Puppies, Rainbows, and Unspeakable Catastrophes
March 16, 2012
You know what's nice? Puppies. Puppies and rainbows and bright sunny days. They're all nice. Hugs!
Yeah, I don't feel like writing about Talk Radio's Biggest Crisis Since the Last One again. I guess I have to, but I'm doing it under protest. That's because so much of it is being used as fuel for self-proclaimed experts to pontificate about the Future of the Format, which is interesting insofar as none of these experts were pontificating about this stuff three weeks ago. Think about that: Three weeks ago, it was all about which stations were adding FM simulcasts and how spoken-word radio is growing. Then Rush Limbaugh inexplicably gets his needle stuck on "slut" and the people anointed as experts are jumping on the industry's still-warm corpse.
The truth is somewhere in between, but the truth, in coverage of this thing, hasn't always been paramount. Take the articles about Rush's loss of advertisers. Mainstream media organizations are taking their numbers from politically-motivated organizations, and the numbers include the "no-buy" lists as if all of those advertisers a) are pulling their ads from Rush or b) are reacting to the Sandra Fluke incident. Nobody seems to be reporting that the "no-buy" lists have been in place for a long, long time. There were lists of advertisers who directed their agencies not to place them in Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh shows back when I was programming, which was in the Pleistocene Epoch. And there was the flurry of articles about how Rush's show had lost almost ALL its advertisers and was airing dead air and PSAs, which nobody pointed out was because the monitors were listening to the Internet stream, on which paid spots are covered up with PSAs (and which, because the radio industry continues not to care enough about digital, is prone to technical glitches and dead air because nobody's paying attention). It took John Mainelli's patient monitoring of the actual over-the-air WABC to note that, while it was clear that a lot of Rush's regular advertisers appear to be absent and more lower-tier sponsors are in evidence, there ARE paid spots and not dead air. (There's also the issue of Premiere's barter hiatus, which makes it harder to figure out who bailed and who's coming back) The advertising story won't be completed in the first few weeks after the Great Verbal Disaster; it'll take a while before we know the long-term consequences. But "too early to tell" makes for a lousy newspaper article.
While radio only seems to get attention from other media and the general public when a scandal hits, we can at least take some comfort, or make a little bit of lemonade from the lemons, in that radio is getting attention for once. Larry Wachs of Atlanta's Regular Guys show (full disclosure: he worked for me in L.A.), reacting to someone's comment in another trade, said in a Facebook post, "So... one of the top stories in the news media for the past 3 weeks straight is about a guy on the RADIO! and what he said on the RADIO! and this is bad? Heaven forbid anyone should pay attention to what's happening on the RADIO!" Well, yeah. It's not GOOD attention, to be sure, but it's interesting that so many people think that, for whatever reason, what some guy said on the radio matters so much. It goes back to something I wrote recently, the need for management and ownership to understand that while it's not always going to be pretty (and, in the Rush case, it can get downright ugly), when people are talking about you, it means talk radio DOES matter as a medium, even if, at heart, what a host says doesn't have the same import as what an elected official says. If talk radio's influence has waned or the medium's gotten too old or "everybody I know isn't listening," the reaction says otherwise. If the medium is really irrelevant, so would be the things people say on it.
The wounds are still fresh, of course, and that means we'll continue to see a quick trigger for a while when a host touches a verbal third rail. Yet that's always been the case in the industry (remember, the John and Ken thing happened BEFORE Rush) and there'll be more of that. But when people rush to make pronouncements about the future of the medium based on one incident, even one involving arguably the industry's biggest name, it helps to take a step back, maybe take a deep breath, and remember that talk radio isn't one man and one show and one style, and what's happening now may not -- or may, but we don't really know that right now -- be a harbinger of anything cataclysmic for talk radio. The experts don't really know any more than you do. And think about puppies and rainbows, because you really need to watch your blood pressure.
Whether you plan to change your show to talk about nothing but rainbows and puppies or you'll be sticking with politics, sports, or anything else, Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, is where you'll find hundreds of topic ideas and news stories and kicker items available for free by clicking here, and all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. You'll also find an entertaining "10 Questions With..." KKOH/Reno PD and host DAN MASON, and, as always, you'll also find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Thank you to the people who've donated thus far to my annual walk to raise money for the fight against women's cancer at the Revlon Run/Ralk for Women here in L.A. on May 12th, but COME ON DONATE EVERYBODY RIGHT NOW GO GO GO!!! Wait, that's a little aggressive. But please go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2012 and give what you can. Thank you!