The evolution of Todd “MJ” Schnitt’s career across stations, formats, decades and companies is truly a testament to proving that truth always wins. His respect and unique dynamic with his listeners proves his commitment to utilizing growth and development opportunities within radio is stronger than ever. Among his success, accomplishments and accolades in media, perhaps the most significant contribution is his ability to cut through the bull-Schnitt to candidly speak to his audience while honoring the values most important to him.
Through his desire to continue applying innovative approaches to bolster the broadcast medium, Schnitt, known by many as MJ from his CHR Morning Show based in Tampa, added another host role to his weekly routine. This mic was reserved for The Schnitt Show, airing weekday afternoons on news/talk stations. The eloquence he exhibited allowed for him to manage the challenge before him—as his laser-focus, drive and unmatched work ethic effortlessly aligned to make way for such refreshing programming, especially within the news/talk space.
Schnitt’s philosophy took shape as he remained committed to bringing listeners honest content, genuine intention and authentic communication; as opposed to the fleeting, hollow guise achieved through the outdated style of pandering by way of a scripted format. The more Todd exposed his thoughts, takes, beliefs and ultimately, his truth, the bigger the listenership—until Schnitt’s NTS program was captivating audiences in syndication in over sixty markets.
Having studied and developed a keen understanding of the potential pitfalls that could be associated with the news/talk/sports format, Schnitt found a way for his programming to remain dominant, during a time that so many other shows/stations were suffering. Todd was able to identify, comprehend and prepare for what inevitably was hiding in the blind spot for others around the industry, essentially, the Achilles Heel of NTS shows/stations nationwide: format fatigue.
The rigid confines that so many hosts were painstakingly committed to were rooted in fear-based thoughts. The concern of being lost in the shuffle if they failed to carve out their piece of the market quickly enough. This thought process may have had genuine and honesty peppered in the motives however, the rationale lacked the only standard that is absolutely necessary, if not required— creating a connection with the listeners: transparency.
Schnitt’s programs exemplify the importance of this fundamental principle and the value of flexibility, relatability and honesty with listeners which plays an undeniably important role in the foundation for Todd Schnitt’s career in multiple formats.
His eclectic resume paired with his insatiable appetite for radio continues to inspire media junkies to raise the bar while fostering transparency, both on and off the air: a refreshing rarity to the radio medium. Despite the responsibilities, contacts, managing relationships, prep, hosting and social media responsibilities, Todd ‘MJ’ Schnitt agreed to join me to discuss the return of the MJ Morning Show, news talk as a format, advice for others and what’s in store for the medium in the near future.
CP: First, I wanted to congratulate you on the return of MJ. How has the first month been going?
TS: The first month and a half or so has been tremendous. The response has been enormous. And it’s been fantastic to get such an amazing welcome.
CP: The reunion podcast received a lot of attention. You certainly want that kind of warm reception. How did the crew manage though to rekindle the chemistry and sound like you hadn’t skipped a beat?
TS: The podcast was designed as really a quick reunion. Once we did it, there was an outpouring of people demanding more regular podcasts. Next, we began a biweekly podcast, and then we started doing a weekly podcast in October. I believe, late October of 2019; now, I believe we can wrap up the MJ standalone podcasts. I think that this week’s might be our last one.
CP: Because then, listeners can just catch your show in the morning or the podcast or the show itself each day?
TS: Exactly. The show is on daily, Monday through Friday, 6 to 10am on Q105. The legendary WRBQ-FM in Tampa. The station where Scott Shannon invented The Morning Zoo. WRBQ and the history that this station has is tremendous. For us to relaunch the MJ Morning Show on Q105 is a natural progression because it’s an 80s and 90s station. The audience that grew up with us are now the core demographic of the radio station.
CP: I was amazed with how you would host The MJ Morning Show from 6-10am, then turn around hours later to run The Schnitt Show. To be the lead host of two different style shows, I wondered, how do you keep your head in a CHR morning show and a conservative news talk program every day?
TS: I’ve always been able to delineate the content between the two shows. The MJ Morning Show is more lifestyle, entertainment, personal experience and current events; whereas The Schnitt Show was certainly more current events, but you definitely get plenty of MJ that creeps into The Schnitt Show.
CP: With the development of bringing back MJ, are there any big changes or additions that you’re trying to implement? In terms of prep or your routine?
TS: No, it’s pretty much business as usual. Nothing has really changed. I just formulate each show on a daily basis just based on what’s available and what’s going on, and what happened in our lives.
CP: You’ve been vocal on your show about being an independent conservative with libertarian values. I don’t know if you’re a Parks and Rec fan, but I like to think of you like a Ron Swanson, except you carry a microphone instead of a mustache. Have you ever felt like it was difficult to appeal to some of the more staunchly conservative listeners or P1’s that listen to your show, with it being broadcast on dozens of stations nationwide?
TS: On The Schnitt Show, I just call it the way I see it. The audience knows that I’m a conservative Republican, but I’m also an entertainer first. I’m not swayed by what the audience wants to hear. I just deliver my opinions and what I think is correct. I can’t do a show based on what the audience might want. I have to do a show from my heart and mind.
CP: I’m sure you experienced some of that in New York, a very liberal area. You were talking last week about being a realist as it pertains to the election results. During what’s been considered by many to be a tense time, with divisive topics dominating our country, what do you think the most important thing for news talk hosts to remember as they’re talking to their listeners?
TS: Ultimately, you have to be true to yourself. A lot of hosts these days are held hostage by what they think they’re supposed to broadcast and what they think they’re supposed to deliver. There are a lot of talk show hosts who are not speaking honestly and will not call true balls and strikes as they see them.
CP: You’ve had a lengthy career between MJ and Schnitt. What would you point to as some of your more significant moments or special memories from your time on the air?
TS: For The Schnitt Show, I think it’d be George W. Bush’s administration, and their decision to launch military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq, plus the election, and eight years of the Obama administration. Then of course there’s the campaigning, election, and four years of Trump which really changed everything.
CP: When you think about the news talk radio business in 2020, what do you think are the biggest issues facing conservative talk radio? Are their issues in the industry that you feel are becoming more inflammatory (for example, Twitter/Facebook vs. Parler, censorship issues, etc.)? Will we always have a left vs. right media battlefield?
TS: There is a dynamic that has been brewing for quite some time where the extremes are so polarized, the far right and the far left seem to have zero tolerance for any other ideas, even those that are more centrist. And, I believe that’s problematic because not everything lies on the fringes and the extremes. The fact is, this is really kind of a centered up nation for the most part, but the most noise is being made on the extreme wings. There’s a degree of hijacking going on. Unfortunately, some folks take things too seriously these days. While there are some very serious topics and very intense subject matters that I cover, you can still present it in an entertaining way without an angry delivery. The mainstream talk radio environment has become remarkably toxic. We need to work on reducing the toxicity while being informative, but most importantly, entertaining.
CP: What is your philosophy for dealing with those who think you’re not conservative enough or that you’re too conservative for certain people because their personal opinions aren’t reflected in yours?
TS: Part of the toxicity that I described, has been if I didn’t agree with Trump on everything, or if I criticize Trump, whether it’s a policy or whether it’s his behavior, I would get attacked by a certain portion of my listenership. People would threaten to stop listening. They call me a RINO (Republican In Name Only). They call me a fake Republican. And that kind of personifies the poisonous landscape that has been developed, there is a lack of tolerance for a diversity of opinion, even within a perceived political group.
CP: When it comes to news talk media figures, who are some people who have been influential to you in your news career?
TS: I came out of entertainment radio, and while I listened to news talk quite a bit, I tried to develop my own persona and just build on my existing personality. But of course, there’s Rush Limbaugh who helped reshape talk radio and is deservedly credited with saving a lot of AM radio stations across the country. I can remember as a kid growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a talk show host named Charlie Huddle who made an impression on me. There was also DXing at night, and hearing Larry Glick out of WBZ in Boston.
CP: For people interested in pursuing a career in radio, specifically the News/Talk radio format—where you’re on the air 40 plus minutes, an hour, what advice would you pass along to them?
TS: I love radio. I’ve always loved radio. I was bitten by the radio bug, probably at about five or six years of age when I was growing up in New York City, prior to moving to Virginia. My station back then was WABC, when it was a famous top 40 brand. I just honed in on the magic of what came out of the speakers in the car, or at home, or my little mustard colored RCA 9v transistor pocket radio. That made an impression on me and drove me towards this career path. I have an extreme love for radio and am still in love with the medium. I wouldn’t discourage anybody from exploring this career path, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the radio business on many levels is not the way it used to be. With the rif’s (reduction in force) and gutting of many great radio companies and stations, it’s a very difficult environment. It’s not for the faint of heart.
I’ll say this, I’m thankful that I’ve experienced several decades of amazing radio operations, and am very excited about my new home for The MJ Morning Show and The Schnitt Show- Beasley Media Group. Beasley Media wants to continue to build an environment where talent is appreciated, and that’s all any on-air performer can ask for.
The Cost of “Thoughts”
Jack Del Rio made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter.
The first recorded use of the expression, “A penny for your thoughts,” was made by Sir Thomas Moore precisely 500 years ago (1522). But, no doubt, a penny went much further in the 16th century.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that inflation continues to increase above expectations. The current annual rate of 8.6% is the highest since 1981. The cost of thoughts, or at least saying them aloud, well, saying certain things in a public forum, has gone up far more than the CPI.
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders (formerly known as the “Washington Football Team,” and before that, the Washington Redskins), made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter. Specifically, his Tweets compared (what he called) “the summer of riots” to January 6th at the U.S. Capitol. As the late, great Alex Trebek would say, Del Rio’s comments were “in the form of a question.”
Faced with media scrutiny about his Tweets, rather than back down, Del Rio referred to January 6th as a “dust-up at the Capitol.”
Can I tell you a trade secret of press flacks? They all have a small can of lighter fluid and a pack of matches within reach behind a piece of glass with the words “break only in the case of emergency” scrawled on it. Certain phrases or words will cause a press person, at great personal danger and sacrifice, to break the glass, douse themselves with the accelerant, and strike a match before flinging their immolating body in front of the podium. Okay, not literally, but I guarantee the Commanders’ public relations director would think this alternative less painful than hearing those words come out of Del Rio’s mouth in front of the press gaggle.
The controversy that followed was swift and certain: as was the reaction from Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. He promptly assessed a $100,000 fine on Del Rio for his comments.
Two points here: First, this is not a sports story. Talk Radio observers should be far more concerned with the consequences of this story than NFL or sports fans. Second, it doesn’t matter what you think happened on January 6th. You should still find the fine issued by Rivera chilling, whether you call it an insurrection or a dust-up.
I used to believe that comedian Bill Maher and I were about as far apart on the political spectrum as any two Americans could be. Maher and I, however, hold similar views on freedom of expression.
On his HBO show, “Real Time,” Maher defended Del Rio by saying: “In America, you have the right to be wrong. They fined him; the team fined him $100,000 for this opinion. Fining people for an opinion. I am not down with that.”
Because this is where we meet, I’d like to buy Bill Maher a drink and have a laugh over all the times he’s been wrong, or we can share that drink and a smile for understanding that freedom of expression IS the foundation of democracy – no matter who’s right or wrong. Freedom of expression is an issue where liberals and conservatives must find common ground.
The football team currently known as the Washington Commanders may need another name change. Perhaps the “Comrades” would reflect the team’s philosophy better? Levying such a hefty punishment for stating a political (and non-football) point of view because it is out of step with what is apparently official policy seems more reminiscent of the Politburo’s posture than a free society.
Del Rio’s words are understandably offensive to many. At the very least, they were ham-handed for someone who has been in the public spotlight for so long. But a $100,000 fine? Stifling political opinion is far more dangerous than anything Del Rio said.
Taking the Del Rio incident into context with the “Cancel Culture” of the past few years, Talk Radio hosts should look over their shoulders. Del Rio is also an excellent reminder to think twice before posting a politically unpopular opinion on social media.
Inflation has eaten away at the value of a penny and increased the cost of making politically incorrect statements, including on the air in recent years. What inhibits individuals from expressing their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and emotions is a threat to Talk Radio and democracy.
Joe Pags’ Dream to Work In Media Started Early
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
If you’ve ever been required to interview someone for a segment or article, you know pretty quickly when it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Joe Pags was answering my initial questions as freely as Ebeneezer Scrooge hands out Krugerrands. Teeth have been pulled from the human head with greater ease. It just wasn’t happening.
After a few minutes, I think I grew on him.
I discovered we actually had a few things in common; both of us lived in Lake Worth, Florida, we knew a lot of the same places and faces, and we both understood that summer heat in Florida is like purgatory.
However, Pags and I will both have a fond devotion to The Noid. We will always share the memories of being a manager at Domino’s Pizza.
“I worked at Domino’s when pizzas were delivered to your door within 30-minutes, or it was free,” Pags said. “After a while they went to 30 minutes or three dollars off the price. Too many people were getting into accidents trying to beat the clock.”
What Pags did not mention was that even when you legitimately made it in less than 30 minutes, you had people questioning your delivery time. I guess that’s human nature.
Soon, pizzas were just for eating, not working; Pags started his radio career in 1989 in Palm Beach County, Florida.
After that, it was a stint as a television anchor from 1994-2005 in Saginaw, Michigan, and then Albany, New York. From there he was called back to radio and landed at the Clear Channel Talk Flagship, WOAI, in 2005. The Joe Pags Show has been a fan favorite since its debut in 2005.
For Pags, the media dream started early on.
“I grew up listening to talk radio at a very young age and was determined to make my living doing it one day,” Pags says. “I actually have a tape somewhere on which I erased the DJ’s voice and recorded mine over the songs.”
Pags is probably thrilled that the tape will never be released.
Years later, he found he could pay the bills doing something he loved. “I’m lucky enough to work with great people on both local, and national radio and television,” Pags explained.
“I also remember Steve Cain, Rick, and Suds on that station,” Pags said. “It was a lot of talk radio, but it was fun. It was entertainment. Rush Limbaugh was doing the politics stuff back then.”
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
“When my voice changed at 13, I developed more of a bass tone; I knew I was on my way. I had a New York accent and had to shake that.”
Before he embarked on a career in radio, his music career was going well. Pags played French horn and saxophone; apparently, he was pretty good.
He played gigs at the prestigious Breakers Hotel, among many others. “I used to play at the Backstage lounge adjacent to the old Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter,” Pags said.
No word on whether Reynolds ever caught Pags live or not.
As a kid, he played baseball. Pags said he was pretty good. What took center stage for Pags was music. It was the French horn and saxophone that captured his heart.
“I played professionally on the Empress Dinner Cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway,” Pags said. “I also did gigs at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. We made some good money.”
Before Domino’s and radio and music, it all started with a strong desire to succeed. That often comes from your family’s belief in you. Sometimes it’s not there.
“I knew that if I worked hard enough, if I showed the love for the work I was doing, then I’d succeed,” Pags said.
His family lived in Lake Worth, Florida, from 1973-74, and Pags returned every so often. “I got back to Florida recently when I went to Mara Lago and watched 2,000 Mules.”
San Antonio has been home for the past 17 years for Pags and his family. “I’ve been here at WOAI. I’ve got my own studio in a great area.” His daughter Sam is his executive producer. I asked Pags if there was any nepotism when it came to hiring Sam.
“Darn right, there is nepotism,” he said. “This is Joe Pags media. I get to hire whoever I want,” he quipped. “Sam has always had a love of broadcasting. When I became syndicated in this business, I told her I trusted her more than anyone else I knew and asked her to produce my show.”
The other day I spoke with Will Cain for a piece. He told me if I visited Austin, I should also see Texas. So I asked Pags what Cain was trying to say. “He means Austin is a city like Portland; only it’s in Texas. There’s a lot of homelessness in Austin. A lot of crime. The University of Texas in Austin goes far to the Left.”
Where does Pags’ tough demeanor come from?
“My father was 100 percent Italian. We had some good pasta dishes around our house with my grandparents around,” Pags explained. “We didn’t have a good bakery in Lake Worth, so I remember my mother and aunts bringing great bread recipes over from the homeland.”
Pags has always been interested in what takes place on the periphery, not just the core of matters. He’s done a lot of things throughout his life. That experience has helped shape his radio show. Pags said his show tends to be white-collar, but he grew up blue-collar all the way.
“I liked the Superman movies. I enjoyed Rocky,” Pags explained. “As a car-buff, I loved the Burt Reynolds films with Smokey and the Bandit. Stuff like that.”
Lake Worth, like a lot of other Floridia areas, has been known to be a little rough and tumble. Just watch Cops for a week if you don’t believe me.
Pags said other than a little shoving match at the bus stop, he didn’t encounter much rough stuff. “I was a musician, I wasn’t in that mix. Perhaps a scuffle in little league.”
When he was a teenager, he thought music would be it. “I’d played with some big-hitters at the time, like The Coasters,” Pags said.
“Music career opportunities really didn’t come along as I’d hoped. In some ways, people in the industry were full of it. I still did some freelance work on the saxophone.”
Pags said he was always willing to work for what he got. “I poured coffee and ran errands for $4 an hour,” Pags said. “I had my car repossessed, and got evicted from my apartment. I still kept at it. I never was deterred from what I wanted. I knew what I wanted, but never really expected things to happen the way they did.”
Pags said if some youngster asked how to be what Pags is today, his answer was succinct. “Pour coffee, run errands, whatever you have to do.”
I asked Pags what he does in his downtime? Let’s just say he’s not running to tee-off at 7:00 am with the guys at the club on his day off.
“I’m a domestic sports car guy,” he says with pride. “I’ve got three Corvettes, a Camaro Super Sport. My Camaro was a 1967, red with white stripes. I sold that car so we could afford to adopt our daughter. I got the better end of that deal.”
He doesn’t do any weekend racing on local tracks like other aging Indy wannabes. “I like to look at those cars in the garage,” Pags said. “My dad was a big car guy. My dad is probably why I’ve succeeded in my life and career. Not for the reasons you’d think.”
Pags’ relationship with his father had the typical ups and downs. Same as it is for most men.
“My father didn’t think I’d amount to anything and had no problem relating that to me,” Pags said. “Conversely, my Mom was always extremely supportive of my interests and goals. I knew if you were good at what you did, people would take notice.”
Pags said his father excelled at being a naysayer. A glass is a half-empty kind of guy.
“He was so negative. He thought I’d never succeed at anything,” Pags explained. “I was out of the house at 17, and I was determined to become something. To prove him wrong.”
Before his father passed away, Pags believes his father became aware of a lot of things.
“A light went on in his head, and he was just so surprised I could make a living doing what I did,” Pags explains. “When I became a big enough success, he recognized my drive and determination. I’m still not sure if he was hard on me because he thought it would help me in the end. Whatever his reasoning was, it gave me the drive and determination to see things through.”
Pags’ father became so proud of his son that he’d tell friends Joe was going to be on Fox News and how they should tune in.
“It was my mother, with her ultimate support, that really made me want to succeed. For her,” Pags explained.
“I learned that if someone disparages you or makes you feel small, you have choices. You can go into a shell and take it. Believe what people say. Or you can go out and knock down some doors. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. Soon I will be syndicated on 200 stations. All that came from believing in myself. I’ll prove it to iHeart. To other broadcasters.”
Pags said at some point; you’ve got to find some kind of edge.
“I knew I wasn’t going to agree with things my father believed and said, just to shut him up. I had to stand up for my own beliefs.”
I can relate to a guy like Pags. He’s got a tough exterior, not easy to crack. But like me, I know in the center is a soft, creamy nougat.
Where Is the Good Stuff?
By the “good stuff, I’m not even referring necessarily to the happy or “feel good” tales of human kindness, child wonderment, or cute puppies.
A couple of stories about bears actually brought me to this declamation of sorts.
What you’ll see (or read, actually) is nothing new and certainly not any type of original complaint or assessment, but as I spend my days digging, crafting, and stacking stories on double homicides, house fires, high gas prices, and low voter turnout, it’s becoming that much more difficult to balance out a newscast with the good stuff.
By the “good stuff, I’m not even referring necessarily to the happy or “feel good” tales of human kindness, child wonderment, or cute puppies. I’m really just talking about the low end of the meter things; an innocuous bill passing, a road-widening project, or maybe even an upgrade in consumer technology somewhere.
We all realize if a show rattles off an unending laundry list of death, destruction, corruption, and high pollen counts, the only winners are therapists, pharmacies, and liquor stores. But it’s no longer as easy as it once was; I mean, I may be overstating for dramatic effect, but at the end of the day, it really does seem like not only are there fewer accounts to raise the serotonin levels, but those we do find cannot sufficiently dilute those newscasts from their continual tales of woe.
To expand my point, I return to the bears.
Over the years, I have come to count on bears, and for a good reason. Most bear content consists of the giant creatures, often with their youngsters in tow, doing things we find cute, intriguing, thought-provoking, and/or hilarious.
If you have never seen a giant black bear rumbling around inside an SUV they’ve just illegally entered or busting into someone’s kitchen and raiding the pantry or the garbage shed, can you even say you have truly lived?
Well, the short answer is you probably can, but I’m the one on the keyboard at the moment, so roll with it for now.
True, those stories often come at the expense of some weary camper, homeowner, or utility worker, but for the audience, it’s generally rejuvenating, even medicinal. A simple Google or social media search will lead you to an overflow of the best of bears in news content. Therefore, as you will see…they trend.
But here’s what has happened of late to turn those stories in a downward direction. Here, in this part of New England, our news stories about bears recently have revolved around them being killed. They destroy some crops or a garden and move on towards somebody’s house, and they get shot. They break into a shed and don’t run off; they get shot. They are euthanized; their cubs get tranquilized for relocation and then don’t wake up. It’s certainly a shift.
Suddenly, we are back to where we started with our content. What was once a sure thing is now added to the dark category of story selection. Still, it is often viable content because it’s a pro and con topic; it has angles and follow-up potential.
Now know this; I am not proposing a referendum involving bears, but rather just offering a long-winded metaphor of sorts.
We do not know when the time-tested default stories are going to turn on us. I do think it will usually happen when our backs are turned. That probably means the digging we do has gone even more profound than before. We cannot always count for all those elements in a story to be out in the open.
Like most of us, I read or at least do a hard scan of a lot of reports, releases, summaries, and everyone else’s take on what’s happening. Fortunately, I can sometimes find fundamental components dropped down further than they ought to be or not allotted enough attention due to time or space constraints.
In police work, these obscure details would often lead to another suspect, another criminal charge, or even an exoneration or a new investigation.
I find little difference in this present position:
A hi-rise building fire is brought under control when the alarm’s sprinkler system douses much of the flames just as fire crews arrive. Now, that’s great, but there’s a bit more upon looking a little deeper.
The sprinklers knocked out the elevators, and firefighters carried a disabled burn victim down 14 flights of stairs.
Part of their job?
Sure, but worth peeling the layers off that onion.
Drivers going the wrong way is another big thing around here. On the interstates, the highways, the local roadways, it’s happening a lot and often, as you might guess, with tragic results. So a driver is taken into custody after going the opposite way on not one but two different thoroughfares within like fifteen minutes.
Good story, good arrest, good write-up.
How did they catch the wrong-way driver?
The trooper turned directly into the driver’s path and took the crash impact to stop him.
Where did we that aspect of the incident?
Paragraph four or three-quarters through the stand-up.
Now, of course, all coverage and treatment of stories is subjective, and the intent here is merely for me to find a way to say I’m not seeing enough or finding enough “good stuff” to balance out my newscast, so I am going to loot and gut everything I can when necessary.
And that’s just on the local side. Do not get me started on the national beat.
I hope it’s not that people are starting to slip on their quota of good deeds, but it has forced me to think and work just a little harder.
It’s disappointing when I cannot even count on the bears anymore.