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Finding Your Voice is One of the Toughest Jobs for News/Talk Radio Hosts

You’ll know when you’ve found it; it hits you the day you realize you’ve grown up when after years of just talking, you know who you are when you pop that mic.

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This has nothing to do with “pipes”, as voices are often referred to in the radio business. Your “voice” has nothing to do with – well, your voice.

Abe Lincoln is said to have had a high-pitched, somewhat nasal, and flat vocal delivery. Some historians suggest that Abe would have had trouble being taken seriously in the world of modern media influence. That may be true but it’s also an indictment of the sound-bite mentality we’re forced to live with today. History suggests that Lincoln was a powerful speaker, delivering rousing speeches to flesh-and-blood people standing before him, exhibiting his dignity and his native intelligence with forceful and compassionate conviction.

That’s “voice”. It’s a way of speaking, a developed skill that makes us somehow different and believable.

There are rich, deep, resonant voices and quirky, soft voices. Most of us have average voices that are unique but still make us sound like everybody else. We can work with that.

Some of the greatest radio personalities who ever lived had average or even puny voices but they all had an enormous understanding of who they were, belief in what they had to say, and confidence in their skill to deliver.

There is no greater earthly power than belief in one’s self.

Your on-air “voice”, your comfort and confidence with who you are and the person you project, is something that only comes with life and radio experience. It becomes your style, comprised of tone, cadence, pacing, inflection, and phrasing. And yes, the sound of your voice is part of that. It’s as unique as every other part of your existence.

You’ll know when you’ve found it; it hits you the day you realize you’ve grown up when after years of just talking, you know who you are when you pop that mic. It happens suddenly one day. For the first time, all the scattered jigsaw pieces of you fall into place.

Writers are always talking about “voice”. There was only one Mark Twain, just one Ernest Hemingway. Nobody writes like Ayn Rand or Shakespeare or Dickens.

The great actors consume the words of superb writers, They memorize their words and have the learned skill to deliver them with conviction through their personal “voice”.

Radio is no different.

Millions of people in the world have perfect “pipes” and a natural gift for singing with musical precision, but there are very few with the one-of-a-kind ability to phrase and bend words that strike hearts and imaginations. That ability can only emerge with time, talent, practice, and self-confidence.

That’s “voice”.

What creates our radio “voice”? The influence of the voices we’ve admired, certainly. My career has been influenced by such remarkable radio talents as Robert W. Morgan, Bobby Ocean, Paul Harvey, and others whose names I’ve momentarily forgotten and you’re less likely to know. Early on, I mimicked the phrasing and delivery of my heroes.

Eventually, I absorbed the best aspects of their individual talents without trying to copy them. Morgan had a fascinating ability to touch people through an inspired combination of mirth and cool condescension. Bobby Ocean was the epitome of warmth and excitement, delivered with a breathy passion inspired by his relatively soft “pipes”. Paul Harvey had a legendary voice. His influence on me was quite personal.

After years of carrying his morning news reports his power and warmth infected me. I met him one evening and after a brief conversation, he smiled, took my hand, and looked directly into my heart. “Keep that smile in your voice, young man”, he told me. I have never forgotten it.

During your daily radio routine, you will receive “help” from program managers whose jobs demand they try to improve your performance. That’s fair and reasonable. Embrace the effort and accept their enlightenment as long as it pertains to protocol and encourages you to make your own wise choices.

When Rush Limbaugh was in the process of becoming Rush Limbaugh, I was his program director at KFBK in Sacramento. I was also doing the morning show that preceded his 9 AM start. We were colleagues and friends. One day I took Rush to lunch and told him I was putting on my PD hat. Then I said, “I won’t tell you how to run your show. It’s your show. But – if you don’t find things to talk about besides national politics your career will go right down the toilet.”

(In my defense, this was 1987, a year before he was hired by WABC. In Sacramento, Rush was the very first local talk host anywhere to concentrate on national and world issues. 20 years later he thanked me for not insisting he change his act.)

We, your program directors and experienced colleagues, mean well and are only trying to help, but we will try to bend your mind and steal your words, the only tools of your trade. We’ll force you into boxes fashioned from our limited imaginations and conventional wisdom. Listen to what we say but process it through that quiet “voice” in your head that tells you who you are. Trust it. The first time you truly hear yourself, there’s no going back.

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BNM Writers

What to Do When Your Fear Your Media Career is Headed to the Graveyard

If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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“Do you guys ever think about dying?”

If you saw the Barbie movie, you know the line. Barbie is living the perfect and perfectly plastic life, perfectly choreographed and full of perfect smiles.

But the movie turns on that one line, basically shattering Barbie’s world with a concept no one there would ever have considered.

Death.

Why would you consider it when everything seemed in perfect order?

Well, when it comes to broadcasting and media, a lot of you think about dying … a lot. I do, too.

Of course, it’s not the stop breathing and get buried type of death but rather, the death of a career in media.

The truth is, when it comes to our business, very few people get to choose when it ends. Take a minute and consider a major media personality who truly “retired” after a multi-decade career.

It happens, but percentage-wise, it’s rare.

Take a minute and think. Name some. Name one. It’s not easy.

More often than not, you will get laid off or fired before you want to leave, and after a certain age, getting that next opportunity may be a bridge too far.

Then, you are done done.

That’s as much a music stopper as Barbie admitting she has considered her own mortality in the middle of the dance floor. Here on planet Earth, at least from the people in my orbit, the death of a media career often leads to even better professional options and more balanced lifestyle choices.

I have friends doing a million different things: Public relations, crisis management, content creation for large companies, political communications, fundraising, and teaching. Almost all of them tell me that it was such a stress relief to have a “normal” life, to not be worried about every pending contract or new boss.

Their work is appreciated. Their job is stable. And their schedule? Normal. Never has “normal” sounded so lovely than when they talk about watching shows with spouses, going out for a drink on a Tuesday, or having a regular pickleball game (or insert any middle-aged recreational sport).

I believe them.

Sort of.

The “sort of” comes from me not being able to actually envision that for myself. As enticing as it would be to see people on a more accessible schedule or play a weekly game with buddies, nothing beats talking and writing for a living. Nothing. And I am going to hang on until the lights are out, and we can’t pay to get them turned back on.

For me, I’m in too deep. I’m an indoor cat, incapable of survival outside.

Meetings. Deadlines. Reliant on other people. Meetings.

I’d be dead in a week. It’s beyond no, thank you. It’s, “I can’t”.

Sure, I have three teenagers and three college tuitions to pay. And two dogs. Two cars. And a mortgage.

Here’s where I am supposed to tell you that you should not only have thoughts about (career) death but also have a survival plan – a professional media-career living will if you would.

I should tell you that because you should.

But I don’t have one. And I don’t want one.

Why?

Because I don’t want to think about death anymore. I mean, I’ve already died twice. It wasn’t fun, and the third time most likely would be the charm in terms of getting me out of the business for good.

Why so stubborn? I don’t know.

Several times, I’ve said to myself, I need to make sure I have a backup plan … just in case. Each time, I find a reason not to get one.

Ultimately, what’s my point? Get a backup plan. Think about death. But it can’t take away from the essential joy of having the privilege of talking for a living. In that vein, don’t take it for granted. Ever. Even if the pay stinks and the schedule stinks. If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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BNM Writers

Is the Fairness Doctrine Even Possible in Today’s Media Landscape?

Is it right for media consumers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news?

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As many media outlets shutter their doors, some have clamored for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Newsweek released the results of their new way to connect with readers, by asking if its reporting is “fair.” Since September 2023, readers were asked to judge stories on the site, 78% said the outlet is “fair.” Another 22% found at least one story they read to be “unfair.”

AllSides Media has judged Newsweek to be center. However, let’s not forget they are the same outlet that wrongly claimed President Donald Trump was golfing on Thanksgiving in 2019. As Sheryl Attkisson noted on Full Measure this week, on Thanksgiving in 2019 President Trump was visiting troops in Iraq and the Newsweek story was fabricated.

While the reader assessment of Newsweek’s content is on par with AllSides Media, is it right for readers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news? If outlets like The Daily Caller (Right) or Vox (Left) would ask the same of their readers, would their echo chamber subscribers find them “fair?” While historically print (and later digital) outlets could (and still can) embrace the political leanings of their owner(s), from 1949 till 1987 TV news had guidelines they must adhere to: The Fairness Doctrine.

Long before Americans argued about bias in news, every TV outlet (there were only three major ones at the time) would follow “The Fairness Doctrine.” The Reagan Library notes the doctrine was “enforced by the Federal Communications Council, [and] was rooted in the media world of 1949. Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.”

To put it simply, the Fairness Doctrine made it so all sides of any story were presented. In 1985, under the Reagan Administration, the FCC found “the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Two years later, a panel under FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick repealed the Fairness Doctrine unanimously.

Keep in mind, at this point in time, CNN was the first and only 24-hour news network in the United States (it launched on June 1, 1980). Fox News wouldn’t be launched until almost 10 years after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, on October 7, 1996.

Also happening at this time, large corporations (with lobbying power) were buying media outlets. General Electric purchased NBC in 1986. Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1995. One year later, ABC was bought by Disney. These purchases did not go unnoticed. Saturday Night Live even mocked the acquisitions in a now-banned short called “Conspiracy Theory Rock!: Media-opoly.”

The unwillingness of news organizations to cover both sides of a story has led to the creation of biased outlets including: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, OAN, Newsmax, and others. None of these would be able to exist in their current form if the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t repealed.

News outlets that aren’t overtly biased use another trick to manipulate their viewers/readers, using emotionally charged verbiage. AllSides Media defines sensationalist words as presenting information in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. This includes words like “shocking”, “heart-breaking”, “explosive”, “scathing”, “chaotic”, “desperate”, and “remarkable”… this list goes on but you’ve seen and heard these words from the news outlets daily. This is the media telling you how to react to a story instead of letting you determine how you actually feel after they present the facts of the story.

Today, what’s most concerning are outlets saying ‘fair and balanced’ news is a disservice to the public. An August 2023 NPR article explored just this, saying “Objectivity actually comes from an accurate examination of facts (actions, documentation, and even educated opinions) presented in transparent reports. Often, that coverage should also encourage audiences to examine supporting evidence for themselves.”

The problem with this is three-fold:

  • Selective fact presentation develops a one-sided narrative
  • An “educated opinion” is not a fact. It’s an opinion that is neither right nor wrong.
  • It is impossible for human beings to be completely unbiased (see January 31st column)

While it’s great Newsweek is asking readers if their reporting is ‘fair’ is the reader’s judgment neutral, or just as biased as the outlet they prefer to read? Sometimes when we are clicking to satisfy our own confirmation bias it’s hard to tell.

What the media and all Americans need to start recognizing is their own echo chamber. Knowing we all have some sort of bias is not a flaw but what makes us human. Our flaw is the inability to recognize our bias yet call out others for being biased just because they are on the other side of an issue.

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CNN Sees Biggest Viewership Jump During Super Bowl Parade Shooting Coverage

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

Doug Pucci

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(Photo: Getty Images)

The cable news outlets got increased viewership from two different news events during the week of Feb. 12, namely the shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, of the mass shooting at the Super Bowl celebration parade in Kansas City for the Chiefs football team. One person died and roughly two dozen others were injured.

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

The following are what each network drew as the story unfolded on that Feb. 14 afternoon from Kansas City and how it grew from the same Wednesday time slots from Jan. 3 thru Feb. 7:

Fox News Channel

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.656 million viewers (+18 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 1.873 million viewers (+34 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 3.175 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 2.441 million viewers (+12 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 2.250 million viewers (+4 percent)

MSNBC

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.008 million viewers (+10 percent)
  • 4-6 p.m.: 1.504 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 1.763 million viewers (+17 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 1.474 million viewers (+13 percent)

CNN

  • 3-4 p.m.: 0.762 million viewers (+27 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.913 million viewers (+35 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 1.007 million viewers (+28 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 0.985 million viewers (+43 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.960 million viewers (+29 percent)

Newsmax

  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.343 million viewers (+23 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 0.354 million viewers (+16 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.547 million viewers (+13 percent)

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the results were announced for the special election race for New York’s third congressional district between its former representative Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican challenger Mazi Pilip. Suozzi left office in 2022 to run in the New York gubernatorial election but lost out to incumbent Kathy Hochul. Suozzi’s successor in Congress was the infamous George Santos who was officially expelled from office on Dec. 1, 2023 over charges of federal criminal laws including campaign finance fraud.

MSNBC and CNN were the only major national news outlets that provided live coverage of the special election results, stressing the significance of Suozzi’s eight-point win over Pilip as it reduced the GOP’s advantage in the House of Representatives by one.

From when the voting polls closed in New York at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC easily topped CNN in total viewers at 9 p.m. (1.616 million viewers vs. CNN’s 0.847 million), 10 p.m. (1.903 million vs. CNN’s 0.879 million), 11 p.m. (1.112 million vs. CNN’s 0.541 million), and at midnight (774,000 viewers vs. CNN’s 299,000).

From 9-11 p.m. ET, though, both MSNBC and CNN scored the same performance among the key 25-54 demographic: a 0.15 rating at 9 p.m. and a 0.18 rating at 10 p.m. (Note: a 1.0 rating in 25-54 equates to 1.21 million viewers within the aforementioned age range.) 

For the 10-11 p.m. hour, when the New York candidate speeches had aired, CNN grew by 68 percent (in viewers) and by 80 percent (in 25-54) from its Tuesday 10-11 p.m. hour output from Jan. 2 thru Feb. 6 — a time period that included a Ron DeSantis town hall and New Hampshire primary results.

MSNBC was up as well at 10 p.m. hour — +16 percent in viewers, +33 percent in the 25-54 demo — using the same reference parameters.

Even though Fox News did not offer live coverage of New York’s special election results, Hannity at 9 p.m. (2.528 million viewers; 0.21 A25-54 demo rating) and Gutfeld! at 10 p. m. (2.357 million viewers; 0.31 A25-54 demo rating) still held the top spots in their respective hours on all of cable news.

Source: Nielsen Media Research

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