Why The Marketplace Needs America’s Radio News Network
By Mark Masters appearing in Radio Ink Magazine - After the economic collapse of 2008, where it became clear that print, TV and radio were going to have to cost cut their way to solvency – often using their reporters as a “first cut” protocol – it became clear to us that a marketplace solution for a “syndicated newsroom” was finally at hand – both to help our beleaguered colleagues at Talk and News stations but also to deliver, on a barter basis, a full newsroom, unbiased anchors and the power of quick response to radio station clusters that needed the #1 billing format in the U.S. at a time that the economy is in real trouble.
We set out to create a strategy that not only delivered 10 to 12 stories and 4 to 6 audio actualities every quarter hour (with newsmaker stories to boot), with a flexible clock that would include – no – incentivize localism for our station affiliates, all on a 15 hour a day basis with News only.
With the input of America’s top market News only PDs, we fashioned a syndication clock that would work for large market and small market News only stations alike. For large markets, stations can utilize the 4th quarter-hour segment, plus the top and the bottom of the hour, to go live and local, keeping their big market News localism, but cutting massive costs while retaining or increasing quality. For mid size and small market News stations, this same clock could be used to go “live and local” at the top and bottom of the hour (and even local news vignettes at the quarters), using a small staff of local reporters, or even more cost effective, partnering with a local TV affiliate, utilizing their News staff for localism – while receiving cross promotion (there is a larger story here).
For most markets, America’s Radio News Network’s syndicated long-form News radio is really the perfect ally to many local television stations’ newsrooms. Many TV stations have been craving the ability to do top and bottom of the hour News locally for radio – they have the staff to do so – yet no partner in radio to work with – finally, 15 hours-per-day of national and international long-form syndicated News has come along that allows the perfect opportunity for local TV stations to report “local news” at the top and bottom of the hour (with America’s Radio News Network’s syndicated 3 hour long-form news blocks), combined with America’s Morning News, (a 3 hour syndicated long-form news block from TRN Entertainment and The Washington Times), which creates a win/win cross promotion of localism between radio and TV in a way rarely seen before – all at little or no cost to either, but to the strong mutual benefit of both.
Considering that News only programming is the #1 billing format, with no barriers to entry for advertisers (as it is politically neutral), smart FM or AM station operators that move to our 15 hours of non-biased News only programming now have the ability to go from being the #2, #3 or #4 Talk station in their market to the #1 News station, or from the #3 Rock station to the #1 News station. This is a huge victory for stressed out GMs and GSMs who need revenue now (in fact Miller Kaplan now says News only stations have a power ratio of 2.0, the highest of any radio format).
Journalism Without Agenda
A News only programming environment as accomplished by America’s Radio News Network (either alone or in combination with America’s Morning News) ensures a “safe buy” environment because it is designed to be “journalism without agenda.” This purpose built environment of fastpaced, unbiased syndicated long-form news is designed to sound great on the FM band and not only drive ratings in a PPM environment, but more importantly rate pressures (through supply and demand) that result in higher rates and higher sell-out percentages.
The results of objective News only long-form programming (especially on FM) is that the News only format is the #1 biller in the U.S. (WTOP-FM b i l l e d $57,200,000 while NPR came in second in ratings in that same market, both were News only and both are on FMs), and in 5 of the top 10 markets News only, was the #1 biller in the U.S. (if you include News/Talkers, this number jumps to 7 of the 10 markets).
America’s Radio News Network’s mission is to successfully spread this success to every market, either complementing existing talk stations with individual three- hour blocks, or programming full News only stations that work in tandem with the talk and sports stations within a cluster. Because America’s Radio News Network and TRN-E’s America’s Morning News have 15 hours of daily long-form News which is politically neutral, it is not only a cash cow for stations, and a safe buy environment for ad agencies, but it also has the unprecedented ability to actually fit in individual blocks of neutral News into existing opinion talk stations and that are looking for revenue where they are currently trying to replace a weak or “toxic” opinion program. In this way, agencies that are adverse to the more controversial opinion shows, can do ad spend in News day parts inside opinion talk stations that they might otherwise shy away from – a real revenue victory for an opinion talk GM.
News is a neutral, complementary spoken word programming companion to the more “Op-Ed” Talk f o r m a t s. Strong talk formats in p a r t i c u l a r tend to foster incredible consumer loyalty and, even though their power ratio is somewhat less than that of Radio News (a 1.36 compared to a 2.0 for News only), News only formats can cross promote News Talkers as “The Op-Ed Page” of News radio programming, and Sports stations as the “The Op- Ed Page” for Sports controversy, without stepping across any agenda thresholds that may represent a “Barrier to Entry” for ad agencies looking for a neutral place to place ad dollars of any and all political or commercial stripes. International, National and Local News, Plus Cross Promotion with Little Cost and A Very High Return- Who Wouldn’t Want That?
A strategy of giving a News radio station affiliate with a tight budget a chance to partner with and cross promote top and bottom of the hour News with a local TV station is an elegant win/win solution for both mediums, not only in terms of localism, but in additional cross promotional awareness, and even a chance at working together, in some cases cooperatively in sales.
This effort to encourage localism profitably with underperforming radio stations on the AM or FM band also provides stations the ability to afford localism without a TV partner if need be, just a small staff of one or two News people – all through ARNN’s clock’s customization strategy.
We love this industry – in this tough political season we know that advertisers will soon be pushing hard to be a big presence in both News only and Talk only stations to air their commercial messages. We believe that the next 18 months will be very profitable for News only, and well programmed News Talk stations – we want them to thrive and take advantage of what lies ahead, especially in these economic times. So in this sense, even though America’s Radio News Network was designed to compete as a free market competitor to NPR, which would also thrive on the FM band, it is turning out to be the perfect complement to free speech in a free marketplace, providing multiple options to station affiliates. ARNN’s day parts can be “cherry picked” and used within opinion Talk station line ups – there they can act as agenda free “News only cash flow” magnet zones – or if the entire 15 hours (including America’s Morning News) becomes the replacement for the programming of an underperforming News Talk or failing FM music station, act as a “revenue life raft” for stressed out GMs and GSMs in the worst economy in 80 years.
Amazingly, after only two years of testing “proof of concept” within our own companies for long-form syndicated News only programming, all News programming produced or coproduced through our companies is now on over 10% (172 stations – from LA to San Francisco to Dallas to Washington, D.C. and all points in between) of America’s spoken word radio stations, with the highest positive positive feedback and retention from PD’s that we have ever received to this day.
We are seeing multiple stations flip their entire format utilizing our 15 hours-a-day of long-form News and customizing it to their needs in extremely profitable ways en masse. ARNN is pure gold to our stations – PPM loves it, it is the top revenue format and hassle free. To listen live to ARNN, go to www.americas radionewsnetwork.com, and to listen live to America’s Morning News go to www. trncentral.com.
Mark Masters, CEO
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