Your All-Request Column: On Emergencies, AM, Traffic, And Screeners
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
June 3, 2011 at 3:29 PM (PT)
Talk radio generally doesn't take requests. Not that music radio traditionally did, either. You know the drill: take the request, tell them it's coming right up, then play whatever's already in the log. Chances are they're only requesting stuff you play all the time anyway. But talk? We tell the audience what they're going to hear, unless, that is, you're doing open phones, in which case, come on, how lazy can you be? (Don't do open phones. But that's another column)
I, on the other hand, am not on the air. If I want to do an all-request column, I can do that. So this week, bereft of inspiration, I opened the floor to topic requests on Facebook and Twitter. Some of these might make full columns in the future; thanks to all for participating. And now, for the first time, your All-Request Letter:
First suggestion: How some stations cover weather emergencies by just simulcasting TV news. Watching the storm coverage in MEMPHIS, JESSICA notes "how useless that is when it comes to someone in a car, and the dude is saying 'in this viewing area' and clearly pointing to a doppler-gonad-radar-tracker map that you, the radio listener, can't see... TV is NOT radio." Yeah, I agree, and that gets particularly annoying when I see radio stations touting how, in an emergency, they were providing a major public service when all they did was to pot up the audio from a local TV station. You can do better. And, JESSICA adds, "we still need real live people in radio studios during 'weather emergencies.'"
DAN and BRIAN also raised the issue of radio's role in emergencies, and it really reinforces the point that you can't coordinate the flow of information by letting a TV station do it for you. It's your license. If the NAB is going to use the "emergency" thing as a battering ram in the Congress, stations have to be doing more than just firing up the generator and letting the local Action Eyewitness News Doppler Force Team 4000 do the rest. I can't say that stations whose budgets don't allow for having a news department be forced to provide that, but the industry shouldn't act like all broadcasters are there for their listeners in emergencies, because they're not. And the fact that some do an amazing job covering disasters, or even day-to-day news, doesn't get the entire industry off the hook. Yes, radio can be a lifeline. Yes, several stations did just that. No, that doesn't excuse the laggards. Put together an emergency plan and be ready to use it.
JAMES asks my opinion: "Will the AM side of the dial ever be completely abandoned?" I don't think we'll see that happen in the near future, as long as there's still a way to take those licenses and make money with them. Will the band look the same in 10 or 15 years? Probably not. Will it be filled with brokered and specialty programming that nobody wants to commit an FM license to airing? Maybe. Will some smaller stations go dark? Probably.
The biggest impediment to moving Talk and Sports to FM has always been "what do we do with the AM?," meaning "how do we replace the lost revenue stream?" When that revenue stream is a trickle, you'll see the band completely dominated by brokered/ethnic/religion programming for which ratings don't matter. Before then, at least the big stations will hang on, transitioning to FM only when the numbers on AM start to look dire (which, of course, may be too late). Not that I can tell the future, but that's what I would expect.
BECCA observes the phenomenon of hearing what other people are listening to on their car radios when they use those FM transmitters, like iPods or satellite, and, yeah, I've done that. It's especially fun in heavy traffic, which we experience in epic proportions in LOS ANGELES. I've even heard "mystery stations" while running that turned out to be someone listening to SIRIUS through a wireless FM connection. Every time you hear that, it means someone isn't listening to traditional radio.
That doesn't mean radio is inexorably sliding into oblivion -- people have been using these things for years -- but it does show how terrestrial radio is not the only in-car entertainment option anymore. And if you're lucky, you can listen to some satellite radio or part of an audio book without paying anything. I know that the FCC has cracked down on overpowered FM transmitters in portable devices, but I'm surprised someone hasn't tried to form a pirate station by sending a phalanx of cars onto the freeways all driving in circles streaming programming on the same FM frequency.
Speaking of traffic, PAT wonders whether stations should just get rid of traffic reports and instead "just mention 6 or 7 parts of town and their freeways and exits and have LEXUS sponsor that." His point, of course, is that with seemingly everyone equipped with either a GPS or a cell phone with GPS capabilities, traffic reports are no longer critical. And, to an extent, that's correct, although I think that there is still a majority of people who either don't use the devices or don't have them. And are you using your cell phone as a GPS while you're listening to music with it or talking on the phone? There's still a market for "traffic and weather on the eights." There might be a day coming soon when everybody really is equipped with traffic information on demand, but we're not there yet.
I've talked about the importance of producers and screeners to the success of talk shows, and HEATH raises that issue by noting how "lots of stations go cheap on hiring (and) training screeners." For a call-driven show, screeners can make a major difference. You need someone who can recognize and eliminate bad calls, and someone who can quickly and effectively help a caller articulate his or her comment without the extraneous "love your show" stuff.
Yet radio management has never valued the position, preferring to stick interns in the booth or having the already-overworked producer double up or just hiring someone fresh out of school and dubbing them "producer/screener." And training? Here's the phone, get their name and city and put them on hold. Nothing on learning what to listen for in a caller, nothing on how to handle frequent callers or contest pigs or organized calls from interest groups. We just throw people in there and they're on their own. But until producers and screeners are treated as having valuable professional jobs rather than being lowly-paid disposable whipping-boys, that's how it'll stay.
That's it for this round; I'm just glad nobody requested that I stop writing this thing. There's always next time, though. Got something you want to see covered here? Feel free to drop me a note on (Twitter, on Facebook, or via (email whenever you have an idea for a column. It's always appreciated.
You don't need to take requests to do your show, but sometimes, you need a little help coming up with ideas. And that's what Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports provides every day, with hundreds of items from which to choose. You'll find it here, and on Twitter at @talktopics.
While you're visiting All Access, read "10 Questions With..." KFAB/OMAHA host TOM BECKA, who's established a strong presence doing local talk and also has some advice for sales reps, too. Then take advantage of the rest of All Access, where you'll find the best radio and music industry coverage in the Net News section. You can have the biggest headlines delivered to you through Twitter at @allaccess, too. There's also a ton of music news and information for all formats, and resources like the Industry Directory, forums, and much more.
I mentioned my Twitter and Facebook accounts, so you have those, and I should also point out that they're personal accounts, so you shouldn't blame All Access for them. Nor should you blame All Access for my own blog at pmsimon.com. Nor is All Access responsible in the least for my writing and editing of the "nerd culture" website Nerdist.com. It's all on me.
Next week: Two-fer TUESDAY! Commercial-free THURSDAY! Um... nah, just a missive from the talk radio convention in NEW YORK, and if you're planning to be there, come on up and say hi. But in the meantime, have a great Block Party Weekend, everybody.