Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ready Or Not

In the last two weeks, I have been at a stage musical and a movie screening which were both introduced by DJs from local radio stations. I've had some experience with this in my long career, and both of these occasions made me cringe.

Let's start with the musical by saying that no one should be on stage before the show begins. If there have to be announcements (for safety purposes, or an understudy taking over a role, or the obligatory no video/audio recording), it should be recorded and played from offstage before the festivities get rolling. Once the lights go down, the audience expects the show to begin. We're ready to enter the make-believe world the playwright and performers will transport us to. We don't need the midday jock from some radio station welcoming us and asking, "Are you ready to have some fun?"

At the show we attended ("Mrs. Independent" at the Fox -- so bad we walked out at intermission), the audience had been kept in the lobby well past the scheduled start time because the crew was fixing some technical problem backstage. The delay affected the crowd's mood. So when the DJ asked, "Are you ready?" the guy behind me shouted, "We were ready a half-hour ago!"

The question is inherently stupid anyway. Whether it's for a play, a movie, or a concert, we've gotten tickets, put on some nice clothes, perhaps gotten a babysitter, driven to the venue and found a parking place, and worked our way through the crowd to find our seats. By definition, we are ready for the entertainment -- you don't have to pump us up.

Which brings me to the movie screening (Denzel Washington in "The Equalizer"). When the DJ that night asked "Are you ready?" the crowd apparently didn't respond loudly enough for him, so he exhorted them with, "C'mon, y'all, make some noise if you're ready to see this movie!!" That's counter-productive. First of all, we're in a movie theater, where the audience should be trained to be quiet. Secondly, the thing that's delaying the movie's start is not our state of readiness, it's your blabbing!

Then the DJ (and an assistant from the radio station) started giving away t-shirts and worthless stuff (who are these people waving their hands hoping to win a pen?). The problem was that all they did was walk up and down the aisle and throw the freebies into the crowd or hand them to people in the aisle.

As I said, I've had experience with this sort of thing, having hosted hundreds of movie screenings over the decades. In simply tossing junk into the audience, the DJ actually alienated those of us who didn't want anything except to be entertained. That's why, when I have been the guy up there, I always asked trivia questions, usually about the stars of the movie. That way, even the people who don't care about winning something can play along.

It's the same strategy by which I created The Harris Challenge for my radio shows 25+ years ago. At the time, any radio giveaway (from a t-shirt to concert, movie, or sporting event tickets) was done by asking for the 9th caller, or the 20th caller, or whatever random number the jock chose. I realized how boring that was, and that the vast majority of the audience didn't care because they were never going to call in. Instead, I started doing trivia and other games that listeners could play along with, participating passively while being entertained. The concept took off, and The Harris Challenge is still the most popular thing I do on the radio (it now airs at 5:15pm CT every Friday on KTRS/St. Louis, and you'll find the podcasts here).

I'm not telling you this to blow my own horn, but to point out how disengaged and lazy these other radio personalities are (that might be stretching the word "personality," but I was tired of typing "DJs"). Asking for the 6th caller or hurling things to a crowd takes virtually no effort, and shows no concern for the people you're hoping to make happy. Because if you can achieve that -- an actual connection that puts a smile on someone's face -- you have a much better chance at converting new listeners and keeping old ones.

The irony is that for too many radio people making these appearances, the answer to the question "Are you ready?" is "No!"