The Fault In Our Stars
February 24, 2015
"We are in a serious talent development crisis that has gotten worse in the last five years."
Man, I'm glad it wasn't just me thinking that.
Nope, that's also Randy Lane's appraisal of how radio is currently discovering and fostering compelling, entertaining personalities for its future.
I'm just a former PD with an awesome, 50-yard line seat of the biz. Lane is Founder and President of The Randy Lane Company, which specializes in media talent coaching and personal brand development. His client list of TV and radio luminaries has included, but is not limited to: Ryan Seacrest, Jimmy Kimmel, the late Kidd Kraddick, Billy Bush, Mancow, Leeza Gibbons, The Bert Show, Lex & Terry, Dave Ryan, Mark & Brian and Ace & TJ.
So, ya know, when it comes to the topic of talent on the radio, Randy is kind of a big deal.
I believe this is timely for two reasons. First, Randy is moderating this week's CRS 2015 panel, "The Stars Come Out In The Morning," where he'll interview three ginormous radio stars: Bobby Bones, Scott Shannon and the team of Jimmy & Dave. In my best, PPM appointment-setting strategy, indulge me as I say -- using my radio voice (ahem) -- more on that in a few minutes.
Second, I've been thinking a lot about the personality issue since last week's 'Ville when we previewed another CRS panel titled "Gen-Setters," examining Millennials and Country music.
To briefly summarize, Edison Media's Tom Webster told me when it comes to 18-34 users, Country music is just fine, but Country radio is severely threatened by other audio choices -- particularly on mobile devices -- such as Pandora, Spotify and owned playlists.
Webster also shared this observation/recommendation: "I would love to see radio embracing personalities again. If radio simply becomes a jukebox, it can't compete with Pandora and Spotify. But if they can play to what their strengths really are -- developing personalities who are passionate about Country and who educate people about Country music and the artists -- then they have a premium seat at the table."
The problem is, right now, radio isn't really set up for that. As Randy Lane helped me better understand, there are several layers to the crisis he alluded to at the beginning of this piece.
"In the early 2000s when managers and programmers would call and say, 'Hey, I need a new morning show, co-host, producer, or a host for a show,' I could reel off several names and shows to recommend," Lane recalls. "I'm still asked now, but I struggle to find talent for any sized market. The talent pool has gotten so shallow."
In the past dozen or so years, the business model has drifted towards voicetracking, point-to-point and syndicated solutions for weekends, overnights and even middays, as companies downsized programming staffs to bare-bones levels. Weekends and overnights in particular used to be the dayparts where unrefined, raw radio talent could work out the kinks in relative obscurity and find themselves as a personality.
"The other factor, besides no real training ground anymore," adds Lane, "Is there aren't as many young people today aspiring to get in to radio with all the new media that is out there. So what we end up doing a lot of times is looking outside of radio to find talent."
Lane says the search field includes, among other resources, YouTube, the comedy world and non-radio, every day humans programmers meet in their day-to-day life, explaining, "It's a lot easier to take someone who is a personality and teach them radio, than it is to take a radio person who is not necessarily a personality and pull it out of them."
I asked Lane for his take on the success rate for converting someone outside of radio into a viable on-air personality.
"About 50-50," he says. "Some people can be really engaging characters and/or personalities in the real world, but when you put them in front of a microphone, they freeze up and they're not the same person."
There are some huge exceptions, though. As some of you have read about right here on All Access recently -- due to a nasty court battle over his attempt to leave the station -- former Rhythmic Top 40 KPWR/Los Angeles morning man Big Boy was discovered by Emmis Radio programming execs 20 years ago while working as a bodyguard for a Hip-Hop artist. Big Boy has always been a winner in mornings and the marketing/branding centerpiece for KPWR during two decades of ratings success in Los Angeles. Things have worked out so well, iHeartMedia just offered him $3.5 million a year to cross the street.
"And there's Adam Carolla," adds Lane. "Jimmy Kimmel found him in a gym; he was a boxing instructor and a carpenter. Jimmy just thought he was an entertaining and interesting guy. He goes on KROQ and it works, you know?" Carolla went on to succeed Howard Stern in some markets after Stern went to satellite radio. And, what red-blooded American male could forget Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel teaming for Comedy Central's "The Man Show?"
Though it does work occasionally and other times, not so much, "It's still something you have to try," believes Lane. "It's a matter of putting those people in a production room to see if there's any magic there, but you have to take those risks in order to find the gems."
In addition to a power shortage on the talent level, the past 10 years or so have also thinned out the quantity and quality of station-level programmers who are experienced and qualified to recognize and coach talent on a regular basis.
"It's absolutely true," says Lane. "There are just a lot of programmers who have focused on the science of radio, the research, the structure, PPM and the marketing, and they're just not as qualified to work with talent."
On the one hand, that's great business for Lane and his team, whose process includes coaching the coaches. "We work with the program directors and operation managers to help them relate to, manage and coach talent on a local level, because we're not there every day."
This combination of a shallow talent pool and the diminishing skillset for developing what's left in it, says Lane, "puts radio in a bad position." But he is quick to add, "especially morning shows, talent is the big separator. What youâ€™re doing between the music becomes even more important in distinguishing your station from your competition.â€
Lane says there's good news and a possible silver lining in that regard. "Some of these companies -- CBS Radio is one of them â€“ emphasize growing and expanding talent and seeing the value of that. And we have some of the new groups coming up like Larry Wilson's new company, Alpha; Digity is another one. They're putting an emphasis on live and local talent, specifically morning shows. So I do think it is turning around, it's just going to take a few years."
That seems like a good segue for a preview of Lane's CRS panel, "The Stars Come Out In The Morning," set for Friday (2/27) at 2:00pm. The entire session will talk about on-air talent and their in-between-the-songs approach to content.
As I mentioned earlier, Bobby Bones of Premiere's syndicated, WSIX/Nashville-based "The Bobby Bones Show" will join legendary Classic Hits WCBS/New York morning man Scott Shannon and Dave & Jimmy of Top 40 WNCI/Columbus.
The format will be similar to "The Tonight Show," with Lane hosting. After a brief audio clip of each guest's morning show, Lane will bring them out one at a time. "We'll talk about working social media, and how they prioritize time, prepping the show, living life, doing appearances, all those things that go into a morning show today, and all the multiple platforms they have to deal with."
The simulated "Tonight Show" will start with Bones. "I'll talk to him about what the essence of his show is about, because he does a lot of Country artist interviews and has a cast of characters," says Lane. "Dave and Jimmy are known for doing more produced comedy bits, parodies and stunts. Scott is a great story teller, so we'll talk about the importance of stories. On every television talk show, all the guests come on with a story because they know people pay attention to engaging stories. If youâ€™re a good storyteller, it sticks with people; Iâ€™ve asked the three shows to come with an entertaining story they can tell.â€"
All three will be on the couch together towards the end -- now THAT should be entertaining.
Oh, and there's another session you may want to check out, too -- I know I will, based on Lane's concern about quality coaching from PDs and OMs right now. On Thursday (2/26), try to attend "Want a Winning Team? Get A Killer Coach."
Both of these panels look like a good start in addressing some of our challenges of engaging not just Millennials, but ALL Country radio users in a more entertaining way.