Brad Lane is back working in Minneapolis. He returns to the city known for the hat-tossing Mary Tyler Moore, the Vikings, and the land of 10,000 lakes– give or take a few.
He’s not all that far from Lake Superior, but he was born nearly 1,000 miles away in Razorback country.
“I grew up all over but was born in southern Arkansas,” Lane said. “I guess I worked hard to lose the accent. In this business, you have to.”
It may read Arkansas on his birth certificate, but his heart is where the stars at night are big and bright.
“Dallas and Fort Worth were our home base,” Lane said. “My grandparents had a ranch there. The other side of the family was from Houston and Beaumont. I hate that side of Texas with all its humidity. Dallas has much more culture and interesting people. If I ever moved back, that’s where I’d go.”
Lane appears to love Texas. He said Austin is a great town. “It’s the capital; it has 6th Street, the topography and culture is beautiful.”
He said if you go, March is the best month to see the bluebonnets, SXSW; you get to enjoy great food.
“You don’t have to deal with 1,000-degree temperatures. I always saw myself as a Texas kid, even though I was born in Arkansas. Austin is like a progressive bastillon, an island in the red meat state of Texas.”
His father was a pastor, and he wasn’t afraid to use his son’s experiences in his sermons.
“That’s probably my first illustration of being completely transparent,” Lane said. “Everything is fodder for conversation. Everything is up for discussion. There’s no filter, and I mean that in a good way. I was used as an example frequently. I never thought anything was out of balance.”
Constant coaching of talent is something Lane says is part of the job.
“If we talk about Roe v Wade, we have to do it with balance,” he said.
“Hosts will come to me and ask how they should approach a specific topic. I tell them to think of the topic as why it’s important.”
“Everything you hear about preacher’s kids is probably true. My father was a Baptist minister in Texas. We went to church just about every night. Sunday mornings, of course. My father would visit homes. You just couldn’t do that today. We were at church constantly.
He said he revered his father. “At the same time, I was scared to death of him. He was an imposing figure with a bigger-than-life personality.
Lane went to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and majored in mass communications in 1992.
“I chose that school and program because of a specific instructor, Jim Reppert,” Lane explained. “He was instrumental in my going there. It was a small program combined with the theater department. Many of the classes you had to take were crossovers.”
Lane also gravitated toward photography. He said that was back in the day when darkrooms were still utilized.
“I took my favorite during my senior year. It was an advanced black and white photography class. The instructor told us we had to create ten photos by the end of the semester, all using darkroom techniques to achieve the intended outcomes.”
Lane said one of those pictures included him playing poker against himself. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me.
He had to photograph himself as though he was playing against himself in three different chairs.
“All you needed was a good 35 mm camera with a flash,” Lane said. “Many of us had to beg, borrow and steal to get the right camera. So, we set up a card table with three chairs around the table. You had to have a partner to take the shot, and I was the subject playing poker.”
Lane and his student partner made the room as dark as possible and opened the aperture on the camera, which is essentially exposing the film. They dropped the playing cards on the table; then, his partner began to take Lane’s picture.
“I’d make a face like I was looking at my cards for the first shot,” Lane said. “For the second shot, I’d get up and move to the next chair. Keep in mind the aperture was still open. I’d make a different expression; maybe I was looking at the other cards. Then another flash.”
Lane said this was done a third time to complete the photo.
“Since we had to take the film to the darkroom to process, we didn’t know what we had. If we had accomplished the assignment.”
I’m assuming he did, but it didn’t come up. Lane said he wrote and produced his play in this rather hybrid degree.
“Jim Reppert was strongly encouraging me to go into television. I was doing ENG reporting. Then I got my first job offer for $11,700. A whopping figure to be a one-man-band reporter.”
Lane’s return to Minneapolis at WCCO, as joyous as it was for his family, was preceded by trying experiences.
“In 2018, my wife Liv was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer,” Lane explained. “It’s a kind of breast cancer that does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer. The doctors threw the kitchen sink at her, and right now, she’s doing okay.”
Lane said this type of cancer does not stem from genetics. It essentially comes out of nowhere. To compound matters, Liv’s medical concerns were realized just as Lane was let go from a job in Minneapolis. So not only was his wife struggling with her illness, he was faced with sending out resumes.
“Fortunately, Good Karma Broadcasting had a position as program director for me in Milwaukee at WTMJ and ESPN,” Lane said. “I talked with Steve Wexler, vice president, and market manager, and we hit it off right away. I think the world of Steve. We have similar ideas about content and execution.”
Before he met with Wexler, Lane even contemplated getting out of the business to be with his wife. He moved to Milwaukee alone while his wife and two sons remained in Minneapolis. Sure it was a formidable distance, but it could have been much further.
“She allowed me to do it,” Lane said. “To take the job while she convalesced. I worked things out with Wex and Craig Karmazin, owner of Good Karma.”
Lane said the cancer treatments are exhausting and can do a number on a person’s body. The effects will remain with his wife for the rest of her life.
“I spent two years in Milwaukee. I loved it but wanted to get back to my family and come to WCCO,” Lane said. “I think we were able to pick up where we left off. My wife was ecstatic. She didn’t really have energy. I do all the laundry, dishes.”
He’s also proud of his boys and recognizes what they had to go through for two years.
“I may have underestimated the impact of my absence,” Lane said. I grew up with a father who was constantly gone. He was taking care of his flock at church. He was away speaking. I don’t remember my dad making it to any of my baseball games. I tried to be different. I have coached Ryder in baseball since he was five years old. I’m incredibly proud of Ryder and my younger son Truman.”
His neighbors in Minneapolis were incredibly giving when they saw their friends in need of some help.
“They created a schedule to drive my son to high school. We’re in a good spot. Now I’m back in Minneapolis at a legendary station. With my energy and vision, I hope to keep this a relevant and vital platform. I’m surrounded by great talent.”
Lane constantly mentors talkers and guides producers.
Lane began at WCCO in April 2021. He’s had the chance to take inventory of his talent, and his overall experience allows him to reflect on others in the business.
“Many talkers know they can talk; not many know how to listen,” he said. “They’re thinking about what they’re going to say next. They miss what somebody just said. They try to think of something to say that makes them sound cool.”
“They’re underpaid, underappreciated,” said Lane. “Oftentimes, we don’t search for the best and brightest. Many producers are talk show wannabes and love the sound of their own voice. Others talk too little and are basically board ops and button pushers.”
Lane explained how you could take an amazingly gifted and talented host and pair them with a poor producer. You’ll end up with a less than satisfactory show.
“You can also take a mediocre host with instances of brilliant work, pair them with a great producer, and have a more relevant and successful host. You can find a producer who will chime in or challenge a host.”
He said while preparing for a show, a producer has to be nimble and fast at the draw.
“The producer must deduce if they need a guest at a certain point for content, or are they better off without them. Another aspect of a good producer is production and the use of sound design. We call it a show for a reason. Maybe a bell when you’re right or a buzzer when you’re wrong.”
Lane is aware of the impact of a well-timed actuality that can feed the dialogue.
“That all equals a better reaction. I think we’ve lost some of that along the way.
It’s not easy to stay on top of the on-air folks all the time. It’s the equivalent of being a coach of two teams simultaneously. I tend to gravitate to more local content. “
He continued–” A good producer knows when to react and respond. They know how to show rather than tell. Come in to the show with a plan. If things go awry, a producer must be as quick as the host. If they can’t find a guest, they have to determine which way to go. Know how to pivot.”
Lane explained how one of his employees stepped in to save the day.
“The guest didn’t show. The producer answered the call by mentioning Bruce Springsteen was coming to town. That quickly shifted the focus of the show and saved the moment. You have to be able to tap dance in a moment’s notice.”
The veteran program director always knew he wanted to be in some form of public forum. He would go to sleep with a transistor radio under his pillow and had a quaint idea of what radio was. What he did know about it was that radio was both engaging and relevant.
“Those are two words we try to push in every conversation.
Expanding on that, I tell each of my hosts to touch an emotion in any way, shape, or form. Make listeners laugh, cry, even angry. You need to do that on a segment basis. Provide depth range, a balance between fun and funny.”
As a content shaper, Lane said he needs to find personalities who are interesting and engaging. But they must elicit emotions. Expand on touching the heart and the many emotions we feel on a daily basis.
“When you make people think by asking provocative questions,” Lane explained.” We need to make them angry. Provide experiences that are hitting the brain. It’s unscripted. We must provide for entertainment and investigation.
When a host can come to the table with how they’re feeling, be quick. Trigger the audience with a lead-in. Don’t bury the lead; tell me what you’re thinking right out of the gate. Know why we’re talking about this.”
To Lane, hosts are all about personality and topic selection. They also get to the crux of what’s happening.
“I would say WCCO is a little different from when I came on board. I’ve made some tweaks, and I’m always assessing what we’re putting out over our air. The relevance.”
He thinks overall; in terms of talk radio, the host is personality driven. Maybe 30 percent of the hosts in the country have the right combinations innately. Those that don’t, he tries to coach and teach them.
“Some are talking about the right things,” Lane said. “Some have a sense of what’s important. Things people are talking about at the kitchen table. They just know how to do it. Other times, I’ll explain what they could have done in a particular situation.”
He said they have only one chance to get it out right and fast.
“In every office, I’ve ever had, there’s been a radio on my desk to the right. I’ve never been sure why it has been on the right; it just always has. I always tell my hosts, if you can get me to turn toward the radio and I wonder where we are going with this, you’ve got my attention. Talk radio was never intended to be in the background. That’s the beauty of good radio.”
The way people consume content is so different from what it was back in the day. You have to have a digital footprint. Connect with your audience in a different way.
“Maybe you’re not doing nearly as many in-person events as you may be used to,” said Lane. “You have to find other ways for your fans to ‘touch you.’ It can happen by Facebook or Instagram. Twitter doesn’t have nearly as many people as Instagram does. You can’t believe how important that stuff is.”
On-air phone calls are not as prevalent as they used to be. I’m trying to get that back on the air. We don’t live in a day and age where the phone is the only way to communicate with hosts. Old crusty veteran hosts might say, ‘I don’t do that social media stuff. They must realize its importance.”
“We need to make an effort to keep younger people interested. I have two children that never listen to terrestrial radio. Even though their father works in radio.. They listen to stuff off Itunes. One of my sons loves the Pat McAfee Show. He likes YouTube. We still need to get the attention of the younger set. It gives me a chance to get our platform in front of those who are not necessarily terrestrial listeners.”
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].
Michael Berry Doesn’t Want to Be All Serious All the Time
“I get to entertain everyday and people come and listen to me. That really — more than anything else — is the thrill.”
There are plenty of nationally syndicated radio shows that began as local shows. Not many hosts, however, have both a local radio show and a nationally syndicated show each weekday. But Michael Berry isn’t your average radio talk show host.
In addition to hosting a local show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH, Berry hosts The Michael Berry Show on more than 40 stations throughout the nation. And he believes having a local show in his hometown market — Houston — while still getting to talk about national topics on his afternoon show is the ideal situation for him.
“It lets me sort of keep my hand in two very different pies and do two very different shows. And that fulfills me,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t want to do just one or just the other. And I think part of it — I was the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston, so I got very involved and very entrenched in the political world. I know a lot of the restaurant owners, I know a lot of business owners, and I really enjoy making the fourth-largest city into a tiny town for our listeners.
“But I also want to be able to talk to a national audience on a national level. I get to do both of those. I think that’s ideal for me.”
Michael Berry served on the City Council in Houston from 2002-2008, which gives him a unique perspective about both local and national politics that many others in the format don’t have.
“I think the experience of how bills are made and the backroom deals and how they’re done, I think that informs my opinions in a way that if you haven’t done that, it makes it harder to understand,” said Berry. “Also the blocking and tackling of how you get bills passed and how you win elections and those sorts of things.
“It just gives you that experience and it also helps you understand when a politician or an elected official says something that seems to go against what he believes or what he promised. You have a better sense of ‘Ok, who did he sell out to? Why did he do that? Where is the pressure point?’
“Because I think listeners want to understand not just why is Mitch McConnell doing something that feels like it’s against what the base is doing. The better question is, what’s the pressure point? What’s driving him? Who’s pushing him into that corner? And I think when you’re in the process, you get a very good sense of that.”
One could refer to Michael Berry as an almost new-age news/talk host. While one of the large criticisms of conservative talk radio today is the vitriol and anger most hosts present on the air, Berry is often presenting the opposite. Oftentimes, his show isn’t centered on conservative political viewpoints at all. A constant presentation of hope, admiration, and excitement not just about politics but about culture and the conservative lifestyle is the backbone of Berry’s program.
And while he has an affinity for those inside the conservative talk radio format, he simply believes he’s filling a different, virtually unoccupied, lane.
“There are some brilliant people out there on the radio. Sean Hannity has access to every elected official. Clay (Travis) and Buck (Sexton) are getting access to anybody they want as a guest. Mark Levin is a brilliant mind, a brilliant legal mind. (Glenn) Beck has a great perspective from decades of experience. Dan Bongino’s a really smart guy. There’s some really, really clever, smart, experienced broadcasters. I don’t need to be a lighter version of them, which is all I could ever hope to be. I want to be who I am,” admitted Berry.
“And I don’t see myself as competing with them. I wouldn’t want to. They’re all wonderful. We can all coexist, but I don’t want to watch the same show 24 hours a day. I want to create content that is different than other people are doing,” Berry continued. “Not because I’m better or they’re not good, but because I don’t think I can do it as well as they can. So I want to do what I do well.”
Michael Berry free admits he’d get bored simply sticking to the conservative political script for two separate shows each day. That’s why weaving other topics into his program continues to excite him.
“If all you do is what I call angry, old white man radio, you can’t build an audience and you can’t keep an audience. And the reason is that it becomes tedious. It becomes a chore to listen to. And everybody has heard that type of program that never laughs at anything and especially not that itself. We want to make people laugh. We want to talk about real life things, as well. We don’t have to talk politics 24/7.
“When I think about the influence in this country, on the culture, comedians have always had such an influence. The reason is that when you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and you’re engaging and you’re building your bond. I think that one of the great barriers to success in radio and success for the conservative movement is the inability to bond on the deeper level of let’s share a laugh.
“I think there is a great joy when I find that I’m making a point that I consider to be important, and yet in the middle of it, we can all laugh.”
Ultimately, Michael Berry doesn’t view his role in talk radio as a political pontificator, conservative advocate, or a preacher from behind the Republican pulpit. He views his craft from a completely different angle.
“I view myself as an entertainer. The hardcore conservative listeners don’t like me to say that because that means you must not mean what you say, or you’re not serious. I mean every word I say. And I’m very serious,” Berry stated. “But I’m serious in the way Dave Chappelle is serious. And make no mistake, Dave Chappelle is having a huge influence in America today on how we view the First Amendment or the concepts of freedom of thought…the reason is, is because he’s dead serious while making you laugh.
“When I was really deciding that this was a career I wanted to pursue…I went and studied stand-up comics, because I felt like that was the place. Otherwise, I would just mimic the guys that were already successful, and I didn’t want to do that,” Berry continued. “I felt dishonest about that.
“So what I did, instead, is I went and studied comedians, and delivery and how you engage an audience and how you hold an audience and how you make a point without beating the audience over the head with it. And how you go from point to point, how you pivot, how you make it fun. A lot of these are sort of back porch conversation tricks, you know, parlor games of, of how we keep a conversation going except it’s a one one man conversation without it feeling like I’m lecturing you.”
During our conversation, Michael Berry admitted he can hear hosts around the country who have lost the will to create compelling content, who say things they don’t believe, and are no longer in love with the format that once enticed them to join the industry.
However, he’s made a vow to never lose the excitement that comes with working in a format he still thoroughly enjoys.
“I view it as I get to wake up every day excited to go to the studio. My dad worked for 40 years at a plant in the maintenance unit and he hated every day of it. But he had all us kids to take care of. I get to entertain every day and people come and listen to me,” he shared. “That really, more than anything else, that is the thrill. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.
“I think that most people probably don’t love what they do…I’m a megalomaniac. We all have to be to have the audacity to think that you can talk every day and people want to hear you, but I love it. It’s a thrill. I love to talk and I love to create stories and I love to create entertainment and create content. And when I hear from people that in some way they enjoyed it. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine, in the way that it would be for a pastor, or a comedian, or a songwriter, or a singer. It is incredibly rewarding.
“We live in an abundance of riches when it comes to content…but for them to choose to come and say I’m gonna let you entertain me,” Michael Berry concluded. “That is the ultimate compliment.”
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett News Media. He previously served as Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host of 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.
Do Radio Hosts Actually Care About What They’re Talking About?
So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice.
If you don’t care, why should anyone else care about what you do?
That’s one reason why I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. You don’t get a 211-186 final if anyone is remotely making any effort at all. It’s an extended version of the pre-game warmup. Everyone’s throwing up threes with no defense. They might as well break into a layup drill. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless game. I’ve endured a lot of All-Star games among the major sports leagues, and I stopped bothering to watch years ago. I haven’t missed much.
That translates to other realms as well. This column focuses on the media, so if you’re, say, a talk radio host, you should be asking yourself whether you really care about what you’re talking about. That’s the threshold question: Do you care? Because if you don’t, are you really going to put in the effort to make the topic entertaining so that other people – your listeners – care enough to listen and stay with you for the whole segment?
So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice. And “I don’t care about it” isn’t a particularly compelling talk radio topic, is it?
It’s easier for local sports talk – it’s a given that whatever you’re ranting about and whatever take you have, listeners care because, well, who listens to sports radio and doesn’t care about what’s going on (All-Star Games notwithstanding)?
News organizations, on the other hand, have a different goal: If it’s news that on the surface is dry and boring but still matters, it’s the reporters’ and editors’ job to explain why a viewer or reader should care. Ukraine or Gaza might seem remote to a lot of people, but their importance to a typical U.S. citizen can’t be understated, and it’s important (and often forgotten) to emphasize why they matter and what impact they have on everyone.
The simple fact is that the energy you project on anything you talk about or report upon is a reflection of what you have invested in the story. You can fake enthusiasm, but if you just truly don’t care about Taylor and Travis, you’ll just be going through the motions and that’s what the audience perceives.
On the other hand, if you’ve invested a lot of time digging into an arcane financial story and you know that what seems like a remote, inscrutable radio topic may have profound consequences for many consumers, emphasize that and make clear why the viewer or reader should care, and do it right out of the gate to grab their attention.
Here, a digression: Why do they even bother with the actual All-Star Game anymore? Take the NBA All-Star Weekend: Nobody will remember anything about the game (other than that one team scored over 200 points) but everyone will remember the Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu shootout. They may remember Mac McClung’s repeat dunk contest win or the celebrity game or Rising Stars games.
Why not just do the skills and challenges, which are usually entertaining, and skip the All-Star Game itself, which isn’t? Maybe add some contests and honors for past greats. Most of the people who trek to the All-Star venue are there for the parties anyway. And with baseball now doing interleague play all season, none of the All-Star Games involve getting to see players who don’t normally face each other in the regular season face off. They don’t need a game nobody in it wants to play. I recognize this will never happen.
But the main takeaway here is that it’s less true that you can’t make someone care about a thing they don’t care about themselves than it is true that if you don’t care, you have zero chance making anyone else care. Your poker face isn’t that good.
Perry Michael Simon is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He previously served as VP and Editor/News-Talk-Sports/Podcast for AllAccess.com. Prior to joining the industry trade publication, Perry spent years in radio working as a Program Director and Operations Manager for KLSX and KLYY in Los Angeles and New Jersey 101.5 in Trenton. He can be found on X (formerly Twitter) @PMSimon.
Radio Was Built For Charity and Volunteer Work
Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.
Art Bell once said, “We are all here for a Cosmic Blink. Use your time wisely.” The wisest man in all of history, a fellow named Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of us are drawn to radio for usually a basic human impulse…it is a narcissistic rage that exists in every baby. Look at me! Listen to me! My opinions are important!
Unless you are a completely narcissistic fool, you have looked in the mirror and wondered about why we are here. What is your worth in the cosmic blink? Ok, let old Uncle Peter (Yes, I went full third person) explain.
We have all been given an amazing platform. Not only to spout our beliefs, biases, and humor, but to touch our communities. Does your show have a charity? Why not? Does your station have a charity or a “Day of Action” to support local causes? The answer should be yes. Radio shows and stations raise millions of dollars to improve our society. We raise awareness of issues that create change. It is why we are here.
Before I give you some random idea starters for your show/station, let’s talk about the charities that you personally support. Do you give a portion of your income to religious, humanitarian, or conservation projects that you believe in? You should if you don’t make these donations. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I think it is important psychologically to donate to organizations that do good things in our world.
These donations allow a portion of the cosmic blink of our lives to pay it forward. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, a small donation helps you feel connected to our world. If you are particularly blessed by the fruits of your hard work, make that donation bigger. Investing in the charities and religious organizations of our choice gives us significance. Instead of the narcissistic screaming for change, it is an action step.
Your show can unify your community through service. There was a movement that is still going on today by some churches that take a Sunday off from a religious service to spend their day serving their communities. This can be painting an elderly widow’s home, cleaning a park, feeding the homeless, or other things. If you speak to homeless shelters, lots of people want to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, but not so much in the middle of February.
So how about a day of service for your radio show? Reach out to a local charity that needs volunteers and make it an all-day affair. Perhaps you can do your show from the homeless shelter. Interview the people who serve the downtrodden every day or interview listeners who donated their day with you? Make it big and use your platform to make someone’s life better.
For those of you who have been doing radio for a decade or less, I have had listeners reach out to me about something that I said on the air 25 years ago. It’s very humbling. Every day you get on the air trying to perform. Heck, have you ever wanted to scream “Is anyone listening?” I have. I had someone reach out to me on Twitter to share a moment that meant so much to him. When those moments happen, I thank them for listening and what an honor it was to impact their memories in such a way. You are making a difference for people every day.
Your station may broadcast a big charitable event each year. Be involved in every aspect of the planning process. Buy in 100%. When you take full ownership of the station event, your interest will take this fundraiser to the next level. Talk about a way to build goodwill in the community.
Do you want to create an unbreakable bond? Help a local charity. You will go viral. Take selfies with all of the volunteers and organizers. Put this on your social media. Make it big. Do something that makes a difference. Go to their events and volunteer to do anything. Likely, you will be an emcee, but, if they want you to wrap presents, shovel up some stuff do it. Be a servant.
In our post-COVID world, I keep reading about disconnection. Civic groups and religious organizations are experiencing a crisis of participation. This is terrible. Our society’s drift into solitude is damaging. Census figures show that the average household size in the USA is about 2.5 people. This means there are a lot of people sitting in a home or apartment alone. These people are disconnected from society. They go to work, go home, and live their solitary life online. Humans are not built for this. Your radio show is a connection for them. By the way: Your community’s average age is probably around 37 years. Think of this. You are a lynchpin for building community. Your station’s charitable events help people belong to something greater than themselves.
You are an influencer. Be a leader. Build a community. Create belonging.
Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.
Peter Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the Director of Spoken Word for iHeart Des Moines. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville, Hunstville, and Joplin. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on X at @PeterThiele.