It Starts At The Top

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Salem Media Group Communication Tom Tradup NPR Commercial Conservative Liberal TalkIn a Fort Worth Star-Telegram column today discussing Public News/Talk 90.1 KERA-FM outrating all four Conservative Talk stations in the Dallas market combined, Salem Media VP/News & Talk Programming Tom Tradup made the following statement:

NPR remains essentially the media of choice for guys in beaded car seats driving cabs at DFW airport,” Tradup wrote in a scathing email that could have come from a host.

“You could stop the next 5,000 people on the street … virtually 100 percent of them would say they regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh. If you asked who Diane Rehm is, the response in most cases would be crickets.”

Comparing KERA’s rating to WBAP’s or KSKY’s is pointless, Tradup said. He called commercial talk radio “vibrant and impactful” even if it doesn’t “give folks a lavender tote bag.”

While many columns can be written on the offensively inaccurate stereotyping of NPR listeners, which I’ll save for places more appropriate for such columns, it is easy to see where the predicament Talk Radio finds itself in comes from.

Salem Media is a Conservative Christian company that operates many talkers along with multiple religious brands to spread its vision. For that company to employ individuals with such values is not a surprise. For other radio operators and syndicators with no such core philosophy who are simply in the business to make money to continue to retain the status quo as Conservative Talk plummets in ratings and revenue because its senior management comes from an era where that worked and that’s all they know is a problem.

Old line thinking is not going to work anymore with so many other forms of spoken word programming available to listeners. Commercial radio outside of a handful of Hot Talkers in Florida, has abandoned non-political Talk as a means to reach audiences under 55 and turned to Sports to fill that void.

Until the commercial radio industry allows new thinkers to enter decision making positions and is willing to try new ways to reach audiences, audiences looking for spoken word programming will continue to desert for NPR or non-broadcast audio programming. Degrading people who listen to those methods won’t bring them back, but will just continue the departure from commercial radio by these listeners. But asking the majority of the older white male owners and upper level managers to change their thinking as our society deals with similar cultural shifts is something that may lead to the complete demise of commercial Talk programming on broadcast radio as the current boomer audience continues to age rather than a needed evolution.

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  1. Jamie Turner says

    10 years ago I thought the same. That is until I worked with NPR’s listeners and realized they are all pretty normal.

    It was refreshing to me to hear these stations. Live concerts, in-depth news coverage, and good conversation that’s not hate-driven.

  2. BC says

    I am so sick of these irrelevant arrogant narcissistic idiotic transmitter elitists, telling me what my generation listens to! They think that it is still the old days, and they are the only media, and they can manipulate people’s perspectives! Perhaps that is why all of their conservative talkers are in such a panic frenzy, they don’t have the same manipulative power that they always have had over people so let’s see! I have a choice between a really old toothless pill junkie, who tells me a new inventive way to hate the Democrats! Or I can listen to an app, where I learn about science, modern medicine, social culture, and new ideas! The choice is rather difficult, tongue-in-cheek! I now understand why radio writers or simply that, and why radio researchers are also simply just researchers! Though it doesn’t seem to matter what the research says does it, it only seems to matter what garbage people can pedal these days! Let’s be real here, most of these translator prices are way over inflated! I always love the radio because it was the free medium, but of smart phone technology kills radio, and I actually have radio stations that remind me of the 90s decade were people went out of their way for community events, getting to know their listeners, and programming to the taste of actual people, not meters that people are carrying, then so be it! There is only one thing in this column that I disagree with, it is a surprise! Perhaps not a surprise from somebody who probably values they hate speech conservative stations more than their Christian outlets, but from someone who is supposedly trying to spread a religious vision! It’s no secret that Mike Novak loves his backdoor deals with Clear Channel, oops! But at least he is smart enough not to run his mouth because he knows the company would be on the line. now that I am done venting, I want to become a bit more humble for a minutes! I would like to thank the people who told me to start Reading the trade publications in the first place! I would also like to thank Scott and Lance for shooting me straight every time I had a question, but I suppose they probably see now what they may not say publicly but what I inevitably no, young people have no place in this industry, and less they become puppets themselves! I have been listening to the radio since I was four, and today 26 years old, I am no longer on the fence! I despise commercial radio right now, and I am extremely disappointed with the direction that it is going, because where it is going is down! I am fortunate to have a local adult alternative station in my market, I realize that not everyone is that fortunate! Hey! What do I know though, I am just a stupid, blind, unemployed radio talent, who does nothing but read everything at the publications put out! What can I possibly know about how to make radio better? I guess I will just have to stick to the noncommercial radio stations but no one listens to, but somehow managed to still be on the air and paid for, and start initiatives building memberships with people who have disabilities maybe I am wrong though, please point out something in this article that says anything about a community mission, or a religious affiliation that brings people closer to God! Oh, now cue the crickets!

    1. anonymouscoward says

      “Oh, now cue the crickets!

      Okay. : )

  3. Eric Jon Magnuson says

    I should point out that KRLD 1080 has higher ratings right now than any of those stations–including KERA (granted, not by a whole lot).

    Also, DFW may be one of the few markets where Salem actually subscribes to the ratings for its political Talk station.

  4. Steve Varholy says

    Tradup comes across as simply clueless.

    While his employer is seeking to preach and proselytize to the ever-aging and dwindling choir, non-commercial radio has continued to reinvent itself and inform and entertain.

  5. radioperson says

    A Salem senior manager wrote this kindergarten drool?

    Are you sure that some guy in the Salem office isn’t pulling a prank on his boss?

    “You could stop the next 5,000 people on the street … virtually 100 percent of them would say they regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh.”

    Yah right. Maybe if you stop 5,000 cranky white guys over 65. Maybe.

    He called commercial talk radio “vibrant and impactful” even if it doesn’t “give folks a lavender tote bag.”

    Holy crap, no wonder boorish, affirmation-based talk radio is dying all over the country. Sounds like the managers are cut from the same faded cloth as the outdated talent.

    I will also point out that the Salem talk stations are generally some of the lowest rated stations in their markets. Must be nice to work for a broadcast company which allows you to survive year after year in the commercial marketplace without pulling any significant audience numbers.

  6. Mark says

    And meanwhile, the far left complains about NPR being too compliant to the Republicans without noticing how far in the toilet the Pacifica stations are financially. As I often like to tell these people on the NPR boards, if the nutcases on both extremes hate NPR and public radio so much, they must be doing something right.

  7. Nathan Obral says

    I’d make an argument that Salem conservatalkers are mostly subsidized by the revenue from other “core stations” in their portfolio (their Christian talk/preaching, CCM and – to a lesser extent – business talk stations).

    It’s not about ratings with Salem conservatalkers – it’s about spreading their ideological viewpoint. Which is why infamous rhetorical grenade-throwers like Tom Tradeup and Phil Boyce are heading that division… and unintentionally driving the format into the ground.

  8. sdskees says

    Does he really believe “everybody” listens to Rush Limbaugh? I don’t know of anybody who listens to Rush regularly, and the only ones that I know of who occasionally listen to him are very, very old. I know he has an audience and followers, but I bet if you stopped 5000 people on the street and asked if they listened to Rush Limbaugh everyday, at least 4500 of them would say that they NEVER listen to Rush. Heck, you’d probably even get half of them saying “Rush who?”

    That being said, the irony is that Salem’s outlets don’t even broadcast Rush (at least not as far as I know)… Rush is “first tier” in the whole talk radio thing, and even that isn’t saying a lot. At best, that means people have heard his name. Following him, you’ve got your second tier people, you know, your Hannitys and your Levins. Nobody knows who they are except for their small fringe audience. Then you reach the bottom (third tier or fourth tier is being generous) and you’ve got Salem’s voices. Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, Mike Gallagher, and Bill Bennett. If you stopped 5000 people on the street and asked if they listen to these people, you may not even find one who has heard of them.

    1. Nathan Obral says

      I’m pretty sure that Medved is far more known as a movie critic than as a conservative pundit.

      Rush Limbaugh IS the most visible talk show host out there, and that’s the problem with the format. Every other host, in some way, shape or form, is a copycat of Rush’s act. It was true in 1992, it was true in 2002, and it is true today.

  9. Autodyne says

    The hayseed who wrote the Star-Telegram piece is a partisan bombthrower – just browse some of his headlines – Those concerned about a Sharia-advisory board are “Sharia-phobes” and “Muslim-bashers.” And this column is just another space in search of a topic – another attempt to create a battle between donor-supported NPR on FM and advertiser-supported AM talkers. There’s no evidence that the two audiences share anybody. The AMs are chasing an advertising-frriendly audience that is cut off after 54 by ad buyers on fair to lousy AM signals. NPR seeks to attract donors, not cume. Apples and oranges.

    No wonder Tradup is grouchy. “Radio Ratings Prove calm talk beats loud talk.” Uh, no they don’t. All this headline proves is that some “radio” columnists don’t know what they’re writing about.

    NPR’s audience is reportedly median age 49 and from anecdotal reports from NPR insiders, the average (mean) age is considerably above that. The difference is that NPR doesn’t have to worry as much about the age of their audience. Boomers who grew up on NPR will open their sizable wallets in retirement to support NPR. Commercial AMs are on their own. People complain about the repetitiveness of political talk radio – what would YOU program on an AM after sports is taken and assuming you don’t want to surrender and run a brokered sewer pipe? Remember, you have to attract ears to programming that has to hold the ears through commercial breaks. Commercial political talk provides a solid core audience that stays tuned through ads and is loyal to the programming, despite queasy corporate ad accounts that want to avoid “controversy.” The advertisers that have the balls to avail themselves of that audience do quite well and they know Media Mutters and other Astroturf protest organizations aren’t listeners.

    And let’s stop throwing around childish terms like “hate” in connection with commercial talk radio. If you think commercial talkers spout “hate,” you either haven’t actually listened or your ideological blinders are tied on a bit too tight. You likely haven’t heard any real hate speech either.

    Tradup could have been more choosy with his words, but I understand where he’s coming from 100%.

    1. Charles Everett says

      There’s plenty of evidence to justify the term “Hate Radio”: Rush Limbaugh with his anti-woman screed against Sandra Fluke. Michael Savage telling critics “you should get AIDS and die”.

      Consolidators love Right-Wing Radio because (1) there’s not much else for old people and (2) it projects a political agenda the consolidators want.

      1. Autodyne says

        Charles, can you provide a quote, in context, from Limbaugh about Fluke (or anything) that you classify as “Hate Radio?” Go directly to the source – a quip from a Media Matters-type propaganda site wouldn’t be convincing.

        Do you ever listen to Limbaugh’s program?

        What leads you to your opinion on what “consolidators” like and the relevance of their political agendas? Evidence I observe tends to indicate that radio groups, like most businesses, respond primarily to ratings and revenue potential rather than their internal politics. Even Salem has to keep an eye on overall revenue, and they don’t traffic in “hate speech” on-air either.


      2. Nathan Obral says

        The Savage “get AIDS and die” incident took place on his lowly-rated MSNBC Saturday evening show… NOT on his terrestrial radio show. It was a ratings stunt that went horribly, horribly wrong (the cynic in me believes that the caller was a plant, but we’ll never know).

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