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What's My Line?

3-7-2012

With radio and television hosts, even online producers, being fired or suspended over questionable comments made on-air and online, there's been a lot of talk lately as to "where is the line?"

What is considered acceptable, edgy, or controversial commentary? This debate has come into question as hosts and producers are under greater scrutiny for what they say on-air and post on the station's website.
Gone are the days of lobbing provocative statements that you hoped would support your brand as a "take no prisoners" personality. That was then. This is now. In the past, what was guaranteed to make one group or another angry (but cause limited damage) is now guaranteed to cause you unforeseen trouble that could jeopardize your career and livelihood.

You say "So what!? It's my opinion, and it's what I believe. It's what my audience expects from me -- honest outrage and unadulterated truth!" But what's really true here is that, though your core may expect, even demand, you walk the line and cross it now and again, clients most definitely do not.

Yes, you're in the business of truth talk and honest opinion -- at times provocative talk and opinion. But you're also in the business of being in business. Number one ratings are a hollow victory if in the end sponsors flee or look elsewhere to spend their limited and precious resources. A show with trouble talk on its hands is a show that has trouble selling. No cash flow -- no go.

What you say not only impacts your brand, but a sponsor's, too. In today's world of immediate protest campaigns driven by the Internet, it's too much trouble for a sponsor to stick with you as they might have done in days past. It's just easier for them to spend their dollars elsewhere.

End of story: Think before you speak. It's not worth inciting a war you potentially cannot win. Detractors are waiting in the wings, monitoring each show or show's podcast. The slight trip-up that once may have meant nothing can now predicate a mighty stumble -- one you may not recover from.

Where does that leave us? The truth is messy and honest; authentic talk radio is required. With that should come your unfiltered and unfettered opinion of the subjects and topics you are most passionate about. However, with this requirement also comes a tremendous responsibility for you not to jeopardize a station's business and brand. This obviously applies to advertisers, too. Yes, it's your show and your opinion, but it's their microphone and it's the public's airwaves. And in the end: their dollars.

The way forth from "trouble talk" is to remind yourself each day: Is what I'm trying to say relevant and factual? Is it supported by the truth? And does it rise to the level of being honest without being hurtful?

One way to help take the sting out of a truthful but questionable comment from you is for someone on the show to bail you out with a vocal "eyeroll" or admonishment. Make it policy for the team to speak for those who can't and blunt the offense at the pass. Also, if, after the show, you are questioning something said earlier, consider editing it out of the podcast or avoid posting the podcast all together.

Don't mope as though cold water is threatening to put out your flame. Rather, control your burn and accept the fact that what is acceptable inflammatory speech on broadcast radio has changed over the past five years. It will continue to do so, for many more reasons not illustrated here. 

The reality is, you are being held to a greater accountability by unseen forces for what you say on the air and post on the website.  You have no choice but to adjust if you expect to remain a viable brand and employed broadcaster. The truth may hurt sometimes, but your framing of the truth doesn't have to hurt you or the station's sponsors.

Step up to the plate each day and make sure that wherever the "line" is, you haven't crossed it. If you do, be sure you've got the goods and the truth to help get you back to the other side ... with your reputation intact and your sponsors' dollars in hand.

Brian Holt works for The Randy Lane Company as a Talent Coach.




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