EDITOR OF REDSTATE
Behind the Microphone & Something President Clinton and I Agree On
I feel odd writing about being on radio. I am a novice to a degree, though doing well enough that I’m hosting evening drive time in Atlanta on the top talk station in the country.
That would be WSB, which has one of the best signals, and has a whole lot of listeners stuck in Atlanta traffic during the evening. And they have me to listen to. So I get asked all the time about being on the radio, what it’s like, etc.
Having just gotten another such email, I figure it is time to write about being on radio.
First, you should know that I’m only on two hours a day. I was on three hours a day, but because of programming changes at the station and the desire to have me on during prime afternoon drive time, I had to fit my show into two hours. Hopefully I’ll get back to three.
Believe it or not, I love doing radio — three hours of radio is a pleasure. It is not the burden some think it is. No, I have no script. No one writes anything for me. It is quite honestly stuff off the top of my head formed through conversations, email exchanges, tweets, Facebook comments, posts/comments/diaries here at RedState, and things I read throughout the day to prepare for the show.
I have a terrific producer and board operator who help steer me and keep me on time (oh, and a great intern during the summer. Now get back to work!). But the thoughts and topic choices are my own. I’m always shocked when I hear people think radio show hosts are reading scripts. To be sure, some do. You can tell by how they pronounce words like “a” and “the” among other things. When one reads a script, conversational tone is often lost.
I suspect it would be helpful to hear how I got into radio as a full time career.
It all started back around 2003. My friend Kenny let me fill in for him the day after Christmas from 6am to 9am on the local station in Macon, GA. I talked for 3 hours with one call from a very old man upset about the rise of fake Christmas trees.
That was pretty much it. I came on occasionally as a guest and talked politics after that, but not frequently.
A few years later, Kenny had left and a new hire came on. After a while the new guy got arrested in less than desirable circumstances (basically a crack house). The station manager had the news director call to see if I could fill in for a day. A day became three months. I did it for no pay every day from 6am to 9am. Doing show prep during that time was the genesis of the Morning Briefing. I was doing volunteer early morning radio then doing radio interviews for RedState asking other professional hosts how they did show prep. I figured I could fill a void in the conservative movement and it really did. But I digress . . .
Finally the station hired my friend Chris Krok who had formerly been at WSB in Atlanta. Chris lit up the airwaves in Macon and occasionally had me on. Then he moved out to Dallas, TX where he remains. In the interim, the station asked me to come back. I was at CNN by then.
Every morning from 6am to 9am, for no pay, I talked and had a blast. One day the President of Cox Media Group, who had been a RedState reader, happened to listen to the show. One thing led to another and at some point I got a call from a great guy named Greg asking if I wanted to try out for a weekend show on WSB in Atlanta. I was interested. I’d finally get paid. And it was WSB, which in radio is a really big deal.
I filled in for Herman Cain and things moved quickly. I wasn’t really in the running for a weekend show. They wanted me to take over for Herman Cain because he was running for President. I went for it, becoming the first person (so I have been told) to get a 5 day a week show on WSB with no background in radio and no time fielding the weekend slots. I’ve been doing it ever since and love it.
My first week on air was the Atlanta ice storm of January 2011. I slept on the floor and did 9pm to midnight for five nights with zero phone calls because the storm had taken out the phone lines. I loved every minute of it. Within a month I’d move to 7pm to 10pm. Within six months, I was 6pm to 9pm. A year and a half later I was in drive time 5pm to 7pm between hours 2 and 3 of Hannity. Hannity’s third hour comes on in Atlanta from 7pm to 8pm after me.
Now, that gets me to actually doing radio. To understand radio, I want you to listen to a clip of Bill Clinton. Seriously. Listen to him being interviewed by Brian Williams about the Facebook IPO. Brian Williams starts by asking him if President Clinton bought any Facebook stock and does he have any opinion on it.
Being on radio means being a story teller — an entertainer. If you are on radio, you aren’t there to save the world, but to keep people company on their way home, or at home, or at the office. You do it by relating to them, telling stories, developing narratives, showing humor, and being relatable. You do this by being present where you are, while knowing where you’ve come from.
President Clinton is exactly right to worry and I, only two years into radio now as a career, see this. There are a great many people who want to be in radio who are not able to tell stories, lack a firm opinion, or cannot relate to others via the fine art of conversation. Just listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Five days a week Rush Limbaugh is the master of the one sided conversation. It is very one sided, but being the master of it, he makes you feel part of it beyond being able to call in. He relates, he tells stories, he shows humor, and he entertains. He entertains better and has a better produced radio program than anyone anywhere in the world on the radio.
If you are a liberal, you may disagree with that last sentence, but it is your liberalism making you disagree. It is objective fact that Limbaugh is the best in the business. It’s one reason I see no desire for a national show right now. I think I’d rather have a chance, if God is gracious, to sit behind the EIB microphone once than have a show knowing there is no chance ever of even having the opportunity to compete for number one as long as Rush Limbaugh is on the air. He is that good.
If you need another example, consider Paul Harvey. For decades, he wrote his own scripts (he read his newscast), paced his own story telling, and provided daily news coverage and stories to millions of people. Paul Harvey was for a long while the most influential man in America, but you’d never know it based on the media’s contempt of him and radio in general. Before Rush Limbaugh, Paul Harvey was it and remained popular and amazing until shortly before his death in 2009 at the age of 90. Incidentally, I recently read a 1979 profile of Paul Harvey from People magazine. The reporter clearly detested him, but could not help but admire his work routine and relatability.
Anyone who wants to be good on radio should listen to Rush and old clips of Paul Harvey. You’ll find neither man is out to save the world, but to entertain you and inform you. Through entertaining and informing you, they were then able to get to what they are passionate about and fight for those things that matter to them and their listeners. There is a perspective and order to these things.
If you want to be good on radio, be entertaining and be willing to relate to people. Oh, and don’t talk politics all the time. No one likes people who talk politics all the time. I’ve spent an entire segment once on the fine art of browning onions in butter. And you know what? It’s been a widely requested segment of my show for repeat airings. People care about more than politics and, on radio, they want to know the guy they’re listening to on the way home does too.
Once you’re on radio, understand ratings. People in radio obsess about ratings. Ratings have gotten more and more detailed in more and more real time. But know this — there is a tendency for people in radio to really obsess about the data. Minor blips can cause hurricane force changes. They should not. Ratings are helpful tools, but they are tools, not gods. People who obsess about ratings produce terrible radio. Ultimately, you either know your audience or you don’t. Ratings should tell you if your gut instincts are right or not and can help you make adjustments. But if you don’t know your audience, there’s just no point.
I hope that doesn’t sound too big for my britches only just recently passing my two year mark in radio. But those are my thoughts. Be an entertainer and friend.
This is one reason I think all this handwringing about more conversational and balanced radio is a load of crap. People want conversation between the host and listener, not the host as interviewer of others. I get asked constantly to have guests on my show. Rarely do I do this. If guys like Rush Limbaugh or Neal Boortz can do 3 hours a day of just them and their listeners calling in, I should be able to. This is about my relationship with listeners, not my relationship to some guy I’m interviewing while listeners act as outsiders to some other conversation.
Likewise, listeners want someone who has the assurance of their own convictions. Mealy mouth moderates of wavering conviction are neither entertaining nor listenable. They are boring. Conservative talk radio may have to move from just talking about politics, but there are so many topics, including browning onions, that conservative can talk about and rope in their own relatable world view.
If you want to be in radio, be sure what you believe, be entertaining, and don’t be a one note wonder. I hope that helps.
WSB’s signal is so strong that, after sun down, I have picked it up in the middle of nowhere a hundred miles from Austin, TX.