One of the foundational pillars of a strong radio brand is community… listeners gathered around a common passion for your station.
Using listener phone calls can be a powerful “community-building” tool- helping listeners feel connected to your air talent and your station, and creating opportunities for solo air talent interaction.
On air talent love the interaction with listeners, and great calls can really take a show’s content to a new level, but there is risk that comes with that. Left unchecked, talent can quickly digress into creating subpar content just to “make the phone ring”, and ultimately getting lazy as they trust the phones to just fill breaks.
Program Directors and air talent should be ruthless in making sure that only the very best callers get on the show. I’ve built a list of questions to ask about every phone call before you put it on the air – and if the answer to any of these questions is “NO”, its probably a reason to pass on airing.
Is the caller saying something atypical? Great calls include listeners with unique, never thought of perspectives or stories that are compelling, or include the element of surprise. If the caller’s comments sound like something you’ve heard before, or you’ve read it on the internet, skip it.
Does the caller engage in lively conversation with you?We’ve all had conversations with people in which it feels like we have to do “all the work”, drawing out anything more that 1 or 2 word answers from them. When those listeners get on the air, other listeners can sense that discomfort. Make sure the callers you air contribute to the conversation in a lively way, and move the topic forward.
Is the caller’s pace of speech matching the tempo of the station?Sometimes a listener might have a good story/comment, but their speech pace and energy is too slow and drawn out, and airing the call as is would just drag the tempo of the station down.
Does the caller sound like your target listener?When you air a phone call, the subliminal message you’re sending to your whole audience is, ‘these are the people who listen to our station’, so pay extra attention to make sure callers sound like the people you’re trying to attract. Callers that sound too old or too young can quietly tell the listeners you want that the station or show is designed for someone else.
Do the caller’s comments resonate with the target listener?As a close cousin to the previous question, when callers refer to things that don’t connect with your listener, you’re sending a message to your entire target audience that your station is for someone other than them. When your caller mentions how “adorable their grandkids are”, or references “M.A.S.H.” as their favorite TV show, there’s a good chance that those are references your target listener doesn’t understand, or just can’t relate to.
Does the caller’s audio sound clear and easy to understand?With everyone calling on cell phones, the variance in quality can be drastic. Only phone calls with the absolute HIGHEST audio quality and clarity make it on the air.
Remember, when you put a caller on the radio, what you’re actually saying is that the comment from the listener is BETTER than whatever you planned to air in that moment. Getting into the habit of asking these 6 questions when considering whether or not to put a call on the air will really help keep the level of excellence of what’s coming out of the speakers high.
Director of Programming, Star 99.1
Matt Stockman is 35-year veteran to radio, graduating from Illinois State University and starting his career at WBNQ radio in Bloomington, IL in the 1980s. His involvement in Christian radio began with a season at WJRX in Chattanooga, TN in the early 1990s, and has included launching WBDX/Chattanooga, Spirit FM/Lynchburg, 101.1 The One/Nashville, and 10 years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at WMIT/Asheville. In 2012, after a short-term missionary assignment serving Christian radio stations in Europe, Stockman joined CRISTA Media (KCMS, KFMK, KWPZ, KCIS) as Director of Programming.
From 2017 to 2019, he served as the Program Director for the K-LOVE Radio Network. Currently, Stockman serves as the Director of Programming at WAWZ/STAR 99.1 in NJ/NY, and is a frequent contributor to efforts that raise the standard of excellence in Christian broadcasting.