September 2, 2016
Is there anything you want to read less than a column about radio the afternoon before a long holiday weekend (in the U.S. and Canada, that is)? Okay, then, I'll keep it short.
The great 1972 movie "The Candidate" ends with an iconic scene, when Robert Redford, as the (44 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT) now-victorious Senate candidate, pulls Peter Boyle, his Svengali-like campaign advisor, out of the victory party and asks him the plaintive and unanswered question, "What do we do now?" That moment may be coming for you, too.
It's easy to look at the ratings that have been coming out this week, the meters from several markets for last month, and assume that the healthy 6+ increases for a lot of News-Talk stations means that talk radio is alive, well, and poised for... poised for what? Because, as we've discussed before, it turns out that the election isn't going to last forever. It won't get you past November. You know better than that.
What are you doing to prepare for next year?
I don't have to tell you the danger signs: in most of these cases, the demos remain old-to-deceased, the election is an artificial interest booster, and reverting to president-bashing, the default position of so much of political talk radio, will take you right back to the declining shares and demographic problems you were experiencing before this temporary respite. The election year bounce will comfort your GM and GSM and the hundreds of Regional Senior Executive Vice Presidents above them, but it'll go away by the end of the year. What's your plan?
The plan, of course, depends on several things, like your market, your competitive situation, your budget, your signal. But the most important factor is deciding who you want to be. Do you want to fall back into Angry Old Guy Radio, or will this be time to try a new position? If it's the former, I guess you don't have to change a thing, and I'll pray for you and your sales staff trying to sell the 70+ numbers. If it's the latter, perhaps now is when you should be re-evaluating talent, topic selection, imaging... everything. You have three months -- less, really -- of the Trump-Clinton bounce, and maybe a month or so of post-mortem after Election Day. That's not a huge amount of lead time, but if you're indecisive now, you'll be staring into the abyss in December with no clear path.
So go have a great three day weekend, but when you get back, take a hard look at where you've been and where you want to go, and start to prepare now for major change after the ballots are counted. Analyze whether the talent and syndicated product on your station will do what you need them to do once just opening the mic and saying "Trump!" is no longer PPM Viagra. Decide whether the audience you want, assuming they can find you (say, is AM revitalized yet?), is being served by the way you've been doing business up to now, the topics, the hosts, the production. Or just stay on the same track where you get a big bump every four years and a smaller bump at the two year mark and build big numbers in the all-important octogenarian demographic. I'd go with the changes, myself, but it's not my call.
Whether you do a traditional show or do more unusual talk, you'll find plenty of stuff to talk about at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where you'll find all the news items (election and non-election) 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.
Enough of that. Time for a long weekend, and, unlike for talk radio, I'd advise you to stick with tradition for Labor Day. Barbecues are beyond demographics.