The Foam Hat Principle
July 20, 2012
My sister and I have a phrase we use that came to mind Friday morning when the news of the Aurora, Colorado shootings broke. It's just two words: "Foam Hat." And here's its genesis:
We were kids and walking through Willowbrook Mall one day when I saw a enormous woman wearing a gigantic pink foam cowboy hat. You couldn't miss it. She practically filled the mall, and she was glowing. I turned to my sister and said, "wow, did you see that?" And she said:
I swear to this day that it was practically impossible to NOT see that hat. And we've abbreviated it to "Foam Hat," shorthand for something that's so obvious that it's impossible to avoid.
This morning's news was a Foam Hat for news and talk radio. It was one of those stories that transcends location and trumps everything else out there. I thought it was a story that every single talk show and news block HAD to deal with to the exclusion of everyone else. So, setting out on my morning run, I decided, after listening to the coverage from KOA in Denver, to check what other news and talk stations were doing around the country, expecting to hear every show going wall-to-wall with the breaking news.
Unfortunately, several stations didn't see the Foam Hat.
Oh, they had the story in the top-of-the-hour news, but I heard one station talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act, several discussing the continuing saga of Mitt Romney's tax returns, and one even talking about the Emmy Nominations, at that point 24 hours old. Meanwhile, people waking up to the horrific news from Aurora were turning to their trusted news sources and finding... what? Consumer news? Political talk? You're facing competition from TV and websites and social media and you're talking about Emmy nominations?
Maybe it's just my irritation after two weeks on the road at conventions, but you can't have a staff -- hosts, producers, news, PDs, anyone -- who can't see the Foam Hat when it's in front of them. There has to be someone in the building to make the call when they see a huge story break. Someone has to say that a particular story is so big that you can't talk about anything else for a while. Someone in the station hierarchy has to make the call that if the syndicated show you're running isn't talking about the only story that matters, the plug gets pulled from it for the morning and you go local or jump onto your news network's coverage (all of the news networks were feeding coverage). There's no excuse not to have had something about the shooting. None.
I'm pleased to say that several -- most -- stations DID have coverage of the incident. Some were taking calls on various angles, from the talk radio third rail of gun control to wondering why very young kids were in the audience at midnight. News blocks had network feeds or local "experts" (although I have yet to hear an expert with a coherent, sane thought on this story, but that's another thing).
But the percentage of stations talking about by far the biggest news story of the week should have been 100%. If your station didn't talk about it, your audience went looking for it someplace else, whether to your competitor or to the Web or to streaming or, most likely, to Twitter and Facebook. You can't let that happen. You have to see the Foam Hat when it's right in front of you.
The convention schedule played a little havoc with my Talk Topics updates at All Access News-Talk-Sports, but there are still a lot of items there offering lots of material for any kind of show; you'll find it by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. There's also "10 Questions With..." Steve Trevelise, who's been a fixture on the radio and comedy scenes in the Philadelphia area for years and is now hosting evenings at my old station, New Jersey 101.5. And you'll find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, read the pop culture stuff I write and edit (yes, this is why I'm at Comic-Con) over at Nerdist.com, and watch the videos on the Nerdist Channel at YouTube. Also pmsimon.com for the occasional flash of inspiration.
We're wrapping up the The Conclave Learning Conference in Minneapolis Friday (7/20), and it's been nice to see everyone who attended. If you did, you might have seen the panel I moderated with syndicated hosts George Noory, Todd Schnitt, Andy Dean, and Jim Brickman, and, yes, there were some fireworks. I'd have written about that this week, but a) you should have been there, and b) I know a Foam Hat when I see it.