Alaska is hot.
That’s not conventional wisdom. Alaska
usually isn’t warm. However, if tomorrow on air you start talking
about how every time you change the channel you’re finding Sarah
Palin’s Alaska, or Gold Rush Alaska, or Flying Wild Alaska, or Ice
Road Truckers, or Bear Grylls Parka Spectacular on Ice, then it
would seem that Alaska is indeed, um, hot.
Let me make another statement, kind
of like “Alaska is hot” that most programmers will immediately brand
as nonsense, but will hopefully see validity in. Here it is:
The most important thing on your
radio station is the words.
Conventional wisdom says that the
music is the most important thing, so before you yell blasphemy and
hurl rotten bananas at me, hear me out. What do you talk about when
selecting music? Do you talk about the chord structure, the
pattern of the beat, or the reason Steven Curtis Chapman used a
dotted half note in that phrase? Not usually. I’ll bet you talk
about the emotional power of the song. Does that come from the
music? Not directly. If you went to an all instrumental format
tomorrow, your listeners might date you for the romance, but they
probably wouldn’t commit to a lifelong relationship.
It’s the lyrics that get in and
change hearts. The music just helps the lyrics be remembered.
So if you agree with me that the
words are more important than the music, then why do we spend so
much energy finding the best songs, but so little energy training
our people to deliver the best messages? The messages are what keeps
people tuning to you instead of listening to their own music, or
another more fulfilling station on their iPhone.
It’s when a break has some real
crafting, that a listener gets lost in the flow. That’s when they
sit in their garage glued to the radio.
Like when I heard our Afternoon Drive DJ Liz Jordan announce her
pregnancy, and she tied it into Mary and Joseph and uncertainty and
Or I hear a tightly edited real life phone call with Mike and Susan
on the morning show with a great setup and payoff.
Or when Jen Driskill on our evening show finds the right scripture
to tie back into a song. One that makes me really listen to that
song for the first time.
Or I learn more about our midday guy, Joey K, as he opens up his
personality in the video promos he’s doing on his facebook page, and
I want to check out what’s coming up on his show.
Or when I’ve produced a spot that entertainingly connects the
benefits of a product with a need a listener has, and causes them to
act and buy a ticket to an event that may change their life.
But you can only do that stuff when
you focus on the words.
The other day in a programming
meeting, I had to confess that the busy Christmas season kinda made
me go on auto pilot. A lot of the airshifts I did had a lot of
“Merry Christmas, that was Amy Grant, here’s Casting Crowns” in
them. There wasn’t much “radio craft” there.
I then mentioned the books that we
were giving away to help our listeners with their New Year’s
Resolutions. I explained that these authors probably spent a year
or more crafting their message. And yet, these books in their
lifetime will probably not sell to as many people as we will reach
with our radio station in a given week! It was an example of
ministry impact plain and simple.
When I find myself opening up the mic
and using uncaring “that was, this is” words, or producing a spot
that has no thought given to it, I get mad at myself. I’ve
squandered the potential impact. I’ve given a one dollar experience
to a listener who needs a million.
I know we usually default to word
laziness because of lack of time, but think back to those book
authors. As a radio communicator you’ve been given a great
responsibility to reach listeners - just as much as an author has
been given to reach readers. If you’re the type of person who is
more “facts and figures” than “creative” let me demonstrate it this
way: The current book I’m reading has 312 pages. I counted and
found that one page had 242 words. 312 x 242 = 75,504 words. If
you are on the radio and conservatively you speak for 30 seconds
four times an hour, roughly 360 words will come out of your mouth.
Times that by a four-hour airshift, and each day you will have
delivered 1440 words.
In 52 days you will have spoken a
I’m not saying that every break
should have a deep God thought attached to it - one that belongs in
a devotional book. I know you have to talk about promotions, and
billboard what’s coming up, but what if only one break an hour had
some ministry impact to it? And then, what if in your other breaks
you strived to say what you always say but in a different way?
What if instead of just
“sloganeering” your station in your imaging (“We’re always Safe for
the Whole Family”), you let words explain the difference between you
and the other guys. (“Your daughter got Bieber Fever? Well baby
baby baby oh can we tell her about true love”).
It is caring enough to give your
listeners that difference, through the words we speak and write,
that cause them to stick with us. Like this one who wrote in
response to Ted Williams, the homeless guy with the velvet voice:
Good morning Mike and Susan, I listen
to KSBJ, except for a few minutes at 6:50 when I like to hear the
"Hollywood Hotline" on another station. This morning I heard, so
clearly, the difference between you and them. I had just heard the
story about the homeless man and then switched to hear my gossip,
and the story they had was also about him. I could not believe the
different spin on the same story. Yours was uplifting and positive,
and theirs was so cynical. Even the tone of their voices was
different. They talked about how he had a job and basically blew it,
almost like he didn't deserve a second chance. I didn't hear that
from you. I heard how God was in his life and how he gave God
credit, even in bad times. Such a difference shows what a God
attitude really is. Love your show and the station. God Bless,
Cathy didn’t get that through a piece
of music. She got it through the words. Words are the most
important thing on your radio station. If you think that’s
blasphemous and want to send me to the hot place, I’ll pick Alaska.
Sterling Tarrant is the Production Director at
KSBJ, Houston, and for 10 years he managed Broadcast Creative
Services, and worked on new program development at Focus on the
Family. With over 32 years of radio experience, specializing in
production management, he is a Certified Professional Commercial
Copywriter from the Radio Advertising Bureau, and he has previously
taught copywriting and production seminars at CMB. He is also
involved with the Mentoring Department at KSBJ. He can be reached
firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website