Nearly thirty percent of the world’s goods are manufactured in China. If you flipped veteran News/Talker Lars Larson over and checked his nether regions for a stamp, you’d find one that reads, Made in China.
“I was born in the good part of China. In Taiwan,” Larson explained. “This is the Democratic, self-determining China. It has its own leaders, stands up to mainland China, all that good stuff.” Larson still has a soft spot in his heart for Taiwan. His parents were both in the Navy, and they traveled quite a bit.
After both of Lars Larson’s parents left the Navy, his father went to school on the G.I. Bill and studied forestry. At one point, the family lived in Inglewood, California, when he was a kid. Larson said the area was then known for old ladies and sedate streets. “It’s not a place you want to drive through today,” he said. “I do remember playing in the yard, watching the Culligan man drive up.”
He’s only been what he calls racially profiled once in his life, and it was in Inglewood. Larson was visiting Los Angeles on business, doing some promotions for the Unicef Telethon with Lou Rawls, and rented a car. He thought it would be nice to take a drive and find his grandmother’s old house. He was a kid when he was last in that area and didn’t know the address. Instead, he was going to ‘feel’ his way around.
“It was the middle of the day, and I was searching for her house,” Larson said. “A cop lit me up and pulled me over. He drove alongside me, rolled down his window, and said, “What are you doing here?”
Larson innocently explained to the officer how he was looking for his grandmother’s house. “The cop looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world,” Larson said.
“It’s really not safe for you to be driving around here,” a bewildered officer told Larson. Larson finally got the message and drove straight for the highway. What he lacked in street smarts was compensated by a strong survival instinct.
The family lived in Missoula, Montana, and Mount Rainier National Park. “It’s great to live there as an adult,” Larson said. “But when you’re a kid, you’re essentially bear-bait.”
(Thanks for the tip. *Don’t move to Mount Rainier with the kids.)
His father worked for the National Park Service had its upsides. The living conditions weren’t one of them.
“Do you remember the Quonset huts on the Gomer Pyle show?” Larson asked. “A tin shack with a door? That’s what we lived in. Very shaky housing, but then again, that was part of the deal. It was a wonderful experience.”
The family also lived in Northern California. “When you hear people talk about Northern California, you might think of San Francisco,” Larson said. “Well, we lived twenty miles from the Oregon border. That’s Northern California.”
Larson’s mother was killed in a car crash when he was young. His father kept on, as fathers with kids must. He got a job as a State Park ranger in Tillamook, Oregon, known mostly for its cheese production.
The 10-year-old Lars wanted to be a space scientist, an astronaut. “I really didn’t have the math skills,” he said. “I’m okay at math, just not good enough. I was good at speech and debate. I had four solid years of each in high school.”
His listeners today are probably glad the man had questionable ciphering skills. “I thought about law school, but I’m glad I didn’t go in that direction.”
In Tillamook, Larson met a man who took over the local radio station, KTIL. That man’s name was Larsen. “It wasn’t spelled like my name, not the way God intended it,” Larson jokes. “For the rest of my life, I had to explain I didn’t get my first radio job out of nepotism. That Larsen was no relation at all.”
The radio guy Larsen invited several high school students to intern at the station because they were good at speech; the young Larson was one of them. “When the internship was over, he let the other kids go but asked me to work with him. It was a 10 to midnight shift, and I was only 15-years-old.” Larson said. This was even before 8-track carts were around. Guglielmo Marconi was barely cold in his grave. “We used reel-to-reels,” Larson recalled. “It was awful.”
He was on the air for the last two hours of the day. “They shut down at midnight to save money,” Larson said. “These days, that’s rare. The only day I ever deliberately skipped school was to go and take the third-class license test to work at the station.”
Primarily not required today, people on the air back then needed to have the ability to take readings off the transmitter, and sign off on the transmitter log.
“I had to have that third-class license on the wall,” Larson said.
Aside from his 10 to midnight shift at KTIL, the unofficial Mighty 1590, as they called it, Larson said he’d fill in for the news anchors when they were off. “We were full-service,” Larson said. “We had a morning news program, top of the hour news, bottom of the hour weather. There wasn’t much car traffic on the roads where we were, so that wasn’t much of an issue.”
The station carried high school football and basketball games, as well as Oregon State games. “If the Trail Blazers were on, we’d bump the other and then pick up the high school or college game in progress when it was over.”
He said he loved his time at KTIL. “I learned everything there. A lot of people at the station were young, in their 20s. They tried to make you laugh during your newscast, set your news copy on fire.”
Wow. Those really were the good old days of radio.
Larson said like many small radio stations did, they would read obituaries on the air. “There were forms that people filled out,” he said. “Basically, it was a form where you filled in information. It read something like, ‘Friends will be sad to learn the passing of ________ after a long battle with _________. People would just fill in the blanks, and we had a stack of them to read.”
Here are these young radio kids telling a community of 4,000 people who passed away. “It’s one thing to make somebody laugh during a newscast,” Larson said. “It’s quite another to try and make them laugh during an obituary. But they tried.” Boy, did they try.
“One night, I was reading an obituary,” Larson began, “and we had a very large Swiss community in Tillamook. So, I began, “Friends will be sorry to hear of the passing of Oscar Mayer. That’s when I lost it. You can lose your composure during the weather, but not there.”
Larson attended the University of Oregon in Eugene but quit after a year to work in radio and television.
“I took some more classes at Gonzaga,” Larson said. “I plugged away at it for a while, but it just wasn’t working for me. I got a job offer in Spokane at KXL in March of 1980. I was there for nearly four years when I got into television.”
Larson said he was out of radio for less than a year and learned there was more freedom working in radio.
“For one thing, technologically, television is overly complicated just by its nature,” Larson said. “I bet that idiot Brian Stelter at CNN has about 25 people behind him putting that show together. On the radio, it’s just you and maybe one other person.”
Have we touched a nerve with Stelter?
“He’s such a political partisan,” Larson explained. “Nothing he says is supported by facts. Having been an investigative reporter myself, I took it very seriously. What I’m doing now is largely entertainment, but I am also a journalist.”
Larson said when he was a television managing editor, it was his duty to make sure the news wasn’t slanted or unsubstantiated. “My job was to take opinions out of the stories,” he said. “If a reporter came to me with something that was not attributed, I let them know it was their opinion.”
As a former news anchor, there were people who questioned how he could deliver the news on television, and at the same time, give his opinionated views on the same topic on the radio.
Larson provided an informative illustration of this apparent conflict. “There’s an Irish cop,” he began, “and he’s sent to protect an abortion clinic. He may not agree with abortion, and it’s his job to hold people back who agrees with to facilitate the young women. It’s not his job as a cop to shut this place down. He’s supposed to do his job. There are people in that situation all over the world, working in a field they might not totally agree with.”
Larson says he recalls Walter Cronkite delivering a daily commentary throughout most of his career. This was aside from the news he’d just delivered to the nation. “I don’t think he was unbiased on the news, but he did a commentary,” Larson said. “You can trust someone to give the news without bias, but he still has a radio show to do.”
We’re all caught in the crosshairs of news and propaganda today from both sides of the issue.
“When you read an old-school magazine, you could identify when a piece was well-written,” Larson said. “You’re thinking, ‘Huh. I wonder who this guy is who wrote this?’ You could read their bio at the bottom of the piece and see they support the NRA or they’re with the Civil Liberties Union. You see where they’re coming from.”
He hosts his daily program from noon-3 p.m.with his Northwest show on 570 KVI, taking calls and talking about life in the Pacific Northwest. He has earned more than 70 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional journalists, and the National Press Club. Larson has also chalked up an Emmy and a Peabody for his reporting and documentaries.
I could almost hear Larson’s blood pressure rising through the telephone when he talked about the fledgling Disinformation Governance Board, designed to stop disinformation from spreading on the Internet.
“Tell me that’s not right out of 1984, The Ministry of Truth,” Larson said. The ministry is a fictional department in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
“This is all Orwellian stuff. It’s whitewashing, gaslighting in its highest order. This is being conducted under the auspices of Homeland Security, the people who are supposed to be catching terrorists and other dangerous people. Suddenly, their job has become monitoring American speech for disinformation.”
If you have not read 1984 as of yet, I get the feeling you might be picking it up soon.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at [email protected].
With Nielsen, Is There Life After 54?
If the industry truly believes that Nielsen should offer more demos, it’s time to ask the relevant questions and get the answers.
There’s been some discussion of late about whether it’s time to change the standard demos that Nielsen uses for reporting radio audiences.
Dan Mason began the debate a couple of months back with an argument for three demos: 12-19, 20-40, and 41-64. Steve Allan at Research Director has added his thoughts with the suggestion that Nielsen drop persons 6-11 and 80+. Beyond the lack of buyer interest in these demos, he sees it as a backdoor way to increase the PPM sample. Perhaps because more discussion is a good thing, I’ll offer my two cents.
There is likely no way that Nielsen will ever remove the 6-11 and 80+ PPM panelists even though the data are essentially meaningless for radio. PPM is now used for both audio and video. In the latter, PPM measures out-of-home audiences for local TV in the metro areas of DMAs. Remember that TV measures down to the age of two and while Arbitron never dropped that low (can you imagine a three-year-old with a PPM?), the design was that PPM would measure both radio and television. Because video likes a big number, the 80+ issue is probably off the table as well.
Let’s move on to Dan Mason’s suggestions. Radio has been battling with the “you’re dead at 55” issue for decades. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was the operations manager of WSPA-FM in Spartanburg, South Carolina which ran the beautiful music/easy listening format. I clearly remember Ted Dorf at WGAY in Washington (same format) starting a 35-64 committee, the goal of which was to show the value of the older audience and bring dollars into that demo. That was more than 40 years ago and nothing much has changed.
Even with the lack of dollars for older demos despite the incredible spending power of the boomer generation, why can’t Nielsen offer more “standard” demos? In the “old days”, there were limitations based on processing software and even the size of the printed ratings report (remember the horizontal Arbitron books?). Today, the E-book is barely used and processing power is essentially unlimited.
The limitation may reside in the systems used by Nielsen to process the local markets. The old Arbitron processing systems were somewhat limited and rebuilding the system was usually behind other priorities. I do not know if Nielsen has updated the processing system, but if they have, it shouldn’t be hard to offer more “standard” demos, whether Dan Mason’s suggestions or others. If Nielsen has not updated the systems in the decade since the Arbitron acquisition, then we’re back to my recent column asking the paraphrased Ronald Reagan question of whether you’re better off now than you were ten years ago.
What about the third-party processors: other companies that use the Nielsen data, for example, agency buying systems? Nielsen can require certain data to be made available as part of the future licensing agreements for data access. Still, the companies would also have to make software changes that will take time.
Let’s make the generous assumption that these changes will take place. Who wins? It seems that most radio formats would do well if at least one buying demo went up to age 64. And yes, I know 35-64 has been available for decades, but let’s consider Dan’s 41-64 for the moment. News/talk will be helped along with classic rock (how many classic rock songs were recorded after the mid-80s?).
Those of us who are older don’t act like our parents (full disclosure: I do not fall in any of Dan Mason’s new demos) so I can see Adult Contemporary, Country, Urban AC, and other formats doing well. Public radio has also been aging so it may be easier to sell underwriting and their outside offerings that can carry spots. The various commercial Christian formats should look good, too.
Where does this leave us? If the industry truly believes that Nielsen should offer more demos, it’s time to ask the relevant questions and get the answers. Assuming Nielsen can make the software changes in a reasonable period of time, it’s up to the industry to convince agencies and advertisers of the value of these new demos over the ones they’ve used literally for generations. That will be no easy task, but making the data easily and readily available will help.
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].
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.