By Michael Harrison
The bubble of optimism that envelops the industry during the first week of a new year received a stinging pinprick with the news of veteran Phoenix radio personality Bill Heywood and his wife Susan carrying out a death pact in a Scottsdale, Arizona motel room. Heywood was deeply depressed. His beloved wife suffered declining health. They faced serious financial difficulties. And he struggled with life as one of the radio homeless in the sad aftermath of an illustrious career as an elite local talent.
Hopefully, the Heywood’s grisly solution will not mark the beginning of an industry trend. However, it does serve as a sobering reminder that the number one concern in this business will continue to be the dismal economy. As the U2 song aptly puts it, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day” – a poetic exaggeration of an esoteric truth.
Here are the eight leading trends and factors facing talk media as we head into 2012. As is usually the case, we have a mixture of the good, the bad and the in-between. The challenges are indeed daunting – but the opportunities are great:
1) Harsh Economy. The recession/depression facing advertising-fueled commercial media will continue to inflict pain on the talk radio industry. This forces budget cutbacks that negatively impact jobs, creativity, and the general mood of the folks in the trenches – especially on the radio station level. Now, more than ever, individuals in this business as well as the collective consciousness of organizations must dig deep within themselves to carry on in a productive and positive manner. New sources of revenue must be sought and generated. The tendency toward programming stagnation that sets in when people are more fearful of losing their jobs than inspired by the possibilities presented by this exciting new era must be resisted.
2) The Last Painful Gasp of Consolidation. 2012 will be the final year of consolidation being a continuing corporate trend in the radio station business. It won’t be pretty. It is almost impossible to manage a boatload of radio stations effectively mired under the burden of debt. This is a no brainer apparent to everybody other than those who actually think they can do it and the investors who foolishly believe them. Look for the radio broker business to boom in 2013… but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
3) The Digital Revolution. Programming talk shows on the internet will be the best thing since sliced bread once business-to-business relationships become systematized and institutionalized in this arena and the cream of internet-compatible programming begins rising to the top. How ironic that iHeartRadio, a brilliant innovation of the largest radio station owner, will go down in history as a milestone in speeding up the process of the stick’s inevitable devaluation. 2012 will be the year we turn the corner in the quest to monetize the internet!
4) More Small Shows. There will be dramatic increase in the number of small specifically-targeted and financially-viable talk shows in syndication and online.
5) FM Talk. It is here to stay… or at least for the rest of the decade. Music formats will continue to take a beating and there will be an increasing number of openings on the FM dial for AM talkers to expand their reach as well as for new operations to be initiated. Many will be generic news/talkers and even more sports talk outlets will be popping up this year as well as all-news outlets. Keep your eye on all-news radio. We are in the mere infancy of something very significant.
6) Politics and Sports. As far as radio is concerned, they appeal to the same compartment in the human brain. 2012 will be a bonanza for political talk programming as the presidential election rumbles down the home stretch. And the growth of interest in sports in America – led by the amazing NFL – is nothing short of a phenomenon. (Radio broadcasters can learn a number of lessons analyzing the workings of the NFL, beyond it sports component, simply as the amazing programming and marketing monster it has become.)
7) Satellite Radio. Sirius/XM will mark another year of growth and superb programming.
8) The Unknown. Unlike tight radio formats, the passing parade of time and events is unprogrammed and anything can happen – as it always does each and every year. Forecasts and lists such as the above make stimulating copy for New Year’s articles but predicting the future is a dangerous and often foolish endeavor. Be prepared. Anything can happen!
Michael Harrison is the founder and publisher of TALKERS. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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