Friday, April 4, 2014

Warren Zevon "Hit Somebody"

It may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but if you were to ask me who has influenced me most as a Radio Announcer, the answer would not be a name that would seem obvious. 

I can certainly say I loved and listened intently to folks like Casey Kasem and WBCN's Charles Laquidara and Mark Parenteau when I was a kid.

But really, the person I have idolized the most, as a broadcaster, is David Letterman.

Now, I have never thought of myself as anything like (and certainly not equal-to) Letterman, in the ways that you perhaps appreciate Dave.

I was never trying to replicate his sense of humor, or his quick wit, or his wonderful grasp of irony, or his delightful snarkiness.  I do love all those things about him, as a fan.

But as a broadcaster, I've always paid close attention to the way that Letterman communicates information, the way he simply (or sometimes, complicatedly) tells a story.

Take the way he announced his retirement on his show last night.

He did what he does most every night on the program.  After the monologue, he heads to his desk and will tell a story, often with a personal aspect.  I don't suspect that Dave is a racounteur, holding court with friends and telling endless stories.  But we he does these direct-to-the-camera-and-audience moments, he is masterful at getting at the heart of the matter.

So he opens with some facts about how many shows he's done, and then he segues into a seemingly unrelated yarn about how he spent an entire day trying to identify a bird picture.  And just when it appears that this is a simply shaggy dog story, you realize that it actually boldly underscores his point, that it is time for him to retire.

This is what I aspire to every day.  Can I tell stories on the radio (and actually, on this blog too) that are engaging, even if they seem a bit shaggy, but that ultimately circle around to a clear, relatable point?  I'll never be as good as Letterman, but setting the bar high is not such a bad thing.

The other, minor thing I learned from Letterman, is how to carefully, but clearly, show your passion.

Letterman must treat each guest as important.  The show simply wouldn't work if he wasn't displaying enthusiasm for each and every guest.

And that is kind of how I approach being on the radio.  I don't love each and every song I play, equally.  But I recognize that each and every song is somebody's favorite.  And I display enthusiasm of all songs with that in mind.

That being said, you can tell when Dave is passionate about a guest, particularly the musical guests.  You can see it in the early days when R.E.M. came on, or in the late 90s when the Foo Fighters were guest, or recently when Jason Isbell appears.  He'll give just a little bit extra to the introduction, or greet the band after the song with energy that lets the viewer know just how engaged he was.

I too have certain artists that I feel passionately about, and yes, I can let that sneak through in the way I talk about certain artists, hopefully without lessening the importantance of other folks we play.

And when you've set the audience expectation that you, as the host, have your special passions, the audience will respect those occasions where, when the moment is really right, you dive into a personal obsession. 

Warren Zevon wasn't such a major artist that a network television show would normally devote a whole hour to him.  But he was a major artist to David Letterman, and Dave's passion for Zevon allowed the netork door to be open for an hour.  It was some pretty great television.

I've learned a lot from Dave.  And I'm grateful for the things I've been able to take away, to make me a better air talent.

So, Mr Letterman, as you yourself once said to Johnny Carson, "Thanks for my career."

Did you know Dave is on a Warren Zevon recording?  Listen for him on "Hit Somebody."

Hear the song on Youtube.

The retirement announcement on Youtube.

See Warren Zevon on Letterman on Youtube.

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