(By Andy Bloom) Garrison Keillor retired last week, ending a 42 year run of his Prairie Home Companion. A few weeks earlier Consultant and Strategist, Fred Jacobs wrote a blog about Keillor’s impending retirement and we traded thoughts about the implications for the industry in the aftermath.
Jacobs found the moral of the story to be, “Radio needs to take care of the talent it has remaining,” and it does. I’ll go further, if “WE” fail to find, develop and nurture great storytellers (and the coaches who can help develop those skills) what is already a challenging business will become exponentially more difficult.
Who and where are the next generation of storytellers? Is there one personality in radio , who came to prominence this century with anywhere near the profile and impact of Keillor, Harvey, Stern or Limbaugh? Arguably, Ryan Seacrest is radio’s biggest star of this generation. Give Seacreast tremendous credit for hustle, entrepreneurial spirit and success, but are storytelling skills one of his key attributes?
Storytelling isn’t limited to spoken word radio. Storytellers are especially important in music radio and not just during morning drive. Without storytellers, music streaming services will overwhelm music radio. When I programmed in KLSX, Los Angeles I worked with Jim Ladd. He is a prolific storyteller who made music come alive. Scott Muni, Kidd Leo, were great storytellers. Pierre Robert has been successful for 35 years in Philadelphia on WMMR, not because he plays Joe Bonamassa or Led Zeppelin better than anybody else. It’s because he tells interesting and compelling stories about music, life and himself.
At WIP we had one of the best storytellers in Sports Radio, Angelo Cataldi, anchoring mornings successfully for 25 years. We hired Josh Innes for afternoons at WIP because he told such vivid tales and during our 10 months together he ruled afternoon drive in Philadelphia.
Audio (on radio, streaming or Podcasting) is ultimately about spellbinding stories. From its inception, radio’s biggest names were its best storytellers. Perhaps radio’s Mt. Rushmore of storytellers includes: Garrison Keilor, who just retired. Paul Harvey who passed away nearly a decade ago; and Howard Stern who left AM/FM radio for satellite. Others including Adam Carolla, Tom Leykis and recently Tony Kornheiser have left for Podcasting. Rush’s future is debated in the trades daily.
Again, who and where are the next generation of storytellers? Interesting and compelling tale and anecdotes is what radio needs to generate an audience and keep people listening for long periods of time. Storytelling is an art and in the era of texting and 140 character messages, it’s being lost. Find talent that has mastered the craft of storytelling is how radio builds large and loyal audiences.
Andy Bloom is the former Operations Manager for Sportsradio 94.1 WIP and 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia. He was #11 on Radio Ink’s Best PD’s in America list. He can be reached at [email protected]