Industry Views

Talk Radio’s $4 Billion Mistake

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

imIn the early 1980s, talk radio made a $4 billion mistake. Prior to then, there were approximately 50 full-time talk stations in America. They were predominantly found in major markets and had been in the format since Marconi. The original talk stations had two key traits: They were dominant in ratings and much of their popularity was driven by women hosts.

Mary Margaret McBride hosted an NBC, then ABC Network show based from WOR, New York at 12:00 noon.  From 1938-1957 she led midday radio listening. Nope, not a cooking show. She featured the most powerful, newsworthy guests and grilled them. She prepped for 23 hours a day and sweated every minute. Her popularity was so great that she required five secretaries just to answer her mail. Her 10th anniversary was held at Yankee Stadium. McBride’s 15th  anniversary filled Madison Square Garden, hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt. Correct, Mary Margaret and her listeners were honored by Mrs. Roosevelt.

How about the money? During many early years, it was believed that no advertiser would buy daytime Then Mary Margaret read live copy. OR Mary Margaret had her guests read live copy. Sales for advertisers exploded. (Source: It’s One O’ Clock, Time for Mary Margaret McBride by Susan Ware

The historic galaxy of remarkable women talk show hosts is vast: WOR (Always number one through most of its history) Martha DeaneDora McCannPatsy McCannMary HealyPegeen FitzgeraldArlene FrancisSherrye HenryJoan Hamburg — yes, all at the same time. Throughout the country the stars include: Sally Jessy Raphael (20+ years on major market radio), Dr. Ruth WestheimerDr. Tony GrantAnnie AielloMimi BenzellDorothy KilgallenJohnnie Putman and the most powerful broadcaster in Ireland, Marian Finucane. (Worth the listen:

The audience for the content featured by those hosts is thriving and watching daytime TV. Before 1982, daytime TV was the happy land of soap operas and game shows. Then, as content delivered by women hosts left radio, it was embraced by TV. Sally! Dr. Ruth! Oprah! Ellen! The View, The Chat, The Chew, Jenny JonesJoan RiversQueen LatifahKelly ClarksonRicki Lake.

Today daytime talk TV is a $4 billion business. I take credit for… a lot. I am proudest of the fact that few execs have hired as many women managers and women hosts.

Question to talk radio chieftains, where are the women hosts?

Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in-house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at