10 Questions with ... Michael Graham
July 9, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started as a part-time fill-in host on WBT-AM in Charlotte, NC in 1998. In 1999, I got my first full-time gig on Clear Channel's WSC-AM in Charleston, SC, and eventually worked for Clear Channel stations in Richmond, VA and Washington DC before going to WMAL-AM in Washington, DC.
After being fired amid controversy from WMAL, I was almost immediately picked up by Greater Media's WTKK-FM. I worked there nearly eight years before the station flipped formats in 2013.
That's when I launched the New England Talk Network, where I host a daily show noon-3pm.
1. Your new show is on a (growing) collection of AM stations in the Boston/central New England area. What made you decide to go in this direction rather than go Internet-only or move to another market at this time?
Greater Media's decision to shut down the only FM talk station in Massachusetts meant that, in less than 18 months, Boston has gone from three full-time commercial talk stations to one.
The industry is betting that there's not enough interest in talk -- center/right talk in particular -- to do any more. I believe they've created a huge opportunity, that talk fans and non-liberal media consumers are so hungry to keep the conversation alive that they'll do the hard work of hunting it down and finding it.
So I teamed up with Kurt Carberry of Carter Broadcasting (AM 830 WCRN Worcester) and Barry Armstrong of Money Matters Radio (AM 1120 Concord/AM 1390 Plymouth-Cape Cod/AM 970 Southbridge) to launch New England Talk Radio and the return of the Michael Graham show. Six weeks after the format flip, I was back on the air in New England. Since then we've added two more stations (AM 1110 Salem, NH and AM 1460 WXBR Brockton/South Shore), and we've got a very big announcement coming in August.
2. What were the challenges of bringing the audience you had at 96.9 to your new location? How did you get the word out, and how do you market the show to reach people who might not know you're back?
Early in my radio career, I took the advice of people like Randall Bloomquist and Perry Michael Simon and exploited new media as much as possible. As a result, I had nearly 10,000 twitter followers and more than 9,000 FB fans when WTKK shut down. I also had around 75,000 unique visitors a month at MichaelGraham.com
I used social media to get the word to New England Talk fans that I was back on the air. I also created a very easy-to-use, no download online radio player: www.michaelgraham.com/radio so any listener with a smartphone or tablet could have one-click listening at their fingertips.
And I'm also having great success with my podcast: the entire show is posted daily before 4pm--ads and all-- so people who used to listen on the ride home can still take me along for their afternoon drive--once again, with a single click: www.michaelgraham.com/podcasts
3. You've been in the Boston market for some time now after being mostly in southern or south-adjacent (Washington) markets. What differences and similarities are there in the Boston talk radio audience from those in your previous markets? Are there topic areas that work in Boston that wouldn't work elsewhere?
The unifying principle of talk radio, from Birmingham to Boston, is the desire for people to have some place they can tell the truth. Not get angry or release their inner racist or any of the false stereotypes that were used by New England liberals to pressure WTKK to abandon talk radio. People just want to have the honest, funny and irreverent conversation in public that they're having at the bar or over coffee at the diner.
In a bizarre cultural twist, the South has become a bastion of wide-open speech while liberal New England is in P.C. lockdown. The topics that resonate the most in Massachusetts revolve around regular, working families trying to make this tax-crazy, big-government, anti-common-sense Commonwealth.
4. After appearing on George Hook's show on Newstalk in Ireland for several years, what has the reception been there for you and your way of thinking? Three years ago, you said that you thought they're getting used to you; have they gotten there yet? How have things changed in the years since you first went on the air there?
When I first started my weekly appearances on Newstalk in Ireland, it was pure "freak show" radio: "Come see the amazing conservative--he walks, he talks, he likes George W. Bush. Listen to this weirdo say POSITIVE things about US foreign policy...and be amazed!"
Interestingly, after the financial meltdown of the EU, the bailouts and government-backed screw jobs of the Irish, I've had a surge in ideological popularity. I hear from more and more Irish listeners who say "I don't know what's wrong with me, but you're starting to make sense!" (I suspect it's the heavy drinkingâ€¦)
Most important, there's an interest in Ireland to hear more diverse opinions and ideas that wasn't there before. Americans forget -- Europeans don't have the First Amendment and, frighteningly, they don't WANT it.
5. How do you approach using social media in conjunction with your show -- is it a show prep tool, a means of engagement with the audience, or something else?
I specifically did not name my network the "New England Talk RADIO Network." Because listeners really don't care where they're getting your content. They just want it quick, easy and entertaining.
When WTKK flipped, I assumed that my new media numbers would sag or, at best, hold steady. Instead I went from fewer than 10, 000 twitter followers to more than 12,000 in a couple of months. The same with Facebook and web traffic, too.
I live and die on social media. I use it to drive cume, to solicit topics -- I even have a Michael Graham listener's club where members and I hang out in "The Dick Cheney Undisclosed Location" chat room during the show so I can get real time feedback.
6. The last few years have not been good to conservatives in national elections, and there was a perception that the tide had turned, at least demographically, towards liberalism. In light of the controversies hitting the administration in the last several weeks, do you think that the tide might be turning back the other way? Are you optimistic about Republican or conservative chances in 2016?
Talk hosts like Rush and Sean have paid a price for carrying water on behalf of the GOP -- and they deserve it. Talk radio as a tool of a specific political party never made sense. It's a medium that addresses the imbalance of power between political/cultural elites -- Democrat AND Republican--and the average person who still believes in fairness and common sense.
When the GOP leadership joins the Obama administration and tries to jam amnesty down the throats of working Americans who play by the rules, talk radio should be out front leading the fight -- not making nice with Marco Rubio.
7. Speaking of optimism and/or pessimism, there's been a lot of doom-and-gloom talk about talk radio, and in Boston, the demise of your former station (as well as Clear Channel's stab at the format there) was included in that. Do you see talk radio growing again? Are things as dire as people might think, or will talk radio endure?
I don't believe in talk radio. I believe in spoken-word content. It's working on radio, on cable TV, on podcasts, on the web and on audio books. The key is to match up revenue with your costs, without screwing up the content. Cheap isn't inherently bad or good. But content that sucks, at any price point, is a guaranteed loser.
8. Since we're on an every-three-years cycle here, where do you hope to find yourself three years from now? Ten years?
Three years from now, I hope to have a radio network that reaches from New York to Newfoundland, keeping at least one alternate voice to the dominant liberal media alive in the bluest corner of the country.
Ten years? I want to be on the air mocking Democrats' promise that ObamaCare is finally going to be fully enacted NEXT year -- "and this time, we really, really mean it!"
Or, at the very least, a job that doesn't involve the phrase "want fries with that."
9. Now, looking in the opposite direction: They always say that with age comes wisdom. You're not old, but what would you say has been the greatest benefit of your, well, added experience? How are you different now, if at all, from the Michael Graham of ten years ago? Of twenty years ago?
When I first started doing talk radio, I thought it was my job to make every story so outrageous and shocking that people would be compelled to listen. Today I realize that what's really going on in the world is so outrageous and shocking that simply telling the truth about cause life-threatening attacks of angina.
My new mantra is "Talk less, say more."
10. Finally, an easy one. What's Michael Graham doing in his leisure time: What are you watching on TV these days? What are you reading? What are your cultural recommendations?
When you're hosting a three hour show and running your own network and trying to have a family life, there's not a lot of spare time. I squeeze in a maduro-wrapped Padron and a glass of Bushmill's "Three Woods" as often as possible.
And if "Suits" returns to USA Network this month just half as well-written as the previous seasons, it will be the best show on TV.