Let’s talk about a radio skill that’s really important. And let’s do this riddle-style!
It rarely gets talked about in radio circles.
Talent coaches can’t coach it.
A lot of smart, talented people are actually bad at radio because they DON’T have it.
Those who DO have it don’t have to be brilliant or funny or particularly creative to connect with their listeners.
So what is it…?
Empathy (simply put) is being able to put yourself in the place of your listener. To hear things the way he or she might be hearing it.
I’m not Mr. Empathy. I struggle with it. But I’ve gotten much better with it. The wonderful thing is that empathy can be learned. Sure, it’s intuitive for some, but for people like me, it can be developed. Even if I can’t quite understand why people do what they do, I can study them, if I love them.
And I can grow in love. Love for my neighbor. Love for my enemy. And certainly, love for my radio listener.
That’s where genuine empathy starts: I have to actually care about the person with whom I’m communicating. As a guy on the autism spectrum, I’ve never liked eye contact. I’ve never naturally smiled. But I’ve learned that humans need both to feel comfy and unthreatened. So, I’m trying to do better, because I need to love people.
Paul writes in Corinthians that if without love, all the talent or good work in the world sounds like a clanging gong to people.
Clanging gongs —even the most beautiful, gold-plated, premium-level, gongiest gongs on the planet — are just plain annoying.
And they don’t bring ratings, either. Probably. (Watch, someone will try this format: “104.9 The Gong”)
So, you’ve got charisma? Awesome!
You’re pals with the Nashville artists! You have the best production! A great voice! Your caricature is on a mug! A jingle with your name in it!
Without love for your listener, seriously: Who cares?
I’ve learned I have to ask myself when I’m prepping the show: What would be a blessing to the listeners? How can I add value to their lives?
Empathy can’t be coached, because no one can make us care about our listeners. So, they have to help us at least sound like we care. They give us guardrails and guidelines, just like we have to teach manners to our kids. (“Yes, of course you want to express yourself with your mouth full of food, but it’s not kind to the person sitting across from you.”) Manners are just a way of acknowledging another’s importance. (“Yes, of course, you think your four-minute break about your hair appointment is important, but you could have said that in 45 seconds to be kind to the listener.”)
All the best radio “rules” simply come down to being kind to the listener.
When I talk into a microphone but don’t really have much to say, I’m not being empathetic.
When I engage in endless inside jokes; constantly talk about me; presume everyone knows all the characters on my show; or that everybody goes to church… I’m not being empathetic.
When I overload the listener with numbers (“We need 12 more callers at 20 dollars a month or 6 more at 40 dollars to hit the 41 percent mark of the overall goal but we’ve only got seven minutes left or 2 songs and 7 lines are now open at 866-592-2309 or text 523-4294 and be one of the 12 or the 6!!!!”) I’m not being empathetic.
When I write liners like, “Hey everybody, bring your kids to our bounce house on Saturday!” I’m not being empathetic. Not everyone’s a parent. And who wants to be called “everybody”?
When we don’t deliver what people are really looking for when they tune into a Christianradio station, it’s because we’re not being empathetic.
There’s a difference between a personality or station who’s adept at getting attention, and being a personality or station who connects with people and is granted deep influence in their lives.
And that difference is empathy.
I’m working on it.
CURE Advocate/Radio Presenter, CURE International
Brant writes books, hosts radio shows, works for CURE, and is spending the pandemic playing video games and missing his radio friends. His newest book, The Truth About Us, is available wherever books are sold. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.