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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Radio Talent Coach
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2013 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.