Throw away the seatbelts. What I had to un-learn after a long career in network radio.

For more than three decades I spent my working life in network radio news, reading scripts and speaking to the clock.

As a journalist covering politics, wars and the financial markets, I had to master the art of the precis — telling compact, compelling stories using a minimum number of carefully chosen words. As a radio news-talk host, the “re-set” was a requirement. We had to remind listeners every few minutes what we were talking about and who we were interviewing. As a newscaster, I had to make sure that my four minutes at the top of the hour didn’t go as much as one second over.

However informal we tried to sound, there was a certain rigidity imposed by the strict discipline of the radio format. Podcasting is surprisingly different. There are so many radio lessons I had to unlearn.

First. Unfasten my seatbelt: replace the scripts with spontaneity. Many of the best podcasts are off-the-cuff and soulful, with moments of passion and humor. The best podcasters lift the curtain on their personal story and take full advantage of the medium’s extraordinary intimacy.

Second. The “clock” is gone and the need to “reset” also goes away. Instead of tuning in at random times, podcast listeners start at the beginning and usually stay with us for the entire show. Episodes can be as long or short as we want them to be. There is no ideal length.

Third. With other media, distractions are common, but podcasts are heard without the interruptions of timechecks, weather reports, pledge drives, and commercials. Most of our listeners are on their own and away from mobile screens with their instant messages and email reminders.

On our weekly solutions journalism podcast, How Do We Fix It?, my good friend and co-host Jim Meigs and I have found that the connection with our audience runs deep. And unlike TV and YouTube videos, audio listeners aren’t distracted by my crooked teeth, Jim’s beard, or our poor choice of clothing.

Another unlearning curve is that, as independent podcasters, we are the boss — our own program directors and content creators. There are no formats to worry about. Podcasters can develop deeper thoughts than broadcasters, and tell longer, richer stories. This leads to greater intimacy and allows for more innovation and creativity.

Who would have thought that four-hour podcast episodes told by a single-voice narrator could be a hit? With Hardcore History, former commercial radio talk show host Dan Carlin proved that a storyteller of great skill and knowledge can do things that are never allowed on radio.

Podcasts can also target niche audiences who are passionate about the topics being discussed. I am an art lover and one of my personal favorites, The Lonely Palette, lives up to its unusual promise of being “the podcast that returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time.”

While the entry barriers to podcasting are very low, and the equipment is cheap, all that freedom comes at a cost. It’s a bit like the Wild West. At last count there were more than 550,000 shows to choose from. Unless you are linked to a major brand, the challenges of attracting a sizable audience and finding sponsors are steep indeed.

Anyone with a new show has to learn how to be a marketer, come up with a 10-second elevator pitch, and in the words of social media marketing strategist Mark Schaefer, answer the “only we” of your brand — as in “only our podcast tells you this.”

The difference between radio and podcasting may appear subtle. However, professional broadcasters who move into this medium not only have to unlearn old habits, but learn brand new tricks.

This requires a mix of humility, curiosity, and no shortage of energy.

Richard Davies is a media coach, podcast consultant, and co-host of the weekly podcast, How Do We Fix It? at daviescontent.com.

Star Wars, Holiday Toys and The Magic of How Kids Play

  
Have you finished your holiday shopping yet?  

Me neither.

Over the years, I’ve the found that the hardest – and most delightful – people to buy for are kids. The toys, games and gifts that we get them represent much more than simply a nice little trinket of affection.  

They’re symbols of our relationships with the children we love and who we want them to be. 

In recent years technology has wreaked havoc with the toy industry, vastly expanding choice and redefining the nature of play.

 “The toy industry is a 19th Century business trying very hard to break into the 21st,” says my friend, Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy Experts. Toy makers have had a devil of a time dealing with the digital aspects of play.

“The fight is no longer for space on a shelf, but time in a kid’s head.”

Video games, apps and social media present the industry with “an almost an existential crisis,” says Richard.  They’ve forced the folks at Lego, Mattel, Hasbro and countless other companies to ask themselves: “Who are we? What is a toy? How do we play?”

My podcast co-host, Jim Meigs and I interviewed Richard for “How Do We Fix It?”  We had a lot of fun and came away with a more open-minded view of what a great toy can be.  Unlike so many in the toy industry, our guest, a long-time consultant and marketing expert, is both playful and passionate.

Richard loves the challenges that tech has brought to our world and how it’s changed our thinking on so many things. He’s in the business of unwrapping new ideas.

All of us fall into one of three categories, he says. “Digital native, digital immigrant – we speak with an accent – or you never made the trip and stayed back in the analog world.”

“Many toy companies are led by people who never made the trip.”  For them and even for many parents “it’s very hard to grasp the fact that we’ve had an evolutionary change in children.” 

They don’t always play the way we did when we were kids.  That might be disturbing, but the change does need to be understood.

Has this ever happened to you? 

“You see a kid in a restaurant with his family and his head is stuck inside of a cellphone playing a game and you say ‘what a crappy kid'”.  But that child, Richard insists, “doesn’t feel like he’s in a different space.  The reality is that his family is in there with him.” 

Children “don’t see a bright line between what’s virtual, what’s digital and what’s real.”

Which brings me back to what we put under the Christmas Tree.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be a thing, but an experience.  A trip or an outing, maybe.

For two decades I produced an annual feature for ABC News Radio called “Shopping For Kids.” Richard Gottlieb was a frequent guest.  So were the independent consumer experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim, who publish the excellent ToyPortfolio Guide. 

  
Every year around this time, friends and colleagues would stop by and ask me “what’s the hot toy?” 

In recent years there’s been a parade of Elmo’s, Hot Wheels and Barbies.  This month almost anything to do with “Star Wars” is flying off the shelves – and perhaps for good reason.

Many parents were kids when those first incredible “Star Wars” movies came out.  They had a love affair with the characters.  The new toys represent a chance for Moms, Dads and their children to connect over a shared passion.

In general, instead of looking at hot toy lists (that are often paid for and promoted by large toy companies), I like what the folks at the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York have to say. 

Each year, since 1999, they’ve inducted several toys and games into the Hall, using a generous definition of the popular products and experiences that have graced our lives.  

Mr. Potato Head, Play Doh, Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie, and Etch A Sketch are all in there, but so are bubbles, the stick, the ball and the cardboard box. 

“A lot of folks in the toy industry think they just compete with a lot of other folks in the toy industry,” says Richard Gottlieb.  But the truth is “anybody who sells the tools of play competes with anybody else – whether they’re in the amusement park business, video games, apps, or whatever.”

Last year Richard organized The World Congress of Play, an event that brought together people from robotics, artificial intelligence, theme parks and the toy industry.  The emphasis was on play. Not on products.

Perhaps we could all bring a greater sense of adventure, wonder and possibilities to gift buying.

Photos:  Flier for Star Wars Toy, Richard Davies with Richard Gottlieb at ABC News Radio, ToyPortfolio.com

Lessons I learned from “How Do We Fix It?” Podcast #1

  Developmental Psychologist Abigail Baird… Our first guest on our new podcast.


This is launch day, and there’s excitement in our house.  

I’m writing this on the morning of June 10th, two months to the day since I moved on from full-time employment as Business Correspondent and news anchor at ABC News Radio to work on my digital audio startup.

Our new weekly half-hour podcast, How Do We Fit It?, is now searchable on iTunes and other podcast sites.  There are four episodes so far with new ones being added each week.  Please subscribe! 

With a great deal of help from our fab producer, Miranda Shafer, we built a website that has lots of info on us and what we are up to.  We’re also posting photos on Instagram and thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.

My buddy, former Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief,  Jim Meigs, and I are both practical guys, impatient for solutions.  We’ve spent decades reporting the news, and want to move past tired old left vs. right rhetoric of yesterday to something new.

Instead of despair, our podcasts are about hope.  Each show is a lively conversation, built around a smart guest, who is known for fresh thinking and innovative ideas.

The expert we reached out to for our first show is Abigial Baird.  As Developmental Psychologist at Vassar College, Abi studies the teenage brain.  She’s a thinker and a doer – the proud mother of two young twins.

As dads and journalists, Jim and I know what a challenge technology presents for parents and kids.   Computers, video games and mobile devices are a huge temptation. But are they an obstacle or a great opportunity as children learn about the world? 

Here on our first show, Abi shares her humor, enthusiasm and wisdom as a caring parent and a whip-smart neuroscientist.  We learned a lot listening to her.  We think you will too!

Please download and subscribe to our podcasts.  If you like what you hear, share us on social media.  We’d very much like to read your suggestions for new shows.

We are public radio without the N P R.  Thanks for being part of our brand-new community.

I’ve Got a Blog. So, Why Am I Launching a Brand New Kick-Ass Podcast?

  

 Co-host Jim Meigs and I on the How Do We Fix It? Facebook page.


We’re in the final stages of building a brand new weekly podcast, and I’m pretty excited about it.  If all goes well, How Do We Fix It? will be up on iTunes by June 10th.

That would be exactly two months to the day since I left ABC News Radio.

Why bother? Why throw our podcast pebble into the frenzied media firmament?

Unlike many news and public affairs shows, where the tired old left vs. right arguments are hurled across the table, our half-hour podcast is a spontaneous conversation about new solutions and fresh thinking.

Rather than shouting at each other, we take some of the best ideas out there, no matter where they come from. 

Jim Meigs and I are both good friends, who’ve spent decades in the news media.  Jim has been editor-in-chief of four magazines, most recently Popular Mechanics.  I covered politics, business, and finance for ABC News Radio.

We don’t agree on everything (far from it!).  But Jim and I are both practical guys who think there’s a big hole in the market for a show that tackles tech, teaching, taxes and many other controversial matters in a positive way. It’s time for a show that sheds more light than heat.
  
We’re building a website for our podcast at http://www.howdowefixit.me


In the first episodes of How Do We Fix It? we’ve had a lot of fun learning from some of the best in the business.  

Phil Plait, who writes the highly popular Bad Astronomy blog at Slate gives us some great insights into how to fix the space program.  Elizabeth Green, author of the excellent book, Building A Better Teacher, has solid common-sense advice for parents who worry about the quality of teaching in public schools.  And motivation expert Ron Friedman has fascinating thoughts on how to create a happier workforce. Those are just three of our shows.

Jim and I are thinking outside the box and going beyond labels.  How Do We Fix It? talks about practical ways to put theories into practice.

We’ve also had a ton of help from our producer Miranda Shafer, audio mixologists Jim Briggs, Denise Barbarita of MONOLisa Studio, and Joe Plourde, as well as composer Lou Stravinsky. Thanks all!

These shows came about after years of lively chats that Jim and I had together over dinner, coffee or simply out hiking together.  We want to make the world a better place, and are tired of politicians, pundits and others shouting the same phrases and making the same mistakes over and over again.

We hope you’ll listen and suggest new episodes and smart people who we can have as guests. Pull up a chair and join the conversation. Like and add your suggestions to our Fix It Show Facebook page, and please follow @fixitshow on Twitter.

Instead of kicking up a lot of dust, we like to bring people together as we talk about the stuff government, businesses, communities and all of us can do to improve our lives. 

That’s something new, people!