Take it from someone who spends five mornings a week in front of a microphone—talk radio listeners are among the most politically active, engaged and passionate voters you can reach as a candidate.
They also tend to be wealthier and more willing to make a political contribution, which makes them a great target audience for a campaign of any size.
Given that I’m based in Manchester, New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopefuls aren’t in short supply on my morning show. Most of them are eager guests (they tend to come to us, not the other way around).
After what seems like a non-stop round of bookings and interviews with 2012ers in recent weeks, we've got some tips to offer for campaigns of any size that are looking to score an interview with the local talk radio host. And it starts by remembering that even though the host you're courting may lean in your candidate's favor or share their ideology, it doesn't guarantee you a spot on the air.
Some tips to getting on and—more importantly—being invited back:
1. Don’t Drop In: It seems every cycle there are enterprising young campaign managers and communications directors who think dropping by or randomly calling a radio station is a good way to stand out. It isn't. When a candidate just appears, the host feels entitled to hit them with tough questions because they interrupted the show and the host likely felt pressured to put them on-air. The key is to work with the host and let them choose a time that works. (They have a show to plan, after all.) Most talk hosts want to fill the time with politics anyway and want to put your candidate on the air. Just let them make the decision.
2. Be a Story Teller: Radio listeners are going in and out and listening to one in every three words. That statistic gets worse if a candidate is listing the bullet points of their 20-point economic plan. You need to be engaging: tell anecdotes from the trail, talk about the station's home town and listening area. And never just launch into your stump speech immediately after the host says, "Thanks for joining us." It’s bad radio and the audience hates it. Listeners care about themselves and their town first, so make it about them and not just your talking points.
3. Respond Immediately and Don’t Spam: Local radio, like most media, has seen massive cuts to staffing over the past couple of years. Those once reliable news directors, reporters and producers don't really exist anymore. In many markets, it’s just the host who gets your candidate on the air and the truth is we don't read campaign press releases. So be direct, give specific times and dates you'd like to have your candidate on and thank the host profusely for making it happen. Like most things in politics, it's an ego game.
4. Don't Be Rush Limbaugh: Many candidates think the best way to do radio is to launch into a stream of consciousness and fill the entire interview. Local radio is all about building rapport with the audience and hosts don't want to seem pushy, especially in morning drive. Make sure you allow for breaks where the host can ask questions and doesn't feel bowled over. It may not seem like the best strategy politically, but remember, this isn’t a debate with your opponent. Very few local talk radio hosts are looking to railroad a candidate and risk losing access.
5. Match the Host and the Audience: Listen to the show you're going on and know the host's name! "It’s good being here, Paul" goes a long way. Determine the leaning of the host and station by listening and checking the station's schedule. This will give you a nice idea of how tough you can be when it comes to the rhetoric and a good sense of the pace and tone of the show.
Paul Westcott is the Host of the New Hampshire Insider heard weekdays on WGIR AM 610 and 96.7 the Wave.