How to Get On Radio Shows

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Shortly before the 2008 election, a large financial services company asked me to come to a corporate retreat and give a speech to 100 or so of their counselors from around the country. My subject was: “How to Become the Go-To Guy for Your Local Media.”

My first piece of advice for them was “book yourself on local call-in radio shows.” Call-in radio has a voracious appetite, many programs appreciate expert advice from callers and more than a few are happy to give a good call-in guest repeat exposure. The operative word in the last sentence is “good.” Being good in any media encounter means having a message and expressing it coherently, entertainingly and concisely. In previous posts, I’ve written about the need for an agenda in an interview and I’ve given a series of tips on how to turn your agenda points into compelling soundbites that viewers, listeners and readers will take away with them.

Since most call-in segments, especially unsolicited ones, are short, your agenda should only have one, at most two, points -- rather than the four or five I recommend for a typical media interview. Your message point -- or points -- should be sharply honed and compelling; it’s unlikely you’re going to have an abundance of time to sell them -- either to the call screener or to the audience at large. So use your most startling, stunning stuff right up front with the call screener; don’t save your best lines for air because if you don’t deploy them to the screener you won’t get on the air. Let me use the financial advisors I addressed to give you an example. At the time I gave the speech the wheels had come off the economy and confusion reigned everywhere (especially in the media, which had been mindlessly cheerleading the boom and -- with few notable exceptions -- was totally surprised by the downturn). Looking around the crowded room before going on, I joked to one of my hosts, “I’m glad so many of your folks have ground floor offices.” She answered, “Actually, they’re all fine; it’s the clients who are suffering panic attacks. Our guys have to talk the clients off the ledge.”

She was speaking metaphorically, but that was a great line to use with a call-in radio screener.  So I ad-libbed it into my speech:  “If I were you, and I were phoning a call-in screener, I would say something like, ‘I’m Joe Smith from XYZ Financial services.  And I think you’d be interested in how I talk my clients off the ledge during this economic free-fall." Chances are very good, I told them, they would wind up on the air and that before they went on the screener would remind them, “Be sure to use that talking people off the ledge line.”

Once you’re on radio, it’s vitally important to remember to brand. Let me put that in all upper-case: BRAND. Other media channels are forgiving. If you forget to mention your affiliation, a newspaper or magazine reader enjoys the reread factor -- she can hunt back in the story and find out who you are. In television the production often does you the service of putting your name and affiliation in a lower-third graphic below your image. But there is no re-read factor or lower-third in radio. A good radio interviewer will identify his guest and the guest’s affiliation. Unhappily, good radio interviewers are few and far-between. I’m sure that as a listener you’ve joined an interview in progress and heard an interesting discussion about “the book,”  “my book,” and “it.” Maybe you were interested enough to want to buy the book. But while you listened, the author failed to use its name and the interviewer -- who should have known better -- failed to name the volume AND his guest. If you turned off the radio before the interview ended, you were stymied. Try asking for “It” or “The Book” at Barnes & Noble; they  have thousands of volumes -- none named, “It” or “The Book.”  So on radio it falls to you to do your own branding. The medium is unique in other areas, too. And next time, I’ll go give you additional tips for radio mastery.

More By George Merlis
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