Tommy Kramer Tip #201 – What TV can learn from Radio, and vice-versa

You would think that TV and Radio are like brothers or cousins, each putting out their product with an all-encompassing view of what the experience is like from the viewer’s or listener’s perspective.

And you would be wrong.

In reality, TV doesn’t care enough (if at all) about SOUND. In my experience of coaching many television air talents, it’s pretty much all about what it LOOKS like. The end result is usually a bunch of talking heads reading words from teleprompters that real people would never say in an actual conversation. (“The alleged suspect was apprehended” instead of “they caught the guy.”) But the time they could use to rewrite it gets spent on their hair and makeup.

Radio, for the most part, doesn’t care enough about the PICTURES it’s creating. Sure, the best talents are all about “word pictures”, but way too often nowadays, in the era of voice-trackers that don’t even live in the market the station is in, they just put a “smile” in their delivery and read things. Ick.

If TV personalities thought more about the WORDS they’re saying, they’d be more three-dimensional. And if radio personalities thought more about creating a PICTURE in the listener’s mind instead of just giving information, they’d draw that listener closer every single day.

Just because you’re ON doesn’t mean that people are actually paying attention to you. You EARN that. Or not. Your choice.

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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 #195: Laughter, the Best – or Worst – Medicine

There used to be a thing in Reader’s Digest called “Laughter, the Best Medicine.”

But often, at least to someone my age (I was a kid then), it was lame.

Think about this, as it applies to radio.

Genuine, “can’t help it” laughter IS great “medicine”.
But laughter that comes across as some sort of “default setting” reflex, or that icky “trying to MAKE me think it’s funny” laughter is POISON.

People can tell when it’s real. Go ahead and argue if you want, but it’s true.
I tell people to try NOT to laugh, so when you do, it’ll be genuine “snot bubble” laughter.

George Carlin once said the goal in school was to make the guy next to him at the lunch table laugh so hard that he snorted an entire cheese sandwich up his nose.

Listen to some audio of your show and ask yourself this: “Did the laughter sound real?”
(Hint: If you really need to ask that, it didn’t.)

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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 #175 – Is Your Show Actually FUN?

As more and more research flows in, one thing is clear: One of the main reasons people become fans of a show is “It’s fun!”

Now besides the fact that “fun” and “funny” are not the exact same thing, the takeaway should be making a really focused assessment of what you do each day, and holding your feet to the fire on whether or not it’s actually fun for the LISTENER, not just you.

An old friend contacted me last week to start working with his midday talent, but in the process of bringing each other up to speed on our lives, he mentioned that his morning show still does “The Impossible Question” trivia thing. He said, “It’s a lot of fun, and people really like it.”

Well…no, not really. Trivia – unless you really frame it in a way that’s fun – is not inherently fun or even interesting in itself. (Of all the contests you can do on the air, trivia tests the worst BY FAR. The reason is simple. It’s not 1972 anymore. With the 24/7 News cycle and the internet, trivia doesn’t pack much punch anymore. If I Google “trivia” – which I just did – 178 MILLION websites come up. So it’s certainly not unique or hard to find anymore. Plus, I can just ask Siri and have the answer in under 5 seconds.)

The Secret Sound? Well, okay, IF you do it right. A series of “No, that’s not right, but thanks for trying” breaks on the air burn a hole in the listener’s brain after a very short while.

That great thing you do where your little kid, who can barely talk, is on the air…is that fun? Are you sure?

So I guess what it boils down to is asking yourself, “Is this show actually fun?” Be honest. Tweak whatever needs it; throw away what can’t be improved.

The listener WILL find fun somewhere. You have to make yourself the best choice for 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 #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.

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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 #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.)

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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 #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.

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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 #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.

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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 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.

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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 #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.

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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.