Saturday, January 15, 2011

SYNDICATE HYPOCRITE...WHO ME?

I've been thoroughly enjoying writing this new blog, especially hearing from you, my peers and fellow-colleagues in the business who love radio as much as I do.

Many have e-mailed me telling me how much they enjoy the discussion; others have suggested I come up with a more "positive" title for the blog. I often find myself explaining to friends that it's not radio, per se, that "sucks," but rather the "industry" and what's become of the business. That part sucks.


But perhaps one of the most interesting morsels of feedback to date came to me in the form of a short Facebook comment that simply read:

Are syndicated Sunday night music shows helping?

For those who don't personally know me, this Facebook comment was referencing the fact that the author of this blog (me), hosts and produces his own syndicated show on (you guessed it) Sunday nights.


And although the poster did not elaborate, I pretty much took the message as "Who are you to say that radio is on the wrong track by being less live and local, when you yourself are the one pumping out syndicated programming?" Am I part of the problem???

I thought it was an excellent question, and makes a great subject for this week's topic.


Syndication.

Good or bad? And here's my answer. I believe--and feel free to throw in your two cents--that syndication can be used sparingly, and in the right places, to compliment a station's local programming and add to the success of the station.

I also believe that often stations have too much syndication on the air, and there's nothing worse than a station that's lost its identity due to "syndication overload."


Let's look at two examples, good and bad, in formats I know.

BAD EXAMPLE: An Urban station that runs both Steve Harvey in the morning and Michael Baisden in the afternoon. In fact, any station, any format, that runs syndicated programming in both their AM and PM drive.

Really??? You're allowing your morning and afternoon drive to not be local? I mean, I really don't even have to elaborate on this, do I? Giving up both drive times on any station is just mind-blowing to me, and makes less sense the bigger the market. I mean, if I'm in D.C. and turn on WHUR, it should "sound" like D.C., right? Apparently that's not the priority anymore.

Do you know how depressing it is, to fly into a different city and jump in my rental car, and excitedly turn on the radio, hoping to get an earful of "the sound" of that city, just to discover it's Ryan Seacrest...again.


GOOD EXAMPLE: A station that sprinkles small doses of unique syndicated programming into their schedule--shows that would be tough to duplicate on a local level.

Take KHHT-Hot 92.3FM in Los Angeles. They have all in-house programming except for a one-of-a-kind weekend show called Top 10 Now and Then: a really fun, themed, Saturday morning show that compliments the station's unique format. Then there's the nightly Art Laboe show. Art is a Southern California legend and has become one of the driving forces of the radio station. He's from L.A., so even though the show is technically "syndicated," Art's the "Godfather of L.A. Oldies," so it only makes sense that he is an integral part of the station.


You see the difference here? There's a huge difference between a station that fills up as many hours as they can with blasé, bland and non-local syndicated programming, and the station that thrives on good, quality local content and only adds syndication in as an "accent"--syndication that fits in with what the station does, its market and targets

As a PD, I look at any syndicated show and ask this question--could my station do the same show locally, but better? And the answer is usually yes.

For example, when I programmed Hip-Hop radio, there was a handful of mediocre (some downright lame) "countdown" shows. Why couldn't we do a countdown show on the weekend--our own? So we did. We created our own weekend countdown show, hosted by our morning guy. It was our city's top 30 songs, with our personality. It was not only custom-tailored to our market, but what a great way to cross-promote our morning show on the weekend, and tease what was coming up Monday morning! Simple stuff here.


On the other hand, there are indeed some syndicated shows that have advantages because they are syndicated. Take for example, Sunday Nite Slow Jams (my show). Here's a Slow Jams and dedications show, that, because it is national, is able to connect callers from one city to another. A Fresno station's listener can call in and give a dedication to their girlfriend in Albuquerque. A girl in Wichita, Kansas can call in with a message to her Mom in Portland, Oregon, and so on. These things simply can't be done inside a local show. So in essence, the show has an advantage because it's syndicated.

Another show that comes to mind that might be hard to duplicate is The Baka Boyz. Here's a weekly Hip-Hop mix show that is programmed so well, with such amazing hosts, that it would be very tough for a station, at least not a major market station, to duplicate. Here you have two amazing emcees and mixers (Nick V and Eric V) who helped build Power 106 into to what it is today, on your radio station for three hours. I'd put those guys on any station I was programming.


Yet again, the un-hosted Hot Mix radio mix show is another gem--this is actually a "pre-mixed" mix show, where your local talent fills in the talk breaks. Talk about the best of both worlds! I've worked with scores of very good "local" mixers throughout the years, but have yet to see anyone match the quality and consistency of Hot Mix.

I could go on, but you get the point. And the story holds true in all formats. Stations should be very mindful that they are "picking and choosing" just the right syndicated shows, and always keeping their focus on their local programming. Use syndication as an accent; something special...not something just to fill up your entire Sunday with because it's "easy" and "always there." And stop just "throwing" those shows on. Really take time to package it, as a valuable feature for your listeners. Localize it, promote it, and set it apart. Don't just rip it in and leave it alone. Your station's better than that.

9 comments:

  1. Amen. I'm responsible for a station that runs both "Sunday Night Slow Jams" AND "The Baka Boyz," as a way of complimenting our LOCAL programming, and couldn't agree more. We don't have mixers in our market that can TOUCH Nick & Eric. And it would be cost-prohibitive to produce a show that excels in quality to "Sunday Night Slow Jams." Plus, Sunday nights are a throwaway, unless you're giving them R-Dub, who pulls a 40-share in our market. The choice is relatively simple, and I don't think that syndication plays MUCH of a role in it. (If Seacrest or Kidd Kraddick could pull a 40-share in the mornings, I'm sorry to say that our morning show would be flipping burgers somewhere.)

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  2. I wonder if the fundamental question isn't whether live n' local is better than syndicated, but rather whether our listeners think whatever they're hearing sucks.

    I think we all can agree that if live n' local was all it takes to succeed, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. There are plenty of shows that are live n' local n' suck bigtime.

    By the same token, live n' local is a kind of magic that just can't be downloaded, can't be bounced off a satellite, and simply can't be pulled out of a box like a rabbit out of a hat.

    Ultimately, do our listeners care? If they're loving what they hear, probably not. The question of live n' local versus syndicated actually raises the question of two bigger problems: developing good talent and finding organizations with the skill and the will to pay for it.

    Frighteningly, a lot of the magic of radio, the tricks that we've learned, developed and passed on to successive new talent over the past 75 years is becoming fossilized. As the number of syndicated shows increases, and as the greed and ignorance of owners and managers rises with them, we're losing a precious resource: new talent. Who's going to pass on the secrets?

    The fact is, for every bean-counting general mangler and clueless corporate PD, there are probably two very untalented jocks on the air. The reasons are simple. We don't have the guts to try new things, to risk short term failure for long term success, and the innovators who could be passing on the art to a whole new breed, were either replaced by magic boxes long ago, or were simply marginalized by salaries that began going backward.

    The future for syndication looks bright. It's cheap and it's often very good, but a voice from some East Coast state that's winding it's way down the Internet, will never be able to know the immediate mood of a city like Tucson Arizona last week, and capture the magic of live n' local.

    Feces rolls down hill. The only way we'll ever see live n' local make magic again, is if the monkeys slinging poo from the top of the hill begin to evolve. Unfortunately, they're more likely to become extinct just as soon as someone finds a way to create a corporate leader in a little electronic box.

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  3. That Sunday night slow jams show is ok.. but just think how GREAT it could be if only the CEO of Sunday Night Slow jams had a better voice.. LIke TED WILLIAMS!!.. he he he..

    OK, in all seriousness, I'd say that having a forum/blog like this that's generated by someone who owns & produces a syndicated show etc. there certainly has a bit of hypocrisy to it.. Because even though on a much smaller scale (Sunday nights) technically, you're kinda playing both sides.

    Granted, I'm maybe nit-picking some, but are there potential affiliates who may say "Why do I wanna carry this Sunday night show, when he thinks Radio sucks??" I don't have the answer to that question any more than I know how & why many PDs & stations decide on what's right or wrong for their respective stations.

    My opinion? Syndication needs to be reserved for truly special shows that can not be replicated by local talent rather than just be used to fill a void on air (on the cheap).

    There are too many stations using syndication to just fill time on the cheap. My unsolicited advice, ask yourself "is there anything else I can DO with my syndicated programming that will make it more special than anything else? " Then you have no excuses to make for having a blog / forum when people may accuse you of being "technically" a hypocrite.

    But then again, you can always turn the tables on them & ask them "what are YOU doing to make our industry any better?? I provide a very specialized show that isn't like anything else.. how's your show doin?"

    Till next time..

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  4. Great points, I agree that if a show is GOOD, then its GOOD. It doesn't matter if the show comes from your market or Topeka.

    Slow Jams, Baka Boys and HotMix are all specialty shows that are great and usually can't be duplicated in local markets. Most listeners don't care if they are local or syndicated, they just like what they hear.

    I have yet to see a syndicated morning show dominate a market (not counting Howard Stern). A lot of times, I see a morning show that's great in their own market, end up being syndicated and doing mediocre at best in the other markets. The suits see a chance to save some money, blow out local talent to put in a syndicated show that usually doesn't get the ratings they though it would and are out within a year.

    Couple of examples? Big Boy (which is a GREAT show in L.A.) at one point started picking up affiliates like wildfire, when after a year or so, ratings and revenue started to decline on those stations that picked him up, they started dropping like flies. I'm sure there are many more examples of syndicated morning and afternoon shows out there that have followed this pattern.

    Bottom line... no matter how much money you save or how well these shows do in their own markets, it takes a really special show to succeed via syndication. If you can find great live and local talent and give them the time and resources to grow... you know the rest. Unfortunately I think those days of radio are long gone.

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  5. my two cents...

    local is best during drive times, both am and pm

    as Davin mentioned, syndication is best on specialty shows; but to use it as a filler? c'mon!

    it is quite possible that music itself is to blame. it's changed so much where "autotune", "loops" and "re-mixes" is all you hear. this fabrication of music has also evolved in radio. I'm not saying in ALL of radio, as in ALL of music, but it shows it has affected what it is today.

    take a look at Country music (I'm a country fan), it's not as "honky tonk" or "southern" as it used to be, more mainstream actually because the old mainstream has evolved into another category and nashville is stepping in to fill it's place. (this is simply my opinion), now that's a great marketing strategy.

    back to syndication... keep it and use it as a Specailty tool no one else has. as for Drive-times, it's the only way I could ever relate to our local on-air talent...

    ELuv

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  6. My previous station, the amazing and hard to duplicate Wild 106 in San Luis Obispo is a great example of a station with a PD that knows syndication. Yeah as you know Jojo runs your show and a few others, including Ryan Seacrest, but there is absolutely NOTHING that goes on the air there that Jo doesn't touch in some way to make it sound like Wild owns it. That station is freakin' brilliant.

    The station I am currently programming does not run any syndication and I think in a way we are missing out. We have many hours of the day (nights after 10 are a prime example and weekends after 6pm) that could be filled with a few programs that would at least make the station sound LIVE. Unfortunately I'm not the last word in what goes on the air...

    Anyway without syndication I probably never would have gotten into radio... my first job was board oping Art Laboe, Casey Kasem and Rick Dees. :)

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  7. Kevin "Slow Jammin'" JamesJanuary 17, 2011 at 7:36 AM

    "My Take On Syndication"

    Take 1

    With todays technology you can make a show sound very local with local news inserts, weather etc. The one missing main element is the lack of 1 to 1 with the community by showing up to events. Trust me. Whatever popularity I had was enhanced by meeting the people. I did much charity work, CD signings and station promotions. There is nothing better than meeting a listener that then becomes a friend. That person will list you in the ratings surveys even if they don't listen. I'm not sure that helps with people meters but you know what I mean.


    Take 2

    Most shows are named after the performer (Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden, Tom Joyner and so on. There are a few like Sunday Night Slows, Slow Jam and others where the name highlights the content. R Dub's show & mine puts a focus on the music and dedications. We are more like music conductors. I feel these shows also provide a way for a person in 1 city to reach out to someone in another city and create special moments. Sunday Night especially lends itself to that type of laid back music and approach.

    Take 3
    Radio has become like TV Networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox) where there are just a few companies controlling a major number of stations in the US. Their company policies take less local flavor and somewhat cookie cutters the programming on all their stations. The day of a DJ selecting the music has gone. That's a shame.

    Take 4
    I implore a radio station or company to go against today's grain and let the DJ's have some control over music and what they can say. Let's reconnect with the listeners and become humans again and stop being robotic. Take a look at this blog and see the great talent that is available. Maybe put them on the same station and let their experience and talent create something amazing. We do what we do because we love radio and that dedication to our craft speaks volumes.

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  8. Spot on! It's very difficult to be in syndication and have the courage to speak the truth on how it should fit on a well programmed radio station. Just like everything else human beings touch we've lost sense of balance when it comes to syndication. Don't tell me we can't utilize the "larger than life" personalities that some syndicated programs offer as well as use the national platform offered by others (example:Sunday Night Slow Jams) to connect listeners on a very personal level, and at the same time create a station that reeks of the community in which it resides. Radio has a great tool in syndication...it just has to know how to use them.

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  9. So, it's Sunday Night and our competitor is running Art Laboe. I remember hearing Art on XERB and XPRS back in 'the day' and thought how 'bad' he sounded then. He still sounds bad. 40 years later. In fact his voice hasn't changed a bit from those days. He still makes the same flubs, talks too much and people LOVE him. He's been consistent from day 1. Breaks the rules, and hasn't missed a beat since he first cracked a mic. My point is -he's awesomely bad-and people just want to love him. One of a kind--and only in SoCal. Thanks for the site, "r". . . . don't give up.

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