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Robin Bertolucci is Focused on Growing KFI’s Audience

Bertolucci successfully programs an AM signal that is consistently in the Top 10 regarding annual revenue nationwide.

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When I think of a student at UC Berkeley, I envision someone who is devoted to their education, wears bifocals, has an insatiable curiosity, and possesses an elite mind. 

“Actually, it wasn’t that hard to get into Berkeley when I went,” said Robin Bertolucci, an enormously successful PD in Los Angeles.

“It’s a lot harder now,” she said. “I was a good student, not a great student. My son goes there now, and he’s smart. They’re doing things in school I was never required to do.”

Born in Park Ridge, Illinois, her family moved to California when she was young. “I had a great childhood,” Bertolucci said. “Supportive, wonderful parents who live five minutes away. I had lunch with my father the other day.”

In high school, Bertolucci wasn’t a cheerleader or into sports. 

“I edited a poetry journal,” she said. “I was also into literature, creative writing, and general goofing off being an idiot teenager.”

When she was 16, Bertolucci worked as a summer camp counselor. Still one of her favorite experiences to date. “I loved that job. We’d sing camp songs, swim, hike. We always had a great time.” During the summer, she said she rode horses quite a bit. “I’m an animal nut. I have three dogs, and I love all animals.”

At the University of California Berkeley, Bertolucci studied rhetoric. Bertolucci said the curriculum helped her craft messages and taught her to focus on logic, tropes, styles, figures, and images. “I learned to talk to an audience, among other things,” she explained. “Much of that education has worked its way into what I do every day. I wasn’t a broadcasting major.”

Bertolucci began dabbling in radio as a hobby on the side. “I had no idea it could be a job where people made a living.”

Fast forward a couple of years; she started as a desk assistant in KGO in San Francisco. “I worked as an editor in the newsroom. She then earned her way up to executive producer. 

Today, Bertolucci successfully programs an AM signal that is consistently in the Top 10 regarding annual revenue nationwide (and consistently one of the highest-rated stations in LA). She is also one of the very few female programmers in News/Talk, a predominantly male format.

Being a PD requires many skills, including reading people when you meet them. “I kind of have to do that,” Bertolucci said. “I have to get a sense of what their potential might be.” 

A significant part of a PD’s job is coaching the staff; producers, on-air talent, and engineers. 

“I enjoy when I discover new people in the business, it’s very exciting,” Bertolucci said. “If you look at the pool of people currently in the business as a whole, it can be limiting. It’s great to find a voice outside the business.”

Bertolucci sees herself as a professional listener. “I try to think of it as being in touch with myself. What makes me interested and want to know more. I’m the proxy for the audience. For their interests.”

Then came the PD job at KOA in Denver. Her success there made her the top candidate when the legendary KFI/LA needed a PD. Some would consider KFI a dream job. Since then, she’s kept the ratings high and won awards for the ongoing commitment to the community.

“I learn from everyone I work with,” Bertolucci said. “The producers of shows are a huge part of what we do, so I like to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

A PD has a ton of decisions to make; that’s essentially their job. “Frankly, you have to look at the talent and situation you have,” Bertolucci said. “You have to look at the audience, see where things are going. It’s about evolving. Nobody is going to be here forever.”

The more successful the show, the harder it can be to make changes. “People sometimes have a hard time dealing with fill-in hosts,” Bertolucci said. “It’s not the person they’ve tuned in to hear.”

In her office, hallway, or car, Bertolucci is always trying to listen to what is going out on her air. “I work with such incredibly talented and accomplished people; I don’t often do air-checks. But we’re always talking about where the audience’s focus is. Where we lost some ground, where we gained some.”

As for the future of radio, Bertolucci said there is nothing definitive. 

“People have told us forever that radio was dying. Audio has never been hotter. I do know people need connection and relationships, contact with other people. That’s why talk will survive. People want to know what’s going on. Frankly, I don’t care how they listen. There are so many ways to listen, and the listening device doesn’t matter to me. I just care that they listen; however they want; over the air, on the iHeartRadio app, or on-demand.”

She said radio isn’t even ‘radio’ anymore. “It’s all audio,” Bertolucci said. “On-demand content. Over-the-air content. There’s a zillion ways to get the message across. If you make a great show, people will find it. Watch it. That’s the kind of content I’m trying to create.”

“I’m in the office four days a week, working from home on the weekends. I stay very connected.” Her goal is to be engaged every day. Keep things on the straight and narrow. “I find I’m just trying to find and draw the biggest audience possible. People are not exclusively red or blue. Most are purple. We agree on a lot of the same things. We want to be safe, healthy, and ensure our children get a good education. My goal is to find commonalities wherever we can.”

She explained there’s so much nonsense out there. “It’s a crazy time when we can’t agree on anything. Not even a vaccine.”

Bertolucci is still a big news person. When she dealt with the horrible events out of Uvalde, Bertolucci said it was part of her job to make sure they were doing a great job covering the story. “We look at all the resources to get the information out. We’re always trying to make sure the radio station is reflecting the events accurately. Our on-air people know how to stay with it. It’s a hard day when they have to do awful stories like that. We have great, incredible people here. I’m super proud of what they do, in the newsroom and on the air.”

Bertolucci says she finds time to relax with some television. “I just finished Now and Then. This is Us just ended. A real tear-jerker.”

Her kids are grown. A daughter just gave Bertolucci her first grandson. Her son is in his 3rd year at Berkeley Law School. She also keeps busy in her community. 

“I started an environmental group,” she said. “It’s designed to protect local wildlife.” The idea for the group stems from the death of a red tailed-hawk in the area. 

“The bird ate a rat that was full of poison,” Bertolucci said. “The poison goes up the food chain. I wanted to help people learn how they could get rid of pests, but without poison. You can use snap traps, electric traps to keep them away. There are lots of ways to kill a rat. Do it without killing pets and wildlife.” 

They must teach a course in rat-killing at Berkeley.

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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.



A photo of a laptop displaying the Nielsen logo

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.

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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.



A photo of the Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy in the 2nd debate
(Photo: Sachin José)

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.

No Direction

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. 

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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.

Jessie Karangu



A photo of the CNN Max logo

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. 

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