Breaking into broadcasting: success in a recession

The job of breaking into broadcasting is tough enough.  Now, you have to do it in the middle of a recession, a time when reduced revenues are forcing stations to cutback.  This not only shrinks the amount of jobs available, but it also swells the unemployment pool at the same time, especially with people who already have experience!

Before you get too bummed out, take heart. The competition was going to be fierce no matter what. So recession or not, you still need to be ready with the tools necessary to give you a leg up on the competition. Here’s a review of some of the mandatory assets you will need to succeed in your quest to break in as a broadcast performer:

1.) Believe in yourself.  This is the first step, the foundation for success.  You have to believe that you can do the job, not only in the face of competition, but also in dealing with being rejected.  And as you probably know, you have to be lucky sometimes even to be rejected because telephone calls and e-mails are often never returned.
2.) Surround yourself with positive people.  This will help you to believe in yourself.  Negativity only leads to doubt and a drain on your energy.  Sports teams have cheerleaders.  Why not you?
3.) Have the right demo DVD.  This includes putting your best stuff first and having it professionally produced. 
4.) Network to the right people.  This includes scheduling informational interviews and constantly following up. 
5.) Remember the three P’s, Passion, Persistence and Patience

All of this won’t do anything for anybody’s 401k, but it will help increase your chances of breaking into the business as a broadcast performer, during or even after the recession.  At www.marczumoff.com, we provide lifetime assistance in all phases of the process that is, breaking into broadcasting. 

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Put your best stuff first

15 to 20 seconds. 

Sometimes, that’s all the time it took Paul Gluck to make a decision on someone’s career.  Gluck, currently an associate professor at Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater, was at one time a major market news director.  And he says when he had an opening and was judging demo reels that were sent his way, often times he would decide whether or not a person was worthy of being on the air at this station…

…in 15 to 20 seconds…

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking before one of Gluck’s classes at Temple.  When the subject of what to put on a demo DVD came up, the former producer, writer, executive producer, executive editor and V.P../ station manager spoke from years of experience, not to mention hundreds of hours of looking at demo after demo after demo.

This 15 to 20 second example is meant as a simple reminder for all of you who are feverishly editing demo reels and wondering what exactly to put on them.  While chances are a news or sports director will look at a bit more than the first 15 to 20 seconds, the principle is still the same: be sure to put your best stuff first.

Often, I recommend putting a montage of stand-ups at the top of your reel to give some quick depth and breadth to your work.  Ironically, Gluck told his class that when he was a news director, he had preferred at times to see a full report at the top of a reel. 

This is not meant to confuse you, only to enlighten you to the importance of putting your absolute best material first on a demo reel.  And that includes leaving out  any bad edits, video hits, graphic mistakes or other imperfections that might be present in some of your material.  While any or all of these errors might not be your fault, the fact that you are including them as examples of your work is your fault.  In other words, it might show a news or sports director that your judgment is clouded—that you’d be willing while working in his or her shop to allow these mistakes to hit air—and that’s simply not good. 

So no matter what it is, make sure you hit them with your best shot.  Whether it’s a montage, a full report or something else you’ve done, make it your best work.  Indeed for some, 15 to 20 seconds might be all the time you have. 

At www.marczumoff.com, we’ll help you produce and edit fresh material for a demo reel to be sure you’re putting your best stuff, first. 

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Double-check everything

So here I am in Charlotte, broadcasting the 76ers-Bobcats game, and in my preparation for the telecast I run across the name of DJ Augustin. I find out the rookie from the University of Texas is playing pretty well, that he’s a pure point who can score and I assume he pronounced his name AUG-US-TIN.

Not smart. 

Here I am, in broadcasting for 32 years and I’m making assumptions. It’s the very thing I preach against–to never assume. And what do I do?  I get lazy.  I ended up pronouncing his name AUG-US-TIN.

Into the fourth quarter we go and after a basket by Augustin, I hear the PA announcer in the background yell, “DEE…JAY….AUG-US-TEEN. AUG-US-TEEN, I thought to myself, and the entire telecast I’d been saying AUG-US-TIN. Frankly, I had no one to be upset with but myself. 

OK, I’m human.  We all make mistakes. But mistakes like that are preventable with a little bit of work beforehand. What I should have done (and honestly, what I need to do more of) is to make certain accuracy checks like that are routine, even if the answers are what I expect them to be (i.e. how else do you pronounce Smith or Young?)

This lesson about double-checking, and accuracy in general, can be taken to cover areas like your own career development. For example, when writing a letter to a potential employer or informational interviewer, you need to be certain you have all of his or her information correct. That includes spelling, proper titles, address, etc.  And when you get on the telephone with or meet this person, you need to know how to correctly pronounce his or her name…beforehand.

Needless to say, as my example so poignantly shows, accuracy is of the utmost importance once you get into the business. News and sports anchors and reporters need to know their facts and pronunciations are correct.  It’s not only critical in terms of accurate reporting, but continued inaccuracies or mispronunciations can call into question your credibility. 

So remember the carpenter’s credo, measure twice, cut once. An ounce of prevention will help preserve a pound of accuracy. And again…the players name is D.J. AUG-US-TEEN.

Even though I made this mistake, at www.marczumoff.com, we teach aspiring broadcasters how to prevent them. Visit us, opt-in for our newsletter and tips on how to develop your career as a broadcast performer. 

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One-on-one

Last Thursday night (November 6), the 76ers were on national television while playing the Magic in Orlando.  It was an exclusive telecast, meaning our local telecast on Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia was not permitted.  It gave me the chance to watch the game while sitting with and listening to Tom McGinnis, the 76ers outstanding radio play-by-play man.  It was a chance for me to hear McGinnis reinforce the importance of a broadcaster communicating one-one-one with his or her audience. 

McGinnis is one of the best in the business, conveying the descriptions and accounts of the game vividly for the radio audience.  But one of his best qualities is a quality that all broadcasters should embrace, be they sports or news, radio or television.  During brief stoppages in the action, McGinnis would digress, providing personal and at times intimate commentary of his views and opinions to the listening audience.  His remarks were directed as if he was speaking to me, the guy next to him, as if we were a couple of guys sitting in the stands watching an NBA game.  He wasn’t merely “broadcasting,” he was communicating.  And there is a difference.

Broadcasting in my mind takes me back to the 40’s, where many a newscaster, sportscaster or radio performer would “bark out” a performance, as if he or she was speaking to an audience of thousands or even millions.  While indeed that was the case then as it is now, it’s important to remember one thing: the viewer or the listener on the other end isn’t a thousand people; it’s simply one person, a person that’s receiving the message of a single person.  And that message is most effectively communicated when it’s done in a personal, one-on-one style. 

Admittedly, that’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when looking into a camera lens.  It can be difficult to visualize that there’s actually a single person “out there somewhere” who’s watching you talk and listening to what you have to say.  In this case, it’s incumbent upon the performer to indeed visualize such a scenario and to have your performance reflect this. 

This is something that could take time to accomplish.  If you’re an aspiring performer or even one who’s already employed in the business, watch or listen to your tapes with a critical eye and ear.  Try to imagine yourself on the other end, impartially watching and listening to what you have to say.  Ask other professionals to critique you as well and see if they perceive the image you’re ultimately looking for.  That image would be of a true communicator, delivering a message in a clear, concise, personal manner that makes the viewer or listener feel that they’re the only one in the audience.

At www.marczumoff.com, we help those developing their broadcast performance careers to become personal, one-on-one communicators. 

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Less is more

As a passionate, lifelong Phillies fan, I did something that many would consider somewhat odd.  On Wednesday night October 29, as the long-delayed Game 5 was coming to its intoxicating conclusion, as reliever Brad Lidge built strikes against Tampa Bay pinch-hitter Eric Hinske, I did not join in on the building crescendo of the crowd.  Normally a rambunctious fan, I instead grew quieter and quieter.  Finally, as Hinske went fishing after fate, swinging and missing at Lidge’s final offering, I stood perfectly still as the sights and sounds of delirium simply poured over me.  I wanted to drink it all in; to perceive this monumental moment with every molecule of my being.  And I did it by doing nothing at all.

Broadcasters—play-by-play sportscasters and even news and sportscaster on news programs—would be wise to utilize silence to enhance their broadcasts.  In terms of play-by-play men, Fox broadcaster Joe Buck is one of the best at doing this.  Frequently, the bigger the moment, the less he has to say, allowing the pictures to do the talking instead.  Finally, when he does add something, those few words he says stand out in bold relief. 

Even if the moment is not a huge one, many play-by-play announcers are advised to “lay out” on occasion during a telecast in order to allow the game to “breath” a little.  Again, the less you say in general, the more meaning your words will take on when you finally do speak.  Even for radio play-by-play men, laying out a bit during the action to allow the fans to hear the sounds of your game or to say nothing after a goal, home run, touchdown or big basket and allow the crowd to fill the void, many times makes for great radio. 

To some extent, news and sportscasters would be wise to allow a little “breathing room” too.  Take written copy for example.  Sometimes during an on-camera segment, a slight pause or a simple gesture might bespeak a lot more than all of those words, words, words you’re trying to cram in.  

So, don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice.  Instead, when you sense an exciting moment in a sporting event or perhaps you feel yourself needing a proper pause in the copy you’re writing, allow it to happen. 

At www.marczumoff.com, we’ll show you that many times, in any sort of broadcast, less is actually more.

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Q: How to break into sportscasting? A: Get a famous Dad

In 1988, Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run in Game 1 of the World Series caused the late sportscaster Jack Buck to bellow “I can’t believe what I just saw!” At the time, his 19-year old son Joe was an undergraduate at Indiana University.  Just six years later, Joe Buck would follow in his dad’s footsteps.  He would become the youngest announcer ever to broadcast a regular slate of NFL games when he was hired by the Fox network.  At the time, Joe Buck was just 25 years old. 

It’s easy to shout “nepotism!” here.  And I think it’s relatively safe to say Joe Buck might not be in the position of a seasoned, award-winning network announcer if not for being the progeny of a sportscasting father.  In fact, Joe himself half-jokingly said in a recent issue of a newsletter published by the American Sportscasters Association that the secret to breaking into the business is being the son of a famous, sportscasting father! 

Fact is, Joe Buck is great at what he does.  And the fact that he’s performing at a network level (much like Kenny Albert, Marv’s son) should not be held against them.  What I’m saying is, it’s not their fault they are who they are and that their fathers’ positions gave them the opportunity to have a leg up.  It’s when you get that leg up, then the question becomes, can you stand on your own two feet?  Can you deliver the kind of performance that’s tantamount to the level at which you’re working?  The answer in both Joe Buck and Kenny Albert’s case is a resounding—you’ll pardon the expression Marv Albert—YES!

No matter who you are in this life, especially if you’re trying to make your way in an ultra-competitive area like broadcast performance, there’s no such thing as an unfair advantage.  The thing to remember for most of you who don’t have famous broadcasting parents is you too can make your own advantages.  This is done through a logical, thorough system of networking to the right contacts that can help you develop your career.

Who’s your  Daddy?  At www.marczumoff.com, we’ll tell you it really doesn’t matter.  Instead, we’ll help you develop your career as a broadcast performer despite your genealogy.

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News or Sports?

So there was Dorothy in the movie Wizard of Oz, walking the Yellow Brick Road, when suddenly the path divided in two.  “Which way to go,” she wondered, when suddenly a voice yelled out, “Some people go both ways.”  With that, we could see the smirking Scarecrow, hanging on his cross,with his arms crossed in front of him, indeed pointing BOTH ways…

Among broadcast performers, some people profess a passion for news.  Others are sports freaks.  But some share an interest in both.  So the question become, “which way to go?”  Perhaps the Scarecrow has the right answer.

I can’t say for sure—I haven’t polled every news or sports director in the country–but I’m reasonably sure a demo DVD that has both news and sports elements to it would be OK.  Let’s put it this way, one of our clients is trying it because he feels comfortable and confident performing in either genre.

Even though I’ve been a play-by-play announcer for nearly 15 years and a sportscaster for 28 years, I’d actually spent about the first five years of my career as a broadcast performer exclusively in news.  In truth, I made the transition rather seamlessly, having wanted to be in sports all along.  Being a lifelong sports fan didn’t hurt either.  In fact here in Philadelphia, a major market, two prominent performers made the transition from sports to news while on the air here in Philly.

Point is, if you can perform, chances are you can be equally comfortable in either news or sports.  And, if your demo DVD reflects both, it would seem to figure you’re making yourself eligible for that many more openings as well.

 By the way, that client of ours who’s producing a demo DVD of both news and sports—we’ve just started on the production.  You’ll see the results of our efforts and be able to view that demo on his client page in the coming months.  Check back frequently here, at Marc’s site.

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Buyer Beware

Podcasting.  Professional or amateur, good voice or bad, youcan be a podcaster.  But buyer beware—that downloaded software you’re using to produce your podcasts…well…you might not “own” as much of that software as you think.

I recently discovered this the hard way.  I had been using Roxio’s Record Now Premiere software to record voice-overs for my professional work.  The software had proven to be relatively easy to use and I was able to record commercials and other production work with relative ease.

The Roxio Record Now software was on my laptop.  Recently, I had to have some updates done on the laptop so the hard drive was completely re-done.  That meant everything on the hard drive was going to be erased, including the Roxio software.  No problem, I thought.  I have all of the necessary registration numbers and security codes necessary since I’d properly purchased the software online.  I figured when I get my laptop back I’ll just go to Roxio’s website and re-download the Roxio Record Now software.

So, my laptop is returned, I go to the website and I put in all the necessary codes and passwords in order to re-download the software.  In fact, on the website, there are specific instructions in case you need to re-download software.  However, when I went through all the hoops and hurdles and got to where I needed to be, I was not able to re-download the software.  Instead, up comes a message that tells me I exceeded the 30-day limit for downloading the program.  In other words, when you first buy the program, Roxio then gives you 30-days to do the download.  If you don’t do the download within the 30-day period, you have to purchase the program AGAIN! 

Fortunately, I had another audio software package manufactured by Sony called Sound Forge, and I was able to re-download that without a problem. 

The moral of the story?  If you have to re-do your hard drive or if you want a copy of the software you already purchased for a second or third computer you own, make sure there’s no deadline for re-downloading the software package.  If not, you might have to buy what you already purchased…again!

At www.marczumoff.com, we help you navigate other pitfalls, especially those related to the task of trying to break into television or radio as a broadcast performer.  Visit us today!

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Keep your ego out of it

By all accounts, Larry Mendte had it good.  He was making huge dollars anchoring the 6 and 11pm newscasts for CBS3 in Philadelphia.  A native of nearby Lansdowne, Delaware County, he had come home in July 2003 to help improve the station’s ratings.  He is married to another local news anchor.  Indeed, life was good.

But in late May, reports surfaced that Mendte was under federal investigation.  Authorities reportedly searched his home and confiscated his personal computer.  He had allegedly accessed the private e-mail account of his former co-anchor on the evening news, Alycia Lane.

Mendte is innocent until charged and subsequently proven guilty.  But the point of this exercise is, what if the charge is proven to be true?  And if so, why on earth would somebody of his prominence stoop to this level?

Hopefully, it wasn’t ego.  Ego—that force within all of us that cries to be stroked, soothed and satisfied.  It’s what drives many of us to get into the business of being broadcast performers. 

When I was in college, just hoping somehow, someway to break into broadcasting, someone told me he wasn’t even going to try for a broadcasting career because—as he put it—that business is just a jungle of egos.  And maybe it is.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be Tarzan.

We all have egos.  Nobody is ego-less.  Basically, I think it’s those who can control their egos who end up being the better for it.  Let ego drive you certainly, but only to a point.  Don’t let it interfere with friends or co-workers.  Don’t allow it to ruin your career, as it has for some.  Find a way to channel that ego until it—shall we say—calms down.  Hopefully, you’ll look back on the hurt your ego felt and look at the experience as what it really is–just another instance of pettiness.

Dealing with problems of the ego as it relates to developing your broadcasting career is just one of the many issues we tackle at www.marczumoff.com

Who are you? Developing a style

Old schoolers like me harken back to The Who, the 1960’s British rock band that asked the musical question, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

That’s a question all aspiring television and radio broadcast performers need to ask themselves. Who am I? Who am I on the air? What is my on-air persona? What is my style? And for good measure ask yourself, how do I develop that style?

This is not an easily answered question. And even once you discern the answer and have developed an on-air personality, know that it’s a personality which will evolve and change for the rest of your broadcasting life.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Your primary interest right now is on nurturing a style of performance unique to you as an individual. This is really the first thing to consider. You have to honestly determine who you are. If you’re serious and generally straight-forward by nature, then that in large measure should dictate how you perform. If you (or others) deem you as witty and funny, than that needs to be evident, both in your deliver and your writing. Of course all of this depends on what you’re doing (news, sports, weather, commentaries) and what persona is appropriate for the vehicle in which you are performing.

There are many other areas to consider as well. Looks and voice quality go a long way toward determining who you should be on the air. And it’s always good to try to incorporate some of the on-air stylings of others. You’ll notice I said incorporate and not imitate others. There’s a big difference. Incorporating the phrasing, cadence or look of someone who’s on air style you like is natural and in fact, encouraged. Again, the trick is to find the fine line between incorporating and imitating this particular person.

www.marczumoff.com knows how to help you develop an on-air style that is attractive, comfortable and unique to who you are.

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