Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #314 – How to Make Interviews and Phone Calls Not Suck

It’s not exactly a news flash that most recorded interviews and phone calls are pretty much a big yawn. Here’s why:

Pressed for time, it’s easy to let things slide. With an artist interview, a lot of people think they’re sacrosanct – you shouldn’t edit them too severely, because the artist is deigning to speak to you from the mountain top.

But of course, the truth is that most musical artists are mediocre to terrible interviews, going through the motions because the label told them they need to do them, and they don’t know anything about radio. So they speak to “the fans” or “the people out there” or “you guys” – plural terms that, by definition, can’t come across as one-on-one – or they treat the listeners like they’re just faceless members of a teeming throng that’s only there to fawn over them and buy tickets to the show. They don’t mean to come across like this; they just haven’t been taught anything. So we get the “Hello, Cleveland!” mentality. (I’m not Cleveland. I’m just me.)

Phone calls, for some reason, aren’t held to high standards by most jocks either. Most on-air people think that everything needs to be “self-contained” in the call, when in reality, you can say something LIVE, you know, then just use a short excerpt from the call that adds more. Rinse and repeat, using only the best sound bites from the call.

Artist interview clips, like phone calls, are just the raw materials. The finished product is only present after you’ve taken out redundancies, and made everything concise. And in my experience of working with hundreds of stations and somewhere around 1700 individual air talents, only about 3% of them take the time to do the editing required to make an interview or listener call MEMORABLE.

Edit. Then edit again. Rearrange portions of the audio if you need to, so it makes sense and flows forward. It only takes a couple of minutes to turn “average” into “excellent”. HONE YOUR CRAFT. It’ll make a huge difference.

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2019 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Coaching Tip #300 – Two Segments, Max

Here’s a short, but really powerful tip.

Give a subject two segments (in Talk radio), MAX. If it doesn’t “catch fire” by then, give up and move along to something else.

The same principle is true in Music Radio – give a subject two tries, and if there’s no usable reaction, punt. If it hasn’t “happened” by then, you’re just firing bullets into a dead body. This is both boring and desperate-sounding.

This is why I always over-prepped each day. Just having “enough” to cover a show might not actually BE enough on a given day. And as you know, it’s impossible to predict when something might inexplicably fail to connect with the listener. (Although, now that I think about it, this could simply be because there’s not an Emotion at its core. Might want to think about that, too.)

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Tommy Kramer
Talent Coach
214-632-3090 (iPhone)
e-mail: coachtommykramer@gmail.com
Member, Texas Radio Hall of Fame
© 2019 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #210 – More on the Caller Culture: Asking For Help

As we continue to talk about establishing a stronger, “A-level only” caller culture, let’s dive deeper into what prompts that great caller to weigh in.

“Topics and Phone Calls” has become such a boring cliché because (1) you hear it everywhere, with the same people from yesterday calling again with the same type of predictable input today, and (2) because the “topics” are dull to begin with.

So, a couple of rules for you:

Avoid “yes or no” subjects.
The first call agrees; the second call disagrees. There’s nowhere else to go now. Nothing surprising is likely to happen in that scenario. Since every call past the first one has to add something new, “yes or no” subjects inevitably limit, rather than expand, where calls can take you.

Asking for help.
Rather than some generic topic, try being more open, with something that doesn’t lend itself to predictable answers – indeed, something to which there IS NO right or wrong response.
“Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I have NO CLUE what to get my wife. Help!” will get more response than any typical “topic” could ever get, because people LOVE to give advice. In the process of recommending something to you, the caller’s own story will inevitably come out – without soliciting “stories” at all. That’s what makes it sound more organic.

There are many other steps to opening the portal for more meaningful, quality calls to make it onto the air. But like always, you have to avoid doing what everyone else will do.

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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 #209 — More and Better Callers: The Starting Point

In the last tip, we took a look at setting a standard – a high one – for callers. It’s only fitting that a caller has to EARN his or her being on the air, and if you settle for average or typical calls, that’s just adding more water to the Kool-Aid. It won’t help the taste.

So okay, the goal is to create a stronger “caller culture”. The easiest starting place is the one people seem to just take for granted: Contest calls.

Here’s what needs to be addressed:

We don’t treat people like humans.
We turn people into numbers. “You’re caller number 12.” (I always hope someone will say “Oh, yeah? Well you’re idiot disc jockey number 2.”)

Groundhog Day in Loserville.
“Aww…well that’s not right, but thanks for trying.” Over and over again, until, like the Bataan Death March, we finally hear a winner. Honestly, about the third time I hear this, I just start to feel sorry for the hopeful people who called in, only to be disappointed. Why design a contest that airs tons of wrong guesses? The Secret Sound or the Scrambled Song contests were cute, once, but so was Brylcreem (a sludge-like goo used to slick back a guy’s hair in the 1950s).

The Rules…oh Lord, the rules.
“First, go to the southwest corner at the top of the twenty-story City Hall building, and jump. On the way down, wave at the clown in the 12th floor window, then flip your body around and upside down. If you’re the lucky person who lands with the most discernible body parts inside the chalk circle that we’ve drawn on the sidewalk, the surviving members of your family are automatically entered into a drawing to win 4 half-day passes to the Crazy Goat Park in Neptune, South Dakota!” (Bellybutton lint and ejected fluids do not count as official body parts. Go to our Facebook page for other restrictions.)

Start tomorrow with simpler contests, straightforwardly won by people with names, with genuine happiness in promoting it, doing it, and being honestly happy for the winner. That’ll guarantee you some really great phone callers.

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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 #208 — The Most Important Ingredient in Putting More Callers on the Air

Note: This tip is written specifically for music stations. But the “quality control” goal should be in every Talk show, too.

It’s not a “bad” idea per se to supplement the Content that you create with a phone call or two from listeners. But it’s not an automatic “must have” ingredient, either. And it can become a “crutch” pretty easily.

Here’s the most important ingredient in putting them on the air:

NO “B” or “C”-level calls allowed. None. Only “A”-level callers with something that actually contributes a thought that moves the subject forward, gives it a different slant, or provides some sort of “resolution” should make it onto the air. The minute you accept less, you dive head first into the generic “topics and phone calls” pool that already has too many people in it.

I’ve done and coached shows that hardly ever ran calls, and I’ve done and coached shows that were – at times – very phone call intensive. But the “A”-level rule always applies. Great radio is made up of COMPELLING moments. If a call doesn’t provide that, it doesn’t deserve being aired.

This leads back to something I say a lot: Do a SHOW. It may seem counterintuitive, but when you don’t NEED calls, that’s when you not only get more of them, but you get better ones, too.

Getting great phone callers isn’t an accident. It’s a plan. In a future tip, I’ll give you another peek into how that works.

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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 #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.