WTIC’s Brian Schactman Wanted To, And Has Done, It All
Then a chance meeting with a producer at ESPN.com sparked what became a globetrotting television and radio career at ESPN, NBC Connecticut, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC10 Boston and NECN.
“On my bucket list was a World Cup soccer game and seeing a game show,” Brian Shactman says.
“I graduated from college in 1994, and my buddy’s mom had a place in Southern California, so we went out there to work” Shactman explained. “We went on the last day of taping for The Price is Right. We were out drinking for most of the night before, but we sobered up and went to Television City at like five in the morning.”
Shactman said when you entered the studios, you were greeted by the producers of the show. They ask you a single question.
“I’m guessing they put you in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile,” Shactman said. “When they asked me a follow-up question, I knew it was ‘on’. When the producer came out before the show, we locked eyes and I knew I was going to be a contestant. Mine was the fourth name called.”
Johnny, tell him what he’s won.
“I won a refrigerator, which I sold. I won a cabinet, which I gave to my brother for his wedding. And I got two recliner chairs. I gave one to my buddy, and I had the other one until 2014 when my wife told me it was time to part with them. It was the chair or her.”
Shactman has done so much television since the game show appearance, it’s hard to believe there was a time he was nervous in front of the camera. “Here I was with Bob Barker. I used to skip school to watch him. It was surreal. The studio is a lot smaller than you’d think. It felt like I was on a sitcom.”
Shactman is no slouch in the education department. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and later Amherst College.
“Amherst is very different today than it was in the early 90s,” Shactman says. “It’s a liberal arts college in New England. Very politically correct. But it was small. Our student body was about the same size as one class in a bigger college. There were a lot of smart people around all the time. It was rather humbling. Many have gone on to do some great things. The captain of our hockey team went on to become a surgeon. I wasn’t used to not being one of the smartest guys in the room.”
All Shactman did growing up was play sports. His mom wanted him to diversify a bit.
“I think my mom started freaking out and began taking me to museums. I was so focused on hockey in high school, even though I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.”
The family loved the Red Sox, though Shactman never went to games as a kid. His first professional games were at the Boston Garden in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, where he remembers watching the Bruins and a classic Celtics- Sixers playoff game.
“Once the Red Sox won the Series in 2004, things changed for me,” said Shactman, who still has season tickets but only goes to a few a year now. “I saw the team win three more World Series, but it’s not the same for me anymore. Some of the grittiness is gone. I like to cheer, but now people look at you like you have three heads. I still like to take my kids to some games though.”
His one time love of the game and team rubbed off on his wife. But not right away.
“When I met my wife, Jess Matzkin, she was working in education. I’d go to bed at 9 pm, and she would start watching the Red Sox games as background noise. Then she started to get to know the players. In the 2004 ALCS, we went to Game 3 together (where the Sox were routed by the Yankees), and we had two tickets to Game 4. I couldn’t go, and she couldn’t find anyone to go with her. Finally, after the fifth or sixth ask, Jess got someone to go. And it was one of the greatest games ever.”
His first job was teaching at The Taft School, a prep school in Connecticut. Then he went back to coach hockey at his alma mater, Amherst College.
“(After that) I didn’t think I wanted to coach anymore, so I enrolled in graduate school to study English Literature. By my third day in graduate school, I realized that wasn’t for me. Then I started covering sports.”
Then a chance meeting with a producer at ESPN.com sparked what became a globetrotting television and radio career at ESPN, NBC Connecticut, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC10 Boston and NECN.
Shactman currently is the host of Brian & Company from 5:30-9 am on WTIC NewsTalk 1080 in Connecticut.
“I was on TV in Boston when my wife took a job in Connecticut at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, so I was commuting back and forth. I didn’t want to do TV in Connecticut again. This opportunity at WTIC just came my way.” His biggest break was back in 2013 when he took over as regular host of Way Too Early on MSNBC when Willie Geist had moved on to the Today Show.
Why is Willie Geist so likable?
“Willie in real life is a very confident, witty, accessible guy,” Shactman says. “You never feel like he’s condescending. My wife likes him, too. He’s smart, self-effacing. We used to watch his father Bill Geist when he did his humor pieces on CBS Sunday Morning. Bill’s pieces were always fun. Willie may have gotten some breaks because of his father, but he also worked his way up.”
Shactman said during the Great Recession, Morning Joe came to the forefront and changed TV news.
“It was a show that I wanted to be on,” Shactman says. “A guy who worked on the show was from Hartford. I told him when Erin Burnett, Jim Cramer, or Dylan Ratigan couldn’t do it, to use me. Joe and I are both Red Sox fans so we sort of hit it off.”
At ESPN, he worked on SportsCenter, ESPN.com, and ESPN Radio.
If he had it all to do over again, Shactman actually said he wishes he’d done more acting.
“In high school, I started appearing in plays. Senior year, I was going to be on the lacrosse team, but I knew I wasn’t going to play in college, so I auditioned. I was in two really somber plays, but I loved it. If I had the guts, I would have gone into acting.”
He said so much of his personal identity was as an athlete. Shactman was afraid not to be an athlete.
“That’s why I went to boarding school. I’m glad I took that chance. I loved the way audiences responded. I don’t think I had the range to be a professional, but it was a fantastic experience.”
Reading A Separate Peace by John Knowles made Shactman want to go to boarding school.
“I had to read Moby Dick twice. Once in college and once in graduate school.”
“If I would sum up my literary leanings, I’d have to say historical fiction and American History. I gravitated to Ivan Doig in graduate school.
Shactman wrote his masters thesis on the American West. He explored immigration in Montana. He looked at the sweeping history of the West and the Mountain Man era.
“It was so dangerous back then,” Shactman said. You could turn the corner and someone could kill you.”
Shactman said violence is and was a part of our fabric in this country.
“We have some horrible things going on in our country right now,” Shactman says. “Looking back, violence has been a huge part of this country’s history.
He’s obsessed with American History, and right now, he’s listening to the Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan.
“There were 13 colonies that really had nothing in common. It’s amazing they ever united in the first place. It was Thomas Hobbes who said man’s natural state is a state of war. I’m a pacifist, and at war, I’d be dead in a minute.”
He said he’s not extremely social, but does belong to a Dude’s Book Club.
“We’re reading All God’s Children. It’s about how the tradition of Southern violence and racism has long affected and still haunts one black family. The guy was in prison without parole because of his violent actions. They trace his family’s history to show you the foundation of violence in his life.”
Shactman only registered to vote for a party once. He’s an independent and tries to avoid getting into politics on his show. He said it doesn’t go anywhere.
“I tried to get the two silos to talk to each other, and thought it would work. But it didn’t. People only hear what they want to hear. Both sides hated me at the same time. I don’t know, maybe we’re on the back nine as a country.”
Back at the beginning at ESPN, Shactman aspired to be the Peter Gammons of hockey journalism and said there were a few journalists he looked to for inspiration.
“I always admired Brian Williams. He lied and was held accountable. When he took over the evening news though, he was visiting the affiliates and our whole news crew had lunch with him. He’s unnervingly funny and smart. What sold me on him was after the BP oil spill in Louisiana, I watched him start NBC Nightly News, live in person. He was 100 yards away from the camera, and he didn’t have a notepad or teleprompter. But he gave this amazing 45 second opening that was poignant and smart. I remember thinking I could never do what that guy just did. He delivered the goods.”
“I don’t like it when people lie to my face. Look me in the eye and lie. People can be evasive, that’s one thing. But don’t lie to me just because you can. When Roy Williams dressed down Bonnie Bernstein. It was her job to ask the question, and he was so awful to her.”
Roy, shape up. Try to be more like Brian Shactman.
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@example.com.
Telling The Audience What You Think They Want to Hear Won’t Help You Grow
“Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.”
It’s OK to not always tell your audience what you think they want to hear.
I have been writing that phrase down at the top of my notepad before I start my show for the last two weeks. Something tells me I will need it for at least another 12 months.
In the last week alone there have been two major topics that have divided News Talk audiences across the country: The debt-ceiling debate and the brewing Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis feud.
And as I’ve listened to talented hosts and perused the social media landscape, I’ve noticed a hesitancy that I usually would not expect.
Granted, for the last two years it’s been relatively easy when talking about the national political scene: Joe Biden is a disaster. Whether it’s economic policy, border policy or foreign policy, most Americans don’t believe the guy is doing a good job. The News Talk audience, generally speaking, thinks he’s doing a terrible job.
That’s shooting fish in a barrel. But now comes the hard(er) work.
Starting with the debt-ceiling drama, there was a big divide amongst Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, however dozens of Republicans, many of the most conservative members of the House, voted against the bill, saying it did not do enough to cut spending
As a result, it seemed many hosts, who assume their audience blindly aligns with everything the most-conservative members of the House say, were hesitant to point out the obvious: Explain what better deal you were getting when you only had a small majority in the House, and no control over the Senate or the White House?
It was a question I never got a good answer to on my show.
Republicans already picked up a win getting Biden to the negotiating table after he spent months saying he wanted a clean debt-ceiling raise with no spending cuts attached. Speaker Kevin McCarthy won, got some concessions, and slowly began turning the tide towards hopefully Senate and White House victories in 2024, when then the real work can begin on getting spending under control. This was a victory.
And while no one with any levels of fiscal sanity believes our government’s spending isn’t wildly out of control, that is a separate conversation from whether or not this was a good or smart deal.
Then, there’s the Trump vs. DeSantis feud. Some have staked their claim with one candidate over the other. Some are trying to toe the line and avoid all conflict. Neither approach makes sense to me.
The obvious approach seems to me to analyze the candidate’s based on what they do and say on a given day. There will be good and bad days for Trump. DeSantis will have his up and down moments. I can guarantee this because they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us.Like every election season, it will ebb and flow, and eventually someone will come out on top.
Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.
If you compare this to sports talk radio, a national host talking about the NFL Playoffs doesn’t have to have a preferred team, but he or she has to have something to say that’s interesting, compelling, honest, thought-provoking and entertaining.
If they don’t do this, they’ll become wallpaper in a world of too many media options.
If you have the trust of your audience, you’re real, honest, engaging and thoughtful, you won’t lose your audience. You’ll keep them engaged and you’ll grow it.
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.
Why Did Newsmax Allow Rep. Matt Gaetz to Host An Unchallenged TV Program?
“A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies.”
Representing your constituents in Congress used to be a mark of honor. It was a position that came with pride and respect. At least that’s what I’ve heard from older relatives who lived in an America that was supposedly more united. Today, depending on the individual, the position doesn’t usually come with too much regard if any at all. Congress has an all-time low approval rating and many representatives go into the job plotting their next money-making move in the process.
The cable news circuit has slowly but surely built a bench of potential hosts from current and former Congressmen. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News commentator, Trey Gowdy is a host on Fox News, Joe Scarborough is MSNBC’s morning show anchor and most recently Rep. Matt Gaetz anchored his own hour for Newsmax. As much as some members of Congress roast young Gen Zers for their tenacity when it comes to TikTok, these men are just as eager for the wrong kind of attention and spotlight.
A former Congressman on television can provide perspective that gives context to current issues the country faces. On Scarborough’s morning show, he often harkens back to past negotiations and talks he had with fellow lawmakers. At times, he even uses those connections to find out the inside scoop about something that’s happening in the moment. Current Congressmen who appear on shows as guests also get to talk directly to their constituents hopefully alongside a host that is willing to challenge them on the issues of the day and not simply allow them to lead the audience astray.
For Newsmax to allow Rep. Gaetz to host a show though, is a disgrace to a medium of television that already like Congress doesn’t have much acclaim. With that being said, even for cable news, this is a major low and it should never happen on either side of the aisle. Politicians are elected to serve but are also forced to make tough decisions. These choices are answerable to the American people. When a Congressman is allowed to spew their thoughts uncensored, it takes attention away from the issues that really matter.
A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies. Unless Gaetz had a co-host that was a journalist questioning his takes, how does an unchallenged show truly serve the public – an oath he agreed to partake in when he took on his role as a Congressman.
Gaetz’s appearance is also a waste of tax dollars. The people of Florida who elected him into office expect Gaetz to be working with fellow lawmakers to make their lives better. They expect him to be doing research or reading up on bills that can bring the change he’s promised to his voters. Instead, he used the resources of hard-working Floridians to moonlight into his next career and spew misinformation that can prove harmful to the public.
If we allow more serving Congressmen to host their own cable talk shows on such a widely distributed platform, will we reach a day when lawmakers exclusively negotiate bills on television? Will Congressmen be more worried about ratings than results? We’ve already seen what happens when a President reigns over a populous and only rules based on what he sees on television. We’ve also seen the political implications that come with such unjustly behavior. Cable news networks will suffer the moral consequences of their actions while politicians who dare to try this act again will eventually face the demise of their legacy in the voting booth. Be careful.
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.
Sales Productivity Protects You From Hedge Fund Uncertainty
“The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.”
Almost 30 years ago, Radio station ownership limits were lifted, and Wall Street saw an opportunity. But the hedge funds didn’t understand the business and created mayhem in a still vital industry.
I worked in New York City for over 6 years. I had the opportunity to spend time around the brain trust of Wall Street. These Masters of the Universe saw the weakness of the radio industry and thought that they had all the answers.
Well, they didn’t.
I will give you some history from my perspective. My first 16 years were spent working for family run operations. Both of these companies were managed by third generation operators who put people and community first. These were highly successful operations with large staffs.
I am not looking back with rose colored glasses. No organization is perfect or without unique challenges. But people were first in these broadcast companies. Both of my first employers had top consultants to give strong outside the organization feedback. Both companies had General Managers that catered to both the programming and sales departments.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggest overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years. It was widely thought that this would bring radio into modern times. Consolidation has been a landmark of American Business, so, Wall Street’s Hedge Funds saw an opening. Radio station owners sold for insane profits. Longtime owners were able to sell stations for multiples of up to 30 times meaning that if an owner had a station earning 1 million dollars, they could sell it for 30 million dollars. Quite a return (Most stations didn’t go that high but multiples of 18-25 were very common during this period).
Wall Street looked at radio like the pickle industry. Except there was an issue. Radio did not have hundreds of workers in each location. You couldn’t move all operations to a central hub and save HUGE money, that would justify strong ROI. So, radio ended up with several large owners (by the way, I am not criticizing iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus and the other large owners).
When larger companies developed, they went public selling stock to individual shareholders and institutional investors. The market states that companies show a certain amount of revenue growth per year. Let’s say that number is 10%. Radio is interesting, we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You cannot just build new radio stations. So, companies were forced to merge or expand to meet revenue goals. Wall Street encouraged and even demanded it.
Here was the problem – radio companies acquired an unsupportable amount of debt that could never be paid back. The Hedge Funds just moved cash around and demanded companies cut staff and consolidate management. It was a blood bath. Any of us who entered this business in the 90’s saw this. Great broadcasters, salespeople, managers were forced out because of unsustainable debt and micromanaging Hedge Funds.
On the local level, new clusters were forced to protect the biggest biller in the group. This was not set to grow revenue; it was to protect the revenue and keep the spreadsheets looking right. I know of stations that were more successful brands in ratings in a cluster than the cash cow but if you were the Program Director who was consistently beating the cash cow, your job was in jeopardy. This was a reverse hunger games caused by debt, fear and shortsightedness.
So, here we are.
The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable.
The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.
Even though a couple of the bigger companies have gone bankrupt, they’re not bankruptcy situations where assets were liquidated creating a market-based value of these properties. It was essentially a negotiation to lower the debt, and did not move these companies to become cash positive operations again.
Why do the Hedge Funds not cut their losses and move on? Now that is a great question. Hedge funds handle billions of dollars. They bundle bad deals with great deals and so their investors don’t seem to have a problem if they see enough of a profit at the end of the month, quarter or year. People remember the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Hedge Funds were bundling bad mortgages with good ones. Soon the bad overcame the market. Thus, a crash. The homes never went away. The value of real estate fell dramatically in many places.
Are people still listening to us? 80% of Americans do. Not the 93% of a decade or so ago (Pew Research). This is much better than local TV where only 63% of Americans watch local TV News.
But what is the future?
It is entirely up to Hedge Fund involvement. Will Hedge Funds cut their losses and move on? If that occurs, will local broadcasters rise again?
What can YOU do?
It is all about the billing. If you are billing a lot more than you cost, the company will need you, and indispensability is what corporate leaders will see. Make yourself available for Sales. If you are the morning talent, be dressed well enough for a sales call. Make yourself available a few times each week to meet clients. Let salespeople know about the products and services that you use. Radio personalities are influencers. They have huge audiences that listen every day. Don’t forget your advantage. We cannot control the Hedge Funds, corporate debt or a fast-changing marketplace.
This was not an exhaustive history, but it illustrates our challenges. Radio programming departments are filled with creative people who just want to entertain. Be aware of our weaknesses and strengths. The Market Manager and sales manager are under huge pressure. Be that person who understands their concerns.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.