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Weekends: Hit! Or Miss?

| May 30, 2017

By Holland Cooke
Media Consultant


BLOCK ISLAND, R.I. — At many talk stations, Saturday and Sunday are the most profitable days of the week.  At smart stations, shows are “appointment listening” that reflect listeners’ weekend routines and bring revenue the station wouldn’t otherwise get.  At other stations, management shrugs, and doesn’t (dare) listen.

I recently met the GM of a cluster owned by one of radio’s big two.  When I asked “Do all your reps sell all your stations?” she smiled, assuring me that “we don’t ‘silo-sell.’”  Meaning that the talk station’s inventory gets tossed-in with cluster mates, in this case AC, AOR, and oldies FMs.  I could scream.

Where better…

…to advertise home-related services and products than in (wait for it) a home improvement show?

Especially now, as the Millennials radio needs become first-time home buyers.  “Money Pit” host Tom Kraeutler – himself an ex-teacher — notes that “many have never had a shop class or other opportunity to learn about how to care for a house.”  And “Real Estate Today” host Stephen Gasque has done a how-to series for first time buyers.

Pick a topic, any topic: Ask-the-expert call-in shows are a great environment for a pertinent advertiser’s message, because everyone listening is “into it.”  So I’m always impressed with the station when I hear the host of a syndicated show voicing local commercials (both within the show; and ROS, which implicitly promotes the show).

“Into Tomorrow” tech talker Dave Graveline says “We always do local spots, custom promos, liners and IDs for free for affiliates.”  Ditto Gasque, and Doug Stephan, who offers three weekend shows.  Kraeutler set up a special Email box to accommodate these requests.  Bother to ask and ye shall receive.  Graveline offers prize closet merch’ to stations imaginative enough to contest.

Yet surprisingly few stations take advantage.  Skip Joeckel manages affiliate relations for several syndicated weekend shows, and when I asked: “You know you’re dealing with a savvy affiliate WHEN…” he answered without hesitation: “…the programming and the sales departments know how to work together.”

Weekend shows aren’t just “feeds.”

Unshackled from their weekday tempo, listeners choose their weekend audio deliberately.  Didn’t you, this past holiday weekend?  So when you treat your Saturday/Sunday voices like members of your station’s on-air family you will make the most of radio’s intimacy, the bond we can have with listeners.

And that goes for any format, not just Talk.  RIP Casey Kasem.  Nick Michaels hosts “The Deep End” on classic rock FMs.  He read me Email “from a woman who had been incarcerated. She said that women who never cry, cried when I played a certain song; and that even though she was in a cage, while listening for a couple hours…she was free.”

Yet – post-consolidation, with multi-station management coping – weekends suffer from plug-N-play programming.  Doug Stephan says “people answering phones at the station don’t know what’s ON the station.”  And Joeckel moans “when they take a show and then either move it or cancel it because someone wants to buy the time slot and run an infomercial.”  Because radio listening is habit, inconsistency clobbers weekend TSL; and whacks Monday tune-in.

“Brokered” is not a four-letter word.

Listeners understand that – unlike satellite radio – commercial AM/FM stations are free.  We swap our content for their attention, to advertisers’ messages.  To listeners, it matters less whether that message is a 60-second commercial or a 60-minute call-in show; than whether the message is entertaining/informative/relevant, or isn’t.

You’re probably not expecting to hear a consultant bullish on pay-for-play shows, but – done right – they can be a solid win-win-win.

  • Generally, the station gets paid twice. They sell the host an hour, and retain commercial inventory within.
  • When “the lawyer is in and the meter is off,” the host becomes…a person, not just a look-alike Yellow Pages ad or tacky TV spot. The attorney demonstrates his or her supportive manner; and exploits the most effective tactic in marketing history: free samples.
  • Listeners have a more engaging experience than hearing a fake interview about a colon-cleansing product.

Realtors and veterinarians use weekend talk radio well.  Health and fitness is of extreme interest to Baby Boomers who are such heavy talk listeners.  I hear foodies who make me drool, and drive traffic to upscale Whole Foods-type markets for ingredients.  One station I hear has (not a misprint) an exterminator!  And he’s a rock star, because he’s got the gift of gab.

And THAT is the key: Can the weekend wanna-be…talk?  Too often, the audition consists of the check not-bouncing.

Is the deal itself doomed?

I hear sales managers crow that “My phone is ringing all week!” with would-be weekend hosts.  Too often, Skip Joeckel winces, “the show lasts for a couple months, runs out of money and then the whole process starts all over.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.  With better technique, talk’s weekend warriors would R.O.I. better. Working both sides of this street, I speak from experience:

  • At client stations, we coach-up weekenders who aren’t career broadcasters. We know how to make the phone ring; they don’t.  More calls = better screening, so what airs is right in the host’s wheelhouse, and relevant to listeners the host wants as customers.  And there’s other Radio 101 stuff that’s news to them.
  • In some markets where I don’t have a client station, I work directly with brokering talent, because nobody at the station will. Heck, how many PDs are doing airchecks with their Monday through Friday talent?

I’ve distilled Best Practices emerging from this work as “The Negotiation Checklist for Buyers of Weekend Longform Airtime.”  It’s 12 pages, so it won’t fit here.  When I shared this document with TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison, he asked me to share it with you.  So help yourself – no charge — here.

“Everything we do is story-telling.”

Whether you’re a real estate expert offering empty-nesters advice for downsizing to their next-and-last-home, or an investment adviser explaining Dollar Cost Averaging, or a discerning DJ dusting-off classic hits, your consultant’s familiar mantra applies.

Here’s a “Deep End” story I heard Nick Michaels tell, about resourceful studio technicians at Abbey Road in 1967:

“The Beatles would say things like ‘We don’t want the piano to sound like a piano…make it sound like a guitar.’  Their creativity fueled by copious amounts of drugs knew no limitations and they could do no wrong.   They always used to say there is no such word as can’t.  And no matter how weird their requests became they were always honored.  The working title of the album was ‘One Down Six To Go,’ a half joke about their new 7 album deal with EMI.  But it became known to the world as ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’”  [cue the song]

Even if this past weekend wasn’t the album’s 50th anniversary, tell me THAT wouldn’t keep you tuned-in for another 5 minutes.

Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke, and see HC this Friday, when his presentation “You HAVE Options” kicks-off the TalkersNY2017 conference.

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Category: Advice