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Thom Hartmann Still Enjoys Engaging In The Scrum

“Progressive radio has deep roots. It has been around a long time, but nobody had really done it nationally like [Rush] Limbaugh had.”

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Thom Hartmann is one of the most recognized voices of progressive talk in the country and probably one of the most intelligent. His weekly show is syndicated by Pacifica and is heard on SiriusXM and terrestrial radio, including KPFK in Los Angeles, the largest FM in the U.S.

His noon-3 p.m. eastern eponymous program features Hartmann’s look at the news of the day from a progressive perspective.

The show was quick to adapt to the pandemic in 2020, having a live set-up for remotes, but Hartmann brought it into his home and upgraded to commercial-grade Internet.

Hartmann returned to the studio after a year, but adds “we’re being very careful.”

Even though his talk show started in 2003, it’s safe to say Hartmann is a radio lifer. He’s been on the air dating back to the late 1960s.

The seed was planted as a child.

“When I was 8 or 9 years old, I got really into electronics,” Hartmann told BNM.

It quickly became more than a hobby for the budding broadcaster, who got a 100-milliwatt transmitter kit. He hooked it up to a turntable in his parent’s living room.

“[I] created a radio station for the five houses nearby where three of my friends lived,” Hartmann said.

By the time he was 13, Hartmann had his ham radio license. Still a teenager, Hartmann’s first radio gig was as a weekend country music disc jockey at WITL in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. He was just 16 years old, the same age he started college.

Hartmann also took to radio at Michigan State University.

There were a handful of stations in Lansing for Hartmann to “spin the hits.” Eventually, he returned to WITL, evolving to newscasting for the next seven years.

However, in 1978, he left the state and radio to concentrate on a co-owned small business.

“I’ve been a serial entrepreneur,” he said.

 Other fields would follow, including founding an advertising firm and launching a travel agency.

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Progressive Talk

Hartmann would find his legendary voice with an op-ed piece in 2003 indicating progressive talk radio was a viable business mode.

“That became the first business plan for Air America radio,” he said. “There were still a lot of skeptics out there and I wanted a proof of concept.”

Living in Vermont at the time, Hartmann got a radio station in Burlington to let him do a couple of hours on Saturdays to test his theory. 

“America is 50-50, Democratic, Republican, and talk radio is not an intrinsically or inherently political medium,” he said. “It’s just a tool. It’s neutral.”

Within six months his show was picked up by a national network—now defunct I.E. America Radio—owned by the United Auto Workers in Detroit. More than two dozen stations formed the initial group of affiliates for Hartmann’s broadcast, and Sirius, where he remains to this day.

During his time away from radio, Hartmann started a community for abused children in New Hampshire. His wife Louise spearheaded the project that was “designed to blow up the big institutional model of how children were too badly damaged to foster care,” whose only options were “children’s jails or state mental hospitals,” he said.

That led to a 1978 school for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Hartmann wrote books about psychology, including best sellers on ADHD.

He got himself officially on the roster of psychotherapists in the state of Vermont.

“It was more like a professional credential than a way of making a living,” Hartmann recalled.

Although he supervised the clinical staff, Hartmann said he never practiced as a therapist.

The program lasted into the 21st century.   

That love of electronics helped cut corners for Hartmann, who could assemble a studio in his living room for his show in Vermont.

When Air America began, the largest affiliate (KPOJ), located in Portland, Oregon, asked if he’d do the national show there and a local morning show specifically for them.

His youngest daughter had already moved to Oregon, so, Thom and Louise moved and were joined by all of their children. Hartmann still broadcasts from Portland.

While liberal radio is not the prevailing popular choice among the masses, some on the left side have broken through. Alan Berg was one Denver host, heard on KOA and across 29 stations. He was murdered in 1984 by a neo-Nazi, the basis for the film Talk Radio.

Michael Jackson, who died earlier this month, also found success with his liberal views.

“Progressive radio has deep roots,” Hartmann said. “It has been around a long time, but nobody had really done it nationally like [Rush] Limbaugh had.”

Time for TV

Although Hartmann would be part of the Air America lineup, “I never chose to be an employee. I always owned my own show.”

Hartmann hosted a daily, one-hour program, The Big Picture. He took it to Washington for the RT news network when Barack Obama went to the White House. The international broadcaster also hired Larry King and Ed Schultz to build a quality television network.

But when Donald Trump got elected, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, took an active role in supporting the new president.

“The summer of 2017 I exercised a 90-day early termination clause in my contract and went back home to Portland,” Hartmann said.  “It was a great experience and I learned a lot about doing TV from it.”

His radio show does continue to simulcast on TV through Free Speech TV on Dish Network, DirectTV and numerous cable systems.

“Probably between one third and one half of my calls are coming from Free Speech TV and YouTube,” Hartmann said.

His show is not currently heard in New York City, although he was on WBAI in the past.

But with internal strife at WBAI, Hartmann said the station has “devolved into a disaster scenario.”

Book Review: Not-so-hidden racism and profit define the sickness of  "American Healthcare" :: NPI's Cascadia Advocate
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Conservative Nation

Despite being a leading progressive talker, the country’s airwaves are predominantly filled with right-wing narratives.

Hartmann pointed to President Bill Clinton signing the Telecommunications Act in 1996, lifting the cap of stations by an owner.

Clear Channel and Cumulus grew exponentially following the government’s ruling.

“Ownership of these stations was pretty overtly conservative,” Hartmann said.

Beyond that, the longtime progressive host has seen it firsthand: “Radio, as a whole, is a very conservative industry.”

He said that does not refer to politics, but the cautious nature within the business.

“No program director ever got fired for putting Rush Limbaugh on the air,” Hartmann said. “When something’s a winner, everybody wants to jump on it. But nobody wants to take chances, and nobody wants to be the outlier.”

Radio faces a challenge from online platforms and podcasting becomes a more accessible option for listeners to find their content.

But Hartmann isn’t worried about the future of his beloved business.

“Most radio is consumed in people’s cars,” he said. “Radio is still alive, well and strong in rural parts of America, and in cities where you have long commutes.”

However, in the smaller towns where people aren’t staying in vehicles for long stretches, “radio’s dying,” he said.

Not only does Hartmann welcome listeners and guests from the other side of the aisle, he

encourages it, but admitted it is getting harder to find conservatives to engage in debate.

“It’s damn near impossible,” he said.

As for right-wing-slanted callers, Hartmann doesn’t shy away from them either.

“If a conservative caller calls into the show, someone wants to disagree with me about something, they go to the front of the line,” he said.

As a ratings ploy, Hartmann said those interactions are the drama listeners enjoy.

“But people aren’t really fully informed about an issue until they’ve heard a couple of different sides of it,” Hartmann said.

Prior to the pandemic, Hartmann would make it a point to listen to his conservative brethren.

“I loved to listen to Michael Savage and Mark Levin. I listened to Limbaugh for years,” he said. “I’m a big fan of talk radio. I also learn from it. Not just politics; a lot of my radio technique I learned from listening to Limbaugh and Michael Savage, in particular, who, in terms of politics, he’s nuts, but in terms of radio he’s a genius.”

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Thom Hartmann Program

Hartmann has used their template for creating his host-driven show, building a relationship with the listeners by sharing his opinions each day.

He typically highlights the top handful of topics and a 10–15-minute rant with as much information and his views will follow. Hartmann will then take as many calls as necessary on the given topic, usually resetting at the top or bottom of the hour.

“We keep the whole thing fairly tightly focused,” Hartmann said. “My show’s only as good as the host.”

Hartmann said liberal hosts need to move away from just doing interview radio, because host-driven is “the most popular medium,” and doing it effectively means “willing to be absolutely honest with your audience and yourself.”

It was Hartmann’s first mentor, Chuck Mefford, former owner at WITL, who told his protégé, “In radio, when you open that microphone there’s only one person on the other side.”

But on the same side, listeners will find Randy Rhodes and Stephanie Miller are among the other progressive stars.  Still, Hartmann knows his competition comes from conservative talkers.

“Frankly, I think most people, if they listen to good talk radio, can really get into it,” Hartmann said. “It’s just there’s not that much good talk radio out there anymore. Now a lot of it is just screaming and yelling.”

Hartmann’s midday slot is also home to Buck Sexton and Clay Travis for Premiere Networks, and Dan Bongino on Westwood One.

“I used to debate [Bongino] almost every week when I was in D.C. But not anymore,” Hartmann laughed. “He’s a big deal now.”

He doesn’t think the loss of Limbaugh will make a difference in his audience. Instead, he’s certain the Trump presidency had a better impact. Show hosts historically perform better when an opposing party is in office, acting as the de facto foe.

Hartmann, though, has no problem criticizing a Democrat, including the 46th president.

“I will criticize Joe Biden when I think he’s doing something wrong or stupid,” he said.

Like Biden, Hartmann is a septuagenarian, but has no plans of retiring.

“I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m not that old yet. My brain still works really well,” he said. “I think engaging in the scrum on a daily basis is one of the things that keeps it working.”

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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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BNM Writers

The State of the Radio Industry and Technology

“As the industry continues to evolve, radio broadcasters must find new ways to monetize their digital offerings and adapt to changing listener habits.”

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After writing some three-dozen columns for Barrett Media, I often hear that I don’t provide a balanced view of the radio industry. Therefore, this week, I will write about the strengths and weaknesses of the radio industry. It may be a little simplistic, but it will make sense at the end. I promise.

The radio broadcasting business continues to evolve in the digital age, with strengths and challenges to consider. One of the most significant strengths of radio is its ability to reach a broad audience. Radio waves can travel long distances, allowing local stations to reach listeners beyond their immediate area. This makes radio a powerful tool for both local and national advertisers. Radio also reaches audiences in their cars, at work, and at home, providing advertisers with multiple touchpoints. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, radio reaches 93% of adults in the United States each week, making it one of the most widely consumed mediums. Furthermore, radio is a cost-effective form of advertising, with lower ad rates than other media forms. This allows small businesses to reach a large audience without breaking the bank.

Another strength of radio is its role in emergency communication. In times of crisis, radio can provide important information to listeners quickly and efficiently. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all radio stations to have emergency alert systems, allowing them to disseminate critical information to the public promptly. Radio can be a lifeline for communities during natural disasters, power outages, or other emergencies, providing updates on road closures, evacuation orders, and other important information. Radio can reach remote areas where other forms of communication may not be as reliable. This makes radio a vital tool for emergency responders, who rely on it to coordinate responses and disseminate information.

Despite these strengths, the radio industry faces several challenges in the digital age. One of the biggest challenges is competition from other media outlets, such as streaming services and podcasts. The rise of these digital platforms has led to a decline in traditional radio listening, which is likely to continue. 

According to a Nielsen report, traditional radio listening among adults aged 18-34 has dropped by 20% over the last decade. Additionally, many radio stations are struggling to monetize their digital offerings, which has led to a decline in revenue. However, radio has been able to adapt by incorporating streaming services, podcasts, and other digital platforms, which allows them to reach a wider audience and cater to changing listening habits.

Another challenge is the consolidation of the radio industry. In recent years, there has been a significant amount of it, with a small number of companies owning multiple stations. This has led to less programming diversity and less market competition. This can lead to a homogenization of content, with less local flavor and less opportunity for new voices in the industry. However, many smaller independent stations have survived by providing unique and localized content catering to the needs of their community.

Despite these challenges, the radio industry continues to generate significant revenue. The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) says that radio advertising revenue in the United States reached $18.9 billion in 2019. The radio industry has been able to adapt to the changing market, with many stations now offering a combination of traditional and digital programming. The industry has also been able to monetize digital offerings by incorporating targeted advertising, sponsorships, and other revenue streams.In conclusion, the radio broadcasting business is facing challenges in the digital age, but it continues to have an enormous audience reach and role in emergency communication. 

Additionally, the industry continues to generate significant revenue. As the industry continues to evolve, radio broadcasters must find new ways to monetize their digital offerings and adapt to changing listener habits.

If my analysis seems a little simplistic or this column doesn’t seem like my typical style, it’s because I didn’t write it. The column was written using artificial intelligence (AI). More specifically, by the hottest tech trend these days, ChatGPT.

How hot? Here are a couple of data points from a report in Axios.

  • In June, generative AI was covered in only 152 articles. Just six months later, the topic has generated roughly 12,000 news stories, according to MuckRack data.
  • At this year’s CES trade show, 579 exhibitors were listed under the show’s “Artificial Intelligence” category — more than double of those categorized as “Metaverse” (176), “Cryptocurrency” (19), and “Blockchain” (55) combined.

ChatGPT is AI technology that allows you to have regular conversations with a chatbot that can answer questions and help with tasks such as writing columns. 

ChatGPT is what Siri wants to be when she grows up.

ChatGPT is currently open and free while it’s in its research and feedback collection phase. If it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a lot of fun. It is also quite helpful when researching a topic (as long as the information you need is pre-2021). It is much more efficient and precise than Google, any other search engine, or Siri. I find myself obsessed with seeing what it knows and can do. If you try it, you probably will be too.

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