Talk Radio’s Ratings Disaster – Why Nothing Changes

Titanic_Stern1

I guess I hit close to home with my prior blog post on the Ratings Disaster that is today’s talk radio. The June PPM’s suck for talk radio.  Hell.  The diary markets coming in are bringing little joy.  And many in the talk radio industry just sit back and continue on autopilot with the same hard line conservative narrative hour after hour, ignoring the cultural disconnect that’s happened between the format and society as the once unsinkable Titanic of radio formats begins to slip below water.

Judging from the thousands and thousands of visitors to darrylparks.com on this topic, I’m guessing many making a living in talk radio are getting nervous as their feet are starting to get wet.

Successful radio stations of any format are soundtracks to a tribe of consumers, a lifestyle and a culture.  The current popularity of country radio stations are great and obvious examples.  The dominant county radio leaders in any city speak with and for their audiences.

Al_Peterson

My friend, radio consultant Gabe Hobbs re-tweeted my recent post about talk radio’s June ratings disaster which caused news/talk media writer Al Peterson to ponder the above on Facebook.

Who’s married to left wing or right wing talk?  Great question Al.  I’m glad you asked and I’m somewhat surprised it’s taken this long for someone to come up with that question.

Let me try to answer Al’s questions.

Who is married to left/right political programming that dominates so much of Talk radio?

Radio industry mouthpieces point out “radio” always adapts and will continue to adapt and change.  In reality, it doesn’t and won’t unless forced.  Any change, historically to radio, was forced upon stations by changes in culture, demographics, economics or government.  Take, as an example, FM Progressive Rock stations of the 70’s.  Many credit the formats creation to a 1964 FCC ruling severely limiting the number of hours station owners could simulcast AM programming on their FM stations.  This forced owners to come up with new (and cheap) music programming, which represented the growing counter-culture in America.  Radio station owners, then, could not see the opportunities with FM, even with its superior sound quality until forced.  They were blinded by the cash cows that were their AM’s and that would never change, or so they thought.

 Is it the PD’s?

Candidly, the program director of today has no say in programming decisions and the corporations don’t want a market PD with thoughts, ideas or any clue on how to correct talk radio’s problems.  They don’t get a vote.  Many of today’s talk radio PD’s are glorified board ops, never being taught and mentored in programming, coaching talent or strategic planning.  Many have no on-air experience. They are facilitators and are rewarded for nodding along with the status quo and punished for speaking out.  They know it’s best to keep their mouths shut in order to live another day and survive the next round of RIF’s.

The GM?

Many GM’s are facilitators as well.  The ones that dare defend a talk station’s unique place and heritage in their market are viewed as troublemakers.  They are given unreasonable budget demands from corporate owners which handcuff them. They have no control to increase staffs even when it makes good business sense due to competitive situations and improving economies.  They also have no control in decreasing staffs. They are told to RIF associates even when it may damage the operations they are ultimately held responsible for.  “We make the decisions, you’re responsible.” Doesn’t seem right, does it?

Corporate?

  1. In 2013 the entire radio industry in the USA made $17.6 billion in revenue according to Miller Kaplan.  Clear Channel’s debt alone is reported to be over $21 billion.  One company’s debt is more than the ENTIRE radio industry made last year. The companies that control the stations and distribution platforms that can reinvent talk radio are handcuffed to invest anything in a dying format and are handcuffed to investing anything in a new genre of talk.
  2. Take a look at the corporate level programmers with any big radio company.  Name an executive level programmer who has any experience with a news talk station.  Times up.
  3. Corporate radio is a vertically integrated model.  One company owns the distribution platforms, the syndicator, the rep firm and the chosen talent.  Clear Channel, for example, owns stations and the syndicator Premiere Networks.  They signed Rush Limbaugh to a reported multiyear, $400 million contract.  The media has reported on Limbaugh’s contract for years.  For a company to have any chance of making that type of investment back, the show must be broadcast on hundreds of stations.  Conveniently, a company like Clear Channel owns many of these radio stations in most cities.  Even if the show gets poor ratings the local station has no say in continuing or canceling the show.  

Don’t believe me?  Ask the radio stations that were forced to carry Sean Hannity or move his show to a live clearance after moving from the Cumulus stations this past January.  Of course few will speak up. You’ll need to trust me on this one.  To the big syndicators, the hours they control on a station through programs are like real estate.  And this is especially true with O&O’s of any big radio company.

With lucrative contracts, hundreds of guaranteed station clearances and little chance of losing any radio stations even with ratings and revenues cratering, why would syndicated talent change even if the radio companies paying them are addressing the content direction and concerns with these shows?

As I said to a corporate executive when pondering this very question.

“You think of me as someone coachable?”

He responded, “Very much so.”

I replied, “Well if you were paying me $200 million I wouldn’t listen to a f***ing word you said.”

This is why the talk radio format will continue on its destructive path until its stern, like the Titanic, slips below the waves.

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  14 comments for “Talk Radio’s Ratings Disaster – Why Nothing Changes

  1. SURVIVE
    July 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    OMG. Rebel TRUTHER! You da Bomb, Darryl.

    Remember…your water bottle is a great weapon…thrust into a THROAT. Move the gun BARREL away from your kill-zone FIRST…ok?

    With Ultimate Respect…

    Deb Gardner

  2. July 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Darryl, you know that I have admired your courage, smarts and programming skills for 30 years and this is a hard truth and it’s not just about talk radio.

    • July 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      Jaye, thank you for the kind thoughts. This means a lot coming from you. Be well. Darryl

  3. July 19, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Since Cumulus and Clear Channel are in such debt, why not wait until they implode and pick up the scraps. I’m sure Limbaugh is not going to donate to save them, he might buy some stations though.

    • spotmagicsolis
      November 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I’m waiting! I’m waiting! 20 years now :)

  4. July 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Great post. The real issue are those in management positions who want to remain in control while arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There is absolutely no way to move forward if you cannot generate free profits to service your debt. Every decision is reduced to a financial one that is nonsensical.

    I once thought that sub-audible or out-of-band chirps could be translated by computers to link to a wealth of collateral material to add value to the presentation. Then came websites. But, the quality of the content was little more than promotional or repeat podcasts.

    The distinction between “talk radio” and “music” is artificial as it is all entertainment or education to grab listeners. The cult of personality surpassed the quality and quantity of content. Each of the major talkers becomes repetitive — even when they are reacting to the news of the day, and the audience re-samples the selections.

    Since most people are relatively apathetic and feel comfortable with their previous selections — the charade of providing useful material is moot. Eliminate pre-sets for a period of time and the industry will dramatically change.

    Personally, I am time-shifting. Downloading those podcasts that seem relevant (many without commercials) and skipping forward through dull content or unwanted subjects.

    I think the next big thing in radio may be user-selectable content using some form of google-like algorithmic indexing. You set your device (notice I did not say radio because other than my car, I don’t own a dedicated device) to grab content per your interest and perhaps accept targeted commercials.

    Opinions are like assholes — everyone has one — and here is mine.

  5. Hans von Balkovsky
    July 21, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    The “disconnect that’s happened between the format and society.”

    Does this have anything to do with Bill Cunningham’s national show last nite wherein he attacked Obama
    from the hawkish “right” for not taking out Assad for using WMDS (Assad didn’t, actually, but that’s another story)
    and thus allowing Putin to throw his weight around (actually the US and Obama, hawkishly you might say,helped overthrow the duly elected government of Ukraine and replaced it with a puppet, causing Putin’s reaction, but that’s another story.)

    The story here is, Cunningham, who apologized for being a cheerleading war hawk re Iraq, called for us to restrain from further intervention and saber-rattlling, still represents a hypocritical “right” sector of the GOP which seems only able to attack Obama as a dove from the hawkish right, necessitating Cunningham’s flip flopping hypocrisy.

    Meanwhile, the public actually wanted Obama to stay out of Syria and wants us to stay out of Ukraine. Until fooled by the next round of WMD-like lies, the radio faux-right standing ready to take up the alarmist banner if Obama doesn’t react quickly enough.

    Thus “Libertarians” Cunningham and Brian Thomas also have no complaint about Israel using 79 billion $ of taxpayer money to decimate schools and hospitals in Gaza, making us more enemies, necessitating more intervention in the Mideast.

    This is where I came in.

    Rather this is where the bambinos come in. I say, bring em in, make the Cunninghams and Thomases furious until the US is properly overrun to such degree as even the hypocritical chickenhawks of the radio right can’t mobilize the
    sheeple to more war, as the money and will will be drained….and the war will be here.

  6. jerry smith
    July 22, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Having tested PPM gear now for the past 4 years can assure you the ingredients are stale with the stupid left-right garbage anyone with an eye on the global brain washing sees as bogus and part of the state run media.. But the final product on AM in the ratings game, especially on AM, is NOT decoding in real world environment. While they will still do it, call N.A. and set up a few radios in your home enviroment coupled with wifi and other smart meters, cable modems and computer noise generators. Slowly turn up the volume until N.A. says that’s good right there. Take a cheap Radio Shack noise level meter note the input to the phone mouth piece. It should be 85 db minimum depending on the amount of noise on the receiver baseband. That’s far too loud for PPM to work on AM radio anywhere. IF you have more than one AM signal under your market belt, try the other radios in your home or office and note how some are worse (phase noise) than others. Some just plain will not decode for the PPM test. You cannot test PPM on a cable modem phone or a cell phone. Does that tell you how latency plays into the mix for decoding PPM?
    Just like the left right scheme, N.A. is never going to admit to the incredible coverup on AM noise error reporting on PPM decoders. FM is also subject to the same internal garbage but the big signals work fine. Only the rim-shot guys and primarily when you have a car charger or other noise generators on the same circuit as the radio. We cannot fight this game. The big guys pay the bills and they are generally happy the AM signals don’t work in homes and poorly in most cars unles you have 25-50 mv/m signal on the dial.
    Jay Ray The Tech guy

    • July 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      But it worked OK on AM a few years ago. And what about 700WLW and WSB. They seem to be doing fine.

  7. spotmagicsolis
    November 19, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    “Radio industry mouthpieces point out “radio” always adapts and will continue to adapt and change. In reality, it doesn’t and won’t unless forced.” Truer words have seldom been heard by me outside of both my companies’ office walls. But guess what? That mentality has helped me launch those 2 businesses! We can’t fix the people but we can innovate the technology so that those people can compete better against the bigger enemy to the industry right now, the OTT services that are threatening from that direction.

    oh, and IMO, the polarizing of the left-right extremes is because it works well for the lowest common denominator in the human psyche. Point out and crucify the (perceived) enemy in a (perceived) group. Works well for dictators too. And that’s why the dems shows (Air America) don’t do well. We’re not as, how should I put this?…Stupid?

    Oh hey, are you going to talk about the CCSS shutting down? That’s doing wonders for my start-up!

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