Why Does Talk Radio Struggle?

| April 6, 2018

By Bryan Crabtree
Talk40.com News
Publisher

 

ATLANTA — It doesn’t.  There you have it.  Talk radio is as strong today as it has ever been.

Most commercial talk stations in the United States have predominantly conservative opinion.  I’ve sat through countless seminars and meetings listening to the pontification about how we’ve gotten too political and how we should try something different.  Wrong!

Talk radio is about what affects our audiences’ lives.  I continue to be puzzled by the fact that I hear local newscasts on stations across the country during Rush Limbaugh with the lead story about a shooting at a gas station (or similar) in the inner city.  What talk listener really cares about another murder in Atlanta, Chicago or Dallas?

Why do we have stations full of conservative hosts polluted with liberal news anchors avoiding the news that our audience really wants to hear?

FOX News is a recent example of what we are doing wrong in conservative media.  David Hogg, a kid from Parkland, Florida, decides to launch a boycott on Laura Ingraham and the reaction is?  Nothing!  They generally ignore it on the air as their advertisers cancel.  “If we just sit silent, maybe it will end.”

The sales problem is that we allow sales departments to run our programming in moments like these.

I was recently having a philosophical conversation with a programmer in a top-50 market who told me that “we generally don’t want our talent out doing any sales [activities] in markets this size…so they can focus on their shows.” I was stunned!

Newsflash: Without sales, there is no show to “focus on.”  We are all in sales. Case closed. 

What business would not want its most public and respected figures engaging with their clients to incentivize them to advertise and spend money with the company?  I’m not suggesting that talent should be cold-calling for new business, but if they want to do it under the compensation structure of a talent so their job is safe, why not?

Would you rather have a 10 share and lackluster sales or a 7 share and a million dollars in new revenue?

As to Ingraham, I wouldn’t worry about Bayer canceling ads on FOX News. Instead, I’d run a feature story about how “Bayer just canceled with FOX News because our host Ingraham stood up for your second amendment rights.  By contrast, MyPillow.com just increased their advertising schedule as an endorsement of our coverage.”  Why not focus on those that double down support instead of those that flee?

FOX could interview MyPillow’s founder Mike Lindell about why he felt compelled to increase his ad budget in the midst of a boycott (hypothetical example).  What do you think will happen to Bayer vs. Lindell’s business when half of American conservatives get their news on FOX and actually hear this first hand?

Business Insider ran a story recently about how advertisers are watching these boycotts closely.

Are we going to sell our results and influence or points and political correctness?

In talk radio, out of necessity I suppose, sales got into ‘programming’ and thus ‘programming’ further rejected sales.  It stuns me as to why sales isn’t thrown out of ‘programming’ and programmers don’t get into sales.

Our sales departments are failing us. Many of the staff sell multiple music formats and talk radio.  I’ve sold over a half-billion dollars worth of real estate in my career.  I tell you this to illustrate that I can sell almost anything.  I can’t sell urban radio!  I love the format, but I don’t listen enough and I don’t understand the lifestyle.  How can someone really sell an urban station and a conservative talk station at the same time?  Some can but most can’t.

Here are my solutions to the sales, boycotting and content issues created by our polarizing talk radio stations:

Large radio companies need to separate talk/opinion formats into a different corporate vertical.  I know this is unlikely, but it’s necessary.  There needs to be one person solely overseeing a budget with the authority to execute the station’s agenda while navigating the excessive layers of corporate radio (almost as if it’s a separate company altogether). The news cycle isn’t going to wait on us to get all the approvals needed to stay relevant.  Music stations may be able to operate in this vacuum, but not talk and news formats!

Accordingly, there are a number of radio clusters with management who believe that a conservative talk radio station should have something like ‘competing voices.’  Have you noticed what happened to all of the ‘competing voices’ on FOX News that bashed Trump while calling themselves conservative during the election?  Poof!  They evaporated.

The talk radio industry needs to develop a solid firewall between managers and the content on it’s talk formats. The subject matter of our format is simply too polarizing for someone who disagrees with our positions to be able to make credible and competent programming decisions.  Of course, there are always exceptions, but I don’t see many.

I’m puzzled by my years of observing the struggle to hit budgets on talk radio. What conservative listener who makes $100,000 per year and will spend money with your advertisers is really going to waste their time for a few dollars per month to carry a Portable People Meter (PPM) every day?  Some of our most successful clients are likely our best sales people.  Why aren’t we selling real results instead of fuzzy numbers?

Talk radio is a results format and we should be finding advertisers that already listen or believe in our principles (as a station). This is the first step to insulate us from boycotts and controversy.

As a real estate advertiser for years, I would only advertise with conservative stations.  I wanted clients who already aligned with my values and thinking. It made winning their business easier and made the return $10 for every $1 I spent.  Do we ever sell that to people?  Do we even know those stories or are we just chasing the next sales contract?

What I hear most frequently is how ‘digital is killing us.’  Yes, I realize that some online-only podcast is getting 1,000,000 downloads per month. That’s 900,000 people who have it automatically downloading to their phone and never listen and 100,000 people who listen for six minutes (or similar). Expose your competition for it’s shady numbers if you want to sell more of your airtime.

We have a deficiency of strong sales people who love the talk station. One solution is to advertise on your station (to your actual listeners) and hold a weekly or monthly career night and present the potential of a sales career in radio. Instead of making us look old, make us look exciting and talk about success! I recruited over 400 real estate agents (before selling my company 10 years ago) using career nights, some of which earned over $500,000 per year. This model can find talent that NEVER thought of radio and can solve a host of our sales problems with people already passionate about our brand.

Finally, to the program directors, stop telling the world that “corporate won’t let you.”  Every time you say that you destroy your industry one word at a time. If you disagree with ‘corporate’ try to make a change by being bold or find a new employer.  Believe it or not, they don’t want “yes men.” You’re in charge. Own it! If they won’t let you hire the right talent (no money) or give you any promotional money, then go out with the sales people and bring in more money. If you want ‘number-crunchers’ in the ‘ivory tower’ to give you more money to spend, then give them more revenue to count. In other words, it’s easier sometimes to just help someone do their job than to complain about it.

If programming helps sales hit budgets, they will stay out of your way.

We can keep ‘losing,’ playing their sales vs. programming game. By contrast, we can redefine winning by starting a new game, turning our talent and programmers into sales-driven minds who sell reality and results.

Trust me when I say that Rush Limbaugh is as good at sales as he is at talk radio.

Our programming departments should be creating more and more promotions that help the station improve the ratings and attract advertising revenue. Our sales people should be cold-calling, prospecting, writing contracts and managing client relationships.

Let’s face it!  If we want to survive as an industry, we need to stop focusing on the content as the problem, double down on serving our predominantly conservative audience and sell our product with the people who know it best: Talent and programming.

Believe it or not, ‘programming’ is as much in sales as ‘sales’ is in sales.

Bryan Crabtree is a talk show host and publisher of Talk40.com News.  Reach him at: bcrabtreeiphone@gmail.com

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Category: Advice