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KOA’s Ross Kaminsky Protects Liberty as a True Function of Politics

Kaminsky said the nation is in trouble if people don’t renounce their loyalty to a tribe rather than act on things that are best for the country.

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If Ross Kaminsky’s radio career ended tomorrow, we’d have a new Bob Vila or Bob the Builder on our hands. When we spoke, Kaminsky was in the car on his way to Home Depot, elbows deep into a bathroom project.

“I’m putting in a new sink,” he said. “I’ve got to get the PVC and caulk. I’ve already purchased the drain. I’m reasonably confident I’ll do a good job, and I’ve had a lot of practice over the years.”

Kaminsky thought about hiring someone to do it. Then he got the idea it was within his talent zone.

“My wife is an artist and very good at seeing aesthetic problems, and I get more work to do…though she does all the painting.”

“There were a lot of brown and pea-green colors in the bathroom. It was gross. We replaced the sink, faucet, and countertop, shower walls, and floors…but I hired experts for the last three things.”

His undergraduate degree from Columbia University is in foreign policy with an emphasis in economics, and he ended up a futures and options trader. Kaminsky used to work on the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, one of those guys that frantically waves his arms around like they’re in a big game of charades.

“Once you know how to read hand signals, it makes perfect sense,” Kaminsky explained. “That’s the part that’s famous. That happens in the larger pits, but most pits are smaller areas where you can communicate just by voice.”

He said in the larger pits; you could be 50 or 100 feet away from the people you’re trading with.

“The deals are made on 100% trust,” Kaminsky said. “As a trader, in the days before handheld computers, you’d write on a card what you’re trading and the price of the trade. You have a clerk who works for your company take the cards to the person you traded with.”

The clerk would tell the other person, “Checking…RGK purchased ten of such and such from you.”

“He’s just checking to make sure the other person remembered the trade,” he said. “You rarely have a deal go bad from something a trader didn’t remember. If somebody jerked you over, it’d be over for them fast as nobody would trade with them.”

Of course, there are times when there is confusion or somebody didn’t mean something the way it came across.

“It’s usually a legitimate mistake,” Kaminsky said. “Some things might not match up. You can work those out, even though sometimes it means a significant loss for both traders. If it happens more than once, you might have a problem, though, with the other guy’s honesty.”

Kaminsky met his wife, Kristen, in Australia. The woman from down under is a successful artist, and they met while Kaminsky was visiting on vacation.

“I saw some of her ceramics and thought they were cool,” he said. “I wanted to get some custom dinner plates and asked to talk with the owner. It turned out to be Kristen.”

Kaminsky said many people call themselves working artists but make things nobody else would want. “Kristen is smart, funny, insightful. Her brain works differently than mine. She loves Colorado, and we’re very happy here.”

The couple lives near Denver and enjoys mountain life. Kaminsky said he chose to live in Colorado because, as an independent trader, he could live wherever he chose.

While living in Colorado, Kaminsky started doing some political blogging in the early days of blogging. If someone started blogging today, Kaminsky said it would be harder for them to break through as it has gotten so crowded.

“I wonder if that’s going to happen with podcasts.”

Kaminsky became moderately well known as a political blogger on state and local issues, and local hosts began asking him to be a guest.

“I had a friend at KFKA and did a guest spot,” he said. “When I was there I asked if I could fill in for my friend when she was on vacation. It seemed like fun. So, they let me do a show.”

A bold move for a blogger. Kaminsky said the station wasn’t corporate-owned, so there was nobody they had to get permission from.

“After my first show, iI was reminded of how people say you can get hooked on heroin if you use it just once. I just loved it.”

 “I don’t recall my first show on KFKA, but I’m sure I talked about whatever was going on in local politics. I just immediately fell in love with doing radio. I was also losing interest in trading. I didn’t want to keep doing that.”

Kaminsky said he pursued radio because it looked tremendous, very seductive. He kept making himself available for shifts, and they kept saying yes. He will work for free if that’s what it takes. It wasn’t about money at that point; he wanted to get good enough to go further in the business.

“I started doing fill-in shifts at KNUS on a Sunday evening show called Backbone Radio. Eventually, the host, former State Senate President John Andrews, decided he wanted to spend more time writing a book And hanging out with his grandchildren. They offered me the show.”

Kaminsky met a talker named Mike Rosen, and they became good friends. Rosen was on KOA for more than 25 years, most of that in the 9 AM to noon time slot.

“We didn’t see each other often, but we were friends,” Kaminsky explained. “I asked him if I could fill in for him at the station. I thought he forgot about it. As a Bulls fan, I felt like I was asking to sub in for Michael Jordan.”

The guy is not only handy with a hammer; he’s got guts.

The PD at the time didn’t really like extremely political shows. KOA is a station with the Denver Broncos and did a lot of news and traffic.

“While we do some political talk, I’m not aiming to just be a conservative or political show.”

Kaminsky is now heard weekdays on KOA in Rosen’s old time slot. As one of his topics, he recalls talking about the legacy of Joe Paterno. This was just after the legendary coach died after the scandal.

“He wasn’t responsible for what happened, but he was there. It all went down while he was the boss. If you’re doing a topic driven by callers, it’s important to remember it’s not the intensity of the topic but the range of opinion among listeners.”

After the Aurora theater shooting in Colorado, which happened just a few miles from the radio station, Kaminsky said nearly all the listeners would have felt the shooter should get the death penalty, an open and shut case.

“I realized at that time if I’d asked that question on the radio, it would have been intense, but it may not have gone anywhere. It could have been a topic that was one-dimensional, despite it being a horrible tragedy.”

Kaminsky is a libertarian in that he sees liberty as a value in itself and protects liberty as the only proper function of government, especially the federal government.

“I’m libertarian by philosophy with a lowercase ‘L,’ not a party member upper case ‘L.’ I’ve been Libertarian, and I’ve been Republican. Some years ago, I became unaffiliated. Partly because Republicans are constantly letting me down, and partly because being in media, not having to cheer for a team is liberating.”

He said he respects people who tell the truth. Being a libertarian is not really about supporting a political party; it allows Kaminsky to be critical of Democrats and Republicans.

“You can generally predict my positions on political issues based on which position maximizes individual liberty,” he said. “Whether or not the side effects of an issue affect me. For instance, I support drug legalization even though I’ve never touched an illegal drug or even a cigarette. I’m pro-choice, but I also know living in the real world, there are some restrictions I can live with. As for the hard-core anti-abortion folks, I may disagree with them, but at least I understand how they think about something; in this case, that they deeply believe abortion is murder. Pro-choice folks will never understand pro-life folks unless they keep that in mind…which doesn’t mean you have to accept the same perspective.”

 “If something is part of someone’s belief system, it’s helpful to understand that for a conversation. When you recognize that, people you disagree with can seem less tyrannical.”

At this point in our discussion, he was busy picking out the PVC at Home Depot.

“When you’re a trader, you’re forced to multitask,” he jokes.

Kaminsky said, like other talkers, he had considered his future might include syndication.

“I’m not so sure it’s the brass ring anymore,” he said. “Maybe podcasting is. I don’t know if I’ve spent enough time thinking about this. I think creativity is very important to what we do. There is a smaller group of talkers who just preach to the choir with no creativity.”

Kaminsky said the nation is in trouble if people don’t renounce their loyalty to a tribe rather than act on things that are best for the country.

“The tribe could be Trump-loyal, cultish, or the other side, the Trump Derangement Syndrome people,” he explained. “I think it’s interesting that on the Right, more people are more loyal to Trump than to the party. If enough voters refuse to vote for Trumpy candidates, the party may come back together. They’re at the precipice of falling; we’re close. The Republican party has become a populist party. I don’t think that has to change very soon for the GOP to do well because the Democrats have moved so far Left.”

He cited an interview with Ron Johnson and found the Wisconsin Senator to be pushing the limits a little more than Kaminsky would like. “He hasn’t always been this flamboyant. Politics will change people, make them do unexpected things. I think he really believes today’s Democratic party poses risks to important things and is trying to stop them. And again, once you realize that, it helps you make sense of a lot of the other stuff. And I do appreciate Ron’s courage to say things others won’t say, but I’d hope that he goes out of his way to make sure those things are true and not just inflammatory.”

The last polls show Johnson down, at 38 percent in Wisconsin against challenger Mandela Barnes.

“It’s a sport among MAGA Republicans to either not answer pollsters or skew the results where they can,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a matter of how much.”

Kaminsky also noted that Johnson was behind in polling in at least his last two election victories.

Kaminsky said his audiences are human and understand and appreciate when he admits he was wrong about a topic.

“I go out of my way to say on the air when I get something wrong. I’ll do it the same day when I can. With the raid on Mar-a-Lago, I was wrong about some document classifications. I had no problem telling listeners I got it wrong.”

After we spoke, Kaminsky sent me a photo of his finished sink. I’ll be darned if he doesn’t get it right.

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Are The Exclusive Podcast Deals Like Joe Rogan and Spotify a Thing of the Past?

I think that, ultimately, advertising and listener donations are going to continue to be how podcast monetization works.

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It’s been four years since Spotify spent $100 million or so for exclusive rights to The Joe Rogan Experience. The deal was the apex of Spotify’s expensive gamble on podcasting, which also included the acquisition – and subsequent folding – of Gimlet Media and Parcast, the addition of The Ringer, and the signing of a raft of celebrities and prominent podcasts to exclusive deals, plus investments in podcast ad sales and the Anchor publishing platform.

Back in 2020, exclusivity was a big deal for podcast companies. New subscription services were popping up almost daily, with promises of killer content and big-name celebrity hosts. Some still exist, but others sort of came and went, and that raises a few questions: Was exclusivity worth the expense? Was the subscription model sustainable? Do celebrities attract listeners to podcasts?

Okay, one at a time. Exclusivity? The answer is… probably not. Spotify’s podcast operation is close to profitability, but Spotify shows like The Joe Rogan Experience and Call Her Daddy are now widely available on other podcast platforms. Honestly, the whole exclusivity thing made little sense when the shows are also available on YouTube for free.

If you think a show is worth millions because it generates enough revenue to support the price tag, then it’s a good investment. While I’m not privy to the actual numbers, I imagine Rogan’s show is profitable enough to justify the contract renewal, exclusive or not. Generally, though, I don’t think exclusivity for big-name shows is enough of an incentive for people to pay for a subscription. The traditional relationship – publisher oversees show, places it on every platform, sells ads – is still dominant, and the Joe Rogan deal didn’t change that.

That brings us to the subscription model. Streaming video – Netflix – has taken a big chunk out of the discretionary cash the average consumer has available for entertainment. So have Spotify and Apple Music, and subscribers are there for the music, not podcasts. SiriusXM is still a thing, with a decades-long relationship with most major car manufacturers, and even they are feeling some pinch as Apple Car Play and Android Auto make car buyers wonder why they need satellite radio (or its streaming app) when they can just play Spotify through their car system.

Now, will people have any money left over for podcasts? Moreover, given the history, can enough people be convinced to pay for what they used to get for free? Are most podcasts compelling enough to justify yet another monthly fee? I don’t think so – I think that, ultimately, advertising and listener donations are going to continue to be how podcast monetization works.

As was the case for newspaper websites and so many other attempts at monetizing the web, the grand mistake was to give the content away for free in the first place. Once people get used to free, they’re hard to convert to paid. A few have succeeded, but most have not. “I can live without it” is what the audience is thinking. You gotta give them something they feel they need to have for them to pony up. More of the same won’t do the job.

Are celebrity hosts the answer? Will people sign up for a service because a big-name host is on it? It worked for SiriusXM when Howard Stern moved there, but that was 20 years ago. Really. It’s been 20 years since he signed that contract. Anyway, just as it was in radio, the number of celebrities who are both good enough and committed enough to host a podcast is small, very small, and the number who can draw an audience on name alone is also small. In fact, celebrity itself is smaller than it used to be.

The A-List has shrunk, Hollywood is not generating universally-known personalities, younger audiences are more attuned to TikTok and YouTube “stars” with very short shelf lives… and, having lived through trying to turn several celebrities into radio hosts, I can tell you that it’s just not worth the trouble. The audience doesn’t care that the host is a member of the Royal Family if the show’s boring. You’re better off looking at people with strong, loyal followings on social media; their audiences will come along for the ride at first, and if the show’s any good, they’ll stick around.

With all of that, the podcasting segment is still one of the most interesting parts of the media, and there’s still growth ahead. Part of that growth can be attributed to the characteristics in place when podcasting started: It’s free, anyone can produce a show, and you can listen on any platform you like. Exclusivity runs counter to that spirit. Ubiquity and growth go hand-in-hand.

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Shari Elliker Looks For What’s Next After KIRO Newsradio 97.3 Exit

“I loved working there. I loved working with John (Curley). It was a great experience.”

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Earlier this month, KIRO Newsradio 97.3 underwent a round of budget cuts that resulted in afternoon co-host Shari Elliker departing the Seattle news/talk outlet.

Elliker, who joined the Bonneville station in December 2021, was paired with co-host John Curley. She admitted she wasn’t surprised by the news.

“You’re always disappointed, because you like the job. That’s a disappointment, but I wasn’t blindsided by it,” she said. “I knew KIRO had had some financial problems and that there were budget cuts coming … I don’t believe it had anything to do with my performance or any problems with John, because we got along great. I think it’s just one of those things.”

Shari Elliker only had high praise for the station and its leadership after her departure.

“KIRO is a great place to work. Bonneville is a great company. They care about their employees. It was fun, but I was disappointed, because I wanted the job,” she said with a chuckle. “I miss doing it. I miss being on the air.”

“I loved working there and I loved working with John. It was a great experience and it was fun every day,” Elliker said. “I laughed. I mean, how many times do you get paid to laugh? It was, really, an ideal job.”

Elliker, who was based on the East Coast despite working for the Seattle news/talk station, said the time difference was a challenge in the role.

“They’re very dedicated to having people live in-studio,” Elliker said of the Bonneville philosophy. “So, because of the distance, that was also a factor,” she said.

“I was on the air from 6-9 PM ET. And then, of course, you had the prep work that you have to do during the day. So it was a long day,” Elliker added. “But I looked forward to it every day, I’ll be honest. I really did. You can’t say that about many radio jobs.”

Despite the manner in which she left her latest job in radio, Shari Elliker — who continues to be active in the voiceover world — said she still loves the medium and is open to what the future might hold for her talk radio career.

“I love radio, so I’ll look for other opportunities and hope they appear … It’s not so much about the hours or the whatever, but if you can spend four hours talking with someone and not get bored, it’s a joy. It’s great.”

“If I could do another show like I just came from, that’d be great,” she continued.

When asked what the ideal situation for her going forward would be, she joked that winning the lottery would be fantastic. Back in reality, she said that her voiceover work and spending more time doing video games would be a great situation.

“I’d love to do voiceover work as much as possible, especially the video game stuff, because that’s really fun,” she said with excitement. “It’s cool, and you’re not doing a long, drawn-out type of narration. That can be tedious … so, I’d love to do something like that, if I could.”

Shari Elliker admitted that the format of talk radio that KIRO employs is more closely aligned to her style than many other genres.

“AM Radio, AM talk radio, is kind of synonymous now with talk radio. They’re so embedded in that format that I don’t think that’s ever gonna go away. I don’t think that’s ever gonna flip over,” she said. “So, those FM talk stations, they really began gaining popularity in the late 90s. They were entertainment shows, they weren’t political. Now, it’s pretty much if you’re doing talk radio, you’re going to be doing political talk radio.”

Elliker said that while she’s disappointed she’s no longer working with KIRO Newsradio 97.3, she wished her former co-host John Curley and his new partner Jake Skorheim well.

“I’m in touch with John and I miss doing the show, but he and Jake are going to make a great team.”

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How Radio Can Once Again Become the Focal Point of the Media Landscape

Radio’s intimacy is what creates special moments.

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So much content, so few people. Ok, I will show my age. You may call me a geezer. Four TV stations. That is all I had growing up. Four, and we thought that we were on top of the world. Total ecstasy. Four choices. And I’ll come back to how this matters to radio.

Then cable arrived and we had 36 viewing choices.  The History Channel was wall-to-wall WWII. CNN, the only 24-hour news choice, and MTV.  Let’s talk about Martha Quinn. Relatable and cute.  I had the Lorimar Sports Network. LSN had the SEC, Tim Brando, and Lou Holtz.  Sweet! WOR-TV, the PTL Network, Turner Broadcast Network and so much more. It was a buffet for the eyes that left your brain totally numb.

Cable expanded to over 400 channels and some of these choices included: REELZ, Boomerang, Court TV, America’s Collectables Network, SPIKE TV, and so many more. 

Then something curious happened. The internet became a legitimate economic machine. Netflix started using the internet to stream TV products. It was a true game-changer. Cable TV was selling its demise. Great internet.

But let us go back a moment. There was a moment when people were clamoring to purchase the cable channels that they loved. The cable industry fought like hell. Cable said that no one should be able to choose the channels that they love because it was a package deal. Essentially, they were selling TV like electrified happy meals. Happy Meals, except you were mandated to get fries that you were never going to even see. It was horrific bait and switch. You were forced to pay for Lifetime, History en Espanol, Audience, The Esquire Network, and more! So, cable TV innovated selling the internet. Yes, they sold their demise.

Once Netflix became a giant, YouTube emerged, Disney+, ESPN+, DAZN, Rumble, Paramount+, Peacock, Hulu, Sling, FUBO and so many more.

On-demand became the only way that people were watching TV. People want to binge and not wait for a weekly episode. Network TV has made programs the same way for 60 years. Shoot once a week for 26 weeks and release episodes one by one. Now, the streaming channels drop an entire season in one day. You can cozy up with your honey and watch an entire season over a couple of days. Total convenience. Humans are not all about delayed pleasure anymore. We want it now! Immediate gratification.

The audio space is now filled with podcasts. Many are just impressive, and some are not that good. Lots of content, but here is radio’s advantage: Your community has just a few stations. It is a federally regulated industry. You just cannot just open up a new radio station like a Dollar General, which are seemingly on every block. So, there are limited choices. Yes, people now have infinite choices of content.

But there are really few radio stations. Americans certainly can stream their favorite music or listen to a podcast. Radio has an immediacy that cannot be defeated. Radio has an intimacy that is a rare ability to connect with audiences. Depending on your community, 85% – 93% consume radio weekly. Local TV? Nielsen released a damning report that under 45% of Americans are viewing local TV. If you get a look at your local TV ratings, the big networks frequently get hammered by shows like NBA on TNT, The Curse of Oak Island, and even Hannity.

Your radio station is a big deal. If a listener is stuck in traffic, the radio is the salvation. A storm is wreaking havoc on your state, radio likely has that coverage on your drive home.

Big things are happening in your community. Radio is at the center of it.

The only people reading the newspaper are individuals over 75. It is extinct. Radio is at the center of it all.

Local websites or Facebook groups may have some of the information on your community. But the likelihood of people seeing these things can be fleeting. Radio presents this information.

Radio is a big deal. I am honored to be leading a 100-year-old station that has never lost its connection to the community.

I want to be perfectly clear. Radio has challenges in an ever-expanding pantheon of entertainment choices. We still have people listening. We are an essential medium for Americans. Never forget that.

You are important. Your work connects people with your community, the world, and life. TV often struggles with that. Radio is real life. It is a human in front of a microphone in a dark room.

Early in my radio career, I thought that it was odd that radio performers turned off the lights. I realized something. The turned-off lights often created the focus to identify with the audience. We are often the only person in the room speaking with individuals who are alone in the car or at home.

Radio’s intimacy is what creates special moments. If you have done this for any length of time, you have heard from listeners on a special moment. I have done this for over 30 years. Over half of it on the air, I have received notes from listeners expressing gratitude for things that I said off the cuff in 1994. Radio matters and you matter.

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