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Spring Cleaning For Talk Stations

by Holland Cooke

As a programming consultant, trekking from client to client lets me hear lots of radio. Here are some tips based on what I've heard.

1. Caution for Talk talent:

Avoid overdosing your listeners on gloom-and. doom, particularly during the afternoon drive when listeners are weary. Take a page from Paul Harvey and purposely include a dose of "good news" stories/topics to balance the death-and-destruction that dominates most days' headlines.

2. Announce your dial position frequently.

You're already saying your call letters at least 30 times per hour, right? Don't forget your dial position, too. If you ask non-radio people to name the stations on their car radio buttons, they'll recite numbers.

3. Is the commercial creative you develop for direct clients too creative?

Too often, stations produce copy that's all shtick and not enough sell. Station announcers are cast as actors, with their voices over sound effects as though they were talking about the client's product over a meal. Often, too much time is spent on the spot's concept and not enough on the benefits of buying the client's product. Ask for the order with well-written, live, commercial copy. After all, your on-air hosts are natural pitch men, not actors. Let them pitch.

4. Avoid the two most frequently heard mispronunciations:

"Schlessinger" (often said by other voices on her affiliates differently than she says it, making the show sound like an import instead of part of the station's family), and "jeweIry" (which careless announcers say as "Jewlery," offending some listeners).

5. Here's an example of a common wrong signal on-air hosts send listeners:

"Frank from Springfield, you're on WXXX. Thanks for holding on through the break." Although polite and well-intentioned, the message is that callers have to sit on hold during several minutes of commercials.

6. If you air weekend re-runs of syndicated weekday shows, don't call it "The Best of..." Instead, call it "The (Dr. Laura Schlessinger) Saturday Show." To your listeners, that's what it is. Why point out that it's a re-run? For many listeners, it's not.

7. Tell listeners what time you air the weather.

Research consistently demonstrates that weather is the No. 1 reason people turn on the radio, especially AM Radio and especially in the morning. But when does your station do the forecast? Could your listeners say?

8. For snowbelt stations, winter weather is an exceptional opportunity.

Snowstorms - even the threat of snowstorms - is at least a sampling opportunity. And, for many AM stations, coverage is a moneymaker. Some stations sell "stand-by" sponsorships. Then when the snow hits the fan, stations automatically air spots and billboards...and bill the sponsors. But be sure your station sounds dependable and reassuring, not alarming. Too many stations' promos sound like an asteroid shower's coming.

9. Are your teases really teasing?

Getting listeners to "stay tuned" - even just a few more minutes per sitting - can yield big Arbitron TSL dividends. Talent constantly should tease ahead, plugging upcoming service elements and features, But (and this is critically important) truly tease. This is not a tease: "Sports is next." A better tease would be: "Another NBA player is under arrest!"

From monthly newsletter by News/Talk consultant Holland Cooke. For sample issue, send self-addressed stamped envelope to "Newsletter Sample," Holland Cooke, 3220 "N" Street NW, Washington DC 20007.


© 1998 by Holland Cooke

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