How Radio Saved the Video Star

Cable networks are turning on the radio to find compelling, live talk shows they can simulcast on TV.

From ESPN’s simulcast of its radio outlet’s popular Mike & Mike morning sports talk show to Revolt TV’s airing of Clear Channel’s syndicated pop culture morning show The Breakfast Club, cable networks are scheduling extensive programming blocks featuring talking heads discussing the hot topics of the day.

Executives say the shows, while not always visually compelling, provide viewers with inexpensive, live programming that often delivers relevant content through breaking news and analysis.

“It’ll never be as pleasing as watching a World Cup match, but depending on the topics you’re talking about and the visual graphics you add, it can be visually compelling,” said Mo Davenport, senior vice president of ESPN Audio. “There’s a natural melding of compelling [radio] personalities and topical information that can also work on television platforms.”

Indeed, cable networks including Fox Business Network (The Imus Show), The Blaze (The Glenn Beck Radio Program) and Fox Sports 1 (The Mike Francesa Show) are devoting one to five hours of their broadcast day to airing shows that can be just as easily heard on traditional radio.

The Sportsman Channel runs Cam & Co., a daily one-hour news-talk show featuring indepth interviews with “NRA leaders, newsmakers, politicos, journalists and congressional leaders,” billing it as “outdoor TV’s only live daily talk show.”

YES Network CEO Tracy Dolgin said the network’s simulcast of ESPN’s daily afternoon program The Michael Kay Show not only provides live fare for the network, but also serves as an inexpensive marketing vehicle to promote its original content. Kay is one of the main voices of YES’ New York Yankees telecasts.

“For a small fraction of what it would cost you to put on your own [TV] show, for a few hours during the day you can have that [radio simulcast] on the air,” he said. “The Yankees during the summer, as well as the [Brooklyn] Nets [basketball telecasts] during the winter period are such a huge part of what they talk about on the show that it allows us to promote our telecasts both on air and on the radio.”

For media conglomerates such as Radio One, which owns 69 radio stations, as well as the TV One cable network, the simulcast of its News One Now morning news/public affairs show on its radio and TV outlets gives the company an opportunity to reach its target African-American audience across multiple platforms.

“It’s really about expanding your footprint because it’s not just enough to be in one place,” said D’Angela Proctor, senior vice president of programming and production for TV One, which simulcasts the last hour of the threehour daily News One Now radio show. “It’s really content everywhere for us.”

Added ESPN’s Davenport: “The more times that you can get multiple distribution for content that’s living in various places, it becomes extraordinarily cost-effective. It’s hard to be great across various platforms, but that’s what we strive for — to serve the sports fan wherever and however they want the sports content.”

The live nature of simulcasts also provides networks with a pseudo news outlet that often breaks news for it viewers. Proctor said News One Now broke the news last month while on air of noted poet Maya Angelou’s death. “We were able to pivot our show to talk about her,” she said. “News One Now gives us what amounts to a social platform on a daily basis.”

For ESPN, the 6 a.m. simulcast of ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike talk show is the network’s first live opportunity to discuss breaking news in the sports world. When there’s no breaking news, the show’s interviews with athletes and other sports figures often dictate what the day’s headlines will be.

“It’s a great forum for news to either be made or for news to be covered,” Davenport said.

Added YES’ Dolgin: “[The simulcast talk shows] are talking about the news that people care about as it’s happening five days a week. It substitutes for having our own news organization, which is incredibly expensive and doesn’t pay off.”

When there isn’t breaking news, making compelling television out of what is essentially people speaking into a microphone can be difficult. Val Boreland, executive vice president of programming, production and strategy for Revolt TV, which this past March began simulcasting Clear Channel’s syndicated morning show The Breakfast Club, said she was initially skeptical about whether viewers would find interest in a three-hour block of what amounts to three people speaking into a microphone.

But she said the camaraderie and energy between the hosts — DJ Envy, Angela Lee and Charlamagne — and the pop culture/hip-hop topics they discuss have made appealing programming for its target millennial audience.

“They’ve done such a great job at putting on programming that’s watchable, and people are watching,” Boreland said, although she could not give specific ratings figures since Revolt is not measured by Nielsen. “People actually call into the radio station and say, ‘We watch you on Revolt.’ … We’ve really made what one would think is boring quite interesting.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.