“Radio shows don’t just happen. It takes planning and prep. It is about the music, the artist, and the message.” Says Rocco Nittoli host of WCOM’s Music Hall, which airs Saturdays 9 am to Noon. Rocco should know: He been on the air with Music Hall since December 2003, but began his radio career in 1961 and has spent decades honing his mastery of crafting the right mix of music, information on artists, and connecting with the audience across the airwaves.
Rocco’s experience in crafting a listener experience comes through in each Music Hall show. “I usually think about a theme for the show. My April 16 (2016) show’s theme was British groups. Then you find the strongest songs, not necessarily the number one songs or the biggest hits and groups, but you want timeless songs—the music and the lyrics—it needs to be as relevant today as it was when the music was made.” Says Rocco.
The best shows are seamless and seem effortless, but in reality require time and attention to detail in the planning, in choosing the music, and how to sequence it. They’re about making the transition between songs, messages, news, and information. According to Rocco, the best shows are about sharing the insights and the stories of the day and behind the music: “There is no substitute for experience in radio—people with experience have a huge advantage. Just like driving a car, the more time you spend behind the wheel the more instinctive it is to drive the car. [It’s] the same with radio. As you get older, you gain experience, but you also have changes in your voice, in learning the equipment, and the timing. It is different. You have to feel the show, the atmosphere of the day.” Says Rocco.
According to Rocco the theme shows in which he plays a genre or era of music take planning, but are more about finding the right songs and the right mix of sound and voices. Switching between groups and solo artists, male and female voice, tempo and beat, style and sound, it creates a dynamic interesting mix that keeps the audience tuned in. He wants a “tight” show where the audience hears song after song that connects them to the theme and to life. A song may take them back in time, get them to recall an emotion or experience, or become the soundtrack for the day. To keep the audience tuned in, put the effort into planning and preparing, and doing homework so the music mix brings fans in and keeps them listening.
Rocco’s Keys to a Great Show:
- Never play a “weak” song. Keep the audience in the theme, in the mood, and engaged.
- Always be prepared for a mistake, a glitch, a technical issue; have a backup plan for everything that could possibly go wrong. A CD isn’t playing? Have another ready to go. The microphone stops working? Have another plugged in. As part of your show preparation make a plan for what to do if the CD player doesn’t work, the turntable gets stuck, or the microphone goes dead.
- Always, always be aware of what you say on the air. The better you are on air, the more glaring the mistakes and technical issues will be. So be sure to keep the transitions smooth and tight, avoid dead air and develop your ability to adapt, recover, and keep the show interesting
- Remember: The first five minutes of the show sets the tone and are the hardest moments to do. With the first five minutes, you want to get the audience hooked and let them know what the show is about.
Rocco will be doing his 600th show in July 2016. Since Music Hall began in 2003, he has only missed two or three shows. For Rocco the show is as much about the lead in, the setup, the planning, as it is about the time on air. Tune in Saturdays 9 am to Noon Eastern to WCOM-FM’s Music Hall and listen to Rocco tell the story of our lives and times with timeless music and share his experience and love of music.
Author: Lea Strickland, Host of Focus on Business