Cut To The Chase
May 6, 2016
At the time I sat down to write this column, it was Thursday night and there's a police chase on TV. I know, I live in the L.A. area, there's ALWAYS a police chase on TV. That's not entirely true, but we do get more than our share of police chases, and so I made the mistake of checking Twitter before starting to write, saw that all of our local broadcast TV stations were streaming a chase -- Buena Park? That's a mere 30 miles away! -- and I thought, hey, I'll just put the stream on the iPad and glance at it from time to...
Man, he's not even speeding... oh, look, that's gotta be Cerritos, he's heading east... hm, I wonder if people are tweeting about it...
And so, back to Twitter, where I noted tweets about the Raptors-Heat and NHL playoff games, glanced back at the chase, which had bogged down in heavy traffic around Fullerton, and back to Twitter to wade through a million Donald Trump taco bowl retweets, back to HE HIT A CAR and so on and it's still going on.
Which is to say, there are way, way more media distractions than there have ever been. If there's not a car chase, there's something else on video, live or on demand. There's social media. There are web sites. There's a ball game on. There are video games on your console or on your computer or on your smartphone. And, yes, there's you.
You thought I'd forgotten about radio, didn't you? Or you thought I'd draw the comparison between broadcast radio and streaming and podcasting, right? I've mentioned this before -- damn, I've been writing this column for so many years I lost track after a decade or so -- but radio has always been competing with both media and other things (like talking to real people, or paying attention to the road, or eating, or life) for people's attention, and there are just more options now. That's obvious.
So, what's the plan here? What are you doing to maintain and grow your slice of people's attention?
The good news for those of you in talk radio is that talk has the benefit of being a foreground-capable format. I say "-capable" because, let's be honest, some of what's on talk radio these days is hardly compelling. But a lot of it IS compelling, and that's important when you're trying to get people to pay attention. Podcasts have the benefit of being an opt-in item -- listeners actively decide they want to hear it -- but radio has the ability to talk about what's happening right this minute, like, say, a car chase or the Raptors-Heat in overtime. That's not enough, though. Nor is ease of use, nor ubiquity. As I said, there are a zillion options. You have to grab listeners and not let go.
And that means doing more than just spouting a political opinion and opening the lines, or interviewing some politician, or whatever talk radio's been for decades. It means even more immediacy, more breaking news, and more entertainment value. It means giving people a reason to pay attention and not get diverted to checking Facebook on their phones. Great talent can do this with a lot of instinct and a lot of prep work. So, be a great talent.
Okay, that's not necessarily something you can train someone to be. It IS what the radio industry needs to find, develop, or steal away; the radio industry, by the way, could use more executives who know great talent when they hear it. And there's another reckoning coming, but I'm going to save that for next week. I gotta get back to the basketball game... or the car chase standoff... or sleep....
One place to find the content you need to get attention is, of course, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes for any kind of show, and you can get it by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the new Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. Also, there's a highly entertaining "10 Questions With..." radio veteran Doug Harris, who talks about his new venture, Radio Brave, a talk-music hybrid with several twists.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
As I said above, next week will be about some interesting fundamental changes that may change how you need to approach political talk. I've been giving this a lot of thought. I'll probably change my mind a dozen times before then, though.