Life on the Frontier

| April 1, 2011

Internet talk media has become the terrestrial radio farm system

By Michael Harrison
Publisher

NEW YORK –– On page 23 of this issue of TALKERS magazine we are pleased to launch the third annual installment of a relatively new feature titled, “The Frontier Fifty: A Selection of Outstanding Talk Media Webcasters.”

It is an alphabetical list of 50 talk “acts” consisting of a wide variety of hosts, teams and shows representing a cross section of the important pioneering work taking place in the burgeoning world of internet talk media. The continuing publication of such an “editorial staff’s choice” in this magazine marks another evolutionary milestone as, together, we experience the fascinating transition between the AM/FM/VHF/UHF (“terrestrial”) domination of pop culture during the second half of the 20th century and the emerging internet media’s (“stickless”) reign over the first half of the 21st –– already more than a decade underway. We thank our friends at Broadcasters General Store for their continued sponsorship of this ambitious and optimistic feature. Their faith in it is a sign that there is, in fact, a “new industry” of enormous potential proportions emerging before us all.

 

We also are proud in this pivotal issue to shine the TALKERS magazine light on one of the major players in this exciting new dimension of the talk business –– Alex Jones. Mr. Jones, a Frontier Fifty alumnus, is a talk show host who has truly achieved international superstar talk show status on the internet and is now, finally, after more than 10 years on terrestrial radio in one modest form or another, first gaining traction as a talent worthy of the entire industry’s attention!

This list does not presume to quantify the talent, listenership or importance of the players involved as does TALKERS magazine’s terrestrial talk radio “star” designations (the Heavy Hundred, Talkers 250 and Top Talk Audiences). Nor is it expected to become an annual event spanning more than a handful of years at most. As a matter of fact, this could likely be the final installment of the Frontier Fifty as a TALKERS magazine annual feature because, frankly, there is so much talk-oriented activity emerging on the internet that we would have to create a “Frontier Five Thousand” just to do it justice! (Thus, the exclusion of a number of entities listed in the past two years from this year’s assortment doesn’t mean to disparage them in any way –– we simply want to give others a well-deserved opportunity for exposure.)

We do not foresee internet talk media remaining a “frontier” or a “pioneering” enterprise for all that long a period. This new platform is well on its way to becoming a key part of the establishment at an exponentially increasing rate of acceleration –– much like minor league baseball or college football and basketball. Keeping that in mind, we should savor this creative, opportunity-rich period of its infancy while we still have it –– a colorful chapter of new media history that this list endeavors to celebrate.

Another difference about this group: It does not confine the role of performer to that of a “host” or limit inclusion to only those talent who enact the standard model of “talk radio” –– marked by a regularly scheduled program consisting of taking calls, conducting interviews and giving opinions within a standard radio station setting. (Not that there is anything wrong with

that institution.)

The selection process simply expands the entrance requirements and possibilities way beyond the “live-show model” (basically a disc jockey who “plays” phone callers and guests instead of records within the linear construct of a radio station or a syndication company designed to emulate a radio station) to include complex podcasts, one-shot specials, documentaries, live events and purposefully irregular scheduling.

Terrestrial talk radio has been unable to resist the tendency to format itself narrowly into tightly controlled, standardized and stylized boxes due to the commercial demands and corporate needs of the “valuable license” paradigm, further constricted by the limited space and time dimensions of its playing field. It is severely limited by this one-dimensional time frame and can thus only exist within a linear “appointment” context.

To assume that internet talk radio will simply be a continuation of its terrestrial ancestor only with expanded reach would be akin to publishing newspapers without photographs or using horses to power automobiles.

Thus this new list reflects not only a wide diversity of talent and the subjects and special interest demos they embrace, but also the wide array of mechanical, conceptual and formatic options available to the webcaster.

Some perform their shows as isolated events on websites devoted to things other than “radio.” Others do them within the context of internet talk “networks.” Then there are those already on their way toward developing the “media station” concept of the modern talk platform. There are even the cyberspace “street singers” who put their precious wares and treasures out there on the pedestrian YouTubes of this brave new world.

Some are already big stars in the terrestrial talk radio world and deserve inclusion on the list because, in spite of their success, they have worked vigorously and invested courageously to create an internet presence and expansion of their work by attracting a predisposed audience to the new platform and showing how professional this new venue can be. Again, look at Alex Jones as an example and model of what can be.

Others are relatively unknown, laboring in the obscure kitchen table loneliness of the

frontier, clearing paths to a better future for themselves and the rest of us who will enjoy the unlimited benefits of the roads they are paving.

Pay attention. Some of these unknown folks are heading to inevitable superstardom. Others are merely on the way to attaining huge wealth with limited fame (not so bad a fate in this day and age). And some, of course, are just bright little sparks that will fade quickly in the torrent of time and changing circumstances. It is our hope that inclusion on this list will be a “reward”

enough that they can someday show their grandchildren.

As the trade publication that titled its annual convention the “new media” seminar as early as 14 years ago and began writing about the emerging concept of the internet “media station” and severe challenges facing the stick (and those heavily invested in it financially) years before the emergence of satellite radio, HD radio, PPM, the horrific recession, no-buy lists, advertiser boycotts and the never-ending threat of a new Fairness Doctrine –– you can count on TALKERS magazine devotedly covering and nurturing this marvelous new scene with loving care and open-minded intelligence.

Please join us at www.talkers.com and www.podjockey.com for expanded versions of “The Frontier Fifty: A Selection of Outstanding Talk Media Webcasters” including photos, descriptions and contact information.

Michael Harrison is publisher of TALKERS magazine. He can be e-mailed at michael@talkers.com. Meet Michael Harrison at New Media Seminar 2011 in New York City June 10-11.

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Category: Michael Harrison