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Monday Memo: Help Wanted, Local Host

| April 26, 2021

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — If talk radio is Rush Limbaugh reacting to the Derek Chauvin verdict, it’s time for a new plan.

Better yet, how about an old plan? While exasperated EIB affiliates – other than iHeart stations that have no choice – are exploring various would-be syndicated successors, is anyone reverting these hours to local?

Rush broke new ground.

Before stations took the leap, the only major satellite-delivered talk daypart was Larry King’s overnight show. In 1980, Mutual (dee-boop) gave affiliates a free dish! Even with Larry’s gift, only the wee hours were “safe” for non-local programming, until Rush.

Repeatedly Rush explained – to us in convention keynotes, and on-air – that, first-and-foremost, he was an entertainer, holding our attention through “obscene profit-making time-outs” sold “at confiscatory rates.”

Like assembling photo montages at a wake, respectful EIB “guides” have played vintage Jeff Christie airchecks from Pittsburgh. Rush always played-the-hits. In the afterglow of The Reagan Revolution, politics became his playlist. And as music migrated to FM, AMs took Limbaugh’s early success as an appetite for the wall-to-wall Democrats-bad/Republicans-good format.

Then, consolidation. Locals we wistfully remember as “Mom & Pop owners” who had no intention of selling sold when Wall Street pigged-out. Mom & Pop ended-up in West Palm,’ and local hosts aping Limbaugh’s political narrative end-up on the beach, as corporate owners burned the furniture to meet the mortgage after they over-paid.

So the presumed 12:00 noon to 3:00 pm ET succession plan is pick another national show available for barter. But is that only half-right?

Don’t just talk Limbaugh’s talk

Walk his walk. Rush was a partner, with Premiere, in his business. Toward the end, we heard him explain how, when he first launched, he wasn’t making much cash. Even by the time he owned his own jet, he earned that money by hitting his numbers. Sad as it now is to hear his voice-from-the-grave hawking LifeLock, the guy could sell. Can you?

In obituaries for iconic 1960s Boston DJ Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsburg, we learned that WMEX paid him in spots. Reportedly, when Rick Dees did morning drive in Los Angeles, his package included inventory. How much do YOU believe in YOUR show?

Since stations can no longer afford to staff locally, here’s the plan: Compensate talent in spots that they sell, and let them keep the money. Like barter syndication, the station keeps some spots too. Labor laws likely require paying at least minimum wage, which won’t break the bank. And, heck, that’s what young DJs now my age got. And it’s a better deal for Limbaugh affiliates, who gave up spots – in-show, AND in morning drive AND on weekends – AND cash.

Job Description: The Gift of Gab.

On-air and off. Being an on-air “name” is a calling card to chat-up the half-dozen local direct retail advertisers that can add-up to a comfortable living for an enterprising host.

Hungry as we are for a new generation of on-air talent, this person is more likely a radio retiree, after automation/consolidation/syndication clobbered the farm team. I myself would do what I’m describing, if I wasn’t otherwise occupied, and living at the beach…where, theoretically, I could remote-broadcast, as so many have done during the pandemic. But this hire has to be in the market, prospecting and servicing his or her accounts.

This person might not even be a career broadcaster. Several client stations have me coaching local luminaries new to our craft.

Music stations who miss all the value local DJs brought: Same deal.

Talk stations intrigued: Who in your area does a great podcast?

Holland Cooke is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice