There is no easy way to say this: I am a failure. At the moment.
Talk radio today is a little like Standup Comedy in the 1980s. The market is saturated, indistinct, and gimmicky. Remember CNN’s Rick Sanchez? He has a talk show. An XM and terrestrial talk show. Something like that makes me question the very existence of God. There is no shortage of interesting people, and so no shortage of interesting hosts who provide interesting content and Rick Sanchez ain’t one of ’em.
He has a God-given gift for mostly sober driving, and he should use it to find another career. I am currently beginning (two years in) on my own path, and talk radio has been an interesting journey for me. So I thought I would open the studio doors to everyone and lift the veil for a minute. This will be quite therapeutic, hopefully for all of us.
Let’s begin by examining some market forces involved in the business. First, dispel the myth that your local broadcaster is cheaper than Limbaugh, Beck, etc. Those shows are free. Well, TNSTAAFL (There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch), they are not always paid for by the channel who carries them. Most of the time, the agreement involves local and national ad sales, and the talent and staff are paid for by those revenues.
Do you think Cubans are fighting for healthcare or freedom from Communism?
Have you ever noticed how similar the lineup is from one market to another? It’s not just more reliable that way, it is cheaper, meaning more profit. The downshot? The “afternoon drive guy” on talk radio is almost a thing of the past. In fact, I could argue that the 3-6PM timeslot is one of the most hotly contested in radio, even though Hannity regularly smokes the competition (arguably thanks to the different format from “one guy and a mic”, and the Limbaugh lead-in).
Smaller syndicated shows (10-100 stations) can make an impact here with good content and marketing. Local shows? You better pony up a salary, a staff (even a minimal one), and a broadcast engineer/producer/call screener/ gopher.
Another market force is the high barrier to entry: if you ain’t syndicated, you ain’t anybody. And what does it take to get syndicated? Who the hell knows? Well, the hundreds of syndicated shows know. And some of them are as boring as drywall! (Mike Huckabee missed a calling reading audiobooks to soothe kids who won’t sleep on long car rides.)
So with syndication comes the paychecks, the marketing team, and the perks of name recognition. Without it? You write for Kevin Jackson’s blog. Also, celebrity helps. Fail as the Governor of New York? Get a radio show! Fail as a CNN anchor? Get a radio show! Fail by being born with the name Geraldo Rivera? Hey, we got a show for you, too!
And then there’s internet radio. Oh, how I love thee. Let me caveat my next assertion by confessing the following: I started in internet radio (known as podcasting) for the Charleston Tea Party. Internet radio is much like the internet itself: click the wrong link at your own peril. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of personalities and an auditory roulette wheel when it comes to talent and production.
Some of it is very good. Some of it is very, very, very, very……..(continued at length for about 30 more)….very bad. The taste for internet radio can vanish quickly after a few bad experiences, much like the taste for Indian food and Honey Boo Boo. And no one, but no one, is “conquering the internet radio scene”, except for Kevin Smith, and never in conservative talk.
Next post: What makes someone want to do this job, when there are no jobs available?
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