If you're part of an activist group, talk radio is one of the most effective ways to reach your audience. The opportunities afforded are unparalleled.
Did you know that there are 2,000 radio hosts in the United States? So, if each one hosts a weekly two-hour program, and has one guest for each hour, then 4,000 guest slots need to be filled weekly. Of course, while some hosts interview guests five days a week, others, such as Rush Limbaugh, prefer not to share their time.
In any case, if you're an activist with something to say, there's a place for you on the air. Having been a guest on more than 500 talk shows, I speak from experience.
A telephone is all the equipment you need. With a simple phone, you can be interviewed from anywhere — from home, your office, or even a hotel room. My favorite "studio" is in my office facing my computer. Additionally, I use a telephone headset, which I highly recommend.
Once, a scheduled interview on WBAL in Baltimore extended from one hour to four hours! My headset saved the day. Another benefit of a headset is free hands. With free hands you have the freedom to access reference materials, your computer, and jot down no tes while you are talking. Before doing a show, I bring up a "radio" file on my computer. In this file I have all sorts of useful information for the interview (more on this later). I also use the computer to type notes to myself. For instance, during the commercial breaks many ideas come to mind for the next segment. I quickly write down these ideas. Some hosts have a knack for throwing their guests off target, so you want to do everything you can to stay focused. The one other thing I always have on han d is a big glass of water.
Getting on talk shows
Talk radio hosts are always looking for interesting, informative, and provocative guests — not necessarily in that order. Actually, depending upon the size of the station, it's often the "producer" who finds and schedules guests. However, you don't need t o know producers to get on a talk show.
Unless your issues have national impact, you should limit your exposure to the community in which your group operates. One advantage to doing local radio shows is that you can be interviewed in the radio station's sound studio. Using a studio mike results in slightly better audio quality than when you use a telephone. Another advantage is face to face visual cues often help during an interview.
If your group's interest is national in scope, you might want to start with talk shows in your city, then appear on shows in other communities. Nationally syndicated shows will save you time by hitting many markets at once.
How to start
If your group has a publication, add the names of known talk show hosts to your mailing list. Also, send them newspaper clippings about your group, press releases, and brochures. If you or someone in your organization writes a book related to the purpose of your group, send book reviews or a sample copy to the radio station. (Your publisher may assist you in this.) Be sure to include contact information so producers will know whom to contact.
Simply sending timely material will most likely get you on the air. If your organization is national in scope, there's another cost-effective way to get your spokesperson on shows all over the U.S. Bradley Communications, of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, publi shes Radio-TV Interview Report — The Magazine to Read for Guests & Show Ideas. Published three times a month, this excellent magazine is sent to 4,000 hosts and producers. Each issue contains 64 pages of display ads from experts and opinion m akers.
When planning our next media strategy, I always consider advertising in Radio-TV Interview Report. Because of its frequency and reach, activists can organize a radio blitz lasting a few weeks, or even months. I continue to get calls months af ter my ads run. The staff at Radio-TV Interview Report will write your ad for you. All you have to do is supply the information you want talk show hosts to have about you and your group. This information might include your group's newsletter or magazine, a book, a photo (for TV), or a press release. You'll receive a fax of your ad copy for your approval before it runs. You can run your ad once, three times a month, or once a month for as long as you like; it's up to you. Radio-TV Interview Re port has never failed to get me on more shows than I could handle, easily justifying the cost of the ads. You might also land some TV talk shows. To contact Radio-TV Interview Report, write to PO Box 1206, Lansdowne, PA 19050-8206, or call Ja ck Lewis at 610-259-8206, ext. 408.
When a producer calls
When a producer calls, make sure you learn the name of the host, the radio station, and its location. You should also ask about the host's position on the issues you'll be discussing. Although it doesn't matter what your host's positions are, it's good to know in advance. I've found that most of the stations that call are news/talk, community/public radio, or Christian.
For some reason, Christian stations often try to hide that fact from me; then attempt to ambush me on the air. I still do those stations, but I like to know in advance if they have a Christian format. Recently, I've begun to look for a station's call lett ers in the National Religious Broadcasters' Directory of Religious Media.
Ask how long you'll be on; don't assume it'll be an hour, it might be less. Many of my appearances have been extended for an extra hour or so. It all depends on audience response — and whether another guest is scheduled to follow you. You want to be sure you have enough material on hand for a longer show. Most programs are live, and because of callers, are the most interesting. Occasionally, the host will tape your interview for a later airing.
Write down the producer's name and phone number. If you have to cancel, call as far in advance as you can. When setting the date and time, be sure you understand what time zone the show is in. Don't forget to write down all this information in your appoin tment book.
What to expect on the air
Here are some of the notes I have in my computer's "radio" file. I have a collection of one-liners I've successfully used as retorts, First Amendment facts and legal cases, talking points, and even a few Bible verses.
Before each interview I type in the station's call letters, city, and the host's and producer's names. Then I add personal notes, such as Relax, enjoy yourself, use and keep a sense of humor, remember you don't have to answer every question, answer qu estions with a questions when appropriate, promote Freedom Writer. While all this may sound trite, sometimes in the heat of a talk show these things are easily forgotten. I also prepare a brief opening statement, and a note to myself about what issues to focus on during the program.
A friendly host will support and guide you during the show. Even the most hostile host is just doing it for effect, and, if you know your material, you'll do fine. Most callers are polite — but often ill-informed. An experienced host will keep the unruly ones in line, sometimes by cutting them off.
Don't "read" any statements, including your opening remarks. Remember not to say anything that you would not want to go out over the air. You may think you're off the air when you're not. Keep your remarks short, develop good sound bites, and have plenty of facts on hand. Never attack the host or callers. Above all, be yourself. Keep cool and maintain a sense of humor.
It's extremely helpful to provide contact information — an 800 number, or a simple address — so listeners can reach you. It's also a good idea to make a free offer, such as a copy of your newsletter. Remember, you're on the air to promote the mission of y our group, advance a cause, or deal with specific issues. Stay on target.