Exclusive Interview with Michael Harrison, Founder of Talkers Magazine, Part 1

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Referred to as “The Bible of Talk Radio” by Business Week Magazine.

Ok… as you probably know, I’m a big vocal supporter of talk radio, not only for its entertainment and educational value, but, also because of its value for promoting books, products and services.  One person in particular who shares my viewpoint is the founder of Talkers Magazine, Michael Harrison.  And let me tell you, when it comes to someone who has their finger firmly on the pulse of talk radio…this is the man!

A maverick in the world of radio broadcasting, in addition to being a weathered trade journalist, Michael has been at the center of many of the most exciting radio revolutions of the past 30+ years.  His magazine, Talkers is the leading trade publication serving the talk radio industry in America.  And most recently the publication has expanded to serve the cutting edge of the “New Talk Media” which includes talk on the Internet and satellite radio as well as cable television.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Michael and interview him about talk radio.  I wanted to learn more about his views and experience to share with my clients and with those of you who are considering this medium as a marketing strategy for your business.

I had an enjoyable time listening and learning from Michael, and I hope you will too. Please click here to read Part 2 of this interview.

Marsha Friedman: Do you believe stations will eventually phase out guest interviews in favor of caller-driven shows?

Michael Harrison: No, I think the opposite: guest driven shows will be bigger than caller driven shows.  Caller shows are already past their prime in terms of it being a novelty that people can call in.  You know, in the early 90s we had this whole idea that talk radio was the electronic town hall of the nation; the people’s forum and their voice.  There was something refreshing about that.  But, in an era of everybody having their own website, their own blog, their Facebook and MySpace page, it’s no big deal anymore.

From our research, I find most people want to hear an interesting guest who is bringing new information to the table, rather than hearing what Joe in Brooklyn has to say about the same thing that Mary in Queens just commented on.

We’re going to see the guest format come back, but when it returns the guest will need to be a “new kind of guest”: one that is really schooled in the art of being a guest.  The guest will need to be competitive with his or her subject and eloquent in their presentation because the competition for guests is going to get increasingly intense.  Basically, if you aren’t good…you won’t get on.

Marsha: You mentioned the importance of being “schooled” at the art of being a guest and I honestly couldn’t agree with you more.  But, in your expert opinion, why do you feel it’s so vital for talk radio guests to be trained before they are interviewed on the air?

Michael Harrison: When considering that we live in a sound bite society and suffer from a national epidemic of attention deficit disorder, you really have to know how to get your point across as quickly as possible, without any extraneous embellishment.  And there is a tremendous art to that.  Those who are able to master this art will be more effective in the 21st Century than those that don’t.

I know this is true because I do interviews on radio and TV as well with newspaper journalists all the time.  One of the reasons they tend to use me a lot is because I’m able to answer their questions in one or two sentences when the camera is on or the microphone is open.

It’s important to train people in how to use the exposure that talk radio provides.  First off, it’s your one shot on air to sell a book or product – so you have to be good.  Secondly, the benefits of being a quality guest could make you into a “go-to person.”

With this status you could be asked to come back to that same station three, four, five times in the next 6 months even after you’re not selling your book anymore.

So you’re not only effectively selling your product, you’re selling yourself as a go-to guy to be added to their Rolodex.  And being in the Rolodex of talk radio producers is the way to get the most benefit from having a good performance.

Marsha: Michael, what would you tell someone who is new to talk radio about the value it has in promoting a book, product or service?

Michael Harrison: Being a guest in the media, a talking head is a wonderful, wonderful way to get your message across. But it’s got to be timely.  It’s got to be something that people want to hear about.  It’s got to relate to the issues of the day, to the news of the minute.

I think that any organization which has an agenda they want to promote, a product they want to sell, an idea that they want to get across, or a profile they want to raise – they have to have talk radio and its cousins, meaning internet radio and cable news TV, in the mix.

It allows them to become part of the talk universe that the active consumer today is so plugged into.

Marsha:  Speaking of active consumers, you do a research project every year about the demographics of the talk radio audience.  What are your findings on the quality of the talk radio listening audience?

Michael Harrison: We have a feature on our website called the Talk Radio Research Project, and once a year we update it in terms of the breakdown of the audience, qualitatively.  I strongly advise people to take a look at it because it’s highly detailed and there’s a lot of interesting statistics that we’ve uncovered over the years.

But, for the most part, I believe that talk radio audiences are the most active consumers of all things.  They are the most likely people to have voted in the last election and to vote in the next election.  They’re the most likely people to go and buy a book.  They’re the most likely people to go out and even buy a record.  They’re the most likely people to go see a movie.  And, they’re the most likely people to buy products.

They listen to commercials more than people who listen to music radio.  This has been borne out by research.  The talk radio audience when compared to other mass media audiences are more likely to have been in college longer.  They’re more affluent.  They’re more educated.  They’re the people you want to reach as they’re one of the best upper demographics.

So if you want to reach people 35+, you can’t go any place better than talk radio, either as an advertiser, or as a medium to promote your product.  This is a very desirable market for any business.

Marsha: That’s so true.  Finally Michael, in your opinion, does the number of listeners really have a direct impact on the amount of sales opportunities an interview can generate?

Michael Harrison: First off, it’s almost impossible to rate radio stations.  So if anybody wants to know how many people are listening, they are going to be told a distortion or inaccuracy.  The answer is nobody knows.

If you are new to the talk radio game, don’t get hung up on how many people are listening.  If you have 10 listeners and all 10 buy your book or products that day, you’ve done a good job.  Just go out there and do it!

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What sage advice!  As someone who has been involved in marketing and PR for too many years to mention here – I have to tell you that I love this medium.  Why?  As Michael said so clearly, its listeners are a quality demographic.  And, it’s a perfect fit for a wide range of consumer and business topics, because of its very nature.  In addition to general interest shows, you have a variety of specialized shows ranging from politics, finance, business, health, fitness and food – with a great many of these shows looking for expert guests!

For these reasons, a talk radio campaign, with all the right elements in place, should be one of the most important items in your marketing strategy.

Please click here to read Part 2 of this interview.

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