How Talk Radio’s Navel Gazing Has Come Close to Destroying an Industry – And What We Can Learn from Them

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If you’re looking at radio ratings and reading radio pundits, you’d be likely to believe that this is a bad time to be in the spoken word business in radio.  If you’re looking for ratings performance on talk stations in most markets, you’ll need to start by scrolling down toward the bottom of the rankings.  It’s upsetting not only for those managing those stations, but also for the business in general.  With radio’s position as deliverer of music under attack by Spotify, Pandora and others in the digital space, many have predicted that talk radio – spoken word – is the great future hope of radio.

Some have imagined a future with many different flavors of spoken word formats in each market, beyond the typical current offerings of Conservative talk, Liberal talk (NPR), sports, all news in major markets and some remaining full-service news/talk hybrids.  If you look at the popularity of podcasting – and the availability of over half a million podcasts, one might think that it’s an obvious hope.  As it is, many of the existing outlets aren’t healthy – especially the tried & true Conservative talkers.

Microphones prepared for press conference or interview isolated

At a time when spoken word radio should be flourishing, instead it is languishing in too many cases.

Over the years, we’ve watched politicians and products over-research their core audiences – focusing maniacally on their most avid fans to the exclusion of other members – or potential members – of their constituencies.  Instead of building a reputation and adoption from those closest to the product, service or cause, who may already have capped out their consumption or “fandom,” these marketers stop recruiting new fans from mere samplers of their products.  As those folks move on to other choices (which they do because of changes in their lives or tastes or circumstances – and not necessarily because of changes in product or services), these “products” lose traction and consumers.  And if they remain headstrong on their tactic to satisfy their consumer core, they continue to erode.  Core implosion.

Conservative talk radio stations are a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Core listeners demand voices who resonate with their own viewpoints and never vary from their ideology.  Many of the hosts who play to these core listeners reinforce the position taking calls from listeners who quote from other Conservative-leaning media, booking guests who are in sync with their positions and staying focused on the same few issues hour after hour, day after day.  Over time, even the faithful are bound to stray occasionally or get tired and become less faithful.  Having imaged itself as being only for those of a particular political opinion, the station finds itself with diminished prospects.

Talk radio needs to be bigger and wider and more inclusive than it is today.  It should be on the rise instead of the decline.  But, we’ll need more voices and greater experimentation to get there.  Talk TV continues to grow and generate ratings for stations – especially among women (who are frequently missing from talk radio’s audiences).  And in many cases, TV has done what it’s done before: taken the playbook from radio and repackaged it with (often useless) video.

It’s not just about listening to the existing core listeners of current talk radio.  It’s about creating a provocative, compelling product for targeted audiences – who’ll come together because of a shared interest or taste.  It’s about finding the common interests, concerns and opinions of targeted consumers and connecting with them.  It’s about nurturing talent to get the very best from them and supporting them.

We see this all too often in all areas of consumerism.  Adapting the approach, the product, the target is not easy.  But as you’re building your strategy, growth demands getting out of your comfort zone; doing more research among your true target.  Expanding your “audience,” rather than contracting around the comfortable and old target.

The only guarantee is change.  You have the option of growing or shrinking, because nothing stays the same.  Work with forward thinking partners to get beyond what was and build an expanding future, using current technology and thinking ahead.

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