By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, R.I. — The turning point in my own career came in 1974, when WPRO, Providence program director Jay Clark hired me…just so I’d stop calling. Ask him.
Like many of today’s other news/talk AMs, WPRO was then Top 40, and I did 7:00 pm to 12:00 midnight. And it was a real street fight. At one point back then, five of the stations in market #29 — two of them new FMs – were playing the same songs. All staffed by local DJs 24/7.
“So keep it moving,” Jay winked. Meaning: DO be a personality, but try to get it done over the music whenever possible. Segue THEN talk, so channel surfers didn’t infer talk-over-the-fade-at-the-end-of-the-song as here-come-commercials. ‘Made sense.
And I noticed that the big guys making the big money in big markets took only nine seconds to say what minor league DJs took 19 seconds to spit-out. So we would concoct (or steal) succinct DJ quips that’d prompt a listener chuckle, and, hopefully, make a deposit in the diary keeper’s memory bank. Introducing the Elton John song as “Someone Shaved My Wife Tonight” was win-win kitsch. Those who got it got it; and those who didn’t heard non-stop music.
Once, when I strayed, Jay deadpanned, “Go ahead. Talk as long as you want, with NO music underneath! Talk for THREE MINUTES if you want. Just make damn sure I’m laughing at the end.” Point taken.
Think how much shorter attention spans are now; and how many other media we compete with for that sparse attention. Now that Twitter holds us to 140 characters, I’m thinkin’ Jay was ahead of the curve.
And mere attention doesn’t suffice any more. Advertisers now crave engagement, and are moving money from legacy media to new media in search thereof. So mature, incumbent media like radio and newspapers are scrambling to follow consumers’ migration to the digital platform. eMarketer forecasts that the social media ad spend will surge 43% this year, while radio heaves a sigh of relief about low single digit growth.
If you’re on-air talent, that’s one of two reasons your boss’s brow is furrowed. She’s under intense pressure to produce internet revenue. The other reason? Orders to cut costs yet-more. For talent, where-those-lines-cross is either dangerous or opportune.
Dangerous because “do more with less” has been the relentless post-consolidation mantra. If you’re The Help, you avoid becoming “less” by doing more. And delivering one helluva endorsement spot no longer gives you the edge. That’s merely the price of admission, since it’s merely an on-air asset. The focus is now squarely on online revenue. Thus the iHeartRadio ID on-hour.
What’s become opportune – heck, dang-near imperative – if you want to survive as on-air talent, is your ability to create revenue-producing digital content too. And Twitter can help.
Example: As various stations I work with were preparing to cover the political conventions, I met with the staffers we were sending, and told ‘em to start with Twitter.
For these stations, being in Tampa and Charlotte was revenue, not expense…but only because the one or two people each station sent produced a pile of content, stuff that didn’t just duplicate national coverage the stations got from their networks.
Obvious prep included identifying local delegates, collecting their contact information, then sending their voices and faces back home from The Big Story. But even that wasn’t enough on-air/online stuff to make the trip profitable. “Tell stories that people will share and quote,” the consultant prescribed. “Travelogue! Sidebars! Kickers! PUT the listener there!” And, most ambitious of all: “Be on-air every hour.”
Sounds ambitious alrighty. But, using Twitter smartly, it doesn’t have to be onerous.
A Twitter-enabled iPhone is THE most-efficient multi-media publishing platform we’ve witnessed. There are stories all around you. See that ingenious entrepreneur outside the arena, selling flip-flops with Mitt Romney’s picture on ‘em? Grab a photo, caption it, Tweet it. Inveigle-into high-traffic Twitter threads by using hash tags in the self-serving manner I described in my presentation at the TALKERS New Media Seminar in New York in June, and will describe again at the Los Angeles event on October 11.
Then, post the same photo and caption on the blog page you’re keeping online and promoting on-air (“SPONSORED BY…”).
Then, to feed that hungry every-hour-on-air critter: Make Twitter the cure for writer’s block.
To those who have suffered my direction, the following will sound very out-of-character: DON’T SCRIPT your on-air work. Instead, set two appointments each day with the newsroom back home at the station, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. As we used to say, have the station “roll tape” as the news person back home de-briefs you. And if you do live shots with the host record them too.
Do what talk radio does best: TELL STORIES, using all the Tweets you’ve accumulated since the last debrief as bullet points. Then, the news person chops up this unscripted conversation into :25 to :45-length single-anecdote chunks, and rotates ‘em, one per hour, on-hour, every hour.
The newscaster isn’t fibbing that Brian is “LIVE FROM TAMPA.” But, unlike other stations in your market, your guy is “IN TAMPA ALL THIS WEEK.”
This advice wasn’t an experiment. I myself had already walked-the-walk, when I covered the massive, mind-boggling Consumer Electronics Show for TALKERS magazine and my client stations and the Jim Bohannon show and “America in the Morning.”
CES, like the political conventions, is rife with stories. I’d grab dozens every day, and Tweet ‘em. Then, when it came time to file for TALKERS, I’d stack up all my Tweets, make 1/3 of ‘em one sentence longer, make another 1/3 of ‘em two sentences longer, and toss-out the other 1/3. And repurposing for radio reports was even more streamlined, since the reports ran :60.
And don’t just think of Twitter as 140 characters of text. You can link to a longer text page, or to the blog you sold that sponsor; and/or you can attach photos (which DO result in more re-Tweets) or audio or video.
Well worth the 99 cents it’ll cost you: the Photovoice app, invented by radio’s own Dan O’Day. Search the iTunes Store. Photovoice lets you attach :10 of audio to a still photo. Badda-bing-badda-boom, you quick-publish on that thing we used to call “a phone.” This particular app is a fave with real estate agents and others who want to narrate stills. You can e-mail the output file, or embed it in Facebook or Twitter or on a web page.
When fashioning digital content, think “snack-size,” story-telling at-the-speed-of-life. As Jay told me 38 years ago, “Keep it moving.”
Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Google and all the other wonderful, FREE, internet plumbing are the greatest use of Other Peoples’ Money ever. I work closely with sales reps at client stations to use these tools to fashion value for local advertisers; and, in the process, seek non-radio dollars. And you can too. Just start playing around with it all.
If you’re working on-air in music radio, double all of the above. The songs themselves have been commoditized. YOU are the bond with the listener. And making money online bonds you to your employer.
The bottom line? The Bottom Line! It’s never been easier to self-publish the multi-media content listeners increasingly favor. And it’s never been a bigger career risk not to.
See/hear/read more from consultant Holland Cooke at www.HollandCooke.com; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.