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Tony Coles’ Rise to an Industry Leader Started From Humble Beginnings

Coles has been recognized as an industry leader in leadership and management.

Jim Cryns

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Grow up or get out!

That’s the message Tony Coles received early and often. Born in southeastern Ohio, Coles was informed, on no uncertain terms, that he was expected to get his life together at an early age. His father grew up during the Great Depression and worked as a farmer, worked on oil rigs, anything to keep the family going. In other words, the man knew what hard work was.

“My father molded me into what I am today,” Coles said. “There was one rule in his house. My grandfather used to tell his children when they were older, they had to contribute to the family, or they were out. They just couldn’t afford to feed all the kids with what they had. My father adopted that philosophy, even though things weren’t as financially challenging for him as they were for my grandfather.”

Coles said his father’s lectures were offered frequently and rarely solicited throughout his childhood; more like reminders. His father took every opportunity to make sure the message was heard loud and clear. 

“One day, I came home to find boxes in my room had been filled with my stuff,” Coles said. “My father reminded me I had turned 16, and I’d displayed no effort to find a job. So he packed the boxes so it would make it easier on me as I left the house.”

“I realized, ‘Holy crap, he’s not kidding. He’ll throw me out of the house.’ that’s when I started to look for any job I could find.”

Would he have really kicked him out? Coles isn’t sure.

“I say this to people all the time. If my dad was still alive, I’d say it to his face. I owe everything I have and am to that man.”

At 15, Coles started at WHIZ in Zanesville, Ohio. It was a television, AM, and FM automated station rolled into one.

“I learned a bit of everything there,” Coles explained. “All employees were required to work in all three areas. It gave me an early indoctrination to everything. I remember when the FM would go off the air for some reason, I’d panic. Somebody would invariably say, “It’s no big deal. It’s FM.”

Coles ran the board and remotes but didn’t go on the air immediately. He said he produced the evening news and ran a camera in a small, family-owned company.

In essence, it was the world’s best internship. 

“Nobody will get that opportunity again to cover so many things in one situation,” Coles said. “That era has passed.”

Coles has been recognized as an industry leader in leadership and management. He is a two-time recipient of the Worldwide Radio Summit Senior Programmer of the Year award. 

Before joining iHeartMedia, Coles built the foundation of his knowledge of content creation, brand development, strategy and execution, revenue generation, and human capital management through a variety of on-air and leadership roles in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle.

All of these accomplishments began from humble beginnings. One lucky day for Coles, a local radio program director from a tiny station came to speak at his school. 

“That day was lucky for me,” Coles said. “The program director was intriguing, and radio sounded like something I could do. I went up to him and told him I desperately need a job. I wasn’t even thinking about a career at that point. I just wanted to stay in the house.”

The program director got in touch a couple of weeks later and told him of an opening. He would essentially be a gopher, but that was fine with Coles.

“I got a call saying he needed someone to cover an air shift, and he couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I was the first person who responded to his call. I went on the air, and I was horrible. Marconi must have been spinning in his grave; I was so bad.”

But the program director saw something in Coles. He recognized the effort and vigor Coles put into that air shift and felt he could be taught the rest.

Coles attended Ohio University in Southeastern Ohio. When he ran out of money, he had to go work full-time.

“It bugged me that I hadn’t finished my degree. So later, when I was living in Portland, I went back to school. I ultimately took classes in every city I’d worked in. The frustrating part was sometimes the credits wouldn’t transfer over to the new school.”

Covid has interrupted the ‘college experience’ for millions of kids. With online learning, fewer students take advantage of what previous generations saw as a growth, coming-of-age experience.

“My eldest son starts college in the fall,” Coles said. “We did all the campus tours, but it’s different than when I went. I don’t know if covid has permanently killed off those experiences for good, but I do know the experiences will be different. At the same time, I always learned more outside the classroom than inside.”

Coles believes podcasting is powerful in many regards. For one thing, it’s invigorated younger audiences fascinated with video. “When we were kids, we’d sit in a room and pretend to be on the air—pretending to be a DJ. Now, the kids are doing an actual podcast. The entry-point is different.”

We spoke at length about podcasts and the role they’ll play with the ‘fascination of audio.’

Coles thinks it’s not easy to predict what will work with podcasts as it depends on many factors. 

“Some start a podcast with the expectations of millions of downloads,” Coles said. “If you have that expectation, you should also be investing a lot of time to make it a product with mass appeal. Some can focus on a smaller niche audience. Those audiences may be small, but they’re loyal, passionate, and engaged.”

To illustrate that niche market, Coles admits he’s interested in an area most would find boring–listening to podcasts about boards of directors. 

“I’m fascinated with the individuals on a board,” he said. “There are a lot of broadcasts on the subject from all over the world. I couldn’t have imagined that would be the case.”

Coles said there is a vast audience for true crime podcasts. 

“Some are like an episode of Dateline,” he said. “One reporter at WISN radio in Wisconsin started a podcast that was contrary to the findings of the Steven Avery trial. The reporter covered the trial and said the Netflix series was not accurate. It’s one of our most downloaded podcasts.”

Coles said after listening to some true crime podcasts, he understood why they are so passionate about them.

“When you think of the number of court cases that have happened with verdicts people disagree with, you can imagine the level of audience engagement,” Coles said.”

Coles said app searches will show what’s trending and will populate the search with similar podcasts. He said he’s surprised at the number of podcasters who will freely reference another podcast. “That’s how I discovered other podcasts. It’s like recommending a book or a movie. In radio, it’s been an unwritten, or sometimes written rule, to avoid mentioning the call letters of another station.” 

Throughout his career, Coles has been involved in relationship-building. 

“That’s the cornerstone of everything I do,” Coles said. “This business is about the relationships you have nurtured. Creating a circle of connections you didn’t know existed.”

He said he recently read a book titled, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.

“One of the things he was talking about in his book was professionals go to a convention and snare 100 business cards, and they feel they’ve networked,” Coles explained. “If they called those 100 people, only two would return the call.”

Conversely, Coles said when you develop a connection with someone, you can call them day or night. Building relationships helps me enjoy the business more. I’ve developed true friendships and true bonds. 

“I try to approach things like that,” Coles said. “I see a lot of people that may not be great in one position, but if I like their attitude and see they’re trying, I try to mentor them and bring them along. That’s what happened to me. I’ve tried to return the favor.”

Cole’s father was able to see some of his son’s success. “I’m thankful for that. I only wish he’d known earlier on that some good things were happening to me. I think he was a little hurt that I didn’t want to come back and work the farm. As time went on, he understood more and more.”

Coles said his father was a tough guy, experiencing everything from the Great Depression to the Civil Rights era. After his father passed away, Coles discovered a box his father had used to keep special items. 

“Inside were clippings, other things to do with my career,” Coles said. “He saved them all and never told me about what he had in the box. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. That he cared and devoted the energy to assemble these articles.”

“When I think about the impact mentors have played in my life, I am grateful for those who poured into me and encouraged me to achieve the goals I set for myself—personally and professionally,”

“I remember I was working at a radio station, and we didn’t know the name of the song that was playing,” Coles explained. “I called my father and asked him if he knew the artist. Had he heard it? My father replied, “Is this an actual job you’re doing?”

“I always try to respond. If I can connect with someone. We all need that. I recognize that. I would not be here without the relationships I developed. As we get older, we suddenly realize we’re closer to the end than the beginning. I remember being the youngest at the station, working with people that are the age I am now.”

Thanks, Tony. Now you’ve totally bummed me out.

BNM Writers

Does the Republican Establishment Get It?

For many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections.

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In a move that seemed to go against the wishes of the patriotic American grassroots, the Republican party on Friday re-elected RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel. 

The media immediately took notice, as many on television and radio are now wondering why the party would re-elect a chairperson who has been so unpopular with the base of its party. 

Grant Stinchfield discussed this issue Friday night on his program, Stinchfield Tonight, which airs on Real America’s Voice network.

“Ronna McDaniel holds on to her chairmanship of the Republican Party. By a whopping total of — what were the numbers– 111 to 54. Harmeet Dhillon only received 54 votes. Mike Lindell 4 votes. This is proof to me that the Republican establishment is dug in,” Stinchfield — formerly of Newsmax — said. “Don’t tell me they’re out of touch. See, you tell me they’re out of touch, that implies ignorance. They’re not ignorant about anything.”

As sentiment for Dhillon grew in the days leading up to Friday’s vote, many influential politicians and party donors publicly offered her their support and endorsement. These included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as well as donors Mike Rydin, Dick Uihlein, and Bernie Marcus.

Also on board were musician and outspoken conservative John Rich, along with the state GOP of Nebraska and Washington State. Countless journalists and media personalities, such as Charlie Kirk, Miranda Divine, and Lou Dobbs, also came out publicly in support of Dhillon. Former President Donald Trump remained neutral, not making a public choice of either of the three candidates.

For many of Dhillon’s supporters, the deciding factor was public sentiment across the party’s base.

“They’re reading the same chat boards. They’re getting the same emails I’m reading. I will literally post something about this race when I was supporting Harmeet Dhillon. There was not one comment – not one – that supported Ronna McDaniel. Everyone wanted change,” Stinchfield said, noting that the party elite saw the same groundswell of support for change.

“Now, nobody has an issue as Ronna McDaniel is some evil kind of person. I don’t believe she is. I believe, though, that she is part of the establishment. She’s been around too long as far as the establishment goes. And she’s been ingrained in doing business as usual. It’s not working.”

In making their choices known, many Dhillon supporters simply pointed to the scoreboard during McDaniel’s reign.

“Think about where we are. 2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost everything. 2022, we won the House, but we should have really steamrolled the House and we should have taken back the Senate, which we didn’t do,” Stinchfield said. “That means we’re on a real losing track since she took over. I don’t like being on a losing track. I like being on a winning track.

“Something has got to change when you talk about all of this. So how does Ronna McDaniel get 111 votes and Harmeet Dhillon only get 54 votes, when everyone, every Republican voter I talk to said it was time for change?” pondered Stinchfield.

And even more than the losses, for many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections. The most recent example of which came in Arizona, where presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Kari Lake, was “defeated” when countless voting irregularities occurred in some of the state’s most deep-red areas.

“Under her watch, Democrats instituted a mail-in ballot scheme. That may be even worse than losing, when you talk about the House and the Senate and all these things. The fact that we now have a junk mail-in ballot scheme across the country under Ronna McDaniel’s watch is serious trouble. Very serious trouble,” Stinchfield said on Friday. “And so the reason it is is because the Democrats are rigging the system.”

For years – until Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and took the world by storm – the Republican party had the reputation of being the party of the rich. Rush Limbaugh used to refer to this wing of Republicans as “the country club crowd.” President Donald Trump flipped the narrative completely, offering a clear vision of hope and patriotism to working-class America.

Reputable polling — such as Richard Baris’ Big Data Poll — consistently showed Trump running well ahead of almost every Republican candidate during the 2022 mid-term election cycle. In other words, Trump still maintains considerably more support across the country than most of the individual Senate or House candidates experienced.

Many experts believe this is because voters still view Trump as an outsider, while they view the Republican party much less favorably.

“Let’s tell you how out of touch they are, how elitist they are,” Stinchfield said, calling out the GOP establishment. “This meeting that went on, do you know where it is? It’s at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch in California. One of the most expensive resorts in America. You’re lucky if you get a room for a thousand dollars a night down there on Dana Point. Now, it’s a beautiful hotel, but why is the Republican Party holding an event there? Then I went back and I looked at what RedState did. RedState went back and looked at some of the expenses that the Republican Party under Ronna McDaniel’s leadership was spending money on.

“Take a look at this. $3.1 million on private jets. $1.3 million on limousine and chauffeur services. $17.1 million on donor mementos. $750,000 on floral arrangements. Now you compare this to the Democrats. The Democrats spent $35,000 on private airfare. A thousand dollars on floral arrangements. A thousand. Not $750,000. A thousand. And the $17.1 million they spent on donor mementos, the Democrats spent $1.5 million.

“Democrats know where to put the money. It’s not giving donors gifts. Donors shouldn’t want gifts. If you give money, give money. You don’t need the fancy pin to put on your lapel.”

Following her loss, Dhillon warned her party that it must listen to the base, saying, “if we ignore this message, I think it’s at our peril. It’s at our peril personally, as party leaders and it’s at our peril for our party in general.”

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BNM Writers

The State of the Radio Industry and Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BNM Writers

WTIC’s Todd Feinburg Caught The Radio Bug At An Early Age

“I don’t do Fox imitation radio, which is the backbone of a lot of talk. I want to think. I want my brain to be turned on.”

Jim Cryns

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The man is familiar with turbulence, air pockets, and I hope to god he’s never experienced wind shear. You see, early in his career, radio talker Todd Feinburg was a helicopter traffic reporter in Boston.

“I love to fly, but hated being in the air in that contraption,” he said. “It was like a VW bug, a little bubble with a blade on top. If the wind wasn’t blowing too hard, it was fine. It was an amazing way to get to know Boston. I always loved being on radio, and got a charge out of it.”He was seemingly destined to be involved in radio, in one form or another. Feinburg’s mother tells him a story about when he was young that explains a lot of his future endeavors.“My mother is 92, but still very alert and intellectual,” he said. “She tells me how they had borrowed a tape recorder more than 60 years ago. It was a reel-to-reel and they had set it on the dining table. I was two years old and sitting on my father’s lap.”His father was an engineer and took an opportunity to explain a contraption on the table.“He described to me how a voice went through the microphone and onto the tape,” Feinburg said. “I guess my eyes lit up, even though there was no way I could have understood what he was describing. They said they knew right then I was going to be involved in radio in some way.”Isn’t that how all news talkers get started?As a former restaurant owner, along with his wife, Feinburg can be critical, or at least wary of new places. He wants restaurants to deliver on what they promise.“We went to a restaurant in Cambridge, MA last week,” Feinburg explained. “We didn’t know what it was, but it was described as a New American restaurant, whatever that means. We decided to give it a shot. They had a knack for making all the usual dishes seem different.”That causes some immediate skepticism about the delivery of a promise. Feinburg said he’s kind of a traditionalist and wants his pancakes to be pancakes. The pancakes he was familiar with and grew up eating.“But these guys made theirs with cornmeal instead of wheat corn. I could actually see the corn and I should have been appalled. But they were amazing. My wife is a believer that a restaurant experience can be magical,” Feinburg said. “She has an uncanny ability to do that and she’s been cooking since she was a kid.”Feinburg said cooking can be totally intuitive, like radio. No two meals are exactly alike, just as no two radio shows are alike. “I feel that to be effective you have to maximize potential. Access both sides of the human brain. Get both sides firing.”Some restaurants run a great kitchen but can’t run the front of the house. Feinburg said gone are the days when you should expect service like we did 10 years ago. Covid may have had something to do with that.“Hosts used to thank you when you came in,” Feinburg recalled. “Today you get some teenager chewing gum or on their phone. Often in an outfit that is too sexy and just ask, ‘Two for lunch?’ Then she starts walking toward the table and is there when you arrive.”He said he tries to calm himself before he goes out to a restaurant. Prepare myself for any possible experience. He and his wife prefer to go to a particular restaurant where the staff has been tested by Feinburg, so he really gets it his way.Feinburg said artisanal pizzas are hard to make and expensive to produce. If a pizza sits too long before it is served, it loses a lot of its quality.“I try to develop a relationship with the server upfront,” he said. “I acknowledge I know they’re busy, but explain how the chef wants us to enjoy his special pizza hot. They get the hint and bring it out right away. It’s a win-win because I often leave them a much higher tip.”When he’s not out eating hot pizza, Feinburg can be heard daily from 3-6 on WTIC NewsTalk 1080. He also hosts a podcast, a longer segment where he can extend solid conversations that need more legroom.“If I find something going in a good direction on the air, or if I think there’s a lot more meat to a topic, I’ll find a way to pick it up on my podcast,” Feinburg said. “Sometimes a story might be long-winded but still going in the right direction. I’ll find a place to stretch it out. By the same token if I’m interviewing someone on a podcast and come across some interesting stuff I can cut that up and use it on my live broadcast.”On the air Feinburg enjoys bouncing off audio cuts saying it adds life and energy to the spoken word format.“You can make fun of some cuts and that gives you a lot of direction and momentum. As a host you learn to adapt. I’ve done morning drive for five years in Boston. It’s a tight clock and you get six minute segments if you’re lucky. Then you’re off to traffic and weather. You want a guest to give you a good six minutes, but some people can’t talk and that stalls the segment.”Feinburg attended Tufts and majored in political science. His mother was a professor at the university in early education and child psychology.Everything changed for Feinburg when he discovered the school’s radio station, WMFO. “We’d call it WM F*** Off,” Feinburg said.Feinburg said these days Tufts is probably more prestigious than when he attended in the 1970s. “It’s not quite an Ivy League school,” he said. “I don’t think it had as strong of an identity when I was there, but a lot of schools have been elevated since then. We’ve got so much Federal money going into schools. It wasn’t an irrelevant school, but now it’s well thought of in Boston and is synonymous with Ivy League. You get the benefits of the city without having to be in the city.”Perhaps from exposure to his mother’s work, Feinburg said he enjoys politics from a psychological point of view.“I like to see how psychology is responsible for what happens in our lives,” he said. “Particularly with politicians and how they’re always running a two-bit hustle on constituents. I don’t do Fox imitation radio, which is the backbone of a lot of talk. I want to think. I want my brain to be turned on.”He said it’s politicians who have enabled Connecticut to go ‘down the tubes.’“It used to be one of the great states from a fiscal perspective and economic position,” Feinburg said. “It was an economic actor. Companies wanted to go there. They liked the geography. Now it’s gotten to the point where the governor has ravaged the state. It’s too expensive to live here.  Companies are moving out. Young professionals don’t want to move here.”He said he blames the Democratic party for the mess. “The Democrats destroy the poor people while trying to appear to advocate for them,” Feinburg said. “They entrap people in these violent places. That is where my politics differ from them. We suffer from sluggishness. Everything is failing to function. We need to do better than our founders did. If you’re poor, you’re trapped. Struggling. If you’re new to the country or area, people move to Hartford. Then people you know or relatives are looking for a place to live, and you tell them to come to Hartford. So, they go there. You have violence that wouldn’t be accepted anywhere else in the state. You’ve got the worst schools. You get sent enough government money to make sure you don’t starve. There’s no capital, no way to start a new business. There’s no education. You speak some kind of dialect, and there’s nobody who tells you the right way to speak.”Why would Democrats push for and work for such entrapment?“They’ve created a core constituency,” Feinburg explained. “They prioritize desegregation and that’s not an achievable goal. They funnel billions of dollars into a model that is stupid that doesn’t help anyone. They’ve ruined public education. You can’t have a top-down school system and have it work well. We don’t do anything that way.”According to Feinburg, we know how to fix the crippled educational system, but don’t.“We know how the market works. Give the 10,000 dollars allocated to a student to the parents and let the parents spend it where they want to spend it,” Feinburg said. “If it’s a charter school, or in-home schooling, let them do that. “We’d have the education problem fixed inside of 30 years. You’d have the whole thing fixed. Political parties are evil. Parties are middlemen. It’s supposed to be ‘We the people’. Politicians have their hands on the levers, and they don’t tell us the truth.”Feinburg said some lawmakers who voted on legislation aren’t even privy to legislation they’re voting on.“This goes for both parties,” he said. “Leaders want it to get something passed, they don’t even tell others it’s coming up for a vote. They just want to push something through. People may find they’ve voted for something horrible, against their ideals.”When we talked about the tragic experience in Memphis, Feinburg quickly pointed out how police departments are unduly violent toward black people.“But how are the police departments controlled?” he said. “It’s the same as with schools. It’s the unions that get in their way. It all goes into collective bargaining.”Feinburg doesn’t listen to a lot of talk radio, with one exception.“I listen to Tom Shattuck, who comes on before me,” he said. “He’s a friend and he approaches things differently. Otherwise, I dabble in listening.”Dabbling isn’t a bad way to go.

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