I have been asked this question since I got my first part-time job in radio at WZEZ-FM/Nashville in 1981. Al Peterson in his NTS Aircheck posted this about talk host Laura Ingraham:
That question was posed to Talk Radio Network host Laura Ingraham by a recent college graduate in an online sneak peek from a soon-to-be-regular series for “Laura365″ members. “I think the way to be a success in the media is to do something else first,” replied Ingraham (pictured). “I think you have to first be successful in another area of life. You’ll bring more to the table when you have some experience outside the media first.” Prior to her radio career, Ingraham was a lawyer, a White House speech writer during the final two years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, and a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “All of that experience gave me a different take on things and, I believe, made me a better talk host,”
While I understand Laura's comment, I must say it is the consultant babble we get in the business these days. In my experience as programmer and host, some of the best personalities were the people who actually had a love for the medium first. Today, it seems cool to have people who just "fell" into the business or media in general. Some of the most well rounded are radio people because their "life experience" is interacting with the average person on the street.
The correct answer is that LOCAL hosts make the best personalities because they talk about what is happening in a given community or area. They live and shop in the area. Their kids attend the local schools or attend community events. Today, unfortunately, in a mostly syndicated talk show world, the personalities are lawyers, politicians, or comedians. Not people who can RELATE to the audience. We wonder why radio, and talk radio too, are not showing growth, it is because we are not doing the basic thing of survival. SERVE your audience. Don't try to change it. SERVE them. Too many managers really do not like the talk radio audience to begin with and therefore, want to change it. By doing so, they fail to serve the audience and the audience leaves.
By switching mainly to these syndicated shows, the listener gets similar rantings from those who live in DC and NYC. We have totally discounted the valuable asset of having local talk so that callers of the radio station can voice what they think--whether it is national or local. Don't know about you, but most of the stations I work with could care less what some caller to a national show thinks. Now that we in the days of PPM, we might better get back to understanding that someone who calls a radio station is likely a passionate listener as well. When they call and are heard on the air by their friends they are likely to stay with the station longer and may be talk their friends into listening. Does this happen when someone from Wisconsin calls into one of the many syundicated shows? I doubt it.
There are many great talk stations out there where local hosts are still serving the audience providing the best chance for ratings and revenue.
Instead, this is kind of what I'm hearing a lot:
- All or nearly all syndication. No local branding. No opportunity for the audience to bond with a local personality.
- An attempt to make the format more "hip" or "female friendly." What we forget is that the talk radio audience is looking for people of substance talking about substance. They can get the FM type chit-chat about pop culture anywhere on the dial. If pop culture, aka Tiger Woods, becomes the predominant topic, talk radio handles it.
- One host that tells you to cut up your credit cards and get a job. Everone who calls in is up to their eyeballs in debt. Host tells them not to buy any thing. Not sure how that kind of talk attracts the typical talk radio listener who is affluent(not in debt). Radio is in business to sell ads so having a host who is consistently telling people not to buy is counter productive in my opinion.
I read one former programmer who wrote that the best talk radio he ever heard was some guy talking about whether to "trim his pubes." The best talk radio I've ever heard was local hosts and their handling of the 911 attacks. Couple that with the numerous instances of the weather impact on a local community or some local emergency where radio responded. Let the guy who wants to talk about his "pubes" find him a morning zoo to host.