“Radio Is King” may not be words often heard in the current media environment – especially on television – but that's where they were heard as the title of a recent “CBS Saturday Morning” story spotlighting West Virginia MetroNews network's Hoppy Kercheval, host of its midday show “Talkline.”
Originated from MetroNews parent company West Virginia Radio Corporation's WAJR Morgantown, where Kercheval began his career in 1976, “Talkline,” which he started in 1993, currently airs on 24 stations across the state. What brought the show national attention was the state's moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's on-air calls to Kercheval – as opposed to CNN or Fox News – to discuss his stand on the recent bills brought to Congress, where his vote was a make-or-break.
“I talk to Hoppy first, because I know I'm talking to West Virginia when I talk to Hoppy,” Manchin told CBS. “He can get me to say exactly the purpose of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. He has an authenticity I've never seen in the industry.”
Addressing the series of calls into “Talkline,” Kercheval said, “People [have] started to assume I'm the Manchin whisperer, as though I'm talking to him all the time. We don't have that kind of relationship. I rarely talk to him off of the air, so I'm not a whisperer, just a vessel.”
In an interview with Coleman Insights VP/Consultant & Marketing Director Jay Nachlis in Coleman's weekly blog, CBS' radio and TV congressional correspondent Scott MacFarlane, who filed the “Radio Is King” story for “Saturday Morning,” marvels at Manchin's decision to make news on “Talkline,” especially at the resulting political ads from Washington running on the show in addition to the usual local and regional spots. “When Manchin is on hold waiting to go on, he hears a spot trying to swing his vote on something,” McFarlane says.
A major storyline in “Radio Is King” is West Virginia's unusual media situation, which MacFarlane says helps make Kercheval a powerful local presence. It's a state where 60% of the population lives outside metro areas, where some areas still have no access to broadband, and where there are no major TV markets or major newspaper covering the entire state – making radio the most efficient medium for reaching the most voters.
“In West Virginia, Hoppy has to go above and beyond to make sure he’s inclusive of voices,” MacFarlane tells Nachlis. “If he did a show that was a rip-off of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, he wouldn’t be serving the audience he needs to serve. He wouldn’t get the local ad sales he needs because he wouldn’t be inclusive enough. He wouldn’t seem local if he was only talking political stuff. He needs to blend in schools, sports, cultural issues, transportation issues, or else it won’t feel local.”
It's also notable, as MacFarlane points out, that unlike most current talk hosts, Kercheval's “Talkline” leans neither conservative nor liberal. “The fact that I don’t know Hoppy’s political lean is indicative of how well he’s doing,” he tells Nachlis. “If he didn’t know Mountaineer [or] high school sports, state board of ed, major school districts…he goes out of his way to find local issues that have statewide reach. He’s not just talking about state Republicans and Democrats.”
Even with the state's uniqueness when it comes to media, MacFarlane suggests that stations in markets of any size can take a lesson from Kercheval. “[Hoppy] strategically recognized the market is there for local content and took advantage of the fact that no one else was playing in that space,” he says. “In markets that were leaning too much on syndicated national content, he capitalized on the desire and picked up affiliates quickly. Even some of the best local stations around the country spend too much time talking about national politics when they should be local. They’re missing an opportunity.”