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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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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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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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