All posts by Tommy Kramer

Tommy has spent over 35 years as an air talent, programmer, operations manager and talent coach - working with over 300 stations in all formats. He publishes the Coaching Tip

Tommy Kramer Tip #218 – The Real Nature of Personality

“Personality” is one of those words that’s used constantly, but is vague in its meaning.

I had a session with a veteran talent recently in which the issue was his talking about things on the air, but without any real investment into making it something other than just bullet points being read to the listener.

So I reminded him to just keep on relaxing into it, and to “color” those things (a local Civil War photography show, a regional agricultural “festival”) with personal comments and ‘takes’ on what those EXPERIENCES – not just events on a page – might be like.

Here’s how I summarized it:

Even just a small “aside” like you said today about the rain in the forecast, “We need it for the cherry tomatoes,” brings the listener a step closer to you.

“Personality” isn’t just about being funny; it’s about how personally the listener gets to know you.

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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 #217 — More Words, Less Impact

We all now that one windbag who’s always at the party, telling stories that never seem to end.

And we all avoid getting sucked into a conversation with that person.

The reason is simple, but more important today than ever in the Twitter, L8R for “later,” emoji world.

Time is a person’s most precious commodity.  We’re all too busy; we have things to do, and anything that impedes that is resented.  The more words you use, the less effective the message is.

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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 #216 – Jump-starting Getting To The Next Level

Okay, so you’ve got all the obvious skills as an air talent.  But the reason people hire me is that the obvious skills aren’t the ones that actually engage people emotionally.

People who’ve worked with me know that I teach a lot of radio techniques by NOT using radio as an example.  (And I’m also fortunate to work with several extremely successful voice actors that you hear every day on national commercials and movie trailers.)

So to be a better air talent, or to try and transition to the voice acting world, here’s a simple first step:

Watch great movies, and soak up WHY the great actors ARE the greats.  Here are several movies to watch that I recommend:

The Maltese Falcon.
Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre – all three completely different from each other, all just great vocal studies.  Yes, it’s an old black-and-white movie, but it’s a dialogue and acting clinic.

Anything with Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford.
Hard to beat these two.  These guys just embody the “everyman” image, but can also play heroic parts.  I’d pay to watch Hanks read a parking ticket.

Lonesome Dove.
The best mini-series ever on TV, with the great Robert Duvall in one of his two favorite performances ever, and the wonderful Tommy Lee Jones.

Mama Mia.
Yes, the ABBA movie.  With Meryl Streep, an acting (and voice acting) class herself, and other standout performances from the entire cast, especially the three male stars.  If you sneer at it just because it’s ABBA stuff, well, get over it.

The Godfather.
If you don’t like the violence or subject matter, okay, but you should watch something with Marlon Brando.  He understood better than anybody the power of delivering a line softly, rather than being loud.

Anything written by Aaron Sorkin.
The West Wing, The Newsroom, The American President (if only we had one like Michael Douglas in this movie), Moneyball,  The Social Network, etc. Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best screenwriter on earth.  He really gets “emotional investment” (an acting term that I preach all the time).

Have fun watching, and LEARN.

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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 #215 – Why You Should Never Say “Maybe”

“Maybe” is a word I don’t like to hear, because by definition, it’s ‘conditional’ in nature.

“Maybe you’ve done this…” also carries the flip side (in the listener’s head) of “No, I haven’t.”  Click.  Disengage.

“IF” is the magic word.  It activates the imagination, and doesn’t leave room for the doubting side of the coin.

Example:
“Maybe you’re seven feet tall…” only talks to people who ARE that height.

But “If you were seven feet tall…” opens up the mental possibility – and the ‘buy-in’ factor, as a result.

There’s also the inclusive: “We’ve all done this…” or “We’ve all seen this…”  (But it has to be true.  It can’t be “We’ve all skinned a buffalo with a butter knife…”)

Anyway, now you’ve got a couple of new arrows in your quiver to help make you sound more CERTAIN – and dynamic – on the air in a very subtle way.

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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 #214 – How birds see the world: a tip inspired by Gary Larson

Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side” cartoon series, is someone I really admire.  Do your art, sell fifty million copies of the book “collections” of it, then abruptly retire at 45 years old to reap the benefits of your genius.  Well done, Mr. Larson.  We treasure you.

“How birds see the world is one of his most famous drawings.  I reprint it here with no permission granted to do so; I don’t own it (and would really rather not get sued over it, please):

Honestly, I think that’s the way a lot of stations – and certainly a lot of the people I hear on the air – see the listeners sometimes: a “receptacle” for what we drop on them.  (We even REFER to people as “the target listener.”)

But what you SHOULD do is value the listener’s time and attention span like a Scuba diver values the air in his tanks.

The Code:

  • Don’t just read something; put it in your own words.
  • Don’t refer to me in a “collective” way.  I’m not “all of you” or “the listeners.”
  • Don’t assume that just because you think something’s interesting or funny, the listener will automatically think that, too.
  • Do keep things brief.  Resist the temptation to tie everything up with a neat bow around it at the end.  Usually it’s unnecessary.
  • Do promote what needs promoting, but keep in mind that constant “teasing” feels manipulative and sounds cloying.
  • Do aim at the “target Listener,” but don’t rule ANYONE out.

Make great radio – every day, in every way you can think of.

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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 #213 – Celebrate Your Quirkiness

Okay, today – after we celebrated our freedom with July 4th cookouts, ball games, fireworks, etc. – let’s add one more step: Celebrate Your Quirkiness.

I’m not talking about inventing some bit for on-air.  I’m talking about using the things that define you – the things that are sort of private.

In one of my earliest tips, “The 5 Subjects,” I outline…

  1. Jobs stuff/wallet/economy;
  2. the Entertainment world;
  3. Relationships,
  4. “The Buzz” – THE thing that everyone’s talking about today (which could come under one of the other categories); and
  5. Things that ‘grow out of the show.’

That 5th one is the one that’s the most difficult to define for people, because it’s completely organic.  THAT’S what this week’s tip is about.  Two examples:

  1. Brant Hanson is a brilliant mind, and is definitely different from anyone else I’ve ever coached in the Contemporary Christian format.  This format has been traditionally seen as lacking much genuine personality, but Brant and a few others have been pioneers in turning that around.  Once, when we were still getting to know each other, it came up that I play guitar.  Brant mentioned that he plays the accordion.  I then told him an ancient joke – “what’s the difference between a snake lying dead in the middle of the road and an accordion player lying dead in the middle of the road?  The snake was probably on his way to a gig.”It wasn’t long before Brant started playing his accordion on the air, as part of a contest.  Cute, odd, but HIS.
  2. Howard Clark was one of the greats, part of the original KFRC staff in San Francisco when consultant Bill Drake’s Top 40 stations ruled the earth.  Late in his career, Howard came back home to work in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, and had a profound impact on me.  One day, I was listening to “Hired” (as he called himself on occasion) and a song ended, then a recorded announcement by the huge-voiced Charlie Van Dyke came on and said, “And now, Howard Clark looks at the weather…”Then you heard Howard’s chair squeak, a few steps taken across a floor, a door open, then Howard walking waaaaaaay down a lonnnnng hallway, the back door opening (a creaking screen door that hadn’t been oiled since 1957), then Howard’s voice muttering “Mmm hmm… yep…”…and then you heard the back door creak shut, Howard walking the 50 steps back down the hallway, the Control Room door closing, we heard a few more steps, then his chair squeaked, then Charlie Van Dyke’s voice said, “This has been ‘Howard Clark looks at the weather’…”  Then a station jingle played, and a song started.

    No forecast.  No temperatures “at the airport.”  Just that little moment.

I still think of these two things, years later.

What have you done that’s quirky – that’s really you, and ONLY you – for your listeners to remember?

DO SOMETHING.  Maybe someone will notice you.  You can’t get Arbitron diaries or PPM devices without people.

– – – – – – –
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 #212 – How It Starts

Probably the most difficult thing for air talent to latch onto is how something starts. Many breaks are dead in the water before the second sentence is uttered.

I teach several core techniques to master really compelling beginnings. Here are 3 of them:

  1. Don’t talk about yourself the first thing out of your mouth.  Constantly leaning on “I – me – my” beginnings sounds self-absorbed, to say the least.
  2. Don’t ask a Question – especially a rhetorical question.  As George Carlin said, “Why do people ask rhetorical questions?  And do they expect an answer?”  The answer to any question, if you could hear it, is almost always “No.”  Questions sound weak and disingenuous.  Make Statements to make Impact.
  3. Don’t be too abrupt.  Way too often, I hear someone just launch into a subject for apparently no reason, just plopping it down like somebody walking up to your desk and dropping a squid on it.  While that first thing you say CAN be thought of as a “headline” (which is what a lot of people are taught), remember that it should be a “spoken word” headline, not a “print” headline.  We want it to be concise, but it also has to sound like something you’d actually say to a friend, not a quote from an article or book.

Like peeling away the layers of an onion, there are many more techniques to learn, but with just those 3 goals in mind, you can separate yourself from all the babbling across the rest of the media choices.

It’s always about ENGAGING 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
© 2017 by Tommy Kramer. All rights reserved.

Tommy Kramer Tip #211 – Seinfeld’s Three Rules of Living

There’s an HBO Special called “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”  It’s about people 90 years of age or more that are still vibrant and productive, featuring Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, TV Producer Norman Lear, and many others – and, with occasional comments, Jerry Seinfeld.

At one point late in the special, Jerry lays out his “3 Rules of Living.”  They are:

  1. Bust your ass.  Whatever you do, work as hard as you can.  Give it everything you’ve got.
  2. Pay attention.  Notice the things around you all the time.  Appreciate them all the time.
  3. Fall in love.  Not just romantic love.  Love your parking space.  Love your sandwich.  Seinfeld tells about having breakfast with George Burns once, and Burns said “This may be the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life.”  In his mid-nineties, Burns still had the desire to see something worth relishing every day.

Now ask yourself these questions:

Do you work hard every day?  In this era of the computer running everything (usually pretty sloppily), it’s easy to get lazy.  Do you just pluck items off some prep sheet to quack about instead of getting out and discovering things that your listener is talking about?

Do you rely on callers to “do the show for you?”  (Someone said that to me at a convention one year. I wanted to scream.)  The “topics and phone calls” thing can wear really thin really fast, and dominates way too much radio time that could be spent on something more immediate and impactful.  You could… what do they call it?… oh yeah, you could DO a SHOW.

Do you pay attention to what’s around you?  In my on-air days, I often drove into work using a different route, or just turning a block or two sooner or later than normal, so I could see stuff like which store was opening (or closing), what kind of roadwork was starting (and when), etc.

Are you in love with your job?  Do you have a real appreciation for the listener’s time?  I hear a lot of shows that virtually dismiss the precious ‘one on one’ connection all the time, by talking to “listeners” or “those of you” or even worse, “all the people listening out there.”  Do you still, in 2017, not realize that people have LOTS of other options?  If you don’t care about what you’re doing, why should they?

There’s a reason that Seinfeld is definitely on the Mount Rushmore of Comedians – and it’s not just that he can think up jokes.  Adopt his “3 Rules” and you’ll have a better career and a better life.

– – – – – – –
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 #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.