One of the most remarkable challenges of putting on a new Talk radio station is that nobody seems to know how long it takes for new Talk stations to get entrenched.
Operators are disappointed if a new Talk station doesn't get traction in a year--even though the best case scenario is usually 3-to-5 years, unless you're lucky enough to steal every major franchise from a competitor.
Detractors, meanwhile, seem to need only a few months before they declare a station, or in the case of Air America, a network, to be a failure. And as with Air America, the detractors aren't only those people who disagree with the concept, but fans of an idea who were unhappy that it weren't being executed to their specifications.
That's why it's necessary to remind people again just how long it took WABC New York, WLS Chicago, and KFI Los Angeles to find their way at first. WABC, in particular, took at least five years to get traction. And all three of those stations were 50,000 watt blowtorches that had a history as viable signals within a market.
The hit shows on a Talk station are rarely what you expect them to be at the launch. At Air America, Randi Rhodes emerged as a bigger success than most of her bigger name co-workers and, with the departure of Al Franken, the most enduring success.
It's hard to say that another few years would have ultimately made a difference for GreenStone Media, the female-targeted talk network which closed its doors on Aug. 17. But I am willing to say that GreenStone was almost guaranteed not to get immediate traction, only if because nothing does. And it exacerbated its challenges by offering an entire daytime lineup--not a single show. In that regard, it was in a trick bag--had they offered a single show, some clients wouldn't have felt they had enough programming to change formats.
GreenStone's demise brought forth its critics both from within the industry and from the outside. In the New York Post, author Carrie Lukas declared that GreenStone's "brand of tepid liberalism didn't appeal to women," There was successful Talk radio for women, Lukas contended, but it was conservative talkers Laura Ingraham and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, as well as successful male conservative talkers.
It's tempting to make GreenStone a referendum on liberal talk, female-targeted talk or anything else a critic doesn't like. But with less than a year under its belt, the only thing it really proves is that launching new Talk formats is hard and particularly hard for entrepreneurs without an existing revenue stream, whether it's a hit syndicated show or another station in the cluster that already brings in billing.
But Lukas is indeed correct that "talk radio for women" was always more than GreenStone, and not always hosted by women. It is, in fact, a lot more than the conservative talkers as well. But it is rarely identifiable as "talk radio for women," which is, perhaps, a plus in a world where the audience is always wary of being patronized.
Successful talk radio for women exists in Bob & Sheri, Delilah, John Tesh, and now "Wake Up With Whoopi." It arguably includes the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show and, in fact, every CHR or Hot AC morning show that plays only a few records each hour, since women are those shows' sole target. In that regard, it parallels the rise of African-American talk in the guise of Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Michael Baisden, Wendy Williams, and other talk shows that run on music stations--not low-wattage AM outlets--and have the feel of music radio that just happens to talk a little more.
Was GreenStone's issue, as some contended, that it offered women the sort of soft topics that typified Talk radio four decades ago? Tesh successfully packaged that content as "intelligence for your life" and similar content is the central focus of Goldberg's show. Was GreenStone's problem its liberalism? Goldberg has hardly hidden her social consciousness over the last year. At times the show seems deadly earnest, but it has persevered and is only likely to get a boost from its host's new role on "The View."
The industry drive toward female-lifestyle talk won't end with GreenStone; the week of its demise, I got a call from a small-market PD looking to build something similar in his market. As with African-American Talk radio, it will likely be built one show at a time--Joyner was the only phenomenal success in the category for many years. As with WAMJ (Grown Folks Radio) Atlanta, the breakthrough will likely be a full-signal FM that can combine existing programming with a track record in music radio with more straight-ahead talk. The first challenge will be coming up with enough programming that radio station General Managers feel they can make an investment in the format. The breakthrough will hinge on having a show like Rush Limbaugh or Steve Harvey that GMs feel they must have if only to keep it away from their competitors.