Key to Great Writing

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.”

It’s The Experience, Stupid.

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.

Make Christian Radio Fun Again

“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
bad.”

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.

Have fun!

 

This article was originally published on AllAccess.com.

Feckless Love

Most people don’t love radio. Those of us who do, likely, work in it. When it comes to radio, most people are feckless-that is to say, utterly indifferent.

Ever been on a road trip and tried to convince your travel companions to pop in to the local radio station?

…Just me? Let me tell you … they’d rather hang out at the Flying J gift shop.

Most people, however, do love the feeling radio gives them.

The feeling of connection to other people, to music that stirs their souls; and in Christian radio, a connection to God.

Creating powerfully evocative content, consistently, takes the right talent with intention, planning, and production.

“Live is lazy!” UK Radio Futurologist James Cridland is wont to say. He further explains:

“Used well, voice-tracking enables the best use of great content – yes, repeating it at times (particularly at times of crisis).

Used badly, voice-tracking and automation can make cookie-cutter radio which doesn’t look after your listeners. But then, we can do that quite adequately with live human beings if we’re not trying, too.”

Rather than debate the merits of live-and-local vs voicetracked and syndicated, what if we were all to commit ourselves to consistently delivering exceptional and emotionally-compelling content, 24/7? Does your weekend overnight girl have a coach? What about the production guy? Why not?

“People on average give a song seven seconds on the radio before they change the channel, and you got to hook them,”says Jay Brown, the president of Roc Nation and career overseer to international pop stars including Rihanna, Shakira, and Timbaland.

Seven seconds. Every piece of content on your station has seven seconds (or fewer) to capture listeners’ attention. Whose job is it to ensure everything passes the “7-second rule”?

Spotify is a free music service, and yet, 71 million people pay for Spotify to eliminate friction (non-music elements).

Of course, there are two major advantages radio has over streaming services like Spotify: 1) personalities and 2) the element of surprise (music discovery). How is your station strategically-capitalizing on this unfair advantage?

The biggest disadvantage for radio is that we have varying amounts of friction-or content-that is not optimized for listeners; namely unplanned banter from personalities and commercials/underwriting.

For listener-supported stations, underwriting is an opportunity to serve listenersbyletting them know which businesses share their values. But is it possible underwriting spots could be reimagined in a way that brings delight to listeners?

Everything on your station matters. It’s either engaging or disengaging (hello, Spotify!). Here’s to bringing back the heart of radio. Let us not be feckless. Rather, let us approach all programming with the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love for our listeners.

 

This article was originally published on AllAccess.com.

Settling for Greatness

What would the world be lacking if God settled for okay?  In the beginning, God created new things that had never before existed and then He called them good. Not okay, not passable; GOOD.

We are charged with being good stewards of what God provides us.  Why do we settle for just okay?  You may know we’ve got the best message ever to tell people and a bullhorn with which to do it, but then we bury it in okay songs with not great storytellers while we’re trying to convince listeners to come support the thing we’re doing because we think they should and then wonder why listeners aren’t loyal to our station.

Even if you’re not in a decision-making position at your radio station, you have the opportunity today to strive for better, even greatness.  Ask God today to use you to accomplish His purposes.  Decision makers, for what are you waiting?

The Natural Church Development process identifies eight characteristics of successful churches and, to get the point across, uses a barrel with staves (helpful for visual people).  The lowest stave determines how much water the barrel will hold.  Build up that stave and the barrel holds more water.  The next step is to identify and build up the next lowest stave.  The process repeats until the church is functioning well with all eight characteristics fully developed and engaged.  You might imagine, this process never truly ends; rather, it’s a constant evaluation of what can be better and dedication to making it so.

Let’s imagine our on-air product is the barrel with five staves – music, talent, imaging, underwriting/commercials, promotions.  What’s the lowest stave in your on-air barrel?  To ask it another way, where do the listeners run out?  Identifying and building up the low points give your listeners more reasons to stick around and provide you the opportunity to continually evaluate your product while fulfilling the mission.

To be fair, most organizations realize it’s next to impossible to overachieve in all areas and so settle on one area in which they’re willing to be “just okay.”  In the store where employees wear blue vests, have you ever tried to find customer support when you had a question?  That’s their “just okay” area.  Your on-air product should never be the “just okay” part of your radio station.

I encourage you to be invested and interested in your on-air product.  If you’re not, why should anyone else be?  Evaluate what needs to improve and then effect the changes.  Ask for help; you don’t have to have all the answers.

Give the good news wrapped in great songs and relevant storytelling while inviting listeners to be part of something bigger.  It is a labor of love and an act of service for it is the King of Kings to whom we answer and by whom we are called.

What needs your attention today to begin the journey to greatness?  Expect that tomorrow the answer likely will be different.

Lessons from a Hall of Famer

Millions of us grew up listening to John “Records” Landecker on the radio.

He’s incredibly talented, for sure. But what separates Landecker from other, less accomplished, talented people is hard work and perseverance.

In introducing Landecker to his 2017 National Radio Hall of Fame induction, Bob Sirott summed it up nicely, “If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, John was the hardest working man in radio”. Sirott goes on to explain the method to Landecker’s madness and how he would often show up 4 hours early to prep. Watch the full clip below to get a peak behind the curtain of a true legend.

 

In my heart, I know I’m funny

It’s not easy or always fun. But we all need coaching.

It’s not easy because you might feel embarrassed, insecure, or foolish when you realize something you’ve been doing publicly is not as good as you thought it was.  As self-aware as we think we are, we all have blind spots. When someone questions our work, we get defensive because we can’t believe we could possibly suck that bad.

As my husband likes to say, “embrace the suck” of facing reality and let’s get busy growing.

As much at it might sting, you really do want to know the truth. The truth will set you free to become great, impactful, and relevant.  And that’s what you want.

So pick a smart friend. Or ask your spouse. Or find a good coach. And listen.

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” – Proverb 12:1 NIV

Radio is Art

Somewhere along the way, there has probably been some artist who captured your heart. For me, it’s Claude Monet. Back in the late 80’s, we got a chance to walk through The Louvre in Paris and we brought home two Monet prints that hang in my house. Often I stop in front of either picture and just stare.

The talent, the care, the skill, the subject, the color choices – they touch me over and over.

One day Tommy Kramer said to me: radio is art. He said it in passing but it stuck. I didn’t understand because I was young and hadn’t figured out much back then. But considering this notion of radio being art has morphed into a deep conviction that 100% yes, radio is an art form. Most people don’t know that or respect the art of radio, but nonetheless, it is.

That next break you snuggle between two songs or perform before a stopset is potentially full of timing, sound, flavor, color, chemistry, volume, speed, depth, feelings, conviction, transparency, layers of emotion, humor, pain, wisdom, and, best of all, you.

Just for a few days, open up your mind to radio being art, and ponder this: what you put between the songs can be much more than safe “blah blah blah” that leads to your Friday paycheck.

What you create has the power to move another human being, maybe for a lifetime.

IDEA: Find a true radio artist and listen a bunch this week. What makes them great? I’ve been inspired by the wit, timing, and presence of this guy.

Lisa blogs for on-air talent in Christian radio. She creates daily shows for stations around the nation, she coaches air-talent, and she lives in Denver with her family and her ever increasing number of Westies. Listen or reach her at www.lifewithlisawilliams.com.

Find Your Farm Report

What’s the One Thing you’re working to improve this week?

If you need some inspiration for your show or station, just pick a recurring feature, like say, a “farm report”. There’s a #showhack I first heard from Randy Lane that might help when you are working to improve upon a stale feature, simply ask “What else can we do to make it bigger and add impact”?

The greatest example of making something bigger is when Larry Lujack took the Farm Report on WLS in 1970 and converted it one of the most popular radio features of all time, Animal Stories.

Lujack explained the origins of “Animal Stories” in an interview with Bill Schenold in 1985.

In 1970 WLS switched me from afternoons to morning drive. This was back in the days when they still had Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club on the air. Early in the morning, prior to 5 a.m., we had a farm show on the air. It consisted of five minutes of reading the hog prices and stuff like that — which I thought was really boring to do.

I started getting hold of a bunch of farm magazines — you know — WLS having been the “Prairie Farmer” station. Even though we were playing Beatles and Stones, we were still getting these farm magazines. I began thumbing through them and finding these weird stories about farmers and their animals. I started reading them on the air instead of broadcasting the stupid grain prices. A lot of the stories were about farmers getting attacked by their animals, horses having quadruplets — and other strange things. People started calling up the station — and geez they really liked the farm show. I couldn’t believe that. Rock and roll fans were actually calling up requesting that the farm show be made longer. After the farm show got dumped by management, I just renamed it Animal Stories and branched out. Animal Stories was not only about farm animals — but any kind of animals. Without a doubt, this feature was the most successful thing that I’ve ever done from a listener acceptance standpoint. It’s just a great common denominator thing: everybody at one time has had a pet dog, or a pet rabbit, or a pet cat. Everybody likes to go to the zoo — everybody likes animals.

The One Thing

In the movie City Slickers, Curly, the crusty old cowboy played by Jack Palance, says the secret to life is “one thing.” When asked by Billy Crystal, playing a stressed out, overwhelmed New Yorker what that one thing is, Curly replied, “That’s what you need to find out.” Great. Thanks a lot, Curly.  While I’m not offering up the secret to life, either, I can tell you that “one thing” is the secret to that mounting to-do list of yours.

The “one thing” concept is not revolutionary or original by me. It came into focus for me years ago when I was programming a radio station and its music. The music scheduling software had endured years of many different hands being involved and therefore had a mish-mash of different ideas, theories, and work. Clocks, schedules, coding, song information, etc. Anyone who has ever scheduled music, know there are seemingly endless nooks and crannies to scheduling software and to that end, seemingly endless ways in which it can be messy, aggravating and overwhelming.

Now you might not use the word “overwhelmed,” but I am guessing you have encountered a time when a project (or just your workload) seems so daunting, complicated, or messy, you don’t know where to begin, so you never do. You put it off. You procrastinate. And it remains this overwhelming mess.

This is when I decided to take the approach of “I cannot do all of it today, but what is one thing I can do this week.” Just one thing. So one week I worked on shaping up clocks. Another week it was creating consistency in song coding. The next week it was updating categories and so on and so forth.

I chose one thing a week, just because I had more on my plate than just music. But for you, maybe it’s one thing a day. I realize this seems overly simple. It is. And yet, we easily forget and get paralyzed by all that we have to do at any given time. Start with one thing and then do the next “one thing.” I realize this might not be as exciting as the secret of life and probably won’t be a signature moment in a movie, but it could help you feel less overwhelmed at work.