The Joy Of Bulk Erasing
September 4, 2015
And what if we throw everything out and start over?
I've proposed this before. It's one method of brainstorming business development: You start over as if the rules don't exist and see if you can't come up with new ways of doing things. We aren't going to be able to just eliminate talk radio, though, so....
Well, wait. Here's a thought, and maybe it's stupid, but maybe we can learn from it. First, I thought, what would talk radio be like if, instead of being developed in the '50s and '60s, it began today, now, here? And then I thought some more, and I realized that, in a way, the format's being redefined and reinvented, regardless of what came before, through podcasts and social media. And THEN I thought (I did a lot of thinking this week, making up for last week)....
Say we pull the plug on broadcast talk radio, right now. We know that some broadcasters would welcome this, because it's expensive and causes them to get nastygrams from advertisers and social media and their friends on Wall Street. They'd be left with nothing to put on those troublesome AMs, but let's assume they can broker 'em out or something. So, we'll start with taking everything that's on talk radio now and yanking it off the schedule... but putting it all on digital media. Everything. Rush and Sean and Levin and local hosts and national hosts and weekend gardening shows. Every talk show. Put them on streams and podcasts, period. No AM or FM.
Why would you do that? Okay, here's the pipe dream: You take content that still has some value to listeners and advertisers and the only place they can hear it is online. Would listeners and clients follow? What if they had no choice BUT to follow? What if the AM and FM dial were suddenly just all music, and the talk and news and sports were all digital? One of two things would happen: Either nobody would follow and it all goes away, or it jump-starts digital revenue and ratings all at once and, assuming that the AMs make money with religion and brokered ethnic programming and FMs keep cranking out the hits like jukeboxes with no buttons and maintain their revenue, you've goosed the digital revenue numbers for good. You've trained a whole universe of listeners to go to your digital side for what they want. You've solved the "digital dimes" problem. You've ripped the Band-Aid (registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson) off. Talk radio survives and becomes even more diverse and merged with the wide world of podcasts (see disclaimer below). Radio is the hero that makes digital solidly profitable. There is much rejoicing across the land.
This will not happen.
But maybe interim steps CAN happen. Maybe, instead of just firing hosts or shuffling them into AM-after-power-down obscurity, radio companies can use their shiny new Podcast and Digital Networks operations for some big names and big talents, promoting the hell out of them and aggressively pushing the audience to go download shows for their talk fix. They wouldn't be blowing up their existing structure, but if you're truly of the belief that people will seek out quality content wherever it is, it's time to take advantage of what technology is offering, especially as podcasts and streaming become easier to use in cars. Forget FM tuners in cell phones. It's far more likely that people would look to find their favorite personalities -- remember personalities? That's what we SAY is our advantage over other media -- on a podcast then fiddling with a radio tuner on their phone. And definitely forget "AM Revitalization" ("Re-Animator IV: Radio Lovecraft"). But to make digital into talk radio's new home, the content has to be exclusive, not just repurposed broadcast radio. It has to be aggressively marketed, so fans know where to go. And it has to be worth seeking out, which is where that talent comes in.
What did I say before? This will not happen? Well, baby steps can help. It's going to take some bold moves, though, to form a future of big growth for talk radio, in audience and in revenue. Maintaining the status quo, the staticky, interference-ridden status quo, is not a growth business. And it's not just moving where the audience is, it's going where the audience will be going. We can get there fast, or we can get there slow, but the slower we go, the more competitors will establish a beachhead first.
Or we can stand pat and hope the audience does, too. I'm not sold on blowing it all up, but I'm definitely sold on the need to start moving.
Wherever we're going, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics will be there to help you create compelling content with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes, all up-to-date and available now by clicking here. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. This week, there's also "10 Questions With..." Geoff Sheen, host at Ticket 760 in San Antonio and Spurs studio host on WOAI; Geoff's worked local and national, he's done every kind of sports talk, and he has some clear ideas on how to do it right.
You can follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon.
Oh, and, of course, Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. This week, Sir Patrick Stewart dropped by, and Elijah Wood, and Violent Femmes, part of the soundtrack of my law school years. If you're my age and you can't sing along to "Blister in the Sun" or "Gone Daddy Gone," I just don't know if we can be friends.
For those of you where Labor Day (or Labour Day) is celebrated, please have a safe and happy long weekend. Remember, it's not the end of Summer, it's only the end of the fun, vacation-y part of Summer. Wait, that's not good.