Winning With Syndication


(By Mike McVay) The use of syndicated programming has ebbed and flowed over the last few decades. Radio stations may air syndication on the weekend, in a specific daypart, or even 24/7 as a 100% syndicated product.

Some view syndication as a way to save money. There are more that see it as a way to increase the quality of their programming and improve ratings. The very best syndicated programs bring an audience to the table that may otherwise have never listened to or abandoned your radio station. Syndication when done properly, and used by a radio station in the best way, has the potential to raise the rating bar in a market. 

There was a time when common thinking was that local programming beat syndicated/network programming every day of the week. Then Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh came along and beat local programming. The trend continues with Delilah, John Tesh, Bob & Tom, Tino Cochino, Kid Kraddick, The Breakfast Club, The TJ Show, Bobby Bones, and many more shows that have seen significant successes.

The list of successful music and talk programs that are delivered daily and create habitual listening is long.

Listeners don’t judge if a show is local or not. They ultimately judge if a show is good or not. There are many examples of local shows that outperform syndicated programming and many examples of syndicated programming that outperforms local shows. Fun – informative – engaging – entertaining wins. Sounding topical. Connecting with your audience. Being prepared. Sounding like you’re a part of the affiliate that is airing the program. 

What doesn’t win is when a radio station simply “flips a switch,” puts on a syndicated/network show, and walks away. Every moment that your radio station is on the air is important as it creates a lasting impression about your station and forms what could be a lasting image of how a listener views your station. Because a network show runs outside of Monday-Friday 6a-7p doesn’t make it any less valuable to the overall listening experience that you should be trying to create for your audience. 

The smartest programmers treat a syndicated show as if it is unique to their station. They ask the talent to update promotional messages weekly, they have the talent record liners that can be used to promote their contests, events, and other shows that air on their station. They look for ways to connect the syndicated talent and their show to their market. There are many things that talent and programmers complain about when considering AI, but what about having a syndicated host clone their voice and provide a station with frequently updated liners, sweepers, and promos? 

During my previous life as a Corporate Programmer, it used to frustrate me greatly when I’d hear national programming that was poorly integrated into a station. Poor transitions into and out of commercial breaks, poorly written promotional messages or no promotional messages, occasional dead-air, and the inability to properly back-time to start the show on time and without the previously played song having to be faded early.

The conclusion that I came to was that those PDs didn’t want to air the syndicated show to begin with, simply didn’t care about it, and would prefer that it fail. The proper term is maliciously obedient. Maybe it’s being passive-aggressive. Harsh words, and it may be an over-exaggeration, but there’s no other logical reason to allow anything that sounds inferior to be broadcast. The PD is responsible for everything that comes out of the speakers. 

Program Directors who truly care focus on Best Practices for whatever their format is, they localize their syndicated content, and they understand that programming a radio station should be about the complete body of work and not one daypart. Primetime is indeed the most important window for stellar programming, but all other dayparts are also important.

Listeners don’t use radio (over-the-air, apps, streaming, on-demand via podcasts, and smart speakers) like they do TV/Video. Television is show-centric. Radio is station centric. If you execute properly, you build an audience that starts using your station in the morning, and they return for listening throughout the day. 

The way to win the ratings game is to increase the frequency with which a listener returns to your radio station. That includes weekday and weekend syndication and network programming. Integrate network programming seamlessly. Treat your syndicated shows as if you’re producing an entertainment or information element at a high level – because you are.

Every minute counts. You can win with syndication if you make it your own.

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. Roy, before I say this, I AM A LOCAL AM SHOW HOST. Me and my partner do a LOCAL show in a LOCAL MARKET. It’s AMAZING.

    Now, I do not know if you feel Mike wronged you or what but this was a crazy comment having ZERO to do with his point. The POINT was GREAT RADIO transcends so a LOCAL SHOW that goes through the motions is not going to be a POWERFUL as a show that is not “in market” but makes people feel. Radio listeners say they come to radio for personality and because of accessibility. Making them feel something, compel or laughter during a HARD TIME, share emotions with them when THEY are hurting knowing where an audience is at isn’t about being geographically near them anymore. It’s about being the show that talks about what they are in a way NOBODY else does. Making them remember how you make them feel. I mean YOU ALWAYS remember how someone makes you feel right? I think the point wasn’t to ELIMINATE local radio but that a show going through the motions and “THERE” isn’t the key to winning. Will it work everywhere? No. Can it work, 1000000%. A show that puts the work in can be EASILY a better listener experience and thus do better. Let’s say one show that’s been somewhere 35 years reads prep verbatim and doesn’t go next level on air or social. Whereas a show not in market may take that same topic and be unique and creative with it will keep that listeners attention longer… Very simple example, A clip on TIK TOK and socials is going viral where a woman is upset she got a “bill for watching her friends kids… itemized” we can take the easy way out and say How would you feel if this was you parents? Like everyone did. You could also build and relate it to a real life circumstance like we did for Listener Court where my co host who was going to pick my kid up and watch him a few hours and CHARGE ME for food and drinks… People can sense fake. A Real discussion RATHER then a simple game or what would you do, is talking to them not at them. I know Mike we all have made mistakes but to advance we learn and advocate change. Content is king in radio now. Location not AS important. Knowing about the city you are in and doing something special content wise or as a market visit with A PLUS content will win every time. Except in the RARE exception of VERY FEW shows. That is what I believe he meant. This was not about Mike and Cumulus circa 2007, it was about how the radio landscape is changing and how to adapt.

    Great insight. We believe every day this is true.

  2. We can’t believe what we’re reading here. Yeah sure, syndication and voice tracking are the key to keeping stations relevant. What a joke!! McVay apparently has never heard of the word “local” !! Then again, McVay was part of Cumulus … when he and Dickey systematically destroyed top top stations like KGO, KABC, WABC, and others — by firing the top, highly popular LOCAL personalities on those stations, and replacing them with cheaper syndicated programming. How did that work out? The stations collapsed to irrelevance, and Cumulus went bankrupt. And stations still take McVay seriously ??! That’s hilarious.

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