April 6, 2011

Voicetracking: 2011 Radio Reality

Jeff Hurley

Jeff Hurley, Program & Digital Content Director, WLAN/Lancaster

We’re time-strapped and cost-conscious, with fewer people with more hats and bigger challenges. In this environment, out-of-market voicetracking has become a necessary tool of almost every radio station.  It’s not a matter of IF you’ll track some dayparts, but WHEN.  Even major markets have out-of-market talent holding down crucial slots. 
          I have the unique perspective of sitting on both sides of this programming fence.   As Program Director of FM97 WLAN and AM1390 in Lancaster, I utilize out-of-market jocks in middays and nights.  I’m also beaming my shows across the network as a night talent for KISS 107 in Cincinnati, and the morning host on Gen-X 106.1 in Tulsa, OK.
          So how do the PD and voicetracked talent make this relationship work for their stations?

          Communication...The PD and voicetracker need to build and maintain open lines of communication.  Build that personal connection to the station and capture the vibe and attitude.  In our “plugged-in” digital age, it’s so easy to have regular online conversations with other staffers.  Jordan (my PD at WKFS in Cincinnati) and I chat online almost daily. It’s like a virtual “chat by the water cooler.”  If something cool is coming up on my Tulsa morning show, I’ll drop a note to Jessica (our PM drive talent, based in Louisville) and she can weave it into her show.  
          Utilize social media...I regularly post topics and content from my shows in all my markets through Facebook and Twitter. Voicetracked jocks should be well-versed in the formatics and best practices for their station’s FB/Twitter and use them, just like an in-house jock.  With smartphones we can easily provide real-time status updates on our station’s pages during our show, even if we’re sitting at home on the couch watching the game. 
          Time…It can be so tempting for a voicetracker to throw sixteen breaks in the can and call it a night.  But real shows take time and preparation.  Be honest with yourself about the amount of time you need to devote to deliver a solid show for your client.   If you wouldn’t put it on your primary “home base” station, then it’s not good enough for your voicetracked stations. They might not know you’re taking the extra time, but they’ll certainly notice if you’re NOT doing it.  PD’s should give their talent time to create.   There’s nothing worse than a long holiday weekend when the logs don’t show up until 4pm on Friday.  Work ahead on logs and give your jocks the time to shine.
          Never lose sight of your primary station...Most voicetrackers are based out of a single station where we hold down many other duties behind the scenes.  First and foremost, you need to make sure this station is getting the time and attention it deserves.  I have an understanding with my market manager that Lancaster is my primary focus.  I don’t worry about my client stations until I make sure that all my normal duties are covered at home.  
          Understand the role…What does your PD expect out of your show?  Understand how you fit into the programming matrix of your client stations.  Whether it’s a screaming night show with phoners and bits, or a laid-back streamlined approach that focuses on relevant artist info, you need to establish this as soon as you join the team.  Before you start, fire up the station online and just listen!  Get its vibe, style and presence. You should complement the pieces that are already in place and enhance the overall sound of the station.
          Relate to your market…It can sound forced and fake if you’re just trying to push local locations and names into your breaks for the sake of “sounding local.”   Even worse is mispronouncing names.  I don’t pretend to live up the street or in someone’s suburb.  I focus on establishing important local “touchstones,” which can be as simple as the weather, or talking about the excitement of opening day for the Reds.   It’s more important to understand and communicate the VIBE and ENERGY of a local event, rather than pretending that you’ll be there. 
          Why do I do it? What’s the benefit of spending extra time and effort on other stations when I’m already swamped with my own?  The 45 minutes I’m locked in the studio is usually the only chance I get to “just be a jock.”  You don’t have to worry about budgets and metrics and M Scores.  It’s you, a microphone and a connection to one special listener.  That’s why I started in this crazy business in the first place, and no matter how long the day is, I still can’t wait to walk into the studio and crack the mic.   I hope you still feel that love and passion too, whether it’s for your home base or a station 1100 miles away.



Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings


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