I just got back from boot camp. And after three days of basic training, I'm now in tiptop shape for morning radio.
Yeah, right.I feel more lost and overwhelmed than before I packed my bags for Atlanta, Ga., and my first trip to the 10th Annual Morning Show Boot Camp.
I introduced myself to the major forces in morning radio, from programmers, general managers and marketers, to hot talents from New York to California. (Alas, Howard Stern failed to grace us with his presence.) And I gathered information and names faster than a microprocessor. In the end, I am still synthesizing the message.
I think I was meant to leave frustrated. They feed us enough "stuff" to get us wound up, then send us back to our respective radio stations to spin off. Each year, reveille is trumpeted for the purveyors of madness and mayhem. And they rise and shine to trade secrets and successes in an effort to make the product - morning radio - better.
Day-long seminars spark controversy and camaraderie. We're all in the same boot together.
From 5:30 to 10 each morning, my peers wake up America with a smile. There's a science here, unbeknownst to the average listener. Boot camp makes this obvious.
For example, you might tune in to Rock99 to hear Mick and Allen joke about their Harley ride, or play "Match Game" for concert tickets, or introduce the sexy stripper, and it all seems like impromptu chit-chat. But these "personalities" have actually developed over time - and they're still evolving. Their tricks are born, not always of themselves, but from solicited prep services, morning-specific radio publications and tipping an ear to what the Joneses are dishing.
Boot camp feeds that inspiration. The Delta red-eye direct flight took me there in time for "Battle of the Bits." (A `bit' is radio lingo for a stunt or planned event, like the KZHT Morning Zoo's "Gender Wars," or X96's "Space Elders.")
On this day, I heard from morning jocks who get callers to: flirt with someone else's significant other to see if he or she is truly faithful, go into labor on the air, make up a word and have callers try to use it in a sentence, get parents to call in and scream until they lose their voice in order to win concert tickets for their kids and many, MANY more bits.
Later the first day, industry executives participated in a panel discussion on the future of radio. Among these power brokers was Marc Chase from Jacor Communications, the latest heavy hitter in Utah radio, with seven stations in its lair.
"You're here because you want to make an investment in your future," he told us. "If you think you don't need to, you will be (expletive)."
Satellite and CD radio will soon be a reality. There will be hundreds of music channels from which to choose. The only point of differentiation for commercial/traditional radio will be the on-air talent - for morning shows, in particular.
Clark Brown, the president of Jefferson Pilot Communications, based in North Carolina, said our careers depend on our ability to stay local and involve the community. That, and honing our talents.
Throughout the weekend, I learned that there's a method to the madness that is morning radio and that we all love what we do or we wouldn't be doing it (not much money here).
Jeff Rowe, of TV Guide on the Internet, showed us how to make the most of the Web to prepare our shows. We eavesdropped on a focus group that was discussing what each member liked or hated in radio formats and talent.
I attended seminars on how to be my own publicist, how to look good on camera, how to negotiate my own deal with my boss and I took a peek at some of the industry's latest technical toys for the studio and listened to other women discuss their experiences in morning radio. I also exchanged a truckload of business cards.
Did I mention we worked out with Richard Simmons? He's a favorite morning show guest on many stations. (We are in the process of booking him on the "Freakshow.")
By Sunday, I couldn't tell whether my head was spinning from information overload or from the deluge of disco.
Now you know that those voices you hear on your radio aren't really "naturals." On-air talent is a studied science that not all can master. Conventions like this "Morning Show Boot Camp" give the semblance of organization and procedure to an otherwise wacky existence.
So that's why I'm confused! But I suppose I do feel slightly better-armed to take on the listening world.
OK, Salt Lake. Boot camp has encouraged me to exercise my right to bear humor and irreverence. At least, until I receive further instructions.