Monday Memo: Talk Radio 101 – LISTEN

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Talk radio isn’t just different than music radio. It’s better. Talk radio is never on in the background. And streaming has music radio on its heels, because The Sentence Never Spoken is “Alexa, please play six commercials.”

Yet talkers should avoid taking false comfort that we’re less vulnerable to digital competitors, because people are using social media to talk to each other without us. So joining the conversation there is now table stakes. But defending the towers remains Job One.

Talk radio is playing defense  

That’s where you come in. Radio will only continue to own the conversation if you, the host, lead it.

Here’s how.

  • If you haven’t already, I urge that you read a book Dave Ramsey recommended to me. It’s Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin. You can find a gently used copy for a couple bucks on Amazon. He clarifies your opportunity in a way you will find profound. It’s a wide-angle shot.
  • And here’s a close-up, technique: THE most-common mistake I hear in airchecks I’m sent is announcing the call-in phone number before you state the topic.
  • Too typically, the host opens the hour with the phone number, THEN, eventually, sets the topic…sometimes after several unscripted minutes.
  • That’s backwards, and explains why so many older, often-off-topic regulars call. Too many callers sound like the grandfather on “The Simpsons.” He’s thrilled to have anyone to talk with.  All he needed was a phone number.
  • Meanwhile, local advertisers would prefer to meet the real-life Homer and Marge, parents with children still living at home, the most important retail consumers. They’re busy – physically and mentally – so don’t test their attention span.
  • Don’t believe me! Just try it: Always-and-only announce the phone number immediately after the-reason-you-want-people-to-use-it, your topic.

And try this…

Instead of asking callers “What do you think…” ask “How do you feel…?” about topic du your. Admittedly, this will seem like a semantic difference, but it can actually light-up the phones faster.  Here’s why:

  • The first 5 minutes of the hour (the newscast) is facts. Your network or local newscasters deliver a digest of what-they-think-we-should-know; and station promos train listeners to check-in “throughout your busy day.”  Hopefully that newscast will sound different each hour, so they’ll keep coming back.
  • Then, make the next 55 minutes about feelings. As though you’re turning-to-the-camera, invite listeners to weigh-in-on something they just heard in the news. If it was important enough to air atop the hour, it must matter, right?
  • If you track call count and topic, you have probably already have noticed a pattern. You get better response when you ask opinions (“Should members of Congress be term-limited?”) than when than when you ask for listeners’ expertise (“Is losing our Triple-A rating making our economy less-sound?”).

For 6 more specific tips, see my video: “Talk Radio 101: LISTEN,” at

Holland Cooke is author of the E-book “Spot-On: Commercial Copy Points That Earned The Benjamins,” a FREE download here; and“Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page), and. HC is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke