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Martha Zoller Possesses a Resume Most Would Envy

Martha Zoller’s maiden name was Martha Mitchell during the Watergate era. That’s nearly as bad as being named Booth during the Lincoln administration. 

Jim Cryns

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It’s exhausting just talking to her. She’s got more horsepower than the Energizer Bunny, and she’s faster with her ideas and thoughts than Speedy Gonzales running a mile.

Martha Zoller’s maiden name was Martha Mitchell during the Watergate era. That’s nearly as bad as being named Booth during the Lincoln administration. 

She caught a lot of heat for her name. “I learned to deal with it,” Zoller said. “It was a great conversation starter. People would ask me, ‘Where’s John?’”

Zoller was born to Frank and Juanita Mitchell. Both worked in retail, and Martha went to work for the upper-scale Rich’s department stores, which is known today as part of Macy’s. Rich’s enjoyed a long run from two years after the Civil War until 2005. 

As a young woman, she said she loved to sing, mostly at church. 

Zoller also played the piano but admitted she wasn’t that good. For the most part, not what you’d call an ‘outside girl.’

“That’s the way my mom wanted it,” Zoller said. “She was one of the few women on the street who had a job, and I don’t think she wanted me running around on my own all day.”

Frank Mitchell joined the service before the war and served a few years. When he was about ready to be discharged, Pearl Harbor happened. “Anybody who was already in the service had to stay,” Zoller said. He was later captured and placed in a POW camp.

Frank met Zoller’s mother Juanita at Fort Jackson in South Carolina before he deployed when he first joined. “He was in the New Jersey National guard when they met,” Zoller said. “He rode horseback in New Jersey and became part of a mechanized unit, then was shipped overseas.” 

One might wonder why someone would marry just before going into an environment where your chances of returning were not good. “They had to,” Zoller explained. “In those days, couples weren’t having sex before marriage, so if they wanted to, they had to get married. That’s what you had to do back then.”

I suppose that’s as good a reason to get married as any.

Frank was captured in September of 1944, but as was his fashion, he played it down. “My father said the worst thing the enemy did was not feed them,” Zoller said. Fortunately, he later escaped. 

The war left him, like many others, with scars that never really healed. He suffered from what is referred to as ‘Survivor Guilt.’” Frank Mitchell had trouble understanding why so many of his younger comrades were killed in the war and survived. 

“Because of that he was a functioning alcoholic,” Zoller said. “He’d have a few drinks, and invariably the war would come up in conversation. He was a great guy, but when he was drinking, you didn’t want to be around him at 8:00 in the evening.” 

Her father’s sacrifice was something Zoller doesn’t take lightly. His service is not taken for granted. “I tried to write down everything he said,” Zoller explained. “There are records at Rutgers University. Eddie Leonard was one of the four soldiers my father escaped with, and he gave an oral history which confirmed a lot of the stories he told us.”

Zoller took her reading very seriously. “I loved to read,” she said. “I was the youngest of four kids, and I wanted to read everything I could so I could contribute to conversations at the dinner table.” Zoller said her older brother and her father would argue at the table about the Vietnam War. “They had very different ideas about that war,” she said. 

She graduated from the University of Georgia on the heels of Watergate. “I met Gerald Ford on the White House lawn and introduced myself as Martha Mitchell from Georgia,” Zoller said. “I think he thought, ‘This kid is playing a joke on me.’”

“When I graduated, I couldn’t find a job in journalism. I was a production major and never thought I’d be in front of a microphone.” She produced training videos for Rich’s, but her position was eliminated during the recession. They offered her a position as an assistant buyer. “My dad was in sales, and my mother was a buyer,” Zoller said. “So, I had some knowledge in the field. It was fun spending other people’s money.”

Zoller has a radio resume most would envy. For eight years, she was named to the ‘Heavy Hundred’ Talk Shows Hosts in America by Talkers Magazine. For three straight years, she was one of James Magazines’ ‘Most Influential Georgians.’ 

With her show, The Martha Zoller Show, which runs daily on WDUN from 9-11 on weekdays, Zoller said she tries to be open-minded when booking guests. “I’m kind of known as the ‘velvet hammer,’” she said. “I’m open to talking to anybody.” She said she’s happy to bring a Democrat on her conservative-leaning show, someone she disagrees with, and engage in thoughtful and kind discourse. 

“I recently had a guest who felt I was going to sandbag him,” she explained. “I gave him a fair shot, even if I asked him something he may not be thrilled to talk about. Since I was fair, they want to come back. I ask them something they want to talk about; then we focus on something more contentious.”

Zoller said on the big talk stations, talkers are less willing to veer from the ‘formula’ of enraging and denigrating those who disagree. “I’m lucky because I work for an independently owned station,” she explained. “I’m in the Metro Atlanta market but not subjected to all the ratings pressure.”

She worked on Michael Dukakis’ campaign in 1988. At the time, Zoller saw him as a conservative Democrat, something she herself identified as. “At one point, I realized I had nothing in common with these people,” Zoller said.

“They were busy bashing people who had achieved success in their lives. I was 27 years old, and I had every intention of being ‘successful,’ so I stayed until the end of the campaign, but that was it between me and the Democratic Party.”

In 2012 Zoller ran for congress in Georgia’s 9th District. She garnered endorsements from Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity and led in five of the district’s 20 counties. But Doug Collins, a three-term member of the Georgia House from Gainesville, prevailed. 

Only after all this experience and earning of her proverbial stripes did Zoller enter radio. 

I started at WGGA in Gainesville, Georgia. “I think we had about 12 listeners, so I was able to hone my fledgling skills,” Zoller said. “We were too small to have any callers. I had my first show on the Fourth of July, and I’m almost certain we had zero listeners that day.”

After that, it was on to flagship WDUN radio. Zoller said she was excited to work at WDUN, sharing how the sausage was made. After her unsuccessful bid for congress, Zoller wanted to return to radio. “WGAU in Watkinsville, Georgia had a job opening in the mornings,” she explained. Zoller hated it. “Getting up at 3:00 in the morning wasn’t for me.”

In 2005, Zoller was part of a group of radio hosts to broadcast live in Iraq. “The first night in Kuwait, we stayed at the Ritz Carlton,” she said. “After that, we were housed in tents with soldiers. I used my helmet as a pillow, and there was a girl from Detroit who was on suicide watch. I think she was just homesick.”

Even before they went to Iraq, Zoller knew there would be a ton of difficulties with technology, and she wasn’t disappointed. “I was asked why I was the only one who didn’t get mad at everything when something didn’t go right,” Zoller said. 

Later they went on to do a week of shows from Iraq, where she met many lifelong friends. “There were no accommodations for women in some areas,” Zoller said. “I slept in a storeroom.” 

She thinks her listeners respond to her being so honest on the air. “They love the stories I tell,” Zoller said. “I had a health crisis in November of 2020. It was so bad my husband called the kids to town as he didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“It was Thanksgiving, and my husband asked why my breathing was so labored. That was enough to take me to the hospital. I was so weak I couldn’t walk in the door,” Zoller explained. The doctors immediately placed her in the ICU. 

In her rare quiet times, she still reads and will watch some stuff on the television. “I just started watching Yellowstone, and I watched Bridgerton. I like a good Rom-Com and am a fan of the James Bond series.” Zoller wasn’t thrilled with the last one. (Spoiler.) “They killed him in the end. Now they have to reboot the whole series.” 

BNM Writers

The Donald Trump Conundrum For News/Talk Personalities

I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

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With 721 days to go until the 2024 Election, Donald Trump decided it was time for him to officially jump into the race. He could not wait any longer. And on Tuesday night, in a speech that lasted more than an hour, he decided to move ahead and officially kick off 2024, one week after the 2022 midterms ended. 

This has created an interesting dynamic for talk radio. Not only does it give reason to quickly move on from the over-analyzing of dissecting what happened in the midterms, but Trump is generally good for business, especially when he has been (mostly) off the radar the last two years. 

And as is always the case with Trump, the opinions and emotions will be strong across the aisle.

But with the opinions and emotions so strong across the aisle, what’s the play for News/Talk hosts?

Many are comparing this to 2015-16, when conservative-leaning media broke down pro-Trump or never-Trump, and it changed the landscape and careers for some, depending on which side of the aisle one landed on. 

However, there are stark differences this time around.

Those who would call themselves conservatives would all agree that the policies implemented by Donald Trump were a success. Whether it was economic policy, foreign policy, trade policy, or judges appointed, the 45th President kept to his word on all of the above and they were all highly-successful, especially before the pandemic. 

There is no true “never-Trump” angle amongst conservatives like there was in 2016. The question this time around is simply: “Is Trump the best person to move Trumpism forward? Or is there a better option to keep the movement moving ahead?”

That’s a very different conversation amongst the news/talk audience, that if handled properly, should not result in audiences turning on their favorite personalities, regardless of which side of the conversation one might come down on.

For these reasons, I don’t foresee a “civil war” amongst conservatives in the way we saw it six years ago. 

And for our audiences, there will be hosts who lean more Pro-Trump or Pro-DeSantis (or whoever else), but I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

That doesn’t mean not having an opinion. That’s ultimately our job. But if we form that opinion, on either side, through the prism of, “We’ve still got 18-24 months of this, things will change, and here are the pros and cons of what I’m thinking…”, it creates an environment that invites listener interaction and makes your show the place to voice opinions on both sides of the issue.

Also, that audience interaction will remain our great leverage in this conversation that cable news, newspapers, and social media can’t duplicate with the same intimacy. So let’s take advantage of it and it will also give us an on-the-ground feel for where the audience is in our market in a way the political consulting class can only dream of.

That’s how we can win this 2024 news cycle, that, yes, believe it or not, has already started. 

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BNM Writers

Post Midterm Elections: A Fresh Approach?

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”.

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The leftovers from the midterm elections are still in the refrigerator but I’m looking forward to either finishing them or tossing them out.

I will not feed them to the dog, I love dogs too much.

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”. That’s generally a given after looking at either side of a political scorecard but in this particular case, I think it resonates a bit more, for us.

We, the news people, need to do better. Actually, we need to be better. 

And, of course, we can be.

Once again, this is not an attempt at cheerleading nor is it a shot in the arm. 

I am no more a clean thinker than anyone else on the planet but I believe I share a common vulnerability; fatigue.

The hamster wheel that is a job like ours perpetuates a buildup, a film of apathy and when it comes to covering politics, or more accurately the antics of politicians and candidates, it’s a difficult ride to dismount. 

But once again, we have that regular opportunity to alter the game plan again. 

The faces are now changing in leadership (a little) and prominence (somewhat) but of course, some things will remain familiar. 

The House is flipping, 45 wants to be 47 and the old arguments will now feature a few new, differing voices.

It is these potential differences, I believe now as much as ever, our audiences want us to steer towards. If you ask yourself, “how weary am I” from the last two years of diatribe, in-fighting, out-fighting and people in power being just plain mean, ask yourself, “how weary are they?” … our audience?

I could name names, point fingers and cite examples but the joy of this business is the fact that anyone reading this (thanks, by the way) can think of countless citations all on their own.

 So, what is happening right now?”

Will another run at The White House come with a different approach by the now again candidate?

Congress has yet another opportunity to be something other than what they have been.

What will we do? 

Will we be different?

I would ask, should we be different but I already think we should, so ask yourselves.

Legislating, campaigning, and communicating… are all becoming more and more feral.

And we, in this business, wait for it, we pursue and we cannot wait to cover it.

Our broadcast sense of neutrality and non-partisanship deteriorates by the minute. 

Hell, we even add to it all.

We are on the hook for some of this, make no mistake. 

I’ve asked this before, but what’s more disheartening than hearing or seeing a veteran, tenured and respected anchor/reporter wearing their political and personal leanings in their coverage.  Former Presidents are Former Presidents, yet suddenly Donald Trump is Ex-President Trump. I never heard, of Ex-President Obama or Bush or Clinton or Hoover.

False Claims have now become Lies

We lash out in the only way most of us know how, in our writing. Are we being clever or clandestine or just unscrupulous? At a minimum, it’s immature.

If you really need that badly to step into your own stories using addition or omission, go get a talk show.

(This is not a positional complaint by the author here, it’s about how we report the news. Anyone wishing to know where this former cop-current newsperson stands on issues social and political, feel free to send a detailed list of questions. You’ll either be fascinated or incredibly bored.)

We are supposed to know what’s important and relevant and what is not. 

When we ignore that ability, we become exactly what we at least once didn’t wish to be.

What actually is happening in the story constantly takes a back seat to the language, the insults, and the juvenile name-calling that we’ve become so accustomed to. So much that it falls into our coverage without us even thinking about the issues that are actually being batted about, they are lost or diluted.

And that’s not what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s a lot easier to republish somebody’s rehearsed soundbite or republish a tweet than actually tell the story with detail and non-partisanship.

There is no wrong in reporting incendiary remarks or behavior when it is actually news but we are regularly caught in somebody else’s trap, an individual looking for coverage, for attention. They need facetime or namespace and they use us to do it. 

We did a weak job because the same people will do it again tomorrow. We put them in control of our jobs.

Afterward, we look at the work we just produced and realize we just got hosed. 

But, I say with a distinct level of insufferable naiveté, our job is our job, our work is our work.

We shouldn’t let somebody else take the wheel.

The truth is still out there and we don’t run from it, we pursue it. At least we are supposed to go after it.

The job is to clear away the brush, the camouflage.  Real journalists (I will never call myself one, I simply stand in awe of them) will sidestep the rhetoric, all veil and the deception. They can do that and still be creative, engaging and accurate.

The lawmaker, the politician, the candidate all hold dominance over the news media when their soundbites and exclamations drive the story. 

We can only control what we do.

I would much rather it be we to effect change as opposed to someone like Kari Lake or another politician or wannabe thinking it will be up to people like her to “reform” the media.

So, what are we going to do differently this time around? 

And before we arrogantly start thinking that it’s not we, who need to change, think again.

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BNM Writers

KRLD’s Drew Anderssen Wants The Audience to Feel Positive About The Future

Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business of radio leading him to his position at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks.

Jim Cryns

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You can always send in the traditional resume for a job. Maybe get a referral from a friend. Nepotism is almost a sure thing. Drew Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business he loved. 

“As a kid, I was a chronic caller to radio stations, so I think that kind of made me, in effect, an intern,” Anderssen jokes. “I was always a fan of radio. I listened to the Edge in Dallas. It was an alternative station. It was a thrill to hear my calls on the air.”

Anderssen grew up in Dallas and moved back home. In May, Audacy hired Drew Anderssen to run the day-to-day operations at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks. Most recently, Anderson served as Brand Manager at WSB in Atlanta and spent the previous 24 years with Cox Media Group (CMG). 

“I wanted to be at Audacy,” Anderssen said, “but I also have a lot of family in Dallas. My dad has some health concerns, so that was also a driving force to come home. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d ever have left WSB. I still have a great relationship with Cox.”

Anderssen started his career with CMG in 1998 as operations manager of News-Talk KRMG in Tulsa, OK. In July 2012 he transferred to the PD post at sister WDBO in Orlando and added operations manager stripes in 2016. Prior to joining CMG, Anderssen spent several years in promotions, research and programming in Texas and Oklahoma.

Anderssen went to college at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. In addition to his career in radio, Anderssen makes no apologies for being an entrepreneur, owning several different businesses in diverse areas. 

“I find time for my businesses,” Anderssen said. “I’m able to continue my radio career as I put good people in the right positions. Once you get past the startup phase, you can step away with confidence. That’s why I like to expand my personal footprint beyond radio. I love entertainment and I love to make money.”

Well, there you go.

Anderssen was also blessed or cursed with a very curious mind. Get this; he does some pretty good impressions. 

“I can do essentially any character from In Living Color or newscasters,” Anderssen said.

Fire Marshall Bill? Wanda? Walter Cronkite, Ron Burgundy?

“Some of them were spot-on, and gave people a laugh,” Anderssen said. “My original plan was to go to medical school. I was a pre-med major then I got hit by the radio bug.”

His parents were concerned, perhaps a bit disappointed with their son’s career interest. It’s always convenient to have a doctor in the family. But how often do you really need a radio guy?

Anderssen said his education at Midwestern State had a practical and hands-on approach. 

“I was already working at the college radio station. It gave me an entry into media. I was having fun. My parents wondered when I’d get a ‘real job,’ figured I was never going to make a living. Who in this business didn’t hear that?” Anderssen said. 

He inherited his business acumen from his father, who owned a broadcasting school, among other interests. Elkins Institute of Radio Broadcasting was one of his ventures. 

“I imagine a lot of people in the industry today went through that school,” Anderssen explained. “It dissolved and is no longer around. My dad’s first job after he got home from Vietnam was to recruit people to enroll at Elkins.”

His career has allowed him to assess change and perhaps the direction of radio. 

“I think 20 years ago, maybe longer, we lived in an environment where the news brand wanted to be everything in terms of providing information,” Anderssen said. “Politics is a story generator for all news. I want people to come out of those experiences feeling positive about the future. This is what I love. We live in the greatest country, but I think that has been up for debate the last four years. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

He said we’re seeing a lot of targeted audiences with podcasting, a natural progression considering the intimate medium.

“We will see a lot more in the podcasting realm, some with great successes,” Anderssen said. “A lot of podcasters seek out that niche, make huge investments,  planting the flag, so to speak.”

Personalities like Nikki Medero and Mark Thompson immediately created a YouTube presence after KGO in San Francisco eschewed news in favor of gambling in October. 

“I think it makes a lot of sense to do that,” Anderssen said. “Sometimes you need to make a quick pivot. A lot of people may be in for a wakeup call. If you’re not in YouTube and other similar spaces, you’re missing an opportunity. I’d rather see people in our industry be more proactive than reactive.”

He said brands are built with platforms. The best thinkers in broadcasting had better be pondering how to leverage different platforms. 

Podcasts have created a bit of an identity dilemma for talent. Does talent carry over their ideas and opinions into the podcast realm? That can be concerning if they carry the journalistic mantle in the radio gig. 

“I think most talent in the business is seeking out that diverse relationship with their listeners,” Anderssen explained. “If some of our home-grown talent finds a national audience with their podcast, that can be a good thing for a radio brand. We can adopt a sort of 360-degree look at leveraging content across platforms. Build the individual and the platform.” However, Anderssen said on their podcasts, his talkers are obligated to pay homage to their local call letters. 

Earlier in his career, Anderssen said he was responsible for integrating radio and television newsrooms to work with some kind of synergy. He said in his experience he’s seen a bit of radio–envy among television broadcasters in the ability to express themselves. 

“Radio people are able to tell stories TV people can’t tell,” Anderssen said. “That’s the reason I think a lot of TV people want to get into radio. I knew a lot of reporters who wanted to explore more in-depth stories. Television reporters are handcuffed with a two-minute segment, and that can be frustrating. Especially with topics they’re passionate about.” 

“Journalists crossing over into their own views on a story is a concern,” Anderssen said. “I think there’s been a debate on where that line is for years. That line becomes grayer all the time. We’ve learned that television people are more often displaying their leanings and opinions on broadcasts.”

Anderssen said he thinks radio and television consumers want a human connection with the people they listen to. The connection takes on an emotional component. 

“The consumer is in their car and wants to come away with a feeling. You must be real to provide that connection and feeling.”

 “From a traditional news standpoint, you don’t want any of your people taking on an on-air opinion with a story,” Anderssen said. “You just want to deliver the story, not get caught up in some political Left or Right. We don’t want to put our brand in a position to take sides. We live in an extraordinarily divisive world. That said, you can find yourself in a bind.”

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