The PREP System

by John Silliman Dodge

A special insert to the college text "Broadcast Announcing Worktext"
By David Reese Focal Press Fall 2004

Unlike the announcing we hear so often on radio today, true professional announcing is a craft. And like all crafts--learning to play guitar for example-- announcing can be distilled into a series of repeatable, perfectible steps. In the same way the beginning guitarist doesn't launch instantly into mind-spinning pyrotechnics, a young announcer starts by learning the fundamentals that underpin his craft. Once those have been drilled into mental muscle memory, the real creative excellence can begin.

An important note: the process that follows has nothing to do with any particular music format. I've been an announcer and a coach in music formats from heavy metal to classical and I've learned that when you get the big picture, you see that there is no such thing as a jazz style, a college style, a rock style. There are only communication fundamentals that work no matter where you happen to work. These include preparation, rehearsal, editing, and performance. This specific sequence makes a memorable acronym called PREP. Let's go through each step.

Preparation. Announcing is an acting job. But rather than read someone else's script, the announcer creates his or her own material by gathering information from music, media, culture, and life itself. Before entering the studio, the prepared announcer has his or her show blocked out. Not every tiny detail -- there is always room for improvisation -- but the road map is clear. The prepared announcer knows the listener, the listener's values, and what makes the listener tick. The prepared announcer knows the music (or whatever) format and the station's marketing objectives. The prepared announcer knows his guests, his anecdotal material, the "temperature" of the audience and the market on that particular day. And all of this preparation happens "offstage" ahead of time before he or she ever walks into the studio.

Rehearsal. Only amateurs believe that rehearsal inhibits spontaneity. Professionals respect their audience and rehearse their voice breaks off-mic so that their performance on-mic will be brief, bright, smooth, natural and personable. They practice the art of "planned spontaneity" so that even their most carefully-scripted bits sound fresh and off the top of their head. Twice is the right number of times to rehearse. While the music plays, practice your next voice break out loud. Not in your head, but aloud. Any bugs in your thinking or speech will become apparent to you. Then speak your break again a second time and notice that you're smoother now, but still fresh. The third time, go live.

Editing. Less is more they say and they're right. The world is awash in information so learn to deliver yours in brief, compelling, memorable doses. Every voice break can be improved by using fewer, more powerful words. You can pack an encyclopedia into thirty seconds if you eliminate unnecessary chatter and focus on real substance. You can condense a two hour movie into a twenty word headline: "Kansas girl bumps her head and visits a far away land where she learns that there's no place like home." Leave the details for your novel. Brevity works best for radio.

Performance. You are not a person alone in a studio full of blinking electronics talking to a faceless crowd that you can't see. It just seems that way. Announcing is a one-to-one performance art and works just like live theater. So channel your adrenaline, get psyched to perform, then deliver the goods. Great radio performers are like stage actors -- highly aware of and stimulated by their audience. But instead of talking to a group, they focus their communication on one listener at a time. When they make eye contact with one listener in this way, all staginess and fake "DJ-isms" disappear. All plural references to the audience go away. It's just me and you, the only two people in the radio universe.

Now that you have the PREP foundation, here is a short list of things to do and things to avoid.

Whatever you do:

  1. Always prepare. The harder you work outside the studio the more you look like a genius when the red light goes on.
  2. Always make eye contact. Visualize one listener and speak directly to that person in the same tone you would use when you're talking to a close friend.
  3. Always be yourself and be real. What you say matters much more than how you sound. Think of the difference between models and actors. Actors are (or seem) real; models just look good.
  4. Always edit your speech and use fewer, more powerful words to achieve a bigger impact.
  5. Always aircheck your show and review it with a supportive coach. It's the best way to improve your craft.

Whatever you do, don't:

  1. Imitate anybody else. When you imitate you're just a copy of the original. When you are yourself, you ARE the original.
  2. Think that it's all about you. It's not. It's all about your listeners. Make them the stars and they will give you all the love you need.
  3. Do the same thing the same way every time. That's boring.
  4. Become self-conscious when you make a mistake. When it happens, which it always will, stabilize quickly and move forward. Your error will be forgotten in a moment.
  5. Forget that this is a performance. You're on stage. Get up for it.

One final word play and we'll leave the acronyms alone: LORE stands for "Learn Once, Repeat Everywhere." Learn the PREP formula -- Prepare, Rehearse, Edit, and Perform -- and whether or not you make radio announcing your life's work, you can apply this formula to every speech and every live presentation you make for the rest of your life, wherever your career path may lead you.