to be a voice actor. I’ve been to auditions where they’ve asked “Anyone in radio?” and when some people raised their hands, they were told “Thank you; you can leave.” They never even got a CHANCE to read, because the last thing anyone wants for a national spot is the “deejay” delivery.)

If you’re not in touch with this yet, you need a coach.

Oh, and go to www.spokenword.com to hear Beau Weaver’s work. Whatever he doesn’t have, you don’t need.

– – – – – – –
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.

– – – – – – –
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 #104 – Hearing/Listening

I‘ve heard jocks complain that they didn’t get any calls or emails or Facebook posts when it was expected. This seems odd to me, like a playwright complaining that the audience in the theater didn’t get a joke.

It’s easy to just say “they heard, but they didn’t listen,” but that’s
the wrong end of the binoculars, because it’s about your agenda. We should be considering the possibility that “they were listening, but they didn’t hear,” because that puts the responsibility where it really belongs—on us. If the message isn’t getting across, then we need to do a better job of getting it across.

Besides the fact that people are busy and have lives, I think there’s always a reason why someone doesn’t really hear something. Assuming out front that what you’re talking about is on target, then you have to consider that (1) maybe it’s just not clear, or (2) that the way you did it just wasn’t as compelling as it could have been.

When you put maximum effort into the precise wording and emotional investment you’ll need to make someone actually pay attention, you’ll be far more likely to get the results you want. (Vocabulary is crucial.)
If you don’t really want to dive into it that deeply, you can still be pretty good—but you can’t be great.

Treat every time you open the mike like your career depends on it, because it actually kinda does.

– – – – – – –
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 #101 – Articulate the Popular Rage

There’s a great line from the movie “Network” where old-line newsman Howard Beale (Academy Award winner Peter Finch) is told by his new show developer (Faye Dunnaway) to “articulate the popular rage.”

Now this movie, written by Pulitzer-prize winner Paddy Cheyevski—was made in 1977, so “rage” was at its core. You may remember Beale’s famous scene where he urged people to shout out their windows “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

The thought of ‘articulating the popular rage’ is still valid—although I would modify it to be “Articulate the Popular Emotion.” Rage is only one emotion, and you don’t want to be a one-trick pony. But the idea is to be the voice of what your listener is thinking. Joy, sadness, grief, silliness, disbelief, patriotism, skepticism, being thankful—all these (and more) make up the palate from which you can verbally “paint” the Content of the show.

Never settle for something that’s not based on an Emotion.

– – – – – – –
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.