Talent On Loan From Whom?
January 27, 2015
Ours' is a world of ironies. America talks incessantly about social media. We're famous for breaking out neologisms annually ... we can't have too many. Radio is no exception. But think about it: Radio has almost no formal talent development culture, yet we're developing new and important applications for "social" with the ultimate goal of luring potential listeners to our brands, only to hear undeveloped -- in many instances un-coached - talent ... the equivalent of pouring 94 octane fuel into a contaminated tank.
This doesn't require much cogitation. Historically we've taken talent for granted. In markets of all sizes where we work with accomplished personalities, when probing their radio history, we often hear the lament, "truthfully nobody ever really coached me. Sometimes I'd get nailed for a weak bit or going too far, but that wasn't really coaching."
Recently I was asked to coach a weekend talent on a major New York spoken-word brand. It was eye-opening. Basics that we'd expect to find were missing. From content sequencing to re-setting a topic, important techniques needed work. If you think this is only a 'B' topic, consider the following.
In diary markets (virtually all markets outside the largest 54), almost half the diaries contain comments ... and a large percentage of those comments are about personalities! Last year, I personally conducted 15 focus panels. Once past market basics and music brand conversation, much of a panel's attention turns to personalities. This is where the meat hits the grill. George Johns built some of the best talent-based radio in America, lured to the States from Canada, where he built epic brands from Winnipeg to Toronto. George claims there are three categories of talent: the gifted, the creative ... and everyone else. The salient question then is, "Can those in the 'everyone else' column be developed to at least rise to the 'creative' category?"
When I begin a talent assessment, the first test of a potentially good performer comes with this question: "Can they put their listener first?" If people on the radio don't like their audience, their audience probably won't like them. Our ADG colleague Tommy Kramer put it perfectly: "Work from your listener back." Make them feel like club members, and ask, "If I was doing this show on a set in front of a studio audience, would I do it this way?" Too many shows across all market levels aren't "real," never let their listeners get to know them, use arcane references (no one cares about the empty Coke bottles in the break room), and don't have the slightest concept of the "III Act Play" when planning content.
And when it comes to imaging ... well, that's another column for another day. Suffice to suggest that if Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinese, or Donald Sutherland was your station voice, would you continue to write stagers, lock-outs, re-joiners and promos the same way?
Music accuracy is an entry-level requirement. For music stations, if that's FUBAR, the rest won't make much difference. But when it's right, then station atmospherics mean everything to your "brand depth pyramid."
It's never too late. If your company or cluster doesn't have a talent development value, create one. If you don't know where to begin, try listening to shows that are perennial winners (it's no accident). Use your social media to help define your character traits. Have a "show-plan." Shows "in the middle" seldom win. Top-rated shows are famous for something. And, a memo to managers and program directors: What are your shows famous for?