Monday Memo: Can News Save Talk?

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Twenty years ago, at the TALKERS conference in New York, publisher Michael Harrison declared that “talk saved AM radio and it will save FM.”

Now, can news save FM from talk?

The biggest blade in the Swiss Army Knife?

Non-music stations give listeners plenty of reasons to tune-in.

  • Baseball is about to climax, football is back, and here come hockey and basketball. Play-by-play brings ears we might not otherwise cume (and sells without ratings, which is nice). And it may be the last broadcast radio many fans consume that day/night, so use in-game IDs and promo slots to tell ‘em about morning drive.
  • Though weekends are gawd-awful on too many talk stations, smart ones turn Saturday/Sunday into “appointment listening” with solid syndicated or local ask-the-expert shows — and, yes, well-coached brokered hosts (who buy without ratings, which is nice).
  • Even with weather now so conveniently available from Alexa and smartphone apps, stations known-for the forecast will continue to earn what the ratings people call Occasions of Listening. And as weather keeps getting wackier – and IF you can deliver when-the-fit-hits-the-shan — they will, as 1010WINS used to say, “make it your first impulse to push the button!”
  • And IF you can deliver this too, rip-off the five words you’ll hear real often on my client stations: “Your Only Local News Radio.” It’s something they won’t get from SiriusXM or Pandora or Spotify or your robotic competition. And note how carefully your network writes its newscast copy, reporting how life can go upside-down…at any moment. So, as we also urge: “Stay close to the news.”

And there’s the “talk” component of news/talk, now largely a predictable narrative that changes no minds, and lacks the suspense that radio can exploit with all-of-the-above. When listeners tune-in to a windy monologue, they get-the-drift too quickly to play the ratings game.

Don’t take my word for it

Spend 20 minutes on Twitter, which Rush Limbaugh used to call “a cesspool.” It’s worse now, a disturbing window into the Civil War now so clearly roiling. What is being uttered there – including by members of Congress – is sobering.

Twenty years after Michael’s prediction, FM translators have saved AM radio for talk; and, increasingly, station owners are repurposing cellar-dweller music format full-power FMs to simulcast legacy AMs.

My consistent experience – personally, and in daily interaction with others – is that the more informed we are, the less opinionated we become. “What NEXT?” many Americans wonder. “What JUST happened” is radio’s unique opportunity. Be known for knowing.

Holland Cooke ( is a consultant working at the intersection of radio and the Internet. And HC 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. And he’s offering FREE 60-second on-air features: “Inflation Hacks: Save Those Benjamins.” HC Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke