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What’s the Outlook for All-News Radio?

All-news stations are starting to realize they can offer much more than just quick hits of information. Newsrooms are filled with outstanding storytellers and there is always room in the digital space to give quality, long-form offerings and treat them as an extension of the brand.

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As we head into 2021 and beyond, the radio format I’m most fascinated to see evolve is all-news.

Historically in many large markets, this format was considered a vital resource by consumers.  Information silos such as news, weather, traffic, sports, and finance were all placed into tight windows and guaranteed at specific times each hour.

All-News has also traditionally been one of the most lucrative of all the major market offerings.  Hubbard’s WTOP in Washington D.C. is perennially the nation’s top revenue station, having raked in nearly $70 million in 2018 and 2019.  Stalwarts like 1010 WINS and WCBS in New York, as well as WBBM in Chicago are usually firmly placed inside the Top-10.  

However, as technology has evolved into a string of ever more accurate apps as well as AI from smart devices…how RELEVANT is this format?   What does its future look like?  

Whenever I have big, bold questions like this, I seek out the opinions of people that are much smarter than myself.

“All-news radio is a utility – and a really good one, at least in the biggest markets where you’ve got full-service stations,” says Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies.  “By and large, they’re performing well, but the news cycle is in flux given the change of power in Washington, D.C.  January and February were strong months overall, but those robust numbers may be short-lived.”

This was one big concern that I had for not just all-news stations, but for news-talk stations in general.  The formats saw huge gains in 2020 with the pandemic and Presidential Election dominating the news cycle daily.  Would the tide go out once the country crawled towards normalcy in 2021? 

“So far our numbers are holding steady since the election with almost no change,” admits Joel Oxley, General Manager WTOP.  “The news cycle continues to be strong. We cover a lot more than elections, so we are not dependent on it like many other news operations.”

What Oxley said about WTOP’s ratings holds true for many stations in the format.  1010 WINS and WCBS in New York held steady through the February books.  WBBM in Chicago has been the #1 station in the market for the first 2 months of 2021.  Then again, the news cycle hasn’t exactly died down at the start of the new year with the Capital Riots in January, COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the cycle of stimulus payments.

But…what about technology and it’s impact on the format?  Why would I wait for a news or traffic update to come on the radio when I can find all that information on-demand via an app or smart device?

“For years we have realized through our research and what we’ve learned that our key to traffic and weather is giving more information,” Oxley said.  For example, we discuss weather trends, recaps and specific regions in our reports. In traffic, we report on how to get around accidents, describe them and give alternate routes if relevant.”

I recently spoke with Alex Silverman, the Brand Manager and Program Director of KYW in Philadelphia.  When asked how all-news stays relevant given the advances in tech, he admitted that much of it comes down to storytelling.   

“I’d push back on the premise just a bit because there’s a distinction between the content itself and the technology used to convey it, said Silverman. “’Technology’ on its own can’t produce the service we provide – it can’t replicate the journalism experience and institutional knowledge and storytelling ability. As for traffic, sure – the apps are great, I use them like everyone else. But they don’t tell the full story. If I’m stuck in traffic, I want to know what the heck is really happening and why. It takes a human being to provide that color commentary and that’s the service our listeners tell us they appreciate. The same goes for weather. When weather is a story, people want someone they trust to explain what it means.”

Silverman also admits that a big part of his strategy is to remain forward thinking with regards to the changes that technology is constantly bringing to the audio space. 

“As technology evolves, we are evolving right along with it,” he said.  “If you have a smart speaker at home and want the news from a credible, local source, all you have to do is ask it to ‘play KYW News radio.’ All our stories are available on demand in both written and audio form on KYWnewsradio.com and on the RADIO.COM app. We’re on social media at the same time we’re on the air with a story. We have a local news interview podcast, KYW Newsradio In Depth, that focuses on big ideas that we wouldn’t have time to dive into in our typical format. All of this makes us a really strong part of the modern news ecosystem.”

The dip into the podcast space with original (not recycled) content is something that all-news stations are doing with more gusto.  WTOP has found success with its first narrative true crime series American Nightmare and has added to their growing portfolio of offerings aggressively over the past year.  They recently launched a new app, “PodcastDC”, to provide quick access to not only their own podcasts, but others that feature content focused on the DC region.  

What I see from many of the stations in the all-news format is encouraging.  In large markets, there will always be a need for up-to-date news and information.  However, the type of information and how it’s delivered needs to be able to constantly evolve.  Stories that engage 18–34-year-old consumers need to find their way into news blocks more often.  Also, people of this age cell live almost exclusively in the digital space.  That’s where they need to be reached.  Programmers need to continue to think beyond their terrestrial signals and onto platforms where younger people congregate and engage them there.   Where people consume content isn’t important if they DO consume it.

Lastly, I’m pleased that all-news stations are starting to realize they can offer much more than just quick hits of information.  Newsrooms are filled with outstanding storytellers and there is always room in the digital space to give quality, long-form offerings and treat them as an extension of the brand.

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BNM Writers

The Future of News/Talk – Part 1

Part one of a series seeking to find the answers to the question, ‘What’s the future of news/talk radio?’

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Photo by Andrew Magill CC BY 2.0.

As I’ve mentioned before, spoken word media is very much at a crossroads.

The passing of Rush Limbaugh, in a way, was symbolic of the proverbial “fork in the road” that the news/talk format is currently staring at. 

With that in mind, the question needs to be asked; what is the future of news/talk radio? 

Oh, I forgot, “radio” is a dirty word these days.  I should have said news/talk MEDIA.

Over the next few weeks, we’re embarking on a multi-part series to find the answers.

As I’ve often said, when tough questions like this are asked, I enlist the help of people that are far smarter than yours truly.  We’ll get the perspectives of people from all sides of the industry, from talent to management to sales and beyond.

For part one of our series, we turn to a consultant.

Phil Tower has had an impressive career in broadcast media.

He’s been a host in multiple formats, worked in management at various levels and has also spent nearly 30 years as an Adjunct Professor of Communications and Mass Media at several different colleges. 

On a side note, he’s also someone that, for years, I could never get a hold of.

Tower has owned and operated his own media consultancy in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan for the last decade.  I remember him as the guy I would listen to on WOOD-AM and WLAV-FM.  As an aspiring radio nerd, teenage me tried to call him, introduce myself and get his advice on how I could do what he did.  

Naturally, I never got past the secretary who worked the switchboard at the radio station. 

Thanks to the power of social media, Phil and I finally connected a few months ago.  Now, after all this time, I can finally get his advice.

With the passing of Rush, many of his affiliates seem to have been left in limbo.  What do you think iHeart’s plans will be for that time slot?

Premiere Networks has already been very public about the fact that they are going to continue to honor the legacy of Rush by continuing to keep the show going by utilizing a strong lineup very talented fill-in hosts (Ken Matthews, Todd Herman, Brett Winterble, Mark Steyn) that are already very familiar voices for his audience. I think this is a very wise strategy for Premiere Networks to employ. Rush Limbaugh was bigger than life and his show aired for 30+ years. Given that, Premiere has a treasure trove of timeless audio cuts from Rush Limbaugh that will still be relevant given whatever topic A is for a given day.

What should Limbaugh affiliates be doing right now?

The smartest move is to be patient and stay the course. I highly doubt there will be a serious ratings degradation for the short term and maybe even longer.  A few stations have already made the move to launch local shows and while that may work in the long run, often when stations introduce a new show and host to the audience, they take a much bigger risk of losing ratings and revenue.

There will be syndicated options in that time slot (Cumulus is offering Dan Bongino).  Would stations be better served to look for LOCAL alternatives?

Unless they already have a well-established local option, I would advise stations to look at the offering of syndicated choices if they can’t lock up the Rush Limbaugh Show for their market. I firmly believe that the next 12 to 18 months will present a much clearer picture of how the spoken word format will evolve after the passing of such an iconic host. At the same time, I don’t think Rush will ever truly “disappear from relevance” given the long-lasting impact he has had on the spoken word format.

For stations (even smaller market ones) that want to look for a local solution to Limbaugh, where could they look?

Unless they have a strong option already existing in house, I would look at successful news journalists, TV hosts with a strong brand and popularity in their own market. There may also be options in terms of local bloggers/podcasters who are especially successful as social influencers. I think it’s very important to look at talent who can express themselves confidently both as a speaker and writer. Writing skills are more important than ever.

There are over a million podcasts cluttering the spoken word space right now.  How can terrestrial stations continue to stand out with so many different content choices?

The battle for “share of ear” Is as intense as it ever has been.  Terrestrial stations can stand out by super serving their listeners and by being available on multiple platforms and reminding their listeners of that daily. I think it’s also very critical that successful terrestrial brands make all of their shows contact available as podcasts. I also strongly urge them to go one step beyond that by encouraging/pushing local hosts to create standalone content for podcast. Loyal listeners have already demonstrated they want this content.  In the iHeartRadio ecosystem, the practice of hosts creating standalone content for digital was the norm. That discipline should become standard practice for every spoken word talent looking to extend their personal brand.   I’m very bullish and always hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the spoken word format. The one huge upside to the podcasting boom is that it has by default become a new massive incubator for talent.  Every smart programmer in this format should be aware of who is hosting standout podcasts in their region and they should be paying attention to those talent. I’m also especially hopeful that the format will be more welcoming to women.  Lots of women are creating great dynamic content and killing it as podcasters and there’s no reason that many of them couldn’t be as successful in live radio. I don’t care if they have a political bent or they’re just unique people who are strong storytellers.  In the end, women hosts deserve more seats at the talk radio round table.

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BNM Writers

Simone Says Media Fans the Flames of Racism

“Things are bad enough right now, but the media is making it worse,” Simone said on Tuesday’s edition of The Mark Simone Show heard on New York’s WOR. “Not every tragedy that happens is racially motivated.”

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Photo by Jenny Salita CC BY-ND 2.0.

Unlike some conservative radio hosts, Mark Simone readily admits that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed in America, but also calls on the media to stop “fanning the flames of racism”.

“Things are bad enough right now, but the media is making it worse,” Simone said on Tuesday’s edition of The Mark Simone Show heard on New York’s WOR. “Not every tragedy that happens is racially motivated. Some are and that needs to be addressed. But the media jumps to push a certain narrative and I think it’s dangerous.”

Simone uses the recent shooting death of African-American Daunte Wright by Caucasian police officer Kim Potter. According to reports, during a traffic stop Potter meant to taser Wright, who was allegedly resisting arrest, but instead mistakenly pulled her firearm and fatally shot Wright Potter has since resigned her position, and as of Wednesday morning, according to The New York Times, the shooting was ruled “an accidental discharge”.

“What happened was a horrible, tragic and stupid,” Simone said. “How does a 25 year veteran of the police force confuse a taser and a gun? That should not happen. It was an idiotic mistake and she should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. But was it racially motivated? I don’t think so.”

Simone blames the media for rushing to judgment before all the facts are known.

“I would ask them to stop it, but I know they won’t,” he said. “The media is married to the BLM movement. On the surface Black Lives Matter sounds like a positive thing, but in reality, when paired with the media, it is a dangerous combination that fans the flames of racism instead of settling them down.”

Simone adds that this coupling of the media with BLM leads to bias reporting.

“There have been 17 cops killed just this year,” he said. “In one of the most horrific videos I’ve seen, a police officer was shot and killed at a traffic stop by a man with an assault rifle. Why isn’t that video the lead story for Lester Holt and NBC News? Why doesn’t CNN or MSNBC cover that story? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative of racism. We all know that there is a small percentage of bad cops out there, but they treat everybody badly. They are overaggressive and demeaning. That’s just the way they act and that doesn’t change based on skin color.”

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BNM Writers

Project Veritas Fights Back

Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.

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James O’Keefe leads perhaps the most successful undercover journalism operation in the country today, Project Veritas. Time and time again, he and his group have done the job most in the media no longer want to do – holding those in power accountable and uncovering the truth that these entities hide from the public.  

It is true that many Americans feel that today’s mainstream media serves as little more than an advocacy appendage of the liberal left.  O’Keefe and his supporters, meanwhile, believe it is his organization that does the job the media no longer cares to do.

Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.

Last month, a New York judge refused to dismiss the suit, implying that it had “substantial basis in law to proceed.” The move in no way foreshadows the suit’s ultimate outcome, but it was such a big development in favor of Project Veritas that former president Donald Trump personally congratulated O’Keefe in a video recorded at Mar-a-Lago. 

Fox News reported online in March that thejudge denied the paper’s motion to dismiss the suit by the right-wing guerilla news outlet over the Times’ portrayal of Project Veritas’ reporting on alleged voter fraud in the congressional district represented by Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. last fall. Times reporters Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu described Project Veritas’ reporting as “deceptive,” “false,” and “with no verifiable evidence.” Fox News also quoted the judge as saying, “The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice.” 

“James O’Keefe comes under constant, never-ending, non-stop fire. There have been more lawsuits, attempts to silence, cancel, shut down his operation,” Sean Hannity pointed out on his radio program last week. “The untold story here is that every single time that these accusations are made against his organization, or they’ve tried to take Project Veritas to court, that’s just another tactic of trying to silence people…they’ve won. They’ve never once lost a lawsuit against them.”

Hannity also mentioned the high price O’Keefe has paid so far to fight back in this particular battle against the well known newspaper.

“Yes it costs a lot of money, it’s cost us a quarter million dollars to get to this phase of the litigation,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve taken on the New York Times and their army of lawyers and we’ve won this historic motion in the State of New York Supreme Court. This judge, Sean, this is like one of the first times ever, one of the few plaintiffs since the 1960’s, unlike the Sarah Palin case, she sued the New York Times over the Op-Ed page. We sued the New York Times over a news article in the A Section, Sean, where they called our voter fraud videos deceptive. They said that we used unnamed sources, which we did not. They said we had no evidence. We did have evidence.”

Hannity has long been a public supporter of Project Veritas, often promoting their work and sharing their reporting on both radio and television. A frequent critic of the mainstream media, for both their overt and covert liberal bias, Hannity offered O’Keefe a chance to air his side of this confrontation.

“The judge in this historic 16-page order has said that it was the New York Times that acted deceptively. That they used misinformation by putting their opinions in the news article.” said O’Keefe.

Ironically, the decision in New York last month came the same week a federal judge said “we are very close to one-party control” of the media.

The lawsuit will now proceed with discovery and depositions, and time will tell where the facts lead.  

Sean Hannity will undoubtedly keep us posted.

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