February 3, 2012
The annual Week Of Interviews With People Who Have Nothing To Say is almost over. I'm referring here, of course, to the buildup to the Super Bowl, and the Radio Row stuff that it seems every sports station and network does. Sometimes, you get good radio out of that. More commonly, you don't.
Part of it is the nature of the assembly line. You have a lot of stations crammed into a hall, with interview subjects going from station to station to station to station to station, answering the same questions or being plunged into shows with characters and inside jokes and situations of which they're not aware. How can that be a good thing for radio? By the third or fourth interview, what does the guest have left? And there's the issue of celebrities there only to hawk a product or promote a cause, and, man, that's always good radio, isn't it? "Well, Bob, I'd really like to tell you about GluteBlaster Pro 3000, the energy drink and exercise program I'm proud to say I use every day." Just what your listeners want to hear, isn't it?
That's beside the point for most people in that room, though, because by now, showing up at the Super Bowl is what sports radio does, and it's a tradition everyone expects. It's arguable that you have to have representation at the game to be taken seriously as a sports station. (I don't really think that's true -- if you know what you're talking about, it doesn't matter where you are) And, let's face it, being a host and getting to go to the Super Bowl, even if, like most, you're going to be going home on Saturday and watching the game in your living room or at some sports bar for your station's Ultimate Big Game Bash and All-You-Can-Choke-Down Hot Wing Special, is a perk of the job. It's not really great radio, but you get to say you were in Indianapolis in February. (No offense to Indianapolis, of course. And, hey, it's a mild Winter this year, so good on ya) And maybe you'll get into one of the A-list parties or see Madonna or Inez Saenz at a press conference.
It's not just Super Bowl week, however. The problem of lame interviews is universal. It happens in all forms of radio, every day of the year. Either it's a celebrity you book who really doesn't have much to offer but is, you know, a "name," or it's someone you book who's a pundit or expert to talk about, um, whatever. It fills a segment, right? But is it good radio, and can you afford to put bad radio on the air?
Interviews for interviews' sake are never a good idea. In order to know whether a guest is worth the time, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the listeners, and this is especially critical in PPM markets. Ask yourself a few questions before booking anyone: Would the average listener be interested in what this person has to say? Is this interview absolutely necessary? Is this interview likely to be entertaining? Am I only even thinking about booking this person because it fills a segment or two? Do I have enough questions for this guest to make this interview entertaining and interesting? Am I booking this because interviews are what radio does or because I genuinely think this will be good radio?
And once you've answered all that, and you've decided that, yes, this interview is worth the booking, please, please, PLEASE do your homework. If it's an author interview, read the damn book -- if you can't muster the interest to read the book, why do you think anyone else will be interested in that author, either? If it's an actor, go watch something he or she's been in and don't just peruse Wikipedia or IMDB. If it's a politician, do your research and find tough questions to ask, and don't accept the usual double-speak and platitudes he or she will offer up. You don't need to become friends with the guests, but if you don't care enough to do your homework, why do you think listeners will care enough to listen?
More than ever, with meters measuring the moment listeners jump off your station, you can't afford to indulge in a time-filling interview. Your job doesn't hinge on whether you got a famous person to stop by your booth at a Radio Row event or whether you've managed to make it from 6:35 to 6:50 without having to talk too much. It's about doing compelling radio that will keep listeners from tuning out. If you know you can do that with an interview, do it. If you're not sure, you probably shouldn't.
When you're not filling time on Radio Row, you need real topics. And you can find a lot of those at Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, which offers hundreds of show topics for talk radio and can be found right here, and, for easy reference, all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. This week, you'll also find "10 Questions With..." KDWN/Las Vegas host Alan Stock, who talks about his new radio home and his new TV show as well, and there's always the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com. My personal website, pmsimon.com, will be back in semi-regular action shortly; I have stuff to post, but not a lot of time to post it. Maybe this week. But if you never read it before, the archives have old pop culture/ephemera items you might enjoy.
Oh, right, the Big Game. My prediction? A pot of my homemade chili and a few hours planted in front of the TV. I don't care who wins. Actually, that's not true -- I'm an Eagles fan, so you can extrapolate who I'd prefer to see lose from that -- but it's easier to just say that and move on to wait for baseball season. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 18th. And the Sixers are good this year, so there's that.