June 11, 2013
For almost two decades, Robert Eatman has represented air talent and helped guide their careers. In that time, the broadcasting environment has changed dramatically - both for better and for worse - which has proven to be a double-edge sword for air personalities. Here, Eatman offers his perspective on the current terrain for radio talent.
How did you go from law school to television to full-time radio personality representation?
In 1991, while I was working at Fox TV in business affairs, I started representing some radio personalities. In 1995, when I felt I had enough of a client base, I decided to concentrate on representing radio personalities, although at the time, I also represented animation writers and artists.
So who do you represent now?
Kidd Kraddick, Bert Weiss, Opie and Anthony, Jim Norton, Dr. Drew, Nick Cannon, Bean of KROQ, Ralph Garman, Clark Howard, Drex and Rover, among others.
How has the air talent role in the business, in terms of being a driver of revenue, evolved since then?
In most cases, having successful air talent is and will always be the basis of a station's success. There was a time when the PPM was first introduced when companies thought that just having the right music was more important than the personalities. Since then, the stations have reverted to the original assumption - that personalities remain the main product of the station.
How has the consolidation of radio, with the concurrent growth of voicetracking and syndication, impacted radio talent in terms of their importance to a radio station's success, and their own personal and career growth?
It depends on the personality. The personalities who are syndicated have been able to use consolidation to help spread their brand across numerous markets. As a result, the personalities who have yet to develop a strong brand are finding themselves displaced by the stronger personalities who are syndicated.
Can any air good personality develop the characteristics and qualities to become a syndicated star, or is there an innate talent involved?
Obviously, you do need considerable talent, some innate and other learned. In most, if not in all cases, syndication is preceded by dominating a home market for a sustained period of time. Once that's established, then other markets can be tested to see if the show translates elsewhere.
To succeed today, should every air talent have syndication as a goal, or can one be satisfied, both creatively and financially, in just one market?
It really depends on the personality. Some air talents can certainly be fulfilled by owning just one market - and can be very well compensated for doing just that. Others aspire to spread their brand to other markets. It is an individual decision and one that needs to consider many factors, including viability of the show given the marketplace and talent's abilities.
A common assumption in today's business is that the growing use of syndicated, voicetracking and the like -- which is used in the overnight, nights and weekend shifts that once helped new talent to hone their skills -- has lowered, if not drained, the talent pool of future air stars. Do you agree and how has that impacted your business?
It's certainly true that the "farm team" of radio personalities - the younger people who used to enter the radio broadcasting field and cut their teeth in overnight and night shifts -- is nothing like it used to be. There is a dearth of entry-level personalities in marketplaces from coast to coast. But that just means we need to look harder at the talent pools that do exist as well as pull talent from other areas of entertainment. .
It would seem that Ralph Garman is on the verge of his next career move from a morning show sidekick of sorts into a leading role. How do you know when such an air talent is ready to make that kind of move?
It depends on the circumstances. Ralph is incredibly talented and could certainly host his own show in Los Angeles or elsewhere. If a personality wants to strike out on his or her own, he or she must be willing to take risks. It may involve a market change and, of course, there's the risk of not achieving ratings success. The upside is, obviously, that the talent is credited with the success of the show and reaps the benefits, both artistically and financially.
Say you get one of your clients on a new station in a new market. Has the current PPM era -- where stations get ratings results every month, if not more frequently, instead of every three months -- prompted station management to demand success for your client's new show in a shorter period of time than in years past?
No doubt about it. Management used to be willing to give a new morning show a longer period of time to establish itself. Now they are less patient.
How do you, as the air talent's representation, deal with what can be seen as management's unreasonable demands?
I deal with each deal separately, based on the power each client has in the marketplace and the opportunities outside the market.
How does a budding personality -- whose only experience is as a sidekick, producer or on a non-primetime air shift - create and develop his or her own "brand?"
In certain ways it's easier to do that now than it was in the past because there are more avenues to exploit. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, cable, satellite, podcasting and other Internet exposure provide outlets for talent to create and spread their brand beyond their local markets - not to mention build up their audience loyalty and the size of their following.
Who, in your eyes, has really optimized their brand?
Kidd Kraddick, as a brand, has established himself on various platforms including radio syndication, digital and TV, where he's been very successful on "Dish Nation." At the same time he has built his own syndication company. Glenn Beck is another.
Do you consider the digital realm, especially when it comes to podcasting, to be a complementary ancillary to a personality's terrestrial radio strategy, or is it becoming more of an alternative to an over-the-air radio career?
Podcasting and Net radio is growing into an alternative career for a growing number of established air personalities -- and it will continue to grow in the future. Right now, though, there has been very limited success for most people in the podcasting arena. There have been a few standouts, such as Adam Carolla, Tom Leykis and a few others, but it will be very promising for other people to follow in their footsteps.
So would you recommend your clientele look into those podcasting and the like?
Some, yes. Podcasting allows the air talent to be creative in many areas that they can't pursue in terrestrial radio. It can also afford talent a work schedule that better fits their needs, as opposed to being tied down to a fixed four-hour air shift.
Bottom line: Do you feel radio air talents are better off today, or do they face more challenges in a consolidated/syndicated radio world?
It's definitely more of a challenge today for an air talent who is not well established. However, for those personalities who are well established, and who excel in their markets, I would say generally they are relatively on par with the recent past.
As a radio talent agent, though, is it harder for you to find the next generation of talent who can become the next, say, Kidd Kraddick, when opportunities for them to create their own brand and success are fewer and farther between?
It's always hard to find the next Kidd Kraddick; that kind of talent is unique. But there are avenues to explore -- such the Net, YouTube, podcasting, etc. -- that affords us the opportunity to find the next radio star.