Monday, January 11, 2021

The State of Talk Radio 2021

 by Jim Watkins, Affiliate Relations Manager at Salem Radio Network

Every year about this time I do a self-check on the state of the Talk Radio format. 

I ask myself the following: what impact will Talk Radio have with listeners this year? Will there be more people listening or less? How will the COVID 19 pandemic continue to affect local business hard-hit by retail lockdowns, which, in turn, has slowed local ad dollars? Is there burnout expected, or continued engagement?

Even in our darkest hour of recent memory, 9/11, such a horrible time blighted America. We were on edge, we didn’t know how safe we were and our lives changed. But things did get better. And 9/11 showed us that people become more engaged when they see danger, not less. There is certainly a sense of foreboding danger in the present, even political uncertainty. We also can’t forget that, because of Covid, people are more isolated than before, so that comforting voice, that real-time conversation is vital for many people who need to feel connected and reassured. Radio does this better than any medium and always has.

Talk Radio, a mostly conservative medium, is the only major national medium that does provide entertainment and information to a majority of conservative and politically interested listeners. We also know that at least 80 million people of them voted for Republican, and most of them are probably listening to your Talk station. 

Will they continue to support the format? and if they do, how do you convert that loyalty into ad revenue? Will Madison Avenue finally reverse its course and embrace Talk Radio, or will it continue to distance itself (and its media buyers) from your P1’s for ideological reasons? After all, talk radio listeners eat, drink and buy things too. 

From where I sit, Talk Radio is evolving and will be even more important to its base of P1’s in the coming several years for a number of reasons.


First, most are confident we will get a handle on the virus and we will get back to normal sooner than later, and in the meantime, news and information in real time guarantees continued high listenership. The economy will come back, as cycles of history show, which guarantees marketing and promotional dollars will increase. Radio is a great way to let people know your business is open. 

From a political perspective the conservative movement is now firmly galvanized; they will continue to be engaged, and since most other media tends to lean Left, this only provides more refuge for those 80,000,000 Americans who support the format. 

We also know that, just as it was during the Obama years, there will continue be racial and gender conflicts as well as other social issues driving the news cycle. With social unrest here at home, and as China and other despotic countries assert themselves, there will be much to watch and plenty to talk about to be sure.

So the News cycle will continue to spin in a furious manner. All of which makes for compelling Talk Radio and keeps the audience coming back for more.

If I was a betting man, I would bet that Talk Radio stations will have a good year in 2021 both in strong listenership and more robust advertising as the economy gets back on track in a post-covid world, and we can expect an even better year in 2022 as we (I hate to say it too soon) head into the next election, now less than two years away.

I can help you navigate through all of this and provide solutions if you are considering a format change to Spoken Word, and I have great confidence good times are ahead.

I’ll give it an 8+ confidence vote that Talk Radio will continue to be the dominant radio format in 2021. What do you think?

(Editor's note: To get in touch with Jim, click on the name/link above.  This article first appeared in LinkedIn and was reposted with permission)

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