Fake Dead Topic
January 18, 2013
How do you know when something's such a big story that you ought to drop whatever other topics you have lined up for your show and focus exclusively on the breaking news? We went through this with the Newtown shooting, and at the time I mentioned how at least one major station near the tragedy was slow to the story (and the syndicated talker they instead aired also failed to notice the story right away). This week, we had another example, and the moment I heard about it, I wondered if talk radio would respond.
I first heard about the Manti Te'o news on Twitter. Someone -- I don't recall who -- tweeted a link to the Deadspin article shortly after the piece was posted, and I clicked through to find a jaw-dropping story that I knew was going to erupt; sure enough, after I hastily linked to it myself at Talk Topics, Twitter had one of its periodic meltdowns when it seemed practically every tweet was about one thing and only one thing. It was practically instantaneous. Radio? Oh, yeah, radio, I thought, I should check to see if radio's on this.
The scorecard was mixed. Sports radio seemed to be all over the story, too, despite the occasional effort by some hosts to mix in the Chip Kelly hiring or the Lance Arnstrong thing. Talk radio, not so much -- in the early going, I didn't find any talkers dealing with the story. It was politics as usual. I'd find that more understandable if not for one thing: The Te'o saga was already the first, foremost, and only topic on their listeners' minds.
How do you know that's the case? Social media is a great barometer. I knew that we'd passed the threshold when people I know have zero interest in, or knowledge of, sports were suddenly making Fake Dead Girlfriend jokes. The story had gone from sports curiosity to pop culture meme in record time. Not talking about it was an indication that you weren't connected to your audience. The signs were there.
That's a change from the past. You used to have to have the instinct to identify a hot topic when you saw it, or you needed a producer sharp enough to catch things for you. Now, you have tools to figure it out. You can see a topic or issue explode right there in your timeline. You have no excuse to even be a little late on what your listeners are into.
And being late on a topic squanders radio's immediacy. We talked about this in an earlier column, radio's ability to be live and immediate. You're not the only medium with that ability, but radio's been doing it for so long and so well and is so entrenched in places other media are just now invading (the dashboard, for one), it's still a primary strength, and when a hot topic hits hard, that's when talk radio can shine, an entertaining audio version of social media, the proverbial soap box, town square, speaker's corner, and crazy guy screaming on the sidewalk, all rolled into one. If someone sees a tweet or hears in passing about a huge story and doesn't hear you talking about it, you've lost an opportunity. That's why you have to be wired in via social media and being out in public and eavesdropping on everything all the time. When something becomes so big a meme that even your mom has an opinion on it, you can't afford to be talking about something else.
Even your Fake Dead Girlfriend knows that.
There isn't, of course, always one single solitary hot topic out there. Sometimes, there are more than one (like today, when the Lance Armstrong interview has reasserted itself alongside Te'o). But, more often, you're left searching for something interesting about which to opine, and when that happens, you can always count on All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where there are hundreds of news items, kicker stories, and half-baked opinions meant to spur discussion. Find them all by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. And while you're there, don't miss the latest "10 Questions With..." KOGO/San Diego host LaDona Harvey, a funny and highly entertaining personality with whom you really should be acquainted.
You can also follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon. And as for my other job, I edit and write for the Nerdist.com website, so if you're into pop culture -- movies, comics, TV, "genre" stuff -- come on by.
I'd make a Fake Dead Girlfriend joke to wrap this up, but I saw way, way too many bad Fake Dead Girlfriend jokes over the last couple of days. Topics like this make everyone think they're a comedian. Everyone isn't a comedian. Trust me on that one.