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Every 1,000-Watt Station Can Help: A Strategy for Today’s Talk Radio Scene

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Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, told Talkers magazine about how he cracked the bestseller list. “In the beginning, we couldn’t get on Good Morning America, or the Today show or any of that. Elite newspapers wouldn’t review the book. We had to rely on talk radio,” O’Reilly said. “Talk radio has shown a much better return” than advertising dollars.

There’s no doubt that talk radio is a great vehicle for authors, because it allows them to give in-depth answers and puts them in direct communication with people who may want to buy their book.

But talk radio is not what it used to be.

The hosts of major-market radio talk shows with great audiences used to bring authors into their studios for long chats. An author could knock off a couple of those interviews and send sales on the way to the top. Those days are gone. Unless an author is a truly big name, the chance of hitting pay dirt with a couple of big radio interviews is history.

Why is this? First, there aren’t as many big stations that accept talk show guests; many have gone to a music format or no longer want guests who have a product or service to sell. Second, the amount of time an author will probably be on the air has dwindled; radio talk shows have found that listeners are more likely to stay tuned if they have three 10-minute guests on a show than one guest for 30 minutes.

So if you want your book to sell, you now have to pound the pavement and knock on every door.

Fortunately, in radio publicity, quantity works. There are hundreds of radio stations, and book authors shouldn’t thumb their noses at some of them just because they don’t have a hot host or 5,000 watts. Even with a 1,000-watt station, you are still reaching an audience. Look at it this way. If a 1,000-watt radio station has only 100 listeners, you might say it is not worth the trouble. But what if you could go to an auditorium and talk to 100 people about your book? Would you go? Of course you would. And besides, small stations allow you to practice for that big interview down the road.

A rookie baseball player doesn’t throw his first pitch against the New York Yankees. In print publicity, an author’s first interview is rarely with The New York Times. But an author who has had an interview with a hometown newspaper and a couple of magazines will be better prepared if The New York Times does call.

The Plus Side of Small-Station Bookings

It’s the same way with radio. It takes at least 10 radio interviews before most authors get comfortable behind the microphone. Small-power radio stations allow you to practice being a great guest.

Some people seem born to be effective when they talk, but an author’s expertise is in the written word, and it is rare to find a great author who is also a great verbal communicator. First-time authors are especially prone to stage fright–yes, even on radio.

Typical errors for first-time guests include not giving out their Web site addresses or 800 numbers, or not giving them out frequently enough. It’s also a mistake to mention these too often and upset the host, who will let you know that the show is not an infomercial. Technical authors have a tendency to slide into technobabble, and even good guests inevitably walk out of their first few interviews knowing they could have been better. When first-time authors make these mistakes (and they will), it is best if huge audiences do not hear the errors.

Booking small stations in quantity to get a high number of interviews helps you get the explanation of your book down to a succinct few words. Talking with multiple interviewers, even though they don’t have huge audiences, helps you crystallize your thoughts and may even give you new ideas about your topic that you never realized before the interviews.

Booking small stations can also be an adventure. You will run into some hosts who are unprofessional (make sure you confirm an interview at least twice before you will be on the air). Most of these hosts will not be as prepared as their big-time counterparts (meaning they probably have not read your book), so you’ll have to be ready to walk them through the major topics. Prepare for these interviews as though you have just met someone on the street for the first time, and you are telling them about your book.

But even if the hosts are not as professional as they should be, you should still be on your toes. Very bright people listen to some very small radio stations; so don’t talk down to your audience.

Sorry, nothing will surely save you from the 1,000-watt radio station that is being hosted by a kid right out of broadcast school. But remember, that small-time interview will prepare you for the big time.

Marsha Friedman is the president of Event Management Services Inc., a company that has supplied guests, topics, and experts on talk radio programs across the country for more than 14 years. It regularly schedules up to 80 interviews per week. For more info: 727/443-7115, ext. 20, or e-mail her at mfriedman@event-management.com.

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