Radio Big Shot

We have spent time here talking about great top-of-the-hour songs on the radio, those tunes that give a jock an adrenaline shot and propel his listeners irresistibly forward into the next hour. Many of those songs are also great for a DJ to talk over, with introductions that allow us to show off our craft. True, there’s more to the craft of the radio DJ than talking over records—talking them up, as we say in the biz. But we like talking ’em up. In fact, we love it. When I discovered the radio all those years ago, it didn’t take me long before I was pretending to be one of the jocks on WLS by talking up intros myself, and discovering the unique rush that comes from giving the call letters right before the vocal begins.

An even greater rush involves hitting the post in an introduction on the way to the vocal. A post is best defined as a break or a transition of some sort—where the drums come in, where a singer interjects an “ooh,” any little point that can be used to add punctuation to whatever you’re saying. If an introduction has more than one post and you manage to hit them all, the thrill is hard to describe. I have been known to flick off the mike and whoop like I’d just hit a home run. One fine morning in college, I started up Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” at 45 instead of 33. Purely on instinct, while talking over it on the air, I changed the speed, made a joke, and hit the vocal right on the button. Clearly all that practicing in my bedroom at home growing up was good for something.

Dan O’Day, one of the best-known consultants in the radio biz, says that no listener ever said, “I love the way that guy talks up a record.” And there are lots of consultants and program directors who explicitly instruct their jocks not to talk right up to the vocal, and if they do, to do it infrequently. But even O’Day acknowledges how much fun it is to do. A fellow jock once said to me, “I wish I could talk up records the way you do.” I count that among my favorite compliments of all time.

All of this is by way of introduction to an article Dan Kelley of Okemos Brewing Company put up on Twitter yesterday from a webzine called Hz So Good (a marvelous name), collecting reader submissions of favorite talkup records. I can’t remember the last time something I read on the Internet made me feel so much a part of a brotherhood. If you’re a jock, you’ll love it. If you’re not, you still might enjoy the insights into the mind of the jock.

That’s all I’ve got today. We’ll return to our ongoing run of reruns later in the week with a post about a couple of the best October songs I know, mp3s included.

6 responses

  1. Only a DJ can hear the phrase “hitting the post” and not think of a goalie breathing a sigh of relief.

  2. Talking up the vocal….Hitting the post….Talking up the ramp (for our UK radio friends)….

    When your words and the song’s vocal merge seamlessly, it’s a great feeling.

  3. Hitting the post is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Greatest one I ever heard…..and how I wish I had it on tape…..was in my car listening to Joel Sebastian on WLS (1970?) talk up the intro to Santana’s version of Oye Como Va. Damn! He built and built and built and built and…BAM! BTW Lyle Dean (“The Chicago Report”) was one of my main influences in my nooz work. I’ve got a few great examples on tape from Robert W. Morgan on KHJ (L-A) in the 60’s, that are “classics in my mind”. But, as Mr. O’Day says, in the comment above, there must be a seamless merge…..and you gotta be sayin’ SOMETHING, not just “jock talk” over the ramp.

  4. You make an important point, Tim: a worthy talkup has to have a purpose. It’s a cousin to the broader idea that *every time* you open the microphone, you need to have a purpose in mind. It’s amazing to me how many on-air people don’t—or how their purpose is to kill 10 seconds because the format requires them to talk right then.

  5. About two hours after reading this column, I used the first 2:43 of this song to back announce the previous half-hour’s selections, give away tickets, mention my show’s Facebook page and remind everyone about the show and station they were listening to. Afterwards, a fellow volunteer at the station texted me to offer a compliment on my timing. I’ve since sent him the link to this entry.

    Now, Jim, I know you usually don’t click on YouTube links your readers leave, but please indulge me and at least listen to the few seconds leading up to 2:43. Is that a post or is that a post?

    1. Well done, sir, although I’m not sure I could talk for 2:43 straight anymore. (If I tried it and either of my program directors happened to be in the building, I know I couldn’t.)

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