By Holland Cooke
Holland Cooke Media
Talk Radio Consultant
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Call screeners are talk radio’s unsung heroes. Properly tasked, they can help make your show more interesting; and if you’re doing a weekend ask-the-expert show, a deft screener can help improve the return on your investment in talk radio.
The more callers the better
Not just quantity, because it’s YOUR show. But lots of quality callers can make your show sound popular, and interactive, like all the other media choices listeners now make.
If your station provides a call screener, here are some fundamentals you should share. If your station doesn’t provide a screener, you should. It won’t be expensive, and will be well-worth it.
This is something a teenager can do. Possibly your teenager could actually earn his or her allowance, as your screener. And here’s why.
Attention is currency
People are busy, mentally and physically. Many listen while driving. So “word economy” is imperative. Said more-plainly: cut-to-the-chase…probably not something you’re surprised to hear from a consultant. And that applies to callers too.
Prepping callers before they go to the host on-air is real important. Not-doing-so is where lots of shows drop the ball on the one yard line. In the same way that contestants on TV game shows seem pumped, your callers should sound like they know you, are glad to be on-air, and come quickly to their point.
Before the call goes on-air, the screener should:
- Qualify the caller. Not everyone who calls should get on-air. If the caller’s point is vague or off-topic, or if the caller rambles making his/her point, the screener should…
- Rehearse the on-air conversation off-air.
- Our goal is to keep…listeners…listening…by coming-to-the-point, at-the-speed-of-life.
- So help the caller boil-it-down to an opening statement that communicates his/her point succinctly.
If the caller can’t do so. politely pass. Put the caller on hold for five seconds, then come back on the line and fib. Apologize that “Ted’s got a couple other calls lined-up, and we don’t want you to wait on-hold if we’re not sure he’ll be able to squeeze you in.”
When the caller is in-line to go on-air:
- Give the host a snapshot of who this caller is, where he or she is from — which will cause listeners also-from-there to lean-in — and what the caller’s question or issue is.
- “Rob from West Springfield has a question about a living will” will spare listeners from repetitive “Hi, how are you?” “Good, how are you?”
- And puh-LEEEZ tell the caller “turn your radio down, and listen on-the-phone,” to spare the listener from hearing the host say “Hello? Hello?” and hearing the station, in the background, seven seconds ago.
Unless a caller is real good, move through callers quickly
Many listeners think that – while a caller is talking on-air – it’s that other person’s turn, and the line will be busy. Set the pace, and send-the-message that callers get right on.
Don’t mention callers waiting on hold.
- Well-intentioned comments such as “Fred from Omaha, we’ll get to you next” send listeners the wrong message: that they’ll have to wait on hold. Who’s got time for that?
- This may seem like a nuance on our side of the microphone, but it’s more apparent out there.
- Yes, it is a nice touch to tell callers they’ll be coming up soon, or thank them for holding. But have the screener do so off-air.
Some hosts make it a practice not to say goodbye to callers. They just keep saying hello to new callers, as though more and more people were entering the room. Your screener can always thank callers, after their call, off-air.
That’s the short version. For more detail on this, hit www.SolidGoldWeekend.com, where you can also download The Negotiation Checklist for buyers of weekend longform Talk Radio airtime.
Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke and meet HC at Talkers New York 2015. Call 413-565-5413 to register.