Talk Radio Training

Wednesday June 27th, 2012 – Rockford, IL

   I’m getting a golden opportunity this week by being able to guest host on WNTA in Rockford, IL and fly solo for five consecutive days. I totally appreciate it, even though it’s by no means an easy task. Talk radio is a skill like anything else, and it takes actual on air experience to master it.

It’s a lot like ‘game conditions’ in pro sports. I always hear about how the only way to improve in sports is for an athlete to get actual game experience, and this is the same thing. Practicing will help to prepare, but it’s not enough. One must get in there and experience heat from a real battle.

Standup comedy is the same way. I have plenty of game experience there, and there aren’t a lot if any situations I can think of that I haven’t either been in myself or witnessed firsthand on some occasion so I know what to do. It took decades to acquire that experience, but I’m glad I have it.

I don’t have that as far as being a talk radio host. I’ve been on the air for decades, but mostly as a smart ass side kick on a morning show. That’s a completely different situation and skill set, and I was always able to rely on a sharp wit to be able to fire off funny lines at the appropriate time.

Having a quick wit to be able to think on one’s feet on stage or on air is a tremendous blessing, and I’m extremely grateful to have had it at my disposal, but wit alone isn’t enough to be good at this particular gig. There has to be a great deal of preparation, structure and other things at which I haven’t been good at as a rule. This week has been a chance to strengthen my weakest points.

I’ve hosted in a talk situation before on The Mothership Connection, but I’ve always had other people in the studio with me so basically it’s a morning show format. I’ve gotten a lot better over time, but I still don’t claim to be good at it. I can throw in a line on occasion and crack everyone up, but that’s a gimmick. Keeping the show flowing and maintaining consistent energy is tough.

It’s especially tough to do alone, and that’s what I’m learning this week. I’ve usually been able to have Jim McHugh with me, but for budget reasons he’s not part of the mix this time. I like Jim in studio to bounce things off of, but it’s also a crutch. Being in the pilot’s seat alone is no picnic, especially when nobody is calling. I have to talk into a microphone and try to make it interesting.

My friend Jerry Agar is a terrific talk radio host. He has shaped a strong personality over a long period of time, and is constantly preparing material. He can comfortably sit behind a microphone and rattle off his opinions whether anyone calls or not. It’s a skill, and he’s great at it. I need a lot of work, and this week has been a much appreciated gift. I can feel myself get better every day.

I have been using the crutch of having guests lined up, but they are on the phone and I’ve been practicing talking in solo spurts and trying to not only make it interesting but hit my time cues as well. I have network news to hit every top and bottom of the hour, and that can be very difficult.

This whole thing is difficult, but it doesn’t hurt to have a chance to do it and polish up another skill. I don’t take this for granted, and I will do my best to not waste time for anyone who listens.

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