Mack’s Craic

28Oct12

 The New Media Seminar, Los Angeles 2012.

Presented by Talkers Magazine in association with the Los Angeles Press Club

by Graham Mack

When I heard that an event that bills itself as, “The talk media industry’s largest and longest running national convention” was being held in the “Steve Allen Theater”, I wondered why the Americans have such high regard for Steve, who’s on LBC 97.3 in London from 4:30 to 6:30 in the morning.

Well it turns out that the theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard is named after a different bloke. This Steve Allen died twelve years ago and was an American television personality and the first host of “The Tonight Show” in 1954.

With that cleared up, I settled in for a full day seminar which included breakfast and lunch supplied by Brent’s Deli and food for thought supplied by what the program described as “hundreds of forward-thinking communications professionals”. I wasn’t disappointed, this was a great seminar.

I did find the pace of the event a bit quick though. Sessions ran continuously back-to-back with no break in-between. Thirteen sessions were squeezed in between 9am and 5pm. A few minutes over-run in each of the morning sessions meant the lunch break disappeared so if you wanted to eat, you had to miss a bit of the action while you went out and grabbed one of Brent’s delicious filled bagels. Because of that, there weren’t that many opportunities for networking.

Some sessions were scheduled to be as short as fifteen minutes and no session was given longer than forty minutes. A couple of the fifteen minute sessions did benefit from the tight schedule though, the speakers made their points and were off, without all of the “questions from the floor” which at these events tend to be less about asking questions and more about bragging about how “…we’re already doing a similar thing at our station….” However, three of the forty minute panel sessions featured as many as six panelists, so there wasn’t really long enough for any of them to say that much and most of the panelists only got enough time to speak once.

It was a packed house which had sold out two weeks in advance. There were 274 talk media broadcasters from across the USA in the room, and me. That meant I had the awesome responsibility of representing the “rest of the world”.

The sessions covered a variety of hot industry topics including the economic, technological and cultural challenges facing talk radio broadcasters in 2012.

The keynote speech was delivered by Courtside Entertainment Group CEO and Westwood One founder Norm Pattiz. He told the crowd that Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke controversy has been a serious blow to the nationally syndicated talk radio business. (Rush is America’s highest paid radio talk show host. He’s syndicated on over 600 radio stations. On his show in February he described a Georgetown University Law Center student called Sandra Fluke as a “slut”. He was commenting on Fluke’s speech the previous week to House Democrats in support of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. This lead to the loss of several national sponsors). Pattiz said that although the hype in the consumer media has died down, people on the streets trying to sell “controversial” talk radio at the national level are finding it harder than ever and he fears the national talk syndication model may be permanently harmed.

Robin Bertolucci who is the Program Director at Los Angeles talk stations KFI and KTLK also talked about the Limbaugh/Fluke controversy when she picked up the “Woman of the Year” Award. She said, “The truth is we’re never going to NOT be controversial in the subject matter we cover but we can all be smarter in the way that we do it”.

The two stand-out sessions for me came from Holland Cooke and Walter Sabo. Holland is a News/Talk Specialist. He has advised radio and TV stations in the USA, Canada, and New Zealand. He spent 7 years as Operations Manager of WTOP in WashingtonDC. His session was called “Digitize your Tribe – Now”. His fifteen minutes were packed with ways to use the internet to drive ratings and revenue. He described the ability to host content on sites such as Youtube, Google and WordPress for free as the “The greatest use of other peoples money in the history of time”.

Walter Sabo talked about online video. Walter is a legendary programming, marketing and management consultant.  His company Sabo Media consults all programming on Sirius X M. His new creation, “Hitviews” brings the biggest video stars on the web to brands that want to increase their web presence. He was very critical of videos on radio station websites and explained that although video is the number one reason listeners go to radio station websites, the videos that are there aren’t working for the stations. He described station web cams as like watching CCTV surveillance footage and worthless. He said that instead of pointing a lens at the on-air Jock from twenty feet away, why not point it at the lunch room fridge and get listeners to call in when someone goes there, so you can catch the person that’s been stealing food. Brilliant! He showed the difference between what radio stations put on the web and how the world’s most effective webcasters use video. He said, it’s nothing like TV, the stars of online video work close-up, inches from the web cam; they all have something to sell and a call to action. He said radio stations need to employ experts who understand how this works and none of them are over the age of 24.

I caught up with a bloke I’ve listened to many times online but never met, Tom Lykus. Tom used to have a nationally syndicated show but was let go a few years ago. In April he started doing his own show on the internet and podcasting it. He told me how when he used to be on the radio he kept the email addresses and phone numbers of anyone who contacted the show. When his internet program was ready to go live, he contacted them all and told them where to find him. He’s got some impressive online figures. According to Triton Digital’s Webcast Metrics, 115,684 people sampled his show in September alone. Tom already has an impressive list of advertisers on the show and says with the freedom he gets, he has no reason to ever return to traditional radio. – Just a thought, does Chris Moyles have a database of his Radio One listeners, hmmm?

So, I learned a lot at the New Media Seminar in Los Angeles, including how to totally confuse anyone who works in commercial radio in the USA. America has hundreds of commercial talk radio stations. When you tell them that Britain has got only TWO (TalkSport and LBC), they look at you as if you’ve just told them, “we still don’t have electricity or indoor plumbing”.

Further research on the American Steve Allen has revealed that as well as being a TV personality, he was also a musician, composer, actor, comedian and writer but he did get his start in radio. Good news for LBC’s Steve Allen then. All you’ve got to do now Steve is learn a musical instrument, write a song, get a part in a movie, tell a few jokes and write a best seller and you could have a theater named after you too. In the mean time just broadcast controversial topics in a really smart way, harness the power of online video and never call anyone a “slut”.

Next month I’m off to the Talk Show Boot Camp in New Orleans.

Craic on!

Check out the latest Mack Nuggets at http://www.mackmedia.co.uk .

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