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Sterling Tarrant
KSBJ Houston / Production Director

The Blue Parakeet

 

 

I hate parks.

Why?  Because to truly appreciate them you have to sit and soak them in.

Case in point.  Hermann Park in Houston.  I spent hours there one day last year with my daughter visiting the zoo, riding the train, soaking our feet in the reflecting pool.

I hate that.

Why?  Because I donít have an hour or seven to enjoy life right now.  According to everything Iím hearing lately, you, me, and our listeners donít even have 60 seconds to listen to a radio spot.  Make it 30, or better yet, make it a 10.

So, do I really hate parks?  No.  Itís a love/hate relationship.  I hate that a park reminds me of how I donít take enough time to stop and enjoy life.  However, I love parks because they do force me to stop and pay attention to the things that are really important - like my family.

Let me compare that to our business, because lately it seems like prevailing wisdom in the PPM age is that everything should be shortened and rushed through. The question to ponder, though, is ďdo your listeners want you to really do that?Ē  Do they want you to rush through every little bit of audio, or do they want you to help them relax, escape, and pay attention to the important things in life?  I ask because PPM data says rush.  In response to that weíve shortened our sweepers to less than 10 seconds at KSBJ, but we still air mostly 60 second spots and our AWTE is higher than ever.  It doesnít make sense.

 

Maybe thereís something else at play.  Maybe itís the Blue Parakeet.

The Blue Parakeet is something I try to build into everything between the songs.  Itís a code word for a spot that connects.  One that combines a life experience with a sales message in an interesting twist.

It comes from what happened at work a couple of years ago.  One day, I noticed a blue parakeet and three brown sparrows on the ledge outside my studio window.   Not something you see everyday.  I could tell this little bird didnít fit in.  He looked scrawny, hungry, and was hanging around the street birds hoping to find something to eat.  The sparrows in return were picking at him, pretty much saying ďback off weirdo.Ē

So, I turned it into a spot for a backpack drive.   I had a talent recount that she had seen the Blue Parakeet, and I had her relate it to a new kid at school who doesnít fit in because he doesnít have the right stuff. 

The bottom line was:  Donate backpacks and school supplies so that underprivileged kids will fit in better, and do better in school.

That spot was a 60.  It couldíve been a 30, but the Blue Parakeet would have been reduced to the following sentence:  ďNot having a backpack is like being a blue parakeet in a flock of sparrows.Ē  Then I would have been rushing to get the basic information about KSBJ having a backpack drive.

That line would have stuck in the mind of the listener, but it would not have been able to build up an emotional connection with the target  - to help a mom feel the hurt of her child not fitting in.

Before I go any further, let me express that Iím not saying you canít be creative in a 30.  Iíve written plenty of 30ís that have Blue Parakeets in them, but their sales message or call to actionís were very concise.  Usually around 30 words of less - about 10 seconds. 

 

Programmers need to know that the shorter spots lend themselves to be very fast paced and mostly information based.  Like a yellow page ad.  Good for when a listener needs the product right then, but thereís usually not much emotional stickiness to them.

However, if you want to give the listeners that more emotional picture, and entertainingly connect the benefits of your product to the listenerís needs, a 60 will work better.  Yíall get to hang out at the park.

So 60, 30, 15, or 10?  Whatís the best?  The best rule is to always make the message compelling, or entertaining, or thought provoking, and definitely identifiable with life experiences - and from there make it only as long as it needs to be to connect, and THEN NOT A SECOND LONGER. 

With that thought, go back to the question I posed earlier:  ďDo your listeners want you to rush through every little bit of audio?Ē  Well if youíre going to sound like a station full of yellow page ads and not say anything compelling, then yes; but if youíre trying to connect to them through a common life experience, then no.  

What Iím saying is that life is fast paced enough.  Donít think that everything has to be short and quick to keep the listenerís attention.   They will still pay attention with well crafted messages that help them enjoy the park.  Let them see a blue parakeet mixed in with the sparrows and I guarantee that itís something they will remember and appreciate, and they wonít say ďback off weirdo. 

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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 30 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 part of the Mentoring Department at KSBJ.