Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisdom from Radio Legends

Recently, I attended something called TalenTrak 2008 in Chicago. It's an annual event created by The Conclave to inspire and educate radio personalities. TalenTrak delivered big-time on both accounts.

Radio legends Larry Lujack and Jonathon Brandmeier were the featured speakers. They put on quite a show. Their passion for radio and its possibilities lifted the conference room at Columbia College. Their performance demonstrated radio's unique ability to create intimate human relationships. The stories they told about their lives in radio -- the ups and downs, the successes and failures -- really resonated with the audience. Lujack and Brandmeier established a real connection and emotional bond with everyone in that room. It was great radio.

Here are some nuggets of wisdom for aspiring radio personalities from the success stories of Uncle Lar and Johnny B:

Don't copy anyone. Be yourself and you'll be distinctive. There is nobody exactly like you. Lujack said it this way. "One of my advantages was not being able to hear big-city radio growing up in Caldwell Idaho. I never copied anybody because I didn't have anyone to copy." Here's Brandmeier's perspective: "I don't know what's going on in radio. I don't listen to other shows. In my head, I'm the only guy on the radio."

Constantly expand what you know. If you don't know more than your listeners, you can't add much to their lives. Lujack “read newspapers and magazines for seven hours a day” to expand his knowledge. Brandmeier said, "I read everything. You gotta to be aware of the world around you. The more you read the more you have to react to. It's like filling a cooler with meat. I just keep filling it."

Don't present anything on the radio that you don't really care about. If it doesn't ring your emotional bell, if it's not interesting, meaningful, or fun to you, forget it. It won't matter to your listeners if it doesn't matter to you. Brandmeier put it this way, "if you're not curious about it or care about it, don't talk about it. The audience knows."

Find the right boss -- someone who totally believes in you. Don't go to work for people who want to change you and what you do. They'll make your life miserable, destroy your confidence, and then fire you. Lujack and Brandmeier's careers took off when they found PDs who believed in them. Lujack was fired repeatedly by bosses who didn't understand or appreciate his often "cynical, sarcastic, negative" attitude on the radio and insisted he change. He refused because, "it was easier to be me than somebody I was not. I believed me would work." It sure did once he found Pat O'Day at KJR in Seattle. "He was the first PD who encouraged me to be me." Brandmeier found Don Benson who heard him breaking format doing a midday music show in Milwaukee. Brandmeier recalled, "I would start talking to listeners on the radio the minute the programmers left the building for lunch. I figured they wouldn't hear me while they were eating." Benson heard him. He called Brandmeier with an offer that changed his life. "There's a voice inside you that wants to get out. How would you like to let that voice out on a morning show in Phoenix?" Brandmeier took the job at KZZP. The "voice" Benson heard attracted a few listeners. "They let me do whatever I wanted", remembered Brandmeier, "and the ratings tripled."

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