Stepping Up Your Station Operations
by Bob Duthaler, Executive Board, Chair
Part of JAG’s ongoing effort is to educate stations on strategies which can help them operate a better station. We have been focusing on those efforts through our online Managers Roundtable Discussions and during our monthly meetings with our discussion topics. These are specifically designed for members to learn from other members, take away some of their success stories and incorporate them into their own station operations. This collaborative effort is the driving force behind JAG and one of the main reasons why this organization was founded.
Are You Scheduled For A Change?
In our last Manager’s Roundtable discussion, we explored programming your station. How to incorporate regularly scheduled programs, one-offs, meetings, outside content and more. I will recap some of the discussion here. I urge you to visit the Members Only section of the JAG Website (https://jagonline.org/recorded-webinars/) where you can go back and re-watch these sessions or see them for the first time. A great member benefit!
Meeting coverage seems to be at the heart of stations that participated in the conversation. One of the things that most of them noticed was the change in the way we covered these during the pandemic and how we are covering them now. You have heard me say this numerous time… these last couple of years have been “The Year of Live”. What exactly do I mean by that? Simply stated, we found ways to go live with our meeting coverage. Perhaps it was live coverage of a meeting in a council chamber with members spread out over six feet apart with no public in attendance. Others went live with Zoom meeting directly to air. Some even shared how they incorporated a hybrid method. However it was done, it was done live. So herein lies our first challenge, scheduling live meetings. I know from my experience, we recorded meetings in the past and then aired them at a later day and time. All that had to change, interrupting our tried-and-true schedule for over 15 years!
Scheduling live programs (meetings, sports, or events) comes with its own challenges. Everything from getting a signal back to the station broadcast server, equipment involved, and the time dedicated to kicking off a live program, keeping an eye on it during and then helping program off-air. I am not going to address the technical operation of covering a live event in this article, as this was not part of our programming discussion. We can save that for a future event. I would like to focus on scheduling a live event, time constraints and pre-empting programs. When scheduling a live program, how much time do you allot? What if it goes over and interferes with other shows already scheduled? Do I not schedule anything beyond the live event? These are the challenges of live programming, but there are solutions. First, you can use history as a guide for setting up a live programming time block. This will allow you to estimate the programming time that needs to be allotted to cover this event. Sounds easy enough, but this is live TV. What do you do when you have programs scheduled beyond the time slot you scheduled for your live program, but there appears to be no end in sight? Good thing our broadcast server partners have already thought of this as well. There are features on most servers that allow you to lock in your live event and let it pre-empt regularly scheduled programs. There are ways to do squeeze backs with messages letting views know that the next scheduled program will be delayed. There are solutions for live programming and work arounds during programming interruptions.
It’s not all about live programs. The key to creating a “must tune in” schedule is to offer your audience programs they are interested in watching, providing them new content on a regular basis and as much original content as possible. I am going to work backwards on this. Obviously, creating original content is key. As many of your township’s events and original programming you can air the better. The key is to now find a time slot in your schedule in which people can tune in and know that they are going to watch a local program. If you can create a series from a local show (i.e.: Mayor’s Talk Show, Health Department Show, etc.) , then there is another regular time slot for shows. But there is a limit to how much you can do. This is where your JAG membership pays off. There are so many stations and independent producers who are part of JAG that have shared their programs on the JAG Connect Server. I urge you to go through the content, locate a series and make it part of your schedule…just like that you have filled in another time slot. Take advantage of exercise shows, cooking shows, children’s programming and so much more. You will find that these shows can fill in slots in your schedule in which you were just airing bulletin boards. By creating a regular programming schedule, you invite your audience to come back time and time again.
Not Your Dad’s Bulletin Boards
During our last General Membership Meeting we discussed stepping up your bulletin boards. This discussion was not recorded, as we never did that in the past, but it does bring about the thought of doing this in the future. Let me know if this is something you would like to see happen. But I digress. I am sure many of you remember the early days of bulletin boards. Perhaps you were using a character generator, early version of Scala or even creating graphics with clip art and text inside of PowerPoint (dramatic pause) … wait, some of you are still doing this? Now is as good a time as any to re-examine your bulletin board operation. I am going to go through a few things to keep in mind and some resources as well.
There are a lot of template designs available out there, take advantage of them. Most can be adjusted to allow for color changes, logo insertion and more. Try locating these templates and utilize them for a different look and feel. Most bulletin board vendors have these available with their system. Font selection and sizing is another important thing to keep in mind. You need to realize that these graphics you create are being seen on various sized screens, from cell phones to large flat screen televisions. Too much text and too small of a font will make it difficult for viewers to read your message. You need to also keep in mind font color choices. Since a lot of our stations still broadcast in SD from an analog feed, certain colors like red and bright white can cause bleeding or unwanted “noise” during your broadcast. Some of this may be trial and error.
There is nothing worse than a bulletin board system without audio. Nothing will make someone change the channel faster than when there is no audio. There are several ways to add music to your bulletin board system, from royalty free music sources, cable company music feeds or music streams. Find a source that works for you, that you feel comfortable about using, and that residents in your service area will find appealing. Look to your bulletin board vendor for the best ways to introduce music to your system for playout during bulletin board playout.
Why not work on creating zones in your bulletin board playout. This type of layout is now common and the preferred way to design your bulletin boards. Think of the different types of sources you can now put in those zones. Larger zones are ideal for your announcements. Perhaps you add some side-bar weather graphic next. Why not create a lower zone area in which you can have your logo, and a time and date stamp along with a news feed. If you search RSS feeds in your area, you may find some good sources to use. Why not speak to your local newspaper or online news source for their RSS feed was well? With a little research, a phone call, or an email, you may find sources to use as a news ticker feed.
Finally, I will leave you with a few other things we discussed. Think of adding full screen weather graphics with motion. How about some PSAs? There are so many, along with specific campaigns available through the Ad-Council. Create an account for your station and start downloading lots of free PSA videos to run. Add in your own station promos as well. All these items help to break up the bulletin board and enhance its look and feel. You can approach this with a complete overhaul of your bulletin board or slowly add in different updates. The choice is yours. For those who really want to take their bulletin boards to the next level, think of exploring paid services that can give you extra content for your bulletin boards. Items like trivia, top 10 lists, stock updates, additional news feeds and much more. Making changes to your bulletin boards or creating a consistent programming schedule are just a couple of the things you can do to enhance your station. If you start to incorporate these changes, and promote them across other media sources and social media, you will attract new viewers and help to keep the ones you have engaged and coming back. I urge you to visit the Members Only section of the JAG Website (https://jagonline.org/recorded-webinars/ ) where you can view any of the Managers Round Table discussions we have held that are designed to help you better operate your station.