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My FINAL blog.....again!

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My FINAL blog…..again


It was nearly a year ago that I swore off writing blogs.  Not that I ever wrote a lot of them mind you but last summer I knew I had to stop.  You see, I’m trying to run a business to provide services to various and sundry content creators and distributors.  It became painstakingly clear to me that if I continued to blog, or at least write blogs that included my OPINION on the myriad of subjects as they relate to media, in particular radio, I was going to piss off a lot of people. 


There was just no upside to blogging other than mental…exercise.  I’m just a small independent guy trying to eke out a living working with talent and a few media companies.  Not only can I not afford to annoy most of them but I really don’t want to anyway.  I thought I could jump on my trusty laptop, bang out a few paragraphs on what I thought about a particular issue in our business, three people would read it and all would be well in the western world.  Not so.  Thus, my logic for discontinuing my blog.  You’ll notice that the latest entry in Hobbs Blobs appearing just below this one is dated June of 2010. 


HOWEVER…it looks like I’m going to have to write one more last blog.  It seems a comment I made to another blogger or internet journalist has gone viral and caused a s**tstorm of sorts.  In all honesty it’s probably a healthy s**tstorm in that it has a lot of people in this business thinking and talking about how we might do something a little DIFFERENT.


So here’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  A few weeks ago a fellow named John Avlon called me and asked if he could interview me on trends in talk radio and get my opinion on talk show hosts like Michael Smerconish.  I said sure.  John writes for something called The Daily Beast.  I was only vaguely aware of that particular site.  I’m still not sure if it’s like a blog or a news site or what.  And I didn’t really know if it was a “left” site or a “right” site.  Didn’t really care as I will gladly opine for anyone that winds me up and gets me started on a particular subject…especially a subject about a business and industry that I absolutely love.  But that’s a blog for another day.


John Avlon was a very nice man and we had a very nice conversation.  A mere 60 seconds into the phone call I was able to determine that he had an agenda.  John was clearly coming at this story from a specific angle.  Michael Smerconish and any real trends would be sidebars and what he wanted to do was create a story which would somehow convince the masses that right-wing political talk radio was in serious trouble and declining rapidly.  Check out the headline for the story, which by the way has to be the longest headline in the history of the world. 


Ratings for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck

and other hyper-partisans are declining as listeners seek honest talk from hosts like Michael Smerconish over angry rants.

A more civil conversation will add value to our political debate.


I don’t have the exact ratings for any of those guys and I’m not sure John did either.  Shows go up and shows go down.  And we all know that PPM has caused a LOT of shows to register lower average quarter hour shares but higher cumes.  And of course there are even exceptions to that.  John left that out.  Maybe he didn’t know.  Maybe he did.  I DON’T CARE!  And yes, I think Michael Smerconish is very talented and smart and is really presenting a fresh and different style of talk radio and yes, there are Arbitron numbers in several significant markets that indicate it just may be working.  BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ARBITRON NUMBERS OF RUSH LIMBAUGH OR GLENN BECK.  And Mr. Avlon tries to make that connection in the headline before he even gets started.  The people that love Rush and Glen continue to love Rush and Glenn…and there are a LOT of them.  I suspect Michael’s growing audience is coming from other places. 


To John Avlon’s credit, he did email me before the article was published.  He sent me a copy of the quotes from me he intended to use and asked that I check them for accuracy.  I’m not sure that has EVER happened to me with anyone from the press other than maybe a few trade publications.  I didn’t change a thing by the way.  Of course I had no idea about context or what the rest of the article would say as he didn’t share that and I didn’t ask him to do so.  Here’s the quote….


It’s not that “the angry white guy conservative political talk format”—as consultant and former Clear Channel talk radio programming director Gabe Hobbs calls it—is over. It’s just got little room to grow, going forward.


“Rush has been around for 23 years. They’re not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are,” says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. “We’re singing to this choir, that’s great, they’re worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there’s a lot over here we could do.”


“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ '' adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.”


And I think I probably mentioned the new show, The Daily Wrap from the Wall Street Journal which is another new show hanging it’s hat on the smart, civil and entertaining approach.


So there it is again, reprinted above for your enjoyment.  And the problem is?  I love Rush, I love Glenn.  They have been doing great radio for a very long time and they continue to do great radio.  They made me look smart as a programmer and that ain’t easy.  To say they aren’t making many new ditto-heads these days is not an insult or a negative comment.  It simply means we’ve been doing this format for 15 to 20 years and perhaps we’re at the summit…the top.  That’s a GOOD thing…isn’t it?  If you have a HUGE audience and you lose some, don’t you still have a HUGE audience?  And there is the cyclical nature of our format and then there’s PPM. 


Well, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and my email box filled up quickly as this obscure quote on an obscure internet site went viral.  Even to the point where Michael Smerconish emailed me to say, “Hey dude, they were talking about you on MSNBC!”  Seriously?  I mean, really?  I’ve been saying this EXACT SAME THING for YEARS to anyone that would listen.  I’ve said in front of packed rooms at talk radio conventions.  I’ve said it to corporate suits.  I said it when I was the SVP of news/talk/sports programming at Clear Channel.  The reaction?  Usually apathy or indifference or and polite affirmative nod.  Then some guy puts in on The Daily Beast, it goes viral and I’m getting slammed with comments.  Go figure. 


Amazingly MOST of the comments have been extremely positive and encouraging.  But not all.  I heard from a few conservative talk show hosts and while it’s often hard to detect the correct emotion from emails I’m fairly certain some of them weren’t very happy.  That made me sick.  This is all about business for me and was sort of born out of consolidation believe it or not.  At Clear Channel we often had big clusters with as many as eight stations in them.  Usually the clusters had 5 FM’s and 3 AM’s.  OK, so we would generally put the big talk format on one AM.  That was the Beck/Rush/Hannity station (usually) and we would put sports on the second AM station and then on the third AM station I would put……uh….well….it would be…..uh….  Right.  Tough putt.   I needed some format options.  That was the genesis….self preservation and maximizing really expensive assets.  It just grew from there and I even began to see some research and kick this around with really smart people like Joel Lind – a perceptual research braniac who worked for Critical Mass Media.


So to further explain, let me just reprint a written response I sent to one of the hosts that wasn’t very happy with me this week.  I’m sitting in a middle seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Tampa right now, my ass is numb and I’m tired of typing so please allow me to just plagiarize myself for expediency and to take a break.  I’ll be back in a minute…


Hey _____….


That’s one of the things that makes you a truly great host…..passion!!


Yes, I think it’s safe to assume the writer of this article was on a mission. He kept trying to get me to say conservative talk radio is dead or dying or on the decline. Of course I wouldn’t bite because that’s simply not true. As I told him and gladly tell anyone – the conservative political talk format is alive and well and thriving in every single radio market in America. If I could own that position in any market I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s the low hanging fruit. We’ve been doing that format for so long that for the most part we know how many listeners you can attract, we know where they are, we know who they are and we know how to market to them.


Thus my point of we’ve now sort of defined that universe. That’s not a negative but anytime you spend the amount of time, money and energy as we have to properly execute a format you are bound to grow to understand the available audience. It would be sad if we didn’t actually. My argument is only that why is EVERYONE doing that format? It’s like everyone on FM playing only rock music or country music. If WFLA in Tampa has Beck, Rush, Schnitt, Hannity & Levin what in the hell am I going to program on my station to attract an audience large enough that allows me to make money? I’m certainly not going to “out-conservative” WFLA!! I certainly can’t begin to identify talent that will compete with a lineup like this in the conservative political talk format! And even more mind boggling is when the THIRD OR FOURTH GUY DOES THIS IN A MARKET!!!


Take Boston for instance. Is it fair to say that Boston isn’t exactly the stronghold of conservative political thinking? (Not sure that makes a difference when you look at the ratings points and not the market share.) So why does this market have three conservative political talkers? And Clear Channel was the third guy to jump in the pool. I mean really? And I am by no means suggesting one of them do “progressive” talk. Not a format in any manifestation we’ve seen thus far. But there are a lot of varieties of spoken word one can execute to attract an audience, in my humble opinion, besides conservative talk or liberal/progressive talk. We know news and sports are two of them. Why isn’t WRKO doing the WGN format? The bigger than life, arms around the community, all about Boston, heritage station format. Why isn’t WTKK-FM taking advantage of access to younger demographics on FM with a more entertainment based approach that relies on politics only when politics is truly topic “A” TODAY? Instead, three great radio stations with excellent signals are fighting over four share points while WBUR-FM is kicking their asses with a share level that’s nearly the sum total of all three of those guys!! Helllooooooooo!


And listen….NPR ain’t my cup of tea. I don’t need 15 minutes on the latest coup in Rwanda thank you. But they have HUGE numbers in a lot of markets. And it’s not because liberals love it. We now know that. And I believe most of their listeners are “settlers.”  That is, the NPR station isn’t what they would necessarily choose but it’s the best thing available based on what they like. So they are merely settling for NPR until something better comes along. I think that’s where the “smart and civil” thing may have a chance.  And of course NPR is always on FM.


(How about) A format where you aren’t required to subscribe to a very specific political ideology top to bottom? A format where people have conversations, clarify their differences and identify commonalities. A format where, like my neighbors, when an issue arises they look at it and don’t go….”hang on, let me check the conservative or liberal doctrine to find out if we support this.” Instead they think….helps me/hurts me, keeps my family safe/doesn’t keep my family safe, makes me more money/makes me less money, is moral/is immoral, blah blah balh. A format where you can actually be vehemently opposed to both capital punishment AND abortion without being told you are confused because one is a liberal position and the other is a conservative position. A format where people of different temperaments, talents and convictions host programs and participate as listeners and callers. A format where tomorrow we might talk about the best restaurant in town or whether or not we should build that publicly funded stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays OR is Rick Scott crazy or is he the best governor we’ve seen in decades?


OK, now I’m ranting, pontificating and otherwise annoying you and I apologize. My point is the only spoken word format in the talk genre outside of sports isn’t angry white guy conservative politics. And I do write that with a smile on my face and my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. I mean no disrespect. You are a master at your craft and have been richly rewarded with a huge following and rightly so. And I wish you nothing but continued success. For me…it ain’t about the politics……it’s bidniz. Be well my friend. 




OK, I’m back.


It really is about the business you know…and the show.  Remember?....it’s show business!  And that’s all I’m doing here.  I’m trying to figure out ways to create NEW radio stations and formats that can carve out a niche of their own and not try to merely imitate an entrenched leader.


So now this thing has been quoted and re-quoted and tweeted and cussed and discussed.  And it’s gone from everything I’ve tried to painstakingly outline above to Gabe Hobbs says conservative talk is dead or it sucks.  He loves progressive.  He’s a commie.  He’s a traitor.  Please.  Really?


Even my good friend Al Peterson put at least one new word in my mouth that I absolutely did not utter and now even THAT word has been picked up by others and attributed to me.  And that word is the ever-dreaded “moderate.”  I’m sure Al did it for expediency as it fit nicely into his headline as opposed to the five pages I’ve written here to explain myself.  The headline read, “Gabe Hobbs Sees Future for Moderate Talkers.”  Actually, I don’t.  My manifesto above says nothing about being moderate.  After gently complaining to Al he responded with, and while I know we all tend to want to eschew labels, the fact is that a conservative is a conservative, a liberal is a liberal, and the guy in the middle will always be the moderate and if I recall correctly Rush's hilarious take on that position is that "the only thing you get by going down the middle of the road is run over"  :)


I don’t like the label moderate.  Or progressive.  Moderate implies boring, bad radio, wishy-washy, can’t take a stand on an issue.  Moderators are what you find on PBS talk shows.  Hosts still have to render compelling opinions and be passionate about their positions.  They should NOT be down the middle.  Perhaps there might be an issue that comes along once in awhile where they haven’t yet made up their mind or heaven forbid – change their opinion for a reason.  And as Jim Rome says, “have a take and don’t suck.”  Can it be loud and angry at times?  Of course, but in the formats I have in my head those are the “Oh wow” moments and are the exceptional moments of a show that cause you to turn your head.  Otherwise, they just become more noise that loses its impact. 


And as far as this business about people labeling me this and that….the fact is, almost no one knows what my real politics are.  I make it a point not to discuss that with anyone.  The truth is any hard core political discussion will cause my eyes to roll back in my head and then glaze over.  I’m somewhat apolitical.  Some hosts I’ve worked with want to know that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid.  That’s not my job.  People shouldn’t hire me to drink their Kool-Aid.  Hire a cheerleader if that’s what you want.  People hire me to help them improve, become more successful, solve a problem, create something new and make more money.  You should never hire someone that is highly subjective toward your material.  You WANT people that can be OBJECTIVE.  I take great pride in that and go to great measures to remain that way.  Very often I really don’t give a bleep WHAT you say.  I’m focused on HOW you say it, how your are packaging it, how you are imaging it, etc.


So in summary, never forget that it is NOT about politics or ideology and politics is NOT the only form of spoken word radio that people will listen to if done well.  It’s show business.  It’s the perfect marriage of art and business.  Neither side of the equation can take control or the artist will be doomed to failure. 


And as Walter Sabo always says….it’s only radio.