Learning (Sort Of) From Facebook
June 24, 2011
What do people like to talk about?
I was talking about this with Johnny Wendell, who does weekends on KTLK in L.A. and a podcast for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, because he'd noticed something about the response he gets from posting comments on Facebook. When he posts something political, he gets a decent number of comments. When it's a comment or question about pop culture, he gets more comments, a LOT more. Asking, for example, what the "worst 'well-intentioned' song of all time" would be drew 115 comments with friends eager to debate whether "Imagine" was a great song or an "atrocity."
Is that something from which we can extrapolate a lesson for talk radio? Maybe, and it's not to say that political talk is dying or should be discarded, but it's more anecdotal evidence of something I've preached about here before. I think there's a huge opportunity for shows that don't just talk about the presidential race or other standard issues. This is nothing new -- I'll refrain from trotting out my resume, but, yeah, did it, like, 20 years ago -- but it's still odd to me that the stuff people REALLY talk about isn't always what I hear on the radio.
It's not just Facebook. (Or Twitter, for that matter) When you get together with friends, what are you talking about? The election? Maybe, but that puts you in the minority. No, it's your job. It's "The Voice" or "America's Got Talent." It's the NBA Draft. But it's more than just those things, or what's on TMZ. You talk about your family. You talk about the movies. You talk about your car, and the latest expensive repair you have to make. And you talk about stupid yet entertaining things like the worst song ever, or the comics you read when you were a kid. This is not the "Free FM" kind of talk, it's what most adults actually talk about and think about.
It's funny. I sometimes find myself reaching for things to say about political issues after a while; I get frustrated because you can talk and talk and ultimately solve nothing and end up where you started. But I can go on for hours about TV, or music, or sports. Especially in a struggling economy and an uncertain time, I find myself needing a break from the serious stuff. Again, I'm not suggesting that nobody should be talking about politics -- far from it -- but political talk seems to be the only option for spoken word programming most of the day, both on commercial and public radio. Okay, there's sports, too, but I live in Los Angeles and don't care for the local teams, so hearing about the Lakers Lakers Lakers Lakers Lakers Dodgers Lakers Lakers USC Dodgers Lakers all day every day is not a viable alternative for me. (Internet streaming helps. A lot.) I don't always want to hear about serious matters. I want to be entertained, and, frankly, I don't want to be thinking about the hard stuff.
And that's where the Facebook response Johnny noted comes in. Sure, it's not a scientific sample, but it seems like common sense. If talk radio as it's presently constituted pulls in maybe 10-15% of the available audience, that means there's 85-90% not listening. Maybe you don't think there's a sizeable portion of that audience that would welcome entertaining talk about the stuff that just happens to draw their interest online, and on TV, and when talking to their friends. I do. But we won't know until we try.
If you're seeking ideas for what people are talking about, or if you're looking for interesting angles on the standard talk stuff, it's all at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where you'll always find hundreds of items for discussion on the radio. This week, there's a guy suing to remove Wi-Fi from public schools, a guy hiding in a porta-potty, bad senior pranks, what people do to avoid paying tolls, what not to admit when you're applying for a job as a highway patrol officer, why potato chips are evil, grunting tennis players, why the AMA's not happy with fashion ads, one man's clever (but highly illegal) money-raising venture, why you shouldn't check your email before going to sleep, and new developments in Smell-O-Vision, and much more, including serious stuff like troop pullouts and the economy and health care and a city invaded by zombies. You'll find it all here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. This week, you'll also find "10 Questions With..." Doc Thompson, who hosts separate shows for WRVA/Richmond and WLW/Cincinnati and talks about his journey through several formats and several stations (including his long run with Lanigan and Malone at WMJI/Cleveland). You'll definitely want to read that; you'll also get all the best industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
There's more of me on Twitter at @pmsimon. I also write for, and edit, celebrity nerd Chris hardwick's Nerdist.com, and I still have my own website at pmsimon.com. That's all separate and apart from All Access, in case you're a disclaimer fan.
Next week, I'll probably be so looking forward to the following week, which I'll be taking off, that I'll just dash off something inconsequential while I head for the exit. Kinda like every other week. Or maybe it'll be the best column ever. Yeah, let's go with that for now.