Handling the Holidays
November 7, 2014
Hey, did you feel the bump? The election bump, that is, the ratings bump you get every two years for a couple of months. You get a little ratings jolt, some of that lowest unit rate revenue that, when times are bad, can really help a Market Manager face corporate with a little dignity intact. As shakes go, the election bump used to be a sizable quake, but now is more like one of those 3.2 magnitude shakers centered somewhere past Twentynine Palms, the kind that shakes someone else's home way more than yours. It rolls you a little, and then it's gone with nothing in its wake to remind you that it was there.
Which is to say, we go back to normal now. Actually, we go to sub-normal, because December and the "Holiday" meter period are usually very hard on News-Talk stations. The conventional wisdom is that people don't want to hear talk when they're in a holiday mood, and that might be true, but it might really be that they don't want to hear what YOU'RE talking about, namely serious stuff. When you're getting into the spirit of the season, hearing a guy in a tie getting all worked up over health care and fracking and Ebola kind of kills the ambiance. No wonder the ratings go down.
Does it have to be that way? I think we -- the entire News-Talk format -- have trained the audience to avoid us when they're looking to remain in a good mood. From Halloween to New Year's Day, people are, mentally, at one long holiday party, and you've established yourself as the guy who corners people near the cheese and veggie trays and goes on and on about the President and Congress and conservative and liberal and travel restrictions and Benghazi and immigration and Obamacare and makes you look for any excuse to slip away.
Which is not to say that you shouldn't ever talk politics. For many of you, politics is (are? Are we talking plural or singular here? Am I too lazy to Google it?) what got you the job, and what people expect of you. But that's a double-edged sword when even a small but sizable minority of your core audience (I will NOT use the term P1. I will NOT) just isn't in the mood. This is why even the hardest of hardcore political wonk talkers HAS to have more in his or her arsenal. It's why ex-politicians are often hard to make into really good radio hosts -- trained to stay on message, they're not comfortable talking about anything BUT the political talking points. You have to be able to gauge the audience's mood and shift towards lighter, or heavier, topics depending on what's in the news, the time of year, and what's happening in your community. Otherwise, they'll hit the Scan button on you and go looking for that all-Christmas music station. When they'd rather hear "Wonderful Christmas Time" over and over than hear what you have to say, you're talking about the wrong things.
(Okay, that's a joke. Nobody wants to hear "Wonderful Christmas Time" over and over, regardless of circumstances. I'm not sure even Paul McCartney wants to hear it, unless he's mentally calculating his royalties when it comes up.)
The thing to remember when planning your programming for the rest of the year, now that the elections are done, is that your competition isn't just other stations. It's not just Christmas music, either, or new media options like streaming or podcasts. You're all competing with a mindset, people's minds increasingly focused on holidays, travel, family, end-of-year work stress, food preparation, football, everything that equals the holiday season to your listeners. And you, if you're human. Come to think of it, that's the case year-round, too. People's minds aren't focused all the time on Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, Sunday morning talk show topics. Even when you do those topics, keep in mind that you need to battle for people's attention all the time. And in this season, remember that you don't want to be the boor at the party chewing someone's ear off about politics when all anyone else wants to do is drink egg nog or watch football. Lighten up, Francis.
When you wanna lighten up, come to All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where you'll find hundreds of items and ideas, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else, as well as serious stuff. Oh, we can get plenty serious and political, too. We do it all. And you'll find it all by clicking here to find it all. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Also, there's a new "10 Questions With..." Jon Marks, who's worked his way up to host at WPEN (97.5 The Fanatic)/Philadelphia; if you're new to the business or know someone who is, Jon's climb from internship to prominent on-air personality is inspiring. Plus, it's the only interview you'll read on any radio site that mentions Rich Kotite.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and at some point, I'll be updating pmsimon.com again.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Hey, Minneapolis-St. Paul! I'll be at the Conclave Learning Conference next Friday and Saturday, so if you're planning to go, look for me. (You don't have to actually do anything beyond that. Just look for me. Then go do what you want.) It's in Bloomington, right between the airport and the Mall of America, but judging by the weather report (20s days, teens at night), I don't think I'm gonna be going outside the hotel too much, so if you're among my Twin Cities friends (and you know who you are), you'll have to come to me. I've lived in Southern California long enough so that I don't do Winter anymore.