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How Radio Influenced the Career of WTOP’s Craig Schwalb

Growing up in the St. Louis area, Schwalb said KMOX had a huge influence on him and his career. 

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When Craig Schwalb told his mother he was going into radio, she asked how much he’d get paid. 

“I told her how much the salary was, and it wasn’t a lot,” Schwalb said. “Then she asked me if I was sure I wanted to work in that business. I did and was very excited about it.” 

Adversity struck the family early. Schwalb’s father passed away when he was just 12 years old. He had to figure out how to move ahead with only his mother as a provider and role model.  

“I think my father’s death sparked something in me,” Schwalb said. “I was so determined to work hard and focus. I also tried to be a good person and live up to his name. I think that would be what he wanted for me. My mom had to raise two boys by herself. I just wanted to do right by her. I always had that in the back of my mind.” 

There was a lot of love in the Schwalb family. They were prepared for his father’s death as he’d been sick for several years. 

“We took care of my father as best we could,” Schwalb said. “We didn’t have the most, but we didn’t want for anything. I don’t ever talk much about that.” 

His parents were both teachers and enjoyed helping people. 

“I think I became the same way,” Schwalb said. “A Midwestern upbringing made me easygoing. I think part of the Midwest culture is listening, learning. Making sure you’re working hard. It’s that kind of spirit and style that shaped me.”

He went to school at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. Growing up in the St. Louis area, Schwalb said KMOX had a huge influence on him and his career. 

“Anne Keefe and Bob Hardy are voices I grew up with. It was a true blend of news and talk. A terrific format, and it’s still a very influential radio station today. Spoken word was a big part of my life. Through high school and college I was always grabbing those signals.”

He also listened to WGN, WLS, and a huge inspiration for him was The Loop. Schwalb says,  “I had the good fortune to meet Steve Dahl briefly when he was dropped by WNEW/NYC years ago. He’s one of the icons in our business, as a young person who wanted to learn about spoken word radio. I thought Dahl did a lot of things that were amazing. Howard Stern hadn’t come out to my area at that point. We had Brandmeier, Don, and Roma.”

Schwalb said he learned much from listening to Kevin Matthews, Steve Dahl, and Garry Meier. 

“It was all about personality, comedy. Those kind of guys are getting harder to find. There’s so much arguing these days. That just wasn’t part of the genre.”

He cited how Dahl was the man behind the ‘disco demolition’ night at Comiskey Park. “I look back fondly on those times and how those stations informed us what FM talk was all about. I had a lot of great experiences with FM talk in the beginning of my career.” 

Eastern Illinois was the right fit for Schwalb, who said he was able to work at the station as a freshman. “It allowed me to scratch the radio itch early. I was able to start managing from the beginning.”

Schwalb started as music director at WEIU, the college radio station. He was immediately dealing with the stuff behind the curtain, picking the music. 

“I always liked bringing young talent in and watching them flourish. That’s why I took the management side. It has been so gratifying.” 

It’s about a four-hour car drive from New York to D.C. You’d think the lifestyles would be dramatically different, but Craig Schwalb, the director of content integration and operation at WTOP, says that’s not really the case. Schwalb did say there is one huge commonality. 

“It’s hot in D.C., and it’s hot in New York,” Schwalb said. “Everybody is kind of sweltering.”

His family is from Illinois, but Schwalb said he’d traveled to D.C with family and friends over the years. “I think there’s a great feeling for this place, what it means nationally. It just has that feeling of being in the center of power, that powerful vibe.”

Schwalb arrived at WTOP in March 2020, just before the Covid curtain came down on the world. He said his timing was lucky in some regards.

“I was interested in how the station would cover Covid,” Schwalb said. “I was interested in how we’d respond to the community, how we could step forward to help the community. It was a wild time. Even working remotely, we kept the quality high and met our journalistic standards.”

He faced incredible challenges from the start. Schwalb said during Covid, WTOP’s most significant focus was keeping everyone safe. But, in spite of the adversity, Schwalb said things rolled with the highest quality.

“I think that’s a testament to our staff’s commitment to journalism,” he says. “We all did whatever we had to do to keep this station going. It was very important to everybody because of their commitment. Good journalism is hard work.” 

Like most businesses, WTOP had a lot of conference calls and Zoom meetings to keep the business going, to ensure people were on track. 

“I think it was a little more challenging to manage people I’d never even met in person,” Schwalb explained. “I think everybody is mostly back in the office, focused on doing what we have to do now.” 

Before taking the job at WTOP, Schwalb met with GM Joel Oxley and Julia Ziegler, director of news and programming. They discussed the opportunity available. Schwab said their discussions made a lot of sense as he’s always found the multiplatform world exciting.

“One of the coolest things they said in our meeting was WTOP was not just a radio station, it’s a news organization, and that’s what made it more appealing. It’s such a great heritage brand with a family-oriented feel.”

Schwalb said he always liked working for Cumulus and never had any problems. He added an opportunity at WTOP doesn’t happen very often. 

“Anybody who cares about radio, news, spoken word, knows WTOP. You just don’t look at it as an ordinary opportunity. So glad I’m here.” 

Schwalb has managed personalities like Don Imus, Curtis Sliwa, and Sid Rosenberg throughout his career. It’s challenging for a PD when navigating those potentially combustible conditions and delicate egos.  

“I think it’s all about authenticity. I know that word gets thrown around a lot,” Schwalb explained. “I wasn’t the first PD Imus had seen, but unfortunately wound up being the last. I sort of know my spot in their vaunted careers.”

At times, Schwalb can be disarmingly authentic. He admits he’s not perfect but will make strides with his talented talkers. He’s a partner in all aspects of what they’re doing on-air. 

“There are times I’ll disagree with my hosts,  but we’ll have a conversation. I make myself very accessible. They’ve seen so many things, experiences I’ve never had. I’m there to do a job. Make sure their shows are as good as they can be. I do what I can to help them see things in a different way when I need to. I want to be a resource. I also like to share a joke, soften beaches.”

Schwalb said he cannot think of an instance in his career where he threw up his hands and said, ‘I’m not communicating.’

“Part of it is how I approach an issue, how the company allowed me to deal with it. If you come in with good support, quality of character, they can sense it. Do what you say you’re going to do.”

Another component of his communication includes never lying to anyone. “The playbook isn’t that hard if you follow a few basic tenets.” 

Schwalb has developed content and special programming for high-profile personalities like Kim Kardashian, Rudy Giuliani, Bobby Flay, and Julian Lennon, among others.

Schwalb said it was rewarding to work with big brand celebrities. To see how they operate in their world. 

“We’d search for a structure for the show, talk about what we’re looking for. Some were segments of existing talk shows. We were all about generating audience and interest. The Kardashian’s were just getting big, and I created some content with them. We developed a working relationship together.” 

Schwalb recalls Julian Lennon coming in to work with the team at WABC. They decided to focus on Lennon’s children’s books he’d written.

“He came to WABC. We did a panel talk about his book, his life. We also helped him spread the word about his book. It was fun to work with him.”

Throughout his career, Schwalb has sent reporters into hazardous and dangerous situations.

“We had a lot of reporters at the Capitol on January 6th,” Schwalb said. “We took a long and hard look about how we were going to approach the story. We had to make sure our staff was safe. Allow our audience to be apprised of what was going on. You’re trying to react when something is escalating rapidly. In hindsight, you may have wanted some different angles and layers to a story. In those situations, the journalists are hungry for that story.” 

When you work on a story of the magnitude of January 6th, you must marshal your resources. Schwalb directed breaking news coverage of the September 11 attacks in NYC, the Boston bombing, and the Hudson River landing, among many others. The lessons learned were simple but essential. 

“With big stories, we have to figure out how we were going to walk into those situations. We must always make sure we have all our ducks in a row.”

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News Radio Should Celebrate Audio-First Decision From Ron DeSantis

As radio programmers, hosts, and salespeople, we should be doing cartwheels and leveraging this moment.



Ron DeSantis launched his 2024 Presidential run on Twitter Spaces on Wednesday night to much fanfare. By now, you’ve seen the hot takes on how the enthusiasm for DeSantis crashed Twitter or, depending on your preferred candidate, the rollout was a disaster and is a sign of things to come for his campaign. I’ll let the opposing campaigns and fanboys/girls, and news radio hosts hash that part out between themselves.

What’s far more interesting from a media perspective is DeSantis’ platform choice. It was not legacy media. He did not choose Fox News, Newsmax, etc., but more interesting was the fact he chose an audio-first medium on Twitter. There was no visual element at all.

Ron DeSantis did the equivalent of a radio interview to announce his 2024 bid. Yes, he hopped on Fox News later that evening with Trey Gowdy, but the official announcement and first media interview came on Twitter, without any video component. 

As radio programmers, hosts, and salespeople, we should be doing cartwheels and leveraging this moment.

For too long, TV has been overrated. It’s been a perfect storm. You have politicians who love seeing themselves on TV to feed their egos, and many of their advisors and media buyers have backgrounds in the medium, so it becomes an echo chamber.

From the ridiculous overspending during election season on overproduced, phony, repetitive television spots that produce diminishing returns (rather than the far more cost-effective and impactful radio ads), to the obsession with capturing every TV opportunity they can, TV has become overvalued in recent elections.

Ron DeSantis’ decision on Wednesday night may have been the move that makes many realize where they have missed the boat in recent years. 

If used in a calculating manner, DeSantis’ moment can benefit radio programming and sales.

Programmers should be pitching any of their local candidates in legitimate races that matter to try and get their candidacy announcement on radio. “If Ron DeSantis can go audio-first, why isn’t it good enough for you?” This would bring earned media for the candidate and radio station and the TV hits would follow.

On KCMO, we landed the announcement interview with former KC TV anchor Mark Alford, who used that springboard to win an open U.S. Congressional seat in 2022. 

From a sales perspective, this could also be a game changer in helping PACs, agencies, and campaigns understand the personal nature of the audio-first medium, which radio still dominates, despite what the naysayers claim.

During the 2022 cycle, radio did exceed its estimates in political advertising with $310 million, compared to the projections of $270 million. But that’s peanuts compared to the $4.73 billion spent on broadcast TV, according to this article from Radio Insight.

That is absurd. And it is the very definition of diminishing returns. Whether it’s a Presidential candidate in a key state or city, or more appropriately for this column, a local U.S. Senate, or congressional, candidate in your market, there are two paths.

One, they can become another overplayed, tune-out TV ad, where their ego is stroked and they get noticed in the grocery store, but they don’t get the value from the spending they need. 

Or, two, they can own radio, which will be more cost-effective, impactful, personal for the listener, oh, and reach a potential voter that is 10-15 years younger, on average, than those still watching broadcast TV. 

None of this is to suggest that TV is not important, of course, it will forever be critical to have a visual component for politicians in the 21st century. But it’s not everything. It never has been and it never will be, despite what the differential in ad spending suggests. 

If audio-first is a good enough launch for one of the front runners to land in the White House in 2024, I’d say it’s more than good enough for anyone else entering the political arena at any level.

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Twitter Facing Several Questions After Multimedia Struggles

Everyone should have the ability to say what they want but that doesn’t mean they have the ability to make up their own truths that aren’t factually based.

Jessie Karangu



When Kim Kardashian broke the internet and Twitter, we marveled and were astonished at her attempt and it worked. Her infamy continued to skyrocket more positively than negatively because she embraced her sexuality in a sensual but respectful way.

When TMZ broke the internet, they became a dependable source for news about celebrity deaths even if the method behind their madness was and still is pure madness.

On Wednesday, when Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis broke the internet it was just plain trash.

Your local waste management company couldn’t fix the travesty that was Wednesday night on Twitter. Tech issues, hosts having trouble connecting, listeners hearing nothing — that was the main story of what was allegedly supposed to be the launch of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

On Twitter Spaces’ biggest night, it made the platform seem out of space and out of touch with the rest of society. When you fire key engineers from your staff, only allow groupthink in your office quarters, and don’t feel the need to answer to anyone because you’ll still get bank credit even if Twitter goes bankrupt, this is the result. Hubris.

At the beginning when things went haywire and nothing was working, the stream drew about 600,000 listeners. By the time the stream actually started working it was down to 100,000 concurrent listeners. Media journalist Oliver Darcy joked that more people are watching CNN at 3:00 AM than were listening to Twitter’s live stream.

With that being said, drawing 600,000 listeners is no small feat. If used effectively, Twitter can become an influential voice in this upcoming election.

Twitter, as a tool, has always been impactful. Journalists, commentators, and newsmakers have used its real-time functionality to shape the national conversation. Twitter as a company hasn’t played too much of an editorial role other than putting their name brand on town halls and debates until the Musk reign. The company has already been able to secure conservative brands Tucker Carlson and The Daily Wire to join their alliance. Both entities plan on posting daily videos to counter the “mainstream media narrative.”

It’s extremely smart to have them posting original content natively to the site. It will increase engagement, it’ll increase the amount of time users spend, and their success could convince other news organizations to produce content that is exclusive to the site.

In the past, Twitter has partnered with BuzzFeed and even the NFL to try and steal a share of television’s audience but it hasn’t proven profitable or viral. Tucker Carlson’s removal from Fox has caused a major splinter among conservative media audiences and could be an answer to Twitter’s content desires. They’ll be serving an audience that can’t find what they want anywhere else.

The problem Twitter faces is that it has already established itself as the place for real-time content and breaking news, as well as the most active social home for many of our country’s most reliable sources. Whether Elon Musk realizes this or not, he has a moral obligation to ensure the user experience stays as neutral as possible even if he wants the company to become a conservative brand. 

Musk needs to make an effort to bring Democratic representatives in to commit to Twitter Spaces sessions as well. A conversation doesn’t exist if two sides of the spectrum aren’t involved and, eventually, interest in Twitter’s political media initiatives will die off because Dems will seek audiences on bigger platforms Twitter can’t compete with.

The Biden campaign could decide to solely focus on TV audiences, YouTube, and webinars just like they did in the last election and still have a chance to win, leaving Twitter’s efforts irrelevant. They could even use Twitter’s tools to promote themselves without the help of Musk. It won’t help Musk or Twitter the brand feel more reliable or trustworthy among Americans without allowing both sides to speak. Twitter has to sell itself to everyone as the tech home for political conversations in the world of fragmented media.

If he’s going to go the activist route with conservative Spaces by having supporters of a particular politician moderating the discussion, then he should do the same thing for Democratic politicians who appear on Spaces as well. A word of advice going forward, though: A journalist always makes the most sense. Journalists are trained to be objective and facilitate conversations for a living. Everyone knows how to cook scrambled eggs, but I guarantee you Rachael Ray’s scrambled eggs hit differently.

Twitter can look to CNN as an example of what happens when a town hall is technologically sound and the moderator treats their panelist with fairness. Since Trump’s town hall, CNN has been able to garner time with Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. Both candidates saw the jump that the town hall gave Trump in attention and hype among his base and, quite frankly, understand that they can reach more people on TV than online. Trump’s town hall reached 3 million viewers. After DeSantis left his Twitter Spaces, he promoted his candidacy on Fox News to the tune of 2 million viewers, ironically Fox’s largest audience since Carlson was let go.

Musk also needs to create a tab dedicated to news and have running video options and audio options that display straight news along with conservative and liberal opinionists. These feeds are already available on other platforms. Why not sell advertising against it and keep viewers right on Twitter where they are already having the discussions? The best thing about Twitter’s old BuzzFeed morning show is that you could multitask.

You could catch up on news and thoughts on your feed while live video discussing what was trending could be placed towards the bottom of your phone screen with the window in window option on Apple devices. Users didn’t have to leave the app to catch up on what was happening in the world.

Allowing Carlson and The Daily Wire to become the only two sources of media that are promoted or favored on the app will only heighten tension before the election and will literally put lives at stake because of the possibility of both outlets spreading misinformation. 

This goes into the next idea to make Musk’s “public square” a safe and accurate space for everyone. Musk needs to either contract or hire fact-checkers. The fact-checkers should be in charge of verifying Community Notes, adding Community Notes to streams/videos/tweets that are posted by publishers to correct or clarify anything that was said, and creating videos of their own based on trending topics or viral videos that aren’t accurate.

Everyone should have the ability to say what they want but that doesn’t mean they have the ability to make up their own truths that aren’t factually based.

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AM Radio Will Still Ride Along…For Now

The math itself is simple. You don’t use what you don’t want. And you probably won’t use what you don’t believe you need.

Bill Zito



In our last chapter on the fight to keep the AM radio in your car, things were not looking so good for the Sunday morning religious shows, exhaustingly predictable talk hosts, and the largely underpaid local news anchors.

But Ford has apparently heard the call from lawmakers, FEMA, and a variety of other concerned citizens, enough at least that they have announced they will back off their plans to do away with AM band in their new vehicles. For now, at least.

So, I will say the U-Turn decision by Ford is nice. Yes, I would venture to say it is nice. But is this a victory or merely a stay of execution?

And since no matter what, AM radio is not disappearing or soon to become unavailable, why don’t we just say this is more a case of bail continued until sentencing day.

What it means is there will be more cars and trucks with AM radios on our roads than we thought there would be last week.

How much of an impact will it make? I don’t think it will make much at all.

There are still a lot more car manufacturers going ahead with their plans to do away with AM so the math will not be grounds for celebration.

The math itself is simple. You don’t use what you don’t want. And you probably won’t use what you don’t believe you need. Even if you might need it now and then.

My vehicle has a trailer hitch. I don’t use that either. I don’t need it. It just happens to be there.

In other words, it does nothing for me and for many people neither does AM radio.

Where do you think these car makers got the idea in the first place to take the AM band out of the vehicles?

I’m sure they asked a few people.

How likely are you to not buy this car if it doesn’t have an AM radio in it?

Ever hear of market research? We did this already.

I’m glad, for now at least, that a few more people will have a choice. We deserve that. We are the ones buying stuff. Treat us with respect.

I have expressed this opinion before. You can put an AM radio everywhere but if the content is not worth the effort, then all it becomes is a receptacle for go-to emergency broadcasts and possibly some inane chatter or white noise to fall asleep by.

I’ve said this before too: Give them something worth listening to and they might listen. They might give it a try and they might actually like it. But here is the trick. Now that you have them, how do you keep them?

Well, now you must be consistently good or at least not awful. That’s harder than it seems, just zigzag across the country and find out.

Oh, when you do you have to turn your AM radio on and keep it on. No cheating, no flipping to the FM or satellite or your own playlists or podcasts or audiobooks.

Could you do it?

The blame for subpar content or a lack of listener-friendly programming is not all the fault of those behind the microphone or those producing, writing, or booking. But you already know that and so do I.

So just look up.

If management or corporate executives are physically upstairs as opposed to around the corner or down the hall. My experience over the last few years has been they are rarely in the building.

But regardless of where they physically might be they are often the ones behind all that glitters or does not.

I have found a good clue to what you might be getting on the air can be taken from a glimpse at the station’s website.

Most stations and managers put a great deal of emphasis on driving viewers, listeners, and readers to their home page. So, go there but go past the landing page with the obligatory three web stories that are less than 24 hours old and delve a bit deeper.

You are most likely to find a lot of material from last week, last month, and even last year if you click on a few sections. Some outlets I have some familiarity with have a mostly corporate-run website with plenty of room though for local elements like news stories, programming schedules, and show host biographies.

You’d think at minimum they would update their lineups, their show schedules, and add some information to entice that reader back to the air product. You’d think.

Nostalgic as I might be, I do not particularly care who was hosting in 2021 nor do I want to listen to an interview with a losing mayoral candidate from a year and a half ago. If your air drives somebody to your website or vice-versa, there should be something of value waiting there for them.

Remember, respect for the audience, the customer is always right, or karma is a …

Back on that cross-country trip, you are likely to find some good things in your travels, largely local and national sports talk, maybe a bit of financial chat, or solid religious conversation. But is it enough to fight off the eviction of AM from your car?

And don’t forget the demographics. The only time my kid listened to the AM band was to hear me (once) and even that took a bit of prompting. Her generation and the one after her, are the last chance to bring on some additional support.

After then, who will be listening?

Tell us why these stations need to stay there when we can generally find them or what they offer in other configurations.

Just as I asked last time, what can AM do that others cannot?

If I know my gene pool, my grandchildren are not going to be fighting for AM radio in their space boats or their flying cars.

CDs maybe.

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