Say Your Name, But Don’t Be Groot

posted in: by Sean Ross | 11

When I was new to radio, a programmer gave me a copy of a booklet called “Secrets of Programming Power.” It was by then-WSPT Stevens Point, Wis., PD Pat Martin, a name I knew only because of the ads for the book that I had already seen in trade publications. The final section was Martin’s on-air jock manual, the first one I’d ever seen. And a lot of it stuck with me.

Particularly this piece of advice: “Never say I’m ___________.

I understood right away.

In the mid-‘70s, the pomposity of “I’m ___________.had been deflated by “Saturday Night Live.” “I’m Chevy Chase . . . and you’re not” was a few years old as a catch phrase, but “I’m ___________ was still likely to trigger it in a listener’s mind.

And yet, when you are brand new on the radio, and struggling to think of something to say, “I’m ___________ is a natural default. My first stumbling attempts on my college station preceded seeing this manual by about three months. It’s very likely that they include “I’m Sean Ross,” although I was so top-of-the-hour focused that there’s a chance it was “1 A.M. with Sean Ross,” because that was when my carrier-current college AM would have otherwise been off the air, allowing me to practice.

In recent years, I’ve had to monitor a lot of radio stations professionally. I developed shorthand for transcribing the jock breaks—calls, slug line, “music teaser 3x” (the number of acts mentioned, although some people crutch out on more than three), etc. For a while, I would type “I’m ___________” when I heard a jock say that. And I heard it a lot, and it slowed me down reaching for the shift key and the underline.

Then I got around to watching “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” So instead, I just write “Groot.” As in the incessantly repeated “I am Groot.” Now I find myself typing “Groot” a lot. The last time I made it through a monitor without typing “Groot,” the station was in a jockless launch.

If I write “Groot” once in the course of monitoring a particular personality, I will write it four times. It might not always be “I am ___________ .” There might be an occasional “________ with you” in there as well, the other structure so heavily used that Miami personality Raffi Contigo made an in-joke out of using its Spanish translation as an air name in the ‘90s.

But these days, I’ve noticed something else. If I don’t type “Groot” once, I might never type any mention of a jock’s name in a break. Saying your name on the air seems to be an ink blot, and there are apparently a lot of personalities who have a hard time finding a place between narcissism and low self-esteem. Although, for some of those overusing “I’m ___________ ,” it’s probably just a DJ crutch, not just an inflated sense of self. And for some who never say it, it may be a sad function of “which station am I voice-tracking now?”

Never identifying yourself isn’t much better than Groot Syndrome. Companionship, if it’s good company, is broadcast radio’s last line of defense against listeners’ other choices. Radio’s proponents are fond of saying that if radio didn’t exist, somebody would choose to invent it. And I have no doubt. If there is ever a time when the failure to address broadcast radio’s issues—spotload, streaming, a lack of niche content—leaves Spotify or Pandora all alone in the end zone, they will add personalities. And somebody will have to coach that talent not to say “I’m _______” incessantly.

Shortly after he wrote “Secrets of Programming Power,” Martin’s career took him to Country WBCS and Top 40 WRKR Milwaukee. (What I remember mostly about WRKR was being in the area when UB40’s “Red Red Wine” was new and hearing them power it the first time, rather than five years later. WSPT was a particularly aggressive small-market station. Martin’s advice to programmers was not to try and break more than two songs a week—amusing these days when adding even two proven hits is not an every-week occurrence.)

As Patrick Lopeman, Martin is now owner of Adult Top 40 WMOM (102-dot-7) Luddington, Mich., the recently named Michigan Assn. of Broadcasters station of the year. Lopeman recently sent me WMOM’s stylebook. Some of the rules I recognized instantly. Some were “tenor of the times” additions (e.g., no streaming services on the air). And “never say, I’m ___________ “ is still in there. As was the case nearly forty years ago, there’s still no explanation of why offered. It seems self-evident, but I was curious.

I asked Lopeman if Chevy Chase had indeed been the motivation. Instead, it went back to one of the era’s most prominent group PD/consultants. Lopeman wrote, “’Never say I’m…” was a Paul Drew rule.  It’s still a Pat Martin rule.  Chevy Chase was a factor, but not the main reason.  We are trying to develop the ‘one on one,’ where the focus is on the listener and not the DJ.  The more positive way is ‘102-dot-7, 3:05 with Pat Martin.’”

Listeners need friends on the radio. The secret of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is, of course, all in the “they’re really friends underneath it all” rapport between the characters. I’ve been trying to think of what a listener would expect from a friend. It was never wrong to begin a phone call with “it’s _____,” then caller ID made that ridiculous. Perhaps there will come a point when radio station metadata makes identifying yourself unnecessary, but today there are still problems showing the correct name of an album. For now, identifying yourself is part of being yourself, and it’s appropriate. Just as long as it’s not “I am Groot.”

11 Responses

  1. Joel Raab

    I’m _______ is first person. With ________ or It’s _________ is third person. I prefer first person. Do you ever enter a room and say “You’re with Sean Ross?” or “Hi, it’s Joel Raab?”

    Overdoing anything is annoying. Not saying your name is nuts, and like you Sean, I hear too many not identifying themselves on the air. If you connect, people will remember your name. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how often you say your name.

  2. joe patti

    hey sean:

    didn’t pat martin also write a book called “Martin’s Major Market Method,” or something like that? I had a copy and lent it to someone many years ago and haven’t seen it since…

    …joe

  3. Don Collett

    I try not to use the “I’m” crutch, though from time to time I do twist it a little… “That’s (artist), I’m Don…and, hopefully, you know who YOU are”.

  4. Ron Gerber, host of "Crap From The Past", KFAI-FM/Minneapolis

    Sean – Your piece was fascinating, and unexpected for a reason you probably didn’t anticipate.

    In my 30+ years at the left end of the dial, nobody had ever given me that advice. Not once. If anything, we non-commercial people encourage the hosts to say their names frequently, often using the dreaded “I’m …” template, because it sounds more natural than “My name is…”, “This is…”, or even “You got …”.

    Recite these in your head, and think about how natural they sound: “I’m Casey Kasem, this is American Top 40 in Hollywood…”, “I’m Terry Gross, this is Fresh Air…”, or my favorite, “I’m Ron Boogiemonster Gerber, and you lucky people are listening to Crap From The Past…”.

    I’d propose that the advice to not say “I’m …” may apply to typical radio, but it doesn’t apply at all to my genre: specialty shows.

    Community-run stations and college stations shine at specialty programming, even if they don’t call it that. If a host comes in once a week and does a two-hour show, which often has a title and a particular format, it’s basically a specialty show.

    People listen to specialty shows for the hosts. Not for the music, but for the personality of the hosts. I tuned in to “American Top 40” specifically to hear Casey Kasem work his magic on the air. There were other competing countdown shows, which played the exact same songs in the exact same order as AT40, but they all lacked Casey. Thirty years later, stations still air the old AT40 shows; not so much for the Rick Dees or Scott Shannon countdowns.

    I believe that people listen differently to specialty shows than they do to typical radio. I believe that you, as a listener, devote your full attention to a good specialty show, because you don’t want to miss anything. That’s a very different type of listener experience than listening to “your at-work station” or “today’s best variety”, despite the noble intentions of most commercial radio.

    I’m very interested to hear other people’s experience with “I’m …”, especially in the world of specialty shows or the left end of the dial.

  5. Tony Waitekus

    If radio is going to be a companion and friend, the listener needs to know who that friend is. Otherwise, the voice on the radio is an anonymous one, barely an acquaintance. The people on the radio that listeners know are the one’s that say their name (Ryan Seacrest, etc.) Usually after he is off, I never hear the jock selling themselves at all. I believe in saying your name often. It’s amazing when going to appearances, people know who you are and DO consider you to be a friend, even if you’ve never met. I also believe the use of a first name only doesn’t build a true relationship. After all, if you are really a friend with someone, you know their first and last name. If you only know their first name, that person is not a friend, but an acquaintance that you don’t really know. It’s interesting listening to all the posted air checks of the late Dan Ingram, hearing him say his and AND hearing his name jingle after nearly every song! There’s a reason everyone in NY knew who he was. He told them. And it wasn’t done so for ego reasons. Saying your name should be required. Just don’t say “I’m ________________.”

  6. Jimmy Fink

    I just noticed that we couldn’t post a comment to this article unless we provided our name (required). Reminds me of a memo from a program director who wrote about being redundant and then proceeded to sign his name over his type written name, the essence of redundancy. Funny, as I write this reply, I am hearing Lester Holt on the NBC Nightly News ending his report by saying, “I’m Lester Holt,”.. like we didn’t know that. Maybe we shouldn’t say the call letters either.

  7. Dave Shakes

    If it’s station positioning break, or some kind of basic information, there’s really no reason to hitch your wagon (your name) to that break. BUT If it’s a personality break, you have to say your name or it won’t contribute to building your personality brand. You may have succeeded in making the listener curious to know who you are…so let them know.

  8. Joel Robert Murphy

    During the Gerry Cagle-era of KFRC/San Francisco, “I am___” was heard at the top of every hour. “K-F-R-C San Francisco… with the BEST music… It’s 8 O’Clock and I AM Bill Lee!” (or Jackson Armstrong, Harry Nelson etc).

  9. Gene Stevens

    Hi Sean. How do you introduce yourself to someone you meet in person? You’d never say ‘Hi, THIS is ….’ You would say: ‘Hi, I’m …’ It’s the most natural and comfortable way of saying ‘Hi’ to someone. That’s what good radio is – natural and comfortable. There will always be listeners joining your audience – hopefully some will be brand new listeners, and many will be returning ‘regulars’. Both groups would want to know who the host is – especially if s/he’s a good host. At any point during your show, there will be ‘new’ listeners tuning in. It’s the height of arrogance to assume they all know who you are without ever telling them. Of course one shouldn’t overdo anything, including self-identification. Produced IDs can help. Depending on station’s audience loyalty and tuning patterns, a host could comfortably self-ID a couple times an hour without being ‘Groot’. And your tone can avoid being a ‘Chevy’.

    Added point: I recall doing a focus group of a competing station’s P-1 loyalists – the #1 ranked station in the market. Only one of ten loyal listeners could identify their own station’s top-rated, legendary morning host ! I was shocked – but learned something about ‘assuming’.

    Gene Stevens

  10. CPF2015

    WBCN had a DJ in ’81-’82 who would announce “Ayyyye Ammm BeeBee!” during every break, as if this was some revelation we listeners should get excited about. I had just moved to the area and thought that I might be missing something, but eventually concluded I wasn’t.

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