The Annual “Radio Show” That Accomplishes Nothing

It’s all very exciting.

Each fall, old white guys in ill fitting suits, wrinkled button down collar shirts, unpolished shoes and ties fashionable in 1986, American radio broadcasters if you will, gather in a different city to discuss what’s right and wrong with the radio industry, discuss theories, drink a few beers and return home to accomplish nothing.  And this year it costs just $899 on-site, plus plane fare and hotel in Nashville for a few days.

Remember when “AM Revitalization” was announced three years ago at the “Radio Show?”  How’s that working out?  Not good.  Is that really a surprise?

In the three years since “revitalization,” AM radio stations continue to suffer the failed governance of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which you may vaguely remember is supposed to protect the public’s interest. That means you the listener.  And there’s the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Washington, D.C. lobby, that works hard on behalf of the consolidator companies to help out any politician with an open palm in order to get the next bad idea through Congress and the FCC.  Public interest and you be damned.

The Friday before the annual fall Radio Show began, when few were paying attention, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly made remarks at a luncheon.  After a slight belch, a sip of that nasty unsweetened iced tea served up at hotels and a gratuitous mention of the “fine lunch,” in the speech’s second paragraph he got right to AM Revitalization, part of which allows for AM broadcasters to simulcast programming on low power FM translators they get a hold of.

The Commish also said he’d like to see “relief” from that oppressive main studio rule currently requiring a station’s “main studio”(however that’s defined) to be located within the city of license, within 25 miles of the city of license or within the main signal.  I mean why actually maintain a studio in let’s say Peoria when you can actually use a studio in Boise?  So much for the public’s interest.  I’m wondering whose idea this is? Listeners or the consolidator companies?

But, it was the third paragraph where he dropped the bomb.

“No amount of Commission action or government involvement is going to save the medium (AM radio) from irrelevancy if listeners and advertisers abandon stations, although I don’t see that happening in the immediate term.”

And then his nose really start growing.

“From my conversations with AM radio license holders, that’s exactly how they see it too: they just want the Commission to eliminate some of the barriers to competition so they have the tools to win the hearts and minds of listeners and let the chip fall where they may.”

Yeah.  AM broadcasters stand at the ready with checkbooks awash in money to invest and improve the programming they offer if only “some of the barriers to competition” were eliminated.  It must be those “barriers” forcing broadcasters to program informercials that promise to clean you out if you’re constipated on weekends.

Three years ago I wrote about those cheering “AM Revitalization” at the fall Radio Show in 2013. I’ve repeatedly said it’s foolish to think moving programming to the FM band will help AM listening.  It won’t. Three years ago I dared to suggested AM station owners stop whining and understand what they have and that was land and lots of it.  I’m guessing I was ahead of my time, because in the months since Clear Channel Media + Entertainment iHeart Media appears to have taken my advice and sold off most of its tower sites, with Cumulus and other operators trying the same.

With the Radio Show in Nashville now in full drunk, people are discussing the bright future of HD Radio, which is a joke filled column unto its own, podcasting and somewhere in a super secret closed off and guarded locked room discussions on allowing foreign ownership of American broadcast stations.  This is above and beyond the current foreign ownership limits.

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How has Donald Trump not picked up on this one?  Mexicans, Muslims and the Chinese owning American radio stations…where ever?  Get me one of those redneck “Make America Great Again” ball caps right now!

As Larry Wilson, the big cheese at Alpha Media, said at the Radio Show, “Watching iHeart Media is like watching the national debt.”  That’s $21 billion in debt and billions more than the entire radio industry’s annual revenue combined.

With some consolidator companies gagging on their debt and their stocks trading as “penny stocks” with no hope of ever paying their investors back, who do you think wants the Communist Chinese, for example, to invest in American radio?  The listeners or the consolidator companies?  And why would the Chinese want to own American broadcast stations?

Many companies represented at this year’s Radio Show have gotten all the money their going to get from American investors and banks.  It’s now time to reach out and get money from foreigner investors who want Americans to hear their propaganda.

FCC and NAB, let’s get to work!  Prove me wrong about nothing getting done at the annual Radio Show. Americans need to hear the virtues of communism via the radio stations of America and its bought and paid for radio personalities.  All it takes is for you to ignore the public’s interest and sell out the American listener one more time.

Fake Callers on Talk Radio? Say it Ain’t So!

No way.  It can’t be.  Radio stations resorting to actually faking callers to gin up topics and make the programming (dare I say) entertaining?  Never would have thought of that one.

First Time Caller

Sports talk radio in Philadelphia is in bunker mode because “Dwayne from Swedesboro,” a regular “caller” to WPEN-FM’s Mike Missanelli show was actually station producer Pat Egan.  “Adding to the controversy,” as described in one radio blog, is the fact Pat is white and character “Dwayne” is African-American.

The aftermath of all this?  WPEN-FM has suspended three people including its program director and a competitor fired its afternoon host.  I never heard the bit and don’t know if it went over the line, it may have, but jeez.

You mean, back in the day, “Hink & Dink” on WLW were inappropriate?

Hink and Dink

Dare I pull the curtain back a little?

In recent times, Cincinnati heard the likes of Kabaccha Abba, the leader of the modern day “Black Fist,” a group (it was him and his girlfriend) left over from the civil rights days and fashioned after the radical 1960’s Black Panthers.  A black man, Kabaccha actually was a community loud mouth. If I remember correctly he drove a lime green Chevy Vega with “Black Fist” spelled out on its hood with those cheap letters you’d stick on a mailbox.  The character he created was meant to creep out anyone in white suburbia.  The boogie man lived among us.  Boo!

Sadly, Kabaccha was shot on the steps of Cincinnati’s City Hall one warm and sunny afternoon and later died.

There was “Randy the Gas Siphoner,” who appeared when gas prices became painfully high.  He was a true sociopath who would prowl parking lots, like at malls or the long-term lots at the airport, and drain the gas from cars.  He’d call in to the station and tell people where he was and what he was doing and dared people to catch him, proud he hadn’t paid for a tank of gas in years.  You want a 40-something male pissed off, go messing with his pick-up in Kentucky!

Each Halloween, a naive, do-gooder consumed by white guilt would rent a passenger van and load it up with black inner city kids and take them to the white suburbs (always in a station hot zip code) and set them free to trick or treat in a neighborhood where the candy was “better.”  On the hottest of summer days the same guy would do the same, except he’d take the underprivileged children to a private swim club in those same white suburbs.  People calling from those neighborhoods, while trying to be accommodating and kind, would eventually say something about “those people.”

There was Richard from Indian Hill.  Indian Hill is the wealthiest zip code in the state of Ohio. Richard would subtly brag about how rich he was, his vacations, private jet, his great “diamond” seats at Reds’ games and mock those who shopped at Walmart.  A classic representation of the 1%, done before anyone even knew what the 1% was.

Nick from Loveland, was an over the top effeminate gay male and uber liberal who held numerous and worthless college degrees, didn’t work and was up to his eye balls in debt.  On hot summer days he’d call in to the station while watching is partner “Thad” cut the grass shirtless, sweat glistening off his ripped and tanned body as he’d described it.  You want homophobia?  Have a gay male describe his lust for his partner on a midwestern talk radio station.  Nick once asked me to be his “maid of honor” at their wedding. It was a great topic, because we didn’t know what to call the honored position.  Nick was against anything conservative, an environmentalist and outspoken about global warming.  Of course he had no problem taking cruises he couldn’t afford on big ships that drank diesel fuel by the barrel.

Others, like Buckeye Super Fan was there to offend the rabid fans of Ohio State football.  This guy was an obnoxious, name dropping, stereotypically boorish OSU fan, always cheering on the team, except he was an imbecile.  He’d never get into a fraternity, let alone “A Ohio State University.”

Each of these “callers” were polar opposites of 700WLW’s target audience.  After all, people like these couldn’t possibly live in the same city and communities, right?

A few years ago, Premiere Networks figuring they could make a few bucks with fake callers began marketing a service called “Premiere On Call,” which for a fee would have professional callers call into talk shows.  The idea was scrapped after political blogs got hold of the story much to the embarrassment of the conservative talk hosts associated with the network.  

Theater of the mind and entertainment, two things sorely missing in talk radio today.  Is it so bad for listeners to have a little fun, provocative or not?

I was once quoted as saying, “700WLW is a parody of a talk station.”  While later I didn’t think that quote looked so good in print, at times that’s what it was.  Creating street talk, knowing the vast majority of the audience were in on the joke and were laughing at the legit callers upset at the character “callers.”

Former Cincinnati Enquirer media columnist John Kiessewetter also asked me if all the callers were real. My response, “There is a basis of reality in all callers on the station.”

This is about entertainment!

 

No “Salary” for Rush? What this means for local talk radio hosts.

 

So, four more years is what — The release didn’t specify that. Because I told everybody involved I don’t want any terms announced. I have never, by the way, released that kind of information about my arrangement here. Those numbers have always come from other people. My parents, my dad  always told me, “you never talk about it, son.” It was a sign of good manners, bad manners, class, and no class, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s kind of a joke for people to throw out numbers anyway, because I don’t earn a salary. This is another thing, by the way, that keeps this fresh and young. I have to perform every quarter, every six months, every year. There’s no salary involved here, so throwing out numbers with this is kind of misleading in the first place.

-Rush Limbaugh

 

I have said it before, “As Limbaugh goes, so goes news/talk radio.”

When Rush Limbaugh signed his previous contract, word “leaked” immediately that it was worth $400 million.  The agreement’s length, Rush’s pay, a rumored nine figure signing bonus and jet.

Freakin’ sweet.

With all employment contracts I’ve signed, including with Clear Channel Media + Entertainment iHeart Media, included is what is called a “confidentiality clause.”  Think of it as legalese for the Mafia’s “omertà.” It says keep your mouth shut or else.  I’m guessing Limbaugh’s contracts have included this too.  Normally, that clause can be found somewhere in the last few pages.  It’s not hard to find.

Little has “leaked” out with Rush’s latest contract, except for Rush going on his national radio show revealing its length, talking about it and how he doesn’t get a “salary.”

Seriously?  You do know there are labor laws that prohibit this.  The government tends to frowns on people working for no pay, since American history reveals that embarrassing indentured servant/slavery thing, which caused a civil war, a president getting shot in the back of the head, thousands dead, the Hatfields and McCoys fighting in that war, battling over a pig, a pregnancy out of wedlock and the families killing each other for a few decades.  Not good.

First, a little background.

Rush Limbaugh is probably a “company,” which he owns and where he owns the content and the intellectual properties of his program, along with any other investors he’s brought along for the ride in that cool jet.  This means, he’s likely not an employee, per se, of Premiere Networks or iHeart Media.  With an arrangement like this, his “company” would be paid a fee for the radio show with his “company,” in turn, paying the expenses of certain staff and some costs of production.  Premiere Networks sells the advertising, does the affiliate sales and distributes the program to the network of stations.  It’s more of a business agreement between two companies and not the standard employer – employee relationship you may have with your job.

There are reasons for arrangements like this.  Mainly tax reasons, but there are business reasons too, like owning the intellectual content and keeping control of the Rush Limbaugh “brand.”

So does he get a “salary” like you or I get a salary?  “Technically,” Rush is probably getting the profit or what’s left over after paying the bills.

Rush, in his words, said his parents taught him never to talk about “it,” as it’s a sign of good manners.  I admire that great parental advice and my grandparents told me the same thing.  Of course, he then went ahead and announced it was a 4-year deal.

The base fee structure paid to Limbaugh is rumored to have been drastically cut and there’s a greater emphasis on a revenue share.  This means if the show has better future revenues,  Limbaugh and Premiere Networks, both share in the bounty.  If it does worse, Premiere mitigates its risks and cuts a smaller check to Limbaugh.  Either way, he won’t be hanging with the homeless people on Military Trail in West Palm Beach, Florida anytime soon.

Sign Here Talk Host 2

What does all this mean for the average local radio talk host in America?

What?  You didn’t think of that?

The most well known personality in conservative talk radio supposedly takes a massive hair cut in pay and you in a local market are expecting more when it’s time for your raise?

I don’t take any pleasure in saying this, but don’t believe any of the happy corporate press releases you read about how great things are with Rush and the news/talk format.  What does it say about the ratings, revenue and demographics of the news/talk format when Rush Limbaugh, the biggest “brand” in conservative talk radio, takes a cut in pay?  What does it say about the viability of the format moving forward?

 

Local talk radio host – You just got screwed.

 

How’s Limbaugh’s Station in Pittsburgh Doing?

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On the anniversary of his 28th year as a national talk show host, radio historians will remember Rush Limbaugh when he called himself Jeff Christy, an AM radio Top 40 disc jockey working at KQV in Pittsburgh.

28 years is an incredible run.  Few have the talent to make it almost three decades on the same radio show.  Rush Limbaugh is to be respected and honored for his talents and accomplishments.  He will certainly go down as a legend, spoken of in the same company as people like Paul Harvey.

This month also marks the reported end of his huge contract with Premiere Networks and its parent company iHeart Media, a contract said to be worth $400 million.

28 years and $400 million has a way of insulating someone.  Private jets, private golf courses and access to the most powerful people isolate one’s thinking.  One lives in a bubble.  You can no longer relate to the daily struggles your audience goes through.  One can’t see the world changing isolated in a walled off compound, living among the rich and elite, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

70-year old listeners of Rush were just 42 when he started his national show on the “EIB Network.”  70-year olds may continue to hold those similar views today, but today’s 42-year olds sure don’t.

Over the weekend, I saw this Tweet from famed radio consultant Holland Cooke.

Even a decade ago Limbaugh’s contract would have been a big topic, but it’s not in 2016.  Some in the radio industry may be talking about it, but it’s important to note fewer and fewer listeners aren’t and don’t care. And as Limbaugh goes, so goes news/talk radio.

After almost three decades behind the “golden EIB microphone,” the world changed and Rush has not. Same tired bumper music, same worn-out topics, same overused “talent on loan from God” sayings.

Is Rush’s contract really “Topic #1” as Holland Cooke put it?  I’d guess there are a few local talk radio programmers, or as I like to call them “facilitators,” who’ve made a call to Premiere Networks (Rush’s syndication company) asking about Limbaugh’s future.  But, as is the norm in the post consolidation world, those local “facilitators” have no decision to make.  They are told by those in upper management what programs they are to broadcast on their stations.  The “facilitator’s” questions are more to satisfy their own personal curiosity than anything else.

I hate to break it to talk radio “facilitators,” if Limbaugh quits, and he won’t, you have no juice on who or what replaces his show.  If iHeart Radio says the new thing each weekday from noon-3pm is a cooking show with an old lady from Ohio, you’re carrying a cooking show with an old lady from Ohio. And judging by recent ratings, that cooking show may do as well as Limbaugh’s stations do in some markets.

You see, that’s the unspoken topic in talk radio circles and should be Holland’s “Topic #1.”  Poor ratings.

The June 2016 Nielsen PPM ratings have been posted and I wondered how some of Limbaugh’s stations are doing this election year, a year when news/talk stations are supposed to get big ratings bumps. Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are all markets, where in recent years, Limbaugh’s show has been canceled or moved off longtime affiliates to other stations.

Years ago, Rush Limbaugh could make or break a news/talk station.  But, that was many years ago and is no longer the case.

Here’s how those June ’16 PPM numbers look for Limbaugh’s stations in the markets mentioned.  The ratings referenced are all 6+ (Mon-Sun 6am-Mid).

BOSTON.  He was canceled by management at WRKO-AM and replaced by Jeffrey T. Kuhner, “Liberalism’s Worst Nightmare!”  He is a conservative nationalist, who according to the WRKO website, champions God, country and family.  Whoa!  Limbaugh’s show has been banished to WKOX-AM, a iHeart Radio owned station, and in June ’16 that station ranked #23 with a 0.2.  That’s just two tenths of a point away from a DNS or “did not show,” meaning not having enough listeners to show in the ratings.  That’s a “nightmare.”

NEW YORK.  Limbaugh’s show left WABC-AM for WOR-AM.  The station has a 2.1 share and ranks #14 in the June ’16 PPM.  I know, you’re saying, “See?”  In January ’16 WOR had a cumulative weekly audience, or cume, of 586,600.  In March it was 689,400.  Then in April it jumped to 1,005,500 and in June 1,197,700.  The increase is due to New York Mets baseball.  Back at you, “See?”

LOS ANGELES.  Limbaugh’s show was pulled from KFI-AM, the leading talk station, and moved to a another station iHeart Radio cleverly branded just for him, KEIB-AM, as in “excellence in broadcasting.”  In June the station ranked #27 with a 0.4 share and its cume was less than 200,000 – in Los Angeles the second biggest city in America!  Not so clever and not so “excellent.”

INDIANAPOLIS.  Limbaugh show was canceled by WIBC-FM and as was the case in Boston, when no other station appeared to volunteered and take it, iHeart Radio was forced to put it on a station it owned in the market, WNDE-AM. It’s an all sports station, except for the hours of Limbaugh’s weekday show.  In June ’16 it ranked #17 and had a 0.8 share.  Sports geared toward a younger male and conservative talk focused on the pissed off geriatric male.  A winning combination.

And what about PITTSBURGH?  Limbaugh was on an iHeart Radio owned FM conservative talk station that failed and was put out of its misery.  Back then it had a morning show called the “War Room.”  “War Room” is really a morning pick me up, don’t you think?  The station now plays Bro Country.  Rush’s program, along with other company owned conservative talk shows, were sent to WJAS-AM.  Pittsburgh’s a great market for any poorly rated syndicated talk show, because WJAS is not a Nielsen subscriber and that means its ratings go unpublished.

Being unpublished, I can’t tell you exactly what the ratings for WJAS-AM were in the June ’16 Nielsen PPM’s, but let’s just say they are:

  1. …somewhere between a 0.9 and a 1.1 share.
  2. …(or) an average of a 2 and a zero.  Do the math.
  3. …low, ranking somewhere between a 20 and 22.

In all fairness, there are stations like KMOX-AM in St. Louis and WSB-AM in Atlanta that carry Rush Limbaugh and do very well.  In the June ’16 PPM, WSB is ranked #1, 6+.  In the Top 10 radio markets, three out of ten of Limbaugh’s stations crack the top 10 rankings (Atlanta #1, Dallas #9, Houston #10).  In each of these cases, the stations are heritage stations with full market signals.

Who knows if Rush Limbaugh’s new contract is done, still being negotiated or if he’s making plans for retirement and golf in West Palm Beach.  But, judging by listeners in some of his markets, fewer and fewer are caring if he stays or goes.

Sadly for news/talk radio, Rush is no longer anywhere near “Topic #1.”

 

Why WLS in Chicago has a 1.9 Share

50,000 watts.  Major League Baseball.  And the ratings are shit.

You might ask why?  I believe I have the answer.

When breaking news (or weather) happens, people are looking for information.  People that may never have listened to a station are tuning in wanting to know what’s happening around them.

Think back almost 15 years to September 11, 2001.  We were all confused.  Questioning our safety.  We wanted to know what was happening.  We wanted to know what to do.  We wanted guidance.  We wanted reassurance.  We needed comfort.

The people that are, in radio ratings terms, P1’s are already with you and listening.  But, a big news event causes others to tune in, the P2’s and P3’s, if you will.  So logically what is the job of a talk host, producer and program director during breaking news?  To convert those P2’s and P3’s to P1’s or in layman’s terms:

REGULAR LISTENERS!

The first thing my wife said to me this morning, “Our world is coming unglued.  What the hell is going on?” She was talking about the five police officers senselessly gunned down in of all places Dallas, a city with arguably the most progressive and “tuned into the community” police department in the country.  People across America, white, African American, Hispanic, Asian – no matter the grouping – are confused, need guidance, reassurance and are searching for comfort.

Conservative talk radio could have dialed down the rhetoric for a day or two, embracing those new listeners searching for answers, but, as normal, it didn’t.  The shootings in Dallas are a time when talk radio can lead and excel.  Instead, to those new listeners, conservative talk radio comes across as a grouping of conspiracy lunatics.  And when someone new tunes into their local talk radio station, their immediate reaction is “this station is not me.”

Someone once said something very profound to me.  They said, “See that can of Coca-Cola?  The first time I took at sip of Coke, if it tasted like shit, I never would have bought another one.”

 

Translation: You only have one chance to make a first impression.

 

So why does WLS in Chicago have poor ratings?

This may be why.  This was Instagram’d and Tweeted this morning.  It’s a picture of a call screen from (what I understand to be) the WLS morning show, the morning after five Dallas police officers were killed and numerous other officers wounded.

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I don’t know if any of these calls made it to air, but what I question is why these callers were screened through for air in the first place?

This is just one example of what may have been heard on hundreds of talk stations across America on July 8, 2016.

A host’s, producer’s and programmer’s job during breaking news is to convert new listeners to regular listeners.

If you don’t understand this ratings and programming fundamental, shame on you.

3 Ways To Host a Radio Talk Show

Hilitrump

The choice we have.  No wonder people want a revolution.

We’re about four months until the presidential election and arguably our choice is between two turd candidates.  On November 8th, we’ll walk into the voting booth and there will sit two steamers.  One, our brain reasons, has whipped cream on top.  The other is just plain crap.  We’ll stick the ballot in our mouth and biting down we’ll first taste the sweet goodness of the cream.  That initial taste is our justification we’re making the correct decision for president. Inevitably, though, we’ll begin tasting that turd and then turning to leave the voting booth, the foul taste of shit will be what’s left in our mouth.

Summer has only begun and Internet trolls and social media posters are already working overtime hiding behind their smartphones or keyboards and supporting their turd candidate.

And then there’s the original social media, radio, and its “talk radio” format.  Those two words have been defined as “conservative talk radio.” Short sighted radio programmers, locally and on the corporate level, allowed it to be defined this way.  If you’re a strategic thinker, you know it’s never good allowing yourself to be defined by others (negatively branded if you will) in the minds of the consumer.  Worse yet, the radio industry did it to itself.

But, what’s a station or two called “Rush Radio” going to hurt, “right?” I mean “correct?” “Rush is Right” after all.  So “1990’s” clever.

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A radio programmer recently posted this on Facebook as a cruel joke to the echo chamber “conservative talk radio” has become.  It’s a format that can’t bring up Ronald Reagan enough, a president who hasn’t been president for almost 30 years now (look it up).  So making a topic of Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke despising each other makes perfect sense.  Talk radio’s base, the angry 70-year old man, would love talking about how Rose Marie could take Don Knotts in a fight.  And of course Barney Fife was a big supporter of the 2nd Amendment, because he carried a single bullet in his shirt pocket.  The compelling layers to this topic are endless.

This comment was made to that original Facebook post by a well meaning conservative talk host whose name I’ll redact to avoid him embarrassment.

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If you have to say, “I NOT BE SILENCED,” you are being silence.

And herein lies the problem with talk radio today. A host says he’s trying to change and broaden topics (he’s not), but can’t because he thinks the number of callers on hold determine the success and popularity of a radio talk show.  He allows callers to direct the content of his show.  Put another way, he’s saying callers are better at determining “Topic A” than he is.

Do you think those callers care about or understand a host’s Nielsen ratings?  Those ratings are what actually determines the success or failure of a show and decides if a personality keeps his job or not. Right?

Do you think those callers care about the revenue a show is producing?  The sales manager and market manager do. Right?

Or could those callers be calling with another agenda?

Good grief. Wake up talk radio!

I’ve heard this lame excuse many times before. A national host once said to me, “I can’t do the topics I want because before the show starts I have full lines of people wanting to talk politics.”

Huh?

Are those callers on hold actually listening to the show? Or are they professional callers and part of a phone tree attempting to engage radio shows at the urging of a political party, a candidate or organizational cause?  That’s the other agenda I mentioned.

This is probably a bad example for this discussion, but do you think Rush Limbaugh cares about the callers to his show?  Let me be blunt.  He doesn’t give a damn. The show is about him, Rush Limbaugh, not the callers.  If he chose, Limbaugh could talk about a banana for months on end and never take a call, he’s that skilled of a radio performer. He’s never taken many calls. Even on his so-called “Open Line Friday,” with its outdated and hopelessly stuck in the 80’s faux Saturday Night Live theme, he doesn’t take many calls.

Less than 1% of the audience calls a talk show.  As a radio personality why would you pander to that 1% and ignore the other 99%?

Here’s some radio talk host coaching 101 for free.

There are three ways to do a talk show and only one is correct.

  • Caller Driven (wrong). This is where a host depends on the calls to be interesting, because the host generally isn’t very interesting, knowledgable or entertaining. Great topics abound like, “What color Trump hat would look best on me?  White or red?”  “Ooooooo.  Red.  The color of a firetruck.”

  • Guest Driven (wrong). This is where a host depends on guests to make his show interesting, because the host generally isn’t very interesting, knowledgable or entertaining.  Hour after hour boring book authors populate the show.  Think Larry King here.  And before you say it, have you ever heard or seen Larry King without a guest? Thought so.

  • Personality Driven (correct). This is what you must strive to be as a radio talk host! Listeners are listening because of you! You’re entertaining.  Interesting. Compelling. Originating information. You’re a companion. You’re the daily water cooler talk.  You speak for them and you’re their advocate.  You’re Limbaugh (when he was younger, irreverent, entertaining and not a pissed off 65-year old man). You’re Howard Stern (He’s still great and not that much younger than Limbaugh.  He’s 62). You’re Josh Innes from WIP-FM. Outspoken.  Irreverent. He speaks with and for young men and the sports fans of Philadelphia.  Being a personality takes hard work. You’re unique and most importantly you can’t be duplicated, which is the definition of job security.

If you’re a radio talk host, stop looking at those blinking on hold lights and be what you’re paid to do. Be a personality!

 

A Dog’s (Short) Life and Purpose

You will live a lifetime during a dog’s life.

Since a dog’s life span doesn’t match that of ours, it must be nature’s way of making sure we understand how precious each day of our human life is.

15 years is a long time even for humans. In that time a person transforms.

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By the time you read this, my almost 15-year-old puppy Jake will be gone. He is in his final day.  It’s amazing how fast time has gone and how life and lives change and things mature.

Ironically, I didn’t set out to meet him that cloudy and cool December Saturday afternoon right before Christmas. But, there he was, with his brothers and sisters at Pet Smart in Eastgate (Ohio) hoping for a “forever home.” He looked like a purebred baby black Labrador Retriever. He was mutt though. I’ve always wondered who is parents were and what his mom and dad looked like. What happened to his siblings? Were they as great a companion as Jake?  Where was he born?

When I met him he was just 10 weeks old.

My then 12-year old son Tony, as any 12-year old would, asked, “Can we get him Dad?” I agreed and he came home with us, much to the surprise of my wife Kathie, who upon seeing him said, “That’s a dog.” I said, “Meet Jake.”

Our journey together began that winter day.

Tony, who is 27, is now a college graduate – twice. He was always Jake’s best friend, probably because he held him as we drove home that day and slept with him the first few nights in our home. Tony lives in New York and went to college in California. It didn’t matter how long it was or what time of the day Tony would arrive in Cincinnati for a visit, Jake never barked and always loved up on him. He wasn’t much of a guard dog when Tony walked in at 4am on a road trip back from California.

But, over his lifetime Jake did guard Tony, Kathie and me. If one of us were home alone and upstairs, he’d lay across the third step. At night he’d sleep on the landing going to the upstairs bedrooms or in the doorways of my room or Tony’s room. We always joked he was getting his inner “wolf” on.

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He’s been with us for many Memorial Day weekends, including the one 13 years ago when my wife had open-heart surgery. She was very ill and as the cardiologist said to me, “in a few months it will be too late.” He lay by her side as her heart and body mended. Dogs understand the healing process much better than her doctors could have made me understand.

Today is probably the most beautiful spring day of 2016.  I’m sitting on our back patio tearing up as I write this.  Jake won’t make this Memorial Day weekend.  There’s a deep blue midwestern sky, not a cloud in sight and a slight cooling breeze. The grass and trees are all a lush green and flowers are blooming. You can smell spring everywhere. It’s a day created from the miserable winters we endure annually in this part of the country.

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It’s fitting this beautiful day is Jake’s last. He loved spring and summer and loved being in his backyard rolling around and sun bathing in the warmth.

Jake’s been having a hard time walking and getting around the past few months, not uncommon for a 15-year old senior gentleman. His eyesight is not as good as it once was and he’s totally deaf. As the birds chirp their spring songs he doesn’t hear it.

It’s probably me, but as I took Jake on some slow walks yesterday and today, he’d just stop and look around at the neighborhood he grew up and lived in and loved. He’d then walk a little more and again turn around and glance at a world he is leaving. It’s like he was taking it in one last time and saying goodbye.

We walked past our home today, which was only a few years old when Jake became part of the family. We stood across the street and stared.  We looked at trees that were just saplings when he was a puppy. Today some of those trees are 25 feet tall. Life around us, all life, matured during his time.

We all lived a lifetime with Jake. It was only too short.

Radio Industry’s Fake Outrage Over KGO

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People are outraged.  People are sad.  People are in shock.  People are now, finally, speaking up over the execution of one of America’s former great and “heritage” stations, KGO-AM in San Francisco.

Why now?  What happened last week to KGO has been happening to radio stations, personalities, talk hosts, support personnel and news staffs for the past 20 years.  Formats changed, jobs eliminated and for KGO, through regulation, an AM broadcast band brought to a point of uselessness.   Yet, few have spoken up, including you.  Why is that?

Many blog comments, predictably pointing fingers at Cumulus Media, the corporate owners of KGO, include how the poster “loves radio” and how “radio is their passion.”  Really?  Where were you when the National Association of Broadcasters (N.A.B.), the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.), Congress and President Bill Clinton almost mortally wounded radio in 1996?  Where were you when your colleagues were being laid off the past two decades?  What about the recent foolish plans to save AM radio through so-called “revitalization?”

Why so quiet radio person?

Are you believing tranquility within your company will keep you hanging on to your job a few more months? Of course, if you’re honest you know the ultimate fate coming your way and sadly coming the way of most radio people.

Why so quiet radio industry trades?

Many industry newsletters and trade publications are nothing more than mouth pieces for corporate consolidators and remain silent because of a display ad or two purchased from these companies.  That ad buy comes with an understood price.  Silence.

Ever notice when someone is promoted to a job overseeing multiple markets, now doing the job of three, four or more people, one rarely hears of those being displaced?  Why is that part of the story being ignored?

Tranquility.  Speak nothing of what is really happening.  Keep the status quo.

First some hard truths.

KGO has been on its knees for years, even back in the ABC Radio days.  Citadel and now Cumulus Media are just owners who inherited a problem created decades ago.  KGO should have made strategic changes and focused on new generations of audience then, but it didn’t.  They remained focused on an aging audience of Grandma and Grandpa, while ignoring the generational changes happening in San Francisco area.

Hey. Where did all those “youngsters” come from in Silicon Valley?

The future audience was obvious, yet it was ignored.

KGO kept those ratings up and its #1, 12+ ranking, while its 25-54 audience, the future audience it needed, dwindled to embarrassing low levels. Its cumulative audience was dropping, but as long as Grandma and Grandpa couldn’t get the walker moving to change the radio station, KGO’s time spent listening or TSL kept its total audience shares up.

The end has been coming for 20 years or more.  KGO may have been #1, 12+, but 25-54 it was ranked number 10 or lower in dairy ratings.

Then the ratings methodology changed from diary to Arbitron’s (now Nielsen’s) PPM.  KGO, still a market leader in total audience share, declined to a rank of number 20 or lower in the 25-54 demographic it needed.  The station was now unsellable.

Claudia Lamb, a former employee at KGO, wrote an excellent piece about the station’s death (as she called it).  She says at one point KGO was showing a profit of $5 million.  That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s not.  Not in the 4th largest radio market in America.  Once Cumulus Media bought Citadel, fresh from its bankruptcy, that $5 million profit wasn’t enough money to keep its lenders happy.

KGO died a death by a thousand cuts over two decades or more.

Now, it’s about a new generation of talk, which is rather laughable.  The day starts with a syndicated morning show from Sacramento, Armstrong and Getty.  They’re above average radio talent.  But, are they better than The Today Show, Good Morning America, Morning Joe or Fox and Friends?  No.  It’s those shows that are the real competition for KGO now.

And what’s the real future of KGO’s new generation of talk as Cumulus Media puts lipstick on this pig?  The kgoradio.com website revealed the important programming after last week’s culling.  Paid and brokered weekend shows to pay the power bill.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 11.27.09 AMI’ve written a lot about the future of talk radio.  If it doesn’t change and change quickly, its end is coming. There is no future focusing on an aging audience of Baby Boomers, as KGO tragically found out.  The future only exists with younger generations, with hosts speaking with them about their concerns, interests and lifestyles.  This is not a story specific to the news/talk format either.  It’s a cautionary tale for all of radio.

The story of KGO’s end is about poor strategic planning in the 90’s, poor planning for a change in rating methodology in the 2000’s and now poor planning for its future.

KGO’s sister stations, WABC in New York and WLS in Chicago are both in the same ratings shape.  What does the future hold for these stations?  Many news/talk stations are considered “heritage” and there in lies the problem. “Heritage” looks back and has only one meaning.  It means “old.”  There is no future in being “heritage” of anything.  By definition, being “heritage” prevents you from looking forward.

If you find yourself working for a “heritage” news/talk station and the ratings show few people under 60 listening, what does the future hold for you?

KGO just showed you.

What Happens to Talk Radio in November?

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Translation: If you’re going down, you might as well go down in a memorable way.

Donald Trump sure is memorable and the same could have been said about talk radio some 20 years ago.

Conservative talk radio and the Republican party are connected, once again trying to energize their common “base.”  Each are equally disconnected to generational changes, ethnic and demographic changes and generally the world around them. Each comfortably exists in an echo chamber of stale talking points, opinions and ideas, insecure in their beliefs, distrustful of any thoughts that may differ.

The problem is their common “base,” the angry 65+ year old white male, is shrinking and not the future for either’s survival.  Their “base” is dropping dead and they refuse to acknowledge it or adjust accordingly.

Some conservative talk radio hosts love Donald Trump talking about how he’s going to make things great again.  Again?  A slogan that romanticizes the past?  This may give the “base” and these hosts some comfort, but nothing is going to stop change.  Nothing ever stops change.

Donald Trump is a master at manipulating the media.  He understands ratings are what counts and the media loves him for it.  Trump is making a typically boring presidential campaign great reality television. Successful political campaigns are entertaining and Trump knows this.

Many conservative talk radio hosts have gone all in on Trump and most haven’t thought about their exit strategy should he lose.

Every four years, the “1%” tells those of us educationally and economically less fortunate our lives suck. It’s a classic misdirection play.  Get us mad about this over here, so we don’t see what’s going on over there. No presidential candidate, regardless of the party, would ever risk empowering us “99%’ers.”  Doing so would put their own status, wealth and influential power at risk.

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“Hillary, fool them once, shame on…shame on us.  Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.  I think that was the Rolling Stones, right?”

Four years ago it was “1%’er” Mitt Romney telling us our lives sucked.  This year it’s people like Hillary Clinton, who along with her husband, has a net worth of about $111,000,000.  Poor by what Trump claims, but a hell of a lot wealthier than we’ll ever be.

You’re watching a civil war within the Republican party, the establishment at war with its members, and by its association, you’re witnessing the end of conservative talk radio.  Call it a peaceful overthrow of establishment Washington politics.  Call it whatever you want. The goal is to retain the “1%’s” wealth and power.

You know who’s also part of the “1%,” with a keen interest in maintaining the status quo?  Many conservative talk radio hosts who have sold their access and voices to the highest political bidder.

Conservative talk radio hosts are also part of establishment Washington politics, because many have been paid off by “think tanks,” as political contributions are funneled to them to maintain tranquility and order.

Oh.  You didn’t know that?  It’s kind of like music payola, only for words.  Don’t believe me?  Believe Republican Washington insider and former Congressman Dick Armey!

“The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air,” Dick Armey, the former House Republican majority leader, “I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure.”

For years radio talk hosts have been carrying the water for ill conceived policies and lying politicians of both parties.  On the conservative side, there’s Limbaugh, Beck and others telling the angry 65+ year old white man his life sucks.  On the liberal side there’s Ed Schultz with basically the same message – many living the life of the “1%.”

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No more private jet?  No more Maybach?

For once I’m starting to think Glenn Beck’s phony “crying on cue” may be real, because his “1%” life is at risk.

Let’s look at what the future holds for conservative talk radio.

  • Nielsen ratings for news/talk stations will show a nominal increase in listening in 2016.  You’ll hear the industry press crow conservative talk radio is growing and year to year that will be true.  But, one must look back a few years to see a trend and after November that trend will point down…sharply.

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  • Donald Trump will cause listeners to sample news/talk stations for the first time as they search for political information.  Stations and hosts will take an even more polarizing, hard right leaning view. Instead of trying to embrace these new listeners, who have more moderate social beliefs and convert them to regular listeners, the focus stays on the shrinking and angry 65+ white male audience. Stations and hosts will effectively chase new listeners away because of extreme viewpoints.  These new listeners will never return.
  • In 2016, as in 2012, radio companies will be left waiting for political campaign ad spend.  It again comes late and with less money budgeted for radio overall.  Political campaigns put much of their money elsewhere, in other mediums and other radio formats, because conservative talk radio’s audience is too narrow, small and has diminishing influence.

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  • AM radio is already on life support due to failed F.C.C. policies and lack of programming innovation by consolidator companies.  Conservative talk radio exists almost entirely on the AM broadcast band and has no future because of it.
  • Thursday, November 10, 2016, two days after the general election, the end begins for conservative talk radio.

Donald Trump is the symbolic torch.

As Neil Young sang,  “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

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