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Appealing to the Local Common Denominator

Take a listen where you are if there even is local programming and it will not take long to figure out; we are one plane, one singular loop.

Bill Zito

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A photo of a car radio

To begin, I beg forgiveness if this turns out to be way too much of an “old man yells at clouds” tirade of observation and opinion but, unfortunately, my megaphone just does not reach very far.

I’m in the car a great deal and when not listening to my music playlists, I lean very heavily on the people talking on the radio. I used to enjoy real talk shows and I miss them terribly. Now, before you say, “But Bill, there is still plenty of local talk shows out there.” I’m just going to boldly interrupt.

There may be hours of somebody originating from a specific location, sitting in an air studio within a local station but what they’re talking about is seldom local and pertinent to the listening area. Moreover, if by chance, the conversation does turn to issues affecting the state, the city, or the town, it rarely goes in-depth and rarely runs very long.

I will be the first to admit that I was spoiled, almost ruined to be even more accurate. My upbringing in News-Talk, and that is what it was, News-Talk; happened in what was at the time, a stellar talk radio market.

I’m talking a major west coast city where the things that you would expect to happen, did occur every day. There was rarely anything to address, analyze and open to discussion with guests and callers. We did homework; we lobbied for the newsmakers and people in the know and we tried to do whatever we could to do good radio.

Where am I going with this?

Take a listen where you are if there even is local programming and it will not take long to figure out; we are one plane, one singular loop.

All politics, all the time.

All national, all the time.

All White House, all the time.

Hey, I expect that from the national, syndicated pageantry. It is their bread and butter and I am quite sure it’s hard to find new ways to call other people feeble, stupid and unscrupulous while at the same time maintaining their camp is as pure as snow, forthright, and benevolent.

Did life’s daily activity just cease in your region? Concerns about the rising crime rates, individual acts of objectionable behavior, or outrage over a mayor or city council member becoming too big for their bootstraps; did it all disappear?

People and listeners; care about such things. They want to know somebody, somewhere is thinking through the problems and even brainstorming solutions. They also want to be a part of those discussions, the strategy sessions, even if only as a spectator.

Nothing distresses me more than to hear day after day, a supposedly local host playing cuts from a White House briefing or a cabinet member’s comments and fixating on some sort of partisan minutia, simply because it is exactly what the national heavy hitters are doing.

There are apparently just the two nations now when it comes to talk radio, whether we like it or not.

And why?

Do we honestly believe that those listeners and potential listeners what to hear and talk about nothing else?

Ever talk with people whose biggest complaint about their local media is that there is nothing local about it?

Those people are out there, they’re an audience.

A lost audience.

Who is encouraging their listeners to tell them what’s going where they live? It’s not like there is nothing happening. There seems to be a lot of local news to fill up newscasts yet I think the talk hosts are in the bathroom or looking at Facebook at the top and bottom of the hour.

There is so much more out there and it ventures far beyond the political arena. Quality of life and social issues rarely need to be outlined by a mayor or state representative holding talking points. They are just easy gets; they do not require much show prep, if any at all.

And, it shows.

I think communities are more than fortunate when they have access to local, news and issue based talk programming only to suffer the shortsighted management, producers or hosts squander the opportunity to be useful.

Every day you can find local content that is a carbon copy of national content.

I see it as a blatant fear of being original.

Even the concept of localizing the regional and national issues falls by the wayside too often. There are climate, health and budget issues everywhere. Social problems unique to where you are and it seems the thought of turning it all into content is as popular as reading off garage sale notices.

This is not small town stuff. There are issues and overtures with the schools, the cops, the floods and it regularly gets lost because these groups of people want to cross swords for the 817th time over who supposedly won, who allegedly lied and whose agenda doesn’t match theirs.

This is completely generic problem, found virtually anywhere a radio signal can be heard.

And please, do not chalk it all up to staffing and budget cuts; there are no cuts or layoffs when it comes to thinking about and planning a strategy for a three-hour show.

It is no longer about choosing the low hanging fruit, it’s about those so lazy they pick the rotting, bug infested pieces that have long fallen off the tree.

We and frankly everyone out there with the car radio on deserve better.

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BNM Writers

Dom Theodore Saved Glenn Beck’s Career Before Beck Saved His Life

“I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test … he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan … that’s a good friend.”

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A photo of Dom Theodore and the Glenn Beck Program logo

Dom Theodore, the man Glenn Beck credits with saving his show, said the famed talk radio host saved his life. After 30 years of friendship, the pair have shared a lot together.

However, Theodore’s influence can be heard on more than just Glenn Beck’s show, it can be heard across the country.

“I’ve only done radio my entire life. I started answering phones at a radio station when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Theodore told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

Growing up in Detroit, a young Dom Theodore answered phones for WKQI. “I would come back as the program director of that station, which was kind of interesting.”  He eventually landed in Tampa, where he met Beck. “Glenn and I just hit it off really, really well. We became really close quickly.”

Dom Theodore, the Program Director at WFLZ was just across the hall from Glenn Beck, who was doing afternoon drive at WFLA. Soon after was the moment which Beck calls the moment Theodore saved his career.

Just a few months into Beck’s new gig, he dropped a career bombshell on Theodore. “He said, ‘I think I’m getting fired.’ I said, ‘Ok. Why do you think you’re getting fired?’

“‘Well, the program director of WFLA said to me today, ‘I hope it’s too early to say that we hired the wrong person’.”

Doing a show trying to please everyone, Theodore believes Glenn Beck lost sight of his own vision. “I said, ‘You know what? What’s happening is you’re doing somebody else’s show. You’re not doing The Glenn Beck Show. You’re doing somebody else’s show hosted by you. And so that’s never going to work. It’s not connecting because it’s not coming from [the heart].

“’My advice to you is go in there and do The Glenn Beck Show. Do that show that you wanted to do from day one, the one that you told me about.’ And he said, ‘Ok. Won’t I get fired for doing that?’ I said ‘You might, but you know what? Would you rather get fired for doing something that you think might work instead of continuing to do what you know isn’t working?’”

This helped launch Beck into the superstar we know today.

Many years later, Dom Theodore says the radio host saved his life. “I almost died in 2020. They discovered cancer in both of my kidneys. I had to have my kidneys removed and a transplant, all within a period of about six months, and it was a horrible time.

“There was not a test a procedure or anything that I went through that Glenn and (Beck’s wife) Tania weren’t on the phone the night before praying with me. I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test and Glenn was on the air at the time. And he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan, and I will tell you, that’s a good friend. That’s a real friend.”

Today, Dom Theodore said of his health, “Thankfully, I’m doing ok for the most part. Now I have a transplant, and I’m still standing.”

Still working hard and as passionate as ever, he is looking for more content innovation in the industry. “Because of the debt service that a lot of these big companies have, the focus has been on producing what we’ve always done just at a lower cost point. Instead of experimentation and innovation.”

He noted, “The only way that this industry survives is content innovation. I know no one wants to hear that. I know that I’m saying things that are politically incorrect, and I don’t really care. I don’t really care. The radio industry CEOs hate this when people like me speak. They hate it because they know I’m right.”

Theodore noted what makes good radio is simple and hasn’t changed over the years.

“Somebody asked Les Moonves this question at one of our CBS meetings, and his answer was absolutely brilliant. He said, ‘Entertainment hasn’t changed since the days of the Colosseum. At the end of the day, it’s about having an interesting story and telling it in a really interesting way.’ And I do believe that that is the core basis of everything we do.”

While cultivating good talent takes time, Theodore said good talent often comes from interesting people who are often creative. 

“What did the radio industry do in the last 10 or 20 years as it’s become more and more corporate? We threw all those people out. Now, ‘They’re too high maintenance. Just get rid of them. So why don’t we replace them with people that conform, that do as they’re told, and execute the plan that comes from above? Never questions authority.’ There might be a better employee, but that sure doesn’t make for better content.

“By the way, where did all the creatives go? Where do they go? Digital. There’s no rules and on YouTube, I can do whatever the hell I want. Why do I need some program director to tell me what to do? I can do a podcast and do whatever the hell I want. And some of them did it. And we’ve lost a generation of talent because we didn’t want to deal with the maintenance. I mean, how shortsighted is that?”

For those who are less shortsighted and looking to follow in the footsteps of Dom Theodore, he said don’t.

“I made a lot of mistakes through the years. First of all, don’t follow in my footsteps. Learn from my mistakes.”

The second part of his advice is being true to yourself and confidence in your truth. “I think being true to yourself is a matter of not conforming. In your gut that little voice inside you knows that you’re right and you’re doing something that’s different than what anyone else is doing. And therefore, because people don’t understand it, you’re being told that it’s wrong. You’re probably right and they’re probably wrong. And time will bear that out. So, have confidence.”

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BNM Writers

A Step-By-Step Guide to Analyzing Nielsen Trends on a Quarter-Hour Basis

It makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

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A photo of a line graph with the Nielsen logo

If you read last week’s column, you know how to use the Nielsen PPM Analysis Tool to look at individual days in the survey month. It’s worth taking time each month to see how your stations as well as your competitors are doing each day. Are you seeing any patterns in the data?

Now let’s drill down even deeper. Again, one of the goals of the PPM system was to let you see discrete days and times and have some confidence in the data because the full panel would be there. In other words, a sample size that limits some of the crazy wobbles we get in the diary service. That has prevented PPM from having some crazy wobbles as well, but for the purposes of this column, let’s set that issue aside.

To start, fire up AT. Much like the day-by-day data, you’ll choose Trends, even if that doesn’t seem all that logical. Last week, I showed you that selecting the drop-down box next to the survey would give you the option to choose “day” which shows all the individual days within the daypart. 

Now, go to the “Time Period” option and click on the drop-down box next to the daypart.  You’ll see options for “block”, “hourly”, “half-hour” and “quarter-hour”. While I’m going to use the “quarter-hour” option here, you can also use this option to look at individual hours or half hours. Click on the “quarter-hour” option and you’re ready to go.

A warning for you: If you choose a broader daypart such as Monday-Friday, 6AM-7PM or God forbid, total week, AT will spit out a lot of data. That first daypart has 52 different quarter hours (13 hours times four) and if you’re looking at the survey month, you have 20 days. Let’s say you choose four stations to review. 20x4x52 is too much data for you to review at one time.

The best use of the quarter-hour option (or even the hour or half hour) is reviewing something major that happened. For a news/talk station, how did your station perform when Trump’s conviction was announced? Perhaps you had a big-name interview on your air that you promoted heavily? Was there a major local news story that occurred in your market that you covered extensively?

For a sports station with play-by-play, how well does each team perform? When I first joined Cumulus, I reviewed an entire season of the Golden State Warriors on KNBR. It didn’t matter who the opponent was because the best-performing games were the ones when the team went East. A 7 PM ET start time was 4 PM in California meaning more audience as the games were on during afternoon drive. For example, Golden State against a not-so-good team like Orlando or Charlotte on the road would pull far more audience than say, a Lakers game on a weekend.  How did the ratings look when a coach or manager was hired or fired? 

For any format, how does your morning show perform on a quarter-hour-by-quarter-hour basis? Are there obvious peaks and if so, what is the talent doing? When are the weak times?  Those will likely correlate with stop sets and there’s not much you can do but look closely.  However, if you have a stop set immediately after the best performing time of the morning, maybe you should move it.

The “hourly” option is useful when you have programming that doesn’t match specific dayparts. Most public stations have actual “programs” versus daypart shifts. Which hours perform best and yes, I know the answer will be Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but even those programs will have stronger and weaker hours. 

As always, I also recommend that you select the PUMM option along with your other estimates (persons, share, cume, etc.). Is one of your stronger quarter hours up against less available audience? If so, you might want to consider moving the content to a time when more listeners are available if that’s possible.

We all know that one Nielsen data point does not constitute a trend. While the quarter-hour option in AT offers the opportunity to drill down into the data, you probably need to look at a few months or more of data to discern trends that may motivate you to consider changes. 

Nonetheless, it makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

Let’s meet again next week.

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Merrill Reese is a Hall of Fame Broadcaster and Hall of Fame Person

I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Andy Bloom

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A photo of Merrill Reese
(Photo: Matt Mirro)

Long-time Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer. This is not news to anybody who knows Reese. However, the NFL will make it official on August 2nd when Reese receives the prestigious Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for 2024.

According to a news release by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Reese will be honored during the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week, which includes the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in downtown Canton on Friday, August 2, and the Class of 2024 Enshrinement on Saturday, August 3, in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.”

He will join past Pro Football Hall of Fame Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award winners, including Fred Gaudelli, John Facenda, Al Michaels, John Madden, Pat Summerall, and Curt Godwy, among others.

There are so many reasons why Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer.

Starting with his booming baritone voice and distinctive, often imitated (many Philadelphians do a Merrill Reese impression) but never duplicated style.

Reese has already been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and Temple University’s (his alma mater) Communications Hall of Fame.

Reese became the “Voice of the Eagles” in 1977. The 2024 season will mark his 48th consecutive season as the Eagles play-by-play announcer.

Reese is the longest-serving current play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

I’ve lived all over the country. I can think of no other city where people turn down the sound on national television broadcasts to listen to local announcers. In Philadelphia, Eagles games are synced with the largest cable provider and people really do turn down the television sound and turn up Merrill Reese and broadcast partner Mike Quick.

Reese called the Eagles Super Bowl LII victory in 2018, including the infamous “Philly Special” play, quoted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame release: “Foles in the gun. Clement to his right. Now lines up behind Foles. Foles moves to the right, and it goes directly to Clement, and Clement reverses it, and it goes into the end zone…And it’s a touchdown by Nick Foles!

While Merrill tasted the “Thrill of victory” in 2018, during three other visits to the “Big Game,” he knew the “Agony of defeat.”

But there are so many other calls that Reese has given testimony to, including: “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” (1978) and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands II” (2010), and his trademark, “It’s gooood!” after Jake Elliot’s 61-yard game-winning field goal against the New York Giants in 2017.

Then there’s Reese’s frankness. While he’s an unapologetic Eagles fan, he calls it out when the team or a player isn’t playing well, sometimes irritating the team’s management.

Life doesn’t begin and end with the football season. He takes part in so many community and charitable events. Many are on behalf of the Eagles, but many are not.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Reese is an ambassador for the City of Brotherly Love. He’s made guest appearances on “The Goldbergs” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

My first programming experience in Philadelphia was in 1985. That’s when I became an Eagles fan, and part of the attraction was Merrill Reese’s booming voice and passionate play-by-play calls.

I didn’t meet Reese working in Philadelphia in the 1980s or 1990s. The third time was the charm. I was named program director of WIP-AM in 2007. In 2008, I added responsibilities as operations manager for WPHT-AM, WYSP-FM (now WIP-FM), and WIP-AM. WYSP became the Eagle’s flagship radio station in 1992 (a fantastic story unto itself for another time).

Finally, I met and got to know Merrill Reese.

I saw firsthand the preparation Reese puts into each broadcast and his passion for football, especially for the Eagles. But I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Reese has said many times that he will never willingly retire. Believe him.

During my eight years as WIP’s Operations Manager, I was fortunate to develop a close bond with Reese. He was a mentor and one of my most trusted advisors. During football season, we spoke often – sometimes multiple times daily. During the off-season, we talked a couple of times weekly.

Reese is not only an extremely knowledgeable football announcer but also an astute observer of the broadcasting industry. He had an ownership stake and was the VP/GM of a suburban Philadelphia station for over three decades. He accurately predicted the successes and failures of WIP and other stations. His advice helped me avoid numerous mistakes.

My children grew up knowing him as “Uncle Merrill.” They would visit him at least once a season in the broadcast booth during half-time.

When my son was in second grade, there was a class assignment to have a relative with a unique job come in and talk about their work. My son asked, “Uncle Merrill,” who happily obliged and was a huge hit. It was amusing how many parents found a reason to attend school that day.

To this day, I bleed green. Even living 1,000 miles from Philly, I still listen to every Eagles broadcast by Merrill Reese and Mike Quick.

When I think about everything I miss about the Delaware Valley, Merrill Reese is right there at the top of the list.

Merrill Reese is a Philadelphia institution and treasure, and this August, he will be a well-deserved Pro Football broadcast Hall of Famer.

But Merrill Reese is more than a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He’s a Hall of Fame person.

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