Using The Phones

A master lesson

If you never share listener contact — listener voices — on your show, you’re missing an opportunity, especially now that cell phones are ubiquitous.

Never hearing listeners is one of the sure signs of a voice-tracked show, even when technical perfection hides all others. Who do you hear now in your market who consistently uses phone contact well?

Two of the best air talents I ever heard worked at the same station, which couldn’t have been coincidental, and though their styles with listeners were different, the effect of adding listeners’ voices to their shows was just as strong.

Kathy Whiteside did middays, and Tom Kelly was the afternoon host, and their station, WBIG, not only became #1 25-54 in Washington, DC, it won every accolade possible, including the Marconi.

So I asked their PD, Steve Allan, to share his insight into the proper use of listener voices, ‘phoners’…

What made Tom and Kathy’s work so great is that they always cut to the chase. They never did the ‘Hi, who’s this?’ kind of stuff on air. They identified the caller, and went right to their question of comment. Or, they used them for the punch line to a bit. Simple, but every effective, and it shone the spotlight on the audience, not on themselves.”

I should add that while Tom’s persona could be sarcastic, Kathy was the essence of sweetness and light; they were really different on-air. Every talent on WBIG was distinct. It’s one of the things that made the station so interesting and fun to hear.

And they never made the listener the target of disdain or scorn. They laughed with listeners, not at them.

Here’s Steve again: “I always preached to my talent that the point of any phone call was to be entertaining! It had to DO something, make listeners react in some way. In the larger picture, this is one of the reasons WBIG was so popular: We seemed (they were) accessible. The audience was part of the product.”

And maybe this comment from Tom will be helpful: “Only use the ’emotional hook’ of the phone call. Wonder where I learned that? It’s amazing what you can do in less than 12 seconds…”

If you’re a PD, encourage your talent to learn the skill of using listener voices frequently. It will take practice and coaching. They will need to be reminded of purpose.

Using listener voices well, and frequently, will add pacing, humanity, emotional content (both serious and light) and reinforce local connection.

Remember: no conversations. As Tom put it, “Edit, edit, edit.”

If your talent needs some help, let me know…