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.”