Say WHAT? Arbitron and advertisers will punish you if you don’t choose your words carefully

| September 18, 2012

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

BLOCK ISLAND, RI — At the risk of validating the worst consultant stereotype, here’s a whole list of don’t-say-this-don’t-say-that.  And the first one’s big…

Please don’t say “PISSED OFF.”

Why?  Picture the listeners your advertisers want to meet the most: parents with children living at home, retail super-consumers.  Sure, soccer mom and her mister might talk to each other differently when the children aren’t listening.  But when kiddos are in the car, potty mouth like “PISSED-OFF” is an AQH-killer.  Instant tune-out, stimulus-response.

As for potty mouth generally, you’ll never get hurt erring on the side of prudence.  Why say “ASS,” when “KEESTER” or “BEE-HIND” makes the same point, and sounds more memorable?  If you’re in a diary market, ratings are a memory test.  If you’re in a PPM market, awareness drives use.  So, either way, being thought-of as R-rated will cost you what Arbitron calls Occasions of Listening and Time Spent Listening.

Avoid antiques:

  • “ON THE FM DIAL.”  It’s a digital read-out now.  The last “dial” was those mod-look ‘60s counter-top AM radios.
  • “ON THE WEB” is as dated as “LOG-ON,” a modem-screech-era reference.  Now, people are always-on via smartphones and cable/DSL connections.  And unless your station’s web site is OnTheWeb.com, you’re missing a branding opportunity.  Always/only refer to the station web site by its domain name.
  • It’s time to stop saying “TOLL-FREE” when you announce 800 numbers.  People know 800 = free call.  And many listeners don’t care, because they don’t use all their anytime/anywhere minutes every month.

Don’t tawk like a dummy:

  • When you say “I COULD CARE LESS,” do you mean the opposite?
  • Say “JEWELRY,” not “JEWLERY,” which could offend some listeners (and jewelers).
  • Say “DOUBLE-YOU,” not “DUBBA-YEW.”
  • Are you mispronouncing “ASSOCIATION?”  It’s “a-so-see-A-shun,” not “a-so-she-A-shun.”
  • And just because Rush gets it wrong doesn’t mean you should: It’s “DEMOCRATIC PARTY,” not “DEMOCRAT PARTY.”  Saying “DEMOCRAT PARTY” is like saying “REPUBLIC PARTY.”

When you say “AMOUNT,” do you really mean “NUMBER?”

  • Don’t say “POLICE ESTIMATE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE ATTENDING THE TOWN HALL MEETING AT OVER A THOUSAND.”
  • Instead, say “POLICE ESTIMATE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ATTENDING THE TOWN HALL MEETING AT OVER A THOUSAND.”
  • “‘Amount’ words relate to quantities of things that are measured in bulk; ‘number’ to things that can be counted,” according to “Common Errors in English Usage,” worth-bookmarking at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html#errors

Picky, picky, picky?  Not if you want to be taken seriously.  Admittedly, not all of the examples I cite here are as overtly toxic as “PISSED OFF.”  Much of the value of communicating clearly is subliminal, and accrues long-term.

Don’t talk like a radio guy.

  • Say “LIVE BROACAST” instead of “REMOTE” (which is what real people call the TV clicker).
  • Instead of “SCREENER,” say “OPERATOR.”  “Screener” is lingo, and reminds would-be callers that they might not get on-the-air.  Why rub their nose in it?  Let the screener make that decision off-air.  Invite as many callers as possible, so you can choose the best.
  • Wisely, one of my favorite stations puts their programming on three platforms, and touts that in on-air imaging: “ON-AIR, ONLINE, MOBILE.”  But what does this language mean to listeners?  It sounds clinical, and it’s station-centric.  Instead?  “ON YOUR RADIO, ON YOUR COMPUTER, ON YOUR PHONE.”

“YOU” and “YOUR” are hard to over-do, and questions engage.  “I,” “I,” “I,” and “ME,” “ME,” “ME” are unfortunate radio caricatures.

  • So instead of: “THIS GARBAGE DISPOSAL BAN IS SOMETHING I WANT TO TALK ABOUT.”
  • Ask: “SHOULD YOU BE FINED FOR INSTALLING — OR REPLACING — YOUR GARBAGE DISPOSAL?  LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!”
  • And instead of: “WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT THE FISCAL IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION.” (Cue SFX of crickets chirping.)
  • Ask: “HOW MUCH MONEY ARE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS TAKING-OUT-OF-YOUR-POCKET?  MORE THAN YOU MIGHT REALIZE, ACCORDING TO AN EXPERT YOU’LL MEET NEXT HALF-HOUR…”

Be REAL humble about attention, which you earn moment by moment by moment.

Avoid repeating what the news person or produced intro just said.  This is among the most common dumb things I hear in my travels.

  • The Big Voice-over-music says “NOW, THE WXXX MORNING NEWS WITH JIM DELGADO!”  After which, Jim comes on and says, “THIS IS THE WXXX MORNING NEWS, I’M JIM DELGADO;” as though either he-didn’t-hear, or we-don’t-believe, The Big Voice.
  • Instead, engage, ASAP, after the intro: “SHOULD YOU BE FINED FOR INSTALLING — OR REPLACING — YOUR GARBAGE DISPOSAL?  LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!”
  • Better yet?  Engage before the produced intro.  Try it.  You’ll like the effect.

Whenever possible, discard verbal styrofoam:

  • “LET ME ASK YA THIS…” accomplishes nothing and sounds inexperienced.  Ask the dang question.
  • Don’t thank callers for waiting on Hold.  You’ll scare-off would-be callers who are too busy to wait on Hold.
  • Leave “IS” out of timechecks.  “WXXX NEWSTIME, 702” sounds more authoritative.
  • Also leave out of timechecks: “MINUTES BEFORE/PAST THE HOUR OF.”  Do digital timechecks.  Say what you want a diarykeeper to write down.

Avoid READING source material on-air verbatim.  Applause for show prep, but keep prepping.  DO harvest set-up material from other media, and DO attribute.  But reading-more-than-a-sentence makes your show sound non-essential, since, if you’re reading from the newspaper, you’re not telling them anything they can’t get elsewhere.  Script your own succinct set-up.

“ROGER ON A CAR PHONE, YOU’RE NEXT….”

  • This sends a negative subliminal message.  Everybody suffers dropped calls.  And AM radio is already static-plagued, which research has demonstrated to be an issue with women, whom Talk radio wishes would listen more.  Don’t telegraph that there’s more static coming up.
  • And “ON A CAR PHONE” isn’t a place diarykeepers or PPM panelists live.  “WEST SPRINGFIELD” is.  Mentioning that a-caller-you’re-about-to-hear is from-somewhere-relatable makes the station sound more relevant (and more relevant than syndicated shows or voicetracking, if that’s what you’re competition is airing).

And finally (I promise!): Never allude to callers on-hold.  “BRAD FROM MANCHESTER, AND JEN’ FROM BRISTOL, WE’LL GET TO YOUR CALLS NEXT” tells would-be callers that they’re at least third in line.  Forget it.  Who’s got time?

  • Who has time to hold?  The-callers-you-want-least, retirees who sound like the grandfather on “The Simpsons,” not the real-life Homer & Marge, on-the-go consumers your advertisers want to meet.
  • So that Brad and Jen don’t wander off, the screener should tell them, off-air, that they’re next.

See/hear/read more from consultant Holland Cooke at www.HollandCooke.com; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.  He will introduce Michael Harrison’s must-attend session “Can Terrestrial Radio Thrive in the Digital Era?” on Wednesday morning at 10:15 at the NAB/RAB Radio Show in Dallas.  And HC will present “Database Your Tribe…NOW” at the Talkers Los Angeles New Media Seminar on October 11.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Category: Opinions