Valerie Geller has trained and inspired a generation
of broadcasters. It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say
that she ‘invented’ talk radio, but clearly, there are few
people in the world who can make as strong a claim to shaping,
forming, and producing what has come to be known as ‘talk
radio’. She regularly consults on radio format and production
at stations in Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia, as well
as across the U.S., Canada and Europe.
From my perspective, what Valerie brings to any discussion
of radio is not only her encyclopedic knowledge of the medium
and her sound, practical advice, but also her inspirational
As a change from the normal in this column, I’m passing on
to you Valerie Geller’s tips for conducting interviews in
conjunction with music programming for radio. While she has
compiled these ideas for music radio, they apply nearly as
strongly for all forms of broadcast interview. I offer them
to you with Valerie’s good wishes, and my grateful thanks:
Valerie Geller’s 12 Rules for Powerful Radio Interviews:
1) ASK: WHY IS THIS GUY ON? Know why you are doing the interview.
Are you doing this because the person has something to sell
or push to your audience? While listeners love story, they
hate hard sell.
Ask: Is this person-topic going to bring anything new to my
listeners? Will the audience get a talkable topic, new information,
laughs, inspiration, or anything else from hearing this on
Ask: How will this interview serve my listener? Does this
person or subject cover topics that the audience wants to
know about? Although you may want to meet them, many presenters
have been greatly disappointed when the gorgeous Playboy Playmates
actually have little to say when in front of a microphone.
And you may already have had the experience of a top rock
star, exhausted from touring, now on his or her 1000th radio
or TV interview, burned out, hawking the latest CD or concert
appearance without anything significant, new, real or meaningful
to share with your listeners. But remember, a great interviewer
is a human being. The best interviews feel like and sound
like a normal conversations. Even the most bored, burned out
and exhausted rock star usually will respond if you are genuine
and authentic and act like a human being. NOTE: It works even
better if you actually LIKE the persons works
2) Anything LIVE anything goes. When interviewing a live in-studio
guest, listeners "get" that the interview can go wrong, veer
off topic, get crazy or maybe even the studio ceiling comes
crashing down. Its all OK. That's part of what happens in
live radio. Here your job is to create a place where the interviewee
is comfortable to talk and be with you and your audience.
People understand that during live interviews, unpredictable
3) BUT should you pre-produce the interview, MAKE IT PERFECT.
Here you've got the opposite of live radio. If you are doing
the interview in advance you can cut and paste and create
art. You have the opportunity, control and power to make this
absolutely surgically perfect. Remember, â *when in doubt,
leave it outs |â * The produced interview segments should
sound exactly the way you want it to sound. Emphasize storytelling,
truth, and of course NEVER be boring.
4) THERE ARE NO STUPID QUESTIONS: Only the ones you didn't
ask. If an answer is complex...ask the question again. Trust
that if you want to know something, chances are the audience
also wants to know that same thing. Don't worry about looking
brilliant, just ask the simple questions, that people want
to know.. (Many interviewers are held back from greatness
simply because they're afraid to look foolish, unprepared
or dumb. Example as in Nairobi, Kenya I recently did a Creating
Powerful Radio workshop at a station filled with bright on-air
talent. Perhaps you recall the news story a while back, where
US President George Bush nearly choked to death on a pretzel?
In Kenya, after days of reporting the story, someone FINALLY
asked, ‘What IS a pretzel?’ (Pretzels are not a familiar product
in Africa and are not available there) Everyone on air was
so afraid of looking ignorant or foolish, that for days NO
ONE DARED to ask the one question that the audience really
wanted to know. Once answered, everyone had fun with it.
5) Respect Responses Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.
If the guest is a flaming idiot, that will come through all
6) BE PREPARED It is likely that if you are interested in
talking with a guest, you may already know a great deal about
the subject or topic. Your personal interest, connection and
natural curiosity probably have led to decent show prep for
the interview. (Don't pretend to be an expert in a subject
if you are not. Its not genuine and very few can pull this
off.) If you don't know about this topic or person, read up,
use the Internet and of course ask others what they know about
this subject. The secret of life in radio is: INTERESTED IS
INTERESTING. BORED IS BORING.
CNNs Larry King is famous for not preparing heavily for his
interviews. He counts on being the ‘everyman’ asking the common
questions. Sometimes if you overprepare, you go over the heads
of the listeners. Never be boring. If you, as a personality,
find the topic, no matter how simple, crazy, obscure, bizarre
or off the beaten path, interesting, you'll find a way to
make it interesting to the listeners. (Remember: there are
no boring stories, only boring storytellers!)
7) PUT YOURSELF IN THERE When doing an interview, many have
been taught not to or are afraid to talk about themselves
when a guest is in studio. The natural tendency is to sublimate
your own ego and make the interviewee the star. But unless
it is a straight news interview where you are collecting facts,
it works better if you are a human being, part of the process.
Participate. If you have a personal connection to the topic,
don't be afraid to talk about or share from your own life.
Remember you are developing a relationship with your audience
as well as with the interview guest. Revealing certain details
that pertain about yourself or your life can catalyze the
interview into power.
NOTE: I'm not talking about spilling your private life all
over the airwaves, but a genuine connection to the topic can
work really well. Remember the personal (not private) is universal.
8) SHORTER IS BETTER THAN LONGER Use the short hello. No need
to go into the entire list of accomplishments or awards -
just give the listener the reason the person is being interviewed.
The same for the end. Shorter is usually better than longer.
You can follow up with a second interview at another time
or use more of the tape later. Control the interview and keep
it tight. Here's why. You don't want to ‘overfeed the fish’.
I learned a valuable lesson from my nephew when he was a kid.
He'd gotten a gold fish but it had died due to overfeeding.
Much to my sisters' chagrin, I bought him another fish, which
he then promptly killed off, again, due to overfeeding. By
the fourth goldfish, Adam called one night exclaiming, ‘Aunt
Valerie! I've got it! I figured it out - if you overfeed the
fish, it dies, but if you don't feed it too much, when you
come in the room, it swims to the top of the bowl and is happy
to see you’ The moral of the story: Better to leave audiences
hungry for more than to bore them to death by overloading
or overfeeding with too much information.
9)VOX POPS In the USA we usually call these ‘Man On The Street
Interviews.’ Asking a cross section of people who represent
the target audience to answer a question or comment on a subject
or issue is a powerful tool. People like to hear themselves
(or people like themselves) on the air. Done right, this is
a wonderful ‘color in your paintbox’ to help create powerful
radio. However, many broadcasters are actually quite shy and
HATE going out on the streets to interview total strangers
(i.e. regular folk) about topics of the day, issues or ideas.
But VOX POPS interviews can add excitement and life to your
show, allow listeners feel involved and creates a feeling
of holding up a mirror and reflecting life ‘out there’
10) WHEN GIVING OUT A PHONE NUMBER Its helpful to let the
listeners know in advance that you'll be giving out a useful
phone number. Many are driving, or otherwise engaged and cannot
grab for a pen or pencil at the exact moment you throw the
number out. In order to avoid a plethora of calls into the
station later in the day (or week, or month) from listeners
who want that number, try this: Tell your listeners, ‘In a
moment well be giving out a number, so you might want to have
pencil and paper handy’ Then give them enough time so they
can find something to write with. Then you give out the number.
Repeat it. And give it again at the end of the interview in
case the listeners missed it. Your listeners as well as the
stations receptionist, will thank you.
11) LISTEN Although this may be obvious, many broadcasters
can ruin a potentially powerful interview because they are
so interested in looking great or asking the right questions,
that they miss great things being said. Remember, the listeners
are listening with their full attention to what is being said.
So should you.
12) NEVER BE AFRAID TO GO OFF TOPIC Like life, a powerful
interview can often go off your intended subject. This is
just fine. LISTEN. Be real. And remember the rules: Tell the
truth and NEVER BE BORING. Think of it this way: imagine that
you are on a driving vacation. If you stick exactly to the
map, its never as fun or exciting as that ‘side trip’ you
might spontaneously take off the main road. Sometimes the
best interviews meander off subject (just as normal conversation
does) and take you places that are EVEN better than you could
have imagined. If you have fun, so will the audience. Relax.
Be spontaneous. Make it great. Use your genuine interest and
feelings for a topic. And keep it powerful.