What exactly IS powerful radio? The best description of powerful radio
I’ve ever heard is when you sit in your car, parked in a darkened garage
with the groceries melting in the back ... and you can’t get out! You have
to sit there and hear what is going to happen next. It can be the end of
a piece of music that inspires or moves you, new information, an incredible
story, fun, laughter or sometimes just feeling connected to something other
than your own world.
Powerful radio, like all
art, should take you on that journey you cannot get to on your own. Powerful
radio creates a world you can tap into and want to be part of.
I work throughout the world as a radio programming consultant, now in 27
countries, both in public and commercial radio. My job is to help each
individual on the air get up to the next level of performance, to Create
Around the world, cultures may differ and the languages may vary, but human
beings are the same. They all come to radio for the same reasons. To learn,
to laugh, to be entertained, to get “talkable topics” that can be talked
about later with others, to be inspired by the music, to not be alone,
to enjoy “hanging out” with people they like, and to feel “connected to
However, if you haven’t
experienced it, it’s hard to create powerful radio. Whenever I do a Creating
Powerful Radio Workshop, before we get started I always want to know what
powerful radio means to each person in the room.
It is important to identify what moved you. What brought you into this
1. As a listener, what was
the funniest moment you’ve ever heard on the air?
2. Was there a moment on-air
that you’ve heard and never forgotten? (describe)
3. Was there ever a moment
that you heard on the air, as a listener, that made you want to be in radio?
If so, describe that moment:
4. Were any of these moments
on your station?
5. Were any of these moments
on your show?
6. What does “powerful radio”
mean to you?
7. What was your best day
at work? Why?
8. What was your worst day
at work? Why?
9. What holds you back from
greatness (other than not enough time, not enough people, not enough money)?
10. If tomorrow were your
last day on earth and you had to come to work, what would your radio show
11. Why do you want to work
Like everything in life, the rules are actually very simple but very hard
to implement. I believe to be in “power” and create powerful radio, there
are only two rules. Here they are:
1. TELL THE TRUTH
2. NEVER BE BORING
HERE’S HOW: In order to achieve this, before you put ANYTHING on air, put
it to the “so-what” test:
ASK: Is it relevant? Does this matter to people? Do I care about it? Then,
describe things visually, paint the pictures, make it matter. If you’ve
worked in public radio for any length of time, you understand the power
of using EVERYTHING in your paint box to create a visual ... sound, silence,
vocabulary, music and anything else you can think of to “take the listener
When you break it down, most powerful moments on radio contains FOCUS,
ENGAGE, OPINION/POSITION, STORYTELLING. The rule is to entertain informatively,
The Power of Story
I believe there are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. There’s
nothing in life that is dull or lifeless in the hands of a good storyteller
with a personal connection to that topic or subject. A great storyteller
can make anything matter. (Conversely, a bad one can kill even the greatest
Example: whatever you may think of him, ABC’s Paul Harvey is still one
of the most listened to broadcasters in the United States. Every day at
noon millions and millions of Americans sit parked in lots, eating their
yogurts and cheese sandwiches, riveted to Paul’s stories of the day.
In addition to the power of the music and story, the other component of
powerful radio of course is personality. The great ones on air reveal themselves
in an authentic way. You’ve probably been told, “just be yourself on air
...” Here’s why showing WHO you are and your connection to the topics is
In today’s media climate, much of the material we put on air is also covered
elsewhere. Think about this. Way Back When, when there was less out there
in the media, the story was the star, not the storyteller. (Think of it
as being the only girl on the desert island, all the boys will want you
... but the minute they bring in the dancing girls from the other island,
now there’s choice. You’d better be great, or they’ll go looking elsewhere
for something that is.)
Now, there’s internet, and internet radio, satellite and cable TV, a plethora
of specialty publications, and just plain word of mouth. The only thing
that the other medium doesn’t have is YOU.
That is why it is essential to put yourself into it. You must reveal who
you are to the listeners.
Actually the highest praise you’ll ever get in your life in radio is when
a total stranger comes up to you and says, “I feel I know you because I
listen to you on the radio.” On air, you are not “interchangeable talking
meat” or a robot announcing songs, reading stories and doing public service
announcements. Even on public stations, when you look at the research,
it’s the people who keep turning up—Susan Stamberg, Tom Bodett, Ira Glass,
Bob Edwards, The Car Show Guys, Garrison Keillor, Terri Gross, Daniel Shorr,
and others who “stand out” and let people “know who they are.”
No matter what you are presenting, if each listener feels he or she knows
and gets “you,” they feel more connected. One of the secrets of powerful
radio is that not all topics appeal to all listeners. However, we’ve found
in our research that if a listener likes YOU and feels he or she has a
“relationship” with you but doesn’t necessarily have a burning interest
in the topic of the moment or a specific piece of music, because this person
feels connected to you, he or she may stick around anyway.
Put yourself into it. Tell the truth. Do your best everyday. Make it powerful.
Valerie Geller, who will
conduct workshops and a session at MPC 41 in San Diego, is the author of
two books,“Creating Powerful Radio: A Communicator’s Handbook” and “The
Powerful Radio Workbook: The Prep, Performance & Post Production Planning.”
Her company, Geller Media International, based in New York, also hosts
the annual Producer’s Workshop. Her internet newsletter: www.gellermedia.com.