The greats in any field make their craft look easy. Michael Jordan even apologized for that fact. Radio is no different. I was asked to share what it takes to create great on-air content at Positive Alternative Radio’s Vision Week. In my observation, it takes these at least these 3 things:
- Schedule Daily Creative Time
You’re not Tom Hanks. You can’t wing a compelling performance. In fact, even Tom doesn’t wing it most of the time. When he makes an appearance on a talk show, he comes prepared with stories. Stories crafted to perfection. Many on-air radio people wear multiple hats and go from meeting to meeting, directly into the studio to do their show. This is a recipe for mediocrity, at best. You must organize your time to maximize creativity. Spend a minimum of 1 hour per day planning your show before it starts. If you get writer’s block, do what bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert recommends to overcome: set a timer. Turn off social media, grab your notes, and force yourself to sit there with a blank page and write out your breaks.
- Ask Questions
Filmmaker and showrunner Brian Koppelman uses the expression “the answer to a movie,” as if a movie is a problem. But, of course, it is. It’s the problem of unlocking the viewer. To gain enrollment. To have them let you in. To get a chance to tell your story, and then, even better, to have that story make an impactSeth Godin in This is Marketing
What is the answer to your show? How will you unlock your listener today? To have them let you in. Ask yourself, what does she need today? Does she need to laugh, be encouraged, or maybe informed about a major storm? Focus on her needs, not the stations. Ask, what emotion do you want to convey to her with each break?
On the air, before you share a story about your life or experience, ask your listener an open- ended question to set it up. Ask her what she thinks about the subject first. Questions show interest, create understanding, and build rapport.
- Own Your Show
Retired Navy Seal and author of the book Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink argues there is only one way to get better at your craft, and “it’s the way of discipline”. There is no shortcut. To be remarkable, you have to do the work. Take ownership of your show and don’t make excuses for not prepping.
Have you ever had a hard time hearing what a radio personality was saying? How about listening to the radio and knowing the jock was voice-tracked? Maybe the levels were off, or the DJ sounded too muddy.
In radio, audio is your medium. There are no visuals. All content is sound-based, making the quality of that audio paramount. Radio stations may have the best on-air personalities and content, but if the audio sounds dull or loose, your listeners are more inclined to switch the station.
A prime example of sloppy audio is when a song is trailing, and the listener can’t make out the jock’s important commentary. Details matter. Those loose sound elements and hard-to-hear segments are costing us.
Here are three simple, but effective ways for all stations to improve their sound quality. And while some may sound intuitive, many radio stations are missing the mark.
1. Roll off the low end on the mics.
I know many jocks enjoy hearing the tone of their voice. But rolling off the low-end allows listeners to actually HEAR the jocks over the heads and tails of songs, music beds, and sound effects.
After all, most people are listening to us in their cars. We are competing with background noise from the road or kids in the backseat. So, while this may seem obvious, let’s focus on creating clear, crisp audio for our listeners. I encourage you to read through how NPR gets its signature sound. True, they are using Neumann U87s, but the secret is less about the mic and more about how they roll off the low end.
2. Request higher quality audio files.
When you begin with low quality, you end up with low quality. You can tweak a couple of things, but you can’t bring back clarity and intelligibility.
As an audio guy, I prefer uncompressed wav files. But I know most people just send mp3s. So, whether it’s voice tracks or spots, request mp3s at a bit rate of 320 kbits/sec, no less than 192 kbits/sec. Some may push back on sending such large files. Some claim the file size doesn’t make a difference in the sound. But I’d argue that you absolutely CAN notice a difference. A 60-second spot at 192 kbits/sec is about 1.2MB (megabytes) in size. At 320, that same spot is 2.4MB. If an additional 1.2MB is going to fill up your hard drive, you might have other problems.
The lower the bit rate, the lower the quality of the audio. Cymbals become sloshy, and voices lose their clarity. With radio, you are already fighting against signal loss and interference. But my guess is, even if you have a low power signal and not a 50,000-watt flamethrower, you still want your audio to sound as clear and crisp as possible.
3. Rely on humans, not automation.
A human must touch every piece of audio that plays on the air. In particular, you need a human to run sound if you are a smaller station with tracked shows.
And these humans must do more than drag and drop audio files. Audio levels vary when you receive files from clients or syndicated jocks. If you drag and drop those files into cart numbers and let the automation clean it up, the result will be loose, muddled audio. When you don’t set the pulses or triggers manually, you are at the mercy of whatever dead air is at the end of the audio. Your automation may automatically correct some silence, but my experience is people trump computers.
Another issue is letting the on-air processing take care of the levels. When you rely solely on automation, the overall sound will continuously fluctuate as the processing adjusts to each audio element. Same with music. Just by having a human load the audio into your system, they can pay attention to the levels and adjust accordingly. Think of them as quality control.
When a jock is live on the air, they control when songs begin and when she starts and stops talking. Don’t we always want to portray a live show? If your station is receiving tracks from a non-live jock, have your audio person load their tracks in like they were a jock live on the air. Have their tracks start right after the downbeat of that last song and lead right up to the post of the next song. Put in the effort to make a tracked show sound as tight and fluid as a live show.
Too many stations still struggle with dead air. A song is ending. The singer’s last note is bellowing, and as it fades out, a tracked voice announces the artist’s name and song title. A long pause follows. Then listeners hear an abrupt switch to a pre-recorded voice saying the station’s name. Another moment of silence. Finally, after all the stops and starts, the jock gets on and talks. We can avoid these unprofessional sequences if we have humans paying attention to dubbing the audio in and tightening up when elements start and stop.
Don’t be lazy with your audio. It’s your product. Raise the bar. Make your audio sound the best it can sound. Don’t let listeners change the station before a poignant or funny thought.
People can sense the difference in quality audio. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but they know when something sounds cheap instead of polished.
About the Author:
Luke Broersma has degrees in music and audio recording. He worked at K-LOVE and Air1 for 15 years as a multimedia producer, making spots and creating videos. He currently works at CURE International, continuing to make spots for radio, and video documentaries.
“It’s not show friends, it’s show business”
– Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) in ‘Jerry Maguire’
Have you ever noticed how many of your friends are not hosting radio shows? They aren’t cut out for it. Your real-life friends probably think it’s easy to do radio … a few of them may even start a podcast but no one, not even you, will listen. Love ya, pal, but who has time for that?
Many Christian radio stations are branded with imaging that includes “your friends” or “family friendly”. That’s a wonderful brand promise: no swearing, talking about sex, or saying anything kid-inappropriate. My dentist is family-friendly too, but I only go when mandated, every six months. We must be more than “clean;” try, compelling.
Lest we forget, radio is show business. You don’t work in a factory and have a shift. You work at a radio station and have a show. Shows are written, edited, and produced. They can’t be winged.
“To wing indicates the capacity to play a role without knowing the text, and the word itself came into use from the fact that the artist frequently received the assistance of a special prompter, who …stood … screened by a piece of the scenery or a wing.” Stage Magazine, 1885.
The quality of a show hinges on its combination of prep and production value. Finding show prep (topics) is half the work. The other, harder, half is figuring out what to do with your prep. That’s where the production comes in. Taking the raw prep and creating something magical out of it, that makes a show.
Producing a show requires using everything at your disposal to curate the perfect moment for your listeners. Every break. Filtered, edited, outlined, and re-edited before you open the mic. Let’s examine each step.
- Filtered: Do your listeners care about this topic? Is it relevant?
- Edited: Everyone has the same access to Facebook and can see what’s trending. Listeners don’t need or want you to read to them what you saw on the internet. They want you to tell them a story in a unique and compelling way.
- Outlined: Determine the emotion you’re looking to convey. (A) Now, put the emotion up front. (B) Then, figure out your exit. Finally, practice how you’re going to get from point A to point B.
- Re-edited: Could you make it shorter? Should you add some audio candy (a sounder, clip from YouTube, or a perfect piece of music to fit underneath the break)?
For team shows, try putting a 30-minute production meeting on your calendar pre-show to review all your prep and determine what elements are needed to enhance the content. This small investment of your time will pay huge dividends.
Help me…help you. I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published on AllAccess.com
If you’d like to grow your show, we’d love to help. Click here to schedule a free coaching consultation to find out more.
GM to PD: “What happens if we invest in developing our air talent and then they leave?
PD to GM: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?
Christian radio is now in that blessed season between summer and Christmas known as “Fundraising.” This holiday also includes decorations; like signs with your phone number, tables covered in decadent food, and kind volunteers hovering over your station’s phones.
Maybe you’ve noticed that many stations and networks bring in coaches and consultants to optimize their fundraising performance. Yet, many of these same stations don’t provide coaching for their air talent outside of their fundraisers. Why is that? Isn’t a personality’s performance important the rest of the year?
The greatest advantage radio has over streaming music services is our air talent. Alas, personalities can also be our greatest liability if they’re dull. Talent coach Valerie Geller says, “There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers.”
So, what do LeBron James, Lauren Daigle, and Oprah have in common, other than being incredibly talented, affable, and at the top of their respective fields? Each has a coach to help them discover their blind spots and continually improve their performance. A blind spot is an area where a person’s view is obstructed. You can’t see what you don’t see and you can’t hear what you don’t hear. We all need a trusted outsider’s perspective.
I feel passionately about this: everyone in CCM radio should have a coach who understands the PD, who understands the talent, and who truly understands the mission of Christian radio.
If you don’t currently have a coach, please ask for one. If your station won’t provide one, I’d encourage you to take responsibility for your own growth and hire one yourself.
In the wise words of philanthropist and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
This article was originally published on AllAccess.com
Having been inspired by recent columns about Christian radio over on AllAccess.com, I penned my own. Mike Couchman (Program Director at 99.1 JOY-FM and Boost 101.9 in St. Louis, Mo) challenged us to change our radio game by killing all the radio clichés and then Amanda Hildabrand (Music Director and Morning Show Co-host at WCSG in Grand Rapids, MI) sent us running for the proverbial programming border by ditching the Taco Bell-style programming blandness. She nailed it with this line: “Don’t be so familiar that your listeners begin to be bored or annoyed with you.”
In that spirit, here are 7 Questions for Highly Effective Programmers to ask that might spark an idea to spice up your current program offerings:
- What leap of faith do you need to take next? In the book “LEAP: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied”, IMD Professor of Management and Innovation Howard Yu argues, “No value proposition, no matter how unique, remains unchallenged. Good design and great ideas get copied regardless of patent laws and trade secrets. The only way to prosper under such conditions over long periods is to leap. Pioneers must move across knowledge disciplines, to leverage or create new knowledge on how a product or service is delivered.”
- If Tomorrow Never Comes…will she know how much you loved her? Do your listeners love you, or merely the songs you play? What unique content do you create for her that she loves so much she has to share with all her friends? I’m totally “borrowing” this idea from SiriusXM’s “The Garth Channel.” In-between songs, Garth Brooks shares stories about the songs and other artists. It’s uber-compelling. Why has no one approached a CCM legacy act like Steven Curtis Chapman or TobyMac to create an online station or app that revolves around their personality?
- What memorable experiences could you create for your listeners by partnering with new artists? Record labels are typically eager to provide access to up-and-coming artists. Take full advantage of this. (Cubicle concert in a listener’s office? Take them to the local children’s hospital and sing for the kids? Mini-concert in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru?)
- Would you be better off Ted? Could your station arrange a TEDx-style event and invite local pastors or speakers to deliver their best sermon in 18 minutes? Record it for a web series.
- All Politics Is Local. Is your radio station? Is “local” the goal? If so, what makes being local more compelling than literally everything else on the radio or Internet? Most people don’t watch local TV or read local newspapers. What about your local radio station makes it more compelling than a network? The answer to this is not trivial.
- What would it look like to be the best station in your market regardless of format? In a recent interview, K-LOVE CEO Mike Novak explained the secret to the Mighty K’s success is the vision to “just be the best radio network we can be, that just happens to be Christian.”
- Finally, and most importantly, ask WHO? Three years from now, what do you want to be true about your station? Be honest. If it’s completely clear how you’ll accomplish that, your vision isn’t big enough. You don’t have to, nor should you, do it all yourself. Define what success will look like and then find the people with the insights and experience to help you get there.
This article was originally published on AllAccess.com
Malcolm Gladwell is one of the most prolific writers of our day. His advice to writers needs to be read by everyone; whether you write a blog, radio copy, or non-profit donor appeals.
From Gladwell’s Masterclass, a key to great writing is to avoid “The First-Person Problem”:
“Problem #1 – if you are going to write in the first-person, you have to understand that the bar is way higher than if you were writing about another person, another object, or another activity. Why? Because the reader’s expectations are higher. Nothing to do with you, it has to do with the reader. The reader has been educated on stories of great people. When you read an autobiography, who do you read the autobiography of? You read biographies and autobiographies of people who have done something extraordinary in the world. That’s what you’re thinking when you’re hearing someone tell their own story. You’re thinking, “oh, this guy, or this woman, was the one who cured cancer, who discovered a continent, or who broke the code of some famous puzzle.” So, when your expectation is that high, that’s what you have to deliver if you’re writing about yourself. You’re facing these sky-high expectations of what the story is going to be about. So that’s, sort of, problem number one.
Problem #2 – When you write about yourself, you are engaging in a self-indulgent act. You are dealing with the contents of your own heart, mind, and experience. That raises people’s suspicions, so the first question we have is, ‘who is this person who thinks that they’re so interesting that I have to read what has gone on in their life?’ I think that expectation concerns me as a writer. I’m not sure I have a good answer to the question of why someone should care about my life so much. That means that I have written about my own life very sparingly. Now, not never, I’ve told a couple of stories of my own life. The number of things I can talk about from my own life, that I think justify the self-absorption, can compete with the grand stories that are told about people’s lives out there is very small. Right? It’s two, or three, and I can only tell them in a context where you will accept the kind of diminished dimensions of my own personal narrative.”
Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign was about a lot of things. Political strategist James Carville knew that if they were to win they needed to focus on one central theme, thus coining the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid”.
Your radio station is about a lot of things.
Encouraging Music. Relatable personalities. Impactful promotions.
All good stuff. But if we are to boil it down to its core value to the listener: it’s the experience they have when they listen. The emotional payoff. We know this. But it’s easy to get busy and forget. Just think back to listening to the radio as a kid. How did it make you feel?
Now, what are you trying to make your listeners feel each time they turn on your station? Your imaging may say you’re “positive” but do I feel positive when listening? Are you willing to take a “risk” on a new song to create a serendipitous moment for your listeners? Do you give yourself permission to fail? Failure isn’t fatal but status quo is a death-sentence for radio in a world where music is ubiquitous.
Here’s a challenge: Try something on-air every day/week that you have to preface with “This might not work …” That’s where the magic happens. Reading the liners, backselling, proclaiming “Happy Tuesday” are all safe. And they’re boring. Never forget Valerie Geller’s “Rule of 3” for creating compelling content. 1. Tell The Truth. 2. Make It Matter. 3. Never Be Boring.
We haven’t all been replaced by algorithms yet. Give people an experience … a feeling. How are you making them feel?
My apologies for saying ‘stupid’ but, in my defense, it got you to read this.
This article was originally published on AllAccess.com.
“Well, isn’t that special…could it be, Satan?”
The memorable catchphrases of the classic SNL “Church Lady” character played by Dana Carvey are so funny because we all know someone like that. We’ve all met some super-religious buzzkill that attributes every source of “fun” as coming from the Devil himself.
If you haven’t met someone like that, then maybe you’re like that.
Fortunately, Contemporary Christian radio, for the most part, isn’t super-religious sounding (anymore). We even have the occasional “family-friendly” fun.
But what if we just had fun and dropped the “family-friendly” part?
Comedian Jim Gaffigan-often described as “family friendly”-shared his feelings on the phrase in his book Dad is Fat:
“As a parent, I know ‘family-friendly’ is really just a synonym for ‘bad.’
Family-friendly restaurants serve horrible food. Family-friendly hotels have
the charm of a water park. Really, anything with the word ‘family’ before it is
What if our stations were the ones known for having fun?
[Disclaimer: This is not an appeal to tell jokes. There are professional comedians, such as Steve Harvey, with radio shows. If you are not a professional comedian, don’t try to be funny. But having fun is achievable for all who are willing to put in the effort and not take themselves too seriously.]
Maybe you’ve heard it said of Christian radio that “fun is not why people come here.”
What if it was?
Frankie Morea, VP of Programming for Positive Alternative Radio, argues it should be:
“Our radio stations are a trigger format for people who find themselves in
need of hope and encouragement in difficult times. We have done a great
job of helping people through loss and the various challenges of life in their
valley.Our challenge is to always be mindful of those on the mountain or
somewhere in between.
Being inspirational and caring is what we do. God touches hearts through
our music and content but let’s keep in mind a merry heart does good like
medicine. Having fun can be a beautifully biblical thing!”
What if you were the go-to station not just for spiritual encouragement, but also for when someone just wants to have fun? As argued previously in this space, everything on your station matters. It’s either engaging or disengaging.
Over 39 million Americans own a smart speaker (Amazon Echo or Google Home). It will be 100 Million within a matter of months, not years. There are approximately a billion ways to hear Christian music or get a “verse of the day” on a smart speaker. If you want your station to be a preferred destination in the voice-command world, a good strategy would be to optimize to make your radio station for fun. NOW.
This article was originally published on AllAccess.com.