January 4, 2013
Sometimes, I think I missed the boat on really monetizing this "talking about talk radio" racket. I'm about to give you my observations about the state of the industry as we enter 2013, and you're getting it free. What I should have done is declare myself an expert, put my random thoughts and speculation in a nice bound volume or behind a paywall, and charged for it. Shows you how forward-thinking I am.
Anyway, I'm not sure that there'd be a market for it, anyway, not because my expertise is questionable -- it is, but so is everyone else's -- but because I'm seeing too much evidence that people in control of talk radio don't care about anything these days. This might just be my frustration after listening to a lot of radio over the holiday break when the people in charge might have been on vacation, but... well, here:
-When Newtown happened, I heard one major station near the scene stick with syndicated talk programming while practically every other station, including stations out here in L.A., bailed from regular programming to do intensive coverage of the shootings. That one station was the one I assumed would be all over it, but it was very late, and when it finally did something, it was to flip on network coverage, not local. If someone cared about providing coverage of major news in their backyard, I didn't hear it at that moment.
-That syndicated host was ranting about Obamacare while the entire world was focused on the school shooting. Maybe he didn't know, but someone in that building should have. If you care about being on top of what your audience wants to know and wants to hear, someone has to have an eye on the wires, on news sites, on TV news. If, that is, you care.
-I heard talk stations airing wildly inappropriate promos for the format, stuff like concert promos geared towards the Top 40 audience or, on a sports station's stream, canned gossip segments straight out of a Top 40 morning show. Time was that stations cared about everything that went out over their air, including the quality and appropriateness of spots and promos. Now, nobody cares.
-It would be repetitive of me to talk again about the kind of hosts talk radio SHOULD be seeking versus who IS being hired; during the holidays, some of the fill-ins I heard gave me the impression that whoever made the decision to use them, well, didn't care, but I'm also getting the impression that a lot of decision-makers just don't have the ability to recognize good talent when they hear it. Caring might not factor into that.
-I have a new, state-of-the-art car radio, and it has -- yes -- HD Radio. Again, I don't want to be repetitive, but, for the love of Marconi, if you're transmitting a signal, will you please pay attention to all the details, like whether there's proper text going out with the HD signal and on RDS, or whether the technology even works? The industry keeps touting HD, there are more OEM HD receivers in cars, and the product is... annoying, from the constant cut-outs and flipping back and forth from analog to digital to the tinny, flat audio and poor use of the text capabilities. I know, HD isn't doing well enough, it seems, to care about it, but if you're sending out a product, even if there are only a handful of people using it, someone SHOULD care.
Add to that the stuff we've talked about before about how talk radio is missing the boat on younger generations of listeners and you'd assume I'm not optimistic about talk radio, right? Not so fast. Maybe I'm not optimistic, but I'm not giving up, either. There's still hope, whether it's the growth of sports radio, the success of all-news stations, the success of some FM talk outlets, or good hosts doing good, relevant shows all over the country and in syndication, too. And while I still believe that other media, including podcasts and streaming and video, are going to continue to eat into talk radio's market share, I don't see talk radio going away, either.
I was trying to put a finger on what makes that so when I heard a good argument on, naturally, the radio. On Don Geronimo's show in Sacramento this morning, comedian Greg Proops, a successful stand-up comic who's done a lot of television and has a well-received podcast, was asked why he likes to do fill-in work on "real" radio, and his response was instant: "Immediacy," he said. "It's right there, people call in." And, well, that. There's immediacy in social media, too, but it's not the same and it's highly inconvenient when you're driving or exercising or doing anything where you can't sit and read. When Newtown happened, you could get the story in a million places, but on the radio, you could hear the voices of people like yourself reacting in real time. On the NFL's "Black Monday," when coaches were getting the axe all over the league, local sports radio was where you could hear fan reaction in a way that doesn't translate to any other medium. It's a different kind of conversation from the time-delayed one-way talk of a podcast or the 140 characters of Twitter. (And if streaming is the same as talk radio, well, yeah, the delivery mechanism isn't the thing so much as the content) There's still a difference between reading tweets and hearing an entertaining host and callers and guests on the radio. As long as talk radio remembers to talk in a timely manner about things listeners actually care about in an entertaining way, it'll survive and even prosper.
Did I say nobody cares? Scratch that. Some people care. I care. And if someone cares, then there's room for optimism.
What, it's time for the plugs? It's been so long, I've forgotten how to do it. Wait, how's this?: You can find hundreds of topics for discussion on finer talk shows at All Access' own show prep bonanza Talk Topics by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. You can also follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon. And there's my other job: I edit and write for the Nerdist.com website, home of pop culture stuff that should satisfy your inner nerd.
Next week, I'll be writing from the International CES (that's Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. I understand that there'll be some interesting things happening that will be relevant to your interests. Look for my coverage at All Access' Net News, because I care....