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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.

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BNM Writers

It’s Time for News Radio to Clean Its Clock

With radio, the top of the hour always begins with a self-aggrandizing, overly-produced introduction to a program I may have been listening to for half an hour already.

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A photo of clocks

News radio is an interruptive format that swiftly moves listeners from one informative topic to
the next but over the years we’ve gotten bogged down with an insufferable amount of clutter: too many commercials, endless promos and teases, and pointless production pieces. All of it
interrupts the flow and cuts into the interesting information you promise to provide.

Let’s clean the clutter, starting with the anachronistic basis for it all: your hourly format clock.

I’ve never understood why radio stations root themselves to the clock. The show starts at the top of the hour and you bury your boring features at the end. Why? Why should the top of the hour be considered the beginning of anything? It’s not how people live their lives. Radio isn’t like TV where shows start at specific times. Hell, TV isn’t that way anymore.

But with news radio, the top of the hour always begins with a self-aggrandizing, overly-produced introduction to a program I may have been listening to for half an hour already. This is especially true with morning shows, where simple logic would suggest that people trying to get to work by the top of an hour begin listening at various times before then.

Who even owns a clock radio anymore?

The 21st century is nonstop. There is no daily news cycle, no beginning or end to anything but
news radio programmers still think of time in divisions of hours, minutes, and seconds. We still draw empty circles depicting analog clocks to plot hourly radio formats.

On news and talk stations, the top of the hour almost always begins with the hourly network
report. It’s the biggest of big-time radio, steeped in tradition, professionally detached, global. In other words, it sounds nothing like your radio station in your unique market and it contains the least interesting content you have to offer.

We cling to the networks at the top of the hour for their prestige, because that’s just how we’ve always done it. Any national or international stories of real interest to Americans, the latest Trump-Biden court decisions, for example, will be well covered in talk shows and you’ll probably want to drop it into your local programming, too. How about a one-minute segment twice an hour, 60 seconds of just the big national and world stuff, in 10-15-second boil-in-the-bag headline segments? I’m just spitballing here. You’re the programmer.

In my heretical news radio mind, the networks do great journalism but they still sound flat,
stuffy, and old-fashioned. They don’t sound like anything else on my station. I’ll dump the top-of-the-hour five minutes and cherry-pick the network sound bites. We’ll deliver them ourselves.

While I’m carving up your format and trying to get you thinking outside the box, do you need
traffic reports every ten minutes? Or, at all? Heresy, I know. Catch your breath and read on.

When we had real-time airborne local reporters telling us what they were looking at it had a gee-whiz factor and the information mattered because it was live, local first-hand reporting. I could imagine the scene as it was being described. Now we have reporters in booths looking at
computer feeds and doing shotgun-style traffic reports for multiple cities. Words without
pictures.

I knew an L.A.-based traffic reporter who did reports for Salt Lake City though she had never even been there. These so-called “real-time traffic” reports are nearly always recorded and delayed for playback. Does this practice serve any purpose at all except to deceive listeners?

Not incidentally, traffic reports are a prime target for AI exploitation. How difficult can it be to
attach state and local transportation agency traffic data to AI voice-to-speech generators? For all I know this is already being done. You can argue it’s cost-efficient but as a longtime morning news host/anchor/personality, I despise it. One of the greatest assets to any morning news team is the interaction between news and traffic people.

When Amy Chodroff and I started working together at KLIF a dozen years ago we had that human contact with remarkable radio veteran Bill Jackson doing traffic from an adjoining studio. Bill wasn’t just a voice, he was a talented news radio veteran and a valued part of our show. He was so good the company, Cumulus, put two more stations on his plate, ripping a valued team member away from us.

As hosts, Amy and I had to assume Bill wasn’t able to listen to the show anymore because he
was too busy gathering and preparing his reports for the other stations. Then he was shipped out of the building to do his work from home which made his insights and witty exchanges
impossible. We couldn’t talk to each other off the air. We couldn’t exchange glances, smiles, and hand signals or bump into each other in the hall. Our show suffered and our audience became a bit more detached.

Bill Jackson, real name Dale Kuckelburg, was also significantly detached from his career.

But I digress. The biggest problem with traffic reports is the shotgun approach I mentioned,
telling everybody in our listening area driving to their unique destinations how traffic is snarled thirty miles away. Good god, we have apps in our cars that do a much better job in real time.

How about the weather? What the hell, we’re swinging the ax here. Let’s be realistic.

There isn’t a day in my life that I don’t wake up with a fair idea of what weather I should expect. I don’t need someone on the radio telling me to carry an umbrella. If it’s iffy the immediate and highly local details are now available at the touch of an app. When the weather becomes of critical and life-threatening importance it’s a major news story and that’s when local radio news shines, making it the center of our continuous attention, not just a regular feature at scheduled times.

It’s your radio station, do what you think is best. I’m only suggesting that you might want to
reevaluate all the things we’ve all taken for granted for far too long.

News radio has always been an interruptive format. We promise listeners “the news you need” in the time it takes them to drive to work. They understand that they’ll receive useful and
interesting content in exchange for frequent subject switching and sponsorships. The great news stations know how to capitalize on that agreement but too many have sold their souls to
commercial clutter that chokes a news team’s ability to serve the promised meal.

As if 22 minutes of inane and repetitive commercials per hour aren’t bad enough programmers, struggling to do their work in a hurricane of increasing spotloads, add to the clutter with recorded promos that simply beseech listeners to keep listening while offering nothing of substance. Meanwhile, the same programmers tell talent to tease, tease, tease the subjects they’ll talk about six, twelve, and twenty minutes from now.

I know the business reality. Radio — especially news radio — is struggling to meet the profit insistence of corporate boards and the overhead needs of staying afloat locally. But at some point, we must answer the question, who do we have to serve first, our clients or our audience?

Station managers and their corporate masters have to stop issuing profit mandates without
offering programmers the opportunity to do their jobs, to provide more valuable content while
limiting commercial minutes, sponsorship rhetoric, and eliminating distracting bells and
whistles.

Clean your clock. Stop filling empty circles with stuff that made sense 50 years ago but is merely clutter today.

The only way to think outside the box is to get rid of the box.

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BNM Writers

AM 680 WCBM Leapt Into Action As the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapsed

Our employees live and work here and know what’s important to our listeners.

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As Americans woke up to a cargo ship hitting Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge Tuesday morning, the crew at AM 680 WCBM was already hard at work gathering the facts.

Just before 1:30 AM, a cargo ship lost power exiting the Baltimore harbor, striking a support beam that toppled the 47-year-old structure. In the wreckage, six people working on the bridge died, while drivers were rescued from the rubble in the chilly waters of the Curtis Bay.

The AM news/talk station — which celebrated its 100th anniversary Thursday — went wall-to-wall breaking coverage, something most outlets now avoid because of budget concerns. 680 WCBM morning host and Program Director Sean Casey told BNM in an email exchange how his crews handled the breaking news.


BNM: When did you guys hit the air with breaking news coverage?

Sean Casey: We first broke in with updates at 3:30 AM, approximately two hours after the bridge collapsed. Breaking news updates continued every half hour until 6 AM.”

BNM: How did you coordinate coverage in those moments?

SC: Full wall-to-wall coverage started at 6 AM and included full newscasts as well as interviews with state and local law enforcement agencies, eyewitness call-ins, and our national news partners. Our producer made call-outs and our news department shifted to full-blown local coverage.

BNM: How much experience did you have in putting together coverage of an event like that on the fly?

SC: Having been on the air during 9/11, I used the same formula that listeners want to know: Who, What, When, and Where? The why will come later.

BNM: How does your coverage show the importance of both local radio and AM radio?

SC: In times of breaking news events that impact our listeners, local AM radio stations are more in tune with the local listening audience. Our employees live and work here and know what’s important to our listeners. We also know the local players and officials and can get immediate reaction.

The talk component of our news/talk format offers listeners a chance to vent, share, and communicate with each other in good and bad times. This is why AM radio is still relevant. In some emergencies you can lose your cell service or have too weak of a signal, AM radio remains viable for in-car listening and at home with battery backup.

The AM 680 WCBM morning host and Program Director concluded his thoughts by noting the importance of a team effort, not only in coverage of breaking news events but also in operating a successful station and business as a whole.

“One of the biggest concerns we have is budgetary. More and more AM stations are abandoning the format because of its expense. Very few can afford a live and local news staff and show hosts,” Casey told Barrett News Media.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that there be synergy between ownership, sales, and programming to maximize ratings and revenue so that we can continue to deliver vital information to listeners in our market.”

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News is the Only Thing Missing From Election Coverage

Coverage of the election is, as we’ve discussed, still very horse-race-centric, and there’s been, of course, coverage of the various Trump court cases, but where is the coverage of exactly what the candidates plan to do if elected?

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A photo featuring I voted stickers

The first thought I had when I heard NBC had hired Ronna McDaniel as a commentator for $300,000 a year was to wonder how many actual journalists they could have hired for that money. Then, I recalled that NBC had laid off dozens of news staffers just a few months ago. Then, I remembered that I had just recently written a column decrying news organizations throwing pretty much anybody on the air as a “pundit” and this….

This was worse. It’s one thing to grab some rando who happened to be a minor functionary for the Executive Branch. It’s another to hire someone whose job was to promote election denialism and pretend that her opinion is something valuable for viewers. And, yes, it’s just as ridiculous when news organizations hire former presidential press secretaries (that’s you, Jen Psaki and Sean Spicer), their very jobs were to spin everything in their bosses’ favor and now you’re going to pay them big salaries for, um, what? Because they “have a name” or you’re afraid someone else will snap them up? Why them?

The McDaniel deal lasted five days, one completely unilluminating interview, and one unexpected Chuck Todd spine-growing outburst, so it’ll all blow over soon enough. The problem is, though, the part about having fired several news staffers, and what it means in an election year on both the national and local levels. If you have the money to hire an alleged pundit – any alleged pundit – you have the money to hire reporters, and I don’t mean anchors or opinion show hosts.

Coverage of the election is, as we’ve discussed, still very horse-race-centric, and there’s been, of course, coverage of the various Trump court cases, but where is the coverage of exactly what the candidates plan to do if elected? Who’s probing Project 2025 and why isn’t it front-page, first-segment news? Who’s pressing the Biden administration on Gaza? Is anyone reporting on the candidates’ record on climate change?

Beyond prescription drug prices, is anyone digging into the broken healthcare system and demanding answers from the candidates about what they’ll do to fix it (and not letting Trump get away with “I’ll have a better plan, a beautiful plan” without a single specific detail, like they did in 2016)? Why didn’t anyone focus on, for example, the GOP candidate for governor of North Carolina and his incendiary past comments well before the primary?

Pundits are not going to do the legwork on the issues; they’ll just talk about swing states while John King and Steve Kornacki point at their touchscreen maps. We need reporting on the things that matter (and can affect that horse race, even if most people have made up their minds). It shouldn’t just be Pro Publica and scattered independent journalists doing the dirty work.

Honestly, I don’t want to hear the complaints about the quality of the candidates or how this is a rerun or any of that. (We’ll leave that to The New York Times.) We are a horribly underinformed electorate and we got the horse race we deserve. It might just be idealists like me who think that, just maybe, the news media can play a role in educating the public and bursting the bubbles and echo chambers. This country has survived and prospered for a few centuries with the press shining a light on injustice and corruption.

Now, when we need that most, they’re more concerned with what they think will bring them ratings and money (although someone will have to explain to me who thought having Ronna McDaniel as a paid commentator would draw a single viewer to NBC).

Here’s a thought: Don’t lay off reporters, especially in an election year.  Assign them to dig deep on issues that matter to the voters.

Let the pundits talk about that.

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