By Trent Rentsch
I am one of the great procrastinators when it comes to the holidays. It really doesn’t matter how early retail outlets start “reminding” us that it’s time to start our Christmas shopping, I will wait until the last minute. It’s not so much that I’m offended by the glittering trees beside the back to school merchandise; I simply can’t get my head around the season until it snows. Obviously, moving to North Carolina, with carolers going door to door in cargo shorts, has not improved the situation for me.
What’s worse is that phone call from my Mother, “So... do you have a list for me?” Yes, she still asks me for a Christmas wish list. She does start early; I usually get the call around mid-May. I think it’s wonderful that she still cares enough about her family to get presents that we really want, but unlike the child who haunted the mailbox in early fall until the Sears Wish Book arrived, I just don’t think about potential gift ideas until the snow flies (I did mention that I live in North Carolina, right?).
I’m trying to be better this year. I actually offered my wife a list in mid-October, knowing she would pass it along to those who might want it (read: my wife is now also hounded by my Mother). And since I was in the mood, I decided to make a few lists. There is a list for my kids (“Write me at least twice a year & try to keep the same job for more than six months”), our cats (“No hair balls on the carpet & consider the benefits and comfort of becoming lap cats”), and even the radio industry. Uh huh, you read that right. There are some things I’d like from radio this year, and I don’t think I’m asking too much. Here, let’s see what you think...
Talk TO the listeners. I find it odd that in the communications industry, we don’t always communicate that well. When I hear phrases such as, “Our customers,” or, “We invite PEOPLE to come to our door,” or, “IF you’re a Farmer/Housewife/Consumer, you need to listen to this message,” it grinds on my stomach worse than Grandma’s fruit cake. I don’t care if the radio is playing in an office, a diner, or a car-full of people, the words must speak to the individual, not the group... or worse, some anonymous “customer.” To be effective communication, it needs to be personal. You cannot use the word “You” enough, even if the message may not be intended for some listeners. It is difficult to turn away from a voice that is talking TO you; keeping the tone and words on a one-to-one, engaging, personal level will keep the listeners, well, LISTENING. Plus, at the most basic level, talking at people feels unreal and rude. Always approach a script with your best friend in mind, and don’t just read it... talk to them.
Less music... more talk. At the risk of bringing the wrath of some Program Directors down on me, I’d like to suggest a more simple, basic, direct approach to production, without all the “flips and shit.” It really goes back to my first wish. A single voice, sans music or sound effects, can be more personal, more effective communication. Now, this does not mean that I condone Uncle Buck from Real Steal Motors droning on for 60 seconds. Those who do that often have nothing to say, and it becomes a litany of monotone clichés. What I would like to hear is a talented announcer, talking one-on-one to the listener, with a compelling, witty, STRONG message. I dig the fear PD’s have of dry voices... they often ARE dry, with a dry message, and the pacing of the station stumbles. But if real care is taken crafting the script and the correct voice performs it correctly, listeners will stay with you, and even pay attention to the message. I’m not suggesting that we throw away our music libraries, but we can consider that, sometimes, the message doesn’t need music. In fact, as often as I hear stop sets that throb by in a blur of sound and fury, I wonder if we aren’t doing our clients a disservice by not considering whether a message really is strong enough to stand on its own.
No more war! Gifts can be mysterious things, coming from the most unlikely places or events. I was recently given a gift from the Golden Retriever my children have had for the past 9 years. All dogs seem to have this loyal affection gene, but Sammy really was special. I can say this without bias, as he came into my children’s lives after my divorce. Sammy really, truly, loved everybody. Nothing seemed to make him happier than a ringing doorbell; it meant that a new person was “coming to see him.” He would wag his tail so hard that his entire back end wagged, he would always have to offer you something... be it his latest bone or the nearest shoe. And after the excitement of greeting you died down, Sammy was in heaven, simply by leaning against you, or having just a finger on his shoulder.
Recently, I visited my kids, and on the day I arrived they had to take Sammy to the vet. It seems that he had developed a problem with his lungs, and while they stabilized him, the vet warned them that he was a “ticking bomb.” He did his usual wag when he saw me; I went out with my kids, all was well... until the next day. My son called and told me that Sammy had quit breathing again, and nothing could be done. My wife and I went to their house, and we stood with tears in our eyes along with my ex and her husband, my daughter and son-in-law, and even a neighbor as my boys buried Sammy.
Sad as it was, I realized that Sammy had taught me a valuable lesson. He was always loving to everybody... no exceptions. And everybody loved him in return, you couldn’t help it. He was a loyal friend to all, and he got what he gave. What an important gift that lesson is. My wish is that we can all be that way in our day to day relationships at work.
There you go, my wish list for radio this year. Oh, and I suppose if someone would happen to slip a Production Director job in my stocking, I wouldn’t complain... sans snow, even better!
Ho! Ho! Ho!!!