Out of the Office
November 16, 2012
Sometimes, you just gotta get out of the office. I mean that figuratively as well as literally. But this morning, it was literal.
This week, I'm at another talk radio convention, the Talk Show Boot Camp in New Orleans, and I woke up Friday with the absolute conviction that I had absolutely no idea what to put in the column. Zero ideas. So I did what I always do in that circumstance: I ran. Okay, maybe "run" is an overstatement -- I don't go very fast -- but it's what I do every day, for health and for just clearing my head. And on Fridays, when I have no ideas for the column, it's to think and see if inspiration strikes (if a truck straying onto the shoulder of the road doesn't strike first).
So I ran. I ran uptown, along the streetcar tracks on St. Charles, through Audubon Park and back up Magazine Street, watching the locals wake up and go to work and stop for coffee and waiting for buses. I wound my way through the neighborhoods on side streets, people-watching and house-watching and car-watching (observation: people in New Orleans do not stop for pedestrians, even if there's a stop sign and the pedestrian's already in front of them.). To me, that's way more interesting than the tourist areas. If I want to see people from out-of-town drink too much and vomit on their shoes, I can go to Vegas. When I'm away from my home town, I like to see what it's like to really live in a different city, whether it's a run through residential neighborhoods or stopping at a grocery store in the suburbs. You get a much better read on a city that way.
And you can apply that to talk radio. If you're a host or producer, your world might be defined by your job -- the people you see and interact with every day either also work in the business or know that you're in the business, and that means that there's a filter on every interaction. Whether you know it or not, you're in a cocoon. You get the impression that everyone's obsessed with politics? Maybe that's because you're a talk show host and everyone around you knows it, and that's what they think you want to talk about in real life, that and complaining about your PD and your GM and your company and your agent. Are you going to get a good read that way on what your audience, or the audience you'd like to add, care about? (That's a rhetorical question. You know the answer)
Which means you have to escape the cocoon. You need to reconnect on occasion with how the people who don't know who you are or even listen to your show are thinking. If you don't observe the interests of people who aren't your friends, family, co-workers, or other connected parties, you'll get the Pauline Kael effect (remember? She didn't really say "How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him" -- she admitted she knew only one Nixon voter and mused about the people who did vote for him -- but that's how people remember it). You're not getting a full read on how people think, act, or live. (How many of you were predicting a Romney landslide? Because I heard some of you hinting that it could happen. You wouldn't have said that if you'd gotten a true read on the public, or hadn't dismissed Nate Silver) If you don't interact with people other than those in your circle who know who you are and what you do already, how can you connect with them and engage them? Because that's your job, you know.
The goal is connection and engagement leading to large, loyal audiences and gobs of cash being thrown your way. For that, you gotta get out of the office. Go places you normally don't go -- different neighborhoods, for example, or see a movie that's popular that you wouldn't otherwise see, or the mall or wherever. Anyplace but your comfort zone.
So you've gotten a better read on your audience, and you need to find stuff in which they'll be interested. Where to do that? Oh, if only there was a one-stop place to get hundreds of topics and kickers and items that a radio host can... oh, wait, there's Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports. And follow Talk Topics on Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item at Talk Topics.
Follow me on Twitter, too: @pmsimon. I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon as well. And I also serve as Editor-in-Chief of Nerdist.com, where you'll find fun stuff about pop culture; watch the Nerdist Channel at YouTube, too.
If you're at Talk Show Boot Camp, say hi and be kind about the panel I'm moderating this afternoon. No column next week because of U.S. Thanksgiving, so I'll be back to wrap things up for the year in two weeks. Talk to you then....