Tony Katz Didn’t Plan for a Career in Radio
Katz wasn’t a broadcast major in school and never had any broadcast experience and then he got a career in radio.
Most guys like to lie around, smoke cigars, drink a little whiskey, and talk about their day. Tony Katz does that, but the guy is lucky enough to get paid to do it.
“You smoke what type of cigar you like,” Katz said. “I like bourbons, but I’m a rye guy. I love the creation concepts of whiskey.”
Katz gets to talk like that for his nationally syndicated radio show Eat! Drink Smoke! It’s available via podcast on all podcast platforms. There are some stupid ideas and concepts for podcasts, but this idea was pretty cool.
“What I like about whiskey is the personality of each distillery,” Katz explained. “Your idea of what your mash is supposed to be, how much barley do you add, or how long do you keep it in a barrel. Do you move it to another barrel?”
At least he’s not talking about algebra or stamp collecting.
“If a cigar is making you feel a bit off, try something else.”
Katz said he’s been searching for an opportunity to add on to his house. However, I get the feeling that he really wants a ‘smoke cave.’ “We could really use a studio space,” Katz said.
He records the podcast at Blend Bar Cigar with four locations: Indianapolis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Houston. “We’ve been able to do some video work there as well,” Katz said. “I made a cigar video for the Indy 500. I highlighted ten cigars, but don’t think you should smoke that many in a day.”
His first cigar was after a shift as a manager at a restaurant in Tyson’s Corner, VA, about 30 years ago. “The restaurant was next door to a cigar shop, and I tried one. I don’t remember a lot of the different cigars I smoked in those days.”
Katz lived in Tampa Bay and later in the San Fernando Valley when cigars became a regular thing for him.
“There’s a lounge aspect to our show. Normal people lounging around talking. Fingers and I host the largest cigar and bourbon radio show in the country, we think.”
He said they talk about supply chain issues, pop culture, parenting. His co-host is Fingers Malloy. (I know. Sounds like a character in every 1940s gangster movie.)
“Fingers also hosts a weekend show in Michigan,” Katz said. “We’ve known each other for a lot of years, and we’ve been friends for years. He’s very funny. Fingers is someone who knows a role on the show. He’s a great radio partner.”
Katz said the podcast has been worth his time, and they’ve stuck with it. “We have turned the corner and are starting to build it financially.”
He’s a renaissance man, finding joy and beauty in just about every artistic venture. Katz cites the importance of art in our culture, whether it’s a painting or a cigar. “I don’t care if it’s a Edward Hopper or a David Hockney painting on the wall, I like creation. Each cigar is a creation with talented hands that created it.”
Before all the cigars, bourbon and paintings, Katz had a childhood. He grew up in Middletown, New Jersey in Monmouth County, not far from the Jersey Shore. Katz has two brothers, one older and one younger. He grew up in a normal kind of life. A middle-class lifestyle.
“I had a group of friends as a teenager, but I guess I wasn’t the happiest kid in the world,” Katz explained. He said the friends he had were of good character, and they had their regular hangouts. Katz said he tried to keep in touch over the years with old friends, but people move on, and you fall away from them sometimes.
“I was a pretty fat kid. I spent a lot of years not liking myself. Things changed when I stopped lying to myself. There are things I can’t believe I allowed to happen, treating others in a certain way.”
Katz wasn’t a broadcast major in school and never had any broadcast experience. Then he got a career in radio. I imagine former journalism majors working in fast food, believing something is inherently unfair about that.
“I was doing some activism with the Tea Party in California,” Katz said. “After a year, I decided I wanted to have more conversations. I was broke. I took the last two grand I had and purchased time on a station in Clearwater, Florida. I bought time on a small radio station to do a show. A very small station.”
He said the two-grand got him a month of radio show.
Katz said his show started to get some traction when he focused on the happenings with legislation in Arizona.
“Let’s say the police were involved in a traffic stop. The police were allowed to ask for proof of citizenship.”
Surprisingly, this didn’t go over well with a lot of people, but it certainly stimulated some areas of the populace.
“Basically, Arizona politicians were saying, ‘don’t come to Arizona,’” Katz explained. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that kind of legislation. That became Boycott Arizona. So, I started giving free advertising on my show for Arizona businesses. It was the story I got out there. People picked up on that. I was a guest on Neil Cavuto on Fox. I started filling in for Dana Loesch, and that led to a weekend show.”
Katz said he’s always been talkative, comfortable in conversations. He said he presents well. He likes the camera and the camera likes him back.
“You have to learn to cultivate your personality. I wasn’t very good when I started in radio.”
He said there was more to learn about the whole radio thing than he may have guessed.
“It took a while to get comfortable with time frames until it became muscle memory. Hitting my marks and commercials. Learning to become a bit more expressive with sharing stories. I did have to learn clock management, keeping people’s attention. I had to learn the business side of this thing. Providing people what they need when they need it. I’d better give them the best I can.”
His radio producer Allison Lemons takes care of the morning show. Katz explained he recently went on a hunt for a proper producer, and that isn’t always easy.
“You want a producer who can allow you to be challenged in the take,” Katz said. “You want someone who can give something to you, sometimes opposing your ideology. I don’t mind if you’re a centrist if you want to help me build the take. That’s the thing I like. Someone who can help you sharpen your argument.”
His morning show on WIBC is Tony Katz and the Morning News. His midday show is Tony Katz Today. The midday show also airs as a Best Of on weekends in Atlanta (WSB), Tulsa (KRMG), St. Louis (Newstalk STL), Ft. Wayne (WOWO), and South Bend, IN (MNC)
Katz said on his shows he brings on remarkably few callers.
“I don’t know if a lot of news talkers do take callers,” Katz said. “If the show is working, why add something to the mix? I think the real thing is finding the connections between politics and culture to balance the show.”
Katz said he spends a lot of time on making the show successful. There are times he’s not afraid to go on a tangent or break in a news topic.
“I like to have the feeling of something heavier here, something lighter here. Notice I didn’t say ‘fluffy.’ I don’t like ‘fluffy.’ An audience knows when they’re listening to garbage.”
Katz believes you’re only as good as the last few minutes of your air shift.
“By the fourth segment of the third hour, you’d better still be delivering the goods. Some hosts may be mailing in the last half hour, thinking about plans that night or something the next day. I don’t think that way at all,” Katz said. “If someone is just tuning in, they deserve the full effort, regardless of when they come into the show. You better have something ready to go.”
The show is natural, Katz said. Also citing, he doesn’t talk politics throughout his show.
“It’s a wonderful mix,” Katz explained. “During our morning show, I’ll actually play music. That’s the “TK Music Moment.” You need to break it up. That isn’t the way some talk shows operate. Some stations super-serve the politics. I’m a believer in mixing things up.”
Katz intentionally avoids listening to many podcasts or other talk shows, mostly because he doesn’t want someone else’s thoughts in his head.
“That doesn’t mean I won’t hear anything new. I will react when somebody does something cool or smart. As I said before, it’s an art form. You have to hear the music of something.”
Cigars, music, and bourbon have an excellent musical ring to them. Right?
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Only Path Forward For News Radio is Strong Personalities
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than News/Talk
If radio wants to keep up, personality has to be the way. The format of choice is irrelevant, but personality has to be the biggest asset for the format and station.
It’s something I’ve written about before in this column, but when it gets reinforced by iHeart CEO Bob Pittman, it’s worth mentioning again.
In a great conversation with Talkers’ Michael Harrison, Pittman pointed out that “25% of iHeart’s stations do not play music”, and that more and more shows on the company’s music stations are “actually talk shows that play little or no music at all.”
Then came the best line of the conversation, when Pittman said, “Even on our music stations, you find us moving much more towards heavier personalities, because as we begin to say, If somebody just wanted music, they’ve got a lot of places to go. We’re probably not their best option, if they just want to dig through music. If they want somebody to keep them company, and hang out with them, and be their friend, and be an informed friend, and connect with them, there’s no better place. So we’re very committed to it.”
That’s it right there.
Radio’s competitive advantage is being a friend (ideally local), while using personality-driven content to develop that relationship with the listener to then drive listening occasions.
As has been discussed and addressed for years, music radio simply can’t compete with Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. if your goal is to listen to your music at the exact time that you want it.
Radio’s competitive advantage remains its people. And when it comes to personality, no format owns that right now more so than news/talk, where the strongest opinions and deepest connections often exist. That’s backed up by the Time Spent Listening for the format, which leads the way in many markets.
In many ways, news/talk is the best — and most exciting — place to be right now in the business, and none of that has to do with what is shaping up to be a fascinating 2024 election cycle. But rather because the industry’s biggest advantage to maintaining and growing its audience is its personalities, so if you’re already in the talk format, you’re ahead of the game. And then if you’re good, you’re a highly valuable asset.
As Pittman also noted in his conversation with Harrison, “For the first time ever, the radio business is bigger than the TV business, in terms of audience from 18 to 49 [year olds].”
National coastal media won’t write about that, because too many of them aren’t everyday American consumers. However, the data doesn’t lie. Radio is beating TV in a key demo and the leaders in the industry know that personality-driven content is their key to future success. That’s a great combination for those of us working in the business.
Granted, as we all know, it’s not all roses and sunshine. These are still tough times with continuing competition in the ad space and a soft 2023 shaping up.
However, the show must go on.
And as radio strategically prepares itself for not just the rest of this year, but the next five to ten years, there are plenty of goals that need to be achieved, but if growing and developing personalities is at the top of the list, that’s a win for the industry and an even bigger win for the news/talk format.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
If CNN is For Sale, Here Are 5 Potential Buyers
CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
It’s hard to run a cable news network like CNN these days. Just look at NewsNation. It was founded on the principle of being the first centrist cable news network to come into existence in years. But over the past couple of months, the network has peddled by coming from a slightly right-of-center angle with headlines. They’ve tried to steal left-of-center viewers from CNN with the hiring of Chris Cuomo. And now they’re literally going wall-to-wall with coverage of UFOs. I’m not even making that up.
In a world where a big chunk of its denizens believes the truth is a maybe while the other half doesn’t pay attention to the news unless it is bite-sized, does it still make sense to own a cable news network? Given the turmoil Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zazlav has faced lately with CNN it may not be for him.
The company was forced to let go of CNN CEO Chris Licht this week after a scathing profile from The Atlantic that went behind the scenes into how Licht operated the network post-Jeff Zucker. It was a circus, to say the least. After reading the profile though, you still come away feeling bad for Licht while considering the fact that there is a hand that might have been puppeteering him along the way that was used to having control over everyone.
Zazlav comes from a part of cable where it is necessary to operate like a dictatorship because the formula has proven to work with Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, etc…and because the shows that air on these networks create their own warped reality to spit out for thirsty reality consumers who want it the way it is served.
It’s impossible to have this kind of culture in cable news where the personalities aren’t really the star of the network — the news and facts are and they can’t be warped to fit all interested parties. They just have to be true whether it benefits one side or the other. The truth is the truth.
There are new ways to tell stories and there’s new technology you can use to tell those stories but at the end of the day, telling stories also has the same formula as it always has and can’t be changed.
Remarkably, Don Lemon comes away from Licht’s profile looking the most intelligent when he says that many critics of CNN like Zazlav are committed to Monday morning quarterbacking. CNN went a little too hard on various things happening in the Trump administration too many times, but at the end of the day, it was the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable to the truth just like it has been since the founding of television news.
This lack of realization on Zazlav’s part shows that CNN probably doesn’t belong in the same company as Warner Bros. Discovery. The cultures of Discovery and CNN clearly don’t align. Axios has already reported that because of the low ad market, cord-cutting, slumping ratings, and the run-up to the election having not started yet, WBD doesn’t plan on selling CNN any time soon. It also should be noted that CNN still makes almost $800 million a year for WBD so it is not the big loss of an asset that many in the media would make you think it is.
At the same time, unless Zazlav decides to change his mindset, he needs to sell before this situation becomes unmanageable. CNN can’t survive as a “both sides” network, as a Fox News lite, or as a leftist network. It needs to be the network that upholds democracy and the truth. These companies would align with that method of thinking.
The Mickey Mouse Club owns the news organization that already has the most trust among conservatives on television besides Fox News (ABC News), so they would help legitimize CNN’s mission of garnering more conservatives.
CNN’s library of content would bolster its digital platforms and provide an avenue to create new documentaries and films. ABC News’ own extracurricular projects would be on a platform that has consistent reach with the audience they’re seeking and wouldn’t get lost in the clouds like it currently does on Hulu.
National Geographic could move its content to CNN and HLN and help Disney get rid of one less cable network (NatGeo Channel) that doesn’t generate revenue.
CNN already has the largest news organization in the world. Their addition would bring NBC over the top. NBC’s ability to promote news offerings on Peacock would get some much-needed help as well since CNN has the number one digital news website in the United States.
Peacock would also be able to add CNN’s library to its app giving viewers who crave live news and sports another reason to subscribe to the app.
Regulatory issues may prevail due to past rulings by the federal government but this may have a chance to go through if the government believes the internet and streaming and the fragmentation of television has created enough competition for a CNN/MSNBC combo to not be too powerful.
The Emerson Collective
In a stroke of sheer awkwardness, could the owners of The Atlantic be contenders? Laurene Powell Jobs has constantly spoken about how much she believes journalism affects the balance of our society.
CNN, despite its ratings drag, still plays a vital role in shaping what we talk about as a society. Jobs’ causes like social justice reform, immigration reform, and the environment might get more attention from the general populous on a platform like CNN
The Washington Post or New York Times
Both entities were hand-in-hand with CNN reporting on the latest developments involving the Trump administration and both also faced public backlash about what they deemed as important with a Trump admin vs. a regular administration.
They all share the same mission and journalism ethos and, in the case of WaPo, have a very wealthy backer who could fund a potential deal.
The media mogul has become more deeply involved with the industry than he ever was before. He has a stake in the sports RSNs that are currently failing, he owns The Weather Channel — the most trusted name in news right now which is a remarkable feat to achieve in an era where so many deny climate change and he’s in the market to buy more.
CNN being black-owned could quell the accusations of the network becoming white-washed. A partnership with The Weather Channel bolsters coverage of climate change for the cable network.
And for Byron Allen, CNN gives him a seat on the table when it comes to power and influence in the worlds of Wall Street and Congress.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What Chris Licht Got Right, and Wrong, During His CNN Tenure
Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
The departure of Chris Licht from CNN was abrupt but expected after a string of missteps. His criticism of his predecessor Jeff Zucker spilled into criticisms of the network’s coverage of Donald Trump and the Covid pandemic, which undercut his staff. Journalists who stood up to conspiracy theories and election falsehoods from the very top felt betrayed.
I’ve known Chris for 30 years, when he served as an associate producer at a KNBC/CNBC for a daily half-hour program centered on the O.J. Simpson trial. Later, we were colleagues at NBC and kept in touch while he was at CBS and I was at ABC. He is whip-smart, congenial, worked well with big talents like Joe Scarborough, Charlie Rose, and Gayle King, and, until now, had a stellar track record.
And in his latest and biggest post — despite being put in an impossible position — did some things right, which I will highlight in a moment.
But first that impossible position. His new bosses at Warner Bros. Discovery wanted a restructuring and high ratings. They insisted on less calling out of misinformation and more “both sidesism”. So Licht had to derail the CNN train and then try to lift it back on the ratings track. No small job. Especially in a news climate that is in decline.
All the cable networks — who depended upon Donald Trump’s unpredictable, often treasonous and dangerous style — have suffered ratings decline. Fox numbers are down and so is MSNBC. The viewing public no longer has to tune in every minute of the day to see what the President is going to do or say. Life has largely returned to normal for most people.
So CNN, which could once depend upon airing and then fact-checking Trump’s latest absurdity, had to find new content.
Licht’s decision to emphasize down-the-middle news gathering seemed like a solid response to life without a bombastic — some say irrational — President.
Just cover the news, at which CNN is great. It’s the first place to turn during a mass shooting, a war, or natural disaster. But those are inconsistent events and cannot be depended upon for steady ratings. That’s the environment Licht stepped into.
He reacted with some good moves. His midday CNN News Central program, 3 hours of straight news, positions itself well to cover breaking news. It’s followed by Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, also emphasizing news coverage.
However, unfortunately, the list of mistakes is a lot longer. Starting with Don Lemon. His “whole thing” in primetime was to be provocative and with a strong progressive bent. Licht attempted to turn Lemon into what he is not, an easy-to-watch, not opinionated host in the morning. A broadcast that was supposed to keynote the Licht agenda blew up in months. Lemon had an opinion on everything and could not get along with his co-hosts, which in morning TV is critical. The all-important chemistry was not there.
His meeting with Republican politicians on Capitol Hill to invite them back to CNN sent a message that they would no longer be challenged for disinformation. And Licht balanced the commentary panels on CNN with GOP election deniers who shouted over questions they could not answer, in turn sticking to talking points. A move that did little to attract viewers from Fox, and instead drove away legacy CNN viewers accustomed to progressive analysis and Republicans who respected opposite opinions.
Next, his attempt to normalize Donald Trump with a CNN Town Hall, somehow expecting the old rules of decorum would work became a disaster. Trump has to be covered. 30% of the electorate supports him, as do nearly 50% of Republicans. But a live Trump supporter audience overwhelmed Kaitlan Collins who was drenched by a firehouse of lies and deception.
And finally, there was Licht’s decision to make his criticisms of staff and their former coverage public in The Atlantic. A profile that made his gym trainer appear to be his top adviser.
To sum up: Chris Licht faced an impossible mission of improving ratings without Donald Trump and with a staff he alienated.
It was an opportunity wasted and a good man self-defeated.
Jim Avila serves as a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. An Award-winning journalist with four decades of reporting and anchoring experience, Jim has served as Senior National Correspondent, 20/20 Correspondent, and White House Correspondent for ABC News. Prior to his time with ABC, he spent a decade with NBC News, and worked locally in Los Angeles and Chicago for KNBC, and WBBM. He can be found on Twitter @JimAvilaABC.