Step Up and Be a Trailblazer

Ditch the canned audio in favor of real opinions — from real people
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Ditch the canned audio in favor of real opinions — from real people
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Use the voice memo iPhone app to collect sound from real people. The internationally successful Reuters news website has removed reader commenting from news stories. The editor stated that their audience has gone to “social media and online forums.”

The note continued, “Those communities offer vibrant conversation and, importantly, are self-policed by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting.” Readers will still be able to make comments on opinion pieces and blog posts.

Reuters joins a growing list of sites that have removed article commenting, including Popular Science and the Chicago Sun Times.

When commenting began, it was hailed as an innovation, finally allowing a former print audience to be immersed in real-time interaction with content publishers. So why are sites starting to turn off comments?

The Chicago Sun-Times said that commenting led to a “morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.”

And — not that they publicize this part — commenting on articles is expensive to curate. Due to the large volume and round-the-clock nature of commenting, top sites had to outsource editing and deletion of comments.

In other words, news sites asked for audience involvement and three things happened: The audience showed up in large numbers; commenters did not always behave; and there was no financial model to support expenses.


What can the radio industry learn from this experience?

When given the opportunity, the active part of an audience will engage, often with powerful emotion.

When radio harnesses emotion on-air, it becomes meaningful and memorable.

And when we don’t offer our audience the opportunity to express feelings and opinions, we become boring, stale and irrelevant.

 I’d like to suggest something radical. Regardless of music, talk or news format, consider hiring producers specifically to seek out sentiment. Let’s go after greater involvement by engaging local people to air to their views and experiences.

It has never been easier to record, edit and schedule audio for broadcast, and yet, outside of public radio, I don’t hear many real people speaking. Voice tracking is the norm for so many music stations, and while it can be perfect, it is also mostly sterile.


Create a weekly content calendar related specifically to your format. Then capture the sound you need in your local community and put a good measure of this audio expression on-air. Go to shopping malls, universities, houses of worship, sports fields, concerts, events, community organizations, gyms and bars. Ask a lot of questions and let people have their say.

Music stations have fewer than a hundred core artists. Get sound about each artist from people who care about them and have stories or opinions. Get thoughts about songs they love and what they mean to them; concerts they’ve seen; appearances they’ve watched of music celebs on television and in film. For authenticity, encourage people identify themselves, if only by first name.

Get birthday wishes from husbands for their wives and broadcast them on the actual dates.

What’s going on in your community that’s controversial? Is there a debate about a new highway, school system, crime, safety or sports team?

With the proper short setup, these drops between songs, shows or news elements will add a whole new dimension to your station.

This engagement requires a new kind of radio producer who can hear this in their head before hitting the street. A producer has to be creative, fearless, friendly and highly interested in people.

Isn’t this a better investment than a canned DJ reading corny one-liners?

Although there are vast quantities of audio already available on the Web, few stations curate sound. Have you noticed that iOS8 supports sound recordings via text? Maybe you can get your listeners to use that feature and text you sound. Try it and let me know how it goes.

The audio you collect requires smart daily scheduling. When you’re broadcasting live, these audio pieces can be utilized to generate phone calls on the subject.

This new creative production approach will take time, effort, money and intelligence.

Who wants to step up and be a trailblazer?

The author is president of Lapidus Media and a longtime contributor. Find more of his Promo Power column