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The Maestros

A vision is useless unless you have someone who knows how to create it from scratch.

Ryan Maguire



A photo of a radio sound board and microphone
Photo by Alan Levine CC BY 2.0.

In one of my first columns for Barrett News Media, I wrote about how all audio brands need a soundtrack. 

What I failed to mention in that article, is that you need talented artists to pull it off.

Yes, every audio brand needs a strong manager who has the vision for how the brand needs to sound.  But a vision is useless unless you have someone who knows how to create it from scratch.

Voice-Over Specialists, Creative Services Directors, Production Managers, etc., are the true “Maestros” that know how to weave pieces of audio together to make a lasting impact.  In so many ways, they are unsung heroes…because few people know who they are.

Unless you’re an industry insider, you don’t know who the voice of your favorite talk show, TV Network or radio station is.  You likely don’t know who created the bells and whistles around them, either.

I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented audio production and branding specialists. 

I wanted to highlight them because they deserve to be known.


Anyone who has worked in any form of mass media likely know the Cutlers.

Anyone with the ability to hear has heard their voices.

This “power couple” of production have been imaging some of the biggest brands in the world for decades.  Their list of credits is a who’s who of media: ESPN, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, FX, VH1 etc.  Along with their network credits, they also voice radio stations in nearly 100 markets across North America in a variety of formats.   Jim and Dawn are seasoned, versatile voice actors and imaging specialists whose work has constantly shown the ability to cut through the clutter. 

I remember when I was managing KIRO-FM in Seattle, the Cutlers were our voice-over specialists.  Our sister sports-talk station also used the Cutler’s to image their station.  One of the first questions I faced was about changing the station voice to set ourselves apart and make it sound unique.

“Hell no,” I said.  “No one is going to make us stand out better than Jim and Dawn.”

Normally, you don’t want to use a voice that’s being used by another station in the same market.  But the Cutler’s were an exception to that rule.  They always will be.

Check out more of the Cutler’s work on their website.


When I arrived in Pittsburgh in 2012 to manage KDKA-FM, Steve was one of the first people that I met.

Not only was he our station voice, but he also handled all our imaging- jingles, promos, IDs, etc. 

He also did all our parody songs and show bits.

Steve has a powerful voice that works so well for news, talk and sports brands.  He’s also loves to create, and that passion became infectious with everyone on our staff.

It was common to see our hosts and producers in his studio, recording demos and coming up with ideas for their shows. 

The most amazing thing about Steve was just how well he knew our brand.  I’d hardly ever have to ask him for anything because he knew exactly how every piece of station production was supposed to sound.  He never had to run anything past me.  I’d find out when new production was done when it would hit the air.

On the rare occasion when I DID have an idea about something, I had to do very little explaining.  After a brief conversation, I’d have what I needed in about 15-20 minutes.

And it would be damn good.

You can see more of Steve’s experience here.


Scotty is a radio throwback.

If you went down to central casting and asked for “radio DJ”, he’s likely the person that would end up walking through the door.

We originally crossed paths when I took over WQAM in Miami.  Scotty was working as the cluster’s Creative Services Director, primarily doing commercial production and station imaging. 

One of the first things I had to do was find ways to cut down on some of the station’s bloated expenses.  At the time, we were paying a contractor $500 a month for the one page (double spaced) of voiced material. 

When I heard Scotty’s work, I immediately saw an opportunity.   

Not only was his production work very solid, his voice fit WQAM like a glove.  He became the station’s voice as well as it’s production director, which included providing the imaging for our Miami Dolphins, Hurricanes and Florida Panthers Broadcasts. 

The best moments with Scotty were when I would have a creative block with a particular idea.  He’d always help me figure it out and ease my stress at the same time.  I’d head down to his studio and he’d be happy to drop whatever he was doing so we could figure things out.  We’d sit in his studio for hours experimenting with music, sounds, effects, and concepts.  It turned being frustrated into a fun jam session.  How could you NOT want to work with someone like that?

You can hear some of Scotty’s work here.


AJ and I crossed paths when I arrived in Kansas City to manage KCSP in 2009.  At the time, we had NO designated person to handle imaging.  Based on how that station sounded when I got there, it showed.

We sounded like hot garbage.

AJ was the perfect fit to take the reins and be the point person for what I wanted to do. 

He was doing production work for the rock station in our cluster and was also the in-game DJ for the Kansas City Chiefs.    

I explained my vision for how I wanted the station to sound; edgy, in-your-face, and loud.  He was very much on the same page.

Not one year into the job, his work for KCSP was awarded by both the Kansas and Missouri Association of Broadcasters. 

What I remember the most about AJ is that he was a perfectionist.  He would never send something back to me unless it was (in his mind) picture perfect.  He’d never send me something to me quickly just for the sake of expedience.  I always respected him for that. 

His work was SO good, that our news/talk cluster mate, KMBZ started using him for projects as well.  You can connect with AJ here.

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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.



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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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



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



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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