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Kmele Foster, The Fifth Column and Why You Should be Listening

Foster co-hosts The Fifth Column podcast with Matt Welch, Editor at Large for Reason, and Michael Moynihan of Vice News. Foster described the podcast as a “weekly rhetorical assault on the news cycle and the people that make it…and occasionally ourselves.”

Ryan Maguire

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Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0.

Diamonds in the rough.

Green Bananas.

The next great thing.

These are all terms that audio brands have kicked around for years as they have tried desperately to find new talent that they can build around. 

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve tried to always keep my ears open for talent that can cut through the background noise of a cluttered audio space.  On the rare occasion when I DO notice someone…on TV, online or on the radio that can grab my attention for an extended period, I make sure to take note.  In my cloud of files, I have what I call “The Futures List”.  This is a collection of names that I keep should I ever find a content provider that wants a recommendation on a talent, or if I have a need to hire one.

This past week, I was able to add another set of names to the list.

Recently, I spent a Saturday morning doing what I usually do, drinking a Nespresso and watching Real Time with Bill Maher. 

One of Maher’s guest panelists was Kmele Foster, identified as the co-host of The Fifth Column podcast. 

Truth be told, as much as I enjoy Maher, many of his guests tend to be rather forgettable.  I hear them parrot the same talking points that fit their political ideology.  By the time, the episode is over, I don’t even remember their names.

This episode presented an exception to that rule.

The more I had the chance to hear Foster speak the more I thought to myself, “How the HELL have I not heard of this person?”   

Check out the highlights from his appearance.

After watching that episode of Real Time, I started scouring the internet to find out as much as I could about Foster. 

I also opted to do something that I vary rarely do…spend time in the podcast space.

THE FIFTH COLUMN PODCAST

As a rule, I tend to avoid podcasts.  There are a million of them on the internet and, with a VERY few exceptions, I find most of them to be garbage.  The production values are usually poor and there is little direction to the conversation.  As someone that has worked (albeit briefly) in the podcast industry I found many of the people involved to be more interested in the technology that delivers the content rather than the quality of the content itself.

So, I started listening to The Fifth Column Podcast with low expectations.  Less than five minutes into my first listen, I was hooked.

These guys were DAMN good.

Foster co-hosts The Fifth Column podcast with Matt Welch, Editor at Large for Reason, and Michael Moynihan of Vice News.   Foster described the podcast as a “weekly rhetorical assault on the news cycle and the people that make it…and occasionally ourselves.”  Man, he wasn’t kidding.  This podcast was all that and more. 

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

There are two looming problems with spoken word media; being disingenuous and catering to echo chambers.  In a way, these problems go together. Many talents manufacture opinions based on the events of the day and the demos/leanings of their audience.  This has made a lot of content predictable.  If you tune into Rush, Hannity, Beck, etc., you KNOW what their stance is going to be on an issue.  If you tune into Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, or Pod Save America, you know what you’re going to get as well. 

Not the case with and The Fifth Column.

Foster, Moynihan, and Welch come across as refreshing voices in an ecosystem of talent that do nothing but parrot the same talking points and cater to groupthink.   They are independents in every sense of the word.  They take jabs at people on the right AND the left and offer often humorous critiques of both. In one moment, they mock Melania Trump for being vapid.  In another moment, they turn around and criticize Pete Buttigieg for being unrealistic about how the 10,000 people who lost their jobs on the Keystone Pipeline will find work.  They were very unpredictable.  It kept me wanting to listen about what they were going to say next and what surprises I had in store.

They come off as real and understand that issues are not black and white.  There are complexities in every problem facing the country and they can’t be solved by adhering to absolutes.

They are also unrelenting in their criticism of mass media.  In a recent episode they talked about watching the Biden Inauguration coverage and how ridiculously over the top it was.   This exchange between the three hosts literally had me laughing out loud:

Suddenly Joe Biden is this figure of immense…world historical gravitas.  It’s like…Joe Biden?

And everyone was comparing him to “The Avengers”.  And, I haven’t seen that movie, but I guess it’s a movie about boring corporate Democrats.

It was impossible to watch even one…slice of coverage anywhere on any cable network and not feel, like, totally infuriated by the overwhelmingness of their take.

In a way, I felt a bit of validation as I expressed a similar opinion in a recent column for BNM.  In a bigger sense, it was refreshing to hear voices who have no problem rolling their eyes at things that many others see as sacred.  While I didn’t agree with everything they had to say, they made me think.  They also made me feel comfortable that, if I were to engage with them, I wouldn’t feel attacked, patronized, or shut down.  I appreciated the fact that my own ideas were being challenged, yet there was an air of very healthy dialogue throughout their conversations and interactions.

Spoken word media, and in particular the news/talk space, is in dire need of fresh, independent voices.  Foster, Moynihan, and Welch present that. 

They are a welcome addition to my Spotify playlist, and would be a welcome addition to any audio brand looking for a way to cut through the clutter. Check out The Fifth Column Podcast here.

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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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