Geezer Alert!

Secrets of talk radio revealed

Just in case you thought there's no method to talk radio's madness, here's the sermon straight from a high priest of the airwaves. Cater to a testosterone-heavy crowd under 54, ask unfair and biased questions, adopt the concerns of cornpone radio commentator Paul Harvey as your worldview, and never let the sounds of Father Time break your air.

A tipster at KPRC Supertalk 950 forwarded the Talk Radio Primer, a list of the genre's dos and don'ts. Gabe Hobbs, an in-house consultant with station owner Clear Channel Communications, wrote the primer explicitly for KPRC and its stable of conservative yakkers.

Hobbs's most pungent passage describes "old callers" as the biggest problem he hears. "Under no circumstances should you allow anyone on the radio station that doesn't sound like they are in the target demo. I'm speaking about the high side here. If they are under, then fine."

Who is the target demographic? "My money is always on men 35-54," explains Hobbs. "A bulls eye target of a 44-year-old male. Drives a nice car, works in a brokerage house or sells insurance."

And women don't count, according to the executive. "Female demographics just don't seem (generally) to have the same vulnerabilities to the news/talk format as males."

Hobbs expresses sympathy for those reluctant to tank older callers, especially when there's no one else to put on the air. "Hosts sometimes feel desperate for callsŠ any calls," Hobbs notes, before issuing a tough-love dictum. "Too bad, don't take bad callsŠ be prepared to monologue when there are no appropriate callers."

To get rid of those persistent moldy oldie callers, Hobbs says, be less than truthful. "You never have to be rude or short. My favorite is to simply tell them that all the lines to the studio are full right now, can you try again tomorrow. Callers don't get the fact they are already on the studio line."

Talk radio callers apparently aren't all that smart, in Hobbs's estimation, so he tells KPRC to dumb it down. "Don't be too smart for the room," he suggests. "No one likes to be talked down to."

Don't even play old people's music -- anything that was au courant prior to Woodstock.

"If you are using 'Rebel Rouser' by Duane Eddy as your theme song thinking it's a pretty cool rock-and-roll record, then you're locked in a time warp," admonishes Hobbs, making an example of KPRC host Jon Matthews's theme music. "People who were in their twenties when this song was a hit are now in their sixties and maybe even pushing 70! Sobering thought for some."

On interaction between guests and callers, Hobbs advises hosts to "ask questions that are inherently unfair." "An unbiased and fair view of the world," he suggests, "is boring, uninteresting, and uninspiring. Leave fairness and balance to the newsroom." In KPRC's case, they don't have one anymore.

As for important topics? The greater good? Making the world better? "Wrong," he declares. "In show business, in entertainment radio (talk radio) these are not the questions and issues."

Questions and issues, Hobbs explains, are anything the ideal middle-aged male is talking about at the office water cooler or the coffee bar or in trying to impress peers or the opposite sex. "You are resonating every day, every hour, every minute with that 44-year-old male in the target demographicŠ right? Excellent."

Asked whether KPRC is obeying Hobbs and tanking old callers, general manager and program director Dan Patrick characterizes the primer as "rules of the road" that hosts are free to follow or ignore. He says any casual KPRC listener hears plenty of callers 65 and older.

"We have great fun with them," says Patrick, "and I would say they probably make up about 15 percent of our callers, so obviously we don't follow that rule of the road." He estimates that 25 percent of the station's listeners are seniors, "so it would be rather foolish on our part not to have them as part of our audience."

Of course, "if someone sounds like they are 120 years old," allows Patrick, momentarily mimicking a voice that sounds like the host on Tales from the Crypt, "they probably won't get on the air."

Patrick argues that Hobbs isn't discriminating against older callers. "I think what it clearly says is, 'Don't let anyone in who sounds out of the loop,' " he explains. That interpretation stretches the primer's specific ban on "old callers."

The station manager also points out that the primer advises staying away from politics, a bread-and-butter subject for KPRC hosts such as Matthews and Mike Richards. "So that's something we're obviously not following."

So is the station owner's consultant all wet?

"You're so clever," Patrick replies with a laugh. "In fact, I think he's very good. We agree with probably 80 percent of what was in there."

First 44-year-old male caller who figures out which 80 percent wins the prize.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim.fleck@houstonpress.com.

 
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