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October 14, 2016
What was your News-Talk station doing last Friday night?
Before you answer that, allow me to backtrack a little. There have been general assumptions governing the way talk radio has programmed stations since the advent of the format, assumptions based on a combination of consumer behavior, client and agency preferences, and research. You put your highest-profile personalities or a news block in morning and afternoon drive, you lighten up on the topics in the evening, you load up on specialty shows on the weekends... oh, right, you sell blocks of time on the weekends, because nobody could POSSIBLY want to listen to talk radio on the weekends, right? That's how talk radio has been from the beginning, with exceptions based on syndication -- middays were ideal to clear stations that wouldn't dream of using syndication in drive time back when anyone cared about such things. But weekday sunlight hours were for politics, evenings for whatever, overnights for the paranormal, weekends for who-the-hell-cares. Even research that showed afternoons eclipsing mornings in audience size didn't change much.
And the news cycle had something to do with it. After all, nothing happens after noon Friday, nothing anyone would ever want to talk about. Friday afternoons were the notorious "news dump," when someone with news they didn't want to spread so fast would put out a terse release and count on it being too late for even some Sunday papers and stale by the time Monday morning rolled around. It was where you could bury bad news.
"Was" is the operative term, which brings us back to last Friday. Friday was the day the Access Hollywood tape took over the election discussion, and Friday night was filled with speculation as the media awaited Donald Trump's video response, which came overnight. In the past, the timing would have blunted the news. Did you notice how it played out this time? Different, huh? Friday or not, people were all over social media, the cable news networks were poised and ready with studios full of surrogates and pundits, and there were few people in America unaware that something was happening. Again, though, the question: What was your News-Talk station doing last Friday night? Were you ready, too? Were you live and local as midnight approached and the response was still pending? Were you taking calls, geting reactions, reaching out to supporters and opponents? Or was everyone at your station home for the weekend?
The news cycle has changed. You can't be unaware of that. Social media changed a lot of things, and one of the most profound changes for the media has been that news isn't breaking on a schedule anymore, if it ever did. You can't bury bad news at 5 pm on Friday. It will get out via Twitter and Facebook, it will end up on CNN and Fox News and MSNBC, and the public conversation will be all about what in the past would have had to wait until Monday morning. If your station's stock-in-trade is topical talk, you cannot wait that long. If the public discourse is focusing on a new revelation, a hot story, whatever, your station needs to have someone on the air right away talking about that, preferably one of your own hosts. Audience expectations have changed. That doesn't exclude weekends, either: You knew the last debate would be on a Sunday, but if this campaign hasn't convinced you that news can break at any time, I don't know what to tell you. And if you DO understand and DO have someone on the air live whenever breaking news is dominating the online conversation, it's a competitive advantage you have against things like podcasts, which by nature are going to have to lag behind just a little bit.
Preparedness, as I discussed last week, is critical in emergencies. But it's also critical just for handling what comes up in the news as well. The election will soon enough be over (all together, now, exhale), but that will not be the end of breaking news and controversies and hot topics that explode at times that might not fit your schedule of waiting for your morning guy to talk about it. I know, your budget is tight and you can't blah blah blah. Do you want to remain competitive and vital in an age when the news cycle is 24/7 and at warp speed, when one of the presidential candidates is tweeting stuff at 3 am, when your audience expects to hear about and to be able to discuss what's happening right now, right away? I hope you do, because times have changed, in every sense of that phrase. There's no down time anymore.
And when breaking news isn't enough, you'll need more to talk about, which is when you should go to All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, your source for news items and kickers and bad jokes 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.
One more advantage you have over, say, cable news: When something huge is taking over the discussion, but you're waiting for something more to happen like last Friday's vigil, you always have the option of taking calls. Beats having to tap dance with a room full of campaign surrogates and pundits. Real people beat quote-bots every time.