5 Things Bad Radio Guests Do (And 7 Ways to Rock on Radio)


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The Media Training Bible

Today’s guest post is from Brad Phillips (@MrMediaTraining), author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.


Radio stations hate bad guests, since listeners will immediately switch the dial. Here are five habits of bad radio guests.

1. They give long answers.

Short answers allow the host to ask another question, take another phone call, or go to commercial—so keep your answers to 30 seconds or less. Finish your answer with a declarative sentence that ends on a vocal downtick to make it clear to the host that you’ve completed your answer.

Ari Ashe, a reporter and producer for Washington, DC’s top-rated WTOP-FM describes one particularly vexing radio guest:

WTOP once had a regular guest on from The Hill newspaper. Every interview went three minutes long and was exactly one question long. He went on and on, never stopping, never pausing, never letting our anchor get in a follow-up question. Eventually, we dropped him as a guest. We were no longer willing to put up with three-minute answers that would have been five minutes had we not cut him off.

2. They give complex answers.

Your goal is not to tell the audience everything you know about a topic. Ashe compares wonky guests to his undergraduate organic chemistry teacher:

He could not present the material in a way that was easy to understand; it felt like he was speaking a foreign language. He couldn’t explain difficult concepts in simple terms that connected to our everyday lives. If you’re like my organic chemistry teacher, you will not be successful in radio.

3. They’re boring.

Radio requires energy. Too many guests put a premium on the quality of their information but not nearly enough on their delivery of it. Great information is vital but isn’t sufficient on its own. As Ashe says:

Who wants to listen to someone who is putting them to sleep? Nobody. To win on radio, you must be memorable.

4. They’re alarmist.

Ashe reminds radio guests not only to articulate the problem but also to offer solutions. If your attitude is that there are no solutions, people will tune out.

5. They leave their humor behind.

Some radio formats are lighter than others, but almost nothing is worse for a humorous host than a guest who refuses to play along. Bob Andelman, host of Mr. Media Interviews, says, “Little is worse than if I make a joke and there’s silence.” Unless humor is inappropriate for your topic, bring your sense of humor to an interview. That doesn’t mean you have to be a comedian—it just means you have to be willing to play along.

7 Ways to Rock Your Next Radio Interview

I’ve done hundreds of radio interviews throughout my career. They seem simple. After all, you just pick up a phone or visit a studio and have a conversation with the host. But radio interviews are nothing like normal conversations (unless your friends take listener phone calls and go to commercial breaks!). Remember these seven rules for your next radio interview:

  1. Prepare for an abrupt start. Most radio interviews are done by phone, not in studio, and most stations prefer to call you. Some producers call a few minutes before the interview begins, allowing you to listen for few minutes to get a feel for the program’s tone. But others wait until the last possible second, meaning you’re on the air within moments of picking up the phone. When you pick up the phone, be ready to go live on a second’s notice—or on no notice at all. You’ll hear the host over the phone line, so turn your radio off to avoid hearing a distracting delay.
  2. Express passion. Sure, you’re on the radio. But listeners will hear it if you stand, move your hands, and smile—so get a telephone headset and gesture away. Try to match or slightly exceed the host’s energy level to avoid sounding flat.
  3. Sit close to the microphone (in studio). Ashe advises guests to sit close to the microphone, no farther than a “fist’s-length” away.
  4. Connect with the host (in studio). Ashe says it’s key for radio guests to make eye contact. “Look at the interviewer,” he says. “Speak to him or her, and speak like you’re talking to a friend or spouse. If you exude confidence and comfort with the interviewer, the listener will feel confident and comfortable with you. Be friendly, be cordial, and act like you’re just chatting with your best friend.” It’s okay to take a few notes with you and glance down occasionally to remember your key points, but try not to lose your connection.
  5. Don’t depend on them to make the plug. You’re probably on the radio because you want to promote something—a new book, your website, your company. Although many experienced hosts are adept at “plugging” whatever you want promoted, some aren’t. So it’s up to you to mention that information a few times throughout the interview. You can increase the host’s odds of getting it right by sending in advance the information you’d like plugged. I also often send the producer a shortened version of my bio, which many hosts use verbatim to introduce me on the air.
  6. Treat crazy callers with respect. If you appear on a radio show that takes listener calls, you may get an angry caller who goes on a rant that has little to do with your topic. Maintain the high ground. The public recognizes angry callers for what they are, so impress the audience with your graceful and kind handling of the caller. Push back on incorrect assertions, but do so respectfully.
  7. Listen to the tape. Few people enjoy listening to tapes of their interviews, but doing so can help you identify and fix problem areas. At one point in my career, I was surprised to hear that I said “uhhh” a few too many times during my interviews. That self-awareness allowed me to kill the “uhhhs,” eliminating a problem I otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.

For more advice on how to handle any kind of interview, check out The Media Training Bible.

Do you have advice to share from your experience in radio? Share in the comments!

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Brad Phillips

About Brad Phillips

Brad Phillips (@MrMediaTraining) is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in New York City and Washington, DC. Mr. Phillips has trained thousands of media spokespersons, including hundreds of top-level executives, including corporate CEOs, presidents of nonprofit organizations and trade associations, and directors of government agencies. Mr. Phillips writes the world’s most-visited media training website, Mr. Media Training, and is a weekly contributor to Politco’s “The Arena." He also contributes regularly to Ragan's PR Daily and Bulldog Reporter, two of the world's most popular public relations websites.

  • Bonnee

    Just from listening to radio interviews, I have to agree with the Does and Don’ts mentioned here. Mr Phillips knows the go.

  • http://twitter.com/DarrelynSaloom Darrelyn Saloom

    When Deirdre Gogarty and I landed in Dublin the first place we rushed off to was a radio station. She did many radio interviews in Ireland, and I learned a great deal by watching a pro. I must say, I was surprised, too, because she is so quiet and shy. But once Deirdre goes on the air (radio or television) she lights up and rocks every interview. Of course, she’s had lots of experience as Ireland’s first female world boxing champion. So I was the lucky one who got to learn by tagging along.

  • Pingback: 5 Things Bad Radio Guests Do (And 7 Ways to Rock on Radio) | Jane Friedman | book publishing | Scoop.it

  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Victoria Noe

    Thanks for this. I have a radio show host who’s been waiting since last summer to interview me (no pressure there!) and I can certainly use these tips when I finally go on his show later this month.

  • http://twitter.com/Ross_B_Lampert Ross B. Lampert

    Good stuff, Brad! I’d add one thing: don’t give non-verbal answers. Seems obvious but the hosts I’ve worked with have always reminded me that the radio audience can’t see you nod, shake your head, or shrug!

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  • Karen Fisher-Alaniz

    Thanks for the info. I’m happy that I somehow managed to do most of these. I do think that gesturing away is a great idea. I’ll try that next time! My NPR interview was difficult because I had to be tied to a desk with my mouth practically swallowing the microphone.

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  • http://www.JeffDrummer.com/ Jeff Jones

    Really great advice here! Thanks for clearing up a few things for me. I will reference this many times over in the future.

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  • http://twitter.com/ClaireCaterer Claire Caterer

    Excellent tips! Thanks so much. I especially like the idea of short, animated answers. I know I have a tendency to ramble.

  • Teresa Rhyne

    Very helpful! I’m just about to do my 3rd radio interview and while I don’t think I committed any of the major sins, I think this will improve my third interview. Thank you!

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