Monday, June 11, 2007

I spent this weekend in NYC attending Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar, a great industry gathering of talk radio producers, hosts and syndicators. I've been to my share of media conferences, but none have been as good as this one in presenting information that is fluff-free.

There were a lot of name hosts there, including Ed Schultz (first photo), the number one progressive host in America. Michael Harrison (last photo) is a seasoned radio vet and the publisher of Talkers.

Oh yes, Stephanie Miller one of the best radio hosts on the planet and someone with looks built for television, was there as well. Miler's show is very fast-moving and funny.

Talkers is considerd the Bible of the industry is produced right here in Springfield, MA.

Everytime I attend one of these conferences I get itchy to get back into radio. I know the chance of that happening is slim to none, but the five years I was on the air doing talk were a pleasure.

Oddest moment: being in the john and hearing G. Gordon Liddy in there as well. I never thought I would share an intimate moment with a convicted Watergate felon. Liddy actually seems to have a sense of humor and perspective about things and didn't seem to be as much as an ideologue as some of the other hosts.

Fanboy moment: Trying to speak with Stephanie Miller at the cocktail party. I walked away as I just didn't want to come across as a geek stalker just to to compliment her.

Moment of realization: that Sean Hannity probably actually believes his conservative line of crap.

NEW YORK CITY – With the growing popularity of satellite and Internet radio, questions about the survival of traditional radio swirled around the tenth annual New Media Seminar this past weekend.

And Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers Magazine, the Springfield, Mass.-based Bible of the radio talk show industry, had the answer: invest in programming and talent.

AM and FM radio must “have the best programming anywhere,” Harrison told the hundreds of people who gathered for the two-day event.

“We have to invest a lot of money in products – the opposite of what they’re doing now,” he said.

Harrison said that new technology is “a force of nature that can’t be stopped.”

Walter Sabo, an industry consultant, said that dominance for a medium is based on its stars and that good locally produced radio shows can save AM and FM radio.

Sabo noted, though, that radio must be part of new communications technologies such as cell phones, which could and should have a radio receiver. He also said stand-alone radios need to be over-hauled.

“When was the last time you saw a cool design for a radio?” he asked the audience. He then added that most radios today look like they were made in Russia in 1965.

Erica Farber, the publisher of “Radio and Records,” said that 95 percent of listeners are consumers of traditional radio, but without access to cell phone customers radio could become an “antiquated device.”

The seminar attracted hundreds of talk show hosts, programming executives, station owners and others. The future of the medium wasn’t the only topic presented at the conference, which also tackled freedom of speech issues post Don Imus and the growth of progressive or liberal radio.

Ed Schultz, whose nationally syndicated show is heard locally on WHMP AM, said that he and his wife attended the New Media Seminar four years ago and were laughed at with their vision of a liberal radio program in a medium
dominated by conservatives.

Four years later, Schultz is top-rated in many markets and his show is making money. He said other liberal hosts have to “knock down the stereotypes.”

Schultz said he talks about sports and fishing as well as politics on his show and the mix has worked for him.

“You’ve got to make it interesting. You’ve got to live your life on the air,” he said.

A panel of program directors was divided if they would have fired Imus, who made a racial remark on his show. Some, like Program Director Jack Swanson of KGO in San Francisco, said he would have fired Imus and then resigned himself, as he obviously hadn’t done his job correctly.

Others said Imus should have immediately been suspended.

David Bernstein, the new vice president of programming for Air America, said that Imus, a broadcaster with a lengthy track record of making outrageous statements, was “following orders” and doing what his employer expected.

Freedom of speech issues were also addressed by hosts Alan Colmes and Jim Bohannon who spoke prior to the presentation of the annual Freedom of Speech Award, which was given this year to conservative talk host Michael
Savage. Bohannon told the audience there are many “lines” today in radio that a host could cross accidentally – racial, sexual, and scatological, among others – and these lines move all the time.

“Broadcasters tap dance in a minefield,” Bohannon said.

Colmes quoted Sinclair Lewis, the first American author to win a Nobel Prize for literature, in his comments: “I love America, but I don’t like it.”

Colmes said that while he might despise what Savage says, he wouldn’t want to live in a country where Savage can’t speak out. If that was the case, Colmes said he knows he would be next.

Harrison then explained that Savage was receiving the award this year because as a conservative he has broke way from the conservative host pack by criticizing President George Bush. He also emphasized that he doesn’t like what Savage says on his show, but that “if we don’t understand the First Amendment, we don’t understand America.”

“Without it, there’s no America. If you want to defend America, defend Freedom of Speech,” Harrison added.

© 2007 Gordon Michael Dobbs.

1 comment:

Tommy said...

Gee, Michael Harrison has gotten old. Good thing that hasn't happened to me!

It's a shame how Clear Channel gobbled up all the area for-profit stations and fired almost all the local hosts. We used to have a very vibrant talk radio scene in the Valley, but alas, no more.