WLW’s Scott Sloan Molded a Career From Shock Jock to News/Talk
After a successful deejay career, Sloan eventually made the jump to talk. He had been impacted by the Loop out of Chicago with Kevin Muller and Gary Meier.
Scott Sloan was a jock at the old WQFM in Milwaukee, a poster child for rock stations at the time. 50,000 Watts of Alcohol and Drugs could have been the station’s tagline for promos.
“I think part of the job requirement was to be coked-up,” Sloan said.
(Notice, I didn’t say he was joking.)
Sloan attended Bowling Green State University, a public school in Ohio. He can be heard daily on 700 WLW in Cincinnati from 9:00am-noon.
“I stumbled into radio like everybody else. But I took it very seriously,” Sloan said.
In college, he had an arduous routine. First, Sloan did overnight work, then went straight to WBGU, his college station, for a morning shift.
“We had no idea what we were doing. We tried to figure it out as we went along. Howard Stern was impacting radio.”
After a successful deejay career, Sloan eventually made the jump to talk. He had been impacted by the Loop out of Chicago with Kevin Muller and Gary Meier.
“I had a lot of respect for Steve Dahl,” Sloan said. “He always showed up, put in the work. When you’re on the air, it’s supposed to sound like you’re not working. But you are.”
Sloan explained as a show host, you’re prepping all the time. But that’s if you intended to be any good.
“I think you’re always looking for stuff to present. You should always be you. If you’re an asshole at home, be an asshole on the radio.”
Sloan said regardless of how you present yourself on air; you tend to become your character.
“Where we get stuck is when we try to change lives,” he said. “What happened to entertainment? We’re so full of the ‘Gotcha’ culture, people looking to trip each other up.”
As a parallel, Sloan said it’s the same thing standup comics are going through now, facing restrictions imposed by a society that has suddenly changed its collective mind.
“We’re not brain surgeons,” he said. “We’re not the brightest bulbs. I know so many people in this business that have failed miserably. If some people are antisocial, they can hide behind the microphone. If you’re a well-rounded person and your show is successful, people will try to emulate you.”
Chicago radio knew how to get it right, Sloan said. The Loop was always entertaining. Sloan explained on his station that he could take lessons from those jocks, make mistakes and learn. It was fun.
“When I started, I wasn’t good,” he said plainly. “I was kind of making it up as I went along. You may start out with no listenership, but when you work in a cluster, you kind of know that going in. You’re either the big dog, or you’re the little dog working for the cluster.”
Sloan said It gives you an amazing sense of freedom, knowing you can learn without all the pressure. If people are paying attention to you, you have an opportunity to work with a blank slate.
“You’re not as important as the money-makers. You can play the underdog when you’re figuring out your act.”
He met his wife Michelle at Bowling Green, studying alongside each other. Sloan said his wife went into television and, between the two, always landed good jobs.
“It’s tough in this business to find a wife who understands the business because she’s in the business,” Sloan explained. “When my kids were young, we were forced to have a lot of ‘staycations.’ I remember filling the car with kids and gear, and when we were literally pulling out of the driveway, I got a call that the space shuttle Columbia had exploded. We’re going wall to wall with our coverage as we were still one of the few live stations. I looked at my wife, and she knew I had to go to work immediately. Vacation over. Michelle understood. She got it. How many spouses would take it that well if they didn’t know the business?”
Sloan has been married to Michelle for 30 years. He’s made use of that longevity on the air.
“You have to roast your wife, have a sense of humor if you expect to make it for any length of time,” he explained. “One of the most popular segments on my show is Real Estate With My Wife. She works in real estate now, so I guess it’s kind of a commercial for her business, but I’m not paying for that shit. It’s too expensive at our station.” Michelle leads the show with personal information relating to her and Scott.
“Our relationship is a platform for jumping off,” he said. “Recently, she got a $700 haircut. By that, I mean by the cut, doing tons of other things I don’t understand. That’s divorce material. I made the argument on the air that she was doing it to impress other women because guys don’t care that much about hair. The phones went crazy.”
Compared to when Sloan started, job descriptions around the stations have changed. “Program directors these days do some paperwork. They’re stretched so thin they don’t have time to coach talent or manage the station. Everyone is stretched, and it’s sad.”
Early influences like Stern and Rush helped Sloan focus on his own presentation.
“I liked Rush, but I didn’t listen to him that much. I’d listen to him driving in, but I think he became too self-important. Everybody evolves. Some people have so much reverence for the man it’s elevated to the point of ridiculous.”
Sloan said veteran broadcaster Bill Cunningham, who can be heard on WLW, is probably one of the most emulated talkers. “Hannity took what he does right from Bill,” Sloan said.
Sloan said he doesn’t recall being scared when he recalled his first time on the air.
“If you’re not the main show, you don’t have to be that good. You’ve got that buffer. I was doing sports from 6-8, and nobody was listening. I was ‘Scott the Sports Idiot.’”
Sloan said he had nothing to lose since nobody was listening to his show. He’d try a different take.
“I started calling sports bars,” Sloan said. “The bartender would ask why I was calling a sports bar. I told them I didn’t have any listeners, and I figured people who talked about sports were in the bar. That’s why I’m calling you.”
Auditions on the radio are part of the gig. Sloan recalled going to Toledo in an attempt to land a talker job. The green light came on, and they told him to ‘go.’
“There were all these programming guys standing around,” Sloan explained. “I remember thinking it was important to avoid making eye contact with those guys. I just went into my own zone. I actually put my feet up on the board. I think they thought, ‘well, this guy is comfortable.’ I guess I fooled them. I didn’t think I had that much to say.”
Sloan said he’s a regular guy who shows up for his show in jeans, and a shirt.
“I don’t get the talkers who show up in a suit and tie like they’re working at a bank. I’m supposed to have reverence for these guys?”
On the air, Sloan deals with the listener’s insanity. He offers a blunt assessment of the situation today.
“Politics today is about how much we can kiss ass,” Sloan said. “I’ve always voted Republican, but I don’t recognize the party anymore. America is in a spot right now; everyone is so serious. Always more of the same, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
He said every show is different, but it’s always live and local. “My role is to take the news that morning, open the phones, and get guests. We have Bill Cunningham from noon to 3 in the afternoon. He is such an incredible guy. He does it in a tongue-in cheek-manner. I think he’s the most entertaining guy in the industry. When I watch his show, he’s the Harvard of talk show host. I figure compared to him; I should be working at Taco Bell. We don’t need, and nobody could be, another Bill.”
Sloan believes hyper-local is the way it should be.
“If I’m driving from Milwaukee to Nashville, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t have a reference point because I’m not from those towns,” Sloan said. “And I guess that’s how it should be as long as it makes sense to the local community. Cincinnati knows what I’m talking about, even if Cleveland doesn’t. At WLW, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We don’t have over-the-top characters like wrestling.”
Sloan said things will change, as they always do.
“Someday, somebody will come along and alter everything. The way hosts present. When Stern came on the scene, everybody was cursing, doing prank phone calls. He was amazing. Then the Morning Zoo went away. Something else will come along and shake up the industry. Then somebody will rush to be like them. It’s like The Simpsons. After that show came out, every network had to get an animated show.”
Sloan expressed his frustration with some of the technology we’ve integrated into our daily lives.
“The human brain has only so much hard drive. If I have to remember one more password, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m an inch deep and a mile wide. I know just enough to get myself into trouble. I didn’t learn anything until I left college. It’s not the college; it’s the money-grubbing college industry. You mean to tell me I can spend 100 grand on a degree in advanced puppetry, but there are no jobs in puppetry? Sesame Street isn’t hiring. I can’t find a job, so I’m living in my mom’s basement for the rest of my life?”
On the air a few days ago, Sloan said the Trump Mar-a-Lago thing pissed many people off. Sloan said everybody’s first impulse was thinking their side was right.
“With the assault on the FBI building in Cincinnati, the Federal building was directly behind our old studio. We saw that building every day. So I said this “Gravy Seal” was going to shoot through bulletproof glass with a nail gun? With reaction from the callers, you would have thought I was the antichrist. They said a Trump supporter wouldn’t say that. Here’s the problem. The same people that hate the FBI don’t recall they are the same people Comey and the FBI were investigating.”
Sloan said we’re so into our own silos we won’t talk to anyone who challenges us. He explained that’s a sign of weakness.
“People believe in things when it’s convenient for them. They chant ‘Defund the FBI,’ but didn’t you just call yourselves the party of Law and Order? We look like crazy people. We treat crazy people like they’re on par with the rest of us. We’ve given the crazies a voice, a sense of importance. Nothing against Jerry Springer, but he did open a door.”
Scotty, Scotty, Scotty.
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Only Path Forward For News Radio is Strong Personalities
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than News/Talk
If radio wants to keep up, personality has to be the way. The format of choice is irrelevant, but personality has to be the biggest asset for the format and station.
It’s something I’ve written about before in this column, but when it gets reinforced by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, it’s worth mentioning again.
In a great conversation with Talkers’ Michael Harrison, Pittman pointed out that “25% of iHeart’s stations do not play music”, and that more and more shows on the company’s music stations are “actually talk shows that play little or no music at all.”
Then came the best line of the conversation, when Pittman said, “Even on our music stations, you find us moving much more towards heavier personalities, because as we begin to say, If somebody just wanted music, they’ve got a lot of places to go. We’re probably not their best option, if they just want to dig through music. If they want somebody to keep them company, and hang out with them, and be their friend, and be an informed friend, and connect with them, there’s no better place. So we’re very committed to it.”
That’s it right there.
Radio’s competitive advantage is being a friend (ideally local), while using personality-driven content to develop that relationship with the listener to then drive listening occasions.
As has been discussed and addressed for years, music radio simply can’t compete with Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. if your goal is to listen to your music at the exact time that you want it.
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than news/talk, where the strongest opinions and deepest connections often exist. That’s backed up by the Time Spent Listening for the format, which leads the way in many markets.
In many ways, news/talk is the best — and most exciting — place to be right now in the business, and none of that has to do with what is shaping up to be a fascinating 2024 election cycle. But rather because the industry’s biggest advantage to maintaining and growing its audience is its personalities, so if you’re already in the talk format, you’re ahead of the game. And then if you’re good, you’re a highly valuable asset.
As Pittman also noted in his conversation with Harrison, “For the first time ever, the radio business is bigger than the TV business, in terms of audience from 18 to 49 [year olds].”
National coastal media won’t write about that, because too many of them aren’t everyday American consumers. However, the data doesn’t lie. Radio is beating TV in a key demo and the leaders in the industry know that personality-driven content is their key to future success. That’s a great combination for those of us working in the business.
Granted, as we all know, it’s not all roses and sunshine. These are still tough times with continuing competition in the ad space and a soft 2023 shaping up.
However, the show must go on.
And as radio strategically prepares itself for not just the rest of this year, but the next five to ten years, there are plenty of goals that need to be achieved, but if growing and developing personalities is at the top of the list, that’s a win for the industry and an even bigger win for the news/talk format.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
If CNN is For Sale, Here Are 5 Potential Buyers
CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
It’s hard to run a cable news network like CNN these days. Just look at NewsNation. It was founded on the principle of being the first centrist cable news network to come into existence in years. But over the past couple of months, the network has peddled by coming from a slightly right-of-center angle with headlines. They’ve tried to steal left-of-center viewers from CNN with the hiring of Chris Cuomo. And now they’re literally going wall-to-wall with coverage of UFOs. I’m not even making that up.
In a world where a big chunk of its denizens believes the truth is a maybe while the other half doesn’t pay attention to the news unless it is bite-sized, does it still make sense to own a cable news network? Given the turmoil Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav has faced lately with CNN it may not be for him.
The company was forced to let go of CNN CEO Chris Licht this week after a scathing profile from The Atlantic that went behind the scenes into how Licht operated the network post-Jeff Zucker. It was a circus, to say the least. After reading the profile though, you still come away feeling bad for Licht while considering the fact that there is a hand that might have been puppeteering him along the way that was used to having control over everyone.
Zazlav comes from a part of cable where it is necessary to operate like a dictatorship because the formula has proven to work with Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, etc…and because the shows that air on these networks create their own warped reality to spit out for thirsty reality consumers who want it the way it is served.
It’s impossible to have this kind of culture in cable news where the personalities aren’t really the star of the network — the news and facts are and they can’t be warped to fit all interested parties. They just have to be true whether it benefits one side or the other. The truth is the truth.
There are new ways to tell stories and there’s new technology you can use to tell those stories but at the end of the day, telling stories also has the same formula as it always has and can’t be changed.
Remarkably, Don Lemon comes away from Licht’s profile looking the most intelligent when he says that many critics of CNN like Zazlav are committed to Monday morning quarterbacking. CNN went a little too hard on various things happening in the Trump administration too many times, but at the end of the day, it was the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable to the truth just like it has been since the founding of television news.
This lack of realization on Zazlav’s part shows that CNN probably doesn’t belong in the same company as Warner Bros. Discovery. The cultures of Discovery and CNN clearly don’t align. Axios has already reported that because of the low ad market, cord-cutting, slumping ratings, and the run-up to the election having not started yet, WBD doesn’t plan on selling CNN any time soon. It also should be noted that CNN still makes almost $800 million a year for WBD so it is not the big loss of an asset that many in the media would make you think it is.
At the same time, unless Zazlav decides to change his mindset, he needs to sell before this situation becomes unmanageable. CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds democracy and the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
The Mickey Mouse Club owns the news organization that already has the most trust among conservatives on television besides Fox News (ABC News), so they would help legitimize CNN’s mission of garnering more conservatives.
CNN’s library of content would bolster its digital platforms and provide an avenue to create new documentaries and films. ABC News’ own extracurricular projects would be on a platform that has consistent reach with the audience they’re seeking and wouldn’t get lost in the clouds like it currently does on Hulu.
National Geographic could move its content to CNN and HLN and help Disney get rid of one less cable network (NatGeo Channel) that doesn’t generate revenue.
CNN already has the largest news organization in the world. Their addition would bring NBC over the top. NBC’s ability to promote news offerings on Peacock would get some much-needed help as well since CNN has the number one digital news website in the United States.
Peacock would also be able to add CNN’s library to its app giving viewers who crave live news and sports another reason to subscribe to the app.
Regulatory issues may prevail due to past rulings by the federal government but this may have a chance to go through if the government believes the internet and streaming and the fragmentation of television has created enough competition for a CNN/MSNBC combo to not be too powerful.
The Emerson Collective
In a stroke of sheer awkwardness, could the owners of The Atlantic be contenders? Laurene Powell Jobs has constantly spoken about how much she believes journalism affects the balance of our society.
CNN, despite its ratings drag, still plays a vital role in shaping what we talk about as a society. Jobs’ causes like social justice reform, immigration reform, and the environment might get more attention from the general populous on a platform like CNN
The Washington Post or New York Times
Both entities were hand-in-hand with CNN reporting on the latest developments involving the Trump administration and both also faced public backlash about what they deemed as important with a Trump admin vs. a regular administration.
They all share the same mission and journalism ethos and, in the case of WaPo, have a very wealthy backer who could fund a potential deal.
The media mogul has become more deeply involved with the industry than he ever was before. He has a stake in the sports RSNs that are currently failing, he owns The Weather Channel — the most trusted name in news right now which is a remarkable feat to achieve in an era where so many deny climate change and he’s in the market to buy more.
CNN being black-owned could quell the accusations of the network becoming white-washed. A partnership with The Weather Channel bolsters coverage of climate change for the cable network.
And for Byron Allen, CNN gives him a seat on the table when it comes to power and influence in the worlds of Wall Street and Congress.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.