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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.”

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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.

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BNM Writers

Michael Berry Doesn’t Want to Be All Serious All the Time

“I get to entertain everyday and people come and listen to me. That really — more than anything else — is the thrill.”

Garrett Searight

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There are plenty of nationally syndicated radio shows that began as local shows. Not many hosts, however, have both a local radio show and a nationally syndicated show each weekday. But Michael Berry isn’t your average radio talk show host.

In addition to hosting a local show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH, Berry hosts The Michael Berry Show on more than 40 stations throughout the nation. And he believes having a local show in his hometown market — Houston — while still getting to talk about national topics on his afternoon show is the ideal situation for him.

“It lets me sort of keep my hand in two very different pies and do two very different shows. And that fulfills me,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t want to do just one or just the other. And I think part of it — I was the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston, so I got very involved and very entrenched in the political world. I know a lot of the restaurant owners, I know a lot of business owners, and I really enjoy making the fourth-largest city into a tiny town for our listeners.

“But I also want to be able to talk to a national audience on a national level. I get to do both of those. I think that’s ideal for me.”

Michael Berry served on the City Council in Houston from 2002-2008, which gives him a unique perspective about both local and national politics that many others in the format don’t have.

“I think the experience of how bills are made and the backroom deals and how they’re done, I think that informs my opinions in a way that if you haven’t done that, it makes it harder to understand,” said Berry. “Also the blocking and tackling of how you get bills passed and how you win elections and those sorts of things.

“It just gives you that experience and it also helps you understand when a politician or an elected official says something that seems to go against what he believes or what he promised. You have a better sense of ‘Ok, who did he sell out to? Why did he do that? Where is the pressure point?’

“Because I think listeners want to understand not just why is Mitch McConnell doing something that feels like it’s against what the base is doing. The better question is, what’s the pressure point? What’s driving him? Who’s pushing him into that corner? And I think when you’re in the process, you get a very good sense of that.”

One could refer to Michael Berry as an almost new-age news/talk host. While one of the large criticisms of conservative talk radio today is the vitriol and anger most hosts present on the air, Berry is often presenting the opposite. Oftentimes, his show isn’t centered on conservative political viewpoints at all. A constant presentation of hope, admiration, and excitement not just about politics but about culture and the conservative lifestyle is the backbone of Berry’s program.

And while he has an affinity for those inside the conservative talk radio format, he simply believes he’s filling a different, virtually unoccupied, lane.

“There are some brilliant people out there on the radio. Sean Hannity has access to every elected official. Clay (Travis) and Buck (Sexton) are getting access to anybody they want as a guest. Mark Levin is a brilliant mind, a brilliant legal mind. (Glenn) Beck has a great perspective from decades of experience. Dan Bongino’s a really smart guy. There’s some really, really clever, smart, experienced broadcasters. I don’t need to be a lighter version of them, which is all I could ever hope to be. I want to be who I am,” admitted Berry.

“And I don’t see myself as competing with them. I wouldn’t want to. They’re all wonderful. We can all coexist, but I don’t want to watch the same show 24 hours a day. I want to create content that is different than other people are doing,” Berry continued. “Not because I’m better or they’re not good, but because I don’t think I can do it as well as they can. So I want to do what I do well.”

Michael Berry free admits he’d get bored simply sticking to the conservative political script for two separate shows each day. That’s why weaving other topics into his program continues to excite him.

“If all you do is what I call angry, old white man radio, you can’t build an audience and you can’t keep an audience. And the reason is that it becomes tedious. It becomes a chore to listen to. And everybody has heard that type of program that never laughs at anything and especially not that itself. We want to make people laugh. We want to talk about real life things, as well. We don’t have to talk politics 24/7.

“When I think about the influence in this country, on the culture, comedians have always had such an influence. The reason is that when you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and you’re engaging and you’re building your bond. I think that one of the great barriers to success in radio and success for the conservative movement is the inability to bond on the deeper level of let’s share a laugh.

“I think there is a great joy when I find that I’m making a point that I consider to be important, and yet in the middle of it, we can all laugh.”

Ultimately, Michael Berry doesn’t view his role in talk radio as a political pontificator, conservative advocate, or a preacher from behind the Republican pulpit. He views his craft from a completely different angle.

“I view myself as an entertainer. The hardcore conservative listeners don’t like me to say that because that means you must not mean what you say, or you’re not serious. I mean every word I say. And I’m very serious,” Berry stated. “But I’m serious in the way Dave Chappelle is serious. And make no mistake, Dave Chappelle is having a huge influence in America today on how we view the First Amendment or the concepts of freedom of thought…the reason is, is because he’s dead serious while making you laugh.

“When I was really deciding that this was a career I wanted to pursue…I went and studied stand-up comics, because I felt like that was the place. Otherwise, I would just mimic the guys that were already successful, and I didn’t want to do that,” Berry continued. “I felt dishonest about that.

“So what I did, instead, is I went and studied comedians, and delivery and how you engage an audience and how you hold an audience and how you make a point without beating the audience over the head with it. And how you go from point to point, how you pivot, how you make it fun. A lot of these are sort of back porch conversation tricks, you know, parlor games of, of how we keep a conversation going except it’s a one one man conversation without it feeling like I’m lecturing you.”

During our conversation, Michael Berry admitted he can hear hosts around the country who have lost the will to create compelling content, who say things they don’t believe, and are no longer in love with the format that once enticed them to join the industry.

However, he’s made a vow to never lose the excitement that comes with working in a format he still thoroughly enjoys.

“I view it as I get to wake up every day excited to go to the studio. My dad worked for 40 years at a plant in the maintenance unit and he hated every day of it. But he had all us kids to take care of. I get to entertain every day and people come and listen to me,” he shared. “That really, more than anything else, that is the thrill. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.

“I think that most people probably don’t love what they do…I’m a megalomaniac. We all have to be to have the audacity to think that you can talk every day and people want to hear you, but I love it. It’s a thrill. I love to talk and I love to create stories and I love to create entertainment and create content. And when I hear from people that in some way they enjoyed it. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine, in the way that it would be for a pastor, or a comedian, or a songwriter, or a singer. It is incredibly rewarding.

“We live in an abundance of riches when it comes to content…but for them to choose to come and say I’m gonna let you entertain me,” Michael Berry concluded. “That is the ultimate compliment.”

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Do Radio Hosts Actually Care About What They’re Talking About?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice.

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If you don’t care, why should anyone else care about what you do?

That’s one reason why I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. You don’t get a 211-186 final if anyone is remotely making any effort at all. It’s an extended version of the pre-game warmup. Everyone’s throwing up threes with no defense. They might as well break into a layup drill. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless game. I’ve endured a lot of All-Star games among the major sports leagues, and I stopped bothering to watch years ago. I haven’t missed much.

That translates to other realms as well. This column focuses on the media, so if you’re, say, a talk radio host, you should be asking yourself whether you really care about what you’re talking about. That’s the threshold question: Do you care? Because if you don’t, are you really going to put in the effort to make the topic entertaining so that other people – your listeners – care enough to listen and stay with you for the whole segment?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice. And “I don’t care about it” isn’t a particularly compelling talk radio topic, is it?

It’s easier for local sports talk – it’s a given that whatever you’re ranting about and whatever take you have, listeners care because, well, who listens to sports radio and doesn’t care about what’s going on (All-Star Games notwithstanding)?

News organizations, on the other hand, have a different goal: If it’s news that on the surface is dry and boring but still matters, it’s the reporters’ and editors’ job to explain why a viewer or reader should care. Ukraine or Gaza might seem remote to a lot of people, but their importance to a typical U.S. citizen can’t be understated, and it’s important (and often forgotten) to emphasize why they matter and what impact they have on everyone.

The simple fact is that the energy you project on anything you talk about or report upon is a reflection of what you have invested in the story. You can fake enthusiasm, but if you just truly don’t care about Taylor and Travis, you’ll just be going through the motions and that’s what the audience perceives.

On the other hand, if you’ve invested a lot of time digging into an arcane financial story and you know that what seems like a remote, inscrutable radio topic may have profound consequences for many consumers, emphasize that and make clear why the viewer or reader should care, and do it right out of the gate to grab their attention.

Here, a digression: Why do they even bother with the actual All-Star Game anymore? Take the NBA All-Star Weekend: Nobody will remember anything about the game (other than that one team scored over 200 points) but everyone will remember the Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu shootout. They may remember Mac McClung’s repeat dunk contest win or the celebrity game or Rising Stars games.

Why not just do the skills and challenges, which are usually entertaining, and skip the All-Star Game itself, which isn’t? Maybe add some contests and honors for past greats. Most of the people who trek to the All-Star venue are there for the parties anyway. And with baseball now doing interleague play all season, none of the All-Star Games involve getting to see players who don’t normally face each other in the regular season face off. They don’t need a game nobody in it wants to play. I recognize this will never happen.

But the main takeaway here is that it’s less true that you can’t make someone care about a thing they don’t care about themselves than it is true that if you don’t care, you have zero chance making anyone else care. Your poker face isn’t that good.

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Radio Was Built For Charity and Volunteer Work

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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Art Bell once said, “We are all here for a Cosmic Blink. Use your time wisely.”  The wisest man in all of history, a fellow named Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of us are drawn to radio for usually a basic human impulse…it is a narcissistic rage that exists in every baby. Look at me! Listen to me! My opinions are important!

Unless you are a completely narcissistic fool, you have looked in the mirror and wondered about why we are here. What is your worth in the cosmic blink? Ok, let old Uncle Peter (Yes, I went full third person) explain.

We have all been given an amazing platform. Not only to spout our beliefs, biases, and humor, but to touch our communities. Does your show have a charity? Why not? Does your station have a charity or a “Day of Action” to support local causes? The answer should be yes. Radio shows and stations raise millions of dollars to improve our society. We raise awareness of issues that create change. It is why we are here. 

Before I give you some random idea starters for your show/station, let’s talk about the charities that you personally support. Do you give a portion of your income to religious, humanitarian, or conservation projects that you believe in? You should if you don’t make these donations. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I think it is important psychologically to donate to organizations that do good things in our world. 

These donations allow a portion of the cosmic blink of our lives to pay it forward. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, a small donation helps you feel connected to our world. If you are particularly blessed by the fruits of your hard work, make that donation bigger. Investing in the charities and religious organizations of our choice gives us significance. Instead of the narcissistic screaming for change, it is an action step.

Your show can unify your community through service. There was a movement that is still going on today by some churches that take a Sunday off from a religious service to spend their day serving their communities. This can be painting an elderly widow’s home, cleaning a park, feeding the homeless, or other things. If you speak to homeless shelters, lots of people want to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, but not so much in the middle of February. 

So how about a day of service for your radio show? Reach out to a local charity that needs volunteers and make it an all-day affair. Perhaps you can do your show from the homeless shelter. Interview the people who serve the downtrodden every day or interview listeners who donated their day with you? Make it big and use your platform to make someone’s life better.

For those of you who have been doing radio for a decade or less, I have had listeners reach out to me about something that I said on the air 25 years ago. It’s very humbling. Every day you get on the air trying to perform. Heck, have you ever wanted to scream “Is anyone listening?” I have. I had someone reach out to me on Twitter to share a moment that meant so much to him. When those moments happen, I thank them for listening and what an honor it was to impact their memories in such a way. You are making a difference for people every day. 

Your station may broadcast a big charitable event each year. Be involved in every aspect of the planning process. Buy in 100%. When you take full ownership of the station event, your interest will take this fundraiser to the next level. Talk about a way to build goodwill in the community. 

Do you want to create an unbreakable bond? Help a local charity. You will go viral. Take selfies with all of the volunteers and organizers. Put this on your social media. Make it big. Do something that makes a difference. Go to their events and volunteer to do anything. Likely, you will be an emcee, but, if they want you to wrap presents, shovel up some stuff do it. Be a servant. 

In our post-COVID world, I keep reading about disconnection. Civic groups and religious organizations are experiencing a crisis of participation. This is terrible. Our society’s drift into solitude is damaging. Census figures show that the average household size in the USA is about 2.5 people. This means there are a lot of people sitting in a home or apartment alone. These people are disconnected from society. They go to work, go home, and live their solitary life online. Humans are not built for this. Your radio show is a connection for them. By the way: Your community’s average age is probably around 37 years. Think of this. You are a lynchpin for building community. Your station’s charitable events help people belong to something greater than themselves.

You are an influencer. Be a leader. Build a community. Create belonging.

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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