2021 is Off to a Hot Start in News Talk
In many ways, this feels like the grand finale, but in some ways, this feels like just the start of something even bigger.
One thing about talk radio that can’t be controlled is the news cycle. The sports talk world could not control the way COVID-19 stopped all sports for months. And of course the news talk world can’t control its news cycle either.
So when you get a hot cycle, ride it. And that’s what news talk continues to get.
In many ways, this feels like the grand finale, but in some ways, this feels like just the start of something even bigger.
This week alone has included the balance of the U.S. Senate hanging in Georgia, several U.S. Senators objecting to the Electoral College votes, the President giving multiple national speeches that lasted over an hour, plus the protests on and in the U.S. Capitol that went through the day on Wednesday.
Of course, with what took place Wednesday at the Capitol, preaching peace and order is priority No. 1 for any responsible host. Regardless of political stripes or opinion on the outcome of the election, what took place on Wednesday was an embarrassment for the greatest country in the world. Talk show hosts will need to navigate a very tense and emotional few days moving forward.
But as I look to the start of the New Year and where the news cycle has been, in Kansas City, we’ve been fortunate to be able to localize the Electoral College objection as two of our senators, Josh Hawley in Missouri and Roger Marshall in Kansas, were on the list of 12 senators who would be objecting to the Electoral College vote. Also, Kansas GOP chairman Mike Kuckelman was going door-to-door in Georgia for the Senate run offs, so we were able to do check-ins with him as a local voice. We also carried the President’s entire speech uninterrupted from Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Regardless of one’s opinion on this, it was the biggest news item of the moment and KCMO Talk Radio was the only station in town to carry it.
Is this the last hurrah of what has been an incredible news cycle dating back to Donald Trump coming down the escalator and running for President in 2015? Or is it “just the start” as the President said towards the end of his speech on Wednesday?
For news talk, it feels like a little bit of both.
In the short-term, things will quiet down. Heck, they have to based on where the news cycle has been the last few months. Joe Biden will be President, news talk can play the dissenting voice which it has always been good at, but without the lightning rod that is Donald Trump, the news cycle can’t possibly move any faster.
In the long-term, the fracture within the Republican Party is something that might be around for a while. We saw it building in recent months and weeks, but it’s arguably the biggest thing to keep a close eye on as we move into 2021. And in many ways, talk radio will be Ground Zero for this debate to take place. Sure, there are different media outlets that will take different angles to the future of conservatism, and social will be buzzing, but still, talk radio reaches millions of Americans every week and creates important and unique dialogue that no other medium duplicates. 2020 was some ride for news talk and while 2021 might slow down some, it may not be as much as we all originally thought and expected.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.
6 Tips For Dealing With Publicists
I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
Especially for morning drive shows using the news wheel, ‘newsmaker’ guests are a part of the format. Beware of publicists that may be stealing bread from your station’s mouth. I’ll give you my rules for the people slinging guest pitches.
No Local Pitches From Publicists
We are often told to keep it local. I generally agree with that statement, but working with a local publicist is a bad idea. Publicists usually get paid for any appearance. If this is a local business, you are stealing money from your station’s bottom line. Why isn’t the guest purchasing advertising from the station?
Depending on the market, the publicist may be making enough money that would be better used on a spot campaign on your station. I programmed a station with the news wheel with “newsmaker” guests every half hour. A local doctor was talking about the ‘innovative’ procedure his office provides. Post-show, I called in the morning show host and producer. I asked if they stole from the company. These guys said, “No!”
Then I explained that the doctor was just given 12 minutes of free advertising. The publicist got paid and the station got nothing. I also explained that that the host could have made money with endorsement spots. Now, that was never going to happen. I suggested that the host speak with sales about this amazing doctor. Of course, the doctor never met with the account executive. Lesson learned.
You Are Enriching Them, So Make Them Work for Their Dough
You booked a guest from a publicist. Make them work for the money. Have them provide all the information that you need. A picture of the guest for social media. The interview is on your time, not theirs.
I had a publicist ask if I could pre-record their amazing guest at 4 in the afternoon, I said no. I only do guests live except in extraordinary circumstances. Occasionally, I’ll do a hit with one of the weekend syndicated hosts on my station. He does a local show at the same time that I am on the air. So, that is fine. I would pre-record Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but almost no one else.
It’s Your Show. Ask the Guest Your Questions.
If a publicist provides a list of suggested talking points, shred them. Do not do the interview for the guest or publicist, do it for your audience. Ask the questions that are focused on your listener.
The guest is getting free air time and the publicist is getting paid. If the guest and booker don’t like that? Who cares. I don’t do my show for them. I also never tell any guest about the questions that I could be asking. If there is a news story that is related to the guest, I am asking about that first. Being topical is your job.
The Emails Often Look Like the Endcap at Walmart
Here is what I mean: Publicist offers someone very cool. You contact them. The guest that the publicist offered is unavailable or ‘already’ booked at the time you need. So, the publicist highlights other potential guests that are not that appealing.
Just like the endcap at Walmart, the email looks appealing. Unfortunately, it is only to get you to open the email.
I received an email offering a really top guest that would be perfect for my show. I called the publicist and she told me that her guest was open at my time. Awesome. I thought that I had a good score.
I booked 3 days ahead and the publicist let me know that the guest was unavailable the afternoon before the interview. Since the guest was never confirmed, I didn’t promote it.
When to Cut Ties With a Publicist
If the guest slinger only provides people who are only wanting to sell stuff on your show? Move along. Obviously, all guests need to plug their stuff. We all know this.
About a decade ago, New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was booked on The Dan Patrick Show. Part of the reason was he was going to plug Qualcomm. Well, Matt Harvey didn’t want to speak about anything but Qualcomm. It was a sales pitch and nothing else.
Publicists should have their clients prepped so that they are booked to talk about their expertise and will get a chance to plug their book or service.
How to Get Guests Off the Talking Points
In the ’90s, I produced The Barbara Carlson Show in Minneapolis. The great actor Karl Malden was booked to promote the Oscars.
Let’s say that Karl was not in the mood to discuss anything but the Oscars. So, Barbara wasn’t going to let Karl get away with it. She buttered him up, telling Karl that he had a sexy nose. Then Barbara asked Karl if he had snorted cocaine at those amazing Hollywood Parties.
80-year-old Karl lost his cool. She got him off the talking points. It became an interesting interview.
The publicist was really mad about this. It was really good radio. It’s always about good radio and not pleasing some guest that is a one-time hit. Please the audience. Make memorable radio.
We all use publicists. Realize that you are their meal ticket. I am always surprised that I don’t at least get a holiday card from the publicists that I use on a regular basis. Don’t be naïve about these people. Hey, we all must make a living. They are a tool for you to use as you please.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.
Samantha Rivera Is What Every Live Reporter Should Strive For
Moxie. It’s a great word and it is not used enough these days. Maybe it’s not applied enough because not enough people have it, or not enough people show it. Samantha Rivera has moxie.
That is no patronizing remark, it is an unquestionable fact if you ask me, so do not even go there.
Samantha Rivera is a sports reporter for CBS News Miami, but she hit the jackpot in Las Vegas during a live shot at game two of the Stanley Cup Final.
What did she do you ask?
She did her job, with a flourish, strength, and without even breaking eye contact with the camera.
It’s the age-old story; a jersey-wearing nitwit sees the camera, the mic flag, and decides to bust in on the live shot.
Samantha Rivera’s live shot. And as we all have seen by now; she was not having it.
I am no play-by-play champion, so I recommend watching for yourself if you haven’t already. In this instance, watching an act of capability and composure takes extraordinarily little time.
Look, I still like sports and I still understand the motivation some fans have when they’re at a game or at a bar or even on the street outside the arena.
And as one of the inaugural season ticket holders for the Florida Panthers, a former South Floridian, and a guy who shares a first and a last name with the Panthers GM (I came along first, I checked), it’s not like I wasn’t keeping tabs on the game anyway.
But back to the fans, let us remember something: fan is short for fanatic or fanaticism.
Sports fans are much like those with strong political leanings, although in my observations sports fans usually have a little bit more on the ball and they possess a greater knowledge of the facts involved.
But we need to remember something else as well: reporter is short for somebody with a job, a job that has to get done, often in a challenging environment.
When the journalist meets the village idiot, for all our sakes the journalist has to win.
And Samantha Rivera won. And it was a victory we all should appreciate. News and sports coverage remained that one degree smarter as a result of a professional doing her job and doing it well.
We were spared a black eye, a dose of ridicule, and a round of catcalls because Samantha Rivera stepped up to the plate and went to bat for herself and for all of us really, and she did it at hockey game.
A great moment has gone viral, everybody is covering it and CBS Miami has an exceptional story to tell. They even got to interview their own reporter, a reporter who was the story.
This is one of those times when a reporter making the news is a good thing.
No idiot is calling a colleague a reprehensible name and getting fired here.
A professional’s personal life is not sending their career over a cliff in this scenario.
This time the reporter is seen pushing back against wrongful interference and emerging victoriously.
No big fight, no injuries, no penalty box.
Of course, there is at least one mutant out there still looking for high-fives for the half-second of screen time his shoulder and a third of his face got.
A live shot is not a “free swim” for the moronic, that lesson was reinforced in of all places, Las Vegas.
Live coverage is fun because it’s challenging but what I think should be called to attention here is how well Samantha Rivera handled things and did the job all while keeping a “take no shit” attitude.
I believe it’s a good representative look for a reporter.
That’s the way it’s done, the way it needs to be done and all the praise this pro among pros is getting is just.
Samantha Rivera now has the only shot she will ever need for her reporter reel.
So, in this case, it was a good thing that what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.