This Must Be The Acceptance Stage: The Industry Finally, Sort Of, Embraces FM News-Talk
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
July 1, 2011 at 6:41 AM (PT)
Once upon a time, believe it or not, most people didn't think talk radio belonged on FM. In that paleolithic era, the cry became "FM is for music!" We know today, of course, that this attitude was remarkably short-sighted and doomed.
Okay, so that was a couple of years ago. Maybe even now, for some people. But I've been watching the reaction to the rumors about the MERLIN MEDIA stations in NEW YORK and CHICAGO and it's been interesting. Instead of the knee-jerk "FM is for music!" and "NEW YORK NEEDS a Country station!" and "I WANT A DANCE STATION!," people are kind of accepting the idea that all-News or Talk are likely to happen and make a lot of sense.
That's a good thing for spoken-word formats, not because it shows a public acceptance of talk on FM -- the public couldn't care less about formats, all they know is what they like -- as much as it shows that mindsets in the industry have changed and there's an understanding that, in order to preserve and grow the talk and news and sports formats, they have to be on the FM dial. It may be just in time, of course, for streaming to make inroads, but at least it's moving in the right direction. The launch of new spoken-word formats on FM may force established AM news, talk, and sports stations' hands to make the jump themselves. The "what do we do with the AM signal?" issue becomes a secondary issue when the competition establishes itself on the FM side.
So, is AM finally dead? Not immediately, not for the handful of full-market signals in major markets, not for maybe one or two stations in smaller markets with adequate signals, not for the good signals with great, desirable programming. But even those stations will need to migrate at some point or watch the audience die off. What to do with the AM, or how to explain to the investors why you're cutting off one revenue stream to relocate another, becomes moot when you're just trying to preserve what you already have. If the audience you want doesn't even go to AM anymore, you have to be on FM, and not on an HD2 or HD3 channel, either, but on FM that everyone can get. That's not hard to understand.
Meanwhile, we wait to see what happens with all these changing FM signals. I'm certain that the people involved know that it's not enough to just throw any old thing on FM, that you have to provide really good content, ideally geared towards the available (younger) audience, but that's not an easy thing to do. It'll be interesting to watch, whatever happens, and, for the sake of the format, you should be rooting for them to get it right. Their success will prop the door open wider for everyone else to follow.
We'll keep it short this week because you're already halfway out the door for the holiday. I'll throw in a quick plug for ALL ACCESS News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where you'll always find hundreds of items for discussion on the radio. It's here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. This week, you'll also find "10 Questions With..." RYAN HATCH, who's the guy in charge at BONNEVILLE's PHOENIX combo of FM Talk on KTAR-FM and AM Sports on KTAR-AM; he's been through the FM Talk thing in a couple of markets now and has some insight on what works. After you read that, get all the best industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to ALL ACCESS, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at King of All Nerds CHRIS HARDWICK's Nerdist.com, and peruse my personal website at pmsimon.com.
I'm taking next week off, so there won't be a column and Talk Topics will be taking a short break while I sleep a little later every day (assuming my cat allows that, which she won't). Oh, and if you're attending the CONCLAVE LEARNING CONFERENCE in MINNEAPOLIS July 13-16, I'll be moderating a panel with a bunch of top producers that Saturday morning, so stop by and say hi. Until then, If you're in the U.S., have a great 4th of JULY, and, wherever you are, enjoy the week. We'll reconvene at Talk Topics on JULY 10th.