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Larry Gifford Has Experienced Great Radio in the U.S. and Canada

Gifford’s radio career includes stints as a news and sports producer, reporter, anchor, program director, and radio consultant.

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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. 

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1 Comment

  1. Jim Cutler

    June 6, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    Larry is one of the very best.

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BNM Writers

Soledad O’Brien Has Public Service at Heart in Her Reporting

O’Brien admits she didn’t fully grasp what public service reporting looked like until her coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

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(Photo: Hearst Media Production Group)

“Fearless,” “determined,” and “kind,” is how many former colleagues would describe Soledad O’Brien. Awarded the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation Insight Award this year at the NAB Show, the veteran journalist spoke with Barrett News Media about her career and what makes her work so impactful. 


Her love of people and figuring things out initially had O’Brien headed to Medical school. Realizing she wanted something else in life, the broadcaster found her passion translated nicely from medicine to journalism.

“I started working in a group called Centro, which was a Spanish language program at WBZ-TV. I just loved going into the newsroom because I loved the energy and the action,” O’Brien recalled. Another appeal was, “No matter if you had a great show or a terrible show, it was over and you started again.”

From WBZ-TV, she moved on to NBC News, KRON in San Fransisco, MSNBC, and back to NBC before joining CNN. For the last 11 years, the native Long Islander has been running a production company along with her own show Matter of Fact, a podcast (Who Killed JFK), and several documentaries.

This year she was honored with the LAFB Insight award for her outstanding journalistic body of work. The award comes after winning several honors in 2023, including a Peabody Award for her documentary on Rosa Parks, plus an Independent Spirit Award for a series mostly centered on Black women who are missing. Also in 2023, O’Brien was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.

Soledad O’Brien was humble about her accolades, saying “It’s always a really amazing thing when your colleagues give you an honor. When people who actually understand the business and know what it takes to do the work that you do say ‘We want to celebrate the work that you’re doing.’”

She noted how beautiful the ceremony was. “It just made me feel, outside of the 10 million hairstyles I’ve had over the years, the range of stories I had the opportunity to tell and be a part of. And, hopefully, I brought some insight and some perspective which was maybe different than what other people brought.”

She noted her most meaningful story was her time in New Orleans.

“I think as a reporter, it was a big turning point. I sort of figured out that reporting was about serving the public, and I’m not sure I 100% understood that before,” Soledad O’Brien admitted. “And it was an opportunity in a story to help people understand not just the storm and the damage, which was massive.

“If you thought Hurricane Katrina was about a storm, it really wasn’t. It was about the have and the have-not in America, right? It was about access, and it was about whose voices get heard, who gets elevated, and what does it mean to be in a relatively large city in America that doesn’t seem to be getting any help pretty fast. And it was about race in America, too, and all those things which made it a very dynamic and complex and complicated story.

“I got a lot of awards for covering that story, but I really enjoyed interviewing people and helping people understand. One question we get, ‘Why don’t people just leave?’ Well, if your parents and your grandparents all live on the same block, where are you going? Can you just pick up and move into a hotel for a month? Well, no, it just doesn’t really work like that. So, I think we were able to bring a lot of insight in that story, and also help people see the lives of people who honestly we don’t really spend a lot of time covering in daily news.”

Swapping out with her co-anchor every month, O’Brien recalled leaving the area.

“We were walking through the Baton Rouge airport, and I remember I had my CNN baseball cap on and there were no showers. I remember packing baby wipes. My kids were little. And I took those big bags of baby wipes, and that’s how we cleaned ourselves up. There were no showers, obviously. We lived in an RV on Canal Street. And I remember we got a standing ovation walking through the airport. I felt like it just was a sign that what we were doing was really valuable and important, and people needed us to help them understand what was happening.

“It was really remarkable. It was very it was very emotional. We felt like, ‘Oh, this job is about serving your viewers and also serving the people whose story is unfolding in their backyards. And they need help to get assistance to understand what’s happening and to get their own perspective out.’”

Today, Soledad O’Brien said she serves the public in several different ways, including on her show Matter of Fact.

“The whole entire ethos of our show is stories as diverse as America. So in an environment where the nation is quite divided and things are often tense and unpleasant, we’re actually, kind of cutting out the middleman.” She went on to say, “We don’t really focus on politicians. We really dig into how policy lands on people. So we’re much more interested in what people have to say about their experiences. And I think that’s been a very interesting perspective for us.”


With her and her team’s focus on voices that are often ignored in the media, she believes this niche is “Exactly an example of serving the public.” Her show is also able to avoid the typical talking heads saying her show is, “Helping people understand complicated issues and stories versus, the two people on TV, they’re diametrically opposed and let them yell at each other for four minutes. And then I’m going to say, ‘Oh my goodness, thank you so much for joining me. We got to go to break now.’ I’m not doing that. And I think because we’re focused on that service, it’s really made the show very successful and popular.”


Part two of Barrett’s conversation with Soledad O’Brien will be coming to a screen near you at a later date.

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Talk Radio Talent and Producer Coaching Tips From A Master — Part 2

“Mostly with the work that I do in spoken word, I think a producer is strongest when they help pull out your point or the best part of a topic.”

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David G. Hall is an international radio programming consultant who achieved fame in 1991 when he reinvented news and talk radio at KFI, Los Angeles.

I recently shared his insights into coaching talk radio talents.

In part two of our conversation, DGH talks about coaching producers and talent of shows
with multiple hosts.

DW: How do you coach producers? What do you need them to do for the talent?

DGH: Well, mostly with the work that I do in spoken word I think a producer is strongest when they help pull out your point or the best part of a topic. So you say, ‘Oh, we got to talk about this bridge collapse in Baltimore, man. I don’t really know what I want to say.’ And then the producer says, ‘Well, what pisses you off about it?’ Or, ‘What’s the thing that nobody gets?’ And you go, ‘Well, nobody understands X.’ Then the producer says, ‘That’s what you start with right there. There’s your way in and then you can explain it.’

So, (the producer’s job is) to kind of pull out from you what you really want to say, because sometimes it’s hard to find that on your own when you’re just doing everything in your head. So, your producer says, ‘Ok, that’s where you want to start right there,’ and then does whatever research is necessary to help you back that up or to come up with examples or come up with audio.

DW: What about two or three people shows? How do you get them on the same page consistently, learning to think like each other, and not make those hard left turns in conversations?

DGH: I have to deal with that a lot with shows where there’s more than one person. It’s important to help people in multiple-person shows understand you don’t have to say too much to get a lot of attention. A lot of people in that second chair want to keep talking because they feel like if they don’t talk, they’re going to be invisible. But it doesn’t work that way.

So I spent a lot of my time coaching people I would call the second chair people, but they’re really co-hosts, on how to be engaging in a certain way and how to not make a hard left where then all of a sudden you have the listeners, and worse, your co-host, going ‘What the hell? How do I respond to that?’ That comes up a lot. And in music morning shows, I try to keep them from talking over each other and stuff like that.

But the hard part comes with the payoff because when they’re doing a bit or they’re doing a benchmark, I want everybody laughing and smiling as the song starts, and as soon as everybody’s laughing and smiling, get the hell out and start the song. What happens is, especially if there’s more than two people, they one-up each other, right?

So somebody has the perfect out where they should hit the song and then the other person goes ‘Oh, no, no, no,’ and then they say something that causes the first person to try to beat that and before you know it you’ve got four punchlines, each one worse than the one before. Start the song, get the hell out, and prepare for your next bit.

DW: This is great stuff. What would you add or how would you summarize all of this for radio talents and the people who coach them?

DGH: I have three things. The first is you have to be consistent and regular. So if you’re gonna tell me to do this differently, you better show up in a week to remind me because all of us on the radio get stuck in habits and in a comfort zone, right?

So I’ll do what you say today and maybe tomorrow, and by the next day, maybe half. And then by the day after that, by Friday, I’m not doing it at all. So you better show up on Friday to say, ‘Hey, I heard you on Monday, man, you sounded great!’ Then help me break bad habits and set new ones, because we all are creatures of habit when we’re on the radio.

Second thing I would say is: be as specific as possible. It was never helpful to me when someone would say ‘Great show.’ Yeah. Ok, thanks, but that doesn’t mean anything to me.

But, when the market manager or PD says, ‘Yesterday when you interviewed that guy and you asked him this question, oh my god that was fantastic!’ As a talent with ego, I’m assuming he heard the entire show, even though he’s commenting on one thing. But that one thing is much more valuable than just ‘Hey, great show’. And then the third thing I would say is Joe Crummey. I don’t know if you know the name Joe Crummey.

DW: Yes, we’ve never met but we’ve become online friends. I love his work.

DGH: When I was first PD (at KFI), Joe Crummey said something key that I think about all the time when I’m working with talent and from when I was on the radio. He said, ‘When you’re on the radio, you walk a plank every single day and you just hope to God that you don’t fall off.

‘Because, unlike television, unlike Jon Stewart or Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert, we don’t have a writer’s room of 22 people sitting behind us thinking of every brilliant word we’re gonna say. You have to mostly do it yourself and mostly do it right off the top of your head. And if you’re on the radio three hours a day, five days a week, you are coming up with 15 hours of original content every week, walking a plank, not making a fool of yourself, not humiliating yourself, and not losing your train of thought.

It’s tough to create that much original content and to keep your train of thought and not humiliate yourself.’

DW: And to do it with no real-time feedback from the audience.

DGH: Right, exactly. You have no idea how it’s landing. That was one of the most valuable things anybody has ever said to me in this business. And to this day, I think about that. When I work with talk show hosts who are on the hook for hours without anything to hide behind, no songs, maybe a newscast at the top of the hour, but not much else I always think, ‘Man, you are walking a plank and it’s all original content.’

I really respect that, I really respect the talent necessary to be able to do what we do without humiliating ourselves, without getting sued, without getting fired, and with our toes dangling off the end of that plank for hours a day, every single day.

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News/Talk Radio Hosts Need to Remember It’s Ok to Act Your Age

This same strategy can apply to a story that may pre-date your time in the market where you’re hosting your show. Study up, but lean on those who know.

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For many, we all can fall into a groove of trying to be something we’re not. And the audience is bound to sniff you out as inauthentic. The older radio guy wants to seem hip when discussing social media and refers to his account as “Face-Chat” and “You-Book.” Oops. The younger guy wants to pretend he knows everything about the 1980 election, including the myth that Ronald Reagan came from 10 points down in late October to beat Jimmy Carter. You can read about it here.

I bring this up in the wake of last week’s breaking news story surrounding the death of O.J. Simpson. Social media exploded with reactions and hysterical memes, while talk radio re-lived “The Trial of the Century.”

As someone who was six years old during the White Bronco chase and seven years old as the trial unfolded, I have little memory of the trial itself. I remember it, but the day-to-day details are meaningless. As someone interested in historical events, I’ve read plenty about it and watched documentaries, but I wasn’t there. My only memory of it is watching O.J. on the news in my parents’ kitchen.

So, the day after O.J.’s death was announced, I had minimal anecdotal stories to share. And if you’re a younger host, there’s no reason to be embarrassed by this. After all, it was 30 years ago at this point. Now, someone over 55 might think it was 20 years ago, but my dad, pushing 70, believes 1978 was 30 years ago. It was over 45. So, I rest my case. Time is a blur. You have nothing to be ashamed of. 

But at the same time, don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

I spent Friday morning discussing how infatuated I was diving deep into YouTube archives, finding old local TV clips in Los Angeles from the Rodney King riots, mentioning New York Times articles I stumbled upon during the trial in 1995, and weaving that into the content of the day. My approach was to be the authority on the topic since that’s the job, but not pretend that I lived through it in any meaningful way.

That’s when I tapped into guests. Gregg Jarrett from Fox News covered the trial for Court TV. His stories were outstanding. On a whim, I reached out to Randy Cross, a former 49ers player who spent two seasons as a teammate with O.J., and he shared insights that only he could share.

Then, we worked from our local angle, with a great story from former Kansas City sports anchor Frank Boal, who talked about the Bruno Magli shoes that were a centerpiece in the trial. Coincidentally, a photo was used from when O.J. Simpson was on Monday Night Football broadcasting a game at Arrowhead Stadium where he was wearing… you guessed it, Bruno Magli shoes.

So, let your experts be experts. And don’t try to trick your audience into being something you’re not. Let them share their stories as well. Several California transplants to the KC area shared incredible stories from their lives. Let them be the stars and have their moment, assuming it’s compelling content.

This same strategy can apply to a story that may pre-date your time in the market where you’re hosting your show. Study up, but lean on those who know, let your audience participate if and when appropriate, and don’t be the know-it-all, especially when it’s obvious you can’t be on the same level as some of those listening.

Your audience will thank you for it because you’re being authentic with them, and that’s what they want. If you lose your authenticity, you’re done. 

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