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With Sports & NBC Behind Him, Len Berman’s Living in the Moment at 710 WOR

“Here’s a political radio station, and you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show.”

Jerry Barmash

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For three decades, Len Berman was an accomplished sports anchor in New York. He left WNBC in 2009 after a 27-year run at 30 Rock.

That was only the end of his TV career, though. Since 2015, Berman has proven to be a more than capable radio host as one-half of the WOR Morning Show with Michael Riedel. His transition to a different medium would be made easier from dabbling in news at WNBC.

Tom Cuddy, WOR’s program director, thought Berman could “broaden his horizons” after seeing him years ago doing sports on WBZ in Boston and from appearances on WNBC. 

While covering the Olympics in 1992 Berman made strides into news, co-anchoring with Sue Simmons and again in 1996 when they both were in Atlanta.

“Len was a superb sports anchor, but I think he would’ve embraced anchoring the news, and he would’ve been good at it too!” Simmons said.

Berman would also rotate as co-anchor with Simmons on Live at Five in 2005 when Jim Rosenfeld left for WCBS.

“We had an easy on-air rapport, Simmons said. “He’s such a professional.”

Some may also remember Berman’s brief radio run in 1993 at WFAN. It’s not a highlight for the award-winning sportscaster, who was supposed to do a four-hour show with veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica.

“The minute I signed the contract I tried to get out of it,” Berman admitted. “Then I got killed by [Bob] Raissman [with the New York Daily News] and by [Don] Imus. That was all me. I got cold feet.”

The burden of Berman’s nighttime TV gig led Joel Hollander, WFAN general manager at the time, to split the shift with Lupica. Within a few months, Berman was let out of his contract, but he was not soured on radio.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t think I wanted to do sports radio,” Berman said. “I didn’t know who the second line was on the New York Rangers, let alone the first line. I could tell stories, but I wasn’t what you’d call a sports fanatic.”

So, Berman had the journalistic chops to step out of his comfort zone, but he wasn’t prepared for the politics, even before the Trump era.

“I never thought of myself as anything until I had to label myself,” Berman said. “I guess some of the policies are more liberal than not when it comes to guns or abortion. But I always judged each issue on its own basis.”

From the world of sports, Berman knows all about fan frenzy, but “that’s chicken feed compared to this.”

Opinion comes with the territory and that was unique for Berman, who prided himself on delivering sports commentaries from all perspectives. That “MO” is out the window in talk radio.

The emails come in and if they aren’t over the top politically, he’ll respond. He cited a recent listener who complained about Berman’s views on Israel. Berman, who is Jewish, responded that he’s a strong supporter of Israel, but “that’s doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that the Israeli government does, much like I consider myself a pretty good American. I don’t agree with everything our government does.”

“I appreciate people who respect your opinion and [who] treat [you] honestly and fairly,” Berman said. 

His more progressive views are a contrast to powerhouse syndicated host Sean Hannity and the late Rush Limbaugh, heard on WOR for years.

“From 5 a.m. until 9 at night I’m the only voice that leans left on the radio station,” Berman said.

That meant once Donald Trump was elected, Berman was the lone host in opposition.

Incidentally, Berman voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but opted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

“It was easy on the Trump side to come up with opinions,” Berman said. “Either fortunately, or unfortunately, I came down on the side opposed to Trump. Maybe it made for good radio that we had two sides.”

Aside from the unexpected political cauldron that Berman would walk into, his on-air TV life didn’t automatically translate to radio.

“When I first started, I think the boss wasn’t real comfortable that I could handle a show from beginning to end,” Berman admitted.

He was fine with speaking to guests or callers, but the basic radio elements were foreign to him, such as navigating segments or doing a live commercial read. While it seems simple on the surface, Berman was used to putting together a 3:15 sportscast nightly at WNBC. Now, he was responsible for four hours of content daily.

“That’s very different,” Berman said. “It’s a whole different skill set.”

Tough Times with Todd

Berman initially was teamed with Todd Schnitt, but that was an ill-fated partnering.

“It was no secret that we did not get along,” Berman admitted. “It probably showed on the air.”

Schnitt, a native New Yorker, was the conservative voice who had been hosting his own show, The MJ Morning Show. He’s been fronting a political-centric afternoon drive program, The Schnitt Show, since 2001. However, failing in New York City would be a blemish to his career and, for the 34 months together, a blemish for Berman.

“Can you imagine coming to work and you don’t talk to your co-host except when you’re on the air?” Berman said. “It was uncomfortable. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”

As awkward as it was, though, Berman had no intention of walking away from WOR because, “it was just something to do,” after his forced retirement from WNBC.

But iHeart, according to Berman, was grooming Schnitt to become a star at WOR. Therefore, with the chemistry failing, Berman thought he would take the fall. At one point, Berman joked on the air that he was like Alan Colmes, who had a Fox News show with Sean Hannity. One day Colmes was gone, and the cable news wars were altered forever.

“I was just shocked that it didn’t happen,” Berman said.

So, when Cuddy contacted Berman in October 2017 about Schnitt’s exit, he was stunned. It was a sudden departure and Berman was forced to fly solo in the studio the next day.

Officially, iHeart said they couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Schnitt, “[but] I’m being very honest with you. I always thought something happened, I never knew what,” Berman admitted. “Maybe he wanted a lot more. WOR does not overpay. Trust me.”

Since 2018, Berman and former theater critic Michael Riedel have a much better ying and yang.

“You figure that one out. Here’s a political radio station, you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show,” Berman said.

Berman auditioned with fill-in guests on air and with the mics off. When it was finally Riedel’s turn, Berman was not familiar with his print or broadcasting background. Perhaps, it was that discovery that led to immediately clicking.

Their producer thought the off-the-cuff chatting was perfect and laid the groundwork for their on-air relationship.

“We both had broad experiences, so that’s why it’s worked,” Berman said. “We really do mix it up,” he said. “We’re very big on having fun.”

Battle for Morning Ratings 

He is proud of a long stretch, topping news/talk rival Red Apple Media’s WABC for more than a year, but Berman doesn’t get too caught up in the ratings. Another competitor is Salem’s 970 WNYM/The Answer. But the weaker signal makes them less formidable.

Another feather in his cap is occasionally ranking number one on Long Island among all morning shows.

WABC’s Sid Rosenberg recently told Barrett News Media that his morning show with Bernard McGuirk has “beaten the shit out of WOR lately.”

Berman countered, “If they’re ahead of us by a tenth or two-tenths, trust me, they’re not beating the shit out of us.”

The WOR host is so laid back about the competition that he’s never heard WNYM morning host Joe Piscopo or Bernie and Sid, although Riedel has listened to their WABC show podcast.

“I haven’t. I always had that approach in radio and television that I’m going to do the best job I can possibly do and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Berman said.

But Berman does have a history with Rosenberg, as a guest several times on his South Florida show. He also texted Rosenberg a couple of years ago about a matter unrelated to broadcasting.

“[He’s] a character,” Berman said. “If he wants to knock us, go for it. I’m not going to fire back.”

Life Since COVID

Since the pandemic took hold in New York in the spring of 2020, Berman and Riedel are working remotely. You can add news anchor Joe Bartlett to the list, who was planned to retire in 2020, but moved back home to South Carolina and has kept working each morning.

“There are people who don’t know, I don’t know how that’s possible, none of us [is] in the studio,” Berman said.

Berman is based on Long Island, while Riedel is at home in the West Village. 

As mask restrictions are loosening and vaccinations are increasing, it remains to be seen when the duo will return to their Tribeca studios.

“They have not made any decisions yet,” Berman said.

The fully vaccinated Berman said if iHeart brass require him to go back to radio station for hosting duties, “it’s something I would consider.”

However, Berman said, “I have the luxury of having already been retired. So, if I decide I really don’t want to get up another hour early and commute all that much, at least I have the luxury of knowing that I have that option.”

He is under contract, but in the fluid world of radio, coupled with the post-COVID cutbacks, there remains a lot of unknown.

“It really is day-to-day or month-to-month, as far as what my thinking is,” Berman said.

Len and Jill celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2020, but with his wife’s real estate business thriving, he’s in no rush to retire and head to Florida.

“At some point we’ll go back, at least for the winter,” Berman said.  

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Michael Berry Doesn’t Want to Be All Serious All the Time

“I get to entertain everyday and people come and listen to me. That really — more than anything else — is the thrill.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Michael Berry

There are plenty of nationally syndicated radio shows that began as local shows. Not many hosts, however, have both a local radio show and a nationally syndicated show each weekday. But Michael Berry isn’t your average radio talk show host.

In addition to hosting a local show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH, Berry hosts The Michael Berry Show on more than 40 stations throughout the nation. And he believes having a local show in his hometown market — Houston — while still getting to talk about national topics on his afternoon show is the ideal situation for him.

“It lets me sort of keep my hand in two very different pies and do two very different shows. And that fulfills me,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t want to do just one or just the other. And I think part of it — I was the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston, so I got very involved and very entrenched in the political world. I know a lot of the restaurant owners, I know a lot of business owners, and I really enjoy making the fourth-largest city into a tiny town for our listeners.

“But I also want to be able to talk to a national audience on a national level. I get to do both of those. I think that’s ideal for me.”

Michael Berry served on the City Council in Houston from 2002-2008, which gives him a unique perspective about both local and national politics that many others in the format don’t have.

“I think the experience of how bills are made and the backroom deals and how they’re done, I think that informs my opinions in a way that if you haven’t done that, it makes it harder to understand,” said Berry. “Also the blocking and tackling of how you get bills passed and how you win elections and those sorts of things.

“It just gives you that experience and it also helps you understand when a politician or an elected official says something that seems to go against what he believes or what he promised. You have a better sense of ‘Ok, who did he sell out to? Why did he do that? Where is the pressure point?’

“Because I think listeners want to understand not just why is Mitch McConnell doing something that feels like it’s against what the base is doing. The better question is, what’s the pressure point? What’s driving him? Who’s pushing him into that corner? And I think when you’re in the process, you get a very good sense of that.”

One could refer to Michael Berry as an almost new-age news/talk host. While one of the large criticisms of conservative talk radio today is the vitriol and anger most hosts present on the air, Berry is often presenting the opposite. Oftentimes, his show isn’t centered on conservative political viewpoints at all. A constant presentation of hope, admiration, and excitement not just about politics but about culture and the conservative lifestyle is the backbone of Berry’s program.

And while he has an affinity for those inside the conservative talk radio format, he simply believes he’s filling a different, virtually unoccupied, lane.

“There are some brilliant people out there on the radio. Sean Hannity has access to every elected official. Clay (Travis) and Buck (Sexton) are getting access to anybody they want as a guest. Mark Levin is a brilliant mind, a brilliant legal mind. (Glenn) Beck has a great perspective from decades of experience. Dan Bongino’s a really smart guy. There’s some really, really clever, smart, experienced broadcasters. I don’t need to be a lighter version of them, which is all I could ever hope to be. I want to be who I am,” admitted Berry.

“And I don’t see myself as competing with them. I wouldn’t want to. They’re all wonderful. We can all coexist, but I don’t want to watch the same show 24 hours a day. I want to create content that is different than other people are doing,” Berry continued. “Not because I’m better or they’re not good, but because I don’t think I can do it as well as they can. So I want to do what I do well.”

Michael Berry free admits he’d get bored simply sticking to the conservative political script for two separate shows each day. That’s why weaving other topics into his program continues to excite him.

“If all you do is what I call angry, old white man radio, you can’t build an audience and you can’t keep an audience. And the reason is that it becomes tedious. It becomes a chore to listen to. And everybody has heard that type of program that never laughs at anything and especially not that itself. We want to make people laugh. We want to talk about real life things, as well. We don’t have to talk politics 24/7.

“When I think about the influence in this country, on the culture, comedians have always had such an influence. The reason is that when you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and you’re engaging and you’re building your bond. I think that one of the great barriers to success in radio and success for the conservative movement is the inability to bond on the deeper level of let’s share a laugh.

“I think there is a great joy when I find that I’m making a point that I consider to be important, and yet in the middle of it, we can all laugh.”

Ultimately, Michael Berry doesn’t view his role in talk radio as a political pontificator, conservative advocate, or a preacher from behind the Republican pulpit. He views his craft from a completely different angle.

“I view myself as an entertainer. The hardcore conservative listeners don’t like me to say that because that means you must not mean what you say, or you’re not serious. I mean every word I say. And I’m very serious,” Berry stated. “But I’m serious in the way Dave Chappelle is serious. And make no mistake, Dave Chappelle is having a huge influence in America today on how we view the First Amendment or the concepts of freedom of thought…the reason is, is because he’s dead serious while making you laugh.

“When I was really deciding that this was a career I wanted to pursue…I went and studied stand-up comics, because I felt like that was the place. Otherwise, I would just mimic the guys that were already successful, and I didn’t want to do that,” Berry continued. “I felt dishonest about that.

“So what I did, instead, is I went and studied comedians, and delivery and how you engage an audience and how you hold an audience and how you make a point without beating the audience over the head with it. And how you go from point to point, how you pivot, how you make it fun. A lot of these are sort of back porch conversation tricks, you know, parlor games of, of how we keep a conversation going except it’s a one one man conversation without it feeling like I’m lecturing you.”

During our conversation, Michael Berry admitted he can hear hosts around the country who have lost the will to create compelling content, who say things they don’t believe, and are no longer in love with the format that once enticed them to join the industry.

However, he’s made a vow to never lose the excitement that comes with working in a format he still thoroughly enjoys.

“I view it as I get to wake up every day excited to go to the studio. My dad worked for 40 years at a plant in the maintenance unit and he hated every day of it. But he had all us kids to take care of. I get to entertain every day and people come and listen to me,” he shared. “That really, more than anything else, that is the thrill. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.

“I think that most people probably don’t love what they do…I’m a megalomaniac. We all have to be to have the audacity to think that you can talk every day and people want to hear you, but I love it. It’s a thrill. I love to talk and I love to create stories and I love to create entertainment and create content. And when I hear from people that in some way they enjoyed it. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine, in the way that it would be for a pastor, or a comedian, or a songwriter, or a singer. It is incredibly rewarding.

“We live in an abundance of riches when it comes to content…but for them to choose to come and say I’m gonna let you entertain me,” Michael Berry concluded. “That is the ultimate compliment.”

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Do Radio Hosts Actually Care About What They’re Talking About?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice.

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If you don’t care, why should anyone else care about what you do?

That’s one reason why I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. You don’t get a 211-186 final if anyone is remotely making any effort at all. It’s an extended version of the pre-game warmup. Everyone’s throwing up threes with no defense. They might as well break into a layup drill. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless game. I’ve endured a lot of All-Star games among the major sports leagues, and I stopped bothering to watch years ago. I haven’t missed much.

That translates to other realms as well. This column focuses on the media, so if you’re, say, a talk radio host, you should be asking yourself whether you really care about what you’re talking about. That’s the threshold question: Do you care? Because if you don’t, are you really going to put in the effort to make the topic entertaining so that other people – your listeners – care enough to listen and stay with you for the whole segment?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice. And “I don’t care about it” isn’t a particularly compelling talk radio topic, is it?

It’s easier for local sports talk – it’s a given that whatever you’re ranting about and whatever take you have, listeners care because, well, who listens to sports radio and doesn’t care about what’s going on (All-Star Games notwithstanding)?

News organizations, on the other hand, have a different goal: If it’s news that on the surface is dry and boring but still matters, it’s the reporters’ and editors’ job to explain why a viewer or reader should care. Ukraine or Gaza might seem remote to a lot of people, but their importance to a typical U.S. citizen can’t be understated, and it’s important (and often forgotten) to emphasize why they matter and what impact they have on everyone.

The simple fact is that the energy you project on anything you talk about or report upon is a reflection of what you have invested in the story. You can fake enthusiasm, but if you just truly don’t care about Taylor and Travis, you’ll just be going through the motions and that’s what the audience perceives.

On the other hand, if you’ve invested a lot of time digging into an arcane financial story and you know that what seems like a remote, inscrutable radio topic may have profound consequences for many consumers, emphasize that and make clear why the viewer or reader should care, and do it right out of the gate to grab their attention.

Here, a digression: Why do they even bother with the actual All-Star Game anymore? Take the NBA All-Star Weekend: Nobody will remember anything about the game (other than that one team scored over 200 points) but everyone will remember the Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu shootout. They may remember Mac McClung’s repeat dunk contest win or the celebrity game or Rising Stars games.

Why not just do the skills and challenges, which are usually entertaining, and skip the All-Star Game itself, which isn’t? Maybe add some contests and honors for past greats. Most of the people who trek to the All-Star venue are there for the parties anyway. And with baseball now doing interleague play all season, none of the All-Star Games involve getting to see players who don’t normally face each other in the regular season face off. They don’t need a game nobody in it wants to play. I recognize this will never happen.

But the main takeaway here is that it’s less true that you can’t make someone care about a thing they don’t care about themselves than it is true that if you don’t care, you have zero chance making anyone else care. Your poker face isn’t that good.

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Radio Was Built For Charity and Volunteer Work

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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A photo of a volunteer

Art Bell once said, “We are all here for a Cosmic Blink. Use your time wisely.”  The wisest man in all of history, a fellow named Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of us are drawn to radio for usually a basic human impulse…it is a narcissistic rage that exists in every baby. Look at me! Listen to me! My opinions are important!

Unless you are a completely narcissistic fool, you have looked in the mirror and wondered about why we are here. What is your worth in the cosmic blink? Ok, let old Uncle Peter (Yes, I went full third person) explain.

We have all been given an amazing platform. Not only to spout our beliefs, biases, and humor, but to touch our communities. Does your show have a charity? Why not? Does your station have a charity or a “Day of Action” to support local causes? The answer should be yes. Radio shows and stations raise millions of dollars to improve our society. We raise awareness of issues that create change. It is why we are here. 

Before I give you some random idea starters for your show/station, let’s talk about the charities that you personally support. Do you give a portion of your income to religious, humanitarian, or conservation projects that you believe in? You should if you don’t make these donations. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I think it is important psychologically to donate to organizations that do good things in our world. 

These donations allow a portion of the cosmic blink of our lives to pay it forward. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, a small donation helps you feel connected to our world. If you are particularly blessed by the fruits of your hard work, make that donation bigger. Investing in the charities and religious organizations of our choice gives us significance. Instead of the narcissistic screaming for change, it is an action step.

Your show can unify your community through service. There was a movement that is still going on today by some churches that take a Sunday off from a religious service to spend their day serving their communities. This can be painting an elderly widow’s home, cleaning a park, feeding the homeless, or other things. If you speak to homeless shelters, lots of people want to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, but not so much in the middle of February. 

So how about a day of service for your radio show? Reach out to a local charity that needs volunteers and make it an all-day affair. Perhaps you can do your show from the homeless shelter. Interview the people who serve the downtrodden every day or interview listeners who donated their day with you? Make it big and use your platform to make someone’s life better.

For those of you who have been doing radio for a decade or less, I have had listeners reach out to me about something that I said on the air 25 years ago. It’s very humbling. Every day you get on the air trying to perform. Heck, have you ever wanted to scream “Is anyone listening?” I have. I had someone reach out to me on Twitter to share a moment that meant so much to him. When those moments happen, I thank them for listening and what an honor it was to impact their memories in such a way. You are making a difference for people every day. 

Your station may broadcast a big charitable event each year. Be involved in every aspect of the planning process. Buy in 100%. When you take full ownership of the station event, your interest will take this fundraiser to the next level. Talk about a way to build goodwill in the community. 

Do you want to create an unbreakable bond? Help a local charity. You will go viral. Take selfies with all of the volunteers and organizers. Put this on your social media. Make it big. Do something that makes a difference. Go to their events and volunteer to do anything. Likely, you will be an emcee, but, if they want you to wrap presents, shovel up some stuff do it. Be a servant. 

In our post-COVID world, I keep reading about disconnection. Civic groups and religious organizations are experiencing a crisis of participation. This is terrible. Our society’s drift into solitude is damaging. Census figures show that the average household size in the USA is about 2.5 people. This means there are a lot of people sitting in a home or apartment alone. These people are disconnected from society. They go to work, go home, and live their solitary life online. Humans are not built for this. Your radio show is a connection for them. By the way: Your community’s average age is probably around 37 years. Think of this. You are a lynchpin for building community. Your station’s charitable events help people belong to something greater than themselves.

You are an influencer. Be a leader. Build a community. Create belonging.

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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