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Welcome To Radio Hell; Population: You

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Recently, I was on the phone with a friend that lost his gig. I asked if he thought he might try to stay in radio.

“I don’t know if I could,” he told me.

“Why?” I asked.

His answer was unbelievable, heartbreaking, and sadly more than just a little familiar. My friend told me that he never had a PD. He was never asked to sit in for an aircheck. He never was given any direction on what he could do to make his show better.

The story frustrated me even more because this guy wasn’t a professional broadcaster. He had come from the print world.

Consider the level of arrogance or ineptitude required to think you can hire someone that isn’t a professional broadcaster and expect them to deliver a quality show everyday. I ask you to consider it and not “can you imagine,” because it is sadly a very common story in the radio world.

Let’s be honest, it’s insulting because no one would expect a radio host to sit down at a keyboard for the first time and crank out something on par with Peter Gammons or Spencer Hall. The same is true for talents already in the radio industry, but still making a big change.

I made the switch from rock radio to talk in 2012 and I might have had one meeting with a PD during my first three months on the air. Think about how crazy that is. It was an election year and we weren’t the only talk station in town. I was used to doing three four-minute breaks an hour, sandwiched between “Back in Black” and some other song you probably love but never want to hear again. My PD’s attitude was “Well, Demetri used to tell fart jokes. Surely he can handle interviewing John McCain.” For the record, John McCain didn’t seem very fond of me.

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? What tools can you use to improve if management isn’t investing the time and effort to help you develop?

First, be honest and aggressive with your boss. Make sure he knows that you want guidance. Be direct. “Hey boss, I want you to listen to this break and tell me what you think” or “Can you listen to this hour and give me a few notes?”.

I spoke with a PD once that didn’t do airchecks because he thought it put too much pressure on his hosts. Even if they asked for them, he wouldn’t do airchecks. You’re not going to get what you want every time, but hopefully it forces your PD to ask himself if he’s doing everything he can to be successful. It also lets the PD know that you aren’t afraid of criticism and don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.

If your PD doesn’t give you the attention you feel like you need, another option is to ask your contacts in the industry to take a listen to your material. It never hurts to send a few samples to PD’s at radio stations that you respect. You might find someone that is interested in making the move from programming to consulting and would take you on as a passion project.

Hell, you don’t have to get expert advice. Maybe you can find someone in a similar situation to yours and serve as each other’s sounding board. Thoughts and suggestions about new ways of approaching a topic can be very helpful when you feel stuck and alone.

Are you listening to other shows? You should be doing that anyway. Start with your competition. What do they do well? Are they weak in one of your strongest areas? Your show should be a reaction to theirs, but knowing what differentiates you from the competition is important.

Next, expand your horizons. Do you weave a lot of pop culture and guy talk into your show? Download Dan Le Batard’s podcast or the Toucher and Rich podcast and hear how they do it. If you’re doing a no-nonsense show driven by strong opinions, study Colin Cowherd or Matt Jones. Listen to the best shows that fit a similar mold. Don’t become a copycat, but pay attention to why those shows are good.

Finally, we are all our own toughest critics. Force yourself to listen back to the show everyday. Even if you are just starting out in radio you can hear when you’re going in circles and when you let an interview go on too long.

These listening sessions don’t have to result in hard and fast rules or a show bible. Think of it like Giancarlo Stanton watching batting practice. You need to ask yourself, “where can I make little fixes instead of trying to find one big solution to a problem?”

Unfortunately, you’re probably going to get stuck in a bad situation at some point. There is always going to be a mom and pop station that takes on sports not realizing what a costly and hands on format it is. There will always be national companies that throw one local show on a mostly forgotten AM at the end of the hall.

Those can be wonderful learning experiences. Frustrating in the moment? Of course. But remember, just because your boss isn’t as hands on as you’d like doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get help and improve as a broadcaster.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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