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Stay Out of the Swamp and Focus on Local Stories Worth Telling

If push comes to shove, we can leave the latest Biden gaffe to our syndicated friends, and superserve our market in a way that they will remember well beyond the word “COVID”.

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As many talk radio hosts around the country settle into a new role as the pushback against a new administration in charge in Washington D.C., it is important to not get caught up in the “swamp-talk” on a daily basis. 

Donald Trump provided four years of daily, dramatic content for local and national hosts. And for many it worked, because it’s what people wanted to talk about around the water cooler. Despite all of Joe Biden’s policy failures thus far, he’s not nearly as compelling an individual to cover. Heck, he hasn’t even done a press conference with the media since Inauguration Day. 

Meantime, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the issues our listeners are facing in our backyard have become all the more pressing. And no issue appears to be hitting home more for my audience than the inability of too many schools to not fully re-open. 

Despite study after study showing that there is very minimal transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms, too many students have been held hostage by the teacher’s unions, local school boards and, yes, the new administration.

But so much of this issue is local to a city or a region because of how each district is handling things differently. For the last several weeks, I have been updating my audience in Kansas City as to the latest around what schools are doing, how they’re planning, and if/when they will be opening back up. 

Every day it feels like I could do a four-hour show on opening up our schools with the amount of phone/text/tweet traffic we get when discussing this topic. Parents have had enough and they are seeing through the charade. 

But rather than simply listening to parents complain all morning, which certainly has its purpose, but can get repetitive, I’ve taken the approach of doing our best to find new angles to this issue each day. Both Missouri and Kansas are advancing bills through the legislature to provide more school choice for parents. This is becoming more and more popular in urban, suburban and rural settings. Where do these bills stand and what do they accomplish? 

It might seem wonky, but with how desperate so many parents are to get their kids back to learning in the short term, and then wondering how to remedy their own situation in the long term, this is when the show can stand out in sharing information, entertaining, opinion, analysis and reaction.

That’s led to conversations with the lawmakers in both states to discuss where their bills are in the process and where they’re headed. 

It also helped create a segment that became our most listened to interview of the past week. It was an interview with a Kansas City, Missouri school board member who is opposed to opening in-person learning. It was a strong conversation with a bantering back and forth of ideas and perspective, never getting nasty, which led to a segment that received a ton of feedback.

So as we continue to navigate a new administration in Washington D.C., playing “watch dog” is an important part of the job that the listeners expect.

But the unique nature of the moment with COVID-19 provides us with so much original content that is frustrating our listeners, who are parents (oh, and likely in-demo listeners I might add!), holding back communities and doing short and long-term damage. So if push comes to shove, we can leave the latest Biden gaffe to our syndicated friends, and superserve our market in a way that they will remember well beyond the word “COVID”. At least I sure hope so.

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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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