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Weekends: Healing Talk Radio’s Achilles Heel

| February 23, 2015

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant
cookeBLOCK ISLAND, RI — Plain talk: At too many stations – some with once-proud call letters – weekends are an embarrassment.  Through utter neglect, stations injure ratings and leave money on the table.

In many cases, management doesn’t even listen on Saturday and Sunday, either because:

a)      They don’t dare listen.  It’s like a solar eclipse: “Look away!!!”  They know their weekend is a wasteland of automation misfires and pay-for-play shows, the audition for which was the check didn’t bounce.  Management just shrugs.

b)      They can’t listen.  There are more stations in the cluster than they can manage, and the one dismissively referred to as “the AM” gets short shrift.  No names, but one station I hear airs the same disclaimer copy before and after paid shows.  The voice (who was PD two-PDs-ago) says “THE FOLLOWING PROGRAM…” after the show has ended.

The person occupying the position formerly titled “Program Director” is now “Brand Manager” (?) and:

a)      is apparently too busy managing all those brands; and/or

b)      might not have the talk radio coaching skill set which weekenders direly need.

On many talk stations, for hours at a time, weekend programming is like Styrofoam, filling space.  Naïvely, stations say “Best of,” while listeners hear “re-runs,” of weekday political shows that sound very Tuesday on Saturday.  I remember reading an Arbitron diary comment: “On the weekend, it sounds like they think nobody is listening.”  Ouch.

Weekenders aren’t JV

Every voice on the station is part of its radio family.  I work with several syndicated weekend shows, and we high-five each other when these national hosts get listeners’ Christmas cards addressed c/o the affiliate station.  Listeners don’t sort voices by Varsity and Junior Varsity.  So why not put our best foot forward every hour?

One of the things I do for client stations is review airchecks with weekenders who aren’t career broadcasters, the lawyers/realtors/veterinarians/foodies/financial advisers/other how-to talkers who broker time to drum-up business by fielding callers’ questions.  In some markets where I don’t even have a station, I’m coaching weekend warriors because their stations won’t.

Better radio means better Time Spent Listening; and more callers, which means better ROI for pay-for-play hosts, and less programming turnover.  So whoever can review airchecks with weekenders is investing that time well.  But coaching is merely one of the station assets that weekend talkers are too commonly denied…

Is the deal doomed?

“Brokered” is not a four-letter word.  Listeners understand that programming is sponsored; and they don’t care whether it’s sponsored by the minute or by the hour, if it’s interesting.  Jerry Seinfeld reckons: “There is no such thing as an attention span.  This whole idea of an attention span in, I think, a misnomer.  People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”

Too often, stations are under-selling weekend talkers, not enabling them with all the tools that would yield better results for all-involved.  Typically $X = Y hours of airtime, period.  The buyer doesn’t ask for, and the seller doesn’t offer, other station assets which could result in bigger tune-in, bigger social following, and bigger bucks for both parties.

So, based on experience on both sides of this transaction, I’ve compiled a Negotiation Checklist for buyers of weekend longform talk radio airtime.

And if you’re selling that time, don’t gag.  As my client stations will assure you, I’m not giving away the store!  This Negotiation Checklist is what smart stations already offer their weekend talkers.  It’s the weekend/weekday/longform/shortform/on-air/online bundle that has emerged as the Best Practices success formula.  If you’re in station management, you’ll recognize value that you’re presently giving away free.  The Negotiation Checklist is a big win-win.

And it’s FREE!

NOT a misprint, even though what you will read could swing five or six figures for both the-station-that’s-selling and the-talker-who’s-buying-onto the airwaves.

Why free?  Because stations, advertisers, listeners, and enterprising weekend hosts deserve more than weekend air pollution.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m on a dang mission, trudging across the continent to pump…you…up.  And weekends are a special focus area where we’ve really been able to move the needle.  So watch TalkersTV, at Talkers.com, for a series of videos, and these downloads:

  • The Negotiation Checklist.
  • The most-requested back issue of the monthly newsletter I’ve been writing for over 20 years: “It’s A Solid Gold Weekend!”
  • Screener Tips: They’re talk radio’s unsung heroes, who – properly tasked — can help improve the return on investment in weekend programming.
  • Interview Tips that’ll draw-the-ear toward your Q+A with on-air guests, by one of the better interviewers I’ve ever worked with.
  • My white paper on Endorsement Spots, the mother’s milk of specialty shows.  Listeners trust hosts’ product/service recommendations.

Solid weekend shows have always made radio special to listeners and advertisers.  Now, with social media?  Pow.


Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the internet; and TALKERS contributor.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke.  Meet Holland Cooke at Talkers New York 2015 on Friday, June 12, 2015.  For registration information call 413-565-5413. 


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Category: Advice, Sales