There Are Two Ways In The Door, Depending On Your Resources

We’ve all said it at least once in our lives.

It usually happens when we’re watching TV and a talk show host is stumbling over their words or simply not being articulate, and we say either out loud or to ourselves, “I could do better than that.”

In my business, I get a lot of people who are of that belief, and many of them genuinely can do better than that. The disconnect is they believe that because they can be good on the air, it automatically means if they hire a PR agency to attract attention, they’ll have their own talk show and be a national celebrity.

If that were truly the case, the airwaves would be crowded to the point of bursting. Unfortunately, it’s a little more difficult than that to become the next talk show star. Keep in mind, even the current stars didn’t become stars overnight. Keith Olbermann started as a sports anchor. Bill O’Reilly hosted a tabloid TV show called A Current Affair. Rachel Ray started by doing cooking advice segments on a local TV station. Erma Bombeck, one of the pioneers of punditry, began her career writing satirical columns for a local newspaper for just a few bucks per column. She parlayed that into a career as an author, columnist, speaker and veteran talk show guest, commenting on just about everything.

Today, experts from all realms have segued into prime jobs in the media. George Stephanopoulos hosts Good Morning America, a far cry from being a political consultant for former President Bill Clinton. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow started her career by winning a contest staged by a radio station looking for a morning radio personality. One of her first gigs was doing a morning radio “zoo” style show with Rapper Chuck D and comedienne Lizz Winstead. Her colleague Lawrence O’Donnell, host of the networks The Last Word, started as a novelist, then worked as an aide to Senator Patrick Moynihan, and then wound up in Hollywood as a writer and producer (and sometimes actor) on NBC’s The West Wing, before he entered the punditry in 2004.

The way to start is by getting booked on your local talk shows. Local TV shows tend to want fluffier, lighter content, so if your expertise is personal finance, for instance, you probably don’t want to pitch yourself to them to comment on the Wall Street collapse. Instead, something lighter, like “five tips to help make ends meet.” Local TV is imperative, because national shows typically don’t book a guest unless they can see from a local clip that the guest is articulate and good on camera. After a few local appearances, you can start pitching yourself to national shows using more newsy angles that are attached to breaking stories. The national media is a slave to the immediate news cycle, so the earlier you can jump on a national story, the better.

At the same time, you also want to be pushing yourself and your expertise to the print media and as a guest on radio shows to more firmly establish yourself as an expert in your field. It helps tremendously to have a book based on your expertise, but it’s not necessary if you have a strong Web presence and are head and shoulders above some of the other guests making the rounds on your topic.

When do you become the next big thing? Sometimes, as evidenced by the examples above, it takes years. Most overnight sensations have an “overnight” that lasted as long as a decade before they broke onto the national media scene. So, it’s not just about looking good on camera. It’s about the unique, perfect storm combination of talent, perseverance, elbow grease and opportunity.

A simpler way to launch your career in the media is buying air time to host your own radio show.  All that’s required is a high degree of talent and cash.  For example, you can have a weekly one-hour national show on Sirius XM for approximately $1,500 to $2,000 per hour.  Or, you can buy time on a local station for a local show.  The costs can range as little as $200 per hour on a small wattage station or in a smaller market.  Or, you can spend upwards of $6,000 or more for a one-hour weekly show on a top station in New York City.

This approach is known as “brokered time,” and unbeknownst to most listeners, most of the weekend radio shows you hear nowadays are shows of this nature.

For instance, Dave Ramsey, the well-known financial guru, built his empire by buying air time for his show on radio stations around the country.  And, because he had a message with mass appeal and was very effective at building an audience, he had no problem finding sponsors who wanted to advertise on his show. So, for him this model not only built his platform as a financial expert, but it became another huge source of revenue.

It’s key to understand that the format and content of your show must follow the form of any successful talk radio show.  It can’t be an hour-long advertisement about why people should hire you or buy from you; otherwise listeners will tune you out or change the station. Instead, you can motivate people by informing and entertaining them and being seen as the smartest and most articulate expert in your field who is on the air.

Of course, you’d have to market the show once it’s on the air, because a radio show without listeners is just a guy talking into a microphone. Marketing your show can be done via public relations and social media. In fact, social media can be used to drive the majority of your audience, and then keep that audience interested in your show on a weekly basis. Hosting your own radio or TV talk show is a terrific marketing vehicle for generating new business.

At the end of the day, the American Dream ain’t cheap. If you aren’t willing to work hard and persevere – whether you work your way in or buy your way in – it’s not likely you’ll go far. But if you are willing to put in the hours and the effort, who knows? Maybe I’ll be booking a guest on your show sometime soon.

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