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.
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.