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Craig Swagler Finds a Learning Opportunity In Everything He Does

Swagler admits he fell into many opportunities and didn’t say ‘no’ to anything when an opportunity presented itself; he made the most of it.

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Craig Swagler seems like a low-temperature guy that doesn’t let things rile him up too quickly. A level head that guides him through the congested highways of today’s contorted media landscape.

Swagler grew up in Wellsboro, PA, a community today with a population of just over 3,000 people. In school, Swagler ran cross country and track while finding time to work a morning newscast in high school. “I executive produced and made sure the weather and lunch menu was on the broadcast,” Swagler said.

Swagler said he had a good childhood and enjoyed where he grew up. “I went to Mansfield University of Pennsylvania,” he said. “It was a small art school, and I enjoyed being there because of the small size. I didn’t want to be a number among thousands of other students. Early on, I had an interest in story-telling, journalism.”

He found a learning opportunity in everything he did. “When I was with the Golf Channel, I was always running around the course with the camera guy. I’d ask questions; they’d teach me things. Like anything else, you get out of it what you put in. The job itself wasn’t glorious. It was an opportunity to be side by side with unbelievable talent. You learn things by listening or by osmosis.”

Swagler knew a former student who became a production manager for Monday Night Football.

“They hired kids to be grips and runners,” he said. “Basically, a runner is a glorified grip. You got the opportunity to get your hands on everything. We learned how to problem-solve. We’d fly into the cities and address all sorts of problems we had to solve. 

While most students get into the business of being on-air personalities, Swagler leaned the other way. “I always felt that behind the scenes was the place for me. I never saw myself on air. I did some on-air work in college. I hope those tapes never surface,” he joked. “It was never a source of passion for me. I didn’t think I wasn’t very good at it. What I found out I loved was what it took to get something on the air. I wanted to build a career through those ideas.”

Swagler worked for ABC Sports as a production assistant. He traveled around the East Coast, helping to set up live remotes. 

“There were usually three or four young hires doing these duties. To me, it didn’t matter if it was menial or important,” Swagler said. “You’re given a task that you know nothing about, and you address the problem; I found that to be very fulfilling. I had to take the opportunity, and on a resume, it all looked good. When I interviewed for jobs, these were experiences I could speak to. Not just book knowledge. I was always willing to get my hands dirty.”

Swagler admits he fell into a lot of opportunities and didn’t say ‘no’ to anything. When an opportunity presented itself, he made the most of it. “Some of the things I did required me to spend money out of my own pocket. “It was about sacrifice, driving to New York for an assigned shift, showing up in order to get to the next assignment.”

Swagler knows a lot about radio. He said it’s essential to understand everything across the board, just as a restaurant manager must understand all the tasks. “A lot of leaders have a good sense of moving parts of their organization,” Swagler said. “These are diverse individuals who understand the scope. A good leader needs an effective understanding of how things work. That’s true in many professions, but radio in particular. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”

Swagler said there’d been a change in today’s job-seeker. “There’s definitely a generational gap in how things are approached. I’m aware of that. We used to say somebody had a ‘fire in their belly.”

He’s accountable for formulating and directing overall facets of processes such as sales, operations, and content management for CBS Podcasting, CBS Audio Streaming, CBS News Radio, and CBS News Radio on SiriusXM. 

To make coverage more efficient, Swagler said they took control rooms out on the road. “We brought back the concept of ‘being there.’ Everything old is new again. We had some amazing floor reporters that benefited the affiliates.”

All the time he spent with MNF and other events made Swagler skilled at producing wall-to-wall coverage from a scene, mixing the entire show right where it’s happening. “That helped me prepare as an editor working on such large events.”

Podcasts are a massive component of communications and will be a force. “We have a new leadership structure with podcasts,” Swagler said. “It’s massively successful in long-form content. That’s the unique part of it. We’re trying to create content that creates consumer engagement.” 

Swagler cited a particular podcast called Mobituaries, which forged a new path in podcast branding. “It’s based on a book by Mo Rocca. We came up with the podcast to help promote his new book. It was genius. We had a half-million downloads after the book came out.”

They didn’t just put out a podcast; they tied it to a Sunday morning audience. They found a sponsor and pitched ideas. Essentially telling listeners, here’s the segment, buy the book. It was a cross-utilization of driving an audience. In that way, it’s powerful.

Swagler said podcasts present massive challenges. “There are millions and millions of episodes out there,” Swagler said. “It’s changing too. It used to be if you had a phone, you could have a podcast. What some podcasters don’t understand is there is a value in branding. Reintroducing information to a younger generation who consume content on the go.”

People take different approaches, Swagler explained. “Some throw spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. A heritage brand says something. Means something. CBS means a lot.”

He said years ago; that there used to be a clear understanding between op-ed and what was news. Those lines have become blurred. “Voices of trust are fewer and fewer in the media landscape,” Swagler said. “The landscape also has its problems internally.” Many reporters don’t ask themselves if they’re unbiased, he explained. “There’s a belief there is a liberal elitism. That doesn’t help. People on the coasts are so far away from the mindsets of the Heartland. People that present news on the left and right are both trying to convince the American people of their truth.”

Swagler said years ago; they probably wouldn’t have given much attention to Brittney Spears’ conservatorship. 

 “I think the moment where entertainment crossed over into news was the story about the death of Anna Nicole Smith. That became a national moment. A lot of very legitimate news outlets covered that story.”

He says radio is still the first social media people turn to when something happens. “It’s about local stories that are national in impact. We can be more effective than social media,” Swagler said. “We’re talking about something as it’s happening in real time. We have a huge reach, and it’s more efficient.”

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BNM Writers

Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.

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Far be it for me not to address this outrageous and embarrassing instance in humanity. After the videos of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols were shown on television there really seemed to be more outrage emerging from society this time than from the media, for a change. One would think that’s how we wish things to be.

In instances like this, where the video and audio images are far from brief but are instead chaptered as they unfold, there are few options other than to let them run their course. Clocks — breaks hard and soft — are out the window, just as in live coverage.

Because that’s what this was, only the live this time was us, and as we all absorbed and reacted to actions disapprovingly familiar yet somehow foreign at the same time, the impact was still becoming apparent even though we already knew the outcome.

It’s happened before.

Not always like this but we’ve seen it before, police encounters shown on the news overtakes and become the news.

It takes effect as the sights and sounds are digested, dissected, and discussed, often before their potential impact could really be imagined.

In 1991, when the Handycam footage crossed screens for the first time and we learned Rodney King’s name, we didn’t know then but we had a feeling.

We were on the right track, though as newsrooms evolved and street reporting incorporated a different type of storytelling.

I was a cop in 1991. Changes came. Some.

It’s 2023, I’m no longer a cop. Changes will come again. Some.

Turning points — or the overused watershed moments — mean just as much to the news media as they do to law enforcement.

The “why’s” that make this a turning point are more society and community based this time around than they were in 1991.

At least I think so. And I don’t think it makes a bit of difference who’s involved this time.

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, and hard sounds to hear. But they aired. Where they couldn’t air, they were described in great detail; descriptions sometimes can be worse than the real thing. Sometimes, not this time.

And they should air, they shouldn’t stop airing. This is what happened and this is what people need to see and hear and this is exactly why we are here.

Warn them, provide them with a heads up that they’re not going to like what happens next. It’s life and we show life, and we show what some of us do with it when it’s someone else’s.

Overall, I would say the news platforms held their composure, even after the videos were released. I saw, read, and heard some refreshingly neutral coverage, even from outlets where I expected hard turns into the lanes on either side of the road.

Legitimate questions were asked by anchors and reporters and much of the time, the off-balance issues were raised more by those on the sidewalks and those on the other side of the cameras and microphones.

As much as I find myself in disagreement with what I often see on the cable networks — all the cable networks — I did find a sense of symmetry watching CNN’s Don Lemon speak with Memphis City Council Chair Martavius Jones in the hours after the videos were released.

Regular protocols be damned, Lemon and producers lingered patiently as Jones, visibly overcome by emotion, struggled to regain breath and composure enough to be able to speak. Rather than cut away or move to other elements, they stood fast and it became an example of what often requires no words.

There were fewer punches pulled on other platforms as well.

The sounds of the screams, the impacts, and the hate-filled commands were broadcast through car radios.

As were Tyre Nichol’s calls for his mom. They aired. They had to.

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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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