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Tony Coles’ Rise to an Industry Leader Started From Humble Beginnings

Coles has been recognized as an industry leader in leadership and management.

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Grow up or get out!

That’s the message Tony Coles received early and often. Born in southeastern Ohio, Coles was informed, on no uncertain terms, that he was expected to get his life together at an early age. His father grew up during the Great Depression and worked as a farmer, worked on oil rigs, anything to keep the family going. In other words, the man knew what hard work was.

“My father molded me into what I am today,” Coles said. “There was one rule in his house. My grandfather used to tell his children when they were older, they had to contribute to the family, or they were out. They just couldn’t afford to feed all the kids with what they had. My father adopted that philosophy, even though things weren’t as financially challenging for him as they were for my grandfather.”

Coles said his father’s lectures were offered frequently and rarely solicited throughout his childhood; more like reminders. His father took every opportunity to make sure the message was heard loud and clear. 

“One day, I came home to find boxes in my room had been filled with my stuff,” Coles said. “My father reminded me I had turned 16, and I’d displayed no effort to find a job. So he packed the boxes so it would make it easier on me as I left the house.”

“I realized, ‘Holy crap, he’s not kidding. He’ll throw me out of the house.’ that’s when I started to look for any job I could find.”

Would he have really kicked him out? Coles isn’t sure.

“I say this to people all the time. If my dad was still alive, I’d say it to his face. I owe everything I have and am to that man.”

At 15, Coles started at WHIZ in Zanesville, Ohio. It was a television, AM, and FM automated station rolled into one.

“I learned a bit of everything there,” Coles explained. “All employees were required to work in all three areas. It gave me an early indoctrination to everything. I remember when the FM would go off the air for some reason, I’d panic. Somebody would invariably say, “It’s no big deal. It’s FM.”

Coles ran the board and remotes but didn’t go on the air immediately. He said he produced the evening news and ran a camera in a small, family-owned company.

In essence, it was the world’s best internship. 

“Nobody will get that opportunity again to cover so many things in one situation,” Coles said. “That era has passed.”

Coles has been recognized as an industry leader in leadership and management. He is a two-time recipient of the Worldwide Radio Summit Senior Programmer of the Year award. 

Before joining iHeartMedia, Coles built the foundation of his knowledge of content creation, brand development, strategy and execution, revenue generation, and human capital management through a variety of on-air and leadership roles in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle.

All of these accomplishments began from humble beginnings. One lucky day for Coles, a local radio program director from a tiny station came to speak at his school. 

“That day was lucky for me,” Coles said. “The program director was intriguing, and radio sounded like something I could do. I went up to him and told him I desperately need a job. I wasn’t even thinking about a career at that point. I just wanted to stay in the house.”

The program director got in touch a couple of weeks later and told him of an opening. He would essentially be a gopher, but that was fine with Coles.

“I got a call saying he needed someone to cover an air shift, and he couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I was the first person who responded to his call. I went on the air, and I was horrible. Marconi must have been spinning in his grave; I was so bad.”

But the program director saw something in Coles. He recognized the effort and vigor Coles put into that air shift and felt he could be taught the rest.

Coles attended Ohio University in Southeastern Ohio. When he ran out of money, he had to go work full-time.

“It bugged me that I hadn’t finished my degree. So later, when I was living in Portland, I went back to school. I ultimately took classes in every city I’d worked in. The frustrating part was sometimes the credits wouldn’t transfer over to the new school.”

Covid has interrupted the ‘college experience’ for millions of kids. With online learning, fewer students take advantage of what previous generations saw as a growth, coming-of-age experience.

“My eldest son starts college in the fall,” Coles said. “We did all the campus tours, but it’s different than when I went. I don’t know if covid has permanently killed off those experiences for good, but I do know the experiences will be different. At the same time, I always learned more outside the classroom than inside.”

Coles believes podcasting is powerful in many regards. For one thing, it’s invigorated younger audiences fascinated with video. “When we were kids, we’d sit in a room and pretend to be on the air—pretending to be a DJ. Now, the kids are doing an actual podcast. The entry-point is different.”

We spoke at length about podcasts and the role they’ll play with the ‘fascination of audio.’

Coles thinks it’s not easy to predict what will work with podcasts as it depends on many factors. 

“Some start a podcast with the expectations of millions of downloads,” Coles said. “If you have that expectation, you should also be investing a lot of time to make it a product with mass appeal. Some can focus on a smaller niche audience. Those audiences may be small, but they’re loyal, passionate, and engaged.”

To illustrate that niche market, Coles admits he’s interested in an area most would find boring–listening to podcasts about boards of directors. 

“I’m fascinated with the individuals on a board,” he said. “There are a lot of broadcasts on the subject from all over the world. I couldn’t have imagined that would be the case.”

Coles said there is a vast audience for true crime podcasts. 

“Some are like an episode of Dateline,” he said. “One reporter at WISN radio in Wisconsin started a podcast that was contrary to the findings of the Steven Avery trial. The reporter covered the trial and said the Netflix series was not accurate. It’s one of our most downloaded podcasts.”

Coles said after listening to some true crime podcasts, he understood why they are so passionate about them.

“When you think of the number of court cases that have happened with verdicts people disagree with, you can imagine the level of audience engagement,” Coles said.”

Coles said app searches will show what’s trending and will populate the search with similar podcasts. He said he’s surprised at the number of podcasters who will freely reference another podcast. “That’s how I discovered other podcasts. It’s like recommending a book or a movie. In radio, it’s been an unwritten, or sometimes written rule, to avoid mentioning the call letters of another station.” 

Throughout his career, Coles has been involved in relationship-building. 

“That’s the cornerstone of everything I do,” Coles said. “This business is about the relationships you have nurtured. Creating a circle of connections you didn’t know existed.”

He said he recently read a book titled, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.

“One of the things he was talking about in his book was professionals go to a convention and snare 100 business cards, and they feel they’ve networked,” Coles explained. “If they called those 100 people, only two would return the call.”

Conversely, Coles said when you develop a connection with someone, you can call them day or night. Building relationships helps me enjoy the business more. I’ve developed true friendships and true bonds. 

“I try to approach things like that,” Coles said. “I see a lot of people that may not be great in one position, but if I like their attitude and see they’re trying, I try to mentor them and bring them along. That’s what happened to me. I’ve tried to return the favor.”

Cole’s father was able to see some of his son’s success. “I’m thankful for that. I only wish he’d known earlier on that some good things were happening to me. I think he was a little hurt that I didn’t want to come back and work the farm. As time went on, he understood more and more.”

Coles said his father was a tough guy, experiencing everything from the Great Depression to the Civil Rights era. After his father passed away, Coles discovered a box his father had used to keep special items. 

“Inside were clippings, other things to do with my career,” Coles said. “He saved them all and never told me about what he had in the box. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. That he cared and devoted the energy to assemble these articles.”

“When I think about the impact mentors have played in my life, I am grateful for those who poured into me and encouraged me to achieve the goals I set for myself—personally and professionally,”

“I remember I was working at a radio station, and we didn’t know the name of the song that was playing,” Coles explained. “I called my father and asked him if he knew the artist. Had he heard it? My father replied, “Is this an actual job you’re doing?”

“I always try to respond. If I can connect with someone. We all need that. I recognize that. I would not be here without the relationships I developed. As we get older, we suddenly realize we’re closer to the end than the beginning. I remember being the youngest at the station, working with people that are the age I am now.”

Thanks, Tony. Now you’ve totally bummed me out.

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It’s Clear NewsNation is Here to Stay

It was an important night for the outlet and it proved it had what it takes to produce quality programming. The debate’s ratings show that audiences agree.

Jessie Karangu



A photo of the NewsNation logo

The Nexstar-owned new kid on the block NewsNation proved its worth on Wednesday night after hosting it’s first ever presidential debate to the tune of 4 million viewers. At first glance, there were signs of possible failure. President Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee at the moment, didn’t show up and didn’t seem to pay too much attention to the debate.

The network hired Megyn Kelly to serve as one of its moderators – a gimmicky move that could be looked at as a way to garner more attention than they were initially receiving. Ironically, only CNN scheduled a post debate show. MSNBC kept their debate postgame analysis to YouTube while Fox kept their programming schedule as normal as possible. A pre-recorded episode of Gutfeld! aired at 10 PM.

But from the moment the debate went on air, it was clear that when push comes to shove, NewsNation was ready for primetime. Because of its predecessor’s wide distribution, the network was much easier to find than many probably expected. It helped even more that The CW was simulcasting the show. Just like NewsNation, The CW has been another network slowly trying to prove its worth in the television ecosystem. A look at its ratings on Saturday afternoons when it airs ACC college football games shows the network is slowly making some headway. It was an important night for Nexstar and it’s newest properties and the company proved it had what it takes to produce quality programming. The debate’s ratings show that audiences agree.

The set design was very simple but balanced. It gave the feel of a typical debate while showcasing the look viewers would be able to find on NewsNation at any given hour. Nexstar also did an excellent job of promoting CW and NewsNation’s other respective programming throughout the telecast without forcing it down viewers’ throats. There weren’t too many repeated commercials and the moderators of the panel didn’t waste time promoting shows or hosts that air on the network, they stuck solely to the debate. Kelly’s appearance on the moderator panel also happened to be a Godsend, if anything. She found a way to ask pointed questions that got to the heart of issues that many conservatives are concerned about.

Kelly’s questions focused on hypocritical statements or stances each candidate has made without insulting them. Candidates were forced to distinguish themselves from their thoughts and ideas of the past. Elizabeth Vargas and Eliana Johnson also found ways to pit the candidates against each other and point out their differences without asking their questions in an ugly, judgmental way.

The only ugliness that may have appeared on air came from the political foes debating one another on stage. Kelly, Vargas and Johnson even found a way to keep candidates from wasting time on stage. Petty arguments and long diatribes were quickly interrupted. It felt like a group of aunties at Thanksgiving breaking up a discussion all the cousins were having so they could get to the dinner table and say a prayer for the food.

Although the debate was only two hours, it felt like it was longer – in a good way. Anticipation for the next moment in the debate could be felt in the air and time was going seamlessly. With less candidates on stage, everyone had more time to say their peace and commercial breaks were far and few between. When a break took place, it also wasn’t long and it helped that some of the commercials aired had a bit of relation to what viewers were tuning into. While candidates were given time to breath, the debate’s moderators weren’t afraid to intervene in order to get as many topics on the floor as possible. The constant switching of topics probably helped the debate seem so smooth.

A major difference between this debate and others was the screen space. Viewers were forced to really listen to what was being said because the candidates took up most of the screen. Graphics didn’t change up to reference the questions that were being asked or real-time polls from viewers that were tuning in or programming previews of what was coming up after the debate.

The only graphics that were shown identified who was speaking and the fact that viewers were tuned into a Republican Presidential Debate. It was an anomaly compared to most programming on cable news and television as a whole that includes graphics about social media, QR codes, a bottom line with other headlines, logos that change colors etc. Sometimes, less is more.

Despite all the positives, it was disappointing to see NewsNation ignore gun violence given the main story of the day. Three people were shot and killed while one person was injured on UNLV’s campus in Las Vegas, Nevada as preparations were being finalized for the debate.

As news broke of the incident, NewsNation chose to continue with a preview of the debate. At the top of their 4 PM hour, as the other three cable networks were wall-to-wall with coverage, NewsNation told viewers they were going to go over the top stories for the day. Instead of simulcasting coverage from their sister station in the area, KLAS, or even alerting viewers of what was happening in the first place, the network went into a pre-recorded interview with a voter who was anticipating the impeding debate.

On any other day if there is no breaking news going on, NN’s editorial choice makes sense. NewsNation is not a non-profit, the debate is the biggest event of the network’s history and they need people to tune in because debates are really expensive to produce.

The problem that lies here is that NewsNation is still a news station. Viewers deserve to know what is happening and to get coverage with the perspective NewsNation is able to serve viewers with even if there are a million other places to get news and information nowadays. What made matters worse is that none of the moderators referred to the incident during the program nor did they ask the candidates about the particular incident or their viewpoints on gun violence and how to curb it. It is so important that we don’t normalize incidents such as this by treating them like they are just a regular part of living in America. It should never be normal even if it is starting to feel that way.

Debates are extremely hard to produce. CNBC and NBC faced controversy during previous election cycles for some of the shows they’ve put on and both networks have been in existence for decades. CNN has faced criticism for town halls it has done in the past. NewsNation will always face some sort of criticism, critique and controversy at some point. And they actually already have in reference to other endeavors they’ve tried out in this short time of existence. It is the nature of the business.

But to be able pull off such a successful and informative debate as such a young company is something everyone in that newsroom should be extremely proud of and use as motivation moving forward. The world watched NewsNation on Wednesday night and is definitely paying attention if they weren’t doing so before.

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Is NewsNation Filling a Hole or Fighting in an Already Crowded Space?

The fact that a major company sees an opportunity for straight news is encouraging.



A photo of the NewsNation logo

The fourth Republican Presidential Debate took place on Wednesday night on NewsNation, which brought in the largest audience of the network’s two-and-a-half-year existence. And while the channel remains relatively new to the cable news scene, their presentation of the debate was the best of the 2024 Presidential cycle, and it wasn’t close. 

From the moderators, to the graphics and camera shots, to the post-debate analysis team — including Bill O’Reilly and Sean Spicer, the presentation came across as being handled by an operation that had been around the block, not one that is 30 months old.

The ratings were encouraging as well for the network. The cable outlet drew 1.59 million viewers for the debate, which featured Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. A simulcast on The CW (which, like NewsNation, is owned by Nexstar) brought in 2.62 million people, for a total of 4.21 million viewers, according to Nielsen. This was down from the 7+ million who watched the third Republican Presidential Debate on NBC. However, NewsNation should view the viewership competition as one against itself, not against legacy networks like NBC.

And when analyzing the numbers from that perspective, there is plenty to be encouraged by. The 1.59 million viewers for NewsNation is more than 10 times its typical primetime tune-in; in November, the channel’s highest-rated primetime show — Cuomo, anchored by former CNN host Chris Cuomo — averaged 149,000 viewers. The debate also set a new high for NewsNation in the key news demographic of adults 25-54, 350,000 of whom watched Wednesday’s telecast.

What network wouldn’t kill for an opportunity to do 10x its typical viewership? This is the lens through which NewsNation should view its successful evening.

NewsNation has the talent and production team to parlay this debate viewership into a long term increase in ratings and viewers. As someone who has mostly given up on weeknight cable news, I came out of Wednesday night’s debate not just thinking about the debate itself, but wondering about NewsNation’s opportunity in the cable news landscape moving forward.

Fox News remains the King of cable news with its loyal audience, while MSNBC and CNN continue to divide the left-leaning cable news audience. However, there remains a sizable potential audience looking for an alternative, with less of a lean than the three major cable news networks.

Can NewsNation split that difference and become a major player?

It won’t happen overnight, but they’re as well position as they’ve ever been to try and achieve that goal. Arguably the bigger question is whether or not, in a divided America, is there an appetite for a network that tries to remain “unbiased”? NewsNation bills itself as, “America’s source for fact-based, unbiased news for all America.”

While I admittedly haven’t consumed enough of their content to be able to determine whether or not they live up to that moniker, the fact that a major company sees an opportunity for straight news is encouraging.

And as we sit here on the eve of a Presidential election year, coming off a huge viewership number, by their standards, NewsNation is well positioned to try and take advantage of what will likely be a hectic, fun, fast-moving news landscape over the next 12 months.

Come this time next year, we’ll know if there is a growing market for what they are selling, or if it is just a nice idea that isn’t likely to grow beyond a relatively niche audience. 

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The Problem With Radio Interviews and How to Make Them Better

Most interviews suck. Most interviews have little reason to exist in the first place, not if the host, anchor, or reporter isn’t going to ask the tough questions the audience wants answered.



What was the last interview you remember? I’ll wait. Yeah, not so easy. Most interviews on radio, TV, or podcasts, or in print, are anything but memorable.

Either nobody says anything other than the usual platitudes, or the host fawns over, and tosses softballs at, the guest. The only thing accomplished is to fill a segment the easy way — hey, the guest is doing all the work! Cool! — and the host is, ideally, maintaining access to the guest while pleasing some publicist who will, the producer hopes, send more clients to the show. Everybody wins, right?

What about the audience?

Most interviews suck. Most interviews have little reason to exist in the first place, not if the host, anchor, or reporter isn’t going to ask the tough questions the audience wants answered. Is it entertaining or enlightening to a radio listener or cable news viewer if an interview consists of stock answers, vague platitudes, or ridiculous opinions met with zero resistance from the interviewer? Who wants to hear that? Yet that’s what I see, hear, and read everywhere.

Nobody gets challenged, and in the rare instances when they do get challenged, the interviewer invariably lets them off the hook. Follow-ups are non-existent. Wild claims are unchallenged. And those are among the more interesting interviews, because at least there’s some animated discussion. Others are deadly dull, too polite, interviewers afraid to make things too uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable can be, of course, the kind of memorable interview that people talk about years later, the kind that can define a host and show. I’ve written before about how I saw the light when I was programming New Jersey 101.5 and, from the front hallway of the studio, I suddenly heard John Kobylt (now at KFI Los Angeles) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in a shouting match. I don’t even remember what they were arguing about, but it was a talk show host and a sitting U.S. Senator on the phone screaming at each other and I ran towards the studio, then stopped in my tracks.

Yeah, it was a Senator, but so what? Senators are just people, but also people who owe their constituents answers. John was representing our listeners. I let it go on. And our ratings reflected that attitude: We used our access to get answers for the audience, and they appreciated it. Politeness may get you invited to campaign events and press conferences, but you don’t work for political parties, sports franchises, or college athletic programs, you’re the proxy for the people, and yourself.

(Lately, it’s been fun to watch Jake Tapper let the Philly come through and be more aggressive with politicians; “Be more Philadelphia” is a good rule of thumb, although I might be biased in that regard….)

There are other radio examples, too, from Tom Bauerle in Buffalo challenging Hillary Clinton to Dan Le Batard confronting MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred over the Marlins’ tanking to the recent WFAN/Carl Banks brouhaha, and you surely have other examples, probably because they’re the interviews you remember. (We can skip over Jim Rome vs. Jim Everett, okay?) Honestly, whether they’re pundits bloviating on cable about the latest breaking news or a coach or player spouting the same safe canned responses after every game (“Why didn’t you go for it on 4th and 2?” “We’ll have to try harder next week, but give credit to the other guys’ defense”), the world, and your ratings, would probably be better off without those interviews.

But if you insist on doing a lot of interviews…

1. Listen. Yes, this has become a cliche. So many great interviewers have said this that it’s hard to figure out who said it first. It’s true, though. Prepare all the questions you need in advance — more than you need, really — but when you ask a question, don’t let your eyes move down the page to the next question on the list. Just listen to the answer, because more often than not there will be an opportunity to….

2. Follow up. This is not optional, especially entering an election year when misinformation is going to continue to be rampant. You know when you’re watching a cable news anchor talking to a politician or pundit and the latter says something outrageous and unsupportable and the interviewer just moves on? You know how you want to throw things at your TV when that happens? Don’t be that interviewer. Better yet….

3. Insist on an answer. If the subject doesn’t really answer the question, ASK IT AGAIN. Repeat until you get a commitment. No need to defer to someone who’s avoiding your questions. At least get them on record as refusing to answer the question – and point that out — before you move on.

4. This is out of order, but before you even book the interview, ask yourself: Is this what the audience wants or needs? Is this going to be entertaining or informative, or preferably both? Are people going to remember this past the second it ends? Might this make news or is it just going to sit there accomplishing nothing? Why am I doing this? (The latter question is apropos for everything in life, by the way, and the answer isn’t always pretty.)

It’s not to say that you need to be a jerk to guests, or that you can resort to name-calling or low blows. To the contrary, asking good, tough questions is a sign of respect, a sign you think they can handle it. If they can’t, it’s on them. If you’re the host, anchor, or reporter, you’re in control. Use it.

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