Friday, November 6, 2009

The Talk Radio Business Model – Above All Else, Prey Upon Fear

Have you ever stopped to actually think who the core demographic of talk radio really is? Who are the people who can devote three or more hours of their day to a particular program or radio station? Who are the types of people who listen to the drivel day in and day out while nodding in agreement or repeating the clever insults and catch phrases to their friends and family? Who are the people who actually think the talk radio pundits are actually journalists as opposed to their true role as entertainers?

I’ve often wondered who these people are, and I often wonder what common trait exists among those who clearly pull 98% of their political opinions from one particular talk radio host or another. These are the people who are always convinced political party ‘A’ is right while political party ‘B’ is wrong, and I’m sure everyone has met a few of them in their lifetime.

Now I’ll admit that if I’m near a radio at lunchtime I will sometimes tune to talk radio to be entertained… but that is where it stops. I admit and recognize that talk radio exists for one true purpose, and that purpose is to entertain rather than inform. If you want to be informed you can listen to the news, if you want to be entertained (and you aren’t particular interested in sports), you have talk radio.

The scary thing is, it seems that many people are unable or unwilling to draw the distinction between entertainment and information, and for them talk radio becomes less about entertainment and more about providing them insight. The type of insight which is based upon rumor, falsehoods, distortions and flat out lies. The type of insight which makes me question the true intelligence of the common man. The type of insight which reaffirms my belief that the ignorant and the uneducated are easily influenced by those who are adept at preying upon fear.

Because when you really boil it all down, that is what it is all about… fear. You can listen to the programs themselves and hear about how a certain politician or a specific government program are going to ruin the American way of life. You can hear how they believe one political party is the source of all that is evil and how if you don’t vote for the other party your children and grandchildren will be those that suffer. Time after time after time, if you toss aside all of the fluff and excess, when you objectively look at any given subject you will find the basis is nothing other than fear. The pundits know if they can scare the listener, that listener will keep coming back for more.

Nowhere is this concept more obvious than the one time you would expect the theme of fear to be absent. I’m talking about the commercial breaks in between segments, and if you take some time to actually listen you will soon discover that the advertisers have found a niche market, and that niche involves the concept of fear. Millions upon millions of dollars in advertising are spent every year, and it is very obvious that those marketing firms know the true demographic listening to talk radio at any given point is one built upon fear – thus they cater to, and profit from, that demographic.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list below of some of the advertisements presented during the commercial breaks of talk radio.

• Lifelock – appealing to the fear of identity theft.

• Broadview / Brinks Home Security – appealing to the fear of burglary or home invasion.

• Identity Guard – another product that appeals to the fear of identity theft.

• Tax Masters – appeals to the fear of the IRS “stealing” money or leaving a person destitute.

• Various Gold Investing Firms – preying upon the loss of net worth in the stock market and retirement plans. Also suggests the apocalyptic scenario where paper money holds no value.

• Law Firms specializing in Asbestos – Appeals to the fear that surviving family members might not be taken care of in the case of severe disability or *gasp* death. Also appeals the desire to hold someone or something else accountable for anything bad which might happen in one’s life.

• Personal Injury Lawsuits – see above.

• Life Insurance – again this appeals to the fear that loved ones won’t be financially secure if the primary bread winner is no longer around to provide.

• Carbonite Online Backup Software – appeals to the fear that a computer will crash resulting in the loss of financial data, vital documents, or irreplaceable files, photos etc.

• Prostate Medications – appeals to the fear that health problems (namely cancer) will end a life prematurely.

• Debt Management and Debt Collections services – appeals to the fear that ‘evil’ corporations will take all of a persons earnings leaving them with nothing.

• Legal Zoom online legal documents – appeals to the fear that a person will die without a proper will or living trust being established. Also appeals to the fear the government will seize assets leaving surviving family members with nothing.

So as you can see, between disaster coverage, legal services, and various forms of self protection services all of these products have one thing in common. They all appeal to some level of fear.

Now if this were only a small percentage of the ads or if I cherry picked these ads over a period of two or three months it might not be all that indicative of a larger issue, but the fact is every single one of these advertisements were heard within 90 minutes of talk radio. Not 90 days, not 90 hours – but 90 minutes. On other days I was able to hear the same ads or slight variations of them time and time again, and during the times I listened there were very few other ads that weren’t based in some way upon fear.

In fact I can only recall one ad that seemed out of place, and that was for a Sleep Number bed. I suppose I could stretch and twist to make it sound like that ad was appealing to a concern about bad backs, but for all intents and purposes I think that just boils down to the marketing strategy of the Sleep Number people involving market saturation and less about meeting a specific demographic.

I never heard a commercial about cleaning products. I never heard a commercial about automobiles or travel services or toothpaste or coffee. I never heard an ad pertaining to beer or chewing gum or fast food, and I never heard anything in relation to gasoline, shampoo, or clothing.

Time and time again, day after day, the vast majority of ads I ever hear pertain to fear, and the only logical conclusion that can be reached is that advertisers know the target core demographic that tunes into talk radio on a daily basis is scared. They might be scared about their finances or scared about their health or scared about the government, about home security, or maybe just scared about common sense or logic – but in some way these people are scared.

So if the advertisers know it, doesn’t it make sense that the talk radio hosts know it as well? Don’t kid yourself – they know it, they count on it, and they prey upon it… that much is certain. So maybe the next time you hear someone quote something direct from the mouth of a talk radio host you should ask yourself… what are they afraid of?