Jay Weber Has It Made In Milwaukee
“It’s easier to have your own set of facts than ever before,” he said. “That bothers me.
Jay Weber said he tolerates winter, like most of us here in Wisconsin. It’s a long season which offers few respites for those not entrenched in outdoor activities.
Weber is a regular guy. A man born and raised in Oconomowoc, enjoys basketball and hunting–perhaps not as much as he once did.
“I used to hunt, but as I’ve gotten older it happens less and less,” Weber said. “My brother owned some land near the Wisconsin Dells for years and we went up there from our 20s to 40s. We get more enjoyment now watching our nephews hunt.”
As a kid, Weber said he had interest in just about anything and everything. Yet, there wasn’t a single passion or goal in life. He was able to identify a direction, despite it not emanating from a deeply-rooted dream.
“One of the reasons I got into journalism is I figured it was a good way to learn a little about a lot,” Weber said. “ I was told I had a good voice and I imagined I wanted to be a performer in some sense. Radio became more natural for me than working in print.”
He attended Kettle Moraine High School and later, UW-Madison.
At Kettle Moraine High School, Weber said he was a popular kid, playing on the basketball team.
“I got along with everyone in my class,” he said. “It was a great time to be alive. It was that whole Stranger Things era that we got to live.”
Weber’s parents both worked and were busy out of the house.
“I think that gave me more autonomy,” Weber explained. “It was a fun time to be a kid, both in high school, then college.”
When he attended the university in the 80s, Weber said it was a time when the university appeared to be letting too many students in.
“There just weren’t enough spots for that many students,” he said. “We had to run around campus trying to get into classes. We managed to fit in a lot of partying at school.”
Weber began his radio career as an intern for radio sports personality Steve True at WTDY, but he recognized the need for a change.
Veteran Milwaukee talker Mark Belling was news and program director at WTDY before he moved to WISN in Milwaukee.
“I graduated in the winter of 1988. Mark Belling hired me at WTDY two months before he left for Milwaukee,” Weber said. “I was going to school at Madison for an undergraduate degree in English and Journalism,” Weber said. “At that point I couldn’t afford to work as an unpaid intern, so I started to work at WIBA part-time as a reporter.”
Weber discovered he was no longer interested in working in sports.
At WIBA he started work as an evening reporter covering night meetings, school board meetings.
“It was a great experience,” Weber said. “I was able to cover the city, county and state government. A fantastic way to become a stronger journalist.”
WTDY and WISN are the only stations Weber has ever worked.
“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in Milwaukee for the past 32 years. I see it as I’ve had four different radio careers. I was a news reporter, a sidekick on a morning show, news director, then talk radio.”
Weber said he wanted to get into talk radio despite the fact he wasn’t really a political guy.
“I was always a conservative. I didn’t vote regularly. But WISN got rid of the newsroom for budgetary reasons and the station has been sold five or six times.”
While at WISN, Weber was promoted to news director and primary host of WISN’s Morning News. In 1998, Weber was teamed with Bob Dolan.
Dolan had previously worked as a sportscaster at WTMJ-TV, announcing Marquette basketball games.
“Bob was a good partner,” Weber explained. “We were essentially thrown together by our program director Jerry Bott, sort of a necessity. Our news shows had ended and we needed to put something together.”
The two had never met. Dolan was working in Green Bay and Bott teamed them up in 1998.
“Bob was hired cold,” Weber said. “Jerry figured we’d be a good match. I was more from news and it was a bit of a gamble. The first few weeks of the show were awful as we got to know each other.”
Dolan left the show in 2007. Weber and Dolan. Dolan has been busy with his Dolan Productions. It was then that Weber began his own show and never broke stride.
“At that point I’d had so much experience on and off the air. Doing my own show wasn’t that big of a change.”
Weber said during his career, the way we gather news today has dramatically shifted.
“Twitter is still a great breaking news tool, but you still have to be very selective, double check stories,” he explained. “It can be used in so many ways. To follow friends, meet up with people on knitting sites. Follow news sources and newsmakers. I go to many news sites every day. I try to double and triple check facts. I’ll follow the New York Times, some more conservative sites.”
As news gathering has changed, Weber said he doesn’t utilize callers on his show as much as he had in the past. One way shows have changed, Weber explained, was there are people willing to text, but not call into the shows.
“So many different news outlets are consumed with narrowcasting. I don’t want to be limited with echo chambers on both sides of the aisle. That’s one of the reasons I don’t follow Parler.”
Weber said some people still choose to live in their little bubble and be reinforced on their thoughts, dug into their positions.
“It’s easier to have your own set of facts than ever before,” he said. “That bothers me. That’s why you have to consider the source. We are flooded with talking heads on both sides of the aisle. When it came to being a journalist and news director, I always tried to play things down the middle. I knew if both sides were complaining about our coverage, we were doing something right.”
Some news sources are better than others, more accurate.
“I try to avoid exaggerations. If you consume as many sites as I do daily, 10 are on the left and the rest on the right. I do my cross checking, boiling it down to what actually happened.”
Weber said he’ll still bring callers into the show but said one of the interesting side effects of cellphones is people want to text, not call.
“I could beg for callers, but I don’t need them to validate my position. I don’t ask for them as much as I used to and fill my own time. I don’t read other people’s texts on the air either. We’re living in a hyper-sensitive time. I’m doing the same show I always have. I might be a little more apt to hold a punch, or keep a comment to myself. I figure it’s a bad situation when you can’t joke about certain things.”
Admittedly not a man interested in politics early-on, today Weber isn’t reluctant to share his affinities.
“I initially supported Trump’s agenda, but not necessarily the man,” Weber said. “Still, I did support Trump throughout his entire presidency. I voted for Trump largely because he wasn’t Hilary Clinton. He came on my show and told me he vowed to appoint a conservative justice. I told my audience if he did that, everything else was gravy.”
Weber said in his view, Trump was a great president, yet he admits Trump had an uncanny ability to get in his own way.
“It seemed at times he went out of his way to upset the American people.”
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@example.com.
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.