By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Because AM/FM radio now has so many non-local new-media competitors, the host/listener bond is a precious asset, especially if competing stations are robotic or mailing-it-in. And with attention so scarce, efficient execution is imperative (and doesn’t THAT sound like a consultant?).
So aircheck review is more important than ever, but that meeting is too rare, for three reasons:
- We’re all busy, and as cutbacks continue, we’ll get even busier.
- Talk radio critique is a lost art. Typically, one person, often from music radio, oversees programming on multiple stations of various formats. He/she may not have honed directing skills, and/or is intimidated by directing older talent.
- Talent resists, for both-of-the-above reasons, and/or because this diligent process isn’t routine, and/or because they think their guano is Haagen Dazs.
Full disclosure: This dearth of direction is good for my business. In addition to coaching talent at client stations, I’m reviewing airchecks sent by DJs and talkers who tell me nobody at their station offers constructive feedback; or because they’re upwardly mobile, and need another set of discreet ears. But you can Do It Yourself…
This won’t hurt a bit
Every great player has a coach. But while we (management) think we’re “coaching,” they (talent) might feel like they’re in the dental chair. Egos are as sensitive as teeth and gums. And we pick, pick, pick. So based on my experience as both doctor and patient, here’s some “nitrous:’”
- Talent shouldn’t know when they’re being airchecked. You want a typical performance. Worst source for critique tape: Airchecks you ask talent to record themselves for review later. Or they see you recording them in the production studio. Either way feels more like employer-vs-employee than the ongoing partnership you should have.
- Unless you need to pinpoint a certain moment, I can recommend two techniques that have worked well for (and on) me:
- Ask talent to choose a show they thought went well. Why rake ’em over the coals for one even they didn’t like? And a show with none of their perceived negatives allows you to focus on any points you want to make, and to offer positive reinforcement for what worked. ..
- Grab several shows, and ask talent to choose one at random, like they just turned on the radio
- Listen to airchecks at least a couple weeks old, older if available. That way, talent hears the work more objectively than yesterday’s show, of which they can remember each break word-for-word, how they felt that day, etc.
- Who should attend aircheck meetings? As few people as possible. Pride of authorship is powerful, so unless you’re working with an on-air team, three’s a crowd. How about a meeting of one? Present talent with an aircheck to listen to on their own? This is another method I’ve found effective as both player and coach.
- The talent, alone, rewinding and re-listening to a certain break is entirely different from the PD doing so in an office. So you get maximum critique with minimal squirm.
- Un-threatening: “Have a listen, and tell me what you think worked, and what you’d do differently.”
- And take-homes allow talent to listen where so many listeners do, in the car.
- If brevity is a goal, prep several versions of the same aircheck:
- The first is lean and mean. Before the meeting, you’ve edited an actual break down to only what should have been said. Talent hears themselves sound tight and bright. “NINE BEFORE THREE ON WXXX!”
- Then, play the original, uncut, version. “IT’S JUST ABOUT NINE MINUTES BEFORE THE HOUR OF THREE O’CLOCK RIGHT HERE ON WXXX RADIO.”
- Finally, play the edits. “IT’S JUST ABOUT…MINUTES BEFORE THE HOUR OF…O’CLOCK RIGHT HERE…RADIO.”
The point you’re making: Not only CAN you do what I’m suggesting. You did! Hear how much better it sounds without what was cut out? Yes, this will take some prep on the PD’s part, but the results are worth the prep time; especially with talkers who take the scenic route to what-this-hour-is-about.
When Mike McVay talks, we listen, eh?
Before he became Mister Programming for Cumulus, Mike was radio’s preeminent consultant; and for the 17 years I was McVay Media’s News/Talk Specialist, we urged the talent we coached as follows (Mike’s words, long memorized):
- Every break should be your best. A new listener can be checking-in at any moment.
- Prep, prep, prep.
- Get to the point – in 8 seconds max.
- Know your exit (BEFORE the break begins).
- Local, local, local.
- Beg/borrow/steal great bits…then OWN ‘EM.
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke, and see his video “Listeners Expect to be Heard” this month on TalkersTV. And look for HC’s daily reports from the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, here, beginning January 2.