May 22, 2015
Does anyone want to work on the day before a long holiday weekend? Neither do I. I admit that I spent more time trying to come up with a good reason to blow off this column than actually preparing for it. In fact, this morning, I really didn't have anything, and then, idly watching a zillion tweets scroll by on my computer screen, I saw something that made me react with joy:
Ohhhh, that's RIGHT. Day before Memorial Day weekend. KROQ Los Angeles -- Kevin and Bean's Party Machine! That was all I needed -- I flipped over to KROQ and... well, let me explain. It's a tradition now that on this day, Kevin and Bean figuratively take the day off, throw out the usual material, and play a ridiculous format-breaking array of music upon request, which means everything from Miley Cyrus to Michael Jackson to "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "It Was A Good Day." It's sloppy and goofy and most of the music is stuff I would never choose to hear, yet in context, it's perfect. And while I listened to Ice Cube and remembered how Deadspin actually researched the lyrics in an attempt to figure out if there was a specific "Good Day" he had in mind ("The Lakers beat the Supersonics"... must be January 20, 1992), it struck me that this was an example of what talk radio could be doing, too, and I don't mean playing random songs.
It goes back to how I started the column, and started the day. My head was absolutely not in my work. I was DOING my work, but my thoughts were with the weekend, thinking about a few days off, burgers on the grill, baseball, maybe a walk on the beach or... well, not work. The last thing I wanted to hear was traditional talk radio. I wanted the long weekend to start NOW. I didn't care, at that point, about the 2016 elections or Hillary's emails or Hollywood ageism or drought restrictions or anything that would qualify as an Official Talk Radio Topic. I wanted something fun, relaxing, mindless in the best way.
But that's not what talk radio does very often. Even young hosts somehow catch the No Fun disease and turn into stuffy guys in suits when they get on the air. You get the feeling that if they tried a Party Machine show, all they'd play is "God Bless the U.S.A.," over and over. (No offense, Lee Greenwood.) On a day like the day before a long weekend, who wants serious? Who wants political posturing?
The trick is to know where your audience's heads are at, what their mindsets are at any given time. Chances are, they feel like YOU feel -- Lord, get me to 5:00 already so I can lose the suit and tie and relax for once -- and if YOU'RE not really into the Official Talk Radio Topics at the moment, why would you assume THEY are? (There are always people who'll complain unless you're talking politics, but they're gravitating to the comments sections on partisan websites anyway.) Sure, you can touch on the latest news -- if you have to talk about the emails, you talk about the emails -- but, really, the minds of most of your audience are at the beach, in a lounge chair, cold one in hand, and what you talk about needs to join them there. So, light talk, lifestyle, pop culture, tabloid. Movies, James Harden not getting the last shot off, Letterman, Duggar, best and worst beaches/lakes, peeing in the pool (oh, yes, this is something people think about, no question), whether ketchup belongs on hot dogs (you can start a riot with that). Maybe you can pick one particular stupid topic and make it an annual tradition. And, on Monday, there's one serious topic worth mentioning: the reason for the holiday. It's too easy to forget that.
There's something else. Podcasts are good in a situation like this because a listener can choose any kind of show to suit any particular mood, but one thing they can't really do as well as standard, live broadcast radio is surprise. K&B's Party Machine works because you don't know what ridiculous song is coming next (except for the traditional playing of "Boogie In Your Butt" by Eddie Murphy, which you know will be the signal that the party's over) (Say, what would happen if you tried to base a Pandora stream on "Boogie In Your Butt"? Wait, never mind). You kind of know what a podcast's going to do even if you don't know the particulars and you might get a curveball thrown at you now and then. On broadcast radio, you can change direction live, on the fly, following the general mood, reacting in case something newsworthy takes precedence, but also popping some left-field topic or comedy in there just because. You may not be able to do that on normal broadcast days -- you may not WANT to, because there's value in consistency -- but on days when your audience's minds are elsewhere, surprise can be your friend.
And, finally, it works the other way, too, when the gravity of a situation requires that even normally funny, goofy shows become serious. 9/11 was one example when many radio shows known for humor became not only serious but important conduits for information, and nailed it. But if it's obvious when you have to throw the comedy bits and lifestyle talk out the window to address a serious situation, it should be obvious when it's time to lighten up and goof off a little. Your audience will appreciate it, because wherever they are, you're with them, right there in their headphones or on the Bluetooth speaker, and if you're really good, maybe they'll share that cold one with you, or at least hit you with some SPF 50.
Okay, now I'm gonna go start that weekend, but before I do that, I'll remind you that whether you agree with me about the light touch today or you're gonna go the serious route, there's a lot of fresh material waiting for you at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes accessible by clicking here, and all the material you need to do a better show. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Also, we have "10 Questions With..." Dr. Jen Ashton, who you've seen on "Good Morning America" and "The Doctors" and lots of other TV news shows and who's now doing a daily feature, "Your Body," for ABC Radio. She's an amazingly accomplished multitasker -- successful Ob-Gyn practice in New Jersey, TV, and now radio (while even taking more courses, because being a licensed doctor and medical expert and mom weren't enough already) -- and it's pretty cool that she's added radio to the mix.
And a good thing to do this weekend would be to follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and there's pmsimon.com, back in intermittent action.
And Full Disclosure, especially for when the word "Podcast" pops up in these columns: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. Today, Richard Lewis is on the flagship, so come on by.
A note for my readers outside the U.S.: I know, it's not a holiday weekend where you are. You can transpose this one onto whatever you have -- Bank Holidays, Canada Day, Anzac Day (I know, April 25th, my dad's birthday), Bastille Day, any time people are looking forward to a day off. Know your audience. They're a lot like you, I hope.