Talk Radio on Hold Against Low Ratings, Changing Audience

by Luke Jones  on Monday, May. 12, 2014 12:00 am  

Alice Stewart

“The smaller-market guys are part of a legion of Rush-wannabes who read Rush’s early success,” Cooke said.

Cooke lauded Limbaugh’s radio skills, but pointed out that his subject matter has become increasingly one-sided and will eventually alienate his audience. Limbaugh is at his roots an entertainer, Cooke said, a fact that’s been “misconstrued by wannabes,” resulting in an “I’m right, you’re wrong; I talk, you listen” atmosphere.

Talk radio, he said, should be a two-way show where “you make the audience the star, rather than Limbaugh’s special kind of dialogue that degenerates to a monologue.”

While Limbaugh and his imitators are still very popular in certain markets — particularly small ones — Cooke said what will eventually “doom” them is demographics.

“Depending on where you set the hash marks, you’ve got 80 to 90 million millennials about to take the reins of the American economy, and to them, these people are crazy uncle acts,” Cooke said. “It’s about stuff they don’t care about, and it’s the same thing every day. Ultimately, that demographic is going to work against us. In the meantime, ratings speak for themselves.”

KARN’s Nielsen Audio ratings fell from 4.4 in winter 2013 to 3.4 in winter 2014.

But Elswick, the former host at KARN — who noted that he was “not at liberty to say” what is next in his radio career — told Arkansas Business that during his time as a host he wasn’t concerned about appealing to a younger demographic.

“There are some in talk business who think talk radio is a 25-54 demographic,” he said. “I believe — and Nielsen will bear me out — that talk is much more 45-plus. Which isn’t bad. The youngest boomer will be 50 coming up on Jan. 1, 2015. By 2017 boomers will control 70 percent of the disposable income in America. Why would I try to reach a 25-year-old when a 55-year-old has the money to spend on what they want to buy?

“I think Clear Channel, Cumulus and other large companies that are publicly traded have lost the real reason radio exists, and that’s to serve local interests.”

He said members of the younger audience will “listen in an entirely different way. Probably on a stream in their car. Radio will become much more fragmented. However, as long as there are politicians, and trillions of dollars being sucked out of taxpayer wallets, there will be people who want to discuss the different aspects of spending vs. programs, etc.”

On the other hand, another of Arkansas’ conservative talk hosts, Alice Stewart, tries to vary the viewpoints and age groups represented in her show.

Stewart, an Atlanta native, came to Arkansas to work for KARK-TV, Channel 4. She joined then-Gov. Mike Huckabee’s communications staff and then followed him on his presidential campaign in 2008.



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