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Reinventing Talk Radio Post-Rush Limbaugh

The long monologue is terrific, if you can pull it off. I have heard a lot of monologues that should have been no longer than 4 minutes.

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A photo of Rush Limbaugh
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Rush Limbaugh reinvented talk radio. Rush created a way of presenting a show which has been replicated by hosts since the 1980s. Does it still work in a PPM World or in a modern radio listening era?  

Here is what a talk show sounded like until Rush’s innovations: a moderator interviewed an author of a book, and they took a few calls. It was Public Radio with commercials. There were some stations that had a psychologist, chef, or a garden guy. Yes, some stations had a guy discussing plants Monday through Friday. It was predictable, bland, and had very old demographics. 

Rush Limbaugh came after the fairness doctrine ended. His show was brash, entertaining, no guests, and discussed current events from Rush’s conservative point of view. It was revolutionary.  

Rush’s monologues were legendary. They were well thought out and spoke to millions that felt disaffected. Rush’s play-by-play of the news connected with people. He was actually reflecting their views and providing people with fresh takes, details and information. Rush’s ability to break things down was absolutely brilliant.  Listeners would agree not just on the issues, but be enlightened on the angle. 

Before Rush Limbaugh lost his hearing, his comedy bits were biting satire. He made fun of special interests and people in power in a powerful way, through humor! It was like Saturday Night Live with strong political and societal points. 

With any successful formula, there were people trying to emulate the master. Unfortunately, few understood the commitment and the resolve of Rush Limbaugh.

For a three-hour show, Rush prepped for 10 hours. From all reports, the show prep never ended. I have heard leading Program Directors and consultants in our industry say that you must prep 2-3 hours for each hour on the air. Are you doing that? This is not a classroom.  Answer it to yourself. 

The long topic monologue: I have heard hosts stumble through these and not have clear and concise thoughts. We all have different skills, but I will say this. I learned this from Walter Sabo years ago: get to the calls as soon as possible. I have challenged my hosts to get 2 calls on the air before the first break. One of my former stations, the afternoon host took 60 calls in two hours on the air for years. After the host moved onto a well-deserved big market gig, the replacement was struggling. 

The GM of my former station called me asking if I would have a conversation with the host. I listened to an hour of his show and it was no question to me why he wasn’t taking calls. He didn’t give the phone number, his monologue was laborious and drawn out. If someone tuned in at the beginning of the hour, he had bored them to death within 5 minutes. 

I asked him about his lack of calls. He complained about the station’s signal, the limited number of phone lines etc… I told him that his predecessor got 60 calls nearly every day. He was dumbfounded. He told me that people wanted to hear his thoughts. I saw the ratings. His fans were a very small number. 

Take calls if you are not working on the news wheel. Here are a couple of tips: Don’t leave the caller on the air too long. (Callers will repeat their point. They call to share one thing.) Go call to call. Thank each caller and praise them for calling, if the point is great. Praise them. Make the caller feel great. Two calls before the first break. If a caller is on hold go quickly to them.  The more calls you take, the more you get. 

The long monologue is terrific, if you can pull it off. I have heard a lot of monologues that should have been no longer than 4 minutes. Less is more! 

Now, let’s talk about what is next:  Rush’s run was unbelievable. Seinfeld lasted for 7 years.  Anyone who can do any craft 15 hours a week for over 30 years on top is a unicorn. It just doesn’t happen. Except, Rush Limbaugh did.

Look at the structure of your show. Is it listener friendly for the PPM era? If you are in a PPM market, ask your PD for a report of when listeners are joining your show. You will be shocked. 

I heard this once from a very good music PD. You have a limited time to lock them in. Music stations run a very tight playlist, because if people are not hearing the hits they are gone. Your audience tunes in constantly. They better know what you are discussing, or they are gone.

Now, I generally try to provide solutions. I want to help you make that next step. In a post-Limbaugh world, it’s about innovation. You are a talented individual. I have shared just a few of the challenges for your show. 

How long has it been since you have air-checked yourself?  I know that you hate doing that. I do as well. I learn more about overcoming my weaknesses by facing them. 

NFL season is almost upon us. I guarantee you that Patrick Mahomes is watch hours of video on his performance every week. He tries to figure out how to improve. If you want to be the best, you need to do that as well. If you cannot listen to yourself critically, you are like Zach Wilson who blames others. Take ownership. 

I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Try things that could fail. The future of our format is in your hands.

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The Time is Right For Rupert Murdoch to Leave, But Is it Right For Fox News?

Murdoch may have never wanted to retire but there’s probably no reason for him to stay. His work is finished.

Jessie Karangu

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A photo of Rupert Murdoch
(AP PHOTO)

The writers of Succession couldn’t write the script we saw come into full display on Thursday. Out of nowhere, one of the most consequential media leaders of our time decided to resign. Rupert Murdoch will ride off into the sunset having left a legacy that has changed media and the state of our democracy forever.

Rupert Murdoch has elected presidents, changed mindsets, and caused hysteria and pandemonium for billions of people over the course of his career. It may not be hyperbolic to say he is one of the few media titans who could’ve had a direct impact on your personal life. Whether you love him or hate him, he was successful at the machine he wanted to create. He has decisively been a shadow emperor of the Western world for the past 20-40 years.

Because of the blueprint he has set in stone, don’t expect Fox News to ever change, even if he isn’t at the helm any longer. The fact is that numbers don’t lie. Fox News commands retransmission fees that are comparable to ESPN, TNT, and the USA Network without carrying any live sporting events. It is one of Fox’s biggest revenue generators despite losing an epic lawsuit to Dominion. It is one of the networks keeping the cable bundle alive and will help prolong it as much as possible because of its existing base.

Speaking of its base, the fact that it has a base in the first place speaks volumes. Fox News has something every other network on television only envies: super fans. There have been pitfalls along the way over the past three or four years but in general, Fox News finds a way to consistently beat its opponents in the demo as well as in overall viewers.

The network has had to switch out hosts for various reasons over the past couple of years but because of its formula of storytelling and team building, viewers don’t leave in droves.

It may not be journalism but it is the perfect way to keep allegiances and it has worked for Fox. Whether it was his tabloids, his syndicated shows, or his news network, Rupert Murdoch has always insisted on creating an environment of “Us vs. Them” for a group of people whose unique diversity is often underestimated. Murdoch has consistently found a way to turn anger and fear into dollars and if it ain’t broke, why fix the Fox?

The successor taking over for Rupert Murdoch also isn’t an unfamiliar seed of discomfort and madness. Lachlan Murdoch has had a say and has been in discussions about Fox’s direction for decades. Some reports say that his own way of thinking is to the right of his father. If there is any child of Rupert’s who supports the path of destruction and illusion that Fox News has created over time, it’s Lachlan.

One of the few problems that Fox may face is purely logistical. It has been reported that Lachlan enjoys living in Australia more than the United States. Operating a television behemoth from another continent could be risky, especially after the behemoth has allowed anchors to vomit election lies on screen and allegedly commit sexual assault off-screen. But that shouldn’t affect the network’s ability to operate because Lachlan has already been serving as co-chair even before this week’s announcement.

One of the biggest reasons you shouldn’t expect Fox to change is because they’re the only network that has broken the code. Newsmax, Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, and Tucker Carlson have tried or are trying. But they haven’t been successful. They achieved a level of prosperity in their own right but their numbers and margins of profitability are nowhere close to what Fox News makes. Their concurrent reach cannot even be compared.

The closest rival that has been able to penetrate some sort of mainstream relevance, although exclusively online, is The Daily Wire. And yet even with Ben Shapiro’s respective empire, it will be hard to match what Fox makes because of the business model Fox falls under. There isn’t any imminent competition that could drag Fox down and truly challenge the amount of viewers they receive or the kind of money they make. 

Murdoch may have never wanted to retire but there’s probably no reason for him to stay. His work is finished. His worldview has a daily effect on the lives of billions. As the business models for media continue to change, it’s better to leave at the top than to try to solve the next problem.

Titans like Bob Iger and Mark Thompson could look back at Murdoch’s decision years ago and wonder why they didn’t leave as a champion as he did. Unless there was a pie coming at his face during a hearing in the United Kingdom, one of the biggest strengths of Rupert Murdoch is that he always knew when the time was right.

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What News/Talk Can Learn From A Sports Host Like Mad Dog Russo

How are you taking the news that is relevant in our space and making it stand out to the audience and making it relatable to your audience?

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A photo of Chris "Mad Dog" Russo
(Photo: Scott Cook, Rollins College)

Sports media had one of its best viral moments in recent memory this week when Chris “Mad Dog” Russo shared his Saturday college football plans with the audience of ESPN’s First Take

Russo was talking with Stephen A. Smith and Marcus Spears about this weekend’s game between Colorado and Oregon when Molly Qerim told Russo to share with the rest of the panel his plans for the weekend.

Russo went on to describe his Saturday afternoon, blow-by-blow, which included a cocktail and “half a THC gummy” for the noon ET games. After the first slate of games, Russo planned to make a call to his bookie, place a $10,000 bet on Colorado to beat Oregon, and then another cocktail, along with the “other half” of his gummy.

It was pure entertainment from Russo. He wasn’t trying too hard, it wasn’t over the top, but it was brilliant content.

The clip has been viewed millions of times since it aired because it was real, relatable, honest, funny, self-deprecating and delivered perfectly.

Only a handful would have seen or heard this clip, other than those watching the show in real-time, had they just done the standard “media talking heads break down the big college football game of the weekend”. But to Russo’s credit, he likely understands in today’s media landscape that the die-hards who want a full Oregon-Colorado breakdown can get that in a ton of different places in 2023. What’s he going to bring that’s unique, different, and stands out? And that’s exactly what he did.

As it pertains to news/talk radio, or news media at large, how do you have that Mad Dog-Gummy moment? It doesn’t need to literally be you talking about taking gummies before the next GOP debate on September 27th (although anything that helps get through one of those disasters would be welcomed). But how are you taking the news that is relevant in our space and making it stand out to the audience and making it relatable to your audience?

While it’s anecdotal, whenever I bump into KCMO listeners, the biggest feedback on the show is not my takes on Trump, Biden, Kansas City city council, or anything else for that matter, it’s, “I like when you talk about your girls.”

I have two daughters, four and two, who are absolutely incredible, entertaining, and yes, nightmare toddlers sometimes. When it’s relevant and topical, I will bring them up. I talk about them far less than the news, but they’re the “topic” that always gets the organic feedback.

Like Russo’s moment, it gives the audience insight into who we are as people, beyond what we think about the topic(s) of the day. 

This doesn’t mean that a four-hour show should be about your weekend plans or your kids throwing up in their beds at night (although I could rip off a few of those stories and kill a few segments). But picking and choosing those moments will help you stand out in an overcrowded media landscape where the audience has options galore and needs more reasons than ever to come back to you and your show.

Give them insight into not just you the host/personality, but you the person. 

I can’t think of the last time cable news or news talk had a viral moment like Mad Dog Russo. But maybe you can be next.

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A News/Talk Radio Autopsy After the BNM Summit

The news/talk audience is getting older. This is somewhat self-inflicted. We are still doing our shows in the same template Rush Limbaugh innovated in 1987. Time to change it up. 

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A photo of a panel at the 2023 BNM Summit

After the inaugural BNM Summit, I was more excited about our industry after the two-day event. Radio in many ways is a solitary pursuit.

Teamwork is sometimes not a factor in a morning show with a cast. You walk into the studio, put on the headphones, turn on the mic and go. I needed some excitement, some good news, and the chance to meet new friends and renew longtime relationships. I got it.

As an industry, we have been pummeled by bad headlines: some of which are self-inflicted, and some are challenges for our future. If you believe the headlines, smelting lead would be a better career choice. I don’t believe that, and you shouldn’t either. While smelting lead seems like an exciting career other than the whole lead poisoning thing, perhaps that is better than radio station break room coffee. 

Have you ever considered how bad radio station coffee is? I don’t drink it. I drink a pot of my own before I strut into the office. Perhaps, it is time to call any reputable health inspector in to inspect that thicker than tar swill. 

Radio is a terrific profession. How many jobs provide more laughs than broadcasting? It is fun.  I have worked a bit outside the radio industry. Real-world jobs suck. Our stations develop awesome advertising campaigns for clients. Why not us? We don’t publicize our strengths.  Podcasts are great, but when did a podcast raise money for the local foster children? When did a podcast show up at a client’s office with a smile and donuts? TikTok? Those Chinese Communist bastards are poisoning our kids. YouTube? Cool content, but the Google-owned platform is as likely to build commonalities with your neighbors as a lion is likely to lay down with a lamb. 

Radio is a cool job. One where you can make a difference. It’s not exactly like Mother Theresa….  but it’s better than being an influencer on Instagram. 

I am ranting.

You know who I am sick of? The radio coroner gang. Radio still reaches a majority of the American public. Your local big network TV affiliates may reach less than 40% of the public.  They are no longer a big deal. Don’t give them any respect. Those jerks don’t deserve it, except for that pretty reporter who would be lucky to be my next wife. I know that I am old enough to be her dad, but hey, old dudes need love, too. 

Radio is vital and needed. Radio needs to look itself in the mirror and say “We are essential”. I was in the room in Nashville with men and women who see a future. The BNM Summit delivered that.

By the way, the brother and sisterhood at the BNM Summit was strong. I haven’t been hugged this much since a family reunion. I wish that you could have been there. It was amazing. I really was pumped up. We matter. You matter. Your ideas are important. 

We have challenges. We need to address issues with Gen Z and the generations to follow them. Radio does have issues with innovation. We run the same clocks that we did in 1970. We sweep the corners, which is stupid and does not reflect actual radio listening. If you are in a PPM market and are sweeping the corners, reevaluate your tune-ins per hour. Look at that carefully. So, your host comes out of the break at :27, and news is at “30. I guarantee your tune-out rate is through the roof. 

You need 5 minutes of continuous listening to get credit. A listener is as likely to start listening at 23 minutes past the hour than almost any other time. Yet, we still sweep the corners. It’s insane. You may not like PPM. It is a fair assessment, but adapt or die. We have not adapted to PPM and radio has been using this technology for well over a decade. 

The news/talk audience is getting older. This is somewhat self-inflicted. We are still doing our shows in the same template Rush Limbaugh innovated in 1987. Time to change it up. PPM gives us tools. If you delight in being a political insider, you are going to demo old. Go to a political event. It is geezer-rific. Talk about the interests of a 45-year-old. You can beat this.  You have the tools, you have the data, and you have the talent.

I was watching a YouTube video on East St. Louis. That city in Illinois is now one of the most violent places in the USA. It was not always that way. East St. Louis was once a vibrant community with a bustling downtown, strong industry, and a great future. The community got complacent, and the employers started to leave. The city was not focused on growing and it has become a shell of the great place it was at one time. 

Radio needs to look at that. What is next? Where is the innovation? How do we change the momentum? It’s all up to us. There are thought leaders in our industry reading this. These are brilliant people. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I know where we need to focus.

Being in the room with amazing leaders in the radio industry brought me more excitement.  The BNM Summit was exactly what I needed. I could not be more enthusiastic about our future. Am I naïve? Perhaps. Do I understand the power of radio? Absolutely. 

The power is in your hands. May every moment on your radio station essential. 

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