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Carl DeMaio Looks to Inform While Empowering His Audience

DeMaio ran for mayor of San Diego, radio wasn’t immediately on his mind. But that changed quickly. He got a call as some people felt otherwise.

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Carl DeMaio comes from a background lifted from a Charles Dickens novel.

Not for a moment is he asking anyone to feel bad for him—quite the contrary. DeMaio has done quite well for himself, owning and selling two companies for millions of dollars. He is stronger for challenging experiences.

“My father walked out when I was 13 years old,” DeMaio said. “I was infuriated. He left as my mom was dying of cancer. Just two weeks before she died. He was just a bad seed.”

As a teenager, DeMaio had to grow up fast. 

Born in Dubuque, DeMaio said he didn’t spend much time there. But, after his mother passed away, DeMaio was sent to boarding school. He ended up reuniting with his sister years later and is close today.

There wasn’t a lot of time for DeMaio to entertain dreams or much thought of the future. It was survival. He was immediately sent to Georgetown Preparatory School. 

Georgetown University was next up for DeMaio. 

He earned good grades in high school and started applying for financial aid. But there was one very large problem. To get the financial aid, DeMaio needed to provide parental income information. 

“Since I didn’t have parents, they were still asking me to provide my parent’s tax forms,” he explained. “I remember going to meet with a Jesuit priest and explained my predicament. He informed me the system was not set up to accept students in my position. They didn’t know how to handle it.”

The priest made a couple of life-altering keystrokes on the computer, and suddenly, DeMaio’s application was restored and accepted. 

“I arrived in Georgetown with $36 cash in my pocket,” DeMaio explained. “Obviously, I needed to get a job immediately. My number one goal was to find a way to purchase health insurance. I didn’t know where I was going to get the money.”

“I only had two suitcases when I arrived at Georgetown. I lived in the dorms each year because of my scholarships and financial aid. The dorms were part of the package. I was on a meal plan, but nobody was using theirs, so I got rid of that.”

The Georgetown dorms were his home–in a literal sense. Not designed for o year-round residents, they closed the dorms on Christmas, spring break, and summers. 

“They just locked the doors, and I had nowhere to go,” DeMaio said. “Occasionally, I’d go to my Aunt’s house in Ohio, visit my brother in Dubuque. But I slept in my car a lot at a rest stop. A few times, I was able to sneak back into the dorms.”

In another cost-saving measure, DeMaio needed to shorten his tenure at Georgetown to defray the costs. 

“I’d structured my credits at school so I could get out in three years. I did it by the end of the first semester of my senior year. That’s when he ended up getting a full-time job. I took classes that didn’t require class participation.”

DeMaio found Georgetown too liberal for his conservative tastes. 

“That’s the big urban myth that if you’re coming from a poor background, you must be a Democrat. The reason I’m a conservative is because I learned early on about the failings of government and the value of personal responsibility.”

In retrospect, he found most students were immature and did too much partying. 

“I do regret not having more of a social life while I was there. In all my years at Georgetown, not once did I go into a bar for a drink, and it was such a party school. People tell me I must have had such a great time. I didn’t. I was up at 6:00 a.m. and off to my job.”

During his first semester, DeMaio worked on Capitol Hill with a consumer advocacy group. Later he got a job with the California Raisin Advisory Board placing stories. 

Do you remember the commercials with the dancing raisin in sunglasses dancing to I Heard it Through the Grapevine? That’s them.  

Today he’s the host of The DeMaio Report on Newsradio 600 on KOGO in San Diego.

He started two successful companies early in his career, and his interest in politics intensified. 

“I got fed up with the political scandals in San Diego. I sold my companies and ran for Mayor. I fell short, losing to Bob Filner, who was later removed from office in a sexual assault scandal.”

After he ran for mayor of San Diego, radio wasn’t immediately on his mind. But that changed quickly. He got a call as some people felt otherwise. 

“I didn’t know if I could take over a show and talk for three hours, five days a week,” DeMaio explained. “I don’t consider myself a broadcaster or media personality. Even though I am on the air. I don’t go to broadcasting events. I think our show is different in the way I conceive the show. I don’t want to do standard talk or outrage radio. A lot of the topics I talk about are outrageous, and the public can be upset by some of them. It’s not my goal to upset them – but to inform and, more importantly, to empower them to take action to make a difference.” 

DeMaio said he’d used his radio presence more as a community forum – and he set up a campaign committee on the outside of his radio show – called Reform California – as a way people can take action and as a vehicle for DeMaio to sponsor projects to investigate government and hold it accountable.

“I might rile people up about the latest scam or how city hall is handling their money,” he explained. “I’ll talk about things that my audience should be upset about and help them find ways to take action through our political action committee Reform California.” 

DeMaio appears as a guest on a variety of media outlets as chairman of Reform California.

“In my contract with KOGO, I’m allowed to appear on other channels and stations. It’s a very unique negotiation. Out of respect to KOGO, I don’t reference other stations on our air or the show I will be on.”

DeMaio oversees campaigns: Restore Public Safety, Defeat Gavin Newsom, Stop the Mileage Tax, and School Board Reform. 

DeMaio said he’s interested in the hottest stories of the day on his show. 

“I want you to be the smartest one at the dinner table. I’ll certainly cover national stories, but I’m always trying to bring it back to the San Diego impact.”

His take on the 2020 election outcome is unique from most conservative talk show hosts. As someone who has spent 20 years in politics and running campaigns, DeMaio has a command of the intricacies of election laws. 

He wholeheartedly agrees with Republicans and President Trump that the 2020 election was conducted improperly, but he also concedes that Trump’s legal team failed to meet the high standard of burden of proof that courts require to overturn the result of an election. 

“I believe the way the 2020 election was held should never be repeated again, and that should be our focus,” 

DeMaio points to the use of outdated voter rolls, and mailing ballots to everyone using ancient voter rolls opens the door to widespread fraud. 

“You’re sending all these ballots into the wilderness. Under the old system, people had to physically show up. In the 2020 election, we fundamentally changed how we voted. From voters casting ballots to ballots casting ballots. For Trump to say all that happened, he could be right if it was enough to change the election. But once ballots are out in the wilderness, you can’t track them, and it is hard to prove how many were intercepted and illegally cast – let alone who they were cast for. Shame on state and national Republicans and their operatives for not throwing a temper tantrum when the rules were first changed in July and August of 2020!” 

When DeMaio started his companies, he couldn’t get any loans. So, he maxed out his Discover card. They were allowing kids with no credit to get into $25,000 in debt. “In 1998, $25,000 was a lot of money back then, especially for a kid right out of college.”

“One of my companies was the Performance Institute; the other was the Management Institute. Essentially the same bottle of wine with different labels.” I’m proud of what I’ve done. Proud of what I did. Proud of what I did. The real pride is not just the good work we did but also the background and chances we’ve given a lot of bright young people right out of college. I’m not concerned with what degree they earned. I’m looking for the right attitude.”

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Radio Has an Overloaded Spot Block Problem and Here’s How to Fix It

Raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership.

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While the radio industry insists that our medium is still king, I’m skeptical. I hope the numbers are being spun properly, I just have doubts. In either case, we’re sweeping a lot of stuff under the rug. People may still be “sampling” radio but are they listening? Do they buy what you’re selling?

The typical news/talk station airs 22 minutes of commercials per hour. When you add in five minutes of network news and spots plus recorded promos (commercials for ourselves), we’re talking half an hour of content killer.

I’m a typical listener. With rare exceptions, I only listen while I’m driving. Behind the wheel, my habit is standard: punch around my presets until I hear something of interest or at least actual content and not commercials. When a talk segment ends, I listen to the tease and then punch out. I don’t sit through what I know will be a five or six-minute commercial break. If the tease was done well and it interests me, I’ll try to remember to come back. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

Here in Dallas these days, I mainly listen to our two excellent sports talk stations, The Ticket and The Fan. And I always smile when I hear them constantly trying to convince me that by choosing to listen to their particular station I’m part of an exclusive club. That’s nothing new really but the branding is ingenuous.

105.3 The Fan cleverly labels listeners “TOLOs”, implying people who wisely “Turn it On, Leave it On”. The Ticket merely plays the highest authority card, referring to their listeners as “P1s”. I know what it means but the average listener has no clue. It’s an inside joke. I’ve never heard the station explain it but their faithful listeners supposedly wear the badge proudly.

I’ve never seen any figures on shared listening but I expect the crossover between the two sports talk stations would be nearly 100%. People do what I do, punch back and forth looking for interesting content.

After hiring and inspiring great talent and setting the tone for a station’s identity, a news/talk programmer’s primary job is trying to navigate a sea of clutter. There are various ways to do it but anything short of reducing the number and length of commercial breaks is just rearranging the furniture.

One of the most common tactics is promoting a commercial-free segment. In my opinion, that’s just calling attention to the problem and admitting that commercials are a necessary evil. I’ll bet your clients love that.

I admire and pity radio salespeople who have always had to fight to survive in a dog-eat-dog world but now also have to sell clients on the idea that their money will be well spent even though their message might be buried in the middle of a five-minute cluster.

Are there too many commercials on the air? Hell yes. 22 minutes per hour for talk and news? Why do people sit through that?

They don’t. They pop around the dial as I do, and are increasingly learning that podcasts offer information and entertainment with far fewer interruptions. The RTDNA and the RAB don’t want to admit that. Nielsen puts a rosy spin on the numbers because broadcasters are their main customers. Even highly respected news outlets report the idea that radio is doing great but read this and see if you don’t share my skepticism below the headline:

Americans Listen To Far More Radio Than Podcasts—Even Young People, New Data Shows

“American adults still spend an overwhelming majority of their daily listening time on radio broadcasts despite the rise in popularity of podcasts and music streaming services, new Nielsen data on listening habits in the first quarter of 2024 shows. Though younger audiences are starting to buck that trend by choosing on-demand audio at a higher rate than their elders.” Forbes, May 1, 2024

I’m not the smartest guy in any room. I’ve never been a GM or Sales Manager. I have been an air talent and program director, though, and I can smell as well as hear the problem. There are far too many commercial interruptions for radio to survive this way for much longer.

Retired WGN morning legend Spike O’Dell agrees.

“Are spot breaks too long? Coming from the talent side of this issue my answer is absolutely. I’m a realist and understand that they’re necessary but a five-minute stop set is a show killer and a ratings killer,” he said. “Why in the world would a listener want to wait through that amount of time unless the content was the most fascinating subject ever?

“When I left the airwaves, we were at 23 minutes of spots an hour, and even I got bored with my own show. Spot breaks and amount of spots played per hour is a long-time sore subject to discuss or ponder. But, it didn’t take this talk show host very long to learn that I was never going to win this issue. Money will always win out. Sometimes management should do the wrong thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Journalist, former media exec, and USC professor Jerry Del Colliano agrees and has an audacious idea: do what every other industry does and raise prices.

“Charge more for spots and limit to 12 per hour.  If there is demand for more, stick to 12 and raise the price of an ad,” he said. “Programmers have known for decades that commercials don’t build time spent listening — and they aren’t doing advertisers any favors by crowding too many spots in and creating an impossible situation to help advertisers succeed.”

Guy Zapoleon is famous for his music radio expertise and innovations but he’s also a veteran radio programmer who has to deal with clutter. He agrees. Cut the spot load and raise the rates. He says it should have been done long ago.

“Telecom and the major companies becoming publicly traded companies along with overpaying for radio stations derailed that idea. Look, I’m a fan of what Now 102.3, a Hot AC type station in Canada, is doing. They only run six minutes an hour versus 12 minutes for most of the competitors but they charge more to meet budget demands. They also go overboard helping their clients with remotes and ideas to drive customers to their clients to increase their ROI value.”

Now, there’s a thought: raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership. Offer them more personal attention, and hands-on assistance than you’ve had time for while juggling a client list and spot load that would choke a horse.

Back to Jerry for a moment. I asked him how and when programmers should design breaks. He brushed aside quarter-hour maintenance and stayed focused on the much bigger consideration.

“Where you place them is less important than the total number per hour but the idea of loading up two-quarter hours to run all your spots obviously isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and won’t work.”

Cutting more jobs can’t improve profitability. Increasing your spot load chases away your audience and your sales strategy. The only thing left is raising rates and reducing inventory.

Explain to your clients that by paying more they are getting an exclusive opportunity to be center stage rather than being shoved to the back of a very crowded bus. Assure them your programming is the best in town.

And make that true.

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Libsyn’s Rob Walch Has Watched Podcasting Grow From Infancy to Audio Juggernaut

“When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

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A photo of Rob Walch and the Libsyn logo
(Photo: Libsyn)

Libsyn Vice President of Podcaster Relations Rob Walch is one of the founding fathers of podcasting, helping and inspiring countless people to start their very own webcasts.

“I’ve been in [Podcasting] since 2004. Got in it early on. I read it in an article in Engadget on October 4th, 2004 and it said, ‘If you want a podcast, just add this enclosure tag to your blog feed and you can podcast.’ I went, what the heck does that all mean?,” he told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

“So I figured it out and launched a podcast. There wasn’t many, maybe 100, podcasters at the time. And my podcast was about podcasting. So it was the first podcast specifically about podcasting called podcast411.” Getting the inside scoop from other podcasters, the podcast about podcasting focused on tech and promotions.

His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Just three years later, Rob Walch joined Libsyn. He now runs podcasting relations, business development, “and a whole lot more.”

The former engineer turned podcaster has seen a lot change since the industry’s beginnings, most notably accessibility. “When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

A “convoluted method” of uploading, transmitting, and manually adding each podcast into iPod tracks and then syncing to iTunes was laborious, and finding a new podcast wasn’t any easier.

“There was not really any centralized directory. There was Podcast Alley and a bunch of other places. Then Apple, in June of 2005, launched iTunes and it supported podcasting and that really was like the first inflection point of podcasting.” Another change to amplify podcasting came two years later with the launch of the iPhone.

However, Walch noted the most notable change that amplified podcasting came in 2015.

“The real big one was iOS 8. When it came out, the Apple podcast app was native and people can tap this purple app on my iPhone, and ‘How come I can’t delete it?’ They they started learning about podcasting.”

Rob Walch believes Apple gave the podcasting industry so much growth because, “At one point in time it was six iOS downloads to every one Android download.” Today the ratio is less skewed with 3.2 iOS downloads to every one Android download.

“I think the other change that happened after — it wasn’t an inflection point, it was a slow burn — was all the apps that you listened to music on began to have podcast directories … I think that, combined with everything else that led to where podcasting became ubiquitous, where we are today.”

Rob Walch also noted no matter what you read, “Apple Podcasts, is the number one place where podcasts are consumed. It’s 50% of consumption.”

Today, Walch believes the biggest trend in podcasting might be hindering to the audience. “People overly expecting video to take them to the next level and finding out that that’s not really the case. I think there’s way too many people that think they can just convert a traditional audio podcast into a video podcast, and it’s going to flower and bloom. Some do. Most don’t.”

“Most people forget that the reason podcasting is popular is because there’s more time in the day to consume audio than there is video,” he later said. “And if your audience is more of a B2B audience and you’re not good with video, don’t do video. Concentrate on the audio.”

Doing this also puts your podcast in direct competition with every video maker on YouTube instead of just podcasters.

Walch’s passion for podcasting has been evident since the very beginning of his career.

“My goal has always been to help people get into podcasting and that was what podcast411 was about. It was the first that said, ‘Here’s how you podcast. Here’s how you get done.’ That was the whole idea of the podcast was to teach people how to do it. I wasn’t selling webinars, I wasn’t trying to sign people up into this mastermind group or any of that into any of those slimy, hyper-marketing type things. I just wanted people to be able to podcast.”

For those looking to take to the mic, Rob Walch has several words of wisdom.

“Anybody could do it. That there is no magic bolt. There’s no secret sauce. There’s no way you’re going to instantly grow an audience. You have to get lucky for a show, in some ways. But you also have to be dedicated to it.”

He also noted people do not ask the right questions when it comes to launching their own podcast. “You got to answer these two questions, which is: What are you going to call your show and what’s it going to be about?”

“When you go into search, it’s called predictive search results. As you start typing, it starts giving you the results. The first word in the title of your podcast is so important. So if you’re starting a podcast, the thing you really want to make sure is: What is the one word that you think people would be searching for your topic? And it’s not your name. If they know your name, they’ll find you. Put that at the end. But what’s the one word in the topic if you’re going to spend money on Google AdSense?”

Rob Walch suggests going to Google Trends and looking at the top three popular words for the topic you want your podcast to be about. He gave this example, “I had a friend whose podcast was called the Fifth Race Podcast, and people are like, ‘What’s that about?’ It was about Stargate because it was this obscure reference in Stargate to the fifth race. And if you were Stargate fan, you got it right. But that’s not what people would say, or even people that were into Stargate don’t search for the fifth race. They search for Stargate.”

“I just said to just put ‘Stargate: The Unofficial Fifth Race Podcast.’ He just changed his title around. He went from not being searched and not being found when you search Stargate, to being the number one show when you search Stargate. Just making sure you know what people are searching for and optimizing the title of your show really will help people stumble upon your show. And that’s so important to grow your show.”

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How Radio Personalities Can Be Both Likeable and Opinionated in Difficult Conversations

Don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast.

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We often talk about being as relatable as possible as a talk radio show host. Be present with where your listeners are. Think like they do. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s easy to do on paper, but there’s always that push and pull as a talk radio show host. You’re interacting with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and other prominent folks in your community to whom your listener may not have access.

That is part of what makes you credible in their eyes, and it’s part of what gives you insights on topics that the “average listener” cannot get access to. It’s why they listen to you.

But in the end, they — at least in part — want to listen to you because they like you and relate to you. Which means you have to relate to them. And please, don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast. Likable and wildly opinionated can, and ideally should, work in conjunction.

I bring all this up to discuss a topic that can apply to news/talk or sports talk radio hosts: stadiums and subsidies. It’s an incredible topic that can cross both formats. 

In Charlotte, city leaders are expected to vote next week on whether to approve the funding of $650 million for renovation projects at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.

In April, voters here in Kansas City rejected a ⅜-cent sales tax extension for the Chiefs and Royals. That topic is back in the forefront this week as the State of Kansas held a special session and passed legislation to use its STAR Bonds program to try to lure one or both teams to the Kansas side of the state line.

I’ve heard overwhelming media reactions suggesting stadium projects involving taxpayer subsidies are no-brainers. Cities or counties, a.k.a. Taxpayers, must help out where needed to fund the building, or upkeep of stadiums. Of course, the fear is that the team(s) will always leave their current city.

Sports media folks typically will support it because, if God forbid, a team were to move, their livelihood would be at stake. Plus, they deal directly with players, coaches, and team executives who can sell them regularly all the perks a new stadium can provide for the team and media members.

News/talk folks can fall victim to hearing too much from their political contacts who often promote and sometimes are the ones who vote on these projects. They’re influenced by lobbyists and others who are legally doing their job but are also on the payroll for the big-money entities involved. 

But who’s looking out for the little guy? That should be you.

While you may have the access and contacts in the higher-end social circles of your community, that’s not where most of your listeners live.

Political feelings always ebb and flow, but we are living in a country where populism is becoming more popular. The last few years have been hardest on those from the middle class on down. COVID’s economy benefited work-from-home white-collar workers, where one parent could stay home with kids who were stuck learning from home.

In contrast, the same economy hurt working-class folks, who were less likely to be able to work from home and certainly could not watch their kids daily as they tried to learn from home. On top of that, the stock market has gone gangbusters the last couple of years, while the working class has struggled to pay for its groceries.

The economy has been very different since COVID, depending on your socioeconomic level.

That said, as populism grows in popularity on the right and the left, understand where your radio listeners are at in their lives and their likely unwillingness, or at the very least, fair skepticism, to fund stadiums for billionaire team owners.

Don’t let your relationship with a player, coach, or team executive overly influence your opinion. Don’t let your buddy, the politician or a lobbyist, get into your ear on how amazing their plan would be.

I think back nearly 15 years, when the New York Giants and New York Jets opened MetLife Stadium to much fanfare. Then, the dreaded PSL (Personal Seat License) came into being, which simply gave fans the “rights” to purchase their seats.

It was, and remains, an all-time scam. Former WFAN host Mike Francesa obliterated the teams. To his credit, while he had relationships with the franchises going back decades and could easily afford nearly any ticket in the building, he never lost touch with where the “average fan” was.

So, as these stadium projects continue to pop up around the country—and they could be coming to a town near you soon—I’m not telling you how to think or what to say on your radio show. Just be aware of the political climate in the country today, and always put yourself in your listener’s shoes first and foremost. You’ll never regret it. And they’ll trust you even more for it.

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