Seminar predicts future of talk radio

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor



NEW YORK CITY Is music on the radio an endangered species? That was just one of the issues discussed at the ninth annual New Media Seminar conducted in New York City over the weekend.

Sponsored by Springfield-based Talkers Magazine, the "bible" of the growing talk radio industry, the two-day event drew hundreds of radio hosts, programming executives and stations owners as well as some of the biggest names in the field.

Nationally syndicated hosts such as Alan Combes, Dr. Joy Browne, Jerry Doyle, Michael Medved, Jerry Springer, Mike Gallagher, Jim Bohannon, and Neal Boortz participated in the event.

The effects of ever-changing consumer electronic products and how to cope with them were also a dominant theme at the event.

Sean Hannity, the number two rated talk show host in the country, opened the conference with the prediction that talk radio "was positioned to save the AM and FM bands" of radio.

He said that talk radio was the only radio format with an upward tract.

He claimed that music radio was dying because consumers want to listen to the music they want to hear when they wanted to hear it. More and more consumers no longer want to listen to the musical selections made by program executives, Hannity maintained. Thanks to iPods, they can carry the music they love with them and listen to it any time.

Many music stations tend to play similar musical formats and lack the individuality of talk show hosts.

There is a greater exclusivity, he emphasized with the talk format. Looking at a stage filled with national and regional hosts, he said, "There is only one Jim Bohannon, only one Mike Gallagher."

Hannity told the audience that the 2008 election would be the "single biggest predictable news ratings boom in history" whether or not New York Senator Hillary Clinton runs for president.

"And she will not win," he said with a smile.

Hannity's co-star on their popular FOX television show, Alan Combes a top-rated radio talk host as well began his time at the podium with the statement, "And yes she will win."

Walter Sabo, an industry consultant, discussed the next technical challenge for radio. Sabo displayed a photo of big band leader Lawrence Welk taken in the mid-1950s. Welk was seen putting a record on a record player installed in his car. Sabo said that from 1955-57, Chrysler developed a record player that allowed consumers to turn their radios off and still listen to music.

And, he noted, the records would not skip due to bumps in the road.

Some people predicted the new record players would kill radio. They didn't catch on Sabo said the players could only use specially designed records available only from the automaker. The special players became another in a long line of technological innovations that were suppose to fatally wound the medium.

He said that sound motion pictures, the eight-track player and CB radio all were supposed to phase out traditional broadcast radio. They didn't because radio adapted to the new technologies.

Sabo said the newest challenge to traditional radio would come from cell phones. He explained that cell phones offer consumers a growing array of entertainment options and that the radio industry should be working on producing programming specifically designed for the hand-held devices.

Podcasts recordings of talk shows in a down-loadable MP3 format from web sites and streaming radio shows on web sites were two of the technological advances that were discussed at this year's seminar. This year, Paul Duckworth, the program director at WMAL in Washington D.C. upped the technology ante by sharing that his reporters don't just attend news events with a microphone and recorder, but also with a digital movie camera. Duckworth said his station posts digital video to accompany audio reports on their web site and gives their audience video they don't get from competing television stations.

Freedom of speech was also discussed by a number of panel members who debated just how far is too far and how to handle a bad situation created when a host makes an inappropriate remark on air.

The king of inappropriate speech was honored with this year's "Freedom of Speech Award" given by Talkers Magazine. Talkers publisher Michael Harrison said that freedom of speech was the "most misunderstood concept in our country," but is "the foundation of our country."

Harrison announced that self-proclaimed "King of All Media" Howard Stern was this year's recipient.

"Stern deserves this more than anyone in our industry," Harrison said.

Among Stern's accomplishments was pioneering the concept of talk on FM syndication in the morning and expanding "the envelope of artistic speech that could be performed on government regulated radio."

Stern did not attend the event, but one of his radio show's cast members, George Takei, accepted the award on Stern's behalf.

Takei described Stern as "an American of principal and courage."

 
 
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