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Monday Memo: Talkers, Listening

| May 11, 2020

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Larry King taught us that great talkers are good listeners. So I asked a quartet of our cohorts what they’re hearing.

I asked for ADJECTIVES…

… to describe listeners’ mood while we’ve all been hunkered-down.

  • Gene Valicenti gets it in both ears each day. After hosting morning drive on WPRO, Providence, he anchors top-rated NBC10 TV news at 6:00 pm. People are “in good humor,” he reckons, “but edging toward impatience.”
  • Frustrated. Suspicious” is what Westwood One’s Jim Bohannon hears. “And to a lesser extent I hear ‘determined’ (to gut it out).”
  • Understandably, “the mood is stunned and confused” in Las Vegas, hardest-hit by the shutdown. KMZQ’s Heidi Harris says people there “aren’t getting assurances on when it will end. Will they go back to work? Will their old jobs exist? No one has clear answers.”
  • Also surrounded by closed casinos, WPG, Atlantic City’s Harry Hurley describes folks there as “disgusted (with the stay-at-home order), ‘Anxious,’ ‘Depressed,’ ‘Scared’ (worried about becoming infected with coronavirus).” And like Las Vegans, “worried about whether or not they’ll be able to return to work.”

There’s also a buoyant vibe. 

  • Jim hears what he calls “funny,” and says “Lots of folks have become very creative. (I, for example, am busy on my get rich quick scheme, just as soon as I figure out how to make hand sanitizer from crude oil).”
  • Harry describes some as “Religious,” saying “I’ve talked to more than a few who have found their faith during the pandemic;” and “Appreciative (for family).” And, as many TV commercials depict: “Respectful (for public safety, nurses, Doctors, government officials who have delivered).” And despite “Resentment (for those public officials who have failed to rise to the occasion),” “Optimistic (that the United States of America is the greatest country in the history of the world and that we will rebound stronger than ever).”
  • There’s a kindness in the air, and on-air, as big companies are making generous gestures. Ditto local radio advertisers. One of Gene Valicenti’s big accounts is a big-screen TV discounter, who gives Gene 32- and 40-inch sets to give away each morning. One winner “dealing with cancer, larynx replacement, was housebound and really needed it.” When the winner picked-up his prize, “the sponsor bumped-it-up to a 55-inch set, and the guy was so happy he called back.”

Long-time-no movies, sports, concerts. 

“Do you sense pent-up demand? Or do you think people will be wary of crowds?”

  • As his state begins Phase One re-opening, Gene reckons that Southern New Englanders are “50/50 split between ‘everybody back in pool’ vs ‘cautiously dip-toe-in.’”
  • Echoing the metaphor, Bohannon says “Yes, pent-up demand but, to a lesser extent, some reluctance to be the first to stick their toes in the socially-adjacent waters. Frankly, I think the first time the squeamish get an invitation from a friend and none of them drops dead within 24 hours of the outing, people will be out and doing/going/seeing in droves.”
  • Heidi hears “pent-up demand, but maybe only for the basics. If people don’t go back to work, they won’t have discretionary money for anything.” And in the world’s #1 event venue, “convention business may take a hit for a while.” With so many now telecommuting, “companies may realize that many things can be accomplished without having huge groups in face to face meetings.”
  • Harry predicts a demographic divide as we re-emerge: “Younger Americans will flock back, fearless, with little to no worries about crowds.” But “older Americans, feeling more susceptible to a potential bad result, will understandably tread much lighter back into the real world.”

PREDICTIONS for The New Normal?

  • Jimbo: “Much more digital work. In one survey I saw, 24% of those now working at home for the first time say they’d like to do so all the time or at least some of the time. (Words of warning:  Out of sight and out of mind.  Do people around the water cooler forget that you still work there? Maybe consider working from home three days a week.)” And with all the angst about China: “Expect a public demand that certain basic capabilities, such as production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, to be retained in this country.”
  • Designer face masks? Valicenti expects that “PPE will be more prevalent, but the public is not likely to change lifestyles wholesale.”
  • Hurley foresees a New Normal in “several stages. Initially, a restaurant that is half filled…but this is not how it will stay.” And Harry figures “Past is prologue. We completely rebounded from the 1917-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic without any of the modern medical therapies or equipment that we have now. And, Americans of that era rapidly returned to normal and enjoyed The Roaring 20’s. We will rally, and this will be our Generation’s ‘Roaring 20’s.’”
  • But while it’s easy to stroll Atlantic City’s iconic Boardwalk six feet apart, will we tolerate all those casino touch points? Heidi fears that “distancing measures required by Gaming Control will kill the atmosphere.”

After the National Association of Broadcasters called-off the April convention I’ve always found so invigorating, I’m trying to imagine a 2021 Consumer Electronics Show in January. Predicting that “many [casinos] will close,” lifelong Las Vegan Heidi Harris says, “If I were a renter in a hospitality-oriented job, I’d leave Vegas now. I would not wait until everyone runs for the exits.”

Stay safe.

Holland Cooke (@HollandCooke, is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the e-book “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books.  Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page for an instant download.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT AmericaWPG’s Harry Hurley joins HC on this week’s show.

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Category: Advice