[Inside Radio]

There have been times when, after the flurry of a presidential campaign, a calm falls upon the once-busy news/talk format. Those times are decidedly not ready for a repeat. A forecast view of programming trends in the coming year indicates news/talk will continue to be popular; CHR, also a bright leader in 2016, sees its own wave enduring as well, despite some sonic challenges.

Consultants and programmers suggest news/talk’s continued relevance on the dial is as certain as Donald Trump taking office in January. Says Mike McVay, senior VP of Content & Programming for Cumulus/Westwood One, “The format may have been riding the election wave, but I believe we will have at least two years of good content worthy of daily tune-in.”

And Tracy Johnson, founder of his self-named consultancy, suggests, “It makes logical sense that talk and news will continue to be stronger than usual because of the intrigue and ongoing suspense over the incoming president.” Adds Jeff Johnson, senior VP with consultant Alan Burns & Associates, “During this political power shift and a time when there is such a huge gap in political leadership and beliefs, growth among news/talk stations is certainly a safe bet.”

If that all comes to pass, it will be the continuation of vibrant news/talk numbers from 2016. The format topped all radio formats 6+ this past year. Growth in audience shares rose from 8.9% in 2015 to 9.6% in 2016, the largest increase in shares among the top 10 formats, Nielsen reports. CHR followed with a healthy 8.1% share 6+. And for listeners in the 18-34 and 25-54 demos, CHR topped the list, ranking No. 1 for the third-consecutive year.

From there, the top 10 radio formats included No. 3 AC, No. 4 country, No. 5 hot AC, No. 6 classic hits, No. 7 classic rock, No. 8 urban AC, No. 9 sports and No. 10, a tie between Mexican regional and urban contemporary. The numbers are based on January-November AQH share across 45 Nielsen PPM markets.

Given the strong competition that always exists across formats, Amplifi Media founder/CEO Steve Goldstein cautions that news/talk must do its best to keep reeling in a younger audience. “Talk radio will continue to age without innovation. Just like our political parties, it needs new voices,” he says. “We launched a show this year on Sirius/XM’s Progress Channel called ‘The Filter’ with a Millennial host. It is a completely different view in this political cycle and gaining attention.”

All formats will presumably continue to tap into strategic ways of reaching the 93% of U.S. consumers that listen to radio every week (per Nielsen’s December 2016 Comparable Metrics Report). Even as formats ebb and flow, radio ranks at No. 1 amid the media pantheon.

That reach helps create an it’s-anyone’s-ballgame-type playing field, and news/talk purveyors would be wise to find the right way to lead that reach toward younger listeners. Johnson reminds that radio’s best strength still has to do with its one-on-one connection—which remains tailor-made for news/talk. “We’re going into an era where success will increasingly be found from personalities,” he says. “Difference-making personalities don’t rely on the strength of current music to attract and retain audiences.”