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Think Outside the Station

Live remotes offer a seasonal human connection with listeners

The big tease is on. One day it’s 70 degrees. The next it’s 36. After a record breaking 110.6 inches of snow, the people of Boston are united in their desire to bathe in the sun. In most of the USA, gray is finally turning green and renewal is in the air.

So how much of this joy is reflected on your air? Smart stations will do exactly what their listeners are doing — get outside — and will begin to provide the local soundtracks for spring and summer.

This news blog highlights the visibility that an outdoor remote can offer, featuring WKBZ(AM).REMOTES
Live broadcasts from large outdoor gatherings are an inexpensive, high-impact way of connecting locally.

Even if your station is close to fully automated and has only one live, local person daily, look at the glass half-full. You’ve got at least one personality to feature in-the-flesh, and if you direct this person well, rewarding him or her with fair compensation for the extra hours and effort, a little can go a long way.

An additional strategy is to figure out how to bring the voice-tracking talent to town on a regular basis for spring and summer remotes and appearances.

Nearly all program directors have a litany of complaints about remote broadcasts. The laundry list includes many valid concerns such as increased length of chatter, using the radio station as a public address for the crowd in attendance, too many sponsor plugs, poor or inconsistent audio quality, distracted talent missing cues for breaks and sounding unprofessional, too many resources required to pull off the remote, making the station sound different.

I hope you’ll agree that there isn’t one item on this list that can’t be addressed. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that most of these concerns turn into issues because PDs do not engage talent sufficiently to prepare them for the challenges of broadcasting in front of a live audience. All it takes is a few air check sessions with your talent reviewing a recorded remote to head off these issues in advance.

Now if full-blown hosted remotes are a nonstarter for your management, at least consider short, structured on-air breaks that paint the picture of what’s going on at a major local event like a concert, sports activity, county fair, wine/beer festival, marathon or foot race — any place where thousands are gathered together outside.

While we don’t have the space to go over smaller remote broadcasts for commercial purposes, such as car dealerships, furniture stores and the like, I am also in favor of this angle. One caveat: These sales remotes require precise parameters — for example, the necessity of using commercial unit breaks to sell the venue.

With promotional budgets slashed, you’ll be relieved to know that outside signage costs for banners have actually come down in recent years and renting or buying public address systems is more competitive than ever in terms of price and availability. Making noise and having visibility are important, but if that’s not in the cards for your station, I still wouldn’t let it stop you from being part of the outdoor parade of life. Most people you touch will be on-air listeners anyway.

So why is getting sound on the air from local outside activities so important? It’s the human connection!

Being a music jukebox or a news/talk machine is formal, sanitized, and expected. It’s like turning on a light bulb. Flip the switch, the light burns bright, and the user doesn’t think about it again until it’s time to turn it off. But when we tell a story about an event that people care about and are connected to, we have a shot at letting listeners know that we are real, local people who care about our communities.

No doubt, remote live broadcasts can be unpredictable or messy and sometimes even fail. The upside is on-air fun and good cheer — something local radio stations sorely need to produce.

Take the risk, head outside and really embrace it by being prepared for rain!

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