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For Tim Van Horn, The Guests Are Always King

Van Horn believed program directors in radio saw his ability to improvise when he did the weather, and he always tried to answer a question directly.

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Memphis, Tennessee, is both a large city and Mayberry on steroids. 

“It seems everybody knows everyone in Memphis,’ said Tim Van Horn. 

“We’ve got more than 600,000 people living here, but you always bump into someone you know or who knows you. Whether it’s out to dinner or at a soccer match.”

Van Horn said a while back he went to a Trump rally in north Mississippi, the American Freedom Tour.

“I started talking to a 100-year-old WWII veteran. It turns out his son was my first soccer coach, who is in his 60s or 70s now. Here we are at a Trump rally, and he remembers me. He was my older brother’s coach as well. That’s what is so great about living down here. Maybe that’s why I feel so proud and happy to be here. I was born here and will probably die here. All my family and friends live in the area, so I’m emotionally invested.”

Van Horn said Memphis really is the city of Kings. You had Elvis Presley, the ‘King of Rock and Roll,’ and Jerry’ The King’ Lawler, of wrestling fame.

It’s not easy to think of Memphis and not think of Elvis. 

“He was a man of God,” Van Horn said. 

Unbeknownst to a lot of people, Elvis Presley’s gospel grounding was as strong as his roots in country and blues. He was cutting spiritual tunes as early as 1957, and he’d been singing gospel songs since boyhood.

“Elvis is a good-old southern boy from Tupelo, Mississippi,” Van Horn said. “I think it’s sad how he faded away. I don’t know if it was genetics or pain tolerance, but once he got caught up in prescription drugs, it all went downhill. He loved the ladies and boy could he belt out a tune.”

Van Horn hosts “Wake Up Memphis” weekdays on KWAM from 6:00 to 9:00 AM. He has over 25 years of radio experience and more than 15 years of television experience as a meteorologist. 

“On our show, we put a lot of sweat equity into what we do,” Van Horn said. “We have a lot of national programming. We do a lot to flip the mix. Eighty percent is going to be local discussions. National topic. Impact us in the city. People want to know what’s going on. 

He said it’s one thing to complain about something, another to bring in a guest who has lived what the show is talking about. He said an example would be booking guests from the restaurant association during the Covid lockdown. 

“Some merchants lost everything,” Van Horn said. “Just because an unelected government body insisted that customers wear a mask. We’re not a rip and read newsroom.”

Van Horn said he works hard not to be the focus or star of the show.

“I want to get people to tell their story. If I am the star, that would be a problem. The guest is the king.” (Great, another king in Memphis.)

Van Horn said he points the guest in the right direction to help shape the show. 

“Part of what I do is to push back and challenge a guest, not just sit there and nod my head at whatever they say. When people come on my show, I let them know I’m not going to toe the line for them. They also know I won’t ambush them.”

He asks real questions, regardless of political ideology. 

Van Horn was a meteorologist for quite a while. “For 15 years,” he said. “I miss the people in television, not the industry.”

He explained a lot of the information has become digital. He could see where personality and individualism on-air wasn’t as important as it once was.

“They could hire a recent college graduate for a lot less money than I’d be making. There wouldn’t be a place for me. I was a bigger number on the Excel spreadsheet.”

“I remember how exciting it was to cover severe weather, get the adrenaline going,” Van Horn said. “You need someone with experience and trust to tell you where the tornado is going, where the hail is striking when the public is in danger. You can save money on salary and move to digital, but merely going to school for a meteorology degree won’t fill those needs.”

Van Horn also loved going out into the community and talking to kids in school. He said he always got the same questions, but that didn’t matter. The kids were genuinely interested in what he had to say.

“The weathermen did that when I was a kid. It was something to pass down to the next generation. Doing the severe weather coverage built up a good deal of equity.” 

On the flip-side, he hated judging science fairs. “You could only make three kids happy; the rest didn’t like you,” Van Horn jokes. 

Van Horn figured there must be somewhere he could better utilize his presentation skills. He does miss the chance to inform people about the weather. There are other things he misses.

“I can take three minutes to answer a question I could have answered in three seconds,” Van Horn jokes.” I’m humble enough to know I can be a windbag. In talk radio, I have fewer restraints than I did on television.”

He believes there is a sense of loyalty to a radio personality. “I think people tune in to hear what I have to say on a topic. They come back to see if I’m consistent. I don’t side with people like Trump every time or a politician every time. Sometimes I’m zigging when a party line might be zagging.”

Van Horn said the state of things are generally black and white regarding the political landscape. He points out he’s nobody’s patsy.

“Much to the dismay of our local party,” he said. “I’ve called them out. I think they’re taking the conservative base for granted. I sleep better at night, knowing I was true to myself and my beliefs. I don’t pretend that everything is okay.”

Van Horn said veteran media personality Todd Starnes taught him a great lesson. ‘You must always be honest, Starnes said, rather than try to be friends with politicians.’

As his career progressed, Van Horn believed program directors in radio saw his ability to improvise when he did the weather, and he always tried to answer a question directly. He explained you always had to be ready for a joke when bantering with anchors. 

“I always try to be an active listener. I used to look at the story rundown before the weather see what they might throw at me. I didn’t want to appear like an unplugged or aloof guy. I always hated it when they presented a murder story before they tossed it to weather.”

If you’re looking for something to do in Memphis, just ask Van Horn.

“If anyone comes down here, they have to go to Memphis Zoo. It’s a great place to watch, one of the top zoos in the country. We’ve got pandas and kangaroos.”

He used to watch the television show Emergency when he was a kid. 

“I remember the actor Robert Fuller, who played Dr. Brackett on Emergency,” Van Horn recalled. “He was big in westerns.” He also liked Barney Miller. 

“It was a great cast with Hal Linden, Abe Vigoda, Max Gail.”

Van Horn’s parents were supportive of his work in the media. 

“My father was an HVAC installer,” Van Horn said. “He worked for Sears and would go around town in his blue van.” But it was his mother that ruled the roost. “She put the fear of God into me,” Van Horn said. “When it came down to it, she’d be very calm and told me I could go outside and pick the switch. Usually, my mom dolled out the punishment, but my dad was known to do it as well.”

If it was good enough for Adrian Peterson, it was good enough for the Van Horn clan. 

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In News/Talk Radio, Sometimes It’s Ok to Break the Format

Sometimes, it’s ok to skip a break or two if the content is so compelling that you know your listeners can’t get enough.



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The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As hosts, we spend hours preparing for our radio shows. Reading, listening, and consuming news of all kinds. Putting together a road map for every program. Figuring out where potential guests might fit into each hour, if at all. It’s a daily puzzle, but occasionally we have reminders that plans can, and should, go up in flames when appropriate.

Last week was a week of chaos in Kansas City, as one woman was killed and nearly two dozen injured, including one dozen children, following a shooting shortly after the Chiefs Super Bowl parade wrapped up in front of Union Station.

As broadcasters, we are asked to give the facts to update the public on a minute-by-minute basis as to what is happening in their community, but then, as talk show hosts, we are also required to opine and create engaging content around the tragic news that impacts our communities.

It’s a fine line to walk, at times, especially considering the amount of misinformation that can rapidly circulate on social media, with far too much attention being given to being “first” rather than being “right”.

And while we are working to navigate news that is constantly changing, when there’s a moment to “break the clock”, so to speak, it’s worth doing.

Friday morning, 36 hours after the shooting, FS1’s Nick Wright offered to come on my show to debate gun control, which he had been advocating for on his platforms since Wednesday afternoon. 

I had used my social media to refute many of his points, which led to his suggestion that he join my show that morning and debate on the air. The entire backstory was written about here on Barrett News Media

This came together 30 minutes before he appeared on the air. And there goes the show plans.

The conversation began at 8:05 am, and I thought to myself, if this is going well, I will keep him through a break and wrap around to the bottom of the hour.

It became apparent in the first 60 seconds that this was not going to be a hold-over conversation and that it was going to be intense. At that point, I decided to let the conversation ride as long as it felt like it was engaging content for the audience. 

That meant three breaks and the news reports had to go. Don’t worry, sales staff, we made it all up!

But I also did something I usually don’t do, I monitored our KCMO Talk Radio stream in real-time, which was jumping 15-20% each quarter hour as the conversation continued.

As for the content of the conversation, you can listen to that on our podcast and determine for yourself how you feel it went (and I’d be open to your critical feedback). 

But from a radio formatics standpoint, there are times, albeit very infrequently, when breaking the clock and the format of the hour makes sense. It has to be a feel, as much as anything else, but remember, with real-time streaming numbers that you should have access to, you can use the immediate technology available to you to at least get one data point that might clue you into if your gut is right.

In the meantime, keep hitting your breaks, getting your spots in on time, and playing by the PPM-friendly rules. Your GM, sales manager, and program director will appreciate it.

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Saluting Black Broadcasters: Arthel Neville, Fox News

“Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race.”



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True to herself and true to the truth, Arthel Neville has graced TV screens for over 20 years. From hosting entertainment news, to acting, and for the last 10 years anchoring at Fox News, Neville said her successful career is thanks to, “A lot of hard work and it worked out and paid off.”

Growing up in New Orleans, music and celebrities we a part of Neville’s life, thanks to her famous musician father, Art Neville. Despite the fame, the Neville’s kept home life humble. “He was always daddy. He’d come home, he’d help me with my homework in the daytime because his work was at nighttime. He helped clean the house and mow the lawn and just regular stuff.” She later added, “I was always exposed to celebrities and people who had not your standard jobs, if you will. But I was always raised to just be humble, and it always just normal to me. So that was no different than if your dad went to work at a bank every day.”

After high school, Arthel Neville went to Xavier University, where she turned pre-pharmacy and made the Dean’s list. But while she was in school, “I was doing some local commercials in New Orleans. I got a regional, commercial for Burger King at the time. In my first year of college, I took a gap year.”

Neville went to New York and stayed with her dad’s friends and gave acting a full-time shot.

“I went up there and did the cattle calls like everybody else but I also got an opportunity to work on Saturday Night Live as an extra,” Neville said. She also appeared on All My Children but after 12 months, “I knew my mom told me, ‘You have one year and you have to go back to college.’ So I said alright. I didn’t get this really major part in the soap opera and then I knew that was time to go.”  

Transferring schools, Arthel Neville landed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She picked the school because “At the time Dallas had a major production facility complex. So I could work to help pay for my college.” She put together a tape and a colleague connected her with a KVUE Executive Producer.

KVUE hired Neville and she transferred to the University of Texas. For two and a half years, she went to school and worked as a full-time student and full-time general assignment reporter. Neville said of the time, “I would go to class from 8 AM to 1 PM and then I go to work from 1:30 PM to 10:30 PM.” She later added, “My days off at the time were Tuesday and Wednesday because, you know, low man on the totem pole then. So you see this cycle of just nonstop working and working and rarely I would get a holiday off my vacation time.”

Neville did the market climb until she got her national break  as an entertainment reporter on E! “I had my own celebrity one-on-one celebrity interview show for E!. This was before everybody and their grandmother was doing celebrity interviews. So it was a really big deal and it was a 30-minute show. So again, that was a big deal.” She later added,  “I’m still very, very proud of that work to this day. Really quality work. So once you get on that plane, offers start to come in. You get a lot of attention.”

Arthel Neville made appearances on several shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Moesha, and Monk. She noted, “You’re a celebrity at that point and then they call you in and word got around that I can act. So I kept getting the calls and I had a lot of fun doing that. I loved it, really a lot of fun.” She added, “After a while, I decided to leave the entertainment space and get back into hard news because I figured that that is what would provide the most longevity.”

Over the years, Neville has covered thousands of stories. But the most meaningful to her is her work after Hurricane Katrina.

“As a journalist, the story is not about us. When that story was about me, that was personal. That was my hometown ravaged and that was we lost. We lost a collective of ten family homes. I will say no one [in my family] died in this storm, thank God.”

Arthel Neville later added, “I mean, there are times when I’m out there just in a boat going to my house, I’m going to break down because I’m a person. Even writing the story had a lot of crying. I did [cry] some on camera because I’m not trying to make it about me, but I’m also a person. But mostly off-camera. That was the most difficult assignment of my life because it was personal.”

Arthel Neville has made history several times in the industry. At E!, she became the first African-American woman to host a nationally syndicated entertainment news magazine program. More recently being awarded the DeWitt Carter Reddick award from Moody College of Communications in 2017, their first African American female honoree.

When asked what Black History Month meant to her she focused less on race and more on what commonalities we, the human race, have.

“I am a Black woman 12 months of the year, 365 days of the year. So Black History Month is nice for other people who don’t walk my path and live my life to maybe stop, and focus on people who have created created a pathway not just for me, but for you and everybody else. It’s not just for Black people. People who have come in before us, who have made things better for the country.”     

She later added, “Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race. So stop it with the looking at people from the perspective you think they’re different from you because they look different. We’re all human beings and let’s take that. Take this month to focus on that. Love each other.”

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Radio — The Communication Business Where We Don’t Communicate

Corporate policies are cold and rigid.

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A photo of a radio host in a dark studio

When I was a radio program director in the 1970s and 80s personally responding to job applicants was an important part of every work day. Nobody told me to do it, it was just obvious. Replying to letters from people who mailed me their personal introductions, resumes, and airchecks was as important to me as if they had made an appointment and were seated in my office, freshly scrubbed, smiling with hope, and making their best first impression.

Every afternoon I read their letters and resumes. I listened attentively to their carefully packaged tapes as if mining for a rare gem, which I was. I wrote encouraging letters to them whether I had a possible job for them or not. I took unexpected phone calls from job applicants.

Why wouldn’t I? These were passionate broadcasters offering their unique, hard-earned experience. They respected our station and were excited for an opportunity to join us. Besides, I’d been in their position myself and would be again. These hopeful young talents deserved my attention. To me, as a program manager, it was my primary responsibility.

None of this happens anymore. Radio job seekers today have to run a gauntlet of dehumanizing corporate job websites. When you’ve filled in all the blanks and linked the resume you spent hours perfecting you hold your breath and click “submit”. You did it! The website immediately gives you the impersonal assurance that your application has been received. You wonder if that’s true. You may never really know.

Bob Helbig is the media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. He recently found that while 60% of employers surveyed said they felt they regularly communicated with applicants, only 28% of job seekers said they felt the communication was sufficient.

Corporate policies are cold and rigid. I recently talked with a major market talk radio program director who asked to remain anonymous, which in itself tells the tale. He told me he’s not even allowed to take word-of-mouth recommendations for new hires. Email and phone inquiries are out of the question. When somebody tells him, “Hey, I know a great reporter you should talk to,” all he can reply is, “Please tell them to apply online.” The most he can do is file a name in his memory and hope it pops up in the HR-approved list of candidates.

Back in the day, I would have phoned that reporter and invited him or her to come in and talk.

As a job applicant, you know you face strong competition. All the career websites offer volumes of advice about how to prepare a strong resume to stand out from the crowd. You’ve done that. You plug it into the web portal, hoping to make an impression. You count the days since you submitted your application and check your email many times daily hoping for an encouraging reply from a real human, maybe even from the big-name program director who holds the key to your future.

Patience. You have to wait still longer.

After a few days, you wonder if a real person has even seen your application or if the algorithm is just weeding people out. Yes, indeed it is.

Artificial Intelligence now entering the process might speed things up a bit but it won’t help your need for human contact. God forbid AI takes over the screening process entirely but you can’t rule that out.

Nobody writes or calls even to say, “Thanks for your interest, we’ll get back to you.” You’re left to wonder if your love of radio, your hard work, and your beautifully written pitch even landed before a real person’s eyes.

The worst part is knowing that hearing nothing is nothing personal.

Jeff Altman is a career coach and host of the No BS Job Search Advice Radio podcast. He told Forbes, “The hiring process has been turned into sausage-making. People apply for jobs through an applicant tracking system where they are expected to homogenize their experience so they are plucked from the thousands of others. They are asked the same questions by most employers until, eventually, they are chosen and onboarded.”

How did we get to this complex and impersonal process? Laws, of course. Federal and state mandates to prevent any form of discrimination in hiring practices are good things but they don’t allow for human integrity and discretion. They’re ironclad. The difficulty for HR departments lies in making sure that the rules are followed to the letter by management employees who are not lawyers. The list of federal regulations alone is long and daunting.

“For instance, you can’t ask questions that reveal a person’s race, gender, religion, marital status, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, or age on an application or during an interview. This information could lead to biases and discrimination in the hiring process.”

Those restrictions are fairly obvious these days but they’re just the tip of a large iceberg, most of which is hidden below the surface and beyond the limits of what program directors, news directors, sales, and other radio managers are expected to know. So, yes, the software is asking only legally acceptable questions before any live interviews can take place.

I really hate being the “back in my day” old fart but my god, is there no way we can allow a young person to walk into a radio station with stars in her or his eyes, and talk to somebody about their future?

Must we expect job applicants of the 21st Century to understand that’s just the way things are or could the process be massaged a bit to keep them hopeful and feeling less like a piece of uninspected data?

Would it be so hard to send job applicants a pleasant and somewhat personal email along the lines of: “Hi, Mark. I’m in the H.R. Department at BigTime Media and I want to thank you for your application for our on-air opening at News/Talk 95.3 WTF. I will call or text you when your qualifications have been reviewed and let you know whether you can expect a follow-up live interview with somebody at the station. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. – Sincerely, Mary Sunbeam, BigTime Media”.

Sure, it’s another form letter but at least it addresses the applicant by name, refers to the specific station, and gives them a sense of humanity and hope for future contact. Assigning applicants to a real-life personal H.R. staff member like Mary Sunbeam might require a little more effort but it would be an enormous boost to the company’s reputation.

There might be other ways to go about it. The point is people need to feel their applications are worthwhile and accepted with some degree of sincere gratitude.

The ugly irony is we’re in radio, yet we talk to people, not with them.

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