What Would Radio Do if the President Got Shot?


Early this morning here in Austin, a gunman opened fire on the UT campus, and the story is still unfolding. For those not familiar with Austin and the UT area, the campus is just north of downtown and is, unlike many college campuses, a part of the geographic makeup of the greater downtown area. As I write this the media is still scrambling and although the shooter is apparently dead from a self-inflicted gunshot would, there is a possibility of another shooter. But this post is not about the tragedy here on the streets of Austin, it’s about the tragedy of coverage or lack of coverage of the incident as it unfolded this morning.

I started my day as usual, with coffee and the NPR news on KUT (which, by the way is run by the University of Texas). Around 8:30 during the national coverage of the news on NPR there was a brief mention of the incident unfolding in Austin. A quick cut-in that there were reports of a gunman on the campus and that there would be more information forthcoming on KUT. The NPR news ended at 9:00am and the music kicked in with Eklektikos with John Aielli who started mumbling something about the wind blowing in his usual navel gazing diatribe. I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr Aielli sounds like the radio version of that schizophrenic guy who talks to himself (or to the voices in his head) in the corner, the difference being that Mr Aielli has a microphone and a transmitter. What’s the frequency Kenneth? However, my issue in this post is not about Mr Aielli’s lack of communication skills on the air, it’s that KUT and Aielli dropped the ball while this story was breaking. Because there was no real mention or immediacy on the story on KUT, I didn’t give it a second thought. Or so I thought as I headed down the elevator to my car.

As I started to drive down East 6th Street towards downtown, I noticed a lot of sirens in the distance and marked and unmarked police cars with lights and sirens flying north to the campus area. I immediately switched on the radio. First stop, KLBJ AM (actually, the FM simulcast of KLBJ AM). The KLBJ Morning show with Mark, Ed and Sargent Sam was all over the story. The talk show was taking calls and discussing the events of the shooting with cut-ins from the news department. Unfortunately (well in my opinion) Sgt Sam was ranting about if they allowed students to carry guns on campus, this event would have never happened. This would have been a good topic for tomorrow, I just somehow got a twinge thinking that this was a bit too soon for a hard opinion based topic. However on the whole of it, KLBJ AM was on top of the story and seemed to more or less own it. My next punch was to the other FM talk station in the market, The Big Talker. The station was running The Glenn Beck Show, as usual. Beck was doing his usual show. No mention on the show or station of the events unfolding at UT. Shame on them. This was an event they should have been ready to own on the air, they failed.

The next dial punch was to KGSR, the AAA in Austin. Music. I’m out. Next to KROX, the Alternative station here in Austin. Surely if anyone is gonna’ be on top of a shooting at the UT campus in Austin, it’s going to be the station that serves the target of the University. The Alternative station! I listened for a couple of minutes before punching out. They were talking about a beer bash promotion. Stick em’ with a fork, they’re done. Punch again, this time to Rocker KLBJ. The morning show is all over the event, taking calls and generally, handling this event even better, in many ways, than their News/Talk brethren KLBJ AM. Most of time when I punch in to KLBJ FM in the morning it’s your typical navel-gazing morning show talking about inside stuff. Your typical Rock morning show where the whole world revolves around the interior of the studio. We’ve all heard them. I believe most of them consider themselves to be “Heritage” shows. Not an excuse for lazy radio. However, this morning this show nailed it. On the ball with the news, calls, stayed away from being silly and giving too much opinion, before the facts were known. Hands down the best job I heard. Punched back to KGSR… still music. Back to KLBJ AM, Sgt Sam still bitching about students not being allowed to carry firearms, hey this is Texas. Back to Alternative nothing, back to The Big Talker, in a news break and talking about a police shooting from last night and another story about something I don’t remember right now. Man, they blew it. Punch back to the Alternative, they are just now starting to talk about the shooting… finally. Pull in to parking space, radio off, turn on streaming KLBJ AM on my computer to listen to more coverage. Done.

Let me tell you a story someone once told me. I once worked for a guy who was an intern at one of those legendary AM Top 40 radio stations in New York. One day he was asking the legendary PD of this legendary radio station why in the world he had the jocks on the air he did. This intern told the PD that surely he’d heard better jocks just across the river in Jersey, who were making a fraction of the money. Why didn’t he just fire these “legendary” jocks on the air, save a ton of dough and in the longterm have a better sounding radio station with more entertaining jocks and a slimmer budget? The legendary PD paused for a moment, and peered at the intern with a serious but sly look and said, “Because the guys I have on the air now know what to do if the President gets shot.”

I’ve feared for years that with consolidation, budget tightening, endless satellite feeds on News/Talk stations, voice tracking, etc, etc, etc… that we’d end up with many markets, if not most markets, where only a very small fraction of the air staff would have any idea what to do if “the President gets shot.” Here in Austin this morning, we had one of those moments. Pretty much everyone failed the test. The only one that somewhat passed, in my opinion, was KLBJ FM. You would expect KLBJ AM, the dominant News/Talker to be all over the situation, however the opinion based reporting on the incident took them down a couple of notches. KLBJ’s Dudley and Bob show hit the target best because the hosts, despite being a “wacky morning show,” knew how to handle one of these moments.

So now the question remains… do your hosts have what it takes to handle not only a huge national event, but a local one like happened in Austin today. Does your Program Director even understand what kind of host is required or what’s necessary to nurture that kind of level-headed, mature host? I’d bet cold, hard cash that most of the somewhat “seasoned” talent would not be level-headed enough to handle a “what if” event, forget about that liner card reader in midday’s and if you’re running a satellite feed, without someone on staff who is able to dump the bird and take over, you’re SOL.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at his website.

Steal This Format: News for Gen Y


After penning the post on the lack of radio news full-time or even just in morning drive, it got me to thinking. What should  a “modern sounding” all-news radio format, say for Gen-Y, sound like? One of the best things about pondering such things is that, of course, it’s all conceptual. There’s no need to worry about budgets, available talent and frequency space and the like. Let the fun begin.

The overall sound of the Gen-Y news station/network would have to be fast-paced, with a-lot of production value (without sounding too slick, it should almost be lo-fi), heavy on lifestyle, consumer based tech news and celbutard buzz. Gen-Y gravitates like a moth to the flame to instant communication, so the format would have to cross-pollinate with a strong new media presence.

Would there be “hard” news? Yea, but it shouldn’t be delivered with the typical authoritative voice often attributed to “hard” news. The “voice” of the news should be more like Fark than 1010 WINS. Lots of soft leads with snark and plenty of pre-sell to help drive TSL and keep the listener engaged. What’s the Fark style?

Take this headline from CNN: “Tylenol-loaded mice dropped from air to control snakes”  The Fark headline for the story is: “Somewhere on the planet, it’s raining Tylenol-stuffed mice.” Lots of pre-sell of this kind of crap in and out of story segments to keep the short attention span of Gen-Y from button punching or if they do, keep them coming back.

On the subject of Fark, the Total Fark paid side of the news aggregator (the best 5 dollars a month you’ll ever spend), could almost be the total guide for the newsroom. Story ideas, soft lead ideas and everything from the best kickers, infotainment, geek and celebutard news.

News-style would always be with a Fark-like snarky soft lead and would encourage the “journalist” to interject their own opinions sideways into the writing of the stories (Hiring “real” journalists for this gig would be a huge problem, avoid them like the plague). Newscasters should be hired with a varied background of political and other world views/opinions, so it would be an equal opportunity “fair and balanced” bogus presentation of the news, and hopefully a few “Jane you ignorant slut” moments. The folly of leaning to the left or right would be a huge mistake for the station/network. All political news should be handled with a very large dose of cynicism, that we’re essentially screwed no matter who we elect. Sarcasm and cynicism is the bedrock of Gen Y. (Oh where is John Emm to teach these wacky journo kids how to do this now that we need him the most)

Of course this Gen-Y news radio station/network will have to have a huge web presence. Much of this could be accomplished by a tight integration of the newsroom with already existing web content management system such as WordPress or Dupral. Have the newsroom write all their stories on the content management backend that has access to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc API’s so that the content is printed web-wide on the station/networks website, and pings the content to social media at the same time. The content could either be posted immediately as a draft and an on-line editor could check the content before it’s published or, better yet, have the content posted raw (with a disclaimer that it is a raw feed, for fun and profit), so the listener/reader can feel like they are part of the “behind the scenes” station/network community. Commenting should be turned on full-throttle, but it would be necessary to have an editor to edit out “offensive” and/or spam comment. A “technology officer” for this demanding work would be an absolute necessity.

The newscast would look something like this: Really well written and clever headlines promoting upcoming stories/features. 3-5 minute newscast: top stories/tech/celebutard/kickers…

  • You can be gay and take a seat in the senate, but you still can’t be out in Afghanistan.
  • Obama continues to loose his mojo, as the prez is down in the polls again
  • The salmonella egg scandal still stinks, and this is no yoke.
  • American idol’s new judges will be flamboyant and fabulous, even if you hate em.
  • Hollywood is aiming their guns away from movie torrent sites and taking pot-shots at the new streaming pirates.
  • Paris is flying back to the U.S. following her first entry rejection ever, in Japan.
  • Blackberry is working on an iPad killer, and it’s rumored to taking on Apple early next year.
  • The latest twitter internet virus may not invade your privacy after all.
  • Boston is encouraging yoga and parking fines at the same time…

Interspersed within the newscasts should be somewhat well produced vignettes dealing with geek/tech/celebutard/bizarre focused stories. These vignettes could run in all hours, with short, produced and live teases throughout.

Imaging and production should be slick, but as stated before, not too slick. allmost lo-fi. Forget the big, scary voice guy, go for a real feel. Best yet, have the listeners voice the drops for the station. Use the flash plugin available for videochatting on your web presence to encourage listeners to make up their own voiceovers for the station and to record your sell lines. These could be uploaded via the same Dupral/WordPress API’s directly to the stations board, and have the other listeners comment and approve them. Use the real power of social media to the max, not just to spam the listeners/users. Create a community that creates the sound and look of your station/site. Use them for your content, giving them a voice and you an edge up on content creation for both your site and station. This or Apple’s new iPhone/Touch app Facetime could also be utilized to create audio comments for your content.

All of this sound too expensive, insane? Of course there are a million more ideas rattling around in my head with this one. Doubt that this would work for Gen Y? Tell that to Comedy Central’s Stewart and Colbert. Go ahead and let me know your thoughts. But I don’t want to hear: “This won’t work,” “This has never been done before” or anything without some thought. Let’s hear why and why not.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at hiswebsite

Steal These Topic Ideas


I happened on an article on Guy Kawasaki’s web site from a couple of years ago with a brief synopsis of the book “Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.” The book made the rounds in marketing and advertising circles, but me thinks that there is a lot to be learned here for broadcasters, outside of the marketing arena.

The book outlines 9 major themes that folk talk about, that is, the 9 overall themes  the average, everyday man on the street finds to be compelling conversation topics. After going throughout the list, and comparing the list to successful talk hosts, the best of the best almost always hit on all or most of these themes.

  • 1- Aspirations and Beliefs (what we are/what we could be: religion)
  • 2- David vs. Goliath (fighting a powerful and/or common enemy)
  • 3- Avalanche About to Roll (keeping up with the latest trends)
  • 4- Contrarian, Counterintuitive to Challenge Assumptions (defying conventional wisdom)
  • 5- Anxieties (our rational/irrational fears/uncertainty)
  • 6- Personalities and Personal Stories (emulation of interesting or inspirational people)
  • 7- How-To Stories and Advice (practical and pragmatic)
  • 8- Glitz and Glam (addiction to celebrity)
  • 9- Seasonal/Event-Related (in the now)
I’m not saying this is a bible, matrix or talk show topic grid for a successful on-air topic, but this list could be extremely helpful for taking your topic to the test before you hit the air. If your topic doesn’t nail on one of these, there is a good chance it will fall flat on the airwaves. Of course, the best test of all is simply to ask yourself: “Is this a topic that I would find ‘normal’ people talking about in an everyday situation.” Want a good topic? Sit in a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations. Listen to what “people” are talking about, that’s the best place to find a topic that works.  What are the everyday people talking about? Steal it-use it.

Postscript: Please don’t use the word “topic” on the air. Normal people never use it, only radio people. A radio personality that says “Our topic is” should be taken outside to the transmitter and shot.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at his website

A Perplexing Question for Radio on a Monday Morning


At 7 AM promptly every morning my alarm goes off. Like a lot of folks, my “alarm” is a radio. The Bose Wave radio slowly edges up to the sounds of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and the mumbling mouths of NPR slowly edge me out of this slumber. I get my dose of 5 minutes of news and the mostly coherent chatter edges me out of my sleep. NPR gets a couple of hours of my listening time before I begin my trek battling the morning traffic and start my flip around the dial punching between morning shows, talk shows and amusement once my brain has (more or less) switched on for the day.

Why NPR? Well, it’s the only offering I can find on the radio for news (and I use the term “news” lightly). Here in Austin, the two “talking” stations opt for opinion based talk shows and the rest of the dial is music or wacky morning shows. Call me old school, but when I wake up I’m just not ready for wacky. I want to hear what’s going on in the world and around town. The local NPR affiliate is the only station that fits any semblance of the bill.

Call me wrong (and you’re welcome to), but it seems to me that there is an innate need for the human American animal to have the “news” as a morning partner. There’s the Leave it to Beaver years where dad was seen at the breakfast table with his partner the morning paper. To this day, the first thing I do after getting my morning joe and performing other functions is check out Google or Yahoo news. But I still need more stimuli, and it’s the chatter of the radio. I’m not ready to laugh or active enough to deal with opinion or the wacky chatter of morning radio, I need something else. I need “news.”

Unless you live in New York or one of the other dozen markets that feature an all-news station, your are SOL, or… you listen to NPR. They practically own this space. But they are vulnerable. Along with the “news,” I do have to listen to at least a couple of 5 minute stories about the mating habits of the Peruvian fruit fly or the new opera based on the life of Sigmund Freud. Believe me, I’ve tried other options. I’ve listened to 1010 WINS on the stream, BBC and a multitude of other stations on the computer connected to my radio. I’ve scripted iTunes to wake me up to a different streamer every day, but in the end I always go back to the local NPR affiliate. Why? Because it’s easy. I’ve got enough to deal with in the morning, making coffee and the active waking up activities. I surf my favorite sites, deal with my agenda for the day and I just want the damn radio to come on and talk to me and tell me what the hell is going on in the world and around town.

So what’s the point? The point is that radio broadcasters are missing something here. As more and more folks are casting off the TV and relying on New Media for their video entertainment (and yes, I’m one of them), morning radio news has the potential to take a chunk of this pie. Yea, I know, it’s an expensive format to run. But the fact that commercial broadcasters have essentially left this space to NPR to own in all but the largest markets is embarrassing. There is a niche here for a “network” run by a commercial broadcaster and a couple of folks on the local end for 5 minute cut-ins. And who says that it has to be run like an “all news station.” You could target any demographic as long as you have the talent that can write and deliver the “news” for that gen. But I’m not going to give it all away, you’re the  smart ones, you figure it out. I’m not awake enough, I’m going back to listening to NPR, I’m still half asleep.

Update: It was announced Monday morning that TRN is set to launch an all news network. Mark Masters, CEO of TRN is quoted: :”There is not enough quality syndicated long-form news radio programming to fill the gap.” Yep.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at hiswebsite