The Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on August 11, 2020

Charese Fruge
I recently made the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego and what a wake-up call it was. It’s about a 5 hour drive on the I-15 without traffic. There is nothing but desert and it’s extremely boring. So I did my best to monitor every music station with a clear signal that I possibly could. As I searched through the dial looking for some energy and entertainment my eyes began to cross. It was difficult to distinguish between stations because the music is all the same. There was no life in between the songs, no connection to a personality, no entertainment and if there was a live jock, it was just a liner jock. Even on stations in major cities that I know have actual live bodies in the studio as opposed to voice tracks. And I know we are in the middle of a pandemic right now, but this is a topic that continues to come up, and then we sit back and wonder why these stations aren’t performing.

What is happening to our business? What is happening to the passion we use to have for radio? It’s like the lights are on at the stations, but nobody is home. And again, I know there is a pandemic going on, but the whole point of voice tracking is to make it sound as real and local as possible…. “Theater of the Mind.” I can listen to any given streaming service and get a better experience than a tracked or lazy radio station right now. At least I have influence on the actual music I’m going to hear with a streaming service. This has got to stop or there will be no radio business left. The mass voice tracking by larger companies cutting talent has led to jocks not even identifying the stations on local level just so they can pipe a shift in to as many cities as possible. The shifts sound rushed and there is no compelling content. And it’s gotten to the point where even live shifts have become complacent. It’s like working from home studios has made us lazy as an industry. I see the same problem with late night television talent. The shows get less and less entertaining and the content is mostly the same.

Knowing this challenge, it’s up to talent to motivate themselves to continue to be creative. At the end of the day, even your voice tracked shifts are still a representation of who you are as talent. In a world where jobs are being cut left and right, it’s the only way you are going to survive. Figure out how to be creative and energetic even if you are voice tracking a shift for multiple cities. Can you be local in any way by including or finding comparison amongst your cities? If you are doing your show from home, don’t get lazy because you feel like there is nothing going on. You’ve got to find content that’s entertaining and relatable.

I’ll revert back to a column I wrote a little over a year ago called “The Art of Voice Tracking.”

If you’re going to attempt to win with voice tracking, there are a few steps needed to ensure that your brand is still differentiating itself from all of the others and providing content that no one else in the market (or online) can. This requires coaching and listening over and over again to your shifts. I always tell talent, “The best thing that you can do to get better, is to air check yourself. You will always be your biggest critic.”

The first thing that you need to do is to make sure that you master the basics, making sure that every element in the shift is previewed and/or edited from song to song, element to element and track to track. It doesn’t take that long to do it. Let’s face it, a lot of different people on staff are adding audio to your system. The sec tones aren’t tight or in the right place, the fade doesn’t work, the intros and endings are not properly identified. Dry vs. produced elements aren’t properly identified. There’s a lot of room for human error. It can be a train wreck if it’s not previewed. A voice tracked shift is just as much a reflection of talent as a live shift. If you want to get the calls for the extra opportunity, make it count. There is nothing worse than a dry sweeper rolling slowly in between two songs instead of over the intro of the next song or having the wrong track air in to or out of the wrong song. “Hey that’s the latest from Panic! At The Disco,” and it’s a Katy Perry song. The average listener may not know exactly what is happening, but they can certainly feel the vibe (or lack thereof).

The next thing you need to do is your homework. You need to prep for a voice tracked shift as much as you prep for a live shift. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear jocks just say the call letters and back sell or front sell a song, a really old song. That’s just lazy. We can run sweepers to handle that and they work for free. Find compelling content to relate to the audience, good artist info and bank lots of calls to utilize during the shift so it sounds like you are live. If you are tracking out of market, make sure you study your market and brand. Utilize as much local prep as you can during the shift and make sure someone in the market helps you stay on top of things there. You can miss a lot if you don’t actually live in the market and you’ve got to find a way to connect with the audience so you are talking with them and not at them.

And finally, back up the shift with updated blogs and social media posts. You can schedule them ahead of time if you are not actually in the building. Make sure they reflect the current shift and refer to them during the shift on a regular basis. Also keep an eye on comments and posts from listeners. If you don’t respond, it’s clear you don’t care, or you are not actually in-house. The ultimate goal is to never have it sound like the lights are on, but nobody’s home on your station. If you can master these basic tasks, you can become the go-to talent when companies are looking to voice track more stations. Like anything else, you have to strive to be the best on the job to get the next one, and all that really matters is how it sounds on the air in real time (whether it is or not).