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David Wood Stumbled Into a Long-Lasting Career in Radio

Wood joined Emmis Communications in 2010 and currently serves as Vice President of Programming for Emmis-Indianapolis.

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Everybody has a superpower. You do. I do, and David Wood certainly does. 

“I have a knack for identifying talent,” the veteran program director explained. What he does daily in the radio world is like show business. When he recently put out an ad for on-air radio talent to join a morning show, he put out what he refers to as a ‘casting call.’ 

“I’m good at seeing not just what is, but what could be. In that respect, I guess I’m like a casting director.”

Wood is an Indiana native, and before you ask, in high school, he sucked at basketball. “I was too short and slow to play basketball. It didn’t help that Marion, Indiana was a powerhouse.” 

Wood said when you’re a kid in Indiana, you either want to play professional basketball or broadcast professional basketball. “I went to school to become a high school history teacher,” Wood said. “I kind of stumbled into radio in my hometown and started working at WMRI in Marion, Indiana. WMRI went on the air in 1955 but was soon sold. The station later spawned an FM station, the present-day WXXC.”

Wood joined Emmis Communications in 2010 and currently serves as Vice President of Programming for Emmis-Indianapolis. There aren’t many radio executives who can say they got their big break out of a cheese business. 

“I met the GM of a station when I was assistant manager of a Hickory Farms cheese store,” Wood said. “We got to talking as his daughter was about my age. I had a background in theater, and he asked if I listened to the radio.” He told Wood if he ever thought he’d like to audition for a radio job, to call him sometime. Wood did.

Wood took on everything in his first job in radio; engineered high school basketball, read the news, mowed the lawn. He bounced around a few stations in Indiana, including Marion and Kokomo, Indiana, about 45 minutes from each other.

When he turned 21, he had a life-altering epiphany. “I realized I was making more in radio than a first-year high school history teacher, so I stayed in radio,” Wood said. 

During his career, Wood said he’d run into co-workers who knew for a fact they wanted to be on the radio when they were kids. That just wasn’t the case for Wood. “I was the opposite of that kid. Our family listened to a lot of radio together, and remember thinking I could never do that. It was too cool, too magical.” 

After a while, he had another epiphany. “I was adequate on the air, perhaps slightly above average,” Wood said. “I’d seen a couple of PDs get fired, and I thought I could do better than those guys. So, he dropped the microphone and went into radio management. 

He said he learned a lot of management lessons from a captain of the USS. Enterprise–Picard, not Kirk. 

“Kirk always acted emotionally, kind of reckless, on his own,” Wood said. “Picard would ask opinions of those around him, seek advice.”

Wood said one of the lessons he learned from a mentor was not to treat every person the same way. “It’s unfair,” Wood said. “People respond to training and criticism in different ways. I could be very blunt with one of my on-air people, and they’re good with that. I tell them to put their big-boy pants on. Others, I have to treat them with kid gloves.”

Like many of us who didn’t play high school basketball, we aren’t immune to the lessons and charms of the film Hoosiers. “I watch it at least once a year,” Wood said. “It’s absolutely accurate, not an overdramatization.” He explained how the film was based on the ‘Milan Miracle’ in 1954. 

Wood described how football is to Texas and what basketball is to Indiana. “I think football is becoming more important here,” Wood said. “That’s a direct result of the Colts and Peyton Manning.”

When I asked Wood what constitutes a great radio executive, he didn’t hesitate to answer. 

“Being a student of anthropology,” Wood said. “You have to be curious about people. You have to figure out what’s important, how to work with people.”

He’s not only from Indiana; he’s a fan of the place. “It’s a big small town,” Wood said. “We have a Midwestern aura, but there are enough amenities to keep you entertained. Great steakhouses, Broadway tours, the Indy 500, the NFL.”

When he’s not working, Wood says he likes to read. “I don’t watch a lot of television,” he said. “For one thing, we’ve got television sets on all day at the station, tuned to sports or news. I like to read articles, listen to audiobooks.”

What is he reading now? “Fascism: A Warning” by the late secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. “I also read a lot of presidential biographies. The most recent on Ulysses S. Grant.”

So, what’s the future of radio look like, say in 2032?

“I think we’re going to have more spoken word formats,” Wood said. “I also think we’re going to see a lot more female-leaning content.” Wood believes things will get tougher and tougher for music programing as people have so many different options right now.

“We’re in a push-medium in a pull-world,” Wood explained. “The younger people are really technically savvy, and there are things they don’t want to put up with, music they don’t want to hear. The older they are, the more accustomed they are to being presented with music we think they want to hear.”

Even with all the changes, Wood thinks classic rock is safe. “My 29-year-old son likes a lot of stuff from that era,” he said. “He grew up listening to my music, and he loves it.”

I asked Wood if he was ever impressed by meeting someone in this celebrity-driven business.

“Not exactly,” Wood said. “I saw the late actor Jerry Orbach in a restaurant in New York,” Wood said. “We were sitting across from each other, and I knew the last thing he wanted was for me to come over and bother him. So, we exchanged a couple of nods, and Orbach smiled. That was it.”

It’s kind of a shame Jerry Orbach never got to hear if Wood preferred him in Dirty Dancing or Law and Order. I’m guessing the latter.

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Telling The Audience What You Think They Want to Hear Won’t Help You Grow

“Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.”



Photo Credit: iStock

It’s OK to not always tell your audience what you think they want to hear. 

I have been writing that phrase down at the top of my notepad before I start my show for the last two weeks. Something tells me I will need it for at least another 12 months.

In the last week alone there have been two major topics that have divided News Talk audiences across the country: The debt-ceiling debate and the brewing Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis feud.

And as I’ve listened to talented hosts and perused the social media landscape, I’ve noticed a hesitancy that I usually would not expect. 

Granted, for the last two years it’s been relatively easy when talking about the national political scene: Joe Biden is a disaster. Whether it’s economic policy, border policy or foreign policy, most Americans don’t believe the guy is doing a good job. The News Talk audience, generally speaking, thinks he’s doing a terrible job.

That’s shooting fish in a barrel. But now comes the hard(er) work. 

Starting with the debt-ceiling drama, there was a big divide amongst Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, however dozens of Republicans, many of the most conservative members of the House, voted against the bill, saying it did not do enough to cut spending

As a result, it seemed many hosts, who assume their audience blindly aligns with everything the most-conservative members of the House say, were hesitant to point out the obvious: Explain what better deal you were getting when you only had a small majority in the House, and no control over the Senate or the White House?

It was a question I never got a good answer to on my show.

Republicans already picked up a win getting Biden to the negotiating table after he spent months saying he wanted a clean debt-ceiling raise with no spending cuts attached. Speaker Kevin McCarthy won, got some concessions, and slowly began turning the tide towards hopefully Senate and White House victories in 2024, when then the real work can begin on getting spending under control. This was a victory.

And while no one with any levels of fiscal sanity believes our government’s spending isn’t wildly out of control, that is a separate conversation from whether or not this was a good or smart deal. 

Then, there’s the Trump vs. DeSantis feud. Some have staked their claim with one candidate over the other. Some are trying to toe the line and avoid all conflict. Neither approach makes sense to me.

The obvious approach seems to me to analyze the candidate’s based on what they do and say on a given day. There will be good and bad days for Trump. DeSantis will have his up and down moments. I can guarantee this because they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us.Like every election season, it will ebb and flow, and eventually someone will come out on top.

Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.

If you compare this to sports talk radio, a national host talking about the NFL Playoffs doesn’t have to have a preferred team, but he or she has to have something to say that’s interesting, compelling, honest, thought-provoking and entertaining.

If they don’t do this, they’ll become wallpaper in a world of too many media options. 

If you have the trust of your audience, you’re real, honest, engaging and thoughtful, you won’t lose your audience. You’ll keep them engaged and you’ll grow it.

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Why Did Newsmax Allow Rep. Matt Gaetz to Host An Unchallenged TV Program?

“A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies.”

Jessie Karangu



Photo Credit: Newsmax

Representing your constituents in Congress used to be a mark of honor. It was a position that came with pride and respect. At least that’s what I’ve heard from older relatives who lived in an America that was supposedly more united. Today, depending on the individual, the position doesn’t usually come with too much regard if any at all. Congress has an all-time low approval rating and many representatives go into the job plotting their next money-making move in the process. 

The cable news circuit has slowly but surely built a bench of potential hosts from current and former Congressmen. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News commentator, Trey Gowdy is a host on Fox News, Joe Scarborough is MSNBC’s morning show anchor and most recently Rep. Matt Gaetz anchored his own hour for Newsmax. As much as some members of Congress roast young Gen Zers for their tenacity when it comes to TikTok, these men are just as eager for the wrong kind of attention and spotlight. 

A former Congressman on television can provide perspective that gives context to current issues the country faces. On Scarborough’s morning show, he often harkens back to past negotiations and talks he had with fellow lawmakers. At times, he even uses those connections to find out the inside scoop about something that’s happening in the moment. Current Congressmen who appear on shows as guests also get to talk directly to their constituents hopefully alongside a host that is willing to challenge them on the issues of the day and not simply allow them to lead the audience astray. 

For Newsmax to allow Rep. Gaetz to host a show though, is a disgrace to a medium of television that already like Congress doesn’t have much acclaim. With that being said, even for cable news, this is a major low and it should never happen on either side of the aisle. Politicians are elected to serve but are also forced to make tough decisions. These choices are answerable to the American people. When a Congressman is allowed to spew their thoughts uncensored, it takes attention away from the issues that really matter. 

A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies. Unless Gaetz had a co-host that was a journalist questioning his takes, how does an unchallenged show truly serve the public – an oath he agreed to partake in when he took on his role as a Congressman. 

Gaetz’s appearance is also a waste of tax dollars. The people of Florida who elected him into office expect Gaetz to be working with fellow lawmakers to make their lives better. They expect him to be doing research or reading up on bills that can bring the change he’s promised to his voters. Instead, he used the resources of hard-working Floridians to moonlight into his next career and spew misinformation that can prove harmful to the public.

If we allow more serving Congressmen to host their own cable talk shows on such a widely distributed platform, will we reach a day when lawmakers exclusively negotiate bills on television? Will Congressmen be more worried about ratings than results? We’ve already seen what happens when a President reigns over a populous and only rules based on what he sees on television. We’ve also seen the political implications that come with such unjustly behavior. Cable news networks will suffer the moral consequences of their actions while politicians who dare to try this act again will eventually face the demise of their legacy in the voting booth. Be careful.

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Sales Productivity Protects You From Hedge Fund Uncertainty

“The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.”

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Almost 30 years ago, Radio station ownership limits were lifted, and Wall Street saw an opportunity. But the hedge funds didn’t understand the business and created mayhem in a still vital industry.

I worked in New York City for over 6 years. I had the opportunity to spend time around the brain trust of Wall Street. These Masters of the Universe saw the weakness of the radio industry and thought that they had all the answers. 

Well, they didn’t. 

I will give you some history from my perspective. My first 16 years were spent working for family run operations. Both of these companies were managed by third generation operators who put people and community first. These were highly successful operations with large staffs. 

I am not looking back with rose colored glasses. No organization is perfect or without unique challenges. But people were first in these broadcast companies. Both of my first employers had top consultants to give strong outside the organization feedback. Both companies had General Managers that catered to both the programming and sales departments. 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggest overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years. It was widely thought that this would bring radio into modern times. Consolidation has been a landmark of American Business, so, Wall Street’s Hedge Funds saw an opening.  Radio station owners sold for insane profits. Longtime owners were able to sell stations for multiples of up to 30 times meaning that if an owner had a station earning 1 million dollars, they could sell it for 30 million dollars. Quite a return (Most stations didn’t go that high but multiples of 18-25 were very common during this period).  

Wall Street looked at radio like the pickle industry. Except there was an issue. Radio did not have hundreds of workers in each location. You couldn’t move all operations to a central hub and save HUGE money, that would justify strong ROI. So, radio ended up with several large owners (by the way, I am not criticizing iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus and the other large owners). 

When larger companies developed, they went public selling stock to individual shareholders and institutional investors. The market states that companies show a certain amount of revenue growth per year. Let’s say that number is 10%. Radio is interesting, we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You cannot just build new radio stations. So, companies were forced to merge or expand to meet revenue goals. Wall Street encouraged and even demanded it. 

Here was the problem – radio companies acquired an unsupportable amount of debt that could never be paid back. The Hedge Funds just moved cash around and demanded companies cut staff and consolidate management. It was a blood bath. Any of us who entered this business in the 90’s saw this. Great broadcasters, salespeople, managers were forced out because of unsustainable debt and micromanaging Hedge Funds.  

On the local level, new clusters were forced to protect the biggest biller in the group. This was not set to grow revenue; it was to protect the revenue and keep the spreadsheets looking right. I know of stations that were more successful brands in ratings in a cluster than the cash cow but if you were the Program Director who was consistently beating the cash cow, your job was in jeopardy.  This was a reverse hunger games caused by debt, fear and shortsightedness. 

So, here we are.

The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. 

The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.

Even though a couple of the bigger companies have gone bankrupt, they’re not bankruptcy situations where assets were liquidated creating a market-based value of these properties. It was essentially a negotiation to lower the debt, and did not move these companies to become cash positive operations again. 

Why do the Hedge Funds not cut their losses and move on? Now that is a great question.  Hedge funds handle billions of dollars. They bundle bad deals with great deals and so their investors don’t seem to have a problem if they see enough of a profit at the end of the month, quarter or year. People remember the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Hedge Funds were bundling bad mortgages with good ones. Soon the bad overcame the market. Thus, a crash.  The homes never went away. The value of real estate fell dramatically in many places.

Are people still listening to us? 80% of Americans do. Not the 93% of a decade or so ago (Pew Research). This is much better than local TV where only 63% of Americans watch local TV News.

But what is the future?

It is entirely up to Hedge Fund involvement. Will Hedge Funds cut their losses and move on?  If that occurs, will local broadcasters rise again? 

What can YOU do?

It is all about the billing. If you are billing a lot more than you cost, the company will need you, and indispensability is what corporate leaders will see. Make yourself available for Sales. If you are the morning talent, be dressed well enough for a sales call. Make yourself available a few times each week to meet clients. Let salespeople know about the products and services that you use. Radio personalities are influencers. They have huge audiences that listen every day.  Don’t forget your advantage. We cannot control the Hedge Funds, corporate debt or a fast-changing marketplace. 

This was not an exhaustive history, but it illustrates our challenges. Radio programming departments are filled with creative people who just want to entertain. Be aware of our weaknesses and strengths. The Market Manager and sales manager are under huge pressure.  Be that person who understands their concerns.

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