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.
There’s a famous story that David Letterman tells about Johnny Carson. One night on The Tonight Show, fairly early in his career, the young Letterman was a guest. And he and Carson got on one of those rolls where everything each of them said was funnier than the last thing. The audience was in stitches laughing at each line, and finally Carson broke into the “patter” he had used as a magician when he was young – the absurdity of which resulted in uproarious laughter that led perfectly into a commercial break.
During the break, with the set darkened, Carson, who was a mentor to Dave, leaned over and said, “You’ll use everything you’ve ever known.”
Truly great air talents know this, and it’s a really interesting parameter to work on as a coach. But the key is IF you can figure out exactly what the “fuse” is to light that “nugget” up.
Often, I see air talents with a good concept, but no idea of how it might work. Using something just because you have that bullet in the chamber doesn’t mean that you can just fire it indiscriminately.
Think “What would facilitate this?” Because it has to make sense in the flow of the conversation, or it’ll sound awkward.
Over decades of radio, including working with literally hundreds of stations in all different formats, I’ve found that there’s one thing every truly great station has, and the ones that aren’t great don’t have: Everybody cares.
In a station where everybody cares, no sloppy Production is done (or left for someone else to do), attention to detail is a “given,” and bad or uncooperative attitudes are simply not tolerated. You find high-profile, high-level talent, but no prima donnas. Everyone is clear on what the Strategy of the station is, and that strategy is carried out on every level, from the person answering the phones to the General Manager.
That may sound pretty obvious, but if it’s so “obvious,” why don’t more stations have it?
If you have a dog, you know this to be true: most dogs lie around waiting for something to happen, then – and usually ONLY then – they get up off their duffs and JOIN you.
Dogs are eager to participate, but they’re not usually self-starters. My best friend’s two dogs lie around on the bed until one of us goes into the kitchen, or outside, then they LEAP off the bed, ready to join in on the sandwich I’m making, or if I go outside, run out the door with me to do whatever they think I want to do (which apparently is bark at squirrels).
I’m really saying this a lot in sessions these days: “Do something today that you haven’t done before.”
My friend Don Godman is one of the people I hit with that thought recently. And the first attempt he sent me was really quite good, except for one fatal flaw:
Coming out of the weather guy doing the forecast, Don said, “It’s really hot – 99 – and it’s supposed to be even hotter…” then we heard the sound of a refrigerator door opening and the unmistakable ‘hum’ of it, as he added “In fact, I’m just gonna do the rest of the show from this freezer. Awww… that feels so good…”
Really cute. It caught the ear, surprised us, and his inflection was perfect. So GO! Right there!
As we continue to hear the buzz word “stories,” it seems to me that people are talking more, but not necessarily being all that interesting. Every movie is edited. Every book is edited (usually multiple times). Highlights are watched more than actual games. Top 10 lists are the vogue, not Top 100 lists. Stand-up comics start with a good 10 minutes, not a 90-minute HBO special.
The cardinal sin in radio is wasting people’s time. And from a coaching standpoint, believe this: if you can’t do a short break, you can’t do a long break. Most people tend to wander around, stagger into “related” thoughts that can easily take us off the main road into the forest somewhere, and instead of taking the First Exit – the first place where there’s a “reveal” of some sort or where the subject resolves – they keep trying to top themselves or fire more bullets into a dead body.
Here’s how you jump start (or reignite) your creativity: Do something tomorrow that you haven’t done before.
I say this a lot to talents who are “pleasant” but not really creating anything memorable on their shows. And I don’t really care what that “something” is. The point is to go where you haven’t gone before; to add another arrow to your quiver.
The reply is usually “Like what?”
No doubt about it, voice-tracking isn’t going away anytime soon. But it sure makes people lazy. However, there’s no reason why a voice-tracked Music Radio show can’t sound like it’s live.
But what happens often is that a jock sits down and thinks “I’ve got to fill 28 breaks” (or whatever the number is) and plows through them as fast as possible.
So here’s a tried-and-true method for voice-tracking that makes it pretty easy to still do a viable show:
We all fall into habits, and one I’ve heard a LOT recently is an air talent rattling off the “basics” (name of the station, artist, maybe the song title, the time), then saying his or her name LAST as you “gird your loins” (or gather yourself) to do Content.
The problem with this (besides being lazy) is that the listener learns to recognize this on a subconscious level, so you’re – by definition – NOT doing the unexpected.
Look, we can have a conversation that flows naturally, or we can serve up an agenda of a habitual group of words. This choice is crucial.
And if it sounds in any way like you’re just in “autopilot” mode at the beginning of a break, that sameness from break to break does the opposite of piquing someone’s interest in what follows.
There’s a deeper view of this, too. Except for saying the name of the station the first thing out of your mouth (which I believe is essential – that “branding” thing), all the other elements should vary from break to break. Sameness breeds boredom. Mixing things up just a bit makes what you’re saying be more readily received by the listener (on an unconscious level) as NEW information. It’s science, and it’s the way God made us.
So get off your duff and work at this; it will actually make a difference. Radio is doing a great job right now of holding a gun to its head and saying “Stand back or I’ll shoot.”
We need every little advantage we can get.
Most air talents assume that if you’re on the air, you must have a good voice. But in reality, about half the people on the air in every format I hear have taken that for granted, and stunted their growth.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some pretty impressive voice actors that you hear on national commercials, station Imaging, and movie trailers every day. And universally, the ones who are the most successful have really studied what makes them unique, and how to fully use the vocal tools at hand.
Here’s what I mean…