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5 People Who Aren’t Doing News Talk…But Could

These are people who could take what made their shows great in their respective formats and excel in a completely different arena.

Ryan Maguire

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Talent crossing over to news-talk from a different format is nothing new.  It’s been done for years.  Often though, many of these people fall into one of two uninspiring camps:

TALENT A– A jock on a music station that has aged out of the target demo.  However, they have enough name recognition in the market to land a news-talk gig.  Their shows are big on humor but have little depth.  It’s formulaic and contrived.   

TALENT B– Thinks that doing news-talk means they have to be a Rush or Hannity clone to be successful.  So, they drape themself in an American Flag and regurgitate the same conservative talking points that have been strewn across the news-talk landscape for years.  It’s formulaic and contrived. 

I’ve always felt that TRUE talent is transcendental.   When I worked in news-talk, I was never afraid to look at a candidate who didn’t have a background in the format.  The key was finding the RIGHT person…and not an individual who fell into the two camps I listed previously.

As a PD, I would always keep long list of talent I liked, regardless of format.  Here are five names off that list.  These are individuals I’m familiar with who are NOT currently working in news-talk but would absolutely KILL it if they chose to crossover.

NICK WRIGHT- Co-Host of First Things First on FS1

I had the good fortune to work with Nick for almost four years when he was doing sports-radio in Kansas City.  His knowledge of athletes and teams were never in question.  However, as I got to know him, I found out quickly just how intelligent and well-rounded a person he was.

Growing up in KC, Nick went to an exclusive prep school and could have easily gone to Harvard or Yale had he chosen to do so. He even managed to snag a spot as a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Our conversations were rarely about sports.  He had amazingly well-thought-out opinions on politics, race, pop culture, the economy and history.  He’s successfully been able to weave those opinions into the sports shows he’s hosted over the years.  Following the death of George Floyd, Nick made an impassioned plea to white people which has since gone viral:

Photo CBS Detroit

MIKE VALENTI- Afternoon Show Host on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit

As a Detroit sports fan, I’ve been a daily listener to Valenti’s show for years.  The man is a verbal assassin and has become one of the most phenomenally successful local sports-talk show hosts in the country. 

If he ever wanted to jump into the world of news-talk, I have no doubt he’d enjoy the same amount of success.

Valenti has never been shy about talking about non-sports topics on his show.  As COVID-19 put a halt to sporting events, much of the subject matter on his shows changed.  Valenti spent time on his programs focusing on the social and political impacts the pandemic had on people in Detroit and across the state of Michigan. It was great content and it certainly didn’t have a negative impact on his ratings.  He and his partner Rico Beard dominated the market throughout the spring and summer books. On September 30th, Mike jumped away from sports and led his show with reaction to the surreal first Presidential Debate.  The content was as good, if not better than what I heard from many news-talk shows that day:

Photo Radiocom

ANDREW FILLIPPONI- Co-Host of The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh

I had the pleasure of working with Andrew during my time in Pittsburgh.  I recall one afternoon at the studio; I saw him intently reading the book John Adams by David McCullough. 

“Poni,” I quipped, “I hope that’s not your idea of show prep.”

He smiled and went on to explain how he was getting ready to watch the HBO Miniseries of the same name and wanted to read the novel first.  We then went down a rabbit hole of talking about Adam’s politics, his role in history, which founding fathers we thought were overrated, etc.  It was a side of him that I had never seen before and it always stuck with me.

In the years we continued to work together, I made a point to steer conversations away from sports.  We’d talk about relationships, business, politics, etc.  He always had the ability to make stop and think about the topic at hand and even question my own views.

Knowing Andrew, he loves sports too much to want to cross over into news-talk.  However, he has the chops to do so. My colleague Brian Noe did a fascinating piece on Andrew for our sister-site and it’s worth a read.

MIKE WICKETT- Host of The Wickett on Wisconsin Podcast

Mike, unlike others on this list, has done news-talk for a living. 

After successful sports-radio stops in Ann Arbor and Milwaukee, he was hired co-host middays on Kansas City’s KMBZ. 

I worked directly with Mike in both of his sports-radio stops.  He was always quick witted, an absolute wizard with audio production and never afraid to go against the grain of popular sentiment.  Despite that, I was surprised when he left sports-talk to do news-talk on BZ.  I wasn’t sure if he would be able to tackle the far more serious topics that the format would present.

Naturally, he proved me wrong.

Mike spent 3 on KMBZ and became a Top-3 performer with Men, Women and Persons 25-54.   He was never afraid to spar with people on politics or social issues, but also knew how to add the right amount of levity and self-depreciation to make him relatable.Wickett left radio in late 2019 and is now a stay-at-home-dad.  He’s done some fill-in work on various news and sports stations, but also hosts the Wickett on Wisconsin Podcast.

Photo Country 1025

JONATHAN WIER- Morning Show Co-Host on Country 102.5 in Boston

Jonathan is in the same category as Mike Wickett.  They worked in news-talk (at the same station no less), then crossed over to do something else.  In Jonathan’s case, he left spoken word entirely and now works as the morning co-host on Country 102.5 in Boston.

I met Jonathan when he was hosting the top-rated evening show on KMBZ in Kansas City.  If you listened to his show, his success would have been no surprise.  He attacked every topic with an infectious energy that made it impossible to stop listening.  He also had an amazing knack for getting the best out of every other voice that was on his show (whether it be co-hosts, producers, anchors, callers, etc.).   BZ let him go as part of a cost-cutting move in July of 2019. 

It didn’t take him long to land a gig, as Beasley hired him to head to Boston only a few months later. You can get some samples of Wier’s current work here.

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1 Comment

  1. August Winter

    December 14, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    Wickett is a piss poor researcher, and will put you to sleep when he talks. He has the charm of a tarantula.

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BNM Writers

Activist Journalism Should Have No Place in Mainstream Media

Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism.

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A photo of a protest

Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan was shocked most Americans are supportive of deporting illegal aliens (because that is the actual legal term for undocumented immigrants). CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan has no idea America is not a democracy (the Irish journalist might want to take a civics class before making this false claim). And the Surgeon General is calling on social media outlets to have warning labels. It’s just more proof that activist journalism has grown all too prevalent in mainstream media today.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism. Perhaps we (the media) are becoming the beast we once feared.

Brennan’s shock at her own outlet’s poll made headlines because many felt it shouldn’t be a surprise. No country in the history of Earth has been or will be completely content with an exorbitant amount of people from another country landing within their borders. The report, which claimed 62% of Americans support deporting those who come here illegally, is now framed with additional results. 53% of Hispanic voters say they would favor the program.

The new CBS poll also found more Americans “overwhelmingly” trust President Trump on border security than President Biden. While we have yet to see Ms. Brennan’s jaw drop on air a second time, I’m confident it’s already happened behind the scenes. Reactions like this are not only un-journalistic (because just give us the news, we don’t care about your opinion that’s what talk radio is for), they show how out of touch some members of the media are with America outside of the large markets.

Speaking of out-of-touch with America, CNN seems to believe it’s a good idea to have a biased non-American report on the election. Regardless of his citizenship, Mr. O’Sullivan needs to learn more about the Constitution and the founding of the American government before reporting on it. I have said it before and will say it again, America is not a democracy, it is a democratic republic. Those on the right saying America is just a Republic are also wrong.

Mr. O’Sullivan’s false narrative that America is a democracy is a prime example of activist journalism in the works. Other “reporting” from him (if you can call it that) also included interviews with Pro-Palestinian groups who say they will not back Biden. Yet he does not ask one very simple question: Then who will they back? Trump? Doubtful, but if that is the answer it never made it into his story.

These national outlets might want to take a lesson from their affiliates, as local news now has more Americans’ trust than the bigger, more staffed, and better-paid counterparts. Why? Because there is less opinion and more journalism at the local level. This is likely why a May Pew Institute Research poll showed 69% of Americans believe that local journalists in their area are mostly in touch with their community. With even more (85%) believe local news is “somewhat important” to the well-being of their local community. National news poll numbers don’t even come close (as I previously commented).

What’s most concerning out of all the past week’s headlines, however, is Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy’s call for social media to come with a warning label. This would be as effective as posting warning labels on cigarette packs (meaning this is going to do nothing to stop people from partaking in addictive habits).

You can not save everyone and you certainly can’t save agenda-driven “journalists” from developing propaganda and posting it to social media. If a warning label on cigarettes won’t stop smokers from smoking it won’t stop social media users from scrolling. It is a drug, some people are addicted. It is an unfortunate but true part of life.

Most, if not all, Americans are aware of the addictiveness of social media just like they know the dangers of smoking. Warning labels won’t make people stop and think. It’s just more government overreach.

This is the thing local news does best, gives you unbiased information, it does not tell you how to think about certain issues (usually), and the good outlets call out government overreach when they see it.

We can not regulate our way out of life nor can the industry continue to render activist journalism and try to pass it off as real news. People are getting smart and turning to local news for facts. Hopefully, these stations won’t be corrupted by the same powers that now influence our national outlets.

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BNM Writers

Fox News Leads 80th Anniversary of D-Day Coverage

More than 3 million viewers watched coverage of the 80th anniversary on cable news.

Doug Pucci

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A photo of Fox News coverage of D-Day

One of the notable news events in June was the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi Germany back on Thursday, June 6. More than 3 million viewers watched the coverage on cable news with Fox News leading the way.

President Biden attended a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in France alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. In his remarks, Biden pledged “We will not walk away” from Ukraine, using the example of the fight to liberate Europe from Nazi domination In parallel to the current war against Russian aggression. “To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable. If we were to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

The morning news programs televised the D-Day remembrance ceremonies within the 8-9 AM ET hour on Thursday, June 6. Fox News was tops on cable overall, according to Nielsen Media Research, with 1.467 million viewers including 153,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. The network sent host Martha MacCallum to Normandy to broadcast live from the site of the invasion, sharing stories of combat veterans.

The MSNBC’s entire 6-9 a.m. ET block averaged 1.019 million viewers and 128,000 adults 25-54.

CNN/HLN’s combined broadcast drew 475,000 viewers and 110,000 in the 25-54 demo.

Later in the month, on Tuesday, June 11, music superstar Céline Dion joined Today co-host Hoda Kotb on NBC for the singer’s first one-on-one interview since publicly revealing she suffers from a neurological condition called stiff person syndrome.

Getting a huge assist from its America’s Got Talent (5.527 million) lead-in, the one-hour news special entitled “Celine’s Story” delivered 3.227 million viewers, marking it the most-watched program on all of television within the 10-11 p.m. hour on June 11. It outdrew such other 10 p.m. news shows as Fox News’ Gutfeld! (2.496 million), MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (1.078 million) and CNN’s NewsNight (433,000).

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How KDKA Transformed Overnights to Grow Its Future and Reach Younger Audiences

“The overwhelming feedback has been positive. It makes us local, it gives us a bench … it makes the radio station’s brand bigger and connects us in different areas.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of the cast of KDKA Next Take and the KDKA logo
(Photo: KDKA)

In February, venerable Pittsburgh news/talk station KDKA announced a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh that would see students from the college host a weekday overnight program.

The program — KDKA Next Take — is heard from 1-5 AM and replaced the nationally syndicated Red Eye Radio in the Audacy-owned station’s lineup.

A product of the imagination of Audacy Pittsburgh Senior Vice President and Market Manager Michael Spacciapolli, he believes the show has been a success in its early run.

“The show certainly offers a different perspective on the way that this generation looks at the world and from their viewpoint as opposed to other hosts who are in a different time in their life than them,” Spacciapolli said. “So we certainly are able to share a different point of view from them, while at the same time utilizing those points of view on social and getting them to really engage the radio station from a social perspective and hopefully engaging in and not just speaking to, but engaging people in that demographic, as well.”

Needing to attract younger audiences has been at the forefront of the news/talk radio industry for quite some time. Another issue discussed by leaders of the format are often centered around where stations will find the next crop of young talent.

With the partnership with Pitt, KDKA took the initiative to seek out those who might be interested in a radio career, rather than hope those potential employees found them.

“I’m always looking for great talent. Everything I do and in every aspect of the radio station, I’m looking for the most talented people. I’m always looking for where is the next great talent in everything we do,” said Spacciapolli. “This gives me the opportunity to have them working with us on an everyday basis and learning everything they do — from their work ethic, to their thought process, to their ideas. It gives me an opportunity to have our own ‘bench’ and have an opportunity to see where talent could come from in the future.

“There’s going to be talent there that we are potentially going to take a look at in different roles. Do they leave Next Take when their time is up on the show and do they immediately become full-time hosts? Probably not. But can they become part-time hosts? Sure,” he added. “Can they become producers? Absolutely. Can they become reporters? Can they become part-time reporters? Absolutely. Working with us gives us the opportunity to certainly move in that direction much more quickly and confidently than we would have previously.”

For decades, overnights were a proving ground for aspiring hosts. The daypart allowed for opportunities for young hosts and provided a low-pressure timeslot to experiment and hone your craft. But with the rise of automation and syndication, those positions have largely fallen by the wayside.

However, Audacy Pittsburgh looked at the partnership with the college and saw opportunity. The collaboration allows a younger generation access to the station that is largely dominated by older hosts and listeners.

Additionally, it provided even more local coverage to a station that prides itself of being “The Voice of Pittsburgh.” That factor wasn’t lost on Spacciapolli.

“A big part of my vision was it gave us the opportunity to be local, gave us the opportunity to be local overnight, which for me is how we win in this business is being local, staying local, talking to people in Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh, and this gave us the opportunity to do that on a pretty big scale and with fresh content every day.”

It would be natural for a full-time or even part-time employee of the Pittsburgh news/talk station to be jealous that a four-hour program was being given to college students. But that hasn’t been the case, Spacciapolli shared.

“The overwhelming feedback is very positive … Because there’s no expense it’s not like it’s somebody else could have been doing it. It would have continued to be syndicated if we weren’t able to do it through the partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. So it just makes the radio station’s brand bigger. It connects us in different areas and hopefully grows the brand and gets the brand younger.”

The program is recorded live-to-tape earlier in the day before airing in the 1-5 AM timeslot, which allows for some fine-tuning and takes the pressure off the radio novices, while also allowing them to helm a show instead of working in the wee hours of the night while trying to focus on their studies.

Spaccipolli shared that an overnight program hosted by college students interested in one day working in the industry doesn’t have to be proprietary to KDKA. He said there’s one deciding factor in the success of the endeavor.

“It’s about the relationships and the partnerships. And, fortunately, I have a great relationship with the University of Pittsburgh, they’re a great partner. I was able to get deep enough into this relationship with them and find ways to potentially make this work,” he stated.

“This is not easy. It’s not something you can pull off easily because, traditionally, I think, people think about it and they think, ‘Oh, there’s got to be significant expense.’ And in this situation, there’s not because that wouldn’t have fit our model for where it is and what we’re trying to do with it. So there isn’t that expense. You’re not gonna be able to make it work everywhere. Fortunately, we were able to do it here.”

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