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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The departures this week of two legendary Philadelphia media personalities got BNM’s Andy Bloom thinking about different ways hosts end their tenures.

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The departures this week of two legendary Philadelphia media personalities got me thinking about different ways hosts end their tenures. So what’s the best way to deal with changes in on-air talent who have commanded a large audience for decades? 

Audiences often feel like they go through a break-up when stations and personalities separate.

“Think of all that we’ve been through and breaking up is hard to do,” Neil Sedaka said.

This week’s events and the pending retirement of one of the market’s most prominent personalities provide opportunities to investigate the mindset as they walk away. So let’s start by looking at personalities who chose to walk away – how they decided and how it’s worked. 

Ray Didinger was the first to leave Philadelphia media this week. He retired from 94.1 WIP, where he was a vital part of the station since it went All Sports. He was a cohost and made numerous appearances on WIP shows throughout the week. Simultaneously, Didinger stepped away from NBC Sports Philadelphia, where he was a fixture during Eagles coverage. 

Didinger was a Philadelphia sportswriter for over five decades.

If you are unfamiliar with Philly, this information unquestionably fails to demonstrate the extent of the adoration for Didinger. As Operations Manager of WIP (2008 – 2016), I found Didinger’s non-polarizing, universal appeal unparalleled. 

Didinger, never the hippest guy on the air, was also lovingly known as “Ray-Diddy.” His unrivaled NFL expertise earned him the nickname “The Godfather.” 

As his radio partner of over 20 years, Glen Macnow, explains,” During one Eagles pre-game show, Ray said something brilliant, and Ike Reese (nine NFL seasons, seven with Eagles, current WIP PM drive) said, That’s why you’re the Godfather of football in this town.’ Ray’s the highest authority on football in Philadelphia.” 

I wondered how difficult it was to walk away. Ray told me he knew when the moment arrived.

“A few times during the last Eagles season, I was headed to the stadium and thought I’d rather be doing something else,” Didinger said. 

“For the first time, it felt like work. I never had that feeling before. That’s when I realized something had changed, and it was probably time to leave.” This information would have stunned anybody who knew Didinger, listened to, or watched him on-air.

I wondered if Didinger worried about being asked to leave. He replied, “That was part of it. I’ve seen many good friends in media shoved out the door. They weren’t exactly fired but offered a buyout. They took the package and ‘retired’ even though they wanted to continue working. After 53 years, I didn’t want to leave with that bad taste in my mouth.”

Family played a significant role in Didinger’s decision. “He has four grandchildren, all in the area,” Macnow said. “His nine-year-old grandson plans to teach him to play Madden, which I think will be hysterical.”

Didinger told Macnow in February of his plans to retire when his contract expired at the end of May. Soon after, he alerted WIP management. Then came the discussion of how to inform an audience that had been loyal for decades.

“Ray’s instinct was to tell listeners just one day before his final show,” Macnow recalled. “He had no idea that people would have so many good feelings about him. Ray just wanted to say goodbye and walk out the door. I said, ‘You can’t do that. It would be unfair to listeners to deny them the opportunity to say goodbye.’”

“Eventually, under what Didinger called “much duress,” he agreed to announce his retirement at the start of May. Macnow planned out retrospectives and features about Didinger to fill the final eight shows. 

“I squirmed through the whole thing,” Didinger said, “but Glen kept it from becoming too maudlin.”

For the final two shows (Saturday and Sunday, May 28 – 29), Macnow planned out every break. The station held a party in the Audacy’s Performance Center on Saturday. Macnow & Didinger simultaneously did their show with a live audience of about 50 people. 

The assembled included some of the show’s best callers and co-workers, including Dick Vermeil, Seth Joyner, Phil Martelli, and Ed Rendell (who each mean a lot in Philadelphia) and three generations of Didinger’s family. The station provided a cake in the shape of a yellow legal pad – Didinger famously made copious notes on stacks of such tablets.

After Saturday’s big sendoff, Sunday’s show was the opposite — just Glen and Ray in the studio one last time. “Saturday was the stadium concert,” Macnow explained. “Sunday was the cozy unplugged version.”

They took just a handful of callers on Sunday. Since the pandemic, the two have done a feature called “Tell Us Your Story” (a long-form biographical interview with a prominent athlete, coach, or broadcaster). Sunday Didinger told his story, recounting his fascinating and accomplished life.

The final 15 minutes were emotional and powerful. The two shared memories and stories of their partnership, accomplishments, and friendship. Didinger also spoke of the connection built with the community over more than a half-century.

Asked if they would have done anything differently, both Macnow and Didinger commented they wished their voices hadn’t cracked at the end. I found their quivering voices: poignant, raw, and authentic as I listened. 

Didinger concluded that giving the audience one month’s notice before retiring “was just about right. I didn’t want a ‘Victory Tour.’ I wanted something respectful but not over-the-top. I think we accomplished that.”

The phrase “Victory Tour” brings us to an upcoming retirement. Angelo Cataldi will finish an incredibly successful 30-year run as WIP’s morning man at the end of the year. In a profile piece, the Philadelphia Inquirer once said, “Every morning, Cataldi sets the agenda for the region’s sports fans while making them laugh.”

After working with Angelo for eight years, I feel obligated to tell you about him. Initially, one of the most complex people to learn to coach, but ultimately one of the easiest. His preparation and intelligence are second to none. 

Here’s an example of Angelo’s character and loyalty. He was ready to retire at the end of 2021 but was convinced to do one more year after a few management concessions. One was to reinstate a marketing employee laid off because of budget reductions at the start of the pandemic. 

The woman had been with the cluster for 28 years before being cut. Angelo thought her release unfair. He also recognized the value she could bring to his show. She got back to work on the morning show for his final year. That’s who Angelo is.

Cataldi’s retirement was a long time coming. “The decision to retire has been weighing on me for at least six years,” he told me. After all the years, like most morning show people, he’s never grown accustomed to the hours.

What keeps Cataldi motivated, especially if he’s been thinking about retiring for six years? Always honest, Angelo admits, “Two things have kept me going at 71: The first is ego. People care what I have to say. It is not easy to give that up. And second is fear. I look forward to shedding the burden of doing a show every day but be careful what you wish for. How will I occupy my days when the mic is turned off? It is present in my thoughts every day.”

For years, I’ve told those I coach that they aren’t doing it right if they aren’t exhausted at the end of a show. I’ve commented on Angelo’s preparation and devotion to his craft. I’ve NEVER heard him “phone-in” a show. When it comes to work ethic, he is uncompromising and aware of the price he pays for this standard. 

“Giving my all every day is not negotiable, so the toll becomes greater every year. Often, at the end of shows now, I am not clear-headed. The fatigue is so much more incapacitating now,” said Cataldi.

Like Didinger, grandchildren factored in Cataldi’s plans. He used to talk about moving to California, but that’s changed. “There was a time when I pondered a move to the West Coast to finish out my days in the splendor of sunshine and In’ n Out burgers. Then I met my three newest grandkids, and that plan changed dramatically. With age comes wisdom, I guess.”

Cataldi’s impending retirement comes up frequently on his show. If it’s not a “Victory Tour,” it’s at least a “Goodbye Tour.” He says he has no regrets, “at least not yet.” He is, however, introspective about his legacy: “How do I want to be remembered? Watching the outpouring of adoration for (Jim) Gardner (longtime ABC-6 TV news anchor who recently announced plans to retire) and Didinger has me wishing for a far different sendoff. 

I never really aspired for love from our listeners. Loyalty and respect are far more important to me. I want to walk out the door with just one lasting impression. I worked hard every day, as hard as I could. I never took a segment off, let alone a show. I earned the audience I had right up to the end.”

There are the stories of two unique and outstanding talents, Ray Didinger, who just walked away on his terms, and Angelo Cataldi, scheduled to do so at the end of the year. Next week, we’ll continue the topic with the end of Mike Missanelli’s run on 97.5 The Fanatic and the more difficult instance of when personalities don’t choose to leave on their own. 

BNM Writers

Market Still Finding 2023 Footing

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

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While it’s hard to imagine 2023 being as painful for investors as 2022, experts still cannot say for certain we are destined for blue skies ahead. Many in the media are starting the year by sifting through the stock market tea leaves; trying to figure out what historical data can tell us about probabilities and expectations for the next twelve months.

Some think the United States is poised for a market rebound, while others remain quite bearish, feeling that negative policy implications have yet to be fully realized.

Peter Tuchman of Trademas Inc. joined Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program Friday, to offer his thoughts about where the American stock market might be headed in light of the newly-divided United States Congress.

“Markets have a sort of a gut of their own,” Cavuto opened. “Today’s a good example. We’re up 300 points, ended up down 112 points. What’s going on?”

“Markets don’t like unknowns, and markets need confidence. The investing community needs confidence,” Tuchman said. “And I think it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild that. And as we saw the other night with what went on in the House, it feels like people should get busy governing as opposed to all this posturing.”

Six months ago, Tuchman didn’t have a solid feel for the direction of the market. And just two trading weeks into the year, he still doesn’t believe any real trend has been established.

“The market has yet to find its ground. It’s yet to find its footing,” Tuchman told Cavuto. “And still, even coming into 2023, the first week of trading we have not found our footing. We have come in on a couple of economic notes that were a little bit positive. We opened up with a little bit of irrational enthusiasm. By the end of the days we were trading down.”

Meanwhile, some financial outlets, such as CNBC, have dug into the data showing what a market rise during the year’s first week – such as what we experienced this year – potentially means for the rest of 2023. They published a story last week with the headline, Simple ‘first five days’ stock market indicator is poised to send a good omen for 2023“.

On an episode of his popular YouTube program late last week, James from Invest Answers dug into 73 years of stock market data, to test that theory and see if the first five days of yearly stock market performance are an indicator of what the market might do over the full year.

“Some analysts pay attention to this, the first five trading day performance, can it be an indicator of a good year or a bad year,” James began last week, “I wanted to dig into all of that and get the answer for myself. Because some people think yes. Some people swear blind by it. Some people think it’s a myth or an old wive’s tale. Some people think it’s a great omen.”

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Based on James’ analysis…

If the gains from the first five market days of the year are negative, the market rises 86 percent of the time over the full year, with an average gain of 6%.

If the first five days are positive, the market increases 92% of the time, with an average yearly gain of 16%.

Most importantly, in this year’s scenario, where the first five days saw a jump of more than 1%, the market traditionally ends positive for the year 95 percent of the time. Those years see an average yearly gain of 18%.

“Is it a good omen, does it look bullish?” James asked. “Well, yes, based on history. But remember, there are factors like inflation, interest rates, geopolitical turmoil, supply chains, slowing economy. All that stuff is in play. But history also says that the market bounces bounces back before the market even realizes it’s in a recession. That’s an important thing to know.”

On his Your World program, Cavuto wondered if the recent House speaker voting drama has added to the uncertainty facing markets.

“Historically, Wall Street definitely is a bit more friendly to a Republican administration,” Tuchman said. “We’re in new ground, there’s no playbook, Neil. And I went over it with you the last time. There’s no playbook for coming out of a pandemic. No playbook for what’s gone on over the last two and a half years. Let’s think about it. March 2020, the market sold off so radically. We had a rally of 20 percent in 2020. 28 percent in 2021, in the eyes of a global economic shutdown due to the Federal Reserve’s posturing and whatnot.

“And now we’re trying to unwind that position. In tech, and in possible recession, and inflation and supply chain issues. So, there’s no way historically to make a judgment on what the future looks like in that realm, let alone what’s going on in the dis-functionality of what’s happening in Washington. I would like to disengage what’s going on in Washington and try and rebuild the confidence in the market coming into 2023.” 

So while the data might indicate a strong year ahead, the fact is that many analysts still won’t make that definitive call amidst such economic turmoil gripping the country. 

Along with U.S. markets, they remain steadfast in their search for solid footing.

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BNM Writers

Does Radio Need A Video Star?

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

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Last week numerous stories about using video with broadcasting or audio podcasting became a hot topic of discussion.

A Morning Consult poll found that 32% of Americans prefer podcasts with video, compared with 26% who like just audio better. Among podcast listeners, 46% said they favor them with video, compared with 42% who said they would rather listen without video. It’s worth noting that these are podcast listeners, not radio listeners.

Video has become the latest trend in audio. Almost everybody is trying to do some form of video. Many shows already stream online. A few others simulcast on a television or cable channel. It seems nobody believes in pure audio anymore. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t go into television instead of radio.

Before everybody else starts adding webcams in the studio, it’s worth weighing the reasons to move ahead versus slowing down.

The first person to realize they could use video of their show may have been Howard Stern. In June 1994, Stern started a daily half-hour show on E! network, featuring video highlights from his radio show. Stern added slick production values and faster pacing on the E! show.

Don Imus started simulcasting on cable during the same month. It’s possible others that I’m not aware of started earlier.

Stern’s E! show made sense. It answered the most common questions people asked about the show, in addition to what’s he really like; the first questions people usually asked were: 1) Are the women really as good-looking as he says? 2) Do they really take their clothes off? The E! show answered those questions. In addition, it gave a backstage glimpse of the show.

The same month Stern’s E! Show began, Imus began simulcasting his show on cable networks. I would have feared losing ratings. In fact, Imus’ program director did!

I spoke to my long-time friend and colleague Mark Chernoff (Current Managing Director of Mark Chernoff Talent and on-air talent 107.1 The Boss on the NJ Shore, Former Senior VP WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, VP Sports Programming CBS Radio) about the impact simulcasting Imus’ show had on WFAN. Chernoff may have the broadest range of experiences with simulcasting radio programs with video. 

Imus began on CSPAN but shortly afterward moved to MSNBC. Chernoff told me: “When we started simulcasting Imus, I suggested we’d lose about 15% of our radio audience to TV, which we did.” Chernoff added that there was a significant revenue contribution and that the company was content with the trade-off.

WFAN had a different experience simulcasting Mike and the Mad Dog on YES in 2002. “In this case, TV was helpful, and we increased listenership,” said Chernoff. WFAN also benefited financially from this simulcast.

Imus was on in morning drive while Mike & the Mad Dog were on in the afternoon. Keep the era in mind, too. Before smartphones and high-speed streaming, it was not uncommon for people to have televisions in the bed or bathrooms and have the tv on instead of the radio as they got ready for their day. In the afternoon, fewer people would have had video access in that era.

Ratings measurement moved to Portable People Meter (PPM) by the time WFAN started streaming middays on its website. Chernoff reported streaming had no ratings or revenue impact – positive or negative – on middays. However, the company did provide an additional dedicated person to produce the video stream.

The early forays into video by pioneers such as Stern, Imus, and Mike & the Mad Dog are instructive.

There are good reasons to video stream shows. Revenue is a good reason.

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Another good reason is if the video can answer questions about the show, as the E! show did for Howard Stern.

On the other hand, audio companies are going to throw a lot of money at video, based on the notion that it’s what they “should” do because:

  • It’s the latest trend. Being late on this trend is different from missing the Internet or Podcasting. Industries already revolve around video; television and film come to mind.
  • Podcast listeners like it (by a slight plurality).

Before turning on webcams, see what viewers will see. The studios at many stations I’ve worked at were better not seen. Considerations include; the set, lighting, wardrobe, visuals, and a plan.

Too many video streams of studios feature the fire extinguisher prominently in the shot or the air personalities milling about during terminally long breaks.

Before going live, watch the video with no audio. Is it interesting? Compelling? Does the video draw you in, or is it dull?

With program directors now spread so thin handling multiple stations, a dedicated person to oversee streaming should be a requirement for stations streaming shows.

Other considerations:

  • How could this help us, and how could it hurt us?
  • How does the video enhance the show?
  • Will personalities do their radio show or perform for the cameras?
  • What production values are you able to add to the video?
  • What happens during those seven- eight-minute breaks if it’s a live radio show (vs. a podcast)? What will people streaming video see and hear? Does everybody on the show get along?

Do you have revenue attached? What do you expect will happen to the ratings?

WFAN earned significant revenue for two. Therefore, the company wasn’t concerned when the ratings took a hit for the first one and were surprised when they helped the second one. They didn’t see any impact on ratings or revenue the third time.

After all the budget cuts and workforce reductions over the past decade-plus, before audio companies invest in video, shouldn’t we get: people, marketing, promotion, or research monies back first?

Most of us decided to get into radio (or podcasting) instead of television or film. There’s a reason they said, “video killed the radio star.”

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BNM Writers

Streaming Platforms Cannot Be Forgotten By News/Talk Program Directors

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes that if you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations and what comes through the streaming platforms.

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If you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations. Didn’t you know that? Oh. Well, you do. 

I’m not just referring to our over-the-air broadcast but also what comes through our streaming platforms. Alexa, Google Home, apps, computers, etc., are all streaming platforms of our radio stations, which for most of us, are airing different commercial inventory than what is coming through the radio.

I understand none of us are unnecessarily looking to add to our plate, but our streaming platforms are the way we are getting more people to use our product. So neglecting, or forgetting about it, is a bad business decision, especially in the talk space. 

Across all clusters, talk radio is far more likely to have high streaming use when it comes to total listening hours. Listeners are more loyal to our personalities and often can’t get the AM dial in their office buildings during the day, or even if they can, they don’t want to hear our voices through static, so they pull up the stream. 

It’s never been easier to listen to talk radio stations, thanks to our station apps and websites (although welcoming some sites to the 21st century would be a good idea). So, given the challenges many of us face on the AM band, why not push our audience to the stream and make sure the stream sounds just as good as the over-the-air product?

The tricky part in putting together a quality stream sound is trying to balance what ads are programmatic, which ones are sold locally, where is the unfilled inventory and what is filling that gap?

And unlike your over-the-air product, where you can go into a studio, see what’s coming up, and move inventory around, that technology is not available in most cases. So yes, it’s a guessing game.

But as the talk climate continues to change, the best thing we can do to build our brand and trust with the next generation of talk radio listeners is to find them and engage them where they are, which may not always be next to a physical radio. That will be on a stream. How do I know that? Because if they have a smartphone, they have (access to) the stream.

Of course, the over-the-air product remains the massive revenue generator for our stations, as in most cases, the streaming revenue is not close to comparable. But then, if we look years down the road, that will likely start to change. 

To what degree? That’s unknown. But double-digit growth on an annual basis should not be out of the question when it comes to stream listening. It should be a very achievable goal, especially in our format. So our listeners who are P1’s, love the station and want to consume as much of the content as they can, can be on the AirPods in the gym, desk at work, or in their home office and listen to our radio stations. 

Heck, with Alexa and Google Home, they don’t even have to turn a dial! They just speak. So if they’re there, let’s keep them there.

There are simply too many media options today to lose our listeners due to sloppy streaming quality that makes us sound like a college radio station. Instead, listeners, who find us there should be rewarded with a listening experience that is just as high-quality as what they would get on the AM or FM band.

And if we play our cards right, it will be better, serving the industry incredibly well through a new generation of listeners.

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