Thursday, January 25, 2007

Talk Radio - Part II

Holly Kennedy and Patricia Wood wanted to know more about talk radio and I meant to post again sooner, but I got waylaid by the Norovirus.


Word to the wise: avoid getting that virus at all costs.

Back to the subject of radio:

Last time I discussed the do's and don'ts of how to be a good talk radio caller. Once you have mastered being a caller, then you can move on to trying to be a guest.

But how you ask, do you secure the gig in the first place?

The same way you find an agent. You have to do your homework, otherwise you'll be wasting a lot of time and energy.

You need to know the format of a show before attempting to contact them. It would be a supreme waste of time to call the producer of a sports talk show and offer to go on the air talking about a novel set in Elizabethan England. Whereas that same show and producer might be receptive to have you as a guest if your novel featured hockey players or if you wrote a biography of a sports legend. It all depends on what they are looking for and what you have to offer.

Just as you shouldn't send your murder mystery novel to an agent who only handles memoir and nonfiction, you should also avoid contacting the producers of shows whose format is a bad fit.

Before you try contacting shows outside of your area, you should first master your local market. If you only listen to music stations, then you are in for a surprise by scrolling on your dial to find talk radio stations. Identify the stations whose format is talk and then start listening. You'll want to figure out which hosts and which shows you think might be interested in what you have to offer.

Different hosts have different personalities and different interests. By listening to their shows you'll soon figure out whether or not they are Howard Stern wannabes or some variation on that theme. Some hosts will have audiences that will definitely not be interested in hearing anything you have to say. That is fine. Move on and listen to another show and another host.

You cannot know your radio market in a day or even a week. Some hosts you will quickly learn are not ones you want to approach. Others you might have to listen to for a while to get a feel for what they like. Since talk radio is a slave to current events, what is cause célèbre one day can become passé the next.

You should also check out the websites of your local radio stations because you might overlook a show appearing on weekends that might be the perfect show for you if it specializes covering the literary scene. Just as there might be an hour on gardening and cooking on Saturday, they might have someone covering local authors. Don't forget to check out your National Public Radio stations as well in your survey.

Once you have a figured out which host and show you'd like to approach, you'll have a better idea of how to successfully bait your hook. Call the station and ask for the producer of the show on which you want to appear. Try calling several hours before the day's show is set to start. They'll be doing prep work for the day's show, but you certainly do not want to call and ask for them immediately before or during the show. That will make you look like you don't listen to the show or that you don't understand radio.

You might get the producer's voice mail or if you are lucky you might get them to answer the phone directly. Get ready because now you need to sell yourself with your elevator speech. The one or two minute pitch that will grab the producer to yourself and why they need to have you as a guest. You're not pitching your book, you're pitching yourself as a guest.

I suggest doing this by phone rather than email or snail mail because radio is by definition a spoken medium. They don't care if you can write well, they want to know how well you speak. By talking to you on the phone they'll instantly judge whether they think you will be good on-air. Try not to stumble or ramble. Have your pitch polished and rehearsed. Have follow up documentation ready to send them by fax or email if they should ask for something.

If you are trying to pimp your book, there is a good chance they'll want a free copy of your book to review before they commit. See if you can get away with sending them to an extensive website instead or send them sample chapters. There are no guarantees that they'll interview you and it can get expensive if you give out a book to every host or producer who asks for one. Use your best judgment as to when to give away books, because it will be coming out of your pocket.

The producer will most likely discuss your proposal with the host before any scheduling decision is made. After all, it will be the host who will be filling the air with scintillating talk and if they think your topic will be a yawner, it won't do anyone any good.

Being prepared for cancellation of your guest appearance

Talk radio as a genre is a slave to current events. Things happening in the world can cause the abrupt alteration of whatever programming was planned. It doesn't even have to be a calamitous event, a small article in the morning paper might make the host livid and they will want to use their microphone to vent on the subject. So that means a scheduled interview can be abruptly canceled because XYZ happened and the host wants to talk about that and not talk with you.

It's their microphone. They get to chose what they want on the agenda and sometimes it means scuttling guests in order to vent about the latest scandal.

Don't take it personally.

You are only certain that you will be a guest once you are actually on the air. Then again, should something dramatic happen during your interview, the show might be interrupted. As Steve Winwood croons, "Roll with it."

Once you are successful in securing an interview on a radio station you will either be an in-studio or an on-air guest. Meaning, you can either drive down to the station or doing it elsewhere via telephone. If you have the choice and the opportunity, I recommend being an in-studio guest.

In-studio guest

You should show up to the studio at least half an hour before you are scheduled to go on-air. This will eliminate worries from the staff about whether or not the host will have to fill air time while they’re waiting for you to arrive.

When you get to the station, you’ll need to sign in with either a receptionist or security before you are shown to either a “green room” or a reception area to wait.

Bring a bottle of water with you to drink. You’ll be talking and you don’t want to lose your voice.

As soon as you’ve signed in at the station, ask to use their rest room. By making yourself as comfortable as possible, you are more likely to last throughout the half hour or hour interview slot without having to cross your legs because your back teeth are floating.

By showing up ahead of time, you can also review your notes. Be sure to bring contact information to give out over the air at the end of the show. If you will be appearing somewhere have the name of the place, the location, as well as the date and time. You should also have your webpage address, so people who are interested but cannot attend your appearance can learn more about you. Have it written down so that you don't have to worry about your mind going blank or giving out the wrong information by mistake because you remembered the wrong date.

One of the benefits of in-studio interviews is that you get to meet the host and when you are talking on-air, you will both be able to see each other’s non-verbal signals. An example is the host making a point and then raising their finger to tell you that they’ll be done shortly and then you can jump in with your response. You do not want to interrupt the host when you are the guest, not unless you want to come across as being combative or argumentative. You can still disagree with a host depending on your subject matter, but you are better served to sound reasoned in your approach than to be angry. If you’d like to establish a good working relationship with the host and asked back in the future, it’s best to treat them with respect. One of the reasons you were asked as a guest was to enlighten the host and the audience about subjects that you are considered to be an expert.

Try to be informative, but don’t get too bogged down with minutiae. Use humor whenever possible. Radio's main purpose is to entertain. You can be informative while entertaining, but audiences don’t like people who lecture them, scold them or bore them.

It is best to prepare your arguments in your head before hand, but don’t have speeches you want to deliver. The host will ask questions they want to ask, and you need to answer them.

Remote location guest

One big drawback of doing an interview remotely is that you always run the risk of interruption. Think of any important phone call you’ve made in your life where you didn’t want any interruptions and how that hasn’t always worked out the way you planned. You don’t want dogs barking, kids screaming or door bells in the background and you do not want call waiting to kick in.

Sometimes you will have no choice but do an interview by phone, so for those cases you should do the following:

Be sure to find a quiet space and tell everyone around you that you will be on the phone and cannot be disturbed for X period of time.

Have a reliable phone that does not have call waiting. If it is a cell phone or battery operated phone, be sure it is fully charged.

The producer will tell you what time they will be calling you to be on the show. Be sure to have gone to the bathroom prior to that time.

Have a glass of water nearby. You’ll be talking and you don’t want to lose your voice.

Have your notes handy and review them while waiting for your phone call.

You’ll notice the last few pieces of advice were similar to ones above for in-studio. The same applies for not being argumentative with the host. You should be polite, charming and funny, or risk alienating the host and never being invited back.

Morning Shows

Morning drive time programming is different than traditional talk radio formats. Some are with shock jocks who find scatological references to be a source of infinite laughs. I would avoid those shows, unless that is your target audience.

There are other morning shows focusing on the local community and have a mix of news, sports, traffic, weather and do not spend any great length of time on any topic. Those shows you can be a guest on without a lot of time involvement. If you do secure a time slot for being interviewed it will probably only be about five minutes total (if that long.) You'll have a promo or two mentioned before commercials that you will be coming up and then the host will introduce you and ask a question or two.

If you get a gig like this: make the most of it! You've got about the same amount of time that most callers do for talk radio, but you've got a platform. Answer the questions, flatter your host and be sure to seal the deal with giving information to the listeners as to where they can visit your website, buy your books, see you in person, etc.

Alternately, you might try just calling when the show is on the air and saying that you had an announcement you hoped to share with the listening audience. If you sound gracious enough, they're likely to go along. You'll be squeezed in the margins between traffic, weather, sports and headlines. That's when you can chime in to say you're an author who will be appearing at XYZ Bookstore that night and hope to meet their listeners.

I'd suggest doing this if you are on a road trip and doing book signings. Just do a Google search of talk radio stations in the larger cities, use that to narrow down your search on the radio dial, listen in and then call. Try to sound as cheerful and engaging as possible and you might get on the air.

Morning show formats are more amenable to that kind of spontaneity. Otherwise the hosts are left filling air time with oddball stories in the hopes of getting a chuckle or two from their audience who are either getting ready for work or stuck in traffic.

Being gracious

Regardless of whether you are in-studio or a remote guest, be sure to thank your host for allowing you to be a guest on their show. They are giving you free air time for whatever it is that you are selling, whether it be your opinions or your book. Do this either after you have finished your on-air plug. If you are in the studio you can do it off-air to not waste precious air-time with pleasantries. Otherwise, say your gratitude after you've finished the information you wanted to impart such as the time and place of your speaking engagement, website address, etc.

On Cold calling

Should you decide to try marketing your book by calling talk radio shows outside of your area and hoping to score interviews expect that any book you get on the subject is likely to be out-of-date. This is similar to buying a copy of Writers Market. Some of the listings will stay the same while others are obsolete by the time the ink hits the page.

If you use any compilation, you should verify things via the internet first before taking the trouble to call. Radio stations are notorious for changing their format as well as their line ups with little or no advance warning. A friend of mine in college told me about waking up one morning and being shocked when his clock radio blared out country and western rather than rock and roll. The station had changed its format literally overnight.

I've also heard talk radio hosts talk about former employers and realizing that they were without a job when they showed up for work and their picture was no longer hanging in the entrance hall. Radio stations will then immediately change their website and scrub any mention of fired hosts, as if they were never there.

Tom Leykis once said that the management at KFI Radio in LA changed their line up more often than he changed his underwear. Having seen what Tom Leykis looked like, it was a visual that has been irreparably seared to my brain.

So the lesson is, don't trust any book on the subject: check the web for updated information of hosts for a station. If you are going to try and call cold, I would look over each host's bio page carefully to try and glean any information before calling the producer to try and hook them. You can at least try to avoid calling sports talk hosts to try and pimp your Elizabethan England novel.

I think that's all. Let me know if you have any questions.

Good luck.

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