By Michael W. Dean
CASPER, WY — I’m pretty new to doing radio. Well, new to being syndicated. But I’ve been doing episodic spoken media almost daily since 2006, was a college radio DJ in the early 80s, and was into ham radio as a kid in the 70s.
More importantly, I’m not new to listening to radio. As a listener, I’d be willing to bet I could do better than 80% correct at predicting today who’s going to be out of business in five years. Anyone want to take me up on it?
I’ve been listening to radio daily, and carefully, for decades. Music, as well as talk. There are a lot of clichés. Most folks who describe themselves as “cutting edge” aren’t. People who say they “think outside the box” often do…the box from 15 or 20 years ago.
Many people thought TV would be the death of radio, but it wasn’t. Then people thought the internet would replace radio, but it hasn’t. Terrestrial radio, particularly talk radio, is bigger than ever.
But a lot of people who produce radio use an inordinate amount of audio production clichés. Producers (including show hosts, who are more and more our own producers) use audio production clichés because they’re easy. Producers use audio production clichés because they sound “radio.” What your audience subconsciously hears when you use these clichés is “This isn’t anywhere NEAR being outside the box. And it’s really annoying.”
The most obvious and prevalent radio cliché is the “WHOOSH.” You know, that fast sweeping white-noise sound, sometimes ending in a reverbed explosion. Folks use it as a shorthand to imply excitement, even where there is none. It’s also used as an interstitial to delineate the end of program material and the start of the ad block, or at the beginning of an ad, at the end of an ad, or during an ad….or unfortunately often, all of the above.
Smart producers should ditch this sound for two reasons. First, because it hurts the ears of many people over 40. How many of your listeners are over 40? Most? All? Even if it’s some, you don’t want to hurt their ears
The second reason smart producers should ditch using the whoosh is that it’s old. It’s soooooo damn old. It was a huge staple of stoner AOR FM radio in the 70s, and it’s still heard every day (more like every three minutes) in AM talk radio. It’s about as cutting edge as a telegraph. If you want to be perceived as “new” and “hip” — the whoosh ain’t gonna do it. The whoosh is as stale as using the sound effect of a radio dial being tuned. (Especially when many digital tuners don’t even have knobs anymore.) The whoosh is so un-hip, you’d be hipper airing Fibber McGee and Molly. At least Fibber McGee and Molly have content.
The most powerful form of human communication is one person speaking to another. That’s what talk radio is, and there will always be a market for people who do it well, regardless of the delivery medium. Do it well, and don’t use cheesy production clichés to mask a lack of interesting content.
Concentrate instead on interesting content and chances are you’ll still have a job in five years.
Michael W. Dean is co-host of the radio show, The Freedom Feens syndicated by Genesis Communications Network. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.