Breathing life into live reads

One presenter I was coaching once described live reads very colourfully as ‘the proctology exam of ad spend’. That was until I showed her how to make a silk purse from a proverbial sow’s ears.

On-air talent are generally unfavourably disposed towards live reads because they actually have to read the copy, which is a bit of schlep. Add to this the fact that the copy of live reads is often rubbish at best and that they are normally scheduled for a show in batches of 20, and you can understand why most talent greet a scheduled live read with all the excitement of a visit to the glove doctor.

Another reason why on air talent are generally resistant towards live reads is the same reason why they’re so popular with advertisers – they either come across as the radio version of editorial or they virtually constitute the talent’s endorsement of the advertiser’s product or service.

However, live reads are an increasingly prevalent form of advertising given their immediacy and value. Yes, value.

Live reads are a valuable form of advertising because they expand the product base a station can offer a potential advertiser. They can be structured in two forms:

  • Affordable (cheaper) ads that give smaller clients the ability to gain a presence on the radio, and that are normally aired outside of prime time, and,
  • More expensive, premium ads that can be loaded by as much as 75 – 100% and that are often aired during prime time.

This may seem like a strange paradox, but it is part of their allure for everyone other than the on air talent.  So, face the facts: live reads are here to stay. You therefore have two options:

  • simply read them like everyone else, or,
  • show you have ‘the edge’, and add colour to them, in other words: present them.

Why do the latter when all that is expected of you is the former? Three reasons:

  • if you just read them, you’ll risk sounding bored, and the PD might be listening,
  • if you just read them, you’ll risk sounding irritated, and the client may be listening, and, more importantly,
  • they constitute a challenge to a true radio professional.

What you want is for the sales executive who sold the client the airtime to say to the PD, “Myrtle’s Meat Market have bought another R25 000 airtime but they insist they only want to run the ads during Dick’s show”. This increases your value to the station and tells the PD that they had better take another listen to your show because it seems you may have the edge.

So, how do you do this? How do you treat the live read as a challenge to your creativity? There are various tools you can use. Let’s take two lines from a typical live read and work with them:

“Myrtle’s Meat Market have a special this week on rump steak at only R12.95 per kg. They also have mutton boerewors at only R5.95 per kg and…”

I think you’d agree they don’t come more boring than this. There are two ways to breathe life into it:

  • be creative with the intro, or,
  • be creative with the copy

The first is easy, the second is tricky.

You could be creative with the intro by linking to it:

“Looks like a beautiful sunny weekend ahead of us with ‘braai’ written all over it, in which case you’d most probably like to know that Myrtle’s Meat Market…”

…or, if this is the second or third time the live read has come up on your show:

“…and in case you heard me earlier but didn’t believe it, Myrtle’s Meat Market…”

…or, if you want to be really clever you can break the presentation mold and say:

“I’ve just been handed this and someone in sales must have made a mistake because these prices are incredible. It seems Myrtle’s Meat Market…”

The last one takes balls; but if I was an advertiser and I heard you do any of the above with my live read, I’d be on the phone to buy more airtime on your show. I’d also tell others to buy airtime on your show.

Playing with the copy is tricky because for a number of reasons: someone in the sales team has taken pride in writing the copy; the PD might get a little anxious; and if you change the copy too much you could misrepresent the client. So this should be done subtly…

…don’t forget that Myrtle’s Meat Market have another of their specials. This week, rump steak…”

This makes the live read sound more conversational, less formal. It also gives the client extra value because, if they are regular advertisers, it associates the client with ‘specials’ in the mind of the listener. Again, if you want to be really clever you can keep the structure of the copy intact but comment around it; like this:

“Myrtle’s Meat Market have a special this week on rump steak at only R12.95 per kg. Wow, that is cheap. They also have mutton boerewors at only R5.95 per kg. – I doubt if anyone could beat that – and…”

As I said, this is tricky and depends entirely on the Programme Director. Some PDs I know demand that the copy be read as is, but don’t have a problem with creative intros; others see the value in subtle commentary, as long as it is selective and not done every time a live read is scheduled.

Warning: if Myrtle’s Meat Market drop off half a lamb at the station for you, inform the PD, donate it to charity (the lamb, not the PD) and cut back a little on the creativity.

A final note: No live read should contain the word ‘we’ as in “At Myrtle’s Meat Market we have a special…” Unless the on air talent works for Myrtle’s Meat Market, this just sounds utterly stupid. If you do come across such a live read, bring it to the attention of the PD. If they’re professional, they’ll find the person who wrote the copy and gently trim their kneecaps with a meat cleaver.

In summary, radio presenters simply read live reads. Truly talented radio professionals are creative with them. They understand the value of live reads to their show, and they embrace them as challenges, as opportunities to prove they have ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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