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Mark Simone Learned Talk Radio From The Industry’s Greatest Voices

“The worst thing for us is not to have a competitor. That’s what gets you lazy. With them (WABC) doing stuff it makes us have to do better.”

Jerry Barmash

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Mark Simone has been a popular presence on radio and numerous television appearances for decades. Since 2013, he’s been the midday host at WOR. Simone is also Sean Hannity’s main fill in on his Premiere Networks syndicated show, an estimated 200 times as host through the years. He was the top back-up for Don Imus, with as many as up ten weeks per year.

The year was 1977 when it all began for him in New York City on the now-defunct WPIX-FM, putting him on the precipice of 45 years. Milestones escape him as he is too busy to focus on the past.

“Oh yeah, could be,” Simone told BNM. “You’re right. I just never think of that stuff.”

He’s been taking on conversative politics for years, but that only scratches the surface for this versatile broadcasting giant.

Whether doing a music show, comedy, (yes, comedy), or talk, Simone’s common theme is entertaining the audience.

While at WPIX-FM, Simone would spin the cutting-edge music of Blondie and The Police. But his gift of gab would shine almost immediately as host of “The Simone Phone” that he credits as the first FM talk show.

The Sunday morning show was a ratings winner where music was mixed with bits including “Dial-A-Date,” a segment that would be copied by stations thereafter.

With Simone quickly gaining a following, in 1980 he jumped ship to WMCA, the top talk station of the era. He joined a “Murderer’s Row” of radio hosts with Bob Grant, Barry Gray, Barry Farber and Sally Jessy Raphael, before starting her syndicated show. WMCA also had Larry King, one of the top network shows of the time.

“They were looking for somebody really young,” Simone said. “Just like today, they wanted new, younger talk.  So, they put me on there with that lineup and that’s where I first did talk radio for a couple of years.”

His days of music were not over. When he landed at WNEW-AM in the early 1980s, Simone was doing a hybrid show of music and talk. WNEW 1130 was the Big Band station in New York.

Comedy Today

Another legendary celebrity, Steve Allen, would co-host an afternoon show with Simone. It was a three-hour comedy show where some of the biggest names and those on the cusp of greatest would participate in the “open mic.”

The show was initially only heard on WNEW before getting picked up nationally on the NBC Radio Network in 1987.

Bill Maher and Jay Leno were among the regulars. Each day the show featured the talents of famed TV writers Herb Sergant and Larry Gelbart.

“That was the greatest radio show I ever heard,” Simone said.

Simone and Allen would hold a roundtable of sorts with the comics, discussing the latest news.

“It was the greatest graduate school ever in comedy,” Simone said.

Once that show ended, it was seamless for Simone to hold down the afternoon slot solo, “but we continued the flavor of that show,” as comedians still were a major part.

For example, there was Jerry Seinfeld chatting with Simone each week as his eponymous sitcom would struggle to find viewers.

“He didn’t think [Seinfeld] would make it. He was worried it would get canceled for the first couple of years,” Simone recalled.

Another NBC star, Jay Leno would frequently appear to test out a monologue before delivering it to millions on The Tonight Show.

Proud of that time at WNEW, Simone also had a budding comic segment called Punchline, where future headliners Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell were introduced.

As the show had so many big-name guests, it was decided Simone (and company) would host in front of a live audience.

“We did it from Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on 59th Street with about 150 people every day in the audience.” Simone said. “It was great.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes

“Frank Sinatra used to listen every day. It was that kind of audience,” Simone said of his daily WNEW show that would eventually lead to a friendship with the iconic singer.  

“He’d wake up about 2:15, 2:30 every day, have breakfast listening to me like at 3 in the afternoon,” Simone said. “So, whenever I’d see him, he said, ‘I’m listening to you,’ which is the worst thing in the world because it made me more nervous.” 

He would also do a Sinatra show for many years on WNEW. After the Chairman of the Board died Simone resurrected the program Saturday nights when he was employed at 77 WABC Radio.

“It was good that I did that because everybody from Sinatra-world was still alive [2000-2002] and we had them on the show, all the great singers and all the people that had worked with him,” he said. 

WABC went back to the future with WNYM 970 morning host Joe Piscopo helming a Sunday night Sinatra and Cousin Brucie oldies show, which Simone also hosted at WABC.

“That was one of John’s ideas to bring both those back. Obviously, I couldn’t do them,” Simone said. “[Piscopo] is the perfect guy to do that right now.”

Despite the Saturday Night Live alum doing his weekly specialty show, Simone doesn’t think a larger role at WABC is in the cards.

“Bernie and Sid are a very successful show. You can’t trade that for a guy that hasn’t proven himself in the market,” he said. 

In the bigger picture, Piscopo’s WNYM is barely a rival to WOR. In fact, the Salem Media Group station performs so poorly in the ratings that Simone said they stopped subscribing.

Red Apple, No Red Herring

He spent more than a decade on WABC before moving down the dial to another legacy station. WOR will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022. Throughout the 2010s, WABC was in the hands of Cumulus Media until billionaire supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis purchased the station under his newly formed Red Apple Media.

“Before [Catsimatidis] got there, the place was a mess under Cumulus,” Simone said. “It was just sinking and sinking.”

Simone considers Catsimatidis one of his closest friends, gathering for dinner three times most weeks and the topic of hiring him “came up a lot,” but Simone admitted the timing didn’t work as he already re-signed a multi-year contract with WOR by the time Catsimatidis took over at WABC.

“But, you never know,” Simone said. “I really like iHeart, though, but obviously working for John would be great too.”

Agree or disagree, the radio station has made major changes to the lineup since Catsimatidis started signing the checks in 2020. Even though there are managers and executives, namely Chad Lopez (President, Red Apple Media) and Dave LaBrozzi (Program Director), Catsimatidis is completely in control of his radio station.

“It’s all John,” Simone said.

Catsimatidis, who doesn’t bring a media corporate mentality can “take some chances that nobody else will take with it. There’s no cheapness. Whatever It takes to make the best product, he’ll spend it,” Simone said.

However, part of the praising is selfish in nature.

“The worst thing for us is not to have a competitor. That’s what gets you lazy,” he said. “With them doing stuff it just makes us have to do better.”

Having said that, Simone’s iHeart bosses are “pretty generous,” and he believes “the four highest guys in radio” are in the iHeart’s New York City studios.

Plus, iHeart is entrenched as the top media conglomerate in the country. From on-air talent to management, they are a well-oiled machine.

“It’s another level with Tom Cuddy, top program director around [and] Thea Mitchem is like a programming genius who runs the whole cluster,” he said.

In 2022, WABC will mark 40 years as a Talk format, but Simone said that those legendary call letters mean nothing as the current line-up needs time to gel.

“WABC will get there, but it’s too early to compare,” he said.

WOR has seen a drop-off in recent Nielsen rating books, after a 2.5 in back-to back months to start 2021, has slipped to 1.8 for May, while WABC, although lower, has been more consistent from 1.9 to 1.7.

Personally, Simone, as stated on his website, has over 18 million listeners monthly.

Simone claims the slippage is across the board in talk radio as COVID-19 is winding down. Speaking of the pandemic, Simone and his WOR hosts have been broadcasting remotely since it began last year. It was at the time their numbers “went through the roof.” They came close to number one and were tops on Long Island among all 67 stations on AM and FM.  

They won’t return to the studio until at least the fall, he said.

Change at the White House is causing a more chronic condition for radio and TV hosts without the daily exploits of Donald Trump to explore.

“That hurt everybody. That hurt us. That hurt Steven Colbert,” Simone said. “Trump was an incredible source of material every day. People would listen the whole two hours to my show. You could just talk about Trump forever—whether you loved him or hated him—it was riveting for people.”

By contrast, President Joe Biden is the “most neutral, bland; there’s nothing to talk about, no one wants to hear about it.”

Perfect for those situations, from his earliest days in radio, Simone has not relied exclusively on the political chat.

“I was always careful to make sure the show was about everything,” he said.

Weeks after Trump left office, Rush Limbaugh left an insurmountable void on the radio landscape.

Buck Sexton and Clay Travis launched on Premiere Networks in Limbaugh’s midday slot on June 21.

“You just have to wait and see. When [Joe] DiMaggio retired, that’s it. You’ll never see that again, and some kid replaced him. The kid later turned out to be Mickey Mantle, so anything can happen,” Simone said.

Best of Limbaugh portions were featured for months in the transition until the new hosts were named.

“The clips they played; it was the [wisest] things Rush ever said. So you wanted to hear all of that just to get it on the record.”

Moments after this interview, Simone was slated to appear with Greg Kelly for his regular Newsmax appearance.

Over the years, Simone has also been a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business shows.

That ability to move effortlessly from topic to topic helped him growth with his radio audience.

“That’s the way I do my show now. We’ll be talking about the latest bill in the Senate. The next thing you know we’re talking about the iPhone and the best restaurant,” Simone said. “It’s just a little bit of everything.”

Throughout his broadcasting career, Simone has built relationships and, even more important, learned from his influences that include Ted Brown, William B. Williams and Dan Ingram. Even Johnny Carson would the most important piece of advice, always talk to middle America. 

“I worked with the absolute best ever—the greatest voices on the radio—if you need an education,” Simone said. “I had the best teachers you could have.”

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BNM Writers

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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Jordan Peterson Has a New Model for Higher Education

“We built a social media network into the platform and we hope that it will be the best social media network that there is.”

Rick Schultz

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A photo of Jordan Peterson
(Photo: Jordan Peterson)

Is it time to give higher education a makeover? Yes – according to one of the world’s preeminent thought leaders — Jordan Peterson — who is changing the game for higher levels of learning.

A segment this weekend on Fox News Digital highlighted famed psychologist and author, Jordan Peterson, as he discussed his new mission to educate the masses in a new and innovative way through his new start-up, the Peterson Academy.

“So what have we got with Peterson Academy?” he began. “Well, it’s a University in that we feature the best University professors in the world. And I have the privilege of being able to call on such people and to make them a good offer and to have them participate avidly and to teach only what they really want to teach in the way they want to teach it.”

Peterson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, has written three books that have sold more than seven million copies. A simple online search will turn up many of his most notable philosophical monologues, covering such topics as morality, finances and culture. His massive worldwide following allows him to call on the best of the best to teach through his new venture.

“We bring them down to our studio in Miami or go to their home country to film them and we’ve produced, I think, the best courses that have ever been filmed. Not only in terms of their academic content but also in terms of the production quality. So very high-quality production levels, using animation and background images and all filmed in front of a live audience,” Peterson noted. 

Collaborating with students is old hat for Peterson. Throughout his career, he has taught some of the most highly regarded courses at Harvard and the University of Toronto. In addition, he has published more than a hundred scientific papers with his students and co-authors. And his material will not be the run-of-the-mill brainwashing many think their children receive at typical colleges and universities.

“Very focused courses. No politically correct nonsense,” Peterson said of the course material at Peterson Academy. “The opportunity for people to obtain a bachelor’s degree to begin with. We’re not accredited but we’re working on that, and we have ways of dealing with that that I can talk about.”

Due to government collusion through the student loan industry, costs for higher education have skyrocketed in recent decades. As many experts have pointed out, rising tuition costs are caused by the government’s insistence on saddling teenagers with astronomical debt loads. All to the benefit of mostly far-left universities and their personnel, who live off the taxpayer largess.

“We hope to bring down the price of a bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s degree equivalent by, like, 95 percent. And I think we can do that,” Peterson said optimistically. “But more than that, we have stellar lecturers and we have stellar courses. We have accreditation processes, examinations let’s say, that teach while the examinations are occurring.”

In his mind, however, the new organization will add much more value than just nuts and bolts education. 

“More than that, we’ve understood as we’ve assessed what a university does, that you think of a university as professors and lectures and exams. But that’s a small fraction of what a university does. A university provides young people a place to mature and a place to develop a new community of peers. And hypothetically a place to find a mate. And those are very valuable services that people don’t think about as the university,” Peterson said. 

The Peterson Academy is founded by Peterson and Mikhaila Fuller, and students can enter their email address on the website to be notified of the organization’s official launch. The site slates June as the official launch.

“Universities bring bright, young people who are ambitious together and they can meet each other. And so they form social network, they form romantic relationships. That’s part of the reason the universities can get away with charging, like, three hundred thousand dollars for a four-year degree,” Peterson told Fox News Digital. 

As part of his other work, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast frequently tops the charts in the Education category. Peterson often creates memorable sound bites with his direct, common-sense approach to many of the more complex societal issues. For this, he has garnered a loyal tribe of followers, eager to hear his take on some of the more thorny issues facing the world. He has taken that same networking approach to begin building a following for his new university.

“We built a social media network into the platform and we hope that it will be the best social media network that there is. And for a variety of reasons I think we’ve taken the best features of the social media networks that currently exist,” he said. 

The Peterson Academy is tentatively set to launch this month, targeting a unique audience that seeks thoughtful, truth-based higher learning.

“We’re going to have a very specialized audience, right,” Peterson said. “It’s only going to be people that want to be educated and want to be educated in a manner that isn’t politically correct.”

Peterson told Fox News Digital, his new online university will “help people fulfill their desire to get a true education that they can’t find in today’s ‘demented’ and ‘unsalvageable’ universities, all at a much more affordable price.

As the world lurches back toward freedom of thought and educational choice free of liberal biases, Peterson summed up his organization’s thesis Saturday on a post on X.

“I would like to extend my thanks to the modern university (@Harvard and @Columbia in particular) for doing everything they can to make my endeavours both necessary and successful.”

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BNM Writers

Do News Media Members Need a Copywriting Refresher?

Broadcast news, with very few exceptions, has gone over to the side of the cute and cuddly, the shiny and shocking, the “poke you with a stick to get your attention” society.

Bill Zito

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A photo of a dictionary page

We are in a banner year here already and we are barely halfway done. 2024 has already seen the 96th annual Academy Awards, the 75th Emmy Awards, the 77th Tony Awards but of course none of them can outshine last month’s release of the 57th edition of the Associated Press Stylebook for use of news media members everywhere.

(Yes, kids it’s out there. Buy it, collect it, trade it with your friends.)

I kid because I love. I think somebody has to set some rules so it might as well be the AP. Yes, I realize there’s also the Chicago Style Guide as well as a few others but really, there are Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, and their associates as well but I didn’t read those either.

I think the guides are great references and maybe they are the ultimate authority in a lot of cases but I’m fairly sure a scarce, few platforms outside of the giants in print pay them the mind they once did. I myself, stand in AP’s corner because they still shun the Oxford comma as any fine, upstanding outlet should be doing.

Besides, in TV and radio writing (Yes, TV News uses the written word on occasion) most everything said on air is written in all capitals while all accurate and dignified terminology is exchanged for sayings and slang like, “Creep,” “Accosted” and “Gunned Down.”

It’s the more outlandish words that get the attention of the audience and nobody is really concerned anymore with proper capitalization, tense, or even proper pronunciation.

(Yes, an overstatement on my part but with more than a hint of truth to it,)

In the new edition of the AP’s guide, there is much devoted to the use of words relating to law and justice, when and how to refer to those convicted of crimes and suspected of them as well.

Progress is good, right?

When is a criminal not a criminal but instead a person convicted of a crime?

Is it an assault weapon or is it not and does it matter when it comes to the story or the headline?

Is the teen a juvenile or is the child a minor and is using the wrong one hurtful or dehumanizing?

A rose by any other name…yes, yes, we get it.

Consider another identifier or descriptor that style guides might suggest if we followed them without impunity.

Is Mike Tyson a boxer who is also a convicted rapist or is convicted rapist Mike Tyson also a boxer?

I’m okay with growth and development in speech and description if for no other reason that over time it has gotten most of us to stop using words we shouldn’t be using and to start identifying people and circumstances as what they truly are.

Having never been formally schooled on AP style as I was not educated or raised as a journalist I’ve always played fast and loose with my writing and struggle with anything beyond the very standard first and second references and abbreviations.

Don’t get me started again on the Oxford comma as I’m still stopping random people on the street and asking people when and where that pretentious and superfluous bit of claptrap came about.

I offer nothing but praise for the noble newspaper reporters and editors as I largely consider the talented among them to be the last bastion of civilization in journalism.

Broadcast news, with very few exceptions, has gone over to the side of the cute and cuddly, the shiny and shocking, the “poke you with a stick to get your attention” society.

To reiterate, I like when there are rules and guidelines, as long as they are there for the right reasons. If you’re promoting accuracy and clarity, I’m on your team. If you’re latching on to an agenda, public interest pressure or political correctness which muddies the waters of truth, you and I have a problem.

I have often found myself at odds with some writing styles, sayings and/or manners of speech when it comes to reporting in general and it’s not always about grammar or AP stylistics.

Unless you can prove immediate malice or criminality, I take great exception when a journalist tells an audience a police officer gunned down a suspect especially referring to an officer involved shooting. It’s cool NYPD Blue talk but it’s misleading and inflammatory. Let’s wait for the investigation, okay?

Alleged is a great word. Overused, misused, a crutch used by those inexperienced and demanded by jitter news management who have no concept of the parameters of slander, defamation and libel.

Person of Interest and Suspect, both names of TV shows which is why the news media often gets them wrong when reporting about criminal activity. It’s certainly easy enough to check and learn how and when to use these words before you hit the air.

And finally, a personal favorite and one we can all remember and enjoy:  You don’t have to be the New York Post to call the police officer a cop to know that it’s not disrespectful.

Somebody somewhere once told somebody in news that cops don’t like to be called cops.

Of course, there are exceptions. As an ex-cop I can tell you that real cops don’t mind being called cops. Those who insist on being referred to as police officers at all times probably never got their uniforms dirty.

A cop is always a police officer, but a police officer is not always a cop.

Or to put it differently:

A Journalist is always a Member of the Press, but a Member of the Press is not always a Journalist.

Not long ago, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lobbied hard (and succeeded) to have the media refrain from using the term, committed suicide, when describing a person taking their own life. The argument being that it tainted the act with criminality, contrition, or fault. The AP updated its guide to reflect the terms, completed suicide or the more often used, died by suicide and encouraged journalists to make use of these wordings along with “killed themselves” or “took their own life.”

As the husband of a wife (a retired police officer) who committed suicide, I have no objection to writing, saying, or hearing those words in describing the tragedy. In my viewpoint, it is what happened, and were it to be reported in the news, alternative language would not have made a bit of difference. I also have worked extensively with AFSP and other suicide prevention organizations over the years and I disagree with them on this point. But that’s all it is, a difference of opinion and a matter of perspective.

The idea of an organization, a political lobby, or corporate entity pushing the free press into a viewpoint or a particular way to tell a story does not leave me with feelings of comfort. That’s a larger concern of course when it comes to regulated style, less worrisome are where and when to use capital letters, accents, or quotes, but the ideas are still worthy of scrutiny by any of us who report what’s going on. 

The truth is still the truth and the masthead and byline, or their broadcast equivalent must stand by the story they are telling and the way they are telling it.

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