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Oh, brother. Let me start by telling you that I’m not here to tell you how to radio. I’m here to tell you what NOT to do.
My whole reason for writing this is that I hear a lot of terribly executed radio here in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Not to say that I don’t hear some really amazing stuff, too; quite the contrary. As a general rule, this and other smallish radio markets have some of the most gifted jocks with the best, most appealing personalities and on-air presence that I’ve ever heard. And I listen to radio from all over this great world thanks to online streaming and the multitude of smartphone apps. The problem is that with all these great folks in one market, there are bound to be an equal amount of complete imbeciles.
One final note for those not blessed/cursed with a job in the radio industry: when I say “market” I refer to an arbitrary area that the ratings companies stake out for their measuring purposes. Sometimes it’s a town. Chicago, for example. Sometimes it’s a large geographical area, like the one I worked at in North Carolina. That market was known by the Arbitron people (radio’s version of the Nielsen ratings) as Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville. If you’ve ever been east of I-95 in NC, you know how far apart these communities are. The “market” is HUGE. Consider this: anyone who has been to school at Eastern Carolina University (the Pirates!) or been stationed at Camp Lejeune (or MCAS New River or MCAS Cherry Point) has lived in this market. That’s a very disparate group, which makes it very difficult to program a radio station in a way that will make EVERYONE happy. Just some background. Let’s go.
You Are Not Famous.
You’re barely recognizable. Maybe. A great friend of mine who has dabbled in roller derby and burlesque and mastered the art of being all-around incredible coined the phrase “Fort Wayne Famous.” The idea was that someone might have an elevated profile in their smallish radio or TV market, but outside of said market? Nobody gives a shit. I think it’s a perfect phrase to use for ANYONE, regardless of what town they are in, who perhaps thinks they have risen higher than their peers. Oh, you play arena football in Billings, Montana? Good for you! If you walk around Billings acting like King Shit, despite the fact that nobody outside of Billings has even heard of you, then you, my friend, are Fort Wayne Famous.
Perhaps you’ve done some TV stuff or you do voice-overs for some commercials and you have a very distinctive voice. In that case, the person serving you at the local hot-dog stand (I do so love a good hot-dog stand) might ask “Hey, aren’t you that person whose voice is somewhat familiar?” If so, good for you. Hope and pray that they write your name down in their Arbitron diary. But know that this person isn’t going to give a rat’s ass who you are within twenty seconds of you asking if they have relish or extra napkins. They have lives, and you’re just not that important. They might recall meeting you if they catch your radio show, in which case you’d better pray that you followed my next suggestion.
Don’t Be A Dick.
I mean this specifically in the real-life situation scenario. It’s widely known that there are air-personalities have adopted a dickish on-air persona. Not to say that they aren’t really dicks in real life…they just amp it up for “the show.” Even then, real, professional assholes know how to tone it down in public. I’ve heard multiple times that Bill O’Reilly is a generous, polite, kind person in real life. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. The point is that he acts like a gentleman. You don’t want that pimply-faced cashier riding around town with his buddies when your voice pops up on the radio and he turns to his bros and says “Oh, I met this dude. Came into the store last week. Dude was a total dick.” In other words, it’s unlikely that anyone will give two shits about meeting you, at least not enough to gush about it to their friends…
Unless you screw the pooch and show your proverbial ass. People are more likely to pass on negative impressions than good ones. Just human nature. Check your Facebook timeline if you don’t believe me.
Don’t Make Stuff Up.
Oh, my GOD this is one of my biggest pet peeves. And there are sooooo many jocks that are guilty of it, at every level of radio. I’m talking about fabrication. Being less than genuine.
Here’s an example: a once-successful (and syndicated) radio host whose name rhymes with “Dancow” was taking a bunch of jokes that he got from an online prep service and passing them off as his own on Twitter. Now, lots of jocks get material from prep services. They do. No biggie. The good, creative, talented jocks make those jokes their own. They change the punchline up so it reflects their market or the other personalities on the radio station. Worst case, they’ve just passed off someone else’s joke as their own. Again, we’ve all done that on some level. Not too terrible. But the usual jock with a couple hundred or a thousand Twitter followers can get away with that. When you are nationally syndicated and/or have listeners in other markets and such, stealing jokes is a bad idea. See, when the average listener sees you Tweeting a joke that they heard six hours ago on another media outlet, they’re going to assume you stole it. It’s just stupid and it’s lazy and I hate it.
This goes much further, though. You hear this one all the time, and it makes me so mad. It’s the “we got an email from a listener who wants our advice” bit. Good God, no. Please no. Not this again. See, when I referred to Jancow earlier, I used the example of prep-service jokes. A prep service is a website or email or whatever that provides radio hosts with a daily assembly of useful stats, facts, news stories, sports scores, sound bytes, and so on. When used correctly and with discipline, they can be very helpful. But they also offer pre-recorded funny bits and written “conversation starters.” Sometimes these appear in the form of fake emails. These faux-emails are chock-full of controversy, and so contrived that anyone who knows what to listen for can spot them immediately. “I think my girlfriend is cheating on me, and now she won’t ever let me see her phone and she changed her Facebook password. Am I being paranoid?” Groooooaaaaaannn. Or “My boyfriend wanted to have a three-way with me and another chick, but now I want to have one with him and another dude and he’s all like ‘No way!’ and I don’t think that’s fair!” Look, I’m not saying that these sort of emails don’t ever end up in the radio show inbox, but COME ON. (Also, who really uses email anymore?) If the show you listen to does these sort of stories with regularity, you know they are lazy. When you hear the SAME EXACT EMAIL on another station (especially in the same market) you know it for a fact. I’ve witnessed this, and felt myself cringe. If you don’t have something juicy from your real-life experiences, then for Marconi’s sake, DON’T FAKE IT. The average radio listener is very savvy and has a delicately-tuned bullshit sensor. You may fool them once, maybe even twice…but when they figure out that you’re nothing but a phony, they’ll turn on you. Fast. And you’ll deserve every bit of the hell you’ll get on social media. Speaking of social media, I know it’s hard to live by this rule whilst sharing memes and such on your Facebook or Twitter. I get it. But it’s not a bad idea to sometimes give credit, like “I found this on Reddit” or somesuch. It just helps people trust you. And that’s a good thing. You want that. You don’t want to be exposed as a plagiarist or thief.
So, to recap: Unless your name is Howard Stern, Rick Dees, or Ryan Seacrest, you are not a famous radio person. So be nice to people you meet (and co-workers. Forgot to mention that. Don’t have the people in your building whispering about what an prick you are behind your back) and be genuine. Tell stories from your life, not someone else’s. They’re probably better anyway.