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What's On The Horizon For News/Talk?

10-16-2012

I moved to Atlanta in 1992, and my main job was as general manager of the Cox radio stations at that time, WSB-AM & FM. The FM, as we called it in the building, was, and remains, a hugely successful AC station. The AM, on the other hand, was a poster child for the state of AM radio at the time: a 50,000-watt flamethrower with iconic call letters, reduced to a station that skewed so old it could sell more ads for Depends than for Chevys.

We were getting trounced by our competition, a station that barely covered the metro but had a popular local talk host named Neal Boortz and an up-and-coming syndicated talker named Rush Limbaugh. Well, over the next couple of years, we reversed that situation. Neal Boortz became our employee, and, along with people like Clark Howard, program director Greg Moceri, and an incredible news operation, made WSB one of most prominent and enduring News/Talk stations of all time.

And we werent alone in our accomplishments. Many other stations around the country that were in the same dire straits as WSB found a way to make AM radio work again with a combination of local news and information, and local and national talk hosts, who appealed to younger demographics. Lets reflect on the legacy of News/Talk.

News/Talk saved the AM band. AM radio was dead. For those who, like me, grew up with AM giants like WLS in Chicago, that was unimaginable. But along came News/Talk, and a whole host of AM frequencies became viable again. With AMs resurgence, the existence of great all-news brands like WINS and WBBM was prolonged and enhanced as they were able to share the wealth.

News/Talk proved that big talent could build big stations. When you think about it, Rush has been more than just a hugely successful political talker. Hes the Jack Benny or Arthur Godfrey of our generation. When television burst on to the scene, radio had to go local. When Rush came on the scene, radio proved it could be a national force, and the importance of big talent was reinforced, just like in the Golden Age.

News/Talk proved radio could still deliver results. The best News/Talk stations have been, and still are, money machines. Theyve used their sales assets well higher commercial loads, sponsorships, endorsements, etc. But the News/Talk audience showed that they listened and responded to the commercials, and those listeners helped build brands and businesses both locally and nationally.

The digital world talks about the importance of engagement. News/Talk radio invented engagement. News/Talk showed community involvement was not just the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do. From national tragedies to weather disasters to local causes and charities, News/Talk stations all over the country have helped thousands of people and, by doing so, have solidified their brands. If Im the GM of a News/Talk station, I want to go to bed every night knowing that, if theres trouble or if people need help, my station is the first place the community will turn.

BUT THERE ARE A FEW STORM CLOUDS ON NEWS/TALKS HORIZON.
Where are the next Rush, Sean Hannity, and Neal Boortz? The superstars of todays News/Talk stations are just that: superstars. But no dynasty lasts forever. Boortz has already announced his retirement. Wheres the next crop? Not just your average talkers, but talent who can move the ratings needle, build stations, and offer content people will seek out on every device available. If theyre out there, tell me who they are. If theyre not there, what is radio doing to fill the void? Again, were not talking about average here. Were talking about Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan.

How do we create the next Rush, Sean, or Neal? Given the low success rates for new shows of all varieties, its obviously not easy. And it cant be based just on getting a better show from the syndicator or stealing the hot local guy from across the street (to the extent that those guys still exist). Talent development requires patience, and investments of management time, real airtime, and money.

If youre a News/Talk GM or PD, do you have a developmental bench? Are you looking at other markets, maybe smaller than yours, and at local talent both talk shows and other content, like music morning shows? Are you reserving a portion of your airtime for new, experimental talent nights, weekends, overnights, vacation fill-ins? Are you willing to invest cash in these projects, knowing they might fail? My fear is that not enough companies are doing that these days. But think about it: All the current superstars were discovered, exposed, nurtured, and coached at some point. And if you dont make this multilevel investment, youll be left with bad content when your talk equivalent of Mickey Mantle retires. Sounds like a simple choice to me.

Marc Morgan is the former SVP and chief revenue officer for Cox Media Group; he retired
in 2011. He can be reached at marc@marcmorganconsulting.com.

 




(10/16/2012 11:50:26 PM)
I worked for Marc and he is "almost" on point - he does touch on the fact that News Talkers today are OLD. Todays 18-34s will NOT be tomorrows News Talkers. They dont need or care about Sean Hannity, Boortz or any of them today or in the future. If the format doesnt figure this out soon it will be out to pasture with Oldies music stations. The format is vibrant if people today will embrace hosts that have something for the younger generation. Right now there is ZERO and ZERO in the funnel.

- Mike Knar

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