Hoo-boy was this a long time coming! Well, a lot has changed since I last wrote my “sort-of autobiography”.
First of all, the title is a misnomer: I have now been officially hired by 94.3 WSC here in Charleston, so I am no longer failing brilliantly in talk radio, but slowly succeeding. Outlook is everything, no?
That aside, now we have to finish the task at hand. Talk radio is a crowded business, like soft drinks, cars, and websites that cater to teenagers. The problem, if you wish to call it that, is the same in my industry as in others, and that is the near-saturation of the market makes it hard for anybody to rise without writing a book, hosting a TV show, or having a connection in the radio business.
There are very few “just radio” guys and gals anymore. Even Kevin has multiple outlets! (Even I am writing on this blog…so I guess I am just as bad.) So in that spirit, I wanted to categorize a few talk shows, to see if we could come up with a little bit of a nomenclature, so we could maybe help some future aspirants into the field to guide their path and help them find their way.
1. The Guest-Driven show: This is typified by Sean Hannity. Sean has a monologue every hour, but it is the callers and guests that drive the show. His voice is one of a not-unbiased moderator, but he will still have people like Austin Goulsbee on and give them the floor. The best, in my opinion, part of the show, is the fights between guests.
Has Tamara Holder ever met a liberal position she didn’t like? Shows like this, if you want one, are for those who believe that they can test their positions against anyone. Liberal callers will call Hannity long before they will call others, and they will try and pick a fight to rile him, and you, up. It makes for good talk radio when they do.
2. The Team Effort: Think Glenn Beck. Pat and Stu are no longer the sidecar, they are doing their part to carry the show. I think this is because Glenn is building what can only be described as a “media empire”, but for whatever reason, they are in there to stay. I’m not complaining, just observing.
The crux of this particular show is the research, but the interest is in the “feel”. Glenn started as a “morning zoo” kind of guy, and those rots are coming out more and more, and I think this is good for him. I wouldn’t laugh at my own stuff as much as he does, but hey, style point. Shows like this are the type you get if you also consider yourself an author, TV host, entrepreneur, style maven, whatever.
3. The Flamethrower: Two of the best examples of the flamethrower style are Michael Savage and Neal Boortz (Mark Levin when he goes to his calls). They hit you upside the head with the idea that they know better than you, and sometimes, it is easy to believe them. With Savage, I just didn’t like being yelled at all the time. I don’t mind his defense of conservative values, but wow, do not listen with the radio up. Also, Savage tended to blame Rush for a lot of things, and that has no place in our business.
Live and die by your own sword, buddy. Boortz is an example of when massive intellect meets funny delivery, but doesn’t address the business side. Hannity scorched past Boortz, and I don’t know why, but I suspect it is because Boortz was a lot like the Spartan warrior of talk radio, invulnerable on his own turf, but doesn’t really leave his turf. If you have a show like this, count on a lot of blowback from both the left and right, and count on a metric ton of confrontation, without a lot of press coverage. The good flamethrowers make you as mad as they sound, at whoever they are yelling at.
4. The Crossover: Ah, Governor Huckabee. So much of talk radio is name recognition, so a commercially viable show can be put together with very little broadcast talent around names that are established in other genres. Unless these folks switch to radio full time, it sounds like they are phoning it in.
Think a lot of guests from inside the beltway, a lot of calls, and not very rich on monologue. If you start in another industry and crossover, it’s easier to get syndication, but harder to be one of the big guns, because you will be up against the dedicated vets of the industry. If you can cinche one of these shows, hold onto it, as it will be a good source of revenue, but don’t expect to be one of the big three.
5. The Monologist: Can you carry an entire show with no guests? Just you, the microphone, and the discerning ear? Good. You had better be good at the actual craft of radio because people will tune in to these shows more than any other. Think Limbaugh, then try to think of someone who does what he does at the level he does it. If it sounds difficult, it is. People will try to dissuade you from this kind of show, but mostly because there is more reliable revenue in other styles.