Pending Business: When Controversy Strikes

By Steve Lapa
Lapcom Communications Corp


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Is someone out there in talk radio land ready to help us understand the new boundaries of controversy in talk radio?

A little help here, I’m getting lost.

Abortion laws will quickly become a leading topic again as states begin to weigh in on laws. Social media is already buzzing about Brittney Griner’s sentencing and what about her stance on honoring our National Anthem? The January 6 hearings continue to produce new fodder for talkers as the Russia-Ukraine-China-Taiwan storyline is on the radar — literally. Those topics don’t touch what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Somewhere along the way one of your local talent or nationally syndicated talent will say something that will offend listeners, sponsors, or both.

If you’ve been selling or managing talk radio for a longer than you would like to admit, there is a good chance you’ve experienced the pushback when a talent inadvertently steps over a line. When it becomes a deal breaker or a cancellation, you’re not alone. Sometimes a talent will make an honest mistake and your management will step in to right the ship. Sometimes not, and we all know how that ends.

There is a protocol you can develop that can help work through the times your talent says that one “thing” that rubs your sponsor the wrong way. Some real-world tips:

  • First, talk to a manager. If what the talent said is unacceptable by station or corporate standards, let the higher-ups handle the controversy.
  • If this is an isolated instance, connect with the right manager and discuss how you will approach your client. Remember we all have different sensitivities. Your advertisers have two concerns: their own interpretation of what was said and their customer’s/client’s.
  • Team approaches work best. If you haven’t done this before, enroll a manager to help connect with that advertiser. Sometimes showing support helps right a wrong.
  • Golden Rule: The Customer is King. Work from that premise and see where it takes you. Listen, be empathetic and solution-driven.
  • Great talk show hosts know. Sometimes your talk show hosts will realize a comment or monologue may have struck a sour chord. Work inside your teams to tap into a positive resolution.

Talk radio is built on the best talent in the world. But like all of us, these unique people are not perfect. Always be ready with a  game plan when the waters get choppy.

Steve Lapa is the president of Lapcom Communications Corp. based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Lapcom is a media sales, marketing, and development consultancy. Contact Steve Lapa via email at: