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by Dan O'Day

INSIDE SECRET: Originally my plan was to fill this column with a list of "Ten Great Sources of Show Prep Material." So I made the list, and then I began to make a few notes to explain or illustrate each item. Before I knew it, I had filled two columns worth of material...just from Item #1.

Extra-Terrestrial Publications

Always look for opportunities to collect publications you never knew even existed - trade magazines from other industries, special interest newsletters, etc. Immediately turn to the "Letters to Editor" page, and you'll discover raging controversies and galloping passions. When you find a topic (or point of view) that's new to you, make a list of all the possible ideas that come to your mind...whether they "make sense" at the time.

To demonstrate the value of this technique as an idea-generator, I just conducted a two-minute search among my pile of to-be-read-when-I-get-a-chance publications for magazines that few readers are likely to receive.

The first is FREQUENT FLYER. It comes free with my subscription to OAG (Official Airline Guide), a monthly compendium of airline flight information. On Page 10 is "Speaking Out," the Letters page. This month it contains five letters from readers.

Letter #1 talks about the height, width, and legroom of seats on United Airline's Boeing 777.

Thought-Starters from Letter #1: (Remember, at this stage all we do is list ideas. We do not judge or edit while we compile our list.)

1. Worst airplane rides I/listeners ever had

2. What co-workers do flight attendants get along with LEAST?

3. "If I could design my own airplane, it would look like this..."

4. Which airlines have the best food? The worst?

5. Worst airline meal I/listeners ever had

6. Dumbest thing I/listeners ever heard said on an airplane

7. Listeners' secrets for enjoying flights (e.g., bringing their own special food on board)

8. Secret methods for getting upgraded into First Class

9. Scariest moments on an airplane

10. Favorite/least favorite airports

11. Friendliest/unfriendliest airlines

12. Money-saving travel tips

13. Has anyone ever actually flown cheap or free for one of those "courier services"?

14. Travelling with infants

15. Travelling with children

16. Travelling with pets

17. How to travel with your spouse without straining your relationship

18. Combatting or preventing jet lag

19. Melatonin & jet lag

20. "Natural" remedies that worked for you (Note that this has nothing to do with air travel; it was suggested by #19.)

21. Best books to read on airplanes

22. Strategies for keeping the seat next to you empty

23. Hotel tips for travellers

24. Things you once thought you'd never do...that now you do. (This comes from me remembering how for years I thought flying First Class was a ridiculous luxury; now that I spend half my life planes, one of the worst things that can happen to me is to get stuck in - gasp! - Coach Class.)

25. Preventing/overcoming motion sickness

26. Most embarrassing moments (This comes from #25, which reminded me of when I, as a 24-year old, went out on a rowboat in a very calm, tiny lake with my 85-year old grandfather... and I got seasick.)

27. "Old sayings" that really are true, those that really aren't. (This comes from my grandfather - see #26 - who had a "maxim" for everything.)

Letter #2 is from an airline employee who says, "At the airport, the gate agent is GOD." She goes on to say her husband always gets upgraded because of his relationship to her and his respectful treatment of gate agents.

Thought-Starters from Letter #2:

28. Who is the most powerful person in YOUR company (e.g., in a hospital, school, restaurant, etc.)?

29. Where has nepotism reared its ugly head in YOUR workplace?

30. Have you ever been your spouse's boss (or vice-versa)?

31. Listeners' stories of their workplace romances (e.g., meeting future spouses on the job)

32. The strangest co-worker you've ever had

33. The worst boss you've ever had

34. The best boss you've ever had

35. Best/worst excuses for being late to work (Again, notice that these last few have NOTHING to do with the Letter to Editor.)

36. If you were elected President of the United States, what would be your first three official acts? (Last time I'll point this out: Although completely unrelated to the Letter, it somehow follows my semi-derailed train of thought.)

In Letter #3, a reader complains about the lessening quality of the USAir's "Priority Gold Plus" membership - for their most frequent flyers.

Thought-Starters from Letter #3:

37. What's your favorite "perk" of your job or profession?

38. What's the one big misconception people have about your profession? (Example: Disc jockeys work just four hours a day.)

In Letter #4, a reader recounts his outrage at paying $200 a night for a hotel room and still being charged for toll-free "800" calls he placed from his room...and that, as a result, he'll never stay at Marriott again.

Thought-Starters from Letter #4:

39. Solicit stories of people who have abused expense accounts

40. The worst rip-offs in daily life

41. Funny (bogus) new "900" phone lines

42. The dumbest thing I ever bought through mail order

43. The dumbest thing I ever bought at a garage sale 44. Interview an auctioneer

45. Use an auctioneer as the voice on your station promos

46. Have listeners enter their answering machine messages in contest for funniest ones

47. Should car phones be outlawed?

48. Comedy sketch about what parts of our lives we can expect Technology to take over

49. Listeners call in to share the best bargains they ever got (e.g., a washing machine they've used for 40 years)

Letter #5 is from a reader who used to work for an airline and thinks.... Well, it's only semi-coherent, and I don't know what her point is. But she does praise United and Delta for their First Class cabins.

Thought-Starters from Letter #5:

50. What is the one thing you can't get your Significant Other to understand?

51. What is the one thing you and your spouse always disagree on?

52. What's the one big way your family differs from your spouse's family?

53. If you could have been part of any fictional family, which would it be?

54. What is your earliest TV memory?

55. What is the one TV show you wish they would bring back?

56. What is the hardest job in TV?

Well, that's 56 ideas in 10 minutes. Maybe not 56 good ideas. Maybe only half have potential. Perhaps only one-third. Maybe only 10%. That would be only ten good ideas in ten minutes.

The second magazine I tried for this exercise is THE CHAMPION, which is published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Their "Letters to the Editor" page features only two letters, both singing the praises of a recently deceased, apparently much-beloved defense attorney with high political connections.

Thought-Starters :

57. Humorous names of publications for other professions

58. A defense attorney getting married, verbally jousting with the minister over the precise wording of the wedding vows

59. New career options for O. J. Simpson

60. "Battle of the Bands" concept pitting famous fictional lawyers against each other

61. Who was the best movie "James Bond"?

62. Should bald(ing) men consider toupees? (Okay, I'll explain the connection: James Bond ...Sean Connery...His virile image despite relative lack of hair....)

63. Bad career moves (Connection: Sean Connery left the Bond films, which was not a bad move for him...But how good was it for Pernell Roberts to leave "BONANZA"?)

64. New career opportunities for Bill Clinton if he loses the 1996 election

65. Judge Ito's child-rearing tips

66. Interview with defense attorney regarding ethics of the job

67. Solicit calls from lawyers, saying what type of law they wish they had specialized in from the start

68. Day in the life of a beat cop

69. How does an FBI agent spend a typical workday?

70. The Management Techniques of Bart Simpson

71. Have listeners complete this simile (with their individual explanation): "Life is like...."

72. Things That Are Not Illegal...But Should Be

The third and final magazine I found is COMPUSERVE MAGAZINE, which I liberated from the waiting room of the CompuServe office in Wellington, New Zealand.

Letter #1 asks about a CompuServe forum devoted to Esperanto.

Thought-Starters from Letter #1:

73. Listeners contribute favorite examples of bureaucratic doubletalk (from memos, employment manuals, etc.)

74. Best ways for an adult to learn a foreign language

75. Listing of words, terms & phrases that didn't exist when we were children

76. Translating the jargon of today's teenagers

77. Sponsor's commercial that humorously translates product (or teenage, hip-hop, etc.) jargon into "everyday" language

78. Create a character whom no one understands

79. Create a character with a strong yet unidentifiable accent - running gag is no one can figure out just where he comes from

80. Things We Wish Our Computer Knew How To Do For Us

81. 101 Uses For The Old, 20-Megabyte Hard Drive That You Thought You'd Never Be Able To Fill But Which You Long Ago Put Aside Because Now It Seems So Small

82. What it would be like if the U.S. Postal Service were put in charge of delivering all e-mail

Letter #2 asks about listings of World League Football statistics.

Thought-Starters from Letter #2:

83. Retired football players as poetry professors

84. Parody of meaningless statistics in sports

85. Most annoying cliches of sports announcers

86. Using the "designated hitter" concept in other areas of life

87. Comedy piece centered on play-by-play broadcast of non-sporting events (e.g., a First Date)

88. Sporting events for non-athletic people

89. Station promotion: Office Olympics....Homemakers Olympics....Grandparents Olympics

90. Running gag: Impersonated voice of sportscaster keeps reporting on new statistics of your show ("You've just climbed to 17th place on the all-time list of Most Mispronounced Words In A Single Broadcast.")

Letter #3 is looking for a forum devoted to origami.

Thought-Starters from Letter #3:

(Origami is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding.)

91. How do you react when you receive a computer-generated (rather than hand-written) thank-you note?

92. Humorous list of fictitious, unusual hobbies (fish folding, sewing trousers for asparagus stalks, etc.)

93. Assign station staff member to prepare weekly report on a different museum or gallery in your city

94. Recurring station promotion: Helping to organize school trips to local museums, historical sites, etc.

95. Contest prize: Cooking lessons in the cuisine of your choice (Japanese, French, etc.)

96. Contest prize: Dinners at the best local restaurants in each of the various cuisines

97. Best-Tasting Recipes That Sound Like They Would Be Terrible

98. Bachelors' cooking tips

99. "You Know He/She Is Not Married When..."

100. Things that married people miss most about no longer being single

101. Home decorating tips for people with no taste or budget

102. Cheap office decorating tips

103. How to run a small office on a tiny budget (serious or humorous)

Letter #4 is computer gibberish, asking about "the VBRUN100.DLL Windows file."

Thought-Starters from Letter #4:

104. Marriage counseling for couples comprised of one "Macintosh" person and one "PC" person

105. Feature on the addictive nature of being on-line

106. Feature reviewing the latest & best in children's educational software

107. Weekly program devoted to #106 above - sponsored by (but editorial content not influenced by) local computer store

108. Favorite "home remedy" style household hints ( e.g., mixing these two common substances provides a perfect window cleaner)

109. Feature Report: Challenge local hacker to see how much information can be found about you in one day, using only his computer

Letter #5 is from a reader looking for a forum devoted to building and architecture.

Thought-Starters from Letter #5:

110. Survey of most beautiful, ugliest buildings in town

111. Multi-part feature giving histories of local landmarks

112. Your Favorite Household Gadget

113. Best excuses for getting out of doing work around the house

114. The Time I Was Caught Telling A Lie...

115. Contest: Guess which one of these is NOT the name of a dish currently being served at a local school cafeteria

Final Tally: 115 ideas - some bad, some good - in about an hour.

All Articles © 1997 - 2022 Dan O'Day. All Rights Reserved