There are only three people I’m aware of who’s died and come back to life again. The first two are Jesus and Lazarus. The third is Scott Robbins, one-third co-host on Markley Van Camp & Robbins, airing on a ton of radio stations across the country.
Robbins was basically given up for dead after his heart attack, triple bypass surgery, kidney dialysis, coma, and six months in the hospital.
“It’s funny because I don’t remember much about the heart attack,” Robbins said. “I was married at the time. My now ex-wife said I was flopping around in the bed, but I didn’t wake up. I apparently wasn’t breathing too well.”
He said the paramedics arrived and started doing CPR. They actually performed so much CPR, that some of Robbins’ ribs collapsed.
Robbins gives much of the credit for his heart attack to excessive drinking and smoking through the years. He was in a coma for a month and there wasn’t much optimism about anything. If optimism was a stock, it would have been delisted.
“They had to crack me open,” Robbins said. “They broke bones in my chest and pulverized the liver. I was bleeding internally. I was in the hospital for six months and I was discharged without a job. My marriage blew up. My life blew up.”
That’s a Dresden kind of blow-up.
Robbins, 61, said he was lucky enough to move in with his daughter, who is a nurse practitioner. Robbins said she cared for him for a year until he could get back out on his own.
“Most of us think we have good insurance,” he explained. “You’ll find out how good it really is when you find out how much they pay for your stay. I’m still climbing out of debt with that.”
Robbins applied for disability. He couldn’t walk and had to learn how to talk again. Robbins went to physical rehab three times a week.
“I guess I wanted to hang it up a few times. I wanted to stay alive to see my granddaughters grow up. It was a fight each day. I was thrown a few curveballs but I fought.”
His co-hosts, who are also good friends, were great to him.
“Jamie visited me nearly every day in the hospital, and I was there for six months,” Robbins said. “He’d sit with me and we’d watch Jeopardy to try to get my thinking back on track. He was incredible.”
I’ll take, ‘He’s Like a Brother,’ for $400.’
Back at full strength, MVR is currently under contract with a three-year deal.
“The syndication hasn’t changed our lives dramatically,” Robbins explained,
“but it has helped me. It’s a good living,” Robbins said. “Alpha Media pays half, other guys pay for half. I’m lucky because I can pay those bills. A lot of people who face the kind of medical problems I did are forced into bankruptcy.”
During his glory days as a rock and roll jock, Robbins once picked up Alice Cooper from the golf course.
“He was totally cool,” Robbins said. “We were listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio in the car. Alice told me how much he liked their music. His father was a preacher and he went to church while he was in town. He put his hair up in his baseball hat.”
Robbins said he and co-host Jamie Markley used to party together a lot. They originally met Robbins at a Van Halen concert in 1986.
“How hard we partied depended on what band was in town,” Robbins explained. “When you were a jock in the radio business in the 80s, record companies took care of you. In those days, you got just about anything you wanted. I was never a drug guy, but I was a booze guy.”
You can listen to a single track from a band’s album, and sometimes you realize you’ve heard something special.
“The first time I listened to Queen II, it blew my mind,” Robbins said. “I knew they were going to be huge. I heard a song and just knew it. When I heard Killer Queen on Sheer Heart, I thought, ‘holy s***.’”
Rush was his first concert, the 2112 tour.
“I paid five dollars for general admission,” Robbins said. “All night long I’m thinking, ‘Holy s***, this is Rush.”
Robbins had known Jamie Markley and his career. Robbins was a top 40 jock at a competing station. He liked what Markley was doing on the air too and bonded.
They’d hang out every so often. Robbins said Markley was at WMBD in sales and he hated the job. Both wondered if it was plausible they could form a show together as a team. Robbins asked Markley if he’d have a problem with that and he said he didn’t.
“I told him management might have a problem paying two salaries for one show, but they went for it.”
With Van Camp now part of the team, MVR was doing very well. David Hall, a radio consultant, told the trio the show was good, and they should be doing it somewhere else. A city with more exposure.
“That’s when we got a deal in Portland with Alpha Media,” Robbins said. “We went to Portland and signed the contract. Two weeks later I had a massive heart attack.”
Robbins said there was no way he could have foreseen the camaraderie MVR enjoys on the air. He couldn’t have visualized it.
“I’m a former programmer and if someone asked me about three guys doing a show, I would have pooh-poohed it. I would have wondered if the audience would be able to tell who was talking. It’s not a problem now, but initially, it may have been.”
Robbins said growing up, WRIL was a great station in Peoria. He’d listen while he was a senior in high school.
“I admired so many great jocks. John Landecker was kind of a hero. I met him once at Comiskey Park. I loved him. I knew it was him so I went up to him. I was probably 19 years old. I told him he was the reason I got into radio. He told me not to blame him for that. He spent some time with me. He was bigger than life.”
When he was sick, someone contacted the band Rush’s management. They told them about Robbins’ condition in the hospital and said he was a huge fan of the band.
“Amazingly, the band signed a baseball and sent it back,” Robbins said. “I take my baseballs with me everywhere and if I meet someone cool, I ask them to sign one. I met Geddy Lee and we talked for a long time about baseball. Not rock, not music, baseball.”
Robbins said Geddy Lee has an amazing collection of baseball stuff.
“It’s like the Hall of Fame of baseball memorabilia,” Robbins said. “He told me he wasn’t much of an athlete, but while on tour he would get up and watch WGN and the Cubs. That’s the only station he could watch baseball on. There were early games in the afternoon before they played a show.”
To a man like Robbins, you get the feeling that age is just a number. He collects Funko Pops. Apparently they’re little dolls of rock stars, athletes, and other famous people.
“I’ve got the Seinfeld cast. I have all the members of Rush. I have an Alice Cooper doll and an Elton John doll.”
To relax, Robbins and friends go to Kansas City to see Royals games.
“It’s a six-hour drive, but we stay for four games each time,” Robbins said. “Two of my buddies and I have done it since 1986.”
Robbins didn’t hit Comiskey Park until much later in life.
“My dad worked for Caterpillar and every year he’d take a day off work and we’d go to see the Sox,” Robbins said. “My father loved the Cubs. Fergie Jenkins came to the radio station when he was promoting a business venture. We were talking and he asked me if I knew a place where he could get liver and onions. I told him I knew a place and took him there. My father was a huge fan and I asked Fergie if he would say hello to my father. He said he would. My father was on the phone and I asked him if he’d like to talk to Fergie, and he did. He later told me it was the biggest thrill of his life.”
Robbins’ father said that, not Jenkins.
Jim Thome comes to Peoria each year for a banquet. Robbins said Thome is a big dude. A farmland country boy.
“He is smart, savvy. Nobody is going to fool him,” Robbins said. “He’s like Paul Bunyan. Dan Fogelberg is from here too. There’s a monument to him on the riverfront.”
Can the show get bigger?
“I hope so,” Robbins said. “I think we’re all confident in the show. Once people put us on, we form a bond. We’ve had people tell us we’re such a big part of their lives. When I’m out, people stop me. I’m a radio guy, I don’t even know how they know who I look like. They’ll stop me and tell me how much they love the show. They say we say things they think.”
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his new book: Talk To Me – Profiles on News Talkers and Media Leaders From Top 50 Markets, log on to Amazon or shoot Jim an email at [email protected].
An Unofficial Radio Study Through the Eyes of Gen Z
We really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system.
One of my non-radio pursuits since moving to Bowling Green has been to take advantage of a Kentucky law — KRS 164.284 — which grants free tuition to any state-supported institution of higher education for state residents who are 65 or older. That’s a lot of words, but put simply, those of us who are older can take university classes for free! Bowling Green, besides being the home of the Corvette, is also home to Western Kentucky University. The name of the school is a little odd because this is south central Kentucky and you can drive two hours west of here and still be in the state. However, the team name, Hilltoppers, is deadly accurate as the school is on top of a hill in Bowling Green, and walking uphill to class burns quite a few calories.
I’m wrapping up my first class and for me, it’s my first university-level class as a student since the ‘80s. If you’re like me and haven’t taken a class this century, it’s different because, like most everything else, education has moved online. WKU uses Blackboard, an online tool, and I’ve adapted to sending in assignments and papers online as well as taking exams online in the comfort of my home office.
My reason for all this background is that in the last session of History 349, American History from 1945 to the Present, our instructor, Dr. Tony Harkins, asked us to form small groups and determine the three biggest events of the last 30 years. When each group presented their choices, one was unanimous: the Internet. Sure, there was 9/11, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COVID pandemic, but no other choices were unanimous. Even 9/11 was problematic for most of the students as they weren’t alive when it took place 22 years ago.
That led to a class discussion and listening in, you really appreciate the difference in outlook when the rest of the group is a half-century younger than you! They referred to their parents adapting to being online and considering that I’m old enough to be a grandparent to any of them, it made me think back to my first PC, a Compaq dual floppy that I purchased in 1984. The Hayes 1200 baud modem was almost $500 extra, but it was worth it to be that far ahead of the technology curve! They have never known a time without the smartphone, high-speed internet, and the ability to find out almost anything they want to know instantly.
Admittedly, a group of WKU history students is not a random sample and is not projectable to the population, but I also heard some misgivings about AI and the perils of the internet. They know the power of the internet to ruin people’s lives if used for nefarious purposes.
What does all this mean for radio? I wish I had been able to ask about their use of broadcast radio, if they use any at all, but to no great surprise, this group is in another world. That’s not a negative statement, but for all formats, we’ve done things the same way for so long that we likely don’t know another way to accomplish our tasks. Yes, radio is multi-platform like just about any other medium today, but as this cohort ages, what happens to our medium?
I’m not the first to bring this up, but we really need to step up if we’re going to have another generation of radio listeners, regardless of the distribution system. What will it take to make radio relevant to their needs and desires? Being in close quarters with them for a class lets me see some of the similarities of what I can remember from my undergraduate days and their different attitudes and experiences, which are very different from what I went through in the ‘70s.
Time to study for this week’s final (I’m auditing, but for the purpose of keeping my brain busy, I do all the required work)! If you’re in the golden years like me, you might want to consider going back to school, too. Most states have some kind of tuition waiver (for more info about your state’s options) and try it out! Not only will you learn something and interact with much younger people, you can even get student discounts as well! Thanks to Dr. Tony Harkins for putting up with me for the semester and “Go Tops!”.
Let’s meet again next week.
One of the radio industry’s most respected researchers, Dr. Ed Cohen writes a weekly column for Barrett News Media. His career experiences include serving as VP of Ratings and Research at Cumulus Media, occupying the role of VP of Measurement Innovation at Nielsen Audio, and its predecessor Arbitron. While with Arbitron, Cohen spent five years as the company’s President of Research Policy and Communication, and eight years as VP of Domestic Radio Research. He has also held the title of Vice President of Research for iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, and held research positions for the National Association of Broadcasters and Birch/Scarborough Research. Dr. Ed always enjoys hearing your thoughts so please feel free to reach him at [email protected].
Hollie McKay Has Seen The Good and Bad of Foreign Conflict
“They sort of called on me to give them a little bit of my human experience and storylines and I guess, make the experience of that video game a little bit more human-based as opposed to very military,”
Young, slender, and tenacious, Independent Journalist Hollie McKay has dedicated her career to immersive war and foreign relations storytelling but the job doesn’t come easy.
“It’s something you have to be willing to fight for,” she said over Zoom. Since 2006, Hollie McKay has traveled the world, chasing some of the biggest wars and foreign conflicts of our time, spending much of her career in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
Growing up in North Queensland, Australia, McKay never saw writing as a career. She wanted to be a ballet dancer. At 18, a broken ankle changed those plans. “I sort of had to go back to school and to university, got bored a little bit, and ended up going to New York to finish my degree.”
A “random” internship turned into her zealous passion. “It’s all a really big baptism by fire,” she recalled, “I really had to kind of teach myself what journalism was in many ways, because it predated the social media era.”
Her internship was with the then up-and-coming Fox News Digital department, a place she stayed for 14 years. “You could write, you could get a byline, you could go out and do things, I found that to be really sort of fascinating and do it all sort of in that real-time,” McKay said.
Beginning in Los Angeles she covered everything from The Oscars to the courtroom but travel ignited a passion. “[I] was just very interested in the foreign space. And that was more out of curiosity than anything because I felt like I was learning things that I should have learned in school, things that I felt like, why didn’t I know this if I didn’t know this? How many other people didn’t know this?”
For Hollie McKay, reporting on a foreign conflict without her boots on the ground was not an option. “I wanted to go to these places and live with people and spend as long as I could really there and be part of their communities,” she said.
Becoming a part of the community is what distinguished her stories from those of other journalists of our time but it does have risks.
Danger is always present in a war zone but it rarely, if ever, fazed McKay. “I always felt quite comfortable in places that I think the majority of people would probably want to have no part of,” she said.
From 2014-2019 she documented the rise and fall of ISIS, spending much of her time in Syria and Iraq. Her presence in the region allowed millions of readers to comprehend the human toll of war. Her reporting also gave life to a character in the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
“They sort of called on me to give them a little bit of my human experience and storylines and I guess, make the experience of that video game a little bit more human-based as opposed to very military,” she said.
She brought the human experience again in 2020 when the Taliban took over the Afghani government. “You just sort of saw the Taliban coming in on motorcycles and shooting in the air. And and that was that. There really was no resistance,” McKay recalled, “We certainly didn’t know how the Taliban was going to respond to a woman, to a journalist, to a Westerner. And it was a lot of unknowns.”
The Taliban let her stay for several months before she left on her own accord in December 2020 saying, “It was probably the most rewarding aspect of my career. I think, in that I felt like I could really be there in that very crucial moment and document what was happening and document the changes as they were happening in real time.”
She criticized media coverage of the takeover, saying “You look on social media and you see sort of very alarming stories and headlines, which, some of it is true, but an awful lot of it was just not. So it highlights for me the importance of having that on the ground perspective and experience.”
In contrast, her coverage of the War in Ukraine just a few months later was jarring. “I did find it to be a kind of stressful, overwhelming experience. And it highlighted to me that the challenge actually, of working independently,” McKay said.
However, she stressed the importance of independent journalism saying, “There is so many different agendas and backgrounds and my goal with it is to be able to come with something without sort of any political background or bias in that and to hopefully deliver a story that is of interest to people. And that’s at the end of the day, that’s the best that I could do.”
She calls war reporting nothing more than a balancing act saying, “I don’t think that any story is worth you losing your life or someone around you that is helping you, losing their life.” She noted, “I think if you can get to the story as much as you can, whilst kind of weighing up the challenges around that, then that is something that is worthwhile doing.”
While the players at war change, there is one common thread she found for the average person living in a conflict zone. “War is a funny thing in the sense that you really do see the worst of humanity in the bombing and the violence and sort of the ugliness,” she said, “But you also see the incredible good of human beings in that, too. And everywhere you go, you see people supporting one another.”
Reflecting on her nearly 20-year career she made one thing clear, “Nothing was ever handed to me… Everything I did in my career I had to push for.” McKay’s advice to aspiring journalists is to be relentless, “You’re going to have to be prepared to fight. In many cases, you may not make a lot of money,” she continued on with this example, “I was talking to [a friend] and in early in his career, he made less than $10,000 a year. So it’s really a job that you have to be prepared to do it because you really want to do it and you love it and you can’t imagine doing anything else.”
McKay is not sure what comes next, currently, she is in motherhood-bliss, giving birth to a child this year but travel in the future is not out of the question, “I think life is chapters and we don’t want to be stuck in the same chapter forever and we want to continue to grow and branch out and see what else we can do to evolve,” she continued on to say, “I’ll always be connected to wars and humanitarian issues, and I will continue to travel to the best of my ability.”
Hollie McKay is the author of three books, Afghanistan: The End of the U.S. Footprint and the Rise of the Taliban Rule, Only Cry for the Living , and Words that Never Leave You. She is also an Ambassador for Emergency USA and Burnt Children Relief Foundation.
Krystina Alarcon Carroll is a columnist and features writer for Barrett News Media.She currently freelances at WPIX in New York, and has previously worked on live, streamed, and syndicated TV programs. Her prior employers have included NY1, Fox News Digital, Law & Crime Network, and Newsmax. You can find Krystina on X (formerly twitter) @KrystinaAlaCarr.
Broadcast Attorney Steven A. Lerman Reminisces About Radio’s Heyday in New Memoir
“When I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege.”
If the name Steven A. Lerman doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you are forgiven. Steve served as the de facto General Counsel for Infinity Broadcasting and then for CBS Radio, among many other credits. Those who attended any of the legendary Infinity Managers Meetings saw Steve’s presentations on FCC regulatory issues and compliance.
Lerman wrote a book called, The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership, which is out now. I highly recommend it to broadcasters, and anyone interested in broadcasting or curious about the path to the top of any competitive field.
I first met Lerman in 1986, less than a year after joining Infinity Broadcasting as program director of WYSP in Philadelphia. After years of poor ratings, our first attempt to set the station on the right and good path was to dismiss most of the veteran airstaff over Labor Day Weekend 1985, something Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister referred to as “The Labor Day Massacre” for years afterward.
I had information that at least one person might not accept termination gracefully. Indeed, one air staff member screamed that I couldn’t fire them before storming out of my office. Several months later, the station received a lawsuit over that termination.
A few weeks later, Infinity’s general counsel, Steven A. Lerman, came to Philly to strategize how to deal with the lawsuit. I was scared. I’d been there less than a year and had little to show for my efforts, I didn’t know the company’s appetite for a lawsuit, but I also knew the truth was on my side.
In that era, we let people go by calling them into our office without the aid of an HR person or, for that matter, anybody else.
I told Lerman that the claims were fiction and that nothing remotely similar to the allegations happened. Further, I could prove it.
I had recorded the entire episode, starting before the person entered my office through their storming out and slamming the door. Lerman listened to the recording. Then, a wry smile appeared on his face.
I vividly remember Lerman saying: “I have good and bad news. The bad news is that you broke the law by recording them surreptitiously. Don’t do that again. The good news is that the lawsuit is over and done.”
Lerman pocketed the tape, and the meeting ended in less than 15 minutes. I never heard another word about the lawsuit.
I dealt with Lerman regularly over the years. Especially when the FCC began targeting Howard Stern, and the definitions of indecency and obscenity became moving targets.
Lerman explained indecency by telling us to imagine him reading a transcript of Stern in front of the Supreme Court. It was an amusing thought. Lerman’s delivery is dry and monotone. Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership details the Stern FCC battles, including Lerman’s meetings with two FCC Chairmen (one which is particularly humorous) and when Stern signed with Sirius Satellite Radio, and the relationship became adversarial.
He writes short, crisp chapters that give readers a taste of his dealings with Stern, as well as Don Imus, O.J. Simpson, Oliver North (another project Lerman and I worked together on), Bob Kraft, G. Gordon Liddy, Donald Trump, Mel Karmazin, and the many important people in his life.
I asked Lerman if he considered sharing more stories and details about the many celebrities he encountered and the legal issues. He told me, “As a media/constitutional lawyer when I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege, which limited what I could say and how I could say it.”
Several times in the book, he states that confidentiality clauses prevent him from sharing details of the outcome. Yet Steven A. Lerman provides enough insight into the legal situations, specifically who had leverage, that the reader gets a good idea of who walked away the winner in each case.
The greatest details and biggest surprises are about Lerman’s personal life, starting with the death of his father when he was 12 years old. His mother remarried twice, and both men died young. That is the “loss” referred to in the title.
There is a chapter devoted to his mother, each of the two men she remarried, his grandmothers, and many other people (as well as one dog) who were vital in forming who he is today.
He reveals a lot about himself, including an incident with an elementary school teacher, brushes with the law, drugs, his health issues, the end of his first marriage, the sad death of an associate, how he got into Penn, his first job out of law school, his love for Boston sports teams – especially the Red Sox, and much more. Although Lerman presents the topics with good humor, they are not all flattering, although he does make a good case for his golf game.
If Lerman’s primary goal were to sell the maximum number of books, he would have filled the pages with more colorful celebrity stories. But that wasn’t what he set out to do. “I wrote the book to explain the arc of my life; it’s more about how I turned a challenging start into a philanthropic, impactful, worthwhile finish,” Lerman told me. On that level, he succeeded spectacularly.
The book also explains how Steve Lerman became who he is – which is a genuinely decent, kind, intelligent, and giving person. In the book, somebody refers to him as a mensch. Steve Lerman is a mensch, and the book is a blueprint for becoming one.
I highly recommend The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership by Steven A. Lerman, which is available on Amazon now.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at an[email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.