By Holland Cooke
WAUSAU, WI — Client stations are sharing feedback from listeners increasingly uncomfortable with “guided” Rush Limbaugh Show reruns. “Morbid,” “forced,” “clinging to the past,” and “icky” are among verbatim comments, as, for instance – three months after Rush passed – aircheck clips react to President Biden’s address to Congress.
Non-iHeart stations (allowed to) are bailing, most to one of a half-dozen other syndicated keepers of the flame. Some stations, however, are recovering the network inventory and reallocating Limbaugh cash clearance dollars to fund live-N-local hosts in his former hours. Last week’s column suggested a creative financing model.
Not necessarily career broadcasters
Among radio newcomers I’ve recently been hired to coach: Meg Ellefson, who founded the Wausau, Wisconsin Tea Party and is director of Get Involved Wisconsin, a grassroots non-profit organization mobilizing citizens to address local issues. She is local “content,” not the “form” we then-young DJs emulated, resume-building town-to-town-up-and-down-the-dial.
Ninety days ago, Meg was in the co-pilot seat. Now, she’s flying solo, hosting WSAU’s mid-morning “Feedback” show, in addition to co-hosting morning drive.
Admitting “I was tentative at first – it took me a bit of time to open up and reveal the ‘real me,’” until she “finally took to heart the best piece of advice that I’ve received to date: ‘Just be yourself.’”
- THAT pays-off one of many consultant jokes: He had to take a connecting flight to come here and say “Be yourself???” And that really is most of it. The rest is dance steps (and applause to this particular radio novice who’s now running her own board, and fielding unscreened callers).
- Example: Her recent interview with a judge. Judges are enigmatic, perceived as aloof or disapproving. Meg’s technique was delightfully-Wisconsin. She humanized hizzoner by beginning the conversation talking about fishing (“cane poles” and “take a donut and a cuppa coffee,” can you hear the accent?). Then she walked him into how-it-feels-to…judge.
- Diary ratings methodology is a memory test which advantages that-which-sticks-out over sound-alikes. And Meg sounds different, like a person, not an announcer. If you went to the University of Massachusetts late-60s/early-70s, think “WMUA of the Right.” Conversations, not interviews. Inviting, unlike caricature hosts too-often surly to callers. One hour on a “First Amendment Friday,” no two callers raised the same issue…and they commented on each other! Advertisers notice popular-sounding shows.
- And how local – and poignant – is this? A dairy farmer who called prefers to milk his girls twice per day, “but sometimes the bank will tell you that you have to milk three times.” Talk radio gold.
“I prep for the next day’s show right after I’m off the air”
Any talker knows that the show is a hungry critter, and can relate to Meg’s non-stop prep routine: “I scour articles, watch videos, listener emails, text messages, social media and my go-to websites for material. I read A LOT of headlines, listen to the radio (the conservative host who is on air right after my program), a small amount of TV – almost exclusively Tucker Carlson – and hot takes from the current news that we report on in the morning.”
All de rigueur, but what’s conspicuous in angry, divided America is Meg’s manner. Typically, radio talkers’ and cable news commentators’ predispositions disqualify the other side, “them.” It’s the opposite of curious. When I asked her for “adjectives to describe callers to your show?” Meg replied: “Delightful, encouraging, well-informed, loyal, like-minded, intellectual and thoughtful.”
Staunch has been done-to-death.
Refreshingly, Meg sounds heartfelt:
- “Conservatives are misunderstood every day of the week. Unfortunately, because of the divisive climate in our country, I don’t believe there is much common ground anymore. Facts don’t have feelings. But conservatives do have feelings and we often grow weary of being personally attacked on policy issues that have nothing to do with feelings but rather our deeply-held beliefs, principles and values.”
- “What I’ve realized is that you can’t ever please everyone all the time and it’s better not to dwell on what the critics and armchair quarterbacks will think or say.”
Every great player has a coach; and – while I’m proud to share the dugout — kudos to WSAU’s Chris Conley, “a very patient, encouraging and highly experienced operations manager,” who Meg says “trained me very well.”
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