Things that should not be on your show prep sheet

by chris on January 1, 2009

Irrelevant Celebrity Birthdays
Talking about which celebrity is having a birthday is okay, providing the celebrity is a big name and someone in whom your target audience might be interested. All too often I hear announcers expounding on “celebrities” about whom the average listener couldn’t care less. Here is a simple rule of thumb. If your radio station is targeting adults 25-54 then your listeners were born between 1956 and 1985…..so be cautious about mentioning anyone who was born before your listeners were. The exception would be if they are so big that they transcend time. I share a birthday with Daniel Boone and Marie Antoinette but it’s not something I mention in conversation because chances are no one really cares! I was listening to a radio station online on Nov 13th as I wrote this article and the announcer said “famous people having birthdays today include Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in 1850, Richard Fidler, who is 42, and actor Joe Mantegna who starred in movies like The Godfather III, My Little Assassin and The Last Don…he is 59. He went on to mention Jimmy Kimmel and Whoopi Goldberg but he lost me at Joe Mantegna because I didn’t see The Last Don and it has been 15 years since I saw The Godfather III and the only two actors I can recall from that movie were Al Pacino and Andy Garcia. Delivering celebrity birthdays is not an opportunity to demonstrate you’re a walking encyclopedia. I believe that birthdays are an opportunity to sound local by mentioning the names of some of your listeners. Anyone who knows them will tell them they heard their name of the radio. Once that’s done, time permitting, conclude with two or three big name celebrities so anyone having a birthday on that day can feel even better because they share a birthday with someone famous.

The Stupid Criminal Stories
When I first started in this business I spent 6 months working in each department of the radio station. It was part of a radio apprenticeship program and it gave me hands on experience in the various departments and how they all worked together. What I recall most about my time in the newsroom was the early mornings, the phone calls to the various contacts who might give me stories and the stupid items that came across the teletype machine. Around 5am each day, the stories from the China Free Press would roll in and we’d all have a good laugh about some of the weird and wacky material. But the News Director was adamant that none of those stories ever get to air. When I asked why, he told me it was because he suspected that most of them were contrived. Today this material is instantly available from a multitude of websites and can soon be uncovered as “urban legend” or myths. It was Winston Churchill who said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” So the next time you come across one of those “too good to be true” stories ask yourself if it’s likely to be true. Even better, type the key words into the Google search engine and chances are you’ll get the answer fast. Another gauge is to ask yourself if it passes the “who cares” test. Just because it makes you smile does not mean that your average listener cares in the least. But perhaps the most compelling reason to leave this type of material off your show prep sheet is because it takes away one more opportunity to sound local and make a better connection with your audience. I concede that occasionally there’s a very funny story that will fall into your lap that’s just too good to pass over. Remember however, the goal should be to always take a local story and make it big and a global story and make it local.

Generic Pop Culture
Mentioning that Janet Jackson is the youngest of 9 children, that Billy Joel was a boxer, or that Elton John’s real name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight is old hat. Instead, make the effort to look at your music log the day before your show, establish where your trivia voice breaks will fall and then put some effort into gathering relevant and/or fresh trivia about the artists. Did you know, for example, that Elton John was responsible for 3% of all record sales on the planet in early 1987, or that if you go to Singapore you will never hear Janet Jackson’s “All for you”? The reason is that the government of Singapore banned the entire album because of the sexual content and homosexual references. In short, use this as an opportunity to inform your audience with new information about the music and artists you play.

In House Happenings
Talking about what the boss is wearing today or what happened when you had to re-boot the on-air computer are just two examples of bits that most of your audience won’t care about. This content is of little interest to your listeners and frankly it is just filling space between songs and wastes the listener’s time. When an announcer talks, it needs to be interesting and compelling or you will get tuneouts. Remember, if your listener wants information you aren’t giving, they have other choices and if they want music you aren’t supplying, they can switch to the ipod. With more and more vehicles offering the ability to plug an Ipod directly into the car audio system, it will become even more important that all dayparts provide relevant local content. Considering that Podcasts are becoming more accessible, it’s reasonable to assume that more and more people will choose the content they wish to listen to at the time they want to hear it. So, unless you want to get tuned out, eliminate those “in-house” breaks in favour of content that is perishable and local.

What Happened On TV Last Night
How many times do you hear a discussion about what happened on television the previous night? How many times have you actually learned something that you didn’t already know? All too often it’s the host giving his or her thoughts on a show and he has no more information than you would have had if you had watched the same show. In short, rehashing what happened on television is wasted time unless you can tell the audience something they don’t already know. Make the effort to visit the website of the show or the official fan club website. You may be able to tip-off the audience to watch for something special to happen on a future show. Comedian Fred Allen once said, “Television is a device that permits people who haven’t anything to do to watch people who can’t do anything.”

Stealing From the Front Page of the Newspaper
Taking content from the front page of the local newspaper and putting a different twist on it is acceptable, but be careful how you do this. I heard an announcer talking about the “Fun Run” that had taken place in a particular city the previous day and specifically mentioning the names of four people who had taken part in the run. As it happened, there was a front page photo of these same four people with a brief write-up about the fun run. Newspapers know that the right photo on the front of the paper results in higher sales for that paper and they also know from extensive research that if it’s a local photo, it’s even better. It’s the newspaper’s version of name-dropping and some newspapers get very good at finding the right photo and putting a powerful headline above it. It’s fine to talk about the fun run, especially if lots of your target audience was there, but if that’s the case, you or someone from the station should have been at the event and perhaps taken part in it. Get to the finish line and gather audio to edit and use on the next show. Arrange to have the event organizer on the next day’s show to announce the amount that was raised. If all you do is rip and read from the local paper, your methods will be visible to your audience. They will soon realize that they get nothing new by listening to you.

Website URL’s
Talking about interesting websites is fine, but trying to give the web address on the air only confuses people, unless it’s short and easy to remember. At the CAB conference in Vancouver in November there were several sessions where members of the audience could email a question to the moderator of the panel who would then put the question to the panelists. But the email address was so long and complicated that not one question was ever sent via email. They should have understood that some things work better when seen as opposed to heard. They should have displayed the email address on the big screen at the front of the room. The same applies to radio when it comes to giving out a URL. It’s great to talk about an interesting website but you’re better to drive listeners to your radio station web page where they can click on the link. It’s not only another way to increase traffic to your website but it also makes it easier for your listeners.

Conclusion
I’m sure there are lots of talented announcers who could take some of the above “do not’s” and turn them into compelling and memorable breaks. For the less experienced announcers, I encourage you to focus on the suggestions found in the previous month’s article. Also, remember that show prep is hard work and, while the best announcers create breaks that seem effortless, there is a good chance that they worked hard finding the content and a way to inject it into their show for maximum impact. Don’t look for short cuts or easy ways around this. If you invest the time, you’ll collect the profits in audience numbers.

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