Picking the right topics when working in multiple markets
By Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo
Radio Talk Show Host
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo – a member of the TALKERS Heavy Hundred – is the host of mornings on KPRC, Houston; late afternoons on WOAI, San Antonio; weekends locally on KOA, Denver and weekends nationally on The Weekend show. He is also a major “go to” fill-in host for such hosts as Glenn Beck, Todd Schnitt and many others.)
HOUSTON/SAN ANTONIO/DENVER/EVERYWHERE — “Good morning, Houston.” “Good afternoon, San Antonio.” “Happy Saturday, Denver.” “Good Weekend, America.” These are all things I’m lucky enough to say either every day or every week. It’s a supreme compliment to have the support of the stations in these markets and from Clear Channel and Premiere and quite a challenge. Each show has its own feel, flow and audience make up and reaction. So, over the last 11 years, I’ve learned what works everywhere and what is market specific.
“A good talk topic is a good talk topic.” I first heard that simple but nearly perfect sentence from Greg Foster, VP of programming at CC/Denver. It’s been echoed to me many times one way or another by industry icons like Gabe Hobbs, Dom Theodore, Ken Charles, Phil Boyce, Peter Bolger and more over the years. It’s how I live on the air. But, as perfect as the phrase is, it does lack some specificity.
How do you know it’s a good topic and that it will work where you’re broadcasting? Many years ago, I thought it was easy to gauge. Whatever gets the phone ringing, right? Not so much. I take a lot of phone calls. I’d say more than you might hear on other shows. But, I insist they be of substance and advance the conversation or be really funny and entertaining. Making the phones ring, it turns out, is easy. “Abortion, for or against? Here’s the number.” That’s sure to melt the lines down and guaranteed to be a horrible show. Those blinking lights are addictive and the interaction intoxicating, but I once heard a stat that showed two percent of all listeners will ever call into a radio show. How do you make sure you’re engaging the other 98 percent as well?
The topics that really get the phones ringing and email and Facebook smoking are generally not political. I find, no matter what city is hearing me, issues around the parenting, education, treatment or health issues of children always get the attention of my listeners. Personal finance, jobs and making ends meet are right up there too. But, I always make sure to let my hair down a bit — every show — to just make my listeners smile or laugh a bit no matter what’s happening in their days. It usually has to do with body functions because I’m a child at heart.
A huge part of my success in multiple markets is finding out what’s happening there. You might find it funny, but one of the first questions I ask before cracking a mic in a new city is, “What’s the name of the grocery store here?” Seems mundane yet imagine how I’d sound if I didn’t know. Then I get specific about what’s happening in that community.
I talked about the Aurora shooting on all of my shows, but it took on quite a different face when I did it in Denver, the market where Aurora actually is. Also, in Denver, marijuana and the decriminalization is big as well as the recent move to over-regulate guns.
In Houston, it’s the Astrodome and what to do with it or the oil and gas industry or NASA and space or the rodeo. Yes, other topics work and work great, but one of those is a home run. I have to keep in mind, however, that the listeners are smart. They’ll know I’m kissing up or pandering if I just mention those things. The real challenge is doing them because they affect many and offering a strong opinion and perspective along with a potential solution.
In San Antonio, it’s the Spurs, Riverwalk, traffic, the Alamo, immigration et al. You have to have a peripheral understanding of those topics at least, or you won’t be able to relate and the listeners will always know. If there aren’t great, interesting topics on a city level, that’s okay. I broaden my horizons and look at the state or the region. In Texas, it’s guns, farming, oil, football (on any level) just to name a few.
Nationally, on The Weekend or when I’m in for Glenn Beck, the audience gets that they’re going to hear topics with less geographic relevance and more general appeal. That does not mean local stories are off limits and it needs to be a government bash fest. It just means taking those topics and keeping in mind that there are different local laws, ordinances, ways of life and perspectives depending on where the show’s being heard.
With the way broadcasting appears to be headed: top talent being utilized in more local situations many times from afar and with the onus being on streaming and even satellite, I’m glad I’ve had the experience of doing local shows on great radio stations like WABC, KFI, KTRH, KPRC, WIOD, WGST, WXDX, KOA, WGY, WOAI, WHAM, WSYR, WSGW and more as it has me well-prepared for the future of talk radio.
Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo can be emailed at JosephPagliarulo@ClearChannel.com.