Serving Local Listeners – A Blueprint for Talk Success
By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
MEDFORD — If you leave Portland, Oregon and head just over four hours south down Interstate 5, before you reach the California border you’ll drive right into the town of Medford. About 75 miles inland through rugged terrain from the Pacific Ocean, Medford is a small town with a population of 76,000, but is also an economic hub for Southern Oregon and a home for the state’s growing wine industry.
Medford is also the home of KMED-AM (1440), a news/talk station owned by Bicoastal Media and the oldest radio station in Medford. It’s weekday lineup includes syndicated conservatives Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, along with Glenn Beck and Alex Jones. However, what drives the station is their morning show, and Bill Meyer has not only made the morning show his own, he has been able to create a blueprint of how to package a large market type of local show and imprint that on a small market audience, giving the station a very sellable show, while the listeners get the interaction and local flavor they would not get with a nationally syndicated program.
And, he does it all on his own – without a show producer.
A “radio” guy
Like many in radio, Meyer fell into it and never expected to make a career of it. In the mid-1970s Meyer was happily working in a CB-radio repair shop and records store in Ohio, where he befriended a deejay named Dudley from WLEC-FM in Sandusky. Dudley would come in and buy records there, and one day he invited Meyer down to one of his local “Soul Shows.” Meyer started to think that he could do what that deejay was doing. After attending the Ohio School of Broadcast Technique in Cleveland he would have to travel across country to get his first job in radio at KIOT in Barstow, California. Stops in Modesto, Sacramento, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Fargo, North Dakota spinning rock, adult contemporary and country music along the way would eventually bring Meyer to Shelton, Washington for his first program director job, and eventually to Medford, Oregon.
“I never thought this would be my career. My parents would always ask, ‘When are you going to get a real job,’” says Meyer, who was a deejay for about 20 years before finding his way to talk. “I never really believed I’d still be in this business.”
Meyer landed in Medford at just the right time, when KMED flipped from adult standards to news/talk, just prior to 9/11. At first, KMED just did news and talk in mornings, with some local talk on the weekends. A few years later, the news person left, and Meyer was left to hold down mornings alone. A decade later, KMED and Meyer have not looked back.
“We have a great loyal following with the mornings. I move product, and that’s thanks to great loyal listeners,” says Meyer.
Despite the Sandra Fluke comments by Limbaugh, which did hurt KMED with advertisers much like other stations in the country, Meyer says, “We sell the station over the syndicated shows. It’s not just about one syndicated host. We have a lot of local and loyal advertisers”
Meyer has been able to tap into that loyalty, creating a morning show that talks about local issues, while weaving national news into the local landscape.
“The big focus of what I do is on the underdog. I do political talk and political topics, but I strive to give a voice to those who might not normally get heard. I was a Libertarian when it wasn’t cool to be one,” says Meyer. “I’m not a Republican shill. Listeners see me as an honest broker.”
Meyer’s style has allowed him to win over listeners in an area that leans more left of the political center. It allows him not only the chance to work with advertisers, but also in a small town area, be able to go out with his wife and have dinner as a very approachable local celebrity.
“Regardless of whatever the market size, local is very important. You have to be able to tap into the local landscape and it’s critical if you can do a good show. The other option would be Glenn Beck in morning drive on the West Coast,” says Meyer.
Unlike Glenn Beck, Meyer has to wear many hats at KMED. He’s not just the morning show host – he’s also his own producer, although he does have a call screener off of whom to bounce ideas.
“A producer isn’t in the budget. I go with what I think is interesting,” says Meyer, who makes it his mission to get the callers in his listening area on the air. “People here don’t get a chance much to have their call taken on a nationally syndicated show. It’s rare to hear ‘someone from Medford’ on Rush or Sean Hannity’s show. My show becomes a forum for our listeners, and they get their voices and opinions heard.”
One of the keys to Meyer’s success is to take any topic and spin it local. A sample of the guests and topics for his morning show on September 26 included Dr. Merrill Matthews of the Institute for Policy Innovation discussing Obamacare, the chair of a local school board to talk about the ongoing school budget negotiations, and a member of the Oregon Firearms Federation to talk about the recently signed UN Small Arms treaty. This allows Meyer to take the local temperature of the topics whether the topic is local, national or worldwide, and let his listeners in small-town America have their viewpoints heard.
Another reason for his success is the station’s management is on his side.
“I feel pretty blessed. I’m given a lot of freedom by management. I’m my own manager – not many talk hosts have that kind of freedom,” says Meyer, who also says that very same freedom also means he bears the responsibility to serve the needs of the listeners.
Equally important with his strong relationship with local listeners is his equally strong relationship with the KMED and Bicoastal Media sales department. Meyer believes it’s not just important to have that connection between the on-air host and sales, but it’s vital that connection has a strong working understanding of one another, but also understands each other’s responsibilities.
“I’m especially fortunate to have some people in the sales department who are talk radio fans, which helps a lot. I’ll go out on calls, work on promotions and sales promotions with them. I’m a big fan of the saying that NOTHING happens until someone sells something,” says Meyer. “It’s important for a local host to work with sales. There are many clients whom I partner with via endorsements, and quite a big chunk of business comes through clients who are fans and believers in what I do. Our sales department is also very good about understanding the need to say ‘no.’ I don’t endorse any product or service which I don’t use or fully agree with. The live read, and local endorsements, when appropriate, are extremely powerful sales tools in talk radio. Our listeners LISTEN to spoken word, done well. It’s not something a listener just automatically punches away from.”
Is the future of local radio online?
While he is not one to look into the crystal ball, Meyer believes that within the next five years his local show will become a show listened to in the Pacific Northwest region, however still remain true to Southern Oregon and Medford.
“I live in the area. It’s my home. I hope to still be doing my show, but maybe expand it regionally. What I want to do is a high quality morning show for the Oregon region,” says Meyer.
However, with the KMED-AM signal limited to 5,000 watts daytime and 1,000 watts at night, in order to become regional means Meyer must take advantage of the current technology to get his voice heard.
“I can see radio eventually going away from the transmitter and antenna business model. The reason for this is already a good number of our listeners hear us on the internet. Even though the FCC is talking about enhancing the AM band, I doubt we can do that just on AM. I can see it all going online,” says Meyer, who believes that local content online or on the radio is something people look for. “The stream is a new way of listening. The fact we have a strong local show does make us top of mind. Remember, we stream Rush, and so does KEX (1190AM in Portland) and other stations.
In addition to online, Meyer produces a podcast of each hour of his morning show, available on the KMED station website, which each show archived. He promotes his show on his Facebook page and through Twitter.
“Facebook and social media I use to see what is resonating with people. I use them as a sounding board to see what’s important to them. You can call that my ‘electronic topic suggestor,’” says Meyer.
Whether it is online or via a transmitter and tower, Meyer believes you have to be true to your listeners, and that starts with respect and honesty. He says his style is s not one that is combative, and unlike some political talk hosts he will not yell at callers or call them names.
“The best way I’ve found to connect with my listeners is by being honest and polite. The type of ‘get off the phone you big dope’ talk style employed by some hosts would never fly here. As for honesty, when I first started doing the show, some folks would call and think I was taking a particular position on an issue just to generate controversy. I make it clear that I never do that. Listeners appreciate that, and know when passion comes through, it’s genuine. You can’t fake that. A lot of my conversations with listeners out in the field contain ‘I don’t agree with what you say about topic X,’ but you’re fair about it.”
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for TALKERS. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com.