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Mary Sandberg Boyle Uses Grit, Determination to Lead WGN Radio

Boyle came up on the programming side, so she’s hyper-aware of what is on her air and believes morning shows are essential on any station.

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Mary Sandberg Boyle started her radio program in her parent’s home when she was ten. She operated with a minimal signal and no license. But, on the upside, she was her boss. 

“It was a play radio station,” Boyle jokes. “It was called KMS radio. My sister’s name is Katy, and we used the ‘K’ because she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t get top billing. I was the ‘M’ and ‘S’ for our last name. I’d do the weather, talk up to a song. All she did was dance to songs like, ‘Who Can it Be Now?’” 

Boyle is a Chicagoland native and a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate. She is now the vice president and general manager of WGN Radio. 

“First, I went to school at St. Mary’s in Winona, Minnesota. I didn’t care for college campus life. It was a bad fit.” 

When she came home, she was reminded the University of Illinois-Chicago was close by on Taylor Street.   

“In school, I landed a great internship through UIC with a headhunting firm. I was paid good money, and people told me it was a fantastic internship. I was in communications, and I never thought I’d have a career in radio.”  

At about the same time, Boyle experienced one of those ‘dream come true’ moments when she got another internship. This time for popular radio host Kevin Matthews.  

“I listened only to talk radio growing up, especially Steve Dahl and Kevin Mathews,” Boyle explained. “Then I heard Kevin Matthews was looking for an intern. I couldn’t believe it,” Boyle said. “Watching him work was mesmerizing. But I also had to work the street festivals, which was not as much fun. It was a dream job. Who could think you’d ever get a job like that.” 

How quickly things change.  

She said the station wasn’t making money, and one day Matthews was gone. 

“They flipped formats overnight.” 

Boyle wasn’t used to the cutthroat nature of radio. The abruptness of total change. 

“I arrived at work and asked Kevin why he wasn’t doing his usual morning prep,” she said. “He told me he’d been fired that morning. Matthews was a hero of mine, and here we were taking pictures off the wall of his office, and I was crying.” 

After Matthews was fired, Boyle had bad taste in her mouth about the industry.  

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be like some of the people in the radio business.” 

After the Matthews’ gig, she worked for a food brokerage company in Lincolnshire. That’s where she learned how diced tomatoes were shipped from California to Chicago.  

Boyle bounces back like a Super Ball and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. In another life-changing moment, her father gave her a buzz on the phone. 

“He said he heard on the radio that Steve Dahl was looking for an assistant,” Boyle said. “He asked me if I’d heard what Steve said on the air. I had. I told him I wasn’t going to answer an ad I’d heard on the radio. But he insisted I apply.” 

She got the job. What a surprise. 

“Coming to work with Steve Dahl was surreal after I’d listened to him for so long.” 

Boyle said she enjoyed the way Dahl would talk about something like remodeling his kitchen while he was dieting, and he’d complain. “Of course, he had nothing to really complain about. It was just his on-air topic, and it was hilarious. That’s what made him brilliant.” 

Besides being good at his craft, Boyle said Dahl was an excellent businessman and made smart decisions. She said she’s known many people in the business whose ego kept them from making sound decisions.” 

“I’m a black and white person. In short, not a lot of fun,” Boyle said. “When I was occasionally on the air with Steve, he’d make a comment to open the conversation. I was too literal. I couldn’t keep it going. Steve called me a ‘bit killer.’” 

Surviving Dahl’s possibly good-natured swipe, Boyle was determined to improve. So she signed up for Second City’s writing program.  

“I think I was the only person at Second City who had no aspirations of being on stage or on air. I wasn’t a performer. I think it taught me how to take one for the team. Maybe not taking myself so seriously.” 

Boyle said she’d worked hard to avoid being pigeon-holed. “Once you’re painted as something, it’s hard to get people to see anything else.” 

“Second City taught me if things don’t go well, you have the chance to rebound.” She said if things don’t go as planned, you can make adjustments.  

“Even though I was a writer, they made us do improvisational exercises. I didn’t want to be a performer, but they still made us do exercises where you move your mouth in a funny manner. That’s not what I wanted.” 

Boyle said they had an unplanned reunion show with Dahl and his former partner Garry Meier, and it was a career highlight. They had a falling out, but both enjoyed successful solo careers. 

“We aired from Oak Street Beach during the Air and Water show in 2006, and I thought it was the greatest thing I’d experienced since I’d been in radio.” 

Possessing grit and determination, Boyle wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. For a short time, Boyle was a casting director for a film for Vision Films. 

“I was somewhat bullied into doing it,” she jokes. “They needed someone who was organized and direct.” She worked at Vision Films during the production of one film. “I also realized the work was intermittent. After one project is complete, there is some downtime, and then you start securing locations for the next project. It’s a tough existence until you work your way up that food chain. I was also working a morning show at the same time.” 

In 2015, Boyle joined 720 WGN. She was instrumental in developing and launching a weekday morning business show, “The Opening Bell,” that debuted in 2016.  

“I was brought on board to launch a business show. So I became a business expert.” 

In addition, Boyle has elevated the station’s newsroom and guided it through the launch of NewsNation, the company’s cable news network, to which the newsroom contributes audio content. 

How does she start her day? 

In the morning, her first order of business is a workout. Specifically, hot yoga. 

“I’m not a fluffy person,” Boyle said. “It’s the only time each day I have a chance to stay away from news and turmoil in the world. It detoxifies you. My workouts are the only part of my day where I feel I have complete control.”  

“I used to work morning shows and get up at 2 a.m. So, getting up when I do now is like sleeping in.” 

After heat-fused yoga, she’ll scan sources for top stories and potential disasters overnight.  

“We’re fortunate to be connected as a company to 200 stations across the country and a national news station, so I have access to copious amounts of information.” 

Boyle came up on the programming side, so she’s hyper-aware of what is going out on her air. She believes morning shows are incredibly important on any station. 

“Morning shows are on an island, so I feel it’s important to check in with them,” she said. “I think it bolsters confidence to know I’m aware of what they’re doing. I often give them a vote of confidence, and I think that goes a long way. I think it shows you’re part of it. Not all people in my position pay that much attention.” 

Highland Park shooting.  

“I first heard about it when I was at home with my husband watching Wimbledon,” Boyle said. “He got a text in a group chat that a friend’s relative said there was a shooter at the parade in Highland Park. They thought they heard shots.”  

Boyle explained that’s when the news person in her kicked in. 

“I talked to my boss, Sean Compton, and our news director, Ryan Burrow. I turned to our partner, WGN television, to see what they had on the air. I live five miles from the shooting scene. First responders were pulled off of other parades to assist. I had people reaching out to me with the assumption I knew more than they did. I didn’t.” 

At the station later that day, host Jon Hansen was coming in to host at 2 p.m., and he offered to come in early. “Personally, I know so many people who were at the parade, and we tried to have an accounting of where they were.” 

Boyle said you couldn’t be in this business and not be consumed by news. And it can be exhausting. 

After a tragedy like Highland Park, she said there’s a fine line between new information and repetition. “That’s where we have to navigate with callers, decide how late into the evening to go with the wall-to-wall coverage.” 

“We’re the only live and local station 24 hours a day. It costs money to run a newsroom, but with our television partner, we can tap into their sound.”  

She said WGN hosts have great interactions with listeners. The callers shared why the tragedy scared them. Another caller might say they need to do more to prevent future tragedies. Boyle realizes people will have different ideas and opinions but asks callers to remain cordial. WGN Radio is a safe place where people can interact.

In a dream world, she gets to bed at 9:30. Normally; it’s closer to 10:30. 

“Next to my bed is The Best of Royko: The Tribune Years.” Mike Royko was a longtime columnist for the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times. Royko was somewhat of a cult figure in Chicago.

“Mike Royko had an amazing personality, and I loved reading the book,” Boyle said. “I loved the take he took on life. He’d talk about simple things, like how a jerk walks across the street.” 

And now, KMS radio ends its broadcasting day. 

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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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