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With Sports & NBC Behind Him, Len Berman’s Living in the Moment at 710 WOR

“Here’s a political radio station, and you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show.”

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For three decades, Len Berman was an accomplished sports anchor in New York. He left WNBC in 2009 after a 27-year run at 30 Rock.

That was only the end of his TV career, though. Since 2015, Berman has proven to be a more than capable radio host as one-half of the WOR Morning Show with Michael Riedel. His transition to a different medium would be made easier from dabbling in news at WNBC.

Tom Cuddy, WOR’s program director, thought Berman could “broaden his horizons” after seeing him years ago doing sports on WBZ in Boston and from appearances on WNBC. 

While covering the Olympics in 1992 Berman made strides into news, co-anchoring with Sue Simmons and again in 1996 when they both were in Atlanta.

“Len was a superb sports anchor, but I think he would’ve embraced anchoring the news, and he would’ve been good at it too!” Simmons said.

Berman would also rotate as co-anchor with Simmons on Live at Five in 2005 when Jim Rosenfeld left for WCBS.

“We had an easy on-air rapport, Simmons said. “He’s such a professional.”

Some may also remember Berman’s brief radio run in 1993 at WFAN. It’s not a highlight for the award-winning sportscaster, who was supposed to do a four-hour show with veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica.

“The minute I signed the contract I tried to get out of it,” Berman admitted. “Then I got killed by [Bob] Raissman [with the New York Daily News] and by [Don] Imus. That was all me. I got cold feet.”

The burden of Berman’s nighttime TV gig led Joel Hollander, WFAN general manager at the time, to split the shift with Lupica. Within a few months, Berman was let out of his contract, but he was not soured on radio.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t think I wanted to do sports radio,” Berman said. “I didn’t know who the second line was on the New York Rangers, let alone the first line. I could tell stories, but I wasn’t what you’d call a sports fanatic.”

So, Berman had the journalistic chops to step out of his comfort zone, but he wasn’t prepared for the politics, even before the Trump era.

“I never thought of myself as anything until I had to label myself,” Berman said. “I guess some of the policies are more liberal than not when it comes to guns or abortion. But I always judged each issue on its own basis.”

From the world of sports, Berman knows all about fan frenzy, but “that’s chicken feed compared to this.”

Opinion comes with the territory and that was unique for Berman, who prided himself on delivering sports commentaries from all perspectives. That “MO” is out the window in talk radio.

The emails come in and if they aren’t over the top politically, he’ll respond. He cited a recent listener who complained about Berman’s views on Israel. Berman, who is Jewish, responded that he’s a strong supporter of Israel, but “that’s doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that the Israeli government does, much like I consider myself a pretty good American. I don’t agree with everything our government does.”

“I appreciate people who respect your opinion and [who] treat [you] honestly and fairly,” Berman said. 

His more progressive views are a contrast to powerhouse syndicated host Sean Hannity and the late Rush Limbaugh, heard on WOR for years.

“From 5 a.m. until 9 at night I’m the only voice that leans left on the radio station,” Berman said.

That meant once Donald Trump was elected, Berman was the lone host in opposition.

Incidentally, Berman voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but opted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

“It was easy on the Trump side to come up with opinions,” Berman said. “Either fortunately, or unfortunately, I came down on the side opposed to Trump. Maybe it made for good radio that we had two sides.”

Aside from the unexpected political cauldron that Berman would walk into, his on-air TV life didn’t automatically translate to radio.

“When I first started, I think the boss wasn’t real comfortable that I could handle a show from beginning to end,” Berman admitted.

He was fine with speaking to guests or callers, but the basic radio elements were foreign to him, such as navigating segments or doing a live commercial read. While it seems simple on the surface, Berman was used to putting together a 3:15 sportscast nightly at WNBC. Now, he was responsible for four hours of content daily.

“That’s very different,” Berman said. “It’s a whole different skill set.”

Tough Times with Todd

Berman initially was teamed with Todd Schnitt, but that was an ill-fated partnering.

“It was no secret that we did not get along,” Berman admitted. “It probably showed on the air.”

Schnitt, a native New Yorker, was the conservative voice who had been hosting his own show, The MJ Morning Show. He’s been fronting a political-centric afternoon drive program, The Schnitt Show, since 2001. However, failing in New York City would be a blemish to his career and, for the 34 months together, a blemish for Berman.

“Can you imagine coming to work and you don’t talk to your co-host except when you’re on the air?” Berman said. “It was uncomfortable. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”

As awkward as it was, though, Berman had no intention of walking away from WOR because, “it was just something to do,” after his forced retirement from WNBC.

But iHeart, according to Berman, was grooming Schnitt to become a star at WOR. Therefore, with the chemistry failing, Berman thought he would take the fall. At one point, Berman joked on the air that he was like Alan Colmes, who had a Fox News show with Sean Hannity. One day Colmes was gone, and the cable news wars were altered forever.

“I was just shocked that it didn’t happen,” Berman said.

So, when Cuddy contacted Berman in October 2017 about Schnitt’s exit, he was stunned. It was a sudden departure and Berman was forced to fly solo in the studio the next day.

Officially, iHeart said they couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Schnitt, “[but] I’m being very honest with you. I always thought something happened, I never knew what,” Berman admitted. “Maybe he wanted a lot more. WOR does not overpay. Trust me.”

Since 2018, Berman and former theater critic Michael Riedel have a much better ying and yang.

“You figure that one out. Here’s a political radio station, you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show,” Berman said.

Berman auditioned with fill-in guests on air and with the mics off. When it was finally Riedel’s turn, Berman was not familiar with his print or broadcasting background. Perhaps, it was that discovery that led to immediately clicking.

Their producer thought the off-the-cuff chatting was perfect and laid the groundwork for their on-air relationship.

“We both had broad experiences, so that’s why it’s worked,” Berman said. “We really do mix it up,” he said. “We’re very big on having fun.”

Battle for Morning Ratings 

He is proud of a long stretch, topping news/talk rival Red Apple Media’s WABC for more than a year, but Berman doesn’t get too caught up in the ratings. Another competitor is Salem’s 970 WNYM/The Answer. But the weaker signal makes them less formidable.

Another feather in his cap is occasionally ranking number one on Long Island among all morning shows.

WABC’s Sid Rosenberg recently told Barrett News Media that his morning show with Bernard McGuirk has “beaten the shit out of WOR lately.”

Berman countered, “If they’re ahead of us by a tenth or two-tenths, trust me, they’re not beating the shit out of us.”

The WOR host is so laid back about the competition that he’s never heard WNYM morning host Joe Piscopo or Bernie and Sid, although Riedel has listened to their WABC show podcast.

“I haven’t. I always had that approach in radio and television that I’m going to do the best job I can possibly do and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Berman said.

But Berman does have a history with Rosenberg, as a guest several times on his South Florida show. He also texted Rosenberg a couple of years ago about a matter unrelated to broadcasting.

“[He’s] a character,” Berman said. “If he wants to knock us, go for it. I’m not going to fire back.”

Life Since COVID

Since the pandemic took hold in New York in the spring of 2020, Berman and Riedel are working remotely. You can add news anchor Joe Bartlett to the list, who was planned to retire in 2020, but moved back home to South Carolina and has kept working each morning.

“There are people who don’t know, I don’t know how that’s possible, none of us [is] in the studio,” Berman said.

Berman is based on Long Island, while Riedel is at home in the West Village. 

As mask restrictions are loosening and vaccinations are increasing, it remains to be seen when the duo will return to their Tribeca studios.

“They have not made any decisions yet,” Berman said.

The fully vaccinated Berman said if iHeart brass require him to go back to radio station for hosting duties, “it’s something I would consider.”

However, Berman said, “I have the luxury of having already been retired. So, if I decide I really don’t want to get up another hour early and commute all that much, at least I have the luxury of knowing that I have that option.”

He is under contract, but in the fluid world of radio, coupled with the post-COVID cutbacks, there remains a lot of unknown.

“It really is day-to-day or month-to-month, as far as what my thinking is,” Berman said.

Len and Jill celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2020, but with his wife’s real estate business thriving, he’s in no rush to retire and head to Florida.

“At some point we’ll go back, at least for the winter,” Berman said.  

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BNM Writers

Biden Already Polling Poorly Six Months Into Presidency

Biden’s honeymoon is already over, if any such thing still exists.

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Most of the media wants you to believe that the country is unified in support of the job Joe Biden is doing as president.

As usual, don’t believe the nonsense.

Biden’s honeymoon is already over, if any such thing still exists. From day one, regardless of how the country felt about the legitimacy of his “win,” voters had already dug in their heels. And the results are quite alarming – both for Biden and for supporters of his extreme policy agenda.

On last week’s episode of What are the Odds, pollster and media personality, Richard Baris, shared some topline numbers on his recent national polling. The overall trend is that as the pandemic recedes, so does Biden’s job approval rating. The data indicates his fate may be tied to this one fading issue. A mere six months into his presidency, his approval numbers are already nearing dangerous territory for Democrats hoping to have an enduring electoral impact.

Overall, Baris has Biden at 51 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove. Approval is trending down, with disapproval on the upswing. But he notes that without the reliably leftward-leaning northeast states, Biden would “be in deep, deep, deep trouble with his approval rating.” Voters seem keenly attuned to the rapid downturn in conditions, as they watch rising inflation, increasing food costs, gas shortages, cyberattacks, violence in the Middle East, etc. 

Biden’s relatively high early disapproval is clearly linked to the continuing election investigations ongoing in numerous states. Increasingly, these recounts and audits are turning up multiple inconsistencies, adding more doubt in voters’ minds.

“Whether the media or social media want to admit it, there are a lot of people who question the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s win. That’s a reality, whether you want to agree with it or not. That’s irrelevant, it’s what the country thinks,” Baris said.

Biden saw an uptick in approval over the spring, a trend Baris attributes to the distribution of the vaccine rushed to completion and handed to him by President Donald Trump. 

“How do we know?” Baris asked rhetorically. “Because we asked about the other issues and you saw it. He was underwater on immigration, badly. He was underwater on the economy, a couple of points. He’s underwater on US/China relations. He’s underwater on foreign policy.” And this was before last week’s disastrously weak showing at the G7 meetings for Biden.

Many Americans are finding it hard to believe the country’s fortune has changed for the worst so quickly. And remember, these polling results were captured by Baris, one of the best in the business, whose work has been extremely accurate over the past decade. His polling in 2020 was very close to the election’s final outcome. 

“It’s a general feeling of, what a minute, what the hell is going on?” Baris said. “None of this was happening under Donald Trump. Why is the world falling apart now? And the media wants to hide that, that’s fine. But it’s happening. The blue checks on Twitter want to ignore it, that’s fine. But it’s happening. The fake poll readers who think they are gauges of pollsters in their ratings of accuracy and trustworthiness, fine. But it’s happening!.”

And Baris’s numbers might be some of the best for Biden, as a similar Monmouth poll has the president sitting at only 48% approval.

Some of the other notable takeaways from Baris’s polling, which seem to show the Democrats increasingly out of step with mainstream American sentiment…..

56% of the country feels that social media bans are too often used to crush dissenting views and represent a grave threat to free speech rights. Only 23% disagree.

Americans do not support the Democrats’ Critical Race Theory teachings in schools. By a spread of 67-21 respondents said children should be taught to be merit based, racially color blind and capable of being whomever if they work hard, not that they are disadvantaged based on the color of their skin.

63% of all Americans support the 2nd Amendment, but only 47% of Democrats support it.

China is viewed to be the biggest threat to the United States, by a commanding 42% to 22% margin ahead of Russia. Among Democrats, Russia was the top choice at 36%.

Most voters side with Israel over the Palestinians, 34%-13%, while Democrats favor Palestinians 21%-18%. 26% of all respondents support Palestinian statehood, 24% do not. Half of Americans are unsure or don’t care.

86% of voters agree (with Trump) that policy should put the needs of U.S. citizens ahead of U.S. allies and the global community.

58% of Americans said they would much rather have a leader who always keeps their promises and shares their views, even if they have perceived moral flaws.

25% of respondents do not intend to get vaccinated for COVID-19. 45% of Democrats have a great deal of trust in the vaccine, while only 24% of Republicans do.

Things don’t look great right now for Biden or his policies. Baris summed up his current polling, saying “This is the weakest margin since he put his hand on the Bible and took the oath of office, so it’s safe to say the honeymoon period is now over.”

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BNM Writers

News Talk Should Open the Door to Some Sports Content

However, there are ratings and revenue reasons to open the door to some sports content in our format and it should not be overlooked or underappreciated.

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Have you listened to sports radio lately? Does it sound to you like every other commercial is somehow tied to the booming industry of sports betting and daily fantasy? Well, it’s not quite that often, but it sure is a huge part of sports radio sales, and as state legislatures continue to legalize it around the country, there is a lot of revenue for stations and their sales team to go after.

For news talk, I understand that we often get caught up in making sure we aren’t “doing sports”, as that isn’t why most of our audience is there. They usually have two or three other places to find that content on the dial, and thousands of other options on podcasts. 

However, there are ratings and revenue reasons to open the door to some sports content in our format and it should not be overlooked or underappreciated. 

First, the content side: While not every town is a “sports town”, many are. And if you’re a news talk station, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with talking about the Chiefs game in Kansas City, the Cowboys game in Dallas or the Steelers game in Pittsburgh, the Friday leading up to the game or the Monday after a big win or big loss. 

No, the audience doesn’t need our X’s and O’s breakdowns, as we likely aren’t going to do a better job than the sports talk hosts, but talking about the game, your experience, are relevant to your audience. Maybe you went to the game, or took it in at a special location in your community, those are stories to tell that relate to your audience.

Coming in on a Monday morning after a huge win for your local NFL team in a sports town and just going into the latest rant about Joe Biden isn’t what your audience was doing over the weekend, at least not the majority. They were watching the game. They were cheering and booing with the big plays and big mistakes. They were around friends and family enjoying food and drinks as well. It’s relatable and it’s talking about what was going on around town and directly discussing what your audience was doing as well. 

This doesn’t require three or four hours of your show on your team, but picking a dedicated segment or two, weaving it into your discussion or making analogies relevant to the game (“Joe Biden looks as confused as Derek Carr did yesterday against the Chiefs defense!”), is fun and engaging.

Then, there’s the revenue side. If you are able to tap into your local sports teams from a content side, whether it’s a game preview segment on Fridays and recap on Mondays with a guest who knows the team inside and out, a picks segment, or whatever it might be that fits your market, there is easy money to be made. This allows news talk stations to tap into the huge revenues that are coming to stations from sports betting outlets and daily fantasy companies. It won’t be the same as the sports talk money, but a small piece of the pie is better than no piece of the pie. 

So at a time when programmers and hosts can be at odds with sales (although this has been going on forever), this is a no-brainer for all involved. If there’s a chance to provide great, local, relatable content for your audience, and tap into a revenue stream that is getting gobbled up by the sports stations, go for it.

Your audience will thank you and so will your sales manager. Is there anything better than that? 

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BNM Writers

NYC Mayor Race Lifts WABC; FOX News Remains Ahead Nationally

“There was one clear victor from the four Democratic primary debates on the TV ratings front – WABC.”

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Photo Credit: ABC 7 New York

The 2021 race for New York City mayor may be the most important election in the city’s history. Within the past year, New York City (among many other major cities) has seen an uptick in crime, while attempting to recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues like education, affordable housing and transportation are also vital on the minds of New Yorkers.

According to New York City’s Board of Elections, there are nearly 5 million actively registered voters within the five boroughs of New York City; 3.38 million of them labeled as a Democrat, making the hotly-contested Democratic primary for NYC mayor of high focus.

Some of the top contenders include Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, former head of the city’s Department of Sanitation Kathryn Garcia, former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley.

While the race is far from predictable especially with New York City’s recently-installed ranked choice voting system, there was one clear victor from the four Democratic primary debates on the TV ratings front. By far, the June 2nd debate on the ABC affiliate WABC was tops, with a 4.8 local household rating and a 10 share (meaning 10 percent of the households in the New York market watching TV were tuned in to this telecast), according to Nielsen Media Research. The rating translated to 514,000 viewers; also, among adults 25-54, the Democratic debate delivered a 2.2 rating/10 share.

At a distant runner-up was the June 10th debate on CBS affiliates WCBS and WLNY. Combined, it posted a 2.74 rating and an 8 share; WLNY (0.14 rating/0.3 share) provided a Spanish language simulcast.

Interestingly enough, the figures from WABC and WCBS approximately paralleled what each perform on a nightly basis during the 7-8 p.m. hour. WABC regularly airs game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”; WCBS airs newsmagazines “Inside Edition” and “Entertainment Tonight”. While data for these syndicated shows were not specifically available for solely the New York TV market, its national household ratings were, as follows for the week of May 31-June 6, 2021: “Jeopardy!” 4.9, “Wheel of Fortune” 4.7, “Inside Edition” 2.0 and “Entertainment Tonight” 1.9.

Data for the first debate on cable news network NY1 from May 13, the mayoral candidates’ forum on CW’s WPIX from May 27 and the fourth debate on NBC’s WNBC and Telemundo’s WNJU from June 16 were not available at post time.

WNBC normally airs entertainment newsmagazine “Access Hollywood” in the 7:30 p.m. time slot; its national rating was 0.8. For June 7-11, Telemundo’s athletic competition “Exatlón Estados Unidos” averaged a 0.6 U.S. household rating from 7-9 p.m.

CW’s prime time combo of dramas “Walker” and “Legacies” averaged a 0.5 U.S. household rating on Thursday, May 20; a 0.3 U.S. household rating on May 27.

On another New York-based note: former Comedy Central “news” hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart reunited on-air once again for the June 14th edition of CBS’ “The Late Show”. It was the first taping of the late-night talker at Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater in front of a live studio audience in 460 days. It led late night with 2.32 million viewers, according to Nielsen preliminary data – the show’s largest audience since May 11. CBS research projects the telecast may grow to 3.18 million viewers based on live plus three day figures, which would be Colbert’s best since Feb. 8.

As for the nationally-televised networks, here are the cable news averages for June 7-13, 2021 — cable’s best mark for the week in total viewers based on total day was by Fox News Channel; the 17th consecutive week FNC has accomplished this achievement:

Total Day (June 7-13 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.193 million viewers; 197,000 adults 25-54 
  • MSNBC: 0.781 million viewers; 100,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.557 million viewers; 129,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (June 7-12 @ 8-11 p.m.; June 13 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.157 million viewers; 331,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.376 million viewers; 175,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.776 million viewers; 177,000 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, Mon. 6/7/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.974 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 6/8/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.866 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 6/10/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.850 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 6/9/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.801 million viewers

5. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 6/7/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.735 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 6/11/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.694 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 6/8/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.690 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 6/7/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.640 million viewers

9. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 6/9/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.635 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 6/10/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.529 million viewers

11. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 6/10/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.516 million viewers

52. Anderson Cooper 360 “Obama Interview” (CNN, Mon. 6/7/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.408 million viewers

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

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 6/7/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.506 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 6/9/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.454 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 6/10/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.448 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 6/8/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.439 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 6/11/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.437 million adults 25-54

6. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 6/8/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.420 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 6/7/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.417 million adults 25-54

8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Mon. 6/7/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.380 million adults 25-54

9. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 6/11/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.371 million adults 25-54

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 6/9/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.366 million adults 25-54

17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 6/10/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.333 million adults 25-54

30. Anderson Cooper 360 “Obama Interview” (CNN, Mon. 6/7/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.279 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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