One of the biggest challenges these days (as always) is Content.
There are lots of questions that help you put it together – Is this top of mind? Does the listener actually care about it? Do you have anything to offer on this subject that’s unique, and not just what everyone else will do? Where are you going with it? Is there a chance that it could lead to listener feedback, or is just a one-off thing? …etc.
But these leave out what I consider to be the most logical question to ask yourself: Is this something you’d say at a barbecue, to a person you just met?
If not, why are you saying it?
This will not only quickly cut to the chase as to whether it’s valid Content or not, it will also (hopefully) shape the LANGUAGE that you use, how you get to it, how you edit it, and most importantly, keep you from sounding like a disc jockey and more like a real person.
No one is enjoying hearing people read crap off a computer screen or someone’s stupid Facebook post on the air. Dig deeper if you want to be great.
Your show, no matter what format you’re in, has a dual purpose:
First, to talk to the person who just tuned in; and second, to talk to the person who’s been listening to you for a few minutes. Their needs are different.
If I hear two breaks in a row on the same subject (like a reset to get into a phone call), I don’t want to hear redundancy or repetitive wording, because that’s boring.
And if I only hear ONE break, you can’t just abruptly continue something you did in the previous break, because I DIDN’T hear that one.
So it’s all about the reset – specifically about the language you use. You can’t just use the same “intro” you used the first time, or the listener who heard the previous break will just think you’re on autopilot. And you should word it so NO prior knowledge is required for someone who just joined your show to understand what you’re talking about.
It’s an art, and one of the main things I work on with people I coach. You’d be surprised how many people don’t even hear themselves blathering out the exact same setup in a follow-up break – or even worse, they DO hear it, but just take the easiest, most mindless road possible. That’s a good way to lose listeners.
In a coaching session this week, it occurred to me that most talents today might not have been as fortunate as I was in terms of who influenced them. The names might not mean much to you, but I started off working for a wonderful P. D. named Larry Ryan in Shreveport, my home town, whose mantra was “Do something! Any idiot can intro songs.” That gave me permission to try – and equally important – permission to fail.
Then I worked for radio pioneer Gordon McLendon (who, with Todd Storz, INVENTED Top 40). Gordon was all about Creativity too, and P. D. Michael Spears taught me tight, concise formatics to harness that creativity.
Others followed: the great Lee Abrams, who infused “Stationality” to a stunning degree, and made me realize that TRYING to be funny was the wrong path; being yourself (and therefore unique) was far more important. Bill Young in Houston, who rarely said anything, but when he did, it was like gold coins dropping into your hands. Jack McCoy, creator of the best contest ever, “The Last Contest” at KCBQ in San Diego.
But all that aside, people like those aren’t very prevalent anymore, so let me try to help you with what I believe are the two most important guidelines for Content:
1. Today’s show should be about TODAY as much as possible. Recycling old material usually sounds like just that, recycled, calculated. Some days are “drier” than others, but Wednesday’s show can’t just be a repeat of Tuesday’s show. In this era of voice-trackers reading crap off a computer screen, or taking “click bait” stories from the internet or social media, there’s a lot of nothing being said.
2. RELEVANCE is the key. If it doesn’t matter to the listener, you’re just “a voice saying words” – a dull, droning noise to be tolerated (maybe), but not really connecting with the listener in any meaningful way.
So, as I wrote in my session recap with a good talent who has it in him to become a great talent yesterday, “Today, if at all possible. Relevant, always.”
If you’ll sift everything through those two thoughts, I guarantee that you’ll get better, no matter what your level of experience is. We ALL had mentors. If you’re not still learning, you’re regressing.
If you’re having trouble getting into Content, well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Every air talent either struggles with this at some point, or worse, doesn’t know yet that they’re struggling with it. : (
There’s lots of coaching available on this, including my own. We’ve all heard the “Headline first, then tell the rest of the story” thing, for example. And there’s tons of stuff about how to construct a story, how to physically lay out a story in just bullet points, etc., and what a great ending should be.
But here’s the problem: You don’t really know until you know. Human beings may become aware of things and intellectually understand them through reading and talking with people about them, but in the long run, we really only learn through experience – trial and error.
So let me try and help you with the single most important step in doing any sort of Content on the air – the way it starts. My friend Brian Yeager sent a break to me the other day in the aftermath of the 4th of July that began this way:
“I’m not proud of what I did, but…I mean, you know what it’s like. The folks that are up all night after the 4th of July blowin’ off the leftover fireworks…I mean, that’s what it was last night at my house. I recorded a little bit of it; you’ve gotta hear this…”
Then he went on to play the sounds of loud fireworks exploding and his daughter’s chihuahua being completely freaked out by them – and his letting the dog go, which chased off the guy doing the fireworks, complete with our hearing “get this dog off me!” It was really imaginative, and the use of sound made it three dimensional and ultra-visual.
He asked me what I thought before he aired it, and I texted back:
“Good, but the beginning is just about you (the first sentence was “I’m not proud of what I did”) and it kind of lurches along for a few seconds. Just start with “Here’s what happened last night,” and hit the sound effects. From there on, it’s fine.”
Like a lot of people, he just couldn’t get “traction” for a few seconds. (And fyi, one of my basic rules is to not start with “I – me – my” stuff – which is just you talking about you – and instead, either start with the Subject first, then tell your story, or start with the Listener first, then tell your story.)
So the key challenge here is to stop wasting words in overly elaborate setups, and get on into the Subject as concisely as you can.
It’s kind of like swimming lessons. In an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” Sheldon Cooper says he learned to swim by watching videos online. But of course, that’s not swimming. He’d learn more quickly if somebody just threw him into the pool.
And a lot of the time, that’s what works best on the air, too. Just throw the listener into the pool – put the listener IN the story, then move on. Try it. You’ll save a lot of time, and as we now know, you really only have a few seconds to connect with the listener. Be expedient.
The first version of Brian’s break was 1:06 long. The version he did on the air, with the slimmed down intro, was only 55 seconds. ELEVEN full seconds cut out, and the break was actually better for it.
Here it is:
By the way, Brian is remarkable in that he’s not even a regular on-air talent. He’s the general manager of the station, and was just filling in on morning drive!
No matter how many songs in a row you play or “commercial-free zones” your station may promote, radio is still at its core about the CONNECTION between you and the Listener.
A great Consultant can help you map out a Strategy, but the essence of Coaching is about how many ways there are to carry out that strategy. And when it comes to engaging the listener, and making that person want to listen longer or more often, sometimes the little things matter more than the big things.
Here’s an example, from morning team Tom & Ana on Contemporary Christian station Spirit 105.3 in Seattle:
Yesterday, Ana talked about the story of the woman named Nicole McGuinness, who was on a TV show, HGTV’s “Beachfront Bargain Hunt”. (You may have seen this story, too.) A doctor, Erich Voigt, noticed a lump on her neck, and commented about it on his Facebook page. Another person saw the posting and advised him to contact the show’s producers, which he did, and then told Ms. McGuinness by email that she should get it checked.
It turned out that she has thyroid cancer, and thanks to Dr. Voigt, she’s now getting treatment for it.
Great story. But then Tom weighed in, with “Thank God for high-definition TV, where a doctor could SPOT this!”
That little comment, a different ‘camera angle’ that told every listener something about Tom, is what CONNECTION is made of. And it said more than any liner, or having a contest winner, could ever say. It was personal, and it was powerful – one of those things that supposedly anyone COULD have observed, but HE DID.
Well done, Tom.
What did you do today, or this week at least, that showed your heart, your concern, and a less obvious take on something that touched your listener?
When it comes to “Stationality” (the great term that Lee Abrams came up with years ago), the big things matter – but often, the little things matter more.
We used to hear that a lot, but today, it’s virtually meaningless. In L. A. and New York, the big voices are doing tractor pull spots and horror movie spots, and you still hear the network TV guys doing that big, mighty “announcement” thing some, but be honest – doesn’t it just sound kind of cheesy?
The voice that gets the most work today is the midrange voice with great inflection. But even then, it’s not the old-school radio “emphatic” read; it’s more, as the great voice acting coach Marice Tobias says, “noticing” a word.
And as more and more jocks realize what today’s radio is all about, the big-voiced jock or Imaging guy sounds like a dinosaur. Here’s why: Radio is about Companionship. That friend in the car who’s just fun to be with; the one who makes everyone laugh. The one you want to invite to your backyard barbecue because he or she is good company, someone your guests will like.
No one stands up and ‘announces’ “Pass the ketchup, PLEASE.”
So if you’re a PD, rethink how your Imaging voice comes across. An INTERESTING voice is better than just a big one.
And as an air talent, let go of the big voice thing, even if you’re blessed with one, and just talk. Stop trying to make an impression and start trying to simply CONNECT with the listener.
Maybe you haven’t thought about this in a while, but in moving back from five and a half years in Hawaii to my home town of Shreveport, Louisiana, I’m resetting the stations on my car radio. As a result, I’ve been listening to a lot of different stations recently. And I’m hearing a lot of things on music stations that I thought had been killed off a long time ago…
The “first in, last out” (FILO) thing where every break mandatorily starts with the name of the station, then also ends with the name of the station. (This was always ridiculous. Why do you want to sound like you somehow forgot that you said your name a few seconds ago? And why would you EVER put the name of your station right next to a commercial break? Think about it: You = commercials is not a good impression to lock into the listener’s brain.)
Jocks mindlessly repeating the stupid “positioning statement” (or slogan), as in “96.7 KKIV, your best variety at work.” Geez, this just sounds awful. Every single time they open the mic, robots repeating a phrase that even THEY don’t believe – and that’s what it sounds like.
Jingles singing a bunch of words that are just “print copy” set to music. “The best variety and the home of the Kidd Kracken Morning Show…96.7 KKIV” Why not just sing the phone book?
So-called “interesting” items plucked from a website, someone’s Facebook page, or a “prep sheet” that no one could possibly care about. “Brainbuster” questions that Siri can answer in two seconds. The definition of non-Content.
But the main thing that’s hit me is that most jocks can’t shut the heck up. They just prattle on, spelling out the not-very-entertaining ending to the prattle they’re talking about like they’re explaining it to a four-year old.
I’ve said this before as part of a couple of other tips, but let’s give it a special, stand-alone status: There’s No Such Thing as a Break that’s Too Short.
This is an all-out assault on reading crap off a computer screen. It’s Brevity vs. Rattling-on-for-no-apparent-reason-other-than-you-CAN’T-be-concise.
Here’s what really works: Try to say things one time – no repetition – then hit the next element and turn the mic off. You’ll be amazed at how this simple thought de-clutters your station. And please stop trying to tell the listener what to think about who you are or what you do. Believe it or not, people actually make up their own minds. Instead, be a good neighbor; a friend who doesn’t waste their time. Trust that it WILL work. And you’ll stand alone like the only oasis in the desert.
A lot of shows struggle with getting any really viable phone call feedback from listeners. They tap into a subject, maybe offer an opinion, do a solicitation for feedback, give the phone number, then…nothing. Waves of silence. No phone lines lighting up. Or if there is a call, it’s pretty much the same type of call they got last time (often from the same tiny pool of callers) with pretty much the same type of comment they always get. The safe, predictable, no-new-ground-broken feedback loop.
Here’s one way you might be able to change that: think with your heart. Analytical subjects with “left brain” solicitations tend to lie there, flat as a pancake.
But when an EMOTION is at the center of the subject – and especially when you express an emotion instead of just an analytical opinion – people react differently. (Both callers and people who don’t call, but actually start listening more closely.)
This is based on an acting tip. When you focus on the Emotion that the scene is trying to convey, a blown line doesn’t hurt the flow. When you’re married to the words, a blown line causes an awkward pause that the audience can feel.
This is why I often ask “What emotion is this break about?” Because without emotion, there’s very little chance of connection. And CONNECTING with the listener IS the job.
Something happens when the mic goes on. Most people assume a delivery that’s either “giving information” or “making an announcement” or “presenting” something to the listener.
…as if the listener is some distant stranger who has this break arrive like an unwanted, slick, glossy ad for life insurance – for your pet goldfish.
But the great talents all know that no matter how important or significant a thought is, you still want to say it like you’d say it to your best friend, over a cup of coffee, like he or she is just 2 or 3 feet away (not 15).
By trying to sound more “important”, you become less important. By simply sharing a thought in a normal tone of voice (and normal volume level), you imply that “Hey, we’re buddies. Let me tell you something.”
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.
“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.