By Walter Sabo
NEW YORK – Right now there are a significant number of stations switching to FM talk. There are many good reasons to do this. The top line is:
• The #1 biller in America two years in a row is an FM all-news station, Jim Farley’s WTOP FM.
• The #1 biller in many top 50 markets is a talk station.
• High-listener engagement with talk programming means greater response for advertisers.
• The drain of early-adopter music listeners from FM to SiriusXM and online music services such as Pandora and iTunes.
Through trial, error and success, our company has lead many FM talk conversions in cities such as Los Angeles and Orlando. This four-part series will reveal vital facts about the relationship between talk programming and the audience on the FM band.
The Single Biggest Mistake
The opportunity missed by many FM talk stations is failing to take advantage of the knowledge we have from programming successful music stations. By deploying proven music programming techniques to talk entertainment, those stations can be high cumers.
I have been at many conferences where I hear programmers barf that “applying formatics is easy, finding talent is difficult.” Not so. You rarely hear formatic structure on any talk station – you’ll hear long periods without a host name, station name, phone number – and that’s why talk stations tend to have low, vulnerable cumes. Applying formatics to talk is hard work, but completely achievable. Why bother? Because, if each host can apply his or her own formatics, a talk station cannot deliver its cume from show to show to show. If each host applies the same formatics show to show, the cume builds and grows.
FM music listeners expect consistency. They tune to a music station and hear CHR hits at 9:00 am, they expect to hear them at 9:00 pm. Music stations have consistent imaging, pacing and promotion all day. That’s how they build and hold cume. Hey, not my invention, blame Todd Storz and Bill Drake. Applying those techniques to talk gives you control over the station’s cume and demographic appeal.
Consistency is the key. That means that your hosts have to handle all elements in the same manner as every other host, just like music DJs. That does not mean they should have the same opinions. That is not desirable.
Formatic consistency is the stagecraft that gives your host the largest cume possible. The program director establishes rules and guidelines that apply all day, to every host. These rules cover topic selection, name of station, how the phone is answered, how long the phone calls should air, when the commercials air and how long topics are aired. There are many other elements.
You’re thinking, “Our hosts will hate that, they won’t do it.” There are vital benefits for hosts to follow basic format guidelines. They include: High cume means more phone calls. Managing formatics results in the ability to target a specific demographic. High cume means faster AQH share growth. Each host is able to benefit from the audience tuned to the station before their show starts, they don’t have to build a crowd from scratch.
What should the format rules be? That is determined by your demographic goal and market dynamics. By presenting a consistent sounding station, cume will grow.
TOMORROW: The selection and coaching of STARS.
Walter Sabo can be reached at Walter@sabomedia.com or 646-456-1000.