Anyone Got Your Back?
February 10, 2012
One of the most important things a talk show host can have is something that's not always available. Worse, you don't know if you have it until you need it, and if it's not there, it's too late.
It's support from management. Total, unwavering support. Management that won't panic or run when the heat is on. Get that and you're lucky.
I was reminded of this when a reporter was interviewing me (I know, why would that happen, right?) about hosts with whom I worked years ago who are now big-time major-market stars. He asked me about the show, how it's changed, how it stayed the same, and at one point he asked me if I remembered having to deal with any trouble due to controversy on the air. And I told him that it was pretty much ALL controversy, to the point at which we had to put a large electrified gate at the driveway and there were threats and advertisers bailing and everything you get when you say edgy and opinionated things on the air. But what we had going for us was management -- the president of the company, the general manager, and, yeah, I'll count myself in this, too -- who understood that we'd ultimately be better off if we held our ground and backed our talent. I've worked for management that supported talent and management that didn't, and I saw the effect that had on the minds of the hosts. Knowing that your bosses will support you even if they don't always agree with what you're saying... that's enormous. Knowing that they'll capitulate or compromise your ability to speak your mind or try material that may or may not be advisable really destroys the creative impulse.
And that's not to say that if your host says something pretty indefensible, management should proclaim that it's all wonderful and accurate and great. Saying that the hosts have the right to speak freely and have their own opinions is sufficient (you know, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I'll save you the trouble of looking it up -- it was, by most accounts, Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire. EDUCATIONAL! Or maybe it was Peter Griffin on "Family Guy." Either way...). When the pressure groups threaten a boycott, you can fold or you can tell them that the hosts, right or wrong, have a right to their opinions or their senses of humor. Truth is, if management folds, that won't necessarily make the pressure groups go away. Worse, they'll know they can control the station by merely suggesting a boycott.
Look, it's easy to turn off all the controversy. Just go with the Best Variety of Your Favorite Hits of the '80s, '90s, and today (nobody's quite nailed down the right slogan for the '00s, have they?). No controversy, no bad press. No press at all, actually. But the rewards aren't as great, either, unless you're not crazy about lots more inventory, high-profile talent available for pricey live spots, and the kind of community involvement you can't get from just doing a few charity drives over the course of the year. And if you've hired someone to be opinionated and edgy, you have to let them have an opinion and be edgy. Good talk radio is going to make some people in the community angry. That is, if you're doing it right. Even if sometimes you have to wait out negative publicity and catch grief from your friends and acquaintances from time to time, the risk is worth the reward.
Whether you court controversy or play it safe, there's material aplenty for your show at Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, which offers hundreds of show topics for talk radio and can be found right here, and, for your convenience, all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. DOn't forget the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess, either.
Remember, Tuesday is Valentine's Day. Do something nice for the one you love. Waffle House is taking reservations. I'm not kidding. They are. And if your significant other doesn't think hash browns scattered, covered, diced and topped are a part of a romantic meal, maybe you should re-evaluate your relationship.