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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.

Ryan Maguire

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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

Dagen McDowell Is Ready For A New Adventure With Fox Business

“Every decision in America is born of policy, On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

Jim Cryns

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To know Dagen McDowell, you must understand what she comes from, where she comes from. You won’t know her until you know the lessons, kindness, and determination set forth by her parents.

Her parents operated a small grocery store, LW Roark and Company. Charles and Joyce McDowell were high school sweethearts and both went to college but decided to go back home and open a business. “This is in the middle of nowhere,” McDowell said. “It was a wholesale grocery store. They sold it in the late 90s.”

She said her parents were smart, encouraging, and took every opportunity to teach McDowell and her brother.

“They’d constantly talk up people who came into the store. Both of them have and had an insatiable curiosity about everything. They felt they learned things through their customers. It was more fun to learn about things from other people.”

McDowell’s parents never took a week off work. Never. The family took no vacations as most families would. Once while McDowell was in college at Wake Forest University, the family visited the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in D.C.

“Both of my parents were very interested in architecture and landscapes. We’d go to Williamsburg and just look at the buildings.”

McDowell joined FOX News Channel in 2003 and helped launch FOX Business Network as a founding anchor in 2007.

Her mother passed away three years ago and her father is still very much a part of her life. Her father was a constant teacher.

“One time my father, who we called Dowell McDowell, was putting up an outbuilding and asked me how long one line should be if the other line was such and such. He taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was about 4 years old.”

McDowell was nurtured by parents with endless curiosity.

“I was raised by parents who would always debate and converse around the dinner table. We shared breakfast and dinner together every day. They loved learning, were always inquisitive, never afraid to ask a question. My parents shared a fearlessness and passed that on to me. I’ve never been embarrassed to ask people questions. I love talking to people and finding out about things.”

For a long time, McDowell had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She knew if she worked at different jobs she’d eventually figure out what she was good at.

“I knew I was a decent writer, but I always tried to get information out of people, what they were doing. Ask if they were fulfilled and happy.”

At Wake, Forest McDowell majored in art history and had every intention of working in a museum, possibly as a curator.

“I interned at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I lived in Venice, Italy for a while. Wake Forest owns a house in Venice.”

After that it was Colorado. She moved back to New York during the recession of 1991 with a duffel bag. She took the Amtrak to New York City and sublet an apartment for six months.

“I had no TV, just a radio. I knew I could find something good to do in New York, there were so many jobs. I always wanted to live in the city. Either the city or way out in the country. Nowhere in between.”

She said being in New York made her feel anything was possible. This was January in 1994 when job ads were still in the physical newspaper, like the New York Times. McDowell interviewed at Institutional Investor through a referral from a friend.

“It was a brilliant magazine with terrific writing,” McDowell explained. “Very prominent in the industry. They were looking for someone to work with the newsletter written for the financial community.”

She’d cover topics like the bond business, Wall Street, and money management. The magazine made her take a reporting test where you’d make up a story and write it. She was offered a job and worked there for three years.

“I learned to be a journalist there,” McDowell said. “I could write but I became a better journalist. We’d break news, create our sources, and learn more and more about finance. People love to talk about what they do if you show interest.”

The next big job was SmartMoney.com, a resource and web newspaper for private investors. There McDowell wrote a personal finance column. She started doing commentary on television shows, the way a lot of people in different professions tend to do. “Then I started making more appearances on weekend financial or business shows,” McDowell said.

She got a call from Neil Cavuto about 20 years ago and he told McDowell, ‘Kid, you want a job? I know you don’t have much professional TV experience. We’ll give you some training and you’ll figure it out. If you do, you stay. If not, you go.’

McDowell said she was glad she was a writer first before she arrived at Fox. She writes her own scripts and has a background in finance and business writing.

“Before the business network was launched, they had only one business reporter and two senior business correspondents,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do so many different jobs, use different muscles, so to speak. As the years have passed I’ve discovered other talents I may have and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

There’s a new show in town. McDowell and Sean Duffy will co-host The Bottom Line which will air on weeknights from 6-7:00 PM ET.

McDowell said she and Duffy come from extremely similar backgrounds. Duffy is from rural Wisconsin and McDowell is from Virginia.

“We know what small-town living is like, “McDowell said. “I might live in New York City but where I grew up affects the way I view the world. I’m still grounded in my hometown. On the show, we look south and west with everything we cover. You have to think of your audience. Rather than talking about them, we talk with them. That’s our shared background and vision. Sean is extremely down to earth and generous.”

McDowell said the show is not financially based, but steeped in business.

She said Duffy’s experience as a former U.S. Congressman, he understands policy as well as financial matters.

“Every decision in America is born of policy,” she said. “On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

This is different from anything McDowell has done in the past.

“It’s a two-anchor show in the evening,” she explained. “This is not taking place during market hours. We tie all the business happenings together from the day. Again, it’s not about Washington or New York. It’s about the people we grew up with. We talk to them. Build a relationship with them on the air. For me, this is not just sitting in front of a camera. I can run off at the mouth as well as anyone, hang in there with the filibuster.”

McDowell says she is blunt, but hopes she isn’t rude. During a recent interview for the new show she used the terms ‘pig potatoes’ and ‘chapped backsides.’

“Those are terms I just made up,” she said. “I make up a lot of phrases and don’t always know what they mean. I have an entire repertoire of those kinds of phrases.”

Duffy assumed they were southern phrases he had to learn from McDowell, but she assured him she’d never heard them anywhere else.

“I’m just making stuff up,” McDowell said. “You can’t curse. Can’t say BS. At least you shouldn’t say BS on television. You don’t want to say manure. You never want to say something that makes people wince or evokes a smell.”

Dealing with people directly and bluntly seems to come from her mother.

“My mother had grit,” McDowell said. “She was also very kind, never syrupy. I used to say she had no magnolia-mouth.

That’s got to be a southern phrase.

McDowell said her mother was not a servile flatterer, but she was kind. Always there when somebody was in need.

“She had real grit. She’d stand and fight for her friends and family members.”

Her mother passed away after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

“She went through unimaginable pain,” McDowell said of her mother. “For nearly six years. You want to talk about somebody who was tough. There was nobody more pugnacious than my mother.”

She explained even with her illness, her mother was always on the go. Continuing to live her life. When questioned about being so active while she was ill, her mother continued to show grit.

“My mother would say she didn’t want to walk around looking like she had cancer. She asked, ‘What choice do I have? I could lay in bed and wait to die, or I can get up and do what I can .’”

McDowell said her mother’s illness taught her to be a caregiver in ways she never could have imagined. Her mother taught her to find moments of joy every single day, in the smallest of things.

“It can be as simple as telling a stranger to have a great day. Treat a perfect stranger with kindness. I do it all day long. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be known as a person who brings a casserole to a friend when they’re ill.”

A one-sheet from Fox tells you McDowell and the culmination of her background is perfect for The Bottom Line. The fact is, it’s true.

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BNM Writers

Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.

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Far be it for me not to address this outrageous and embarrassing instance in humanity. After the videos of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols were shown on television there really seemed to be more outrage emerging from society this time than from the media, for a change. One would think that’s how we wish things to be.

In instances like this, where the video and audio images are far from brief but are instead chaptered as they unfold, there are few options other than to let them run their course. Clocks — breaks hard and soft — are out the window, just as in live coverage.

Because that’s what this was, only the live this time was us, and as we all absorbed and reacted to actions disapprovingly familiar yet somehow foreign at the same time, the impact was still becoming apparent even though we already knew the outcome.

It’s happened before.

Not always like this but we’ve seen it before, police encounters shown on the news overtakes and become the news.

It takes effect as the sights and sounds are digested, dissected, and discussed, often before their potential impact could really be imagined.

In 1991, when the Handycam footage crossed screens for the first time and we learned Rodney King’s name, we didn’t know then but we had a feeling.

We were on the right track, though as newsrooms evolved and street reporting incorporated a different type of storytelling.

I was a cop in 1991. Changes came. Some.

It’s 2023, I’m no longer a cop. Changes will come again. Some.

Turning points — or the overused watershed moments — mean just as much to the news media as they do to law enforcement.

The “why’s” that make this a turning point are more society and community based this time around than they were in 1991.

At least I think so. And I don’t think it makes a bit of difference who’s involved this time.

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, and hard sounds to hear. But they aired. Where they couldn’t air, they were described in great detail; descriptions sometimes can be worse than the real thing. Sometimes, not this time.

And they should air, they shouldn’t stop airing. This is what happened and this is what people need to see and hear and this is exactly why we are here.

Warn them, provide them with a heads up that they’re not going to like what happens next. It’s life and we show life, and we show what some of us do with it when it’s someone else’s.

Overall, I would say the news platforms held their composure, even after the videos were released. I saw, read, and heard some refreshingly neutral coverage, even from outlets where I expected hard turns into the lanes on either side of the road.

Legitimate questions were asked by anchors and reporters and much of the time, the off-balance issues were raised more by those on the sidewalks and those on the other side of the cameras and microphones.

As much as I find myself in disagreement with what I often see on the cable networks — all the cable networks — I did find a sense of symmetry watching CNN’s Don Lemon speak with Memphis City Council Chair Martavius Jones in the hours after the videos were released.

Regular protocols be damned, Lemon and producers lingered patiently as Jones, visibly overcome by emotion, struggled to regain breath and composure enough to be able to speak. Rather than cut away or move to other elements, they stood fast and it became an example of what often requires no words.

There were fewer punches pulled on other platforms as well.

The sounds of the screams, the impacts, and the hate-filled commands were broadcast through car radios.

As were Tyre Nichol’s calls for his mom. They aired. They had to.

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BNM Writers

Does the Republican Establishment Get It?

For many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections.

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In a move that seemed to go against the wishes of the patriotic American grassroots, the Republican party on Friday re-elected RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel. 

The media immediately took notice, as many on television and radio are now wondering why the party would re-elect a chairperson who has been so unpopular with the base of its party. 

Grant Stinchfield discussed this issue Friday night on his program, Stinchfield Tonight, which airs on Real America’s Voice network.

“Ronna McDaniel holds on to her chairmanship of the Republican Party. By a whopping total of — what were the numbers– 111 to 54. Harmeet Dhillon only received 54 votes. Mike Lindell 4 votes. This is proof to me that the Republican establishment is dug in,” Stinchfield — formerly of Newsmax — said. “Don’t tell me they’re out of touch. See, you tell me they’re out of touch, that implies ignorance. They’re not ignorant about anything.”

As sentiment for Dhillon grew in the days leading up to Friday’s vote, many influential politicians and party donors publicly offered her their support and endorsement. These included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as well as donors Mike Rydin, Dick Uihlein, and Bernie Marcus.

Also on board were musician and outspoken conservative John Rich, along with the state GOP of Nebraska and Washington State. Countless journalists and media personalities, such as Charlie Kirk, Miranda Divine, and Lou Dobbs, also came out publicly in support of Dhillon. Former President Donald Trump remained neutral, not making a public choice of either of the three candidates.

For many of Dhillon’s supporters, the deciding factor was public sentiment across the party’s base.

“They’re reading the same chat boards. They’re getting the same emails I’m reading. I will literally post something about this race when I was supporting Harmeet Dhillon. There was not one comment – not one – that supported Ronna McDaniel. Everyone wanted change,” Stinchfield said, noting that the party elite saw the same groundswell of support for change.

“Now, nobody has an issue as Ronna McDaniel is some evil kind of person. I don’t believe she is. I believe, though, that she is part of the establishment. She’s been around too long as far as the establishment goes. And she’s been ingrained in doing business as usual. It’s not working.”

In making their choices known, many Dhillon supporters simply pointed to the scoreboard during McDaniel’s reign.

“Think about where we are. 2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost everything. 2022, we won the House, but we should have really steamrolled the House and we should have taken back the Senate, which we didn’t do,” Stinchfield said. “That means we’re on a real losing track since she took over. I don’t like being on a losing track. I like being on a winning track.

“Something has got to change when you talk about all of this. So how does Ronna McDaniel get 111 votes and Harmeet Dhillon only get 54 votes, when everyone, every Republican voter I talk to said it was time for change?” pondered Stinchfield.

And even more than the losses, for many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections. The most recent example of which came in Arizona, where presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Kari Lake, was “defeated” when countless voting irregularities occurred in some of the state’s most deep-red areas.

“Under her watch, Democrats instituted a mail-in ballot scheme. That may be even worse than losing, when you talk about the House and the Senate and all these things. The fact that we now have a junk mail-in ballot scheme across the country under Ronna McDaniel’s watch is serious trouble. Very serious trouble,” Stinchfield said on Friday. “And so the reason it is is because the Democrats are rigging the system.”

For years – until Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and took the world by storm – the Republican party had the reputation of being the party of the rich. Rush Limbaugh used to refer to this wing of Republicans as “the country club crowd.” President Donald Trump flipped the narrative completely, offering a clear vision of hope and patriotism to working-class America.

Reputable polling — such as Richard Baris’ Big Data Poll — consistently showed Trump running well ahead of almost every Republican candidate during the 2022 mid-term election cycle. In other words, Trump still maintains considerably more support across the country than most of the individual Senate or House candidates experienced.

Many experts believe this is because voters still view Trump as an outsider, while they view the Republican party much less favorably.

“Let’s tell you how out of touch they are, how elitist they are,” Stinchfield said, calling out the GOP establishment. “This meeting that went on, do you know where it is? It’s at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch in California. One of the most expensive resorts in America. You’re lucky if you get a room for a thousand dollars a night down there on Dana Point. Now, it’s a beautiful hotel, but why is the Republican Party holding an event there? Then I went back and I looked at what RedState did. RedState went back and looked at some of the expenses that the Republican Party under Ronna McDaniel’s leadership was spending money on.

“Take a look at this. $3.1 million on private jets. $1.3 million on limousine and chauffeur services. $17.1 million on donor mementos. $750,000 on floral arrangements. Now you compare this to the Democrats. The Democrats spent $35,000 on private airfare. A thousand dollars on floral arrangements. A thousand. Not $750,000. A thousand. And the $17.1 million they spent on donor mementos, the Democrats spent $1.5 million.

“Democrats know where to put the money. It’s not giving donors gifts. Donors shouldn’t want gifts. If you give money, give money. You don’t need the fancy pin to put on your lapel.”

Following her loss, Dhillon warned her party that it must listen to the base, saying, “if we ignore this message, I think it’s at our peril. It’s at our peril personally, as party leaders and it’s at our peril for our party in general.”

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