Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Trust is the foundation of long-term relationships that matter. You trust your best friends. You trust your husband or wife. You trust your mom and dad. You trust God. If you commit precious time each day to listen to a radio personality, it's likely trust is a big reason.

Sadly, trust is becoming a rare commodity. The list of things and people we don't trust seems to be growing. We don't trust politicians. We don't trust "the media". We don't trust our bosses. We don't trust many of the people we work with. We don't trust salesmen. We don't trust advertising. I could go on and on, so could you.

Consumer skepticism about advertising has made live-read personality endorsement commercials increasingly popular with radio advertisers and radio sales people. Advertisers know they gain instant credibility from the trust relationship successful radio personalities have with their listeners. Radio sales people love live-reads because they produce great results and repeat business from their clients.

While personality endorsement commercials are great making money tools for advertisers and radio stations, Jonathon Brandmeier reminded me that live-reads pose a real dilemma for radio personalities concerned about keeping their listeners. During his recent presentation at TalenTrak 2008 he told the audience, "I don't like live-reads". He explained, "Listeners know when you're faking on the air. I can't read a commercial for something I don't care about or believe in. I can't compromise." Therein lies the difficult choice for radio personalities. Do you go for the money or protect the trust relationship with your listeners?

The right choice in this dilemma is contained in the old adage, "short-term pain produces long-term gain". Trust is becoming more rare and more valuable each day. Guarding the trust established between radio personality and listener preserves this essential element of their relationship and increases the likelihood it will continue for a long time. Protecting this trust also ensures the ongoing value and effectiveness of live-read personality endorsement commercials.

There are plenty of money making opportunities for radio stations and personalities contained in the products and services personalities really love and actually use.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Measure of Great Radio Personalities

Bob Lefsetz is a music lover, brilliant music critic, and remarkable philosopher. I subscribe to his "Lefsetz Letter".

After watching the CMA Awards the other night Bob wrote, "I felt strangely disconnected from last night's CMA Awards... The music. That's what bugged me. It was just too formulaic." He went on to describe what he thought was missing. "Our stars used to sing about real life. They used to tell us about us. By exploring the fringes, the limits, delivering insight that eluded us."

Reading Bob's words, I got to thinking, isn't the ability to explore real life -- it's fringes and limits -- and deliver insight that eludes listeners a measure of great radio personalities, too?

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."

Monday, April 7, 2008


"We can never know about the days to come
but we think about them anyway.
I was thinkin' about how right tonight might be.
Anticipation, anticipation
Is keepin' me waitin'."

Carly Simon's lyrics from her hit song speak about a strong sense the best radio personalities create in their listeners. Anticipation drives their listeners to tune in and keep listenin'. They turn on the radio with an expectation of experiencing at least one magical life enriching moment.

I was reminded of the powerful effect anticipation has on radio listening when I read a just-released study, "The PPM DNA of Rush Limbaugh", prepared by radio researcher Jon Coleman. The stated goal of the study was to "learn as much as possible from Arbitron's measurement of radio audiences via its Portable People Meter (PPM) service and understand what it can teach us about how consumers use radio."

The major finding of this study is that anticipation drives Rush's listeners to tune in and keep listening to his program no matter what content is presented. The PPM data reveals the show's average audience share changes very little when Rush switches subjects or when he is interrupted by commercials. The clear implication here is that Rush's listeners, like the subject of Carly Simon's song, keep "waitin'" and listenin' for that magical moment or moments they know will come.

The study makes a big deal about commercial breaks at the top and bottom of each hour that appear to generate slightly higher audience shares (5-8% higher) than the Rush content that follows. The study should make a big deal about the anticipation that drives the tune in for these commercials. To be fair the study speculates, "what is likely happening is that many people are tuning in to hear what Rush has to say, with some of them then electing not to stay" after they find out what Rush is talking about. Unfortunately, this insight is buried in the text of the study.

Think about this finding. Anticipation drives Rush's listeners to tune in early, during commercial breaks at the top and bottom of each hour, so they won't miss the first words out of his mouth as he begins each half-hour of his program. They tune in early rather than taking a chance of missing that magic moment they expect from Rush each day.

Anticipation is a wonderful thing for Rush and his advertisers. Anticipation ensures continued listening and high-level attention for all kinds of content, including commercials. Audience shares for Rush's program vary little no matter what kind of content it presents.

So what is this anticipation that drives listeners to tune in and keep listening? It's the expectation of experiencing magical moments that make life more interesting, meaningful, and fun. It’s the expectation of laughing out loud, crying, marveling, or understanding something for the very first time. It's the expectation of a unique and often emotional experience that can only be had in the presence of a beloved friend or true character. It's the expectation of meaningful and remarkable experiences that really are life enriching. It's the expectation of things that would be sorely missed if they were taken away. This is the anticipation successful radio personalities create in their listeners.

If you're a radio personality, ask yourself what your listeners anticipate from you and your show? Do your listeners truly expect you to make their lives more interesting, meaningful, and fun? Do they expect you to create magical moments they can't experience anywhere else? Would your listeners be saddened if they turned on the radio one day and found you were gone? What would they miss the most? How important, how strong, and how distinctive is the sense of anticipation you've created in your listeners?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fatal Temptation for Radio Personalities

Today I was reminded of a temptation that can be fatal for radio personalities and artists of all kinds. It's a frequent temptation for those who haven't made it yet and are struggling to survive and be recognized. It's a temptation that prevents them from exploring who they really are and discovering and presenting their best ideas. It's a temptation that keeps them from being distinctive and truly original. It's a temptation that won't allow them to achieve their full potential and leaves them feeling unfulfilled.

It's the temptation to create content to satisfy others and not themselves. It's the temptation to try to predict what the audience wants and create it for them. It's the temptation that leads to following conventional wisdom and known success formulas. It's the temptation that leads to creating something very much like something that already exists. It's the temptation, at this time of year, which leads nearly every music radio morning show in America to obsess about American Idol because, "it's the number one rated television show and everybody watches it". It's the temptation that destroys originality and limits choices for listeners. It's the temptation that is likely fatal for radio personalities who succumb to it because they'll get lost in a sea of sameness.

Please allow me a quick digression to present a couple illuminating facts before I go on with my story. For the week of March 10, Nielsen reports that American Idol was watched in 16.9% of American homes with televisions. The next highest rated program, "Law and Order" was watched in 7.9% of American homes with televisions. That means 83% of American homes with televisions were not watching American Idol. Hmmmmmm…

Now, back to my story. Here's what reminded me of the big and potentially fatal temptation faced by radio personalities and artists of all kinds. I discovered a special collector's edition of one of my all-time favorite movies, Braveheart. It contains a 20 minute special feature titled "A Writer's Journey". It's a conversation with Randall Wallace the screenwriter who created Braveheart. He talks about his inspiration for the movie, how he wrote it, and how he met Mel Gibson who produced and directed the movie. The story is inspiring and instructive throughout. I was particularly moved by Wallace's description of how he overcame fear and the temptation to change the story he wrote, loved, and really mattered to him.

One day Wallace got a phone call from his agent who said, "Are you sitting down? I just got a call from Mel Gibson. He wants to have breakfast with you tomorrow." Wallace had never met Mel Gibson. He had no significant screenwriting credits. He never imagined Mel Gibson would read his screenplay and be interested in it.

Here's what Wallace says happened after he hung up the phone. "I walked around my neighborhood and I prayed sincerely to God that I would not kiss his ass. And in those words, 'Dear Lord please don't let me kiss Mel Gibson's ass.' Because when you're around movie stars who have the power to launch massive budgets in movies and massive script development, the tendency of everyone is to try to figure out what they want to hear and try to give them what you think they want to hear rather than what you really believe. I really needed to get right within myself about my commitment to try to be true to what was true for me and that only in that could I be true at all to him or anyone else.

I went the next day and met him. Very close to the first words out of my mouth were, 'Look it's this way. Every movie has a message. The message of most movies is the guy with the bluest eyes, the cutest dimples, the biggest biceps and the greenest money is the one who prevails. Most movies say that. This movie says that if you’re faithful to your heart, even if they cut it out of you, you prevail. Now that's the movie I want to make. That's the movie I want my sons to see. If you want to make that movie, I’m your man. If you don't want to make that movie, life is too short.'

He looked at me like he thought I was insane and he couldn't wait to make a movie like that. I saw that he was that guy. Probably, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't have said that if he hadn't been that guy. You know there's something about the magic of people coming together who are of like spirits. I might not have been able to say that to another actor, but I could say that to Mel Gibson."

This story illustrates the constant temptation that radio personalities and all artists face. The temptation to give in, to compromise, to change what really matters most to them and will ultimately matter most to the audience it attracts.

This temptation is very real and very normal. It's rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being unproven. Fear of being new and different. Fear of challenging the GM or PD to overcome their fears and present something truly original. Fear of rejection and, ultimately, fear of failure -- the fear of finding out if what they've created will actually find a significant audience.

Randall Wallace overcame his fears. He wrote an original screenplay that rang his emotional bell and turned him on. He didn't try to predict what the audience would want to see. He was willing to risk losing Mel Gibson's power, influence and money in order to make the movie that satisfied him and he believed in. Randall Wallace was true to himself. He followed the Artist's Secret. He made a movie to satisfy an audience of one. He made a movie to satisfy the only audience he knew well enough to know he could satisfy -- himself.

Randall Wallace wrote a story about one of his ancestors who truly inspired him. He wrote dialogue that gave him "goosebumps". He created the movie he wanted his sons to see. He wrote a screenplay about a character he said, "I hope to be".

Braveheart found a big audience of people like Randall Wallace who liked what he wrote. One of those people was me. The story and its message brought me to tears. The dialogue in the movie gave me goosebumps. The main character in the movie is a character "I hope to be". The movie won five Academy Awards including best picture of 1995.

There are no guarantees for success for any radio personality or artist. However, the most successful radio personalities and artists follow the Artist's Secret. They create stuff that matters to them. Stuff that turns them on and rings their emotional bell. They create stuff to satisfy an audience of one -- the only audience they know well enough to satisfy every time -- themselves.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Believable or Karaoke?

I was watching American Idol last night. It was Lennon and McCartney song book night. Contestant Brooke White had just finished singing "Let It Be". With tears rolling down her cheeks, she approached the judges. Ryan Seacrest reached out to grab her hand. He said, "you're shaking aren't you?" She nodded and told him how much the song and the opportunity to sing it on the big stage that is American Idol meant to her. She quietly repeated the lyric, "Let it be. Let it be"

The crowd gave her a standing ovation. The judges loved her performance. Simon told her, "There's a difference between karaoke -- which we've seen tonight -- and making it believable. It was one of the best performances of the night." High praise from Simon and an interesting comparison.

Simon often refers to performances he doesn't like as "karaoke". I hadn't heard him use the comparative, "believable and not karaoke" before. I know the British to be quite literal and precise with language having spent lots of time in England the past few years. This caused me to consult the Wiktionary for the meaning of karaoke. Turns out the word is derived from two Japanese words, kara meaning empty and oke meaning orchestra. What a brilliant comparison.

So what made Brooke White's performance extraordinary, "believable" and "not karaoke". Certainly Brooke has talent. She can really sing. But all of this year's final 12 contestants have talent and can sing. What made this performance great was Brooke’s emotional connection to the song. "Let It Be" clearly resonated with Brooke somewhere deep in her soul. That's what made the difference in her performance.

There is a great truth here for radio personalities and artists or performers of any kind. If you don't have a strong emotional connection to what you create and present you're likely to be karaoke, an empty orchestra.

By the way, for your enjoyment and emotional connection, here are the lyrics to "Let It Be".

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, there will be an answer. let it be.

Let it be, let it be, .....

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, ...

Friday, March 7, 2008

How to write comedy for radio

"Few people probably realize the preparation that goes into Bob Hope's flip treatment of jokes..."

So begins an amazing piece of work by Johnny Carson that I discovered on the Internet today. It's his 1949 senior thesis created at the University of Nebraska. Johnny recorded it on real-to-reel tape. It's entitled "How to Write Comedy for Radio".

Johnny explains and illustrates "the most often used and most widely adaptable forms of gag construction and various speech forms that are used in creating and building comedy". It's all based on his analysis of the most successful and widely known comedians at the time including Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

He covers lots of comedic devices including running gags, insults, exaggeration, repetition, misunderstanding, the painting of a silly or ridiculous picture in the listeners mind, choosing the right words to strengthen a joke, intonation, abrupt vocal change and "topping", where a punchline is followed by a punchline. He examines the "three departments of humor to which a radio program can lean:" gags, situations, and comedy characterizations.

This is a great stuff. It's timeless. The audio quality isn't so good. No big deal. I'm just grateful Johnny had the foresight to record his wisdom.

One of my favorite moments in the 45 minute presentation is a comedic dialogue between Jack Benny and a car salesman. Johnny uses it to illustrate the "two-way gag". It had me laughing out loud. It must be heard to be fully appreciated, but I think it works in written form, too. Here is a sample of the exchange between Jack and the car salesman:

Jack: "Gee, the more I see of this car the more I like it. But, tell me, Mr....
Car salesman: "Just call me plain Bill."
Jack: "Well look, plain Bill, what are all these other buttons for?"
Car salesman: "Well, they are for the heater, the radio, the light, and the top."
Jack: "Uh huh. What's this red button for?"
Car salesman: "That red button is for emergencies."
Jack: "Emergencies?"
Car salesman: "Yes. Like if you stall the car on the railroad tracks and the train is coming at 100 mph, you press the red button."
Jack: "And, that gets the car off the tracks?"
Car salesman: "No. It makes a reservation for you at Forest Lawn (funeral home and cemetery in Los Angeles)."

Johnny's thesis is a must listen for aspiring comedy writers and radio personalities who want to improve the comedy on their shows. It's a reminder of what skills, techniques and practice can do to enhance natural talent. Clearly, this was Johnny's recipe for success.

Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and the other comedians Johnny chose to highlight in his presentation also reminded me that great comedy does not have to be vulgar and base.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Do you have to change your life?

I received an e-mail today from a talented young woman in London. I met her a couple of years ago when she was a promising radio breakfast show presenter in the UK. She gave up radio because she felt, "it left no room in my brain for creativity".

She was hired because station management loved her standup comedy show. Her material was all based on personal observations and reactions to her own life. It was good stuff.

She was enthused and excited about bringing her life to the radio. That was lost quickly when station management immediately began asking her to change her life. The PD told her she must watch "Pop Idol" (UK version of American Idol and the original) and other TV shows he said, "all your listeners watch". He insisted that she talk about news stories he proclaimed, "all your listeners care about". He suggested magazines for her to read and talk about.

Her life changed so much she said, "I got to the stage where I was lying awake all night worrying that I had missed 'Pop Idol' or the local news. I was terrified I'd missed a vital piece of information that would make the show successful." She said she felt like management didn't trust her, "they wanted to fiddle with the show every day". She couldn't take it anymore so she quit.

Now she's started a new career in journalism. She writes for a magazine in London. She is excited and enthusiastic again. Management lets her write about her life, her observations, and her reactions. They haven't asked her to change the way she lives. In her e-mail, she said proudly, "They really like me. They are pleased with my work."

She attached her first article for me to read. It's about breast-feeding. She has a 13-month-old daughter that she has been breast-feeding. Her observations, insight, and humor on the subject are smart, original, and fun.

Here's a little sample:

"I remember in the last weeks of my pregnancy rehearsing my comebacks to anyone who dared to ask me to stop (breast-feeding in public): 'I don't like watching you eat either' or 'if I were 10 years younger and blonde, I bet you wouldn't mind'."... "As I undid my shiny new maternity bra, my milk shot across the room onto a man's lasagna. He didn't notice, I didn't tell him. I often wonder if he benefited from the immunity boost."... "I have a particular soft spot for cemeteries; nobody bothers you and there's something quite spiritual about nurturing a new life among those passed."

It's too bad no one got to hear any of this on the radio.

This young woman's story is sad and all too common in radio these days. I hope I can convince her to give radio another try. If I'm successful, here is the advice I will give her.

Don't make big changes in your life just because you are on the radio. Don't change who you are unless you don't like who you are. This goes for everything you do. If you're not a big television viewer, no problem, don't watch television. If you're not a magazine reader, don't worry about it. If you don't go to a lot of movies and aren't interested in Hollywood gossip, no big deal. Occasionally, you'll need to watch a television program because a majority of your listeners will -- something like the Super Bowl. The same goes for the rare movie. However, this should not happen very often. Few events are experienced by a majority of your listeners and that number is shrinking every day.

The key to being successful on the radio is getting the most out of your ordinary everyday life, whatever you do. Like breast-feeding. It's about truly experiencing life. It's about you being aware and curious. It's about your instinctive reactions. It's about the stuff that turns you on and rings your emotional bell. That's the stuff that will attract the largest audience you can attract and give you the best chance of relating to them.

You don't have to change your life and your interests to be successful on the radio.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"Good talent is hard to find"

I hear this all the time from people in radio. "We just can't find enough good air talent", they say. But, what are radio companies and radio stations doing to find talent? Most general managers and program directors are now responsible for 3, 4, 5 or more radio stations. They really don't have time to develop the talent they have let alone look for more. Most are hoping the next Kidd Kraddick, Rush Limbaugh, or Howard Stern will walk through their door. I don't think that's likely to happen.

Gifted artists don't view radio as a place that welcomes what they do. They don't hear a lot of original ideas on radio. Instead, they hear lots of Howard Stern wannabes, Rush Limbaugh copies, sound alike morning shows presenting a narrow view of pop culture obsessed with Britney Spears and American Idol and voice-tracked liner card shows.

Gifted artists would much rather try their hand at blogging, creating videos for YouTube, or producing the kind of show they'd like to hear on BlogTalkRadio. Makes sense to me. Who'd want to face almost certain rejection by a radio program director fearing the loss of his job if he tries something new and unproven. How inviting is the typical radio station employment ad that screams "NO CALLS" and implies we don't want to get to know you? I don't think I'd be giving much consideration to radio if I were an artist seeking to do something truly original. It's no wonder radio is not exactly a magnet for gifted artists these days.

What to do. How about this for starters? Create a new position -- Vice President of Talent or Director of Talent. Find someone who knows how to evaluate talent and understands and appreciates the difficulty of working with artists. Make this person's sole job and only responsibilities to find extraordinary talent and create an environment where they will thrive and grow. Don't ask them to do anything else.

Next, announce to all employees that the company is now in the content creation business. Let everyone know they are responsible for helping create content. Encourage them to be on the lookout for interesting people and cool ideas that turn them on wherever they go and whatever they do. Ask them to report videos they love on YouTube, people and ideas that excite them on MySpace, or Facebook. Reward them when they help find people and ideas that can be developed and used.

Next, let the world know you are looking for gifted artists capable of creating extraordinary multimedia entertainment and information content. Recruit nonstop. Use the reach and influence of your radio station or stations. Run announcements on the radio and on the web that describe exactly what you want. Make it easy for talent to submit their ideas. Set up a special place on the web where ideas can be uploaded -- audio, video, whatever.

Finally, set up a talent incubator on the web. Create a website where artists you select can display what they've created -- audio, video, games, etc. -- and do shows. Make it a fun place where gifted artists will want to come to play and try stuff out. Promote the website on the radio. Send radio listeners there to check it out and provide feedback on this gallery of artists and ideas.

The Web provides a low cost and no risk place to test anything and everything. Radio people constantly complain about not having a "farm system" for talent. This is the ultimate "farm system". It's like having access to an infinite number of broadcast frequencies capable of reaching the entire world. What a deal.

Great talent is hard to find, particularly if you're a radio station or radio company hoping it will find you. However, there's never been a better time for a radio station or radio company to go looking for talent. There are so many places to search and so many ways for artists to put their talent on display. The primary requirements for finding great talent today are focus and commitment.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Emotion makes the world go 'round"

I just watched Randy Owen critique demo songs written by a group of aspiring singer songwriters. Randy knows a thing or two about writing songs. He wrote 42 number one country hits. He was also the lead singer for Alabama. The group sold over 80 million records.

Here's Randy's reaction to one of the demo songs he heard and its writer:

"I'm surprised how good that is. The thing that I see from you is emotion. That's the thing we write from. It's OK to be emotional. Emotion makes the world go 'round -- good emotion, bad emotion -- that's what speeds up the universe and makes it go, you know?"

I got to thinking, isn't emotion the inspiration and measure for anything really good that an artist creates? The greatest songs, movies, books, TV shows, and stuff radio personalities create always seem to be a reflection of some real emotion.

So, here's an idea for radio personalities and program directors everywhere inspired by what I heard from Randy Owen. The next time you listen to and critique what you've put on the radio, ask yourselves one simple question. "Do I feel real emotion coming out of the radio?" I suspect if the answer is yes, you'll like what you hear and so will your listeners.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Don't blame Katie Couric

Last night, I uncharacteristically sat down to watch TV just before dinner. By chance, I happened upon the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. I haven't watched the CBS Evening News or any network newscast for a very long time -- probably since Katie did her first broadcast on CBS. I've heard about Katie's dismal ratings, so out of curiosity I watched her from start to finish. I was appalled.

I remember when CBS hired Katie a couple of years ago. Sean McManus, President of CBS news, said he was looking for a "prominent personality" to "attract a younger audience". Katie turned out to be the "prominent personality" he chose.

The program I watched had no personality and no distinguishing characteristics. It's no wonder it is a distant third in the ratings. Katie was dressed in a business suit and sat behind a big anchor desk just like Brian Williams on NBC and Charles Gibson on ABC. There was lots of duplication of news stories on the three broadcasts. This wasn't a big surprise. All the major broadcast news organizations -- radio, television, cable television -- seem to report the same 6-8 news stories each day in spite of the amazing variety of news and information that is available in this high-tech digital age.

Katie's primary function on the broadcast was to introduce correspondents in the field who did most of the reporting. She read what appeared to be scripted questions from a teleprompter to lead the correspondents into their reports. Sometimes, she got to read a scripted question to a correspondent to close a report.

For variety, Katie had a brief live chat with a reporter who joined her at the big anchor desk. It followed the format perfectly. Katie led the correspondent into her report by reading a scripted question to her. She closed the report with a very contrived sounding two or three word reaction of concern about the contents of the report. It may have been planned or scripted, too.

This was scary stuff. The newscast reminded me of liner card radio with a very expensive liner card reader -- Katie reportedly makes $15 million a year. I have no idea why CBS has her doing the format I saw. What a waste of talent and money.

Sadly, as I recall, there was a big tune-in for Katie's first few Evening News broadcasts. For a very short time, I believe her ratings were number one-- beating her direct competition on ABC and NBC handily. Apparently, Katie's fans from the Today Show were pretty excited about seeing what their friend would do with the CBS Evening News. So, maybe Sean McManus was right about Katie's personality and its appeal.

Unfortunately, when Katie's fans showed up for her first few broadcasts on CBS they discovered she wasn't there. Katie and her personality had been shoehorned into the conventional television network news format. She had become a robotic facilitator reduced to reading the liner card intros and extros. I guess Sean McManus will never know if his idea works unless he has the courage to create a unique format that showcases Katie's personality and talent instead of hiding it.

I couldn't help but wonder what might happen if CBS let Katie pick the stories to report and let her decide how to present them. This approach works pretty well for personalities like Oprah, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh. I don't know Katie and I have no idea what a newscast with stories of her choosing would be like. It certainly couldn't be any less distinctive or more ordinary than the current approach. At least it would let CBS know if the "prominent personality" they're paying for can actually attract an audience.

On second thought, that may not work either. I suspect Katie's "I Matter" belief is not very strong right now. The only support CBS management is providing for that belief is the big check they write to her each month. Sean McManus and his team probably need to learn and embrace "The Artist's Secret" before they put Katie in charge. Otherwise, it is likely to be a short-lived and ill-conceived experiment short on mettle and without an effective vision.

I know this from what I watched last night, there is no way CBS can blame Katie for the dismal ratings. The blame falls clearly on the people who designed the CBS Evening News format, choose its content and the way it is presented each day. And, the person who writes Katie's "liner cards" must shoulder some of the blame, too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Power of "I Matter"

The "I matter" belief is the most powerful part of the Artist's Secret, the force that guides successful radio personalities and artists of all kinds. It was on display big time at the Al Peterson's Talk Media Conference that I attended last week in Phoenix.

Dan Patrick, the former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and host of the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, was there to talk about his new venture. He was on fire or as he likes to say, "en fuego". After 18 years at ESPN, he had finally developed the "I matter" belief.

Dan and his personality were instrumental in creating the SportsCenter brand for ESPN. He was one of the original lovable smart asses that delivered sports news with humor, fun, and just the right amount of irreverence. He became the template for all the SportsCenter anchors that followed him.

I don't think Dan realized how much he and what he created mattered to ESPN viewers and radio listeners until after a chance meeting with Jimmy deCastro at a golf outing. As Jimmy tells the story, he was immediately blown away by Dan and his talent. He began to wonder why Dan had never ventured out on his own and "taken control of his brand".

It seemed obvious that Dan didn't have a strong "I matter" belief before he met Jimmy. He viewed himself as a part of the big ESPN brand. Things have sure changed.

Jimmy served up a steady diet of praise and recognition for Dan's accomplishments. He expressed a sincere belief in Dan's extraordinary talents. This produced an "I matter" belief that inspired and motivated Dan to, "walk out the door of ESPN after 18 1/2 years with no net", wondering, "Why didn't I take this chance before?"

Dan's newly developed "I matter" belief has fueled a big vision for the Dan Patrick Brand. As Dan talked about the future with those gathered in Phoenix the ideas just flowed. He was brimming with confidence. Dan's energy, enthusiasm, and excitement were amazing. He told us, "This is high school with money."

What Jimmy deCastro did for Dan Patrick is a model for any coach trying to develop a gifted radio personality or artist of any kind. Help them develop the "I matter" belief because it fuels the courage and passion to create and provides the creative juice that produces original ideas. The "I matter" belief is a beautiful thing. Ask Dan Patrick.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

America's Most "Efficient" Talk Station

Last week, I had a conversation with the PD of a major market talk station. He proudly announced to me, "I doubt there is a more efficient talk station (than his) anywhere". I asked what he meant by "more efficient". He answered, "We make a lot of money".

I asked him to explain how he does it. He told me, "We have only one local show, our morning show. We get our news from a local TV station and we get our traffic from Metro".

I couldn't help but wonder where this PD and his owner will be when the syndicators that provide 85% of his station's content don't need his station's transmitter, tower, and broadcast frequency to distribute their programming. I hope they're saving all the money they're making now because that day is not far off.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Threat or Opportunity?

"Did you know 2.0" is a provocative little slide presentation circulating in cyberspace. It proclaims, "We live in exponential times". It provides lots of examples to illustrate the speed of change in our world. Here is a couple that caught my attention:
  • If MySpace was a country it would be the 8th largest in the world.
  • Number of Internet devices in 1984: 1,000, in 1992: 1,000,000, in 2006: 600,000,000.
  • Years to reach a market audience of 50 million:
    Radio 38
    TV 13
    Internet 4

There's good news and bad news here for traditional broadcasters. First, the good news. Traditional broadcasters are no longer limited by their FCC licenses. They can broadcast multimedia information and entertainment content to anyone they want anywhere in the world. Now, the bad news. Anyone else can do the same, with or without a transmitter, tower, or FCC license.

The reality is traditional radio broadcasters no longer have a virtual monopoly on the distribution of audio information and entertainment content. Survival in this new age will depend on their ability to create remarkable information and entertainment content, not distribute it. Future success for traditional radio broadcasters will rest on their ability to find and develop gifted artists and air personalities capable of creating extraordinary multimedia information and entertainment content.

The "exponential times" in which we live are either a giant threat or a huge opportunity for traditional broadcasters with their towers, transmitters, and FCC licenses.

The Force that Guides Successful Radio Personalities

I've been coaching radio personalities and studying gifted artists for over 20 years. I've been privileged to work with some remarkable performers like Kidd Kraddick, Jeff of Jeff and Jer, Rush Limbaugh, and Dr. Laura. I've observed successful songwriters, authors, screenwriters, and creators of TV shows. I've learned a lot about where great artists get their inspiration and how they create.

I've discovered successful artists across the media spectrum -- those who've created hit songs, blockbuster movies, best selling books, top-rated TV shows, and the most listened to morning radio shows -- are guided by a common force I've come to call "The Artist's Secret". It has three ingredients.

Instinctive Reactions. The source of their ideas. The inspiration for what they create comes from inside. It begins with the artist's instinctive reactions to what they experience in their own lives -- spontaneous, raw, uncensored thoughts and feelings triggered by what they see, hear, taste, touch, or smell.

Audience of One.
Everything these artists create is designed to appeal to and satisfy an audience of one -- themselves. It's all about what makes them laugh or cry, marvel and understand. They create stuff that they truly enjoy, stuff that turns them on and rings their emotional bell.

"I Matter".
The artist's belief that their thoughts and feelings matter. The belief that creating stuff that reflects how they think and feel matters and can make a difference in the lives of others. These beliefs fuel the courage and passion to create and provide the creative juice that produces original ideas. They also supply performance energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.

I've collected many examples over the years to illustrate how "The Artist's Secret" has influenced extraordinary artists and their works. Here are three of my favorites. As you read these stories, look for the Instinctive Reactions, the Audience of One, and "I Matter".

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson is a devout Catholic Christian. He's battled addiction and obsessive behavior most of his life. He came to a turning point when he was about 34 or 35 that inspired him to create the blockbuster movie "The Passion of the Christ". Here's how he described the process in an interview conducted two weeks before the movie was released.

"Every seven years you change pretty profoundly. I wondered, what's my life about? I started looking into things that I had knowledge of, but really hadn't fully explored. I read all the Gospels, read the New Testament, read the Old Testament. I started to go through all that just trying to maintain myself. I would imagine what was that like, really? You're talking about the single event that probably influenced civilization as we know it now. It’s created our laws, behavior, and the knowledge of good and evil. It's influenced art and literature. It's affected every possible aspect of anyone's life, whether they know it or not, it has. This is big stuff you're dealing with. It's absolutely everything. I don't think it's ever been told as it should be. It suffers in accuracy, accuracy as far as the Gospels go, accuracy as far as the extent of the sacrifice and the torture involved. Make no mistake about it, this (movie) is graphic and my aim is to profoundly change people with it. I know it's not gonna be everybody's cup of tea, but it's the way I want to present it. It speaks to me that way and that's all I know. My hope is that anyone who goes in and can manage to stay through it and can suffer through with it, that they are changed when they leave."

Mel was experiencing a "profound" change in his life, "just trying to maintain myself". The Instinctive Reactions started to flow. He began to wonder, "What's my life about?" Searching for answers he read the Gospels, the New Testament, the Old Testament. The descriptions of Christ's suffering and death generated strong thoughts and feelings. "What was that like, really?... You're talking about the single event that probably influenced civilization as we know it... It's created our laws, behavior, and the knowledge of good and evil... It's absolutely everything... I don't think it's ever been told as it should be. It suffers in accuracy, accuracy as far as the Gospels go, accuracy as far as the extent of the sacrifice and the torture involved." Then he began to create a movie for an Audience of One. A movie that reveals what Mel learned from this time in his life because of a belief that "I Matter" -- a belief that his thoughts and feelings can make a difference in the lives of others. "Make no mistake about it, this (movie) is graphic and my aim is to profoundly change people with it. I know it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but it's the way I want to present it. It speaks to me that way and that's all I know."

John Lasseter

John is Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Many consider him the present-day Walt Disney. He is the creative force behind the growth of Pixar. He's also the creator of "Cars" the movie. Here's how he describes his creative process on the "Cars" DVD.

"Cars is a very personal story to me. Not only is it inspired by my love of cars, not only is it inspired by my dad, who is a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership, but it's inspired by something that happened to me in my life. I directed Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2. By the time I was done with Toy Story 2, it was 1999. Nine years had passed. We had had four boys and my wife said, 'John we've supported you in making all these films and the building of Pixar and all like that, but you better be careful because one day you're gonna wake up and your boys are going off to college and you will have missed it.' So, I took the summer off. My wife and I bought a used motorhome. I wanted to stay off the interstate highway system and travel America. And you know what happened, we got so close as a family. It changed my life. I came back knowing what I wanted this movie to be about is a character discovering what I discovered -- that the journey in life is the reward. I started thinking and all of a sudden the story just started coming out. It's got to be about a race car. I imagined this being the personality of a character -- it's like nothing else matters but achieving it as fast as you can. Winning. Getting that championship. I thought this is the perfect character to all of a sudden be forced to slow down. That's what this character needs to discover. And so we started taking and merging the two worlds of the automobile that we loved so much -- racing and Route 66. We all discovered something we weren't expecting. You know, it's just like life. You start down the path not knowing where it's going to lead you, but you enjoy the ride."

Did you recognize the elements of "The Artist's Secret" in John Lasseter's story? They're all there. Instinctive Reactions to a life experience. "My wife said, 'John we've supported you in making all these films and in the building of Pixar and all like that, but you better be careful because one day you're gonna wake up and your boys are going off to college and you will have missed it'. So, I took the summer off. My wife and I bought a used motorhome. I wanted to stay off the interstate highway system and travel America. And you know what happened, we got so close as a family. It changed my life." Audience of One and "I Matter". "I came back knowing what I wanted this movie to be about is a character discovering what I discovered -- that the journey in life is the reward... It's got to be about a race car. I imagined this being the personality of a character -- it's like nothing else matters but achieving it as fast as you can. Winning. Getting that championship. I thought this is the perfect character to all of a sudden be forced to slow down. That's what this character needs to discover."

If you want to experience and truly understand "The Artist's Secret" get the "Cars" DVD and watch the "Inspiration for Cars". It's amazing and powerful.

Howard Stern

Howard is widely known to have more than a passing interest in sex. A few years ago, actor Mickey Rooney was on the interview circuit. I don't remember why, probably a book or movie promotional tour. Howard wasn't interested in the book, movie or whatever. He wasn't concerned that most of his audience would not know Mickey Rooney. Howard creates his show for an Audience of One with a belief that "I Matter". Somehow he learned Mickey had slept with many gorgeous starlets of his time. Howard's Instinctive Reaction to this revelation, "How did that ugly little runt seduce all those gorgeous women?" Howard had to find out for himself. He invited Mickey to come on the show. There was an obligatory reference to the movie or book at the end of the interview, but the vast majority of the conversation was devoted to finding out how that “ugly little runt" made it with women Howard couldn't imagine being with. It was extraordinary guy radio whether you knew Mickey Rooney or not.

Radio personalities who embrace "The Artist's Secret" distinguish themselves from everyone else on the radio.

When they start to notice and record their Instinctive Reactions to all their personal life experiences the magic begins. An abundance of original ideas that reflect the full range of human emotion comes into view.

Fearlessly creating and presenting content for an Audience of One -- the stuff that turns them on, the stuff that rings their emotional bell -- gives them the best chance to relate to their listeners. Human beings share the same set of emotions no matter what their status in life. We all feel love and hate, fear and anxiety, joy and sadness. Emotion is the universal human connector.

When radio personalities come to believe, "I Matter", they become originals like Mel Gibson, John Lasseter, and Howard Stern. They acquire the courage and unlock the passion to create fresh and new ideas that reflect their own thoughts and feelings. Their performance energy, enthusiasm and excitement seemingly have no bounds. They establish an emotional connection and bond with their listeners that are nearly impossible to break. They become the best they can be.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Does radio attract great talent?

Here's a little test. When was the last time an extraordinarily talented artist and potential air personality wandered into a radio station saying, "I love radio. My dream is to be a radio personality. I'm looking for a job and a chance to live my dream. Will you help me?"