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Ken Charles’ Radio Story Has More Chapters Left To Be Written

Jim Cryns

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One of the most successful program directors in the country wanted to be a lawyer. Fortunately for radio, he may have dressed more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

“I’m not a suit and tie guy,” Ken Charles said. “I’d have been the most unhappy lawyer in the business.”

There’s no question he could have held his own arguing cases. The only problem was Charles liked a different kind of argument.

“The wife of my first general manager was Jo Johnson,” Charles explained.

“She told me I loved to argue no matter what the subject. I said that wasn’t true, so we argued about that for a while.”

Charles currently serves as VP of News for Audacy and Brand Manager of KNX-AM/FM Los Angeles (1070/97.1)

Not for much longer, but more on that later.

He went to Florida State University and knew his grades weren’t going to get him into Harvard. “I figured if I could get a 4.0 GPA, I could get into any law school I wanted.”

As it so often does, radio reared its head and it was love at first sight. Law went the way of disco.

“I started at WPLP in Tampa as a board operator,” Charles said. “As it happens, a friend of mine who lived across the hall in the dorms was a commercial production guy for the station. They didn’t want to hire me at first because I was studying political sciences.”

Opportunity knocked at the expense of a lot of other people.

“The station fired one of their news people and a lot of the technical staff said if they didn’t hire that person back they’d go on strike,” Charles explained. “The station did them one better and fired them all.”

They were so desperate to fill roles they hired Charles. “What are the odds that a person who would be instrumental in my 30 year career in radio happened to live across the hall?”

Apparently, they are pretty good.

He didn’t waste a lot of time getting to work. His first press conference was with former Vice President Walter Mondale. There were national news people and reporters he respected in attendance.

“Mondale looked at me and said, ‘He looks like an exciting young reporter,’ and motioned me to ask a question. I wasn’t expecting to be called on. I asked him a question about nuclear submarines. The only reason I asked that was because I was working with that subject for my masters degree. I’m sure everybody in the press corp thought it was a stupid question.”

Charles said he has no idea what Mondale said in response. “He could have sung the national anthem for all I know. Here was a former vice president calling on a political science dork.”

He was born in Edison, New Jersey and had no qualms referring to himself as a radio dork.

“I always listened to WABC on the AM dial,” Charles said. “I listened to Jean Shepherd and his spoken word show on WOR. A lot of stories in his books and other things made it on the air, stories like A Christmas Story. I also listened to Marv Albert calling the Rangers games.”

Like every 10 year-old in New Jersey, Charles wanted to play for the Yankees.

“I couldn’t hit a curveball and was better at football.”

News can be overwhelming, Charles said. “Think about it–since January of 2020 when Kobe Bryant died, it has been non-stop since. We’ve had the Pandemic, George Floyd, the protests, January 6th, forest fires. We just have to keep taking it and it’s not going to stop.”

“If you look at news from the 1950s and 60s, the agenda was set at the station. The news department determined what the news was going to be. You buttoned up your shirt, put on your tie and delivered the news. Now, instead of dictating to the audience, we’re trying to listen to what they think is news, what matters to them.

Charles said there will always be news where part of your audience just doesn’t care about what is happening.

“For instance, fires here are a very interesting story.  A fire in northern LA county has no effect on people living in Orange County. That’s an example where our commitment to the community overwhelms the need to tell stories that affect the most listeners possible.”

Charles said news departments need to be in touch with audiences.

“We live in the community too. We have families, kids in school. In all those ways we keep in touch with people that live around us. As news people, we have to determine what they want. One of the things I preach is think with your heart, not with your head.  We are people and we need to understand the emotional component, what our friends care about.”

“Sometimes you feel the right stories, sometimes you don’t. If I’m going to make a mistake, it’s going to be by doing too much on a story. You’re never going to get an email because you did too much. You will get a negative response if you do too little and the audience will look for that additional coverage someplace else.”

There are also exceptions to that philosophy. Sports can be one of them.

“A good example of this would be when I first took my position in Los Angeles,” Charles explained. “We were all Dodgers all the time, top to bottom, 24/7. The Dodgers had made the NLCS and went to their first World Series in a while. We blew it. We covered it like television. We led with it at the top and bottom of our newscasts. We had reporters all over. But the numbers for our coverage were just not there. We shouldn’t do what television does. They can get that extended information from so many other places.”

Charles went on to say they overwhelmed their audience with Dodgers, and didn’t deliver the promise of a broad range of local news and traffic.

Each market is different.

Charles said some are better sports markets than others. “In my position, you have to learn the expectations your audience has for that topic. If it’s the biggest local news story of the day”

Charles said road traffic can be difficult in any city, not just Los Angeles, but it’s still important. “There’s a lot of debate if we should do traffic as much and as often as we do. After all, you can get it on your dashboard in your car, on Waze, Google. But people respond to traffic. We have empathy because we live here too. It’s not just the older demographic, the 30 year-olds like it too. Reporting on traffic keeps us connected.”

“Tell me a fact I’ll learn. Tell me a truth I’ll believe. Tell me a story that will live in my heart forever”

Charles said that’s his mantra, and he shares it with his team. He tries to live that mantra.

“I saw that when Ed and Steve Sabol were doing an interview with Bryant Gumbel in 2001 on Real Sports,” Charles said. “That was one of those lightning-bolt moments for me. I told our imaging guy at the time to tell us a story that will live in our hearts forever.”

Charles said he strives to bring home a great story every day.

“Ukraine is a good example of a story that affects real people,” Charles said. “At the beginning of the war we provided in-depth coverage with Ukrainian  citizens still living in the country. They told us what they were feeling, seeing, what was going on. There were reporters and experts telling us what was going on, but we had people who were living what was happening. I hope other stations try to do that. I think some days you’re more successful with that than others.”

Charles explained in his mind, radio is the best training ground there is. He said if you want to be a TV person later in a career, you could make that transition. There are skills in radio that you’ll learn and are useful in many other areas. “You learn how to prepare stories, cut tape,” Charles said. “The same skills you’re going to use in TV. We’ve done a terrible job being an evangelist for radio. You can perfect your craft. That’s what I impart to kids. Everyone wants to be the next Robin Roberts, but they’re not willing to put in all of the work. You’ll get more coaching. There’s more opportunity to work, even if you make a mistake.”

He’s seen a few of his former employees go on to greatness.

“Aaron Katersky, was a radio junkie,” Charles said. “He is one of the most talented kids I know. He was a student at Newhouse and worked at WSYR. Aaron was older than his year, more talented than his experience. He worked for me. I left Syracuse and he left radio to do personal things. I hired him as a reporter in Housten. I embedded him at ABC to cover the Iraq war. ABC noticed him, snagged him, and he’s been with the network ever since. Every time I hear him I feel like a proud father.”

A shock to most, Charles is leaving KNX on July 22.

“It feels like the right time,” Charles said. “I’ve spent the past seven years here, longer than I’ve been anywhere since elementary school. I’m proud to be part of this heritage station. Proud of the people I work with. It’s just time. I’m an east coast boy. All my wife’s family is in New York. I’ve only seen my family once since I’ve been out here. Life is too short. I’m not retiring. I’ve got more chapters to write so I’m not done yet. I don’t want to end up dead at my desk some day. I’m not going to give up something I love.” 

He said he thinks everybody should quit their job, even if it’s just for a little while. You get tons of attention.

“I can’t believe the outpouring of love I’ve received since I announced it,” Charles said. “I never would have known how much of an impact people think I’ve had. There was an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where a guy watched his own wake. When I decided to make the move I posted on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ve heard from hundreds of people. Some I haven’t heard from in 20 years. I’m going to miss all that when I’m dead.”

Charles said his departure is bittersweet. It’s hard to leave the people he’d worked with so long. “It’s really cool to hear from all of them.”

Whichever way the future takes Charles, like The Dude, I have the feeling he’ll abide.

BNM Writers

Dagen McDowell Is Ready For A New Adventure With Fox Business

“Every decision in America is born of policy, On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

Jim Cryns

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To know Dagen McDowell, you must understand what she comes from, where she comes from. You won’t know her until you know the lessons, kindness, and determination set forth by her parents.

Her parents operated a small grocery store, LW Roark and Company. Charles and Joyce McDowell were high school sweethearts and both went to college but decided to go back home and open a business. “This is in the middle of nowhere,” McDowell said. “It was a wholesale grocery store. They sold it in the late 90s.”

She said her parents were smart, encouraging, and took every opportunity to teach McDowell and her brother.

“They’d constantly talk up people who came into the store. Both of them have and had an insatiable curiosity about everything. They felt they learned things through their customers. It was more fun to learn about things from other people.”

McDowell’s parents never took a week off work. Never. The family took no vacations as most families would. Once while McDowell was in college at Wake Forest University, the family visited the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in D.C.

“Both of my parents were very interested in architecture and landscapes. We’d go to Williamsburg and just look at the buildings.”

McDowell joined FOX News Channel in 2003 and helped launch FOX Business Network as a founding anchor in 2007.

Her mother passed away three years ago and her father is still very much a part of her life. Her father was a constant teacher.

“One time my father, who we called Dowell McDowell, was putting up an outbuilding and asked me how long one line should be if the other line was such and such. He taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was about 4 years old.”

McDowell was nurtured by parents with endless curiosity.

“I was raised by parents who would always debate and converse around the dinner table. We shared breakfast and dinner together every day. They loved learning, were always inquisitive, never afraid to ask a question. My parents shared a fearlessness and passed that on to me. I’ve never been embarrassed to ask people questions. I love talking to people and finding out about things.”

For a long time, McDowell had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She knew if she worked at different jobs she’d eventually figure out what she was good at.

“I knew I was a decent writer, but I always tried to get information out of people, what they were doing. Ask if they were fulfilled and happy.”

At Wake, Forest McDowell majored in art history and had every intention of working in a museum, possibly as a curator.

“I interned at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I lived in Venice, Italy for a while. Wake Forest owns a house in Venice.”

After that it was Colorado. She moved back to New York during the recession of 1991 with a duffel bag. She took the Amtrak to New York City and sublet an apartment for six months.

“I had no TV, just a radio. I knew I could find something good to do in New York, there were so many jobs. I always wanted to live in the city. Either the city or way out in the country. Nowhere in between.”

She said being in New York made her feel anything was possible. This was January in 1994 when job ads were still in the physical newspaper, like the New York Times. McDowell interviewed at Institutional Investor through a referral from a friend.

“It was a brilliant magazine with terrific writing,” McDowell explained. “Very prominent in the industry. They were looking for someone to work with the newsletter written for the financial community.”

She’d cover topics like the bond business, Wall Street, and money management. The magazine made her take a reporting test where you’d make up a story and write it. She was offered a job and worked there for three years.

“I learned to be a journalist there,” McDowell said. “I could write but I became a better journalist. We’d break news, create our sources, and learn more and more about finance. People love to talk about what they do if you show interest.”

The next big job was SmartMoney.com, a resource and web newspaper for private investors. There McDowell wrote a personal finance column. She started doing commentary on television shows, the way a lot of people in different professions tend to do. “Then I started making more appearances on weekend financial or business shows,” McDowell said.

She got a call from Neil Cavuto about 20 years ago and he told McDowell, ‘Kid, you want a job? I know you don’t have much professional TV experience. We’ll give you some training and you’ll figure it out. If you do, you stay. If not, you go.’

McDowell said she was glad she was a writer first before she arrived at Fox. She writes her own scripts and has a background in finance and business writing.

“Before the business network was launched, they had only one business reporter and two senior business correspondents,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do so many different jobs, use different muscles, so to speak. As the years have passed I’ve discovered other talents I may have and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

There’s a new show in town. McDowell and Sean Duffy will co-host The Bottom Line which will air on weeknights from 6-7:00 PM ET.

McDowell said she and Duffy come from extremely similar backgrounds. Duffy is from rural Wisconsin and McDowell is from Virginia.

“We know what small-town living is like, “McDowell said. “I might live in New York City but where I grew up affects the way I view the world. I’m still grounded in my hometown. On the show, we look south and west with everything we cover. You have to think of your audience. Rather than talking about them, we talk with them. That’s our shared background and vision. Sean is extremely down to earth and generous.”

McDowell said the show is not financially based, but steeped in business.

She said Duffy’s experience as a former U.S. Congressman, he understands policy as well as financial matters.

“Every decision in America is born of policy,” she said. “On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

This is different from anything McDowell has done in the past.

“It’s a two-anchor show in the evening,” she explained. “This is not taking place during market hours. We tie all the business happenings together from the day. Again, it’s not about Washington or New York. It’s about the people we grew up with. We talk to them. Build a relationship with them on the air. For me, this is not just sitting in front of a camera. I can run off at the mouth as well as anyone, hang in there with the filibuster.”

McDowell says she is blunt, but hopes she isn’t rude. During a recent interview for the new show she used the terms ‘pig potatoes’ and ‘chapped backsides.’

“Those are terms I just made up,” she said. “I make up a lot of phrases and don’t always know what they mean. I have an entire repertoire of those kinds of phrases.”

Duffy assumed they were southern phrases he had to learn from McDowell, but she assured him she’d never heard them anywhere else.

“I’m just making stuff up,” McDowell said. “You can’t curse. Can’t say BS. At least you shouldn’t say BS on television. You don’t want to say manure. You never want to say something that makes people wince or evokes a smell.”

Dealing with people directly and bluntly seems to come from her mother.

“My mother had grit,” McDowell said. “She was also very kind, never syrupy. I used to say she had no magnolia-mouth.

That’s got to be a southern phrase.

McDowell said her mother was not a servile flatterer, but she was kind. Always there when somebody was in need.

“She had real grit. She’d stand and fight for her friends and family members.”

Her mother passed away after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

“She went through unimaginable pain,” McDowell said of her mother. “For nearly six years. You want to talk about somebody who was tough. There was nobody more pugnacious than my mother.”

She explained even with her illness, her mother was always on the go. Continuing to live her life. When questioned about being so active while she was ill, her mother continued to show grit.

“My mother would say she didn’t want to walk around looking like she had cancer. She asked, ‘What choice do I have? I could lay in bed and wait to die, or I can get up and do what I can .’”

McDowell said her mother’s illness taught her to be a caregiver in ways she never could have imagined. Her mother taught her to find moments of joy every single day, in the smallest of things.

“It can be as simple as telling a stranger to have a great day. Treat a perfect stranger with kindness. I do it all day long. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be known as a person who brings a casserole to a friend when they’re ill.”

A one-sheet from Fox tells you McDowell and the culmination of her background is perfect for The Bottom Line. The fact is, it’s true.

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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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