The Art of Call Screening Part 3 with Valerie Geller

Just because you have a plethora of instant messages coming in, does not mean you have to use them all. The same “powerful radio” standards apply to screening interactive media as you use for callers on the air. This means using a critical eye to decide which Tweets, texts, email, Facebook or comments coming in on social media to use – use only the ones that will enhance your show.

Messaging and E-mail

There’s a lot of pressure on hosts and producers from PDs who are pushing hard to include and incorporate social media – into the show. And hosts enjoy the extra interactivity and additional listener generated content.  But, the rule for including any social media, including Facebook posts, Tweets, texts, e-mails and instant messages,  should be the same as it is for callers: Is this interesting? Is it new? Is it relevant? Does it add to the show?

 Normal People Tend to Text Rather Than Call

It’s quick, it’s easy and during the business day, some people can’t use their phones to call a talk show, so you may be able to get more content and lister activity including interesting opinions on the air via e-mail or text messaging. But while comments may come through Twitter, Facebook and messages, nothing beats  having an interesting actual person delivering his or her thoughts in his or her own voice. Sometimes you get a chance to text back “Do you have a moment to make a quick call to us at this number?” If they can call in, great, but unless the information coming in is very important (breaking news, or uniquely interesting to this topic) reading messages should be your second choice – especially if you have a good call waiting.

Activating Text Messages

If you do use text messages from listeners on the air, try reading them using a little drama. If you can include the social media contributor, as you would a caller, you maybe very surprised at how well it works. For example: Try introducing the sender actively: “Carol, you’re in Spring Hill. You say you’ve have been watching shoplifters at your neighborhood market …” Using “you” to address the sender makes the message sound more like he or she is right there with you, it engages that audience member, and it’s more like a live conversation.

“He Sounded Fine When I Pre-interviewed Him”

People get nervous when they actually go on air. Every call screener has had the experience of listening helplessly as a caller, who sounded so great before he or she hit the airwaves, flounder when the host takes the call on air.

Here’s why: When you are around live broadcasts all the time, it’s easy to forget that it can be a terrifying experience for someone who doesn’t do this every day. Take the time to coach callers to take a breath, to get right to their main point or story and please do not read from notes. Try to communicate on air as you would to a friend in normal conversation, forget that there are others listening, and don’t worry about looking foolish.

Usually people lose the nervousness as soon as they get onto a familiar topic or subject about which they know or  feel passionate about. That is why it’s important to work with each caller to help “get them there” as soon as possible in the call.

 Suggestions for Sequencing Callers:

  • To best determine the order of the calls, keep track of the show topic and be aware of the host’s and guest’s points of view.
  • Conflict makes for interesting dialogue. If your host enjoys it, and it is appropriate for the program, move calls that do not agree with the host to the front of the line.
  • If the show has guests representing several points of view, then alternate the callers’ points of view whenever possible. In reality, you may not get an equal division or balance of callers reflecting pros and cons in any issue, but you can try, through the screening process, to eliminate clusters of similar callers and opinions. Push the interesting ones—the ones with with passion, stories or humor—to the top.
  • Start strong. Your first call on the show should be your best available caller. That first call often sets the tempo for the rest of the hour.
  • Come out of each break with the best, most energetic and passionate caller you have waiting. 
  • Make it powerful.

“But She’s Been Waiting for 48 Minutes”

So what? The point is to make a powerful broadcast for the listeners. So if the host chooses to go with another topic or goes long with a caller or guest, let the caller wait. Even if they get mad and yell at you, your first priority at all times is to protect the show, what is going on air, and to create powerful radio.

Geller Media International’s Tips for Talk Producers and Screeners

Here are some of the methods and ideas that have emerged from our Geller Media International Producer’s Workshops over the years:

  • Focus on your audience, not the one percent of the listeners who call in.
  • Make sure your host has material to talk about if there are no calls coming in.
  • Plan your show as if there will be no calls.
  • Don’t let all your lines jam. Screen out weak calls and keep some lines open so better calls can come in.
  • If you don’t understand a caller, nobody else will, either. Get rid of the call!
  • Get your callers relaxed and talking, but don’t promise them that they will be on the air.
  • Build your database of experts, guests and sources that you can use during shows for alternate/opposing opinions, or for emergency guests if your planned guest cancels. Cross-reference by areas of expertise, affiliations, etc.
  • Build a database of great callers. On a quiet day, a savvy producer can use the list to find people who can go on the air and help you create great radio.
  • Be sure to give your guests specific instructions on how to get to the studio, and contact information. If it’s a weekend – where do they go if the station door is locked?
  • Guests should e-mail background materials ahead of time for the host to look at.
  • Make sure your guests understand who their audience will be.
  • Let your guests know that the host will take care of any promotion for their book, their seminar, and so forth. There’s nothing worse than a guest doing an awkward job of blatant self-promotion.
  • If you have one, develop a good relationship with your news department.
  • If something major occurs, don’t be afraid to cancel a guest! Radio’s greatest asset is immediacy. Go with what’s happening now and reschedule.

 Geller Media International’s Caller Criteria

  • Can he or she offer an interesting personal experience pertaining to this topic?
  • Do you care about this person? Does he or she sound like a “character?” (Hint: If you can “see” this person in your mind’s eye, you’ve got a good character!)
  • Is the caller a storyteller?
  • Is he or she funny or do they have a sense of humor?
  • Does this caller have strong passionate opinions on the subject?
  • Is this a person you would find fascinating or enjoy talking with off air?
  • Can this caller take your audience on a unique journey – someplace they cannot get to on their own?
  • Does the caller have anything interesting, or of value, to say?
  • Can he or she offer NEW information on a story or subject, or specific knowledge or special expertise?
  • Is this person fun or entertaining? 

Excerpted with permission from “Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age.”

Cartoon: “That’s not what you told my screener you wanted to talk about.” (Copyright) Leo Cullum/The New Yorker cartoon collection/2001/ All rights reserved. Used with permission. Excerpted from “Beyond Powerful Radio” – Copyright  2011 Focal Press by Valerie Geller.

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