Friday, September 12, 2008

Building Teamwork with Talent

I wrote this a few months ago for Kevin Robinson's radio industry newsletter, The Robinson Report. It was reprinted this week in the industry publication "All Access". I'm reprinting it here now for the local crowd. The intended audience is radio programmers.

Since the beginning of radio, there has always been an uneasy relationship between talent and programmers. It's totally natural if you think about it. Talent is right-brained, creative and impulsive. Programmers are mostly left-brained, detailed and analytical.

The clash occurs when a programmer attempts to coach the talent. Left-brained programmers nearly always coach right-brained talent using left-brained techniques.

And then they wonder why it doesn't work.

I was a radio producer for 20-plus years. I always got along well with both sides because I'm a natural right-brained person and could think like the talent, but I was raised in a very strict family of left-brained thinkers, and therefore could also understand where the programmers were coming from.

I heard what programmers were trying to say during coaching sessions, but I also heard what the talent was hearing. It wasn't the same thing. Ninety percent of those problems could have been avoided by following three simple rules.

1. Leave your anal tendencies at the door

In your job, attention to detail is a necessity ... until you apply it to your coaching sessions.

You must let the little things go. You must. When the talent hears you constantly harping about something that he or she considers completely meaningless (you know what I'm talking about here; the stuff that makes them roll their eyes), your chances of getting them to listen to your advice on any other subject is gone forever.

2. Use the proportional rule
Yes, talent is sensitive, but you don't need to deal with them with kid gloves. You can say what you really believe. You just need to convey the positive as enthusiastically as you convey the negative.

If you think 90% of the show was good and only 10% wasn't, then you should be spending 90% of your time praising the stuff you liked, and only 10% critiquing. When you only accentuate the negative, you're subliminally telling them that you hate the show, even if you don't feel that way.

3. Listen to their ideas, don't immediately judge them

Way too many great ideas die because programmers don't listen. Often, a creative person can see the potential in an idea before he or she is able to put it into words. That needs to be nurtured, not squashed. Restrain yourself from pooh-poohing ideas you don't understand. Help them talk through their ideas instead. When the talent is unable to verbalize it to you, he will realize that it needs to gestate in his brain a little longer. Eventually, he'll come back to you later with a great idea, or he'll kill it himself.

The key is being non-judgmental. You're not against it. You're just trying to understand it.

That's it. That's all you need to do. If you follow those three simple rules, the talent will believe you are on the same team, which of course you are.

Once the talent believes he has a teammate, he or she will be more confident. Once they are more confident, their natural creativity will flourish.

Once that happens, everyone wins.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Media Notebook (Sept 11, 2008)

Collected and Edited by Rick Kaempfer

Highlights and links to the big stories in the news this week about the media. This column appears twice a week at MEDIA NOTEBOOK

What your cable news network says about you
(Christian Science Monitor) Dante Chinni writes: "The past two weeks of the presidential campaign were about the candidates and parties defining who and what they are – or at least who and what they would like to be. The conventions in Denver and the Twin Cities tried to craft images and messages for the final two months of the campaign...How you see Sen. Barack Obama (change agent or inexperienced youth) or Sen. John McCain (maverick Republican or President Bush’s heir) may depend on where you go for news. There are points and counterpoints on the Web and on the radio, as well as on cable news – where the approaches and viewpoints are becoming increasingly different. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC may argue that they do not push any clear views in their coverage, but there are clear differences in their audiences. Consider that the night of Senator Obama’s acceptance speech, 8.1 million viewers tuned in on CNN, while 4.2 million watched Fox, according to Nielsen data. The next Thursday, the numbers were flipped: Senator McCain’s speech brought in 9.2 million viewers on Fox and 4.8 million on CNN. MSNBC had 4.1 million viewers for Obama and 2.5 million for McCain. One possible conclusion: Democrats seem to be turning more to CNN and MSNBC in 2008, while Republicans seem to watching Fox."

MSNBC drops Matthews, Olbermann as news anchors

(Washington Post) Howard Kurtz writes: "MSNBC is removing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as the anchors of live political events, bowing to growing criticism that they are too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign. David Gregory, the NBC newsman and White House correspondent who also hosts a program on MSNBC, will take over during such events as this fall's presidential and vice presidential debates and election night. The move, confirmed by spokesmen for both networks, follows increasingly loud complaints about Olbermann's anchor role at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Olbermann, who regularly assails President Bush and GOP nominee John McCain on his "Countdown" program, was effusive in praising the acceptance speech of Democratic nominee Barack Obama."

What really happened at NBC?
(New York Observer) Felix Gillette writes: "So how did it happen, according to Phil Griffin? The 'beauty of my job,' he said, was that nobody from GE had ever big-footed his domain. He said he dealt purely with NBC Universal’s president and CEO, Jeff Zucker, and NBC News’ president, Steve Capus. He had come to this decision, he said, after consulting first with Mr. Olbermann and later with Mr. Matthews. He said they had been having a philosophical debate on the subject for months. 'I think what came to a head this time is that our guys don’t want to be restrained,' said Mr. Griffin. 'That was it. … If you move a chair over, you can say what you really think.' It had indeed been a months-long debate, and a philosophical one. That it never saw any practical results until the convention is probably as much a matter of circumstance as anything else. But the circumstances build a case that has not looked good for Mr. Griffin and his people."

Moonves backs Couric after conventions
(Broadcasting & Cable) Marisa Guthrie writes: "CBS News was a consistent third behind NBC and ABC during coverage of the political conventions, although some nights it was very close to overtaking ABC. 'We all wish the ratings were better,' Moonves acknowledged. 'I think the conventions accentuated what a phenomenal talent she is. She is great on her feet. She is a great interviewer. She’s great at passing the ball around. I think she did an extraordinary job, and I was extremely proud of her and our entire CBS News team during the conventions. I think we showed how good we were. I really do. Ratings notwithstanding, we’re doing a terrific job.'"

First Sarah Palin interview goes to Charlie Gibson

(USA Today) David Bauder writes: "Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has agreed to sit down with ABC's Charles Gibson later this week for her first television interview since John McCain chose her as his running mate more than a week ago. Palin will sit down for multiple interviews with Gibson in Alaska over two days, most likely Thursday and Friday, said McCain adviser Mark Salter. The interview with Palin was confirmed Friday, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. The first-term Alaska governor has given speeches alongside McCain since becoming his surprise pick on Aug. 29. But Democrats have already begun to question why Palin has not been put before reporters to answer questions. McCain, who appeared on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday, said he expected Palin to start doing interviews 'in the next few days.'"


Microsoft's Zune introduces FM radio tagging technology
(Radio Online) Nine radio broadcast companies have committed song tagging technology that will let users of Microsoft's Zune mp3 player tag songs and buy music directly from FM radio, in a campaign called "Buy From FM," beginning September 16. Additionally, every Zune player will let consumers automatically download or stream their tagged songs when they reach a wireless hot spot...The song tagging uses RDS technology and will become available on on most FM radio outlets operated by Beasley, Bonneville, CBS Radio, Citadel, Clear Channel, Cox Radio, Emmis, Entercom and Greater Media. In all, listeners will be able to purchase music heard on over 450 radio stations.
(Rick's note: In Chicago that would include nearly every station on the dial.)

NY attorney general investigating new ratings system
(Radio Ink) New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has launched an investigation into Arbitron's Portable People Meter, the New York Daily News reports. The decision to investigate follows months of complaints about the PPM methodology by Hispanic and Urban broadcasting groups, including NABOB and the Spanish Radio Association. Cuomo wrote in a letter to Arbitron, "A significant and improper decline in ratings under the PPM methodology could cause minority stations to suffer drastic reductions in advertising revenue." The letter continues, "A full investigation of Arbitron's deployment of the PPM methodology is warranted before these sudden -- and possibly irreversible consequences -- are imposed on minority radio stations." Cuomo wants all PPM-related records dating back to 2003, the Daily News reports. Arbitron has maintained that the PPM fairly measures all communities and is more accurate than the diary.

Vin Scully signs on for 60th season
(Radio Ink) Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully will stay with the team for at least one more year, making his tenure with the club exactly six decades. Scully -- who's been in the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1982 -- said his wife, Sandy, gave her OK for him to go ahead for the '09 season. But the 80-year-old broadcaster said he doesn't have plans to sign beyond that; he told the Los Angeles Times, "There's a beginning, a middle, and an end for all of us. I know that I have a lot more yesterdays than I have tomorrows." Scully, 80, will continue to cover Dodgers home games and road games as far east as Colorado.


Stephen Colbert to have his DNA sent to space
(Newsweek) Should this world ever cease to exist, Stephen Colbert will live on. The comedian's DNA will be digitized and sent to the International Space Station, Comedy Central was to announce Monday. In October, video game designer Richard Garriott will travel to the station and deposit Colbert's genes for an Immortality Drive. "I am thrilled to have my DNA shot into space, as this brings me one step closer to my lifelong dream of being the baby at the end of 2001," Colbert said in a statement, referring to the 1968 landmark science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

A McCain Administration FCC might loosen up the ownership rules

( Tom Taylor writes: "Not immediately, though. Even if a President McCain elevated current Commissioner Robert McDowell to Chairman, chances are that for the first part of 2009, there would be a 2-1 Democratic majority on the 8th Floor. That’s assuming that current Chairman Kevin Martin leaves to pursue a future in the private world (or politics) and that current Commissioner Debi Tate doesn’t win renomination. And re-stocking the Federal Communications Commission will rank low on the priority list of either President McCain or President Obama. But eventually – a Republican administration will try again on media ownership rules, and I know one dealmaker who says “that’s the only thing that can save the industry, if there’s more consolidation allowed, like in 1996.” Others may feel that 1996 was the turning point that led to less local ownership and more disconnect with the community."
(Rick's note: Count me among "others")

Mini Interview: Melissa McGurren
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) Every week I'm featuring excerpts from my SHORE Magazine article about 14 local radio voices. This week: WTMX's Melissa McGurren.

Chicago Radio Spotlight interview: Eddie Volkman
(Chicago Radio Spotlight) This weekend I spoke with the co-host of the Eddie & JoBo show, Eddie Volkman. We talked about his long relationship with JoBo, including some of the highlights and lowlights of their show.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Suburban Man: Wait Til Your Father Gets Home

By Rick Kaempfer

Because my dad died twenty years ago and none of my children ever met him, they ask about him a lot.

At first I told them all the great things about him; the obstacles he overcame, the way he genuinely cared about everyone, and the respect he engendered among his peers. But recently I've been completing the picture a little more, and I'm feeling a little guilty about it.

You see, I've been using Dad to scare them straight.

Perhaps you do the same thing. Here's how it works: When the children are misbehaving and my "nice" way of getting them in line is ineffective, it's time to trot out the punishment techniques of my parents. Not use those techniques, just remind them what they were.

It's indisputable that the techniques commonly used a generation ago were harsher than those considered acceptable today. When my father came home from work, my mother would greet him at the door with a laundry list of our offenses along with the punishment she expected him to enforce ("Ricky told his sister to drink toilet water, so he gets five spankings.") He would exhale, take off his hat and tie, and joylessly take care of business before pouring himself a cocktail.

He knew his role as the father. He was the bogeyman on the other end of the "wait 'til your father gets home" threat. If he wasn't dispensing spankings, he was coming up with creative punishments to deal with the really serious stuff. Usually that involved being "grounded", or writing "I will not talk back to my mother" a thousand times, but sometimes it was much worse.

I've taken a slightly different approach with my own kids. I don't spank them because I just don't see the point. In our house the biggest problem is fighting--and somehow hitting them doesn't exactly make the point I'm trying to make (fighting doesn't solve anything). On the other hand, I noticed that when I muttered "maybe my dad's way of doing this was right," they immediately snapped to it.

After I noticed that was working, I began to share more and more stories of Dad's punishment techniques. Each story added to his legend. Even his non-corporal punishments struck fear in their little pampered hearts.

And I kind of like that.

I feel bad for using Dad this way, but if he's watching from heaven, he knows why I'm doing it. After all, the stories he told me (and my siblings) about his own father giving him "the belt" or making him "pick out a stick to be beaten with" were far scarier than anything he actually did to us.

And I'm sure his father did the same thing. And his father before that. And the generation before that took it to another level with those Grimm's Fairy Tales.

"You think I'm bad? Let me tell you a story about a boy and girl named Hansel & Gretel. They were left out in the woods to die by their parents, and you know what happened to them there? They met a cannibal witch who tried to eat them."

Think any of those early 19th century kids misbehaved after hearing one of those stories?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monday Musings

Every Monday stop by for jokes, links to stories you might have missed, amusing photos and video, and more. Contributions and suggestions are welcome and encouraged. Click on the "Email Me" link on the right to contribute.

Joke of the Week: Contributed by "T"


1. Innovative
2. Preliminary
3. Proliferation
4. Cinnamon


1. Specificity
2. Anti-constitutionalistically
3. Passive-aggressive disorder
4. Tran substantiate


1. No thanks, I'm married.
2. Nope, no more booze for me!
3. Sorry, but you're not really my type.
4. Kebab? No thanks, I'm not hungry.
5. Good evening, officer. Isn't it lovely out tonight?
6. Oh, I couldn't! No one wants to hear me sing karaoke.
7. I'm not interested in fighting you.
8. Thank you, but I won't make any attempt to dance, I have no coordination. I'd hate to look like a fool!
9. Where is the nearest bathroom? I refuse to urinate in this parking lot or on the side of the road.
10. I must be going home now, as I have to work in the morning.

Stories you might have missed

1. McCain staff accidentally uses Walter Reed middle school as backdrop
(They can't explain why either, although many speculate they simply goofed and thought it was image of Walter Reed hospital. Seriously...these guys want to run the country?)

2. Rock stars tell GOP to stop using their music
(Among the stars: Jackson Browne. The Republicans were actually using his song "Running on Empty." Seems appropriate to me.)

3. Man in wheelchair robs 7/11 of condoms
(Apparently he still has some movement in his lower extremities)

4. What does your taste in music say about you?
(Mine says that I'm rebellious. It's a fun little article.)

5. RIP Don LaFontaine
(The greatest voice over guy of all-time. He was the voice of the Loop-FM for a year or two in the early 90s.)

Video of the week: This is called "John McCain's wandering eyes." "P" thought it was funny, and so do I.

Photo of the week: Contributed by "B & S". Found in Venice, California.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Chicago Radio Spotlight: Eddie Volkman

Eddie Volkman (right) is the long-time co-host of the morning show on WBBM-FM (B-96) along with Joe Bohannon (left).

Rick: Your dad is still a revered figure in this town. What was it like growing up in Chicago as Harry Volkman's son?

Eddie: By the time I was born my father had already been on television for several years. In fact, both of my older brothers' births were announced on my dad's weather segment. It was so normal to us that my brother, Jerry actually asked a kindergarten classmate, "What channel is your dad on?" High School was a little tougher. As an athlete, opposing teams would yell things like "Are you puttin' on the High Pressure Defense?". I'd shut 'em up by "raining" 3-pointers! You have to remember, in the 70's & 80's--pre-cable days--the channel 2 or channel 9 news had higher ratings than "American Idol" or other hit shows these days. The recognition factor was pretty high. (Photo: Jerry, Eddie & Harry)

Rick: You and Jobo have been together now for twenty years--which is unheard of in this business. What is the secret to your long-time partnership?

Eddie: We're opposites in many ways. We both often say "I can't do what he does". Jobo's a polished host who claims not to be funny (but he is!), who gets from point A to point B with surgical precision. I tend to be a scatterbrained comedian, actor, singer, impressionist, etc. I keep things lighhearted and funny even during more serious discussions on the show.

Rick: There is something I've always wondered about you guys. Obviously a ton of work goes into your show every day. How do you divide up the show prep duties?

Eddie: As a kid, I tended to follow the lead of a year-older brother. Jobo was more of an independent thinker, and by his own admission is rather obsessive/compulsive about show topics, preparation and scheduling. Although the show's content is somewhat of a committee decision (there are 6 of us in there each morning), I've learned to trust Jobo's instincts and almost Freudian approach to every program--you can never lose when you talk about sex, food, or relationships. I pride myself on being able to run with any topic that comes up. It's like improv for me.

Rick: Any show that's been around for twenty years has to evolve and goes through highs and lows. What do you consider your highest high and your lowest low?

Well, to be perfectly shallow, the bidding war between CBS Radio and Clear Channel for our services back in 2002 was quite a boost for our egos as well as bank accounts, but of course the most rewarding times are when ratings are highest. You don't want to be All-Pro on a last-place team. Our best ratings were in the early to mid-90's before the proliferation of iPods, Spanish radio stations and other factors that have since fragmented the audience. The lowest low obviously would be when we were fired in May of 1994 over a libel lawsuit that anyone can Google--we still don't talk about it much. Although we were picked up by WIOQ-FM in Philladelphia a few months later, our hearts were still in Chicago, hometown to us both. That situation cost me my house, my marriage and my kids moving to Arizona. Count being re-hired at the end of 1996 as the other greatest high point!

Rick: I was working for the same company on another morning show (Landecker at WJMK) when you were forced to have management approve every single word you said before it aired. I can't speak for the other shows in the company, but we were petrified that would become a company wide policy. How did you make it through those years, and did you learn anything about yourselves through that process?

Eddie: The libel lawsuit that lost us the job in 1994 had the company on edge when we were hired the second time. Our General Manger, Don Marion was quite worried about lawsuits, and was under the gun to do whatever was necessary to prevent that situation from ever happening again. I think there was actually way too much precaution involved, but his job was on the line if anything went wrong. Don and our Program Director, Todd Cavanah would alternate weeks sitting in the studio. Jobo refers to us as "being pre-recorded" back then, I preferred to say we were on a two-minute delay, not unlike the 10 or 20-second delay most morning shows have anyway. The only real pain was having to record something, then have it ready by the time a song was over.

Rick: I've previously interviewed Karen Hand who was a big part of your show for many years. That female component to the show has always been there in some shape or form (currently with Erica Cobb). How important is it to have the female perspective?

Eddie: One weakness Jobo and I both have is growing up in families of jocks ("athletic", not "disc"). We can tend to get caught up in talking too much sports, drinking, and male humor if we're not careful. On a station that targets women 18 to 34 and teens, that's not a good thing. Also, as I mentioned, we talk a lot about relationships. If a woman-caller to the show says she's in an abusive relationship and we tell her she's crazy to remain there, we sound like male bullies with no clue as to the dynamics of her situation. Coming from Karen Hand or our more recent co-host, Erica Cobb (photo), it sounds much more like advice from a girlfriend, and hence much more comfortable and credible.And of course, a female perspective is always appreciated on issues of fashion, politics, food--you name it!

Rick: One of the challenges for your show is that you guys are not in the same demo as the audience you're trying to attract. How do you manage to stay so young and relate to that younger audience?

Eddie: It's just a matter of reading what they read, keeping up with their interests and technology, and even watching the shows they watch. It's become so natural that I actually find myself somewhat bored with my own peers, sad to say. My high school buddies golf and have riding mowers--I play basketball and video games. Whatever we're doing works, I guess. Our teen and young adult ratings are about the same as twenty years ago.

Rick: If my math is correct, the seven year contract you signed back in 2002 is ending next year. When you signed that contract, Kiss-FM made a huge push to steal you--and when they couldn't get you, they signed DreX to come into the market. Will we be experiencing a similar situation next year?

Eddie: Well, financial times are different. We're well-aware of the revenue situation in radio these days compared to 7 years ago. We believe there is interest in our services at B96 and other outlets beyond our current contract, but at what price I don't know. The situation that occurred with Mike North at co-owned CBS station WSCR is an example.of the salary adjustments you have to be realistic about. I guess we'll see!

Rick: They say that mixed marriages don't work, but you and JoBo have managed to stay together despite the fact that JoBo is a Sox fan, and you're a Cubs fan. What will happen if those teams play each other in the World Series this year. Will the partnership survive?

Eddie: Oh yeah...In fact, as the Cubs fan on the show I, of course, want to see my team win the World Series, but I also want it to be against the White Sox! It would mean so much more than beating, say, the Tampa Bay Rays. Even their own fans don't care about that team! As a former college baseball player, I am a fan of the game as much as anything. On-air I'm brutal to the Sox, as Jobo is to the Cubs but, truth be known, I have always followed and cheered for both teams. It's just a good Chicago-like, on-air bit (although Jobo genuinely hates the Cubs!). Our "brotherhood" goes deep enough, however that nothing much ever gets between us!