Your Father's Format
May 3, 2013
Before we start, one last pitch: Next Saturday, May 11th, Fran and I will be walking in the Revlon Run/Walk for Women in Los Angeles, raising money for breast cancer and other women's cancer research and programs. PLEASE DONATE! Go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2013. Thank you!
It was a coincidence, I think, that I recently encountered two different people in two different contexts relaying the same basic story that happened to them. Both said that they had reached a special day in the life of any father: They sat their kids down and showed them "Animal House," a movie that holds a special place in their lives, a rite of passage. And the reaction was:
The kids thought it was slow, tired, not that funny. They'd seen it all before, all that kind of humor, only, they thought, better. What was unquestionably, undoubtedly classic to the fathers is... well, it's Your Parents' Thing to teenagers now. It's always been that way, of course. My dad's movies, music, culture seemed impossibly ancient to me, but I can rationalize that now by noting that it was mostly in black-and-white or big band music, and I knew color movies and rock 'n' roll.
There's a point for radio in all of this. I've heard all the talk about how talk radio is dead, how it's "terminal," how the audience is aging out like the adult standards and oldies formats before it. If there's a germ of truth in that -- if, apart from being on AM (talk about aging), the format is appealing mostly to 65 year old guys -- it's that "dad's movies" and "dad's music" thing.
Except this: "Animal House" (and "Caddyshack," and "Stripes," and even "Wayne's World") may be Dad's Movies and therefore slow and embarrassing to kids, but there are still movies. In fact, the studios are all trying to attract the 18-24 demographic. There's still music, obviously. Nobody's saying movies in general are terminal, or music. That's because those media continually adapt. 1980's movies too slow, too dated, old-looking? Remake 'em. Oldies don't appeal to anyone under 50 anymore? There's always hip-hop, EDM, and pop. Talk radio topics and hosts don't entertain a young person?
Er... well... see, all talk radio seems to be able to muster is some angry person talking about the same political topics. And hosts who assuredly couldn't tell you what EDM is, much less what today's Internet meme is or what an Internet meme is at all. Talk radio has painted itself into a "Dad's thing" position.
That doesn't have to be the case. Talk radio doesn't have to be angry old guys barking about Obamacare and immigration. Sure, some stations will hold on doing that, but if the audience is changing, talk radio should and must offer them what resonates with them. This isn't brain surgery to figure out. But what it'll take is not only fresh programming and hosts, but programmers and management who understand and recognize what will work for demographics under 50 years old. I'm not sold that we have that in the industry right now, because I don't hear a lot of stuff that's relatable to under-50s.
"Animal House" is, indeed, still a classic and still funny... to older folks. Talk radio's still relevant... to older folks. It's way past time to adapt. Talk radio doesn't have to be Dad's Thing.
I'm pressed for time at the moment, because I'm in the back of the room covering the Worldwide Radio Summit. So I'll just quickly tell you to go to All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where there are hundreds of stories and comments compiled with radio in mind, by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. It's free. And we also have "10 Questions With..." "Bill Press Show" producer and very smart, funny guy Peter Ogburn, who's definitely not in the Dad's Radio category.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com. And please watch "The Nerdist" on Saturday night at 10p (ET) on BBC America (or Sunday at 7p (ET) on Space in Canada). This week: Jack McBrayer -- "30 Rock"'s Kenneth -- and Eliza Dushku.
Okay, back to the convention. If you're at the Hollywood Roosevelt, say hi. I'm the one aaaaallllllll the way in the back of the room.