They Came To See The Show ... Not You
April 28, 2015
One of the joys of being an air personality is the occasional chance to emcee a live concert performance. Most times it's the opening act, but sometimes you get to bring on the headliner.
Your job is to handle some stage announcements, get the audience fired up, represent your station, and state the name of the person or persons who are about to perform. It is fairly simple, but personal agenda or a misconception of your roll can make the time on stage seem like a near-death experience.
I have a very vivid memory of being drenched in flop sweat when introducing an act at the Holiday Star in Merryville, IN, just outside of Chicago. I was working at US99, WUSN, a Country station in Chicago and had emceed a lot of shows at the indoor resort. The name of the act escapes me, but the self-inflicted verbal wound is still fresh in my mind.
Having been an emcee there so many times, I knew the stage crew and would always come early for a free meal and a chance to have fun with them. Only this night they had fun with me. The guy in the booth on the side of the stage signaled me to head out on stage and stand on my mark to greet the audience. The venue seated about 2,500 and it was packed.
The booth guy introduced me as I headed for the mic and there was very little reaction from the crowd. You have to understand, US99 was a big deal and normally crowds would go crazy just at the sound of the station's name. Well, not that night. I welcomed everybody, made a couple of stage announcements, and made mention of my station's latest big on-air contest. I was trying to see past the bright lights to determine what was going on. Meanwhile off stage in the booth, I could see out of the corner of my eye some of the stage hands laughing.
I was only out there for about a minute and the lack of response had me stumbling over the introduction of the act, but the audience did let out a big ovation. I wasn't sure if it was because the show was about to start or because they were glad I was leaving the stage. The backstage crew was busting a gut laughing and finally told me the deal. The majority of the audience had come in on buses from outside the Chicago area and had never heard of WUSN or me. That did explain the feeble response to, "What's your favorite Country station?"
Being an emcee is not that hard, but there are a few things which can make your stage appearance more effective and a lot less nightmarish. This is a subject recently brought to my attention by a newbie in radio.
Jock: I am getting my first chance to emcee a show and I am nervous about doing it. I have never done this before.
Coach: Nothing to worry about because your job is to get the audience in a frenzy, clapping and get the act on stage. Is the show at night? Is it inside or outside?
Jock: It is at a fair during the day.
Coach: Good, that means you will be able to see the crowd from the stage. If it were at night, there would be lights shining on stage and right in your eyes. In those cases, I always tell personalities not to squint, find a place to fix their eyes on and talk to that spot.
Jock: Well if I get past this, maybe I will get a chance to MC a show at night.
Coach: The most important things to remember are to smile, don't shout into the mic, tell the audience your name and the station you're from, read the stage announcements you're given, get the crowd clapping loudly, say the name of the act's record company, and pronounce the performers name correctly. The clapping and bringing out the act are a timing thing, it all goes together.
Jock: How do I get them to clap?
Coach: It's pretty simple, after the stage announcement stuff try, "They told me they will come out just as soon as you start clapping," and of course you start clapping to kick it off. Over the course of time, you will develop ways to bring out an act. You should also start paying attention to emcees of other shows for some guidance. I have to warn you, though, a lot of times you will be bringing on an unknown or little-known opening act and the crowd will only be politely enthusiastic.
Jock: Opening acts? Why?
Coach: Many established performers have personal emcees on the payroll or have someone in his crew to do the job. Too many local emcees are unpredictable with introductions. Besides that, having the same person for every show means consistency and ensures that the performer will know exactly when it's time to come out on stage. It's like the baseball pitcher who always wants the same catcher every time he starts a game. There is a level of comfort.
Jock: I am afraid I won't know what to say and look stupid on stage.
Coach: You'll be fine; try and remember the crowd won't remember what you say, so keep it simple and get the act on stage. You really should go and see some shows.
Jock: I have seen concerts but I never noticed what the emcees said.
Coach: Bingo! No one ever does, so relax. Just remember, you're not there to put on a show. Your sole purpose is to bring the act on stage. One of my all-time favorite concert stories was told by comedian Albert Brooks. He was the opening act and there was no emcee. He came out and the marijuana-infused crowd realized he was not the headliner and were less than enthused and very vocal about it. Seriously, a comedian as an open for a contemporary music act is risky; it is not a Jimmy/Tonight Show kind of moment. According to Brooks, he shortened his set and got off stage. Another piece of advice: Ask your PD for some direction, too.
Jock: Okay, I am still not feeling all that confident, but I will think about what you said and I will ask my PD.
It Is Not Your Show
Don't try and engage the crowd except when it's time to bring out the performer. If you attempt to do so, the audience will treat you like a lounge singer. There will be lots of talking and clutter until you go into your rant for the crowd to clap wildly for the start of their concert experience. The show is what they paid to come and see ... not you!