Scott Rheinhold Learned to Make Himself Indispensable
Rheinhold co-hosts Morning Xtra with Tug Cowart on Atlanta’s only Conservative News and Talk Station XTRA 106.3 FM.
There are tons of nicknames out there. You’ve got Stan’ The Man’ Musial, Ed’ Too Tall’ Jones, and Earvin’ Magic’ Johnson. We can add Scott ‘Rhino’ Rheinhold into that mix. Scott Rheinhold is also known as The Terminator, but more on that later.
When he was eight years old, Rheinhold’s father gave him a Care Bear microphone, which they attached to an FM radio.
“My first guest was probably my little brother,” Rheinhold said. “I was doing play-by-play for a Jets and Giants football game. I didn’t have many friends, just kind of kept to myself. I had one best friend, and we hung out at the radio station all the time.”
Rheinhold said Rhino is a nickname he used throughout his time in sports but admits it’s a horrible conservative talk show name.
“RINO means something totally different in politics,” he said. “But I’ve kept it because I really am a Republican in name only because I am a conservative.”
Rheinhold has been in the Atlanta radio market for over 25 years. He started his radio career in New York at 95.5 WPLJ as an intern.
“When I was interning at WPLJ, I knew radio was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
An admitted Family Ties Alex P. Keaton devotee since he was 13, Rheinhold said it was politics first and sports second. Probably a good call as he was 5’4” and quickly recognized any thoughts about playing hockey at a higher level weren’t in the cards.
“I wanted to do play-by-play for the New York Rangers.”
He was all set to join the Army and go to Fort Benning, Georgia, to train. A week before his ship date, they discontinued the program he had intended to pursue.
“My family had already moved down to the Atlanta area. I went to community college and was looking for some way to get back into radio. Some kind of shortcut. I ended up at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.”
He grew tired of the left-leaning ideology in New York and yearned for what he perceived was a different attitude in the south.
Rheinhold moved to Atlanta in 1994 and finished school, and accepted a job in 1996 as a producer and production director at 790 The Zone in Atlanta. Two years later, he became the promotions director at WSTR Star 94 in Atlanta.
It was Rheinhold’s goal to learn everything he could about radio, making him indispensable to the station and perhaps avoid being in the sights when it was time for firings.
“I’ve never been fired from a station,” he said proudly. “If I could do everything, somebody before me would probably get the ax.”
Rheinhold said that was his figurative blackmail. Did you need someone to do production? Look no further. Do you say you need someone to host a show? I’m your guy.
“They called me the terminator. (Told you.) When I left a station, then came back, other employees somewhat jokingly said, ‘Whose job are you going to take?’ I didn’t particularly like that.”
Rheinhold wasn’t about to apologize for being valuable. He said he’s very loyal and did what was asked of him.
Next up, a job with Dickey Broadcasting as they launched 680 The Fan. He was a producer, reporter, sports update guy, and personality working on The Buck and Kincade Show.
“Throughout my career, David Dickey has helped guide me,” Rheinhold explained. “I wanted to be the best at what I do, and he felt the same way.”
Rheinhold said program director Matt Edgar is also someone who has had his back.
“Matt always told me to keep going, do what I had been doing. When the pandemic hit, he would call me and say he knew things were difficult and the station needed me back. He’s the kind of guy I always looked up to.”
Yet another influence on Rheinhold was Mike Thompson. He was someone that pushed him to the next level and someone he respected.
“I was lucky to meet him. He encouraged me to make things funny, weird. Mike knew I understood radio. I was doing a sports update. I attempted a Mike Tyson impersonation. I could barely get through the rest of the segment because I was laughing so hard.”
Rheinhold said Thompson not only understood what he was doing, Thompson told him to do more. He said Thompson knew what was entertaining. The audience would forget whether the Braves won a game, but they wouldn’t forget the Tyson impression.
When he was a kid, Rheinhold had the chance to meet an idol.
“I just had to get Donald Trump to sign my copy of The Art of the Deal. I was a big fan of his back then. So, I saved my lunch money to go to a benefit dinner. I was wearing a pink tie to stand out, and he noticed and commented on the tie.
He said he wants to run into Trump again and might wear his pink tie.
“I’ve covered Trump at a lot of events. He has a different dynamic. I think he was a fantastic president but not a great orator. He’s also clearly a narcissist. He is always jumping off the page. I think that’s unfortunate because his policies were sound.”
Rheinhold said he thinks the January 6th Commission is distracting us from things that are really going on, kitchen table topics.
“It’s purely done to keep people away from voting for Trump again. They tried to get Marjorie Taylor Greene and failed.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican. Rheinhold said if your goal is to shut anyone down, you will push the political agenda.
“It goes both ways. If Republicans win the midterms, I promise they’ll hold special committees to call out Dr. Fauci, both Bidens, Afghanistan, Chuck Schumer and blame them for the ills of the world. It’s just how it’s done.”
Rheinhold co-hosts Morning Xtra with Tug Cowart on Atlanta’s only Conservative News and Talk Station XTRA 106.3 FM.
“Tug is an amazing guy. Very faithful friend. I consider him one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known. Exemplary as a father, and it’s great to have him in my corner. Sometimes on the radio, hosts will seem friendly and appear to get along. They’re laughing and seem like best friends. Off the air, it’s different. With Tug, we really do laugh, talk, and share ideas.”
Rheinhold said it’s the same way with David Dickey, and that’s why he won’t leave.
“We flipped to conservative talk last year,” he said. “While working in sports, Carlos Medina, Tug, and myself were in the corner of the lunchroom talking politics very quietly. We called it the bullpen. And this went on for a while. We didn’t want to do it in front of other people because an unwritten rule is you never talk politics in a public setting. You must have respect for others. We’d talk about taxes, Obama, whatever.”
At one point, they decided sports wasn’t working. David Dickey is a more conservative owner and felt the market needed a new voice. WSB was their biggest competitor and went after them.
Dickey knew he had a lot of the right people in place. During the pandemic, Rheinhold started a YouTube channel and always talked about politics.
“On the air, I shared how the women in my house would go through the toilet paper. So, I collected the empty rolls and hot-glued them together to make a crown. I wasn’t Hannity; I was just having fun.”
All he’s wanted to do is live a happy life. At this point, he’s not overly concerned about what he says.
“I still deliver my points in an honest and funny way. If it’s controversial or not, I don’t care.”
Influences outside of radio included George Bush for a while. “The family changed, so I dumped them.”
Reagan was number one for Rheinhold. “He’s my George Washington. Reagan changed everything, especially the way we look at the economy.”
According to Rheinhold, the Atlanta audience is predominantly conservative, not necessarily Trump conservatives.
“I’m sure Trump thinks the establishment Republicans are taking over. The very thing he intended to stop. He’s attacked because he’s an outsider. Does he bring some of it on himself? Sure he does.”
He said Trump would go into a meeting with Kim Jong-un, shake his hand, but warn him he’d destroy him if need be.
“Some were afraid Trump was a warmonger. I don’t care if he rode a horse shirtless every day with Putin; he kept Russia at bay. Trump let it be known he would destroy them if he had to. Trump is a narcissist, but you almost needed him to be.”
That he is.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Only Path Forward For News Radio is Strong Personalities
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than News/Talk
If radio wants to keep up, personality has to be the way. The format of choice is irrelevant, but personality has to be the biggest asset for the format and station.
It’s something I’ve written about before in this column, but when it gets reinforced by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, it’s worth mentioning again.
In a great conversation with Talkers’ Michael Harrison, Pittman pointed out that “25% of iHeart’s stations do not play music”, and that more and more shows on the company’s music stations are “actually talk shows that play little or no music at all.”
Then came the best line of the conversation, when Pittman said, “Even on our music stations, you find us moving much more towards heavier personalities, because as we begin to say, If somebody just wanted music, they’ve got a lot of places to go. We’re probably not their best option, if they just want to dig through music. If they want somebody to keep them company, and hang out with them, and be their friend, and be an informed friend, and connect with them, there’s no better place. So we’re very committed to it.”
That’s it right there.
Radio’s competitive advantage is being a friend (ideally local), while using personality-driven content to develop that relationship with the listener to then drive listening occasions.
As has been discussed and addressed for years, music radio simply can’t compete with Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. if your goal is to listen to your music at the exact time that you want it.
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than news/talk, where the strongest opinions and deepest connections often exist. That’s backed up by the Time Spent Listening for the format, which leads the way in many markets.
In many ways, news/talk is the best — and most exciting — place to be right now in the business, and none of that has to do with what is shaping up to be a fascinating 2024 election cycle. But rather because the industry’s biggest advantage to maintaining and growing its audience is its personalities, so if you’re already in the talk format, you’re ahead of the game. And then if you’re good, you’re a highly valuable asset.
As Pittman also noted in his conversation with Harrison, “For the first time ever, the radio business is bigger than the TV business, in terms of audience from 18 to 49 [year olds].”
National coastal media won’t write about that, because too many of them aren’t everyday American consumers. However, the data doesn’t lie. Radio is beating TV in a key demo and the leaders in the industry know that personality-driven content is their key to future success. That’s a great combination for those of us working in the business.
Granted, as we all know, it’s not all roses and sunshine. These are still tough times with continuing competition in the ad space and a soft 2023 shaping up.
However, the show must go on.
And as radio strategically prepares itself for not just the rest of this year, but the next five to ten years, there are plenty of goals that need to be achieved, but if growing and developing personalities is at the top of the list, that’s a win for the industry and an even bigger win for the news/talk format.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
If CNN is For Sale, Here Are 5 Potential Buyers
CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
It’s hard to run a cable news network like CNN these days. Just look at NewsNation. It was founded on the principle of being the first centrist cable news network to come into existence in years. But over the past couple of months, the network has peddled by coming from a slightly right-of-center angle with headlines. They’ve tried to steal left-of-center viewers from CNN with the hiring of Chris Cuomo. And now they’re literally going wall-to-wall with coverage of UFOs. I’m not even making that up.
In a world where a big chunk of its denizens believes the truth is a maybe while the other half doesn’t pay attention to the news unless it is bite-sized, does it still make sense to own a cable news network? Given the turmoil Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav has faced lately with CNN it may not be for him.
The company was forced to let go of CNN CEO Chris Licht this week after a scathing profile from The Atlantic that went behind the scenes into how Licht operated the network post-Jeff Zucker. It was a circus, to say the least. After reading the profile though, you still come away feeling bad for Licht while considering the fact that there is a hand that might have been puppeteering him along the way that was used to having control over everyone.
Zazlav comes from a part of cable where it is necessary to operate like a dictatorship because the formula has proven to work with Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, etc…and because the shows that air on these networks create their own warped reality to spit out for thirsty reality consumers who want it the way it is served.
It’s impossible to have this kind of culture in cable news where the personalities aren’t really the star of the network — the news and facts are and they can’t be warped to fit all interested parties. They just have to be true whether it benefits one side or the other. The truth is the truth.
There are new ways to tell stories and there’s new technology you can use to tell those stories but at the end of the day, telling stories also has the same formula as it always has and can’t be changed.
Remarkably, Don Lemon comes away from Licht’s profile looking the most intelligent when he says that many critics of CNN like Zazlav are committed to Monday morning quarterbacking. CNN went a little too hard on various things happening in the Trump administration too many times, but at the end of the day, it was the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable to the truth just like it has been since the founding of television news.
This lack of realization on Zazlav’s part shows that CNN probably doesn’t belong in the same company as Warner Bros. Discovery. The cultures of Discovery and CNN clearly don’t align. Axios has already reported that because of the low ad market, cord-cutting, slumping ratings, and the run-up to the election having not started yet, WBD doesn’t plan on selling CNN any time soon. It also should be noted that CNN still makes almost $800 million a year for WBD so it is not the big loss of an asset that many in the media would make you think it is.
At the same time, unless Zazlav decides to change his mindset, he needs to sell before this situation becomes unmanageable. CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds democracy and the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
The Mickey Mouse Club owns the news organization that already has the most trust among conservatives on television besides Fox News (ABC News), so they would help legitimize CNN’s mission of garnering more conservatives.
CNN’s library of content would bolster its digital platforms and provide an avenue to create new documentaries and films. ABC News’ own extracurricular projects would be on a platform that has consistent reach with the audience they’re seeking and wouldn’t get lost in the clouds like it currently does on Hulu.
National Geographic could move its content to CNN and HLN and help Disney get rid of one less cable network (NatGeo Channel) that doesn’t generate revenue.
CNN already has the largest news organization in the world. Their addition would bring NBC over the top. NBC’s ability to promote news offerings on Peacock would get some much-needed help as well since CNN has the number one digital news website in the United States.
Peacock would also be able to add CNN’s library to its app giving viewers who crave live news and sports another reason to subscribe to the app.
Regulatory issues may prevail due to past rulings by the federal government but this may have a chance to go through if the government believes the internet and streaming and the fragmentation of television has created enough competition for a CNN/MSNBC combo to not be too powerful.
The Emerson Collective
In a stroke of sheer awkwardness, could the owners of The Atlantic be contenders? Laurene Powell Jobs has constantly spoken about how much she believes journalism affects the balance of our society.
CNN, despite its ratings drag, still plays a vital role in shaping what we talk about as a society. Jobs’ causes like social justice reform, immigration reform, and the environment might get more attention from the general populous on a platform like CNN
The Washington Post or New York Times
Both entities were hand-in-hand with CNN reporting on the latest developments involving the Trump administration and both also faced public backlash about what they deemed as important with a Trump admin vs. a regular administration.
They all share the same mission and journalism ethos and, in the case of WaPo, have a very wealthy backer who could fund a potential deal.
The media mogul has become more deeply involved with the industry than he ever was before. He has a stake in the sports RSNs that are currently failing, he owns The Weather Channel — the most trusted name in news right now which is a remarkable feat to achieve in an era where so many deny climate change and he’s in the market to buy more.
CNN being black-owned could quell the accusations of the network becoming white-washed. A partnership with The Weather Channel bolsters coverage of climate change for the cable network.
And for Byron Allen, CNN gives him a seat on the table when it comes to power and influence in the worlds of Wall Street and Congress.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.