tips from a radio dinosaur

I spent 14 years of my life behind a microphone while being exposed to RF radiation.

And while it’s been a little more than 5 years since the last time I held down a regular airshift … enough time for the entire industry to change and most of my operational knowledge to become obsolete … there are radio fundamentals that never change. These core basics are centered not around the technology or current trends, but on the listener relationship.

Most of the problems with current radio talent lie in the fact that the old training grounds have been torn down by technology. My first “real” airshift when I started in radio was midnight-6am on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The drunks and people working the 3rd-shift are much more forgiving as you make mistakes and learn. It’s a great place to experiment, discover what doesn’t work, and find your voice. Today, in most markets, the overnight shift has been taken over by automation. Newbies don’t need to start in a drivetime airshift; they need a place to develop their talent.

The place to develop that talent is not through voice tracking. Knocking out a 6 hour shift in 30 minutes is a positive for the station’s bottom line once you know what you’re doing, but radio novices need to get a feel for how the flow of the station occurs in real time. There is a certain zen quality of actually having to sit and wait for 3 or 4 minutes to pass before you can fire that next event. It makes you think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. It lets you experience the station in the same way the listener does. And obviously actually being there in real time allows interaction with listeners though the phone (and I guess through social media now as well).

Fast tracking radio talent also allows a bypass of one of the most important events in every radio career; the ego snapback.

Every radio personality has an ego. It’s essential to the job. Great air talent has to convey a bigger-than-life feel that makes the listener think they’re listening to the most important stuff in the world. After they initially get comfortable being on the air, radio newbies start to drink their own Kool-Aid. At some point in their career, a listener, an advertiser, a boss, or something lets them know they’re not all that they think they are.

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All these things are contributing to the decline of good radio; both on the big picture macro level as well as minor bad habits that I’m hearing hear more and more in large, medium, and small sized markets across the country. Just a few that are standing out to me:

Me. Me. Me.— This one is becoming intolerable as a result of the lack of the aforementioned ego snapback event. Save for maybe 10 / 15 air personalities in the country; no one cares about the life happenings of any “DJ”. What you did or are going to do doesn’t interest anyone but you. Great air talent talks about the life of the listener; not themselves.

“All of you out there” — Radio works best as an intimate conversation as one person talking to one person. When you either remind the listener that they are just one of many or you place distance between you and the listener, it’s a subliminal death knell.

“Your Sunday.” “Your weekend.” “Your afternoon.” — This is a crutch. People don’t own any days or time periods.

Sloppy boardwork and/or faulty automation — Events firing over each other. Last Tuesday’s weather playing on Thursday. Dead Air. Someone has to care about how the station sounds. This person is missing at many stations.

Overuse of meaningless filler— Hey there! How ya doin? That’s right!

Leaving the listener in the dark— Two ways this happens: One is a technical issue when listeners literally can’t hear what you’re saying because you’re not approaching the mic correctly or your gain and/or compression is too light/heavy and the music is drowning you out. You’ve lost the listener. The other way are inside jokes or non-universal content. Making the listener feels like a third-wheel outsider is not a way to win.

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Nitpicking? Maybe. But the radio industry and each person in it has to ask this question: What differentiates a terrestrial radio station from an iPod? As the Internet enters the last bastion of radio, the car; what will make a consumer choose to spend their media time with the radio station rather than something else? The answer is the personality and the local connection. That’s always been the answer.

turn me off

You can use these in blog posts, presentations, etc, but I will seize up and stop accepting your premise at that point.

  • I conducted a survey of my Facebook (twitter, etc) friends…
    Huge peeve of mine, but there are proper ways to do research. Asking a closed network of people who are similar to you provides answers that are remarkably similar to your worldview. Sad thing is that I’m seeing this pop up in white papers and other published works as bonafide research.
  • ___, according to Webster, is a ____…
    I despise this one. I’m devoting my attention and time to you for new insight and you’re reading the dictionary to me? It’s something that middle school students stick in a paper to fill space. Stop it.
  • According to Wikipedia…
    Here’s where I’m a semi-hypocrite. I actually link to Wikipedia alot in this blog, just to give readers some context for obscure Dennis Miller type references I sometimes use in posts. It’s good for that…a quick thumbnail overview. But you should never back an argument with it. It’s rampant with errors.
  • Reading Powerpoint slides
    No explanation needed. It should be mandatory that you read and pass a test on the book Presentation Zen before being allowed to use Powerpoint or Keynote
  • Being off color
    Personally, I don’t care for it in any context. If you want to use it in your personal life, go for it. But there’s never a reason for it in a professional setting.
  • Being mean
    No reason for it. Constructive criticism is wonderful, but anyone can pick away at ideas or people. It’s much more difficult to provide answers and new ideas.

These are just a random few off the top of my head. What phrases like these lock your reception up?

ad and marketing phrases that I hate

Don’t make me hate you. Don’t use these.

new state of the art website
As opposed to our old website which was run by steam and coal.

got (insert product here)?
We got milk and that was enough. Thanks.

free gift
Ever paid anyone for a gift that you received?

“sports minded business / salespeople”
Respond to a classified employment ad with these words and you’ll either find an idiot sales manager or a pyramid scheme. Or both.

anything that’s “crazy”
Why do car dealers, furniture stores, etc feel it’s a sales boost if their customers think they suffer from mental illness?

these prices are too low to advertise
Original use of this phrase is based in early 20th century antitrust law which also launched the concept of MSRP. But the law only applies to the manufacturer/retailer relationship. 99% of the time you hear it today in ads, it’s baloney.

any phrase in a “conversation” spot
Jim, have you thought of having those hemorrhoids looked at?

cyberspace
1997 called and they want their ____ back.

anything that comes out of the mouth of Sprint CEO Dan Hesse
Isn’t it amazing that these devices can tell everyone how much you hate shaky camera work?

we have to reduce our inventory
The whole point of being in business is to reduce inventory.

I’m sure there are more that annoy me, but these were the ones off the top of my head. What about you? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

on the phone

A salesguy got in contact with me this morning in reference to a service we’re looking at signing up with. I typed the following as I was on the phone with him.

Why would you start out this call with the most boring information? I don’t care how long your company has been in business. I don’t care what companies just signed up with you. Let’s talk about my company instead of yours.

I swear, if you use the word “leverage” one more time, I’m coming through the phone at you.

Is this call really necessary? We filled out your online contact form because we are almost ready to buy. We just need a proposal. Why are you trying to sell me something I’ve already decided to buy?

What are you doing in addition to talking to me? I can hear you doing something else. I’ve stopped listening to you and I’m trying to figure it out.

Why did you just ask me for my phone number and my email? You just called me and you have the online contact form that I filled out.

This bad call is not out of the ordinary. I look at new products and services all the time and sit through these calls about twice a month. They’re all similar to this one.

i’m an evil person

When the woman at the register handed me the receipt and explained to me like I was mentally challenged how I should log onto the Internets and take the customer satisfaction survey, I just was mildly annoyed.

It was when I walked away and she shouted after me “Make sure you give me good marks!!!” that I decided to log on and tell corporate that I was “extremely dissatisfied”.

Stick it to your customers and users

Horrible customer experiences with two companies tonight —

1) Had lunch with the wife at the chain fishmonger yesterday. We got a survey on our receipt to take and get $2 off a future purchase. I have attempted to call the 800-number on the receipt to take the survey numerous times. The number has been disconnected.
–Since they’re promoting this survey as a fabulous way to reach out to customers, it seems they should make sure the toll-free number works.
–Or look into this new thing called the internet where I could take the survey.
–Or if you can’t get it to work right, STOP PRINTING IT ON THE RECEIPT.

2) We’re planning to take a trip to the Redneck Riviera this fall. (Travel tip: Always go to Florida during hurricane season — it’s cheaper and less crowded — just make sure you hold on to your hat tightly)
So tonight, I called Mr. Gaylord who has the choke hold monopoly on beds in the area to reserve a condo.
—I call instead of using their online system because their massive website doesn’t work right and doesn’t allow you to sort properties by what you actually need to. Plus it seems they’ve purposefully made the pricing on the website confusing.
— In addition to the base rate, they’re charging me a “reservation fee” to make the reservation.
–Add this to the $50 damage waiver fee that I can’t get back even if I don’t trash the room.
–You’d like to use your discount promo code we emailed you that said it could be used on any reservation? Sorry, it’s can’t be used in conjunction with these basic accommodations you’ve requested.
–I don’t understand this at all — “Check-in time is after 3:00 p.m…..however not all units will be ready for check-in promptly at 3:00 p.m. We ask for your patience and suggest that you have alternate plans available between 3:00 and 5:00p.m.in case the unit is not yet ready. “
Mmmmm — I think I’ll check out about two hours after their published checkout time and say that the cleaning lady should make alternate plans while I sleep in.
You should really read their terms and conditions to feel the love of how much they want your business.

There are people who are willing to give you money. You should really try to make it easy for them to do so and make them want to have additional experiences with you. Or maybe even tell their friends that they should spend money with you. Hidden fees, disconnected toll-free numbers, and legalese that beats up your customers is not a way to win long-term.

I shouldn’t have to tell you this.

This Old Pledge Week

It’s pledge week for both my local public television stations. And frankly, it’s annoying on many levels.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like public TV. I watch both these channels quite a bit. But here’s the problem.

The shows that they air during “pledge week” are REALLY hard to find on the station during the rest of the year. The rest of the year I have to scan for something good between British non-humour and watching zebras mate. But, for now, every show is really good except when they interrupt it with pleas for money a.k.a. “gifts”.

Ahhh, but they really aren’t gifts. People are buying the CD with their $20 gift. Or you could buy the DVD with your $50 gift. Or you can get the CD, the DVD, and the limited edition hardcover commemorative book with the fold out sleeve and a compass in the stock for your $100 gift.

In reality, these gifts make the station blind to their own ruse. They see the $100 pledges come in and can promote the “fact” that people in the community support public TV. No. People in the community want to buy $100 CDs.

But what annoys me more than anything are the blatant lies. “Only you can keep this type of music on public television”…..”You’re helping to keep Elvis’ music alive with your pledge”….”You’re supporting this traditional gospel music with your donation.”

You’re not supporting anything. You’re giving money to the station who probably won’t broadcast anything like what you’re watching until the next time they need money. And I guess they do need the money. But it’s another example of a business achieving short term gains while killing their long term prospects.

What about the politically conservative little old lady who sent in 20 bucks because she wanted to “support” the gospel music of Bill Gaither? Next week, she’ll tune in and see a show that features things that are the polar opposite of her moral compass.. Or what about the die-hard Elvis fan who sent in 50 bucks to keep rock-n-roll alive (and to get the CD) and tunes in next week only to find musical choices that are anything but rock-n-roll? Are the people you’re tricking this week going to stick with you the rest of the year? Or will they be back next year?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a tirade against public TV. It’s a tirade against ANY business (your business?) that lies/fudges/puts on a show this week to trick someone into a sale….and then scratches their head next week when their core customer base shrinks.

Are you putting on theatre this week? Are you now offering specials that are REALLY going to be hard to find the rest of the year? Do you think your business model is a success just because people are giving you money…or are they really just trying to get a “gift” that has nothing to do with your business?

Are you killing your own customer base?

Don’t trust bloggers

So…today I’m in a meeting discussing an online venture and the topic turns to blogging.

Of course, I say that it would be a great addition to an online portfolio. But one of the meeting’s participants was completely turned off by the concept of blogs as a marketing and information tool.

“I think people want to get information from a “real website”. I don’t trust all these Joe Blows ranting their opinion on blogs.”

Keep in mind that this person is intelligent, keeps on top of current trends, and is fairly tech-savvy. Of course, I don’t think he knew that a “blogger” was in the room.

And everywhere, it’s the same. The other day in South Bend after my blogging presentation, a member of the audience raised her hand and asked me,

“I don’t mean to be rude, but what kind of person would want to be a blogger or read a blog?”

Blogging has gotten a reputation similar to infomercials and telemarketing. Whereas marketers know the value of these applications when they’re done right, the masses see them as ways to sell Ginsu Knives and interrupt your dinner. And now it’s the same with blogs. The term “blog” to John Q. Public means “my-space-political-rant-here’s-what’s-happening-with-my-cats-unabomber-manifesto.”

What’s the cause? Well, there ARE a lot of weird hacks in the blogosphere who are ranting about an obscure opinion and/or telling 3 people what they just had for lunch. These people are loud and their version of “blog” has become the public perception.

But, in reality, blogs are a way to connect with a niche community. There are lots of bloggers who have dedicated focused communities. They are the new town square where everyone has a voice. If you’re wanting to reach a narrowly defined market who can communicate with you on a two-way street about their needs, a blog is one answer. (but not the only answer)

I’ve said it before….(and probably said it best here)…that blogs are not mainstream and are still a long way from being mainstream. And maybe that’s where they need to be.

But as “social media” grows (not just blogging), we’ll see people gathering information from all these web communities and using it. Instead of one mass media message being sent out from one source, people will pick and choose the information that matters to them from hundreds of sources.

And to marketers and advertisers who are despondent about the fact they’re losing the ability to reach an audience through media, the reality is the exact opposite. There’s a better opportunity. Instead of wasting dollars sending a message to a mass audience that consists of 99% of people who aren’t interested and don’t care…just to reach the 1% that do, social media offers the ultimate in pinpointing a targeted market and being able to deliver information that consumers are willing to receive.