The stars at night are big and bright…
He’s all Texan. From his zip code to his boots. Will Cain is confident and accomplished. But, like any good Texan, he has his priorities.
“I like my beer cold,” Will Cain explained. “As Matthew McConaughey said in True Detective, ‘I’ll take a sixer of Old Milwaukee or Lone Star, nothing snooty.”
Will Cain is the guy you see and think, ‘How the hell did he get so lucky?’ He’s got the looks, a good job. He probably has a fast car too.
He’s co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend on Fox News. Cain was also the host of The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio, which ran from January 2018 to June 2020. So Cain made a relatively seamless transition from sports to news.
“Everything I do is with intentionality,” Cain said. “That doesn’t mean I think I’m perfect. I make plenty of mistakes. I talk entirely too much about sports. Not just because I love them, but because they are the perfect metaphor for life. Winning, avoiding a loss. I’m constantly driving with my fingers and hands on the steering wheel.”
Cain said he’d like to think he’s down to earth. “I just love talking about news and sports. Politics is so polarizing. Sometimes because of that, it can get in the way of seeing things the way they are.”
Being at ESPN was a privileged situation for Cain, a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan.
“There was always some turbulence on First Take,” he said. “That was more of a polarizing show. It becomes a debate, and you show up with your strong opinions. Listeners understand my biases, where I was when I said something. I’m interested and open to people that disagree with me. In the world of sports, politics, and news, you have to be. Let’s all be human beings if you’re willing to give that a shot.”
Cain grew up in a small country town on seven acres in Sherman, Texas. This town is about an hour north of Dallas. His father was an attorney, and the younger Cain also earned his Juris Doctorate and believed he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I made the choice not to become an attorney when my father was still alive,” Cain said. Instead, he said he thought being a writer was his calling.
“I went to Montana because I wanted to write,” Cain said. “I thought if I was going to be somewhere to write, where would that be? I guess I’ve always romanticized Montana.”
He said the writing thing didn’t quite manifest in the way he’d hoped.
“I always took radio very seriously,” Cain explained. “A lot of guys that turn on a microphone think charm or personality carries everything. I think it’s all about content. Delivery.”
Reading was always encouraged in the Cain household.
“My parents read a lot,” Cain said. “I think I read more non-fiction than they do. They read for fun; I tend to read to keep informed. I think people overvalue being a lawyer. There are other things that pique my curiosity more.”
Something he’s read recently was by Pete Hegseth, Battle for the American Mind.
“He talks about the roots of the educational system, compulsory schools,” Cain said. Battle for the American Mind is the untold story of the Progressive plan to neutralize the basis of our Republic – by removing the one ingredient that had sustained Western Civilization for thousands of years.
Cain and I talked a bit about some of the contentious issues of the day.
“When you think about our founding fathers, they were incredible,” Cain said. “They were educated in classic Western Thought. They were not ‘shoot from the hip’ kind of guys. They looked into checks and balances, anticipating what might happen. Those ideals have been enshrined for thousands of years. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, bear arms. It’s all put into historical science.”
Cain said there are a lot of terms in our lexicon that have become catchphrases. I asked him about a theory that postulates Donald Trump and his ilk represent an ‘existential threat to Democracy.’ The result of which would be an ‘authoritarian leader.’
“I don’t think we’re on the edge of that,” Cain said. “There are threats on a deeper level. On a cultural level, we need to ask ourselves who we are. What is of value to us as it pertains to society? People also use the term ‘far right.’ What does that even mean? President Trump far right? From a policy perspective, his administration was interested in unfettered free trade. Tariffs were more Left, yet Trump embraced trade restrictions. That’s not traditionally a ‘far right’ position. It’s a Libertarian kind of thought.”
Far-Right is a term Cain finds misused. He said it’s difficult for him to think of one particular issue where the right has become what is seen as far-right. “Maybe immigration,” Cain said. “We’re more hawkish on immigration than we were 20 years ago. We’re in a populist moment. In a lot of ways, it feels the game is rigged in power to retain power. Both on the left and right. Bernie Sanders has given voice to that.”
Cain is thorough when he approaches prep for his show. Pretty much like he approaches everything. “You think about what you’re going to say. Outline thoughts, sometimes come up with bullet points.
He said he’d always create an outline for everything he did in life. Still does. “I’ve never devoted myself to long-form artistically understanding. I need to know the sentence, paragraph, and chapter,” Cain said.
You get the feeling with Cain, even with all his successes, his family still means everything to him. “With my sons, I’m blown away by them,” Cain said. “Despite this passion to help shape them into men. Who are we to think kids are blank slates? They’re not. A lot of who we are is innate to our genetic personality and makeup. In terms of my sons, one is more empathetic and kinder than anyone I’ve known in my life. I need to train him to be a little less sweet in a tough world. The younger son is so insightful. Comedic. I don’t understand the way he thinks. I guess the younger one tends to work things out on their own.”
He said every man wants to leave some kind of legacy. “We all have a Roman Empire Builder inside of us after we’re gone. What you were surrounded by. Maybe we can all do our best and speak to each other more. That would certainly build relationships.”
Cain has always been somebody interested in ideas rather than politics. Philosophy rather than horse races. “I’m still fascinated,” Cain said. “When it comes to something like the Supreme Court, I’m interested in the ideas that help shape an opinion. Want to read the rationale. How they read the constitution.”
Conversely, when Congress gets involved in the machinations of putting together a stimulus bill or running for re-election, Cain’s interest starts to taper off.
“I’m more interested in philosophy than horse races. I think a lot of what we do rests on the importance of faith. Where we place things in our hierarchy, you’re only choosing what you put at the top. Sometimes I place too much emphasis on raising my boys and not enough on being a great husband.”
To appear on an ESPN show, it helps if you’re a fiery guy.
“I’m passionate and think it’s my personality for the most part,” he said. “That was the culture of First Take. You’re encouraged to lean in and be passionate about a subject. It’s the same with most guys on that set. It’s not a personal attack. I’d say 90 percent of the time; it’s not personal. When you get emotional, sparks can fly.”
He said he couldn’t recall how many times people have asked him if First Take is staged. “It’s not staged in the sense it’s theater,” Cain said. “There is a theatricality in terms of delivery and emotion.
“I covered a boxing match in Las Vegas and dressed in a boxing robe and a towel around my neck. I guess you’d say that was a bit of theater. I’ve mimicked shooting birds out of the sky to make a guy eat crow.”
“What we’re talking about is being overly tribal with politics,” Cain said. “I believe passionately about my ideas. That doesn’t mean I want to be tribalistic. I think we’re inherently tribalistic. It’s part of how we survived during evolution. You should have to root for the team where you were born,” Cain joked.
“You’re geographically born into your teams, unless your parents brainwashed you. I think sports is a cathartic exercise. I’m a Mavericks fan; I hate the Spurs. I think it’s good to have an irrational attachment to something. I’m tribalistic and it’s okay to hate the Spurs,” he quipped.
When his family lived in New York, he said his boys were raised as Longhorn, Mavs and Rangers fans. Now that they’ve gone back to Texas, they’re all set. They didn’t have to change their loyalty.
“I’m really big on this. You’ve got to hold on to the things that are provincial. I don’t like the fact that America has devolved into a mono-culture. We roughly listen to the same music. I like that Boston has a unique and weird accent. I’m proud of being from Texas.”
…(clap, clap, clap, clap,) deep in the heart of Texas.
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].
An Unofficial Radio Study Through the Eyes of Gen Z
We really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system.
One of my non-radio pursuits since moving to Bowling Green has been to take advantage of a Kentucky law — KRS 164.284 — which grants free tuition to any state-supported institution of higher education for state residents who are 65 or older. That’s a lot of words, but put simply, those of us who are older can take university classes for free! Bowling Green, besides being the home of the Corvette, is also home to Western Kentucky University. The name of the school is a little odd because this is south central Kentucky and you can drive two hours west of here and still be in the state. However, the team name, Hilltoppers, is deadly accurate as the school is on top of a hill in Bowling Green, and walking uphill to class burns quite a few calories.
I’m wrapping up my first class and for me, it’s my first university-level class as a student since the ‘80s. If you’re like me and haven’t taken a class this century, it’s different because, like most everything else, education has moved online. WKU uses Blackboard, an online tool, and I’ve adapted to sending in assignments and papers online as well as taking exams online in the comfort of my home office.
My reason for all this background is that in the last session of History 349, American History from 1945 to the Present, our instructor, Dr. Tony Harkins, asked us to form small groups and determine the three biggest events of the last 30 years. When each group presented their choices, one was unanimous: the Internet. Sure, there was 9/11, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COVID pandemic, but no other choices were unanimous. Even 9/11 was problematic for most of the students as they weren’t alive when it took place 22 years ago.
That led to a class discussion and listening in, you really appreciate the difference in outlook when the rest of the group is a half-century younger than you! They referred to their parents adapting to being online and considering that I’m old enough to be a grandparent to any of them, it made me think back to my first PC, a Compaq dual floppy that I purchased in 1984. The Hayes 1200 baud modem was almost $500 extra, but it was worth it to be that far ahead of the technology curve! They have never known a time without the smartphone, high-speed internet, and the ability to find out almost anything they want to know instantly.
Admittedly, a group of WKU history students is not a random sample and is not projectable to the population, but I also heard some misgivings about AI and the perils of the internet. They know the power of the internet to ruin people’s lives if used for nefarious purposes.
What does all this mean for radio? I wish I had been able to ask about their use of broadcast radio, if they use any at all, but to no great surprise, this group is in another world. That’s not a negative statement, but for all formats, we’ve done things the same way for so long that we likely don’t know another way to accomplish our tasks. Yes, radio is multi-platform like just about any other medium today, but as this cohort ages, what happens to our medium?
I’m not the first to bring this up, but we really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system. What will it take to make radio relevant to their needs and desires? Being in close quarters with them for a class lets me see some of the similarities of what I can remember from my undergraduate days and their different attitudes and experiences, which are very different from what I went through in the ‘70s.
Time to study for this week’s final (I’m auditing, but for the purpose of keeping my brain busy, I do all the required work)! If you’re in the golden years like me, you might want to consider going back to school, too. Most states have some kind of tuition waiver (for more info about your state’s options) and try it out! Not only will you learn something and interact with much younger people, you can even get student discounts as well! Thanks to Dr. Tony Harkins for putting up with me for the semester and “Go Tops!”.
Let’s meet again next week.
One of the radio industry’s most respected researchers, Dr. Ed Cohen writes a weekly column for Barrett News Media. His career experiences include serving as VP of Ratings and Research at Cumulus Media, occupying the role of VP of Measurement Innovation at Nielsen Audio, and its predecessor Arbitron. While with Arbitron, Cohen spent five years as the company’s President of Research Policy and Communication, and eight years as VP of Domestic Radio Research. He has also held the title of Vice President of Research for iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, and held research positions for the National Association of Broadcasters and Birch/Scarborough Research. Dr. Ed always enjoys hearing your thoughts so please feel free to reach him at [email protected].
Hollie McKay Has Seen The Good and Bad of Foreign Conflict
“They sort of called on me to give them a little bit of my human experience and storylines and I guess, make the experience of that video game a little bit more human-based as opposed to very military,”
Young, slender, and tenacious, Independent Journalist Hollie McKay has dedicated her career to immersive war and foreign relations storytelling but the job doesn’t come easy.
“It’s something you have to be willing to fight for,” she said over Zoom. Since 2006, Hollie McKay has traveled the world, chasing some of the biggest wars and foreign conflicts of our time, spending much of her career in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
Growing up in North Queensland, Australia, McKay never saw writing as a career. She wanted to be a ballet dancer. At 18, a broken ankle changed those plans. “I sort of had to go back to school and to university, got bored a little bit, and ended up going to New York to finish my degree.”
A “random” internship turned into her zealous passion. “It’s all a really big baptism by fire,” she recalled, “I really had to kind of teach myself what journalism was in many ways, because it predated the social media era.”
Her internship was with the then up-and-coming Fox News Digital department, a place she stayed for 14 years. “You could write, you could get a byline, you could go out and do things, I found that to be really sort of fascinating and do it all sort of in that real-time,” McKay said.
Beginning in Los Angeles she covered everything from The Oscars to the courtroom but travel ignited a passion. “[I] was just very interested in the foreign space. And that was more out of curiosity than anything because I felt like I was learning things that I should have learned in school, things that I felt like, why didn’t I know this if I didn’t know this? How many other people didn’t know this?”
For Hollie McKay, reporting on a foreign conflict without her boots on the ground was not an option. “I wanted to go to these places and live with people and spend as long as I could really there and be part of their communities,” she said.
Becoming a part of the community is what distinguished her stories from those of other journalists of our time but it does have risks.
Danger is always present in a war zone but it rarely, if ever, fazed McKay. “I always felt quite comfortable in places that I think the majority of people would probably want to have no part of,” she said.
From 2014-2019 she documented the rise and fall of ISIS, spending much of her time in Syria and Iraq. Her presence in the region allowed millions of readers to comprehend the human toll of war. Her reporting also gave life to a character in the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
“They sort of called on me to give them a little bit of my human experience and storylines and I guess, make the experience of that video game a little bit more human-based as opposed to very military,” she said.
She brought the human experience again in 2020 when the Taliban took over the Afghani government. “You just sort of saw the Taliban coming in on motorcycles and shooting in the air. And and that was that. There really was no resistance,” McKay recalled, “We certainly didn’t know how the Taliban was going to respond to a woman, to a journalist, to a Westerner. And it was a lot of unknowns.”
The Taliban let her stay for several months before she left on her own accord in December 2020 saying, “It was probably the most rewarding aspect of my career. I think, in that I felt like I could really be there in that very crucial moment and document what was happening and document the changes as they were happening in real time.”
She criticized media coverage of the takeover, saying “You look on social media and you see sort of very alarming stories and headlines, which, some of it is true, but an awful lot of it was just not. So it highlights for me the importance of having that on the ground perspective and experience.”
In contrast, her coverage of the War in Ukraine just a few months later was jarring. “I did find it to be a kind of stressful, overwhelming experience. And it highlighted to me that the challenge actually, of working independently,” McKay said.
However, she stressed the importance of independent journalism saying, “There are so many different agendas and backgrounds and my goal with it is to be able to come with something without sort of any political background or bias in that and to hopefully deliver a story that is of interest to people. And that’s at the end of the day, that’s the best that I could do.”
She calls war reporting nothing more than a balancing act saying, “I don’t think that any story is worth you losing your life or someone around you that is helping you, losing their life.” She noted, “I think if you can get to the story as much as you can, while weighing the challenges around it, then that is something that is worthwhile doing.”
While the players at war change, there is one common thread she found for the average person living in a conflict zone. “War is a funny thing in the sense that you really do see the worst of humanity in the bombing and the violence and sort of the ugliness,” she said, “But you also see the good of human beings in that, too. And everywhere you go, you see people supporting one another.”
Reflecting on her nearly 20-year career she made one thing clear, “Nothing was ever handed to me… Everything I did in my career I had to push for.” McKay’s advice to aspiring journalists is to be relentless, “You’re going to have to be prepared to fight. In many cases, you may not make a lot of money,” she continued on with this example, “I was talking to [a friend] and in early in his career, he made less than $10,000 a year. So it’s really a job that you have to be prepared to do it because you really want to do it and you love it and you can’t imagine doing anything else.”
McKay is not sure what comes next, currently, she is in motherhood-bliss, giving birth to a child this year but travel in the future is not out of the question, “I think life is chapters and we don’t want to be stuck in the same chapter forever and we want to continue to grow and branch out and see what else we can do to evolve,” she continued on to say, “I’ll always be connected to wars and humanitarian issues, and I will continue to travel to the best of my ability.”
Hollie McKay is the author of three books, Afghanistan: The End of the U.S. Footprint and the Rise of the Taliban Rule, Only Cry for the Living , and Words that Never Leave You. She is also an Ambassador for Emergency USA and Burnt Children Relief Foundation.
Krystina Alarcon Carroll is a columnist and features writer for Barrett News Media.She currently freelances at WPIX in New York, and has previously worked on live, streamed, and syndicated TV programs. Her prior employers have included NY1, Fox News Digital, Law & Crime Network, and Newsmax. You can find Krystina on X (formerly twitter) @KrystinaAlaCarr.
Broadcast Attorney Steven A. Lerman Reminisces About Radio’s Heyday in New Memoir
“When I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege.”
If the name Steven A. Lerman doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you are forgiven. Steve served as the de facto General Counsel for Infinity Broadcasting and then for CBS Radio, among many other credits. Those who attended any of the legendary Infinity Managers Meetings saw Steve’s presentations on FCC regulatory issues and compliance.
Lerman wrote a book called, The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership, which is out now. I highly recommend it to broadcasters, and anyone interested in broadcasting or curious about the path to the top of any competitive field.
I first met Lerman in 1986, less than a year after joining Infinity Broadcasting as program director of WYSP in Philadelphia. After years of poor ratings, our first attempt to set the station on the right and good path was to dismiss most of the veteran airstaff over Labor Day Weekend 1985, something Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister referred to as “The Labor Day Massacre” for years afterward.
I had information that at least one person might not accept termination gracefully. Indeed, one air staff member screamed that I couldn’t fire them before storming out of my office. Several months later, the station received a lawsuit over that termination.
A few weeks later, Infinity’s general counsel, Steven A. Lerman, came to Philly to strategize how to deal with the lawsuit. I was scared. I’d been there less than a year and had little to show for my efforts, I didn’t know the company’s appetite for a lawsuit, but I also knew the truth was on my side.
In that era, we let people go by calling them into our office without the aid of an HR person or, for that matter, anybody else.
I told Lerman that the claims were fiction and that nothing remotely similar to the allegations happened. Further, I could prove it.
I had recorded the entire episode, starting before the person entered my office through their storming out and slamming the door. Lerman listened to the recording. Then, a wry smile appeared on his face.
I vividly remember Lerman saying: “I have good and bad news. The bad news is that you broke the law by recording them surreptitiously. Don’t do that again. The good news is that the lawsuit is over and done.”
Lerman pocketed the tape, and the meeting ended in less than 15 minutes. I never heard another word about the lawsuit.
I dealt with Lerman regularly over the years. Especially when the FCC began targeting Howard Stern, and the definitions of indecency and obscenity became moving targets.
Lerman explained indecency by telling us to imagine him reading a transcript of Stern in front of the Supreme Court. It was an amusing thought. Lerman’s delivery is dry and monotone. Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership details the Stern FCC battles, including Lerman’s meetings with two FCC Chairmen (one which is particularly humorous) and when Stern signed with Sirius Satellite Radio, and the relationship became adversarial.
He writes short, crisp chapters that give readers a taste of his dealings with Stern, as well as Don Imus, O.J. Simpson, Oliver North (another project Lerman and I worked together on), Bob Kraft, G. Gordon Liddy, Donald Trump, Mel Karmazin, and the many important people in his life.
I asked Lerman if he considered sharing more stories and details about the many celebrities he encountered and the legal issues. He told me, “As a media/constitutional lawyer when I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege, which limited what I could say and how I could say it.”
Several times in the book, he states that confidentiality clauses prevent him from sharing details of the outcome. Yet Steven A. Lerman provides enough insight into the legal situations, specifically who had leverage, that the reader gets a good idea of who walked away the winner in each case.
The greatest details and biggest surprises are about Lerman’s personal life, starting with the death of his father when he was 12 years old. His mother remarried twice, and both men died young. That is the “loss” referred to in the title.
There is a chapter devoted to his mother, each of the two men she remarried, his grandmothers, and many other people (as well as one dog) who were vital in forming who he is today.
He reveals a lot about himself, including an incident with an elementary school teacher, brushes with the law, drugs, his health issues, the end of his first marriage, the sad death of an associate, how he got into Penn, his first job out of law school, his love for Boston sports teams – especially the Red Sox, and much more. Although Lerman presents the topics with good humor, they are not all flattering, although he does make a good case for his golf game.
If Lerman’s primary goal were to sell the maximum number of books, he would have filled the pages with more colorful celebrity stories. But that wasn’t what he set out to do. “I wrote the book to explain the arc of my life; it’s more about how I turned a challenging start into a philanthropic, impactful, worthwhile finish,” Lerman told me. On that level, he succeeded spectacularly.
The book also explains how Steve Lerman became who he is – which is a genuinely decent, kind, intelligent, and giving person. In the book, somebody refers to him as a mensch. Steve Lerman is a mensch, and the book is a blueprint for becoming one.
I highly recommend The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership by Steven A. Lerman, which is available on Amazon now.
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.