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So You Want to be Syndicated?

| March 5, 2013

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

BLOCK ISLAND, RI — I can help you.  But first, can I talk you out of it?

Why:  In olden times, each radio station had four departments:

1. Programming, whose favor you’ll need to curry, since you’re offering a program;

      2. Sales, especially if you’re planning a weekend show, since the sales department programs weekends at talk stations;

3. General & Administrative (“Corporate is reviewing your contract”);

4. Engineering (“Which receiver is it on?”).


Seems quaint, but some stations still have all four departments; and you’ll need their consensus to clear your show.

Tread carefully, because you’re calling SOMEONE’S baby ugly, asking them to undo a decision that previously passed muster.  After all, the hour(s) or minute(s) of airtime you want aren’t currently dead air.  You’re not seeking program placement, you’re asking for displacement.

And running the above-described gauntlet is best-case.  Increasingly, The Great Big Owners are centralizing all four of those functions.  Read the trades: “Local management” is becoming an oxymoron.

Insiders get the pole position

Another reason clearing your show is becoming a less-local decision: The Great Big Owners are scaling their own content.  So you’re competing with insiders for finite airtime.

Example: Clear Channel and Premiere are the same company.  If you’re trying to place weekend longform, the universe of available Saturday/Sunday hours begins at 48 minus 6 on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity affiliates required to air weekend re-runs.  And if you’re producing talk programming, those are the stations you want the most.

Doing shortform?  No easier to place, because stations are unlikely to help you monetize your work either of the two conventional ways: They don’t have cash, and they don’t want to give you an adjacent spot.  They’re already running more commercials than they should be, and they know it.

It really is their loss

What’s so darn frustrating is that the station where you’re not-getting-to-second-base might be lots better-off with your work than without it.  Your topic is of genuine interest, and your show delivers listeners useful information and creates an opportune environment for advertisers seeking to reach buyers in a certain category.

At diligent stations, weekends rock.  Read how, when you download my special report “Solid Gold Weekend,” in the right-hand column at  No login or password required.

More commonly, the station you want to be on is dismissively referred-to in-house as “the AM.”  It’s the red-headed stepchild music-FM-oriented managers want to ignore, a real shame, since its growth potential is so much greater than music FMs that still command more management attention and resources.  Lotsa luck getting decision makers’ attention.  They’re under hellish bottom line pressure…and there’s your opening…

Want quick clearance? Cough it up

Ask everyone trying to clear weekend longform – and I mean everyone, major networks, successful indies, everyone – your #1 competitor is brokered programming.  Whether it’s the Colon Blow infomercial or the attorney fielding callers’ questions, airtime-purchased-by-the-hour is second in line behind Rush/Sean re-runs.

So ride the horse in the direction he’s facing.  Find a sponsor and buy the time.  That’ll also get you great shortform clearance, what stations call “spots” (in your case, disguised as informative features that end with an easy-to-remember domain name). 

Show up with a check and the stonewall crumbles.  Thus all the not-ready-for-prime-time brokered weekend fare we hear.  At smart stations, the audition should include “Can he talk?” rather than just “Did his check clear?”

Accordingly – and at the risk of sounding like a consultant – your work has to be solid programming.  The old maxim that “nothing kills a bad product quicker than good advertising” applies.  Funding less-than-compelling content sure can do you more harm than good.

But buying time might be the only way the time gets sold.  After 20+ years working closely with sales departments, I remain convinced that too many reps don’t know all the things available for sale.  Typically, they’re selling the whole cluster, NOT the best way to exploit talk radio’s unique value.  But you have the luxury of focusing on your show.

So, as Watergate’s shadowy Deep Throat explained: “Follow the money.”  Follow it backwards.  Profile the listener your show will appeal to.  Sell it to a business that sells to that listener.  Fashion the programming to create special advertiser value beyond spots.

Your smartest first step: DIY
Launch on the internet.  It’s dress rehearsal for eventual AM/FM exposure; and a low-risk place to get into a production routine, and hone and tweak your material.  Build “the media station” TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison has been talking about for a decade.  As I’ve been demonstrating at the TALKERS events, most of the internet plumbing you need is free.

Once built-out, this platform becomes your affiliate marketing demo.   And when you get on-air, you’ll arrive with a pre-existing audience, your social media tribe and E-list.

THEN you should get a beta, that first affiliate, a station that can take delivery via MP3 or CD.  Write a success story (and a testimonial) there; then get another station.  And so on.  When you’ve got a dozen or two, in several time zones, THEN it’s time to write a business plan to grow.

Or you might decide not to bother.

Even if you never make it to AM/FM radio, you can still do “a show,” and make money

You could make a living by rounding-up “1000 True Fans,” as I will explain, specifically, at “Talkers New York 2013” on Thursday, June 6.

Don’t get me wrong.  This landscape I describe so soberly is where I live.  I work with several syndicated shows which each air on several hundred stations.  Despite the hurdles, syndication will remain opportune, as enabling technology and owners’ crippling debt make the future brighter for non-local talent than for local talent.

tbugkSee, hear, read more from consultant Holland Cooke at and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke.  Meet Holland Cooke at Talkers New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.


Category: Advice