Redefining News-Talk

For years, “News-Talk” was a fair description of what you would hear on hundreds of radio stations across the country that focused on spoken word radio. The stations would report the news (or what passed as news – common crime, fires, city council meetings, accidents, etc.). And then they would fill the time between newscasts with someone talking.

That doesn’t cut it anymore. Not for news-talk. Not for the FM. Not for radio. Not in such a competitive market for eyeballs and ears.

So if not that, then what? Stations across the country are trying to figure it out. Merlin Media is exploring with what’s possible with FM  news in Chicago and New York. We’re trying new things in Seattle too. And others are testing, trying and tweaking. There’s no magic formula. And likely won’t ever be – though I’m certain there are those who will try to find one.

Here is some of what is happening at News and News-Talkers across the country…

Redefining News. Just because something happened, doesn’t mean it’s news. Every story needs to be carefully chosen and written to be entertaining, informational and relevant. We need to ask questions about stories and answer them for the listener. We need to stop filling air time with city council meetings, press releases, and chasing cop cars and fire trucks, and start telling stories about people that helps put news in context and make it matter to the listener.

Empowering the Hosts. For years, the program director’s job was to keep the talent in check. Criticize, critique, and reign in. Today, the role of the PD is to put the hosts in a position to be artists. Give them space to create remarkable content. Give them permission to try new things, provoke, entertain, surprise, and amuse the listeners. Somethings will fail.  That’s okay – if you’re not failing – you’re not trying. The key is to work together to identify what’s working and replicate it and identify what’s not working and abandon it.

Play Your Hits. This is different than play THE hits. What lights you up? What sparks your passion? What are the most important stories to YOU today – likely they’ll resonate with your fans. There are some stories that are “must” cover – but don’t get caught up in having to cover it any specific way. What questions do you have about the story? Why is this story interesting, entertaining or relevant?

Redefine Local. For years, we’ve limited our mindset on what’s local based on location. We need to get past this. Stories don’t have to occur in a specific land mass to be local. Stories that resonate and impact the lives of your listeners are inherently local – the facebook redesign, 9/11, Killing Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina, gas prices, the housing market, Anthony Weiner, the Reno Air crash – all of these stories are locally relevant regardless where you live. They impact each person in a profoundly emotional, personal way. These stories allow us each to evaluate our personal morals and values, question the value of life, the abuse of power, etc.

These are just a few ways spoken word radio is changing. There are more. But we need to move faster. We need leaders who get it, support it, and demand it. We need stop clinging to the past. We need to raise our standards and stop accepting average reporting, average story telling and average radio.

One of my favorite sayings which I learned in my first week at ESPN –  “Evolve, or face extinction.” Radio doesn’t have to go the way of the dinosaur, but will if we insist on acting like it’s 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000.

  1. October 9, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    Larry – it’s your faithful follower from Canada again. Since we fired our consultant at our radio station, I’m looking for direction. The new PD chopped our sportscasts down in the morning from 2:00 to 0:45 and I’m wondering you feel those ‘casts should contain. Is it as imperative now to include all MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL scores in these reports since scores are so easily accessible on a smartphone? I see ESPN Radio still uses the old school model for its 20/20 updates. Any insight you can provide would be fantastic, thanks!

    Rod Pedersen
    Voice of the Roughriders
    Host/The Sports Cage
    620 CKRM Regina, SK, CANADA

    • October 11, 2011 at 11:58 AM

      Rod – thanks for the note. I had about that long in Philly back in the day which is a huge sports city. I focused on key personalities (Iverson, McNabb, Schilling, Lindross) and only the most compelling story lines. Use labels and descriptions to incorporate powerful language. Don’t be as concerned with the scores as you are with the stories. Who wins and who loses typically isn’t the story – it’s how a team won or loss that is of interest. Good luck.

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