Just Like Starting Over
May 9, 2014
One more time: On Saturday morning, May 10th, my wife Fran and I will be doing our annual "hey, we're still here! Cool!" walk in the Revlon Run/Walk for Women's Cancer in Los Angeles. We're raising funds for cancer research and treatment through the Entertainment Industry Foundation while celebrating Fran's continued survival, and should you be so inclined, you can donate by going to http://do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2014.
Thank you, and if you're one of the generous folks who have already donated, my further effusive thanks are forthcoming, and would have come sooner but for the busy week.
Busy week? They're ALL busy. This week was a little busier, though, because on top of the usual load, the other place with which I'm affiliated relaunched its website with a total redesign and restructuring. That took up a lot of time, learning the changes in the system, discovering the bugs, trying to work around the bugs, cursing the bugs, typical website stuff. The result, though, is worth the work (you can go see it here). And to get there, it took a little bit of reimagining.
Which is, of course, a recurring theme here at The Letter. I've raised the idea before that it's instructive to try and imagine what you'd do with talk radio if you could start over, fresh, no preconceptions. And that's probably not going to happen, but the mere exercise of the creative muscles in thinking about what you'd do with a clean slate is necessary; an industry devoid of new ideas is going to wither away, and, as I've stressed time and again in this column, at convention panels, and cursing the heavens at random, there haven't been a lot of new ideas promulgated in talk radio over the past twenty (and I'm being generous there; it's closer to 25 or 30) years.
Every time I imagine erasing the talk radio ledger and starting over, different ideas come to mind. And this week, while trying to figure out the new Nerdist configuration, I thought about what I'd do if I was told, okay, here, invent talk radio all over again, and, yeah, once again it came out differently this time around. This week's version of Square One Talk Radio involved these ideas:
1. Platform inclusive. Note that it's not "platform agnostic." That's because different delivery systems require different programming options. A live stream or broadcast can go longer, because people will dip in and out of the program at their convenience. A podcast -- er, shall we call it "on-demand"? -- is something more likely to be consumed whole, beginning-to-end, a show more than a casual listening option. Podcasts are more foreground. Subscription streams and podcasts need to offer something worth paying for, something special and not easily duplicated -- compelling star personalities, extra material, whatever works. But I'd be creating programming -- different programming -- for broadcast, for satellite, for podcasts, for streaming. Wherever the audience is, I'd want to be. (Insert "except for AM" crack here. I'm not gonna go into THAT again.)
2. Unpredictable. Starting over, I'd throw anyone whose opinions were predictable and reliable, especially ideologically, out the door. This doesn't mean I wouldn't want people to talk about politics, or that I wouldn't hire liberal or conservative hosts. What it means is that I wouldn't want hosts whose opinions on various topics you'd know without having to bother to tune in or download. I would want independent thinkers. But not "moderates" -- I would want passion, too.
3. Relatable. No wonks. I'm not saying that there's not a place for pundits and wonkery, just that it wouldn't be on my station. Real, normal, regular people don't pontificate about the kind of stuff you get on Sunday morning news shows. They have real lives and real concerns. Even in talking about politics, I'd want hosts to relate every topic to the simple idea of what it means to us. Politics as a sport with winners and losers is fine for a certain audience, but I think there's a larger audience who'd be listening if they could only find out why they should care about the topics.
4. Entertaining. My Lord, can hosts get a sense of humor, please? And stop being condescending about youth culture, too. Every comment about how music and movies and TV aren't as good now as in "our day" is a "get off my lawn" moment, and in my new talk radio world, we don't do that. We'll talk about pop culture and sports and everyday life, because that's what our listeners do, too.
5. "Talk"? What's "Talk"? I wouldn't even call it "Talk Radio." Let's start over on that, too. Don't call it anything. Real people don't care about formats so much as they care about being entertained, informed, having a companion. Podcasts aren't labeled as "Talk Radio," even when, in essence, they are one and the same. It's just entertainment, labels be damned.
6. It's a show. And I don't mean that in relation to entertainment, although that does apply. What I mean is, while there's a place for the "format," in an on-demand world, it's about the individual shows, not the whole. I'd want to produce all kinds of shows and let each find and serve its audience. If there's overlap, great. But the way new generations are consuming spoken word programming is changing, and I'd rather be in a position to say, "Okay, you don't like this particular show? Try one of our other shows at your convenience. You're bound to find something you'll like."
And I might have an entirely different set of ideas about this tomorrow. Or an hour from now. But the exercise is always fun, and it's something we in talk radio should be doing on a regular basis, because that's where we'll get ideas for the future. Yeah, the future. We have one. It's just not necessarily going to look exactly like the last 30 years.
And the new talk radio world would, of course, include All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and as for, Nerdist.com, come on over and check out the new look. Still occasionally posting at pmsimon.com, too -- there'll be more coming there, too, with some changes to my schedule that I'll mention soon.
One more time, Revlon Run/Walk for Women's Cancer in Los Angeles, Saturday morning, May 10th, click here and donate. If you're in L.A., join us. Look for a guy in a Phillies cap proudly walking alongside his hero.