More On Talk Radio's Troubles

Another excellent column on how talk radio got into the trouble it's in, by Perry Simon:
See, at some point in the consolidation process -- early, I'd say -- the goal ceased to be winning. Back in the days when you had an AM and an FM, you went to war with the competition. You counter-programmed, you marketed, you pranked the competition's jocks, you showed up at their events, you battled for every dollar. And then you ended up with, say, 5 FMs and 3 AMs, and suddenly the goal wasn't to beat an individual station but to try to maximize value for shareholders and grow enough revenue to pay off the debt service (and maybe make up for another market where they weren't pulling their weight). And that led in turn to the idea of either building a "wall" of demographics -- like five flavors of Top 40 and AC covering women from birth to 65 -- or using full-market FMs not to win but to slice off a chunk of a competing market leader's ratings and revenue, a "flanker." This, with so many signals, might be a sound strategy; maybe L.A. doesn't NEED identical Top 40s or Alternative stations, but you can see why they did that. The problem is that by doing so, it eliminated the ability to use those signals to rescue News-Talk stations from shriveling on the rapidly aging and shrinking AM band. The thought was, there'll always be time for that. Now, 25 years later, those flankers are entrenched and there's no room for the Talk stations. By preserving the separate revenue streams, they managed to end up endangering one of them anyway.

The Internet, you say? Sure, that isn't a bad idea on the surface; it surely eliminates signal limitations and the buzz of electrical interference, and the kids, they love the streaming, right? But why would they listen to what standard talk radio has to offer? I've written about the stodgy, old-fart nature of "regular" talk radio, but what the delay in acting has additionally done is to destroy the brands. Ask yourself what a person under 40 thinks of when they hear the call letters of the heritage talk stations across the country. I'll give you a hint: If they have any image of it at all, it's that it's Dad's Station. It's not for them. And they've been given no reason to change their minds. THEIR talk radio involves streaming and podcasting that's made for the medium and made for their interests, whether it's Marc Maron or "This Week in Tech" or "Welcome to Night Vale," which is, in fact, a serial, a radio drama (okay, it's comedy), a form that their elders think died in the late 1940s. It's not the format and it's not the form, it turns out. It's the content, and the delivery vehicle doesn't matter, as long as it's not technically deficient, like AM (and PLEASE don't go with the "back when they made GOOD receivers" argument, because they DON'T make good receivers now and there's WAY more electrical interference and YOU KNOW THAT).
Read Perry's full piece here.