Your Show, Life, And Other Stuff
November 15, 2013
This week's column is for you talent-type people out there. Producers, too, and programmers. Sales and management folks, you can go do whatever it is you do.
Okay, so, this week, it's Advice From the Former Program Director Guy, and it comes from recently being reminded about advice I used to give to talent back when I was yet to add "Former" to my title. In those days, I was one of the many who produced shows based on the caller-heavy topic-number-calls plan. You know it, because you've done it: Give the topic, concisely and passionately delivered. Give 'em the number. Take calls. Simple, and, when done well, insanely effective. It served me and the stations well for many years. Still works, too.
But not always. I'd walk into the room an hour before a show was going on the air and I'd see the hosts looking like they'd been repeatedly run over by a bus, disinterestedly shuffling through newspapers and magazines (we're talking pre-Internet and pre-Talk Topics in those days), coming up with nothing, and slowly but perceptibly sliding into a miasma of lost faith and panic. How can you follow the formula if you can't find a topic?
And that's where the advice came in. In fact, it was the first thing I told many show hosts over the years. It's almost a cliche in radio by now, but the best show prep, the way to break the writer's block (host's block?), is this: Go out and live your life. Go do non-radio things. Go be with your family and friends, go to the movies, go eat and drink, go pay your bills, go to the grocery and the post office. Go drive around aimlessly. Go have a latte at Starbucks. Go to a ball game, go play in a ball game. Go and live. And then, come to work, and that's what you talk about. Your life is your material.
All right, it's not ALL of your material. You're still going to talk about topics you find. You're still going to talk about Obamacare and Richie Incognito and taxes and your local politicians. You're still going to talk about Rob Ford and homes falling into sinkholes and people falling out of planes (maybe). You'll still talk about football head injuries and the PS4/Xbox One launch and whatever else is in the news. But you'll talk about it differently, if you really go and have a life. You'll talk about it from the same perspective that your listeners have, because you'll be doing what THEY do, every single day. You won't be following the Talk Radio Script. Instead of talking about Obamacare from the traditional political wonk position, all about the President and Ted Cruz and Congress, you can talk about it from your own experience paying for health care. Both football bullying and head injuries topics resonate more when you're talking about your own kids, or your younger self. You can goof or marvel at the possibility of someone falling out of an airplane at 2.000 feet over the water, or you can relate your own harrowing flying experiences. You can make it personal, relatable, real. Or you can follow the script and be just like every other pundit.
(I still, by the way, want to know how people get anointed as members of the Punditocracy. So many of the pundits I see on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC are experts only because we're told they are, but their expertise isn't really evident. I have opinions on everything. I'm available. How come I don't get that call? I imagine there are perks to the job, too, like you get to wear a cape and crown and hobnob with other pundits in private clubs where you laugh at all the peons who watch you on TV or hear you on the radio. I want a cape and crown. You know where to get me.)
Again, though, I think the thing missing from too many talk shows is a sense that a real person, a human, is hosting the show. I'll care more about what you say if I feel like I know you as more than a guy in a suit railing against whatever you're railing against. Sure, you can use social media to do that, but people who don't listen to you already probably aren't following you there. Do it on the air. Make it personal. Give listeners a reason to listen to YOU, not the robot down the dial. Live your life, and bring it into the studio with you, warts and all. It's what you have to offer that nobody else can -- yourself.
I mentioned All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics above, and, in case you don't know what it is, just go here and look -- it's a column with hundreds of links and comments and bad jokes to stimulate discussion on the air. It's what I used to do with talent in the newspaper-and-magazine show prep days: throw a ton of ideas and angles at you, and you pick and choose and put your own spin on 'em. And there's another way to see what's there -- just follow the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics, where every story is individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free. Also this week, read "10 Questions With..." Joel "The Mouth" McGuirk, a sports talker who's made the leap from an online show to broadcast radio at WVTT in Olean, NY. He has an interesting perspective on making that move as he develops his career -- check it out.
Next week is a holida... what? Not yet? It's the week after that? Sigh... it can't get here fast enough....