Expanding markets: Crossing over to radio

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I’d never worked in radio when a local station approached me in 1981 about hosting an outdoor show on the air.
The proposed program would run 15 minutes each week leading up to the fall hunting seasons. I wrote a weekly outdoor column for the newspaper and I, like so many outdoor communicators, hadn’t considered expanding beyond the medium I knew best.
More than 30 years later, my show is still on the air.
Radio is a medium often overlooked by outdoor communicators, but it’s the perfect outlet to expand into new markets.
My outdoor column, which had run consistently for more than a year and on-and-off in years before, gave me credibility venturing into the new medium.
As a selling tool I used a tentative schedule of 12 shows — subject to change of course. By presenting a programing schedule the station manager could see I was serious about the endeavor and it gave the station sales staff something to sell.
Depending on your contract, you might be asked to help sell advertisements for your show. I prefer to avoid this and allow the radio station’s sales staff to do the selling. Not only are they experienced, they often work on commission and selling for your show gives them a vested interest in the program’s success.
Another approach is to purchase air time from the station. This is a way to make more money, but not without more work. You can sell the advertising yourself — but keep in mind commercials need to be recorded, which is an added expense and time commitment. I’ve never gone this route, opting instead for a slightly smaller paycheck — I’m paid a standard amount per show — and more time to devote to my show.
Once the contract is decided, it’s time to start recording.
All of my programs are pre-recorded either in the field or from the living room of my home. Recording in comfortable surroundings puts the subjects I interview at ease.
I use a Sony voice quality MP3 recorder and then download interviews onto a laptop. A good voice quality recorder does require an investment — they run $125 to $250 — and it should include a sound management program for use on your laptop. Programs can be sent to the station electronically by Dropbox or delivered to them on a burned CD. (Check with the station engineer about what format they prefer.)
Former OWAA member Tom Fegely gave me advice years ago when I first started in radio.
“Know your listener,” he said. “Although you may key in on hook-and-bullet subjects, there are many subjects that will be of interest to your audience. Subjects can vary from bird watching and wildflowers to falconry and tree farming, along with hunting and fishing. Offering a wide range of topics will expand your base of listeners and appeal for your program.”
That was good advice then and it’s just as good today.
My first radio program was a 15-minute long format. This meant taping two seven and a half minute segments of talk time. The show began with an introduction, talk time and a voice break — which ends a segment of the program allowing the station to add commercials, then a re-introduction naming my guest, the show and the topic again and a close. The station then inserts commercials.
I tape a whole show in a single session. Once I push the record button, that’s it. No stopping. It keeps the show flowing and the guest focused on the topic.
That means you have to be prepared for your interview.

  • Discuss with your guest beforehand the direction you’d like to see the program go. Ask your guest for suggestions. They might share additional details or provide more insight on the topic. Also ask about subjects or questions they’d prefer to avoid discussing.
  • Use an outline as a guide to the questions you’ll ask. The flow of the interview keeps the show moving. Let your guest help develop the outline. It puts the guest at ease, giving them confidence there won’t be any trick or embarrassing questions unexpectedly thrown their way.
  • Remember to listen. An answer might lead you to an unplanned question. Your outline is just a guide. You don’t want to leave listeners feeling something is missing or was held back.
  • Smile and engage your guest. It will ignite a spark that will grow, and while not seen, it will be felt by your listeners.

My program, Gateway Outdoors Radio, launched in 1981 and grew from a 15-minute show to an hour. It’s still on the air today as well as streamed and archived on the Internet.
As an added plus, my radio show provides additional material for my print column. I meet a wide variety of people through the show who I engage in in-depth conversation about outdoor-related topics that provide quotes and more-focused story ideas for print.
My newspaper column “Gateway Outdoors” still prints once a week, as it has since 1980.♦
— Charlie Burchfield is a past president and life member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He’s been an award-winning outdoor communicator since 1981. Contact Gateway Outdoors at GWOutdoors@comcast.net. GATEWAY OUTDOORS RADIO airs at 6 p.m. Mondays on WCED 1420 AM, 107.9 FM and 96.7 FM, and can be live streamed on the Internet. The program can be heard the following day archived on the WCED Talk Radio web site. www.newstalkradiowced.com.

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