Donâ€™t Touch That Dial? Why Not?
August 12, 2011
Having been a program director means that you can't listen to the radio without thinking like a program director. This is a problem insofar as thinking like a program director gets in the way of being entertained and/or informed. It's a constant "when is he gonna give out the phone number?" or "okay, this topic's toast, move on" running in your head, an internal air check session that never ends. Never, that is, unless you turn the radio off. I should try that once in a while. (Music, by the way, is not an option; that becomes an internal music meeting. "I'd add that" or "that didn't test well back in Asbury Park" come to mind. And if you were ever on the air, you talk up the record in your mind and try to hit the post every time. Yes, you do)
But I do listen to the radio, and podcasts, and streaming stations, which means I'm always judging, and taking mental notes, and thinking about fixing things, even though that hasn't been my job for a long time. I should point out that I wasn't the kind of PD who'd hotline the host after every break with a list of picked nits. I wasn't even comfortable with air check sessions; I felt like all they were missing was a swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper ("you hear what you did there? Bad host! Bad!"). I preferred just pointing out how the host could better accomplish what he or she wanted to do, trusting the talent to be, well, talented and adult and mature and adaptable. You're expecting me to follow that up with some comment about how they turned out to be juvenile and immature, but, for the most part, I found that a) if you've hired the right hosts, you can and should give them room to be creative and do the show they want to do, and b) they're receptive to the kind of criticism that's geared towards helping them do that show better. A PD has to remember that it's not only okay for a host to have a big ego, it's an essential part of being on the air. A host can't do that job without somewhat of a big ego. It's way more effective to manage that ego by helping the host accomplish his or her goals with tips and support, then getting out of the way. You can give guidance on how to adapt what they want to do to maximize ratings impact, or get greater audience response. What you can't do is tell them what to think, or what's funny and what isn't. Assuming you've hired someone who IS funny and/or smart, you have to let them be just that. Leave the basic material to them, and just tailor it for the medium; In other words, produce it.
All of that came to mind as I was listening to several talk and sports shows this week. I'll give you one thing I heard that struck me as something I'd point out to the talent, just because it's something I hear a lot and it CAN be fixed.
It's an art that every host needs to master: the tease. You might think that teasing what's coming up is critical in a PPM universe, but it's always been important. Yet I hear bad teases all the time. "We'll be right back" means nothing: Why would a listener stick around through what might be an interminable stop set if all he or she knows is that you'll be "right back"? Also weak was a tease I heard in which the host said that coming up, you'd hear what one sports figure thinks about a particular team and city. There was no indication that the opinion would be controversial or even interesting, just that I'd hear what (name) thinks about (city and team). Since I am not a resident of that city, and not a fan of that team, I punched the button and checked what the competition was talking about, and I didn't come back. I did hear the story elsewhere, and, yes, it was more interesting than the host let on. But there was no excitement, no "you gotta hear this" element to it. It was a lazy tease.
A good tease always includes a few things: an intriguing premise, a promise that you'll find out something you don't already know, and that you really need to stick around lest you miss this exciting or funny story that you definitely want to hear. Take that sports tease: instead of "coming up, what (name) thinks about (city and team)," it would have been more effective to say "hey, did you hear what (name) said about (city and team)? Keep it here and you'll find out why (name) might need a bodyguard for this weekend's series." It's not that difficult. It's the same story, only with enthusiasm and suspense added in. You can do that for any story that's worth talking about. You know how TV reality shows sometimes show you a clip before the break with a little action from the next segment that leaves you with a cliffhanger, like the judges about to tell someone they're going home or one "cast member" berating another for something that isn't quite explained? You know how you end up waiting through the commercials (or, if you're smart, fast-forwarding through them on the DVR) to see what happens next? They know how to effectively tease. It's that important. And it's one more reason for a listener to stay with your show (and one less reason to go away).
There are other things I've been hearing that I could mention here, but I'm going to save them for other columns. Want to know the secrets to making your show and station a massive success in the PPM world? Read this column in the coming weeks and find out the most important things you can do to achieve total market dominance... see what I did there? Yeah, you'll be back. (And now, I have to actually come up with those secrets. Lesson Number 2: Don't overpromise)
Need material for your show? Go right now to All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where you'll find hundreds of ideas for topics to talk about. It's here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. Also at All Access this week, you'll find "10 Questions With..." Alaska Integrated Media VP/Director of Programming Justin McDonald, who's built more than one talk station in Anchorage from the ground up, and you'll get the best radio and music industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to All Access, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and check out my personal website at pmsimon.com.
Next week, you'll get more tips on how to do talk radio better. Or I'll whine about something in the industry. Or it'll just be the same old bloviating. At least you can't complain about the price.