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A Radio New Year’s Resolution

PDs should rededicate themselves to working with air talent on a daily basis

“You’ve been on the air for 45 minutes!” the program director screamed at me on the hotline. “I just want to know one thing: When does the show start?”

Without waiting for an answer, he hung up.

I later learned he wasn’t the only PD using this as his “signature move,” purportedly to motivate young disk jockeys.

I’ve never been fond of this type of negative reinforcement, but the experience taught me to remember that I was performing a “show” and that I was supposed to be entertaining.

Subsequent PDs taught me how to map out a program, utilize guests and interject sound. As I coach talent today, I cut to the chase and explain that these tactics are intended to stimulate a listener’s imagination. Simply announcing song titles, reading liners and teasing the next element will not do much to create fans for DJs or station brands.

Think fresh

iStockphoto/Ryan Burke

There’s nothing like a new year to make resolutions. Let this be the year that program directors rededicate to working with on-air talent on a daily basis.

Think twice before copping out and rationalizing that you’re too busy to engage each other. The second half of a program director’s title should be enough for both the manager and the talent to realize that “directing” is an essential part of the process dedicated to driving entertainment, which leads to successful ratings.

Regardless of how many years somebody has been on the air, they need to dissect shows with a PD who can assist by pointing out great elements, along with segments which need improvement. Aircheck sessions do not have to be long. Much can be accomplished in 10 to 15 minutes. It is an absolute must that the program director start with something positive and conclude in such a way that the talent feels good about his or her progress and future.

Here are a few easy suggestions to freshen content:

1) Take a look at what’s trending on Twitter on any given day. You can even set it up by telling listeners that’s where you’ve got it from; reading a tweet or two on the subject can get listeners mentally engaged.

2) It is likely that the mobile phone your talent has in his pocket can record sound. Having real people tell stories or voice opinions can make radio come alive.

Example: “Today we’re talking about the worst blind dates ever. I was at a party last night and got this one from a woman I had just met named Dani …” While taking phone calls on a subject can be great, you give up control and can end up with boring material.

3) Regularly schedule interesting local personalities as guests, even if they’re just “guest DJs” for an hour or two. “I’ve got a dentist appointment today; fun for me … and actually more fun for you because the weather guy from Channel Two is gonna sit in for the last hour of my show today. Let’s see if a TV guy can actually do radio.”

4) Plan surprises. “While we don’t usually play more than one song by any artist, we just got a bunch of new songs in from Kenny Chesney. Let’s break our usual format and play three of them; then we’ll open the phone lines up and see how you like ’em …”

5) Change the way your DJs or hosts begin and end their shows. Odds are that people are listening at the same time daily, so why are you boring them with the same thing every day? For an entire week recently I was in the car at exactly 2 p.m. Each day, the talk show host played the same song and introduced his show nearly word for word the same way. Dull!

6) Celebrate stuff. People love anniversaries. “Today is the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind.’ In their honor I’m headed down to Pete’s bar at 5 p.m. today. I’m not sure how many people with show up, but we’ll make sure they’ve got the CD on the sound system and I talked Pete into 1991 beer prices. Put on a flannel shirt and drop by …”

7) It’s never been easier to do great-sounding remotes at low cost. When’s the last time you did a show from the middle of a crowded shopping mall, in a concourse at a concert venue, or at polling location during an election? How about doing a contest where you celebrate a holiday like Valentine’s Day with a live broadcast from a listener’s bedroom, bathroom and kitchen?

No medium can stimulate imagination quite like radio. Put the word “show” back in your day-to-day vocabulary by meeting with talent regularly and encouraging creativity. During 2012, take the risk of being great or you’ll really run the risk of being dull.

The author is president, Lapidus Media. Contact [email protected].