During the pandemic, thousands of media professionals were laid off, some never being offered the opportunity to come back and do what they love. Atlanta talk show host and U.S. military service veteran Mark Zinno is different. In September, Zinno’s sports talk position was eliminated at Dickey Broadcasting’s Xtra-106.3.
At the time, Barrett Sports Media reported that the move was part of a plan to eliminate local programming entirely from the station.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Zinno for nearly 15 years. We worked together at WJFK-AM 1300 in Baltimore, Maryland. Zinno and I were hired as sports anchors. His enthusiasm, passion and knowledge for Baltimore sports was evident and management quickly took notice. Zinno’s tenacious attitude eventually catapulted him to the role of full-time talk show host.
Zinno’s diverse background is part of the reason that he was able to bounce back so quickly following his September lay-off. His wildly successful Hazard Ground podcast has been downloaded millions of times. He’s managed to parlay his military and broadcasting backgrounds very well. Recently, Dickey Broadcasting re-hired him, but this time as a news/talk show host.
The move is a wise decision on Dickey’s part. Zinno’s delivery and witty remarks make him a likely candidate for someone who could blossom into a household name. I caught up with Zinno recently to discuss his new opportunity, why Xtra106.3 may flourish in a market dominated by a heritage station 95.5 WSB, and how he balances his emotions on the radio while discussing the situation in Afghanistan.
Ryan Hedrick: What makes you confident that the new format will work?
Mark Zinno: With respect to WSB and what they have done for how long they have done it, I think they have strayed a little bit from the core of what news/talk is about and that’s hard-hitting opinions.
We have become an opinion business. You can get news, traffic, and weather on your phone. At Xtra 106.3, we are trying to take a counter programming format where we just give you good talk and strong opinions all day long.
RH: What is the news/talk radio landscape like in Atlanta?
MZ: WSB is still the lead dog pulling the sled. It’s a heritage station in the south, a huge signal, it’s a brand name that’s synonymous with Atlanta the same way Coca Cola and Delta Airlines are.
RH: What did you do to get ready for this new opportunity of doing a morning drive talk radio program?
MZ: I just drove right in, Ryan. I kept telling myself, it’s just radio and you’re good at radio. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to roll out broadcasting one day a week in April, so we were ready when the show was expanded to five days a week. Doing the show one day a week allowed me to work through my preparation process.
I bring the same passion, the same energy and the same enthusiasm to the Afghanistan situation as I did to covering the Atlanta Falcons or the Atlanta Hawks.
RH: What similarities exist between talk radio and sports radio?
MZ: Well, since politics and sports have invaded each other, (chuckles) there’s a way to talk about sports when you are talking about politics. I think the biggest similarity is, outside the mantra of playing the hits is that when you are doing local radio, local still wins.
RH: The Georgia voting demographic is undergoing a dramatic shift. Talk about this shift and what you see happening as it relates to political offices.
MZ: Georgia has become one of the hotbeds of American politics for the better part of a year now. It really is a great time to break into this space just based on where we are from the political landscape. Georgia was split blue for the first time in a long time in what was a conservative stronghold. The state is now starting to become purple, there’s a solid mix of Republicans and Democrats across the state, and so you really see how Georgia is in the crosshairs of the political landscape.
RH: Could the Afghanistan crisis be the nail in the coffin for the Biden administration?
MZ: If it’s not the nail in the coffin, it could be the beginning stages of putting the final nail in. Given how bad Afghanistan and the departure have been bungled, given how poorly the execution of the departure was, the Republicans have a simple playbook heading into the midterms; just don’t screw this up.
RH: How do you balance the emotions of looking at the situation in Afghanistan as both a member of the U.S. Army National Guard and a member of the media?
MZ: I am not the type of individual that I would say anything that I don’t believe. I am not out there looking for a take that I don’t fully stand behind and that I wouldn’t say to any of my superior officers or people within the state who have jurisdiction over the Georgia National Guard. I often make the disclaimer and remind everybody that my views do not represent the Georgia National Guard or anybody else. My view represents me and nobody else. The balancing act is not as tough as it would seem.
Mark Zinno co-hosts The Morning Xtra with Tug Cowart and Scott “Rhino” Rheinhold. You can learn more about the show and listen live by clicking this link.
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.
George Santos Won’t Go Quietly Without Making an Attempt at Cable News
He’s out, but is George Santos truly gone?
The short answer is no, and I am not referring to the world of politics, the justice system, or the general public’s often short memory and inability to learn lessons from mistakes made due to ignorance.
News, talk, and entertainment are not done squeezing every drop they can from a situation that maybe news didn’t create but certainly enabled. The other two entities, talk and entertainment, will do what they do best, beat the dead horse and then exploit the hell out of it all for fun and profit.
Look at me, for example. This is the third time I’m writing about this guy and I doubt it will be the last.
There will still be lots to cover for the journalists out there; a special election to replace him, the legal processes that will transpire over who knows how long as he faces the 23 federal criminal counts that could put him away for as much as 20 years.
Already, and this should come as no surprise, there is a film already in development about George Santos and his journey into notoriety. Described of course as what will be a dark comedy, I imagine it will not be able to measure up to the reality that is the man.
Santos will no doubt go out on the talk circuit because attention is what he seeks and 11 months as a do-nothing U.S. Congressman from New York is still qualifying enough to get him a seat next to Chris Cuomo, Sean Hannity, and whoever is still on The View.
Bear in mind that for every tabloid appearance this guy makes there will be twice as many mentions from what some of us consider legitimate news outlets. Most of the coverage there will be gratuitous, even irrelevant but since Taylor and Travis are still above the fold and A-block worthy, I suppose we are not in a position to criticize.
The Fourth Estate loves scandal and outrageous behavior for a very simple reason; FOMO. (For anyone older than my kid, that’s “Fear of Missing Out”, folks.) We don’t want the competition scooping us on a story and, generally, we don’t want to wave off an attention-getting story even if the other guys don’t run with it.
In case there’s curiosity over my overuse of 1940’s newspaper terms it’s largely because I’m through the first two seasons of The Crown and I’ve become quite enamored with the British press of that time.
Face it, George Santos is a news media darling, but his value does diminish some now that he’s no longer in a position to do anything that could even remotely resemble substance or impact. Yes, he did virtually nothing as a lawmaker that could be covered as an actual news story but it’s pretty obvious that nobody in the business minded very much.
He has notoriety, not the good kind as far as humanity is concerned but it’s good to pitch in story meetings and it will be. The networks and the New York stations will mistake that notoriety for interest and confuse that interest for impact. That’s where we go wrong so many times, interest vs. impact, the lines are blurred so regularly that the audience no longer knows what they want. The familiar face and the easily recognizable name are usually all they need. Why we are talking about it is secondary.
George Santos will be around for quite a while and the news will cover it all and the people will know and remember his name. Then, perhaps he will go away for a while at the government’s direction and the taxpayers’ expense, only to show up again years from now, sitting across from a hologram of Chris Cuomo, Hannity, and the ghosts of The View, before joining season 67 of Dancing with The Stars.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC, Fox News, News 12 and The Weather Channel in New York. He worked for KIRO and KOMO in Seattle and WCBD in Charleston, SC. Most recently, he anchored and reported for Audacy’s WTIC-AM/FM in Hartford. He lives in New England. You can find him on social media @BillZitoNEWS.
How Reaction to Elon Musk and His Strong Statement to Ad Buyers Shapes the Future
Many have opined that Musk is merely reading the tea leaves of where the country is headed over the next decade.
Much has been made of last week’s interview in which the richest man in the world, Elon Musk, told liberal advertisers he would not be blackmailed by them. If they didn’t appreciate free speech and didn’t want to advertise on his social media platform, X, he effectively told them they could take a hike.
But perhaps the bigger point he made, and the sentiment he shares with the growing majority of America, went largely unreported by the mainstream news media.
Dr. Steve Turley offered his thoughts on an episode of his online program last week. The program for his more than 1 million subscribers featured the title, “What Elon Musk Just Did Changes EVERYTHING!!!”
“Every year The New York Times hosts what they call the DealBook Summit, which features a roster of major speakers sitting for interviews with Andrew Ross Sorkin,” Turley began on Thursday. “This year, the featured speaker was the one and only Elon Musk. And it was an interview that would prove, frankly, earth-shattering for the ruling establishment, so faithfully represented and guarded by The New York Times.”
Turley played some clips of Sorkin and Musk’s discussion, including the headline-grabbing comments that have received all the media coverage over the last few days. Fine, don’t advertise, Elon said. He won’t be blackmailed into changing or hiding his opinions, simply to appease liberal advertisers. If it bankrupts the platform, X, so be it. He will not keep quiet and suppress truth or free speech. That is the recap we’ve all seen and heard in the days since the interview.
“If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go F### yourself!” Musk said. That’s the clip we’ve seen countless times since. Of course, it gets clicks and eyeballs.
“Now that was absolutely amazing,” Turley said. “I mean, make no mistake, no one talks like that in front of our ruling elite. No one!”
In Turley’s eyes, however, the comments went much deeper than X, and much deeper than any individual advertiser.
“This guy didn’t know what to do, when somebody does the unthinkable. That interviewer, Andrew Ross Sorkin, he was stunned speechless. Musk turned him into a stuttering fool. In front of everyone, he had no idea how to respond to someone who just told the whole of the globalist corporate world to go F themselves,” Turley offered.
But Turley dove deeper. He went further into the interview to what he thinks were the real bombshell comments from Musk.
“This is what’s so game-changing about what Musk just said there. The richest man on the planet just told woke corporations that he and billions of others along with him – the whole world, as he put it – refuse to be beholden to them and their incessant and pernicious wokeness any longer,” the thoughtful Turley said. “We refuse to bend a knee to your manipulative and, frankly, cruel tactics that seek to force compliance with your vile woke sensibilities.”
Many have opined that Musk is merely reading the tea leaves of where the country is headed over the next decade. As some data and polling show, the nation is preparing to boomerang back toward common sense, traditional values, and economic prosperity. He knows which way the wind is blowing, toward 2024 and beyond.
But the real punchline, for Turley, was what Musk said as he continued.
“But I’ve got to say, that my favorite here is when Andrew Ross Sorkin inadvertently stepped in it, when he asked Musk how he felt about his contributions to A.I. research and green energy. Check this out,” Turley said.
“The approach to some of the stuff you are doing with A.I. has been very specific,” Sorkin noted. “There’s not a let-the-chips fall where they may approach to those businesses, I don’t think.”
“No, we focus on making the best products,” Musk responded. “And Tesla’s gotten to where it’s gotten with no advertising at all. Tesla currently sells two, twice as much in terms of electric vehicles as the rest of electric car makers in the United States combined. Tesla has done more to help the environment than all other companies combined. It would be fair to say that, therefore, as the leader of the company, I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on earth.”
Elon Musk continued, making the point that resonated the most with Turley.
“What I care about is the reality of goodness, not the perception of it,” Musk said. “And what I see all over the place is people that care about looking good while doing evil. F### them.”
“What I care about is the reality of goodness, not the perception of it,” Turley re-articulated. “And what I see all over the place is people who care about looking good while doing evil. F them. Now what Musk just said there is a paraphrase of what he’s said in the past to define wokeness. Wokeness gives people a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue. That’s a perfect description of the clowns that make up our lamesteam media and the corporate woke world.”
Turley summed up the episode, putting a Christmas bow on his thoughts.
“Wokeness is divisive. It is hateful. And it invites others to join in on that hate with the supposedly protected armor of false virtue. When all is said and done, wokeness is nothing more than the permission – indeed the obligation – to hate. It gives people a shield to be mean and cruel. To shame. To cancel. To excommunicate. And Elon Musk, there in front of the gathered praetorian guard of our corrupt, ruling elite called them out on it. Elon told the entire globalist establishment and liberal elites to literally go F themselves. He and the world are no longer beholden to playing by their rules. Make no mistake, this summit was a game-changer.”
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
An Unofficial Radio Study Through the Eyes of Gen Z
We really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system.
One of my non-radio pursuits since moving to Bowling Green has been to take advantage of a Kentucky law — KRS 164.284 — which grants free tuition to any state-supported institution of higher education for state residents who are 65 or older. That’s a lot of words, but put simply, those of us who are older can take university classes for free! Bowling Green, besides being the home of the Corvette, is also home to Western Kentucky University. The name of the school is a little odd because this is south central Kentucky and you can drive two hours west of here and still be in the state. However, the team name, Hilltoppers, is deadly accurate as the school is on top of a hill in Bowling Green, and walking uphill to class burns quite a few calories.
I’m wrapping up my first class and for me, it’s my first university-level class as a student since the ‘80s. If you’re like me and haven’t taken a class this century, it’s different because, like most everything else, education has moved online. WKU uses Blackboard, an online tool, and I’ve adapted to sending in assignments and papers online as well as taking exams online in the comfort of my home office.
My reason for all this background is that in the last session of History 349, American History from 1945 to the Present, our instructor, Dr. Tony Harkins, asked us to form small groups and determine the three biggest events of the last 30 years. When each group presented their choices, one was unanimous: the Internet. Sure, there was 9/11, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COVID pandemic, but no other choices were unanimous. Even 9/11 was problematic for most of the students as they weren’t alive when it took place 22 years ago.
That led to a class discussion and listening in, you really appreciate the difference in outlook when the rest of the group is a half-century younger than you! They referred to their parents adapting to being online and considering that I’m old enough to be a grandparent to any of them, it made me think back to my first PC, a Compaq dual floppy that I purchased in 1984. The Hayes 1200 baud modem was almost $500 extra, but it was worth it to be that far ahead of the technology curve! They have never known a time without the smartphone, high-speed internet, and the ability to find out almost anything they want to know instantly.
Admittedly, a group of WKU history students is not a random sample and is not projectable to the population, but I also heard some misgivings about AI and the perils of the internet. They know the power of the internet to ruin people’s lives if used for nefarious purposes.
What does all this mean for radio? I wish I had been able to ask about their use of broadcast radio, if they use any at all, but to no great surprise, this group is in another world. That’s not a negative statement, but for all formats, we’ve done things the same way for so long that we likely don’t know another way to accomplish our tasks. Yes, radio is multi-platform like just about any other medium today, but as this cohort ages, what happens to our medium?
I’m not the first to bring this up, but we really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system. What will it take to make radio relevant to their needs and desires? Being in close quarters with them for a class lets me see some of the similarities of what I can remember from my undergraduate days and their different attitudes and experiences, which are very different from what I went through in the ‘70s.
Time to study for this week’s final (I’m auditing, but for the purpose of keeping my brain busy, I do all the required work)! If you’re in the golden years like me, you might want to consider going back to school, too. Most states have some kind of tuition waiver (for more info about your state’s options) and try it out! Not only will you learn something and interact with much younger people, you can even get student discounts as well! Thanks to Dr. Tony Harkins for putting up with me for the semester and “Go Tops!”.
Let’s meet again next week.
One of the radio industry’s most respected researchers, Dr. Ed Cohen writes a weekly column for Barrett News Media. His career experiences include serving as VP of Ratings and Research at Cumulus Media, occupying the role of VP of Measurement Innovation at Nielsen Audio, and its predecessor Arbitron. While with Arbitron, Cohen spent five years as the company’s President of Research Policy and Communication, and eight years as VP of Domestic Radio Research. He has also held the title of Vice President of Research for iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, and held research positions for the National Association of Broadcasters and Birch/Scarborough Research. Dr. Ed always enjoys hearing your thoughts so please feel free to reach him at [email protected].