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The Power of “No”

It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space.

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Whenever I speak with friends or colleagues, the topic of “what’s wrong with radio” constantly comes up.  Everyone has different theories and many of them are valid.  Upon further reflection, I feel that it all boils down to one word.

No.

In nearly three decades of working in spoken word media, “no” is the one word I’ve heard more than any other.  It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space. 

No.

It’s a word that has been said about every facet of the business.  For those of you that have worked in radio, tell me if any of these phrases are familiar.

NO, YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THIS

The recent memo Cumulus reportedly sent out censoring their talk hosts from opinions on the 2020 election did not surprise me in the least. 

Companies are infamous for knee-jerk reactions to quell potential controversy.  Don’t get me wrong, there is ALWAYS a line and some of the mandates that companies hand out are justified. 

Many are just over the top and end up doing more harm than good.

I recall one time as a young Program Director, my morning show host took a very hard stance against affirmative action policies that the local university had been adhering to.  Within an hour after his show ended, the station’s General Manger stormed into my office with a sheet of paper in his hand.

“I need you to sign this,” he said. 

The document was an edict that, as PD, I would have to enforce a strict policy that matters of race could never be discussed on the station again.  I would be solely responsible for said policy and that any violation by any host on the station would result in my immediate termination. 

“Hey, why don’t we talk about it first,” I said.  “Don’t you think this is an overreaction to this morning’s show?”

The GM went on to explain, in no uncertain terms, that I could either sign this document or clear out my office.   Since my rent was coming due, I signed it.

The next thing I did was start calling anyone and everyone to see if they were hiring.  I wanted out.  A short time later, I landed a new gig.

Radio has lost a slew of talent to different content channels because they didn’t want to be censored or overly controlled.   It’s understandable why companies would want to avoid controversy.  Far too often, the cost of doing so has been worse than the controversy itself.   

NO, WE CAN’T SELL THAT

Yes, the pandemic has hurt many businesses, radio being no exception.  The reality is ad revenues for radio have been on the decline since 2006.  While digital services jumping into the competition pool has been a big reason for this, so has radio’s stubbornness.

It was shocking at times sitting in sales meetings with fellow Program Directors and hearing how often they would shoot down a revenue idea.  Often the phrase that was used was “We’re not doing that; it would be a ratings killer!”  Many former colleagues would try to protect ratings points like they were their own children. The irony was, they often did so at their own peril. 

Radio is a revenue, not a ratings business.  People lose their jobs for reasons related to the all-mighty dollar; not because their AQH shares went down because of Neilson’s nonsense. 

While I was never one to roll over and rubber stamp any idea that an account exec would bring to the table, I always did my best to find a solution.  I grew up in a family of salespeople.  I understood what life was like cold-calling and living on a commission-only basis.   You don’t sell, you don’t eat.  I would never tell a DOS, GSM, or AE ‘no’ without trying to come up with an alternative that would work.  There is ALWAYS a middle ground that can be found.  Working on compromises with the sales staff was an opportunity for mutual education.  I’d have a chance to explain to the salesperson WHY their idea wouldn’t work for the brand.  The salesperson, in turn, could explain to me their client’s needs and how I should align my thinking. 

NO, WE CAN’T SPEND THE MONEY

I’ve found far too many radio execs that are comfortable playing defense rather than offense.  Quite honestly, I can’t blame them.  Companies have made it a capital crime for GM’s who can’t properly justify an expense.  In doing so, they’ve created an atmosphere that isn’t about winning, it’s about simply not failing. 

I remember in one market; we had the opportunity to make a bid for the broadcast rights to a popular local sports team.  Getting them would have been an absolute game changer for us.  At the time, the station we were bidding against had been paying $4 million a year in rights fees.  When we put our proposal together, our counter to that was to offer no rights fee at all. 

When we were finishing our proposal, the GM looked at me and our sales managers and said with a laugh, “It will be a fucking miracle if this works.”

Feeling like I had to speak up, I countered, “Aren’t you afraid we’re going to get laughed out of the room when we propose this?”

“Hey,” the GM responded, “I’d rather be laughed out of the room than ask (our company) for $4 million a year!”

Our presentation was an absolute embarrassment.  The Team President looked offended afterwards and insinuated that we were wasting his time.  It was a bad look for us and left the impression that we were low rent in front of a multi-billion-dollar company.  We didn’t get the radio rights and continued to struggle to gain traction in a competitive talk market.

But hey, we didn’t have to ask for any money.

NO, WE CAN NEVER DO THAT! 

Innovation has been sorely lacking from the radio space for far too long. 

I’ve written columns in the past that radio needed to embrace technology, not ratings.   As streaming services continue to haul in billions of dollars, I’ve pleaded for radio to put a value on their content and to not be afraid of the paywall.   These progressive, forward-thinking ideas have generally been rejected. 

Much of this is because many radio fears failure.   

This ultra-conservative approach has not only stymied the industry’s growth, but its ability to be creative.

While a good deal of progress has been made in the digital space, radio has embraced new ideas at a snail’s pace compared to other content providers.

Facebook built a company worth over $700 billion and did so living under the mantra to “move fast and break things.” 

Amazon has a trillion-dollar empire and got there by “treating every day like day 1.”

Apple is a $2 trillion dollar company whose bedrock is coming out with the coolest new tech toys every year. Radio’s mantra?  “Hey, we’re surviving!”

BNM Writers

Bring Back the Art of Debate

In small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

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The last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about a quote I recently heard from Bill O’Reilly. I believe it was in a recent interview he appeared in with Glenn Beck, and O’Reilly was discussing his years as host of “The O’Reilly Factor”, the most-watched cable news show in the history of the medium. He was discussing how he went about booking his guests and said, and I paraphrase, “I tried to book the smartest people who could challenge me.” 

That’s one of the reasons that O’Reilly’s show was so successful. He did that on a nightly basis for over 20 years.

Unfortunately, that premise has gone by the wayside, in favor of echo chambers across the media landscape, including talk radio. 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t come back in some capacity and it doesn’t mean the host has to compromise their values. 

Each week on my morning show on KCMO Talk Radio, I interview Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Lucas is a Democrat, who has certainly angered lots of conservatives over the last 18 months on issues of COVID lockdowns, masks, and policing policy, just to name a few. One can debate how far left Lucas is on the “liberal spectrum”, but he will be the first to tell you he is a proud Democrat. 

Shortly after the pandemic began, I spoke with his office about doing a weekly hit to update the city on what was happening on the COVID front. The interview has continued ever since, every Thursday morning at 7:30, but has touched on any and every topic relevant to Kansas City.

And while every listener, plus Lucas himself, knows I have disagreed with much of his policies over the last 18 months, our conversations are challenging, but cordial, respectful, and informative for the audience.

However, like clockwork, after each weekly conversation, there will be a barrage of calls, texts, social media messages, and e-mails saying that I, as the host, “let him off the hook”, “am too soft”, and all the usual criticisms that come from a portion of the audience. These individuals insist they are done listening to our weekly conversations.

But you know what, something funny happens when I look at the KCMO Talk Radio streaming numbers each day or look at the ratings at the end of the month: Thursdays at 7:30 end up being one of our most-listened-to and highest-rated segments, by far. 

Then, when I go out in the real world, people tell me how much they appreciate the weekly conversations with the mayor, despite how much they may disagree with him. They think it’s important that our audience gets to hear from him, even if we aren’t his “based” constituency. 

To Lucas’ credit, he comes on my show, despite our differences. That’s a lost art for most politicians, left and right, who only want to go on media that is sympathetic to them and their beliefs. 

And then on the flip side, hosts on TV and radio have gone too far into the echo chamber, where they don’t want to hear from those who disagree with them. They also believe that the small portion of the audience that “wants blood” (theoretically speaking, of course) from their opponents, are the majority of the audience.

My research shows that’s not the case. And to reiterate, none of this requires a host to compromise their beliefs or become “squishy” on their opinions.

Granted, I wouldn’t spend hour after hour with guests who are disagreeable or don’t align with the audience, but the right guest in the right spot has real potential to create an excellent conversation and really good radio. 

There’s no doubt it’s harder than ever to book these guests, based on the aforementioned reasons, but in small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

And while hearts and minds are unlikely to change given the divisive climate we find ourselves in, you created a moment that connected with the listener, either good or bad, that will be memorable to them and keep them coming back for more. The loud-mouth haters be damned. 

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BNM Writers

FOX News Remains Go To Network For Noteworthy Events

“Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” drew 1.78 million.”

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Several noteworthy news events occurred during the week ending September 19, most of which Fox News Channel was the leading cable news outlet in its coverage viewership.

On Sep. 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Islamist militant group, the Taliban, took over Afghanistan. His appearance before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee   was tabulated only for MSNBC by Nielsen Media Research, to a delivery of 542,000 total viewers (from 2:16-4:00 p.m. ET). On the following day (Sep. 14), Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aired on both Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News was the clear victor, more than doubling MSNBC in total viewers (1.576 million vs. 0.648 million) and nearly quadrupled in the key 25-54 demo (257,000 vs. 66,000).

The California gubernatorial recall election on Sep. 14 that resulted in Gavin Newsom remaining as governor was extensively covered for four hours on CNN: 

10-11 p.m. ET: 1.049 million total viewers; 309,000 adults 25-54

11 p.m.-midnight ET: 1.013 million total viewers; 344,000 adults 25-54

midnight-1 a.m. ET: 0.846 million total viewers; 283,000 adults 25-54

1-2 a.m. ET: 0.575 million total viewers; 185,000 adults 25-54

Fox News covered the election results only in the 11 p.m.-midnight hour, averaging 2.05 million total viewers and 411,000 adults 25-54 — no doubt, assisted by its highly-watched prime time lead-in.

MSNBC spent only 26 minutes of live coverage in late night, resulting in 659,000 total viewers and 93,000 adults 25-54 (from 1-1:26 a.m. ET). 

MSNBC was the lone cable news outlet to air testimony by American female gymnasts before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the morning of Sep. 15. Gold medalist athletes Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman relayed to lawmakers how the FBI and U.S. gymnastic and Olympic officials failed to stop the sexual abuse that they, along with hundreds of other athletes,suffered from former doctor Larry Nassar. From 10:43 a.m. to 12:06 p.m. ET, MSNBC averaged 753,000 viewers and 62,000 in the key 25-54 demo; the gymnasts’ press conference from 2:10-2:30 p.m. (also on MSNBC) drew 813,000 viewers and 95,000 adults 25-54.

On Sep. 18, Fox News covered SpaceX’s return of its Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit, with the capsule carrying the four members of the Inspiration4 mission back to Earth after three days in space. It was the furthest humans had traveled above the surface in several years. The capsule Resilience splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. From 7-8 p.m. ET, Fox News posted 1.155 million total viewers and 141,000 adults 25-54. SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk.  

Lastly, on Sep. 19 at 10 p.m. ET, Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” delivered the highest-rated cable news show in the 25-54 demo of the entire weekend with 317,000 viewers. In total viewers, the live special drew 1.78 million.

Here are the cable news averages for September 13-19, 2021.

Total Day (September 13-19 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.483 million viewers; 238,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.767 million viewers; 86,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.587 million viewers; 125,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.194 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.140 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.137 million viewers; 27,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.135 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.084 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (September 13-18 @ 8-11 p.m.; September 19 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.659 million viewers; 417,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.375 million viewers; 156,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.799 million viewers; 177,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 63,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.203 million viewers; 65,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.163 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.151 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.046 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.776 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.574 million viewers

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.528 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.343 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.294 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.274 million viewers

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.202 million viewers

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.171 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.121 million viewers

17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.611 million viewers

127. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.209 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.629 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.621 million adults 25-54

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.568 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.544 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.542 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.538 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.514 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.510 million adults 25-54

9. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.491 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.479 million adults 25-54

29. CNN Special Coverage “California Governor Recall Election” (CNN, Tue. 9/14/2021 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.344 million adults 25-54

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.315 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Pivoting to News/Talk Was A Natural Move For Steve Malzberg

“Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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RT America host Steve Malzberg’s accomplished career began in sports but deep down he always had a passion for politics. Even before right-wing commentators were accusing the woke sports media of pandering to a specific base, Malzberg saw the hypocrisy in some of the day-to-day coverage.

The liberal bent fueled Malzberg’s creativity and desire to be different. Topics like race in sports often gave him fodder for his nightly shows in New York City. Years of railing against liberal opponents eventually made switching to news/talk full-time, seamless.

Malzberg’s unique skill set has translated well in both radio and television. Following a lengthy run at iconic WABC Radio, he was hired at WOR Radio and was eventually replaced by New York’s former governor David Patterson.

In 2013, he was hired by Newsmax TV to host the Steve Malzberg Show. Last year, he inked a deal with RT America to host a media commentary show. Now, very content and with plenty of creative freedom, Malzberg offers his expertise on media bias to millions of people. Malzberg recently sat down with Barrett News Media to discuss his path to success, his job at RT America, and how the death of Rush Limbaugh rocked conservative media to its core.

Ryan Hedrick: How did your career start?

Steve Malzberg: I started in sportsfor the first ten years or so of my career. I hosted the New York Yankees pre and post-game shows for a year, Jets pre and post-game shows for four years, Devils pre and post-game shows for a year. I had the honor of going to Super Bowls, Stanley Cups Finals and everything else you could imagine.

RH: Was the news/talk format one you envisioned moving into?

SM: I always had politics in me. My career took a different turn the night OJ Simpson was driving around in a Bronco. That event led to me switching. I was supposed to cover the Knicks who were playing the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden in the NBA Finals.

My program director asked me to stay around, come on after the game and cover the OJ story. He invited me to come on the very next day and provide live coverage of the OJ saga and after that I started filling in for other hosts doing political talk and more in the realm of current news events.

RH: One of the biggest challenges for transitioning from sports talk to news/talk is finding your voice. Did that come naturally to you?

SM: Yes. I used to love covering Jesse Jackson when I was doing sports. He would protest that athletics needed more Black coaches. I remember Filip Bondy and Harvey Araton wrote a book on the NBA. One of the themes was how hard and how terrible it must be to be a Black NBA player and deal with white public relations people, that irked me.

RH: You were the first-ever host of Newsmax TV. Are you still a viewer of the network? If so, what are your thoughts on how it’s developed?

SM: I am not going to say anything bad about my former place of employment. Chris Ruddy who runs Newsmax TV was always very hands-on. I am sure he’s just as hands-on now. I know after I left, they brought in a lot of people with hard news experience. I think they have a great mix of talent there, but I can’t say that I watch so I don’t have much to say about the programming.

RH: You’re currently hosting for RT America. What role do you believe you and your network are playing in educating conservative news media moderates push back against cancel culture?

SM: On RT America I host Eat the Press which is kind of a play on Meet the Press, but it’s not aimed at the show by any stretch of the imagination. What we do is really devour the press and their bias. I have the freedom to present examples of media bias every week and I think I do my part of trying to hold the media accountable.

I also have wonderful A-list guests who continue to come on with me. Great conservative Hollywood people join the show such as Robert Davi, Kevin Sorbo, and Maria Conchita Alonso. They buck the trend in Hollywood.

Conservative media is doing a great job getting the word out there. Shows like Fox & Friends are blowing away CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. However, the media is still dominated by the left, and with the advent of social media and the ability and willingness of Big Tech to cooperate with the government and in some instances ban conservatives, we have an uphill fight!

RH: What role do you feel social media plays in helping conservatives get their truth out?

SM: Social media is where it’s at. If we are limited then we are losing. We can’t put doubts about the vaccine or questions about a third shot or any topic without the liberals at Facebook and Google monitoring us and taking us down.

RH: As a host with strong opinions, are you ever concerned about being censored or canceled?

SM: Censorship has existed in one form or another in broadcasting throughout my career. I could go back to any of the stations or networks I have ever worked at and tell you that I’ve been told what not to say, not so much what to say.

Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave. I always found that my censorship was carried out in my passion or support of Israel. At RT America, we have a meeting. I come up with the guests and ideas and book the guests and there’s only been one disagreement with a guest. I have never been told what to say or how to say something.

RH: What type of impact do you feel the death of Rush Limbaugh has had on conservative media as a whole?

SM: I was fortunate enough to know Rush and be there when he arrived at WABC in 1988. I knew Rush for many, many years. Limbaugh is irreplaceable. His death set conservative media back. No offense to the people that have taken over for Rush, but I don’t listen. It’s not the same and it’s not appointment radio. I just don’t see how you fill the loss.

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