The Rules Are Dead. Long Live The Rules
April 6, 2012
On a podcast I heard the other day, the hosts were making fun of radio, more specifically "the rules" of radio. That was because, as podcasters, they don't need to follow those rules. Reset the guest? No need. Repeat the name of the show? Time checks? Nope. Phone numbers? No calls. It's liberating to be free of formatics; You can just open the mics, talk as long as you want, and be done with it.
Even in "regular" radio, the rules have changed. The PPM means that repeating the call letters ad infinitum isn't critical anymore, because you don't need the listener to recall the name of the station, or even know it, to get credit. That little pager-like gizmo does the heavy lifting. Time checks? There are clocks everywhere. Traffic and weather? There are apps for that.
As someone who used to make a living creating and teaching and enforcing talk radio formatics, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the idea of not having to fret about those rules is appealing on a creative level. Even if only subconsciously, the constant concern that you have to do all those housekeeping things like get the call letters out and the phone number and the topic reset and the guest reset and hit all of those just right can get in the way of the flow of conversation. It's unnatural to interrupt your thoughts with "Talkradio53WWWit's3:37thehealthcaremandatehasgottogo1800555TALKthat's1800555TALK." Real humans don't do that. If you can off-load that stuff to a display screen, or just assume it's not necessary anymore, why not?
Yet, sometimes it's not a bad thing to stick with the classics. For example, telling people what your name is and what station they're listening to may not be directly necessary for ratings purposes, but it does help keep your name and calls top-of-mind when a listener is looking for something to listen to. That association can't hurt. Same with doing traffic -- we assume everyone uses GPS, but they don't (really, do you always fire up the GPS app on your phone when you get into your car?). Maybe GPS is a better way of getting traffic, but there's still a huge percentage of the available listenership that doesn't, and may never, use GPS. Resetting the topic helps keep you and your listeners focused on what you're talking about. Time checks mean a lot of your listeners don't have to take their eyes off the road to glance at the clock on the dash. Giving the number, if you're taking calls, reminds people that you're interactive, that they can get in on it if they wish. None of this stuff is all that burdensome, is it?
Besides, radio still exists, and it's still by a wide margin the most frequently-used streaming audio service. If you're doing a podcast, you can discard everything if you want, but for talk radio (or, for that matter, live streams on the Internet), you still have to hold an audience and keep them engaged for long stretches of time. You still have people joining and leaving your show every minute. Most of the old tricks still apply. As long as people listen to live radio -- however you define "radio" -- there are time-tested methods to maximize audience and ratings. You can't throw them all out because a small but growing percentage of the audience is listening through means other than the receiver on their dashboard. There's value in the old ways, even in a new world.
None of this, of course, means that you don't need to find stuff to talk about for your show, whether it's on "real radio" or a podcast or streaming. 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; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. This week, we also have "10 Questions With..." KFYI and KGME (Xtra Sports 910)/Phoenix PD Neil Larrimore, and you'll also find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
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