Because of a void in long-form news radio, and the ever-increasing and vital “need to know” for the listener, this presidential election cycle may well see a 25% to 40% increase in News/News-Talk stations by 2012, predicts Mark Masters, CEO of Talk Radio Network. “There is not enough quality syndicated long-form news radio programming to fill the gap,” he says. “The upcoming demand — especially with FM’s’ move into the format — must be filled with up-to-the-minute breaking news programming that works for both revenue and ratings.”
To address this demand, Masters has announced the founding of a new long-form all news radio network that will offer multiple live, Monday-Friday, three-hour syndicated news programs in most every day part throughout 2011. These shows will launch in sequence beginning in January, with four more three-hour day parts to follow throughout next year.
“Our teams will fill the void on both ends of the spoken word spectrum, with ‘Best in Breed’ opinion talk through the different TRN networks, and long-form news only programming specifically designed for radio, through the new all news radio network,” says Masters.
The new news-radio network will create 15 live hours per day of syndicated long-form news radio by the end of 2011, creating options for stations to either use individual three-hour syndicated news blocks to fit in their existing stations’ line-ups – or, use those three-hour blocks back-to-back to launch highly profitable 24-7 all news syndicated radio lineups in each market. “The flexibility of being able to ‘cherry pick’ certain three-hour long-form news blocks, or go all news, all the time will be unprecedented and highly profitable for our affiliates,” says Masters.
“Long-form syndicated co-anchored news-blocks’ time has come,” says Phil Boyce, TRN’s President of Programming and President of Talk Radio Network Syndications, Ltd., which provides syndication services to both the TRN companies and the new news network. “The Monday through Friday news programming the news network will be launching is designed to drive the news cycle, and make our new news network the place to go for breaking news stories on radio first. Because of the greatly increased speed of the news cycle in recent years, as well as the massive cost at the radio group and station level for radio news rooms – costs which they can no longer afford — many operators are now saying that long form syndicated radio news is now essential to the syndication landscape. We agree.”
“Our syndicated news blocks will ride a tide of growth that will not be seen again for decades,” notes Boyce, who was also VP of News/Talk programming for all of ABC/Citadel Radio stations before moving to TRN. “This is because of the extraordinary circumstances in which America finds itself.”
Today, the sheer revenue efficiency of News/News-Talk has resulted in approximately 45 of America’s top 100 markets now having News or News-Talk stations on the FM band. These FM News/News-Talk stations are growing like wildfire. This is in large part because there are simply four times more listeners on the FM band in the 25-54 demo than the AM band, and the AM band already has amassed a huge spoken-word audience in itself.
FM’s transitioning to News and News-Talk means that there will be far more need for News and News-Talk content — just in time for the next presidential election cycle, says Masters. All of the new network’s shows will be modeled on the plan originally laid out by Masters in 2008 and developed even earlier: “These news shows are based on a foundation of fun, energetic hosts, fast-paced radio, breaking news, and edgy news making interviews with those who shape our world. The most important aspect is the serialized three to fifteen-part investigative reports broken live within these news blocks.”
The new network will allow all newsmaker stories to be packaged every day into audio files and made available to all cable, radio and print outlets as a courtesy to the entire news industry. The only cost will be sourcing the new network’s family of shows.
Long-form news has long been the exclusive province of large market stations with expensive news rooms, which in this economic environment has just become too costly for most markets. However, Masters says his long-form “syndicated” variants are built “ground up” with localism in mind, customizable to individual news stations’ needs, without losing quality. In fact, quality and pacing may actually improve with the syndicated product.
Masters states, “The best part about syndicated long-form news blocks – either on a standalone basis within a talk station line-up or back-to-back in an entire news only format — is that they are beautifully produced, highly informative, fast paced and generally will not be boycotted locally or nationally by the institutional advertising marketplace. Opinion radio can be, in rare cases, a boycott-laden space of “super sensitivities” for certain buyers in the national advertising marketplace. Because our anchors are just reporting the news, breaking news stories or interviewing news makers, the co-hosts won’t be offering opinions, just great energy and focus on the important topics of the day. News radio is a ‘safe buy environment,’ the type of environment which is usually bought by music or top of the hour news buyers, making it the best of both worlds.”
In total, the new network’s launch of an additional 15 hours per day of live news-only programming throughout next year will change the syndicated long-form radio landscape. Spoken word radio’s platform will expand from just “talk radio” to talk radio and long-form news only radio on a syndicated national level.
Spoken-word stations will sometimes be able to pick and choose, mixing talk with news blocks. Boyce adds, “There may be some situations where an opinion formatted talk station just wants a three-hour news block to have a solid fast paced three-hour ‘safe buy’ slot to counterprogram a strong opinion talk station across the street. We will have those solutions, live, in almost every day part next year.”
The new network is just the “tip of the iceberg” of what syndicated long-form all-news radio blocks will become. “There is a lot more to this than can be said, but for now, we are just focusing on helping some of America’s 10,000 commercial radio stations make it through this tough economic environment with the best syndicated opinion or news programming and sales tools we can provide,” says Masters.
Talk Radio, “Magnet Shows” and “Safe Buy” Environments
Masters states, “We all love talk radio, because it expands the marketplace of ideas. However, there are some nationally syndicated opinion shows which will make certain institutional advertisers uneasy, because they’re ‘a little too edgy’ for them. We had one show with close to 8 million listeners with an agency concerned over 9 negative emails they received. Our point was: what about the 7,999,991 listeners who loved the show? But pure news radio provides another simple and effective solution.”
Launching the new network’s long-form news-only programming solution will provide fresh options for stations wishing to introduce fast-paced three-hour informative, entertaining news blocks within their talk line up, or to differentiate themselves from too many other opinion talk stations in a market. Such a unique approach can ultimately be a very profitable way to optimize revenues through opting to go to a complete 24/7 syndicated news only format. This format will be available by the end of 2011. “These news-only shows won’t compete with news talk,” Masters states. “In fact, they will add immensely to the bottom line. There is no competition between news radio and opinion radio. They complement each other.”
The FM Band Has Now Hit a “Tipping Point” For News and News-Talk
Boyce points out that, “In just the last several weeks, one of the most cautious radio groups in the U.S.A. (Cox Radio) started simulcasting its giant news talker (WSB-AM) on the FM band. The same is true of CBS Radio’s KXNT in Las Vegas which started simulcasting its AM news talker on the FM band (CBS Radio, until recently, was dismissive of the idea of news talkers on the FM band — that is until they too started analyzing the revenue efficiency of News and/or News-Talk).”
News and News-Talk on the FM band has now reached a “tipping point” (which would have occurred in any event when the number of FM news or news talkers in the top 100 markets hit 50 – which is only 5 away in any event).
This “perfect storm” of events, and especially FM’s moving towards spoken-word, confirms Masters’ strategy to move on the syndicated marketplace now with a launch of the new long-form news network.
Even though it will be buying different services from the TRN companies, and working synergistically with them, the new network will be a strong and vibrant standalone news organization in its own right. “We have never been so excited to be a part of this kind of roll-out,” says Masters.