Jim Walsh's Big Hairy Weblog Thingy

Monday, October 31, 2005

A Whack To The Side Of The Head

Further evidence that contrary to the puff pieces you may read in certain industry publications, the talk radio genre is in serious trouble - and the people with the most to lose are asleep at the wheel. From Radio Online:

According to a recent study by Bridge Ratings, talk stations are beginning to show a more pronounced instability in an area of measurement the company calls the "Passion Index." This index measures a station's favoriteness shares among its weekly cume audience.

Bridge...continues to see attrition among talk radio listeners as a whole.

In its study, trends indicate that favoriteness (favoriteness?) among Talk Radio listeners has been declining over the last nine months...

This study reflects that at some point, talk radio primary listeners who have been disappointed too many times by the content or host performance, will reduce their tune-in occasions and time spent with the station, or will fall out of the primary listener category simply because they no longer consider the station their favorite.

So far, nearly one-third of all talk radio listeners with a favorite talk radio station told Bridge they were spending less time with their favorite station than they were six months ago. Some of the reasons for listening less include:

Variety of topics - tired of same discussions, 34 percent
Not as interested in topics as I used to be, 27 percent
Tired of on-air talk hosts, 15 percent
Other radio station(s) more interesting/entertaining, 14 percent
Other media interest (TV, Print, Internet), 6 percent Change of personal schedule. Can't listen as much, 4 percent

Let me boil it down for you: listeners of talk radio are tired of the same old crap and tuning out.

So...do ya think the folks who call the shots are getting the message?

Well, let's see. From the current Talkers magazine:

Fox News Radio is adding John Gibson to its talk radio syndication efforts...

Another cable newstalk veteran who's getting into syndicated talk radio is Bill Press...

Westwood One and Bill O'Reilly agree to terms on a multi-year contract extension...

Lars Larson and Westwood One come to terms on a contract extension to keep his nationally syndicated program going for many more years...

Infinity officially announces that Jay Severin will be syndicated within the company...

The nationally syndicated Ed Schultz show hits the 100 affiliate mark...

Jones Radio Network's Liddy and Hill Show debuted in national syndication this month...

And on and on it goes.

More and more hosts talking about (say it with me gang):

The. Same. Old. Crap.

Political wonk stuff (and nothing but) from people who are less interested in creating entertaining, compelling radio than in preaching to the choir and advancing an agenda.

Ya know the difference between a jackass and a talk radio programmer?

If you keep hitting a jackass across the back of the head with a two by four, eventually you will get its attention...


Blogger Matt Welch writes on the implosion of the Schwarzenegger administration:

Californians did not fire the loathsome Gray Davis because of his policies on teacher compensation. They fired him because he grew an already bloated and inefficient government to epic proportions, creating what was widely seen as a "structural" budget deficit of $8 billion a year (while the actual deficit ballooned to more than $30 billion). Schwarzenegger's been blowing up his boxes for two years now, including an important overhaul of the worker's compensation system, and all we've saved is a lousy $2 billion? It would seem that something more radical is required.

Matt is right as far as it goes, but he's missing a bigger, darker issue: To paraphrase something Robert Ringer said a long time ago, I think what California was saying by firing Gray Davis was this: "I don't really care about the finer points of government. All I know is that my life is a lot worse than it was before that idiot Davis got in. I want my pie now - with ice cream on top - and if Arnold can't deliver the goods, then bring on the next guy."

The girl in the Weezer song summed it up: "Gimme, gimme..." That should be the new state motto of California...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lemmings, We Are Lemmings...

Here's a story I came across recently:

Florida pain patient Richard Paey, who is serving a 25-year sentence for drug trafficking even though he never trafficked in drugs, seems to have been punished for seeking media attention. After he gave an interview to New York Times columnist John Tierney, he was transferred to a prison farther from his family and threatened with loss of the pain treatment he is receiving through a morphine pump. Paey's supporters are hoping publicity will pressure Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to pardon him.

It's a powerful story with the potential for some compelling and stimulating conversation.

Naturally not a single talk host in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter, is touching it.

Instead, they keep hitting us over the head with Libby, Sheehan, DeLay, etc. because god knows we can't get enough of those stories. (sigh)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Radio Games

Those of us in the radio biz all remember hearing (or knowing) a disc jockey who was so utterly predictable that we could literally tell people what the guy was gonna say right before he said it (it's a fun game to play while driving around with your non-radio friends):

Me: "On the Big 109 KCUF it's me Big Joe, with a blast from the past..."

Radio: "On the Big 109 KCUF it's me Big Joe, with a blast from the past..."

Friend: "Wow...how'd you do that?"

Me: "Just psychic, I guess. Now pay up..."

It's a fun game that you can still play today. Driving into work yesterday (all by my lonesome) I punched in the local Hannity affiliate.

I thought to myself, "Self...I'll bet Sean The Prison Bitch is gonna talk today about Tom DeLay."

Yup...you guessed it.

How did I know? Because that's all he's talked about for weeks.

Or it seems that way anyway.

And if you were to ask me what I thought Randi Rhodes would be yapping about and I said "Cindy Sheehan," you could safely assume I didn't exactly strain my brain in the process (don't take my word for it - look it up in Randi's archives for 10/21/05).

How did I know? See above.

Aside from the fact that Hannity is much prettier than Randi, what the hell's the difference?

Cindy Fergodsake Sheehan on Randi; Tom Frigging DeLay on Hannity. How long can they keep on beating these dead horses and ranting on about stuff that nobody in the real world really cares about?

Talk to me about the price of gas, how to beat the new property tax, or who is the hottest Desperate Housewife, but please...SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT THE INSIDE-THE-BELTWAY CRAP!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Descent Of Man?

Meanwhile, in Dover, Pennsylvania:

Astrology would be considered a scientific theory if judged by the same criteria used by a well-known advocate of Intelligent Design to justify his claim that ID is science, a landmark US trial heard on Tuesday.
Under cross examination, ID proponent Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, admitted his definition of “theory” was so broad it would also include astrology.

Good God!

Ya know...I read somewhere that toward the end of his life, Isaac Asimov was convinced that humanity was nearing its end as a "technological" species. Previously, I had written it off as the understandably pessimistic rantings of a sick and dying man (a la Orwell).

Now, I'm beginning to think he had a point...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Paging H.L. Mencken...

From the Kansas City Star:

Against the backdrop of the evolution debate, Kansas and the Kansas City area are trying to transform themselves into hot hubs of biotechnology.
But backers of those efforts say they are struggling to counter outsiders’ perceptions influenced by the recent attacks on evolution.
“I have no doubt that it has a negative impact,” said James L. Spigarelli, president and chief executive officer of the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City. “When I go to national meetings, people start to buzz about Kansas and ‘intelligent design.’ When people begin to laugh at you, that is worse than if they disagree with you, and that is what is beginning to happen.”

Sad thing is, it’s the legitimate centers of science and learning who may suffer due to the very vocal pronouncements of the “intelligent design” ignorami.

Inherit the wind, indeed…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Conversations With A Geezer

More TV I shouldn't have bothered with...

Thursday on Nightline: Studs Terkel.

Sorry - I don't get Terkel. I never have. Maybe it's the fact that I've never, thank god, lived in Chicago, or the fact that I always thought all that old Debsian, champion-of-the-working-man stuff was so much buncombe, or the fact that I've never believed that people should get free brownie points just because they make it to ninety

Terkel to me is mostly a self-satisfied old coot. Like most mediocre writers, he has one genuine talent: the ability to tirelessly fill space with words (it reminds me of what Truman Capote - a real writer - said about Kerouac: "That's not writing; it's typing."). Koppel, amidst last night's on-air fawnfest, said something interesting to Terkel: "You never knew when to quit." The sad thing is, Ted meant it as a compliment.

I'll just say it: Studs Terkel is an overrated bore.

OK, maybe that's harsh. Obviously he has his market. The midwest is full of people who believe that 1) Chicago is a great town, 2) Old New-Dealism is the wave of the future, and 3) Ol' Studs is one Dickens of a writer.

Oh well - I guess people are entitled to their delusions.

So keep on writing, Studs.

Or should I say typing...


Last night's Law & Order wiped away any doubt that the show (and for that matter the whole damn franchise) has jeted over the ol' sharkaroo:

In an episode RIPPED FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES, the L&O gang did their take on the Terri Schiavo mess.

Some folks think the bloom came off the bush when Angie Harmon joined the cast. Some when Chris Noth bolted...and then came back. Some when the execrable Julia Roberts guest-starred. Some gave up after the great Jerry Orbach passed on.

Personally, I think it happened the first time they did a show that was RIPPED FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES..

Let's see what's on CSI tonight. Boink boink...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Get Outta Here, Ya LIBERAL!

Recently while shopping around my wares (i.e. audition tape and resume) I got the following response from a well known program director of a talk station in the midwest (no need to name names - you know who you are) :

I like your work. I think you're good. I also think you're waaaaaay too liberal for this red meat conservative radio station.

Rock stations play rock. Country stations play country. The station of Rush, Hannity and Savage does conservative talk.

Funny...I thought the station of Rush, etc. was supposed to entertain people...

Frankly, I'd have felt better about it if he had just said he thought I was a sucky host (God knows he wouldn't be the first to think so). I wouldn't agree, but I could at least respect his opinion.

A few points here. The tape I sent him was cherry-picked from a handful of shows I did while working at an AM talker in Bismarck, North Dakota (as well as some fill-in at a similar station in Madison, Wisconsin). Among the topics:

How folks are dealing with the spike in gas prices...

The hassles of getting in and out of Canada (in our part of the country there is considerable traffic over the border)...

The outrage (which I shared) over a student who killed a teenager while driving drunk and got off with a slap on the wrist...

How to talk your way out of a traffic ticket...

Plenty of calls, some lively conversation, a lot of fun.

What, exactly, is "liberal" about any of that? (If anything, I came off very conservative-sounding on the drunk driver issue.)

Fact is, I'm not a liberal. More to the point, I don't do political talk. I don't use the GOP party platform as a substitute for showprep. Apparently this PD (assuming he actually listened to my stuff) is so hung up on political pigeonholing that he defines anyone who doesn't ape Rush, Hannity, etc. as a "liberal."

This in a nutshell is why so much of "talk" radio has become a joke: the hosts all sound alike, espousing the same cookie-cutter opinions and pandering to the same hard-core political wonks, certifiable paranoiacs and ninety year-old geezers in their underwear. The reason, though, has nothing to do with political ideology. It has everything to do with the lack of courage and imagination of the programmers and the suits who pull the strings (with some notable exceptions). It's a lot easier to imitate what has worked before (read: Rush) than to try something different and/or new. The result is the godawful blandness and predictability of most talk radio.

Sour grapes you say? Perhaps, but look: our friend in the midwest is entitled to hire anyone he wants. I will simply point out that his station has been downtrending big-time in the last couple years, most recently dropping (in one book) from an 8.8 share to a 6.3...

Babe-in-the-woods that I am, I specifically sent him my material with the idea that he might be open to trying something a little different. Silly me.

Rock stations play rock. Country stations play country. The station of Rush, Hannity and Savage plummets like a stone. In the real world, when something stops working you try something else; not in the fantasy land of squawk-radio programming.

Oh well...I guess I'm just too "liberal" to get it...