This is actually a piece I was asked to write for Media Week in October of 2009. It somehow seemed timely again. Oh yeah...and I don't think Media Week actually ever ran the piece so I might as well get a little mileage out of it four years later!
By Gabe Hobbs October 2009
“Did you hear what that talk show host said? As a result his ratings are growing significantly and his audience is extremely loyal. Make sure our ads do NOT appear in that program.”
Hopefully you reacted to those two statements with a, “say what?” On the surface those two statements don’t seem to make sense. They are even oxymoronic if you will. Why would an advertiser not want his products associated with a program which delivers not only a large audience, but an audience that is extraordinarily loyal and can be easily mobilized for action? The same things that make these audience members show up for remote broadcasts or a rally for America or a town hall meeting are the same things that will make them walk into Bill’s TV Shop and buy an expensive flat-panel television. It’s because someone they trust, respect and believe asked them to take action.
So how does it make sense then that certain businesses or advertising agencies run away from these shows as fast as they can? It’s fear of the unknown. It’s turning over your business, the way you make your living and feed your family, to people (agency people) that only want the safe and easy answer. To people that don’t understand the athletic motto of “no pain, no gain.” To the people that are perhaps 27 years old, wet behind the ears and have never listened to a talk radio station in their lives.
I always watch with a combination of amusement and disappointment when I see an advertiser boycott. Has anyone ever heard of an advertiser boycotting a show because the ratings were terrible? And if so, did it make the news? Of course not; low ratings or subpar results are great reasons to boycott a show.
Having spent the better part of my career working in radio in Florida I understand the notion of what is known as “cume surge.” For instance, a hurricane lurks off the coast of St. Petersburg. What do you think happens to the station that owns the news image? Exactly, their audience swells significantly. Very often this is not reflected in Arbitron ratings, at least not under the diary system. The Personal People Meter (PPM) seems to be changing that however.
Well, the same thing happens when a talk show host creates or becomes part of a major news event. Their audience swells significantly. Yet instead of increasing their frequency of commercials, many advertisers cancel their commercials. Crazy isn’t it? I’ve heard business owners say things like, “Well my customers tend to be somewhat evenly split between liberals and conservatives.” Duh. Really? No kidding. You mean, like the general population? The general population actually leans slightly to the right but for the most part looks like a bell curve on a five-point scale which encompasses very liberal – somewhat liberal – moderate – somewhat conservative – very conservative.
So tell me Mr. Advertiser or Ms. Agency…why are you boycotting certain shows because they have a particular political bent or because they have become embroiled in a controversy? Is it because someone complained and threatened to boycott your product or client if you don’t boycott that crazy liberal or crazy conservative? Is it because you’re too lazy to actually work the situation to your advantage? Is it because you don’t know enough about the job you’re actually supposed to be doing to take advantage of opportunity when it falls in your lap? Is it because you prefer the path of least resistance (human nature)? Hey, we’ve all had corporate tell us things like, “I don’t care how you do it, just make the problem go away” when situations pop up. And we’ve all had that feeling of, “yeah, but we’re also going to make an opportunity go away.”
If you’ve been in radio, television or the newspaper business for any length of time you know there is a vocal minority out there that will email you and call you threatening all kinds of doom and destruction on your station or newspaper if you don’t fire a certain host or columnist. We’ve learned through the years to largely ignore this but advertisers and more importantly advertising agencies haven’t. When these same people call their store and say they will no longer shop there unless they discontinue advertising on these shows, well…the advertisers capitulate and stop doing what is good for their business. I call it the sweaty palms syndrome.
If anything, when controversy finds its way onto a radio or television show advertisers should be lined up to get a position inside that program. And they should be trying to outbid the other guys in the same line. In talk radio the P-1’s, or most loyal listeners, will reward these advertisers. They are easily mobilized to action. Just ask Bill at Bill’s Khaki’s, Snapple Ice Tea or the hundreds of other direct response advertisers that have discovered the magic of personality endorsements and spoken word radio. They wanted to be with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Not because they shared the same political opinions or values, but because they caused people to give them money for their products and because their message was heard by a very large audience that could be easily mobilized into action.
If you are advertising on a right-wing talk show do you really think there are a bunch of lefties that will hear the ad and be offended? If you advertise on Air America do you think those loyal to Rush Limbaugh are there listening and will then organize a boycott against your product? Or better still, if you advertise on a country music station do you think the rockers will hear that and take offense to the point of avoiding your place of business? Silly isn’t it? I know, I know, politics are a little different than country or rock and roll music. Politics evoke far more emotion and passion. But again…it’s that same passion that causes the loyal listeners or viewers to buy the products advertised on that show. If anything the P-1’s will boycott your product for ABANDONING their favorite host or program.
So I'm catching up on reading the trades this weekend and this headline jumps out at me...
MORE PSYCHICS BUYING RADIO
Uh-huh. Is this really our good news headline of the day? Is our business on the upswing because more psychics are buying radio? Seriously? Hey I know. Why don't we ask them? They're psychic right? How are we doing and what's the future? I'm guessing they'll say..."DIGITAL!!"
To be very honest that was one thing that always really bugged me when I was a Program Director. Hardly a week went by that some psychic didn't call me or stop by the station wanting a local or even nationally syndicated talk show. It wasn't that they were asking that bothered me. I just knew they had to be frauds or not very good. Because if they were truly psychic then they could have EASILY divined there is NO WAY in hell I'm going to put them on the radio hosting their own show!!!! :)
And here's the article. From the Friday, October 4, 2013 edition of INSIDE RADIO....
More psychics buying radio…
No need to consult an astrologer — the Psychic Friends Network says it’ll use radio to promote a new product. It’ll lend its name to Key Secrets, which promotes itself as a provider of personalized “destiny reports” sent by email, using things like astrology and numerology. No ad budget has been released, but the target demo for the new product is the under 30 year-old market. “Most people don’t realize that before the original Psychic Friends Network dominated the airwaves, the company was already earning millions of dollars a year in marketing psychic reports,” PFN CEO Marc Lasky says.
- Be realistic. Don’t send a New York sounding aircheck for a top 10 market job if the aircheck or demo is a “best of” and has been cleverly edited to make you sound that way, when in fact you can’t perform at that level on a day in and day out basis.
- Send something that is professional and flawless BUT is indicative of what you are capable of executing on a consistent basis. Don’t try to “fool” someone in to hiring you for a job for which you aren’t qualified. That doesn’t mean send a BAD aircheck. If you’re bad, then send an aircheck to a bad station!
- Put your very best stuff at the front. Don’t go for the “big finish.” Program Directors have very little time or patience. Most PD’s make some level of judgment in the first few seconds or the first two or three clips. If those are lackluster they’ll never hear the good stuff you saved for the end.
- Have a professionally edited, fast paced air check. Use sound effects and transitions if appropriate. If you are not good at professional and clever editing then spend 50 or 100 bucks and get a production wizard to make something for you. It’s worth the investment.
- Make it as current as you possibly can and update it as often as you can. In talk radio (and to an extent in music radio) I want to know if you are being relevant to the audience.
- Keep the demo SHORT. I don’t need 10 or 20 minutes. Give me two to three minutes on the demo. That’s all they have time for anyway, especially if you can imagine they are sitting there going through perhaps a couple dozen of these. And with the job market the way it is and so many jocks and hosts out of work, trust me; they are getting a LOT of airchecks.
- Have an unedited hour or two (with commercial breaks removed) that you can also send with the demo. If they like the demo, the next logical thing they will want to hear is a complete hour or show. Go ahead and send both so they don’t have to call or email you and then a couple of days could be lost or they may not get that far. If they have both they can move right from the demo to the full aircheck.
- Send your stuff however they ask for it but default to .mp3 digital audio that can be easily emailed and for the hours you send along with it you may need to use a service like YouSendIt or DropBox if the file is too big for your email system or theirs. You can even shrink the size of the file with a free audio format converter found on the internet. I use one by AVS. Most email systems will allow attachments of about 10mg, some more.
- If you are attending conferences or visiting PD’s in person put everything on a thumb drive. They are great and a prospective employer can easily put it in their pocket and not have to carry around some big portfolio which may end up in the nearest trash can. On the thumb drive you can put your resume, audio, pictures, press clippings…. whatever you want and then the PD can decide what he or she wants to see and hear. Make sure the file names are labeled in such a ways that it is CLEAR what is contained in each file. If I have to open all of them to see what’s in them, then it defeats the purpose.
- For the complete hour part try to make that REALLY current and relevant and update the hours you use almost weekly. Of course this assumes you already have a show. If someone sends me an hour from last March I have no way of knowing if what they were talking about that day was relevant and truly what they SHOULD have been talking about. If the hour was from last week I can hear it in context and know if it’s on target or not. If I hear you’re talking about Alex Rodriguez return to the Yankees then yes, I know you are on top of it. Plus an hour that is old tells me perhaps that was the last time you had an hour you thought worthy of sending to the PD!
You can download a copy of these tips HERE.
Words from our Founder Delilah…
On Sunday, March 11 the Lord called our beloved Sammy Young D’zolali Rene home to heaven. I had adopted Sammy from an orphanage in Ghana, West Africa two years ago, and he instantly became a part of our extended family and a huge part of our hearts. Sammy’s love and happiness were infectious, his broad smile would light up the room. All who met him were touched by his silly, fun personality and his unconditional love.
Sammy was born in Ghana, we know not when, we know not where, we know not who bore him. When he was a toddler he was found wandering the streets of a village, lonely, hungry and cold. School children took him in and fed him scraps from their lunches, and allowed him to sleep in the school room at night. After a time the school’s head mistress tried to locate family members, and no one claimed him. He was taken to Osu orphanage in the capitol city of Accra, and there he stayed.
An auntie was eventually located and told the director of the orphanage that Sammy would scream at night, and writhe on the floor. They believed he was possessed by demons and they tried to cast the evil spirits out, then they would beat him. When that didn’t stop his screaming, they put him out in the street to die… Little did they know he was writhing in pain because of sickle cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder that afflicts many in West Africa.
When the school children found him they named him “Dzolali”, meaning “spirits fly”… Sammy spent most of his life in Osu Children’s home, he did not ever have a visitor or a relative come to see him. He never received a Christmas present, never had a birthday celebration. He never had his own room, he never learned how to read or write. He was often cold and hungry, there was never enough food for the kids at the home. He never had new soccer shoes or his own soccer ball…But he did have the talent to draw, so he would sit for hours and draw pictures for the other children living in the home. When visitors would come to see the other kids, Sammy would hurriedly draw a picture to bless them.
When he would have his sickle cell attacks, he would be told by the aunties running the home to be quiet and to go lay down, he was disturbing the other children….a few years ago a sweet lady named Auntie Annie came to the home and took an interest in Sammy. She would carry him to the street, get him on a crowded bus and take him to the hospital where he would be given something to ease his horrible pain.
In 2010 while working in Ghana I went to Osu and met Sammy. He had been very sick the day I was there and stayed at the orphanage instead of going to school. He was sitting at a small table in the sun, drawing pictures for the other children in the home who don’t attend school. When I met him he gave me the picture he was drawing, and put his name on it. In took his small, stubby pencil and drew a picture of him, and handed it to him as a gift. As the Lord would have it, there was another lady at the orphanage that day, Lauri Thibert, who lives in the Puget Sound area. Laurie was adopting a boy from the orphanage, Osei, and she knew Sammy well. She offered to help me to keep in touch with Sammy by sharing the cell phone she had left at the orphanage for her son Osei. I knew in my heart that Sammy was special, talented, lonely and that I loved him, I just didn’t have a clue how special he really was at that time or how much more I would grow to love him…So it became a pattern, every Sunday morning Laurie would call me and tell me that she had just spoken to Osei, and Sammy was waiting to talk to me. After a few weeks of wrestling with the Lord and insisting that I could not handle adopting any more children, God had given me peace and the strength and courage I needed. A lawyer was found and the insane paper trail began. It took a full year to get the adoption completed and get his visa to come to the US.
During that time I took him out of Osu and put him in a foster situation at Buduburam, the refugee camp we work in. In no time at all Sammy had all the employees of Point Hope and probably half the residents of the camp wrapped around his little finger. His charm and warmth touched all he met. He had his first real “family” in Buduburam, he lived with a young man named TC and then moved in with Kwasie and Aunt Essie…he was so loved and cherished, and when I came to take him home to America, they did not want to let him go.
Once he was home to America, he could not get enough love and affection. He was like a little puppy, wanting to be held and loved on constantly. He would run his fingers through my hair, sit on my lap, drape his gangly arms around me every chance he got… after a few months, that began to change and he rapidly matured into a sweet, young man, far too mature to be held by “Momma Bear”.
He worked hard at everything he put his hand to. He loved having his own room, and he kept it spotless and neat. He loved having several changes of clothes, and his fashion sense was impeccable…his shoes looked as if he had never worn them, because he would clean them every day. He made his bed each morning and put his things neatly away. He got frustrated when his siblings would not help out around the house and he was constantly telling me to go sit down, he would do whatever task I was working on.
The last week of his life he was highly offended by me that I put him in “Mary Bridge CHILDREN’s hospital”, insisting he was a young man, not a child. When I tried to reason with him and explain that Mary Bridge had the best possible resources to help him, he disagreed. I finally told him it was NOT my fault, that his uncle Dan Diamond had insisted he go there and to blame him. Because he adored Dan and respected him so much, he was able to accept that and be at peace.
Sammy loved to eat, to laugh, to tease, to draw and paint and to dance. He had a sense of rhythm like Michael Jackson, and moved like he had taken years of dance lessons. He was always the life of the party, surrounded by others who would clap and dance along as he danced to every single song… and we had many parties in the short time he was a part of our lives and each time he would say that he was not going to attend, that it would be “boring”…and then he would end up being the center of attention each time!
On the first night that he was fully my son, Sammy told me through his tears that he never dreamed God would answer his prayers. He said “Momma, I always thought I would die alone in the orphanage. That I would never know what it was like to have someone love me”…..and then after several racking sobs, he said “and no one would even know that I had ever lived”
I promised him through my own tears that he would not die alone. That he would not die in an orphanage. That he would be loved more than life by me and many others, and that people would know that he had lived.
He died in our arms, he died surrounded by people that he loved, and none of us will ever forget that he lived. That he lived life filled with God’s grace and mercy. That he lived life filled with hope for the future. That he lived life that was worthy of God’s calling, and that he lives on…
If you would like to Join Delilah and Point Hope contribute towards Sammy’s Place at Point Hope Village, Please click here and Make a Donation In Memory of Sammy
Watch the new music video about Sammy called, “You Lived” by Jesse Funk.
More information at http://www.PointHope.org
Seems like cars have always had radios, but they didn't. Here's the true story:
One evening, in 1929, two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset. It was a romantic night to be sure, but one of the women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car.
Lear and Wavering liked the idea. Both men had tinkered with radios (Lear had served as a radio operator in the U.S. Navy during World War I) and it wasn't long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car. But it wasn't as easy as it sounds: automobiles have ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy static interference, making it nearly impossible to listen to the radio when the engine was running. One by one, Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago.
There they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. He made a product
called a "battery eliminator" a device that allowed battery-powered radios to run on household AC current. But as more homes were wired for electricity more radio manufacturers made AC-powered radios. Galvin needed a new product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention, he found it. He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge business.
Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin's factory, and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker. Then Galvin went to a local banker to apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker's Packard. Good idea, but it didn't work -- half an hour after the installation, the banker's Packard caught on fire. (They didn't get the loan.)
Galvin didn't give up.
He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Too broke to afford a booth, he parked the car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it. That idea worked -- he got enough orders to put the radio into production.
WHAT'S IN A NAME
That first production model was called the 5T71. Galvin decided he needed to come up with something a little catchier. In those days many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix "ola" for their names - Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola.
But even with the name change, the radio still had problems: When Motorola went on sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression. (By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about $3,000 today.)
In 1930 it took two men several days to put in a car radio -- The dashboard had to be taken apart so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed, and the ceiling had to be cut open to install the antenna. These early radios ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery, so holes had to be cut into the floorboard to accommodate them. The installation manual had eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of instructions. Selling complicated car radios that cost 20 percent of the price of a brand-new car wouldn't have been easy in the best of times, let alone during the Great Depression -- Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that.
But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began offering Motorola's pre-installed at the factory.
In 1934 they got another boost when Galvin struck a deal with B.F. Goodrich Tire Company
to sell and install them in its chain of tire stores.
By then the price of the radio, installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running. (The name of the company would officially change from Galvin Manufacturing to Motorola in 1947.)
In the meantime, Galvin continued to develop new uses for car radios. In 1936, the same year that it introduced push-button tuning; it also introduced the Motorola Police Cruiser, a standard car radio that was factory preset to a single frequency to pick up police broadcasts.
In 1940 he developed the first handheld two-way radio -- The Handie-Talkie -- for the U. S. Army.
A lot of the communications technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II. In 1947 they came out with the first television to sell under $200. In 1956 the company introduced the world's first pager; in 1969 it supplied the radio and television equipment that was used to televise Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon. In 1973 it invented the world's first handheld cellular phone. Today Motorola is one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world -- and it all started with the car radio.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO
The two men who installed the first radio in Paul Galvin's car, Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different paths in life. Wavering stayed with Motorola. In the 1950's he helped change the automobile experience again when he developed the first automotive
alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The invention led to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and eventually, air-conditioning.
Lear also continued inventing. He holds more than 150 patents. Remember eight-track tape players? Lear invented that. But what he's really famous for are his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, aided in the invention of the autopilot, designed the first fully automatic aircraft landing system, and in 1963 introduced his most famous invention of all, the Lear Jet, the world's first mass-produced, affordable business jet.
(Not bad for a guy who dropped out of school after the eighth grade.)
Sometimes it is fun to find out how some of the many things that we take for granted actually came into being and to think the car radio started as a romantic suggestion from a lady!!
I heard Tedd Webb use that line many times on 970 WFLA when introducing Lee Roy Selmon for his twice weekly radio segment back in the early 90’s. Lee Roy hosted segments on both Mondays and Fridays for several years. The Monday segment was called, “The Buc Stops Here” and was a review of the Bucs game from the day before. The Friday segment was called “Selmon Sez” and would be a preview of the upcoming weekend game between the Bucs and that week’s opponent.
And just between you and me, it wasn’t particularly spellbinding radio by any measure of sports journalism. But it just didn’t matter. It was Lee Roy Selmon and everyone would listen. Lee Roy was very predictable. But it just didn’t matter. It was Lee Roy Selmon. He wasn’t predictable because he was boring or uninformed. He was predictable because he was just so darn NICE and diplomatic and soft-spoken and gentle and he was simply not going to say a single thing that would be hurtful to a player from either team, a coach, a fan…anyone. That was Lee Roy…and everyone would listen.
I guess the funniest was the Friday segment when Lee Roy would give us his analysis on the upcoming Bucs game. At the end of the segment Tedd would always ask Lee Roy to pick the winner. Had Lee Roy been right each week then the Bucs would have been 16-0 for at least three straight years. That’s right….Lee Roy never once picked the Bucs to lose a game. It just wasn’t in his DNA. While we all knew about his positive outlook and optimism, the real reason was he just thought it would not be very kind to pick his beloved Bucs to lose. That may be why you never saw Lee Roy on ESPN.
We all got a real kick out of that and I enjoyed mentioning it to Lee Roy at least once every season. He would just break out in to that laugh that we all know and just say something like, “Well, I just don’t know what else to tell you!” He really didn’t because that would involve saying something he perceived to be impolite at best and mean at its worst.
That’s how I will always remember Lee Roy Selmon. But the one event that sticks out the most to me is a simple kindness he showed an aging college basketball fan….my mom. Shortly after Lee Roy had taken over as Athletic Director at the University of South Florida to help build a football program I asked him for a favor. You see my mom is from Kentucky (so am I) and she rooted for all teams Kentucky and was a HUGE college basketball fan.
The University of Louisville was coming to town to play the Bulls and mom asked me if I could get us some good seats and take her to the game. So I called my friend Lee Roy Selmon and asked him if there was any way I could buy a couple of great seats to bring my mom to the game. I was a little embarrassed as I explained my mom was NOT a USF fan but would be rooting for Louisville. I thought I should really tell him that up front. Lee Roy said no problem and that two tickets would be at the will call window.
So mom and I arrived at the will call window to find two complimentary tickets. No charge. That Lee Roy. I would have to repay him somehow. I don’t think I ever did however. We entered the arena and I couldn’t figure out the location of the seats. The section and row didn’t make any sense. So I showed them to an usher and asked for help. The usher’s eyebrows raised and he just smiled and said follow me. He led us down the stairs and ON TO THE BASKETBALL FLOOR! He showed us two folding chairs just out of bounds on the sideline right on the floor. Holy cow! My mother was in absolute heaven and it was an experience she never forgot and Lee Roy made sure she had the best seats she had ever had for any college basketball game in her entire life….and my mother had probably been to hundreds of games.
So here is a guy taking care of someone who wasn’t a football fan and was going to root for the bad guys. He did it because it was someone’s mom…and THAT was Lee Roy Selmon. Of course mom added USF to her favorite teams after that experience. Mom never had a chance to thank him in person. But sometime Sunday evening I know she finally had that chance as I lost my mom just over a year ago and we lost Lee Roy Sunday afternoon. That was the only thing that made me smile in all of this.
I’m not a proficient blog writer as some of you know but this is a man that could move people to do a lot of things they didn’t normally do. And he could do it with kindness. Thanks for some wonderful memories Lee Roy. “Number 63 in your program and number one in your hearts.” That’s Lee Roy Selmon. May God rest his soul and comfort his family.
Hey Lee Roy…who do you like between the Bucs and the Lions this Sunday? Right.
My FINAL blog…..again
It was nearly a year ago that I swore off writing blogs. Not that I ever wrote a lot of them mind you but last summer I knew I had to stop. You see, I’m trying to run a business to provide services to various and sundry content creators and distributors. It became painstakingly clear to me that if I continued to blog, or at least write blogs that included my OPINION on the myriad of subjects as they relate to media, in particular radio, I was going to piss off a lot of people.
There was just no upside to blogging other than mental…exercise. I’m just a small independent guy trying to eke out a living working with talent and a few media companies. Not only can I not afford to annoy most of them but I really don’t want to anyway. I thought I could jump on my trusty laptop, bang out a few paragraphs on what I thought about a particular issue in our business, three people would read it and all would be well in the western world. Not so. Thus, my logic for discontinuing my blog. You’ll notice that the latest entry in Hobbs Blobs appearing just below this one is dated June of 2010.
HOWEVER…it looks like I’m going to have to write one more last blog. It seems a comment I made to another blogger or internet journalist has gone viral and caused a s**tstorm of sorts. In all honesty it’s probably a healthy s**tstorm in that it has a lot of people in this business thinking and talking about how we might do something a little DIFFERENT.
So here’s my story and I’m sticking to it. A few weeks ago a fellow named John Avlon called me and asked if he could interview me on trends in talk radio and get my opinion on talk show hosts like Michael Smerconish. I said sure. John writes for something called The Daily Beast. I was only vaguely aware of that particular site. I’m still not sure if it’s like a blog or a news site or what. And I didn’t really know if it was a “left” site or a “right” site. Didn’t really care as I will gladly opine for anyone that winds me up and gets me started on a particular subject…especially a subject about a business and industry that I absolutely love. But that’s a blog for another day.
John Avlon was a very nice man and we had a very nice conversation. A mere 60 seconds into the phone call I was able to determine that he had an agenda. John was clearly coming at this story from a specific angle. Michael Smerconish and any real trends would be sidebars and what he wanted to do was create a story which would somehow convince the masses that right-wing political talk radio was in serious trouble and declining rapidly. Check out the headline for the story, which by the way has to be the longest headline in the history of the world.
Ratings for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck
and other hyper-partisans are declining as listeners seek honest talk from hosts like Michael Smerconish over angry rants.
A more civil conversation will add value to our political debate.
I don’t have the exact ratings for any of those guys and I’m not sure John did either. Shows go up and shows go down. And we all know that PPM has caused a LOT of shows to register lower average quarter hour shares but higher cumes. And of course there are even exceptions to that. John left that out. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he did. I DON’T CARE! And yes, I think Michael Smerconish is very talented and smart and is really presenting a fresh and different style of talk radio and yes, there are Arbitron numbers in several significant markets that indicate it just may be working. BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ARBITRON NUMBERS OF RUSH LIMBAUGH OR GLENN BECK. And Mr. Avlon tries to make that connection in the headline before he even gets started. The people that love Rush and Glen continue to love Rush and Glenn…and there are a LOT of them. I suspect Michael’s growing audience is coming from other places.
To John Avlon’s credit, he did email me before the article was published. He sent me a copy of the quotes from me he intended to use and asked that I check them for accuracy. I’m not sure that has EVER happened to me with anyone from the press other than maybe a few trade publications. I didn’t change a thing by the way. Of course I had no idea about context or what the rest of the article would say as he didn’t share that and I didn’t ask him to do so. Here’s the quote….
It’s not that “the angry white guy conservative political talk format”—as consultant and former Clear Channel talk radio programming director Gabe Hobbs calls it—is over. It’s just got little room to grow, going forward.
“Rush has been around for 23 years. They’re not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are,” says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. “We’re singing to this choir, that’s great, they’re worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there’s a lot over here we could do.”
“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ '' adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.”
And I think I probably mentioned the new show, The Daily Wrap from the Wall Street Journal which is another new show hanging it’s hat on the smart, civil and entertaining approach.
So there it is again, reprinted above for your enjoyment. And the problem is? I love Rush, I love Glenn. They have been doing great radio for a very long time and they continue to do great radio. They made me look smart as a programmer and that ain’t easy. To say they aren’t making many new ditto-heads these days is not an insult or a negative comment. It simply means we’ve been doing this format for 15 to 20 years and perhaps we’re at the summit…the top. That’s a GOOD thing…isn’t it? If you have a HUGE audience and you lose some, don’t you still have a HUGE audience? And there is the cyclical nature of our format and then there’s PPM.
Well, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and my email box filled up quickly as this obscure quote on an obscure internet site went viral. Even to the point where Michael Smerconish emailed me to say, “Hey dude, they were talking about you on MSNBC!” Seriously? I mean, really? I’ve been saying this EXACT SAME THING for YEARS to anyone that would listen. I’ve said in front of packed rooms at talk radio conventions. I’ve said it to corporate suits. I said it when I was the SVP of news/talk/sports programming at Clear Channel. The reaction? Usually apathy or indifference or and polite affirmative nod. Then some guy puts in on The Daily Beast, it goes viral and I’m getting slammed with comments. Go figure.
Amazingly MOST of the comments have been extremely positive and encouraging. But not all. I heard from a few conservative talk show hosts and while it’s often hard to detect the correct emotion from emails I’m fairly certain some of them weren’t very happy. That made me sick. This is all about business for me and was sort of born out of consolidation believe it or not. At Clear Channel we often had big clusters with as many as eight stations in them. Usually the clusters had 5 FM’s and 3 AM’s. OK, so we would generally put the big talk format on one AM. That was the Beck/Rush/Hannity station (usually) and we would put sports on the second AM station and then on the third AM station I would put……uh….well….it would be…..uh…. Right. Tough putt. I needed some format options. That was the genesis….self preservation and maximizing really expensive assets. It just grew from there and I even began to see some research and kick this around with really smart people like Joel Lind – a perceptual research braniac who worked for Critical Mass Media.
So to further explain, let me just reprint a written response I sent to one of the hosts that wasn’t very happy with me this week. I’m sitting in a middle seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Tampa right now, my ass is numb and I’m tired of typing so please allow me to just plagiarize myself for expediency and to take a break. I’ll be back in a minute…
That’s one of the things that makes you a truly great host…..passion!!
Yes, I think it’s safe to assume the writer of this article was on a mission. He kept trying to get me to say conservative talk radio is dead or dying or on the decline. Of course I wouldn’t bite because that’s simply not true. As I told him and gladly tell anyone – the conservative political talk format is alive and well and thriving in every single radio market in America. If I could own that position in any market I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s the low hanging fruit. We’ve been doing that format for so long that for the most part we know how many listeners you can attract, we know where they are, we know who they are and we know how to market to them.
Thus my point of we’ve now sort of defined that universe. That’s not a negative but anytime you spend the amount of time, money and energy as we have to properly execute a format you are bound to grow to understand the available audience. It would be sad if we didn’t actually. My argument is only that why is EVERYONE doing that format? It’s like everyone on FM playing only rock music or country music. If WFLA in Tampa has Beck, Rush, Schnitt, Hannity & Levin what in the hell am I going to program on my station to attract an audience large enough that allows me to make money? I’m certainly not going to “out-conservative” WFLA!! I certainly can’t begin to identify talent that will compete with a lineup like this in the conservative political talk format! And even more mind boggling is when the THIRD OR FOURTH GUY DOES THIS IN A MARKET!!!
Take Boston for instance. Is it fair to say that Boston isn’t exactly the stronghold of conservative political thinking? (Not sure that makes a difference when you look at the ratings points and not the market share.) So why does this market have three conservative political talkers? And Clear Channel was the third guy to jump in the pool. I mean really? And I am by no means suggesting one of them do “progressive” talk. Not a format in any manifestation we’ve seen thus far. But there are a lot of varieties of spoken word one can execute to attract an audience, in my humble opinion, besides conservative talk or liberal/progressive talk. We know news and sports are two of them. Why isn’t WRKO doing the WGN format? The bigger than life, arms around the community, all about Boston, heritage station format. Why isn’t WTKK-FM taking advantage of access to younger demographics on FM with a more entertainment based approach that relies on politics only when politics is truly topic “A” TODAY? Instead, three great radio stations with excellent signals are fighting over four share points while WBUR-FM is kicking their asses with a share level that’s nearly the sum total of all three of those guys!! Helllooooooooo!
And listen….NPR ain’t my cup of tea. I don’t need 15 minutes on the latest coup in Rwanda thank you. But they have HUGE numbers in a lot of markets. And it’s not because liberals love it. We now know that. And I believe most of their listeners are “settlers.” That is, the NPR station isn’t what they would necessarily choose but it’s the best thing available based on what they like. So they are merely settling for NPR until something better comes along. I think that’s where the “smart and civil” thing may have a chance. And of course NPR is always on FM.
(How about) A format where you aren’t required to subscribe to a very specific political ideology top to bottom? A format where people have conversations, clarify their differences and identify commonalities. A format where, like my neighbors, when an issue arises they look at it and don’t go….”hang on, let me check the conservative or liberal doctrine to find out if we support this.” Instead they think….helps me/hurts me, keeps my family safe/doesn’t keep my family safe, makes me more money/makes me less money, is moral/is immoral, blah blah balh. A format where you can actually be vehemently opposed to both capital punishment AND abortion without being told you are confused because one is a liberal position and the other is a conservative position. A format where people of different temperaments, talents and convictions host programs and participate as listeners and callers. A format where tomorrow we might talk about the best restaurant in town or whether or not we should build that publicly funded stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays OR is Rick Scott crazy or is he the best governor we’ve seen in decades?
OK, now I’m ranting, pontificating and otherwise annoying you and I apologize. My point is the only spoken word format in the talk genre outside of sports isn’t angry white guy conservative politics. And I do write that with a smile on my face and my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. I mean no disrespect. You are a master at your craft and have been richly rewarded with a huge following and rightly so. And I wish you nothing but continued success. For me…it ain’t about the politics……it’s bidniz. Be well my friend.
OK, I’m back.
It really is about the business you know…and the show. Remember?....it’s show business! And that’s all I’m doing here. I’m trying to figure out ways to create NEW radio stations and formats that can carve out a niche of their own and not try to merely imitate an entrenched leader.
So now this thing has been quoted and re-quoted and tweeted and cussed and discussed. And it’s gone from everything I’ve tried to painstakingly outline above to Gabe Hobbs says conservative talk is dead or it sucks. He loves progressive. He’s a commie. He’s a traitor. Please. Really?
Even my good friend Al Peterson put at least one new word in my mouth that I absolutely did not utter and now even THAT word has been picked up by others and attributed to me. And that word is the ever-dreaded “moderate.” I’m sure Al did it for expediency as it fit nicely into his headline as opposed to the five pages I’ve written here to explain myself. The headline read, “Gabe Hobbs Sees Future for Moderate Talkers.” Actually, I don’t. My manifesto above says nothing about being moderate. After gently complaining to Al he responded with, “and while I know we all tend to want to eschew labels, the fact is that a conservative is a conservative, a liberal is a liberal, and the guy in the middle will always be the moderate and if I recall correctly Rush's hilarious take on that position is that "the only thing you get by going down the middle of the road is run over" :)
I don’t like the label moderate. Or progressive. Moderate implies boring, bad radio, wishy-washy, can’t take a stand on an issue. Moderators are what you find on PBS talk shows. Hosts still have to render compelling opinions and be passionate about their positions. They should NOT be down the middle. Perhaps there might be an issue that comes along once in awhile where they haven’t yet made up their mind or heaven forbid – change their opinion for a reason. And as Jim Rome says, “have a take and don’t suck.” Can it be loud and angry at times? Of course, but in the formats I have in my head those are the “Oh wow” moments and are the exceptional moments of a show that cause you to turn your head. Otherwise, they just become more noise that loses its impact.
And as far as this business about people labeling me this and that….the fact is, almost no one knows what my real politics are. I make it a point not to discuss that with anyone. The truth is any hard core political discussion will cause my eyes to roll back in my head and then glaze over. I’m somewhat apolitical. Some hosts I’ve worked with want to know that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. That’s not my job. People shouldn’t hire me to drink their Kool-Aid. Hire a cheerleader if that’s what you want. People hire me to help them improve, become more successful, solve a problem, create something new and make more money. You should never hire someone that is highly subjective toward your material. You WANT people that can be OBJECTIVE. I take great pride in that and go to great measures to remain that way. Very often I really don’t give a bleep WHAT you say. I’m focused on HOW you say it, how your are packaging it, how you are imaging it, etc.
So in summary, never forget that it is NOT about politics or ideology and politics is NOT the only form of spoken word radio that people will listen to if done well. It’s show business. It’s the perfect marriage of art and business. Neither side of the equation can take control or the artist will be doomed to failure.
And as Walter Sabo always says….it’s only radio.
A "rant" from internet based talk show host Mark Larsen of Tampa. Mark had very successful shows for many years on both 970 WFLA and 820 WWBA. This was actually a posting by Mark on the Radio-Info.Com board........
Of course I still like to track the numbers. Did you see the new 12+ PPM talk numbers? (They are on the Ratings page on this site, Inside Radio, etc.) Yes, we only see 12+ share & weekly cume, but we know who gets which demos. Every talker went down, except 1250. It almost makes you wonder if all of the talkers should go all brokered. 970 is down in the 5's, 860 skidded again -- I see where 820 took a dump, but I wonder if the eye doctor went up 9-10AM? Would that be a hoot?
Every time I turn on the terrestrial stream in the dash board, everything (outside of AM drive) sounds like a tea party board meeting. Hobbs & I were talking about this a few weeks ago. The ART of talk is missing from talk radio. No one "talks" anymore. No stories, no simple fun chat, no everyday life stuff. I'll never forget the show I did about a junky old riding lawn mower I bought. I was proudly buzzing around the yard and the front wheel fell off, rolled into a tree and the mower klunked into uncut turf. Wife was laughing her ass off, the dog came up and pissed on the disabled machine... Phones lit up for hours with folks disparaging the thrifty host and telling their own stories of failed frugality. Lassiter spent an hour one time whining about how Lionel raided the refrigerator in the station kitchen and ate all of Bob's home made potato salad -- and Bob got phones! Have you ever gone to the frig' looking for that coveted last piece of fried chicken, and someone else snarfed it up? That's what I'm talkin' about. There was Lionel's pain show, and so many others like it. And all during a time when oodles of political news was breaking.
When Sinatra died, I played wall to wall Sinatra on 970, talking about my parent's musical influence on me -- people were calling in sobbing. Same when George Harrison died. I even played wall to wall Michael Jackson on 820 after he croaked. IT'S GODDAM TOPICAL and relatable for baby boomer talk listeners. And it sure beat the crap out of listening to another Sarah Palin sound bite! Sure, red meat is good and we need to talk politics --but we need relief. Us album rock programmers used to throw in "relief records" every so often between the long doses of heavy metal, so the head bangers could occasionally come up for air. Where is the REAL TALK relief for Talk Radio? Thank God for WMRK (my MP3 player - where Linkin Park meets Leslie Gore!).