August 31, 2012
To which medium did you turn for discussion of the Republican National Convention?
If you said you were too busy watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," that's okay, I won't judge you. (I'm not sure whether having a choice between a political convention and reality TV isn't a curse enough as it is) But if you were interested in politics, where did you turn for analysis and to hear what both experts and the general public were thinking?
Did you say radio? Funny, I didn't. It's 2012, and the discussion, of course, has moved to social media, which is where i found people went to make their comments on Clint Eastwood and Clint Eastwood's Chair and everything else happening in Tampa. Radio? Not as much as it used to be. Myself, while I was trying to actively avoid the convention (you know how I just LOVE any convention), when my Twitter and Facebook feeds blew up with comments and jokes, I couldn't stay away.
And that illustrates talk radio's changing role. It's still a viable format for discussion of the day's events, but, especially for the younger end of the target demos, there's competition. That competition -- social media -- has the advantage of being totally open at the same time it's customizable, since you hear from only the people you choose (and those they choose to retweet). It's immediate. It's a conversation between more than just a host and a caller. Anyone can play. And when a topic spawns its own meme -- surely, you've seen the Eastwooding pictures by now -- it can become very entertaining in its own way.
So, how does talk radio get back in that conversation? I don't think it's by going to the event and doing Radio Row interviews. I'm not sure what radio shows gain by that. You get assembly-line interviews with a selection of the Usual Suspects -- Congressmen and pundits, mostly -- and it's largely boring. Listeners don't really care that you're there, and all they know is that you're droning on with Congressman Anonymous about how excited everyone is there, or that you're complaining that your hotel's too far away from the arena. Is going to the convention serving your show and listeners or is it just a networking opportunity for when you decide at long last to run for State Assembly? If it's the latter, maybe it's time for you to make that move and forget the radio show. And if it's to get photo ops and gladhanding moments with politicians, I don't know what to say to you, because, ideally, you're not the politicians' friend. You're supposed to represent the audience, the people. Going to a political convention is fraternizing with the enemy, no matter whether it's your favored party or not. You can't represent your audience's best interests while palling around with Senators and campaign advisors. (Oh, and to the hosts I've heard talking about what "we" have to do to win in November -- who's "we"? Because if it's either party or candidate, and you really are referring to them as "we," it's like referring to your favorite football team as "we." They couldn't care less about you, the politicians or the athletes. You aren't on their team at all. And you shouldn't be on anyone's team)
What a show SHOULD be doing is be ahead of the game. If it's hot on Twitter, and you weren't already talking about it, you're late. You need to be aware of that chatter, but you need to be on to the next thing. Allowing social media to drive your show is missing the point. It needs to be the other way around. Your show should be driving social media. Twitter and Facebook users should be talking about YOU, and what YOU'RE talking about. Think that's impossible? Do the leg work. But that means digging into the news to find stuff about which people aren't yet aware -- like how their wallets will be affected by something a candidate is proposing, or what the state legislature is doing that would outrage them if they knew about it. It's not new -- 20 years ago, my old station found great success with topics that weren't topics until WE brought them up, from outrage at yet another tax hike to trying to get rid of the tolls on our toll roads. We reflected public sentiment, but we led the discussion.
That's the kind of thing you can do that would drive conversation on both radio and social media. And that's very different from just following the lead of the social media conversation. Social media can be complimentary and supplemental to talk radio, but it's also competition. And when it's providing something of which talk radio used to be the primary provider, talk radio has to up its game.
What? You're still here? It's Labor Day weekend! Go barbecue something! Meanwhile, I'll remind you that when you get back, you'll find plenty of leading-edge stuff to talk about at Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports. Click here for that, and follow Talk Topics at Twitter at @talktopics for direct links to every entry. Also, you'll find "10 Questions With..." TSN Radio 990/Montreal morning co-host Ted Bird, who's been a mainstay of that market for decades and has a lot to say about the business, plus, as always, you'll find industry news first/fastest/best at Net News, which you can also follow on Twitter at @allaccess.
Follow me! @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon. Read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and watch the Nerdist Channel at YouTube, where today you'll find "Chris Hardwick's All Star Celebrity Bowling" featuring Team Doctor Who, and it's a blast.
Okay, NOW go enjoy the long weekend.