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Music Notes 

Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio 
Fall 2002 


 Creating Powerful Radio 
by Valerie Geller

      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 Powerful Radio.
      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 tribe.”
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 world. 

Powerful Radio Questionnaire

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 sound like?

11. Why do you want to work in radio?

      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 there.”
      When you break it down, most powerful moments on radio contains FOCUS, ENGAGE, OPINION/POSITION, STORYTELLING. The rule is to entertain informatively, inform entertainingly.

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 story.) 
      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. 

Be Yourself—Personality Works

      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 so vital.
      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.