May 4, 2012
What do you do when there's absolutely nothing to talk about? I mean, totally dry?
Okay, that's pretty much how I'm feeling today, but that's because there's no such thing as a Talk Topics column for a column about talk radio. If you people aren't doing anything that strikes me as column-worthy, I'm out of luck. WHY CAN'T YOU GET SUSPENDED OR SOMETHING SO I CAN HAVE MATERIAL? Geez, do I have to do ALL the work around here?
But enough about MY problems. Back to you. This is an election year, and if you talk about the usual politics, you shouldn't run into too many dry patches, but right now might be a little light, the part between when the nominations are wrapped up and the home stretch of the campaign. There's material, but there's a point when you kinda run out of things to say about that. In which direction can you go? Sure, you can get topics from the Talk Topics column, but I'm talking about something more than just a single topic. I'm referring to what you talk about when your main area of conversation isn't providing you with top-grade material. If you're a political talker focusing on the national scene and there's nothing new happening, what else do you talk about?
I have a few suggestions:
1. Local and state. The interesting thing about local and state politics is that someone's always pulling a fast one on the public, and it doesn't take a lot of investigation to find it. Just look around, ask yourself "what are they spending my money on?", and you're off and running. Whether it's the light rail project that dug up the road on your commute or the possibility of toll roads in your city or the universal problem of dealing with public employee pensions, there's always something there waiting to be exposed. And exposing waste and mismanagement can make for good radio.
2. Pop culture. Quick, what's the biggest story of the latter part of this week? For a lot of younger listeners, it's not the election and not anything else you'll see on the front page of CNN.com. It's "The Avengers." I'm serious. If you think that a superhero movie is not worth a mention, drive by your local multiplexes this weekend and see what's happening. This is an event, and if you're ignoring it, you're ignoring a minor cultural phenomenon. All blockbuster movies and TV shows and musical acts are like that. Frivolous? Call it what you want, but if you aren't planning on seeing "The Avengers" this weekend (or "Prometheus" or "The Dark Knight Rises" later in the year) and talking about it, whether you love or hate or are indifferent to it, you're missing something that many of your listeners are talking about. I'm not saying that literally everyone is going to see these movies or watch the top shows (after all, for all the attention "The Voice" and "American Idol" get, many of the top TV shows are the CBS procedurals that appeal to, shall we say, the mature demographics). But when millions of people are not just going to see a movie but queuing up for hours to do so and talking about them months or even a year before the premiere, that's worth some attention. (And making jokes about nerds in their mom's basements in stereotypical nasal Comic Book Guy voices? Yeah, that's real clever)
3. Your life. Some hosts are great at relating their personal lives on the air. Many -- most -- stay away from that. But if it's a concern off the air to you, it's likely going to be relatable to your audience. Household repairs aggravating you? Traffic trouble? You're a Yankee fan and Mariano Rivera's injury got you depressed? Talk about that, even if all you've ever talked about is Obama this and Romney that and insurance mandates and whatever. There are far worse topics to talk about than the things you're thinking about when you're not working. (Although, Rush and Stern aside, if your concerns are about your private jet or hosting a celebrity gathering in the Hamptons, maybe you should keep those to yourself. And if those are your concerns, you're probably not reading this, anyway, and don't need to)
4. Social media. "Trending topics" on Twitter might be useless (right now, my Twitter client is showing the top trending topics as "Justin is 1Derful," "#drunkygaga," and #ZacEfronOMG"), but there's value in watching Twitter and seeing what conversations are going on. For example, I noticed the impact of the president's "Life of Julia" website from the back-and-forth among Twitter users before it really gained traction in the news, when a flood of tweets with a #Julia hashtag began to pop up. Between Twitter and Facebook, you can get not only a sense of breaking news but a sense of whether people care about it.
So you have all that going for you if you so choose. Me? Oh, hell, I don't know. Maybe you do. After over a decade of writing about talk radio and over 25 years of working in it, I sometimes think I've hit every possible topic at least three times. If you have any ideas for future columns, by all means, send 'em along: email@example.com.
Teo short weeks to go before my annual walk to raise donations for the Revlon Run/Ralk for Women here in L.A. on May 12th, so if you haven't yet donated and you want to support the cause, please go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2012 and give what you can. Every donation is very appreciated, and fighting breast cancer and other women's cancers is a cause about which I'm pretty sure we're all of one mind. Thank you!
Also, sometime this weekend, I have a segment on "Nerdist News," a weekly show on YouTube's Nerdist Channel. I think it goes up at 3 pm Eastern on Saturday and will be available thereafter on demand. If you want to see me look very uncomfortable, go to youtube.com/nerdist and snicker at my awkwardness.
The aforementioned Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, continues to offer topic ideas and news stories and kicker items, all available for free by clicking here; 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.
Oh, and to all of you who joined us at the Worldwide Radio Summit last weekend, thank you. It was great to meet and talk to many of you. If you weren't there, plan to come next year.