Evolving Today’s Air Personalities

Evolving Today’s Air Personalities
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

Due to present day social media impact, everything has changed for the radio industry. For a handful it represents a threat, while for others it’s an opportunity to re-engage with its listeners. When you examine it, it is the most amazing rebirth of our lifetime. We happen to be lucky enough to be here and be a witness of it.

One of the key characteristics of developing any radio station is the air talent you hire and the method you train them in the area of social media. Countless stations are far-off in this area and must pay attention as their listeners are being informed and entertained by other sources too numerous to mention. The internet contains immense influence and power. The opportunities are unceasing.

Each successful radio station is defined by their personalities. Their successful because their compelling to listen to. If you skip a show, you will miss something that your friends will be talking about. And you’ll be left-out!
From my experience as a radio programming consultant, good air talents possess these qualities. They are unique, perilous, topical, local and most of all engage their listeners to participate. Today, radio is challenged to find new talents that will keep their appeal high and ratings strong. Radio is not searching for DJ’s anymore.

Today’s radio is challenging social media content such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for TSL. Radio seriously needs to adopt and adapt to the wave of new media smartly and integrate social media into the mix to relate with their listeners or face being left behind and totally irrelevant.

Numerous radio stations have no social media strategy. NOW is the time to get one! For whatever reason, Program Directors haven’t thought about how to integrate social media into their programming mix. I’ve noticed that many on-air talents are using social media without one hint of a plan. How much is too much? How do you go about weaving Twitter and Facebook into your show? What’s your exposure and liability? At what point is it a tune out and terminate the mood that your music and show is trying to create?

YouTube has surpassed TV in viewership. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are appealing to consumers on an enormous scale. Radio must lift its game and discover an improved method to be part of the new media landscape or be left in the dust.

Talent Instructions for the New Millennium

Search for air talents that possess a creative curiosity about life and have the ability to discuss it. Urge them to go out and experience the local flavor of the market. Air talents that do nothing more than hang around the radio station all day are normally negated of any real experiences to discuss on-the-air. For God’s sake, DON’T hire DJ’s. Employ creative people who will inform and entertain with focus and purpose.

Make sure every air talent you work with has a smart phone. No exceptions! It is a tool they cannot afford not to possess. I ask my air talents to use their videos on their smart phones to capture real moments. Then I tell them to practice describing what they saw. This is a great technique to get them to improve their storytelling skills. Ask yourself one question. When you attend a party, who do you hang out with? I’ll bet it’s with the most interesting and funniest person in the room. The problem with most radio personalities is they have allowed their formatics to get in the way of their creativity.

This is the fault of the Program Director. It’s their job to coach talents while developing some new thinking and approaches to their show. Having said that, there are some terrific Program Director’s that aid talent to prepare better and much more engaging shows. Outside Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn there’s Tunein Radio which allows you to hear any station in the world via the internet and hear it in real-time.

Program Director’s need to meet with their air talent every day to help them focus their show. It’s critical that the air talent identify with their audience. For some reason (most likely bad talent coaching), most talents tend to be oblivious to that and miss making the connection with the listener. Make sure the talent is provided with a show prep sheet so they may prepare for their show properly. Many radio syndicators produce and provide prep sheets, some for free.

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Weekend Programming

Weekend Programming
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

Every Friday afternoon is the same everywhere. Your audience, plowing along on that dismal highway of life, spots an off ramp and for two days takes a detour. Their mindset changes along with their pace. Their priorities change. And as a radio station, you need to reflect that or appear hopelessly out of touch with the ambiance of the audience.
A quick reminder: “Ambiance” is the byproduct, the plutonium so-to-speak when you combine Attitude and Emotion. Great radio stations have ambiance.

I’ve always loved weekend contesting and themes because they allow listeners to divert from whatever they’ve been doing all week and be topical. Great weekends in Radio are all about being topical and addressing what everyone is murmuring about.
“Great” radio stations “get” so many things, including weekend themes. They understand that starting at 5 on Friday, ambiance =prize. You can take pretty much any prize, any download, any ticket, and massage it to fit what the listener is all about.

So when Pamela reaches out to me on a Wednesday and says “I have Katy Perry tickets this weekend, what should we do?” the first thing I would ask is: What’s trending with the Rihanna listeners right now?
It could be Labor Day, back to school, oppressive heat. Possibly a sports scandal. Maybe a celebrity wedding. Or a Disney cruise for you and the entire family!

Other good theme starters? Begin with the name of the prize. Imagine Dragons tickets morphed into imaging gone by a “power of positive thinking shrink” encouraging the audience to visualize, to imagine their tickets. Realization comes from visualization. Substance such as that. They also threw in some Medieval Times tickets so that the winners could see other imaginary dragons. A Free Ticket Weekend would have been just as exciting.

So if you don’t have live talent in your city on the weekend, don’t get caught up in the mindset of “We have to give stuff to people for them to like us.” No.” You just need to have some fun and relevant imaging and sound like the lifestyle of the listeners. Now THAT is a great weekend.

Another great opportunity to add spice and personality to your weekend is with Syndicated Programming. Besides enhancing your station with a national personality that you wouldn’t be able to hear otherwise, it creates a chance to steer away from the tight playlists airing on most stations all week. It is also a specialty program and thus your sales department can sell it as such and create revenue not otherwise realized by the station. A win-win for the programming and sales departments.

Let’s take a look at what’s available in the syndication marketplace. The list is just too long to be complete, so I’ll just highlight some of the more popular programs available for weekend programming.

Premiere Networks is the largest syndicator of radio programs in the country. They cover every conceivable format in all available dayparts. Here are some of their most popular music formatted shows: “American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest.” It’s a 4 hour program available 6:00am-12:00am local time. The most popular top-40 music with America’s longest running weekend countdown and a truly engaging host makes this show a listener favorite on Hot AC and CHR stations.
“Saturday Night Online Live with Romeo” is a uniquely interactive radio show hosted by radio veteran Tim ‘Romeo” Herbster. His show reaches listeners across multiple platforms—on-air, online and via social media—creating a complete experience that connects listeners, stars, and advertisers in a bang out Saturday Night party.

Superadio Network also has a wide variety of product available for weekends. They produce three country shows, two Latino shows (plus imaging and spot production), Nine Urban/Rhythmic shows, and two Hot AC shows. The most popular being “Retro Pop Reunion” hosted by Hot AC Talent Joe Cortese. It brings together the biggest hits of the video music era. The show is 2 hours long and airs either Saturday or Sunday 6AM-8PM local time.

United Stations Radio Network runs Radio Hall of Famer personality Dick Bartley. He hosts three separate shows on weekends, for Oldies or Classic Hits formatted radio stations. He’s been hosting America’s Classic Hits request radio show since 1982. Debuting as “Solid Gold Saturday Night,” the program has been known as “Rock & Roll’s Greatest Hits!” since 1991.
A weekly, four-hour countdown show presented in a fast passed, Top 40 style, “The Classic Countdown” features exclusive interview comments from the musicians, songwriters and producers who made the music. Bartley also hosts the “Sunday Night Countdown” on New York’s legendary WCBS-FM 101.1 which streams on wcbsfm.com every Sunday evening 8PM to Midnight Eastern time.

Another busy guy is WCBS-FM Morning Man Scott Shannon. He has a syndicated four-hour Classic Hits formatted show titled: “America’s Greatest Hits.” It currently runs on ten CBS Classic Hits stations plus additional affiliates and is syndicated by United Stations Radio Network.

There are literally hundreds of syndicated shows to fit any format that will increase ratings and ROI. This partial list has just scratched the surface of the product available. Take my advice; pick up one or two of these or other shows for YOUR station. You’ll be surprised how well they’ll sound and how much money you will make selling advertising time!

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Connecting Radio Station Listeners By Branding

Connecting Radio Station Listeners By Branding
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

You may ask yourself, what’s in a name? If you run a radio station, the answer is everything!
Do listeners connect better to call letter or “name brand” stations? The answer clearly is “name brand.” When you’re trying to create a brand, it becomes much easier to recall. Branding is a matter of building awareness in the listeners mind. Top of mind awareness is the Holy Grail in building and maintaining a brand.

In the very competitive radio industry, radio stations want to carve out a unique identity among an alphabet soup of Ws and other letters with a name—such as Tide or Arm & Hammer—which listeners will recall.
In radio’s circumstance, branding is the art and science of associating what listeners like to hear on the radio—with a particular radio station. The most successful radio stations repeatedly broadcast their identifier. This aids the listener in “bonding” with the station they are enjoying. If the listener wishes to hear the station yet again, they’d know where to go on the dial.

Radio stations tend to be further ahead in the ratings if they utilize a single means of identification. The goal with a name like “The X” is akin to algebra, where “X” equal’s new rock in listener’s minds. It tends to send an immediate connection.
It’s rather sterile to just use call letters. A handful of radio stations still use their call letters; KDKA Pittsburgh (radio’s first station), KYW Philadelphia, WBZ Boston, as well as a handful of others. Names are an attempt to place a personality into the radio station. Research shows that listeners relate to names better than call letters.

About the only time you hear a radio stations call letters is at the top of the hour, when by FCC rules the station is required to broadcast a station ID. The practice of branding catchy names dates back to the 1970’s. Frequently the practice consists of combining parts of the call letters and the station frequency, such as 103.3 Amp Radio Boston, Y108 Pittsburgh, Z100 New York’s Hit Music Station.

There are also names which are used to designate different stations with the same format that are owned by the same company. Nash FM which is used by Cumulus for a host of their Country formatted stations around the country. Clear Channel, which owns contemporary hits WKST (96.1) in Pittsburgh known as KISS FM 96.1, also has KISS stations in other markets around the country.
There are some names used to describe specific formats, such as The River, which is tapped for alternative rock, adult contemporary and CHR stations in many markets across the country. There are additional popular names such as Mix, Lite, Star, Hot and Magic. There are also animal names used at stations describing different formats around the country, such as The Cat, Bear, Rooster, Hog and a vegetable name, “The Pickle.”

There are a host of Froggy stations owned by Forever Communications and Keymarket Communications. They brand “all” of their country formatted stations with the Froggy moniker. Keymarket has The Pickle and The Duck in several markets—all oldies formats.

The practice of branding animals and using them for station mascots goes back three decades when San Diego rock station KGB-FM hatched “The Chicken.” Animal names deliver the ability to create a strong visual identity for use in off-air marketing. If engaged properly, they provide a shortcut to listeners’ feelings and emotions, which is how you secure top-of-mind awareness of your station in your market.

Finding the right name is more important in the new millennium. Dial radios have been gone a long time. All radios use exact frequency’s on the radio dial. That makes it more important to be precise in guiding listeners to the right spot on the digital dial. It’s critical in today’s competitive landscape to identify your station by the specific frequency.

Some stations have possessed a heritage in their market and stick with their call letters. KDKA (1020) or WBZ (1030) are both examples of stations which are engraved in listeners minds. Both stations have such a unique place in their markets. WBZ is Boston’s first radio station. KDKA is America’s first radio station and one of only two stations whose call letters start with K east of the Mississippi. Renaming these stations would be counterproductive.

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How Technology and Audio Have Changed

How Technology and Audio Have Changed
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

You’ve moved into your dorm room or new apartment, and began unpacking the car.
And the first thing you set up was the stereo system: receiver, turntable or CD player, tape deck and speakers. This was all depending upon how old you were at the time.

The wires could get tangled, and at times you had to make shelving out of a stack of milk crates. But only when the music was playing on those handpicked CDs, mix tapes or (geezer alert!) vinyl records did you move in the rest of your stuff.
Daniel Rubio wouldn’t know.

To the 23-year-old, new dorm rooms and new apartments have meant computers, iTunes, Pandora and miniature speakers.
“All I had to bring was my laptop. That’s pretty much what everyone had,” says Rubio, who attended Emory University in Atlanta and currently works for a local marketing and communications firm. “It was actually a pretty good sound. It would get the job done.”

“Get the job done”? That sounds like the white flag for an era that used to be measured in woofers, tweeters, watts per channel and the size of your record collection. Not necessarily in that order.

Indeed, the days of the old-fashioned component stereo system are pretty much over, according to Alan Penchansky, an audiophile and previous columnist for “Billboard” the music trade publication.

“What’s happened in the marketplace, the midmarket for audio has completely been obliterated,” he says. “You have this high-end market that’s getting smaller all the time, and then you’ve got the convenience market, which has taken over — the MP3s, the Bluetooth devices, playing on laptops.”

He wishes more people knew what they were missing. At its best, he says, audio reproduction was “a religious experience.”
“There’s a primacy to audio,” he says. “It’s a form of magic.”

Wires and jacks

Of course, new technology changes things constantly. When was the last time you bought a roll of film for your camera?
Still, for many years — and for a certain, youthful, audience — the stereo system was a point of delight.
Greg Milner, the author of the audio recording history “Perfecting Sound Forever,” remembers the process. There were components. There were boxes and boxes of tapes and CDs. There might even be some vinyl.

It could be difficult, no question. The equipment was heavy. There were all those wires, plugs and jacks — Line In, Line Out, Aux, Phono, and CD, keeping track of the positive and negative strands of speaker wire. It was a struggle just to break down and set the stuff up, never mind moving it.

Milner, for example, grew up in Hawaii, and when he went away to school in Minnesota, he had to figure out what he was going to do with his system.
Whole stores were once devoted to stereo components. That hasn’t occured in years.
“I remember agonizing, what do I do? I can’t take my stereo,” he recalls. “There was this thing that, looking back on it, took up a ridiculous amount of psychic energy.”

Audiophiles vs. AM radio

However, he observes that the history of audio technology has often been one of suitability.
During the ’50s and ’60s, when stereo sound first became widespread, the audiophiles had their hi-fis — and the younger generation listened to tinny AM radios and cheap phonographs.

Indeed, music styles had a lot to do with music consumption, he points out. Audiophiles listened to classical and jazz, music from clubs and concert halls. On a good system, you could hear every pluck of a violin pizzicato, every inflection of a jazz singer’s vocal, recreated in your living room.
The kids, on the other hand, listened to basic rock ‘n’ roll.

“The seeds of the decline of what it meant to own a stereo were planted way back then, because the original audiophiles were people who were baby boomers’ fathers and mothers,” he says. “As rock ‘n’ roll starts to become more of a thing, a lot of that stuff is produced so it’s meant to be heard on AM radios.”
According to Milner, A Phil Spector Wall of Sound production — in glorious mono! — would probably have driven a hi-fi enthusiast up a wall.

The mass market continues to change.

In the ’70s and ’80s, the two did meet, for a time. Rock and pop music production techniques improved. At the same time, grown-up baby boomers, now working adults, invested in better audio equipment, all the better to listen to Steely Dan’s “Aja.”
There were whole mass-market stores devoted to audio gear — Sound Trek, Hi-Fi Buys, and Silo — no issue of Rolling Stone was complete without several ads for turntables, cassette decks and equalizers.

But technology marched on, and so did change. Some was for the sake of convenience: Cassettes had more hiss and less range than LPs, but were more portable — especially when listening on your handy Walkman or boom box.

However, we also started focusing more on visuals. Penchansky traces the decline of the stereo system to the early ’80s rise of the music video, which brought visuals to the forefront. Suddenly, the concert hall in your living room — or the audio imaging in your head — was gone, replaced by surrealist pictures overpowering the television’s small speaker. The sound wasn’t as important as the visual.

That branch of consumption has helped lead to the home theater.

Penchansky has nothing against HDTVs and 7.1 systems, but believes that, for the most part, it’s a “auditory compromise.” A pure audio system, “There was no way that television, even today, simulates the realism of visual experience the way (good) audio can simulate an audio experience.”

Sure, technology has adjusted. The cream always rises to the top of the bottle.
New materials and processing technology have improved the sound of small and inexpensive devices, says Patrick Lavelle, president and CEO of the consumer electronics giant VOXX International, which manufactures such brands as Klipsch, Acoustic Research and Advent.
Headphones and an iPod.

Yet there’s still a consumer market for good audio, adds Geir Skaaden, an executive at the high-definition audio company DTS. The top-selling products in Apple Stores, after Apple’s own devices, are headphones, he says. (DTS recently introduced technology for an immersive system called Headphone:X, intended for mobile devices.)

Still, convenience still rules. Which means it’s out with the component system and in with the computer.
That suits Rubio, the Emory graduate, fine. He grew up in a house with a component system but doesn’t believe he’s missing anything.

“All you need is a good pair of headphones and an iPod and that’s pretty much it,” he says.
Milner, the author, can’t question his decision.

“Now, why even bother?” he asks. “If you can take your entire music collection and more in something that fits in your pocket, why wouldn’t you do that?”

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I Learned About Programming Radio Stations in Grade School

I Learned About Programming Radio Stations in Grade School
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

There were some important lessons learned when I was in grade school that are just as important now as they were back in the-day. In no particular order of importance, here they are:

Do your homework (research) and play songs your listeners love. Steer clear of songs they don’t love. Play those songs in great repetition.

Have a conversation with your listeners in the same approach friends use when they’re talking with friends, not like strangers.

If you show you truly enjoy being with your listeners, they’ll enjoy being with you as well.

Similar to when you were a child, don’t force your listeners to eat all their vegetables all the time. From time to time, throw them some candy.

Provide your listeners presents while throwing a party for them, inviting all their friends. This makes them feel special and wanted.

Turn your listener’s favorite music into a diversion that’s fun to play which they can share with their friends.

If you must communicate bad news to your listeners, mentally hold their hand, telling them how sorry you are. Let them express sorrow if they need to.

Give your listeners a gift for no particular reason. You’ll surprise them and maybe they’ll tell a friend.

Don’t discuss things your listeners are not aware of. You’ll make them feel as if they’re a stranger. Remember to include them in everything. Everyone wants to belong.

Keep in mind the ordinary and mundane toys are not the ones they’ll rush over to play with. Search for the unusual, intriguing, and fascinating toys
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Listeners will always become interested in pictures you take and post on your website if they are in them.

Cookies and milk are satisfying and good for you. Give your listeners some special treats.

If you select a special place your listeners have never been, surround them with things that are familiar to make them feel safe and comfortable. Never leave them alone.

If you want your listeners to remember something, be special and put it to song. It’s how we learned our A-B-Cs.

You still remember the kids in grade school which you cherished and you remember the ones you hated. The kids you were indifferent around have disappeared from your life. Don’t allow your radio station to be indifferent to your listeners.
Leave items on your radio station where your listeners can find them. Traffic, news, weather, sports, great music and their favorite personalities.

You anticipated your teachers would teach math, spelling, social studies, English, etc. The ones you fondly remember did something extra in your life. Your stations listeners expect great music while keeping them updated on news, traffic and weather. What’s that something further you can do that will delight your listeners?

Don’t squander your listener’s time with things they don’t enjoy. Get to the point, make your break brief, and then return rapidly to the reason they listen to you.

Become attentive in removing the bad items from your station and replacing it with good.

Discuss with your listeners things they are interested in. Don’t talk about the substance they’re not interested in.

Try and take a nap every day. Wake up with a fresh viewpoint of your station.

Once you’re out into the world, look out for traffic, hold hands, and above all, stick together. It takes teamwork to make a radio station successful. Success is a team sport! You can’t obtain ratings by focusing on the ratings. You get ratings by creating a great radio station listeners love!

Live a well-adjusted life. Make sure you learn and think and play and pray while working every day. Certainly your listener’s life isn’t just about radio. Yours should not be, either.

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YouTube Turns into Radio’s Latest Transmitter

YouTube turns into radio’s latest transmitter.
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

The “Video Killed the Radio Star” line has been hurled at radio countless times over the past four decades. However, radio may get the last laugh. Moving past just on-air audio, one broadcast is showing that a powerful radio brand and a smidgeon of investment can translate well on the new TV enterprise, known as YouTube. So far a single station has logged 100 million video views.

Online video advertising accounted for 8% of total ad spending in 2013, according to eMarketer, and is forecast to hit 14.5% within four years. One radio station benefiting from the trend is Emmis rhythmic CHR “Hot 97” WQHT, New York, whose YouTube channel recently registered its 100 millionth view. But the tendency global hip-hop brand didn’t hit the milestone by simply placing a camera in its air studio and repurposing what it broadcasts over the air. “We treat digital as its own separate platform,” says Lin Dai, VP of digital programming and entertainment for Hot 97 and its sister video network Loud Digital. “You need to produce and program digital content differently than you do with your radio content.”

Dai says its video viewership dramatically took off after it converted an artist green room at Hot 97 into a TV studio. Equipped with TV lighting and a multi-camera set-up regulated by a tri-caster, it allows producers to cut between five camera angles during a single video shoot. The result is a high-quality TV look and feel that Dai says viewers are more likely to consume than interviews shot in a radio studio. The fully equipped TV studio enables the station’s digital team to generate more video output sooner. “What used to take 8 hours to edit now takes 1 to 2 hours,” Dai says. “We can put out double to triple the amount of content.”

He says stations looking to succeed in online video need a dedicated digital content team, rather than relying on station staffers who do digital on the side. “It requires a different type of skill sets,” Dai says. “You need a team that is passionate about digital that’s not doing it part time as a side to a radio job.”
The $50,000-$100,000 investment Emmis made to create a TV studio is paying off in web traffic and ad revenue alone. Dai says most of the channel’s growth has occurred in the last six months, since the TV studio became fully functional. Hot 97.com gets 1 million unique visitors per month while the station’s YouTube channel attracts another 1.6 million monthly views. Astonishing viewership!

The content that Hot 97 streams on YouTube also streams on its own website. The station site caters more to a local New York audience while the YouTube channel’s audience tends to be global, with minimal audience repetition between the two assets. The YouTube channel has become so popular that Hot 97 is among a handful of media properties that YouTube allows to sell advertising on its platform through a revenue share arrangement.

Hot 97 has parlayed its digital success into the Loud Digital Multi-Channel Network, an assortment of some 40 websites that is sells advertising for, including sites for rapper 50 Cent and other artists. Crosstown Yucaipa urban AC WBLS (107.5) has joined the network with hopes of increasing views on its own YouTube channel and monetizing them. The most popular content on Hot 97’s channel gravitates around the station’s iconic personalities like Funkmaster Flex, who hosts a freestyle show with a guest artist, or the station’s morning show, which conducts a 20-40 minute interview that can be edited down into a five-minute audio break for broadcast on the station.

“A listener enjoying the interview on their car radio can watch the full interview on their computer when they get to work on our YouTube channel,” Dai says. The original web series “97 Seconds,” which provides an intimate artist profile, recently kicked off its second season with rapper Macklemore. The clip generated 60,000 views in just three days.

Slogans Don’t Sell: People Do

Slogans Don’t Sell: People Do
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

You don’t sell with slogans.

Advertising is desirability.

Not in a lurid or controlling sense.

One of the definitions of “desire” is “to appeal.” Successful radio advertising appeals to the targeted consumer directly in the sales message.

But just to illustrate a point, let’s fall back on the more common association to the word “appeal.”
In this example, “Rob” is a healthy, single adult male who is feeling a bit lonely.
He finds himself at a loud, crowded cocktail party where he notices a beautiful, single adult female whom he finds attractive.
She has some spirituality about her that Rob finds appealing.

He thinks, “If I had an opportunity to talk to that woman in a quiet, more relaxed surrounding, I bet we’d discover we would have a considerable amount in-common.”

In essence, Rob has a sales message that he hopes she will consider acting upon. And he’s trying to choose between two diverse expressions of that sales message.

The first is:

“It sure is noisy here. I wish we could talk in a more peaceful environment. There’s a wonderful Italian restaurant just up the street with an incredible view of the city. Would you be interested in getting a bite to eat with me while watching the sunset?”

Or Rob could say:

“You’ve tried the rest, now try the best.”

Considering those two approaches, which do you believe has the best chance of succeeding?

It’s not bad to have a Positioning Statement that forcefully reiterates your Unique Selling Proposition. Actually, that can be a very good thing.
But a good Positioning Statement — or slogan — can only replicate and reinforce your actual sales message. A slogan without a sales message to back it up is nothing more than Verbal Fast Food.