Making Radio Work For You:
An Advocate's Guide on How to Use Radio Actualities
and Talk Radio to Move Your Agenda Forward
NEWS RADIO: GETTING THE WORD OUT USING RADIO ACTUALITIES
Introduction: Radio News and the American Audience
If you could stir them from their sleep, and speak to thousands of your fellow citizens as they get ready for work in the morning, or have their undivided attention as they drive to their jobs, you would probably think it was a great opportunity to inform them about an important issue of the day that could affect their lives. With radio news, often heard through alarm clocks, car radios, and on people's desks at work, one can do just that.
Many Americans get their news from the radio. In fact, Americans listen to the radio about three hours per day, on average, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. Whether it's heard through an alarm clock, over coffee and toast, or through car radios, most Americans get their morning news from the radio. Half of Americans listen to the radio at work, while three out of four adults listen in their cars.
While some stations have "all news" or "all talk" formats, many more incorporate news into their regular broadcasts, with newscasts at the top and bottom of the hour (on the hour and half hour). These newscasts are often a combination of national news from a news service such as ABC or UPI, and local news produced by the station. The local newscasts can be an important media target for an advocacy organization with news to convey.
Radio news reaches many Americans in unique and powerful ways. This important segment of the media should be incorporated into a comprehensive media outreach campaign. This manual is intended as a guide for advocacy organizations considering how and when to incorporate radio news--particularly radio actualities (prerecorded news stories similar to printed press releases)--into a public education or advocacy campaign. This guide is part of Families USA Foundation's effort to help its allies in the public interest community forward their messages through the media.
How to Use Radio News as Part of a Media Outreach Strategy
There are essentially three ways in which an advocacy group can get its news on the radio. First, it can try to get a radio stations to send someone from its news department to cover the media event (news conference, rally, etc.) Unfortunately, this approach is limited, as only the biggest news radio stations have more than one person on their news staffs. Most cannot afford to send someone out of the station for an hour or two to cover an event. Second, an organization can try to get members of the news staffs at local radio stations to conduct short interviews by phone with the group's spokesperson about the event. This is also a better strategy with stations with slightly larger news staffs, since they can afford the time it takes to conduct a short "newser." It is also limited by how much time a spokesperson can spend on the phone on the day of an event, when the news is timely.
For a news story with a statewide or larger focus, there is a third approach: Radio actualities, also known as radio newsfeeds, allow an organization to reach many radio stations in one morning with a pre-recorded news story. This cost-effective approach also has limitations. Usually, the biggest news stations will not use actualities, as they consider them spoon-fed news. Some of the smallest stations do not have the equipment necessary to record actualities over the phone. This leaves a large number of mid-sized stations to target for actuality distribution.
The Story: Is it News?
Before deciding to employ any of the above strategies, an advocacy group should make sure that its story is newsworthy. For example, a radio station is not going to want to hear an organization's perspective about legislation that passed two weeks ago. But most would like to hear about a new study showing that legislators who voted against consumer health reform legislation received more money from health industry PACS than those who voted for it.
Following are some criteria for what is considered newsworthy by the media. A story may be successful if it meets only one of the criteria, but often is most successful if it meets several:
- Is it new information?
- Is it timely?
- Is it counter-intuitive (man bites dog)?
- Is it controversial?
- Is there a strong human interest or emotional appeal?
- Is someone famous or notorious involved?
- Is there a dramatic visual or sound element?
- Is there a local angle?
Below are a few examples of things your organization could do that might be considered news:
- Release a new study of rising per-family health costs in the state.
- Release results of an investigation by your organization into shady insurance company sales practices, including testimony from several people who have been duped by misleading pitches pressuring them to buy coverage they did not need.
- Hold a well-attended rally at the state capitol in support of a bill that would make health insurance more affordable for people in your state
Using Radio Actualities Effectively
Radio actualities are essentially mini-press releases for the radio. Just like a news story that airs on the radio, they include an announcer summarizing the story and introducing the spokesperson, who delivers a colorful "soundbite" about the story, including any appropriate data being released.
Actualities are created at a recording studio and professionally transferred onto audio cassette tapes that--with the use of inexpensive equipment--can be recorded by radio stations directly from your telephone. To deliver an actuality, someone must call the news department of a particular radio station, successfully pitch the story, and play the tape until it completes its run, usually about 60 seconds. After rewinding the tape, the process is repeated.
Radio actualities are a fairly inexpensive and very effective way to get a message out to a broad cross section of people in a state. The organization writes, records and disseminates the actuality, thereby retaining control of the message.
Once you have decided that your story merits radio news coverage, you can move forward with radio actuality production and dissemination. You'll need to take the following ten steps, outlined in this manual, to make it happen:
- If you do not already have it, buy the equipment needed for distributing actualities.
If you already have it, make sure it works.
- Select a spokesperson for the soundbite;
- Select a spokesperson for the news announcer voice;
- Locate and reserve time at a recording studio;
- Obtain or create a list of radio stations in your state that air news;
- Train callers to disseminate the actuality on the day of the event;
- Write the script for the actuality;
- Write the script for the caller;
- Record the actuality at the studio;
- Disseminate the actuality via telephone.
1) Equipment: What's Needed
The actuality, which should be no more than 60 seconds in length, should be transferred by the recording studio where you record the actuality onto an audio cassette tape (the standard kind that you play in your cassette player.) When the caller disseminates the actuality, s/he will be able to play that tape directly through the phone line to the station's recording equipment at the other end. The station will then be able to edit the actuality into its newscast. To make this work, you'll need several inexpensive pieces of equipment, including:
- A standard touch tone phone with a dedicated phone line that can call directly out.
- A home-style audio cassette tape deck. TEAC and Pioneer make high quality tape decks that will last a long time. These tape decks retail for about $200 each.
- A telephone coupler box. This is the piece of equipment that allows you to play your audio tape directly over the phone so that the radio station can record your feed. Broadcasting distributors sell coupler boxes for around $99 each. The two models which have worked the best for Families USA are the Excalibur HC-1 Handi Coupler and the Comrex telephone Coupler Model TCB-1A. Patch cords are included.
Setting Up the System
Using a connector cable, connect the output of the cassette machine to send of the coupler box. Connect the handset cord from the phone into the handset modular connector on the coupler box. The phone should be connected to wall jack, and the cassette player should be plugged into the wall socket. See illustration below.
The equipment for actualities is likely a one-time investment. Over time, you may want to invest in an additional set of equipment so two callers can work at once to make dissemination of the actualities go even faster.
2) Selecting a Spokesperson
The person who will deliver the soundbite on the actuality can be the head of your organization or another "expert" or "real person" who is willing to participate in your media outreach. For example, if you are doing an actuality about cuts in health programs, you may want to try to line up a legislator or someone from a local or statewide Department of Health. Or, you may want to record someone who will be affected by the cuts. You can record this person's soundbite in addition to or instead of the expert's soundbite. In a 1995 Families USA survey, news directors indicated that local, state and national experts are acceptable, as long as they are talking about local issues.
Recording the actuality will take anywhere from one to two hours of the spokesperson's time (including travel to and from the studio). For that small investment, he or she will likely be heard on dozens of radio stations throughout the state.
Some people feel uncomfortable reading a script in a recording studio and have trouble sounding natural, while others take to it right away. With practice, almost anyone can be good spokesperson and deliver their lines with great authority and poise.
Advise the spokesperson to speak slowly, but not in a monotone voice. Search for words in the script that can be accentuated. For example, "This Medicaid legislation will be more damaging to the people of North Carolina than Hurricane Fran. If this bill passes Congress, 100,000 North Carolinians will lose their long term care benefits. That's an unnatural disaster."
Since the spokesperson is the expert in the actuality, make sure your spokesperson speaks with confidence and clearly articulates each word. But also make sure s/he sounds like a normal person talking to a friend, and not a pompous policy wonk. One of the major benefits of doing radio actualities is that it is not a live broadcast. Therefore, one can record as many takes as needed until the spokesperson gets it right. In time, they'll probably be a "one-take wonder."
3) Finding an Announcer for the Radio Actuality
An organization should seek to make an actuality it produces sound as close as possible to a real news story that a radio station would produce itself. This requires good script writing and usually entails hiring a professional announcer to record the "intro" and "outro" (also called the wraparound) to the soundbite. This person serves the role of the newscaster on a radio station, putting a story and spokesperson in context for the listener.
To locate a good announcer, look in the phone book for the nearest union local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Affiliated with the Screen Actors Guild (the movie actor union), this national union has the most qualified news announcers in the country. If there is no AFTRA local in your community, call its national office in suburban Washington at (301) 657-2560. They will gladly put you in touch with members in your area who can provide this service.
If time allows, ask the announcers to send you a "demo" cassette recording of his/her work. If the person sounds warm and convincing--like a radio announcer--you've probably found someone who will work.
These professional announcers may seem expensive, but they are probably worth the investment. They will likely affect whether your actuality is actually used by radio stations who record it. In the Families USA survey, two-thirds of news directors said a professional voice for the intro and wrap is "very important" or "somewhat important."
If you decide not to use a professional, you may be able to find someone on your staff with a deep, warm voice--possibly someone with acting experience. If you take this route, ask the person to listen to the radio for several days prior to recording to get a sense of the voice inflections used by radio announcers. Also, give them the script well ahead of time to allow them to practice.
4) Locating a Recording Studio
To locate a recording studio, ask the professional news voice you've hired where s/he's worked, or look in the yellow pages. Call around to find the best rates. You should be able to find a good studio with a top notch technical team for $40-$100 per hour. In addition to recording and editing the feeds, the studio will also dub the cassette tapes that you need to disseminate the actualities from your office. While the studio may have never heard of actualities, describe what you need and they will likely have no problem accommodating. A station that has produced radio ads may be especially proficient at this work.
5) Creating a List of Radio Stations That Take Actualities
Not all radio stations take actualities. If radio actualities will become a regular part of your media outreach, you will need to create a list of radio stations in your state that do. This can be done several ways. If you have a media guide that lists which stations air news or have a news director, you can duplicate those pages for your caller and have her/him work from those on the day of the event. If you do not have such a guide, the caller could call every station in the state, but bear in mind that this will slow down actuality dissemination greatly, making the news less timely.
To narrow down the list even further, prior to the event, one could call every radio station in the state that airs news or has a news department to find out whether they take actualities. This will help you produce a concise list for the day of the event. When calling, ask the news director whether they take radio news feeds or actualities. If they do take feeds, note the station's call letters, city, phone number, and fax number. The station may also have a special number they prefer you to call with actualities.
Keeping the list updated is very important. You may want to use a database program to do so. Each time your organization disseminates actualities, note changes in the phone and fax numbers. Remove stations that no longer take actualities from your list.
6) Training Callers
Once you've committed the time and resources to producing actualities, ensuring dissemination goes well is essential. Actualities should be distributed to stations on the morning of the news event. Because of the time it takes stations to edit them into their newscasts, do not worry about radio stations breaking the embargo (the time you set for the story's actual release to the media).
Depending on the number of stations called, distributing actualities in one state can take anywhere from one to eight hours. Generally, each caller can complete 8-10 actuality calls per hour. It is best to have one or two people dedicated to calling for a certain amount of time, so they do not leave the task to pursue other "urgent" matters. Families USA has had great success training interns for this job.
Because morning "drive time" is the most important news time, news directors are, by necessity, early birds. They generally arrive at work between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. In a telephone survey, news directors told Families USA that they prefer to be called with actualities between 7:00 and 11:00 a.m. Therefore, your caller should be ready to make calls by 7:00 a.m., and should plan on quitting by noon.
Despite the early hour, callers should be upbeat when they call radio stations. They should treat this as a sales job, projecting confidence that they are offering a high quality actuality that would benefit the station's newscast. They should also be patient and flexible, as news directors may ask them to call another number or to call back at a specific time. Consider news directors the customers, and cater to their needs. Without them, the actuality has no chance of airing.
After the news director agrees to accept the actuality, the caller should ask him or her to hold on for the countdown and the actuality on the tape. Then the caller must flip the coupler switch to external audio or seize, and press the cassette player's play button. The caller will notice that the sound level lights will begin flashing. The news director should only hear the actuality, and not the caller. While the actuality is playing the caller will hear nothing. The caller presses the stop button on the tape player when the sound levels have stopped flashing completely. Then the caller should flip the coupler switch back to handset or release. If the news director has remained on the line after the feed is complete, the caller can check with the news director to make sure s/he received the feed. After the completion of the actuality, the caller hangs up, rewinds the tape, and makes the next call.
7) Writing the Actuality Script
Ideally, the entire actuality should be no more than 60 seconds in length. It consists of a countdown that allows radio stations to set their recording levels, an intro(duction) by an announcer, a soundbite from the expert, and a wrap-up by the announcer.
Like a radio news story, the actuality should state the news and accompany it with commentary from an expert. Avoid the temptation to put too much information into an actuality script--this can make it too long or confusing.
In addition, actualities must have a state or local angle. Radio stations are looking for news that directly affects their listeners. If the news is strictly national, they will often leave it to their national news services to cover.
Here are some other tips for writing scripts for radio:
- Write short sentences, preferably simple declarative sentences.
- Avoid third person pronouns (he, she, it, him, her, they etc...) It is hard for those listening to remember the subject
- Talk the audience's language. Don't speak like a policy wonk because most people won't have any idea what you are talking about. Remember that your audience is made up of a lot of people who are not familiar with your issues.
- Make the script quick, clean, and concise. Use language that you would hear in your local diner or drug store--not in a debate at Oxford University.
- Write about how the news affects the listeners. Put the information in human terms.
- Use colorful language, especially in the soundbite. Try using references to current events or popular culture.
The soundbite is the heart of the actuality, where the central message of the feed is articulated. ("31 thousand Californians will lose their health insurance each and every month under the Governor's plan.") While about half of stations will use the actuality in its entirety, the other half rerecord the announcer's intro and wrap-up using their own personnel and use only the soundbite. Therefore, the soundbite is the most important part of the actuality, as it is where you have the most control over the message and language.
The wrap-up should include a one or two sentence re-cap of the most important information on the feed or, better yet, something new. ("The Governor's plan would also cut critical health services to California children.") After a few seconds pause, it should mention the name and phone number of someone in your organization who can take calls from news directors who have questions about the feed.
Here's a SAMPLE RADIO NEWS ACTUALITY:
The actuality has an introduction that is read by a professional
It has a soundbite from
And it has a "wrap" or a closing statement from the NEWS VOICE:
3,2,1 [pause] The GOP's "Contract With America" would devastate the Medicare program, according to the consumer group Families USA. Dr. Arthur Flemming, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, explains the threat to Medicare.
The "Contract With America" will help the very rich, but almost 4 million Californians will see their Medicare cut to pay for it. Older Americans will wind up paying the tab for massive new tax breaks for the rich and for the balanced budget amendment. Older Californians will lose 9 billion dollars in Medicare benefits. That's not balancing the budget, it's breaking America's contract with older Californians. And we'll pay for it in premature death and suffering.
Flemming described the "Contract With America" as "the most dangerous assault on Medicare in his lifetime." In
Washington, this is John Doe. [PAUSE] For more information, please call [NAME] at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
8) Writing the Script for Callers
The best call script is brief, courteous and to-the-point. News directors are very busy people. Sometimes you'll find that the news director is also the program director or station manager. Let them know right away why you are calling.
|Here's a sample script for your callers:|
Hello, this _____ calling from [organization] in [city]. I have short newsfeed (or actuality) with Dr. Arthur Flemming who was Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Eisenhower, discussing drastic cuts in Medicare that would hurt older Californians. Can I roll the tape?
Most of the time that's enough information for news directors to make a decision, but sometimes they'll want to know more. Prepare callers to answer questions such as "Who did the study?" "What's the name of the announcer on the tape?" "Can you tell me a little bit about your group and what you do?"
The news director may also want to receive a fax about the information in the actuality. Have a press release or backgrounder on hand to fax to stations who request more information, and try to get it to them shortly after they ask for it.
9) Recording the Actuality
Record actualities at least one day in advance to allow time for production. Ideally, the producer (the person from your organization who is coordinating the actualities), the announcer and the spokesperson should go to the studio at the same time. If schedules don't permit, they can be recorded at different times and edited together later. However, your organization's producer should be on hand to supervise all recording.
Take four copies of the script to the studio--one each for the spokesperson, the announcer, the studio's technician, and yourself. Spokespersons are often known to make last minute edits to the script, so be flexible.
Have the technician and spokespersons record as many takes as necessary until everyone feels that at least one is right. Later, the technician will edit these recordings into actualities. This should only take the studio an hour or two. Be sure to tell the technician how many copies of the tape you will need and by when.
10) Ready to Go
On the day of the event, if you've taken all steps outlined above, your actualities should begin filtering out across the state. Not every station takes actualities every time, and some do not take them at all, so do not be disappointed if you do not have a 100 percent acceptance rate. In general, if at least half the possible stations record your actuality, you've done an excellent job. Sometimes, with the right issue at the right time, the acceptance rate can go as high as 80 percent.
If a station accepts an actuality, it is almost always used. The Families USA survey of news directors found that 92 percent of feeds accepted by stations make it on the air at least once, with more than half airing between three and ten times.
Actualities are an effective, cost-efficient mode of communicating with the radio news media. When used with other communication techniques, it can help an advocacy group reach citizens throughout the state with an important, newsworthy message.
Families USA Can Help
Families USA has been effectively incorporating actualities into its advocacy campaigns for years, and we are eager to help other organizations do the same. For guidance or advice on effectively using actualities or any other media outreach strategy, please call Families USA's media department at 202-628-3030. Best of luck on the air waves!
TALK RADIO: GETTING YOUR SIDE HEARD
During the last several years, the popularity of talk radio has exploded. These quirky, low cost shows have emerged as major players in some public opinion and public policy debates and initiatives. The size of their audience is respectable. A 1996 study from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center found that one in five American adults listens to talk radio at least twice a week.
Talk radio's growing popularity and influence can probably be attributed to several factors, including the emergence of some high profile hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Larry King, longer commutes (as talk radio is most often heard on car radios), and talk radio's impact on several high profile political debates, causing other media to take notice of and report on its growing influence.
Literally thousands of talk radio shows across the country present many opportunities for the savvy advocacy group to forward its public policy agenda via talk radio by getting itself booked as a guest on shows.
Talk radio must be distinguished from news. Though often informative, talk radio is a form of entertainment. It relies on controversial topics, the personalities of hosts, and the quirkiness of callers and guests to draw listeners--and thereby advertisers.
Talk radio is a participatory medium, allowing "regular folks" to call in and discuss their own points of view with better informed, and usually opinionated, hosts and expert guests. It is a populist medium, encouraging listeners to form their own opinions and take actions--like voting or calling elected representatives--based upon what they hear. A guest can effectively fit into this medium by keeping talk radio's entertaining, populist and personal nature in mind.
This manual is intended as a guide for advocacy organizations considering whether to use talk radio as part of a public education or advocacy campaign. It describes the medium and outlines factors to take into account when deciding whether and how to use talk radio effectively. This guide is part of Families USA's effort to help its allies in the public interest community forward their messages through the media.
When to Use Talk Radio as Part of a Media Outreach Strategy
Effectively using talk radio can help an organization recruit supporters and affect the outcome of a public policy debate. So why shouldn't organizations try to get on talk shows every day? Incorporating talk radio outreach into a media strategy should be done sparingly for several reasons. First, booking guests on talk radio shows is labor intensive. Second, certain topics, because they are not timely or interesting to their listeners, will not interest talk radio shows. Finally, shows will usually only allow a guest or organization to be on every few months, so opportunities should not be squandered.
Think about these factors before deciding whether to reach out to talk radio shows about a particular issue:
- Is the issue timely?
- Is the topic controversial?
- Can this story be explained in a few sentences or soundbites, or is it too complicated and technical to appeal to wider audiences?
- Is the general public likely to agree with your position on this issue, or will going on the air create an undesired backlash?
Booking Spokespersons on Talk Radio Shows
If your issue meets these criteria, and you've decided to move forward with talk radio booking, you'll need to take several steps to make it happen:
- Line up your spokesperson(s);
- Decide what shows to target;
- Finalize your message and soundbites;
- Write and send a letter or advisory to send to shows;
- Rehearse with your spokesperson(s); and
- Call hosts and producers of shows to try to book your spokesperson(s).
Select Your Spokesperson
First, you need to decide who in your organization are the most effective spokespersons on this topic. In some cases, this may be only your director. In others, you may want to involve more staff or board members.
Have them block out certain days or hours, or get a copy of their calendar(s), which you will both need to keep updated. Also, schedule an hour for training and practice before the interviews are to begin.
Create a List of Shows to Target
Next, you'll need a target list of talk radio shows. You may be able to get a good list of talk shows from a local or national media publication (such as Bacon's, Burrelle's or Talk Show Selects), or from an advocacy group that conducts frequent radio outreach. Nevertheless, talk radio is a very fluid medium, and shows, hosts, and air times change constantly. To be very thorough, call each radio station in your state to find out which shows are possibilities. For each show, find out its name, host, producer (who is often the same as the host), the time it airs, and phone and fax numbers. Also, find out the station's mailing address.
Either during your calls, or in the course of the interviews, identify whether hosts are hostile or friendly, liberal or conservative. In the future, you may not want to reach out to hostile or conservative talk radio shows.
Develop a good in-house list of talk radio shows so you can monitor these changes. You may want to eliminate from your list any shows that air at times with very low listenership, such as before 9 am on the weekends or very late on week nights (unless the shows have a national audience.) The most highly listened to times are "drive times," from 7:00 - 10:00 a.m., and from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. In general, any time from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. is good, since many people drive at odd hours, listen to the radio at home, or keep it on at their work desks.
Decide What Message You Want to Convey on the Air
Before sending the letter to talk shows, you need to decide what your spokesperson(s) will say on the shows. Write a few messages and soundbites that spokespersons can practice repeating and keep with them when they do the interviews. You may also want to write down a few true stories (or anecdotes) that will help illustrate your points. Stories are an effective way to make your issue come alive for an audience. If you have localized information (county-by-county data) to accompany your story, prepare that information in such a way that it will be easy for spokespersons to refer to that information during interviews.
Send a Letter to Talk Shows
Write a letter or advisory that can be faxed or mailed to talk radio hosts and producers. The letter should be colorful and demonstrate that you have informed, lively spokespersons who can discuss an issue that is timely and important to the station's listeners. Keep your letters short, simple, and interesting. The introductory letter is the best indication to hosts of how your guest would come across on the show. After sending the letter, it may take a week or two to get booked on shows.
March 10, 1995
Dear Talk Show Host/Producer:
Many Americans--particularly older Americans--are struggling to afford skyrocketing prescription drug prices.
It's not a new problem: In 1993, 17 major drug companies, representing two-thirds of the U.S. prescription drug market, pledged to hold overall price increases at or below the rate of inflation. Drug company executives shunned government intervention, insisting that market competition and voluntary steps would slow drug price increases.
Families USA, the national health consumer group, has taken a close look at the promises of the pharmaceutical industry, and we found that for many Americans they were...worthless! Consumers who depend on the most frequently-prescribed drugs still see their prices going up faster than inflation--despite drug company promises.
Families USA's consumer experts are available for a limited number of radio interviews to discuss how high drug prices affect your listeners. High-paid drug company executives may not want your listeners to know about their outrageous pricing practices and sky high profits. But we do.
We will be releasing this study at a national press conference on Wednesday, March 15. If you would like to have a top Families USA spokesperson on your show after that, please give me a call at 202-628-3030.
Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Rehearsing Your Performance
After you've settled on messages for talk shows, you should hold a practice session with mock interviews for your spokespersons. For each person, you should hold at least two 3 - 5 minute practice interviews--one friendly and one hostile. You may want to have other staff pose as callers. After everyone has completed a round of interviews, critique their performances and give them an opportunity to try again.
Just as in any other type of performance, the importance of practicing can not be overstated. While everyone involved usually feels silly at first, by the end, most are relieved to have discovered ways to answer questions effectively. Such interview sessions are not just for novices. Just as Presidential candidates practice before every debate, your spokespersons should practice every time before they discuss a new topic on the air.
If you've taken the steps outlined above, you are probably ready to book some interviews. After you've faxed or mailed the letter to each show, you'll need to follow up with each producer or host on your list. If they have not seen the letter, offer to refax it, but don't let them off the hook. Try to book them on the spot anyway.
Tips for Booking Shows
The calls to shows are probably the most important step in this process. This is where "chutzpah" and good sales techniques are needed. Here are some tips:
- Callers need to be persuasive and upbeat on the phone. Your booking letter may generate a few calls from hosts or producers. But most of the shows you book will be a direct result of your calling and convincing them that your story and spokesperson will make a great show.
- Get the schedules of the spokespersons you are offering before you begin to book. If a producer or host is set to book your colleague on the spot, it is very helpful to know who is available and at what times.
- Try to lock in something on the spot. Say something like, "Ms. X's schedule is booking up, but your show is a big priority for us. Can I pencil you in for something now?" Hosts and producers are generally very busy, and even though they may have the best intentions of calling you back, they probably never will.
- Use a talk radio booking sheet for each show, which you can fill out over the phone with the host or producer. This sheet will help let your colleagues know a little bit about the nature and logistics of the show. In addition, the booking sheets can help you maintain records of which shows you've been on to keep your list updated.
- Always be polite to the show's booker, even if they reject your proposal. You may need each other in the future.
Here's a SAMPLE BOOKING SHEET:
Who Will Be Interviewed:
What Day and Date:
What Time (Eastern):
Who Calls? (Station or Spokesperson):
Backup Phone Number:
Facts (specific state statistic):
Station Cal Letters and Name of Show:
Format (Talk, News, Call-In):
Subject and/or Tone of the Show
(e.g., favorable, hostile):
Date/Time this Show will Air:
Date/Time Show Airs Regularly
(e.g. M-F 3-6pm):
Interview Booked By:
How to Be an Effective Advocate on the Air
Spokesperson: Please comment below on the nature of this show and host for future guests. Then return this form to the media department.
When the time comes to start doing the shows, there is some practical advice for a successful performance. Keep these tips in mind:
- Know What the Host Wants. The host wants an entertaining and lively show. It is critical to project enthusiasm and interest in the show, and to show that you welcome a spirited debate on the subject matter. If you are boring, the host may feel the need to "heat up" the dialogue with harsh rhetoric and antagonizing comments. Also, you may not get a second chance.
- Flatter the Host. Make sure you know the host's name, and use it. After they have introduced you say something like, "Hi Jane, it's a real pleasure to be on your show today." Remember that the audience probably likes and identifies
with the host, and how you treat him or her will color their impression of you.
- If You Encounter a Hostile Host, Don't Panic. Try to stay calm and stay on message. Don't let a hostile host or caller rile you up and throw you off. And don't get defensive. Remember that you are right, and many listeners out there agree with you.
- Stay on Message: Repeat Yourself. Repeat Yourself. Do not allow the host to side-track you. Make certain that you know what you want to discuss. Pick three central message points, and stick to them. People tune in and out of these programs with great frequency as they drive to and from work. You should repeat your key message at least three times every fifteen minutes. You may feel like a broken record, but listeners will be getting the message.
- Take the Offensive. Talk radio is a free-for-all medium. Don't feel that you have to wait for the host to give you an uninterrupted opportunity to speak. Jump into the discussion with confidence. When the conversation gets off track, redirect it back to your topic.
- Appeal to Fairness. Americans believe in a sense of fairness--especially fairness to themselves. Appeal to this sense of fairness when you feel that the host is misrepresenting your views. Effective messages can include points like the following "You shouldn't have to be a millionaire to see a good doctor."
- Characterize the Other Side. If you are right, who is wrong? Make that clear to listeners. Rather than saying, "prescription drug prices are too high," try saying "big drug companies are overcharging for lifesaving medicines--and they're making a bundle." Same point, different effect.
- Don't Forget the Audience. You're talking to hundreds, or thousands of people besides the host. Make things easy to understand, and put statements in context. Remember that someone may have just tuned in. Also, don't use a lot of pronouns in your on-air discussions. They're hard to follow on the radio.
- Personalize the Issue. By putting a human face on the issues, you can appeal directly to a the audience. For example, rather than saying "Budget cuts in Medicare and Medicaid will hurt 16 million older Americans," say "My 84 year old mother is a widow, and she has to struggle to make ends meet. How will she afford to pay $100 more every month for her medical expenses?"
- Use, but Don't Abuse, Statistics. Pick one or two statistics that help you make your case, and make sure they're accurate and easy to understand. Percentages are difficult for many people. Rather than saying, "Americans are spending 10% of their income for health care," say "Americans spend one out of ten dollars of their family budgets for health care." Also, localize data whenever possible.
- End on a Positive Note. Even if the show was frustrating, thank the host at the end of the program, and restate your message: "It's been real pleasure talking with you today, and I hope we can do it again. These debates are what makes America great, and I know your listeners want to know how their families health can be protected."
Tips for Dealing with Callers
Dealing with callers on a talk radio show can often prove challenging, but it is a skill that can quickly be mastered. Remember that most of the audience simply listens and enjoys the show--they rarely call in. But others really take pleasure in being part of the show, possibly even enjoy throwing the guest off balance with a tough question. While callers are screened, it is not to see if their views match your opinion. Instead, they are screened to ensure they are somewhat articulate, but most of all, to make sure they will provide entertainment value to the show. Here are some tips for effectively handling call-ins to talk radio shows:
You Are Your Issue. To most callers you are an extension of the issues you work on. If you are an advocate for Medicare or Medicaid, you may be labeled as the embodiment of the "failed liberal welfare state" by angry callers. Don't take any of this personally. But do assert your world view: "Well, I appreciate your call, but I just don't agree with your views on Medicare. I think our parents and grandparents need and deserve health protection in their golden years." Keep your composure and address hostile callers as calmly as possible, but remember that you are not talking primarily to them, but rather to the rest of the audience who may agree with your view. Remember to stay on message.
- Ask the Callers Questions. Questions seem to soften up even the most hostile callers. Sometimes a hostile caller does an about face on the air after you take an interest in their experience or opinion. For example, ask questions such as, "Are your parents on Medicare? Have they ever found it hard to pay their medical bills?" Or "Don't you think you deserve high-quality, affordable health care after you retire?" Demonstrate that you care about the caller, and that you have some shared experiences. This often stops them dead in their tracks.
- Telling Anecdotes About Real People Always Works. And they're almost impossible to disagree with. Try to weave these stories into your answers.
- Remember...Stick to Your Message And Repeat It. Some callers will go on and on about obscure or absurd issues that are not relevant to the topic of the show. A simple response like, "I'm not really familiar with that allegation, but I'd love to see the article you mentioned. But let me tell you about America's long term care crisis, and what it means to your family." You can control the debate if you are lively and assertive and keep coming back to your message.
Some Practical Tips For Talk Radio Guests
Here are a few more tips for guests to ensure a smooth, enjoyable performance:
- Be organized and available. Don't forget about the show, and have all of your materials ready and at your desk before air time. If you are scheduled to go on a show, and you are not available at air time, you or your staff will have a livid host on your hands. He or she has probably done promotions of the show throughout the day, and it's embarrassing and frustrating for the host to have to change shows or do the show without the expected guest at the last minute. If you do not give a show ample notice that you are canceling, you can probably forget ever booking on that show in the future.
- Be at your desk at least 5 minutes before the host is set to contact you. If you arranged to call the show from your office, call 5 minutes before you are scheduled to be on the air.
- Know the host's name. If the host mispronounces yours, correct him in a friendly manner, just as you should if the host gets facts wrong.
- Know how long you are scheduled to be on a show, but be flexible, if possible. If the phones are really lighting up, sometimes the host will ask you to stay on longer to answer more caller questions. If time allows, stay on the show because it helps establish you as a good guest, and you'll reach more listeners, as they tune in and out constantly.
- Know which phone and room you will use. Most radio interviews are conducted by phone, so you can do the show from your office, home, a hotel room, etc. All you need is access to a phone -- not a cellular phone or cordless phone -- and a quiet space. Never do a show on a speaker phone. It drastically diminishes the quality of your voice, and makes you come across as brash and arrogant.
- Prepare for the show. Take a few minutes to write down your central message points. Spread notes around your desk so that you can refer to them. Have relevant state-specific data at hand.
- Don't make up your answers. If you don't know the answer to a question, and you can't redirect it back to your message, don't try to fake it! It will catch up with you later, and you'll be labeled as a bad guest. Tell the host or caller that you'll get back to them with the answer later. If you say that you'll do this, do it!
- Don't eat during the show, or drink carbonated beverages before or during the show. (People can hear you crunching, and carbonation sometimes comes back at unpredictable and inopportune times.) Also, keep a glass of water at your desk in case you need to clear your throat.
- Sit up and Smile. Believe it or not, it comes across as people listen to your voice.
- Practice. It really helps to go over questions and answers with a colleague or family member before doing a show. It may take a few shows before you become comfortable in the talk radio format. And, most of all, have fun!
How We Can Help
Families USA has been effectively incorporating talk radio into its advocacy activities for years, and we are eager to help other organizations do the same. For guidance or advice on effectively using talk radio or any other media outreach strategy, please call Families USA's media department at 202-628-3030.
This manual was produced with the assistance of the following Families USA Foundation staff:
Ron Pollack, Executive Director
Greg Marchildon, Press Secretary
Janice Gault, Administrative Assistant