The Systematic Dismantling of the Once-Dominant News/Talk Format

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One of Canada’s most impactful radio formats is disappearing, not through listener disinterest but by broadcaster neglect.

DougRutherfordOlderPic

by Doug Rutherford

for Broadcast Dialogue magazine

September the 17th, 2015

In its prime, News/Talk radio dominated every major market in which they operated; Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. It worked because programmers kept creating compelling reasons to listen.

News/Talk is an art form lost on the new generation of programmers caught in the vortex of shrinking audiences, declining revenue and head office demands for higher margins. This generation of programmers and News/Talk general managers seems convinced that the secret to margin growth is the elimination of core services, the reduction of news coverage and the abdication of News/Talk categories that helped build the format in the first place.

Somehow, using this formula and logic, younger listeners will find their way back to the AM band, and if the audience doesn’t get bigger it will at least shift younger and be more attractive to advertisers.

That thinking didn’t work 20 years ago and it won’t work today.

Those three words that are destroying News/Talk radio in Canada: “We used to…”

Here is how a typical interview with a modern day News/ Talk GM or programmer might go if he or she were being interviewed regarding the latest cuts to station staff:

“We used to” have a bigger and stronger local news presence but now that there is an all-news station in the market our research shows that we are not known for breaking news anymore.

“We used to” have a stronger sports presence but we couldn’t afford to maintain play-by-play rights for the NHL and CFL; we lost those broadcast rights to the all-sports station. Maintaining a high sports profile just didn’t make economic sense anymore.

“We used to” own the traffic “hill” in this city; no one could touch us. But then the all-news station started traffic every 10 minutes round the clock and we just couldn’t compete so we pared this part of our operation back.

“We used to” have talk show hosts with strong opinions and powerful points of view but our research showed that people wanted to “chat” and have “meaningful thoughtful conversations”. We shifted our focus toward hosts who could talk about a number of topics, skimming the surface. The more in-depth investigative reporting shifting to on-line ventures.

READ THE REST OF THIS COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS  HERE  AT THE BROADCAST DIALOGUE WEBSITE

(Doug Rutherford Photo Courtesy of EdmontonBroadcasters.com )

9 COMMENTS

  1. While Rutherford was speaking in mostly general terms, he was really explaining the demise of CKNW. We have heard exactly the same feelings voiced by Rafe Mair, Bill Good, Frosty et al. When the suits in Toronto started running the stations, the on air product crashed. It’s been said many times before, the younger generation does not listen to AM radio, and no amount of tacky on air personalities will bring them back. The older generation supported the station and probably still would if they had sound intelligent programming with hosts that knew their stuff.

  2. “the younger generation doesn’t listen to AM”. So a gutsy talk format on FM should work. Every music format is already covered, so why not.

  3. Its good to know that radio insiders arent all as dense as the current group of Koinexpress types. When you look at the advertisers that spend ad dollars at NW youve got to wonder who is the genius that thinks a younger demographic could care less about
    funeral homes
    funeral cruises
    investment for retirement
    jewllery
    Mr Lube
    morgages(in NWs market not many 20 yr olds getting bank loans to buy homes)

    News flash! Baby boomers have money to spend. Baby boomers know how to find the am band on a radio. Baby boomers have opinions on just about everything. Some even post on PSR.

  4. Great insight from Doug. And he should know because he was part of the dismantling when he ran Corus Vancouver and later at Corus Alberta.

  5. I was thinking back to 2002 I guess. I only heard Stern when I was on vacation in Las Vegas, and Tom Lekis was on MOJO 730, but the PC crowd got him off the air here. Are there any FM talkers anymore?

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