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With radio and television hosts, even online producers, being fired or suspended over questionable comments made on-air and online, there’s been a lot of talk lately as to “where is the line?”

What is considered acceptable, edgy, or controversial commentary? This debate has come into question as hosts and producers are under greater scrutiny for what they say on-air and post on the station’s website.

Gone are the days of lobbing provocative statements that you hoped would support your brand as a take no prisoners personality. That was then. This is now. In the past, what was guaranteed to make one group or another angry (but cause limited damage) is now guaranteed to cause you unforeseen trouble that could jeopardize your career and livelihood.

You say “So what!? It’s my opinion and it’s what I believe. It’s what my audience expects from me – honest outrage and unadulterated truth!” But what’s really true here is though your core may expect, even demand, you walk the line and cross it now and again, clients most definitely do not.

Yes, you’re in the business of truth talk and honest opinion – at
times provocative talk and opinion. But you’re also in the business of
being in business. #1 ratings are a hollow victory if in the end
sponsors flee or look elsewhere to spend their limited and precious
resources. A show with trouble talk on its hands is a show that has
trouble selling. No cash flow – no go.

What you say not only impacts your brand, but a sponsor’s, too. In
today’s world of immediate protest campaigns driven by the internet,
it’s too much trouble for a sponsor to stick with you like they might have done in days past. It’s just easier for them to spend their dollars elsewhere.

End of story: think before you speak. It’s not worth inciting a war you potentially cannot win. Detractors are waiting in the wings, monitoring each show or show’s podcast. The slightest trip that once may have meant nothing can now predicate a mighty stumble… one you may not recover from.

Where does that leave us? The truth is messy and honest; authentic
talk radio is required. With that should come your unfiltered and
unfettered opinion of the subjects and topics you are most passionate
about. However, with this requirement also comes a tremendous
responsibility for you not to jeopardize a station’s business and brand. This obviously applies to advertisers’ too. Yes, it’s your show and your opinion but it’s their microphone and it’s the public’s airwaves. And in the end – their dollars.

The way forth from “trouble talk” is to remind yourself each day: Is
what I’m trying to say relevant and factual? Is it supported by the truth? And does it rise to the level of being honest without being hurtful?

One way to help take the sting out of a “truthful” but questionable comment from you is for someone on the show to bail you out with a vocal eye roll or admonishment. Make it policy for the teams to speak for those who can’t and blunt the offense at the pass. Also, if after the show you are questioning something said earlier, consider editing it out of the podcast or avoid posting the podcast all together.

Don’t mope and complain as though a glass of cold water is being poured onto your flame. Rather, control your burn and accept the fact that the landscape of acceptable inflammatory speech on broadcast radio has changed over the past 5 years. It will continue to do so for many more reasons not illustrated here. 

The reality is you are being held to a greater accountability by so many more unseen forces for what you say on the air and post on the website that you have no choice but to adjust if you expect to remain a viable brand and employed broadcaster. The truth may hurt sometimes, but your framing of it doesn’t have to hurt you or the station’s sponsors.

Step up to the plate each day and make sure that wherever the “line” is you haven’t crossed it. If you do, be sure you’ve got the goods and the truth to help get you back to the other side… with your reputation in tact and your sponsors’ dollars in hand.

Written by Brian Holt, KFI/Los Angeles and RLC Talent Coach



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