By Steve Pigott

One of the essential rules in radio imaging is not to let your production get stale. This, I know is easier said than done, and sometimes it’s hard not to get stuck in formality. How can you make your station sound different from the competition? We’re all constantly trying to re-invent the wheel and trying to come up with something new, however there is one simple idea that is often forgotten: Listener Endorsement.

Many of you may think, “Listener testimonials… been there, done that.” There are however many ways to use your listeners in imaging, and sometimes they may not be the most obvious or conventional.

Here at Kiss 100, we target 15-24 year olds and position ourselves as “The Station For Young London.” We try and keep away from using radio clichés such as “variety” and “best music.” However, essentially, that is exactly what we do, so we still need to communicate this to our audience in some way.

Just because we restrict ourselves from using certain “strap-lines,” it does not mean that we have to ignore them completely. For example, we may not allow ourselves to say it, but if Amy from North London says we play the best variety of music… then job done! Plus, it sounds much more believable on the radio if it comes from a person on the street.

Listener endorsement is much more powerful than you first imagine. Think about it, you can get across your key messages without sounding like you’re kissing your own ass… because in fact, you’re not actually saying it at all! Your audience is.

The key to great listener audio is down to the interviewing technique. After several years of dodging this task myself and giving it to the work experience kid, I’ve come to learn that you’re not gonna get the material you want unless you get out and do it yourself (or at least be there to supervise!).

It may not be your idea of fashion, but if you have it, wear station branded clothes. Trust me, if people on the street see your logo, they’re going to want to talk to you (probably because they think they’re going to win something!). Plus, they’re more likely to say your station name if you’re parading it around in front of them.

Now, before you run out there expecting everyone to say how great your station is, just remember, there’s a lot of competition out there, plus some people don’t even listen to radio (yes, they do exist!).

Start off by asking what station they listen to. Beginners luck, they may answer with exactly what you were hoping. On the other hand, they’ve just answered with your competitors name — great, now what? Don’t stop. Carry on with the questions. Ask them why they like that station. If they’re passionate about it, they’ll answer confidently with all the things you’re looking for, “it’s got great shows,” “I love the music,” etc., etc. Sure, they may be talking about your rival station, but who the hell will know when it’s cut into that funky new listener promo you’re about to make?

Always keep your questions simple. When they give you an answer, ask them to explain it, always be asking “why?” “Why is he/she your favourite DJ?” “Because they’re funny.” “It wakes me up in the morning….” All these answers are perfect for use in production. If not right now, sometime in the near future, it’s going to make that killer breakfast trail just that little bit better.

When you’ve finished inter-rogating your victim, just ask them simply, “what radio station have we just been talking about?” Bingo… that’s the reaction you were wanting. Sure, they may have just said your station name ten times over, but hitting them with that final question will prompt them to recall the name, and do so confidently and clearly. Trust me, works every time!

What ever you do, don’t cheat and take the easy option. Don’t get random people in the office to pretend they’re listeners. I’ve tried it in the past; it doesn’t work, and they never sound natural.

When you finally get to rip up the audio you got, make sure you use it sparingly. I’ve heard listener testimonials that are like 30 seconds long, with 10 different voices saying the same things over and over. Find all the key messages you want, and use maybe 3 or 4 per spot. Also remember these are just regular people, so they won’t have projected themselves as well as a voiceover artist does. EQ and process each clip, and if need be, normalize every word they are saying to make them sound as loud and as clear as possible.

Having a listener shout your station name loud and clear is 10 times more effective than your announcer delivering it in the same way he always does. Remember who’s listening: it’s not the production guy at the next radio station; it’s your audience, the real people! It’s much more likely to stand out if it’s somebody they can relate to. If the listener sample isn’t clear enough on its own, back it up with a spoken VO from the announcer. On the first Kiss example (on the RAP CD) the last “Kiss 100” shout wouldn’t be clear on its own, but backed up with the announcer clearly delivering the station name, it adds a whole brightness to the ID.

Voicemail systems are also a good way of obtaining listener audio. At Kiss we have an automated show between 2pm and 3pm every day called “Free Radio Kiss.” Listeners call up and leave their message and song request on voicemail, which is then downloaded and used over the relevant song intro in the hour. These messages are also extremely useful for production. Simple stuff, like a caller saying the name of a certain song can then be incorporated into a power intro for that tune. Also, if your presenters pre-record their callers, get them to save the audio somewhere for you. You’d be amazed what stuff you can use just from a telephone conversation.

Another effective way of using your listeners is to position your radio station within your city or town. Your audience needs to feel like you are as much a part of the place as they are. It’s all about sounding “local” without sounding small. Get them talking about why they love the city they live in, and what kind of stuff they get up to.

At Kiss, we try to sound as “London” as possible. We recently ran a campaign reflecting how people “live sexy in London,” in which the objective was for the station to reflect the lifestyles of young people in the city. We created a number of short “listener profiles” (last 2 examples on the CD), where each person would say how they “live sexy.” To add a new level to the whole thing, we integrated the listeners with core Kiss artists, with them posing the question “How do you live sexy?” The interesting thing is that all these promos were made without using any of the station voiceovers — just artists and listeners. The important point though, is the message was still clear and to the point.

The only major downside to the whole “listener endorsement” is that they get burnt and tired really quickly. Make sure that you have enough material to keep constantly refreshing them, and don’t keep the same clips on for week after week. If you are limited to the number of good clips you have, be clever how you use them. Mix them around a bit, and change the order. This may well give them a longer life span, but they won’t last forever.

When it comes to airing your stuff, a word of warning: If like at Kiss, your jocks load in there own sweepers/IDs etc., be careful which ones they have access to. If you’ve got an ID with a listener saying “I listen to Fred in the morning, ‘cos he’s really funny,” Fred is gonna play that one ID over and over and over (I’m not saying radio presenters have egos or anything!). We tend to schedule listener IDs in with the music logs, so they get equal rotation and played at specific times.

Remember, your audience loves your station, and they’ve got plenty of good stuff to say about it. Having a bank of great sounding listeners is an essential tool to any producer, as much so as an FX library or jingle package. Used in the right way, they can completely brighten up you work.

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