Harrisburg radio host Ken Matthews believes that he became a better host following a four-year stint as a fill-in for the late Rush Limbaugh. Matthews, a staunch conservative Republican with a background as a Top 40 DJ, possesses some striking similarities to the late radio icon.
Much like Limbaugh, Matthews paid his dues as a radio jock in several small markets. The New Jersey native spent time in Maine, Ohio, South Carolina, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. His passion for the U.S. Constitution and the core values that make America unique is evident in the way he addresses his audience.
During Limbaugh’s final months battling lung cancer, Matthews courageously engineered arguably the most successful talk radio program to its final stages. Matthews told Barrett News Media that talk radio would “save live radio” because it’s the most viable format in the medium.
Recently, we sat down with Matthews to discuss what it was like meeting Rush Limbaugh and host his final show. Matthews also opened up about the process to find Limbaugh’s replacements.
Ryan Hedrick: Tell us about your station and your show on 580 WHP in Harrisburg.
Ken Matthews: The station has a fabulous reputation; it has been around for almost 100 years. My show is very much an extension of my personality. I did a live audition there about eight years ago after Bob Durgin retired; he has since passed away. After my live audition, they called me back, and I have been doing the show full-time since September 2013
RH: What is your background in radio?
KM: Before I began hosting my talk show on 580 WHP, I did 25 years of morning radio in the contemporary hit format (CHR).
RH: How did your experience in the CHR format prepare you for your talk radio program?
KM: The good thing about the format is that you learn the basics probably better than any other format because it’s fast-paced, you have a limited amount of time to get your point out there, you must entertain, and when you go into those commercials you better make sure that people stick around.
RH: Describe the Harrisburg market and how its listeners engage with the talk radio format?
KM: At WHP, we are bringing valuable information on a local level that people are not receiving in the market. Very few people in the market of Harrisburg dive deep into really important issues.
RH: How do you find the balance between catering to your local audience while addressing what is going on nationally and making it relevant to your Harrisburg listeners?
KM: Now more than ever, just in the last 18 months, we probably have more issues in common with the rest of the country, if not the world, right here in Central Pennsylvania. We have a fraudulent election that still hasn’t been clarified, and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter of it. The same thing with COVID. Our governor is one of five governors that really made some horrible decisions and locked down people, and destroyed businesses. It is rare when so many things nationally connect to you locally but being here in Harrisburg because we are in the Capitol, there’s so many connections there.
RH: How did you come onto Rush Limbaugh’s radar?
KM: I got my shot in the spring of 2017 after sending letters and tapes and going after people at the Premiere Radio Networks with snail mail and emails. I had the opportunity to fill in for Buck Sexton, who was going on vacation. I took my tape from Buck and I started to send that out to people, and before I knew it I was in a meeting with the head of Premiere Radio Network, who sent my stuff to Rush Limbaugh and James Golden.
RH: Did you have any type of relationship with Rush Limbaugh?
KM: I got to meet him in 2019, briefly after he got off the air. I was the only guest host that got to sit in that famous EIB chair and do a show. Rush invited me in. He was extremely gracious and thanked me for guest-hosting.
RH: Did Premiere Networks ever approach you about replacing Rush Limbaugh full-time?
KM: I was never in that conservation, but I was very happy when they asked me to continue doing the show after he passed away. They asked several of us, including Todd [Herman] and Brett [Winterble] if we wanted to be on-air guides. It was a very interesting time, and I think the producers and the staff did an incredible job. That was a wonderful blessing and opportunity for me.
RH: Were you aware of who was going to replace Rush Limbaugh?
KM: No, I did not know. None of the guests hosts knew who was going to replace Rush. We were pummeled constantly by media people or friends. Premiere Radio Networks should teach the White House how to keep a secret. I knew the morning of the announcement when Craig Kitchen, President and COO of Premiere Networks called myself and the others involved and told us. It was a very positive transition.
RH: When you first heard that Clay Travis and Buck Sexton were going to replace Rush Limbaugh, your first thought was what?
KM: Who is Clay Travis because I wasn’t familiar with Clay. Obviously, I was familiar with Buck, and I figured that they would promote someone in the Premiere Networks family.
RH: How did it feel doing the final two Rush Limbaugh shows ever?
KM: It was bittersweet, but Rush was such a force that you couldn’t help but think that he was right there in the studio with you. The last of couple of shows felt very comfortable, and I did the show as if Rush and I were sitting there talking. When you fill-in for Rush you have a direct line to America.
RH: What did your time as one of Rush Limbaugh’s fill-in hosts to for the perception of you in the business?
KM: It certainly did not hurt it. Premiere Networks treats its talent very well. And for me personally, getting into that high-octane environment made me a better thinker, a better host. I had never worked with so many professional people in one location, it was amazing.
Ryan Hedrick works for WIBC in Indianapolis as a Morning News Anchor/Digital Content Producer. Prior to moving to Indy, he served as Assistant Program Director and Co-Host of the Morning News Express at WFMD. His career also includes stints at News Talk 103.7 FM in Chambersburg, PA, Sirius XM in Washington D.C., WBEN in Buffalo, NY, and WIBW-AM in Topeka KS where he earned the Kansas Association of Broadcasters (KAB) award for Major Market enterprise reporting in 2016. To connect with Ryan, find him on Twitter @SureToCover.
The Latest Example of How to Not Produce a Debate
If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. For the first time since it’s been my job to watch a Presidential debate for a living, I turned one off. After 82 minutes (9:22 p.m. CST, not that I was watching the clock or anything), I had enough. I couldn’t subject myself to the torture that became the second GOP Presidential debate on Wednesday night from the Reagan Library.
If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening, and there are multiple reasons why, beyond the usual bemoaning of “the candidates won’t stop talking over each other.”
The debate was overproduced. In the opening there were videos of Reagan (nice and well done, don’t get me wrong), each anchor had various lines they were reading between each other, which felt forced and unnatural, and as a result, it took over three minutes from the opening of a debate to a candidate finally speaking.
I understand TV isn’t radio, but in a PPM world, imagine taking three minutes to get to your content, when people are tuned in at that moment to consume the content you’ve been hyping up and promising for weeks. Time is a zero-sum game. Every minute a candidate is not speaking, because a moderator is, or a pre-produced piece is playing, can’t be gotten back.
Give people what they came for. A 15-second welcome, a 60-second introduction of the candidates, if that, and dive into the questions is a 90-second process. Keep these things moving and give the viewers what they came for. And that’s the candidates.
The debate lacked direction and clarity. Anchors spent far too much time asking long-winded questions with ridiculous and unnecessary details. As a viewer, it came across like the anchors were trying to impress us, rather than asking a question, getting out of the way, and letting the candidates — you know, the people running for President — try to impress us. They’re the ones who I want to be impressed by because they’re the ones we’re being asked to vote for.
Also, the topic direction had little flow and was disjointed. On certain topics, only one to three candidates would get to answer questions on the issue. I’ve laid out the case for keeping the flow of a debate and moving it along, but only giving half the stage the chance to answer questions on the most pressing issues in the country is a disservice to the voter who is there to here what everyone had to say.
At one point in the debate, Chris Christie was asked about a looming government shutdown, which was followed by a childcare cost question to Tim Scott and then it was an immigration/dreamers question back to Chris Christie. And that was in a five to seven minute span. Huh?
Rather than finding the six to seven big topics and diving into them with each candidate, while letting the candidates then organically and respectfully spar, it was like watching an ADD-riddled teen try and bounce between topics with no clarity or purpose.
And Yes, the Candidates
Of course, there were plenty of these moments that typically derail debates, notably primary debates, where multiple people are talking over each other and no one is willing to give in to be the first one to shut up. Then, the debate begins to inevitably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher and suddenly the obnoxious noise even makes your dog look at you and wonder what in the hell you’re watching.
There were too many candidates on stage and then the moderators also ended up losing control, like what happened last go around.
But as I wrote last month, this debate format is a broken system. But for some reason, we keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Ronald Reagan was rolling over in his grave watching that debacle last night. It’s too bad he’s not still here to try and help fix it.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
3 Ideas to Turn CNN Max Into a Streaming News Juggernaut
The last thing CNN needs to do is to have CNN Max hiding in plain sight.
It is so easy to find a gamut of stories and opinion pieces within the past year or two criticizing many different aspects of CNN and the way it operates. Many of those evaluations have been absolutely fair.
Now though, it is time to give CNN credit where it is due.
This week marked the launch of CNN Max and it has been as seamless as a fresh glazed donut coming straight out of the oven. The stream’s video quality is crisp. Commercials are inserted properly. Most of the exclusive programming feels exactly like something you would see on linear CNN.
But the most fascinating thing Warner Bros. Discovery has been able to pull off is the ability to stream most of the same programming that airs on domestic CNN via Max. It is a stroke of business genius and puts the company and network ahead of its counterparts when it comes to offering a quality streaming alternative. As has been mentioned in the past, the network has been able to bypass MVPDs and stream their primetime anchors without permission from cable operators because CNN Max is mostly a direct simulcast of CNN International which airs U.S. programming live overnight while Europeans are in bed.
Despite the successful launch, there are still some tweaks that could improve the product exponentially. One major benefit would be to have replays of programs that viewers may have missed from earlier in the day. Each show on serves a specific purpose and although similar coverage of news is told throughout the day, each anchor has a unique way of stringing the narrative together. Viewers deserve to get the chance to see how a story develops throughout different parts of the day and see specific segments in its entirety that may not get clipped for social media.
Viewers also need a chance to fully sample CNN Max’s exclusive programming and at the moment, if you don’t watch it live you’ve missed it forever.
Speaking of clips, it’s important for highlights of the day to be available quickly within the Max ecosystem. On CNN Max’s first day, Kasie Hunt scored an exclusive interview with Sen. Joe Manchin that made headlines.
Unfortunately, the only way a viewer could see it if they missed it live was if they scoured the network’s website for it or waited for a clip that the social media team would eventually put out. Part of being a modern-day news organization requires accessibility to be at its best at any given time of the day.
If viewers have a difficult time finding out the major highlights of what’s been on air, it may be harder to convince them to try a new product.
Viewers also deserve the opportunity to subscribe to alerts. News breaks on a consistent basis and unless you’re scrolling through your social media feed all day 24/7, it is almost impossible to follow everything that’s happening. Max needs to provide an option for specific types of alerts dealing with breaking news or major storylines that have developed live on air on CNN Max with the option to tune in now or to see clips or full episodes that deal with a specific headline. Alerts will increase engagement and maintain a relationship with the consumer they may not be able to get at another major entertainment app that streams similar programming as Max.
Promotion within the app is also important. While Max did an awesome job of showcasing the various shows that are live at any point during the day, it used the same graphics of the same hosts with the same descriptions every day. Viewers who read promos on entertainment apps are used to seeing different plot lines and convincing pictures showcased once a week whenever a new episode of their favorite show is ready for viewing. Max needs to treat news stories in the same fashion.
As stories break throughout the day, Max needs to promote their live programming with information blurbs containing new developments and questions that viewers might get answered by tuning in. Show previews could also promote featured guests. Using the same stale graphic of a host, show name, and generic show description will eventually become stale and annoying for viewers. Viewers will unfortunately train their minds to ignore the static messaging.
Warner Bros. Discovery also needs to take advantage of CNN Max’s predecessor. CNN Plus was able to maintain a decent amount of followers on social media – at least 35,000 on Twitter. Turn that page into a promotion spot for CNN Max that aggregates clips, promos, and previews of what viewers can expect on Max or what they may have missed.
As the brand develops a presence on social media, it will also develop name recognition among future cord-cutters who are deciding between Max and other services. The last thing CNN needs to do is to have CNN Max hiding in plain sight. CNN Max can be additive to cable ratings if people have an understanding of where and how to access it.
CNN Max is creating a direct relationship between the consumer and CNN. It’s a relationship that has always had a middleman. Unfortunately for the cable industry, the middleman is slowly dissipating away.
With this newfound bond, the network should take advantage of the digital real estate it has access to and create real interaction with viewers. Optional polls, factoids, written descriptions of stories on screen, or even biographies of the guests on air at any given time could provide viewers with an extra reason to stay tuned in. It keeps viewers occupied and helps elongate the amount of time viewers spend on the stream and the app as a whole.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Re-Watch The 2023 BNM Summit, On Demand Tickets Are Now Available
“If you weren’t able to make it to Nashville for the 2023 BNM Summit, I invite you to purchase an on-demand ticket to watch the show. The cost is just $49.99.”
When one of our Summits ends, it’s over for the attendees and speakers. The work is far from done though for yours truly. After packing up a SUV and driving home, the immediate focus turns to posting photos, gathering video of the sessions, sending out final invoices, making sure all ads on our websites and newsletters promoting the conference are updated, adding watermarks to the video footage to support our sponsor, editing clips for social, and then building a web page for folks to be able to go re-watch the show.
It’s a mountain of work and I dive head first into it because I want to make sure that anyone who attends one of our shows has an opportunity to catch a session they may have missed or go back and re-watch a speaker to make sure they have the right information before passing it along to help an individual or entire staff.
When you buy a ticket to one of our shows, I try to provide maximum value. You get an action packed two-day event featuring difference makers in various roles across the industry, access to multiple parties including free drinks, and a FREE on demand ticket to re-watch the show. The ticket price itself is also kept lower than many other events because I’d rather see folks in the room benefitting than worrying about whether or not we crushed our revenue goals. I don’t create these conferences to keep myself busy, boost my ego or get rich. I run them to try and improve the media business. It isn’t easy especially given how reluctant many radio folks are to get out of their buildings and routines to learn something new but someone has to try.
There’s an old Benjamin Franklin quote that I’ve loved and adopted over the years, which says “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” That’s what our conferences are about. We discuss opportunities and challenges and have open and candid conversations with smart people, share information, and provide examples that have hit and/or missed because the goal is to make improvements, and you can’t do that without deeper inspection.
With that said, if you weren’t able to make it to Nashville for the 2023 BNM Summit, I invite you to purchase an on demand ticket to watch the show. The cost is $49.99. Just click HERE to sign up. Once you press the Subscribe button down below, it will take you to the next page to enter your information to gain access. Those who attended the Summit have already received instructions on how to watch the show for FREE.
We will return with a 2024 conference in either Chicago, Dallas, New York City or Washington DC. Given that next year is an election year and we’ve got one of these shows under our belts now, I’m sure the next event will be even bigger, and better. If you’d like to vote on where the 2024 BNM Summit should take place, log on to BNMSummit.com. You should see the poll question just below our main section.
Thanks again for supporting the show. Until next time, may your revenue and ratings continue to rise.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Media. Prior to launching BM, he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].