I don’t know what Willy Wonka was like as a kid, but it’s a pretty good guess he knew his future would have something to do with candy. Ironically, esteemed radio talker Tom Sullivan had no intention of going into the media. Accounting was his passion, but chocolate was always a big part of his life.
“When my dad got home from work I’d hug him,” Sullivan said. “He must have thought I loved him but I was really trying to get a whiff of the chocolate. My dad was a chocolate maker in Seattle. He belonged to the bakers and confectioners union. He never allowed any candy in the house because he was so sick of it, working around chocolate all day long. He just didn’t want to see it.”
That gives special meaning to the Father’s Day Card: World’s Sweetest Father.
“When I saw people working so hard when I was a kid, I thought, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’m going to get a good education so I don’t have to punch the clock.’ The funny thing is, all you do in radio is punch the clock. We sit in a padded room for three hours talking. Now that’s crazy.”
While you may be well aware of Sullivan’s career moves, you might not know his initial chosen profession of accounting stemmed from him fancying a particular young lady.
“When I was 16, I became interested in a girl named Cindy, whose father was a CPA,” Sullivan explained. “I didn’t even know what a CPA was. But I liked Cindy and would visit her at her parent’s house. Her father asked me if I’d like to come down to his office, and he’d show me what bookkeeping was all about. He taught me basic accounting, basic bookkeeping, and I loved it. I took an optional course in business accounting when I got to college, and I couldn’t
believe how much I enjoyed it.”
That’s when Sullivan realized accounting was for him. His undergraduate degree is in accounting. He also enrolled in a bunch of advanced math classes and early computer programming. That’s when computers were the size of RVs.
The war was raging in Vietnam and Sullivan went into the Army, through ROTC. He immediately got hurt during basic training in an explosion.
“They wrapped me up and sent me back to Seattle. That was it for the Army.”
Sullivan had paid his debt to Uncle Sam.
In college, Sullivan said there was an ambulance station across from the university. It was like working at a fire station. He had overnight shifts there as a driver. Living there, he’d fix meals, work overnight and then go to school in the morning. A great way to pay for college.
“They had a business office with typewriters, copy machines. I could do my homework there.”
During his time as an ambulance driver, he met a lot of police officers. They told Sullivan the police department was hiring patrol officers, and they’d pay for graduate school in exchange for work.
It sounded good. Later, Sullivan learned it came at a price.
“I saw a lot of things by the end of graduate school,” Sullivan said. “I saw my share of drunk drivers. I also saw so much death and destruction as an ambulance driver and a highway patrolman. It was not conducive to your mental health.”
How can someone not be affected after seeing that kind of stuff? Sullivan said he has thought about the possibility of his having PTSD, but ruled it out.
“I know it’s a very real thing. I think if I’d been in battle, I would have been greatly affected. I don’t think I have PTSD. I have a personality that deals well with bad things. Even with all the gore and destruction I witnessed, I think I learned to compartmentalize those experiences.”
Sullivan said it’s a total mystery how his career has unfolded.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, so I was a trailblazer in that regard. I had no mentors. No examples. Cindy’s dad was the closest thing to a mentor.”
After graduation, Price Waterhouse came calling. They liked Sullivan so much they said he could work at an office of his choosing, anywhere.
“I’m a West Coast kid and I didn’t know diddly about the East Coast. I knew New York and San Francisco were the two financial cities. I always wanted to live in San Francisco so I moved there in 1971.”
He worked for Price Waterhouse from 1972 through 1977. While at Price Waterhouse, Sullivan acted as a tax consultant for major corporations. One of his clients was a physician who wanted to start a mortgage business. They built the business together and then sold. A lot of Sullivan’s old tax clients asked him to help with investments, and it all took off.
“CPAs were prevented from working with investments,” Sullivan said. “I opened a boutique investment firm in 1980. I thought, how do I get some advertising for this? I checked into the ad costs on the number one radio station in Sacramento. I asked them how much it cost to advertise on the station?”
This is how accounting morphed into Sullivan’s career in the radio business.
“When they told me how much it cost to advertise I thought, “Holy smokes,’ that’s a lot of money. I told them I listened to their station in the morning and I called the PD and suggested I do some financial news on the station in exchange for the advertising.”
The GM called him back and told Sullivan he couldn’t help him with that, but he knew another radio station that might. Sullivan called that station and they asked if he could come on the air and offer some tax tips listeners could utilize before the end of the year.
“When that was finished the business reporter was leaving and they asked if I’d be interested in taking his slot.”
Sullivan started doing the radio gig, and it wasn’t long before the local NBC affiliate heard him and asked if he could do the same for them.
“I did that for the NBC station, KCRA for 25 years until I left for New York.”
Sullivan started with iHeart in 1980 and has been with the company for 42 years.
He knew Rush Limbaugh from the talkers’ early days in Kansas City at KMBZ. Limbaugh did local talk from 1980-88 before moving on to New York. Limbaugh and Sullivan became very dear friends.
“He was the best man at my wedding and we were close until the day he passed.”
As Limbaugh worked in New York, he called Sullivan and said he might be able to get him a job. At this point, Limbaugh was doing two hours on WABC, and he also had a two-hour syndicated show.
“They had a one-hour hole in the schedule and asked me if I could go on and talk about money. I told them I couldn’t talk about money all the time as I’d get bored. Then we discussed topics from the newspaper as well, so I did and filled the gap in the schedule.”
After seeing Sullivan’s numbers in the one-hour slot, they gave the afternoon host the boot and put him in her slot. Now he had three hours in the afternoon on WABC. That went from 1988 through 2007.
“We sit in a padded room by ourselves and talk for three hours.”
Compared to 99.8% of accountants in the world, Sullivan is an anomaly.
Largely because he can carry a conversation and doesn’t wear a pocket protector. Well, maybe he does, but his personality is vastly different. “I gave a speech once to the American Institute of CPAs. The audience was full of accountants and if I made a joke or tried to imbue the talk with some humor, they just stared at me.”
He’s had the opportunity throughout his career to interview the biggest, the brightest, and most influential people in history.
He recalled the time he was in the green room waiting for Dr. Billy Graham. Sullivan said he was lucky to be able to chat with the man for half an hour.
“I asked him how he became a world-famous world leader. He said, ‘Tom, I’ve been given a gift by God. There are ministers that know more about the Bible than I do. I was given a gift to explain it simply’. I thought that was a good plan, explaining concepts to people in a relatable fashion”
As he sees the world today, Sullivan said it’s a mess, but not a total loss.
“I’m not a pessimist by nature,” Sullivan said. “I get a lot of callers who think we’re in doomsville. I don’t. We’re going through a tough day, in some ways. I’ve seen worse times. I lived through the 60s. I saw a president gunned down. I saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King get gunned down. I saw riots and mayhem. Things aren’t so bad.”
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 [email protected].
Examining What Rupert Murdoch Got Wrong at Fox News
There is no doubt Rupert Murdoch is a transformative figure…He provoked racism, fascism, and exploited the hate that some Americans always had, but hid from sight.
The legacy of one Rupert Murdoch has been hailed as transformative in right-leaning publications since last week’s retirement announcement. I can’t argue with that. Fox News has altered the country, its journalism, and its politics. And not for the better. That — I would argue — is Murdoch’s true legacy.
It started overseas in Australia, where a former prime minister said this week that Murdoch did “enormous damage to the democratic world” by creating “an anger-tainment ecosystem” that left the US “angrier and more divided than it’s been at any time since the Civil War”.
The legacy grew next in Britain with minor disgraces in the tabloid world, exploiting women and cheapening journalism with his page three topless photos, and subsequent major journalistic crimes of hacking the phones of ordinary citizens, politicians, law enforcement, celebrities, royalty, and even crime victims. A scandal that forced Murdoch to shut down the scummy News of the World tabloid.
But the most notorious damage done by News Corp. and its immoral leader was done here in the United States by the ratings success of its cable propaganda outlet falsely named Fox News. By its own lawyers’ account, it is not a news outlet, but right-wing hate entertainment designed to echo the worst qualities of America that had been hidden in the shadows.
From white nationalism, the replacement theory, COVID misinformation, destruction of our institutions from the courts to the electoral process to the media itself, Fox News — led by Rupert Murdoch — has left this country worse than when it started in 1996. Let me count the ways.
It began way before Trump. Fox News constantly promoted the false charges that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, elevating the crackpot Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bogus investigation into Obama’s birth certificate.
Next, was the “what about her emails” excuse to each bonafide Trump scandal exposed in the 2016 campaign. Scandals such as “grab them by the (genitals)” to campaign manager Paul Manafort’s meeting with Russian agents.
Rupert Murdoch’s political legacy is Donald Trump. He helped put him in office, made excuses for him while in office, and his network backed his claims of election fraud in 2020, which cost his network $787.5 million in damages because it carried and promoted the false claims that Dominion ballot machines were controlled by Venezuelan communists.
Fox, led by Rupert Murdoch, promoted wild conspiracy theories about the January 6th Insurrection. Its anchors and commentators routinely minimized the storming of the capitol, often repeating the claim that the rioters were merely “tourists” on an unauthorized tour of the seat of American democracy. Its most popular host publicized the bogus claim that the armed protest was led by Antifa, rather than The Proud Boys and other white nationalists.
Fox was also a major player in the disinformation claiming the capitol riot that killed 5 and injured 138 was a false flag operation. Tucker Carlson’s “documentary” on FOX Nation and on his nightly show falsely claimed that the FBI instigated the attack on the capitol. Murdoch’s disinformation on COVID-19 and vaccines cost human lives among its very viewers. Giving a platform to anti-vaxers and disrupting the national effort to control the virus through mass vaccination. A Yale study found that after the vaccine was made available, Democrats got the jab, while many Republicans did not. The result: the death rate in Republican states was 43 percent higher. Now, that is a legacy.
And perhaps just as damaging is the Murdoch contribution to the division in America. Pre-Fox, most Americans got their news from the three major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN.
Objective reporting with no opinion was the gold standard. A media that helped the country through crises such as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and Watergate, by shining the light on facts. Exposing the Pentagon lies that the war was going well, disinformation that Blacks were treated equally in the South, and beyond, and the coverup of the Watergate break-in.
But in 1996 with the invention of Fox “News” — designed by the former Nixon propagandist Roger Ailes, who was forced from power at Fox by his sexual harassment antics — that gold standard changed. Much of America still turns to CBS, ABC, and NBC for its straight news, but Fox is the leading cable outlet, and it nightly masquerades right-wing opinion as news, a formula that led to MSNBC morphing from straight news to opinion from the left, and even CNN reacting to Donald Trump by becoming more opinionated.
The landscape was changed from broadcasting to narrowcasting. Each outlet is now an echo chamber of its most extreme viewers.
There is no doubt Rupert Murdoch is a transformative figure. A foreign billionaire, who rejected American values, and destroyed many of them. He provoked racism, fascism, and exploited the hate that some Americans always had, but hid from sight.
It is a legacy, but a destructive one on too many levels. Farewell and good riddance.
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.
3 Things Rupert Murdoch Got Right at Fox News
Murdoch tapped into the pro-God, pro-America, and pro-freedom core of the nation. He heard the audience and filled the vacuum.
Many in the news media world were surprised last week as one of its biggest players — if not the biggest — stepped down from his lofty perch. Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corporation and Fox Corporation, announced last week that he was abdicating the role and passing the baton to his son, Lachlan Murdoch.
As the dust settles and the change takes effect in the coming weeks, it is important to learn the lessons of Murdoch’s past seven decades in media ownership. There are many pearls of wisdom to be grasped regarding building media success and a legacy worth remembering.
Let’s take a look at three things Murdoch got right, and how other media executives can learn from his example.
Connecting With the Audience
When Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News in 1996, he was venturing into uncharted territory. Television media was dominated by liberal-leaning executives, anchors, and reporters.
As hard as it is to believe in the year 2023, television news media in the mid-90s was even more liberally biased than it is now. Television viewers just had nothing to judge it against. They largely received the same slant from all outlets — NBC, CBS, ABC, etc. — which conditioned viewers to feel there was only one way to look at an issue.
Even though millions of Americans felt differently, they were conditioned to think the liberal slant was the only proper, educated way to view an issue.
When Murdoch began Fox News, he gave half of the country their voice on television. With Fox, he connected with their hopes, dreams, values, and sensibilities. Certainly, pioneering legend Rush Limbaugh had begun blazing the path of traditional, common-sense talk on syndicated radio.
However, bringing mainstream conservative thought to television was strikingly new, compared to the big-government, elitist, globalist approach taken by the vast majority of television media. Murdoch gave millions of Americans a home. Through the network’s approach, from the stories they covered to the talent they employed on-air, Murdoch tapped into the pro-God, pro-America, and pro-freedom core of the nation. He heard the audience and filled the vacuum.
As an example for future media executives and broadcasters, Murdoch saw an untapped market segment and had the courage to cater to the audience. The success has been astounding, as Fox News eventually out-rated CNN and MSNBC, becoming the unrivaled leader in the new world of cable television news. Murdoch saw the need and filled it.
Hiring the Right Leaders
Truly successful owners, executives, managers, and leaders know one of the biggest secrets to success is hiring the best people and letting them do their thing. So when Rupert Murdoch hired Roger Ailes to become the CEO of Fox News in 1996, he trusted that Ailes had the ability and vision to help make the network successful. Ailes had been extremely influential in conservative political circles for years, which gave the network an immediate connection to that segment of the nation.
Roger Ailes was an authentic conservative who specialized in building perception. After all, politics revolves around creating a perception and image for the voting public. Ailes knew how to create that perception and then magnetically attract similar-thinking viewers. He had done it as a media consultant for Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and others, and he still had deep connections to the new generation of thought leaders, such as Limbaugh.
In other words, Ailes and his subsequent leadership team knew how to reach the viewers to make Murdoch’s vision of the network a reality. And a hugely successful reality at that.
Simply in terms of the network’s vision, Rupert Murdoch was largely successful due to the hiring of Roger Ailes and the additional Fox News leadership team.
Additionally, he made difficult decisions when allegations were made years later against that same leader. Hiring the right people is crucial, as is moving on when the right people no longer are. Certain behaviors, when true, can no longer be tolerated or supported if an organization’s culture is to remain strong and flourish in the future.
Knowing When to Pass the Torch
Perhaps one of the most difficult milestones for any business, organization, or media leader is to know the time to bow out. After a lifetime of success, many feel the need to hang on for as long as possible, lest the organization wilt upon your absence.
Rupert Murdoch is 92 years old. He has built a remarkable media empire, including ownership of The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. Apparently, he feels now is the best time to exit, while giving his baby the best chance to grow and evolve for years to come.
In a statement released last week, Murdoch said, “Our companies are in robust health, as am I.”
He exits the field ala John Elway, Pope Benedict XVI, or Andrew Carnegie, still with gas in the tank but before the tank nears empty. A multi-faceted life includes many ingredients, and media professionals of all levels can benefit from stepping back, at times, to smell the roses and connect with the truly important things in life.
Perhaps Murdoch wants to sit back and enjoy his lifestyle. Or maybe he no longer identifies with the populist, America First climate sweeping the Republican party and the country. Regardless, Murdoch is stepping back, apparently at a time of strength rather than weakness.
Rupert Murdoch has been a transformational figure in American and worldwide media culture. He did a lot correctly, including listening to the needs of the consumer, hiring effective leaders, and stepping aside at the right time. Perhaps more than anything, he aligned with the majority of the people – giving their interests a voice against the usual powerbrokers of the era.
“Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth,” Murdoch said in his letter to colleagues last week.
History may consider Rupert Murdoch a media visionary who saw the truth viewers were searching for, and who then created a successful media empire around those values.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
Jason Whitlock is the One Person Who Isn’t on Talk Radio But Should Be
There are many reasons Whitlock would resonate with talk radio listeners. The societal issues Whitlock expresses concern over, such as the “unprecedented cultural shift,” are red meat for talk radio.
The BNM Summit in Nashville was informational and entertaining. One of the most interesting sessions was “Fixing a Broken Media,” featuring Jason Whitlock, whom Jason Barrett interviewed.
Jason Whitlock may well be the person not currently heard on talk radio but who most should be.
Whitlock has a long resume and has done a little of everything, beginning with playing college football at Ball State University. When I asked him, “Who is Jason Whitlock?”, he replied, “A Christian, accomplished sports journalist, social critic, and pundit. Someone trying to stick to the values I learned in football and church.”
The rest of our conversation reflected his description.
I’ve seen Whitlock’s appearances on several talk shows, heard parts of his raps, and read many of his columns. However, I don’t think I gained a complete appreciation for him until I saw him at the BNM Summit and had the opportunity to interview him about a week later.
What struck me most about Whitlock during his session at the Summit and our conversation was his authenticity. He has guiding principles and does not deviate from them.
Speaking about authenticity, Whitlock isn’t sure it’s a positive virtue anymore. He said, “Being authentic gets you in trouble. Authenticity has less value than 10-15 years ago.” He points out, “We’re in the era of social media and the matrix. It’s about that narrative and what’s possible and popular based on algorithms now.”
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising when Whitlock says longtime Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko inspired him. He adds, “But he could never be a columnist now in this multicultural era.”
There are many reasons Whitlock would resonate with talk radio listeners. The societal issues Whitlock expresses concern over, such as the “unprecedented cultural shift,” are red meat for talk radio.
He laments the “disappearing of the patriarchy”, explaining further, “We’re becoming a matriarchy. There’s a cost to society for dismantling the patriarchy in movies, sports, TV, and talk radio. Nothing is as good or life-giving anymore,” he states emphatically.
Whitlock takes aim at those rejecting conservative values when he states: “The left and the globalists have priorities like opening the borders. There’s a real cost and loss of freedom and safety. Kids are going to school today where teachers want to impose their sexual values.”
When I ask Whitlock if he could do talk radio today, he says he could with one “but.”
“I don’t know if I could get that kind of corporate support anymore. Remember when sticks and stones could break my bones, but words will never hurt me? Well, words break bones now,” surmised Whitlock. “If (corporate heads) get one tweet, everybody worries, ‘Oh, my God, someone’s feelings are hurt.’ I don’t know if you can do what Stern, Rush, or Mancow did.”
Whitlock summarizes business today, “It doesn’t matter if people like or don’t like my talent and hard work, which used to protect me, but neither matter anymore. Results don’t matter as much anymore.”
He’s right; less than ten years ago, I could calm management down by assuring them that the number of complaints received was directly proportionate to the ratings a new polarizing air personality would receive – a lesson I learned when we put Howard Stern on in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and then repeated on various stations across the country. As recently as 2014, the lesson held true when we put Josh Innes on WIP in Philadelphia until aggravation mattered more than results.
I spoke to a high-level syndicator and a leading talk radio thinker to gather their opinions about why Whitlock isn’t on talk radio. I asked Whitlock about a top concern, the amount of God and spiritual talk in his content.
“You can’t avoid the elephant in the room,” he acknowledged. “The Declaration and Constitution are influenced by Biblical views,” Whitlock continued.
Whitlock explains his position by putting the opposition in context. “The left argues race is inescapable and that it touches everything in America. Faith touches everything in America. You can’t talk about what’s going on in America without talking about it, but the left is certainly trying.”
His beliefs will attract some listeners, particularly social conservatives. How heavily he leans on faith determines how much he risks turning off others. Faith is Whitlock’s core value, but it hasn’t frightened me, at least thus far.
However, Whitlock understands the risk. “I’m aware we live in a secular society, and there are penalties for talking about God. I’m authentic and willing to accept those penalties,” he adds.
Whitlock offered a theory about someone he believes paid the price for talking about God. “Tucker’s (Carlson) show was very popular. He started talking about God, and I think that’s what got him fired.”
There’s no shortage of articles that mention how uncomfortable Rupert Murdoch became over the religious talk by Carlson and others. Although Whitlock may have a point, I tend to believe there are $787.5 million reasons that figured more prominently in the decision to remove Carlson from FNC.
Continuing to talk about Carlson, Whitlock suggested watching his appearances on the show. “Listen to what I said about faith and then Nancy Pelosi’s fake boobs, that’s what I do.”
That’s another reason I think he would be great doing talk radio. You never know what he will say next, one of the key traits of successful radio personalities.
The other question was whether Whitlock was too sports-heavy to succeed on talk radio. Whitlock knocked this one out of the park (excuse the figure of speech). “Sports are reflective of the rest of our culture. My big moment was when I wrote a Kansas City Star column after (Don) Imus’, a bad shock-jock not heard in the market, ‘nappy-headed-ho’ comment. I wrote I’m supposed to be offended when all those rap songs glorify nappy-headed pimps and hos. That column got me on Oprah.”
He continues with, “The number one force is the NFL. The top five network shows are the NFL. You can evaluate America through sports. I’m known for connecting the sports world with everything in the rest of the world. That’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years.”
Whitlock’s views will appeal to talk radio listeners. He’s willing to say things the politically correct bunch doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t care if he offends them. He’s also capable of surprising listeners.
What he says is honest and authentic. He is unabashedly proud of his beliefs and sums it up by saying: “That’s how I talk on the air and off the air. I do what I do and am Fearless (the name of his current show heard through Glenn Beck’s Blaze Media). If that makes people uncomfortable, I will deal with the consequences. The ratings speak for themselves and actually do speak for themselves.”
Somebody, please get this man a radio show!
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at an[email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.