Tony Duesing Is Wichita Proud
“When I decided I wanted to become a PD, I figured I would have had to go to a smaller market and start out.”
The man is the radio equivalent of what Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is to politics. Both have served their respective areas for about 40 years. During that time, as in a successful marriage, Tony Duesing has been with the same group of four stations through ownership changes, including Entercom, and now Audacy.
With Iowa and Kansas nearly touching, perhaps there’s some longevity secret in the water.
In 1996, the Telecommunications Act removed all national and local restrictions on national ownership that specified the number of stations one company could own in a set market. Groups started consolidating radio stations.
“When we started consolidating stations, AM radio was struggling,” Duesing said. “Rush’s show was coming along and I remember thinking this AM thing isn’t going to last much longer.”
Okay, who hasn’t made a miscalculation?
The consolidation lowered overhead, and groups could lean on sister stations for additional content and promotional material. Back then, Duesing said they had one promotional position instead of today’s four people.
“In particular, KFH was helped by consolidation. It really helped save it in a way.”
With extensive technology advancement throughout Duesing’s career, he’s grateful to one particular product and how it has changed our lives.
“It’s hard to imagine our industry without computers,” Duesing explained. “When we moved into this building seven years ago, it was all new. Even the control boards are computerized. The hard drives are the brains of this outfit.”
From 1983 to 1992, Duesing was entrenched in music-formatted radio, from Country, Oldies, and Top 40 formats. In 1992, Duesing was promoted to Program Director of talk radio station KQAM, and later sports radio station KFH along with news radio station KNSS.
This year KFH has been celebrating its 100th anniversary. Duesing had just been named the stations’ PD during its 75th anniversary.
“That’s when I became particularly interested in the stations’ history,” Duesing explained. “It had been sold a few times and I decided to make some promotions to commemorate the 75th anniversary.”
Duesing said he recognizes the milestone and how much the station has meant to the Wichita community.
“We were a CBS affiliate and carried programs like War of the Worlds, and Radio Mystery Theater. It puts things into perspective when you start recalling that history. I started finding some old photos and audio. We used to have a midday sports show on KFH and one of the on-air folks asked me if we had a copy of their first show. I said I’d look but it was most likely on cassette.”
That little piece of plastic with all that tape hanging out of it where you had to use your index finger to wind it back in.
Duesing started working in Wichita Radio in 1983 just a month after graduating high school. “I learned everything on the fly. There wasn’t a lot of time or personnel for training.”
When he first became PD on KFH, they recently switched from Oldie’s to Talk. “I was the board-op when the PD left because he didn’t like the talk format. The owner said, ‘Okay, you’re PD now.”
At that time the owner was Norman Feuer and Triathlon Media. Duesing went to speak with him because the local general manager had decided he wasn’t going to pick up Don Imus for 50-grand a year. Duesing knew if the talk format was going to work it had to be interesting.
“I told Norm we should get Imus and he thought it was a great idea. Things got better after that move.”
Duesing was born in the Wichita area, and like Doobie, the cab driver in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, he is proud of Wichita.
“I’d always thought I was lucky to be in this market,” Duesing said. “When I decided I wanted to become a PD, I figured I would have had to go to a smaller market and start out. It turns out I didn’t have to leave because KFH switched formats and assigned me as PD.”
Wichita is known as the ‘Air Capital of the World,’ providing fuselages for big plane manufacturers such as Boeing. The huge fuselages are shipped by train to the West Coast. Hawker Aviation in Wichita also makes Cessnas, and Beechcraft planes. The industry brings about 20,000 good paying jobs to the area. Planes are to Wichita what cars are to Detroit.
The city is also the birthplace of Pizza Hut and White Castle.
“Our radio studios are in the same big building Pizza Hut had its headquarters back in the 90s,” Duesing said. Since the pizza giant’s merger with Taco Bell, KFC, and Pepsi, corporate offices moved south to Texas.
Wichita is interesting in that it’s very conservative, but also has a Democrat Mayor and Democrat governor. There are also a lot of middle-Republicans and Independents.
“On KNSS we have Levin and Hannity and they both work well here,” Duesing said. “I’d considered some additions of Alan Derschowitz and Mario Cuomo had a show for a while. Audacy lets us run our stations the way we see fit. They really do look at brand managers as people that know their market best and don’t dictate things to us.”
Duesing picked up Dana Loesch’s show and is pleased with that decision.
“We’re always looking for a good fit whether we have to hire a local talent or go with someone like Dana. She acts as though she works for Audacy. It’s easy to get her to do liners for us and she does well in her time slot.”
Duesing has recently made some changes to the KFH morning show, which just wasn’t working.
“We used to have Mike & Mike, which did well. Then we tried some other shows but they didn’t drive ratings. We had Bob & Tom, but iHeart switched formats and wanted more music. We picked them up again this year.”
As a brand manager, Duesing said you always have to ask yourself if your shows are winning or losing.
“I think local shows do better with two or more hosts,” he explained. “Jim Rome can do it by himself because he’s really good at what he does. One person can get a little boring. The cost is obviously higher to have more, but I think it’s worth the investment. We love doing local and it connects well with listeners. Much more than national stuff.”
Duesing studied broadcast journalism at Wichita State University. In the early 80s, he said the program was lacking.
“When I first went there it was a very generic major,” Duesing said. “They told us they’d teach us radio and television broadcasting. The equipment we used was from the 1950s, antiquated stuff. One of our assignments was to make a commercial. Since I was working at KFH, I did the assignment there. I went back to school and the instructor said, ‘Wow, you did that here?’ I had to break the news to him. I created it at the radio station where I was working.”
Later, the college began to emphasize news and media. The school had a television station on cable that produced a weekly news show where the students did it all.
“I wanted to learn the news part of radio and television. At that point I was happy with what I learned there,” Duesing said.
During his first 10 years in radio, Duesing was focused on becoming a better DJ, and presence on the air. Then the program director job came into being.
“We flipped from an oldies station to a talk station in the early 90s. Once again it was a sink or swim situation. My boss said, ‘Tony, you’re the PD. Figure it out.’ I realized I was 35 years-old and I was the demographic for the station, so I started programming it with shows I would like. We had a food talk show among others. It was horrible stuff. Then I started filling in with network shows like Coast to Coast. I was able to give the people working overnights on airplanes something to listen to while they worked, someone to help them stay awake.”
Like most young broadcasting professionals, Duesing had one eye on bigger opportunities, but in the end, he was already where he wanted to be.
Duesing was approached by one of his regional managers who he’d gotten to know well.
“He called after he left and said he thought I’d be a good fit in Santa Barbara, California,” Duesing said. “He flew me out to look around. It isn’t far from Los Angeles and I liked it. But I ended up not taking it because of the tremendous cost of living and I have a lot of family in the Wichita area. It just didn’t add up to make a change at that point. I had discussions with a station in Denver about the possibility of going there. Another outside of Seattle. In the end it just made sense to stay here.”
Duesing said the people are great and the cost of living is low.
What keeps him charged about the industry and his job is the constant challenges.
“I’m always asking myself what I can do to make things better. Can we improve the way we go in and out of breaks? I do all the imaging on the stations. It’s always a challenge to do better in the ratings. There’s so much to do online, with our app on social media.”
With news reported instantly on Twitter, Duesing said his reporters in the news department still try to get two or three sources to confirm a story.
“I always tell them we don’t need to be first, just right. Just back up the story with facts, verify them. It’s so embarrassing to get a story wrong. I’d rather just not report it.”
His stations carry Kansas City Chiefs’ games, University of Kansas sports, Wichita State programs. While the Royals are not big moneymakers for the station, the others do produce revenue. Duesing said you have to carry those games as it keeps the stations relevant in the market.
“My sales people love to sell Chiefs and KU time. You bring in new listeners, promote your other shows.”
Doobie and Duesing are, and always will be, Wichita Proud.
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.
Rachel Maddow Interview With E. Jean Carroll Provides MSNBC Major Boost
Outside of FNC’s The Five, it was cable news’ top telecast of the week in both total viewers and adults 25-54.
Prominent interviews with two notable news figures were in focus on the week of May 15. On the night of May 15, former “Elle” magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll and her attorney Roberta Kaplan appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.
Their guest spots took place six days following her legal victory against Donald Trump in which a jury found him $5 million liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Carroll and Kaplan stated they’d seek to expand those damages due to Trump’s defamatory comments about her during his infamous CNN town hall from May 10. (Carroll officially made that expansion request to the court on May 23.)
As stated in the show list at the end of this article, the hour drew 2.414 million total viewers including 276,000 within the key 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. Outside of FNC’s The Five, it was cable news’ top telecast of the week in both total viewers and adults 25-54.
In addition, it was MSNBC’s most-watched telecast since the Apr. 24 edition of Maddow (then, that week’s top cable news telecast overall) which came just hours following news of the dismissals of two of Maddow’s former prime-time competitors, Tucker Carlson from Fox News and Don Lemon from CNN.
Airing directly opposite Maddow on May 15 were FNC’s Hannity (1.974 million total viewers / 194,000 adults 25-54) and CNN Primetime (454,000 total viewers / 114,000 adults 25-54) — the latter of which that 9 p.m. hour will soon be anchored by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, the moderator of the aforementioned Trump town hall.
Leading out of Maddow on MSNBC was Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (1.868 million total viewers / 150,000 adults 25-54) which offered post-analysis of Carroll’s guest appearance.
For the following evening (May 16), another NBC-owned news network scored another key interview: mega-billionaire Elon Musk, with financial journalist David Faber on CNBC.
Within the 70-minute discussion, Faber pressed the now-former Twitter CEO on his controversial tweets that spouted unverified conspiracy theories. Musk responded, “I’ll say what I want to say and if the consequences of that are losing money, so be it.” Former NBCUniversal advertising head Linda Yaccarino took over as CEO on June 5.
CNBC’s Musk interview delivered 257,000 viewers and 54,000 adults 25-54, the network’s top hour for the week in both data categories. Nonetheless, it could not top five hours of the Fox Business Network for that week, in total viewers: Varney & Company (the 9-10 a.m. hour on Mon. May 15, 274,000 viewers; and the entire 9 a.m.-noon slot on Fri. May 19, avg. 266,000 viewers) and the Thu. May 18 edition of Kudlow (271,000 viewers).
Cable news averages for May 15-21, 2023:
Total Day (May 15-21 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.097 million viewers; 129,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.715 million viewers; 83,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.361 million viewers; 73,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.188 million viewers; 21,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.118 million viewers; 31,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.105 million viewers; 23,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.103 million viewers; 13,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.081 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (May 15-20 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 21 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.413 million viewers; 136,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.124 million viewers; 120,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.371 million viewers; 88,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.308 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.138 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.128 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.118 million viewers; 19,000 adults 25-54
- NewsNation: 0.090 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.060 million viewers; 16,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/16/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.802 million viewers
2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/15/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.801 million viewers
3. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/17/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.673 million viewers
4. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/18/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.504 million viewers
5. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/19/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.420 million viewers
6. Rachel Maddow Show “E. Jean Carroll Interview” (MSNBC, Mon. 5/15/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.414 million viewers
7. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Mon. 5/15/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.268 million viewers
8. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Thu. 5/18/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.221 million viewers
9. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Tue. 5/16/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.087 million viewers
10. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Wed. 5/17/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.022 million viewers
185. Smerconish (CNN, Sat. 5/20/2023 9:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.636 million viewers
207. Eric Bolling The Balance (NMX, Wed. 5/17/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.587 million viewers
421. Forensic Files (HLN, late Fri. 5/19/2023 12:30 AM, 30 min.) 0.294 million viewers
441. Varney & Company (FBN, Mon. 5/15/2023 9:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.274 million viewers
464. CNBC Special Report “16 May 2023 Elon Musk with David Faber” (CNBC, Tue. 5/16/2023 6:00 PM, 70 min.) 0.257 million viewers
500. Highway Thru Hell “(1118) Rise Up” (TWC, Sun. 5/21/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.232 million viewers
705. Cuomo (NWSN, Wed. 5/17/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.151 million viewers
860. FBI Files (COURT TV, Sun. 5/21/2023 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.102 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/16/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.330 million adults 25-54
2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/15/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.281 million adults 25-54
3. Rachel Maddow Show “E. Jean Carroll Interview” (MSNBC, Mon. 5/15/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.276 million adults 25-54
4. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/17/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.268 million adults 25-54
5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/18/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.266 million adults 25-54
6. Gutfeld! (FOXNC, Tue. 5/16/2023 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.264 million adults 25-54
7. Gutfeld! (FOXNC, Wed. 5/17/2023 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.245 million adults 25-54
8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/19/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.242 million adults 25-54
9. Special Report/Biden-Medal of Valor (FOXNC, Wed. 5/17/2023 9:46 AM, 26 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54
10. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Mon. 5/15/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.221 million adults 25-54
51. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 5/17/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.168 million adults 25-54
221. Forensic Files (HLN, late Fri. 5/19/2023 12:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.087 million adults 25-54
319. Eric Bolling The Balance (NMX, Thu. 5/18/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.069 million adults 25-54
414. CNBC Special Report “16 May 2023 Elon Musk with David Faber” (CNBC, Tue. 5/16/2023 6:00 PM, 70 min.) 0.054 million adults 25-54
484. Highway Thru Hell “(1117) Know When To Hold Em” (TWC, Wed. 5/17/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.046 million adults 25-54
534. Newsnation Prime (NWSN, Sun. 5/21/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.042 million adults 25-54
586. Varney & Company (FBN, Fri. 5/19/2023 9:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.036 million adults 25-54
630. Corrupt Crimes (COURT TV, Sun. 5/21/2023 7:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.032 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/
News Radio Hosts Must Remain Weary of Stories Created By AI
“Things are going to get way harder to figure out what’s true. It’s already getting hard to tell when images are fake.”
One of the few things I love about social media in the 21st century is how it shrinks the world. If I see something interesting, I can DM or tweet at someone to see if they’d talk about it and maybe come on my radio show or on my podcast.
Sometimes, I get ignored. But more often than not, I at least get a response, and it’s usually a yes (Tom Brady still ignores my requests, though. Most recently, it was my invitation to be the 4th in a charity golf outing. I will never give up!).
Of late, it’s how I got baseball legend Fred Lynn (@19fredlynn), the guy who is organizing kids to mow lawns for vets and seniors in all 50 states (@iamrodneysmith), and of course, the genius behind the Dad Jokes Twitter feed (@Dadsaysjokes).
It also led me to Nathan Lands. He’s a young entrepreneur who specializes in artificial intelligence. He lives in Japan and runs the AI newsletter Lore.com. When all the ChatGPT stuff started vomiting out of my Twitter feed, in a sea of thread seaweed, he was some clear water of smart, thoughtful, and informative post … like he’d been in the space for more than a minute and wasn’t directly trying to profit off my reading his stuff.
After corresponding for a bit, he came on my show, and since then we’ve been messaging on and off as he’s been managing an explosion of attention. He’s seen his followers nearly triple to about 47,000. Meanwhile, Elon Musk himself publicly pushed him to use a subscription model, which he dutifully did, and is now charging a buck a month to loyal followers to see a little extra.
Nathan’s probably getting enough for a case of Sapporo every month, at least so far.
From my journalistic perch, I was curious: What about information in this era of artificial intelligence?
One thing I work on quite a bit – and think about all the time – is how to verify information. I am semi-obsessed with primary sources, and figuring out what’s true has become increasingly difficult over the last few years of competing “alternative facts”. Now, artificial intelligence is adding a layer that, frankly, has been a little too frightening for me to fully engage… yet.
I thought it would be interesting to ask Nathan his thoughts about AI and this ability – or inability – to separate fact from fiction in 2023.
“Things are going to get way harder to figure out what’s true,” he admitted. “It’s already getting hard to tell when images are fake.”
What I found interesting about the discussion is that Mr. Lands came back to an old-school name: CNN. With all the hysteria surrounding Chris Licht’s tenure there, perhaps, a brand like that could shine through if it could burnish a reputation for consistently reporting things that are actually true. If he can succeed in convincing people the network has a minimal bias, it could harken back to the Ted Turner days when the world turned to CNN whenever a global story hit.
Of course, Licht’s role in this is only one of several ifs. First and foremost, the network would need to truly figure out the facts consistently, a matter that will only get more difficult. It also needs to convince a significant portion of the public that views it as having a political bias.
But the challenge of being right is the biggest if.
“(CNN) will likely eat up fake stories that are produced by AI soon,” Lands said. “Not sure if you saw that one photo that spread a week or two ago about an attack on the Pentagon, and it actually moved the stock market.”
The scary part is that the technology – and the fakes – are only going to get more sophisticated and more believable.
“In a year from now, the stuff that anyone can create is going to be so good, it’s going to cause some pretty large issues,” Lands said.
The person doing it could be a Russian national, the Chinese, or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds”.
As a radio host, we get half-truths and no-truths all the time. Thank goodness, the morning show doesn’t have time for the minimally screened call because certain claims can have a shred of something true, but the conclusions from them go quite far on the imagination spectrum. Saying something and then hanging up means disseminating fact and fiction in real time takes up a lot of audio real estate and can slow down a good show – but if it happens, it’s a host’s responsibility to try and figure it out. If not, then an entire audience could walk away thinking something is true when it’s not.
But what if we can’t figure it out in real-time? Or at all? And we’re the ones actually trying.
Buckle up, always be skeptical and always figure out the primary source … if you can.
Brian Shactman is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Radio. In addition to writing for BNM, Brian can be heard weekday mornings in Hartford, CT on 1080 WTIC hosting the popular morning program ‘Brian & Company’. During his career, Brian has worked for ESPN, CNBC, MSNBC, and local TV channels in Connecticut and Massachusetts. You can find him on Twitter @bshactman.
Greg Moceri Knows The More News/Talk Changes, The More It Stays The Same
“I am intrigued to see if AI will enhance or eliminate portions of radio. That’s the experimentation people will end up doing.”
Greg Moceri has played a prominent role in the talk radio industry as a consultant and program director for many decades. He began his career at WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and later achieved great success at WTIC in Hartford. He then became the Program Director and format Coordinator at WSB in Atlanta.
Throughout his career, Moceri has worked with a diverse range of clients, including Entercom, Bonneville, Salem Media, Tribune, and iHeart, helping them achieve unprecedented success. Additionally, he has played a crucial part in the success of multiple syndicated talk shows.
Upon taking over WSB in 1993, the station was ranked 12th and struggling. Undeterred, Moceri led WSB to great success with his visionary ideas and innovative tactics. From 1995 to 2000, he propelled the station to the top spot among the coveted 25-54 demographic.
During a sit-down with Barrett News Media, Moceri spoke about Rush Limbaugh’s influential legacy and its impact on the industry. He also shared insightful tips on bringing out the best in radio personalities and his expectations for the upcoming Barrett News Media Summit in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ryan Hedrick: As a news/talk radio consultant, what do you think are the most significant challenges and opportunities facing the industry today?
Greg Moceri: It’s the state of the business on the revenue side. The revenue side is not my bailiwick, but you must know the challenges. So much of radio has been cut into by other mediums. However, I would much rather be in the spoken word format on the radio than the music side by a mile. There are still plenty of opportunities in the spoken word for revenue. It’s still an incredibly viable format, and I’m excited for the future.
RH: Could you provide some information about changes in news/talk programming over the years and any current trends you have observed?
GM: That’s a tricky question because a lot remains the same. The format itself, news/talk, leans conservative. It’s an excellent vehicle for people who want to relate to what’s going on in their community and their world. If you have a special connection to a host or a personality, that’s nirvana for someone running a news/talk station.
There are some incredible opportunities. Syndication has grown over the years, and so has the number of syndicated talents. There are ways in which you can make syndicated talent part of your radio station and not consider that they’re piped in somewhere and not there. With the need for more familiarity with younger listeners, recruiting those people is getting more complicated and complex, and that’s the number one problem I see.
RH: What do you think about the people who replaced Rush Limbaugh after his passing, and what made Rush Limbaugh stand out so much?
GM: That is subjective to everyone’s point of view. Nobody could replace Rush; I don’t care who it is. Rush had that incredible ability and talent to be able to contextualize. He did everything I always thought a talk host should do to become an indelible part of your life. Some good people are coming up. Rush was fabulous at pointing out the absurd, a crucial ingredient to connection and engagement.
There’s not a lot that’s different to being a talk show host than there was 20 years ago. You must still be entertaining, use great audio, emotionally connect with your audience, and be innovative. Rush could put things into a context you could understand; that was his greatest talent to me.
RH: How can we effectively engage and entertain listeners in today’s environment when so many different platforms and options are vying for their attention?
GM: I’m a big believer in focusing on the basics. If you’re a program director of these stations, an executive producer, or a host, you must be as local as possible to your community. I know for many companies, that’s part of the challenge. The main challenge is whether you have a budget to be local rather than local for local sake. There are some incredible syndicated hosts out there that present a good show. I would choose those hosts over somebody that is local but isn’t that good.
It’s essential; you have to be local as much as possible. When I was running WSB in Atlanta and working for Cox Media for so many years, we invested in research. That’s what’s missing. I wish people had the budget to invest in focus groups. Many stations still have it, but it’s different from how it used to be.
RH: With the growing popularity of podcasts and on-demand audio content, how can traditional news/talk radio stations adapt to remain relevant and attract new listeners?
GM: It’s another vehicle to the spoken word in a different format. In the end, podcasting has provided talented people with an actual broadcast. Podcasts are more personal than they are as a radio station. It’s just another one of the arsenals that’s available in the spoken word. It’s growing, it’s excellent, and it’s also starting to get tethered out. In other words, the good podcasters will stay, and those who aren’t so good will not.
RH: Could you give examples of successful and innovative programming approaches in the news/talk radio industry?
GM: You have a single host, two people, or an ensemble. You have to fill 38 minutes in an hour, you’re selling time, and many things are the same as they were. Now you have social media. There’s more opportunity as a potential arsenal of information you could pass along and connect to your audience. There has not been a lot of innovation. One great thing is more and more stations have been able to find an FM signal to go to and enhance their ability to reach more people. There are still some AM stations that are doing well.
We need innovation from the sales side. We have a lot of good content people, a lot of great programmers. There’s still too much focus on national sales instead of building regional sales because it puts people in a box. You and I know that the people with the money are 55-plus. Who cares whether they’re 35 or 40? There’s a stigma involved that thinking anyone over 55 is not as worthy as the national folks believe.
RH: What will happen to news/talk radio as technology advances? Are there any exciting technologies or trends that you are looking forward to?
GM: I am intrigued to see if AI will enhance or eliminate portions of radio. That’s the experimentation people will end up doing. We must continue to find great talent to emerge to be part of our business. I find that exciting. I would like to tell you that finding ways to enhance your emotional connection with your hosts to build across social platforms is essential.
RH: When you hear someone like Bob Pittman, the CEO of iHeartMedia, state that they won’t be shutting down broadcast stations, what are your thoughts on that?
GM: Radio is still a viable business, I read the article you’re referring to, and Pittman said, ‘Radio has never been in a better place.’ That statement could be arguable, but it’s great to hear that kind of endorsement from someone influential in our business for so long.
RH: You will speak at the first annual Barrett News Media Summit in September. Please provide insights on what distinguishes this event from other industry conferences or gatherings.
GM: So many conferences, seminars, and things like that, try to put too much into them. For instance, they may have a panel with six people on it and only 30 minutes to talk. I don’t think that’s the way [Jason] Barrett is looking at doing this. I think people really want to have some time to engage. You guys have put together some really good people. The more time you can spend with quality people, the better it will be.
RH: How do you coach and train radio hosts to improve their performance and build a stronger connection with their audience?
GM: This is something that I am passionate about. I got into the business, evolved, and entered a bigger market. I worked at WTIC in Hartford and went to WSB in Atlanta, and then I wanted to come home with my family in Grand Rapids. What was interesting to me in that process was that I learned a lot about how to coach. It’s not about coddling or making excuses for bad performances.
Some people have said, and rightfully so, that some program directors are too critical of the people they’re supposed to help and coach. There are fundamentals that good programmers know inherently. The key to me is that you must have great relationships with your talent to build a better station. How do you do that? To me, it’s much more about emotional connectivity. Talent always does best with praise if it’s sincere and they don’t think you’re playing them.
RH: Do you think radio executives will start prioritizing influencers and individuals with large social media followings over traditional radio professionals who have gained experience in the field?
GM: It’s an opportunity for people in radio to hire people in that fashion. Some of the best talents I’ve ever known, coached, or worked with didn’t come up traditionally. Erick Erickson is a guy who I worked with at Cox Media. He didn’t have the traditional deep pipes, but he gave me context. He checked the boxes; he made me think. The influencers to me are the talent. Talent influences how much money we make and whether the station is doing well. Influencers on Tik Tok adapt to what they know well. Some of those people will be in traditional media as they get older.
Ryan Hedrick serves as the Assistant Program Director and Co-Host of the Morning News Express at WFMD. Prior to WFMD, he hosted an afternoon program at News Talk 103.7 FM in Chambersburg, PA. He has worked at Sirius XM in Washington D.C., WBEN in Buffalo, NY, and for stations in Baltimore, MD. He has also worked at WIBW-AM in Topeka KS, earning the Kansas Association of Broadcasters (KAB) award for Major Market enterprise reporting in 2016. To connect with Ryan, find him on Twitter @SureToCover.