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Content Prophets: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

When it comes to radio programming, news and talk is perhaps the one format that allows for truly fresh and unique content. Listeners can count on an alternative rock station to play the new Radiohead song, mixed in with all those other "alternative" hits, but no one really knows what's going to come out of Rush Limbaugh's or Howard Stern's mouth next.

And though audience numbers for Internet radio still pale in comparison to those of terrestrial radio, the news and talk format has begun to carve out a positive presence on the Web. Either by streaming nationally known mouthpieces like Limbaugh or by pushing the content envelope with edgy, uncensored Web-only programs, talk radio programming is hitting the niches, and holds real potential to make money online.

According to recent numbers by audience tracking firm MeasureCast, New York-based WABC (www.wabcradio.com) notched the top spot as the most listened-to online radio station. Perhaps not coincidentally, WABC features a healthy dose of local talk and news shows, as well as nationally syndicated programs.

Eyada.com (www.eyada.com), an Internet-only talk radio network, faces the challenge of promoting online personalities that don't have the name recognition of hosts syndicated nationally on the airwaves. But according to Bob Meyrowitz, Eyada's president and CEO, and a long-time media pioneer, the Internet allows for programming to be more niche-focused and free. Eyada runs shows that discuss everything from sex toys on The Chaunce Hayden Show to professional wrestling on its popular Wrestling Observer Live with Dave Meltzer.

Meyrowitz, who was the first to put Howard Stern on national radio, says that Eyada often finds hosts that are popular in other media outlets. He cites the New York Post's page-6 gossip man, Richard Johnson, who cohosts The Laurie Kramer and Richard Johnson Show on Eyada.

Unfortunately, though, Eyada found early on that its original programming plans were a bit too ambitious. In January, the company laid off approximately 30 percent of its staff and cancelled 15 shows due to low audience numbers. "It takes a little while to see what works," says Meyrowitz, who is now looking to move some of Eyada's more popular shows into terrestrial syndication.

Car Talk, a popular radio show hosted by Tom and Ray Magliozzi (perhaps better known as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers") and syndicated to 450 National Public Radio stations, has found a home on the Web via the sponsorship model. Cars.com, an online new and used car e-tailer, was a natural sponsor.

Car Talk producer Doug Berman says that the show went online because its fans asked for it, but he doesn't believe that Web distribution will rival broadcast distribution, "as long as it is tethered to a desktop."

Still, Berman believes that online exposure can only help the show. "[Streaming] gives our listeners one more connection to us, and we hope they'll credit their public radio stations and our Web sponsor, cars.com," he says.

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