Friday, March 14, 2014

Form And Substance

Written for the ages by Jay Trachman:

One of the things we worry about as the "new technologies" whittle away our listener base is that they're not all wall-to-wall music. There are plenty of channels that offer DJs, and they set our own air personalities in competition with these "syndication quality" talents. This isn't always so - a lot of the jocks are hired simply because they live near the studios where the feed originates - but the level of performance is generally high. 

How can local-origination stations compete, with what they have to spend for talent? Some broadcasters talk as though they only have two choices: hire low-cost inexperienced performers, and nurture them till you lose them, or hire mediocrities who may stay put. (I know of station managers who actually opt for the second...)

It's always been that way. This creates problems and expenses for employers, but it's in the nature of the entertainment business. Suppose the record companies operated that way? Hiring so-so artists they could hang onto, rather than the brilliant flashes-in-the-pan who may turn out to be "one-hit wonders," or change labels as soon as their contracts are up? Artist development is an expensive, never-ending chore -- but it comes with the territory, in entertainment.

I believe it is possible for "young, inexperienced" personalities to win against the Big Bird.

Here's how to train them:

I believe the right thing to teach young jocks is this: "Here is our format. I expect you to follow it strictly...unless you have good reason. If, for a few minutes, these rules interfere with something you're passionate about, something you're sure both you and your listener will enjoy, then by all means, do it!  Be prepared to explain your reasons to me later. If they're good, I will not only approve,  I may even take you to lunch. If they're not, well, you had my permission, so let's talk it over and see how we can fine-tune your approach."

A station doesn't become appealing because of formatics or slogans; it becomes appealing because of substance. You can regulate jocks and make them follow every rule, but after you're done with that, you still don't necessarily have anything people will listen to. Training and seasoning can't just mean formatics and smoothness. It has to include what your jocks are saying and to whom.

Perhaps the core of it is understanding of the listener. One of the principal problems with beginning personalities is that they forget the person they're supposed to be talking to. They lose sight of attention span.

They talk to massage their own egos. The conventional remedy is to tell him or her: "Shut up and play the music." Maybe the right answer is, "Think!  Who are you talking to?"

Have you ever heard a "diamond in the rough" on the air? Someone who was "breaking all the rules," and yet so appealing in his or her unique way that you couldn't tear yourself away? These people are going to draw listeners no matter what mistakes they make.

Formatics, they can learn; smoothness, they'll acquire -- provided they don't get so bummed out over programmers telling them, "Just be yourself - while reading these liner cards!" -- that they leave the profession.

Seasoning and formatics count. But they're only of prime importance when no one offers anything else. I don't think you need ten years of major market experience to do an appealing show and compete with the syndicators.

I think what you do need is something to say that the listener enjoys and can't get anywhere else. Even if it is a little "rough." I think small market managers and programmers need to learn how to guide creativity, instead of confining it.

That's not a new problem, and the new technologies didn't create it.

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