You Talkin' to Me?
FMQB Feb 18, 2005
John Silliman Dodge
Unlike any of Robert DeNiro's lines in "Meet the Fokkers,"
we'll be quoting his famous Taxi Driver speech long after he's gone.
Even if you never saw the film, you know the scene. He's staring down
the mirror, pumping himself up for a showdown with some low life scum.
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin'
to me? Then who the (bleep) else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to
me? Well I'm the only one here. Who do you think you're talking to?
Oh yeah? Huh? OK."
Thing is, those lines weren't even in the script. Years
later, Martin Scorsese revealed that DeNiro improvised the most famous
scene of his career. They shot it right after the actor and director
had a heart to heart about the nature of the character, his motivations,
his state of mind and his purpose. As a result of that direction,
DeNiro had a new and deeper understanding of what his role was all
about. When the cameras rolled, he wasn't just reading someone else's
words-he became the character.
I listen to a lot of air talent and most announcers
sound undirected. They're not "talkin' to me." If they're
talking to anyone, they sound like they're talking to themselves-people
alone in a soundproof box cranking out the backsell, promo, frontsell.
If there's engaging content beyond that, it's rare. Sure, their tone
is great. But the difference between an announcer with great tone
and an announcer who regularly delivers great content is the difference
between a model and an actor. You know what I'm talking about.
Actor Jeff Bridges has more to say. "I like to
make the 'skin' between a director and myself as thin as possible,
so feelings and impulses pass easily between us. It's a marriage of
sorts. The director is my partner, my guide, my leader. He can help
me transcend my own concepts and opinions. To go beyond my ideas about
the scene and what I think I'm capable of doing. The director is also
Revenue-wise, the movie business dwarfs the radio business
so I figure they must be doing a few things right in Hollywood. Let's
explore this actor/director relationship and see how we can successfully
adapt that relationship to radio.
As a PD, consider your "actors," your announcers.
How much one-on-one time do you spend with them? How deeply into their
role, their communication, their delivery do you go? How much do they
hear from you about the audience and the mission? Do your announcers
consider you their director, their guide, their leader, partner, coach?
Are you the person they trust, the one whose opinions they seek out,
the one they co-create with?
You might say, "John, it's obvious where you're
going with this and I just don't have that kind of time. Between meetings,
Selector, record calls, I'm lucky if I spend ten minutes a week one-on-one
with my jocks." I know the drill. I've been a PD like you. I
often confuse the noisy, urgent, in-my-face things I think I have
to do right this minute with the important work I know I should be
doing. But if the PD job was easy, anybody could do it. It's not easy.
That's why they hired you.
It's time to get serious about your most important role:
coach. Every actor, every athlete, every musician knows that a great
teacher can help them achieve their full potential. So here's the
straight deal-without regular, deep, clear, ongoing direction from
the coach, your great voices will never become great communicators.
If you lack time, please call me and perhaps I can help. Meanwhile,
here are five things you can do to carve out precious time so you
can spend that time developing talent who draws a crowd:
* Give your Selector duty away. Of course the music
has to be right. But if you think that the difference between a good
seg and a great seg is the difference between a good station and a
winning station, think again.
* Give your open door policy away. You think you're
being inclusive and available, but what you're really being is constantly
interrupted. Post hours open and hours closed; in short order people
will learn to respect it.
* Give your decisions away. Empowering people is not
about giving your power away, it's about multiplying your power times
their number. Push every decision you make down to the lowest possible
level. If you lay out the right vision, one that everyone can buy
into, and you clarify that vision at every opportunity, even your
junior employees will begin to make good decisions. Train a group
of professionals to confidently solve most of their own problems and
they'll stop coming to you complaining that the pencils need sharpening.
* Give your assumptions away. Twenty-first century radio is as much
about presentation as it is about music. It's about putting attractive
talent in front of listeners 24/7. Let's not kid ourselves. There
is no switch in our listener's head that says, "Before 10 am,
I want entertainment. After 10 am, I don't." Without entertainment
value in our presentation, we teach listeners to change the channel
when the music stops because they're know what's gonna happen next-the
announcer will launch into value-free chatter, followed by a stop
set the length of Stairway to Heaven.
* Give your cynicism away. Passion and enthusiasm are
force multipliers. You are the cheerleader, the pump. Some days it's
tough being the pump, but like we said before, if this job were easy
anyone could do it. So get up and stay up. Your cast will love you
Let's go back to the movies. Your actors won't play
their scenes well if you don't work with them regularly. They need
to know 1) what the big picture is all about, 2) what role they play
in the movie, 3) why their character is crucial to the film's success,
and 4) the difference between an average performance and a great performance.
You can't expect them to figure this out alone. Even the greats can't
do this by themselves. They need you.
The benefits of making time for this important work
are clear: since music comes and music goes, you develop talent who
gets you through the thick and thin cycles of great songs, personalities
who have durable relationships with listeners who spend more time
listening as a result, presenters who are interesting to listen to
all by themselves, the kind of people you gravitate to at parties.
This feeds that hard to define but winning quality called stationality.
Speaking of interesting people to listen to, my old
friend Bob Rivers hosts a top-rated morning show at KZOK in Seattle.
Years ago we were hiking in the Cascades when Bob shared a vision.
"I don't think I can compete much longer doing a music-based
show. People are gonna get their music from a lot of different places
in the future, not just the radio. It's time for me to take a real
risk and do a personality show, something that nobody else can do."
Bob observed then, as I hope you do today, that music
is becoming a commodity that can be accessed by a growing number of
channels and devices. In this environment, our presentation is more
important than ever before. I can copy your playlist and come right
at you, maybe even beat you with your own music if I have a marketing
budget. But I can never copy the unique way your personalities present
the package, the way they relate to the audience, the personal relationships
they have with the listeners, the way those listeners think of your
announcers as friends and family. That's your edge. Sharpen it.