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31 December 2007

State of Talk Radio in the Valley 2007

I admit, it's a struggle to compose this annual roundup. I love radio, but podcasts on my iPod have supplanted much of my allotted news/talk listen time. Still, I've managed to cobble together another appraisal of Phoenix talk radio offerings. Every year that I've logged this account, the state of talk radio in the Phoenix market has deteriorated. And 2007 is no exception.

2007 ushered in the big KTAR AM/FM split, with 620 AM now devoted to sports and 92.3 FM the home of news/talk. Yes, "it just sounds better" on FM, but the lords of KTAR programming seem to have neglected the content factor. Worse, KTAR seems to be engaged in a deep identity crisis, at least from the vantage point of their proclamations:

  • First championing "live and local" as their trademark, but then dumping that notion for delayed syndicated fare, and bringing "local" hosts in from other parts of the country who themselves are self-proclaimed host-a-likes for the syndicated Glenn Beck.
  • KTAR programmer Russ Hill decries the attention to politics on talk shows, but the station now is even more political than it's competitor that it is falling behind in the ratings, KFYI.
  • KTAR boasted via on-air promotional bits how they are "not Republicans or Democrats", yet their programming is nothing but rabid right wingers.
  • Blasting the rival station for airing a "local" show that's not really local (Joe Crummey, who was replaced by J.D. Hayworth, broadcasted his Phoenix talk show from California), yet turns around and hires Crummey for their own station.

Seriously, KTAR has swayed on these and other matters, sometimes in a span as small as weeks. But contrary to these announcements, it does appear that KTAR does have an identity and it's in the mold of Glenn Beck and wannabe imitators.

Up and down the dial, on the other talk stations, things are pretty much as they were a year ago:

  • Joe Crummey, after the uproar over his local deception, was replaced by former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth.
  • KFYI axed its nightly "wheel of hosts" format for the hate spew of Michael Savage.
  • KFNX continues its spate of colon blow and gold hawking shows, sans Charles Goyette in morning drive time.
  • Long time Phoenix radio legend John Dayl passed away.
  • On KKNT 960 AM, Liddy and Hill ended their on-air marriage.
  • Legendary Pat McMahon exits, again, from daytime KTAR radio.

Across the net, in blog posts and forum threads, I read a chorus of complaints about the stale state of the genre, and a never ceasing stream of queries on what new trends or rising stars can save talk radio from the sorrowful morass it has become. But it's not a perplexing puzzle at all — there is a tried and true formula that could easily restore the medium. It goes like this:

  1. An intelligent host lines up representative or experts from both sides of an issue (i.e., immigration, Iraq War, school vouchers, etc.…). It doesn't have to be always "political", but nothing stirs the soup like a heated political debate. But topics could easily extend to lighter fare, any subject where there exists a sizable listener interest.
  2. Host lobs a set of questions at each of the issue opponents. No way does the host have to be neutral, but he or she most certainly should conduct the interview in an objective manner. Nothing wrong with an opinionated narrator with their own slants and takes, but they must accommodate criticism and feedback for their adopted planks.
  3. Open up guest questioning to callers, and grant them a crack at addressing the declarations and points made and/or not made by the experts (or representatives). The dialogue and tone needs to be respectful, but the host shouldn't serve as public relations handler either.
  4. On a weekly or monthly basis, feature a special forum staffed by the most colorful and erudite callers, and let them have a chance to go mano to mano against each other and even enable other callers to challenge them.
  5. Incorporate an online presence for the radio show that serves as an extension or addendum, allowing devoted listeners denied the opportunity to call in and have their say. Or set up virtual buckets for show topic suggestions. Maybe voting on best guest of the week, or best call of the day.

While this model of conducting a radio talk show has disappeared from the airwaves, it has surfaced in the form of podcasts, albeit without much in the caller participation aspect (though with technology advances, that may soon change).

Regardless, the same old approach that's rolled out — put on an obnoxious host that just uses callers to as a prop for a diatribe — has become so tired and stale, and continues to chase listeners away. Yes, it worked for Rush Limbaugh, and for that exact age, may have been a marvelous strategy for a select number of programs. But it's a new age, and time for change, or at least a return to producing intelligent shows, without name calling and riled up, angry, frothing at the mouth listeners.

At any rate, off to the roundup:
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