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KOA’s Mandy Connell Went From Earning a Living in the Air to On it

Connell said a lot of her life has worked out that way. Serendipitous opportunities have always seemed to come her way. 

Jim Cryns

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Mandy Connell once earned her living in the air, not on it. This was during an era they served full meals and champagne, not just a bag of crumpled, stale peanuts. You had leg room and didn’t have to kiss your knees from New York to Denver.

“I was still in school at Florida State University,” Connell said. “I met a Delta Airlines flight attendant in a bar, and she said she thought they were hiring.” Initially, the woman at the bar said it might take months to get an interview, but Connell was hired and started training as a flight attendant a few weeks later. 

Connell said a lot of her life has worked out that way. Serendipitous opportunities have always seemed to come her way. 

This next bit of happenstance changed her life–for a second time.

She was mostly on “reserve,” but when holding a rare regular schedule one month, Connell was chatting with another flight attendant about a mid-air fight between passengers a couple of weeks before. “She asked what I did, and I jokingly told her I jumped on the P.A. and gave the passengers a blow-by-blow description for those that didn’t have good seats.”

When she described the fight, there was a gentleman passenger nearby who heard Connell talking.

“The man told me I should be on the radio or television,” she said. “He gave me his card. I thought, ‘Great, this guy wanted to get me on his casting couch.’” On her return trip the next week, the man was again on the flight she was working, this time with his wife.

“He pointed at me and told his wife I was the woman he told her about.”

It turns out this man was Dick Robinson; someone Connell calls a radio legend. 

 “He owned the Connecticut School of Broadcasting,” Connell said. “He still does.”

“One thing led to another, and I was offered a scholarship at Robinson’s Connecticut School of Broadcasting.” She said Robinson’s daughter was about her age, and he sent her to pick Connell up at the airport. “We had lunch at his home. He showed me his office, and there was a wall completely filled with photographs with him and everybody; the Pope, presidents, just about anyone who was anyone.”

Upon graduation from broadcasting school, Connell took an internship in Miami at WINZ. “I was with Clear Channel when they launched the first digital system,” she said. “I was an unpaid intern, and I was helping paid people learn Audiovault.” That led to some promotions. “Then I got a crappy job two night a week from 7 to 3 am, doing weather on the top of the hour. It was a lousy job but a magical experience.”

Like most jobs in radio, you never forget your first.

After that gig, Connell said a solid opportunity came when she was hired as a producer of a radio show on 104.1 in Orlando. “I had a falling-out with the host of the show,” Connell said. “I made some mistakes I won’t do again. Don’t date the host is all I can say..” Connell said that was a huge career lesson for her, but she learned how to run a radio show. 

Self-described as ridiculously honest, Connell said she’s not afraid to upset the rules if they’re bad rules. “I just think living honestly is a good way to live. I’ve taken my work seriously.”

Her show airs daily from noon-3 pm on KOA 850 AM and 94.1FM in Denver. Connell starts her workday by gathering ideas for the show. “I get up at six, take my daughter to school, and I’m ingesting the news all morning. I don’t start my show until noon. I mostly focus on things that strike my fancy.”

She said topics that can drive a reaction from listeners are always in her mind. “We just did a show about a poll about Black Americans and things that mattered to them. We unpacked everything in there. That was super cool.” She said some hosts might take a snippet of that topic, but she quickly discovered it had so much more to offer. 

Connell said she wouldn’t talk about anything on her show unless she got excited about it. “I don’t like taking topics into the next hour. People tend to repeat themselves, and nobody wants to hear that.” At the same time, Connell knows new listeners come along every hour, so it’s a judgment call. 

Her show covers news of the day, ridiculous topics you talk about with your friends, and interviews with newsmakers and shakers Connell finds interesting. “No day is like another, and every day is a potential train wreck. And I mean that in the best possible way.”

When I spoke with Connell, there was a leak from the Supreme Court regarding abolishing Roe v Wade. You’d think that would be an A-list topic for a talk show. That is not the case with Connell. 

“Even though I talked about it on my show, it’s a loser topic. The leak from the Supreme Court would have been the top story on any other day.”

It’s not going to sway people one way or another. They’re already entrenched in their views.” 

The future of radio is something Connell thinks about all the time. 

“For us, we are looking at streaming options as a huge part of the next era,” she said. “I don’t know if the radio industry goes away permanently. It’s like when cable came out in the 70s. Everybody was sure network television was going away. I’m loath to say radio will go away.”

Does she march to a different drummer? Connell thinks so. “I tell my daughter my brain doesn’t work like other people’s brains,” she said. “I think my gift as a talk show host is because I look at things that are disconnected and bring them together. Some people think I’ve lost my mind, but it works for me.” Connell sometimes said her show could be schizophrenic, and she likes that.

On her show, they do a question of the week, and it is often a bit out there. “It’s always a philosophical question, no specific answer,” she said. “Sometimes our answers make us sound like bad people,” she jokes. 

 Connell admits she leads a simple and relatively dull life off the air. 

“I’m a combination of a newshound and introvert. I only read on vacation, but most of it is for the show. I’ve got a stack of books on my bedside table that are mocking me.” Film and television are out too. 

“I hike a lot,” she said. “I don’t ski, golf, but boy, can I walk.” She’s doing this hiking in Colorado. You know, the same terrain dangerous wild animals call home. “I’ve never seen a mountain lion or moose. Those moose can kill you.”

She said while Covid-19 was truly a global tragedy, it wasn’t so bad for her. “I got to work from home. I don’t like running around like a crazy person. I’ve got a full studio in my home.”

“I tell people all the time; Covid was very good for me. I was able to shut down and evaluate what was important in my life.”

One thing is certain. When someone tells Connell to ‘Take a Hike,’ she’s more than happy to oblige. 

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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BNM Writers

Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

Jim Cryns

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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BNM Writers

Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

Brady Farkas

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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