Buzzing. Bingeing. Broadcasting.
July 29, 2016
"Have you seen 'Stranger Things' yet?"
Um, no, I haven't had a chance to...
"Ohmygawd you have to it's so cool really I watched all eight you gotta see it like right now."
And thus we have the latest in a series of shows you have to watch. We've been through several, and I still haven't caught up. But this isn't about the lack of time to watch everything; that's a separate column. No, this is about how we come to know about shows we just NEED to watch, the word-of-mouth, social media-heavy communication that signals a must-see piece of entertainment, what we've always called the buzz.
What was radio's last buzz-worthy show?
No, "Serial" won't count this time; yes, it's basically a radio show, produced by public radio, premiered on radio, but it's a podcast. We have to draw that distinction here because this is about radio, the broadcast kind, the kind we do. What was the last radio thing that had people saying "you have to hear it," the last one to which people got addicted?
Yeah, it's pretty much back to Howard Stern days, Rush Limbaugh, that era. What is radio doing today that would earn that kind of buzz? Well, there's Howard, still, getting the New York Times' attention for his interviews, but what else? Well, let me ask you about your own show or station: When you're done with your show each day, can you honestly say that there was material there that was worth people telling their friends about it? If the answer is no, that's most of radio today, cookie-cutter, disposable, forgotten soon after airing. But I also know some of you ARE doing some creative, funny, interesting things, and in a crowded media world, you need to get the word out about it.
Still, creative and funny are a blip in people's consciousness, and I've always been concerned that radio doesn't know how to go big. Some of you are getting presidential candidates and major political figures on your shows and the result is that you tweet out that you had Trump or Clinton or whoever on your show and people should listen. That's not enough. Did you do something that people will be buzzing about? Did you ask a question that the candidate didn't want to hear? Did you elicit a response that should make headlines? Or did you get all deferential and polite with the guest, because, gee, if you press Trump about his taxes and Russia or Clinton about the emails and the DNC hack, they won't be your friends and won't come back on the show someday?
In a very competitive fight for people's attention, you can't just be a utility, there in the background. 10-in-a-row or reading celebrity news from a prep sheet will not cut through the clutter. You need to be doing standout stuff. You have to be the latest Netflix obsession, the latest ubiquitous meme, the Carpool Karaoke or PokÃ©mon GO of audio. I know, it sucks that things have changed and people's attention spans are short and you have to do things to jump in front of the pack vying for their eyes and ears. But it's 2016, and radio's still doing what it did in 1996 and 1976, as if the world and consumption habits haven't changed.
You don't have to follow that pack. Remember those commercials they did in practically every market, the ones in which they used the question "Did you hear what (name of local jock) said this morning?," never explaining what it was that he (it was almost always a "he") said? Yeah, you want to have that buzz, but just telling people you're "controversial" isn't enough. You need to be different, you need to be unique, you need to stand out, and most importantly, you need to be that show that people tell each other about. Radio lost that touch years ago, but all it takes is for someone to be... different. Strive to be remarkable. Be next week's "Stranger Things," the new hot "did you hear that?" show or station. And then do it over and over and over again, because you don't want to be "Stranger Things" six months from now, when everyone's moved on to the next buzz.
One place to get material to help you get the buzz going is All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, which has the news items and kickers and bad jokes you need, all in one place, available 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 Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts, and "10 Questions With..." consultant and former PD/host Matt Cundill, checking in from Winnipeg with fresh thoughts on radio and podcasting and the future of what we do (and I'll be on his podcast "Sound Off" soon, so look for that coming up....).
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.
All right, now, I'm gonna wrap this up and go watch some TV. What? Oh, not "Stranger Things," not yet; we're still only a quarter of the way through "Bloodline," and there are so many great shows we... um... okay, I'll end up just rewatching some "Bob's Burgers" episodes instead. Sometimes, you just want something familiar.