Sunday, December 7, 2008

Voice-Tracking Refresher (and More)

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving, it’s time to think hard about the holiday season. For many stations, part of that thinking will include voice-tracking at least a handful of shifts. I recently spent some time with one of our client stations, going over the fundamentals of voice-tracking, and it struck me that we might all be able to use a reminder of those fundamentals. And, it’s important to note, these are the same fundamentals that are also important in our live shifts.

1. Be real. Unless your version of “real” is to curse every third word, listeners want to know that you’re a real person with real thought, feelings and ideas.
2. Think about what listeners are doing as they’re listening to you. You’re the one sitting or standing in a studio wearing a pair of headphones, not them. Even though you’re in that studio, you need to mentally be where your listeners are, doing what they’re doing. That way, you can reflect that reality on the air. And since I’m focusing on voice-tracked shifts here, you need to imagine what they’ll be doing when your voice tracks actually hit the air.
3. As you think about your listeners and what they’re doing as they’re listening to you, make sure you also think about any and all big topics that will be happening or discussed as your voice tracks are playing. There are obvious “big days” on the calendar (holidays, Tax Day, Election Day, etc.), but don’t limit yourself to just thinking about those. Really think about what’s going on in your community, your state, your region, your country and the world. And while the “big days” might seem obvious, don’t forget to hit them hard on the air. You’d be surprised how many people short-change the biggest story of the day.
4. Back to your community, your state, your region, your country and the world, that’s the order in which you should look for material for your show. It’s not that listeners don’t care about (some) events that are happening on the other side of the world, but they care much more instinctively about what’s happening on the other side of town.
5. Just as you should be prepping for every show you do, whether it’s live or voice-tracked, you should also consider your show a kind of prep for your listeners’ lives. Frankly, many people lead kind of boring lives, you and me included. It’s not that things don’t happen to all of us on a daily basis, and it’s not that some of those things aren’t exciting, it’s just that our yesterday is probably going to be pretty similar to our today, and our today is probably going to be pretty similar to our tomorrow. So even if you go naked bungee-jumping every day, once you’ve established that as the baseline for the level of excitement that you expect to experience every day, something new has to happen to move your meter. That’s where we come in. If we can give that naked bungee-jumper something new to talk about around the dinner table, we’ve done our jobs.
6. When you’re structuring your breaks, always give the benefits before you give the details. If you’re trying to hook your listeners, you’re much more likely to get their attention with the “carrot” of the prize/cool thing/etc. than you are with the “stick” of details/information/etc. It’s not that the details aren’t important. Listeners will listen to a lot of details IF they know that those details are going to (at least potentially) benefit them.
7. Speaking of details, try not to say the actual word “details.” I think there are few less-sexy phrases than “Check out the website for more details.” If it’s important enough for you to send me to the website, it’s important enough for you to take the time to make it sound appealing, not just like another chore for me to put on my to-do list.
8. Keep “WII-FM” in mind. That’s the radio station that we all work for. It stands for “what’s in it for me?” And that’s the question you should be answering for your listeners every time you open your mouth. If you’re talking up a five-second intro, you probably won’t be able to spend a lot of time explaining the benefits of a particular Kenny Chesney record, but for your “real” breaks, WII-FM should be at the top of your mind.
9. I said at the beginning that you should be real. While you should definitely do that, you should do it with the understanding that this show isn’t for YOU or about YOU, it’s for and about your LISTENERS.
10. Even though you have listeners (plural) listening to you, make sure you’re talking to just one person. Even though you obviously work with other people at your station, and even though you sometimes refer to those people on the air, this all boils down to one person communicating to one other person. It doesn’t matter if you’re live or voice-tracked, one-to-one communication is the most powerful tool we have.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aircheck Sessions and Potty Training

Okay, bear with me for a minute. I realize that the title of this article, “Aircheck Sessions and Potty Training,” could be a little off-putting. But I assure you I’m not going to just sit here and make a bunch of jokes about how aircheck sessions and potty training are alike because they both involve crybabies and putting up with a lot of crap...although that does sound kind of fun.

What got me thinking about this connection is the fact that my wife and I are in the throes of potty-training our three-year-old son. He’s a truly great kid, but he has a five-month-old baby brother in the house and he’s probably still adjusting to not being the only child, as well as also dealing with his feelings of jealousy. That’s meant that we’ve seen not only lots of successes, but also a little bit of regression, not unlike managing an airstaff of talented but sometimes very different – and occasionally jealous – personalities.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, you have to find the right time for potty training and then you have to set your child up for success, starting by maintaining a sense of humor and a positive attitude. They also suggest that you consider incentives, be consistent and treat mistakes lightly. Is this starting to sound familiar?

Reading their website, I laughed as I started to realize just how many of their ideas could be applied to radio. Picture your airstaff and the jocks you’ve worked with through the years. You’ve probably got a big spectrum represented there, from seasoned professionals to shaky rookies. You try to help them grow as personalities, respecting their differences, while at the same time making sure you’re guiding your station(s) down the right path.

I’ve found that most jocks, especially when they feel like they’re in a supportive environment, will not only welcome your ideas, but they’ll actually be harder on themselves than you would be on them. That puts you in the unique position of turning what used to be seen by some as a negative – the dreaded aircheck session – into a positive. That’s not to say that every jock will suddenly come skipping into (and out of) their aircheck sessions, but when they know that it’s a supportive environment, they’re a lot more apt to see the sessions as opportunities for growth, rather than beating sessions to be approached with dread.

The person who has to set that tone is you. Be positive. Be consistent. Don’t just find areas that need improvement and hammer those points home. Look for moments of greatness and celebrate them. And when your jocks try something and end up falling short, support their efforts and talk about how they can succeed the next time. Explain what your goals are and how you intend to accomplish them. Let your jocks know what is expected of them.

Accidents will happen, both on and off the air, but if you and your staff (and your kids) are in the right frame of mind, you’ll find yourselves having more and more successes and fewer and fewer accidents.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Season of Caring…in Troubled Times

We’re pretty lucky to be working in this format. Country listeners are some of the most community-oriented and charity-minded people out there. We’ve seen time and time again how they’ll answer the call for help, no matter how great the need. It’s also true that we’re living in an age when many of our listeners are worried about how they’re going to pay for their next bag of groceries or tank of gas. So how do we reconcile those two realities?

This question came up in a recent brainstorming session PD John Paul led at KUPL-FM/Portland, Ore. I was there for the meeting and was glad that this issue came up. Especially with the holidays just around the corner, we want to find ways to help our listeners help those in need – and feel good about themselves – and, especially in these troubled times, do so without breaking the bank. I think this presents us with an opportunity for a real win-win situation. Or, depending on the example, a real win-win-win situation.

Our challenge is to find worthy causes and then find no- or low-cost ways to connect our listeners to those causes. It’s also our challenge to make listeners feel like their contributions are valuable, no matter how big or small those contributions might be. It’d be tough for any one of us to cure hunger or homelessness on our own (although we’d probably all like to have a $700 billion bailout at our disposal), but if we each contribute one can of food or one article of clothing, pretty soon we’ll make a meaningful dent in a problem in our own communities. We can do just that by organizing food drives and clothing drives. We can also make it so listeners need donate nothing more than their time, volunteering at soup kitchens, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc.

I think those are all nice win-win examples: Our listeners get to feel good about doing good, and one or more organizations in our community will get some much-needed help. But what about a win-win-win? That was my favorite idea that came out of this meeting. The triple-win is where a sponsor donates (for example) $1 for every person through their door who mentions our radio station. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that not every one of those listeners will buy a car/TV/washing machine/shirt/mop/hamburger/whatever from that business. We don’t sell cars and washing machines; they do. What we’re doing is driving verifiable traffic to their store so that they have the opportunity to sell whatever it is they sell, while not stretching our listeners any more than they’re already being stretched. And they both get to be community heroes at the same time. That’s why it’s a win-win-win: Our listeners still get to feel good about doing good, one or more organizations in our community will still get some much-needed help, PLUS, our station gets to show a client a solid return on their investment.

Change the details as you see fit to make this work for your station, your market and your client. It’ll no doubt take the right advertiser to sign up for this kind of deal, but we already know we’ve got the right kind of listeners.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sports on Country Radio

Jaye was recently telling me about a “NASCAR report” aircheck that a client station sent her, and that lead to a larger discussion about sports on country radio in general. The first question was: Should we do them? The second question was: If so, how should we do them? While I don’t think you can come up with answers to those questions that apply to every country radio station, I do think we came up with some good ideas and examples.

There are absolutely country radio listeners who are sports fans, but there are also lots of country radio listeners who for the most part don’t give a darn about sports. That can leave us in a tricky position. We obviously can’t be everything to everybody, so we need to choose our targets and put a laser-like focus on those targets. The broadest target for us is country music fans. We play country music, so we’re targeting people who like (or can be convinced to like) country music. We’re not a News/Talk station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the stock market and politics. We’re not a CHR station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about Britney Spears. And we’re not a Sports station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about sports.

On the other hand, we are people who like to share interesting things with our listeners. And some of those things might involve the stock market, politics, Britney Spears and sports. But when we do share those things with our listeners, we’re (I hope) not giving them a bunch of facts, figures and jargon. Instead, we’re telling them stories. We’re entertaining them. We’re giving them information that will be useful in their lives, even if that just means giving them one new thing to talk about around the water cooler at work.

As an example, consider last month’s Allstate 400 race. Who won that race? I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that tires were exploding left and right during that race and that the Goodyear people had a lot of explaining to do after it was all said and done. So if you talked about that story on your radio station, was it a sports story, or just a story story? As long as you focused more on the tires than you did on the winner and losers, I’d call that a story story. And that’s exactly the kind of story that I’m talking about.

To further complicate the issue, throw some clients into the mix. Especially when you’re talking about something that could be considered niche programming (like a NASCAR report), it can be a real balancing act. If you think you have enough listener interest in such a report, give it a shot. The station that Jaye and I were talking about already has sponsors lined up for this feature, but we cautioned that station not to let the sponsors dictate their programming. Even if you’ve got sponsors lined up around the block for something, if the programming isn’t compelling, those sponsors will disappear along with your listeners.

It’s also important to clearly communicate your goals to the person or people doing the sports report. They need to understand what kind of reports you’re looking for. The reports can’t be lists of winners and losers and events and sponsors. They have to be human interest stories that transcend sports. It’s a fine line, but those reports need to talk enough about sports that sports fans don’t call us phonies, but also tell enough not-exactly-sports stories that the non-sports fans don’t turn us off the moment we do something like a NASCAR report.

For inspiration, check out Randy Scott’s sports reports on the KMPS-FM morning show (Ichabod and the Waking Crew). Randy’s stories certainly involve sports, but they aren’t “sports” stories. They do sports around 7:30am.

Better yet, think about what NBC did with the Olympics. Heck, think about what NBC and Visa did with just their commercials leading up to the Olympics. Even when they mention who won or lost an event, the story isn’t about that, but it’s a whole lot more memorable. Here are some examples of those Olympic ads:

Or see more stories here:
Those commercials and stories can certainly be over the top, but they’re also masterful, and we can learn a lot from them. We need to educate our staffs about who our audience is and what matters to them, and we should find a way to make our sports reports resonate with the vast majority of our listeners, which will mean that our sports reports have to be about more than “just” sports.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Musings on the Fourth of July

As I write this, it’s the morning of the Fourth of July. We’re still many hours away from the barbecue and fireworks display that we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. I’ve just finished eating breakfast and reading the newspaper, and something I read reminded me of a radio story from years ago. The story I read was about a newspaper editor who loved taking his family to see fireworks on the Fourth of July, but who occasionally had to work the night shift at his paper, thus missing out on the annual display.

Reading that, I was transported back to Eugene, Ore., where I can vividly remember being a young DJ working an evening shift on the Fourth. I know many of us have been in this position, but this was one of those times where I was the only human being in our entire building. The studios of KKNU-FM had a couple of small windows that opened out to the parking lot. From where our building was situated, I couldn’t see the local fireworks display, but by opening one of those windows, I could hear it.

So the next time I cracked the mic, I mentioned that fact. It wasn’t a woe-is-me break, but I’m sure I said something about being so close, yet so far. And about 15 minutes later, an amazing thing happened: Two listeners drove to our deserted parking lot, got out of their car and set off a small collection of fireworks. I opened that window again, stretched my microphone arm as close to them as it would go and recorded the sounds for a few seconds. During my next break, I described the scene as best I could and played some of the audio. The whole thing was just magical.
Of course, this story has less to do with the Fourth of July and more to do with the power and intimacy of radio. We could discuss some of the more serious ways in which we’ve all seen that in action, but this is a good reminder that we’re not only broadcasting to the masses, we’re also talking to individual listeners. And sometimes, when we’re really lucky, they show us that they’re listening.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where Do You Live?

One of the challenges facing every on-air personality is figuring out how to localize their show. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore national/international stories or “location-less” stories, but if you’re not talking about things that listeners in your town can actually do, see, hear, touch, taste, smell and just generally experience, you’re missing out on a goldmine of potential show material, and you’re probably not doing your job well enough.

I heard a great example of localization recently from Leela K., who does afternoons at KUPL-FM in Portland, Ore. She told the story of driving home late Saturday night and being the front car at a red light when her path was blocked by a naked man…on a bicycle…who was blocking traffic for at least 100 of his naked friends…in a naked bike ride. She closed this part of her break by saying that she thinks she finally gets it when people say, “Keep Portland Weird.”

There are a couple of important things to know here:

1. Leela is relatively new to the Portland area, so she is still “discovering” lots of new things about Portland.
2. You see “Keep Portland Weird” bumper stickers all over Portland (just like you see similar bumper stickers in cities like Austin, Boulder, Louisville, Houston, and, I’m sure, many other cities).

What was great about this story was that everybody in the Portland area (count me among them) immediately knew what she was talking about, and that this was an unmistakably local story.

It’s been said that the best shows are the ones that people from outside of the market in question wouldn’t necessarily “get.” That’s an indication that you’re so plugged in to your community that you’re almost speaking a secret language that only people in your town understand. The danger in speaking a secret language, of course, is that you have the potential to alienate some of your listeners – especially new ones – so it’s important to balance your in-speak with enough explanations that nobody feels left out. The tipping point will vary from town to town and bit to bit, but as long as you’re conscious of the need for that balance, you’re probably going to be just fine.

You don’t have to have “Keep (Your City) Weird” bumper stickers for this to apply to you, and your story doesn’t have to be as unusual as a naked bike ride, but you should keep your eyes open for good, local stories that you can share with your audience. Sharing those stories will strengthen your connection to your area, and they’ll also bond you and your listeners in a very special way.

If you want to hear the aircheck of Leela’s naked bike ride story, just let me know, and if you’ve got an example of a great local bit you’ve done, send it along and I’ll share it with everybody else.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


It’s probably pretty obvious to say that content is important to what we do on the radio, but what may not be as obvious is how to best go about selecting and delivering that content. You’re likely working with the same stories and information that your competitors are using. What should differentiate you is how you choose your stories and how you present them. Anybody can read the same stats, figures or facts; what makes you different is how you use them.

Before going on, I should say that I don’t pretend to have one magical formula that will work in every situation. Not every story will be right for every format, and not every story that’s right for a given format is right for every personality working in that format. The trick is to pick the stories that are right for you and your audience. If you pick a story that works well with your style, but isn’t going to be of interest to your audience, what’s the point? Or if you pick a story that will be of interest to your audience, but you won’t be able to effectively deliver it, again, what’s the point? Neither of those scenarios is likely to lead to success. You need to marry the right stories to the right personality.

You are your own best judge of what’s right for you and your show. If you don’t think a given story is both of interest to your audience and something you can deliver effectively, stay away from it. Of course, there are many ways to skin a cat, and if you find a story that you think is going to be of interest to your audience, you should work really hard to find a way to deliver it effectively before you decide to skip it and move on to something else. Remember, even though it’s “your” show, it’s not really about you, it’s about your audience.

On that same note, there are some stories that you just have to talk about. For example, if there’s breaking news, listeners are counting on you to let them know about it. That doesn’t mean you have to impersonate a grizzled hard-news journalist (unless that’s what you really are…in which case you’re not impersonating anything), but in those moments, substance will be much more important than style. (Breaking news is a separate discussion, but if you need help developing or refining your breaking news plans, just say the word.)

Once you’ve picked a story that’s right for you and your show, then the real fun begins. You need to decide where in your show you’ll be discussing that story, how you’ll tease it, how you’ll intro the story once you get to it, how you’ll deal with the body of the story and how you’ll get out of it and move on to the next part of your show.

Just like with selecting stories, I don’t pretend to have one magical formula that applies to the placing, teasing, intro-ing, discussing or exiting of every story, but I can tell you that you need to keep your listeners in mind every step of the way. How can you best position this story for your listeners? How can you hook them with your tease(s)? How can you reel them in with your intro? How can you ensure that the “payoff” of every story was worth the time they spent listening to you? How can you move on to the next item on your agenda? And, maybe most importantly, how can you get them to reward you for all of your hard work by tuning you in again tomorrow?

None of this is necessarily easy, but neither does it necessarily have to be all that difficult. With every potential piece of content for your show, ask yourself if it’s relevant to your listeners. If it is, then your job is to find the most compelling way that you can share it with them. That will be different for every personality and every audience, but the end result should be that both you and your audience feel it was worthwhile.