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The Basics Are Important

Once upon a time, I lived in a condo, high above the city. I watched a high rise being built near my building. Day after day for a little more than a year, the construction was below street level, and the amount of time that went into the foundation seemed to be as much time as went into the above ground structure. The foundation has to be solid if a building is going to reach high into the sky.

The same can be said for almost anything in our lives. You need a strong foundation. Families, businesses, buildings, communities … on and on. Great programming needs a strong foundation. The basics provide that foundation upon which strong entertaining, informative, connected programming can be built upon. The basics are important.

Stations begin to fail when the basics are forgotten or not seen as important. There’s a general feeling that the basics shouldn’t have to be paid attention to at the most major level, but every new season every professional athlete starts with the basics. Those who practice the arts, are musicians, the finest chefs, and famous surgeons all work on perfecting the basics of their craft. I find the same to be true of great Performers, Content Creators, and Program Directors.

We are often asked what our strategic philosophies are. It is always a difficult question to answer because you cannot really say that one size fits all. The concern in trying to apply a philosophy to all radio stations is that you must assume all things are equal. They are not. Markets do change. Every city is different. However, we do have a model that becomes the skeletal structure of a radio station, from which we start to add muscle and flesh. My style of management and consulting has been labeled by some as “Obsessive” or as being too mired in the minutia of detail. I don’t see it that way. I’m of the belief that if you analyze a market, dissect the radio stations programming, and focus on creating a strategy … the day-to-day job of programming becomes much simpler.

In other words, create a system that gets a radio station ontrack and then keep it on-track by focusing on the basics. My personal experience is that most radio stations that fail are beaten from within their own walls. The stations that win almost always are those that have crafted a strategy, set realistic goals, focused on the details and made a religious-like commitment to stay true to that strategy. This attitude, when coupled with basics, leads to success.

When it comes to content, be that music or spoken word, the objective is to provide INSTANT GRATIFICATION. Research the music (or the hot topics) and play people’s favorite songs (or stories) frequently. You will never run into anyone who says that you play his or her favorite song too often or repeat the hot topic too frequently. What people complain about, or become tired of, are the ones that they don’t like … over and over again. You need to know when to get on a song (topic) and when it’s over so you can get off of it.

We believe in creating a memorable music essence on the radio station. A listener should be able to hear your station, and in any 15-minute period, the station will sound consistent with your content. Be reflective of the audience. Be consistent so that your station has its own “Sound.” Keep in mind that an important part of that sound is what you create in your imaging and production.

We’re living in a time where information (News) has become a more important part of the listener’s life. The audience wants to know a little bit about a lot of things, and they can get their news in many locations, so we urge news anchors to present a high story count with lots of quick 2-line and 3-line stories. The first sentence should focus on the bottom-line, while the second and third sentences give the details to the story in question.

We suggest that stations use these seven categories from which to build a newscast: 1. Heart 2. Purse 3. Health 4. Relaxation 5. Safety 6. Local 7. National/International. These stories do not have to be aired in that order. Meaning that you do not need to start every newscast with a Heart story, but when you do have that rare heart story, you should make it a high-profile story on your station. You will not have elements for each of these topics on a daily basis.

Purse stories are very important and should be written in a personal fashion i.e. “You and I can expect to pay more at the gas pumps this weekend as the oil shortage continues…” The threat of a recession has all of our attention. Unemployment is low … but for how long? The audience has questions that should be answered.

Health; This topic can be much broader than the pandemic, although it has been a life altering event, and its’ effects may not be fully known for years to come. Research shows that people are far more diet conscious and far more exercise conscious these days and our stories should be reflective of these facts. Audiences are interested in developments in medicine to cure diseases and new health findings. Health is important to the audience as it affects their lives. Write these stories to answer the question “What effect does it have on me.”

These stories deal with the way people handle stress, vacations, family, and free time. The 90s found people more aware of their lifestyle and the family unit was more important to them than it had been in the 80s. The 2000’s saw people working hard, due to the economy and the War in Iraq. The 2010’s rolled out a new ME generation … and the 2020’s started with the first global pandemic in 100 years. That launched The Great Resignation. A recalibration on what’s important in our lives.

Safety is also an important element of news content. While there are not stories that deal with safety on a daily basis, one need only open their eyes and see the crime affecting our families to know that all members of the human race are concerned about their safety and that of their family. People are enrolling in self-defense courses; cellular phone subscriptions grew as a result of protection or safety for pre-teen children. The same for travelers who are reluctant to disembark from a vehicle once it has been involved in an accident for fear that they will be robbed or attacked.

When you come across a story (sad or happy) of an individual in an uncomfortable situation that could have been avoided by them being more careful, share that with your audience, as it will serve as an example of what to think about in regard to their personal safety. Educating the listeners is part of what we do with information.

Local News; These stories are the most important of all to the listener. In the focus groups that we have seen, people regard local stories as the stories that are most likely to affect their lives. Those stories that impact one locally could be a national story, but if it has meaning to the local community, all the more important to air the story.

Research shows that national and international news is of relatively minor importance to the average listener … unless it is a major event and can be related back to them. When it comes to national or global news... bring it home to the community. Answer the question for the audience “What does it mean to me?” That’s the content test for news content.

Work to keep the story count as high as possible. Most target audiences want to be aware of what is going on in their local world so that when one of their friends brings up a news story, they will know a little about it. Air a high story count, but get to the bottom-line on every story. No fluff & stuff, but you should feel comfortable that you can air a kicker story.

If you are going to use sound bites (actualities), then the audio in the news should be an actuality from the News Maker. We want to hear the President speaking rather than a journalist interpreting what was said. One example of where it would be appropriate is to have audio from a journalist on the ground at the site of news worthy location.

If you want to be truly sophisticated … use a News Grid. The News Grid ensures that you have horizontal recycling from one newscast to another. For example, the story about work lay-offs at the largest local employer may lead the 6:30 a.m. cast. The next day, if there is an update on that story, it should also lead in the window of the previous days cast. Which means that people who hear about that situation at 6:30 a.m. on one day will get an update in the same slot on the next day.

Personality; The most important part of what successful radio stations invest in today. We like people who are “neighbor-nextdoor” types. Be genuine, true to your morals and beliefs, sound friendly, and entertain/engage the audience.

The morning show should be highly interactive and fun to listen to. The rest of the talent in other dayparts should be people who are warm and relatable, and able to communicate more efficiently as the attention span after morning drive is short. The exception would be during the tight two-hour afternoon drive time. You once again have the audience’s attention during that window.

The best personalities are those that hold captive the audience, not allowing them to get out of their car when they arrive at work. They build day-to-day habitual listening. Remember to coach the air-talent and work with them on a regular basis. One can never assume that because the talent has reached your station that they are at a level where they no longer need input. Really good performers want a gauge on their performance as they’re always working to be better.

Directing talent is much like piloting a tugboat that pushes barges down the river. The tugboat is not chained to the barges. None of the four or five barges that the tug pushes are chained together. The tugboat captain pushes the barges and hopes that they go in the right direction. So, it is with directing talent. By the way, there is a need to have regular meetings with your talent, especially regarding formatic’s. Two-way communication with your personalities prevents future problems.

Morning Drive; to win, must strike a balance between two basic elements: entertainment and information. Music, humor, features, and contesting, as entertainment elements, have to be relieved by information elements like weather, traffic, news, sports, and vice versa. Each stop-set has to be a mini-magazine of the concerns and interests of the audience.

“The art of radio” is ideas: the more the better. And, “ideas only come from hard work: brainstorming/ideating, preparing, and polishing, then more brainstorming, more preparing, and more polishing.” Parameters need to be designed with positives, as opposed to negatives. That’s why many like to say that the PD is “coaching” the talent versus saying, “critiquing” them. The word critique is a part of the word Criticism. Coaching is a better word. It puts you both on the same side of the table. As a coach, you’re there to help improve their performance. It’s not to catch them doing something wrong.

Show prep is an important part of any air talents day. Morning teams prepare every day, but many times the other staffers do nothing more than read what’s online. Real prep needs to take place for every talent that’s going to speak on-air. Enter the studio with more information than you can ever use, and then throw out what you don’t need. It’s better to be over prepared than not prepared at all.

I’m a strong believer in training your talent how to talk “short” when they speak. Be efficient. Get to the point as quickly as possible, no matter how short that is. I prefer the word efficiency to brevity. Efficiency is using the words necessary to completely sell the purpose of the topic in question. If that takes 120-seconds, no problem. If it could’ve been said in 30-seconds, then you weren’t efficient.

To increase the level of entertainment, and ensure your personalities are prepared, have them prepare one item in each of the following key areas to air once per/show. One per/hour. No repeats on any one day. This is system can assist in building out your show prep system.

EMOTION — Listeners’ mood at the time of the day that they’re on the air. What is going on in their world? Relate to it. This magnifies that you’re living in the listeners world, which is important. Be relatable to be memorable.

IMAGE — What’s the image or benefit of your radio station? Put that into your own words versus reading a liner. Sell it as if you thought of it. Once per/shift.

AREA — Something happening in your MSA. It could be the weather; the President is visiting town, local high school in the playoffs, the leaves are turning for fall … anything that is relatable to your local audience and causes talk. Once per/shift.

ACTIVITY — What is the station involved in? Sell the benefit of what the station is involved in and what you want the audience to attend, participate in or enjoy. This can be a station appearance, an event at an advertiser, or maybe a fund-raising event for a charity.

ARTIST — Information about an artist you play. This is where you “Casey Kasem” the bit. Incorporate ONE bit in each area per show and you will have a much more entertaining program with a well-directed personality.

PRE-PROMOTION – Another important part of your show prep. No one does a better job with the “setup” than John Tesh. Take a lesson from John and promote with incentive, so that the listener is full of anticipation awaiting the pay-off. And, the pay-off better be good.

PROMOTION – Great promotions are like LIFE. They have three important elements to be successful. Expectation, Realization and Memory.

Expectation = “We are going to give you a bright red Porsche 911. Imagine the ooohs and aaahh’s of your friends and neighbors as they see you in this chariot of the gods (sound effects of people oohing and aahing).” To enhance expectation is to record a listener and put them into the promotional spot. Sell them on the benefit of winning.

Realization = this is where you tell the winner that they just won $10,000 and they say, “Oh God, Oh God, I can’t believe I won” and if the air-talent shuts up, the listener will hear silence and feel compelled to talk, and they will tell us how really good they feel about winning. We all lost. Letting the listener speak allows us all to share in the winning experience.

Memory = This is the element that most radio stations miss. Go back to the winner and ask them what they did with all the money they won, how they enjoyed the concert which you gave away tickets to, what was that get-away weekend in a secluded hotel like, and record them as you hand them the keys to that new red Porsche 911. This will also magnify the act of winning and that helps to make your station memorable.

Most radio stations require listeners to come by the studios to pick up really big prizes. Drag them into the production room and capture audio from them. You can always throw out the audio if you don’t like it. Someone won. Share that fact by sharing the audio.

When it comes to Marketing, you have to ask yourself the question “What do you want to accomplish?” and “Why?” Don’t get hung up in marketing a product without knowing what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Is it to build cume? Do you need better TSL to build your Average Share? Know the answer to these questions before you start spending money on creative and artwork.

Most importantly; never market a product before it is ready. To do so shares with everyone exactly how bad your product is … and that then becomes an insurmountable obstacle to rating success. When do you go back to a restaurant where you got a steak with a hairball on it? Never.

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