As with so much in talk radio these days, the conventions have been downsized. The annual Talkers New Media Seminar, which once sprawled across parts of three days, was held in one 10-hour session on Thursday, June 7th.
Here’s what I saw…
The Big Issue
The day was dominated by conversations about the impact on talk radio of advertiser boycotts, no-buy lists and special interest group campaigns. The assembled talk pros worry that such pressure tactics amount to a firm of On stage there were bi-partisan calls for the industry to set aside politics and launch an industry-supported campaign to educate both advertisers and the public on the importance of robust public discourse, the benefits of advertising in “controversial” shows, and the power of choice – if listeners really disagree with a show, they can make a major statement by tuning elsewhere.
Righty Sean Hannity and lefty Ed Schultz both urged action. Even straight all-news guy Jim Farley of WTOP/Washington decried the “seemingly constant effort to silence dissenting voices, controversy, even humor.”
In the hallways, there was much furtive whispering and head shaking among network folks about the on-going financial cost and general disruption triggered by the Rush Limbaugh “slut” episode. There seems to be a general sense that the entire format has paid a pretty stiff price for an incident involving one host.
Hooray for Saga Communications Executive VP Steve Goldstein and CBS Radio talk honco Chris Olivero. Near the end of a panel that devoted much time to how-to-be-controversial-without-going-too-far, Goldstein pointed out that not every talk show needs to be an in-your-face rant fest. “Fun and laughter work, too,” said Goldstein. “It doesn’t all have to be controversial.” Olivero, during the same panel, gently chastised his colleagues for emphasizing the negative over such positives as “the new commitment to local programming” that he perceives in spoken-word radio.
Talkers boss Michael Harrison said the event was a sell-out at 350 registrations. I think every one of those folks showed up across the day. At one point there were over 200 people in the lecture hall, many panels were SRO and the stand-up lunch was shoulder-to-shoulder.
A huge percentage of the attendees were from New York, with nearly all the rest drawn from the Northeast. Harrison agreed with my estimate that 85% of crowd came from the Washington-Boston corridor.
The syndicator-to-station-exec ratio was typically lopsided – easily 10 to 1. Among the local PDs and programming execs spotted at the event: Bill Hess of WMAL/Washington, Laurie Cantillo of WTOP/Washington, Paul Ihander of WGY/Albany, NY, and Peter Thiele of 970 The Answer/New York.
There was a smattering of national talent on hand, including Internet radio sensation Tom Leykis, Todd Schnitt, Andy Dean and convention stalwart Jim Bohannan. A handful of young aspiring talk hosts and current podcasters were in the mix, too.
And it wouldn’t be a Talkers event without the presence of an odd assortment of talk radio hangers-on, including some very, very old people and a guy dressed like a cross between Walter Winchell and a waiter at a Farrell’s ice cream parlor – fedora, red bow tie and a red and white stripped shirt. He was promoting something or other.
See You Next Time?
Harrison plans to hold another New Media Seminar in Los Angeles during October. If you are in the region, I think it’s worth attending. The event offer the opportunity to make potentially useful personal connections, and maybe learn a few things.
And, as one panelist pointed out, it’s important for members of the talk profession to spend time rallying together at a time when the challenges are daunting and the future is murky.
This is your profession. Invest a little time and money in supporting it.