August 16, 2013
Bear with me here -- despite how it'll start out, this one is not going to repeat the pop culture talk wish-list that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. There's a larger point. I just have to wade back into the pop culture thing to get there. And so....
The other week, I wrote that Sharknado column about talk radio geared towards whatever's relevant in pop culture at the moment, and I was reminded of that with the debut of the first of the final eight episodes of "Breaking Bad" last Sunday. It was a pretty big event as far as TV shows go -- big audience, big buzz, big reaction. And it also reminded me that other media have picked up on people's desire to talk about what they just saw, and radio hasn't. Now, you can argue that television, and all of pop culture, have been moving rapidly towards a model different from the everyone-watches-at-the-same-time setup that was in place for the last half-century, that we're not a shared-experience society anymore. But that's not quite the case, and the cable networks have known that for a while. Since Bravo hit pay dirt with the "Real Housewives" aftershow "Watch What Happens Live," AMC's done aftershows (hosted by my other boss) for "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" that address the audience's desire to talk about stuff they just saw. Twitter and Facebook are building empires based on the same desire -- you see something, whether it's a TV show or a news event or a ballgame, and you want to communicate with others about it. Radio used to be good at that.
But not anymore, and it's a missed opportunity. I watched "Breaking Bad" along with millions of others last week, and from the opening flash-forward ("Hello, Carol") to Badger's Star Trek speech and Skylar confronting Lydia at the car wash to the final scene with Walt and Hank in the garage, there were enough oh-wow moments to talk about for a while. Yet it never occurred to me to check the radio to hear the reaction of others, because it's never warmly embraced the role of reacting to popular culture as it has for political events and breaking news. (In some markets, even finding a live show on a Sunday night is out of the question.) Twitter was, of course, all over it, and recaps were popping up all over the web the moment the screen faded to black. If there was someone on the radio who would talk about what a significant segment of the audience had just experienced, and if that audience knew that there was someplace to go on the radio to get that talk... but that's not happening.
Yet you can extend that to news events, and whatever else is happening, and ask the same questions. Does your audience know to go to you to react and hear others react, to get instant analysis and opinion about whatever's happening? Forget "Breaking Bad" and pop culture -- what about when a huge story is breaking? Do people in your market know to come to you whenever something's going on, and can they rely on you to be talking about what's top-of-mind for them? Over the years, some talk stations have achieved that -- some have assumed that breaking-news instant-reaction mantle so well that they trump even all-News stations for that purpose -- but I think it's been slipping in recent years. News cutbacks haven't helped, but neither has it helped that it seems that a lot of hosts and producers aren't paying attention to what's going on around them. All hell could be breaking loose on the street in front of the station and the host is still going to be going on and on about Obamacare or the 2016 elections.
Which is to say that part of keeping talk radio relevant in an age when it's fighting the impression being projected onto it that it's old and tired and so 20th century is to just pay attention to what's happening not just before a show but while the show's going on. The news cycle isn't just 24 hours a day anymore, it's right up to the second, or have you not checked Twitter lately? A chunk of your audience is doing just that, and they know in an instant about breaking news of all sorts. If you're going to be a primary media choice for audiences today, you have to be on that stuff, too. If there's something that pops up during your show that generates instant reaction in social media, you have to know it's happening and be ready to react. It's like having TVs and police scanners on in the building tuned to news channels to know when something's happening. You do have those, right?
I want talk radio to maintain or regain relevance or however you want to look at it -- I'm not going to argue here about whether talk radio is or isn't or will or won't be relevant in 2013 and beyond, I'm just offering one man's opinion on how it CAN be relevant. The trick is to pay attention to everything that's causing a buzz among your target listeners, whether it's a TV show or a political gaffe or a fire in the foothills. You can try to set the agenda, but in this age, the agenda can change in an instant without you even knowing it.
It's not a contradiction, though, to direct you to our repository ofstuff to talk about on your show at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, because there isn't always something breaking that's worth talking about. And when things are quiet, you'll need something interesting, entertaining, even goofy, and that's what we have, all available by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item.
I actually had two things to talk about this week, but the other one was directed at a different segment of the readership here, and I've gone on too long as it is, so I'll get to it next week. If I can remember what it was by then, that is.