Talk Radio: The Most Important and Overlooked Election X-Factor

  • SumoMe

Years ago, one of the senior leaders in the Pennsylvania Republican Party reached out to me to help promote the campaign of the GOP candidate for governor. The campaign was stuck in the mud and the candidate’s message was not reaching the voters.

I was happy to help. Number one, for selfish professional reasons, as a talk show host a major political candidate is a real “get.” Second, I think radio broadcasters, as a public trust, have a responsibility to bring candidates from both sides to the microphones so citizens can get a close-up view of the people seeking elected office.

What should have been a quick booking turned into a nearly two-week cat-and-mouse game with the candidate’s “handlers,” who were more like mis-handlers. I literally had to beg and convince them that an appearance on a major 50,000-watt radio station in Philadelphia should get a little more scheduling priority than their daily list of meet-and-greet campaign stops in tiny little towns in Pennsylvania that would not even show up on Google Maps.

Eventually, the interview finally came off and went well. My listeners got to hear the candidate in an extended Q&A. He took calls from listeners and answered some of mine. I replayed the interview several times.

Later that week, I sent a detailed “Talk Radio Election Playbook” to the campaign, pointing out the superior benefits of utilizing talk radio interviews as a way to reach and influence prospective voters. I gave them names of stations, how to pitch the program directors, producers and talk show hosts. I expanded the strategy to encompass different radio formats. I pointed out how easy and convenient doing talk radio interviews would be (and it would be cheaper than buying expensive TV and radio commercials).

I never heard back from the mis-handlers. The candidate never came back on for a future interview, despite my dozens of phone calls and requests. Apparently, those rubber-chicken dinners in front of a couple hundred people made more campaign sense than a 15-minute interview that would reach tens of thousands of listeners.

This candidate, who I will not name, clearly did not see the value in something that did not fall within the traditional campaign playbook. His campaign was a huge yawn to the voters and the media declared the election for his opponent just minutes after the polls closed. He was a viable candidate and would have been a potentially effective governor, but truthfully, the advice his so-called advisors gave him plain sucked.

The reason I share this is because with a little more than two weeks left in the presidential election, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a chance to really gain momentum, and it will not cost their campaign a single cent.

A talk radio blitz.

Pat Buchanan stunned the country when he won 37% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary in 1992 against President George H.W. Bush. He told me his secret: his campaign consisted mainly of radio interviews with stations throughout New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney currently has the wind at his back. Talk radio interviews can accelerate that momentum. Here’s my 9-point plan on what he and his campaign need to do and why:

1. Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan need to do a daily talk radio “carpet bombing” of stations across the country and particularly in swing states.

2. Don’t go to just the usual shows- pitch hosts in different parts of the schedule. When I was on evenings and late-nights, candidates who would come on were reaching an entirely new station audience. Believe me, people who are night owls and/or work the third shift are voters, too.

3. Romney and Ryan scored points in the debates because they had the ability to make their points and articulate their vision. Radio will enable them to do that with even more impact. What’s more effective- a 30-second commercial or a substantial 15-minute radio interview?

4. Don’t look at just the big radio markets and the major talk stations. Seek out the secondary and smaller broadcast markets. For a smaller station, landing a presidential candidate for an interview is a HUGE DEAL. They will replay that interview endlessly.

5. Engage the podcast community. Podcasters are a huge platform to reach voters. The number of subscribers to popular podcast programs is mind-boggling. Podcasters would be doing headstands to land a 5-10 minute interview with Romney or Ryan.

6. Pursue other spoken-word radio formats. Contrary to popular belief, their are other voters than listeners of talk radio programs. How about sports-talk shows or news programs or even the religious format? Come up with a list of possible appropriate topics and once again, these shows will be thrilled to land an interview like that.

7. Capitalize on the “new media.” Just about every newspaper has a web presence that includes podcasts. These newspapers are motivated to find innovative ways to drive readers and prospective readers to their websites. Don’t you think a 10-minute interview with Romney, Ryan or one of their key surrogates would receive a huge promotional push?

8. Talk radio is convenient. How much time is spent shuffling from one campaign stop to the next? Use that time to work in the talk radio interviews. How easy is that? Pat Buchanan told me his New Hampshire campaigning consisted of him in his hotel room talking to radio hosts while in his underwear. I hope he was kidding about the last point!

9. Talk radio has more value. I know campaigns should not stop utilizing things like TV commercials, radio ads, direct-mail and other things, but talk radio interviews are FREE for crying out loud. And they work, delivering an engaged audience. Any campaign advisor for any candidate, for any elected office, from any political party who believes otherwise is a FOOL.

14 Responses to Talk Radio: The Most Important and Overlooked Election X-Factor

  1. Marjorie October 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    All I have to say on the subject is “bring ’em on”.

    • Eugene Hough October 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      I certainly agree with the night listeners category, many of them who are also on the road, listening and want to hear the news of the day.
      Keep inspired!

  2. Sal October 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. I think Romney has tremendously underestimated communication skills, as borne out at the recent Al Smith Dinner. If he would just loosen up a tad. I don’t want him to turn into Henny Youngman, but he could be a touch more casual in his demeanor. I think that is Obama’s real ticket. he touches people, hence the urge to trust him. Obama’s veneer has been slipping as we discover just how literal he was about changing the country, but if Romney can speak from his soul, talk radio would help him greatly, without the risk of visual “slips”. A double bubble interview with him and Ann once or twice might be something to consider as well.


  3. Kym October 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    You are absolutely right Dom. They have a unique “in” to people who are potentially open to their message, as well as, those who have already decided to vote for them. Let’s hope they are smart about using the sources of contact you outline to be heard.

  4. carolynn October 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm #


    You are killing me. I read each paragraph as It was leading up to that politicians name and then – boom! you won’t say who is was.

    I agree with what your saying. Ryan seems more comfortable with doing radio than Romney. If PA really is in play (which I hope it is) not only should the candidates be on the radio, but their surrogates as well.

    Was it Rick Santorum?

  5. Rich Davis October 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Dom, you are right on point as usual. I hope the Romney/Ryan team will heed your outstanding advice. (my guess on the candidate with the mis-handlers, are…. I won’t say his name, but I bet his initials were LS)

  6. Greg Voci October 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    Paul Ryan has been on Hugh Hewitt’s program (6-9:00 PM EST) a few times. Romney less so. The McCain 2008 (lack of) Brain Trust blew it by not exposing Sarah Palin first to friendly talk radio before subjecting her to the likes of Charley Gibson and Katie Couric.

  7. BOB Galdo October 21, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I definetly think Romney should do the talk radio bit. He has a great shot in taking Pa. but needs to make his presence felt to accomplish this. Between the Coal miners, Catholics, Christians and the disallusioned Jewish community, he will have a tremendous push. It’s cheaper than commercials and he doesn’t have to travel.

  8. Bob October 21, 2012 at 3:31 am #

    Sounds good, but I feel they will be preaching to the Choir.

    I’m waiting for the libs to drop a bomb sometime soon. I think the Obama Administration will do anything to win.

  9. Larry Cohen October 21, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    You are totally correct . Romney/Ryan are “right on the issues”
    so the more honest discussion the better.

    The other side of course wants the debate to be
    “does Michelle Obama look prettier in red or blue ??? ”
    and that is why they go on “The View”
    and not talk radio .

    But for Romney/Ryan they are missing
    the boat.

  10. Charles Hopson October 21, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    It would be great if you could get either Romney or Ryan to do your show. We are
    close and these last two weeks are critical for the ticket. Love your show and
    keep up the great work.

    • CHARLIE (Northeast) October 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm #


      Having worked at a local radio station in the record library, I know the importance of radio. Big name stars would come into the station to promote their records.
      The PLAY a record gets (and how often) is vitally important to the success of a hit
      record. Plus, when a candidate appears on a radio station, he says what he
      wants the voters to hear, in his own words. TV (and radio to a certain extent) edit tapes
      so the candidate says things he really didn’t say. At least, while the candidate
      is on “LIVE” his words can’t be scrambled. Even MSNBC couldn’t do that.

      CHARLIE (Northeast)

  11. Pat Achilles October 22, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Dom, for what it’s worth – I just returned from visiting my son at American U in DC, and his best buddy interns with the RNC. I’m going to send your article to him right now & urge him to printit out & pass it up the chain!

  12. Kevin November 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    I remember Bush doing Lotsa radio he was on Sports Radio Talk Radio religious Black Hispanic C&W and that was only Philly for the stretch Drive. I remember Gore was following him on all the sports Radio haha The GOP Gov had to be against the First Run against Rendell. Mike Fisher was a very good AG but lost to the loquacious Fasr eddie

Leave a Reply