Monday Memo: RIP Bill Balls

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — The 1970s-sounding “Star Wars” type lasers and WHOOSH that still plague sound-alike station imaging now seem as dated as those 1960s TV “Batman” fight-scene graphics: “POW!” And doggedly dodging them all is the Central Casting baritone, shouting or growling-through whatever copy the station sends.

“To stand out, take whatever you think is normal, and do the exact opposite.”

50 years ago, I was an English teacher; and I’ve been assigning reading ever since. And here’s a page-turner that will not only inform your station’s on-air marketing, it may inspire your career.

Highly recommended: “Find Your Yellow Tux: How To Be Successful By Standing Out,” by Jesse Cole. He owns two multi-million-dollar summer collegiate baseball teams – one in a market where three minor league teams had flopped for 90 years. On YouTube, search: ESPN Sports Center, “How the Savannah Bananas have become the greatest show in baseball.” Each of their 25 “shows” is described as “a circus where a baseball game breaks out.”

He writes: “In almost every corner of life, people are in a mad rush to the middle. Normal gets normal results. Sure, it’s comfortable. But it’s also super, super boring.” You’ll see the opposite in that ESPN report or coverage on MSNBC, “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and in Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and, yes, Cosmopolitan.

Because radio ratings – and your advertisers’ results – are a memory test, conformity is detrimental to station imaging. I still chuckle aloud when I hear the sound effect of the bleating goat in liners for my Wisconsin client  105.1 The Goat, playing “Door County’s Greatest Of All Time.”

I admit it! It’s still a kick to script promos for Charlie Van Dyke.

He’s the longtime signature voice for another station I work with, and we aim to send sentences he’s never read before (littered with “you” and “your” as regular readers of this column expect).

  • Instead of an announcer, use an actor, as most national TV spots do. They can deliver in a way we career announcers struggle to. No, you can’t afford Bryan Cranston; but is there a local theater troupe?
  • Use a woman’s voice.
  • If your station has lots of syndicated shows, use those voices, to make them familiar to your entire audience. At another client, we scripted for Jim Bohannon, Doug Stephan, Brian Kilmeade, Jimmy Failla, and Markley Van Camp & Robbins, who are heard explaining the station 24/7.

“Loud-and-fast is a thing of the past. Low-and-slow is the way to go.”

Collaborating with dear departed chum Nick Michaels taught me much of what I know about describing on-air product on-air:

So at least stop barking and hollering. Talk to grown-ups.

Bill had a helluva run. But he’s a caricature.

Holland Cooke is author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available exclusively from Talkers books and “Spot-On: Commercial Copy Points That Earned The Benjamins,” a FREE download here. HC is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke