Ever wondered what a radio show host is thinking, how they choose the guests they choose, what they look for in a guest and how to get asked back? In today’s post, I interview Robin Kall, host of Reading with Robin on WHJJ Providence.
I first met Robin at the Anniversary Party for Reading with Robin. I was struck by her warmth and wit and immediate invitation to be a guest on her show, despite the fact that she covered more fiction than how-to books. I’ve been on the show several times since then, including a special book club show where we discussed Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and I got to ask Sue my burning questions about her book.
Lisa: How did you get started doing your show?
Robin: I started on-air career as a caller to The John Depetro Show. When I first started calling in I was nervous but as the calls became more and more frequent lasting for longer amounts of time I became comfortable with being on-air and was eventually invited into the radio station. I was hooked. Several months later I was asked to do a couple of fill-in hours for John’s show and once I felt comfortable with the radio persona I pitched an idea to the program director about hosting my own show. As an avid reader who loves to talk, the idea for Reading with Robin was a natural!
Lisa: How many books do you get in a typical week?
Robin: About 15-20 unsolicited books and 5 or so that I request.
Lisa: How do you even choose which ones to consider? What questions are you asking as you select what to read?
Robin: For the most part I’m considering the ones I’ve requested. After so many years of doing the show the publishers I work with have a sense of what I’m looking for and have me on those types of book lists. I open up every one of those book envelopes that arrive.
If it’s one I haven’t requested I look it over and see if there’s something about it that piques my interest. It might have blurbs (author quotes) by authors I’m familiar with and those I’ll take a closer look at. If it’s a non-fiction topic I haven’t covered and that’s relevant I’ll take a closer look.
For the most part my show is aimed at a female audience and I’m a huge fiction reader. That’s not to say I don’t consider YA titles and children’s books. I do those from time to time. I also prefer to work with major publishers for the most part, but there are exceptions. I’m only on for one hour per week. I could easily fill 20 hours weekly with great books except that my show is not 20 hours and I’d never be able to read that many books as I have a full life away from the radio show.
After hosting for almost 9 years I have a strong sense of what my audience is hoping for when they tune in on a Saturday morning. I often ask myself if this is something I’d want to listen to. If I’m not excited about a guest, it would come through loud and clear!
Lisa: And your passion really shows. I am one of the lucky nonfiction authors you’ve interviewed! When deciding who to interview, is it all about the book or also about the author and how well they interview?
Robin: With some first time guests, I have no idea how they’ll interview. Sometimes the book is an indication of the type of guest they’ll be but not always. There have been a few surprises over the years. It always works out fine as there is always something interesting to pull from a conversation.
If I notice someone’s writing personality isn’t jumping out into the airwaves, all I need to do is mention animals and for the most part the conversation takes an immediate spike in enthusiasm or more of a comfort level. I remind authors before the show that the show is conversational, laid back and just to think of it as chatting with a friend on the phone.
Lisa: And you really put authors at ease. It comes across. How often do you have guests back? Who have you had back more than once and why?
Robin: The guests I’ve had back are the writers I enjoy who often are putting out books if every year or every other year—Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Claire Cook, Alice Hoffman, Allison Pace, Elizabeth Berg, Courtney Sullivan and the list goes on.
I happen to love having on a debut novelist and there is plenty of room on my show for those. Often authors will email about a new author they have come across and sometimes these authors will share an agent or publisher.
If it’s a writer I respect I will always take a look. Most authors understand the time limitations but I never want to miss out on a great title. In order to fit in more interviews I will sometimes tape a segment during the week and air those on my website.
Lisa: What’s your advice to new authors who want to get interviews? How can they increase their odds of being chosen as a guest? (if they can)
Robin: Do not be a nudge.
Lisa: What advice can you give writers to make their interview juicy and compelling? As a host, what makes the best guests?
Robin: I like to talk off-topic of the book. Something might strike me during conversation and we might go in another direction. I always get back to the book/topic but I think it’s fun to chat about things that might be unexpected. This is not an NPR-type interview. I add in humor whenever possible and mostly it’s well-placed.
Lisa: Yes, I think that’s part of what makes your interviews so popular–the conversational style and the suprises that come up. Anything else you want to add?
Robin: I have a big author event coming up on Wednesday, Sept. 21st. This is my annual fundraiser to kick off the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Details are still being worked out but so far Courtney Sullivan is confirmed to come. Authors in the past have included Jennifer Weiner, Claire Cook, Tom Perrotta, Ann Hood, Jane Green. It’s always a fabulous event and grows each year. If you’d like an evite please send me an email at email@example.com
Lisa: Local readers of this blog can attend Robin’s event and rush home for the Birth Your Book: Inspiration to Published Author call at 8:30pm! Robin, thanks for all this great information. I’d like to open this up for readers now and invite you to ask your questions and Robin will answer! Feel free to share comments as well.