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Keeping Calm in a Crisis: The Programmer’s Perspective

“Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.”

Ryan Hedrick

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When I was managing KIRO Radio in Seattle, I had a very funny routine with our afternoon news anchor, Heather Bosch.

Heather is a pro’s pro who was in her second stint at KIRO after spending 5 years in New York at CBS News.  She knows her craft and knows it well.

Anyway, the routine would happen during a breaking news situation.  I would be in my office, get word of a story, and then sprint to the newsroom to alert the team.  Usually before I could even make it to the editor’s desk, Heather would wave me off.

“We’re on it, chief,” she would say (usually while feverishly typing).

I would then give her a thumbs up before retreating into my office.

What I learned from Heather and the great news team at KIRO was- less is more when it comes to management in situations like this.  At times, this was a tough pill for me to swallow.  Ask anyone that’s worked with me and they’ll tell you that I’m very hands on.  When breaking news happens, I like writing stories, editing audio, doing interviews, posting on social media, etc.  I like being “in the trenches” with the team. 

However, doing that often only causes disruption.  Step one in “keeping calm in a crisis” is KEEPING CALM.  If the PD is running around with their hair on fire, they’re doing their entire staff a disservice. Odds are, they will follow their lead for better or worse. If you’ve done your job as a PD or News Director, you’ve hired a staff of talented, anchors, editors, producers, hosts, reporters, and digital specialists.  You’ve established procedures for how to handle breaking news from step “A” to step “Z”.   Let your people do their jobs and be thinking of ways to support their efforts strategically, not tactically.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know Ken Charles, who currently serves as the Program Director of All-News KNX-AM in Los Angeles.  Ken and I have had the chance to discuss and exchange ideas on radio, news and the media and I’ve found him to be one of the more insightful programming minds in the format. I wanted to get his perspective for the finale of my three-part series for BNM.

RM- What are the best things a PD of an all-news or news-talk station can do in a breaking news situation?  

KC- Big breaking stories are an evolution.  Often you really don’t know what you have, especially in a social media world, until you get eyes on the incident. So, advice number one is – trust your people and stay out of their way.  Your reporters are on the scene and can see things you cannot back at the station.  Your editors/producers are in contact with your reporters and also making calls, scanning social media etc. to find out exactly what is going on. Let them do it, let them work the story.  As a manager my role is to let them be in the now while I am looking a few hours or even a few days ahead to make sure we are properly staffed, we don’t burn out our team and we can maintain our coverage for hours, days or even longer.  I have seen too many situations where a station didn’t look ahead and got caught out of position and without proper coverage as the story continued beyond the first few hours.  Think of the PD role as the Head Coach, the ND’s role is the offensive coordinator and the anchors, reporters are your players on the field.  Lastly, most of the preparation for breaking news occurred the last 87 times you covered breaking news.  While every story is different with unique components you learn something new every time and that makes your coverage a little better the next time.   We have an amazing team of professionals who have covered way too many earthquakes, wildfires, “trials of the century” police situations, protests, school shootings, terror incidents etc. etc. etc.  All of those events have prepared us for the last 8 months and through the 2020 election and into the next big breaking story. 

I remember covering a hurricane that was racing up the East Coast.  While my reporter was on the beach in North Carolina as the storm roared overhead, the competition had their reporter stuck in Charleston hundreds of miles from the actual story.  My reporter was feeding live shot and you could hear the wind while the other guys were reporting it was 86 and sunny.  Being prepared, learning from previous events, and allowing our team to report the now while my role was looking ahead allowed us to completely own the story. 

RM- What do you convey to your hosts, producers, editors, reporters, and hosts in situations like that? 

KC- Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.  Stories affect real people, and those real people are our neighbors, friends and in some cases coworkers.

RM- Can you recall 1-2 anecdotal examples of how your station handled a breaking news story or crisis?  What did you do? 

KC- Over the last few months, in addition to COVID we’ve had protests in the streets, the 2020 election, the President getting COVID, wildfires and on and on and on and on..what haven’t we done?  I have an incredible staff of talented professionals, I have a news director who is great partner in making sure we execute the plan and don’t miss a thing, we have 2 dedicated women keeping our digital and social presence moving at the same speed as the on air product and together they all make sure we cover the story, hopefully make an impact on people’s lives and help either get them through the story and keep them informed throughout the story.  What do I do?  Trust them and stay out of the way.

RM- What are the best traits a young pro looking to get in this field should have that would best prepare them for a crisis? 

KC- Being fearless and inquisitive and remembering that the story is not happening at the command center, it is happening in a neighborhood, building or sadly a school.  Go where the story is not where the PIOs tell you to go.  Talk to real people, not just officials.  Officials aren’t the story, people are. 

RM- 2020 has been (to say the least) a unique year for the news media.   How do you keep your team balanced amongst the chaos? 

KC- It has just been crazy.  For the team still in the building the goal is to try to be as normal as possible despite masks, plexiglass and gallons of hand sanitizer and remember to laugh and try to still have some fun.  For the team who is not coming into the building it is to keep constant communication, make sure they have the things they need to do their jobs and for every one constantly remember that safety is the most important thing.

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BNM Writers

How a Love of Sports Led Chad Pergram to Cover Politics at Fox News

“I work in the Capitol every day. It’s my office. It’s a place that I treasure.”

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A photo of Fox News reporter Chad Pergram
(Photo: Chad Pergram)

Fox News’ Chad Pergram knows the rules of the game when it comes to Congress better than some of the Congressmen who serve America’s citizens.

Tonight, however, the Senior Congressional Correspondent, along with John Walton, will be trading his suit and tie for a ball and glove at the Congressional baseball game. Pergram believes there’s a larger relationship to America’s pastime and the halls of Congress than what meets the eye. “You’re always kind of looking for an advantage in politics and it’s the same with sports.”

Pergram, began his journalist career while still in High School at WKRC-AM in Cincinnati. “I thought I might do politics and government and that type of thing but I also thought I might do sports.”

A chance encounter at an Ohio diner set the stage for a lifelong career and commitment to journalistic integrity. “One of the guys who was a local judge said ‘You should come down and sit with us sometime for lunch.’”

At lunch, the young Pergram ended up sitting next to John Boehner. “I covered his first race for Congress when I was still in college. But I worked, full-time at a radio station in Cincinnati. And so I’ve always kind of covered politics, specifically Congress.”

While he’s been with Fox News since 2007, Pergram believes his work at C-SPAN, his first Washington D.C. job, elevated his reporting to the excellence we see on screen today.

“When I came to C-SPAN, that was probably some of the best training I ever got about covering Congress. It’s not because you just show up at C-SPAN and they drop all this information into your head. No, it’s because it helped me get to know the players, meaning the members understand the congressional rules.”

Pergram noted a lot of people don’t know or pay attention to the rules, including some members of Congress. “A lot of the members don’t even know the rules, nor staff.”

He believes knowing the rules of Congress is as important as knowing the rules of baseball. “I remember I would sit in my room as a kid in rural Ohio, and there was not a lot to do in the 70s. And I would just study baseball cards. I can tell you statistics on the back of those baseball cards and what every player looked like. It was the same thing coming to Congress.”

The rules help distill votes to a numbers game. “I always say it’s about the math. And so when there’s certain numbers who are out, it’s going to affect the vote total. It’s the same type of scouting reports that you put together in sports as you would for covering Congress.”

Chad Pergram said those in Congressional leadership have to know the rules really well but noted, “We haven’t seen anybody really as good since Robert Byrd left.” Another example Pergram gave of a Congressman who knew the rules well is John Dingell. “He used to say, ‘If you write policy and let me write the rules, I will beat you every time.’”

Tonight’s 7 PM Congressional game is the second consecutive year Pergram will be on the call for the play-by-play, “It’s really fun to do the game. It’s a lot of work that, like most things in life, when you put on and a lot of hard work, it pays off.”

His wife, who is also a sports fan, helps Pergram compile stats and bios for the game. “It’s kind of a labor of love, frankly.”

Some of the challenges of covering tonight’s game include players with the same number. “You know their voices. But when they put on the uniform and a ball cap, you know, you don’t always know who they are.”

While the GOP will wear the same uniform (minus the baseball cap), democrats typically do not. “They wear everything. A lot of major league teams, college, college teams, high school teams, community colleges. For example, I remember Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would wear the Brooklyn Cyclones.”

Since the annual game doesn’t provide regular statistics, it’s Pergram’s personal knowledge and years of coverage that make it unique. Additionally, the rules of the game are slightly different than regular baseball. “Steve Scalise leads off for the Republicans, and he can’t run because of the shooting several years ago. So they put a designated runner next to him, and it looks like he’s getting in the starter’s blocks, you know, the 100-meter dash or something. And then [the designated runner] takes off on contact.”

Chad Pergram noted his passion for all types of news, adding, “If I probably wasn’t covering Congress, even though I cover some sports stuff, I would probably be doing sports [journalism]. So this is my one occasion from time to time, besides doing the Caps’ game, to do sports.”

Some of his most notable stories have happened both on and off the Congressional field, including the death of Osama Bin Laden, two Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings, the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game shooting, and the January 6th protests.

“I work in the Capitol every day. It’s my office. It’s a place that I treasure. To see the building ransacked on such an important day where you certify the Electoral College and the Capitol Police get overrun. I’m in the basement, barricading the doors, but on the air live all day.

“Then reporting on the riot and reporting on the certification of the Electoral College. This is how we have a peaceful transfer of power. I mean, that was, beyond dramatic and beyond terrible, frankly.”

For those looking to follow in his footsteps, Chad Pergram believes two things, they need to “pay attention” and “need to be willing to do things that others aren’t willing to do.” For example, “When I was young I got an opportunity but it was working all night doing anchoring the newscast at the radio station in Cincinnati. So everybody else would be going out on Friday night, and I’d be going to work.”

The strategic sacrifice, bunting on a play (aka a night out) just might end up giving someone a career grand slam, as it has for Chad Pergram.

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BNM Writers

How the Guilty Verdict of Donald Trump Affected Local TV Ratings

The 34-count conviction provided significant ratings increases for the national networks, especially on cable news. That boosted effect also occurred on the local channels

Doug Pucci

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A photo of Donald Trump
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The 34-count conviction of former President Donald Trump on May 30 provided significant ratings increases for the national networks, especially on cable news. That boosted effect also occurred on the local channels for where the hush money trial took place: New York City.

ABC’s New York affiliate WABC was tops in the market. According to Nielsen, during the breaking news of the Trump verdict, (from 4:45 PM-6:30 PM), WABC achieved an average audience of 435,400 total viewers, 28 percent higher than its closest competitor Fox News (~340,000) in solely the New York area.

In the key 25-54 demographic, WABC posted 93,000 viewers, a 48 percent advantage over #2 Fox News (~63,000).

WABC’s Eyewitness News at 11 PM on May 30 was #1 with 338,000 total viewers, 75 percent higher than #2 WCBS (~193,000), In adults 25-54, WABC delivered 82,400 viewers, #1 over runner-up WCBS (~33,400) by a margin of 147 percent.

NBC’s New York affiliate WNBC saw its 5 PM News deliver a 1.27 household rating (which equates to 96,520 households within the New York market) and a 5 share (meaning 5% of all New York, households with televisions in use had WNBC on) representing an increase of 67 percent compared to the same 5 PM hour on the prior six Thursdays  (Apr. 18-May 23).

Demo-wise, the increases were even larger. among adults 25-54,  a 0.52 rating/5 share (42,764 viewers aged 25 through 54; +136 percent) and among adults 18-49, a 0.35 rating/4 share (30,257 viewers aged 18 through 49; +94 percent).

WNBC’s other early evening newscasts also benefited:

6 PM to 6:30 PM

  • Households: 96.857 (1.28 rating/4 share; +2%)
  • Adults 25-54: 51,163 (0.63 rating/6 share; +80%)
  • Adults 18-49: 37,277 (0.43 rating/5 share; +54%)

7 PM to 7:30 PM

  • Households: 85,434 (1.12 rating/4 share; +15%)
  • Adults 25-54: 41,872 (0.51 rating/4 share; +70%)
  • Adults 18-49: 33,396 (0.38 rating/4 share; +58%)

Between 4:45-7 p.m., New York City’s 24/7 local news station Spectrum News NY1 experienced a +167 percent increase in ratings vs. the previous month’s average during this period — the largest increase of any broadcast or cable news network based on Nielsen Live+same day household ratings

NY1 continued with extensive coverage until midnight, leading to NY1 experiencing a +100 percent increase in household ratings between the longer period of 4:45 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Updating from Friday’s preliminary numbers, Nielsen’s final data released on June 3 indicated more than 20 million tuned in to the Trump guilty verdict across seven nationally-televised networks. 

Fox News was tops with 4.38 million viewers in the 4:45-6 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 30. MSNBC was runner-up with 3.54 million, followed by ABC (3.47 million), NBC (2.53 million), CBS (2.5 million), CNN (2.4 million) and Univision (1.066 million from 7-8 PM).

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‘Ramblin’ Ray Stevens Relishes Opportunity to Wake Up Chicago on WLS-AM 890

“If you go up to a Coke machine, and you press a Coke, a Coke better come out. And that’s what we’re gonna give (conservative listeners) in the mornings.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Ray Stevens and the WLS-AM 890 logo
(Photo: Ray Stevens)

In a surprise announcement Friday, WLS-AM 890 announced that country radio legend turned talk host “Ramblin” Ray Stevens would be replacing Steve Cochran on the station’s morning drive show.

Cochran’s contract was up, and the Cumulus Media station turned to Stevens, a former fill-in host who has spent the better part of a year hosting middays at sister station KCMO Talk Radio in Kansas City as its next host.

It’s a return home for Stevens, who had hosted the daypart with former WLS host “Big” John Howell after departing US 99.5 in 2016.

Ray Stevens couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity.

“WLS is a conservative radio station, and I’m a conservative guy. They needed somebody that could fill that void because everything else on that radio station lends itself to conservative radio,” Stevens told Barrett News Media. “If you go up to a Coke machine and you press Coke, a Coke better come out. And that’s what we’re gonna give (conservative listeners) in the mornings.

“We’re gonna be fair, We’re gonna talk about everything in the city that needs to be talked about. And we’re going to be involved in charity.”

The charity aspect is one that’s near and dear to Stevens’ heart. His mantra has long been “Doing good in the ‘hood,” helping people all around the Windy City however he can. It was something he missed without a radio job in the city.

“I love to be involved and if you can’t get out there and get your hands dirty and get into the communities, you are never going to be able to make a dent,” he shared. “We got to put ourselves in front of people, we got to work hard and use social media.

For the longest time, I was still doing a lot of charity work in town, but I didn’t have that behemoth of a radio signal to help me get that message out.”

The return to the news/talk outlet is one Ray Stevens is relishing, knowing that he’s better prepared for the opportunity now than he was in 2016.

“To come back and be able to have a little more experience under my belt and top world and to do it in Chicago, my hometown? I never wanted to work in L.A., I would have. I never wanted to work in New York, I would have,” he said with a chuckle. “Chicago, for me, listening to the greats that have sat in this chair … this is something that doesn’t come along very often.

“You have to cherish it. And you got to work hard for it because, at the end of the day, we’re renting this chair. And there’s always going to be the next person on this station. The listeners own this chair and I just want to do a good job for ’em. I want to do things that are relative to them, that matter to them, and not waste their time. Because we simply cannot waste their time with stuff that doesn’t matter.”

The ratings battle in the hotly contested Chicago market will be an uphill climb for WLS-AM 890. In the winter ratings book, the station earned a 0.6 share in morning drive between Cochran’s show and the first hour of The Chris Plante Show in the Persons 35-64 demographic. It jumped slightly to a 0.8 in the Persons 25-54 sector. Comparatively, WGN Radio’s morning offering from Bob Sirott garnered a 2.5 share in the Persons 35-64 demographic, with all-news WBBM scoring a 6.1 share in the same category.

It’s a fight Ray Stevens is ready to embrace.

“On WLS, the morning show is lagging behind the national programming. It’s lagging behind (Dan) Bongino, it lagged behind Chris Plante, and that needs to change,” he said. “Otherwise, why have local programming?”

He added that with a more cohesive view point — strongly slanted toward the conservative side of the political aisle — throughout the day, he believes it will only help the station grow.

“We’ll bring conservative values, if you will, to the morning show. This radio station is known for having conservative hosts that have an opinion. And we’ll bring it to them. Doesn’t mean we can’t be compassionate, doesn’t mean that we don’t care about people, because I think that’s sometimes the rap that you get if you’re a conservative.

“We will still be working in the hardest hit neighborhoods. We’ll still have people from both sides of the aisle on. But some of these politicians don’t deserve a spot on this radio station and I’m not going to give it up,” Stevens continued. “This is beachfront property and if you share our vision, well, then you’re welcome. And if you disagree with us, then call in and tell us but let’s at least have the debate.”

Ray Stevens, who will continue to host middays on KCMO, gave major kudos to the station’s Program Director and morning host — Pete Mundo — for helping prepare for this moment in his talk radio career.

“He’s taught me so much about talk radio here,” said Stevens. “You get out in your career and you think you know everything. I’m so happy that I got the chance to know Pete Mundo … You just gotta have confidence in yourself and work with people that understand you and believe in you. I really found that for the first time in my career with Pete Mundo. This guy gave me the ability to know that I could do this on this level. He gave me all the tools I needed.

“We’re not ever above learning. I think that if more people did that and relied on people that have a vested interest in them and understand that they know what they’re talking about, and that you believe in them, then when you apply what they’ve taught you — we see what’s happened in Kansas City with the ratings and the proof is right there.”

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