Talk Topic Testing Results

microphone at the radio station

We were delighted to present a quick study at last week’s Talk Show Boot Camp. Don Anthony & Gabe Hobbs put on a great event every year and this year’s was no exception (despite the virtual presentation we’re all becoming accustomed to attending). If you missed it, you can register and watch the recorded sessions at

The session Carolyn and I hosted reviewed the results of a quick study we did in which we interviewed nearly 1500 adults 18+ who listen to spoken-word programming about news, current events or politics. While the sample was primarily talk radio listeners, we screened to have 500 respondents who regularly listen to podcasts on those topics. We dived into interest levels in over a dozen broad topic areas and likelihood of listening to 35 specific topics.

The reactions the first time many of us saw music research results years ago was often dismay – “This can’t be right!” With experience we became accustomed to seeing the results and our instincts about which songs worked (and which didn’t) became stronger. The more spoken-work programmers can find resources to get reactions from listeners, the better their instincts will be.

We’re showing eight of the 35 topic ledes we tested here (think about the short descriptions you’d use to promote or reset a topic) including the top and bottom of the ranking. Broken out by ideology, we see there’s some truth to the old adage “there’s no such thing as a passionate moderate” – unless it impacts their longevity or pocketbook. Lots of issues play on both sides of the aisle.

Mid-ranking you can see the potency of simply comparing notes on vaccine reactions. For the foreseeable future people will be talking about getting vaccination appointments, their experiences getting vaccinated, outrage over people jumping the queue to get jabbed earlier. Some aspects are politically-charged, many are not.

These are national numbers across a sample of respondents who listen to all sorts of stations, shows and podcasts – the 30,000-foot view. Specific market and host situations play a huge role. The segment I heard about judging people by the kind of mask they wear was laugh-out-loud funny, but it required the kind of host who can set up the idea and inspire listeners to call in and confess their innermost (and often hilarious) judgments.

The list of topics is neither comprehensive nor perfect. Our hope was to raise an eyebrow or two with ideas that folks may not have considered – and to inspire talk programmers and hosts to look for more topics that attract and maintain audiences.