I can relive the memory like it was yesterday, despite happening in 1998. Larry King invited me on his CNN show to talk about talent coaching. We’re cooking along with Larry being his inquisitive self when he took a commercial break.
“Welcome back to Larry King Live. Our guest tomorrow is Quincy himself, Jack Klugman. A few celebrity birthdays before we continue with talent coach extraordinaire Steve Reynolds. Carol Channing is 84 today. Happy birthday to the Flying Nun, Sally Field, who celebrates her 72nd. Famed game show host Gene Rayburn turns 81. Batman Christian Bale is 47 today!”
Larry must’ve read my body language because, when he pivoted back to me as his guest, he asked why I recoiled. It’s then I shared with Larry that no one really cares about celebrity birthdays. Whether they’re dead or alive. I suggested that, as content, this was a list with information and absolutely nothing about it is engaging.
There were audible gasps from the floor crew.
Larry pushed back further, saying he always read the list of birthdays when he did overnights on WIOD-AM, Miami. He claimed that everywhere he went people talked to him about it. I demurred, telling Larry we need to be better than that with our content selection. Maybe this worked in 1966. Today, not so much.
With that one, short exchange, Larry abruptly went to another commercial break. As I watched an ad for Depends play on the studio monitors, I was quickly whisked from the set. Larry called Jack Klugman to get his take on what I had just offered and asked that he tease this week’s Odd Couple and his appearance that next night to fill the rest of my hour. I was limo’d back to the Fairfax, Virginia La Quinta Inn.
Nothing above this sentence is true. I made up the entire story. I’ve never appeared on Larry King Live, although I did see him in person at one of Joel Denver’s WWRS conventions and thought he was shorter than I would have imagined. The picture above was doctored, too, for humor purposes by my friend Kris Rochester, who does mornings at WIVK, Knoxville.
Some people wish for their professional legacy to find a cure for cancer or to develop time travel. Others work for world peace or to end child starvation.
My legacy in radio? To rid shows of irrelevant features like reading a list of birthdays (whether they’re famous or local – because no one cares that Timmy Smith in your market is six today, except his grandparents, who may or may not be listening).
I also wish to nix content breaks like This Date in History and telling the audience things like it’s National Doughnut Day. I scream at the radio every single time I hear something like this. There is no strategic benefit to the show doing content this weak.
We are better than that to connect with and entertain the audience. I challenge all of us to reach higher when deciding content choices.
The audience comes for content. And every single thing coming out of those speakers to them is content. They are evaluating all of it: is this of interest to me? Does this matter to my life? Am I being entertained?
What’s strong content? These three always work: whatever is going on now in the news/pop culture (remember, pop = popular), stories about your life so the audience can get to know you and see you are just like them, and stuff happening locally.
All three of those have a strategic win to position the show as relevant and local and the talent as real and relatable.
Your show might not be dabbling in these specific features noted above, but evaluate all of your content choices: are they substantive? Do they reflect the moment and connect you back to the audience? Are they interesting to them? Do you gain an important image from their choice? Do they fit and matter to building your brand?
The only birthday that really matters is mine and I hope next November 6th to tune into dozens of radio shows and hear every one wishing me well. See, you don’t care, do you?
It’s to be seen which will happen first: that cure for cancer or my ridding radio of stuff like this. We need to encourage shows still doing irrelevant content like birthdays to level up. Because being relatable and real and doing epic stuff with it is the only way we’re going to make more listeners passionate for what we do.
Let’s let someone else worry about world peace. I need fellow warriors who’ll help me take on things like celebrity birthdays.
Can I count on you?