Sunday, December 28, 2014

What the Beer and Radio Industries Portend to Talk Radio

While driving the crotch rocket from Buffalo, Wyoming to Phoenix, Arizona and back, I decided to go down one side of the Rockies and up the other on the return trip.  However, it was without fail that as I would enter a small Colorado town the gas station attendant or hotel concierge would inform me, immediately, about the new "brew pub" that had just opened and how I had to check it out.  Not being a fan of beer, I usually eschewed these pubs, but the sheer number of them compelled me to think about them from an economics standpoint, especially whilst navigating the various mountain passes and switchbacks.

My original thought was stained by my previous experience in banking where desperate middle aged men would mortgage their house, close out their 401k, and then approach us for more money to finance their mid-life-crisis bar.  And so I thought this was just the latest incarnation where a new generation of dude-bros would start a brew pub and within a year file for bankruptcy.

It didn't happen.

Matter of fact, quite the opposite has happened.  Not only have thousands of micro-brew pubs opened up, but they make better, higher quality beer than the swill being mass-produced by Busch, Budweiser, Miller, etc.  Add to that fact they usually attach a bar to their brewing operations and an element of community and "walking to the neighborhood pub" ensues, and paying the extra $1 for a pint of special brew makes it impossible for the large producers to compete.

However, it is not only the beer industry that this "specialization" is happening.  Enter in our beloved internet.  Specifically radio.

It is no secret that I have a general disdain for the radio industry.  It is a cutthroat industry I "fell into," but was naive about.  Ergo, thinking it may had been my calling, I made changes in my life and career to pursue it, only to have the format of my station change to (my favorite) "sports talk radio" 5 months into my gig.

However, like publishing or the music industry, the radio industry and the elitists that controlled it are getting spanked, primarily through podcasts.  Radio stations are EXPENSIVE things to maintain.  Not only do you have radio towers and insane electric bills, but you have sales staff, HR, lawyers, producers, secretaries, etc.  And the free market being what it is, owners are driven to streamline their operations, cutting expenses as much as possible.  This resulted in a phenomenon similar to "Big Beer" - a mass produced product that is sold nationally.  However, instead of a can of "Bud Light" or "Budweiser," radio stations nationally syndicated Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved.

Unfortunately, for both radio stations and listeners, this meant (like beer) talk radio hosts had to play to the largest common denominator.  This meant bland, not-to-risque, polite talk shows.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it did take away the Mischke's, Savages, and other eccentric talk show hosts that had smaller, but much loyal followings.

However, some ironic and incredible timing occurred.  While radio stations were laying off local talent in the drive for leveraging national syndication, the cost of bandwidth and storage on the internet was plummeting.  And it was no longer text or nudie pics of your girlfriend that could be sent over teh interwebz, but audio and video.  Early adapters capitalized on this.  Chris Krok (a fellow radio show host who enjoyed an equally brief radio career in Minneapolis) I remember getting canceled in 2006.  He said he was going to work on some "Blogtalk" project, of which I more or less dismissed, borderline scoffed.  However, a couple years later, the feasibility and (thus) threat podcasts presented to talk radio became apparent.  And it's the exact same threats that specialized brews present to "big beer."

Today, I rarely listen to Rush Limbaugh, and maybe tune into Garage Logic.  Four years ago I would easily spend 3 hours a day listening, now, not more than 5 minutes.  The reason is that I can download podcasts, listen to them at ANYTIME, AND (this is the real threat)


Yes, Sean Hannity, I got it - "Republicans Good.  Democrats Bad!"

But have you ever done a deep analysis on Tribalism and its intellectual ramifications like Stefan Molyneux?

Yes, Joe Soucheray, I got it.  What is the mystery?  Who are the mysterians?

But the mystery was solved nearly 6 years ago by a vlogger/podcaster.

And yes, Michael Medved, got it.  "Losertarians."  Ho ho ho.  That's funny.

You'll forgive me while I listen to women explore and pioneer a completely different and new world called the Manosphere.  Slightly more intellectual stimulation.

The truth is that talk radio was already dying without the internet.  And I mean that literally - the hosts are old and are going to be looking at death in the face in 20 years. Rush Limbaugh is over 60, Dennis Prager in his 50's, and Joe Soucheray is pushing 80 (just kidding).  But who is being groomed to replace them?

The answer is nobody.

Which is fine.  Like most industries in America today, the youth have found it easier to go their own way, using the internet to pursue success, instead of asking for permission through their aged and obsoleted bosses.  And while there may not be another manufactured "block buster star" like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, there will be hundreds of much smaller, but infinitely more interesting and specialized "micro-talk-show-celebrities."  And thank god, because micro-brewed beer is an infinitely better product than Miller.

This post was inspired by Tom Leykis who is hands down THE Podcast Pioneer.  Please consider visiting his show.


sth_txs said...

I zero respect for 'conservative' talk radio; another brand of statist with contempt for freedom, low taxes, and less government despite the rhetoric. Note that not a one of them, Limbaugh, Hannity, Medved, or any other endorsed Ron Paul for president. I guess they would lose money if they can't keep the gig going.

Anonymous said...

Up in Canada, small breweries became very popular about 20 years ago, and some brewpubs still survive. Others morphed into restaurants, and others still, Sleeman's to mention one, became fairly good-sized breweries.

Few of the others failed outright. Rather, they were driven out of business by regulation fostered by the major beer companies.

grey enlightenment said...

I don't think Clarey is a libertarian though . He believes in the pursuit of truth and data, regardless of the party it comes from

Robert What? said...

I tend to agree with you - however people have been predicting the demise of Talk Radio for decades, and it never seems to quite go away.

However, I don't think Millenials listen to radio at all, never mind Talk Radio.

There is one thing that TR has that podcasts will never have: the immediacy and the knowledge that thousands - even millions - are listening at the same time. Whether that is enough to reach a younger, more technically saavy audience remains to be seen.

Survivorman said...


No disrespect; but you don't DRIVE a motorcycle - you RIDE it.

Anonymous said...

The Adam Carolla interview with Lt. Gov. of California Gavin Newsom is right up your alley.

Anonymous said...

Conservative Talk Radio served a good purpose in the 90s and 2000s, but now it seems like it is just more schtick oriented. And as much as I enjoyed listening to Rush back in the day, his show started losing its edge once some Talk Radio stations started branding themselves as "Rush Radio."

Anonymous said...

I like listening to Alex Jones

Glen Filthie said...

This is just me talking...but microbrewed beer isn't much better than the swill-producers. Anytime you pasteurize the brew, you not only kill the microbes - but you lose the character of the beer. The best beer is brewed right at home - by WOMEN if you are living right. Back in the old days a man measured his woman's skills by her ability to cook clean AND brew. A woman needs to be able to do at least two of those things to be taken seriously boys - consider yourselves schooled!

As for podcasts - I don't like them myself, Aaron. Oh sure, I watch your odd Youtubers and such, but I personally prefer to read. I can read your stuff at work in between calls and chores, whereas if the volume goes up all the ears in the office tune in. At home...I prefer to read there too. I don't want my wife to hear the cast because then she will feel that she has to open her yap and regale me with HER opinion. I can turn you off with a click of the mouse - but the old lady takes nothing short of a tire iron when her gums wind up to 100 MPH. For some reason when it comes to politics - if she sees me reading it or listening to it...she assumes I agree with it and then I get scolded just for reading/hearing the wrong stuff at the wrong time.

Whatever you do - I hope you make a million $$$$ Aaron. I don't listen to radio either, or read the opinions of self important twats that won't allow reader/listener comments. I like the blogs, they are good enough for me.

Karl said...

I remember your post predicting the demise of the neighborhood micro-brew. I agreed with you then, and am as shocked at the current state as you.

The union mass-brew companies are getting hammered.

Another American re-invention in the works.

Anonymous said...

Our local "morning zoo" type radio show had a large cast, and two of the members, who felt they were being creatively stifled, didn't renew their contracts, left the show, and started their own podcsst.

The podcast turned out to be pretty successful on ITunes, and eventually they were able to sell advertising. This eventually, lead to an offer from their former radio employer to do a once a week show (a cleaned up version of their podcast) back on terrestrial radio.

So that was kind of a unique business model. Radio to podcast to radio again.

srhcb said...

I would rather read than listen.

Plus, both "blog" and "podcast" are dumb words.

Peregrine John said...

What srhcb said. It is simply not possible to absorb information by ear more than a small fraction of my reading speed, and the retention isn't any better, either. Audible learners instead of visual will do better with audible stuff, of course, but one 60-min. podcast (seriously, a dumb iWord) with 30 min. of "um," "er," pauses, and "heh heh good joke bro" just wastes time. Give me a well-crafted, tight show and it's got a chance.

average podcast = watery macrobrew
good podcast = craft beer
pretty decent blog = nice whiskey

I'm a Scotch man, so I would see it like this, anyway.

Speaking of which, there are a few microbreweries within maybe 7 miles of my house, none of which have a "brewpub" attached but all of which sell pints from the brewery as well as shipping it to local establishments. One was started by a Yale-educated engineer who got bored. People who don't even like beer like his stuff. You ride to the areas east of L.A., I'll hook you up.