Broadcasting Basics, Part 2
A lot of folks come to public radio with no previous broadcasting experience. Many of them work in jobs that don’t put them in front of a microphone except during pledge drives. So they’re coming at this with virtually no training in, and quite a few misconceptions about, on-air performance. That’s understandable.
Even those who’ve been doing on-air work for whatever amount of time may have not had any formal training in the art of broadcast announcing (as we used to call it). So let’s start with some basics and work our way up.
Tired performers are not effective communicators, generally speaking. Pledge managers have a responsibility to see that on-air staff aren’t overscheduled and can get proper rest. But talent also has an obligation to make sure they get that rest and can be at their best when the light comes on.
Don’t scoff. This is a real thing. Good posture helps with vocal production and is less stressful, physically, than poor posture. Sit up straight.
There’s a difference between reading what’s on the page or the screen and delivering the message contained in those words. Don’t just read the script. Pay attention to what’s there, including phrasing and punctuation. Most importantly remember that it’s far more important to deliver the message in the script than to say the actual words. Identify key words and phrases in the script and decide beforehand how you’ll deliver them.
The three P’s of Preparation
Practice, punctuation, and purpose are the three P's of effective copy delivery.
Start with practice. This is true for both beginners and seasoned veterans. Take your script into a studio and record at least a portion of it. Then listen to it. How does it sound? What changes do you need to make?
Many announcers have, apparently, decided that punctuation no longer matters. Don’t think so? Listen to a pitch break and count the number of skipped periods. In the grammar of broadcast copy, commas are short pauses and periods are full stops. Look through your copy and mark the relevant punctuation. Focus on stop signs. Those periods indicate the end of a thought. Don’t skip them.
Purpose is the last of the three P’s. What’s the purpose of this break? What are we going to accomplish in this four minute pitch? Is there some sort of challenge? Special accelerator like a pair of socks, a coffee mug, or a sweepstakes entry? Note this and think about how you’ll approach it.
Oddly enough we still have to remind pitchers to focus on the audience. Who’s listening? Why are they listening? What are they doing while you chat with them? Focus on one person. Get a picture of them in your mind. Perhaps it’s someone you know sharing a beverage at a cafe or craft brewery. You’re a guest in their space. Be someone who gets invited back. Make it personal and own the message.
Who’s My Partner?
Who’s with me this hour? Is this the first time I’ve pitched with this person? Is this someone I work with every day? Have they looked at the script? Do we agree on who is saying what and when?
Who’s My Producer And What Are They Doing Here?
If you have a pledge break producer do you know what they’re going to be doing to support you during your time on the air? Are they giving you time cues or is the board operator doing that? Do they have special instructions for the hour? Last minute changes to the script? Will they be coordinating break timing?
Talking to Time
One of the first things a radio broadcaster should learn how to do is back time. For beginners that means keeping track of how much time is left until the end of the break. If the break is supposed to end at 17:30 how do you make sure that it does? Here’s where preparation comes in handy. If you’ve rehearsed your script you should be able to get a pretty good idea of how long each section will take. But sometimes things don’t work out as well when you’re actually live so what then?
Here are a couple of guidelines that may help you.
Know exactly when you are supposed to be done. The board operator or producer should know this.
Ask someone to give you cues when you get to 2 minutes left in the break and then 1 minute, 30 seconds, 15, and a countdown from 5.
Agree with your pitch partner that you won’t start any new case messages once you pass the 1 minute left point in the pitch break.
Use those last 60 seconds to close, close, close.
Find out how long it takes you to give the web site, phone number, and “thank you,” and make sure you leave yourself enough time to get those words out before time is up. You should be able to say “Pledge on-line at x-y-z-dot-org or at 888-555-1212, and thanks,” in anywhere from 7 to 10 seconds. Whoever speaks last should know this.
Don’t start new thoughts in the last minute of a break, whether case or close. Stick to the basics. Short sentences. Emphasize accelerators if you have them and always remember to tell listeners how to make a pledge.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Getting out of and back into regular programming smoothly can make or break a pitch segment. Know when you’re supposed to start. Know who is giving you the “go” to start talking. Know who’s got the first lines in the break. Know how you’re going to end and what program element is next so that you can pre-sell it. “Coming up next, a report on the latest standoff in Congress over Social Security, but first, why not take 30 seconds to make a pledge of support to WXXX, at …”
It is important to remember that pledge drives are programming. We know this because everything that is on the air at your radio station is programming. Pledge drives are on the air, therefore pledge drives are programming. Make sure that what you’re doing on the air is consistent with the approach, positioning, pace, and formatics of your station. People aren’t listening just so you can ask them for money. They expect to get the radio station they’re paying for (well, some of them are paying for) and it’s your job to give it to them WHILE you’re asking them for money.