Talent crossing over to news-talk from a different format is nothing new. It’s been done for years. Often though, many of these people fall into one of two uninspiring camps:
TALENT A– A jock on a music station that has aged out of the target demo. However, they have enough name recognition in the market to land a news-talk gig. Their shows are big on humor but have little depth. It’s formulaic and contrived.
TALENT B– Thinks that doing news-talk means they have to be a Rush or Hannity clone to be successful. So, they drape themself in an American Flag and regurgitate the same conservative talking points that have been strewn across the news-talk landscape for years. It’s formulaic and contrived.
I’ve always felt that TRUE talent is transcendental. When I worked in news-talk, I was never afraid to look at a candidate who didn’t have a background in the format. The key was finding the RIGHT person…and not an individual who fell into the two camps I listed previously.
As a PD, I would always keep long list of talent I liked, regardless of format. Here are five names off that list. These are individuals I’m familiar with who are NOT currently working in news-talk but would absolutely KILL it if they chose to crossover.
NICK WRIGHT- Co-Host of First Things First on FS1
I had the good fortune to work with Nick for almost four years when he was doing sports-radio in Kansas City. His knowledge of athletes and teams were never in question. However, as I got to know him, I found out quickly just how intelligent and well-rounded a person he was.
Growing up in KC, Nick went to an exclusive prep school and could have easily gone to Harvard or Yale had he chosen to do so. He even managed to snag a spot as a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Our conversations were rarely about sports. He had amazingly well-thought-out opinions on politics, race, pop culture, the economy and history. He’s successfully been able to weave those opinions into the sports shows he’s hosted over the years. Following the death of George Floyd, Nick made an impassioned plea to white people which has since gone viral:
MIKE VALENTI- Afternoon Show Host on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit
As a Detroit sports fan, I’ve been a daily listener to Valenti’s show for years. The man is a verbal assassin and has become one of the most phenomenally successful local sports-talk show hosts in the country.
If he ever wanted to jump into the world of news-talk, I have no doubt he’d enjoy the same amount of success.
Valenti has never been shy about talking about non-sports topics on his show. As COVID-19 put a halt to sporting events, much of the subject matter on his shows changed. Valenti spent time on his programs focusing on the social and political impacts the pandemic had on people in Detroit and across the state of Michigan. It was great content and it certainly didn’t have a negative impact on his ratings. He and his partner Rico Beard dominated the market throughout the spring and summer books. On September 30th, Mike jumped away from sports and led his show with reaction to the surreal first Presidential Debate. The content was as good, if not better than what I heard from many news-talk shows that day:
ANDREW FILLIPPONI- Co-Host of The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh
I had the pleasure of working with Andrew during my time in Pittsburgh. I recall one afternoon at the studio; I saw him intently reading the book John Adams by David McCullough.
“Poni,” I quipped, “I hope that’s not your idea of show prep.”
He smiled and went on to explain how he was getting ready to watch the HBO Miniseries of the same name and wanted to read the novel first. We then went down a rabbit hole of talking about Adam’s politics, his role in history, which founding fathers we thought were overrated, etc. It was a side of him that I had never seen before and it always stuck with me.
In the years we continued to work together, I made a point to steer conversations away from sports. We’d talk about relationships, business, politics, etc. He always had the ability to make stop and think about the topic at hand and even question my own views.
Knowing Andrew, he loves sports too much to want to cross over into news-talk. However, he has the chops to do so. My colleague Brian Noe did a fascinating piece on Andrew for our sister-site and it’s worth a read.
MIKE WICKETT- Host of The Wickett on Wisconsin Podcast
Mike, unlike others on this list, has done news-talk for a living.
After successful sports-radio stops in Ann Arbor and Milwaukee, he was hired co-host middays on Kansas City’s KMBZ.
I worked directly with Mike in both of his sports-radio stops. He was always quick witted, an absolute wizard with audio production and never afraid to go against the grain of popular sentiment. Despite that, I was surprised when he left sports-talk to do news-talk on BZ. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to tackle the far more serious topics that the format would present.
Naturally, he proved me wrong.
Mike spent 3 on KMBZ and became a Top-3 performer with Men, Women and Persons 25-54. He was never afraid to spar with people on politics or social issues, but also knew how to add the right amount of levity and self-depreciation to make him relatable.Wickett left radio in late 2019 and is now a stay-at-home-dad. He’s done some fill-in work on various news and sports stations, but also hosts the Wickett on Wisconsin Podcast.
JONATHAN WIER- Morning Show Co-Host on Country 102.5 in Boston
Jonathan is in the same category as Mike Wickett. They worked in news-talk (at the same station no less), then crossed over to do something else. In Jonathan’s case, he left spoken word entirely and now works as the morning co-host on Country 102.5 in Boston.
I met Jonathan when he was hosting the top-rated evening show on KMBZ in Kansas City. If you listened to his show, his success would have been no surprise. He attacked every topic with an infectious energy that made it impossible to stop listening. He also had an amazing knack for getting the best out of every other voice that was on his show (weather it be co-hosts, producers, anchors, callers, etc.). BZ let him go as part of a cost-cutting move in July of 2019.
It didn’t take him long to land a gig, as Beasley hired him to head to Boston only a few months later. You can get some samples of Wier’s current work here.
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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