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Listener Engagement in NTS

Taking a look at the ratings and trends of three different markets. The #1 New York, #7 Washington D.C. size markets, #38 Raleigh-Durham to see if the trends were pointing to rewarding increased engagement.

Chrissy Paradis

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Photo by Dejan Krsmanovic CC BY 2.0.

News/Talk/Sports on the climb in trends and ratings —how important is listeners engagement and how do you creatively navigate increased audience involvement?

I took a look at the ratings and trends of three different markets. The #1 New York, #7 Washington D.C. size markets, #38 Raleigh-Durham to see if the trends were pointing to rewarding increased engagement.

D.C.’s ratings show that News/Talk stations dominated the post-election chaos snagging three of the top ten, more specifically the top five stations in the market. In WTOP-AM second, third and WMAL-FM in fifth place looking at the terrestrial monthly PPM ratings for persons 6+ according to Nielsen.

Raleigh-Durham, at #38, encapsulates and reflects the qualities of many of the other midsize markets across the country. Raleigh-Durham, home to four terrestrial news/talk stations has followed the patterns demonstrated by the aforementioned markets with the two stations among the top then, more specifically the top five. WTKK-FM, home to The Rush Limbaugh Show nabbed the second place spot and WUNC-FM, NPR’s flagship, landed in third place October and November.

There is obviously no shortage of programming options in the #1 market of New York City, particularly when it comes to the format News/Talk/Sports. However, the November and December 2020 books have had four News/Talk stations among the top fifteen (WNYC-FM, WINS-AM, WOR-AM and WCBS-AM / WLIR-FM). The post-election controversy combined with the pandemic have the news cycle buzzing with fresh content which has caused a seismic impact in the radio world; where even the stations that consistently deliver every winter  in trends/quarterly ratings for their historic success in specifically delivering Christmas/Holiday music, have been far less dominant thus far.

The SiriusXM presence has become increasingly mainstream and an incredible resource for programming—a powerhouse with over 150 stations consisting of highly specialized stations within each category or format. SXM offers a great deal of talent from the terrestrial world, as well. In my time working for SiriusXM, I worked for TJ Cutini and BSM’s Matt Fishman. Given TJ’s impressive resume marking his decade of experience with SiriusXM Sports programming, Cutini also worked in terrestrial radio within the News/Talk format.

TJ Cutini expands on the opportunity that the format presented.

As someone who’s spent time in news talk terrestrial radio and sports on a national level with SiriusXM, what separates the News/Talk format from Sports only format?

TJ Cutini: I’ve honestly found both formats to be very similar. The subject matter is vastly different, but the mechanics are all the same. A sound bite is a sound bite, whether it’s a Senator talking about the next round of COVID-19 funding, or a football coach talking about the pass rush of their next opponent. In my career, I’ve jumped back and forth between news and sports more than a few times, and I’ve always felt comfortable adjusting every time.

Even the audience engagement behavior is similar between the two. A sports talk host in Pittsburgh might catch a ton of flack from listeners for heavy criticism of Ben Roethlisberger, just as a conservative talk host would for criticizing the Trump presidency.

I asked Cutini what he had felt he learned about the value of connecting with the audience during his impressive career in News/Talk/Sports?

TJ Cutini: The lessons are pretty similar between the two. Know your audience. Don’t be afraid to be critical of the thing they like, but have facts to back up that criticism, otherwise you’re going to get roasted.

The fact of the matter is you absolutely run the risk of getting obliterated by listeners who miss an old lineup, have allegiances to another show in the market that you’ve put in jeopardy or simply want to connect with you on a more personal level. The best way to tackle potentially getting roasted by listeners? Lean into it and offer them an opportunity to communicate with you on social media, on your show or station event. One of the most creative and beloved traditions I have encountered in this industry is the annual Festivus show that ESPN Las Vegas’ Cofield & Company honors every December 23rd. The Seinfeld inspired holiday called Festivus show encourages listeners, friends, haters and colleagues to partake in “the airing of grievances,” and the rules are described in the iconic Seinfeld episode. The ability to laugh at yourself, know the audience and don’t take things too personally all allow for a greater connection with the listener. That show airs live Wednesday, December 23 from 3-6 PST on ESPN Las Vegas and online at LVsportsnetwork.com.

To expand on the listener dynamic, I spoke with another seasoned radio veteran—Carmen Conners. Former co-host of The Morning Rush with KC ODea and Carmen Conners on Rush Radio weekday mornings on WRDU/WTKK and WPTI (Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro).

Conners’ comprehensive contribution to the industry is immeasurable and unique. Her career as a morning show host led her to multiple markets and formats—taking the bull by the horns in rock, Hot AC and News/Talk formats across the industry. She never lacked authenticity or the complex understanding of the fundamentals associated with radio, thriving especially when it came to building relationships with listeners.

What did the News Talk format offer you, as a host with significant experience hosting morning shows on other formats?

Carmen Conners: It offered me a chance to be a grown-up!  Don’t get me wrong, I still had fun and could bring time-honored elements such as parody songs and doing bits with our producer/interns, into the show. But with The Morning Rush on Rush Radio, I had the chance to delve into our country and our world and talk about how it worked. The discussions were more intelligent with a much deeper subject matter.

How did the Rush Radio format differ from other formats when it came to connecting with the show and stations listeners?

Carmen Conners: When it comes to the difference in connecting with listeners, before rush radio, the connection with listeners was very superficial. We were bound only by the request for a song and subsequent hope in which it would be fulfilled, or a contest result. Perhaps, an immediate hope that one would be caller number 10. But Rush Radio was significantly different in the sense that our listeners didn’t just turn on a radio station; they came through the front door and sat down at the kitchen table to have a cup of coffee and talk news and politics with us. Rush Radio was a miracle to them! It was a local radio show that they had access to and they could talk about the two things they weren’t able to mention before. They were loyal to a degree that I’ve never seen before in over two decades of radio.

BNM Writers

Market Still Finding 2023 Footing

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

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While it’s hard to imagine 2023 being as painful for investors as 2022, experts still cannot say for certain we are destined for blue skies ahead. Many in the media are starting the year by sifting through the stock market tea leaves; trying to figure out what historical data can tell us about probabilities and expectations for the next twelve months.

Some think the United States is poised for a market rebound, while others remain quite bearish, feeling that negative policy implications have yet to be fully realized.

Peter Tuchman of Trademas Inc. joined Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program Friday, to offer his thoughts about where the American stock market might be headed in light of the newly-divided United States Congress.

“Markets have a sort of a gut of their own,” Cavuto opened. “Today’s a good example. We’re up 300 points, ended up down 112 points. What’s going on?”

“Markets don’t like unknowns, and markets need confidence. The investing community needs confidence,” Tuchman said. “And I think it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild that. And as we saw the other night with what went on in the House, it feels like people should get busy governing as opposed to all this posturing.”

Six months ago, Tuchman didn’t have a solid feel for the direction of the market. And just two trading weeks into the year, he still doesn’t believe any real trend has been established.

“The market has yet to find its ground. It’s yet to find its footing,” Tuchman told Cavuto. “And still, even coming into 2023, the first week of trading we have not found our footing. We have come in on a couple of economic notes that were a little bit positive. We opened up with a little bit of irrational enthusiasm. By the end of the days we were trading down.”

Meanwhile, some financial outlets, such as CNBC, have dug into the data showing what a market rise during the year’s first week – such as what we experienced this year – potentially means for the rest of 2023. They published a story last week with the headline, Simple ‘first five days’ stock market indicator is poised to send a good omen for 2023“.

On an episode of his popular YouTube program late last week, James from Invest Answers dug into 73 years of stock market data, to test that theory and see if the first five days of yearly stock market performance are an indicator of what the market might do over the full year.

“Some analysts pay attention to this, the first five trading day performance, can it be an indicator of a good year or a bad year,” James began last week, “I wanted to dig into all of that and get the answer for myself. Because some people think yes. Some people swear blind by it. Some people think it’s a myth or an old wive’s tale. Some people think it’s a great omen.”

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Based on James’ analysis…

If the gains from the first five market days of the year are negative, the market rises 86 percent of the time over the full year, with an average gain of 6%.

If the first five days are positive, the market increases 92% of the time, with an average yearly gain of 16%.

Most importantly, in this year’s scenario, where the first five days saw a jump of more than 1%, the market traditionally ends positive for the year 95 percent of the time. Those years see an average yearly gain of 18%.

“Is it a good omen, does it look bullish?” James asked. “Well, yes, based on history. But remember, there are factors like inflation, interest rates, geopolitical turmoil, supply chains, slowing economy. All that stuff is in play. But history also says that the market bounces bounces back before the market even realizes it’s in a recession. That’s an important thing to know.”

On his Your World program, Cavuto wondered if the recent House speaker voting drama has added to the uncertainty facing markets.

“Historically, Wall Street definitely is a bit more friendly to a Republican administration,” Tuchman said. “We’re in new ground, there’s no playbook, Neil. And I went over it with you the last time. There’s no playbook for coming out of a pandemic. No playbook for what’s gone on over the last two and a half years. Let’s think about it. March 2020, the market sold off so radically. We had a rally of 20 percent in 2020. 28 percent in 2021, in the eyes of a global economic shutdown due to the Federal Reserve’s posturing and whatnot.

“And now we’re trying to unwind that position. In tech, and in possible recession, and inflation and supply chain issues. So, there’s no way historically to make a judgment on what the future looks like in that realm, let alone what’s going on in the dis-functionality of what’s happening in Washington. I would like to disengage what’s going on in Washington and try and rebuild the confidence in the market coming into 2023.” 

So while the data might indicate a strong year ahead, the fact is that many analysts still won’t make that definitive call amidst such economic turmoil gripping the country. 

Along with U.S. markets, they remain steadfast in their search for solid footing.

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BNM Writers

Does Radio Need A Video Star?

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

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Last week numerous stories about using video with broadcasting or audio podcasting became a hot topic of discussion.

A Morning Consult poll found that 32% of Americans prefer podcasts with video, compared with 26% who like just audio better. Among podcast listeners, 46% said they favor them with video, compared with 42% who said they would rather listen without video. It’s worth noting that these are podcast listeners, not radio listeners.

Video has become the latest trend in audio. Almost everybody is trying to do some form of video. Many shows already stream online. A few others simulcast on a television or cable channel. It seems nobody believes in pure audio anymore. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t go into television instead of radio.

Before everybody else starts adding webcams in the studio, it’s worth weighing the reasons to move ahead versus slowing down.

The first person to realize they could use video of their show may have been Howard Stern. In June 1994, Stern started a daily half-hour show on E! network, featuring video highlights from his radio show. Stern added slick production values and faster pacing on the E! show.

Don Imus started simulcasting on cable during the same month. It’s possible others that I’m not aware of started earlier.

Stern’s E! show made sense. It answered the most common questions people asked about the show, in addition to what’s he really like; the first questions people usually asked were: 1) Are the women really as good-looking as he says? 2) Do they really take their clothes off? The E! show answered those questions. In addition, it gave a backstage glimpse of the show.

The same month Stern’s E! Show began, Imus began simulcasting his show on cable networks. I would have feared losing ratings. In fact, Imus’ program director did!

I spoke to my long-time friend and colleague Mark Chernoff (Current Managing Director of Mark Chernoff Talent and on-air talent 107.1 The Boss on the NJ Shore, Former Senior VP WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, VP Sports Programming CBS Radio) about the impact simulcasting Imus’ show had on WFAN. Chernoff may have the broadest range of experiences with simulcasting radio programs with video. 

Imus began on CSPAN but shortly afterward moved to MSNBC. Chernoff told me: “When we started simulcasting Imus, I suggested we’d lose about 15% of our radio audience to TV, which we did.” Chernoff added that there was a significant revenue contribution and that the company was content with the trade-off.

WFAN had a different experience simulcasting Mike and the Mad Dog on YES in 2002. “In this case, TV was helpful, and we increased listenership,” said Chernoff. WFAN also benefited financially from this simulcast.

Imus was on in morning drive while Mike & the Mad Dog were on in the afternoon. Keep the era in mind, too. Before smartphones and high-speed streaming, it was not uncommon for people to have televisions in the bed or bathrooms and have the tv on instead of the radio as they got ready for their day. In the afternoon, fewer people would have had video access in that era.

Ratings measurement moved to Portable People Meter (PPM) by the time WFAN started streaming middays on its website. Chernoff reported streaming had no ratings or revenue impact – positive or negative – on middays. However, the company did provide an additional dedicated person to produce the video stream.

The early forays into video by pioneers such as Stern, Imus, and Mike & the Mad Dog are instructive.

There are good reasons to video stream shows. Revenue is a good reason.

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Another good reason is if the video can answer questions about the show, as the E! show did for Howard Stern.

On the other hand, audio companies are going to throw a lot of money at video, based on the notion that it’s what they “should” do because:

  • It’s the latest trend. Being late on this trend is different from missing the Internet or Podcasting. Industries already revolve around video; television and film come to mind.
  • Podcast listeners like it (by a slight plurality).

Before turning on webcams, see what viewers will see. The studios at many stations I’ve worked at were better not seen. Considerations include; the set, lighting, wardrobe, visuals, and a plan.

Too many video streams of studios feature the fire extinguisher prominently in the shot or the air personalities milling about during terminally long breaks.

Before going live, watch the video with no audio. Is it interesting? Compelling? Does the video draw you in, or is it dull?

With program directors now spread so thin handling multiple stations, a dedicated person to oversee streaming should be a requirement for stations streaming shows.

Other considerations:

  • How could this help us, and how could it hurt us?
  • How does the video enhance the show?
  • Will personalities do their radio show or perform for the cameras?
  • What production values are you able to add to the video?
  • What happens during those seven- eight-minute breaks if it’s a live radio show (vs. a podcast)? What will people streaming video see and hear? Does everybody on the show get along?

Do you have revenue attached? What do you expect will happen to the ratings?

WFAN earned significant revenue for two. Therefore, the company wasn’t concerned when the ratings took a hit for the first one and were surprised when they helped the second one. They didn’t see any impact on ratings or revenue the third time.

After all the budget cuts and workforce reductions over the past decade-plus, before audio companies invest in video, shouldn’t we get: people, marketing, promotion, or research monies back first?

Most of us decided to get into radio (or podcasting) instead of television or film. There’s a reason they said, “video killed the radio star.”

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BNM Writers

Streaming Platforms Cannot Be Forgotten By News/Talk Program Directors

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes that if you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations and what comes through the streaming platforms.

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If you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations. Didn’t you know that? Oh. Well, you do. 

I’m not just referring to our over-the-air broadcast but also what comes through our streaming platforms. Alexa, Google Home, apps, computers, etc., are all streaming platforms of our radio stations, which for most of us, are airing different commercial inventory than what is coming through the radio.

I understand none of us are unnecessarily looking to add to our plate, but our streaming platforms are the way we are getting more people to use our product. So neglecting, or forgetting about it, is a bad business decision, especially in the talk space. 

Across all clusters, talk radio is far more likely to have high streaming use when it comes to total listening hours. Listeners are more loyal to our personalities and often can’t get the AM dial in their office buildings during the day, or even if they can, they don’t want to hear our voices through static, so they pull up the stream. 

It’s never been easier to listen to talk radio stations, thanks to our station apps and websites (although welcoming some sites to the 21st century would be a good idea). So, given the challenges many of us face on the AM band, why not push our audience to the stream and make sure the stream sounds just as good as the over-the-air product?

The tricky part in putting together a quality stream sound is trying to balance what ads are programmatic, which ones are sold locally, where is the unfilled inventory and what is filling that gap?

And unlike your over-the-air product, where you can go into a studio, see what’s coming up, and move inventory around, that technology is not available in most cases. So yes, it’s a guessing game.

But as the talk climate continues to change, the best thing we can do to build our brand and trust with the next generation of talk radio listeners is to find them and engage them where they are, which may not always be next to a physical radio. That will be on a stream. How do I know that? Because if they have a smartphone, they have (access to) the stream.

Of course, the over-the-air product remains the massive revenue generator for our stations, as in most cases, the streaming revenue is not close to comparable. But then, if we look years down the road, that will likely start to change. 

To what degree? That’s unknown. But double-digit growth on an annual basis should not be out of the question when it comes to stream listening. It should be a very achievable goal, especially in our format. So our listeners who are P1’s, love the station and want to consume as much of the content as they can, can be on the AirPods in the gym, desk at work, or in their home office and listen to our radio stations. 

Heck, with Alexa and Google Home, they don’t even have to turn a dial! They just speak. So if they’re there, let’s keep them there.

There are simply too many media options today to lose our listeners due to sloppy streaming quality that makes us sound like a college radio station. Instead, listeners, who find us there should be rewarded with a listening experience that is just as high-quality as what they would get on the AM or FM band.

And if we play our cards right, it will be better, serving the industry incredibly well through a new generation of listeners.

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