Who says broadcasters never deliver good news? If the news has been about business or personal finance, in recent years it has usually been upbeat. And the business of providing business news and its cousin, financial advice, has also been good news for radio for nearly a decade.
Thanks to one of the longest and most robust economic booms in U.S. history, the need for immediate business news and money advice by tens of millions of investors is being filled by a host of radio news services. Quite a change considering that, not too long ago, financial news was largely considered niche programming for the privileged few. But the approach to covering today's so-called business news has changed. The vast majority of local commercial stations reaping the benefits of climbing business and financial advice audiences are on the AM side of the dial.
"Business news has really become the 'front page' of our world today," says Geoff Rich, executive vice president for entertainment & programming, ABC Radio Networks. "It has transcended politics as the No. 1 topic of discussion among people around the watercooler. Everyone knows who [Federal Reserve Board Chairman] Alan Greenspan is, but they don't necessarily know who their senators are." However, Rich concedes that while there's been huge growth for business news' offshoots like financial talk shows on cable TV, good financial advice is not easy to offer. "It's difficult to find radio hosts who can speak to investors at all levels and make it entertaining and meaningful to listeners."
ABC's Rich and other radio execs agree that the proliferation of the Internet and the immediacy and portability of radio-capturing late news and busy listeners-are both well-suited for the business and financial talk formats. "What we're facing more and more is the business story actually being the big news story of the day, such as the AOL-Time Warner deal," Rich says.
ABC Radio's major programming commitment to financial talk radio is the weekend MoneyTalk show with host Bob Brinker. While the program is well-positioned on ABC.com's radio sites, it is not yet able to be heard by audio streaming-which would make the program retrievable worldwide, given the universal nature of online resources. (Exceptions are those local stations that stream the show on their own sites.)
Nonradio financial Web sites that are gaining in popularity, such as Radio Wall Street from the Investor Broadcast Network, offer a lot of audio streaming of mostly dry CEO interviews and stockholder meetings. Unlike most radio-oriented programs, the majority of Internet-only business venues appear geared almost entirely to serious capital investors who speak their own Wall Street language.
In contrast, MoneyTalk host Bob Brinker, a financial expert based in Santa Fe, N.M., and Henderson, Nev., says his goal is to reach "as broad an audience as possible and appeal to everyone from the first-time listeners curious about finances, to the sophisticated trader." Brinker's three-hour show airs on Saturday and Sunday on nearly 200 stations, almost all of them AM outlets-including mainstays WABC(AM) New York, KABC(AM) Los Angeles, KLS(AM) Chicago and wmal(am), Washington.
Geoff Rich says increased listenership and advertiser support for MoneyTalk has resulted in a 30% jump in revenue in the past year. ABC Radio Networks also provides brief stock-market reports 10 times daily for affiliates.
Marketplace, distributed by Public Radio International (PRI) to about 300 stations nationwide and by satellite overseas, has always defied traditional definitions of what is, and is not, business and economic news.
In a world that relies heavily on the up-and-down numbers of the economy and stocks, "Radio is a horrible place for reading numbers!" That assessment comes from Marketplace General Manager Jim Russell, who was instrumental in creating the show's concept nearly 12 years ago.
Russell, a veteran reporter, producer and broadcast executive for nearly 35 years, holds no particular love for business news per se and admits he got a "D" in college economics. He does like the idea, however, of reporting the news of the world through the "prism" of the marketplace. "We're not really a business show," he contends, "although we have a tendency to see much of the world from a marketplace perspective."
Marketplace's half-hour afternoon show is first fed at 5 p.m. (ET), with updates at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Since the program originates in Los Angeles, the first program begins at 2 p.m., just as the stock market in New York is shutting down for the day. Russell says about 4 million people listen to the morning and afternoon Marketplace reports weekly, which would make it the most listened-to program of its kind in the nation.
Bloomberg Radio, a division of the Bloomberg multimedia financial enterprise, looks upon business and financial news a bit differently from everyone else for one simple reason-nearly everything they cover is business-oriented. Bloomberg believes that its singular focus has benefits: "A lot of what we do is very specialized," says Doug Krizner, general manager of Bloomberg Radio in New York. "One of the things we have that makes us unique is the fact that we're drawing from a large pool of our reporters from bureaus worldwide, and using our magazine writers for feature pieces. We're just a lot more specialized." And it's paying off in more ways than one: "Ad rates are now at a premium for our [one-hour morning report] and the audience has increased quite dramatically in the past three years."
Bloomberg Radio syndicates business features to more than 100 affiliates-with round-the-clock coverage on its flagship outlet, WBBR(AM) in New York. Its most ambitious product is the one-hour Bloomberg on the Money, which is fed at 5 a.m. (ET) on weekdays. The live program is anchored from New York with reports typically airing from its London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other Bloomberg bureaus.
Bloomberg's syndicated radio services also include two hourly one-minute business reports throughout the business week. Like virtually all broadcasters today, online versions of Bloomberg's on-air product are viewed as complementary to its broadcast services, according to Krizner.
AP Radio's Assistant Managing Editor Wally Hindes, says the economy and overall prosperity have had a "profound impact on our business-news product in the past five years. We used to [segregate] our business news from all the other news, but that just doesn't work any more." Hindes, along with AP Radio and wire-service Business Editor Mark Hamrick, say the Associated Press by its sheer reach must be all things to all people. So AP Radio's "biggest challenge is to offer business information in a form that helps the average guy, Mr. Joe Six-Pack. [Mark] Hamrick's marching order was to broaden our business scope," says Hindes.
On Aug. 1, AP Radio began offering a new weekday feature, the Personal Finance Minute, geared both to serious investors and to consumers. The 59-second reports are being produced by Kiplinger, the established and well-known financial publisher.
AP Radio's business content is accessible to Internet users, although the conduits to listeners for the audio streaming are local AP members. "The good thing about audio streaming is that we can reach the widest possible audiences, who can listen when they choose to," says Hindes. "By going to our members' Web sites, they can get the streaming and our members get the online traffic."