Forget Fact Check, Let's Aircheck
August 7, 2015
I watched the first GOP debate the other night -- don't worry, this isn't the political rant portion of our show today. Not. Going. There. Ever. Fact is, like a lot of people, I'm not quite sure whether I'm Republican or Democrat anymore. But, I digress.
Critical campaign issues? Fuhgettaboutit! No, I tune into these debates and analyze 'em with a filter similar to that of a PD evaluating on-air talent, grading the candidates' ability to communicate their respective narrative and wondering who does it best.
I remember back in the day being told that for personalities, building and branding a great morning show is like running for office. As I watched what will surely be the first of many presidential debates it occurred to me that maybe we can all learn something from the people who are literally running for office. There are probably some great lessons available here about interviewing; being interviewed; taking a position and owning it; character development/evolution; on-air presentation and other issues pertinent to radio.
I have my own observations, but I also called in an expert on such matters for his input too. Steve Reynolds of The Reynolds Group has worked with a ton of on-air personalities over the years. He has a keen ear and some solid belief systems about what makes a great radio show. So we put the 10 prime-time debaters up against Reynolds' "Be F.A.I.R. To Be Great" challenge for air talent.
And, just to have a little fun, we also looked at the field of these 10 presidential hopefuls, casting them into the role of on-air personality and where they'd fit into the landscape of a radio station. Hey - if late night TV can have fun at their expense, why not "The 'Ville?
So how did they do?
A note about the debate structure first: it seems to me the format was designed to give Fox News as many sound-byte opportunities as possible, what with the short time limit (30-60 seconds) on replies to numerous questions that contained fairly complex issues.
Using those criteria paired with Reynolds', I'll start with MY winner for the night and let me reiterate: This has absolutely NOTHING to do with who I support politically and is all about how it translates into a radio show. For my money, that guy was Mike Huckabee. And you know why? Because he did an ACTUAL radio show every day from 2009 through May of this year, with both daily commentary segments ("The Mike Huckabee Report") and a regular talk show on Cumulus Networks (April 2012-December 2013).
In a debate format that required PPM-friendly, concise, well-crafted responses due to strict time limits (jocks … sound familiar?), Huckabee shined, often beating the buzzer. I don't know if he'll be electable, or a good POTUS, but damn, his answers seemed to have a beginning, middle and end, all of which I could easily digest and understand -- whether I agreed or not. His TSL -- or ATE, for me anyway -- was very strong, though no Mscores are currently available. But seriously, I have to believe doing a radio show day-in and day-out that requires similar precision and massive show prep (Huckabee claimed his daily show required nine hours each day), made him well-equipped for what was the first of many debates to come. If he doesn't become our next President, I'll bet he can easily relaunch his radio career.
Reynolds, on the other hand, gave Donald Trump a strong grade, saying, "You've got to know what you want people to feel when they take delivery of the product." Love or hate him, nobody doubts how they feel about Trump when his mouth eventually stops flapping.
"Here's the thing," continued Reynolds. "Chris Christie was Donald Trump before Donald Trump. A very similar -- but way better -- morning show, and one that was entertaining and relevant. But Trump came in and took that position away, because he understands how to connect with an audience better. He can be bombastic, yet deeply authentic; you never believe he's saying it for effect."
Ohio Governor John Kasich, observed Reynolds, "was all about being on top of what the audience cared about." And, translating Kasich into a radio station role, Reynolds sees "A great morning guy on a Light AC station; the host who wants to please everybody." Steve is so right! Kasich is the candidate the whole office can agree on!
Reynolds and I nearly agreed on projecting Scott Walker as a radio personality. While I saw him as a middayer now miscast doing wakeups, Reynolds believes he's much more ambitious. "To me, he's the kind of guy who does weekend middays -- but WANTS a higher-profile daypart and even comes to station during the week to lobby for it."
We agreed that Rand Paul played the part of Bobby Bones. "He's the renegade morning guy," said Reynolds Exactly! Remember Paul repeatedly claiming during the debate, "I'm a different kind of Republican!?" Added Reynolds, "He'll test limits and challenge everything. He's the guy who will take over the air staff meeting and will pull the pin on a grenade; who'll walk into the on-air studio during the show and tell you what's wrong with the PD."
Another Reynolds' tenet when it comes to great talent dynamics shows is, "opposites create meaning." And the dustup between Christie and Rand Paul certainly did that, as it became one of the most replayed clips of the evening. Wouldn't you LOVE to see those two paired up on a morning show?
"Other candidates are the programmer-type,: says Reynolds, "with Jeb Bush as the PD who wants to reason with everybody on the staff. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz is the dictatorial PD; he has a vision and never moderates from it. He'll will barge in during my show, and ask why we played a recurrent instead of a power -- he's all about formatics."
Reynolds gave Marco Rubio high scores too, saying, "Great talent owns positions. Remember: He's the one who admitted that, until four years ago, he owed $100,000 in college loans." But in a radio world, Rubio needs some coaching, added Reynolds. "He's the afternoon guy who is now in AM drive and thinks the rules are the same for both dayparts."
In addition to the 10 candidates on stage, Reynolds had praise for the three moderators -- as it relates to radio shows and the prep necessary for interviews. "I listen to a lot of interviews, and I can tell if talent is winging it. They did a ton of show prep and did not ask softball questions."
Of particular note was the raising-of-the-hand question early on, asking who would refuse to support the eventual Republican candidate. "That created an emotion," says Reynolds. "It got everyone's attention immediately."
The moderators' homework helped them to be aware of previous positions candidates had taken on specific issues, and they asked some why their earlier stance contradicted current ones. "They built questions that created tension, which lead to better emotional content; it forced them off talking points," Reynolds said. "That helped create relevance and authenticity."
The objective of a strong interview is storytelling, says Reynolds, who believes Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier accomplished that aim.
I want to thank Steve Reynolds, and be sure to pass along his information, because I think he is a fantastic talent coach who can help you and/or your station not only run for office, but do it successfully, immediately and for years to come. Check out the Reynolds Group Website here, call him at (919) 821-4700 or e-mail him at email@example.com.