They stand out pretty much wherever they are; they draw attention all by themselves.
The journalist covering the story, casting an aura all their own; a news crew no matter how large or small often becomes the focus of as much interest by passersby and neighborhood kids as the police crime scene tape or smoldering building they stand in front of.
Picture the enthusiastic sports fan leaving the stadium and spying the camera, the radio mic flag or the live truck and suddenly it’s like kids spotting the ice cream truck coming down the street. That said, what is becoming more and more common are those attracted to the scene not because of the news presence or the story but because of an opportunity, and not the righteous kind. Unfortunately and more often these days making for a story all by itself.
Released this month, reporting from the latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey showing 1 in 5 television news directors describing attacks on their newsroom employees.
One in five, that is a lot.
In addition, one might think it’s only happening at large stations in the big markets or only at the most extreme events or perhaps while covering incidents like protests and demonstrations that got out of control. Nope. Actually, it’s rather evenly spread out across market and station size and happening whether there is a 3-person crew or a 1-person MMJ (Multimedia Journalist) on the story.
The type of assaults and/or attacks are equally diverse. There are random interruptions by the opportunists, jumping in and out of live shots or shouting profanities. Most reporters and photographers will say those are an almost everyday occurrence and just part of the job.
Nevertheless, we have all seen the YouTube and other social media postings where it goes further, sometimes much further. Spit upon, slapped and even punched, news cars and equipment damaged or stolen.
What drives it? Is it a rising dislike and distrust of the media?
Doubtful, only because that has always been there in some form, it is nothing new. However, in decades and generations past we were not regularly attacking our reporters.
More likely, it’s instance and opportunity, much like any crime or any offense. Sometimes the crew can fend it off but with eyes and minds on the job at hand it’s next to impossible to prevent.
If we wonder why it’s happening more ask yourself what life was like when field producers had a common presence.
So, is this supposed to be the norm for the journalist on the street? A cop on the street maybe, but the reporter? Granted, they are both on those types of scenes and in similar areas but for differing intents and purposes.
I am not saying it is the same but whether one wishes to admit it or not there are similarities, parallels even, in news reporting and police work.
There are lines of demarcation certainly, but the interactions with people and the scenarios are often the same. Knowing the streets does not always mean beating the streets; both cop and reporter have been on the wrong end of that idea.
Cops worry about going through the wrong door, pulling over the wrong car. And while not yet at that level, journalists need to measure the story they are covering, their resources and the environment.
Hopefully news people out there have a heightened sense of danger or the awareness that the potential exists for bad actors with bad intentions. That does not mean incidents can be easily be prevented or stopped in their tracks, but efforts should be made to try.
I think in terms of the first year MMJ in a small market, sent on a breaking news shooting or accident scene.
“It’s 45 minutes before the 11pm newscast…get out there and go live for the top of the show”.
There is no News Director at the station at that time; there might not even be an Executive Producer. The reporter rushes to get there, there’s no real time to do anything else but set up and maybe ask somebody a question or two. Assessing the scene and its safety concerns is not often on the checklist.
Who is thinking safety and security at that time? Who is making the decision? Who has not seen the recent video of the reporter hit by a car during a live shot?
It was professionally handled by that journalist yet who back at that station was looking out for her that day? Who set the plan in motion? While off the path a bit of the primary issue, one still could spend the better part of the day looking at footage or reading accounts of journalists at scenes in similar predicaments or attacked, assaulted and worse.
No, this is not just about MMJ’s…it can be a team or a trio with a live truck, and back to the survey, not everyone cited was working alone or at a volatile scene.
Maybe think about it in terms of the way news covers bad weather: What does a viewer or a listener really thinking about storm coverage? “Why is that reporter standing in a hurricane?” What is the reporter, the photographer, the field producer, or the live truck operator thinking about storm coverage? “Why am I standing in a hurricane?”
By the way, I came to this business late so I tend to ask questions that often get me looks of frustration and annoyance by those who did not. A beloved former coworker once quoted me back to me following a period of long form storm coverage.
WE KNOW IT’S A HURRICANE…CAN’T THEY BE SOMEWHERE SAFE AND SHOW YOU THE HURRICANE? THEY CAN TELL YOU ABOUT AND DESCRIBE THE HURRICANE…NOBODY NEEDS TO BE HIT BY A FLYING STOP SIGN TO BRING YOU GOOD COVERAGE…THEY CAN DO THAT …THEY CAN BRING YOU THAT…SAFELY…THEY’RE REPORTERS.
So, what can be done about it all to keep those out there a bit safer? Consider analysis and preparation when putting staff in various situations. It is done for storm coverage.
It begins before the next story, playing out scenarios in the conference room with staff members, measuring priorities in coverage and making sure the security philosophy penetrates. You’re in a bad situation; let us plan a way to get out of it.Truthfully, it’s not something I’ve heard often discussed at length in planning and editorial meetings. True, storms may be more predictable but so is the unknown. You know it is out there.
Luckily there are those willing to advocate for themselves; I worked with a reporter who abruptly ended a live shot right on the air, before anyone had to chance to say anything. “Guys this isn’t safe, I’m wrapping it up…back to you.” Excellent! It’s not unheard of, it’s certainly prudent and hopefully, we have all seen reporters, photographers and producers make that kind of call.
This is not about bad management, or uncaring or unthinking bosses. They are out there, sure but nobody wants their people hurt or put in dangerous situations. It is however, about asking the right questions at the right time. Where are we sending our people? What is the neighborhood like, the mood on the streets? More importantly, what are we losing or giving away by pulling back from the center of the most vulnerable areas?
When in doubt, send an extra body to the scene. ANY body. If managers want the story, managers need to make it safer to cover. A sports anchor and I would go hit the streets to parallel and back up crews on demonstrations and protests. Generally, not for physical presence or as a deterrent but instead to be the extra set of eyes on a scene and it is often a game changer.
I have seen news directors go out there, sales people and of course interns. Yes, interns have eyes. Interns are often heroes. Stop sending them out for Chick-fil-A and Starbucks runs!
Getting the story means keeping the staff safe. Just as the cop cannot help anyone if they crash the patrol car running code to a hot call or a fellow officer in trouble, the reporter cannot tell the story if they’re sidelined by an attack or a disruption that might have been avoided by having a plan or the right number of people there. No matter what happens out there, the MMJ or one-man band reporter is not likely to go away nor should they. Radio, digital and print are usually alone, they are certainly harder to spot in a crowd but generally, they are solo.
Moreover, who can say there aren’t smarter ways for all platforms to do the job with a little more safety in mind?
It’s certainly better than showing up on YouTube.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.
Fox News Dominates Election Day Coverage
Although less than half of FNC’s draw, MSNBC (3.21 million) was runner-up among cable in total viewers followed by CNN (2.61 million).
November 8th was Election Day, as the country decided who held control of Congress in this midterm session, and Fox News signaled it still controls cable news viewership.
Results from early and same-day voting indicated, much to the surprise of news outlets and observers, that Democrats would likely retain power in the U.S. Senate. This was confirmed as close races in Arizona and Nevada were decided in the Democratic Party’s favor; also confirmed, the GOP earned a majority in the House of Representatives, albeit by a slimmer margin than expected. For Joe Biden, it marked one of the best midterm election results for a sitting President’s political party in U.S. history.
Of course, all major cable news outlets experienced a lift from election coverage. Fox News Channel dominated the TV landscape (including broadcast networks) averaging 7.42 million viewers in prime time (8:00-11:00 PM ET), according to Nielsen Media Research. Although less than half of FNC’s draw, MSNBC (3.21 million) was runner-up among cable in total viewers followed by CNN (2.61 million).
The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania was one of the high-profile contests to watch. At about shortly after the 1:00 AM ET hour, it was called for Democratic incumbent John Fetterman, defeating Republican challenger and former daytime talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz. The cable news rankings in total audience remained the same: FNC (2.64 million), MSNBC (1.94 million) and CNN (1.25 million).
Fox Business Network’s simulcast of FNC midterm election news delivered 629,000 viewers. Meanwhile, Newsmax averaged 572,000 and NewsNation posted 93,000.
During the 9:00 PM ET hour on Saturday, Nov. 12, it was reported that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto held onto her seat in Nevada after defeating Republican Adam Laxalt, clinching the Democrats’ control of the Senate regardless of the results of the upcoming December runoff election in Georgia. MSNBC (1.68 million) edged past CNN (1.53 million) within the hour. FNC opted for regular programming; its “Unfiltered with Dan Bonigno” drew 1.29 million.
On the broadcast side back on Nov. 8, ABC led with 3.31 million viewers, with NBC (3.11 million) close behind and CBS in third (2.56 million). In their regular 11:35 PM hour, CBS aired a live edition of Late Show with Stephen Colbert (at a below-average 1.88 million total viewers) and ABC televised an original edition of “Jimmy Kimmel” (guest Bill Maher; delivered 1.56 million — near its normal levels). NBC preempted The Tonight Show for additional news coverage.
Univision (1.29 million viewers from 9-11 p.m. on Nov. 8) led all Spanish-language outlets, and more than doubled Telemundo (601,000) in the same two-hour period.
The 2022 midterm elections drew a combined total viewership of 23 million from the eight major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News plus FBN simulcast, MSNBC, CNN, Univision and Telemundo). This marked a 33 percent decline from those same networks for the 2018 midterms (34.2 million), although that was in the midst of the chaotic Trump White House era which then heightened interest for all news outlets.
Figures for 2022 somewhat harken back to those from 2014. ABC, CBS and NBC then each only devoted the 10 p.m. ET hour to the midterms. Combined with FNC, CNN and MSNBC, the six outlets posted 22.9 million viewers.
Cable news averages for November 7-13, 2022:
Total Day (Nov. 7-13 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.911 million viewers; 223,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.986 million viewers; 146,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.767 million viewers; 201,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.166 million viewers; 36,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.162 million viewers; 21,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.156 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.144 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.123 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Nov. 7-12 @ 8-11 p.m.; Nov. 13 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 3.243 million viewers; 597,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.702 million viewers; 274,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.219 million viewers; 368,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.269 million viewers; 39,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.183 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.169 million viewers; 40,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.157 million viewers; 49,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.136 million viewers; 43,000 adults 25-54
- NewsNation: 0.076 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.805 million viewers
2. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.274 million viewers
3. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 7.186 million viewers
4. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.826 million viewers
5. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.745 million viewers
6. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.827 million viewers
7. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.521 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 11/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.428 million viewers
9. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 11/9/2022 5:09 PM, 51 min.) 4.340 million viewers
10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 11/7/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.071 million viewers
20. Decision 2022 “Midterms Results and Analysis” (MSNBC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.435 million viewers
36. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.683 million viewers
262. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 619” (HBO, Fri. 11/11/2022 10:00 PM, 56 min.) 0.828 million viewers
322. FNC Simulcast: Election (FBN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.681 million viewers
385. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Thu. 11/10/2022 8:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.535 million viewers
401. The Daily Show (CMDY, Mon. 11/7/2022 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.478 million viewers
413. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 11/13/2022 11:06 PM, 34 min.) 0.455 million viewers
488. Fast Money Halftime Report (CNBC, Fri. 11/11/2022 12:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.306 million viewers
490. Forensic Files “Hundreds of Reasons” (HLN, Fri. 11/11/2022 11:30 PM, 30 min.) 0.303 million viewers
767. Cuomo (NWSN, Wed. 11/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.163 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.978 million adults 25-54
2. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.879 million adults 25-54
3. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.781 million adults 25-54
4. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.497 million adults 25-54
5. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.285 million adults 25-54
6. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.120 million adults 25-54
7. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.097 million adults 25-54
8. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 1.054 million adults 25-54
9. Election Night In America “Midterm 2022” (CNN, Tue. 11/8/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.960 million adults 25-54
10. FNC Democracy 22 Election (FOXNC, Tue. 11/8/2022 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.876 million adults 25-54
13. Decision 2022 “Midterms Results and Analysis” (MSNBC, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.811 million adults 25-54
120. FNC Simulcast: Election (FBN, Tue. 11/8/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.279 million adults 25-54
210. The Daily Show (CMDY, Mon. 11/7/2022 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.186 million adults 25-54
279. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 11/13/2022 11:06 PM, 34 min.) 0.139 million adults 25-54
308. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Thu. 11/10/2022 8:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.127 million adults 25-54
319. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 619” (HBO, Fri. 11/11/2022 10:00 PM, 56 min.) 0.124 million adults 25-54
325. Forensic Files “One For The Road” (HLN, late Thu. 11/10/2022 1:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.121 million adults 25-54
420. Shark Tank “Shark Tank 1303” (CNBC, Sun. 11/13/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.085 million adults 25-54
735. Newsnation: Rush Hour (NWSN, Mon. 11/7/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.035 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/
Bitcoin and the Economic Breaking Point
This bitcoin bull remains as optimistic as ever, at least according to his comments on the widely-acclaimed What Bitcoin Did podcast, hosted by Peter McCormack.
Bitcoin is down nearly 80% from its all-time high of 2021. Virtually everything is down, so that’s not a surprise. Yet many of the most influential and cerebral names in the space remain as optimistic as ever about the asset’s future.
“I see it as a cleansing,” Preston Pysh said of the current crypto bear market. “It sure hasn’t changed my opinions on anything.”
This bitcoin bull remains as optimistic as ever, at least according to his comments on the widely-acclaimed What Bitcoin Did podcast, hosted by Peter McCormack. He spoke recently on the program about the latest cryptocurrency exchange collapse – this time the popular FTX exchange led by Democratic mega-donor, Sam Bankman-Fried.
“I’m a little shocked at the size of the scam that was being played on everyone, and when you’re dealing with private equity, not a publicly-traded company when you can kinda peer into the books, it’s a little hard to kinda know what you are dealing with,” Pysh said of the latest exchange implosion. “I didn’t see FTX blowing up in literally, seconds. When you can’t peer into the numbers and you can’t actually see what’s being done, like, it’s kind of hard to be able to see something like that coming.”
Pysh is the co-founder of The Investor’s Podcast Network. He is also an entrepreneur, author, investor and cryptocurrency proponent. As he has said on this, and other programs, he believes this tumultuous period of time has been part of the well-known Bitcoin cycle. All part of Bitcoin’s ebb and flow, which he believes will eventually turn positive once again.
For his part, McCormack drew a distinction between the recent scandal and other start-ups in the industry who appear to be approaching things in ethical ways.
“This is somebody who’s come in recklessly and damaged the industry. Damaged individuals, damaged businesses, damaged peoples’ holdings in Bitcoin. There is some dark consequences for this,” McCormack said. “And I know people hate regulations. And I know people hate the likes of Coinbase being so friendly with regulators. But at the same time, it’s like well, they’re building proper businesses within the infrastructure.”
“This is what a bottom starts to look like. Now, how long does this go? I don’t know. It really depends on how much the central bankers allow it to persist. But they have got to get the inflation prints lower,” Pysh said.
While many bitcoiners believe the future of “digital gold” is bright, no one can confidently predict the near-term future. The next Bitcoin halving – when the newly-issued supply is cut in half – is scheduled to take place in roughly 15 months. This traditionally has spurred a years-long bull run for the asset.
“We swallowed a lot of bad news to still have Bitcoin at $16,800,” McCormack pointed out, seeing the big picture, decade-long trend of the asset.
“This is extremely healthy stuff as far as I’m concerned,” Pysh said, pointing out that it is a blessing to clear out the weaker industry exchanges and businesses now. “All of those activities, could you imagine building on top of those? Like, if we weren’t going through this tightening right now, and let’s say they were releasing the floodgates again, you’re just going to have more of these types of activities that are going to get built on top of this. You want to talk about a real meltdown. That would be really concerning.”
Pysh has long voiced his opinion that Bitcoin is here to stay and will continue appreciating far into the future. He’s not alone.
Gregg Foss. Michael Saylor. Ben Armstrong. Benjamin Cowen. Rob from Digital Asset News. James from Invest Answers. Anthony Scaramucci. Mark Cuban. Kevin O’Leary. Robert Breedlove.
These thought leaders, along with countless others, believe Bitcoin’s brightest days lie ahead. Their price targets for a decade out stretch well into seven or eight figures. And many analysts believe it will be off to the races once the Fed pivots from its hawkish approach on interest rates.
“It feels like the massive headlines regarding the economy, regarding inflation, it feels like things are starting to calm down a little bit,” McCormack offered on last week’s program.
“You’re CPI is coming down a little bit, but you have to remember, prices are still going up. Prices are still going up. It’s the rate at which they’re going up, and that’s really important for people to understand that difference,” Pysh said, pointing out that the world economy may be at a breaking point. “And so the speed at which they’re going up is slowing, but I don’t think they’re aggressively – I would call that deceleration – the deceleration is not really all that much.”
In other words, Pysh says regulators are between a rock and a hard place because their actions, thus far, haven’t reduced inflation as quickly as they’d hoped.
“There’s nothing I could tell you that they could be doing better because the situation is so dire,” Pysh said. “If you put me in the seat at any of these central banks, I don’t know that I could really do policy different. And this is a huge, like, foot stomp for me. I love banging up central bankers with the best of em. But if you’re really going to get at the inherent problem, you have to go upstream of that. And when you go upstream of that, it’s fiscal appropriators that are the actual problem.”
In essence, he believes those who spend the money – politicians and bureaucrats – are mostly to blame, for spending more than is coming in. Across the United States, and across the globe.
“The central banker is the one who’s adjusting the money supply to try to work with what’s being spent, the fiscal appropriators,” Pysh said.
It may be that both the near-term and long-term future for Bitcoin, and the world economy as a whole, hinge on the actions of these people.
Appropriators, regulators and central bankers. All eyes remain on them.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
Jack Swanson Found Success in Radio Much More Than Happiness
Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.
I’ve had more jobs than Jack Swanson has had hot dinners. Unlike Swanson, I’ve been canned from a few. There’s always the job you loved, and sometimes you wish you could go back.
“I quit WLS and in many ways I regret it to this day,” Swanson said. “I quit every radio job I had, never fired. If today I could wave a magic wand I would have stayed at WLS in Chicago.”
Swanson worked at WLS from 1973-79. Swanson said it was a radio era that included Larry Lujack, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards. Legendary personalities.
“One of the best collections of talent ever,” he said. “As my career went on, I was generally more successful than I was happy. I found I always performed better when I was around really crazy-talented people. I think you’ll always perform better on a great team.”
Swanson explained that just doesn’t happen today as great teams are very expensive.
He worked at KGO a total of three times. Every year he’d sit down with the GM and there was a ‘come to Jesus moment.’
“As PD, it was not uncommon to get a budget dropped in front of me and the GM would glare at me and say, ‘Do you have everything single thing in this budget you need to become number one?’ Now that’s a whole new kind of pressure.”
Reading between the lines, Swanson said what they were really saying was, ‘You’d better bring me a winner.’ To accomplish that, you always need a few dollars more. When you have the appropriate budget, you get better performance all around.
“From your on-air people, producers, and other staff. It’s a great environment when people feel appreciated. Like they’re being paid what they’re worth.”
The third time at KGO, Swanson quit after only three weeks.
“I just wanted out,” he explained. “I had a three-year contract so that complicated things. The nice people at Cumulus indicated they might sue me if I left. I figured, ‘Have at it. If you want to sue an old man, do your worst. The truth is I didn’t think they knew what they were doing. I had to negotiate a departure.”
Talking about KGO and their abrupt shift of formats, Swanson said he thinks ownership got desperate. “I don’t fault what they did. They were in a corner. Their money people were getting very edgy. But what fills that gap?”
Unfortunately, San Francisco currently has no local talk station despite being the fourth-largest radio market in the country. KSFO is also programmed, all syndicated.
“Tragically, it’s all radio from a computer,” Swanson said. “Radio is a crazy business. People don’t want to invest because they generally want to keep their money.”
He said all the time people say radio isn’t what it used to be.
“Not even close,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t honor and respect radio. You should let your talent shine wherever you can let it shine. Back in the day at WLS, it was possible to make money. It’s not really possible any more. It’s like 1,000 points of light. Anybody can go on Amazon and purchase a Mr. Microphone and have their own show and talk to the world.”
The fact that podcasts are the new popular kid on the block isn’t lost on Swanson. With 2.4 millions podcasts today and counting, Swanson said there are just too many, a sensory overload.
“They’re like exploding stars, scattering around and trying to find an audience,” he explained. “There are only so many hours in a day.”
His resume is extensive; VP and general manager at KING AM/FM, VP of programming at KGO/KSFO, director of news and programming at KCBS Radio.
Swanson began his radio career as a news anchor and reporter for WLS Radio in Chicago before becoming the News and Program Director for KGO.
“While I was at WLS, it was owned by ABC, and we had 25 full-time new people.”
He is the recipient of numerous awards including the best radio program director in America, and the best news talk PD for four years and the best programmer for three years by Radio Ink and Radio & Records.
Having spent most of his time in major markets, Swanson has great respect for people who spent their careers in small, or medium markets.
“If you’re on the endless chase to be in a bigger market, when you get there it can be hollow. If you find a city and community you like, it can become a great home forever. There aren’t any gold watches in radio. My advice to talent is to listen to your stomach. There’s nothing more important.”
Some people are naturally good at what they do, but a PD can only take you so far.
“It’s like being a football coach,” Swanson said. “You can’t make your quarterback a star, he has to do that himself. My career has been satisfying. I’d say it has been 85-90 percent luck. Being in the right place at the right time. That’s absolutely true for my career.”
He’s had great success in radio. But now, things are different.
“I definitely wouldn’t encourage young people to get in the business or pursue a journalism curriculum,” Swanson said. “Years ago, I had a group of students come into KCBS, journalism students from the University of California. About 13 kids came in and said they wanted to see the real world of broadcast journalism. They asked me for advice and I told them if they were intent on the degree, for God’s sake don’t go on for a masters in journalism. One of the students told me they were all in the masters program. I don’t want to say we’re dumb in radio, but we’re not the smartest people.”
When KGO was part of the ABC group, and ABC was sold to Disney. Swanson was stunned. They sold all the stations for a great deal of money.
“I asked why they were doing it? This was 20 years ago. An executive at ABC told me radio had no growth potential and that’s what they wanted. They took all the money from the sale, billions of dollars, and put it into Pixar. While I was angry at Disney, they saw the writing on the wall.”
In 1994, Swanson was to program KSFO. He’d done that once and didn’t want to go back.
“KSFO was a dog, but the essentially offered me a blank check to fix it. So I went back. Within a year I took the station from 36th in the market to number two, just behind KGO.”
Swanson said they went all conservative at KSFO. This was before the Fox News Channel. Limbaugh existed, but there were no all conservative stations with the exception of one in Seattle.
“There were mostly religious stations with conservative hosts, but nobody was listening,” Swanson said. “They waved the flag and I personally didn’t know people like that. Suddenly there was a need to provide a place where people could say what they never dared to say out loud.”
Anybody in the business will tell you the line between journalist and opinion is evaporating. “They are broadcasting information that we want to hear to make us feel right about our beliefs,” Swanson said. “People may not believe when someone tells them they love them, but they always believe them when they say they’re right.”
He said when he went to school, students tried to find the truth as best they could understand it. Swanson said he’s not so sure that can happen anymore.
“When I started in news, I had an AP and UPI teletype in my station,” he explained. “I knew everything that was going on and listeners didn’t know any breaking news. We had no morning news, no news channels, newspapers came out twice a day. Radio was the only way to learn immediate things. What a responsibility it was.”
Swanson said the most important things politicians can do today is listen. He explained they stopped listening a couple of years into their careers.
“They no longer hear their constituents. They just say what their base wants them to say.”
Does he have an encounter with someone that he holds dear? Not really.
“I did encounter Richard Nixon once,” Swanson said. This was during the heat of Watergate and Nixon was in Madison.
“The President was walking toward Air Force One and the national press was all over him,” Swanson said. “With Watergate crushing him, He wasn’t about to talk with anybody. I was behind the press line and I yelled out, ‘Mr. President, your tan looks great. Where did you go to get it?”
Swanson said Nixon stopped, pivoted and looked his way.
“Nixon turned around and came toward the press line and we chatted a bit. I think he just liked the fact that someone wanted to talk with him as a human being.”
For a moment, Nixon wasn’t such a Tricky Dick.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has also served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his book: On Story Parkway: Remembering Milwaukee County Stadium, available on Amazon, email email@example.com.