July 12, 2013
In past columns, I've mentioned how I believe that the definition of "talk radio" has become too restrictive, that there are other options besides political talk that, I believe, can work. Today, I'll offer one of those options, free of charge, there for the taking for anyone with an underperforming FM and no obvious format holes in the market. Ready? Okay, here it is, new format:
No, seriously, there's something here. Let me explain. By now, if you don't know what "Sharknado" is, you really need to be better informed about the finer points of popular culture, and I would assume that you aren't on Twitter. For the rest of us, there's no need for definition, but just in case, "Sharknado" is the latest in the Syfy cable network's series of absolutely ridiculous genre TV movies, like the unforgettable "Sharktopus" and "Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus," and it's about exactly what it says it's about, a tornado of sharks. Yes. And it gets better: It stars the immortal Tara Reid and Ian Ziering -- Steve Sanders! -- and it's full of deliberately cheesy, ludicrous dialogue, bad special effects, and the epic spectacle of Ziering (as a bar owner named "Fin"!) getting swallowed by a flying shark, then CHAINSAWING HIS WAY OUT and pulling his unconscious bartender out with him. One cannot make any of this up, unless you're the people at Syfy who did indeed make it up, presumably with some powerful stimulants involved.
So this thing aired Thursday night and melted down Twitter. At one point, it seemed that at least 75% of the people I follow were live-tweeting "Sharknado." The tornado of sharks drew a tornado of snark. (Sorry.) And the genius of what Syfy is doing with these movies is that they KNOW that they'll be eviscerated by people in social media. That's the point. They know that media consumption has changed, that it's a social experience and that the world has become "Mystery Science Theater 3000," except that we're all Joel and/or Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow. Even as I write this the next day (it will air again next week, in case you missed it and didn't DVR it), "Sharknado" tweets are still all over my timeline.
And how, exactly, is this a radio format? Well, it isn't precisely a "Sharknado" format. What the reaction to "Sharknado" shows me is that people love the kind of -- outdated cliche alert! -- water cooler topics that talk radio generally confines to occasional use between the Zimmerman trial and immigration reform. I recognize that a traditional talk station has to spend most of its time on those "real news" stories -- it's their red meat -- but, well, here: Talking about what was on TV last night and what's in the movies this weekend and what video games are coming up are usually relegated to music station morning shows, on a basic "Didja see 'Sharknado' last night? Ridiculous, huh? Man, they'll put ANYTHING on TV now! Got Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus on the way plus your chance to win One Direction tickets coming up...." level. And then they play commercials and music. If you're like me and you read a lot of pop culture discussion on the Net and then you get in the car and the radio goes on and you want to hear more of the same kind of thing, you're generally out of luck.
Therefore, the "Sharknado" format. You're the last-rated music station and there are two of everything in the market? Too many sports stations, political talk's taken, and you don't want to be the third Top 40 or fourth Country or second Regional Mexican in the metro? Do talk, but talk about other stuff. Talk about what people are talking about on Twitter, on Facebook, in person at the office. Not "guy talk" -- different animal, and a good Sports station will have that covered. And not "morning shows all day" -- that never works, and the listeners don't know what that is anyway. No, I mean this: You're sick of "Blurred Lines" or whatever song is on, you hit the scan button, and you hear someone talking, not about politics but about whatever you and your friends have been talking about. You can call in, you can just listen, you'll laugh and you'll stick around. Not allegedly-wacky song parodies, not "Entertainment Tonight"-style celebrity talk, but how real young adults talk about "Game of Thrones" or whether they'll go see "Pacific Rim" or "Grown-Ups 2" this weekend or whether the "Grand Theft Auto V" trailer that came out the other day makes you want to play it (tennis? In the middle of a violent crime/action game? Really?). There are morning shows that do that, but the day's 24 hours, and the interest is always there. And the audience is available, because they're not ALWAYS on the Net.
In other words, talk radio for the rest of us. Hey, you got a better idea to attract new listeners? (Seriously, do you? Because if you do, let's get a dialogue going. Post ideas in the comments below, or tweet me at @pmsimon and maybe we'll talk about 'em in a future column)
You want topics like Sharknado? Oh, there are a LOT of topics, political or not, pop culture and sports and whatever, all lined up for you at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics. See what's there 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 in the neighborhood, we also have "10 Questions With..." Michael Graham, who reacted to the demise of his former home at WTKK/Boston to launch a new show airing on several stations in New England (more to come) and has some interesting insight on building an audience and taking it with you to a new spot on the dial (or the Net).
I'll be at Comic-Con in San Diego next week; assuming I can carve out time to write the column (I will, I will), I imagine it'll be an extension of this week's theme. Maybe I'll see you there. We should meet up....