The Art Of Call Screening, Part 2

Creating powerful radio means that you can never be boring. And that goes for callers as well as hosts. A good call screener needs to have a backbone and to be able to tell people “no.” It means fast decisions to take or get rid of a boring caller. While this doesn’t mean being rude, it does mean being firm. In part two of “The Art of Call Screening,” here are a few more ideas on finding great callers from Valerie Gellers book Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age.”  

The Short Hello 

Train your callers. Avoid “greeting cards” such as “thank you for taking my call” or “we love your show.” Avoid “how are you today?” The host is fine. The caller is fine. Everyone is fine. Congratulations or greetings are of little interest to a listener. Immediately get to the topic. Don’t be afraid to say, “Please get to your point.” We’re very happy you love the show, but the long hello is boring. This is a radio show, not a phone conversation, even though it may feel that way to you because you are holding a phone. Give callers your rules, including: “No reading of prepared statements or articles”; “ Ask your question or make your comment without a long preamble”; “No multi-part questions.”

The Host Will Hang Up On You

To avoid callers calling back after they’ve been on the air and complaining that the host rudely hung up on them, alert them prior to going on air that when the host is done, he or she will abruptly disconnect the line. Thank them before they go to air. While this may seem impolite, this is how it works.

The Pep Up

Before a caller is about to go on air, check back to be sure he or she is still waiting on the line and ready to go. You may need to remind the caller about the original point if they have been on hold for a while. Remind them again to turn their radios off.

Listen To The Show

This is probably the most important thing a good producer or screener can do. If you can, stay in communication with the host throughout the course of the program. Although you may be busy screening, do try to listen to the show and follow the thread of the program.

Just Say “No”

Hire someone who can make fast decisions and who can get rid of a boring call. The question to ask: “Would this caller keep a listener engaged?” If the answer is no, do not put him or her on air. 

Sample Screening Script

  • Answer the phone with the station’s name or the name of the show: “KFIX Bill Johnson Show, what is your comment or question?
  • If the caller does not immediately come across with a concise point or opinion, help them focus. Ask: “What is your opinion?” “Why is this important to you?” “Can you give me a brief summary of your point?
  • If the caller still does not meet your criteria, he or she should be rejected.
  • Remind the caller to speak clearly into the phone.
  • You need to work quickly in order to have the next call up and ready to go. There should never be a time when the host cannot move on to the next call.
  • If the caller meets your criteria, briefly summarize his or her point and opinion on the screen – which allows the host to take calls in the order he or she prefers.

What? What Did You Say?

Clear audio is vital. If someone is on a noisy mobile, or can’t be understood, not hearing a caller clearly will not help your show. No one likes to say no, particularly if your caller is a sweet lonely old lady who lives by herself with no friends and this call to your show right now is the only adult conversation she’s had all week. But you need to protect the show. Never be boring! Serve thousands, not one. It’s hard to do, but it is your job to take care of the show, not the caller. Politely say, “No, I am sorry, but we are not going to be able to take your call, not today. Perhaps another time. Thank you.”

A Few More Ways To Politely Reject A Call

“We are running out of time this hour,” “Thank you, I’ll pass your comment along” or “We cannot use your call today, but we appreciate you taking the time to call.” Do not give them time to respond – politely disconnect. Be tough but professional. Should a rejected caller become angry or try to engage you in an argument, do not get upset or rattled. If there is time, hear the caller out, and then hang up. The management has hired you for your ability to judge what will make a winning show. Most reasonable management will support you in your decision to protect your show from boring callers.

Avoid speakerphones or bad cell lines. If the reception is poor, do not put the call on air. Avoid callers with heavy accents who can’t be easily understood. You certainly don’t want a producer to anger your audience. but your audience is really the 99% of your listeners who will never phone.

A Rule About The “Regulars”

The only real rule about regular callers is this: Bad regular callers should not get on. Good regular callers should. In fact, we sometimes hire hosts who have been regular callers.

Develop A Data Base

Your callers are your P1 or your “active listeners.” They’re loyal, listen regularly, and are not too shy to call. One sharp producer made up a database of the “characters” or “power” callers to his show. He kept a database of that list, then if the board was slow and the night was long, he’d call them or text them and ask, by chance, if they were listening. If not, they’d tune in right away and usually could come up with comments for air that would move the show forward. This producer also had a second use for his list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses. When the host was scheduled to make a public appearance or speech, he’d tweet the information to listeners who’d asked to be included. And they’d show up, making up a very enthusiastic part of the crowd at the station’s events.

Next Week; The Art of Call Screening – Part 3

In part 3, next week, the final segment in The Art of Call Screening series – you’ll get even more ideas for content, not just using callers, but also all of the other tools at our disposal (text messaging, Facebook and Twitter) that allow your audience to powerfully and immediately connect and interact with your show. * Plus, as a bonus: Geller Media International’s Producer’s Tips contributed from top call screeners and producers from around the world.

If you missed it, here’s The Art Of Call Screening, Part 1 

“The Art of Call Screening, Part 2,” is excerpted  with permission from “Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age.”  

About the Writer

DisplayValerie Geller, president of Geller Media International Broadcast Consultants, works to help communicators become more powerful in 30 countries for news, talk, information and personality. Through consulting and individual coaching for news and talk talent, Geller finds and develops personalities, leads “Creating Powerful Radio” and “Communicate Powerfully” workshops and seminars for radio and TV broadcasters, internet radio and podcasters. Geller is the recipient of the Conclave’s 2010 Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award and is the author of four books about radio including her latest from Focal Press Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age. To contact Valerie Geller for a one-on-one coaching or consulting appointment, or for information on the “Powerful Radio” seminars and workshops, call 212 580-3385