Throughout my years as a journalist, I’ve worked as part of an Election Day team twice — once for NPR, and a few years later for the Voice of America. Both nights were unsurprisingly similar: lots of team meetings and emails in the run up to the night and lots of staff and junk food scattered about the newsroom.
We took our cues from the usual suspects: our reporters in the field, the AP wire, and cable and network news programs blaring out predictions and calls from a bank of television sets. By the end of the shift, a winner was declared, the losing candidate had conceded, and America survived yet another exercise in democracy. It was, for the most part, business as usual.
For my fellow journalists, that commonly recognizable election night scenario simply will not apply in 2020.
Indeed, with the election less than 24 hours away, news executives, editors, and reporters are preparing for a night of coverage like never before.
Uncertainty will govern the day — and night for those tasked with reporting the vote.
It could be an utter landmine for reporters, editors, and producers, who may be confronted by bewildering scenarios, such as claims of ballot fraud from President Donald Trump, his surrogates and supporters, or former Vice President Joe Biden and HIS surrogates and supporters. In fact, with an estimated 97 million votes already cast (thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic) as of this writing, one could reasonably argue that it’s a misnomer to call November 3 Election Day.
“I think this will be the strangest election night of my lifetime,” said Ryan Whalen, a Buffalo-based reporter with Spectrum News and host of the network’s Capital Tonight political show during an appearance on the podcast It’s All About Journalism.
“Generally, we’re sitting there, hoping that the ballots will come in quick enough that we’re not there until 1 a.m.,” added Whalen said. “We’re going in knowing that’s not going to be the case this year.”
Whalen also expects additional delays due to litigation, given Trump’s repeated public statements of doubt over the ballot count.
Adding to the confusion is the patchwork rules under which states will count ballots. Consider two highly consequential states: Florida began counting ballots September 24, when counts each ballot as its cast; Pennsylvania begins counting when the polls close at 8 pm. That reality alone will cause unfamiliar surge of results that will – in real time – distort the outcome.
High profile cable news television journalists will be under a nationwide microscope like no other — and they know it. Consider the words of CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist in an interview CNN’s Brian Stelter.
“This is going to be an election like no other. You’ve heard that over and over. But I’m not sure that the counting or reporting of the votes are going to be a whole lot different,” Feist added, acknowledging that the count will take longer than in years past.
“I really believe that if we don’t have a winner on election night, there’s a very good possibility that we’re going to know the answer on Wednesday or Thursday because the vast majority of votes will have been counted by then,” said Feist. “In fact, I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to be orderly.”
Maybe. But others are clearly trying to sort out how to respond if and when things are not so orderly.
“We have to be incredibly transparent all through the night with what we know and what we don’t know,” said ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in the New York Times.
And what if President Trump declares victory before the complex process of counting ballots across 50 states is deemed complete?
“I don’t think we can censor the candidates,” Stephanopoulos told the Times. “But we have to be vigilant about putting whatever comments are made in context, with everything we know about where the race stands, where the law stands, where the votes are.”
NBC News president Noah Oppenheim made the following pledge to the Times: “Frankly, the well-being of the country depends on us being cautious, disciplined and unassailably correct,” he said. “We are committed to getting this right.”
Other high-profile journalists like CBS’s John Dickerson are admonishing his fellow scribes to rethink how they’ve presented election results – with little to no context — in the past.
“If you go back and watch some of the election night coverage like in 2000 and a couple of years after, anchors would announce the results in Massachusetts as if it were leading towards the great illumination of the night’s result,” Dickerson pointed out during a recent appearance on Slate’s podcast Political Gabfest.
“It comes in too early in the night for it to matter relative to whether a candidate is going to get to 270,” explained Dickerson. “But people were always speaking breathlessly about early night results because they’re trying to get everybody all hopped up.
Dickerson added: “We need no hopping up. Everything is plenty hopped up on it’s own.”
Indeed. Given the tension and uncertainty, historian, academics, and election experts have put out guidance to help sooth our collective nerves. Consider this from noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss:
As Beschloss shows, Twitter will undoubtably be it’s OWN network of election information, with its reported estimate of 340 million users, according to Hootsuite.
Despite Twitter’s efforts to label disinformation, it will hard for the platform to control the certain deluge of election results, claims of fraud, and possible protests from credible journalists and ordinary citizens alike. And because Twitter serves as kind of AP wire for reporters, one can imagine the retweeting of unconfirmed information by well-intentioned journalists.
As Spectrum’s Ryan Whalen told It’s All About Journalism podcast:
“The worst thing you can do as a journalist is say something definitively that doesn’t end up not being true, right?”
His advice?“Just go in knowing the scenario. It’ll be bizarre.”
Brett Kane Is Here To Kick Back & Make People Laugh
“They are so much like my group of friends that I hang out with, where, really, it’s all about busting each other‘s balls.”
Butt dials are almost always a super embarrassing situation. Sometimes it means accidentally dialing an ex, other times it may mean texting absolute gibberish to a contact you’ve made. Regardless, it’s super embarrassing. Oh and I may or may not have experience with one or both of those.
But there’s at least one known instance where a pocket dial actually benefited someone. In fact, it actually helped create one of the best sports radio segments in Denver.
Brett Kane was hosting a show at 93.7 The Ticket, near his hometown in Nebraska. While listening to a podcast during a workout, he accidentally hit the speed button you can find at the bottom left hand corner on Apple Podcasts to make it to half-speed. He laughed hysterically, sure, but with that, also, sparked a brilliant idea for a new segment.
“I think I was listening to a Dan Le Batard Show podcast,” said Kane. “Hearing Stugotz slowed down was the most hysterical thing in the world. I had to pause doing any sort of exercise, because I was dying laughing. I went to one of our podcasts at the time and said, what if I just did this to us? The same thing happened. Now it’s become if you hear anything, and our producer Marty is so good at this, if you hear anything that could remotely sound like it’s funny, mark it and try it and see if it will work. It really was an accident. But it’s one of those things where I heard it and a lightbulb went off.”
Drunk Takes has become one of the best segments on Moser, Lombardi and Kane. It works because it’s both funny and unique content, but also because it fits perfectly with the theme of the show, which, simply, is three guys sitting around and busting each other’s balls.
Kane isn’t exactly new in Denver, he’s been there for over two years since getting the gig with Altitude Sports Radio. But compared to his two co-hosts, Marc Moser and Vic Lombardi, he might as well be wearing a fanny pack and holding a camera around his neck like a tourist. However, finding chemistry with two longtime Denver personalities wasn’t as difficult as the native Nebraskan initially thought it would be.
“They are so much like my group of friends that I hang out with, where, really, it’s all about busting each other‘s balls,” said Kane. “That’s honestly what it is. I got in here and it literally took me a week, maybe two, to figure out it was going to be very, very simple. Our sense of humor is the same and they just want to kick back and make people laugh. Everyone’s got their different quirks and you have to find out what makes people tick, but for a starting point, I feel like I was ahead an entire lap when this whole thing started.”
It makes their show super relatable. Three guys sitting around and talking sports while making fun of each other sounds like every guy’s group of friends. If the goal in sports radio is to make it seem like you’re having a conversation in a bar, Moser, Lombardi and Kane accomplish that on a daily basis with their style and humor.
“It’s funny because we usually get this from people who are new to the show, and if you listen to the show for a while you get it, but poor Moser,” laughed Kane. “He probably gets it the worst out of anybody. We all get our turn on the hot seat, right, that’s what we always say. At the end of it, we get people every once in a while saying something like, do you guys hate him? Why do you keep picking on him?
“It’s almost like we have to explain to people the reason why we do this is because we genuinely like each other. You don’t start crushing somebody you don’t like to their face. That’s not how it works.”
One of the best things about getting hired at Altitude Sports Radio for Kane, was the timeline that it happened on. Dave Tepper, who’s had success in multiple markets, was hired away from 1620 The Zone in Omaha to become the PD at Altitude. It was a huge help for Kane, seeing as his boss was also leaving Nebraska for a new market and near the same exact time as him.
“It was almost like a buddy who you’re on vacation with,” Kane said. “Like, hey, have you checked the spot out yet? Have you visited here? It was a feeling that we were trying to figure this thing out together, because he was only here a few months before I was. You’re trying to learn a new place, and I love it here, but I’ve lived in Nebraska for basically my entire life and it’s different here.
“You’re just trying to get a feel of what people want, especially coming from a market like I did in Nebraska, where it doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of football season or in May, it’s Husker football the whole time. You almost recalibrate because there’s so much more here, as far as the sports landscape. Having someone else who had the same perspective as I did, and understood that you almost have to retrain your mind a little bit, was a massive help.”
Altitude has a bit of a different approach to it’s daily content than some of its competitors in town. Whereas some stations in town take the approach of always talking Broncos, Altitude likes the approach of including Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche talk more than anyone else in the market.
Does Brett miss talking about college football? Sure, but instead of talking about one team for 12 months, there are enough teams and interest in his new city to spread the wealth around.
“I think it’s been good,” said Kane. “You almost have to-retrain an audience to a certain extent. Like, no, this is allowed too. You can do this and be successful at it. And I think there’s an appetite for it. The most important part, and I’m not going to force feed anything, there is an appetite for the stuff and it came across pretty clearly. We know the Broncos are king and that’s never going to change, so when you have teams that are as successful as the Nuggets and Avs are, it would almost feel like you’re ignoring that certain segment of people that want that in their daily lives. It’s kind of our way of branching out and being and a bit different.”
With Dave Tepper at PD and the entertaining list of hosts the station has collected, Altitude has made monumental strides. They’ve even expanded their content to TV and Twitch, where listeners can watch each host’s every move from a television, iphone or computer screen. But just because you can watch, it doesn’t mean Kane and his co-hosts are changing the way their radio show is done.
“If anything, what it does is give you an extra glimpse, like some of the faces Moser more will make or the body language these guys have, it’s just adds another layer to it. So we can be the most successful Twitch show in the history of Twitch but if the radio staff isn’t there, we’re just placating to that audience. That’s not how it works. We are a radio show and we make sure to say this even we went to television, this is a radio show on TV not a TV show on the radio. We always keep that perspective about it. The only thing that really matters now is don’t pick your nose. That’s kind of it.”
Keep an eye on what Altitude does over the next couple of years. With strong leadership and talent in place, one would think the station’s best days are ahead. Especially as Moser, Lombardi and Kane continue to put out content that’s relatable to guy’s all over the market. Brett Kane is also further proof that outside talent can come into a new market and not only have success, but quick success.
ABC, MSNBC Draw Most for Presidential Address to Congress
“ABC, MSNBC benefitted most from airing Joe Biden’s presidential address.”
President Biden’s first official address to a Joint Session of Congress delivered a combined 26.94 million viewers across sixteen outlets, according to Nielsen Media Research. The amount factored in out-of-home viewing and those watching via connected TVs, which encompasses smart televisions, internet-connected devices, and gaming consoles. All but approximately 500,000 viewers tuned in to Biden on one of the ad-supported networks.
These days, a viewer figure like that is considered impressive, based on current trends of consumers venturing towards streaming services and away from linear platforms. In comparison to past Joint Sessions of Congress, however, Biden lagged far behind from years past. Donald Trump’s address posted 47.74 million viewers on Feb. 28, 2017. Eight years prior, President Obama’s Congress speech drew an even larger audience of 52.37 million. The all-time most-viewed presidential speech to Congress was President Clinton’s (66.9 million) on Feb. 17, 1993 which was then televised on only four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN).
ABC, the usual leader among solely the broadcast networks in special news events coverage, not only topped NBC (3.66 million), CBS (3.44 million), and the Fox broadcast network (1.685 million) but with 4.185 million viewers, it was the top outlet on TV overall.
As another anomaly, MSNBC was the top cable news outlet covering Biden’s speech in total viewers, having posted 4.12 million viewers. Although CNN — the regular cable news leader in special news coverage — was not far behind with 3.345 million viewers, the network was tops among the key adults 25-54 demographic with 930,000 within that age range. CNN research proclaimed CNN had registered the youngest median age across cable news, six years younger than Fox and seven years younger than MSNBC.
While Fox News trailed behind their cable news competition with 3 million total viewers, they were the most-watched cable news outlet in the hour prior to Biden’s address (“Tucker Carlson Tonight” 3.34 million) as well as for the GOP response by Republican Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina (3.33 million) following Biden’s address to the Joint Session of Congrats. Yet again, though, CNN led in 25-54 with 663,000 viewers of that demo for Scott’s speech.
In addition, CNN continued leading cable news among adults 25-54 (400,000 viewers) during the post Address coverage (10:45pm-12:00am ET).
Univision (1.15 million) was the lead Spanish-language network covering Biden’s address on the night. Telemundo averaged 1.06 million viewers.
Here are the cable news averages for Apr. 26-May 2, 2021 — the total viewer figures were cable’s three best marks for the week in total day:
Total Day (Apr. 26-May 2 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.210 million viewers; 210,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.887 million viewers; 122,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.694 million viewers; 180,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Apr. 26-May 1 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 2 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.261 million viewers; 367,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.647 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.122 million viewers; 294,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs in total viewers:
1. Presidential Address “Biden First Address To Congress 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:05 PM, 68 min.) 4.116 million viewers
2. MSNBC Special Coverage “Biden First Address Post Analysis 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:13 PM, 13 min.) 4.072 million viewers
3. Presidential Address To Congress “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 3.345 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:00 PM, 55 min.) 3.344 million viewers
5. Presidential Address/GOP Response (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:26 PM, 14 min.) 3.332 million viewers
6. Presidential Address/Analysis (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:11 PM, 15 min.) 3.177 million viewers
7. Presidential Address Coverage (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:55 PM, 11 min.) 3.156 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.034 million viewers
9. Biden Address To Congress (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 3.003 million viewers
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 4/26/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.999 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs among adults 25-54:
1. President Address To Congress “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 0.930 million adults 25-54
2. Presidential Address Post Analysis “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:11 PM, 15 min.) 0.813 million adults 25-54
3. Pre-Presidential Address “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:00 PM, 6 min.) 0.786 million adults 25-54
4. MSNBC Special Coverage “Biden First Address Post Analysis 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:13 PM, 13 min.) 0.717 million adults 25-54
5. Presidential Address “Biden First Address To Congress 2021” (MSNBC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:05 PM, 68 min.) 0.709 million adults 25-54
6. Presidential Address GOP Response “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:26 PM, 14 min.) 0.663 million adults 25-54
7. Presidential Address Coverage (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:55 PM, 11 min.) 0.635 million adults 25-54
8. Biden Address To Congress (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 9:06 PM, 65 min.) 0.622 million adults 25-54
9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/28/2021 8:00 PM, 55 min.) 0.605 million adults 25-54
10. Presidential Address Post Analysis “2021” (CNN, Wed. 4/28/2021 10:40 PM, 20 min.) 0.582 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
“Big Tent” or “Party Line”: Where Does Talk Radio Go Next?
(Search: “Ronald Reagan Big Tent”)
(Laugh at the breadth of past articles and opinion pieces)
The reason that’s funny to me is that the search and the outcome point up that discussions about the Republican Party’s future and a perceived lack of diversity have been going on for almost as long as “Saint Ronnie” has been out of office. The current arguments over Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s viewpoints tied to former president Donald Trump and his claims related to the 2020 election are just another twist in the discussion.
My thought process for bringing up “The Big Tent”, though, is more about where news/talk radio sits just beyond the 100 days mark for President Joe Biden’s administration. The format’s biggest voice is all but silenced, leaving behind a huge swath of the format’s stations to deal with what appears to be a lack of planning for this day. The audience Rush Limbaugh commanded is likely going to be splintered multiple ways as stations lean on new-to-them national voices or possible revamping aimed at going local.
Those moves give the appearance of diversity, but the larger listen to the format–and the recent adventures of Fox News, NewsMax and One America News on TV–point up that the “Big Tent” is really becoming smaller by the day. There’s a battle for who can be viewed as the most loyal and strident in presenting the party line, with a de-emphasis on diversity in conservative thought. It’s why hosts like Charlie Sykes, Michael Medved and others have been marginalized while the voices of Sebastian Gorka, Dan Bongino and others have been ascendant.
Over time, the expectation that hosts maintain a specific “party line” has whittled away at the diversity of opinions on the air.
In 2020, the split of self-identified Republicans was under 30 percent of voters. I know that’s not a full measure of the support Republican candidates and conservative politics have in the larger picture, but does it give us a full view of what the audience is for conservative-heavy talk? Chip away those who don’t listen on a steady basis, those who may not have access any more to stations in certain markets as the AM band is taken off newer radio models and those who aren’t into the strict line that draws the most loyalty and what do the numbers look like?
With the passing of Limbaugh, is there a chance for an overhaul of the format to return it to being more diverse, more local or are the most vocal listeners going to continue to push for that strict line?
This is the biggest turning point in the format’s existence since the rise of conservative talk keyed by Limbaugh, one that will have huge ramifications on everyone tied to the format, from individual stations and hosts to the major ownership groups.
It helps to remember that even “Maha Rushie” presented diversity in thought in his first 15 years. A “We move liberals to the front of the line” policy allowed him to poke away at their views and it made for good radio. It was entertaining but also enlightening. Heck, he also wasn’t a supporter of Donald Trump as late as (checks notes) the first quarter of 2016. Those debates fell away as time and the demand that the strict “party line” be all that was presented took even further hold.
Is that hegemony the healthiest for the news/talk format?
It may be the biggest question for everyone involved since “Why would I carry a syndicated host in middays?”
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