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What Have You Learned Doing Television?

| January 2, 2018

By Holland Cooke
Media Consultant


WASHINGTON — Ever the interviewer, Jim Bohannon asked me, “What have you learned from doing television?”

I had guested often, as a talking head on cable news shows.  And I logged 10,000 hours hosting radio.  But I only began hosting a TV show several months ago, when I took over Thom Hartmann’s program “The Big Picture” on RT.  I’m on Friday nights, after Larry King and before Jesse Ventura.

And yes, there are aspects of this learning curve that are instructive to talk radio.  Regular TALKERS readers will find this familiar HC lore:

  1. Script! At least your show open.  This has been the toughest sell I’ve made in 22 years of consulting.  Many radio talkers are actually offended by the notion.  Typically, they prefer to wing it.  Often, the host is almost ready.  He or she has a topic in mind, and begins the show thinking aloud about it, eventually landing on the call-in proposition after a meandering monologue.  This presumes too much about the listener’s attention.

On RT, Larry King’s shows are pre-recorded; but when he was live on CNN, he took calls, and you would often hear him interrupt a windy caller to ask “What’s your question?”  ‘Seemed gruff, but he did so on behalf of the viewer.  Television – a “lean back” medium – lives in fear of the remote control.  Radio – “lean-forward,” talking to busy in-car listeners – should fear channel surfers even more; and come to the point quickly.

  1. Pre-interview your guest, for the same reason, to keep the listener listening. What value will this interview deliver?  Even a quick run-through before air will result in more “take-home pay” for the listener (and the interviewee, if this is a paid appearance on your station).  Aim for conversation, a dialogue that the listener will feel part of.
  2. Bring more than just your voice. TV keeps changing the picture, to keep the viewer’s attention.  I had to get specific permission to…just…talk, for a whole minute (!) at the end of my show.  For the rest of the half hour, what’s seen changes every several seconds.  On me…on the guest…a 2-box.  And TV peppers the segment with stills and video pertinent to the topic.  Actuality (what Rush Limbaugh redundantly calls “audio sound bites”) is the radio equivalent of what TV calls “SOT” (Sound On Tape).  Avoid the talking head.
  3. Take “a make-up moment.” Before going on TV, there’s a room where they make you look like you want to look at your high school reunion.  It’s a wonderfully quiet moment when you collect your thoughts.  Find a moment before your radio show to organize your thoughts.  What do you want the listener to experience?  How do you make that happen?
  4. Hear the feedback loop.
  • After the show, I always ask the floor guy or someone in the control room that Public Speaking 101 question: “What’s the ONE thing they’ll remember I said?”
  • And try something I’ve found useful:  Invite Twitter engagement.  I tell viewers “If you follow me, I’ll follow you.”  And it’s more than a gesture.  Learn from what they Tweet.
  1. Review airchecks. It’s stunning how many radio hosts don’t.  Tip: Listen back to airchecks from a couple weeks ago.  You’ll hear your work with fresh ears.
  2. Exploit Social Media. After each week’s show airs, RT puts it on YouTube, where the network has a bigger social following than any other TV channel on planet Earth.
  • I then script a dozen or so Tweets, and post one + a link to the video, throughout the weekend.  Radio should do this more, with click-to-listen links to topic-specific aircheck clips.
  • Some of my Tweets include a quick selfie video teasing the piece.  Those get lots of re-Tweets.
  • And we do a YouTube-only “Big Picture, Etc.” video each week.  It’s me on-set, same look as the TV show, though more casual.  During Etc., we feature, and talk-back-to, viewer Tweets about previous shows.  And we plug the on-demand show archive, referencing specific content.

Only then do I wipe-off the make-up.

Frequent flyer Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of Talk Radio and the Internet.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” on RT America (Friday nights 7 and 1030 ET on DirecTV 321, and RT.com; and on-demand at YouTube.com/TheBigPictureRT).

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Category: Advice