Over the course of my nearly three decades managing content for spoken word brands, (and six months with a digital startup) I’ve been blessed to have the opportunities to lead some amazing talent.
One thing I never had a shortage of, was advice on how to coach, mentor and lead.
If I had a nickel for every leadership summit I was dragged to, every life coach I had to meet with, every book on successful management I had to read, I’d be able to retire by now.
The reality is, there is no right answer to “what makes a great leader or coach”. It’s different for everyone because everyone is different.
That being said, there are five key things I’ve learned that have served me well in managing talent.
None of these ideas are new. I’m sure that many of you have heard them before. They were all conceived by people that are far smarter than I am.
Oh, and before I begin, I’m certain that many former hosts I’ve worked with will read this and think to themselves:
“What a load of crap. He NEVER did that with me.”
I will qualify this column by saying that every one of these five tenants that I’m about to share came with years of making mistakes and learning the hard way.
LET THEM KNOW YOU HAVE THEIR BACK…QUICKLY
The minute that a Program Director walks into the building, the talent universally has one question on their minds: “Can this guy get shit done?”
No one likes an empty suit. No matter how many wins you have on your resume, you are 0-0 when you take over any new station. You need to get some “wins” and you need to do it fast or else you will lose everyone even faster.
The best way to win over talent is by showing them you can help them be successful. More often than not, it involves removing obstacles that they couldn’t overcome.
I remember once when a talent came to me because he was upset that he was using two producers on his show. He preferred one over the other. We talked about it, what he said made sense and I asked him the simple question, “Why weren’t we doing this already.”
“The old PD wanted to do it this way,” he replied.
“Done,” I said. “I’ll talk to the producers and let them know that we’re making this change so you won’t have to be the bad guy.”
In the weeks that followed, that host went on to produce some of the highest numbers in the history of the radio station.
Another time, a veteran host literally tiptoed…tiptoed into my office, sat down and said meekly, “I need a favor.”
There was a stunt he wanted to do, it was a fairly minor one. Without going into the details, the worst risk, I could surmise was that we may get written up for a misdemeanor by the police. Deep down, though, I knew it would make for GREAT radio.
So, I went up to the GM’s office, laid it out to him, emphatically stated that it was a good idea and eventually got the green light.
The stunt was a winner, the station got great publicity and the talent went on to get some of the highest ratings of his entire career.
GIVE SPECIFIC FEEDBACK AND DO IT OFTEN
One of the best quotes I ever heard on coaching talent was from the legendary spoken-word programmer Jack Swanson from San Francisco.
“Don’t treat talent like children,” he said. “Treat them like puppies.”
My fellow dog parents will understand this quote. Step one in getting a puppy is teaching them how to behave. You don’t do that by yelling at them when they do something wrong. You do it by PRAISING them when they do something right. Screaming at a puppy when they take a whizz on your living room carpet won’t get them potty trained. However, praising the HELL out of them when they relieve themselves in the back yard will, over time, do the trick.
When talent do something good, let them know. Find the things in their show, podcasts and social media that you like and talk to them about it. Be SPECIFIC. “Hey, that was a great show or a great segment” is empty praise. You need to cite, chapter and verse, what you liked and WHY.
If you do this often enough and consistently enough, they’ll understand what you are expecting from them. On the flipside, they’ll have a better idea of what they’re NOT supposed to do.
Look, most talent understand when they’ve screwed up. Going back to the “puppy” analogy, my two Boston Terriers have developed (as many dogs have) the habit of walking up to me slowly with their ears down, then rolling over and exposing their bellies when they’ve been naughty. Once I see this, I know that somewhere in the house there is a mess I’ll have to clean up. Many of the talent I know have acted the same way. I remember a conversation with a host who had gotten into an ugly shouting match with his co-host on the air. Right as they went into a commercial break, he walked into my office. The conversation went as follows:
“Uhm, did you hear that last segment?”
“Do we need to talk about it?”
“Yea, we probably should. Just drop in after the show and we’ll figure it out.”
The conversation that followed his show was long, but not contentious. We both knew what the problem was and that we were more focused on fixing it rather than assigning blame.
MEET WITH THEM ON THEIR TERMS
One morning show host I had, hated meetings. My first month on the job, he would literally dart out the back door of the building right after his show so he could avoid me calling him to my office or cornering him in the hallway.
One thing he DID like, however, was beer.
So, I made him a deal. Once a month, we’d meet over a couple of beers and just talk. I really had to couch this as something that wasn’t masquerading as “just another meeting”. He reluctantly agreed. The first few times we met, I made a point to not talk about work at all. We’d talk about sports, our families, politics, money, etc. These “beer summits” continued on a fairly regular basis. The end result: he opened up. HE started bringing up things about the show that bothered him. I didn’t have to. It was all about putting him in a comfort zone and letting him talk on his terms, not mine.
There was another host I had, who would walk into my office after almost every show, sit down on my couch and just start talking. He CRAVED feedback. CRAVED it. He wanted to know how I felt about virtually every program. Many times, I’d sit down and aircheck him on the spot. Once he left the building, though, he was done. He wouldn’t respond to calls or texts. I would try e-mailing feedback and he’d never read it. Eventually, I figured out that he was giving me a window to work with him and, as long as I stayed within that, I could reach him. As a rule, I never scheduled anything the one hour AFTER his show ended.
LISTEN MORE…TALK LESS
Talk show hosts all have two things in common.
- They talk a lot.
- They all want people to listen to them.
Some of the best ways to gain a talent’s trust is by shutting your mouth and listening to what they have to say.
I remember a particular Monday morning one fall, just as I was about to head to a sales meeting, our morning show host walked into my office, shut the door and slumped down on the couch in front of me.
For twenty straight minutes, he ranted and raved about everything wrong with his show, with the station, with the industry, and so on.
After his passionate diatribe (when he had to stop and take a breath), I chimed in.
“What do you want me to say?” I asked.
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO SAY SHIT,” he screamed. “JUST FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!”
That statement was so powerful, it literally knocked me back in my chair. From that day on, it was cemented in my head.
Many times, talent don’t want advice or counsel. They just want to know that they’re being heard. They sit in an empty room for 3-4 hours every weekday, talking into a microphone, and hoping that what they’re saying will resonate with people. If they can’t get that satisfaction from their show, YOU will have to give it to them.
SHOW THEM HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a fellow PD tell me, “I don’t talk ratings with my hosts, ratings are all bullshit, anyways!” This is something that, for the LIFE of me, I’ve never understood.
Oh, I get it, we don’t want them to focus on ratings. We want them to just focus on doing good content. Here’s the rub: hosts are going to worry about ratings no matter what. Why shouldn’t they? A portion of their income is usually TIED to them (by way of bonuses). If we don’t give them OUR spin on the numbers, they’ll seek it out from other people.
Look, as PD’s, we all have a love/hate relationship with Neilsen. And if we can actually get the digital folks in the building (or company) to give us accurate numbers on streaming or podcast downloads…it can be a headache trying to unravel it all. But the reality is, we’re doing ourselves (and our talent) a major disservice if we don’t explain the methodology and how we can get it to work to our advantage. We don’t necessarily need to give people an algebra equation to solve. However, we need to explain the numbers in terms they can understand. Don’t downplay them. Often, hosts and producers are smarter than we give them credit for
Virtually every talent I’ve ever worked with wanted to know how the ratings and digital analytics games work. So, I let them take a peek behind the curtain. I’d whiteboard stats for them and bring in experts to explain best strategies on a regular basis. There were times I’d actually have hosts and producers taking photos of PowerPoints I had so they could remember them. Competitive people like to know the score and how to win the game, sometimes all you have to do is talk to them about it.
Ryan Maguire is a columnist for BSM, and a longtime sports and news radio program director. He has managed KIRO-FM in Seattle, WQAM in Miami, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 610 Sports in Kansas City, and 105.7/1250 The Fan in Milwaukee. Presently, Ryan serves as the Executive Producer of Chicago White Sox baseball on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. Originally from Michigan, Ryan still holds out hope that the Detroit Lions will one day deliver a Super Bowl title. He can be reached on Twitter @RMaguire1701.
Fox News Dominates Election Day Coverage
Although less than half of FNC’s draw, MSNBC (3.21 million) was runner-up among cable in total viewers followed by CNN (2.61 million).
November 8th was Election Day, as the country decided who held control of Congress in this midterm session, and Fox News signaled it still controls cable news viewership.
Results from early and same-day voting indicated, much to the surprise of news outlets and observers, that Democrats would likely retain power in the U.S. Senate. This was confirmed as close races in Arizona and Nevada were decided in the Democratic Party’s favor; also confirmed, the GOP earned a majority in the House of Representatives, albeit by a slimmer margin than expected. For Joe Biden, it marked one of the best midterm election results for a sitting President’s political party in U.S. history.
Of course, all major cable news outlets experienced a lift from election coverage. Fox News Channel dominated the TV landscape (including broadcast networks) averaging 7.42 million viewers in prime time (8:00-11:00 PM ET), according to Nielsen Media Research. Although less than half of FNC’s draw, MSNBC (3.21 million) was runner-up among cable in total viewers followed by CNN (2.61 million).
The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania was one of the high-profile contests to watch. At about shortly after the 1:00 AM ET hour, it was called for Democratic incumbent John Fetterman, defeating Republican challenger and former daytime talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. The cable news rankings in total audience remained the same: FNC (2.64 million), MSNBC (1.94 million) and CNN (1.25 million).
Fox Business Network’s simulcast of FNC midterm election news delivered 629,000 viewers. Meanwhile, Newsmax averaged 572,000 and NewsNation posted 93,000.
During the 9:00 PM ET hour on Saturday, Nov. 12, it was reported that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto held onto her seat in Nevada after defeating Republican Adam Laxalt, clinching the Democrats’ control of the Senate regardless of the results of the upcoming December runoff election in Georgia. MSNBC (1.68 million) edged past CNN (1.53 million) within the hour. FNC opted for regular programming; its “Unfiltered with Dan Bonigno” drew 1.29 million.
On the broadcast side back on Nov. 8, ABC led with 3.31 million viewers, with NBC (3.11 million) close behind and CBS in third (2.56 million). In their regular 11:35 PM hour, CBS aired a live edition of Late Show with Stephen Colbert (at a below-average 1.88 million total viewers) and ABC televised an original edition of “Jimmy Kimmel” (guest Bill Maher; delivered 1.56 million — near its normal levels). NBC preempted The Tonight Show for additional news coverage.
Univision (1.29 million viewers from 9-11 p.m. on Nov. 8) led all Spanish-language outlets, and more than doubled Telemundo (601,000) in the same two-hour period.
The 2022 midterm elections drew a combined total viewership of 23 million from the eight major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News plus FBN simulcast, MSNBC, CNN, Univision and Telemundo). This marked a 33 percent decline from those same networks for the 2018 midterms (34.2 million), although that was in the midst of the chaotic Trump White House era which then heightened interest for all news outlets.
Figures for 2022 somewhat harken back to those from 2014. ABC, CBS and NBC then each only devoted the 10 p.m. ET hour to the midterms. Combined with FNC, CNN and MSNBC, the six outlets posted 22.9 million viewers.
Cable news averages for November 7-13, 2022:
Total Day (Nov. 7-13 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.911 million viewers; 223,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.986 million viewers; 146,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.767 million viewers; 201,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.166 million viewers; 36,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.162 million viewers; 21,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.156 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.144 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.123 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Nov. 7-12 @ 8-11 p.m.; Nov. 13 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 3.243 million viewers; 597,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.702 million viewers; 274,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.219 million viewers; 368,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.269 million viewers; 39,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.183 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.169 million viewers; 40,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.157 million viewers; 49,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.136 million viewers; 43,000 adults 25-54
- NewsNation: 0.076 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.805 million viewers
2. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.274 million viewers
3. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.186 million viewers
4. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.826 million viewers
5. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.745 million viewers
6. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.827 million viewers
7. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.521 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.428 million viewers
9. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 11/9/2022 5:09 PM, 51 min.) 4.340 million viewers
10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 11/7/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.071 million viewers
20. Decision 2022 “Midterms Results and Analysis” (MSNBC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.435 million viewers
36. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.683 million viewers
262. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 619” (HBO, Fri. 11/11/2022 10:00 PM, 56 min.) 0.828 million viewers
322. FNC Simulcast: Election (FBN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.681 million viewers
385. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Thu. 11/10/2022 8:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.535 million viewers
401. The Daily Show (CMDY, Mon. 11/7/2022 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.478 million viewers
413. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 11/13/2022 11:06 PM, 34 min.) 0.455 million viewers
488. Fast Money Halftime Report (CNBC, Fri. 11/11/2022 12:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.306 million viewers
490. Forensic Files “Hundreds of Reasons” (HLN, Fri. 11/11/2022 11:30 PM, 30 min.) 0.303 million viewers
767. Cuomo (NWSN, Wed. 11/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.163 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.978 million adults 25-54
2. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.879 million adults 25-54
3. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.781 million adults 25-54
4. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.497 million adults 25-54
5. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.285 million adults 25-54
6. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.120 million adults 25-54
7. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.097 million adults 25-54
8. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 1.054 million adults 25-54
9. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.960 million adults 25-54
10. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.876 million adults 25-54
13. Decision 2022 “Midterms Results and Analysis” (MSNBC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.811 million adults 25-54
120. FNC Simulcast: Election (FBN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.279 million adults 25-54
210. The Daily Show (CMDY, Mon. 11/7/2022 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.186 million adults 25-54
279. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 11/13/2022 11:06 PM, 34 min.) 0.139 million adults 25-54
308. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Thu. 11/10/2022 8:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.127 million adults 25-54
319. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 619” (HBO, Fri. 11/11/2022 10:00 PM, 56 min.) 0.124 million adults 25-54
325. Forensic Files “One For The Road” (HLN, late Thu. 11/10/2022 1:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.121 million adults 25-54
420. Shark Tank “Shark Tank 1303” (CNBC, Sun. 11/13/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.085 million adults 25-54
735. Newsnation: Rush Hour (NWSN, Mon. 11/7/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.035 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/
Bitcoin and the Economic Breaking Point
This bitcoin bull remains as optimistic as ever, at least according to his comments on the widely-acclaimed What Bitcoin Did podcast, hosted by Peter McCormack.
Bitcoin is down nearly 80% from its all-time high of 2021. Virtually everything is down, so that’s not a surprise. Yet many of the most influential and cerebral names in the space remain as optimistic as ever about the asset’s future.
“I see it as a cleansing,” Preston Pysh said of the current crypto bear market. “It sure hasn’t changed my opinions on anything.”
This bitcoin bull remains as optimistic as ever, at least according to his comments on the widely-acclaimed What Bitcoin Did podcast, hosted by Peter McCormack. He spoke recently on the program about the latest cryptocurrency exchange collapse – this time the popular FTX exchange led by Democratic mega-donor, Sam Bankman-Fried.
“I’m a little shocked at the size of the scam that was being played on everyone, and when you’re dealing with private equity, not a publicly-traded company when you can kinda peer into the books, it’s a little hard to kinda know what you are dealing with,” Pysh said of the latest exchange implosion. “I didn’t see FTX blowing up in literally, seconds. When you can’t peer into the numbers and you can’t actually see what’s being done, like, it’s kind of hard to be able to see something like that coming.”
Pysh is the co-founder of The Investor’s Podcast Network. He is also an entrepreneur, author, investor and cryptocurrency proponent. As he has said on this, and other programs, he believes this tumultuous period of time has been part of the well-known Bitcoin cycle. All part of Bitcoin’s ebb and flow, which he believes will eventually turn positive once again.
For his part, McCormack drew a distinction between the recent scandal and other start-ups in the industry who appear to be approaching things in ethical ways.
“This is somebody who’s come in recklessly and damaged the industry. Damaged individuals, damaged businesses, damaged peoples’ holdings in Bitcoin. There is some dark consequences for this,” McCormack said. “And I know people hate regulations. And I know people hate the likes of Coinbase being so friendly with regulators. But at the same time, it’s like well, they’re building proper businesses within the infrastructure.”
“This is what a bottom starts to look like. Now, how long does this go? I don’t know. It really depends on how much the central bankers allow it to persist. But they have got to get the inflation prints lower,” Pysh said.
While many bitcoiners believe the future of “digital gold” is bright, no one can confidently predict the near-term future. The next Bitcoin halving – when the newly-issued supply is cut in half – is scheduled to take place in roughly 15 months. This traditionally has spurred a years-long bull run for the asset.
“We swallowed a lot of bad news to still have Bitcoin at $16,800,” McCormack pointed out, seeing the big picture, decade-long trend of the asset.
“This is extremely healthy stuff as far as I’m concerned,” Pysh said, pointing out that it is a blessing to clear out the weaker industry exchanges and businesses now. “All of those activities, could you imagine building on top of those? Like, if we weren’t going through this tightening right now, and let’s say they were releasing the floodgates again, you’re just going to have more of these types of activities that are going to get built on top of this. You want to talk about a real meltdown. That would be really concerning.”
Pysh has long voiced his opinion that Bitcoin is here to stay and will continue appreciating far into the future. He’s not alone.
Gregg Foss. Michael Saylor. Ben Armstrong. Benjamin Cowen. Rob from Digital Asset News. James from Invest Answers. Anthony Scaramucci. Mark Cuban. Kevin O’Leary. Robert Breedlove.
These thought leaders, along with countless others, believe Bitcoin’s brightest days lie ahead. Their price targets for a decade out stretch well into seven or eight figures. And many analysts believe it will be off to the races once the Fed pivots from its hawkish approach on interest rates.
“It feels like the massive headlines regarding the economy, regarding inflation, it feels like things are starting to calm down a little bit,” McCormack offered on last week’s program.
“You’re CPI is coming down a little bit, but you have to remember, prices are still going up. Prices are still going up. It’s the rate at which they’re going up, and that’s really important for people to understand that difference,” Pysh said, pointing out that the world economy may be at a breaking point. “And so the speed at which they’re going up is slowing, but I don’t think they’re aggressively – I would call that deceleration – the deceleration is not really all that much.”
In other words, Pysh says regulators are between a rock and a hard place because their actions, thus far, haven’t reduced inflation as quickly as they’d hoped.
“There’s nothing I could tell you that they could be doing better because the situation is so dire,” Pysh said. “If you put me in the seat at any of these central banks, I don’t know that I could really do policy different. And this is a huge, like, foot stomp for me. I love banging up central bankers with the best of em. But if you’re really going to get at the inherent problem, you have to go upstream of that. And when you go upstream of that, it’s fiscal appropriators that are the actual problem.”
In essence, he believes those who spend the money – politicians and bureaucrats – are mostly to blame, for spending more than is coming in. Across the United States, and across the globe.
“The central banker is the one who’s adjusting the money supply to try to work with what’s being spent, the fiscal appropriators,” Pysh said.
It may be that both the near-term and long-term future for Bitcoin, and the world economy as a whole, hinge on the actions of these people.
Appropriators, regulators and central bankers. All eyes remain on them.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
Jack Swanson Found Success in Radio Much More Than Happiness
Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.
I’ve had more jobs than Jack Swanson has had hot dinners. Unlike Swanson, I’ve been canned from a few. There’s always the job you loved, and sometimes you wish you could go back.
“I quit WLS and in many ways I regret it to this day,” Swanson said. “I quit every radio job I had, never fired. If today I could wave a magic wand I would have stayed at WLS in Chicago.”
Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.
“One of the best collections of talent ever,” he said. “As my career went on, I was generally more successful than I was happy. I found I always performed better when I was around really crazy-talented people. I think you’ll always perform better on a great team.”
Swanson explained that just doesn’t happen today as great teams are very expensive.
He worked at KGO a total of three times. Every year he’d sit down with the GM and there was a ‘come to Jesus moment.’
“As PD, it was not uncommon to get a budget dropped in front of me and the GM would glare at me and say, ‘Do you have everything single thing in this budget you need to become number one?’ Now that’s a whole new kind of pressure.”
Reading between the lines, Swanson said what they were really saying was, ‘You’d better bring me a winner.’ To accomplish that, you always need a few dollars more. When you have the appropriate budget, you get better performance all around.
“From your on-air people, producers, and other staff. It’s a great environment when people feel appreciated. Like they’re being paid what they’re worth.”
The third time at KGO, Swanson quit after only three weeks.
“I just wanted out,” he explained. “I had a three-year contract so that complicated things. The nice people at Cumulus indicated they might sue me if I left. I figured, ‘Have at it. If you want to sue an old man, do your worst. The truth is I didn’t think they knew what they were doing. I had to negotiate a departure.”
Talking about KGO and their abrupt shift of formats, Swanson said he thinks ownership got desperate. “I don’t fault what they did. They were in a corner. Their money people were getting very edgy. But what fills that gap?”
Unfortunately, San Francisco currently has no local talk station despite being the fourth-largest radio market in the country. KSFO is also programmed, all syndicated.
“Tragically, it’s all radio from a computer,” Swanson said. “Radio is a crazy business. People don’t want to invest because they generally want to keep their money.”
He said all the time people say radio isn’t what it used to be.
“Not even close,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t honor and respect radio. You should let your talent shine wherever you can let it shine. Back in the day at WLS, it was possible to make money. It’s not really possible any more. It’s like 1,000 points of light. Anybody can go on Amazon and purchase a Mr. Microphone and have their own show and talk to the world.”
The fact that podcasts are the new popular kid on the block isn’t lost on Swanson. With 2.4 millions podcasts today and counting, Swanson said there are just too many, a sensory overload.
“They’re like exploding stars, scattering around and trying to find an audience,” he explained. “There are only so many hours in a day.”
His resume is extensive; VP and general manager at KING AM/FM, VP of programming at KGO/KSFO, director of news and programming at KCBS Radio.
Swanson began his radio career as a news anchor and reporter for WLS Radio in Chicago before becoming the News and Program Director for KGO.
“While I was at WLS, it was owned by ABC, and we had 25 full-time new people.”
He is the recipient of numerous awards including the best radio program director in America, and the best news talk PD for four years and the best programmer for three years by Radio Ink and Radio & Records.
Having spent most of his time in major markets, Swanson has great respect for people who spent their careers in small, or medium markets.
“If you’re on the endless chase to be in a bigger market, when you get there it can be hollow. If you find a city and community you like, it can become a great home forever. There aren’t any gold watches in radio. My advice to talent is to listen to your stomach. There’s nothing more important.”
Some people are naturally good at what they do, but a PD can only take you so far.
“It’s like being a football coach,” Swanson said. “You can’t make your quarterback a star, he has to do that himself. My career has been satisfying. I’d say it has been 85-90 percent luck. Being in the right place at the right time. That’s absolutely true for my career.”
He’s had great success in radio. But now, things are different.
“I definitely wouldn’t encourage young people to get in the business or pursue a journalism curriculum,” Swanson said. “Years ago, I had a group of students come into KCBS, journalism students from the University of California. About 13 kids came in and said they wanted to see the real world of broadcast journalism. They asked me for advice and I told them if they were intent on the degree, for God’s sake don’t go on for a masters in journalism. One of the students told me they were all in the masters program. I don’t want to say we’re dumb in radio, but we’re not the smartest people.”
When KGO was part of the ABC group, and ABC was sold to Disney. Swanson was stunned. They sold all the stations for a great deal of money.
“I asked why they were doing it? This was 20 years ago. An executive at ABC told me radio had no growth potential and that’s what they wanted. They took all the money from the sale, billions of dollars, and put it into Pixar. While I was angry at Disney, they saw the writing on the wall.”
In 1994, Swanson was to program KSFO. He’d done that once and didn’t want to go back.
“KSFO was a dog, but the essentially offered me a blank check to fix it. So I went back. Within a year I took the station from 36th in the market to number two, just behind KGO.”
Swanson said they went all conservative at KSFO. This was before the Fox News Channel. Limbaugh existed, but there were no all conservative stations with the exception of one in Seattle.
“There were mostly religious stations with conservative hosts, but nobody was listening,” Swanson said. “They waved the flag and I personally didn’t know people like that. Suddenly there was a need to provide a place where people could say what they never dared to say out loud.”
Anybody in the business will tell you the line between journalist and opinion is evaporating. “They are broadcasting information that we want to hear to make us feel right about our beliefs,” Swanson said. “People may not believe when someone tells them they love them, but they always believe them when they say they’re right.”
He said when he went to school, students tried to find the truth as best they could understand it. Swanson said he’s not so sure that can happen anymore.
“When I started in news, I had an AP and UPI teletype in my station,” he explained. “I knew everything that was going on and listeners didn’t know any breaking news. We had no morning news, no news channels, newspapers came out twice a day. Radio was the only way to learn immediate things. What a responsibility it was.”
Swanson said the most important things politicians can do today is listen. He explained they stopped listening a couple of years into their careers.
“They no longer hear their constituents. They just say what their base wants them to say.”
Does he have an encounter with someone that he holds dear? Not really.
“I did encounter Richard Nixon once,” Swanson said. This was during the heat of Watergate and Nixon was in Madison.
“The President was walking toward Air Force One and the national press was all over him,” Swanson said. “With Watergate crushing him, He wasn’t about to talk with anybody. I was behind the press line and I yelled out, ‘Mr. President, your tan looks great. Where did you go to get it?”
Swanson said Nixon stopped, pivoted and looked his way.
“Nixon turned around and came toward the press line and we chatted a bit. I think he just liked the fact that someone wanted to talk with him as a human being.”
For a moment, Nixon wasn’t such a Tricky Dick.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has also served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his book: On Story Parkway: Remembering Milwaukee County Stadium, available on Amazon, email email@example.com.