Surf’s Up, Dude

One of the things about coaching that I love the most is getting to work with young talents. Since there’s virtually no meaningful training anymore, it’s great to have a chance to head them off at the pass before they turn into faceless, shouting, liner-reading robots, and help them find ways to sound truly unique.

To a degree, it’s a “throwback” thing from radio’s past, but that’s like saying that a radio station’s iPhone app is a throwback to the transistor radios that people had 50 years ago. It’s the same, but totally different.

Recently, in a session recap, I wrote this to a promising young talent:

Real people just talk. They get excited, they get intimate, they get loud, they get quiet—but they don’t have that pukey “shouting-at-the-listener” delivery that everyone goes into when you ask them to do an impression of a deejay.

One thing that’ll really help you get your arms around this is to not try and cram too many words into a song intro. MATCH the tempo and the mood of the song. If it’s 100 beats a minute, you should start at that speed. If it’s faster, start faster. If it’s slower, start slower. But don’t go 300 miles an hour over a medium or slow song, because that makes you sound like you aren’t even listening to the song. In effect, it sends the message that the music we play is just a series of music beds for you to talk over—the opposite of seamlessly fitting into and being part OF the song as you talk.

You want to “ride” the song like a surfer riding a wave.

Surf’s up, Dudes. Let’s go have some fun!

Frost Advisory #228 – Data, Data, and More Data

Pastor Appreciation Month is almost over. Mercifully. Is this really how we describe a once in a lifetime opportunity to love on people who devote their lives to loving on people? Who named it? Ace Hardware?

No other format can touch such a deep place in the heart as ours, and yet we often sound like an IRS manual as we convey data, data, data, about this and that.

I recently heard two consecutive features on one station begin with the giving of the date, “Today is October 26, 2014.” Well, thank you very much. That will be very helpful to me if my desk calendar catches on fire.

There is no promotion so brilliant that it can’t be made utterly ineffective through the presentation of data.

This isn’t just about an esoteric interpretation of messaging. This is about what is effective.

Here’s the deal.

“Research shows when people think analytically they are less likely to think emotionally. The mere act of calculation reduces people’s charity. Once we put on our analytical hats, we react to emotional appeals differently. We hinder our ability to feel.”

In “Made to Stick” Chip and Dan Heath share that the goal of the message is to make people care.

“Feelings inspire people to act. For people to take action, they have to care. To make people care about ideas we get them to take off their Analytical Hats.”

That means we have to move beyond Pastor Appreciation Month and into something that stirs the heart.


Here’s an idea! Let’s turn our current analytical checklist of who, what, where, and why into the beginning of an emotional connection.

‘Who’ becomes “who would enjoy this, too?”

‘What’ becomes “what can I do to help?”

‘Where’ becomes “where else would I rather be?”

And ‘why’ becomes the all important “Why do I care?”

Don’t tell me today’s date and give me more data. Paint me a picture of why I should care.

Tommy Kramer Tip #73 – The Quest

This is the real quest, the Holy Grail of how to stand out in the sea of noise across the radio dial:

Find the simplest way to say something so it can’t be misunderstood.

I guarantee that if you do that the best, people will listen to you.

By and large, the person who really nails it – meaning that he or she says the one thought about something that other people pick up on – is the person who stands out.

The more wordy it gets, the less effective it is.

Some of this is about understanding the concept of using different “camera angles” from which to talk about things. Some of it is simply the art – and I do mean art – of being concise. And some of it is having a really rich vocabulary – finding the perfect words to hammer home a point.

After all, English is a strange language. We have so many words that mean roughly the same thing, that conversation is largely a matter of circling the subject with words until we all agree on what’s inside the circle.

Here’s the totally self-serving part: I can help you with this. Your PD may not know how, or may understand it, but can’t teach it. Your consultant may know how, but how often do you get to see him (or her)?

Regular coaching sessions with someone who isn’t your boss can steer you away from just doing what you think is expected of you, and turn you into someone whose thoughts are actually valued by the Listener.

As a matter of fact, your thought might be the one the Listener uses as his own opinion that day.

When you make someone else look good, magical things happen.

Frost Advisory #227 – What are you trying to accomplish?

My recent travels transported me into the middle of a meeting about how to stay competitive in a marketplace of Christian music formats beamed in from, say, Rocklin, California.

Inevitably the phrase “live and local” landed on the conference table like a rock through the window. After several minutes of “we’re better because we live here” navel-gazing, I broke up the ego-fest with questions like, “Does anyone care?” “How does this add value to the listener’s experience?”, and the notorious, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

I hate it when I do that.

The not-thought-out-too-much assumption is that a $7.93 an hour deejay sitting in a chair in zip code 32766 will add value beyond that of Jimmy Fallon. This kind of logic is epidemic in Christian radio and, frankly, gives me the heebeegeebees.

Live and local isn’t a real goal any more than having a red sports car is a goal. It’s merely a means to a goal. (A red sports car really means “I’m not old yet”).


Now don’t take this the wrong way. There’s nothing wrong with being live and local. Some of the snazziest stations I work with embrace this idea. But those stations understand that L&L is simply a means to a goal: to be RELEVANT in a way that is preferable and more meaningful to their listeners. Whether it’s traffic information to help me get my kids to school on time, severe weather coverage to help keep my family safe, or stories about neighbor helping neighbor that reinforces the values of your listeners, live and local is merely a means.

But there is a bigger idea. What we’re really talking about is whether L&L helps your station embrace a frame of reference that connects with your listeners.

For Christian music stations the frame of reference can be described as:

  1. We seek a relationship with our Creator, and desire to understand the purpose in our life
  2. We understand that our lives are connected to others, and that we will have an impact on our families and communities, and they on us (for better or worse)
  3. It is a precious thing to offer hope and inspiration

But that opens a can of worms called STRATEGY best saved for a future Frost Advisory.

So if your station is trying to compete with a format beamed in from, say, Rocklin, California, go ahead: be a good live and local neighbor. Just make sure the things you’re doing are things your listeners actually care about.



Tommy Kramer Tip #72 – How Do I Get There From Here?

Here’s a good technique that keeps you from sounding generic. If you want to talk about something that isn’t local, unless it’s a giant national headline, it’s likely that you’ll get a “who cares?” reaction in the mind of the Listener.

So whenever I hear a Talent struggle with this, I ask, “How do I get there from here?”

Usually, this happens because the Talent is staring through the wrong end of the binoculars and looking to find things that are “interesting” instead of things that are actually relevant.

But suppose you have chosen something relevant, but it’s just not local. Here’s how you get there from here: Compare whatever it is you’re talking about to something that is local. Now you’ve tethered it to my life by referencing something familiar – something that I know about – that’s right here, in this city today, instead of just abruptly bringing up a story from somewhere else.

Example (from a Dallas perspective):

“Imagine walking into that Comerica bank on Lemmon Avenue, and the first thing you hear is “Everybody on the floor! This is a robbery!” That’s what happened to this girl in St. Louis yesterday…” Now you tell me all about what that poor girl went through, and because I can visualize it better, I’ll be more apt to listen.

If you can’t get there from here, don’t go there.

Frost Advisory #226 – Here, Kid, Try A Cigarette!


In just a few weeks many Christian music radio stations across the country will be turning their format upside down and going all-Christmas.

E-gads! What’s with that?

for King & Country will give way to Nat King Cole, Plumb is swapped for Bing, and Michael W. Smith is replaced by, well, Michael W. Smith.

And we all understand why. To attract more listeners.

Or, to put it another way, for our stations to be more accepted.

Acceptance is a powerful idea. It’s often the basis for our friendships, the groups we hang out with, and even the church we go to.

The opposite is also true. Lack of acceptance is often what divides political parties, causes people to go to court, and fractures families and friendships.

Andy Stanley recently shared the idea that acceptance lowers resistance. It is the groups that accept you that often have the greatest influence, whether your college fraternity, your Harley rider’s club, or your small group at church.

Notice the sequence – acceptance happens before influence. You probably didn’t have your first cigarette alone, Andy Stanley observes. It was being with friends, those that accepted you, that lowered your resistance and allowed their ideas or behaviors a foot in the door. Every parent instinctively knows this to be true, which is why we’re so concerned about who our kids hang around with.

So if acceptance leads to influence (positive or negative), and Christian music stations exist to have greater influence, then it seems to me that figuring out how to build acceptance into your station would be a pretty important deal.

No One Wants To Grow Up To Be A Sergeant

When a soldier looks up on the battlefield he will not see his first sergeant, sergeant major, company commander, battalion commander …. he won’t even see his platoon sergeant! He WILL see HIS sergeant …. the squad leader, crew chief, team leader, tank commander …. and this NCO will principally provide the leadership, advice, counsel, and firm and reassuring direction on that battlefield. – Gen. Paul F. Gorman (US Army)


Funny, when I was a kid and would play war with my neighborhood friends, they all wanted to be the leader. Most thought of themselves as captains, majors, or even generals. If you were thinking about joining the military, you were probably thinking of yourself as an officer, not a sergeant.

When we relate ourselves to military leaders, it’s always to generals, never about sergeants.  I was different.  Gunnery Sergeant Frank Mason taught me the value of the non-comms who run the military.

When you hire people, look for tomorrows leaders, someone with promotability. But remember, hiring only future officers leads to a station full of Ensigns, young leaders looking at the promotion ladder, and not their present situation.

But sergeants really like being sergeants. They know the secret, that it’s the non-commissioned officers who make the military work. Orders without someone who can execute brilliantly aren’t going to get you anywhere.

You probably know the “officers” at your station, but who are the “sergeants?” Who really makes things happen on that tactical level?   If you look closely, they may be the ones that people tend to follow naturally.  Make sure those people understand how important they are, and that you respect them even though they may not want to grow into an officer.

How Into Yourself Are You?

Don’t surround yourself with yourself.” – The group Yes, from the song “I’ve seen all good people.”

If you’re familiar with the group Yes, you probably hadn’t thought of them being philosophical, but like many musicians, sometimes they just can’t help it.

When you hire someone to work with, do you hire someone that clicks with you, that is like you?  Or do you hire someone who is a little different, who compliments you?  Most people unconsciously choose someone like themselves.  What most people need is rarely another of themselves, it’s someone who is strong where they’re weak.

Otherwise you run the danger of the movie Multiplicity, where a man duplicated himself to get more done, but every copy was just a little dumber, just a little stranger.  It didn’t wind up working out at all.

I guess I’m suggesting that you fight the natural impulse, to like and hire someone like yourself.  Instead, do an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, and find someone who will balance you…even if a little.  A great example is what Steve Jobs did when he hired Tim Cook as his COO.  Time will tell, and we all miss Job’s creative way of doing things, but Cook has been doing well in his own way.  He’s not trying to be Jobs, he’s trying to be himself.

A friend moves on

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”  – Kurt Vonnegut

There are people you meet in your career who leave a mark.  Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  One of those people for me was Kevin Metheny.

When I first met Kevin we were competing with each other, me at KING in Seattle, and Kevin at KJR.  It was a magnificent battle, and one of those radio stories where people were in combat all the time and yet friends too.  He was this kid in a t-shirt and overalls who practiced a mean variety of guerrilla warfare.  That’s probably what I remember the most.

Kevin moved on from there, and followed a career of creativity, no matter how controversial it got.  He was a focused, strategic person who wasn’t afraid to take a few bullets to win the battle. In a lot of ways most people will never understand, he blazed a new trail wherever he went.  He was not afraid to jump off the cliff and flap his wings.

I remember sitting with him at a restaurant in Jacksonville, talking about the “old days,” when he looked at me and said, ‘How would you like to go through the rest of your career knowing you were “Pig vomit’ from the Howard Stern movie Private Parts.”  That eclipsed all of what he did with so many stations in his career, with a batting average much better than many in the majors.

I’m  not letting you know all this because he was a friend, but because he was a strategic and creative mind at the same time.  You know how I feel about creativity, we’re lacking in it as we focus on incremental improvements from where we are.  He died of a heart attack last Saturday at the age of 60.  Surely it was due to putting so much of his heart into his work.  But what a ride it was, covering so many major markets and and so many innovations.  If you ever said to Kevin, “I don’t think you can do that,” you had to be prepared to get out of the way as he plowed ahead through any obstacle.

You might not know it, but we’ll all miss that goofy kid from Seattle, and the energy and focus he brought to radio.

How Many Shades Of Blue?

What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50 million years. It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever.” – Seth Godin


As they often do, Fast Company provided a moment of insight and inspiration for me. It’s a story about naming a brand based on the color they use – especially the legion that use the color blue.

According to them, “If you are able to distinguish Facebook-sapphire from IBM-azure, then you are either incredibly observant or around these particular shades so often that they’ve seeped into subconscious associations.”

I wonder if that’s true with radio? We all want to think we are differentiated enough to have our own color of blue, but is it true? If we showed generic logos in our color and typeface, would they know us? Better yet, if we ran three air checks with the station name edited out, back-to-back with four from other stations, would we be differentiated enough to be recognized?

Here’s what I would say is the probable answer, “Your fans would, but it would be a struggle for everyone else. Your fans, your tribe, are the ones with the emotional connection, while everyone else is using you more as a utility. We’re not as different as we think to the more casual listener.

But differentiation actually isn’t the topic of this posting. It’s the common rallying cry that radio is a cume business, and success is proportional to the size of your cume. That may be true if your mass appeal, as the large cume is the boat in which your fans float in, but not so much if you’re not country, CHR, AC or talk. But sometime those stations are so mass appeal they get their success from being everyone’s number two station more than from a tribe.

Isn’t the key here to make sure the tribe is a larger one, so you have enough people to make a difference, but being distinctive enough so your tribe feel “special?” Otherwise you might be like smooth jazz, where the tribe was passionate enough to “vote” the station to success with a diary, but not large enough to sustain itself commercially in a PPM world.

There’s nothing wrong with having a large cume unless you’re sacrificing tribal distinction to get It. In the end it comes down your fans, who give you the preponderance of your listening. They want to feel special and they want to feel included.