As I’ve mentioned before, spoken word media is very much at a crossroads.
The passing of Rush Limbaugh, in a way, was symbolic of the proverbial “fork in the road” that the news/talk format is currently staring at.
With that in mind, the question needs to be asked; what is the future of news/talk radio?
Oh, I forgot, “radio” is a dirty word these days. I should have said news/talk MEDIA.
Over the next few weeks, we’re embarking on a multi-part series to find the answers.
As I’ve often said, when tough questions like this are asked, I enlist the help of people that are far smarter than yours truly. We’ll get the perspectives of people from all sides of the industry, from talent to management to sales and beyond.
For part one of our series, we turn to a consultant.
Phil Tower has had an impressive career in broadcast media.
He’s been a host in multiple formats, worked in management at various levels and has also spent nearly 30 years as an Adjunct Professor of Communications and Mass Media at several different colleges.
On a side note, he’s also someone that, for years, I could never get a hold of.
Tower has owned and operated his own media consultancy in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan for the last decade. I remember him as the guy I would listen to on WOOD-AM and WLAV-FM. As an aspiring radio nerd, teenage me tried to call him, introduce myself and get his advice on how I could do what he did.
Naturally, I never got past the secretary who worked the switchboard at the radio station.
Thanks to the power of social media, Phil and I finally connected a few months ago. Now, after all this time, I can finally get his advice.
With the passing of Rush, many of his affiliates seem to have been left in limbo. What do you think iHeart’s plans will be for that time slot?
Premiere Networks has already been very public about the fact that they are going to continue to honor the legacy of Rush by continuing to keep the show going by utilizing a strong lineup very talented fill-in hosts (Ken Matthews, Todd Herman, Brett Winterble, Mark Steyn) that are already very familiar voices for his audience. I think this is a very wise strategy for Premiere Networks to employ. Rush Limbaugh was bigger than life and his show aired for 30+ years. Given that, Premiere has a treasure trove of timeless audio cuts from Rush Limbaugh that will still be relevant given whatever topic A is for a given day.
What should Limbaugh affiliates be doing right now?
The smartest move is to be patient and stay the course. I highly doubt there will be a serious ratings degradation for the short term and maybe even longer. A few stations have already made the move to launch local shows and while that may work in the long run, often when stations introduce a new show and host to the audience, they take a much bigger risk of losing ratings and revenue.
There will be syndicated options in that time slot (Cumulus is offering Dan Bongino). Would stations be better served to look for LOCAL alternatives?
Unless they already have a well-established local option, I would advise stations to look at the offering of syndicated choices if they can’t lock up the Rush Limbaugh Show for their market. I firmly believe that the next 12 to 18 months will present a much clearer picture of how the spoken word format will evolve after the passing of such an iconic host. At the same time, I don’t think Rush will ever truly “disappear from relevance” given the long-lasting impact he has had on the spoken word format.
For stations (even smaller market ones) that want to look for a local solution to Limbaugh, where could they look?
Unless they have a strong option already existing in house, I would look at successful news journalists, TV hosts with a strong brand and popularity in their own market. There may also be options in terms of local bloggers/podcasters who are especially successful as social influencers. I think it’s very important to look at talent who can express themselves confidently both as a speaker and writer. Writing skills are more important than ever.
There are over a million podcasts cluttering the spoken word space right now. How can terrestrial stations continue to stand out with so many different content choices?
The battle for “share of ear” Is as intense as it ever has been. Terrestrial stations can stand out by super serving their listeners and by being available on multiple platforms and reminding their listeners of that daily. I think it’s also very critical that successful terrestrial brands make all of their shows contact available as podcasts. I also strongly urge them to go one step beyond that by encouraging/pushing local hosts to create standalone content for podcast. Loyal listeners have already demonstrated they want this content. In the iHeartRadio ecosystem, the practice of hosts creating standalone content for digital was the norm. That discipline should become standard practice for every spoken word talent looking to extend their personal brand. I’m very bullish and always hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the spoken word format. The one huge upside to the podcasting boom is that it has by default become a new massive incubator for talent. Every smart programmer in this format should be aware of who is hosting standout podcasts in their region and they should be paying attention to those talent. I’m also especially hopeful that the format will be more welcoming to women. Lots of women are creating great dynamic content and killing it as podcasters and there’s no reason that many of them couldn’t be as successful in live radio. I don’t care if they have a political bent or they’re just unique people who are strong storytellers. In the end, women hosts deserve more seats at the talk radio round table.
Brett Kane Is Here To Kick Back & Make People Laugh
“They are so much like my group of friends that I hang out with, where, really, it’s all about busting each other‘s balls.”
Butt dials are almost always a super embarrassing situation. Sometimes it means accidentally dialing an ex, other times it may mean texting absolute gibberish to a contact you’ve made. Regardless, it’s super embarrassing. Oh and I may or may not have experience with one or both of those.
But there’s at least one known instance where a pocket dial actually benefited someone. In fact, it actually helped create one of the best sports radio segments in Denver.
Brett Kane was hosting a show at 93.7 The Ticket, near his hometown in Nebraska. While listening to a podcast during a workout, he accidentally hit the speed button you can find at the bottom left hand corner on Apple Podcasts to make it to half-speed. He laughed hysterically, sure, but with that, also, sparked a brilliant idea for a new segment.
“I think I was listening to a Dan Le Batard Show podcast,” said Kane. “Hearing Stugotz slowed down was the most hysterical thing in the world. I had to pause doing any sort of exercise, because I was dying laughing. I went to one of our podcasts at the time and said, what if I just did this to us? The same thing happened. Now it’s become if you hear anything, and our producer Marty is so good at this, if you hear anything that could remotely sound like it’s funny, mark it and try it and see if it will work. It really was an accident. But it’s one of those things where I heard it and a lightbulb went off.”
Drunk Takes has become one of the best segments on Moser, Lombardi and Kane. It works because it’s both funny and unique content, but also because it fits perfectly with the theme of the show, which, simply, is three guys sitting around and busting each other’s balls.
Kane isn’t exactly new in Denver, he’s been there for over two years since getting the gig with Altitude Sports Radio. But compared to his two co-hosts, Marc Moser and Vic Lombardi, he might as well be wearing a fanny pack and holding a camera around his neck like a tourist. However, finding chemistry with two longtime Denver personalities wasn’t as difficult as the native Nebraskan initially thought it would be.
“They are so much like my group of friends that I hang out with, where, really, it’s all about busting each other‘s balls,” said Kane. “That’s honestly what it is. I got in here and it literally took me a week, maybe two, to figure out it was going to be very, very simple. Our sense of humor is the same and they just want to kick back and make people laugh. Everyone’s got their different quirks and you have to find out what makes people tick, but for a starting point, I feel like I was ahead an entire lap when this whole thing started.”
It makes their show super relatable. Three guys sitting around and talking sports while making fun of each other sounds like every guy’s group of friends. If the goal in sports radio is to make it seem like you’re having a conversation in a bar, Moser, Lombardi and Kane accomplish that on a daily basis with their style and humor.
“It’s funny because we usually get this from people who are new to the show, and if you listen to the show for a while you get it, but poor Moser,” laughed Kane. “He probably gets it the worst out of anybody. We all get our turn on the hot seat, right, that’s what we always say. At the end of it, we get people every once in a while saying something like, do you guys hate him? Why do you keep picking on him?
“It’s almost like we have to explain to people the reason why we do this is because we genuinely like each other. You don’t start crushing somebody you don’t like to their face. That’s not how it works.”
One of the best things about getting hired at Altitude Sports Radio for Kane, was the timeline that it happened on. Dave Tepper, who’s had success in multiple markets, was hired away from 1620 The Zone in Omaha to become the PD at Altitude. It was a huge help for Kane, seeing as his boss was also leaving Nebraska for a new market and near the same exact time as him.
“It was almost like a buddy who you’re on vacation with,” Kane said. “Like, hey, have you checked the spot out yet? Have you visited here? It was a feeling that we were trying to figure this thing out together, because he was only here a few months before I was. You’re trying to learn a new place, and I love it here, but I’ve lived in Nebraska for basically my entire life and it’s different here.
“You’re just trying to get a feel of what people want, especially coming from a market like I did in Nebraska, where it doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of football season or in May, it’s Husker football the whole time. You almost recalibrate because there’s so much more here, as far as the sports landscape. Having someone else who had the same perspective as I did, and understood that you almost have to retrain your mind a little bit, was a massive help.”
Altitude has a bit of a different approach to it’s daily content than some of its competitors in town. Whereas some stations in town take the approach of always talking Broncos, Altitude likes the approach of including Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche talk more than anyone else in the market.
Does Brett miss talking about college football? Sure, but instead of talking about one team for 12 months, there are enough teams and interest in his new city to spread the wealth around.
“I think it’s been good,” said Kane. “You almost have to-retrain an audience to a certain extent. Like, no, this is allowed too. You can do this and be successful at it. And I think there’s an appetite for it. The most important part, and I’m not going to force feed anything, there is an appetite for the stuff and it came across pretty clearly. We know the Broncos are king and that’s never going to change, so when you have teams that are as successful as the Nuggets and Avs are, it would almost feel like you’re ignoring that certain segment of people that want that in their daily lives. It’s kind of our way of branching out and being and a bit different.”
With Dave Tepper at PD and the entertaining list of hosts the station has collected, Altitude has made monumental strides. They’ve even expanded their content to TV and Twitch, where listeners can watch each host’s every move from a television, iphone or computer screen. But just because you can watch, it doesn’t mean Kane and his co-hosts are changing the way their radio show is done.
“If anything, what it does is give you an extra glimpse, like some of the faces Moser more will make or the body language these guys have, it’s just adds another layer to it. So we can be the most successful Twitch show in the history of Twitch but if the radio staff isn’t there, we’re just placating to that audience. That’s not how it works. We are a radio show and we make sure to say this even we went to television, this is a radio show on TV not a TV show on the radio. We always keep that perspective about it. The only thing that really matters now is don’t pick your nose. That’s kind of it.”
Keep an eye on what Altitude does over the next couple of years. With strong leadership and talent in place, one would think the station’s best days are ahead. Especially as Moser, Lombardi and Kane continue to put out content that’s relatable to guy’s all over the market. Brett Kane is also further proof that outside talent can come into a new market and not only have success, but quick success.
ABC, MSNBC Draw Most for Presidential Address to Congress
“ABC, MSNBC benefitted most from airing Joe Biden’s presidential address.”
President Biden’s first official address to a Joint Session of Congress delivered a combined 26.94 million viewers across sixteen outlets, according to Nielsen Media Research. The amount factored in out-of-home viewing and those watching via connected TVs, which encompasses smart televisions, internet-connected devices, and gaming consoles. All but approximately 500,000 viewers tuned in to Biden on one of the ad-supported networks.
These days, a viewer figure like that is considered impressive, based on current trends of consumers venturing towards streaming services and away from linear platforms. In comparison to past Joint Sessions of Congress, however, Biden lagged far behind from years past. Donald Trump’s address posted 47.74 million viewers on Feb. 28, 2017. Eight years prior, President Obama’s Congress speech drew an even larger audience of 52.37 million. The all-time most-viewed presidential speech to Congress was President Clinton’s (66.9 million) on Feb. 17, 1993 which was then televised on only four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN).
ABC, the usual leader among solely the broadcast networks in special news events coverage, not only topped NBC (3.66 million), CBS (3.44 million), and the Fox broadcast network (1.685 million) but with 4.185 million viewers, it was the top outlet on TV overall.
As another anomaly, MSNBC was the top cable news outlet covering Biden’s speech in total viewers, having posted 4.12 million viewers. Although CNN — the regular cable news leader in special news coverage — was not far behind with 3.345 million viewers, the network was tops among the key adults 25-54 demographic with 930,000 within that age range. CNN research proclaimed CNN had registered the youngest median age across cable news, six years younger than Fox and seven years younger than MSNBC.
While Fox News trailed behind their cable news competition with 3 million total viewers, they were the most-watched cable news outlet in the hour prior to Biden’s address (“Tucker Carlson Tonight” 3.34 million) as well as for the GOP response by Republican Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina (3.33 million) following Biden’s address to the Joint Session of Congrats. Yet again, though, CNN led in 25-54 with 663,000 viewers of that demo for Scott’s speech.
In addition, CNN continued leading cable news among adults 25-54 (400,000 viewers) during the post Address coverage (10:45pm-12:00am ET).
Univision (1.15 million) was the lead Spanish-language network covering Biden’s address on the night. Telemundo averaged 1.06 million viewers.
Here are the cable news averages for Apr. 26-May 2, 2021 — the total viewer figures were cable’s three best marks for the week in total day:
Total Day (Apr. 26-May 2 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.210 million viewers; 210,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.887 million viewers; 122,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.694 million viewers; 180,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Apr. 26-May 1 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 2 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.261 million viewers; 367,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.647 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.122 million viewers; 294,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs in total viewers:
1. Presidential Address “Biden First Address To Congress 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:05 PM, 68 min.) 4.116 million viewers
2. MSNBC Special Coverage “Biden First Address Post Analysis 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:13 PM, 13 min.) 4.072 million viewers
3. Presidential Address To Congress “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 3.345 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:00 PM, 55 min.) 3.344 million viewers
5. Presidential Address/GOP Response (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:26 PM, 14 min.) 3.332 million viewers
6. Presidential Address/Analysis (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:11 PM, 15 min.) 3.177 million viewers
7. Presidential Address Coverage (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:55 PM, 11 min.) 3.156 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.034 million viewers
9. Biden Address To Congress (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 3.003 million viewers
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 4/26/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.999 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs among adults 25-54:
1. President Address To Congress “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 0.930 million adults 25-54
2. Presidential Address Post Analysis “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:11 PM, 15 min.) 0.813 million adults 25-54
3. Pre-Presidential Address “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:00 PM, 6 min.) 0.786 million adults 25-54
4. MSNBC Special Coverage “Biden First Address Post Analysis 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:13 PM, 13 min.) 0.717 million adults 25-54
5. Presidential Address “Biden First Address To Congress 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:05 PM, 68 min.) 0.709 million adults 25-54
6. Presidential Address GOP Response “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:26 PM, 14 min.) 0.663 million adults 25-54
7. Presidential Address Coverage (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:55 PM, 11 min.) 0.635 million adults 25-54
8. Biden Address To Congress (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 0.622 million adults 25-54
9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:00 PM, 55 min.) 0.605 million adults 25-54
10. Presidential Address Post Analysis “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:40 PM, 20 min.) 0.582 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
“Big Tent” or “Party Line”: Where Does Talk Radio Go Next?
(Search: “Ronald Reagan Big Tent”)
(Laugh at the breadth of past articles and opinion pieces)
The reason that’s funny to me is that the search and the outcome point up that discussions about the Republican Party’s future and a perceived lack of diversity have been going on for almost as long as “Saint Ronnie” has been out of office. The current arguments over Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s viewpoints tied to former president Donald Trump and his claims related to the 2020 election are just another twist in the discussion.
My thought process for bringing up “The Big Tent”, though, is more about where news/talk radio sits just beyond the 100 days mark for President Joe Biden’s administration. The format’s biggest voice is all but silenced, leaving behind a huge swath of the format’s stations to deal with what appears to be a lack of planning for this day. The audience Rush Limbaugh commanded is likely going to be splintered multiple ways as stations lean on new-to-them national voices or possible revamping aimed at going local.
Those moves give the appearance of diversity, but the larger listen to the format–and the recent adventures of Fox News, NewsMax and One America News on TV–point up that the “Big Tent” is really becoming smaller by the day. There’s a battle for who can be viewed as the most loyal and strident in presenting the party line, with a de-emphasis on diversity in conservative thought. It’s why hosts like Charlie Sykes, Michael Medved and others have been marginalized while the voices of Sebastian Gorka, Dan Bongino and others have been ascendant.
Over time, the expectation that hosts maintain a specific “party line” has whittled away at the diversity of opinions on the air.
In 2020, the split of self-identified Republicans was under 30 percent of voters. I know that’s not a full measure of the support Republican candidates and conservative politics have in the larger picture, but does it give us a full view of what the audience is for conservative-heavy talk? Chip away those who don’t listen on a steady basis, those who may not have access any more to stations in certain markets as the AM band is taken off newer radio models and those who aren’t into the strict line that draws the most loyalty and what do the numbers look like?
With the passing of Limbaugh, is there a chance for an overhaul of the format to return it to being more diverse, more local or are the most vocal listeners going to continue to push for that strict line?
This is biggest turning point in the format’s existence since the rise of conservative talk keyed by Limbaugh, one that will have huge ramifications on everyone tied to the format, from individual stations and hosts to the major ownership groups.
It helps to remember that even “Maha Rushie” presented diversity in thought in his first 15 years. A “We move liberals to the front of the line” policy allowed him to poke away at their views and it made for good radio. It was entertaining but also enlightening. Heck, he also wasn’t a supporter of Donald Trump as late as (checks notes) the first quarter of 2016. Those debates fell away as time and the demand that the strict “party line” be all that was presented took even further hold.
Is that hegemony the healthiest for the news/talk format?
It may be the biggest question for everyone involved since “Why would I carry a syndicated host in middays?”