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The Power of “No”

It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space.

Ryan Maguire



Whenever I speak with friends or colleagues, the topic of “what’s wrong with radio” constantly comes up.  Everyone has different theories and many of them are valid.  Upon further reflection, I feel that it all boils down to one word.


In nearly three decades of working in spoken word media, “no” is the one word I’ve heard more than any other.  It explains so many of the past, present and future problems with an industry trying to survive in a crowded content space. 


It’s a word that has been said about every facet of the business.  For those of you that have worked in radio, tell me if any of these phrases are familiar.


The recent memo Cumulus reportedly sent out censoring their talk hosts from opinions on the 2020 election did not surprise me in the least. 

Companies are infamous for knee-jerk reactions to quell potential controversy.  Don’t get me wrong, there is ALWAYS a line and some of the mandates that companies hand out are justified. 

Many are just over the top and end up doing more harm than good.

I recall one time as a young Program Director, my morning show host took a very hard stance against affirmative action policies that the local university had been adhering to.  Within an hour after his show ended, the station’s General Manger stormed into my office with a sheet of paper in his hand.

“I need you to sign this,” he said. 

The document was an edict that, as PD, I would have to enforce a strict policy that matters of race could never be discussed on the station again.  I would be solely responsible for said policy and that any violation by any host on the station would result in my immediate termination. 

“Hey, why don’t we talk about it first,” I said.  “Don’t you think this is an overreaction to this morning’s show?”

The GM went on to explain, in no uncertain terms, that I could either sign this document or clear out my office.   Since my rent was coming due, I signed it.

The next thing I did was start calling anyone and everyone to see if they were hiring.  I wanted out.  A short time later, I landed a new gig.

Radio has lost a slew of talent to different content channels because they didn’t want to be censored or overly controlled.   It’s understandable why companies would want to avoid controversy.  Far too often, the cost of doing so has been worse than the controversy itself.   


Yes, the pandemic has hurt many businesses, radio being no exception.  The reality is ad revenues for radio have been on the decline since 2006.  While digital services jumping into the competition pool has been a big reason for this, so has radio’s stubbornness.

It was shocking at times sitting in sales meetings with fellow Program Directors and hearing how often they would shoot down a revenue idea.  Often the phrase that was used was “We’re not doing that; it would be a ratings killer!”  Many former colleagues would try to protect ratings points like they were their own children. The irony was, they often did so at their own peril. 

Radio is a revenue, not a ratings business.  People lose their jobs for reasons related to the all-mighty dollar; not because their AQH shares went down because of Neilson’s nonsense. 

While I was never one to roll over and rubber stamp any idea that an account exec would bring to the table, I always did my best to find a solution.  I grew up in a family of salespeople.  I understood what life was like cold-calling and living on a commission-only basis.   You don’t sell, you don’t eat.  I would never tell a DOS, GSM, or AE ‘no’ without trying to come up with an alternative that would work.  There is ALWAYS a middle ground that can be found.  Working on compromises with the sales staff was an opportunity for mutual education.  I’d have a chance to explain to the salesperson WHY their idea wouldn’t work for the brand.  The salesperson, in turn, could explain to me their client’s needs and how I should align my thinking. 


I’ve found far too many radio execs that are comfortable playing defense rather than offense.  Quite honestly, I can’t blame them.  Companies have made it a capital crime for GM’s who can’t properly justify an expense.  In doing so, they’ve created an atmosphere that isn’t about winning, it’s about simply not failing. 

I remember in one market; we had the opportunity to make a bid for the broadcast rights to a popular local sports team.  Getting them would have been an absolute game changer for us.  At the time, the station we were bidding against had been paying $4 million a year in rights fees.  When we put our proposal together, our counter to that was to offer no rights fee at all. 

When we were finishing our proposal, the GM looked at me and our sales managers and said with a laugh, “It will be a fucking miracle if this works.”

Feeling like I had to speak up, I countered, “Aren’t you afraid we’re going to get laughed out of the room when we propose this?”

“Hey,” the GM responded, “I’d rather be laughed out of the room than ask (our company) for $4 million a year!”

Our presentation was an absolute embarrassment.  The Team President looked offended afterwards and insinuated that we were wasting his time.  It was a bad look for us and left the impression that we were low rent in front of a multi-billion-dollar company.  We didn’t get the radio rights and continued to struggle to gain traction in a competitive talk market.

But hey, we didn’t have to ask for any money.


Innovation has been sorely lacking from the radio space for far too long. 

I’ve written columns in the past that radio needed to embrace technology, not ratings.   As streaming services continue to haul in billions of dollars, I’ve pleaded for radio to put a value on their content and to not be afraid of the paywall.   These progressive, forward-thinking ideas have generally been rejected. 

Much of this is because many radio fears failure.   

This ultra-conservative approach has not only stymied the industry’s growth, but its ability to be creative.

While a good deal of progress has been made in the digital space, radio has embraced new ideas at a snail’s pace compared to other content providers.

Facebook built a company worth over $700 billion and did so living under the mantra to “move fast and break things.” 

Amazon has a trillion-dollar empire and got there by “treating every day like day 1.”

Apple is a $2 trillion dollar company whose bedrock is coming out with the coolest new tech toys every year. Radio’s mantra?  “Hey, we’re surviving!”

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Noam Laden Was Champing at the Bit to Return to 77 WABC

“It’s great to be part of a winning team with passionate owners. We’ve got lots of exciting plans for the distribution of our news.”

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When Noam Laden was a kid, he was kind of a jerk.

He would lay in bed listening to local radio personalities in Trenton, New York,  and Philadelphia. He was one of the kids who called up and harassed the show hosts with reckless abandon. A practice Howard Stern’s devotees would soon perfect. Keep in mind, Laden was a 14-year-old at the time.

“There was one host I’d call regularly,” Laden said. “Stupidly, I’d use my real name when I called. The host would say, ‘Here’s Noam in Trenton.’ I’d lean into the phone and drop the F word three times and hang up. I just wanted to get on the air.”

After a few times of similar calls, Laden thinks they started to recognize his voice and knocked him off the phone. Then he tried to get smart and switch things up.

“One day they were talking about soft pretzels and I called in,” Laden recalled. “I’d chime in and say, ‘I love my soft pretzels with mustard and then insert the F word three times.’ I may have been the reason they created the seven-second delay,” Laden joked.

He later realized he might have something to add to a conversation rather than tossing cuss words. He has four brothers who also got into the act. One of his brothers would call and say, ‘I’m not wearing underwear.’ The host would say something like, ‘Oh, there’s a full moon out tonight.’ Then another brother would call and say, ‘I’m not wearing underwear.’”

Ah, a young boy’s life in Trenton.

Laden is returning to 770 WABC where he once worked on The Don Imus Show. Most recently he served as anchor/reporter/fill-in host at WOR. Laden is now the news and content distribution director for WABC.

“I joined the Imus show during its resurgence after his unfortunate racist and misogynist remarks. This was when WABC brought him back from the fringe. I didn’t have a great relationship with Imus. He was kinder to other people than me so I can’t say I enjoyed my time with him.”

In radio, there is a razzing process, a piling on at times. People pick on you, all in the name of having fun. Imus was more mean-spirited with Laden than others so that affected their relationship.

“I’ve always been an anchor. I still am,” Laden said. “At first, I was a writer for Charles McCord and did some news inserts while Charles did a national show.”

Laden was with WABC from 2003-2018 until they threw him out, he joked.

Laden has teamed up with Sid & Friends Morning Show. A veteran with 20 years of broadcast news experience, Laden is responsible for all WABC news content and distribution, on-air and online.

“I knew the late Bernie McGuirk well from when I was working with Imus. Such a great young talent, a sweet guy. I have some great memories with him. He was such a workhorse. As we were getting ready for our shows very early in the morning, we’d talk a lot.”

Laden said the station has a terrific lineup of hosts, and the ratings are soaring.

“It’s great to be part of a winning team with passionate owners. We’ve got lots of exciting plans for the distribution of our news.”

Laden was itching to get back to WABC when John Catsimatidis bought the station.

“We are going to make this a local station again,” Laden said. “Not for just a couple of hours a day. I’m going to have local personalities in the studio seven days a week. All local personalities, including overnight. We still have two national shows with Brian Kilmeade and Mark Levin.”

Laden said owner John Catsimatidis was way ahead of the curve in his understanding of what New Yorkers want. He said Catsimatidis has always loved radio and when he was building the station, he said he wanted to build a station New Yorkers wanted to listen to. He envisioned local shows 24/7. He’s deeply involved in the communities.

“He makes the station feel like family, like a smaller station.”

The station celebrates every holiday on the calendar. “We will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, and the Lunar New Year,” he joked. “There isn’t one holiday on the calendar we don’t celebrate. This is the most fun I’ve ever had in the business. I get to put my hands into different things.”

When he was at WOR, Laden said the majority of their staff worked out of their homes and many still do as a result of COVID-19.

“It’s so crushing to be out of the routine,” Laden said. “I never worked from home for one day. I needed to see people and be out of the house. When you’re not at the office, you’re missing so much synergy and energy of people working together. I think people being together breeds success.”

Laden returned to WABC in October of last year and started with the morning show in January.

“When I came back as news director, I took time to just observe. You don’t want to be that guy who comes in and makes changes without leaving enough time to fully assess the situation. I decided it would be a good idea to make our newscasts longer.”

In February of 2020, just before the pandemic, Laden was still at WOR and was told legend Joe Bartlett was retiring. Laden was visiting his parents in Israel when he got calls saying it looked like he was going to be the news director and anchor at WOR.

The station negotiated with Bartlett and decided he could work from South Carolina.

“Now he can play golf every day at 11:00,” Laden said. “The writing was on the wall. Joe wasn’t going anywhere. I realized I had to get out of there. When people work remotely, I think people can tell when team members of a show are not in the same room. When they’re phoning in from around the country.”

Laden said when you’re in the same studio you’re hatching ideas, laughing, and talking about bits. You know each other’s families.

“Len Berman was at home, and so was Michael Riedel.”

When he arrived in October, it was all about bolstering the product. One of the first things Laden did was replace the top-of-the-hour 77-second news updates with full newscasts.

“We’re news and talk,” he said. “We give the audience both. We extended the newscasts to five minutes and put in a sports report. It was John Catsimatidis’ idea to start earlier at one minute before the hour. We felt we could grab some of the audience flipping around.”

One of the advantages of working for a sledgehammer like WABC is when a reporter seeks you out for a comment on a story, you invariably will call the station back.

“I don’t understand why some people don’t call back smaller stations,” Laden said. “It’s great to be on the air in New York where you know people from all over the world are listening.”

Laden said he understands recruiting new talent into his newsroom is a challenge. He’s created a ‘bench’ of sorts, a way to groom students for possible careers in radio.

“I reached out to journalism schools and we began bringing in students and recent college graduates to come in on the weekends and work some air shifts,” Laden said. “In a way, it’s a paid internship. We look at it as we’re helping to create new reporters and anchors.”

Laden started his radio career at a small daytime station, WGHT, an oldies station. It was one of those classic radio jobs where he did afternoon drive. He’d been there three weeks when the owner came up to him and said he’d just fired the morning show host and Laden was taking over.

In the morning, Laden will deliver the first 40 minutes of news on WABC by himself. No commercials, traffic, or weather reports.

“After our show, reporters are already covering new stories. Searching for whatever the story might be. In the Tri-State area, there’s never a shortage.”

He’s worked in the New York area for most of his career. He moved to Charleston, South Carolina for two years. “We were living on the Upper West Side during the 9/11 attacks,” Laden said. “My wife and I decided we needed a little breather from the city and moved to Charleston. We loved it there. My son was born there and he sees himself as a southern gentleman,” Laden joked.

Digital is huge in the industry and Laden said they’re working at elevating their digital platform each day.

“We end all our newscasts with a call for action to go to our website for additional information on a story. People expect a digital component from your radio station and we’re building more every day.” 

If you build it, they will come.

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BNM Writers

Cristina Mendonsa Left Television For Radio When Her Star Was Shining Brightest

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Mozart completed his first piece of music when he was five years-old. Doogie Howser was a licensed doctor at 14 years of age. Cristina Mendonsa was working at a newspaper when she was 15 years-old. Perhaps it’s not as stunning as the other two, but Mendonsa was on a career path early.

“I was a columnist on youth issues for a local paper,” Mendonsa said. “I started working in radio before I was 17 years old.”

Then it was an internship at a television station, where Mendonsa baked a lot of cookies for people who helped her learn how to edit.

“I was a television writer when I was 19 years old. Got my first on-air job when I was 20 at KRCR-TV. I was at the CBS affiliate in Sacramento and then hired for a job at KUSA in Denver before I was 21, and I barely knew where Denver was on a map.”

C’mon, Cristina. Now you’re just showing off.

“Every radio station had some form of a newsroom back then. All stations, including rock. Then there became fewer and fewer, especially at music stations. I bounced around in radio for three years.”

It took her a while to finish college, taking a class here and there.

“I started my classes at the same time I was working in broadcasting,” Mendonsa said. “I was moving around in radio, and I had to drop out of school when I made a move for my job. It took me nine years to earn the degree. I was going to school so I could afford to pay tuition.”

Mendonsa believes being a reporter made her a better student. Mendonsa was taking journalism classes with younger students who probably had no idea she was on the air locally. She went to eight different colleges and finished at Sacramento State.

“I earned a masters in communications and leadership at Gonzaga University,” Mendonsa said. “I decided if I was going to have a life after television, more schooling was in order. My choices were between Notre Dame, USC, and Gonzaga. I had dated a guy on the Gonzaga basketball team many years earlier, so I imagine that helped me decide. Gonzaga was a good Jesuit school and had a moral aspect to instruction. Turned out to be a great program.”

In early radio jobs, she had tough editors looking over her copy, brutal with their edits. Brutal in their criticism of Mendonsa’s on-air performance.

“I’ll always have a huge amount of respect for them. They helped me immensely.”

Mendonsa is an anchor on 93.1 KFBK in Sacramento and has been with iHeart nearly five years after serving 27 years as a television anchor.

Born in Oakland, California, her mother raised the family and taught genealogy classes. Mendonsa said her mother was a great writer, compiling books of the family’s history going back generations.

“My father was part of the dignitary protection services in California all the way back to when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as Governor. I spent a lot of time at the Capitol. Dad would have family and friends come and tour the Capitol, usually entering from backdoors.”

She hung out at the Capitol a lot. Listened to political conversations while waiting for her father to get off work.

“Our dinner conversations had a lot to do with classic California politics,” Mendonsa said. “I remember going to a couple of events, standing with my mom on the Capitol steps when Reagan was addressing a crowd. Governor Brown would hold a Christmas party every year. Governor Deukmejian did too.”

When Brown first took office Mendonsa said she was surprised at how austere his office was. Definitely not what you’d expect a higher level politicians’ office to look like.

“That’s what struck me when I was a kid doing homework in Governor Brown’s office.”

Mendonsa’s father had a profound influence on her life, and people who knew him. “I run into people all the time who remember him, his integrity,” she said. “My father had a strong sense of loyalty and justice. He was a good man. Ethical, hard working. I’d like to think I took on some of those traits and passed them on to my children.”

She said as a television anchorwoman in her late 40s, she considered herself an endangered species in television.

“I started to think about some options, considered teaching,” Mendonsa explained. “I was impressed with the concept of leadership and entrepreneurship, but I also knew I had to up my skill sets.”

Sacramento is her hometown and a place she says is beautiful. Mendonsa pointed out that a lot of places call themselves the ‘City of Trees,’ but Sacramento certainly lives up to that.

“We have two rivers that come together, the American River and the Sacramento River. That’s also why we have similar flooding risks of New Orleans. People describe Sacramento as the Midwest of California. We have very friendly people.”

Mendonsa said it was an idyllic place to grow up, but Sacramento does have its issues. She said Sacramento has more homeless people than San Francisco.

“I remember taking a helicopter tour over the river and was stunned at how many there were. There’s a lot of pressure from businesses to get things straightened out. California has 30 percent of the homeless in the country. We’ve thrown a ton of money at it, and they’ll throw more. It doesn’t seem to make much of a dent.”

She said Sacramento simply doesn’t have enough housing.

“A small percentage of the homeless work regular jobs but live in their car. The majority of homeless have mental health issues or are drug abusers. It’s easier to be homeless in California because there are so many assistance programs.

Mendonsa once spoke to an advocate who said when someone has mental illness it doesn’t mean they are violent. If someone is a drug abuser, it doesn’t mean they are violent. But when you get a mentally ill person who is also a drug addict, you’ll see some serious problems.

‘It’s harder for cities to find police officers all over the country,” Mendonsa explained. “We’re constantly trying to train more. People don’t want to be police officers any more.”

Mendonsa said she was talking with her co-anchor and discussed a poll citing Donald Trump’s popularity has gone up in the past few days.

“Our station is news/talk, and we love political stories like that,” she said. “Trump has his ardent followers. He has tapped into a discontent and for many people, they believe his first presidency was a better time for them and the country, so they’re sticking with him”.

Mendonsa also knows people who feel betrayed by Trump. Abandoned by the ex-president.

“They are tired of his mean tweets. Trump is at his best when he’s focused on other people. He’s at his worst when he’s complaining how the world is against him. I swear if he ever gets arrested, he’s going to make T-shirts with his mugshot and sell them. They’ll do great.”

As a kid she’d help her mom when she researched at libraries. She loved writing and talking.

“I was always bending my mother’s ear,” Mendonsa explained. “She’d say to me, ‘You talk so much I think you should get a job where you could do that for a living.”

Message received.

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BNM Writers

Leading Local Is Convenient, Except For When It’s Not

Everybody comes from somewhere and everyone certainly has people in other places. Calamity and misfortune happen everywhere.

Bill Zito



ABC’s World News Tonight obviously had other plans in place for the evening newscast Monday. David Muir had the tornado devastated Mississippi city of Rolling Fork in the background as the show began, an umbrella lead later there was a switch and toss to the latest in the nation’s school shooting tragedies.

The shuffling of course was successful because the networks have a different focus and generally possess the ability to overcome the challenges of breaking and shifting national topics.

For the local markets there is often a tug of war between news operations and administrations over the push to lead local. The tried, true, and often tired philosophy of giving the neighborhood’s news first in favor of the broader national interest because — once again — people behind desks are sure they know what the audience wants.

For the radio folk, there is the often-available luxury of leading with the network newscast at the top of the hour — and the bottom as well, in desperate times — which leaves the responsibility for national news to someone else.

A community devastated by a weather event like an EF4 tornado in Mississippi or horrific violence like the Nashville school shooting are already all consumed by the tragedies. It is a local story that has become national by its sheer magnitude.

In other words, there is no justification needed to bring it to the top of the news block nationally so why are there even discussions about doing the same outside of where it happened. Community is community, there is no requirement that it happen here first for us to care, to be engaged.

I’ve encountered an arrogance often associated with local content that seems to set aside or even ignore the degree of those happenings outside the individual broadcast area. As if for some reason, our targets were not going to care about Russia and Ukraine until the local hook could be identified. Storms and shootings have pretty much happened everywhere so how hard is it to relate, even be transfixed when we’re given the particulars on something that’s not unfolding in our backyard?

Looking back at that arrogance I referred to, I think it also could link it to a level of insecurity, even in ignorance, in programming and direction. Not knowing or caring about what your followers think or want.

On the ignorance front, is it a simple lack of familiarity? Perhaps.

Get a room of journalists together in a room — I’m talking about members of the press, all platforms — with no caveats, no consequences.

What would they say? Leadership, management, or corporate philosophy come to mind?

There is of course a natural development to the equation, which supersedes pretty much everything. Impact.

Will Tacoma’s new downtown parking regulations top an earthquake and typhoon in Indonesia?

Don’t be so quick to answer.

What happens in Jerusalem, Gaza, and Tel Aviv carries a hell of a lot of weight in New York, L.A., and Miami. Span Texas to Southern California and they’re caring about more than just border crossings.

Everybody comes from somewhere and everyone certainly has people in other places. Calamity and misfortune happen everywhere.

And most people don’t care about where and when they see your sweeps story or your 5-part series on Parks Department Overtime when humanity is crashing someplace else.

Tease it, promote it, and move it down to the B-block.

Leading local is a reasonable coverage plan, except when it’s not.

Your brand-new News Director who just arrived from Cincinnati may not know that yet.

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