I’m willing to bet there aren’t a ton of radio talkers that got their start informing students about Salisbury steak and Tater Tots.
“I used to deliver the morning public announcements in school,” said Larry Gifford. “I’d say, ‘Good morning Westerville North, this is Larry Gifford with your lunch menu.” He’d also travel around with his high school band and serve as their announcer.
Gifford’s radio career includes stints as a news and sports producer, reporter, anchor, program director, and radio consultant. These jobs took him across the United States and into Canada. He worked in Dayton, Philadelphia, Los Angeles (twice), Columbus, Bristol, CT, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC.
As a kid, Gifford’s mom or dad would be there for every baseball, basketball, or football game, swim meet, and soccer match. “They got to see me as I rode the bench, threw a wild pitch, or stood alone on the soccer pitch picking daisies,” Gifford jokes.
“I think I wrestled for three days in school, was on the swim team. I played baseball for seven years. I think I was hurt more times than I played. In soccer, we were like the Bad News Bears. My big move was to always find a corner and stand there. The best part about playing soccer was the orange slices at halftime.”
Currently living with his family in Canada, Gifford says the work climate is vastly different from the United States. If you’re concerned about your longevity in the crazy radio business, move to Canada. Your career will be golden. “You’re pretty much a lifetime presence in Canada. People don’t move around too much,” said Gifford.
Newstalk in Canada doesn’t live solely on the right and left politics. Not everything is radical or extreme, and some of it would be considered fluff on U.S. Talk Stations. Gifford calls it lifestyle content. “Canadians are nice people, apologizing for everything,” Gifford said.
“That said, they’re passionate about their radio and want their stations to be good. There’s no room for yelling, just conversation. They know there are three sides to every story, and they don’t mind if the host has a differing opinion than theirs, as long as they listen to or acknowledge the other positions.”
He hasn’t moved at all since moving to Vancouver, B.C., six years ago. “Folks in radio don’t give much thought to moving market-to-market to climb the ladder as many radio veterans have done in the U.S.” Gifford also notes it is easier to be a ‘star’ in Canada, “Canada is 25 times the size of California, but the country has three million fewer citizens than the state.
Additionally, Canada has fewer than 1,000 radio stations while there are more than 15,000 in the United States.” That makes it easier to become recognized as a Canadian or National personality than in the U.S.
Gifford says there is a limited appeal in Canada when it comes to sports and sports talk radio. “We have some CFL fans and old-timers like their baseball. The NHL is king, and the NFL does well.” Gifford has worked in markets where there were simultaneously four sports talk show stations.
“That’s the maximum number, and Los Angeles found that. We try to do multiple stations in Toronto and Vancouver, but there’s just not enough listening to go around.”
He said sports listeners are far more fanatical in the United States than north of the border. “They’re listening all the time,” Gifford explained. “We’ve got a lot of fair-weather fans in Canada. Then again, you always have some people that live and die with the Blue Jays and Raptors.
Before Canada, Gifford was raised in Westerville, Ohio, and is the youngest of four siblings. Gifford admits he was the less coordinated one of the bunch. He intended to major in theater at college, but that didn’t last more than a week.
“They wanted me to buy a dance belt,” Gifford said. A dance belt is basically a jock strap for guys who aren’t playing sports. Goodbye theater, hello radio. “I walked around the corner and discovered the radio station. It was a perfect fit; it was for me.”
He believes that radio is a ‘theater of the mind.’ “I spent a lot of time in the audio rooms, mostly listening to sound effects, chopping audio on multi-track reel to reel machines with grease pencils and razor blades. I just wanted to see what worlds I could create with audio.”
As a kid, he started listening to a ton of talk radio, which was not always something he enjoyed. “I’d be in the backseat asking my father to turn on some music, but he was deaf in one ear and listening to 610 WTVN or 700 WLW with the other.”
Why are some talk shows more successful than others?
Gifford said respect and chemistry between hosts and the off-air support team are vital. Success depends on it. “When I worked with Mike and Mike in the Morning at ESPN, they probably had the most popular sports radio show in the country,” Gifford said.
“The key was clearly defining their roles. We helped them to identify distinguishing character traits they could leverage through the show. All hosts should be aware of what makes them unique and find ways to authentically insert themselves into the conversation. We are always getting new listeners, so these traits become quick reference points to explain to the audience what their role is in the show.”
“I like it when both of the hosts believe the same thing and end up “crusading” or pushing against the audience,” Gifford said.
“I also like hosts that debate each other, add some friction or alternative perspectives. It prompts listeners to share their own opinions too. The best way to get an opinion is to give an opinion. It’s your show; let them react to what you believe to be true. As Colin Cowherd would say, ‘I don’t have to be right. I just need to be interesting.’”
Coaching talent is a bit different from being a Programmer. Gifford believes everybody needs coaching. There are a lot of ways you can get that coaching. “One thing I believe in is improv training for hosts and producers. It’s so important, I factor talent development into my budgets. I’ll bring in a professional improv comedian to do a three-hour workshop.”
“They will create situations that require the talent to think differently and provide tools on how to set up your partner to succeed and how to ‘Yes, and…’ as you build your show collectively. As a host, success isn’t ‘winning the segment,’ it’s when you set up your co-host to be successful.”
Gifford believes radio is show business. Talkers need structure, tools, or “plays’ they can use to approach topics with intention. It’s ‘planned spontaneity.’ You are still unscripted, but you start the discussion with a vision of how it will end. The conversation will always be more interesting when the whole show unit knows the goal of the segment.
Gifford believes forethought and intention are key for great producers and hosts. “Most believe their first thought on something is totally original,” he said. “It’s not. I teach producers and hosts to write down their first two ideas and throw them away. The third thought will be much more interesting and original.”
As it relates to interviews, most hosts interject too much. Listeners don’t get as much from the guest as they do with the interviewer. “If the host talks too much, they will take the oxygen out of the room. You must leave room for the guest to share stories and insights by asking lean, neutral, and open-ended questions.”
Sometimes you’re fired; other times, you have to seek change for your own growth. “If you are fired, it doesn’t mean you suck,” assures Gifford. The P.D. is building a lineup. You may be great at what you do, but it doesn’t fit the needs of the station. Each stop on your journey is a learning experience. That’s how I approach it,” Gifford said.
Gifford was sports director in Philadelphia at an F.M. News Talker, where nobody else knew anything about sports. “I approached everything I did from a fan’s perspective. I was never degrading casual fans. I figured I had sixty seconds to get one nugget, one bit of analysis that people will take with them to lunch to tell their friends.”
He’d go to professional sports training camps all the time. Most of his interviews were before the game. “I’d ask questions that were away from the game, like, “What did you do this summer? How do relax after a loss?” It’s about being entertaining, making it feel like I’m hanging out with them.
There are times when you feel the need for change.
“I went on vacation with my wife and told her something didn’t feel right about my current job. She interviewed and got a job in public relations while we were in Los Angeles. It just happened. I called the station and gave them two weeks’ notice.” Six months later, Gifford was Sports Director at Fox Sports Radio in L.A., and the station he left behind imploded, and everyone was fired.
Coaching talent was and continues to be a huge part of his job. In keeping with that, Gifford found ways to lure them into the office to chat.
“I’d keep a candy jar on my desk to get them to interact,” Gifford said.
“I’d find out their favorite candies and fill it up. Guys would come in to grab candy before, during, and after shows. That was a good thing. Over time, I moved the candy further and further from the door. They take a piece of candy, say hello. And we begin talking about their show.
Gifford said he always tries to offer coaching and criticism in private, away from the office. If we were on the road, I’d talk with Dan Patrick about some issues we were having. With Colin Cowherd, I’d meet up with him for dinner and go over the show.”
Gifford thinks former athletes are easy to coach as they’re used to following directions, “They’ve been told what to do their whole life. They’ve watched game tapes, practiced plays, and studied film.”
“Usually, if you explain why you want them to do something, they apply it almost immediately. They just want to know what’s working and how they can get better,” Gifford also says higher-profile talent are typically easier to coach because it’s a conversation about maximizing their talent and strengths and less about development.
Of course, some talents are resistant and don’t like it, and some programmers over-analyze everything. “My first P.D. gig, I butted heads with my afternoon host,” Gifford said. “I regret it. Looking back, I was kind of a jerk. I thought my job was to “manage” and “direct,” and I should have been a coach building a championship team.”
In smaller markets, some of the talents are new and feel embarrassed or intimidated when faced with feedback, especially when it is critical of their on-air performance.
“There’s something hosts need to know when they think about radio P.D.s. Our opinions are just that, our opinions. Right or wrong, our job is to make decisions on what’s going to help the station win and what’s impeding its success. While you’re working for a particular P.D., you either have to adhere to their way of doing business or find another situation.”
When Gifford was a consultant, many talents would hire him directly because they weren’t getting any constructive feedback from their manager. “There weren’t a whole lot of programmers that had time or even had the training to coach talent. At one point, I was coaching five top radio morning shows in the U.S.”
Gifford’s superpower is his networking ability. “If I see someone that might thrive in another market, I’ll bring it up to a friend in the business. I like to observe and fit puzzles together.”
Part of that superpower includes being a good judge of talent and potential. “Tony Romo is very good at what he does. When I watch him, I learn things. I love when he predicts things. I like that he’s taking chances on the air; he sees the whole field. He makes me a better fan.”
You may consider Romo a modern-day John Madden. Gifford doesn’t see it that way. “I think Romo has more substance than Madden. Don’t get me wrong, in Madden’s prime, he was the best, but towards the end, there was a lot of blusters and filling time.”
“He became a bit of a caricature of himself. We liked listening to Madden because there are certain announcers from our youth that get us excited about the game and remind us of how thrilling it was when we first discovered the joy of sports. I was lucky to be in L.A. while we still had Chick Hearn doing the Lakers and Vin Scully doing the Dodgers. It was the best. It couldn’t have been any better.”
Those guys could make reading the hot lunch menu sound pretty good too.
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].
Why I’m Jumping Back Into Local TV
I want to join the fight for light that disinfects from the front lines. And there is no more advanced position than local news.
Yesterday, I started what I believe will be the final phase of my nearly 50-year career in broadcasting, spanning both radio and TV.
I have roamed the streets of San Francisco looking for breaking news as the late news reporter at KPIX-TV. I picked garlic in the fields of Gilroy to expose the terrible working conditions of California farmworkers for KCBS Radio.
In Chicago, I helped topple the democratic machine by exposing the dead voters registered in the Mayor’s race that tried to prevent Harold Washington — the city’s first black mayor — from winning an election.
Next stop? Los Angeles, where I covered the O.J. Simpson trial for KNBC, coverage that earned the station an Emmy and Golden Mic awards. It also earned me a ticket to NBC network news where I became a national correspondent for Tom Brokaw’s Nightly News. Our team picked up an Emmy for the flood and fire that destroyed Grand Forks, North Dakota, and led to assignments in New York for 9/11 and then off to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Next up were 18 intense years at ABC, where I served as 20/20 correspondent, Primetime correspondent, Senior Law and Justice correspondent, Senior National correspondent, and finally White House correspondent.
In 2020, after health issues, I retired and was offered the opportunity by Barrett News Media to write about the only true profession I have ever known. No longer bound by the rules of just the facts, I was invited to give my opinion on the junction of news and politics. I have enjoyed it and thank Jason Barrett — and you, the readers — for taking the time to follow my thoughts on the great institution of the news media.
But now it is time to return to actual journalism. I have been offered the privilege of reporting again. I have started a new adventure at KGTV ABC10 in San Diego. The location is ideal and the job as Senior Investigative Reporter will be a welcome challenge and a break from the retired life.
It also comes at a time when journalism is under attack by those who feel their opinions trump facts. (Pun intended).
So I want to join the fight for light that disinfects from the front lines. And there is no more advanced position than local news. I will be holding authorities and politicians to account. Keeping big business honest by protecting the little guy. I take pride in my career in journalism and I want young reporters to be proud as well. A free press unintimidated by would-be dictators is what is needed now more than ever.
So thanks, and once again, I will see you on TV.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.
Is Oliver Stone the Michael Moore of 2024?
“They went too far in hating and in dumping on Trump. And people don’t like that in America. People don’t like dumping on. They did it too much.”
In mid-2016, Americans felt the tide turning — with the country rallying around a Donald Trump electoral victory — when liberal filmmaker Michael Moore predicted Trump would win Michigan and the election. Could Oliver Stone be on a similar path in 2024?
Moore was prescient. He heard the people and could sense their overwhelming sentiment. More than anything, he was sounding the alarm bells for his fellow Democrats for what he felt was about to happen.
Last week a media member may have unknowingly let free the 2024 canary in the coal mine, and interestingly, this canary may have been another controversial filmmaker.
Oliver Stone appeared on Bill Maher’s podcast, Club Random, last week and seemed to echo many of the same sentiments from Moore’s premonition eight years earlier.
“Well, I mean, he doesn’t concede elections,” Maher said, bringing up President Trump in the far-ranging, free-flowing conversation. “You know, ‘The elections only count if we win’ theory of government. Okay. Well, come on. You know, Trump, he still has not conceded the election. He has not conceded. He does not honor them.”
“I mean, do you know for a fact that he lost? I’m just curious,” Stone responded. “I just don’t know all of the facts.”
Maher seemed astounded.
“Well, I do. Is there a conspiracy theory that you don’t believe?” Maher asked Stone.
Perhaps Stone was referring to the piles of historical incongruencies and facts, all of which indicated a Trump 2020 win.
No sitting president in the modern era has received more votes for re-election than in his initial election and lost.
Of the 18 most dependable “swing counties” that normally indicate an electoral winner, Trump won 18 of 19. Yet, he lost the election.
No Republican had ever won Florida, Ohio, and Iowa – considered to be a broad cross-section of the American electorate – and lost. Until Trump.
It is difficult to put Oliver Stone in a political box. He has mostly seemed to favor the libertarian philosophy of less government intrusion. On occasion, he has been critical of Trump, while also acknowledging the former President’s ability to tap into populist sentiment that the two seem to share. Less war. Fewer government shackles. More individual and economic freedom.
“I’m just asking you. I’m not an expert on the election,” Stone told Maher. “I’m not a political junkie. You are. And you follow it very closely.”
“Alright then, I’ll give you the thumbnail sketch,” an agitated Maher said. “They tried it in like 60 courts. It was laughed out of every court, including by Republican judges. The people who saved this democracy were Republicans. Good Republicans. In states where Trump pressured them. Like the guy, the one he’s on trial for in Georgia. ‘Find me 11,000 votes.’ It’s on tape. A guy like that saying to him, ‘Sir, we just don’t do that here. I voted for you. I’m a Republican, but we just don’t do that.’ That’s what saved us. And they were Republicans.”
One of the most accurate political pollsters of the modern age, Richard Baris of Big Data Poll, posted on X that “Not even Oliver Stone buys it. Notice when (Bill Maher) tried to dismiss and refute his election concerns, he used a demonstrably false claim to ‘disprove’ it. Oliver, Bill is full of shit. It was not ‘tried’ in 70 courts. Judges used standing to dodge.”
Baris continued in another post, saying, “Also, (Bill Maher) grossly mischaracterized the phone call, using the common fake news talking points that Trump asked the (Georgia Secretary of State) to ‘find 11k votes’. Don’t be lazy, Bill. Read the transcript yourself. He was talking about signature verification and votes not properly scrutinized.”
In the podcast with Maher, Stone went on to say that he had major problems with the outcome of the 2000 election, which resulted in the victory of President George W. Bush. He similarly indicated that he didn’t think 2020 passed the smell test.
“I don’t know. I mean, you went through the 2000 election. That was horrifying to me, what happened when the Supreme Court closed that down.” Stone said.
“What should we do?” Maher asked. “Do we just keep counting votes forever? Or should we still be counting them now?”
“No. Count them correctly,” Stone responded. “Let’s just get rid of the electoral college. Let’s do a popular vote.”
Oliver Stone continued, calling out the media for their biased reporting in the era of Trump.
“I don’t know the facts,” Stone said. “And I think I would trust the accountants more than the politicians. And I’d like to know what the accountants, the guys who vote, who know the most about votes, who do the Electoral Commissions. I can’t take Biden’s word for it on anything.”
“Well, I mean, if there’s nothing that can be said or argued that would convince you,” Maher offered.
“I think what shocked people is that Trump got so many votes. You know, that was what was shocking. That he did so well compared to what he was expected to do,” Stone said. “Because we believed all the East Coast media.”
“Then why do you believe he could have lost?” Maher asked his guest about Biden.
“We believed all the East Coast media elite that he was going to fail and boom, they were wrong. We would love to see them being wrong, don’t we? The media elite,” Stone said. “They went too far in hating and in dumping on Trump. And people don’t like that in America. People don’t like dumping on. They did it too much.”
Bill Maher even agreed with Stone, admitting that the media no longer attempts to give a balanced, truthful reporting of the day’s events. In addition, neither mentioned the years-long, Democrat-led coup attempt that was designed to trick the public into thinking Trump was a Russian agent. Most of the mainstream media parroted the hoax.
“I was actually having this discussion about the CNN network recently. And, you know, I want there to be a CNN in the world. You know, something that I used to be able to count on. And I still do, some of it. Give it to me straight, Doc. Just give me the news,” Maher said.
“And, you know, they had this town hall with Trump about six months ago. And it was, they took a lot of flack for it. But he was adored by the audience who were Republicans, I guess, and independents. I think they said both. But whoever it was, they fucking loved him. And then the panel comes on after and they do nothing but shit on Trump and what a liar he is.”
Like Michael Moore eight years prior, Oliver Stone seemed to be sounding the alarm bell about what’s over the horizon, a mere 11 months from now. He concluded by drawing the analogy of Trump to a legendary baseball player who was famously banished from the game over gambling allegations a few decades ago.
“I think a lot of people liked him because he got dumped on so, so much. It’s like Pete Rose. You know, when he quit. Yeah. A lot of people started to resent the media for the dumping on Pete Rose.”
Oliver Stone is sounding the alarm. And the chirping canary very well may crescendo in 2024.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
How Did Trust in Media Reach All-Time Lows?
Somewhere along the line, Americans must agree on the facts, or we will continue to be a divided nation.
In my previous column, I wrote about Americans losing trust in the media.
Both conservatives and liberals can find ample examples to demonstrate why specific media sources are no longer trustworthy.
We have become a nation of two tribes. Each side has sources of news that it believes and considers the other side fake news or even propaganda.
The Economist and YouGov published a poll earlier this spring measuring how much trust Americans place in 56 media outlets, including social media.
Respondents were asked whether they “trust, distrust, or neither trust nor distrust” each media organization. The percentage of trust minus mistrust scores was calculated to create a “net trust score” for each.
Overall, The Weather Channel, arguably the only non-political entity measured, is the most trusted news source. It is ironic, considering how often we all complain about the “weather people” getting it wrong. Democrats (+64) and Republicans (+47) trust The Weather Channel.
The top four most trusted organizations were the same as the 2022 YouGov survey.
Here are the overall rankings of the 45 organizations published in the Economist-YouGov Poll.
- The Weather Channel +53
- Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) +30
- The BBC +29
- The Wall Street Journal +24
- Forbes +23
- The Associated Press +22
- ABC +21
- USA Today +21
- CBS +20
- Reuters +20
- NBC +19
- TIME Magazine +18
- The Washington Post +18
- National Public Radio (NPR) +16
- The Economist +16
- Business Insider +16
- The Guardian +15
- C-SPAN +14
- The New York Times +12
- Newsweek +12
- The New Yorker +10
- Bloomberg +10
- The Atlantic +10
- The National Review +8
- CNN +7
- New York Post +7
- The Hill +7
- Yahoo News +7
- Newsmax +6
- Axios +6
- Politico +6
- MSNBC +5
- One America News (OAN) +4
- The Washington Examiner +4
- Fox News +3
- The Federalist +3
- Slate +3
- Al Jazeera +1
- The Daily Beast +1
- HuffPost +1
- BuzzFeed News ±0
- Daily Kos −1
- Breitbart News −3
- The Daily Caller −4
- Infowars −16
Note: People who say the media organization is neither trustworthy nor untrustworthy, or that they don’t know, are not included in the calculation.
The differences between Democrats and Republicans are remarkable. In general, Republicans have less trust in the media overall.
Republicans have the most trust in Fox News and positive trust only in Fox News, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
Independents have a slight degree of trust in most news organizations, while Democrats have a significant degree of confidence in most of the media groups measured, except for Fox News.
|Organization||Democrat Net Trust||Independent Net Trust||Republican Net Trust|
|New York Post||+18||-1||+3|
|New York Times||+53||+8||-30|
|Wall Street Journal||+42||+19||+9|
Republicans and Democrats see information through completely different filters. The results for the entire survey, including crosstabs, can be found here.
Somewhere along the line, Americans must agree on the facts, or we will continue to be a divided nation. The media needs to do its part to bridge the divide.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at an[email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.