It’s a pretty safe bet that as listeners to public radio we’ve all heard great radio hosts. Conversely, it’s guaranteed that we’ve heard our share of less than stellar hosts. Especially during public radio pledge drives.
Scott Williams is a co-creator and a presenter for the Morning Edition Grad School. This intensive hands-on seminar has been giving station program directors and hosts the insights and skills needed to create a more vibrant, connected, and innovative local/national news product. One aspect of the training is to help create better on-air hosts. Roger Gomoll interviewed Scott recently to see if those same skills could be used to create more effective on-air fundraising drives.
RG: What’s the single most useful thing that on-air pitchers can add to their pitching to be more effective fundraisers?
SW: It’s transitions, making connections. It’s sharing the listening experience of what they’ve just been hearing. In news pitching it’s to refer back to what the listener just heard. You can hit a home run by referring to the work of a reporter that was just on. The key is to do it in just one or two sentences. A lot of times a busy studio is an unnatural environment in which to listen closely, so hosts need to plan for it. Sometimes hosts are so busy preparing for the break that they don’t notice that something that they could transition from that could be useful.
RG: And in classical music pitching, hosts can transition from the music or the performers that listeners just heard. Good transitions are helpful, but are there other things that great hosts need to do during pledge drives?
SW: It’s important to continue to do what you always do on the air. Time checks, Temps and forecasts. Forward promotes of what’s coming up. It’s all about engaging the listeners. Good people can really pull it off well. It goes back to remembering the host basics. Particularly in the morning, not doing the time, not talking about the weather is a huge mistake during fundraising. If you’re not careful, that kind of thing gets pushed to the side. I’m thinking about talking to people and their situation. Tie the daypart back to the listener and to pitching. “Before you go to work this morning….”. On that point, it is essential that if you’re using the word “you” that you really are talking to one person. If you’re not careful, it can sound like you’re addressing a football stadium.
RG: So you’re suggesting that hosts make sure they stay on track with keeping listeners tuned to the station AND do great fundraising as well.
SW: Fundraising is all about doing great radio. I think that one of the things is that you want to create pleasant surprises for listeners. In news fundraising often times that can be making a connection between a national and local story, or just by presenting the background on something the station staff has created. Tell the interesting back stories and say that the listener funding made it possible. Give them a peek behind the curtain. Create the moments of insight- or surprises.
At our classical music station in Phoenix, we find listeners and performers and get them to tell the effect of classical music on them. To me the most compelling and genuine personal stories address the values of music in ways that are hard for the hosts to talk about sometimes. It’s an entirely different perspective for a performer or musician than from just a ”regular” listener.. It’s talking about all the ways that music can affect people.
RG: Those personal stories can be very moving. Where do you find them?
SW: We put together 30 second one-on-one interviews with first time givers. Classical music lovers tell stories of how certain pieces of classical music brought back fond memories of family members who listened. These personal stories are entwined in memories that are wonderful, good, or even bittersweet, but always emotional. They have a certain nostalgia. It’s nice to hear people talk about music in a more personal way. If you can get to that emotional bit every few hours, that is powerful.
RG: One big selling point that is easy to miss is that the station connects them with the performing arts community in their city. How is that pitched on the air?
SW: Classical stations are an important part of the arts community and you need to sell that to some degree. One of our drives is called “The Heart of the Arts” drive, where we position ourselves as being the center of the arts community in Phoenix. We do a lot of features online about arts things, but we run short arts pieces on our station about to let them share what’s coming up in the community. We work hard to be more than just a music station. It’s the combination that really creates our value to the community.
Scott Williams has been a program director since 1976, and has headed programming at all-news KJZZ and classical KBAQ in Phoenix since 1989. Williams served on the Public Radio Program Directors Association board, chaired the group for two years and has led its annual PD workshop for 13 years.
He was a trainer for RRC workshops for four years, and he is also part of Strategic Programming Partners, currently leading the Morning Edition Grad School project. He was teaching assistant for Howard Stern's first communications class at Boston University.