Rip It Up
August 12, 2016
Maybe to build a new talk radio, we can learn by tearing down what we have now.
Let me explain that by "tear it down," I may not mean what you think that means. This isn't a call to anarchy or an advance on the talk radio palace with torches and pitchforks. It's about... okay, I'll explain how this thought came to mind without even mentioning Jacques Derrida.
I've been playing around with NPR One since it came out, and if you aren't familiar with that app, you should go and download it and check it out. In brief, it's a stream of bits and pieces from NPR; you tell it your preferred or local NPR affiliate and it goes and pieces together news reports and stories and podcasts and feeds them up, Pandora-style, in stream. You can skip ahead to the next segment at any time. You can tell the app you're interested in a story, and it'll adjust to find more in that category for you. It has its pros and cons, but, overall, it's a pretty interesting listening experience. And it's not alone; Pandora is doing some podcasts now, and Rivet News Radio tried an all-news feed like that before refocusing on B-to-B. I'm sure there are others and there will be more.
Listening to the NPR One stream has been interesting; I have some reservations, like that it doesn't feed enough local material to make it feel as local as the broadcast version. But it's interesting to hear programming broken into little pieces and reassembled into a stream, and it's very interesting to pass judgment on stories and podcasts as simply as pressing the skip button. You know NPR is getting valuable data on how people are using the app and which stories they're listening to and which they're bailing on after a few seconds.
But that's public radio, not your standard commercial talk radio, and the latter, you might argue, can't be broken into pieces. That's because talk radio has mostly been long-form since the beginning: two, three, four hours of a host talking and taking calls and interviewing. There are smaller chunks for news and commercials and features, but it's usually about three-hour "shows," locked into a standard pattern of morning show, midday show(s), afternoon show, evening show, overnight show. It's that way because a) that fit how radio is measured by the ratings services (we'll get to THAT issue another time) and b) it's always been that way. As for a), making creative decisions based on serving an industry interest -- getting ratings to sell advertising -- is rarely beneficial to the creative part. And as for b), that's radio. Things are what they are because they have been what they have been. Times, however, change. People's tastes and behaviors change. The radio schedule has not changed.
Which is where technology has come in. What is podcasting if it's not a form of deconstructed talk radio, (mostly) shorter "shows" removed from the structure of a fixed schedule and programming clock and radio formatics? They're pieces of a talk radio station that never existed, but, in operation, they form a different kind of talk radio, a custom, individualized "station" the program director for which is the listener. NPR One and Stitcher and YouTube playlists and apps that put together clips into a whole: same idea.
And perhaps -- remember, I'm working without a research net here, and just throwing out ideas in an attempt to stimulate some conversation on this -- talk radio might tear itself away from the standard schedule, the morning-midday-afternoon-evening-overnight show lineup, the shows running three hours and starting on the hour after the news, the news at the top of the hour, the traffic-on-the-twos. That was all fine in a world that consumed its talk media at the whim of the local station. But in a world of almost unlimited choice and on-demand taste, in which three hour shows are just too damn long, perhaps a talk radio format that moves as quickly as the audience lives life is in order, a format of short segments that can more easily be adapted to a NPR One/Pandora skip-and-reassemble stream or on demand. If people want bite-size, do you continue to focus on long-form?
As I said, I'm not telling you this is how it has to be. I haven't done the research. But my observation is that what worked for talk radio for decades is now being perceived by the newest generations of young adults as slow, cumbersome, too long, too boring. If what they get on your station is like what they'd get if they could build it themselves, is it more likely they'll listen, or that they'll use your segments when their apps let them customize those streams? It would be interesting to find out. Start tearing it all apart and let's see what happens.
Whether you're talking for three hours or three minutes, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics 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. We have a new 10 Questions interview coming shortly, but due to the events of this week (see below), you'll get that Tuesday.
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, and at the newly resurrected pmsimon.com -- it's back.
It's back because my schedule is changing. And as for that, we'll just drop in the Full Disclosure statement: I have also been serving 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, and as I mentioned last week, this is gonna change, but for now, let's leave the disclaimer in there.
Personal note: Thanks to everyone who sent along their support after the passing of our cat Ella; I wrote about the circumstances here, and I want to add one more thought. If you can adopt a pet, do so. Ella brought us joy and companionship and family for the past 15 years, because that's what pets do. And there are so many animals needing someone to rescue and take care of them. Go to your local pet adoption agency and find your next companion.