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Marty Lenz Was Shaped By The Gridiron

Lenz said his participation in football has helped him develop a strong work ethic and understanding.

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After talking with Marty Lenz for about an hour, I don’t know if Halloween is his favorite holiday. I’m not even sure if Halloween is his favorite movie.

“I interviewed Jamie Lee Curtis when she was promoting her podcast, Letters from Camp,” Lenz said.

“You would think the daughter of Hollywood royalty Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh would be talking about Hollywood things. I liked her because she was willing to show her insecurities.”

Lenz said Curtis is still lovely.

“People only see the star. We were talking about Letters from Camp, and I asked her about things that matter to her and she answered candidly. I was blown away.”

Lenz said in his experience, there are times in an interview when the conversation goes places he never imagined.

“I have a great producer. We’ll have some questions in preparation in case I get stuck. I do like to approach my interviews generically, see where they go.”

He said smart people know the questions that are coming. Curtis knew the Halloween questions were coming. But Lenz said he likes to disarm his guests by asking them questions they may not have been expecting. Something apart from what they do for a living. He eventually got around to what Curtis is best known for.

“Turns out she was glad I asked about the movie. I had to know how she felt about the iconic character.”

Lenz said his all-time favorite interview was with Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, among other musical incarnations.

“We were having a lovely conversation about his background in Missouri, the art of music, the Doobie Brothers, working with Kenny Loggins. He got caught up in it and enjoyed the conversation. His PR person interrupted on the phone and told him it was time to stop. McDonald told the PR person ‘no’, he was having a good time.”

His father was a pharmaceutical salesman and taught Lenz an appreciation for many things, including respecting women.

“He empowered my sisters,” Lenz explained. “This is what was great about my late father. He told his girls they could do anything a guy can do. I learned from my sisters how to treat women. My sisters would say, ‘don’t ever treat a girl this way, or that way.’ We talked about sexual harassment in the workplace. I knew at an early age what is and is not appropriate and respectful in the workplace, and beyond.”

Born in Pennsylvania, his family were die-hard Steeler fans.

“My dad was friends with Art Rooney Jr. They went to school together at St. Vincent’s, a small college. When the Steelers had training camp, we’d always head out there. When St. Vincent had reunions, we’d go down there too. Those are the days with Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swan.” Lenz said whenever the Steelers came to Denver, they’d get tickets to old Mile High Stadium and cheer on the Steelers.

Lenz was also a Pirate fan as the Rockies hadn’t been formed yet.

“When I was a freshman at Colorado State, I was a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan. We were watching the 1986 World Series game in our football dorm. I was literally crying when the ball went through Buckner’s legs in 1986 for the Mets and Red Sox World Series game.”

He should know “there’s no crying in baseball”.

In his job, Lenz uses his charm and personality as co-anchor and co-host of Colorado’s Morning News on KOA Radio 850AM/94.1FM in Denver. He has been with KOA Since 2018.

Lenz is a 1986 graduate of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and received his B.A. in 1990 from the Speech Communication/Broadcasting department at Colorado State University where he played wide receiver for the Rams from 1986-1990.

Few of us know what it feels like to get hit over the middle when catching a pass. My body hurts just to think about it.

“Surprisingly, it has little to do with the size of the defensive back,” Lenz explained. “It’s more of the angle they get on you, where they’re coming from.”

Ron Cortell was a free safety at Colorado State, and Lenz said you’d never see him coming.

“He’d be looking at the sky on his way in and hit your right in the middle of your chest. He was a great tactical hitter and could elevate his body.”

When you’re in that position, you have to gauge where the pressure is coming from. When you get extended, your arms up in the air, that’s when you’re most vulnerable.

Fortunately for Lenz, he has a high threshold for pain.

“I could take a certain amount of punishment. Toughness is being able to take abuse and get it up. I did have a high level of tolerance.”

He grew up appreciating some of the old-time players, those that played for the love of the game rather than for huge dollars. Not that they had a choice. Players like Mike Curtis with the Baltimore Colts, or Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dick Butkus of the Bears.

“They didn’t know the threats and risks the game posed, as we do today. Players earned peanuts and the game was all they know. It was physical for them and that was part of the appeal, the machismo thing to show they were meaner than you were.”

We’ve evolved. The game has evolved. “I have a real reverence for a lot of those guys,” Lenz said.

Quarterbacks took a ton of punishment, receivers were pummeled downfield.

“My idols were Lynn Swan and John Stallworth. They played in an era when the ‘chuck rule’ didn’t exist and didn’t get the cushion and rules of today’s wide receivers get.”

Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw didn’t have the best statistics, about 50 percent in completions. Lenz said he accomplished those completions while getting his brains knocked out every other snap. It was difficult to concentrate on accuracy because he had maniacs on the Raiders coming across the line, intent on putting him in a coma.

Lenz said his participation in football has helped him develop a strong work ethic and understanding.

“You learn to work with diverse thought, people of different backgrounds,” Lenz explained. “You realize you have people around you. Colorado State was a great school. I learned as much on the football field as I did in the classroom.”

Lenz said as a player, you learn quickly that every player on the team has immense talent, not just you.

“Then you see kids brought in from Texas and California, some real talent and it gives you some perspective. It’s about earning your spot, not where you’ve been or what you did. All those lessons add up. Some days you have to grind and do the best you can. It’s cliche, but every day you either get worse or better.”

Lenz loved football, and radio. He became interested in radio when he was in the 8th grade.

“I wanted to be one of those crazy FM jocks,” he explained. “I was a music nerd. One of those guys who walked around with a Walkman in the 80s.”

After doing the crazy jock thing for 10 years, the industry started to change. There were fewer jobs.

Lenz began looking for something more intellectual. His approach on the radio has been the philosophy of award-winning talker Christoper Gabriel; discourse, not discord.

“You need good conversation to advance dialogue to evolve. You don’t need to beat people over the head. It’s not a great idea to spend too much time talking to politicians. They’re intractable. I always try to find how I can cover old ground in a new way. I’m naturally curious. I advocate for my listeners. What would they ask, what would they want to know.”

As an example, a recent guest on Lenz’s show was a military guy, a tactical specialist.

“I asked him what it was like killing a terrorist, how you go through with something like that.”

There is no way for us citizens to even comprehend that kind of assignment, and Lenz wasn’t afraid to ask the question.

“He was a Lieutenant Colonel, and I just wanted to get his response on a visceral level. His emotions about something so emotional. Or if emotions even entered the equation.”

Since he attended Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Lenz said people are always interested in his thought on Columbine and the Aurora shooting.

“My coverage on those types of coverage on horrific tragedies is similar to other coverage. At the same time, I try to figure out the mistakes we’ve made in society, figure out what we’ve learned, and whether the gun issue is really mental health issue.”

He’s not trying to win any converts to the way he thinks, it’s not going to happen. Lenz said he’s not an expert on guns or why people go on a rampage.

He leaves that to people who are more knowledgeable.

“When something like Uvalde happens, I bring in Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal at Columbine. He’s my old coach. He has a particular understanding. He’s somebody people seek out. I try to seek out people who bridge for solutions.”

In many situations, Lenz said he avoids bringing in politicians to weigh in on extremely sensitive topics like Uvalde or Columbine.

“They’re only interested in building their brand,” Lenz said. “That permeates a lot of our leadership roles. People have a disconnect with Congress. On the one hand they hate Congress, but love their Congressman.”

He loves his job on KOA, and the people he works with. But there are some fundamental divides.

“Where I work, I’m dealing with residue of having Rush Limbaugh (and some conservative talk) that plays ‘footsie’ with some that deny or refuse to acknowledge ‘easily and readily accessible observational reality’. It makes my job a little harder. ”

Lenz believes if you turn out to be wrong on a topic, own it.

“Many times in interviews, I’m not an expert. I’m asking questions based on what I understand. If I’m wrong, tell me if I’m wrong. I don’t know what I don’t’ know. And I’m okay with that.”

If more people admitted when they were wrong, like Marty Lenz isn’t afraid to do, we’d be in a better place.

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Is Radio Ready to Move at the Speed of AI?

We can only imagine where AI will lead us, and yet we can’t.

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A post-it note with A.I. written on it

Who are your favorite radio personalities from your past? Wouldn’t it be great if you could listen to The Real Don Steele, Dan Ingram, or Dr. Don Rose every single day again playing the latest hits and yakking about current issues? What if the late, great Vin Scully still did current Dodgers games?

It’s not only possible, but it won’t be long before it happens.

I would love to hear Paul Harvey’s folksy commentary on yet another Trump-Biden election. (I’d love to hear it but it would still be creepy and somewhat offensive because he’s dead. But that’s just me.)

AI voice and image-mimicking technology are about to become the biggest practical and ethical problem facing the radio, TV, and movie industries.

If it can be done it will be done. That’s an observation accredited to several sources including and beyond the Bible but regardless of who said it first it’s an inexorable truth and ethics has nothing to do with it.

Artificial Intelligence is a genie that can’t be stuffed back into the bottle. AI radio disc jockeys are already here. So are nonhuman voice actors.

“There are jobs that would have gone to voice actors that are now going to synthetic voices.”

Tim Friedlander is president and co-founder of the National Association of Voice Actors. He told me that AI can’t yet replicate human emotion but admits some of that doesn’t matter.

“For the most part you can definitely tell the difference, an AI can’t act the same way or perform the same way that a human actor can, but in a lot of these e-learning or training videos or informational videos it’s purely a transaction of information. There’s no need for an emotional transaction. It’s just purely getting information across.”

Friedlander says he’s hearing regularly from voice actors who are losing gigs. All he can do is advocate on their behalf to protect human rights from being plowed under by new voice and image-mimicking technology.

“There are no federal laws that give you the right to your voice. So, none of us own the right to the sound of our voice. We potentially have rights over a (specific) performance we’ve given. If we’re a celebrity, we have some right of publicity that could possibly protect us in some capacity but we, as citizens in the United States don’t have the right to (own) our voices.

“That’s a thorny problem when it comes down to trying to codify it, to pass laws, especially when you’ve got a bunch of people who are passing the laws, who barely know how to use their phones.”

Tim’s undeniably right about that. But the bigger question is, after we’ve pounded on our Congressional representatives to preserve individual rights for actors, narrators, and audiobook readers will it make any difference in the long run?

Spotify already has a very good AI disc jockey who not only sounds realistic but can address you by name, play the specific music you want to hear, and relate to you personally. In its inception, it impressively mimics the voice and delivery style of real-life deejay, Xavier “X” Jernigan, Spotify’s Head of Cultural Partnerships, who previously hosted Spotify’s morning show, The Get Up.

After hearing the Spotify demo I reacted with a mind-blown “Whoa!” as if I was Kramer in Seinfeld. Now I’m wondering if I can get Robert W. Morgan and Bobby Ocean as my personalized deejays.

Like it or not, AI-generated content and voices, mimicked and newly created, are changing what we anachronistically call radio.

It’s time to get up to speed and deal with it.

Though we try to reassure ourselves that AI voice technology will never be able to match the soul and nuance of life expressed by living, trained human voices, we’re required to ask ourselves two questions: First, are we sure of that? Second, will anybody care?

Unanswerable questions aside, we still have work to do.

We must stop resisting inevitable change—not because our ethical concerns are invalid, but because we can’t stop the inevitable. All we can hope to do is manage the challenges and that’s a tall order.

Two bills stewing in Congress at the moment, the No AI Fraud Act and the No FAKES Act, both designed to establish voice and image rights, are good first attempts to deal with the issue but they only address AI use as far as the technology can currently be defined and used. They can’t anticipate future developments and legal loopholes. Opponents of each bill as written say they would cause more problems than they would solve.

Constitutional Law and Supreme Court expert David Coale, partner with Lynn, Pinker, Hurst, and Schegmann in Dallas, explains the legal considerations.

“I’m sympathetic but we already have two complicated bodies of tort law in this area—defamation laws where you can’t lie about someone, and fraud laws where you can’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Beyond that, you’re well into activity protected by the First Amendment. Adding another complicated body of law on top of all that really does risk causing more problems than it solves.”

Coale is just bringing us back to reality. Lawyers will continue writing contracts, filing suits, and arguing the Constitution. Infotainment entrepreneurs and those who go by the trendy title “influencers” will ply their trades as profitably as possible. In what we still think of as radio, we will, too, as long as there’s an appetite for information and an exchange of ideas.

If we’re to meet the future we have to embrace new ways to create, disseminate, and sell content. We need to leave nostalgia in our shoebox of old pictures and forget much of the how but not the why of what we’ve learned.

Once we’re on that road we can let the marketplace guide us.

I’m not sure I want to hear Vin Scully explain the ghost runner at second going into the tenth inning. Even the best AI can only draw upon his public record to guess what he might have thought and how he would have said it. I like to think Vin hated the idea and would explain that to us with his famously clear and convincing clarity.

I knew Dr. Don Rose and my first thought about listening to him again in real-time was, as much as I miss him I don’t want to hear a genuine-sounding fake of him cracking one-liners about personal pronouns or Taylor Swift. Or, do I? He would make us laugh at the silliness of both subjects without offending anyone, and he’d stamp it with a horn honk and a giggle that perfectly hit the vocal.

We can only imagine where AI will lead us, and yet we can’t.

What would Jesus do in a given situation? We’ll soon be told and probably even hear it in his own impressively imagined and digitized voice. A lot of people will be pissed.

In radio, we need to stop hand-wringing about these things and start planning how to use it all to create a wonderfully enhanced experience for listeners and to turn a profit in the process.

“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” -Kahlil Gibran

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Kate Rooney Has Become One of Tech’s Leading Reporters After Nearly a Decade at CNBC

“You have to just do it to get better and it’s so public but you have to mess up to get better.”

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A photo of CNBC reporter Kate Rooney
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She’s smart, funny, and positively positive. CNBC tech reporter Kate Rooney is always looking to make “the next right move” and ask Silicone Valley the hard questions, even if it sometimes makes her feel like a “party pooper.”

“A question [I ask] every time I talk to someone is ‘What’s the risk?’ or ‘How do you think about the risk?’ Because it is something people out here don’t think about. But I think Silicon Valley and tech is such an inherently optimistic group of people. And that’s been paid off in a big way,” Rooney said on a recent Zoom call.

Being a naturally optimistic person, Rooney said she’s learned to be skeptical at times, especially during her time covering Sam Bankman-Fried. “[He] is basically the poster child of [Silicon Valley and crypto] industry and ended up being one of the biggest fraudsters of all time — one of the biggest financial frauds in history. It is just a good reminder that regardless of who the investors are, regardless of how accredited and bona fide a founder is, you just always have that in the back of your head.”

She later added, “One of the things that struck me about Sam Bankman-Fried was how fast it happened. Bernie Madoff was over multiple decades. And it took years and years and years to build that reputation, to build his Ponzi scheme, really. Bankman-Fried did this in a couple of years.”

Rooney never expected her aspirations of being a print reporter would lead her to a TV job, but her years of hard work across four continents prove otherwise. As a communications student at Boston College, Rooney wasn’t sure she wanted to go into journalism until her last year of college.

“I started writing for The Heights — which is the Boston College newspaper — my senior year and took a great journalism class. And one of my professors there recommended journalism school.”

Attending Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Kate Rooney said she received a real hands-on experience that “opened a lot of doors” for her.

“It’s a one-year program, so that really accelerated the journalism move. I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s so many options,’ because you do print, do broadcast, do some investigative reporting.” It’s here where she was able to travel the globe reporting from Argentina, Israel, and the Philippines before coming back home to tackle Washington, D.C.

“I was in a print path, and that’s where I thought I wanted to go and cover politics. I went to D.C. for one of the quarters, and you get a press pass to go and work on Capitol Hill. And you’re kind of a stringer for these local papers. So that just felt like it was the most exciting thing you could possibly think of.”

While the field changed for the Division I lacrosse player, she found a lot of similarities between sports and politics. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s actually it’s kind of like sports. There’s a winner and a loser, and it’s exciting.’ Just being in D.C., you kind of catch the bug.”

Toward the end of graduate school, Kate Rooney landed an internship at Bloomberg before coming home to close to where she grew up in New Jersey.

“[A friend of mine] introduced me to someone at CNBC. I came in and started interviewing and got this job in the news associate program, which is sort of when you rotate and you jump around. You start on one team for three months and then you go to the next team.”

She’s been with CNBC ever since.

Since 2015, Kate Rooney has grown with the station from segment and field producing to reporting on the markets and now Big Tech. “I was so nervous before [going on air for the first time], but I felt after I ripped the bandaid and was on air once, I was like, ‘Ok, I think I could actually make this happen as a career.’”

Rooney did note there were some difficult points in broadcasting. “It’s like anything, you have to just do it to get better and it’s so public but you have to mess up to get better. You have to make mistakes. And when you make mistakes on TV, it’s one of the most painful feelings you can imagine. It’s just so embarrassing. But yeah, you get better with time. It’s one of those things that you kind of just have to be out there and try it.”

Today what Kate Rooney loves about her job is learning something new every day. “[I am] talking to some of the smartest investors in the world, and you walk out and you’re like, ‘That was fascinating.’ Just getting to hear their take and they’ll spend the time explaining one of these interesting tech topics.”

For those looking to follow in her footsteps, Rooney to two pieces of advice. One, “Say yes to everything, especially in journalism.”

“If you have the mindset of saying yes and taking on whatever assignment somebody gives you, you’ll learn something and you’ll become a better journalist.”

Two? “Make the next right move.”

“My grandfather, who is a huge role model of mine, would always say ‘Make the next right move,’ because you get so ahead of yourself. If you’re ambitious and you want to get somewhere, you can kind of spiral quickly to say like, ‘Oh, well, that’s not exactly what I wanted to do.’ But if you make the next right decision again, those compound and you’ll get to where you want to go.”

Rooney loves what she is doing at CNBC but noted what comes next is evolving her reporting skills as the industry changes.

“Adapting to whatever the news is going to look like. I think that’s probably going to be a challenge for a lot of reporters. Not that any of us want to go and be a TikTok reporter, but just making sure, like we’re finding our audience where they are [because] people are consuming news really differently than they used to be.”

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Is Buying a Radio or TV Station Even Feasible in 2024?

For those of you still fantasizing about picking up a radio or TV station on the cheap and putting together the programming of your dreams, how realistic do you think you’re being?

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A million years ago, when I was young and carefree and just starting out in the business, my goal was to own a radio station. One would have been enough, just a local-yokel operation with low overhead and a list of grateful local advertisers. We actually came reasonably close to making a deal for exactly that kind of station, but I couldn’t get the money together quickly enough.

It’s just as well. The fantasy of owning a station evolved into this reality: a) I was never going to own a station, and b) today, I wouldn’t be interested in putting any of my own money into radio. Or television. Or newspapers. I still see people posting on Facebook that they want to own a station, and good luck to those brave souls, but I’m not among them anymore.

This came to mind when it was reported by CNBC this week that Sinclair Broadcast Group is looking to sell over 30% of its television stations — that’s about 60 stations nationwide – including those in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Austin, and Fresno. Whatever the reason they’re selling, the question is who would even buy those stations? Broadcast television, like broadcast radio, is not exactly in growth mode.

When the big broadcast networks appear to be putting more eggs in the streaming basket and rumors have all of them willing to sell their broadcast licenses, that’s not a great sign for their affiliates, either.

Nevertheless, the price for Sinclair’s stations will not be cheap, and in television, it’s hard to see too many companies willing to buy unless they’re giving it all away. Who’s willing to pay more? Tegna? Apollo/Cox? Byron Allen? Who’s left to buy into broadcast TV when streaming is becoming so pervasive that the NFL is putting more and more games online?

The price will also be fairly high if Audacy sells off some or all of its assets, or Beasley, or Cumulus. And even if the price correlated to some metric of reasonable success, it would take someone with the cash in their personal account to do a deal, because Wall Street is not impressed by a business that breaks even or makes a little money. Do you think you could get a meeting with investors and convince them to back you in buying radio stations, even if the price would otherwise be right? Go ahead and try.

And if you’re looking to buy a large group, remember that private equity investors are looking for businesses they can strip-mine for saleable assets. They don’t care about the operation, they care if there’s real estate to be sold off. Ask anyone in the newspaper industry how that works out.

All of this is a shame because there are people making a go of it in all of these businesses. There are radio and television stations unburdened with debt making a tidy profit that might not get Wall Street excited but can support a staff, a news department, a promotions budget, and the light bill. Most of them have been in the same hands forever, though, and can thrive as long as the family members who inherit the facilities are interested in keeping things going. I’m not sure we have too many more generations left who would be interested in keeping an increasingly past-tense business going.

It’s like inheriting a typewriter repair shop; even if there’s enough business right now, you can see the typewriting on the wall.

So, I’m out. But for those of you still fantasizing about picking up a radio or TV station on the cheap and putting together the programming of your dreams, how realistic do you think you’re being? Do you think you could put together the money? How much debt would you be comfortable taking on? Is growth really a possibility with a broadcast station? How much would you need to see? Is it possible in 2024 to do that, or is this the radio or television version of fantasy football?

Whatever it is, I’d love to see someone give it a shot. Hey, it’s not MY money.

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