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.

Tommy Kramer Tip #247 – The Pause

Recently, I had a session with a very good talent who struggles occasionally at the very beginning of a break. I played her a couple of breaks where the hemming and hawing was noticeable; she just couldn’t get any real traction in getting started.

Here’s a possible cause — the tendency to think that every second has to be filled with words. Nothing could be farther from the truth. JFK, Martin Luther King, and dozens of actors known for their timing realized that sometimes a pause to “gather” your next thought is THE most powerful moment.

Example:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” is not the same as “Ask not….what your country can do for you. (Another pause) Ask what you can do for your country.”

When the anxiety is taken away, and you come to trust that conversations need pauses, the tendency to just add more words, or over-explain, will dissipate.

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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 #246 – Content: The 2 Lanes to Travel

Of all the things I get asked about, the search for Content comes up far more often than anything else. First of all, you have to look for it, but it’s really all around you. Prep sheets are great for lining bird cages, but real Content can easily be distilled into two lanes:

1. What’s already on the listener’s mind – TOP of mind, not just something he/she “has a passing interest in” – filtered THROUGH your observations, experiences, and opinions.

2. Things the listener may NEED to know, but might not have heard about yet.

Anything that you have to “reach” for, you should automatically reject. Let everyone ELSE do trivial, typical, or obscure stuff, while you make great contact every at-bat. (Obligatory baseball reference is for my partner John Frost. Go Yankees.)

With the natural flow of stuff that you have to promote (station stuff, events, web features, etc.) and Contests, that’s really all you need. The creative “difference” factors don’t lie in finding “off the beaten path” things to talk about; they’re in HOW you weigh in on and share the things the listener cares most about.

This makes your prep process SO easy.

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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 #245 – What You Can Do in Six Seconds

The other day, I was having to teach someone how to talk over a song intro. This is a modern phenomenon, apparently, because most people on the radio today never heard the Drake Format or the “Q” Format that revolutionized radio in the late sixties and early seventies.

Before those, jocks just talked whenever and wherever they wanted to, so you heard a song end, the jock blather for a few seconds (or longer), and then start another song, talking up to the vocal.

Bill Drake changed that. Jocks fit the song intro, instead of starting early. Momentum increased exponentially.
The Q stations (KCBQ in San Diego first, others later) took it another step further. But jocks tended to lose contact with the pace of the song, doing every break in a high-powered delivery.
Stations like KNUS in Dallas, Y95 in Miami and others took it beyond that, maintaining the momentum, but also introducing a sensitivity to the pace and “vibe” of the song and matching it with the delivery.

Enough with the history lesson. Jocks today grew up hearing a song end, the talent talking for much too long, then another song starting. Momentum ceased to exist under the guise of “respecting the music,” primarily an Album Rock approach. Stop – Start – Stop – Start. The definition of NO true momentum.

So back to the recent session. I told the man/woman team “start the next song, THEN talk” every other song or every third song, with Imaging pieces (fully produced, no “dry voice” at the end that stopped the momentum in its tracks) between the other songs within a music ‘sweep’.

The female partner said, “What if the song only has about a six-second intro? What can we do except just give the name of the station and introduce the song?”

Here’s what you can do:
You can sound ENGAGED with the music, like YOU’RE listening to it, too. You can give an opinion about the song or the artist.
You can promote something coming up. You can avoid sounding like a robot, trying to get this over with as soon as possible.
And you can learn the value of words, how to edit yourself, and that you can reveal an Emotion instead of just giving information.

Then you might not sound like just “a voice saying words”. And you’ll have flexibility, instead of just trying to jam something in. And most importantly, you’ll sound like you’re sharing the experience, in the moment, WITH me (the listener). You know, like friends.

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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 #244 – The Cure for “Puking”

Just last month, an associate sent me this email:

Do you have any suggestions for how to correct a “Ron Radio” delivery? A client of mine in a small market sent their night jock’s audio to me. He is kind of a puker. It’s been forever since I’ve dealt with someone who pukes on the air. I was going to have him put a picture of his wife (or similar) in front of him to maybe make him more conversational. I remember you having a better way of having someone visualize speaking to another person.

My reply:
The picture of your wife works for most people, but with pukers, they have to move in closer to the mic so when they get loud and exaggerated, it really stands out to them. What I do is play a break where the pukey thing happened, then ask the talent to “Say that again, right now, just to me” to create a sense of intimacy. Intimacy kills puking.

The worst disease in radio (or in life, really) is to try to be “bigger” and more expansive. It just makes someone sound like a blowhard. Drastic measures are sometimes necessary. I always remind those people that I’m only two feet away, not twenty. And if that doesn’t work, I let them in on how really great jocks always mock pukers. (No one likes to think of himself being mocked.)

The “Ron Radio” thing may have worked at one time, but not now. One of the best things you can do as a PD is help someone lose that sound.

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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 #243 – Make Sure it’s Fully Baked

Despite all the zillions of VERY specific tips that I coach, the people I’ve worked with the longest know that I’m all about developing Personality on the air. The most important mentors in my career stressed that – particularly as “cookie cutter” formats became dominant – Personality was the sweet brown liquid inside the Coca-Cola can.

Just the other day, a guy I’ve worked with for several years took a foray into the world of creating a character voice to do his weather forecasts, and ran it several times during his show. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t ‘ready for prime time’ yet, either. Here’s part of what I wrote in our session recap:

I don’t want to quash your aspirations, but we have to make sure that something is fully baked before we serve it. Characters or other contributors need some sort of backstory to legitimize their presence. And even if a character voice works, something this specific can’t work more than once in a show until it’s really fleshed out and defined. Repeating it later in the show, at this point, is overuse.

For the time being, let’s talk about these things before they hit the air, so you’re not bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Characters don’t have to be fictional, either. My first boss, Larry Ryan in Shreveport, Lousiana, made a seemingly nerdy ‘engineer’ type named Ralph Montgomery, who basically just ran the automation machines on our “Beautiful Music” sister station, into “Mr. Weather” after hearing Ralph do a forecast so deadpan that it was hilarious. Mr. Weather became a HUGE star as Larry helped him develop.

Growth happens a little at a time. It rarely just bursts out in full bloom. But you should always be on the lookout for something you can use to be relevantly different on the air.

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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 #242 – Values: The Center of the Bulls-Eye

In talking to Program Directors and GMs over the years, I’ve heard a lot of discussion about why a show does or doesn’t really get the audience the people in charge think it should. For example, they’ll go down their bullet-point lists of all the ingredients that a morning show should have – the capsule descriptions of what words describe each Talent, which one is the “starter” and which is the “reactor”, and (hopefully) the reason people will listen to them.

But if you stop there, you’re missing the center of the bulls-eye: Values.

What are the talent’s values? What are the station’s values? What do you STAND for?

Sooner or later, all stations – and all shows – come down to values. Without some core ingredient that the listener can FEEL, you’re just someone spraying out words; hit and miss.

My friend Johnjay Van Es of The Johnjay & Rich Show” is a great example. He’s got every tool that you’d look for – an interesting voice, great chemistry with the other members of the show, a remarkable awareness of how to use social media to create more avenues for the listener to connect with the show, great sense of humor, etc.

But he also has very value-driven, openly heart-driven things like his “Love Up” campaign, and its offshoot, the “Love Pup” campaign that has found homes for countless dogs all across the country in the dozens of markets where the show airs.

Without those, they’d be a much shallower entity, doing bits and talking about what famous people they hung out with – like a lot of other shows that may be entertaining in the short run, but in the words of Gertrude Stein describing Oakland, “There’s no ‘there’ there.”

If I listen to you for an hour, I’d better come away with something that shows me what your values are. Otherwise, “click”…the death sentence.

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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 #241 – The Secret of Survivor’s Success: Stories + Editing

The buzz word today is “stories”. That’s a simplistic way of saying that personal experiences are more powerful and memorable than just “bits” or “items”.

And the best example I’ve ever seen of how stories should take shape is the TV show “Survivor”. As I write this tip just before Christmas of 2017, “Survivor” just ended the 35th “season” (over a span of 18 years), with Ben Driebergen, a 34-year old Marine from Boise who openly admitted as the show unfolded that he’s struggled with PTSD after serving in Iraq, winning the million-dollar prize. The impact of this “reveal” on other veterans, and the awareness of how hard it is to deal with, no doubt made an impression on millions of people – and every season of that show has had dramatic, amazingly compelling stories like Ben’s emerge.

But there’s something here for you to learn: the primary reason why those stories have made that impact is that “Survivor” is, by far, the best-edited show in television history.

They film literally THOUSANDS of hours, then have to edit them down to the 13 to 16 episodes that make up a season. (Each episode runs 43 minutes. They edit, then edit some more, then edit some more.)

And that’s how you should approach your show. I told a morning team the other day that to reach the next level, the goal is to do breaks that would need little to no editing to make a promo for the show.

Art combined with work ethic. Stories + Editing. If you’re not doing that, hope that I don’t coach your competition. Because you’ll be the one that sounds like you can’t shut up, and are wasting the listener’s 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.