Monday, August 06, 2007

GreenStone Media is a goner

Well, it wasn't a bad idea on paper. A distinct, new format geared toward a demographic that advertisers drool over. But in reality, trying to get a new radio format off the ground is a pretty tough proposition. Sound familiar?

The founders of GreenStone Media, which include the likes of Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, positioned it as lifestyle talk geared toward women, a highly sought-after advertiser demographic. No heavy political talk. Nothing controversial. Just breezy chick chat. One station in Minneapolis/St. Paul, WFMP, had been doing something like this since 2002, and even succeeded in finding sponsors, albeit with mediocre yet steady ratings (sales always trump ratings, BTW). So, they figured, how 'bout a whole network of this stuff?

As I said, it sounded good on paper.

Unfortunately, reality got in the way of the whole thing, and now, after nearly two years of providing talk programming, GreenStone Media is shutting its doors, effective August 17.

“This is a longer and more expensive process than an independent programming company can shoulder in today’s turbulent marketplace,” said Susan Ness, president and CEO of Greenstone Media and a former FCC Commissioner. “We’ve found growing interest in the radio marketplace
and on other platforms, but we can’t responsibly predict success in a future near enough to match our investors’ resources.”

The company, which produces and distributes 48 hours of programming weekly, also offers a webstream and provides podcasts. They're hoping for a white knight (Fabio?) to arrive with a generous cash infusion or partnership offer. Otherwise, Greenstone will be gonestone.

So, what killed the network? After all, female-targeted programming is one of the most wished-for offerings by advertisers, so it made sense to move beyond the typical 'Lite FM' and 'Mix' stuff found on many local radio dials. WLTW in New York, for example, is often cited as the most profitable station in the country, with its adult contemporary format targeting... you guessed it, women. And female-oriented talk is something unique, and can even be utilized by the many, many withering AM signals across the land.

But the sluggish corporate radio industry wouldn't bite. Currently, GreenStone has all of eight affiliates, mostly in small markets. One of them had just recently been an Air America affiliate. There just weren't many takers, though many of those stations had fewer qualms about being the #3 sports or conservotalk station in the market. Simply put, they just don't know what to do with it, from an ad sales perspective. So far, only two female talk stations, the aforementioned WFMP and WLNK in Charlotte (which also mixes some adult contemporary music into the format) have actually figured out how to sell the format to advertisers, though it should be pointed out that both are on the FM dial. More on that later.

Historically, radio has long been an industry run by people afraid of being bold and different. Sports radio debuted on WFAN in New York in 1987, yet it took well over a decade before it became the dominant AM format that it is today. Most other radio formats, whether it be rock, talk, all-news, hip-hop, or smooth jazz, took the same long, sluggish route. And do I even need to mention progressive talk here?

As the radio industry boasts about making an effort to be creative and unique, they still shovel the same crapola. AM radio these days seems to mostly be some form of syndicated sports or conservotalk programming. Why? Radio people have a fear of the unknown. And they're definitely afraid of anything they don't know how to sell ad time on. Coming soon, I'll be writing about this very topic (as I have promised a few people an article about radio ratings that I have yet to put together).

Another hurdle that hurt the network was the AM radio stigma. Let's face it, GreenStone's target market is one that long ago abandoned the medium wave spectrum. And FM stations are more inclined to plug in music formats, relegating talk to the AM dial. Chick chat was not going to be enough to bring them back to the AM spectrum. For the past two decades or so, via sports and conservative talk, AM has become male-dominated turf. Most women barely acknowledge the existence of the AM dial, and for good reason. At least a format like progressive talk has actually been able to draw listeners to the vast wasteland of AM radio (as the format has proved that they could revitalized once forgotten signals). But female talk on AM didn't prove compelling enough to draw listeners there. Small 1000 watt AM signals have had much better luck in recent years with niche formats such as gospel music and foreign language programming.

New media seems to be the most accommodating for newer formats such as estrogen-fueled talk. Satellite services such as XM and Sirius recruited Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart respectively to program talk channels geared toward women.

But the big reason here, as experienced with the whole Air America Radio thing, is that it's a tough sell to be an upstart full-service radio network treading unproven ground. It's outrageously expensive, and finding takers in the way of affiliates, advertisers and most importantly listeners is a challenging task. But at least GreenStone Media tried.


Corie said...

Or maybe its because women are not all that interested in "chick chat" with no substance. The Satellite Sisters are another example. As a woman who is very interested in politics, these shows set my teeth on edge. Its like saying that men are only interested in talking about sports.

raccoonradio said...

Some female talk hosts have done fairly well tackling politics--on both sides of the spectrum. Laura Ingraham, Steph Miller,Tammy Bruce,
Randi Rhodes etc

Now, I guess Dr Laura would be considered lifestyle rather than political. She's #4 in the TALKERS
heavy 100. Ingraham #7, Rhodes #13,
Miller #36, Sat. Sisters #47

Michael said...

A female talk show host is not the same fem talk radio. Satellite Sisters target female listeners. Stephanie Miller and Laura Ingraham do not; they do political talk.
In theory, a guy can do fem talk. That's what Mike Douglas and the early Phil Donahue shows were.

raccoonradio said...

Michael: True...that being said, it looks like WTWK in Plattsburgh NY/Burlington VT has taken the loss of Greenstone in stride--it has talk BY women, including--the return of
Stephanie Miller! Also "Chick Chat",
Dr Joy Browne, and Sally Jesse Raphael.

True, Miller is political and not nec. "just for women". And she's back on in the Champlain Valley.

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