Monthly Archives: May 2008

Writing For The Wastebasket

This blog began as something for radio program directors. I hope to offer some useful ideas at least occasionally.

To use a Civil War term, “I’ve seen the elephant” It means you’ve been in battle.

Believe me, I’ve seen a few elephants.

Blogs are about anything you want them to be about. Whether people read them or not is secondary.

I don’t remember the writer who first said it, but it is good advice, “Write for the wastebasket.”

So that’s what I do.

Some of it comes out pretty good, at least to my satisfaction. I’m sure some readers would suggest it all belongs in the wastebasket.

That’s the great thing about having a blog. I get to decide what to keep.

Not all ideas are going to be good. Writing for the wastebasket takes the pressure off having to be good all the time.

If it’s good. Great.

If not, oh well.

Writing and rewriting helps you generate new ideas, and hopefully something better.

I like writing for the wastebasket as a standard practice for morning and talk shows.

Keep writing. Keep creating and decide later whether the idea is good enough.

Avoid falling in love with your own writing and ideas.

I always wait a day before deciding to publish a piece on this blog. Sometimes what looks good in the evening is pretty awful the next morning.

The late Professor James Carty of Bethany College put it best. “Write, write and re-write”.

At this moment I have at least five articles in various stages of development. Not all will make it to the blog. Some will go through extensive re-writes and a few will go to the wastebasket.

There is no pressure when you write for the wastebasket.

Write, write and re-write.

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Posted by on May 19, 2008 in Radio programming


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“I’m This Kid See…”

Jean Shepherd was a brilliant story teller and best known for his holiday movie classic, “A Christmas Story”.

TBS plays it over and over each Christmas. The one with the famous warning “you’ll shoot your eye out kid”. That Christmas Story.

Shepherd wrote extensively for Playboy and authored a couple of books including “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash.”

He did a nightly 45 minute program on WOR for almost 25 years.

The show was all talk with the exception of Shepherd playing the kazoo. Just Shep, the mike, his engineer and stories of the army, or his childhood in Indiana.

He was different. This was not the Cousin Brucie Show.

This guy talked right to you. He knew you. He understood the problems you were having as a kid, even gave you tips on handling bullies.

Word about the ‘guy on the radio’ spread around Roxbury High School in mostly hushed tones. “Wow you listen to Shep? Cool”.

We didn’t talk about him in the open. Shepherd was a secret known to only a ‘select’ group at school. Us.

‘Shepherd didn’t view himself as a radio man. He was a performer.

Shep’s radio work allowed him the financial freedom to perform for live audiences, usually at small clubs in the Village.

He had a true love hate relationship with radio.

Shep loved radio for its story telling power. As a medium though it was never good enough for him.

He hated that in radio you were only as good as your next program.

A writer could influence people with their work even years later. Television and movies gave you a video to play again and again.

But a radio show was gone for good. No re-runs, and no way to influence an audience in the future.

It bothered him that a Broadway Show could open to 500 people and still get a story in the New York Times.

But a great radio performance heard by thousands of ears got no outside attention.

Radio performers toil in obscurity.

This was the great Shepherd frustration.

Radio is also the content ‘vampire’. It requires fresh, new material in every show.

Forty-five minutes sounds like the easy, dream job. He made it sound so simple, and spontaneous.

But that 45 minute program sometimes took four or five weeks to create.

“I’m this kid see…” the words signaling a story was coming from the Shepherd childhood.

I’m not sure why I mention any of this except to say it is hard to be great on radio. Even harder to be remembered.

The Arbitron Ratings system requires you to be memorable. Until people meters are in every market, radio ratings will be driven by memory.

How memorable is your station?

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Posted by on May 17, 2008 in Radio programming


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Are You Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Recently I filled in for Joe Galuski on the WSYR Morning News program.

It was hard work.

So much for being told that radio is a lazy man’s profession.

Radio is content. Content requires preparation.

The morning show on WSYR starts at 5AM. Someone has to create the content that appears on the show. I found out fast that someone was ME.

One thing is certain, you can’t go on air at 5AM without doing a lot of preparation.

Our workday started around 3 AM.

Good radio requires constant preparation.

Gary Owens took notes into a little voice recorder whenever he saw something that might make a good bit on radio. He had files of material saved from the recorder notes.

The Jack Benny Show employed several writers and they wrote, then re-wrote the show over several days time. They re-wrote again after the Sunday morning rehearsal and sometimes re-wrote after the east coast performance . The west coast version was often different than the east coast show.

Jean Shepherd might take several weeks to write just one 45 minute show. He didn’t work from a script but instead had ideas, notes and names scribbled on paper. Shep’s thoughts were well planned and always knew how to wrap up when the theme music ended.

Each of these blog articles takes a couple of hours to write and re-write. Yet, they represent only 60 seconds of airtime if read on a radio show.

Gary Burbank put every bit through a process of writing, then re-writing, performing and editing.

Gary wrote early in the morning then arrived at the studio around ten. He wrote some more and recorded then edited in time for the show at 2pm and often continued writing at home in the evening.

The long time Cincinnati Personality Dusty Rhodes was the absolute best I ever saw at preparing a music show. He wrote every word for every break.

Dusty has notebooks filled with past shows all carefully scripted and organized.

No matter your style, careful preparation is key to success on radio. This is extremely important for the voice tracker who works in a world that is disconnected from your radio station.

Remember, many trackers begin their work from the disadvantage of not being in your station or city.

From my experience there are two kinds of voice trackers.

One will walk into the studio and just lay down tracks.

The other takes time to plan all of the breaks, creates great content and then goes into the studio to create a show.

Voice tracking is not easy work. It requires preparation and should make talent want to strive for perfection of content and performance.

Ask yourself some questions about your talent.

  • How much time are your trackers spending on each show? Are they doing a show or just laying down tracks?
  • Ask to see their show prep. It should be the same as if the show were going to be live.
  • Are you treating the voice tracker who works outside your station as a member of the staff?
  • How much help are you providing to your outside voice trackers?
  • Are your music logs loaded into the system several days in advance so the tracker can work ahead?
  • As Program Director be honest about your own show. Are you doing show prep or laying down tracks? What is your show performance communicating to the rest of your staff?
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Posted by on May 15, 2008 in Radio programming


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The Road To The Hall Of Fame

Cooperstown New York is not easy to find.

The picturesque town is tucked along narrow winding roads in upstate New York.

But it’s so worth the drive.

The difficult trip to Cooperstown is a metaphor for what it takes to get into the hall itself.

Only the really serious, most dedicated and talented make it.

That’s true for any Hall Of Famer.

The Radio Hall Of Fame’s Ruths, Gehrigs, and Lefty Groves are named Benny, Murrow and McLendon.

The voting for this year’s inductees is currently underway. You can vote by signing up at the Museum Of Broadcasting website.

I’d like to put in a good word for a face that belongs on a plaque.

Gary Burbank is a hero of mine.

He doesn’t know that. But anyone that can go between two or three different voices and personalities and not require medication is pretty amazing.

Gary Burbank is amazing.

You really had to see it to believe how he’d have one character interview another. He did all the voices.

Gary really understands radio. He uses the right words to paint pictures and tell stories.

He is truly one of a kind and highly adaptable evolving from a rapid fire Top 40 style to the slower pace heard on WLW.

Compare Gary’s work on WAKY to that of WLW. It’s the same Gary, but his evolution as a writer and performer is incredible.

Gary is a major reason WLW rose to number one for almost twenty years.

Name one Baseball Hall Of Famer that improved right up to their last at bat. Gary did.

He retired from WLW leading the league in great content.

He made it sound so easy.

Anyone priviledged to watch from behind the scenes knows the work he put into every show.

Nobody is that good, for that long by winging it.

So please consider Gary Burbank when you cast your vote for Radio Hall of Fame Inductees.

Now, I’d like to address that Hall in Cooperstown.

Gary also played a mean second base for the station softball team.

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Posted by on May 13, 2008 in Radio programming


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Keep Your Knees Loose

We ran into a neighbor and her thirty year old daughter at our favorite lunch spot yesterday.

The daughter is happily employed but facing a lay-off, possibly as early as Monday.

She is clearly upset.

The lay-off is through no fault of her own. The company likes her and she them.

She feels betrayed like others in her situation.

“I gave this place my heart and soul and wanted to stay forever.” she said.

Now a reality check for all of us who are employees somewhere.

The average job lasts three years today.

‘Forever’ might not be in the cards no matter how much you love the work.

Companies change.

Industries change.

Hopefully you’ll keep changing too.

No one should want to do the same job, in the same place for thirty years.

My parents generation grew up during the high flying 1920s only to see things turn to Depression in the 30s. Next, they found themselves in the horrific World War of the 40s.

It’s no wonder they just wanted a stable job and a house in the suburbs.

The working world is not what it was even five years ago.

Peter Drucker said business is in a state of ‘perpetual white water’.

Things move quickly and unpredictably.

No company can guarantee your employment. It is up to you to guarantee your employability.

As Jean Shepherd used to say “keep your knees loose gang”.

Be a lifetime learner. Focus on networking and be thinking one or two jobs down the road.

What would you do if the company ‘downsized, rightsized or just outsized you tomorrow morning?

Here are excellent books about taking control of your work life.

  • Dan Miller “48 Days To The Work You Love”
  • Richard Nelson Bolles “What Color Is Your Parachute?”
  • Stephen M. Pollan “Fire Your Boss”
  • Dan Miller “No More Mondays”

My neighbor must think I’m a little nuts talking about how exciting it can be to lose your job.

But people who stay prepared usually do come out with a better situation.

Keep your knees loose.

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Posted by on May 11, 2008 in Radio programming


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Edward R. Murrow And The Rise Of Radio News

Radio covered big news stories from the very beginning.

8MK, later licensed as WWJ Detroit broadcast the first radio news program August 31, 1920.

KDKA signed on with the Harding-Cox Presidential Election returns on November 2nd of that year.

Radio reported stories like the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Scopes (Monkey) Trial and the famous eyewitness account of the Hindenburg disaster.

However, very few regular news broadcasts were on the schedule during the 20s and 30s. Radio news departments really didn’t exist.

Generally, staff announcers handled everything from orchestra programs, to drama to ribbon cuttings.

The Great Depression occupied America’s attention during the 30s. Radio provided endless escape programs of soap operas and comedy.

The political climate in Europe not only changed the world map, but how news was covered and how we heard it.

Edward R. Murrow, an educator by trade, was hired by CBS to find entertainment programming to broadcast from Europe. Little did they know the impact he would have on radio news.

Murrow moved to London in the mid 30s and organized programming like children’s choirs broadcasts from Vienna.

A smart and well educated man, Murrow quickly saw the situation in Europe would require a totally different approach.

The America of the 1930s had isolated itself from the rest of the world.

Newspapers, the most important source of news, often buried stories about Europe deep inside the paper.

America was paying little attention to the events developing in Germany.

Murrow can be credited with inventing radio news and helping America come out of a deep slumber.

Bob Edwards of XM 133 is author of “Edward R. Murrow And The Birth Of Broadcast Journalism (Turning Points In History)’.

It is the fascinating story of Murrow and his ‘boys’ covering the big story with primitive equipment against difficult censorship rules.

The audio book version is great. it includes Murrow’s chilling description from a rooftop of bombs falling on London.

Murrow’s words are concise. Yet he speaks with great color.

It is powerful radio.

Bob’s engaging presentation will help your commute to work go very quickly.

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Posted by on May 9, 2008 in Radio History


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Lessons From A Cold Day At Old Main

The sign at the edge of town says “A Small School Of Distinction”.

We simply called it, a distinctly small school.

Bethany College is nestled into the the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

You don’t find it by accident.

The student body was about 1,000 strong and somewhat larger during Friday night fraternity keggers in the 70s.

We liked our beer. So did our neighbors at West Liberty State just down Route 88.

I went to Bethany because my uncle did and it was eight hours from the watchful eyes of my parental guidance.

Bethany had a radio station. The ten watt signal barely made it to that sign at the edge of town.

WVBC was my laboratory for four years.

It was there I learned the importance of programming for the local community.

WVBC had a talent line up that could rival most major market stations.

Ok, we weren’t ready for prime time, but most went on to great careers.

Here are a few.

Dave Sims does play by play for the Seattle Mariners and a show on XM.

Chris Moore hosts talk shows on Fox Sports Radio and has been with ESPN, the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers.

Blaise Howard is General Manager of WBEB Philadelphia.

Bob Orr is a Washington Correspondent for CBS Evening News.

Kurt Franck told me every morning how he would win the Pulitzer Prize. He did at the Toledo Blade.

Faith Daniels had a different last name then. Faith did news for WVBC and later was part of NBC’s Today Show.

Toriah Tolley, (Tory to us) anchored for several years on CNN.

Many others worked in television, radio, and newspapers and are names you know.

So it was with this band of merry makers we learned the ropes of radio.

Years later, after dealing with a local near disaster someone asked where I learned to handle such a thing.

The answer was easy, WVBC.

It was a cold rainy Saturday afternoon in November when the power went out.

Our General Manager, Jim Humes gathered as many of us as he could find and headed to the WVBC transmitter.

The transmitter was in the basement of Old Main. It was an unpleasant place, especially without lights and heat.

Somehow we managed to rig a small studio. We had a mike and a turntable and found a way to get the transmitter back on air.

We spent hours on-air reporting what we knew about the situation.

Over the years I’d flashback to that day whenever there was an emergency situation. Days like when I was at WLW and the Space Shuttle blew up or we had a major blizzard at WSYR Syracuse.

The afternoon at Old Main taught me the importance of an emergency plan for any station.

Today it is tougher than ever to handle local emergencies. Newsrooms are small or non-existent. Often available staff does not have proper training.

The time to think about the ‘what ifs’, is long before they occur.

I suggest you take time to think about how you would handle a serious situation.

9/11 was a good drill, but years have passed and people have forgotten much about it.

There will be another day when you are faced with split second decisions.

Think about who you’d call in to work. How you would get them to the station. What you would need to do to make sure you served the public and made sure your community is safe.

Involve your staff in the planning.

It is never too early to think about your emergency plan.

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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in Radio programming


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IPOD vs. HD and the winner is….

Yesterday I visited several Best Buy and Circuit City stores trying to buy a replacement car radio.

Most of the radios on display offered several features such as IPOD ready, HD ready and Satellite ready.

All the salesmen were enthusiastic about the IPOD feature. It was simple to operate, just plug in and you’re in business.

The satellite ‘ready’ feature required a $100 part to receive either XM or Sirius. Colorful posters advertised all of the programs, personalities and features available.

The salesmen were well informed about the choices.

HD, that hot new thing pushed by the big radio companies was another matter.

The radios were HD ‘ready’, which like satellite required buying another part for $100.

I asked what could be heard on HD.

None of the salesmen had the slightest idea. Each had a different, but very vague response. Their body language saying “please don’t ask me about that”.

This is the ‘front line’. The radio industry needs these guys to be excited about the product and at the very least aware of it.

As Earl Pitts would say, “Wake Up America!”

I hate to tell you guys on Basse Road and in Buckhead, Georgia HD is DOA.

The bigger threat and opportunity is IPOD .

I chose an inexpensive Sony with a very nice IPOD interface. I can listen to podcast programs of my choice with ease.

You’re missing an huge opportunity if your station doesn’t offer podcasts.

Every radio on the shelf had IPOD interface. Those with standard HD were expensive, or required a costly interface.

Hey, didn’t the radio commercials say HD is free?

Podcasting is another way for you to re-purpose your content and connect with your listeners.

Here are five ideas to help you build a simple daily podcast for your station.

  • Have the morning show do a short rundown of their best calls, bits and news items after each day’s show. Kind of like Oprah’s ‘after the show’ segment. They host. It takes 15 minutes to prepare.
  • Archive great bits and recap them in a special programs.
  • Invite listeners to submit their own podcasts with the best being available for download.
  • Find vintage airchecks of your morning show and put them up on the web for download.
  • Partner with people that offer great lifestyle content and link their podcasts to your website. Again, like Oprah these are your Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. the specialists with great content.

It is astonishing how many radio websites have no audio available.

Our world is audio.

Imagine your sister television station without video on their website.

The local paper without pictures.

That’s what most radio station websites are like. They ignore the most important ingredient. AUDIO!

Think in sound.

Use lots of audio to connect with your audience.

The IPOD is just one more way to touch the listener and keep them coming back for more.

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Posted by on May 7, 2008 in Radio programming


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Big Ron O’Brien and Great Talent

Ron O’Brien’s passing last week caused a flurry of activity on the web from people looking for information about him.

Ron was a brilliant talent. My favorite memories of him were from his shows on WCFL.

Radio is missing that kind of exciting talent today.

Granted we’re in a completely different era of radio programming than the great top 40 years of the sixties and seventies. There are few truely original talents on today’s radio.

In the ‘old days’, radio was full of characters and innovators.

Frankie Crocker was an early radio hero of mine. I first noticed him on WMCA and never heard his work on WWRL. But after hearing him on WMCA, I decided to see what RL was all about.

WWRL had an incredible talent line-up that included morning man Gregory, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Al G, Hank Spann and the amazing Gary Byrd. In fact that might be one of the top five best talent line-ups of the era.

Gary Byrd was extremely innovative. He did rap, before anyone knew what it was.

There were so many others in that period.

Jackson Armstrong was a powerhouse jock on WKBW in a line-up that included Danny Nevrith and Sandy Beach to name just two greats heard there.

Armstrong’s fast pace was unlike any other fast talking jock at the time and he was very funny.

Dr. Don Rose combined funny and corny on WFIL. He was an excellent morning man for the time. WFIL had all-stars in every day part. It was the tightest top 40 station with amazing song to song production.

Bill Bailey at WAKY was another who could not be copied. His grumpy rants were hysterical. WAKY’s afternoon guy Gary Burbank was pretty incredible too. ‘Hall Of Fame’ talent on one station in little ol’ Louisville.

There were great jocks in lots of smaller and medium markets.

WARM Scranton was an outstanding station. Harry West did mornings and their whole line-up was solid.

WDRC Hartford, WNHC New Haven, WAEB Allentown and WEEX Easton all had excellent talent.

Almost every town had at least one outstanding station.

Top 40 didn’t have all the talent.

WNEW had an outstanding MOR line-up including the very funny Gene Klavin in mornings.

Jean Shepherd’s late night talk show on WOR got more buzz around Roxbury High School than Cousin Bruce did on WABC. Shep was different. He talked to you like the conversation was just between you and him.

Think about it.

These were high school kids listening to a talk show on WOR. It was your grandmother’s station, except between 10:15 and 11 each night.

KDKA had Jack Bogut in mornings who had a knack for keeping you sitting in the car until his ‘home movie’ was finished. Bogut was as warm and relatable a talent as you’ve ever heard.

Radio encouraged innovation in those days, because it had to.

The era of great radio personalities began as television was stealing the big stars from radio. That’s when Alan Freed, Mad Daddy and Jack Sterling became important. It was a new style, and total departure from radio of the 1940s.

We need that again.

I don’t mean we must find the next Alan Freed. We need the next era of innovation that will capture the imagination of the audience.

Maverick owners like Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon encouraged innovation. They loved big promotions, big talent, lots of excitement and loved taking chances.

I’m not sure either Storz or McLendon could tell you much about accounting.

They sure understood the audience.

No one sitting in the ‘big chair’ at any major radio group can make that claim today.


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There is a simple, yet very powerful software I’ve just discovered called Brainstorm.

They offer a free 30 day trial which you can download.

I don’t make any money off of this or any of the software suggested on this blog.  I think it has huge application for morning shows and program directors.

Check it out at

It’s been a big help to me this morning creating a couple of project plans.

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Posted by on May 4, 2008 in Uncategorized


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