Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Time Has Come to Speak of Syndication

Since I began this page I have offered many sound pieces of advice to Cumulus:  Give KTCK-FM the 93.3 signal; buy Michael Gruber some better equipment; work Mike Bacsik into The Hardline.  OK, two out of three.  Number 3 seemed like a good idea at the time.  The Hardline got better, Bacsik got drunk.  Who can predict these things?

Here's number four:  Give some serious thought to syndicating some of The Ticket original programming.  Below I'll offer some priceless advice on what's more likely to appeal to remote entertainment-starved 25-54 males.

I've been mulling over syndication for all or part of The Ticket for awhile.  My interest increased when I read that John Clay Wolfe was thinking of syndicating Greg Williams after they made a deal for Hammer to join the former's radio organization.  And the subject screamed for an article when Junior Miller advised the P1 Nation that The Ticket was the number one ranked station on Wunder Radio, the iPhone app that lets users listen to radio stations from around the world.  The BBC was ranked second.  I looked for those rankings online and couldn't find them.  If any Confessors know where they can be found I would appreciate the advice.
What does this tell us?  Well, it may tell us nothing more than that former Dallas residents are scattered far and wide and keep in touch with Wunder Radio.  Or it may tell us that lots and lots of Dallas listeners tune in via Wunder Radio. 

But enough to account for the number one ranking?  I think it is quite possible that it means that word of The Little One has spread beyond its meager signal and that listeners with no other connection to Dallas are tuning in.  And didn't I hear Bob Sturm tell us one day that KTCK segments are among the most popular downloads on iTunes, not number one but way up there in the rankings with world-renowned broadcasts?

More to the point -- as Michael Rhyner never tires of reminding us, It's Great to Listen to The Ticket.  It's an amazing broadcast property up and down the broadcast day.  Even if all those Wunder Radio guys and podcast downloaders are local, it's a heckuva thing for The Little One to be at or near the top of those rankings.  That means that it is, indeed, great to listen to The Ticket for reasons other than its spotty local sports coverage.  (My acquaintances who listen to other sports stations do so for exactly that reason -- more sports.)  That's my Confession -- I'd love to tinker with it as I report from time to time, but when all is said and done, it's pretty much an unalloyed pleasure.  And there is little reason to think that it would not find listener approval in lots of other markets.

I spent about five years in San Diego.  When I lived there, Jim Rome got his start a fill-in weekend host on XTRA 690, the Mexico-transmitter-based sports-talk station out there (actually, XETRA).   Then Rome got a midday show and The Jungle was born.  Then he moved to Los Angeles.  And then he was syndicated.  And now he's a big deal.  I am a Jim Rome radio fan and wonder when another sports talker here is going to sign him up.  He'd be formidable competition for BaD Radio.

(DIGRESSION:  XTRA 690  is the same station that featured the amazing Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton. The Hardline makes vicious fun of him, and there's a lot to make fun of, but his afternoon drive show was an astonishing piece of broadcasting. If you can imagine Norm without the stats and gambling, but with all the enthusiasm and accompanying irascibility, and one of the greatest radio voices you will ever hear, you've got Hacksaw. His introduction in which he places "topics on the table" is a perfect encapsulation of the sports news of the day. And his play-by-play for the Chargers was on a par with Brad Sham. Really. [Hacksaw and the Chargers parted company some time ago.]   His show was very caller-driven, unlike The Ticket showgrams -- might not work here.  But man, the guy brought in the listeners.  The Ticket could do worse than bring Hacksaw out to do a nighttime show, just like they brought former enemy Norm into the fold.)

The point being that a local program can easily succeed in other markets if the quality is there.  And I think most Confessors would agree that The Ticket -- although in many ways unique in a local sort of way -- represents radio broadcasting of a very high order.

Let me hasten to add that I know approximately dick about syndication.  I have the notion, for which I have no support, that other than the cost of the sales effort, it would require almost no additional capital investment.  The production of the programs is already financed -- all you have to do is get the feed to the syndicatee, let it sell some commercials, and Cumulus watches the mail for the checks to come in.  I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but really -- what could it cost?  If you can get it on Wunder Radio, if you can get it online, you can provide it to KXXX Sports Radio 790 in Odessa.

So how would The Ticket fare in syndication?  A few thoughts.  (I told you I've been cooking this one for awhile.)

(1) Much of The Ticket's sports content is not local.  All of the shows highlight sports news of national interest.   I wouldn't want them to deemphasize their local sports coverage, but there would have to be some adjustments in content.  Frankly, expanding The Tickets list of topics couldn't hurt.  There's only so much you can say about a team at an particular time of the year.  

The non-sports local content is more of a problem.  (For example, Community Quick Hits, which Everybody Probably Wouldn't Love in San Antonio.)   But I don't think it's a big problem.  The broadcasting is inherently interesting, and it doesn't really matter that some of the topics relate to matters that are not taking place in the syndacatee's hometown. 

Besides, fart humor is universal.

(2) Syndication could start with Texas properties or possibly other Cumulus properties (which probably wouldn't be technically classified as syndication at all).  And they might start with syndication to North Texas stations whose listeners have an interest in the Dallas teams.  I have to believe that would be a low-risk proposition.  Syndicate to Amarillo; Longview/Tyler; and the like.  See how it goes.  Why wouldn't a struggling radio property outside of a major city (and believe me -- and as someone who has investigated purchasing radio stations, I know a little whereof I speak here -- they're all struggling) want to jettison the costs of producing some of a day's broadcasting but still get advertising revenue?

(3) You can syndicate to non-sports-talk stations.  You can imagine that a rural station might want to run local-interest stuff during the day, but would run sports-talk in the evening or sometime when men might tune in.  (Since The Ticket is not caller-intensive, a non-real-time broadcast isn't such a weakness.)

(4)  What, if any, of the Ticket is syndicatable?  (Syndacatable?)  My current view:

Musers:  Yes.
Norm:  Possibly, probably.
BaD Radio:  Probably not in its current configuration.
Hardline:  No

Let's focus on the anchor showgrams, The Musers and The Hardline.  Love Norm but it's a two-hour showgram and possibly not so attractive as a stand-alone.  But possibly worth offering as a package with The Musers.  BaD Radio I have some thoughts about that I'll save for another article.  Obviously a popular property, but not an immediately acquirable taste, in my view. 

I treasure The Hardline, but they would have to take show prep more seriously, and I assume that syndication requires a little more attention to things like, oh, I don't know, the clock?  And they would have to clean the show up considerably.  The casual profanity, misogyny, and sexual and excremental references would have to reined in if not eliminated.  I happen to think that the show would not be adversely affected by these changes, but it would unquestionably change its character in a way that DFW listeners might not like.

The Musers are a different story.  That showgram does seem to have a greater respect for show prep, and it has a smoother feel overall.  It is not as vulgar as The Hardline (again, I'd like to have a less vulgar Hardline, but I acknowledge that that's part of what makes it Hard, and I listen to it religiously), and it has a more conventional feel to it that would go down easier issuing from foreign transmitters.  It would be very liberating for Gordon, who would instantly have a reason to expand his repertoire of targets.  George and Junior are likable without a lot of learning time, and Gordon, when he's not wrecking the show, could be a breakout national talent. 

I acknowledge that The Ticket is a unique broadcast property.  It doesn't sound like much of anything else on the radio, even if you limit the universe to sports radio.  It might be a tough sell, although the Gentleness of The Gentle Musers seems to me to be tailor-made for a wider audience.  Throw Norm in, and program directors in East Jeebus could solve their morning problems.  If that worked, you see if Austin and Oklahoma City might have an interest.  From there, who knows?  Omaha?

And then you could buy Michael Gruber some better toys.



James said...

You lost me when you said you're a Rome fan. He's the biggest blowhard this side of Keith Olbermann. Not sure what else you said in this post.

P1 Steven said...

A very well thought out post. Thanks for the courage! I would understand the Hardline not being so transferable in other markets. Alot of what they do is local talk. Are they anymore or less vulgar than the Musers. I dont think so. What differs between the Musers & The Hardline, is the Musers always have at least one person willing to tap the breaks. I also agree that The Ticket could garner plenty of regional success. If you recall what brought ALOT of world wide listeners to THE TICKET was the Cowboy connection.(The Hardline did a couple segments on this.) Although, Da Boys does not equal ratings (see the fan).IF the Ticket rejoined powers with The Cowboys again when THE FAIL current contract ends, I think syndication is a good idea ..... BTW When are you going to discuss Gregg-O on 105.3 w/ Richie Whitt?

T4 In Rockwall said...

I saw on their (105.3) website that officially Greggo is back. Also in somewhat related news, Lex & Terry is going over there starting in June. Ssssspares.

Anonymous said...

This may have been before you were here, but Jim Rome got his ass kicked by BaD radio when he was on 1190.

Anonymous said...

1190 soon after changed to an all Beatles format, which is why the Ticket hosts like to joke about that all the time. They all used to make fun of Jim Rome when they were competing against him cause 1190 had a van with his picture all over it which they would drive to their remotes (or at least it seemed that way to the hosts).

The Plainsman said...

Very much appreciate the information from all Confessors. Yes, Rome's 1190 tenure must have been before I got here. You may have gathered that I have mixed feelings about BaD Radio. I will say that the few times I've caught Rome's radio show when I've traveled to a Rome city in the last few years, it seemed to me that the show had lost some of its spark. In its heyday in San Diego and Los Angeles, before the "clones" prepared elaborate speeches in advance, it was much more spontaneous and fun to hear. I'd still take it over BaD, I think, and I also think that, much like The Ticket itself, he's an acquired taste. 1190 should have hung in there with him, or he should appear on a dedicated sports-talk format station. (I'm not a fan of his TV work.) James, sorry we lost you halfway through -- you missed some great stuff. Come back soon.

Phil K. said...

With your post in mind, this morning, I listened to the Musers with idea that they could syndicate. I realized very quickly that, while the talent is there, waaaaay too much re-tooling would have to happen.

I think a big part of the success and die-hard following of this station is the "live and local" part. I'm listening because, yes, these guys are entertaining and talking about OUR teams, in OUR town. It's relevant to me. A Norm or a Bob might fly in syndication but NONE of these other guys would. They just don't have the sports brains to dig deep into the sports pages of other towns. Nor do they care.

Take the "live and local" out of the shows and I would stake a year's salary on it: these shows would crater.

The Plainsman said...

Phil, I think you have an excellent point IF the first step is in a remote city somewhere. If, however, you do what Wolfe was planning to do with Greggo -- regional-based syndication, nearby burgs with a rooting interest in local teams -- then you expand the signal and bring in more revenue without significant capital outlay. But yeah, if you're going to open up right off the bat in Des Moines you're gonna have a problem.

One other thing -- I think Junior has a pretty astute sports mind. I think he could handle a national platform knowledge-wise without much trouble. But Sturm and Norm are definitely the stats guys -- and it makes me wonder why Norm has a reputation as a terrible bettor. Or is that a bit?

Thanks very much for the thoughtful post.

The Plainsman said...

P1 Steven comments that he doesn't think The Hardline is "any more or less vulgar" than The Musers. One disagrees with Steven at one's considerable peril, but I think there's a world of difference in the naughtiness factor between those two shows. Even considering Gordon's affinity for all the disreputable things he has an affinity for.