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Winning With Syndication

The use of syndicated programming has ebbed and flowed over the last few decades. Radio stations may air syndication on the weekend, in a specific daypart, or even 24/7 as a 100% syndicated product.


Some view syndication as a way to save money. There are more that see it as a way to increase the quality of their programming and improve ratings. The very best syndicated programs bring an audience to the table that may otherwise have never listened to or abandoned your radio station. Syndication when done properly, and used by a radio station in the best way, has the potential to raise the rating bar in a market. 


There was a time when common thinking was that local programming beat syndicated/network programming every day of the week. Then Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh came along and beat local programming. The trend continues with Delilah, John Tesh, Bob & Tom, Tino Cochino, Kid Kraddick, The Breakfast Club, The TJ Show, Bobby Bones, and many more shows that have seen significant successes.


The list of successful music and talk programs that are delivered daily and create habitual listening is long.


Listeners don’t judge if a show is local or not. They ultimately judge if a show is good or not. There are many examples of local shows that outperform syndicated programming and many examples of syndicated programming that outperforms local shows. Fun – informative – engaging – entertaining wins. Sounding topical. Connecting with your audience. Being prepared. Sounding like you’re a part of the affiliate that is airing the program. 


What doesn’t win is when a radio station simply “flips a switch,” puts on a syndicated/network show, and walks away. Every moment that your radio station is on the air is important as it creates a lasting impression about your station and forms what could be a lasting image of how a listener views your station. Because a network show runs outside of Monday-Friday 6a-7p doesn’t make it any less valuable to the overall listening experience that you should be trying to create for your audience. 


The smartest programmers treat a syndicated show as if it is unique to their station. They ask the talent to update promotional messages weekly, they have the talent record liners that can be used to promote their contests, events, and other shows that air on their station. They look for ways to connect the syndicated talent and their show to their market. There are many things that talent and programmers complain about when considering AI, but what about having a syndicated host clone their voice and provide a station with frequently updated liners, sweepers, and promos? 


During my previous life as a Corporate Programmer, it used to frustrate me greatly when I’d hear national programming that was poorly integrated into a station. Poor transitions into and out of commercial breaks, poorly written promotional messages or no promotional messages, occasional dead-air, and the inability to properly back-time to start the show on time and without the previously played song having to be faded early.


The conclusion that I came to was that those PDs didn’t want to air the syndicated show to begin with, simply didn’t care about it, and would prefer that it fail. The proper term is maliciously obedient. Maybe it’s being passive-aggressive. Harsh words, and it may be an over-exaggeration, but there’s no other logical reason to allow anything that sounds inferior to be broadcast. The PD is responsible for everything that comes out of the speakers. 


Program Directors who truly care focus on Best Practices for whatever their format is, they localize their syndicated content, and they understand that programming a radio station should be about the complete body of work and not one daypart. Primetime is indeed the most important window for stellar programming, but all other dayparts are also important.


Listeners don’t use radio (over-the-air, apps, streaming, on-demand via podcasts, and smart speakers) like they do TV/Video. Television is show-centric. Radio is station centric. If you execute properly, you build an audience that starts using your station in the morning, and they return for listening throughout the day. 


The way to win the ratings game is to increase the frequency with which a listener returns to your radio station. That includes weekday and weekend syndication and network programming. Integrate network programming seamlessly. Treat your syndicated shows as if you’re producing an entertainment or information element at a high level – because you are.

Every minute counts. You can win with syndication if you make it your own.


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