Friday, November 03, 2006

The Migration of Talk Radio

In the 1980s talk radio programming began to move from FM to AM. Today the AM dial is largely talk and younger people tend to think of it as all-talk. Which for us more "experienced" radio men seems kind of silly. Talk moved to AM because music sounded better on FM. Music on FM took off, pushing out the talk programming. It left FM to skew demographically (in general) for younger listeners.

So twenty five years later we see three trends in talk.

1. Ratings are down. (duh)
2. It's moving back to FM
3. It's wildly conservative, politically. (I promise not to be rude)

In Phoenix recently Bonneville moved 620 KTAR-AM to the FM dial. they bought KKFR from Emmis to do it. But previous success is what propelled the plan forward. In Washington D.C. their FM simulcast of WTOP-AM was a ratings winner. Then in Salt Lake City they made a similar move with KSL-AM. Their programming is strong, the listenership is there, but it's moving. The AM dial is slowly, almost imperceptibly draining. And the youngest listeners aren't interested in radio AT ALL... which is terrifying to some of us.

Those same younger listeners that have been listening to the FM dial for music programming are now older. They're older and entering the age bracket where we'd expect more talk format listener ship and we're not seeing the growth from this generation. The reason is that they don't listen to AM. They like the programming, and in fact NPR has been very happy to scoop them up, but if Mohammed won't go to the mountain...

Currently the primary approcah seems to be to add FM simulcasters. Buy a workable FM signal over the metro, adjust branding statments slightly and try to keep the current listeners and add yonger ones. The long-term problem with a demo that skews old is that they die. You need to continually transition in new listeners. With ciggarettes they call them "replacement smokers" but talk radio, while addictive rarely kills. The above pic is from a killer Orlando Weekly article on this here. The big gap in talk radio is not just between left and right. The gap is also between men and women. Older, conservative men listen to AM talk. While younger, more liberal men (like me) listen to FM talk. Notice the "older" factor here in the demo relating to the replacement-smokers theory above...

And Talk radio listener ship isn't 100% testosterone. Dr. Laura and a handful of other advice-type programs do score with middle-aged women, and NPR scores some high-income women as well. The truth is that most American women listen to the radio just for music. So where does this leave talk radio?

It leaves it trying to keep it's older core audience but also trying to reinvest itself in the low end of its demo. It's smart, and it's going to work. The downside is that Air America is still competing with NPR and losing. But that's been said and said and said. Logo on left stolen from Tom Paine, another funny lefty bastard.