Seven Ways To Improve Your Local Talk Shows

Lately I’ve had a chance to listen to some small market talk radio stations and their locally produced talk shows. This article is not about the subject matter on those shows, but rather it's about presentation and formatics. Many local stations are doing a fine job at discussing local issues affecting their listeners, but could make just a few improvements to their local talk shows to make them sound better and more professional.

A small market talk show does not need to sound small. I do understand that many local talent don’t feel like they have to trouble themselves with formatics, but I would hope that you as a General Manager or Program Director care enough about your business to provide your listeners with the best product you can.

Here are seven suggestions on how to improve the sound of your talk shows and radio station:

1. Be consistent. Set up a format clock for your show and be consistent. Set up your commercial breaks, news breaks and weather updates at the same time every hour. Be faithful to that clock, too. People (listeners) like consistency, especially if they are commuting. They want to know that when the :30 after news comes on, that it is pretty darn close to :30 after. When promoting an upcoming interview or feature, benchmark the time. Rather than saying, “...coming up later on...,” give the listener an exact time to listen for that interview or feature. If he/she has to step away from the radio, he/she can do so and return at the appropriate time. Some radio people say that you should try to get listeners to listen constantly and that you should be as vague as possible when promoting upcoming features. I understand the concept, but be realistic. People will walk away from their radio momentarily. The phone will ring, the boss will come calling, a coworker will start up a conversation, nature will call, etc.

2. Make eye contact with your listeners. Talk to them one on one. When you raise a point or ask a question, talk to your listeners. Avoid talking to your engineer in the other room, your call screener, producer or any other people that may be in the studio with you, other than your on-air guests. Direct your comments and questions to your listeners as if you are having a conversation with them. Use second person when referring to your listeners. Use the word "you" rather than "listeners," or "anyone out there." If you insist on making your engineer, call screener, producer, etc. a part of the show, then make sure they have a microphone so that listeners will be able to hear both sides of your conversation with that person.

3. Talk to your callers by name. There’s nothing worse than hearing a talk show host say, “Caller, you’re on the air.” Make that personal connection with your listeners and callers. If you don’t have the luxury of a call screener, get a name when you put that person on the air. You can use a simple, "Hi, who’s this?" And when you get his/her name, write it down so you know who you are talking to. You can also use that to remember that person’s name when you discuss their call later in the program. Avoid referring to him/her later as "a caller." You may also want to get a town or location of where the person is calling from. It gives other listeners a sense of what opinions might be in other parts of town or other towns.

4. A clean sound. Try to avoid getting the sound of your callers hanging up on the air. “Pot down” the call even before you are finished talking to the person. There’s no need for the long "thank you’s" and "good-bye’s." I also would recommend that you avoid the long pleasantries when you start a call. It’s easy to get carried away with the "how are you doing?" type questions. It has become second nature for us to just say that all the time, but please try to break that habit. Also, if you lose the caller before they go on the air, drop the call and move on. How many times have you heard, "...are you there, caller? Caller, are you there? Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?" on small market (and unfortunately sometimes on larger market) stations?

5. Sell yourself and your station. When you take a call, say "Hi, Tom, you’re on NewsTalk 1700......", or use your name or the name of your show. "Hi, Tim, you’re on The Talk Show. What’s on your mind today?....".

6. Avoid the radio clichés. Don't get caught up using jargon terms and clichés like, "let’s take a break," "see you on the other side," "we’ll be back," "we’re back," "after this," etc. If you really think about it, those mean nothing to a listener. They see the commercials as being a part of your entire show. So, the question is, "where are you going when you take a break?" or "see you on the other side of what?". Instead, I recommend you use a standard outcue to commercials and news breaks. Mention the topic, phone number, show and station name as you go into a break. Commercial breaks are seen as a negative by listeners, so why draw attention to them? Here's an example, " we’re talking about the outrageous prices at the gas pumps. What do you think? 1-800-xxx-xxxx. This is The Talk Show on
NewsTalk 1700...".Or, you can use the weather as a standard outcue, too. Just avoid that mention of the commercial break. The same applies to the return after the commercial break. Avoid that phrase, "we’re back!". Just open with the name of the station, the show and the topic, as well as the phone number.

7. Reset the topic. Remember to mention the show’s topic and phone number at a regular schedule. Before and after commercial and news breaks and maybe one set time between those breaks. Put it on your format clock to remind yourself. You will always have new people tuning in and they may have missed the intro to your show, so they are quickly lost. The mistake made in smaller markets is that everyone knows who you are and what you are talking about. The opinion is that you have the same listeners for the duration of your show and for every show. That's not true. Also watch when references are made to other shows or previous topics. Your current listeners may not have heard that other show or topic, so you will need to explain to them what you are referring to.

I strongly believe in giving radio listeners a quality product to listen to. This is the reason I stress the importance of formatics to my client stations.

I think we all need to make radio sound better and more professional. With just a little work and dedication, it can be done at any level of broadcasting.