Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 2013)
December 6, 2013
Last column of the year? Yes, and that means the annual Talk Radio Year in Review! Here's the Talk Radio Year in Review for 2013:
Ratings dropped but rebounded just a little near the end. Some hosts said controversial stuff; some were fired, some weren't, some advertisers boycotted, some didn't. Most controversies were forgotten in about ten days. Some shows ended, some changed stations, some changed time slots. Nothing new and different made it to the air. Podcasts and streaming had some popularity but the business model was still unsettled.
In other words, pretty much 2012, too. And 2011.
And that bores me, because we just keep doing the same dance every year. Same people do same things, reaching same result. The format, and the industry, are not in growth mode. Businesses need to be in growth mode to survive. I need to be in growth mode, too, which is why I'll move on from the doom and gloom thing and take a look at the things in talk radio that give me encouragement as this year lurches to a close:
1. I'm not alone. I know there are a lot of you who feel as I do and have hope and ideas for new talk programming on all platforms. That HAS to lead to something.
2. Finally, there's movement. The takeaway, for me, from this week's news about the Rush Limbaugh moves is less about Rush (or Hannity, or the destination stations, or the reasons why, which don't necessitate an advanced degree to figure out) than it is that the replacements on the current affiliates will be new locally-produced shows. That's not a judgment about local vs. syndication -- who knows, the new shows may end up syndicated someday -- as it is that it's an opportunity for something new.
3. There's more content to listen to than ever. That seems counterintuitive, but when you include podcasts and streaming, there's a ton of entertaining content on all platforms. I don't have time to listen to everything I want to hear, but that's a quality problem to have. Between broadcast, podcasts, satellite, streaming, music downloads, and customizable apps, I can fill up my day with more audio (and video) than I can possibly consume, including narrowcast material that would never have been possible before audio and the Internet came together. Whenever anyone talks about the good old days, I just remember having few choices, as good as some of them may have been.
4. Broadcast radio still has its place. It's simple: Someday, cell phone batteries will last for more than an eye blink before needing a recharge. Someday, LTE will cover every block of every town in every state. Someday. Not today. I live in a part of the L.A. area where everything -- 4G and 3G, FM, AM, satellite -- is reception-challenged. Seriously, I can walk you through most of the South Bay and point to where you lose cell service, where satellite drops out, where radio reception is difficult. But among them all, broadcast radio hangs in more consistently and, if you're not driving, a stupid little Sony AM/FM/Weather/VHF Walkman (they still make 'em; I have two, just in case) is more likely to last for more than an hour and 45 minutes on a single AAA battery than my iPhone is on a full charge. I can imagine people using their cell phones to stream in their cars giving up and just punching up a local FM station in frustration when Sprint/Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile drops out. Okay, being the last resort isn't ideal, but it's something.
5. People still want spoken word content. No matter what the ratings are, no matter what doom-and-gloom types (like myself) say, it's not like entire generations decided, hey, we don't like to hear people talk, we only want singing. (That would make general conversation interesting.) And social media haven't eliminated the need for, or appeal of, listening to conversations or monologues from interesting, entertaining people. The trick is to find out what they like and give it to them.
And so, I go into the last few weeks of 2013... well, not exactly optimistic, but not entirely discouraged, either. I'm still not willing to totally write off a medium that, after all, with all the problems about which I've written way too much over the years, is still alive and operating and, if it wasn't for the self-inflicted problem of crushing debt, would be reasonably profitable. Maybe I'm being too forgiving, but it IS the holiday season, and I can't imagine life without some form of radio in general and talk radio in particular. Hey, did Bedford Falls have a radio station?
While The Letter will be off until January, when I'll be back looking at radio in 2014 and preparing to cover International CES in Las Vegas, All Access will continue to offer the radio industry's most complete and accurate (and fastest) news coverage at Net News. All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics will be open for business through the middle of next week, but I'll then go on the usual holiday schedule, which means it'll be light until January while I take a few weeks to recover from, you know, everything. You can find that column here, and there'll be, as always, hundreds of links and comments and bad jokes for your show prep needs. The Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free. And we have "10 Questions With..." Peter Czymbor, co-host of "PM in the AM," the morning show on WXBR in Boston's south metro suburbs, talking about hosting a show focusing on the local community, something that's become less common in radio over the years.
Well, then, that's it for the year. Thanks for your readership and support this year. Have a wonderful holiday season; we'll reconvene here the first week of January, okay?