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Will Cain is Shaping His Legacy Through News and Sports

Now the co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Fox News and former a former host on ESPN Radio, Will Cain made the seamless transition from sports to news.

Jim Cryns

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The stars at night are big and bright…

He’s all Texan. From his zip code to his boots. Will Cain is confident and accomplished. But, like any good Texan, he has his priorities.

“I like my beer cold,” Will Cain explained. “As Matthew McConaughey said in True Detective, ‘I’ll take a sixer of Old Milwaukee or Lone Star, nothing snooty.”

Will Cain is the guy you see and think, ‘How the hell did he get so lucky?’ He’s got the looks, a good job. He probably has a fast car too.

He’s co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend on Fox News. Cain was also the host of The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio, which ran from January 2018 to June 2020. So Cain made a relatively seamless transition from sports to news. 

“Everything I do is with intentionality,” Cain said. “That doesn’t mean I think I’m perfect. I make plenty of mistakes. I talk entirely too much about sports. Not just because I love them, but because they are the perfect metaphor for life. Winning, avoiding a loss. I’m constantly driving with my fingers and hands on the steering wheel.”

Cain said he’d like to think he’s down to earth. “I just love talking about news and sports. Politics is so polarizing. Sometimes because of that, it can get in the way of seeing things the way they are.”

Being at ESPN was a privileged situation for Cain, a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan. 

“There was always some turbulence on First Take,” he said. “That was more of a polarizing show. It becomes a debate, and you show up with your strong opinions. Listeners understand my biases, where I was when I said something. I’m interested and open to people that disagree with me. In the world of sports, politics, and news, you have to be. Let’s all be human beings if you’re willing to give that a shot.”

Cain grew up in a small country town on seven acres in Sherman, Texas. This town is about an hour north of Dallas. His father was an attorney, and the younger Cain also earned his Juris Doctorate and believed he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps. 

“I made the choice not to become an attorney when my father was still alive,” Cain said. Instead, he said he thought being a writer was his calling.

“I went to Montana because I wanted to write,” Cain said. “I thought if I was going to be somewhere to write, where would that be? I guess I’ve always romanticized Montana.”

He said the writing thing didn’t quite manifest in the way he’d hoped. 

“I always took radio very seriously,” Cain explained. “A lot of guys that turn on a microphone think charm or personality carries everything. I think it’s all about content. Delivery.” 

Reading was always encouraged in the Cain household.

“My parents read a lot,” Cain said. “I think I read more non-fiction than they do. They read for fun; I tend to read to keep informed. I think people overvalue being a lawyer. There are other things that pique my curiosity more.”

Something he’s read recently was by Pete Hegseth, Battle for the American Mind. 

“He talks about the roots of the educational system, compulsory schools,” Cain said. Battle for the American Mind is the untold story of the Progressive plan to neutralize the basis of our Republic – by removing the one ingredient that had sustained Western Civilization for thousands of years.

Cain and I talked a bit about some of the contentious issues of the day. 

“When you think about our founding fathers, they were incredible,” Cain said. “They were educated in classic Western Thought. They were not ‘shoot from the hip’ kind of guys. They looked into checks and balances, anticipating what might happen. Those ideals have been enshrined for thousands of years. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, bear arms. It’s all put into historical science.”

Cain said there are a lot of terms in our lexicon that have become catchphrases. I asked him about a theory that postulates Donald Trump and his ilk represent an ‘existential threat to Democracy.’ The result of which would be an ‘authoritarian leader.’

“I don’t think we’re on the edge of that,” Cain said. “There are threats on a deeper level. On a cultural level, we need to ask ourselves who we are. What is of value to us as it pertains to society? People also use the term ‘far right.’ What does that even mean? President Trump far right? From a policy perspective, his administration was interested in unfettered free trade. Tariffs were more Left, yet Trump embraced trade restrictions. That’s not traditionally a ‘far right’ position. It’s a Libertarian kind of thought.” 

Far-Right is a term Cain finds misused. He said it’s difficult for him to think of one particular issue where the right has become what is seen as far-right. “Maybe immigration,” Cain said. “We’re more hawkish on immigration than we were 20 years ago. We’re in a populist moment. In a lot of ways, it feels the game is rigged in power to retain power. Both on the left and right. Bernie Sanders has given voice to that.”

Cain is thorough when he approaches prep for his show. Pretty much like he approaches everything. “You think about what you’re going to say. Outline thoughts, sometimes come up with bullet points.

He said he’d always create an outline for everything he did in life. Still does. “I’ve never devoted myself to long-form artistically understanding. I need to know the sentence, paragraph, and chapter,” Cain said. 

You get the feeling with Cain, even with all his successes, his family still means everything to him. “With my sons, I’m blown away by them,” Cain said. “Despite this passion to help shape them into men. Who are we to think kids are blank slates? They’re not. A lot of who we are is innate to our genetic personality and makeup. In terms of my sons, one is more empathetic and kinder than anyone I’ve known in my life. I need to train him to be a little less sweet in a tough world. The younger son is so insightful. Comedic. I don’t understand the way he thinks. I guess the younger one tends to work things out on their own.”

He said every man wants to leave some kind of legacy. “We all have a Roman Empire Builder inside of us after we’re gone. What you were surrounded by. Maybe we can all do our best and speak to each other more. That would certainly build relationships.”

Cain has always been somebody interested in ideas rather than politics. Philosophy rather than horse races. “I’m still fascinated,” Cain said. “When it comes to something like the Supreme Court, I’m interested in the ideas that help shape an opinion. Want to read the rationale. How they read the constitution.” 

Conversely, when Congress gets involved in the machinations of putting together a stimulus bill or running for re-election, Cain’s interest starts to taper off.

“I’m more interested in philosophy than horse races. I think a lot of what we do rests on the importance of faith. Where we place things in our hierarchy, you’re only choosing what you put at the top. Sometimes I place too much emphasis on raising my boys and not enough on being a great husband.”

To appear on an ESPN show, it helps if you’re a fiery guy.

“I’m passionate and think it’s my personality for the most part,” he said. “That was the culture of First Take. You’re encouraged to lean in and be passionate about a subject. It’s the same with most guys on that set. It’s not a personal attack. I’d say 90 percent of the time; it’s not personal. When you get emotional, sparks can fly.”

He said he couldn’t recall how many times people have asked him if First Take is staged. “It’s not staged in the sense it’s theater,” Cain said. “There is a theatricality in terms of delivery and emotion.

“I covered a boxing match in Las Vegas and dressed in a boxing robe and a towel around my neck. I guess you’d say that was a bit of theater. I’ve mimicked shooting birds out of the sky to make a guy eat crow.”

“What we’re talking about is being overly tribal with politics,” Cain said. “I believe passionately about my ideas. That doesn’t mean I want to be tribalistic. I think we’re inherently tribalistic. It’s part of how we survived during evolution. You should have to root for the team where you were born,” Cain joked. 

“You’re geographically born into your teams, unless your parents brainwashed you. I think sports is a cathartic exercise. I’m a Mavericks fan; I hate the Spurs. I think it’s good to have an irrational attachment to something. I’m tribalistic and it’s okay to hate the Spurs,” he quipped.

When his family lived in New York, he said his boys were raised as Longhorn, Mavs and Rangers fans. Now that they’ve gone back to Texas, they’re all set. They didn’t have to change their loyalty. 

“I’m really big on this. You’ve got to hold on to the things that are provincial. I don’t like the fact that America has devolved into a mono-culture. We roughly listen to the same music. I like that Boston has a unique and weird accent. I’m proud of being from Texas.”

…(clap, clap, clap, clap,) deep in the heart of Texas.

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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