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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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