Local Radio News: Never More Opportune

| August 5, 2013

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

FILED FROM THE RADIO ROAD — After a couple decades of firings, “local radio news” might seem like an oxymoron. Less-so lately, based on what I’m hearing – and doing – in my travels. And I’m bullish for the future.

Note two recent news items:

SiriusXM announces it now has 25 million+ subscribers, after adding 715,000 (net) in Q2, “a post-merger record for quarterly net subscriber additions,” CEO Jim Meyer crows. “We are raising 2013 subscriber guidance to 1.5 million net additions.” They attribute improved new car sales.

And you might’ve seen that Gallup News Poll about Americans’ preferred news source:


1. TV: 55% (“primary news source for all age groups”)

2. Internet: 21%

3. Print: 9%

4. Radio: 6%

Glass-half-full analysis:

• Listeners – and advertisers — already hear the discernible difference between radio’s local content haves and have-nots. Now, as the talent bloodbath continues at big companies, and that gulf widens, useful local content will become more conspicuous than ever. And it’s something listeners sure won’t get from SiriusXM or Pandora.

• Key: Make what-comes-out-the-speaker NOT the WKRP Les Nessman caricature. There is R.O.I. for local information that matters to the active, mobile, parents-of-children-of-any-age-still-living-at-home. They’re the retail super-consumers local advertisers want to see pull-into the parking lot.

Remaining news people: Want to linger longer?

ICYMI, read “Your NEWS Year’s Resolutions,” which has prompted more response than anything else I’ve ever written for TALKERS magazine. It’s in the Talkers/RadioInfo Archive at www.HollandCooke.com.

Three more tips, based on what I’m hearing on my non-stop summer-long radio station trek:

1. Puh-LEEZ don’t omit verbs. In a story about a love triangle shooting, here’s what listeners heard:
“THE WOMAN’S HUSBAND ARRESTED THE WOUNDED MAN TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL.”

Here are the facts the writer obscured:

• Police arrested the woman’s husband, the accused shooter.

• The person he shot was hospitalized.

As-is, the ear was told something different when half-sentences ran-together.

2. Grammatical clunker-to-avoid: third-person passive voice.

Instead-of…
“ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN A CAR MATCHING THAT DESCRIPTION IS ASKED TO CONTACT THE POLICE.”
Say…
“IF YOU SEE THAT CAR, CALL THE POLICE.”

3. Avoid “PRESS RELEASE” and “PRESS CONFERENCE,” and be careful about “MEETING.” These are red flags.

• Often, news copy I hear describes process, with the consequence of the story buried, or missing entirely.

• If your copy says “PRESS RELEASE” or “PRESS CONFERENCE” more than “YOU” and/or “YOUR,” you’re probably boring people, by describing how-you-gather-information. Focus on what the information means to listeners.

• Be careful with stories about meetings. If you can’t lead with how what-was-discussed-there will impact a listener’s routine, why report on the meeting?

• OK, if NOTHING was decided, but people were throwing chairs at each other, or a City Council member got a fond send-off or a noisy protester got dragged-off, THAT’S news. Otherwise…

• Don’t file just because you attended, if all you’d report is who-said-what. Correctness isn’t newsworthiness.

“Check-out our website…”

Five words that betray a station not making nearly enough of that “digital revenue” the company is barking for. Typical promo copy seems to be announcing THAT the station has a website…very 1995…rather than describing WHY-to-go-there.

News people are now feeding multiple “transmitters.” So get-good-at…

• Repurposing on-air–to-online: This is low-hanging fruit, since the content already exists. Mathematically, most of a radio station’s listeners (weekly cume) don’t hear most of its programming (what airs in any given Average Quarter Hour). So, for people who didn’t happen to hear a segment live, excerpt airchecks into podcasts. And don’t just re-purpose what-aired-in-newscasts. If you’re smart, you’re already excerpting show interviews as newscast actualities. Make that on-air moment do triple-duty as a podcast: “HEAR THE-THREE-THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY-OR DO IF YOU’RE STOPPED FOR SPEEDING, FROM ATTORNEY DAVE MCNAMARA.” Copy like that will goose site traffic, and…

• Go Social: That podcast has a web address (http://wxxx/filename.mp3). Tweet-it-out, using the same provocative copy, and you put audio right into listeners’ pockets, on smartphones.

The Bottom Line: It’s all about storytelling…

Everything on-air which has value to a station and the advertisers that support it is storytelling. News copy, commercial copy, talk topics, show content, blogging, everything.

• Hone your writing skills. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

• Because the in-car listeners advertisers want to meet are so mentally “busy,” every…single…moment…you offer needs to earn you another moment of attention.

So don’t read copy. Tell stories. Recently, I heard a newscast that included these two stories:

• In a head-on car crash, a pregnant woman lost her baby, after being hit head-on by a drunk driver.

• Police arrested a man for multiple break-ins, during-which he administered unwanted back rubs to horrified women.

Newscasters read both stories the same way, as though it was farm report Ag’ data. Remarkable local stories, delivered unremarkably. Be clear: I’m NOT saying ham-it-up. Tip: Listen to Harley Carnes deliver on-hour CBS Radio newscasts. You know how he feels about what he’s telling you, and that’s OK.

See a storytelling model you may find instructive, from Bob Dotson/NBC News. He says that the 40 years of stories he’s reported follow a formula he calls “Hey, You, See, So;” which he describes in a short video you can see on the ICYMI page at HollandCooke.com

PREDICTION: Local news positions aren’t the only new 2014 Talk Radio jobs I foresee. I’ll explain WHY, and WHERE and HOW TO PREPARE for new opportunities in the new year, in my presentation at Talkers Los Angeles 2013 on Thursday, October 10.

tbugk

Read/see/hear more/more/more at www.HollandCooke.com, and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice