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How Mark Chernoff’s Tough Love Influenced My Radio Career

Without Mark Chernoff laying into me on the sleepy summer morning in 2015, I might not be here today getting to do what I love.

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Photo Credit: Newsday/Alan Raia

The news came down last week that WFAN program director Mark Chernoff would be retiring from his post. It will wrap up one of the legendary programming careers in the radio business. And as I saw the news and looked back at my five years working for Mark as a part-timer, I thought back to how much credit Mark deserves for my making the switch from sports talk to news talk. 

But it’s probably not in the way that many would expect. 

It was the summer of 2015 and after two years of freelancing at WFAN as an anchor/update guy, I received the opportunity to host my first show. It was a dream. WFAN was the station I grew up on. Mike and the Mad Dog took me through many afternoons as a kid. Steve Somers would be on my radio in my room as I finished up homework. Heck, I even called him a few times in high school. And at the age of 26, I was getting to host on the station. I had to pinch myself many times to make sure it was real.

Thanks to Eric Spitz, the former program director at CBS Sports Radio (and now executive at SiriusXM), I had been filling in sparingly on the national network. But this was the next level for me. Even though it was local and not national, it felt bigger, because of what it meant to me personally.

The show took place in July of 2015, shortly after the MLB All-Star break. I got to host an overnight show from 2a-6a on the biggest sports station in the country. I was ecstatic. The first hour flew by, the second hour featured a cameo from Craig Carton, who was up and at it early before hosting Boomer and Carton at 6am. Craig could not have been more encouraging and good-hearted when the mic was on and off. He spent a segment with me which was a blast and we goofed around. The last thing he said to me, off the air, as he walking out of the studio was, “A lot of people want to be in that chair. So keep it up and keep working hard.” 

The show wrapped up at 6 a.m. and I felt pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. Then at 6:01, Mark Chernoff walked into the studio. He sat down and the first thing he said to me, “That was the worst show I have ever heard.” 

My heart sank. I got a pit in my stomach. 

His critiques were not on delivery, caller interaction, teasing, etc. It was regarding my topic choice.

I spent the first hour or two talking about the Mets and Yankees from the night prior, but then I veered off into more social topics. I remember talking about something around the Women’s World Cup, which was underway, and discussing pay scales compared to the men’s and women’s events. There was some offseason NBA talk around Kevin Durant and the Knicks, more from the standpoint on if he’s a cultural fit. Chernoff told me he wanted game breakdowns and hammering home the nuts and bolts of these games.

And while I was crushed driving home that morning after taking my lumps, I realized he was right. That is what WFAN is. That’s what the greatest sports radio brand was built on. There was no questioning what their formula was and how successful it had been. And yes, that is what the audience expected.

But it was also a moment for me to look in the mirror and say to myself and think, “Do I want to spend the next 30+ years of my life breaking down pitch sequences and pinch-hitting decisions?”

The answer was no. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do that. And there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to do that.

That same summer I hosted an overnight show on CBS Sports Radio and one caller called in to ask about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line. I didn’t deliver the answer I wanted to deliver, which was, “I don’t care”, but it was another moment to think about what I want to do in the broadcasting business.

The feedback from Chernoff crushed me in the moment, but also pushed me to have a conversation with myself regarding what was next. And what was next would not be sports, it would be news. I was also starting to realize that during a weeknight, I’d rather watch a cable news program over a baseball or basketball game.

So in the fall of 2015, I worked my way into FOX News’ new SiriusXM channel to provide sports updates, with the handshake agreement I could fill in on some of their syndicated news talk programs on the terrestrial radio side.

That opportunity to fill-in first came in the summer of 2016 for then-host John Gibson. That led to more opportunities in the next several months. And after the sad passing of Alan Colmes, who was the night host for the network, I was one of the main fill ins following his death in January 2017. It took the network a few months to figure out their plans and in the meantime I was getting to host 2-3 national news talk shows per week.

The network would eventually hire Guy Benson and Marie Harf for that slot, but I knew the news talk itch was my future. I still used sports talk and updates to pay bills and stay busy, but it was no longer part of my long-term plan.

Within a year, WBAP’s Kevin Graham, who I had the pleasure of networking with in prior months, pointed me in the direction of an opening with Cumulus for a morning show/APD job in Kansas City at KCMO Talk Radio. After several “test shows” from the WABC studios, a trip to KC, and more test shows, in March of 2018, my wife and I were packing our bags and moving. It was a city we had some familiarity with having started my radio career in Oklahoma.

But three years later, the job, company and city have wildly exceeded my expectations. We’ve started a family and are happy to call it home. And getting to cover and talk about the biggest news stories in Kansas City and around the nation, while coming off a wild 2020 election cycle, has been incredible.

And without Mark Chernoff laying into me on the sleepy summer morning in 2015, I might not be here today getting to do what I love. So while I stand by my belief that my July 2015 show was not the worst show in WFAN history, I thank Mark Chernoff for, albeit maybe indirectly, for helping me realize what my passions were and wish him nothing but the best in retirement.

News Radio

Minnesota Public Radio Cancels Award-Winning Podcast

APM Reports investigative podcast “In the Dark” cancellation might come as a surprise, considering it received several accolades, including a pair of Peabody Awards, and was even profiled on “60 Minutes” last year.

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Minnesota Public Radio has decided to cancel a series whose three-year investigation and 20 podcast episodes assisted in overturning a conviction of a Mississippi man on death row. 

APM Reports investigative podcast “In the Dark” cancellation might come as a surprise, considering it received several accolades, including a pair of Peabody Awards, and was even profiled on “60 Minutes” last year.

“As a trusted public media service, Minnesota Public Radio is committed to providing high-quality journalism, programming, and experiences for our audiences and communities,” MPR said in a statement, per Inside Radio

“In keeping with this commitment, advancement of our strategic priorities, and our responsibility as financial stewards of MPR’s resources, we have made a difficult decision regarding the future of APM Reports. We are dissolving APM Reports as a separate business unit and incorporating select programming elements into MPR News. Unfortunately, this change means that colleagues, who’ve invested their energy, skills, and passion with us, will be leaving our organization.” 

The radio station informed the APM Reports team of the decision on Thursday, and it’s uncertain how many of the 18-staffers will face layoffs. The decision to pull the plug on the podcast comes two months after Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media converged into a lone entity under CEO Jean Taylor.

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News Radio

WTOP Receives Three Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards

WTOP advances to the national round of the competition, competing against regional winners from across the country.

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WTOP is one of the marquee news-talk stations in the United States and was recently honored with three Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards this week by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). 

For the New Series category, WTOP saw their National Security correspondent JJ Green’s COVID Conspiracy series was recognized for its coverage of a secret ploy by Russia to distribute lies and disinformation regarding COVID-19 and vaccines. 

“The journalists in our newsroom are dedicated, passionate individuals who want to make a difference in their communities,” Julia Ziegler, WTOP’s Director of News and Programming said in a press release obtained by Barrett News Media. “We are so honored to be recognized with three regional Edward R. Murrow awards.”

Meanwhile, in the Digital category, WTOP.com received a regional award for coverage of news events throughout 2021, including coronavirus, cicadas, and the scandal at D.C.’s crime lab. 

Finally, WTOP also received an honor in the Newscast category for coverage of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As a result, the radio station advances to the national round of the competition, competing against regional winners from across the country.

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News Radio

WSIU Airing Korean War Documentary for Memorial Day

The documentary will air on Sunday, May 29 at 2 pm and on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30 at 9 pm.

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It’s Memorial Day weekend, and WSIU is marking the occasion with a documentary centered around the Korean War. The radio station announced that “Shrapnel Down: My Korean War Story” will be broadcast on the WSIU stations.

The documentary will air on Sunday, May 29 at 2 pm and on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30 at 9 pm. The film plans to feature never-before-seen war footage caught by Iowa native and veteran Bill Rector during his tour of duty during the Korean War. 

“There are so many impactful stories WSIU proudly shares, and those of our brave U.S. veterans certainly deserve special attention,” film producer/director Mark St. George said. 

“In Shrapnel Down, I hope viewers will discover a personal story that lurks behind the great veil of war; of the humanity that was ever-present beyond the shots fired. Shrapnel Down is a documentary about war – true – but told through the camera lens of one extraordinary sailor who shares his story, documenting his experiences of war, friendship, and loss.”

Rector used an 8mm camera to document his war experiences, capturing this never-before-seen footage. In addition, the film contains an in-depth interview with Rector where he recounts vital moments such as the battles during the Blockade of Wonsan, the most prolonged battle in modern naval history, and the Court of Neptune ritual.

“The film is a time capsule that we are opening with viewers for the very first time,” St. George said. “The documentary features original, 8mm war footage that has, until now, been locked away. Shrapnel Down breaks the seal on this time capsule, and we’re happy to share it with viewers.”

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