September 7, 2012
A thought occurred to me after plowing through the last two weeks of convention-oriented Twitter musings, and it applies to radio as well: If I can look at your name, think "liberal" or "conservative," and thus know exactly what you'll say about everything, why should I waste my time reading what you write or listening to what you say? I know it already. You're wasting my time. I've just unfollowed a few Twitter accounts for that reason. If I can define everything you say in one word, and you don't compensate by being utterly entertaining, out you go.
So, on Twitter, if I know all you're going to have to say is how your guy rules and the other guy drools, if I know you'll be gushing about your side and ripping the other side a new one, if I know you'll retweet only people with the same predictability, you'd better be freakin' hilarious or especially insightful in the process. And on radio, it's the same thing. I can't keep track of how many shows I bailed from in the last few weeks because it was nothing but either fawning over the preferred side or ripping the other side, but not in an entertaining way. It's a parade of True Believers. Both sides do it. Life's too short to waste on that.
What makes the cut? I guess I haven't changed my mind since I was a Program Director a long time ago: I really don't care what your position is if you're entertaining, smart, and witty. In fact, what I'm looking for is unpredictability. I'd rather read, or listen to, someone whose positions can't be described in one word. Liberal on some things, conservative on others, libertarian in some ways, whatever -- surprise me. I don't have to agree with you, and, considering that my friends as well as the people I follow on Twitter and with whom I'm connected on Facebook are all over the political and social map, it's perfectly okay for me to disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. If you're interesting, unpredictable, and entertaining, the disagreement doesn't matter. But if I look at your name and instantly know exactly what you'll think about everything and how you'll approach things... I have other things to do.
So in the search for new talent to comprise the next wave of talk show hosts, and in the quest to reach new and younger audiences, we've seen people talking about moving away from the conservative talk style of the last decades, but it seems that some of what that's generated is just boring or noncommittal radio, with hosts who are "nice." That's not what i'd do. The problem isn't stylistic, it's that you don't need to listen to know what someone's going to say. We need to find people who can entertain and be unpredictable. You gotta give people a reason to tune in, and "you'll never know what he/she will say next" beats the living hell out of the alternatives.
One way to be unpredictable is to talk about things that come from left field, whether they're unusual angles on the big stories or things nobody's heard yet. And that's where Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, comes in, with hundreds of items just like that. Click here to find it, and follow Talk Topics at Twitter at @talktopics for direct links to every entry. Also, you'll find "10 Questions With..." WLFN/La Crosse, WI morning man Bob Schmidt, who's back doing talk radio on a brand-new station and has some thoughts about doing local talk in a smaller market in an age when that's increasingly rare, plus, as always, you'll find industry news first/fastest/best at Net News, which you can also follow on Twitter at @allaccess.
Follow me! @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon. Read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and watch the Nerdist Channel at YouTube, where we've launched some new shows, including one with Howard Stern producer Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, that you might enjoy.