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Dean Obeidallah Is Not Your Ordinary Talk Radio Host

“I will yell and scream on occasion. I try not to go over the top. I’m on a radio show.”

Jim Cryns

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I was scanning the media landscape for someone as engaging as Stephanie Miller and as learned as Thom Hartmann. I think I found the guy in Dean Obeidallah, host of the eponymous The Dean Obeidallah Show, which can be heard on SiriusXM Progress, channel 127, weeknights 6:00-9:00 PM ET.

Obeidallah is very familiar with Miller and said he owes her a lot.

“She had me on as a regular for a few years and I appreciate everything she did for me,” Obeidallah said. “Stephanie is smart, well-informed, and brings in a lot of humor to what she does. I think her show has a degree of silliness, which is great for that daypart. I’m more of a drivetime show so I can’t really be that silly. My mind has been recalibrated, more linear. Her silliness makes political issues funny and very accessible.”

Miller’s show is very humorous. It wouldn’t be incorrect to think of it as a morning zoo focused on politics.

Obeidallah has appeared all over the place. He’s been seen and heard on a multitude of international and national programs including CNN’s American Morning and The Situation Room, PBS’ Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Obeidallah has been on Air America Radio, Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen, ABC News, and HD’s Dan Rather Reports.

Pause for air.

He’s been on NPR, Fox News Radio, ABC’s 20/20, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, and CNN International’s Inside the Middle East.

I guess he’s been on everything with the exception of a box of Wheaties.

Obeidallah is concerned about the lack of diversity in talk radio, specifically the dearth of left leaning shows.

“Thom Hartmann was on my show recently and we talked about the lack of progressive radio shows,” he said. “There is no left wing media apparatus. Part of it is the audience, too. All of us are trying to get our message out. Some shows have something like a Sinclair Broadcast Group behind it. With SiriusXM Progress, we have a huge reach and audience. But that’s not the case with a lot of shows. It’s all about the radio reach. The wiring of liberals doesn’t allow them to appreciate the approach. We have a handful of shows that succeeded in the reach. A little bit on CNN.”

Obeidallah surmises it all comes down to a listener base. He said in the eyes of corporate media, there is money to be made in right-wing radio, not so much on the left.

“Air America didn’t work for various reasons.”

As Vanity Fair reported in 2009 about Air America, “The network was beset by a raft of off-air problems almost from its inception: a charity-loan scandal, contract disputes with affiliates and employees, continual changes in ownership and management, and a 2006 bankruptcy.”

“Some of Air America’s failure was media bias,” Obeidallah said. “On the right, the base agrees with whatever they’re fed. They aren’t interested in thinking about issues.

When you watch Rachel Maddow, you’re going to learn something. Right wing media will feed you the same stuff, the same points all the time.”

Ron Hartenbaum, managing member of Crossover Media Group and former VP of sales at Westwood One, agrees with Obeidallah.

“The issue with liberal radio has to do with ownership, and frankly, most talk radio listeners tend to be conservative males,” Hartenbaum explained. “It’s not that there are no liberal listeners. It’s that they don’t exist in numbers that make commercial radio viable.”

Hartenbaum cites some exceptions like Oregon, Seattle, formerly in San Francisco with KGO.

“Somebody even considers Sputnik Radio to be liberal or progressive, but owned by Russians,” Hartenbaum explained. “Not particularly managed for Russian propaganda from what I understand. I’m not sure podcasting represents a renewed interest in liberal radio, but if you look at The Young Turks broadcasts and others, perhaps that’s the case.”

Obeidallah said his goal on every show is for people to come away with something more.

“To be a little bit more informed and smarter on a topic than you were when you tuned in. But I do think a few podcasts can change the landscape. You’ve got some guys like The Young Turks and the MeidasTouch podcast. Podcasts are playing a big role as they are so democratized. You don’t need a corporate media structure.”

Obeidallah said it’s about getting your message across whether it’s on a podcast, YouTube, iTunes, or on a megaphone.

“To me it’s about the age of the listener. It’s a generation defined by values. If you believe in certain issues, you can be from 18-98. Younger people don’t call. We must find different ways to engage them.”

He’s having a good time with his show, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get frustrated from time to time.

“I will yell and scream on occasion,” Obeidallah said. “I try not to go over the top. I’m on a radio show. I love to go down to the street and talk to people. I’ll talk to my elevator when nobody else is around.”

His brain invariably moves in creative directions. He said a radio show is a performance, not unlike being onstage.

“I love doing standup comedy. I hope I can make people laugh. That’s my hope. Sometimes what I say on the air can be a barometer for my standup act. It’s harder to know if it works on the air as opposed to a live audience with immediate feedback. There are times if something works during my standup act I might try to integrate it into my show. It’s an inexact science. Sometimes a bit will work, sometimes it won’t.”

Obeidallah said his law degree helps him out in a lot of ways. He’s able to lay out his analysis.

“When we question why the documents Joe Biden had in his office versus the documents at Mar-a-Lago, I have the experience to analyze why they are similar. Or conversely, how they can’t be compared logically.”

Standup comedy used to be his full-time job, and he said he still somehow finds time to do it a few times a week. Obeidallah said he did a lot of political comedy before the midterms, also a lot of observational material. He said you have to hold your own point of view. If it’s not funny, it’s a speech. Politics is a big part of my comedy.

“My audiences respond to clips on YouTube, although that’s usually my best stuff,” he jokes. “When you do a comedy show, audiences are mostly open minded. It’s a rarity to get heckled. I think alcohol makes people heckle and yell. If you had the same audience sober, you probably wouldn’t see those things. People come up to me after the show and ask if I’m really Arab or if I’m making a lot of the stuff up. It really doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to have the questions.”

For his comedy Obeidallah was recognized with a Bill Hicks Award.

“Hicks was fearless,” he said. “He loved to challenge his audience. Lewis Black is a friend and he challenges his audience as well. The award was special to me. I joined comedy in the post-911 world.  They told me my act was something Bill would have done.”

Obeidallah said Hicks couldn’t have cared less about the audience liking him. That can offer a lot of freedom for a comic.

“I’m more like a puppy dog,” he said. “I need that approval, to be liked. Colin Quinn will push people. I think Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock will push you on race.”

Obeidallah said 9/11 was an impetus for him to become vocal. He was right there when it all happened.

“Like everybody else I was in shock. I was down there in lower Manhattan, standing on the street corner and watching as the second tower collapsed.”

At that moment, Obeidallah knew America had changed forever.

“I know it was because I was changed forever. I woke up on September 10th as an American. I woke up on September 11th as an Arab. I was no longer a white American, and that was society’s choice. It was at that point I was forced to answer for the worst of my community. Everything I would do from then on would be defined by that terrorist attack.”

His father is Arab. Obeidallah has cousins who are also Arab.

“Nine months after the attacks we were still being demonized,” he said. “But I think the event inspired me little by little. As time went on I became more in touch with my Arab heritage. It was sort of a natural development, not really my choice. I was the same guy from New Jersey I always was, but now American society told me I was a minority. I’m happy to focus on injustices, even if I’m not seen as white.”

Because of 9/11 Obeidallah can more closely relate more to the racism facing the Black community and other minorities targeted by racism.

“My journey going from a white American to an Arab has built more kinship,” he explained. “You suddenly realize what it’s like to be demonized. It’s a visceral feeling. When Trump ‘banned all Muslims’ it hurt in ways you cannot imagine. That has never been said by a world leader. Trump brought it to a new political level. I think it’s in a lull right now. This is the time for Arabs to meet people. The prejudice will come back. I just want to be your Muslim BFF.”

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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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