Mandy Connell once earned her living in the air, not on it. This was during an era they served full meals and champagne, not just a bag of crumpled, stale peanuts. You had leg room and didn’t have to kiss your knees from New York to Denver.
“I was still in school at Florida State University,” Connell said. “I met a Delta Airlines flight attendant in a bar, and she said she thought they were hiring.” Initially, the woman at the bar said it might take months to get an interview, but Connell was hired and started training as a flight attendant a few weeks later.
Connell said a lot of her life has worked out that way. Serendipitous opportunities have always seemed to come her way.
This next bit of happenstance changed her life–for a second time.
She was mostly on “reserve,” but when holding a rare regular schedule one month, Connell was chatting with another flight attendant about a mid-air fight between passengers a couple of weeks before. “She asked what I did, and I jokingly told her I jumped on the P.A. and gave the passengers a blow-by-blow description for those that didn’t have good seats.”
When she described the fight, there was a gentleman passenger nearby who heard Connell talking.
“The man told me I should be on the radio or television,” she said. “He gave me his card. I thought, ‘Great, this guy wanted to get me on his casting couch.’” On her return trip the next week, the man was again on the flight she was working, this time with his wife.
“He pointed at me and told his wife I was the woman he told her about.”
It turns out this man was Dick Robinson; someone Connell calls a radio legend.
“He owned the Connecticut School of Broadcasting,” Connell said. “He still does.”
“One thing led to another, and I was offered a scholarship at Robinson’s Connecticut School of Broadcasting.” She said Robinson’s daughter was about her age, and he sent her to pick Connell up at the airport. “We had lunch at his home. He showed me his office, and there was a wall completely filled with photographs with him and everybody; the Pope, presidents, just about anyone who was anyone.”
Upon graduation from broadcasting school, Connell took an internship in Miami at WINZ. “I was with Clear Channel when they launched the first digital system,” she said. “I was an unpaid intern, and I was helping paid people learn Audiovault.” That led to some promotions. “Then I got a crappy job two night a week from 7 to 3 am, doing weather on the top of the hour. It was a lousy job but a magical experience.”
Like most jobs in radio, you never forget your first.
After that gig, Connell said a solid opportunity came when she was hired as a producer of a radio show on 104.1 in Orlando. “I had a falling-out with the host of the show,” Connell said. “I made some mistakes I won’t do again. Don’t date the host is all I can say..” Connell said that was a huge career lesson for her, but she learned how to run a radio show.
Self-described as ridiculously honest, Connell said she’s not afraid to upset the rules if they’re bad rules. “I just think living honestly is a good way to live. I’ve taken my work seriously.”
Her show airs daily from noon-3 pm on KOA 850 AM and 94.1FM in Denver. Connell starts her workday by gathering ideas for the show. “I get up at six, take my daughter to school, and I’m ingesting the news all morning. I don’t start my show until noon. I mostly focus on things that strike my fancy.”
She said topics that can drive a reaction from listeners are always in her mind. “We just did a show about a poll about Black Americans and things that mattered to them. We unpacked everything in there. That was super cool.” She said some hosts might take a snippet of that topic, but she quickly discovered it had so much more to offer.
Connell said she wouldn’t talk about anything on her show unless she got excited about it. “I don’t like taking topics into the next hour. People tend to repeat themselves, and nobody wants to hear that.” At the same time, Connell knows new listeners come along every hour, so it’s a judgment call.
Her show covers news of the day, ridiculous topics you talk about with your friends, and interviews with newsmakers and shakers Connell finds interesting. “No day is like another, and every day is a potential train wreck. And I mean that in the best possible way.”
When I spoke with Connell, there was a leak from the Supreme Court regarding abolishing Roe v Wade. You’d think that would be an A-list topic for a talk show. That is not the case with Connell.
“Even though I talked about it on my show, it’s a loser topic. The leak from the Supreme Court would have been the top story on any other day.”
It’s not going to sway people one way or another. They’re already entrenched in their views.”
The future of radio is something Connell thinks about all the time.
“For us, we are looking at streaming options as a huge part of the next era,” she said. “I don’t know if the radio industry goes away permanently. It’s like when cable came out in the 70s. Everybody was sure network television was going away. I’m loath to say radio will go away.”
Does she march to a different drummer? Connell thinks so. “I tell my daughter my brain doesn’t work like other people’s brains,” she said. “I think my gift as a talk show host is because I look at things that are disconnected and bring them together. Some people think I’ve lost my mind, but it works for me.” Connell sometimes said her show could be schizophrenic, and she likes that.
On her show, they do a question of the week, and it is often a bit out there. “It’s always a philosophical question, no specific answer,” she said. “Sometimes our answers make us sound like bad people,” she jokes.
Connell admits she leads a simple and relatively dull life off the air.
“I’m a combination of a newshound and introvert. I only read on vacation, but most of it is for the show. I’ve got a stack of books on my bedside table that are mocking me.” Film and television are out too.
“I hike a lot,” she said. “I don’t ski, golf, but boy, can I walk.” She’s doing this hiking in Colorado. You know, the same terrain dangerous wild animals call home. “I’ve never seen a mountain lion or moose. Those moose can kill you.”
She said while Covid-19 was truly a global tragedy, it wasn’t so bad for her. “I got to work from home. I don’t like running around like a crazy person. I’ve got a full studio in my home.”
“I tell people all the time; Covid was very good for me. I was able to shut down and evaluate what was important in my life.”
One thing is certain. When someone tells Connell to ‘Take a Hike,’ she’s more than happy to oblige.
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].
In News/Talk Radio, Sometimes It’s Ok to Break the Format
Sometimes, it’s ok to skip a break or two if the content is so compelling that you know your listeners can’t get enough.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As hosts, we spend hours preparing for our radio shows. Reading, listening, and consuming news of all kinds. Putting together a road map for every program. Figuring out where potential guests might fit into each hour, if at all. It’s a daily puzzle, but occasionally we have reminders that plans can, and should, go up in flames when appropriate.
Last week was a week of chaos in Kansas City, as one woman was killed and nearly two dozen injured, including one dozen children, following a shooting shortly after the Chiefs Super Bowl parade wrapped up in front of Union Station.
As broadcasters, we are asked to give the facts to update the public on a minute-by-minute basis as to what is happening in their community, but then, as talk show hosts, we are also required to opine and create engaging content around the tragic news that impacts our communities.
It’s a fine line to walk, at times, especially considering the amount of misinformation that can rapidly circulate on social media, with far too much attention being given to being “first” rather than being “right”.
And while we are working to navigate news that is constantly changing, when there’s a moment to “break the clock”, so to speak, it’s worth doing.
Friday morning, 36 hours after the shooting, FS1’s Nick Wright offered to come on my show to debate gun control, which he had been advocating for on his platforms since Wednesday afternoon.
I had used my social media to refute many of his points, which led to his suggestion that he join my show that morning and debate on the air. The entire backstory was written about here on Barrett News Media.
This came together 30 minutes before he appeared on the air. And there goes the show plans.
The conversation began at 8:05 am, and I thought to myself, if this is going well, I will keep him through a break and wrap around to the bottom of the hour.
It became apparent in the first 60 seconds that this was not going to be a hold-over conversation and that it was going to be intense. At that point, I decided to let the conversation ride as long as it felt like it was engaging content for the audience.
That meant three breaks and the news reports had to go. Don’t worry, sales staff, we made it all up!
But I also did something I usually don’t do, I monitored our KCMO Talk Radio stream in real-time, which was jumping 15-20% each quarter hour as the conversation continued.
As for the content of the conversation, you can listen to that on our podcast and determine for yourself how you feel it went (and I’d be open to your critical feedback).
But from a radio formatics standpoint, there are times, albeit very infrequently, when breaking the clock and the format of the hour makes sense. It has to be a feel, as much as anything else, but remember, with real-time streaming numbers that you should have access to, you can use the immediate technology available to you to at least get one data point that might clue you into if your gut is right.
In the meantime, keep hitting your breaks, getting your spots in on time, and playing by the PPM-friendly rules. Your GM, sales manager, and program director will appreciate 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.
Saluting Black Broadcasters: Arthel Neville, Fox News
“Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race.”
True to herself and true to the truth, Arthel Neville has graced TV screens for over 20 years. From hosting entertainment news, to acting, and for the last 10 years anchoring at Fox News, Neville said her successful career is thanks to, “A lot of hard work and it worked out and paid off.”
Growing up in New Orleans, music and celebrities we a part of Neville’s life, thanks to her famous musician father, Art Neville. Despite the fame, the Neville’s kept home life humble. “He was always daddy. He’d come home, he’d help me with my homework in the daytime because his work was at nighttime. He helped clean the house and mow the lawn and just regular stuff.” She later added, “I was always exposed to celebrities and people who had not your standard jobs, if you will. But I was always raised to just be humble, and it always just normal to me. So that was no different than if your dad went to work at a bank every day.”
After high school, Arthel Neville went to Xavier University, where she turned pre-pharmacy and made the Dean’s list. But while she was in school, “I was doing some local commercials in New Orleans. I got a regional, commercial for Burger King at the time. In my first year of college, I took a gap year.”
Neville went to New York and stayed with her dad’s friends and gave acting a full-time shot.
“I went up there and did the cattle calls like everybody else but I also got an opportunity to work on Saturday Night Live as an extra,” Neville said. She also appeared on All My Children but after 12 months, “I knew my mom told me, ‘You have one year and you have to go back to college.’ So I said alright. I didn’t get this really major part in the soap opera and then I knew that was time to go.”
Transferring schools, Arthel Neville landed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She picked the school because “At the time Dallas had a major production facility complex. So I could work to help pay for my college.” She put together a tape and a colleague connected her with a KVUE Executive Producer.
KVUE hired Neville and she transferred to the University of Texas. For two and a half years, she went to school and worked as a full-time student and full-time general assignment reporter. Neville said of the time, “I would go to class from 8 AM to 1 PM and then I go to work from 1:30 PM to 10:30 PM.” She later added, “My days off at the time were Tuesday and Wednesday because, you know, low man on the totem pole then. So you see this cycle of just nonstop working and working and rarely I would get a holiday off my vacation time.”
Neville did the market climb until she got her national break as an entertainment reporter on E! “I had my own celebrity one-on-one celebrity interview show for E!. This was before everybody and their grandmother was doing celebrity interviews. So it was a really big deal and it was a 30-minute show. So again, that was a big deal.” She later added, “I’m still very, very proud of that work to this day. Really quality work. So once you get on that plane, offers start to come in. You get a lot of attention.”
Arthel Neville made appearances on several shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Moesha, and Monk. She noted, “You’re a celebrity at that point and then they call you in and word got around that I can act. So I kept getting the calls and I had a lot of fun doing that. I loved it, really a lot of fun.” She added, “After a while, I decided to leave the entertainment space and get back into hard news because I figured that that is what would provide the most longevity.”
Over the years, Neville has covered thousands of stories. But the most meaningful to her is her work after Hurricane Katrina.
“As a journalist, the story is not about us. When that story was about me, that was personal. That was my hometown ravaged and that was we lost. We lost a collective of ten family homes. I will say no one [in my family] died in this storm, thank God.”
Arthel Neville later added, “I mean, there are times when I’m out there just in a boat going to my house, I’m going to break down because I’m a person. Even writing the story had a lot of crying. I did [cry] some on camera because I’m not trying to make it about me, but I’m also a person. But mostly off-camera. That was the most difficult assignment of my life because it was personal.”
Arthel Neville has made history several times in the industry. At E!, she became the first African-American woman to host a nationally syndicated entertainment news magazine program. More recently being awarded the DeWitt Carter Reddick award from Moody College of Communications in 2017, their first African American female honoree.
When asked what Black History Month meant to her she focused less on race and more on what commonalities we, the human race, have.
“I am a Black woman 12 months of the year, 365 days of the year. So Black History Month is nice for other people who don’t walk my path and live my life to maybe stop, and focus on people who have created created a pathway not just for me, but for you and everybody else. It’s not just for Black people. People who have come in before us, who have made things better for the country.”
She later added, “Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race. So stop it with the looking at people from the perspective you think they’re different from you because they look different. We’re all human beings and let’s take that. Take this month to focus on that. Love each other.”
Krystina Alarcon Carroll is a columnist and features writer for Barrett News Media.She currently freelances at WPIX in New York, and has previously worked on live, streamed, and syndicated TV programs. Her prior employers have included NY1, Fox News Digital, Law & Crime Network, and Newsmax. You can find Krystina on X (formerly twitter) @KrystinaAlaCarr.
Radio — The Communication Business Where We Don’t Communicate
Corporate policies are cold and rigid.
When I was a radio program director in the 1970s and 80s personally responding to job applicants was an important part of every work day. Nobody told me to do it, it was just obvious. Replying to letters from people who mailed me their personal introductions, resumes, and airchecks was as important to me as if they had made an appointment and were seated in my office, freshly scrubbed, smiling with hope, and making their best first impression.
Every afternoon I read their letters and resumes. I listened attentively to their carefully packaged tapes as if mining for a rare gem, which I was. I wrote encouraging letters to them whether I had a possible job for them or not. I took unexpected phone calls from job applicants.
Why wouldn’t I? These were passionate broadcasters offering their unique, hard-earned experience. They respected our station and were excited for an opportunity to join us. Besides, I’d been in their position myself and would be again. These hopeful young talents deserved my attention. To me, as a program manager, it was my primary responsibility.
None of this happens anymore. Radio job seekers today have to run a gauntlet of dehumanizing corporate job websites. When you’ve filled in all the blanks and linked the resume you spent hours perfecting you hold your breath and click “submit”. You did it! The website immediately gives you the impersonal assurance that your application has been received. You wonder if that’s true. You may never really know.
Bob Helbig is the media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. He recently found that while 60% of employers surveyed said they felt they regularly communicated with applicants, only 28% of job seekers said they felt the communication was sufficient.
Corporate policies are cold and rigid. I recently talked with a major market talk radio program director who asked to remain anonymous, which in itself tells the tale. He told me he’s not even allowed to take word-of-mouth recommendations for new hires. Email and phone inquiries are out of the question. When somebody tells him, “Hey, I know a great reporter you should talk to,” all he can reply is, “Please tell them to apply online.” The most he can do is file a name in his memory and hope it pops up in the HR-approved list of candidates.
Back in the day, I would have phoned that reporter and invited him or her to come in and talk.
As a job applicant, you know you face strong competition. All the career websites offer volumes of advice about how to prepare a strong resume to stand out from the crowd. You’ve done that. You plug it into the web portal, hoping to make an impression. You count the days since you submitted your application and check your email many times daily hoping for an encouraging reply from a real human, maybe even from the big-name program director who holds the key to your future.
Patience. You have to wait still longer.
After a few days, you wonder if a real person has even seen your application or if the algorithm is just weeding people out. Yes, indeed it is.
Artificial Intelligence now entering the process might speed things up a bit but it won’t help your need for human contact. God forbid AI takes over the screening process entirely but you can’t rule that out.
Nobody writes or calls even to say, “Thanks for your interest, we’ll get back to you.” You’re left to wonder if your love of radio, your hard work, and your beautifully written pitch even landed before a real person’s eyes.
The worst part is knowing that hearing nothing is nothing personal.
Jeff Altman is a career coach and host of the No BS Job Search Advice Radio podcast. He told Forbes, “The hiring process has been turned into sausage-making. People apply for jobs through an applicant tracking system where they are expected to homogenize their experience so they are plucked from the thousands of others. They are asked the same questions by most employers until, eventually, they are chosen and onboarded.”
How did we get to this complex and impersonal process? Laws, of course. Federal and state mandates to prevent any form of discrimination in hiring practices are good things but they don’t allow for human integrity and discretion. They’re ironclad. The difficulty for HR departments lies in making sure that the rules are followed to the letter by management employees who are not lawyers. The list of federal regulations alone is long and daunting.
“For instance, you can’t ask questions that reveal a person’s race, gender, religion, marital status, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, or age on an application or during an interview. This information could lead to biases and discrimination in the hiring process.”
Those restrictions are fairly obvious these days but they’re just the tip of a large iceberg, most of which is hidden below the surface and beyond the limits of what program directors, news directors, sales, and other radio managers are expected to know. So, yes, the software is asking only legally acceptable questions before any live interviews can take place.
I really hate being the “back in my day” old fart but my god, is there no way we can allow a young person to walk into a radio station with stars in her or his eyes, and talk to somebody about their future?
Must we expect job applicants of the 21st Century to understand that’s just the way things are or could the process be massaged a bit to keep them hopeful and feeling less like a piece of uninspected data?
Would it be so hard to send job applicants a pleasant and somewhat personal email along the lines of: “Hi, Mark. I’m in the H.R. Department at BigTime Media and I want to thank you for your application for our on-air opening at News/Talk 95.3 WTF. I will call or text you when your qualifications have been reviewed and let you know whether you can expect a follow-up live interview with somebody at the station. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. – Sincerely, Mary Sunbeam, BigTime Media”.
Sure, it’s another form letter but at least it addresses the applicant by name, refers to the specific station, and gives them a sense of humanity and hope for future contact. Assigning applicants to a real-life personal H.R. staff member like Mary Sunbeam might require a little more effort but it would be an enormous boost to the company’s reputation.
There might be other ways to go about it. The point is people need to feel their applications are worthwhile and accepted with some degree of sincere gratitude.
The ugly irony is we’re in radio, yet we talk to people, not with them.
Dave Williams spun top-40 hits in Sacramento before RKO Radio snagged him as Program Director for K-Earth in L.A. and WHBQ, Memphis. He ultimately began 40 years as morning news host at KFBK, KFWB, KNX, and KLIF, earning ten AP awards with his partners as Best News Anchor Teams in California and Texas. Dave now hosts and produces a podcast featuring some of the biggest names in radio programming and management. You can find it on YouTube and top podcast audio apps at Conversations.buzz. Follow Dave on Twitter @RadioDave.