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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bill, excellent article and reminder to those who try to make it in todays conservative talk radio markets. How many have tried and still trying to be the next Rush rather than themselves (even Rush says you must be yourself).
As a Liberal, I don't have a problem w/a audience of one since we are so limited. The reason I go by the moniker"Liberal Don" on live radio is to have the first word heard is "Liberal" as that tunes in the ears in the deep south. All I have to say is that just like the 60's, its up to the Liberals today to again save America." And, I'm always prepared with the answer. That lights up the phones. Why can't there be a national Hannity&Colmes, left v right in talk radio? Not even in NYC, S.F.,L.A. or Boston?