Show Me the New Talent

A friend in Public Radio reached out to me the other day.

He was looking for talent.

Fresh talent.

For a major broadcast client who wanted some original voices that speak to a younger demographic than the one Public Radio (and News/Talk) is most famous for.

And I got to thinking….

How many times have I been asked for new “spoken word” talent by commercial broadcasters?


This fellow realizes what most of my commercial peers do not:  The new talent is all around us but rarely do we seek it out.  It’s on the podcasts and in the spaces between media forms.  It’s on YouTube and the Huffington Post.  It’s everywhere.

But the new talent will not necessarily fit the old radio paradigm.  That is, a three or four hour show five days a week is not necessarily the best use of the new talent.  Comic actress Aisha Tyler has a terrific podcast, but you won’t find twenty hours of it every week.

And that’s just as well because there’s nothing easy to discover or share or consume about twenty hours of content every week.  Twenty minutes – maybe. Twenty seconds – sure.  But not twenty hours.

After all, how much of Rush Limbaugh’s audience listens to his entire show every weekday?  I’m guessing not much. We are not filling demand with so much content, we are filling time. If the average person listens to 30 minutes of a News/Talk show, then the demand is full at the 30-minute mark. The rest of the show is about convenience and filling somebody else’s demand. And more often than not there’s no need to download (and actually listen to) a three-hour podcast – who has that much time?  Besides, there’s another carbon copy of today’s show on tomorrow at this time – and ditto the day after that.

Even broadcasters tend to perceive that every day is a carbon copy of every other day.  Look at SiriusXM’s Howard Stern show where any given repeat episode or segment could be from 1989!

In an on-demand world we don’t need to fill time.  We just need to fill demand.  Because time belongs to me, the consumer. That means more content, shorter content, easier to share content, fresh content.

If we limit our vision to “who can do twenty hours a week for us?” we are asking the wrong question in a digitally-driven, consumer-powered world.

Instead we should ask: “What content do we want to be famous for across platforms?  And how easy is it to discover and share that content?”

We need to ask “What talents already have a following and how can we leverage and monetize that for our brands and our clients?”

We need to ask not “How do we fill twenty hours?” but “How do we fill the demand, however long or short it is?”

We need to stop seeking the same old talent that is ever-present and can fit our extraordinary time demands and our limited audiences and start seeking talent that can delight consumers in fresh ways and solve problems for advertisers and consumers alike.

In whatever form, whatever place, and whatever duration makes the most sense.

* = required field
  • Ted Bird

    What an ill-considered column. No wonder radio is going in the toilet. Jesus.

  • James Gralian

    Man, so many thoughts on this one.

    First off, thanks for pointing out the podcast. I will give it a listen.

    It’s a little frustrating to hear that a pubradio person is looking for new talent from you. Not because there is anything wrong with you, but because of what you state in the post: that there is a lot of talent out there in the podcasting world. And a lot of that talent are working on shows that are public radio oriented. It’s so rare to find anyone looking for new talent these days, and for public radio to look for a younger talent? They are certainly spoiled by the riches. If they want some new talent, fire up itunes and find it. Then start making offers, or at least kicking some tires directly. There are so many good people with good podcasts, they shouldn’t have to go asking. They should be tripping over good young talent by walking out the door.

    Not that I’m sad to see you getting work. This is what you do, so good for you. 🙂

    I hope they take the “young talent” idea seriously. The Bryant Park project showed that when NPR was faced with putting out something that was focused on a younger audience, it got cold feet fairly quickly, and started molding it back into what they did best, a news magazine. There were plenty of flaws with the way NPR handled Bryant Park, including creating the direct competitor to one of it’s most successful shows, and not knowing where to put it (who was going to drop Morning Edition in favor of BP?). Still, the lack of commitment to finding a younger audience for public radio is staggering. For someone in pubradio to even seriously look for it is commendable. I hope they stay the course.

    The last part of this already too long comment is about the content side. I can’t remember if it was you who said it a few years ago, but commercial talk radio doesn’t produce content. That is in the public radio realm. You hit on it here, but I think it was you that made this more direct statement before. If not, sorry. But it’s so true. How much of commercial radio’s programming is worth listening to a second time? How much investment is there is actually making something worth going back to? How much production work is there outside of silly sound effects and bumper music in most talk radio (or any commercial radio)? When the commercials are crafted with more care and time than what people actually tune in for, it shows you how much they care about their “content.”

    You are absolutely right in how time is filled, but I would also point out that most podcasters have a day job that pays for their podcasting habit. They don’t sit around filling 20 hours of programming in part because they don’t have the resources to fund that. A radio station does, because that’s what they do (which of course, you already know). But a podcaster usually comes at their show with a purpose. They are doing their show with a reason, they have a vision of what they want. In the end, it may not sound great, they may not be any good at doing it, but their show has a reason to exist. That is not what commercial radio is set up to do, or at least, it hasn’t traditionally been that way. Public radio should be this way, and so few stations, programmers and even NPR are willing to take a chance.

    I’m sure you aren’t stuck for talent to turn your pubradio friend, but there is also the Transom workshop. These are people learning the ropes or radio storytelling, in a small batch environment, and they are paying their own way through the course. You won’t find more commitment than that out there.

    Sorry for the length of this comment. But you really got me thinking. Posts like that are why I keep coming back. I would love to hear your thoughts on anything I said here. I feel like I could have a great hour long discussion with you about this. 🙂 Thanks, Mark.

  • Not nearly as ill-considered as this comment.

    Mark Ramsey

  • They ARE firing up iTunes. I don’t see why prospecting in my universe is mutually exclusive to diving in to iTunes.
    I didn’t say they were looking for younger talent. I said they were looking for talent that connects to younger audiences, the ones they have in less abundance.
    Bryant Park was exactly the failure my research predicted it would be. NPR didn’t ask 🙂
    Podcasters do not fill 20 hours of programming mostly because they don’t want to or need to. Many many talented people turn down radio shows because the demands are pretty outrageous. Not only because no broadcaster is waving a fat wad of cash. My point is that the 20 hour frame is an obstacle, not a destination.
    Thanks for your comments!

    Mark Ramsey

  • James Gralian

    Heh. True, you didn’t say young talent. My bad. Of course, younger talent is what’s needed in pubradio more than ever. So kind of a moot point really. But yes, you didn’t say that.

    And believe me, I’m not begrudging you getting work.

    As for podcasters turning down radio, I would love to hear about how often that happens. How often do podcasters get that offer made to them? Does it even happen? Everyone wants an Adam Carolla, someone prepackaged who drags an audience with them. PDs don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to build an audience. They don’t want to bother building talent. They have to sell.

    Yes, the 20 hour weekly cycle is a poor way of producing, but if you aren’t producing content, then it doesn’t matter in the end. And filler will always lose out to content, when content is so abundant. And easier to get at than ever before.

  • Ask Adam if he’d like to return to radio. I strongly suspect the answer is no, assuming the terms are similar to the ones he worked under before.
    Mark Ramsey

  • Beach

    Talent in general…including fresh content…not to be confused with YOUNG. Baby boomers are a massive demo, largely under served. I have been mining talent 50+ for a series of shows directed at this demo and have watched my audience numbers AND sponsorships spike! Oh it is on internet radio. The real deal…studios, board ops….just on internet. this was not a program that a terrestrial station wanted.. Too bad for them eh?

  • Lee Cornell

    This is exactly what “commercial” radio needs to contemplate in terms of talent and content going forward; maximising the moment; and what technology now enables. There’s a lot in what you’ve pointed to here. And it turns the traditional “broadcasting” paradigm totally on its head

  • Thanks much, Lee

    Mark Ramsey

  • turi@shebopsproductions.com

    So much “meat” in this column. It’s difficult when somebody comes to you for a four hour live shift, five or six days a week, and you think to yourself, “That’s just too big an entertainment commitment,” because you KNOW you’ll have to create four hours of GREAT material, and how many off-air hours you’ll be putting in to generate that material. Once upon a time, you were competing with…..nothing–ok, maybe TV. Now, you have to generate fresh entertainment, news, or talk content that beats all the other media at your audiences’ fingertips. No wonder Public Radio shows tend neither to be daily, or four hours long—unless they have HUGE support staffs, something commercial radio mostly did away with years ago. The solution? You nailed it: Shorter, more controllable time slots that can be polished, like diamonds, till they shine in any medium. Thanks for pointing it out so well.
    Turi Ryder
    Air Personality, CBS Radio, Shebopsproductions.com

  • Turi, thanks for the comment. I’m not surprised it comes from somebody in the trenches. Nobody else understands the problem so well.
    Mark Ramsey

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