It’s been a record setting year for many Talk stations as some of the biggest stations in the format continue to set records for the lowest ratings in their format’s histories.
There are exceptions of course. Heritage News/Talkers like WSB Atlanta, KMOX St. Louis, and WTMJ Milwaukee are at or near the top of their market rankings as are Public News/Talkers WUNC Raleigh, WAMU Washington, and KOPB Portland. Public stations are the most listened to Talk stations in such markets as New York, Philadelphia, and Nashville.
Why are these stations surviving and even thriving while the majority of the format is struggling? The successful stations are shockingly locally oriented as opposed to relying mostly on syndication. WTMJ is local 5am to 9pm. KMOX is local outside of Rush Limbaugh and overnights. Even smaller market stations that are succeeding such as WHO Des Moines and WNIR Akron aren’t as reliant on syndication.
What’s the last syndicated Talk show to become a ratings success across the country? Every politically oriented show is nothing more than a clone of every other right-wing directed show that cloned Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990’s. Nothing new has been done nationally, especially as the Hot Talk format dwindled down to just WTKS Orlando and WHPT Tampa.
Just like cable TV news, demographics have become a major problem for Talk stations as the median listener age creeps higher into their 60s. What about all the younger listeners who would gladly listen to Talk programming? Outside of Sports, commercial radio has completely abandoned general talk.
The era of the shock jock is over with SiriusXM’s firing of Anthony Cumia being one of the final nails in its coffin. Some traditional radio expatriots like Don Geronimo and Tom Leykis have found niches with streaming shows and podcasts. Six of the current top ten podcasts on ITunes are from Public Radio, whike aany of the top Comedy podcasters have radio backgrounds including Adam Carolla, Marc Maron, and Chris Hardwick. Perhaps its time to dig into their world to find people like Pete Holmes, Bill Burr, or Aisha Tyler that can do a different kind of Talk show and bring younger listeners back to commercial Talk radio nationally. Make the format have mass appeal with entertaining topics other than repeating “I Hate Obama” for 24 hours a day.
Pair some of these broader talk shows with local issues shows and general Talk shows like “New Jersey 101.5” does and you have a way to create a station that people in a sales demographic actually will listen to.
Trying to find the next Rush Limbaugh has proven to be a recipe for disaster. The current national talk radio talent pool has been down to former politicians and aging music jocks for years. Relying on the same-old/same-old for years has done nothing for the industry. It will take some risk taking, but if nothing is done to the format there will be nobody with a pulse left listening.