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Brett Winterble is the King of Queen City Talk Radio

BNM sat down with Brett Winterble to discuss his journey, the role news/talk stations play in local communities, and reflect on his memories of Rush Limbaugh.

Ryan Hedrick

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Charlotte radio host Brett Winterble has a special connection to his new community. Winterble recently celebrated his second year at WBT Charlotte’s News Talk. His tenure there began shortly before the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The versatile radio veteran has traveled all over the country, perfecting his craft. Winterble was raised in Far West Texas, went to school in the Northeast, and has worked at radio stations in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Winterble – an elite talk show host who once filled in for the late Rush Limbaugh whom he used to work for and who he credits in helping him find his way in the business – was tapped by renowned programmer Mike Schaffer to replace legendary WBT host John Hancock who retired after an illustrious run in the Queen City.

During a 20-show trial, Winterble proved to his bosses that he possessed the ability to connect with his callers on a deep level. His understanding of how to draw parallels between national stories and localize them proved uncanny in the hiring process.

Winterble has really embraced his journey. Shortly after officially accepting his current gig, the coronavirus forced the world to a halt. What did that mean for Winterble? The position he accepted and his duties were altered as WBT used its powerful signal and strong community ties to help businesses stay afloat and the community remains informed. Local radio shined during this time, and WBT was no exception.

Barrett News Media recently sat down with Winterble to gain some perspective on his journey, discuss the critical role news/talk stations play in their local communities, and reflect on his memories of the greatest talk radio host of all time, Rush Limbaugh.

What makes WBT Radio unique?

It is an honor to be at WBT Radio, a station that means so much to the Southeast and a station with such a legacy. We are about to celebrate our centennial anniversary. WBT employs special people who believe in great radio, love their community, and are dedicated to their craft. I consider myself very fortunate to have this opportunity; I couldn’t be happier.

What were you doing before you came to WBT?

I was doing an afternoon drive show in beautiful San Diego, California, on then-KFMB and was enjoying myself immensely. I received a call from Mike Schaefer, Program Director, WBT Radio, who told me that they were looking to fill the opening left by WBT Hall-of-Famer John Hancock. It was a great opportunity; I got to sit in for about 15-20 shows, and they offered me a chance to come in and do a PM drive show, and I absolutely jumped at it. 

During that period, how did you approach doing a show in a market that you weren’t completely familiar with?

Even though I was physically doing a show from my home studio on the West Coast, I was mentally present in Charlotte. I had been to Charlotte several times; I was familiar with the landscape and the city, and I was able to project that.

The beauty of living in an interconnected world is that you can find stories that are relevant in several different places. Great radio is about connecting with the audience one-on-one, and that’s what I was able to do.

How did you find your identity as a conservative news/talk host?

I’ve never self-declared, hey I’m a conservative talk show host. I’m a husband, I have a couple of teenagers, and I believe in relating to the audience.

I believe most people live their lives in a little bit of a conservative way; they want to have money in their pockets, they want to have strong family values, they want to provide, they want to do charity. Those are transcendent values, right? So, I believe if you live those values and behave those values, it comes through to the audience.

How should talk radio stations position themselves as the information age evolves?

How does any radio station build that audience and connect to that audience? The answer is simple; building your local audience and leveraging local relationships. In the world of talk radio, I think we tend to think of it in the national picture.

Much of my show is looking at the national landscape and then cross-applying to what’s happening locally, how it’s relevant, and getting context in that regard. The beauty of talk radio is the ability to impact the local community with local talk.

You started at WBT at the beginning of the pandemic; what was that like?

I came to Charlotte in February of 2020. I sat down with then-GM Matt Hanlon and our PD Mike Schaefer, and we had this whole plan to roll me out and meet the community. I got to go to one Hornets game, and then COVID hit. I remember how much work our hosts did on WBT to build equity with our audience during the pandemic. I was the new guy replacing a legend. Our WBT team dug in hard to the community.

Businesses that were suffering, we created a hotline for them to call in to pass along any information that they needed to. We went 6-7 days a week doing COVID coverage and doing news/talk coverage. That was a core component of what WBT does, and I was so happy to slip into that glove.

How did Rush Limbaugh influence you?

Rush Limbaugh was the single most dominant broadcaster that I have ever come across in my life and could not have been a gentler, better person than you would have expected. He was incredibly generous and incredibly charitable.

I first started working with Rush Limbaugh as a 25-year-old who had joined his syndication company before he was working with Premiere [Networks]. The thing that I took from Rush was to pursue my dreams. Rush was fired seven times, and he was proud of the fact that every time they thought he was down, he just kept growing to be a stronger talent and a better person. 

One of the interesting storylines on my journey was the first day that I filled in on WBT was the day Rush announced that he had stage 4 lung cancer. I was handed that information at :50 past the last hour of his program. I’m sitting there, and I’m listening to this, and I’m hearing what he is saying, and this is my friend. I had no idea he was ill. 

To hear that [announcement] and to know that in four minutes, I was going to go live on WBT. It would be one full calendar year later that I would be coming into my first full year anniversary at WBT that Rush passed away. The idea that I would be sitting in that seat that I was trying out for, and I had been blessed to fill in for him while he was still alive, is not a moment that was lost on me.

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3 Tips on How to Get Station and Market Research Without the Whopping Budgets

Many of us have not seen research in a while. I am going to give you some poor man tips for getting the pulse of your community. 

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A photo of a piece of paper showing bar graph research

No research budget? No problem! Ok, many of us have not seen research in a while. I am going to give you some poor man tips for getting the pulse of your community. 

These are tried and true methods that I have been using my entire programming career.  Disclaimer: getting great unbiased research is a tremendous tool to strengthen your station or show. I have learned a few tricks that may help you assess your community and audience. 

Use Your Station’s Database for a Small Survey

Usually, you must hold the carrot of winning a couple of hundred bucks for a participant.  There are many advantages to this method. You are likely to have P1s who love your product and have a commitment to the station. Talk about cool! 

Building the questions is the tough part. You don’t want to ask leading questions that mirror your thoughts or the attitudes of the audience. I like open-ended questions. I would also like to know about the participants’ demographics. 

For whatever reason, my station’s database is different than the actual listeners to a news/talk station. You may find your database like mine: 70% women. Of those women, a large portion are in their 20s and 30s. Sadly, this is not your audience. You will need to willow them out as you compile the information. 

The questions need to be about the audience, not about your station.

-What are your people doing for fun?
-Do they like to travel?
-How long is their commute?
-Do they have kids?
-Are they married?
-Are they happy with their school district? 
-What is their biggest concern? 

People love to talk about themselves. Let them do it and then sprinkle in questions about the station. 

-Are there enough traffic reports?
-Have you ever called a show?
-How was your interaction with the host or producer?
-What is your favorite restaurant?
-How much time do you watch sports each week? 

You certainly can add many questions like this.  Knowing your audience allows you to reflect on their lives, concerns, and interests. 

Be A Spy

I love doing this one at lunch. Pull into a restaurant that appeals to businesspeople in your area. Get a table near a large group and start writing down the conversation.

Are they griping about the boss? What are their concerns? Do they tease each other? How much do they speak about their significant other? Are they discussing something they read, heard, or watched? 

Just write down their conversations. I have taken this information and crafted promos and liners around it. It is a small sample size, but if the group is in your target for the station, you can learn a lot of good stuff. This just costs the price of lunch and a beverage. DIY at its finest. 

Quick On-the-Street Surveys 

This is another way to get a pulse on the community. Does your town have an event geared to the community? Go out with a producer, a salesperson, and give three quick questions. You need to guess the age of the participant. Ask for their ZIP code. this is to determine whether they live in your area. 

Then three quick questions. I like to use multiple choice. 
-How frustrating is the traffic?  1 to 5 with 5 meaning very agonizing.
-Your biggest concern: Crime, Taxes, Money, or family? 
-How long have you lived in your home?  These are quick questions to give you a pulse on your neighbors’ concerns. 

None of these are as good as a solid perceptual. I have read a lot of research, and the conclusions are the biggest concern. Years ago, I worked for a company that did several perceptuals. I was asked to read them by my format captain, who was new on the job. I read them carefully over the weekend and typed up a short report. The conclusions were completely different than the data. 

I am sure that if you have the opportunity to do a research project on your station, you will want to know the unvarnished truth. If you are in the enviable position of interviewing the companies that do research, you need to know the following things:
-Are the conclusions what I want to read or need to see?
-How is the best way to assess the data provided?
-Will the data allow me to develop an action plan to grow my ratings? 

If you want research to confirm your preconceived thoughts, skip the expense. If you want to maximize your return, learn how to critically read the data. 

What is your action plan following the study? There should be a clear path to allow you to identify vulnerabilities, opportunities, and strengths. All of these are equally important. 

Once you know your vulnerabilities, you can strategize to shore up your weaknesses. Once you know your opportunities, you can address them and create another path for your brand to succeed. Knowing and perhaps confirming your strengths allows you to use these as a base point for your brand’s continuing success. 

Don’t mess up good research. These are wonderful windows on your station and community.  They are key to helping you create a listener-focused experience that will support your station for years to come. 

Don’t be frightened to have some of your personal conclusions destroyed. Is this about your ego or is it about your team, station, and market? 

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How News Radio and Television Can Exist and Excel By Working Together on the Local Level

A real TV/Radio cooperative could actually dominate by informing and educating and actually thinking of their audience and the job they are supposed to be doing.

Bill Zito

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I was a kid in the 1970s. More importantly, I was a Mets fan and I enjoyed listening to the games on the radio far more than I did watching them on TV. Even so, I embraced both mediums of coverage for one major reason.

Okay, actually it was three major reasons:

Their names were Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner and these three handled the broadcast duties for both radio and TV during every game.

It was continuity and familiarity in their finest forms. One could watch the first three innings of the game on TV with Nelson calling the play-by-play and Kiner providing the color. Back then, Kiner wasn’t known quite so well for his combination of Phil Rizzuto/Yogi Berra-like utterances that came later with age.

By inning four you could hop into the car with Mom (Dad was a Yankee fan) and the kids and catch the next three innings on the radio with Lindsey Nelson still calling the plays. Meanwhile, Bob Murphy would handle the TV side with Ralph and nobody missed a beat.

One very familiar broadcast team handling all of the broadcast duties. Talk about cornering the market in exposure.

Of course, now we have entirely different TV teams and radio teams to do the jobs that three people once did. Naturally, we need more to cover digital and social media but the voices, are still only going to two platforms.

Of course, this all follows the same concept of every sports team now getting their own stadium. Frankly, you haven’t lived in my opinion unless you went to a Yankees and Giants game in the fall during the 70’s to see the yardage lines and infield markings, same for the Mets and the Jets at Shea Stadium.

Long story but it brings about the point.

News outlets all over are generally hemorrhaging financially and because they lose money, they often lose audience members, and well, they lose the interest of those they’re trying to inform and entertain.

To try and combat this, the platforms go big when and where they can. Local and network, they all try it. Whether it’s planning the next remote location, embedding the reporter and photographer team where nobody expected them to go, or securing the “exclusive” with whoever before the next station claims their own “exclusive” with the very same newsmaker the very next day.

Somewhere, there is somebody trying to dominate the daypart or the market and they’re constantly coming up with “new” concepts in order to achieve this.

Now we know that CBS, ABC, and FOX all have network news operations for the eye and the ear and I do on occasion hear something called NBC News Radio, but honestly one must do some digging to find it on the airwaves.

Nevertheless, there is a mutual effort and collaboration between network TV and radio, largely through radio’s use of edited TV packages. Depending on who you listen to, it often comes off during a newscast as fragmented, dissociative, and largely incomplete reporting. Bad scripts, bad editing and less-than-stellar cooperation between TV and radio is often readily apparent. It gets even worse when that content hits the local stations.

Yes, I know they’re trying and doing the best they can with what they have to work with but it’s more than that.

If you look at the local side of things there is generally even less mutual engagement. Only in the largest markets can local news radio benefit from local TV coverage and again it’s in the form of edited content, chopped and incomplete with less-than-stellar writing around the audio.

But, what if that wasn’t the case?

I mean universally, across networks and local markets, Venti, Grande, and Tall.

These broadcast outlets are truly looking at the challenges they face, realizing their gaps and deficiencies, and looking across town or across the street for answers.

Why not take your mutual staff and truly build (or rebuild) your weak and fledgling news operations into strong and fledgling enterprises? That means working together. No, really working together.

Radio news can help build formidable TV news content and TV news coverage can really become good radio. And no, not by stripping audio or just taking a few cell images for the website.

I am almost positive that when the networks downsized in the late 90s and early 2000s, they were able to stay competitive by training multi-platform correspondents to file for every outlet. A lot of bureaus in the U.S. and around the globe closed directly following that implementation.

When KOMO NewsRadio joined KOMO TV in 2002, they dropped an air studio, edit bays, and reporter desks right in the middle of the TV newsroom.

We weren’t popular at first. (We used to say we knew exactly how Marcia felt after Carol and Mike gave the attic bedroom to Greg.) But the animosity didn’t last.

Reporters and Anchors like being on TV, they like being on radio, and the great majority of them like telling good stories. It worked, at least it appeared to create a positive effect.

Reporters told their stories, Anchors promoted their shows and special coverage got lots of hype, on radio and TV. We didn’t win the ratings wars but we certainly advanced

So, what happened to that idea of joining forces and telling those good stories on more than one platform?

It is hard for me to understand how Sinclair let radio go in Seattle and allowed what I wrote about last week to happen. There was a great opportunity there, lost.

I’m not talking about unmercifully chopping up a TV reporter package to throw on the radio. I’ve talked about that before. CBS will dissect content for it’s affiliates until it is unrecognizable on the air. I find ABC and Fox do slightly better jobs for their radio family.

But hey, local markets. So many of you have radio and TV stations with the same call letters, even if you’re not mutually owned. Sure, more than a few of you will trade off weather content for sponsorship or a station mention but what about the rest of what you do?

If management truly understood their products, they would find ways to complement each other’s operations, and do each other more than just the occasional favor.

A real TV/Radio cooperative could actually dominate by informing and educating and actually thinking of their audience and the job they are supposed to be doing.

There is so much talent out there and so much is regularly lost not only to the fragility of the industry itself but also the lack of ownership and effort.

Hearing a reporter’s voice tell a story while I’m driving in the morning, having that same reporter tease their continuing TV coverage for the evening, and watching them at 6 PM creates and sustains the kind of brand loyalty and sense of reliability I think audiences still strive for.

And yes, I know everyone works very hard but really, a TV reporter crafting a radio script or radio writing the web story or a dozen other mutual efforts that can enhance community standing and popularity. It will never be job security, only an extension of what’s likely inevitable.

Honestly, we have to do something.

Bob, Lindsey, and Ralph are gone so somebody else has got to pick up the baton.

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Kristina Koppeser Knows the Importance of Pushing News Radio to the Digital World

“People look to you for information, and they will get it wherever they can find you. Being in those spaces is important.”

Ryan Hedrick

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A photo of the KYW logo and Kristina Koppeser
(Photo: Kristina Koppeser)

Professionals like Kristina Koppeser play a key role in leading traditional media outlets into the digital age in today’s rapidly changing media and journalism industry. With a unique background that includes working at Twitter, now known as X, Koppeser brings a fresh perspective to her job as Brand Manager at KYW Newsradio. 

Koppeser is passionate about the future of the journalism business, and she talked about KYW Newsradio’s Newstudies program, which has been running for over 60 years. The program allows local and regional high school students to gain hands-on experience at the station.

Kristina Koppeser stressed the importance of adapting to the multimedia landscape, recognizing that aspiring journalists need to have a versatile skill set in the age of social media and constant connectivity.

Having previously worked at a tech company, Koppeser understands the significance of branding in journalism. She emphasizes that journalists, like on-air personalities, must establish a solid online presence and recognize that audiences seek information across various platforms. This viewpoint aligns with her belief that being present on platforms like Instagram Reels and staying on top of breaking news is essential in today’s media landscape.

Reflecting on her journey as a young brand manager at a heritage station like KYW Newsradio, Kristina Koppeser acknowledges the challenge of learning the intricacies of radio after a background in tech, digital news, and television. However, she sees this as an opportunity to blend forward-thinking, pioneering knowledge with the institution’s wisdom, ensuring a holistic approach to managing the brand.

Koppeser’s leadership philosophy is based on trust and learning. She values trusting her team to excel in their roles while actively seeking knowledge in areas where she may be less experienced. Her openness to learning from the experienced team at KYW Newsradio reflects her commitment to continuous growth and improvement.

Regarding the potential use of artificial intelligence (AI) in reporting or writing, Kristina Koppeser views AI as an intriguing efficiency tool. While acknowledging the need for caution and thorough vetting, she sees AI’s potential to save time in tasks like event coverage, provided it is used with proper parameters and awareness of its strengths and weaknesses.

The interview also discussed the dynamics of KYW Newsradio within Audacy’s larger corporate structure. Koppeser expressed her desire for the corporate office to recognize and appreciate the station’s excellence, emphasizing the benefit of being in the same city as Audacy’s corporate offices.

Ryan Hedrick: What is KYW Newsradio doing to attract young journalists to the industry?

Kristina Koppeser: I am very passionate about the future of the business and getting young minds interested in broadcast media. We are just wrapping up our Newstudies program. We’ve been doing this program for over 60 years, with local and regional high school students, sophomores, juniors, and seniors interested in broadcast. They come into the station and use our recording equipment if they want to. They learn from our award-winning journalists who are instructors and volunteer their time to do this. These students write and record a piece for air that airs on KYW Newsradio throughout November and December.

RH: What excites you as a brand manager about the positive trends you see from young, aspiring journalists?

KK: I see many people interested in multimedia production, which is smart because it’s 2023, and everybody has a device that they look at hundreds of times a day. Young people are coming out of college knowing full well that you can’t just be one thing. You have to learn how to create a presence on whatever the app of the month is.

When you are trying to become a journalist in this multimedia landscape, they are conscious of your Instagram Reels and broadcast content and making sure that they are on top of breaking news.

I used to work at Twitter, now called X, and working at a platform, I see that branding is important for everyone, not just on-air personalities but journalists. People look to you for information, and they will get it wherever they can find you. Being in those spaces is important.

RH: What challenges have you faced as a young brand manager rising through the ranks of a heritage station like KYW Newsradio?

KK: I have only been here for two years, so one of the challenges was learning the space. I came up through tech, digital news, and then television, so I worked at Hearst Television for five years. Before this, one of the biggest challenges was learning radio because that was the one thing I had not had experience with on a professional level, but I also think that that’s a benefit.

Our Assistant Brand Manager, Tom Rickert, has been here for a long time and has all the institutional knowledge. I can think more about the big picture and toward the future and lean on him when I don’t know something or want to learn how the board works. I have learned a lot in the last two years, especially the last year since I was promoted. And I am learning the broadcast side, taking my forward-thinking, pioneering knowledge, and marrying those two things.

RH: As the Brand Manager at KYW Newsradio, what is the most important thing you’ve learned?

KK: To trust people to do the job that they know how to do well. That’s important. We have an amazing group here. They are so smart and dedicated. One of my biggest superpowers is knowing what I don’t know, so when I don’t know something, I want to learn it actively, seek it out, and understand. I have 60 people in the newsroom that I can go to and find an expert.

RH: As a radio station, are you open to using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for reporting or writing?

KK: AI is a really interesting efficiency tool. It can cut corners in a way. I have played around with it myself, both personally and professionally. One interesting thing about it is that it will do the searching for you, and of course, with anything unvetted, like AI, you have to be careful. You have to treat it like you would with any source, fact-check it, and do all of those things. It saves time is one of the biggest places I find useful.

If you’re looking at doing things like events coverage, you can ask it to spit out a list, and of course, you will have to check that list, but it’s doing some of that work for you. Whether or not I give it an OK, like anything else, I would put parameters on it and ensure everybody knew its strengths, weaknesses, and the best way to use it. The jury is still out. I would have to do more investigative work to ensure I am comfortable with it, but it could be a helpful tool.

RH: Do Audacy’s corporate offices in the same city as KYW Newsradio make executives pay closer attention to the radio station?

KK: I don’t know about that. I want our corporate office to have us on in the morning when they are driving into the office as I am. It is also a benefit. When I was at Hearst, we had 26 stations there, and if one were in New York I would have felt very lucky. I want to be recognized, and I want our station to be recognized for its excellence.

RH: Where do you look to for inspiration outside of your building? 

KK: I look to digital audiences. I look to friends and family. Because I come from a curation background, I am always thinking about whether this makes sense to everyone. At the end of the day, we as journalists, our job is to inform and educate, and I want to make sure we are doing that on any given day. I do look to people and I also look to other stations because I think of some of the work that other Audacy stations do. I lean on my colleagues. And I look to some of the other brand managers, like at WINS and KRLD. 

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