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What’s Really Wrong with Talk Radio?

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip February 23, 2004

What’s holding back Talk Radio from building an even larger audience? Maybe it’s the AM thing. Maybe it’s the limited pool of talent. Maybe, in part, it’s also our own actions as programmers and marketers. Like All-News, Talk stations don’t do much research. And that lack of audience perspective is why some of our limitations are self-inflicted. Starting with…

The Way we Label the Format: “Talk”

Pick the five words with the most negative radio listener associations, and I guarantee “Talk” will be one of them. “Talk” implies something generic and unpleasant, hence the “less talk” positioning on many Soft AC’s. What message do we send to potential listeners when our station is known by “Talk”?

Visualize a new Cable Net which announces it’s going to call itself “Picture TV.” You’d laugh your head off, right? Sure. We wouldn’t tune in that network to watch “pictures,” we’ll tune in only because of WHAT THOSE PICTURES ARE. Now why do we call our stations “Talk Radio”? Nobody comes to a station for “talk,” they come for who the talkers are and what the talkers say. “Talk” should be an industry label, like “Adult Contemporary.” It’s not a listener benefit and certainly not a listener magnet.

A “More Stimulating” Audience Benefit

Humor me while I use LA’s KFI as a case study. That’s one terrific station, maybe the best of its breed. And though they have huge numbers, I’ll bet there’s still a lot of potential audience left at the proverbial table. See if the following argument makes sense, because if it makes sense for them it may for you, too.

KFI calls itself “More Stimulating Talk Radio.” Assuming no eroticism is intended, what they’re really saying is BETTER Talk Radio, since BETTER Talk Radio is required to create “more stimulation.” In other words, the phrase is unnecessary. It’s not what makes KFI meaningfully different from the rest. What makes them different are the personalities. They are the Rush station, the Dr. Laura station, etc. It’s their stars that power their ratings skyward, not “more stimulation.”

Truth vs. Friction

But the goal of a Talk Radio brand is to be greater than the sum of its celebrity parts. KFI is right to tie together these disparate “stars” under the station’s brand umbrella. But “More Stimulating Talk Radio” doesn’t seem to do it. Now, step into KFI’s shoes and ask yourself this: What is the benefit to listeners of all this talent on my roster? What do my “stars” have in common? What do their personalities aggregate to? What is the station’s brand meaning?

I don’t know “the” answer, but I do know one. Regardless of what daypart KFI listeners tune in, they are there looking for the truth. Truth, not “More Stimulation” is a primary benefit. These personalities aren’t Talk Hosts, they’re heroes, champions of their respective causes. Rush, Dr. Laura, John and Ken, and the rest firmly stand for certain related principles. And underlying it all is a straight-shooting TRUTH that makes KFI the no-holds-barred, buck-stops-here, no-spin-left-unspun, crooked-huckster-go-home ground zero for candor and integrity. KFI is Truth Central. So I ask you, which is a broader benefit with greater Cume potential: the station where you “Hear the Truth” or “More Stimulating Talk Radio”?

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