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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These days, there is much pontificating about why terrestial radio listenership is declining. It's blamed on Ipods, satellite radio, the internet. Of course, that's true. But more than that, I think it's because radio personalities have been forced to become a watered down, sanitized version of themselves. Why even call a DJ a "personality" any more? To compete in this world, radio needs to provide original content and unique insights. Bill, you are spot on. I hope your friend in Britain returns to radio one day, but only if she finds a station that appreciates her talent.