Yes they can: le talk radio USA riattraversano il deserto

Le dinamiche della lunga campagna elettorale americana continuano a interessare i commentatori anche – e forse soprattutto – sulla scia della brillante elezione di Barack Obama

(Radio Passioni) – E così i discorsi tornano a focalizzarsi sul ruolo della radio, in particolare della radio politicamente conservatrice, assolutamente maggioritaria in un format, il “news talk” che oggi sembra aver superato per popolarità persino la musica country. Ieri Il New York Times pubblicava un lungo articolo sui conduttori dell’ultradestra che sembrano aver ritrovato il loro piglio aggressivo ora che non devono più impiegare il loro tempo nel difendere l’indifendibile e fallimentare politica dell’amministrazione Bush. Questo articolo è stato ripreso oggi, come mi ha segnalato anche Andrea B. dall’International Herald Tribune.

Il Guardian britannico si occupa dell’argomento sottolineando come molti dei “cadaveri” repubblicani rimasti sul campo delle primarie, oggi tornano alla vita atraverso le onde della radio, con nuovi e presumibilmente incazzatissimi show personali. Persino Rudy Giuliani torna davanti al microfono, portandosi dietro i ricordi di quando, da sindaco, insultava i suoi concittadini nel corso delle sue settimanali trasmissioni da Town Hall.
E infine ecco un dotto saggio di Donna Halper, studiosa e storica del panorama radiofonico americano, sulle icone del talk apparso per Greenwood. Icons of Talk, The Media Mouths That Changed America, con i suoi 75 dollari di prezzo di copertina rappresenta un investimento considerevole ma per uno specialista può essere più che giustificato.

For U.S. talk radio, it’s a new dawn, too
By Brian Stelter Monday, December 22, 2008

Amid all the pressures on the radio industry, talk stations see an opportunity -and his name is Barack Obama.

After eight years of playing defense for President George W. Bush, the conservatives who dominate talk radio think they can get on the offense again.
Hours after Obama’s election, the most popular U.S. radio host, Rush Limbaugh, was talking about the “rebirth of principled opposition.”
Sean Hannity, the second-highest-rated host, quickly cast his afternoon show as the home of “conservatism in exile.”
It is a lively time to be behind the microphone. One television talker, Joe Scarborough, is starting a radio show. Another, Bill O’Reilly, is ending his.
Several of the supporting actors in this year’s Republican primary are showing interest in the medium, too. Fred Thompson, the “Law & Order” star turned presidential candidate, will begin hosting a two-hour show in March, as the syndicator Westwood One is expected to announce this week. Thompson’s show would take the place of O’Reilly’s.
Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and a Republican presidential candidate, had been in negotiations with Westwood One for O’Reilly’s time slot, according to two people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because a deal was not struck.
Mike Huckabee, the former Republican presidential candidate who now has a weekend program on the Fox News Channel, is trying radio as well, hosting short segments for ABC Radio beginning Jan. 5. While there are plenty of topics to talk about – and plenty of hosts willing to do the talking – nagging questions about the business remain. A sharp advertising downturn is limiting revenue for stations. And some hosts are worrying about the relevance of talk radio in a digital age.
But radio, at least for now, still acts as a national megaphone for influential voices. This year, talk ranked as the most popular radio format in the United States, surpassing country music for the first time ever. Forty stations have added talk programs in the last year, for a total of 2,064 that use the format, up from about 1,500 a decade ago, according to the trade publication M Street.
That means 2,064 stations need 24 hours of programming every day. Stations with tight budgets increasingly rely on programs from Premiere Radio Networks, ABC Radio Networks and other syndication companies.
Five of the most popular syndicated names in talk radio – Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham – signed new contracts in the last 12 months, all but guaranteeing that they will be rallying listeners for the duration of Obama’s four-year term. Limbaugh’s landmark contract, announced in July, promised a total of $400 million through 2016.
With a Democrat in the White House, “the conservative hosts will have more fun. There’s no doubt about that,” said Gary Schonfeld, the president of network programming for Westwood One.
But will listeners stay tuned? Talk radio usually “becomes a little less popular the year after an election,” said Maja Mijatovic, the vice president and director of national radio for the media buying agency Horizon Media.
However, next year promises to be a unique one, with grim forecasts about the economy and renewed interest in the presidency. Advertisers and syndicators are expecting a busy year because of the incoming administration. “I think people are going to tune in more than ever,” Mijatovic said.
Premiere Radio, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, is projecting a consistent audience from 2008 to 2009 as it signs on advertisers. “There’s more to talk about than there has been in a hundred years,” Charlie Rahilly, the president of Premiere, said. “There is something almost historical in nature in the news every single day.”
Limbaugh, who is syndicated by Premiere, continues to command a much larger audience than any other radio host. According to Arbitron’s spring 2008 ratings report, he reached 3.58 million listeners during an average quarter-hour, while the No. 2 host, Hannity, averaged 1.65 million.
A middle tier of radio hosts helps fill the schedules of AM and FM stations. “Because you don’t have a commodity like music to rely upon, it is all up to the host,” said Carl Anderson, the senior vice president for programming and distribution at ABC Radio Networks. “They are on stage by themselves.”
The talk-radio formula that Limbaugh pioneered two decades ago remains evident on the air today. Syndicators look for hosts who are entertaining, have a point of view and, as Anderson put it, show an ability to “connect with an audience.”
Ask different syndicators and you will hear different claims about the “fastest-growing hosts” on talk radio. Westwood One cites its “Dennis Miller Show,” which is syndicated in 200 markets and has a comedic bent. ABC Radio cites the rapid rise of its two-year-old “Mark Levin Show,” which now counts 175 affiliates. The shows are a less expensive alternative to the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the industry.
With more stations converting to news-talk formats – perhaps with the hope that live talk cannot be displaced by an iPod the way music can be – the middle tier is where most of the movement is. The conservative commentator Monica Crowley is entering weekday syndication through the Talk Radio Network. The CNN anchor Lou Dobbs is signing new affiliates for a three-hour afternoon show. And Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” is hosting a radio version on WABC in New York. ABC Radio plans to syndicate it next year, beginning in Los Angeles at KABC.
Scarborough, the former Republican congressman, did not enjoy his brief stint with Westwood One in 2005. But his MSNBC morning program, which replaced the TV simulcast of “Imus in the Morning” when Don Imus was fired for using racially charged language in 2007, resembles a radio show and attracted interest from radio networks earlier in the year. Scarborough expects his program to provide more political balance than some others.
“We have been in an era where you’ve had Rush Limbaugh, followed by a lot of conservative talk show hosts that lacked his talent and sense of humor,” Scarborough said. “They decided that if they just read Republican talking points, they’d get a big audience. I think that world is coming to an end. You’re going to have to be entertaining like Limbaugh, but also allow people of all political stripes on the show.”
Time will tell whether Scarborough and his co-host, Mika Brzezinski, can cross over to radio. “So far, I don’t think we’ve seen any TV personalities have success” on radio stations, Mijatovic said, “only the vice versa.” Indeed, two of the newest stars of TV talk, Beck, who left CNN for Fox News, and the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, emerged after years on the radio.
And then there are the politicians who would be radio hosts. Thompson will start on March 2, replacing O’Reilly, who has said that he needed to spend more time working on his top-rated Fox News program. ( O’Reilly will continue to record daily “talking points” segments for Westwood One affiliates.)
The syndicators hope that boldface names will help retain listeners in a fragmented world of media. As O’Reilly said in an interview with The Daily News, the Internet turns listeners into producers, creating new competition. “So I have to be compelling enough to pull someone away from his own show – which means I have to give him something he can’t get on his own,” he said.
Through the first three quarters of the year, network radio ad spending declined 3.5 percent from the same time in 2007, according to Nielsen. The radio industry, while still a $20 billion business, has been on a downward trajectory for years as consumers have spent less time listening. But talk still has an edge over other formats, Mijatovic said, because the listeners are engaged with the hosts “and don’t tune out.”
The presidential election provoked talk about the relevance of talk radio, especially given John McCain’s ascent to the top of the Republican ticket despite adamant opposition from conservative hosts. At the same time, left-wing blogs are acting as a powerful counterweight to the right-wing radio opposition that flourished during the 1990s.
In an opinion piece for USA Today this month, the radio host Michael Medved said he cherished the notion “that the last time a young Democrat took over the White House with gauzy visions of change, it produced a ‘Golden Age’ for right-wing talk,” referring to the presidency of Bill Clinton and the ascent of Rush Limbaugh, among others. But he expressed concern that talk shows have cultivated a “niche audience rather than the Republican mainstream.”
Shows like Scarborough’s certainly are not seeking a niche audience, though. And longtime hosts like Limbaugh know that the incoming Democratic administration represents an opportunity to reassert talk radio’s relevance.
The afternoon of Nov. 5, he was already nodding to it. In sports analogies, he told listeners: “I’m not ready to take the field for another game. I’m on the field. We have taken the field, and we’re getting ready. The game is begun.”


Republican contenders finally find voice: as radio talk hosts

Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 23 December 2008

Anyone tempted to feel sorry for the Republican candidates who lost in such spectacular style in the US presidential race can now relax. The 2008 hopefuls have started to re-emerge in a new guise: as the hosts of right-wing talk radio shows.
Like a scene from Night of the Living Dead, several political corpses left scattered across the early primary states have been spotted twitching, then crawling and finally standing up and dusting themselves down. The first to be born again as a radio host is Fred Thompson, who has just been awarded a two-hour programme with the syndicated network Westwood One.
The choice of Thompson to replace conservative talk show legend Bill O’Reilly, who is giving up his programme to concentrate on TV broadcasting, has astonished commentators. Not only was Thompson thoroughly trounced during the Republican nomination process, but his performance on the campaign stump was so lacklustre that many wondered whether he was alive even then.
Thompson appeared to be testing out a cunning new political strategy: sleeping one’s way to the White House (in this case there was no sexual connotation involved).
From March his Tennessee drawl will be heard assailing angry Republican voters with angry Republican views – a form of preaching to the converted pioneered by Rush Limbaugh 20-odd years ago. More than 2,000 radio stations have followed Limbaugh’s suit, with news talk now the most popular format in America, ahead even of country music.

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