Tom Tradup Took Journalistic Route to Becoming Salem Radio’s VP of News/Talk
“Political jobs weren’t easy to find in D.C.,” Tradup explained. “They wanted people like Karl Rove, John Dean, people like that.”
There are instances where being a bull in a China shop isn’t the worst thing.
“I’m kind of a bomb-tosser,” said Tom Tradup, vice president of news and talk programming at Salem Radio Network.
Tradup majored in political science at the University of Alabama. What he really wanted to do was go to Washington, get congressmen elected, and write some laws. Radio broadcasting wasn’t a blip on his radar.
“Political jobs weren’t easy to find in D.C.,” Tradup explained. “They wanted people like Karl Rove, John Dean, people like that.”
Admittedly, his entry into politics was a bust.
“The first and only politician I worked for was in the 70s,” Tradup said. “He was an investment banker in Boston and he asked me to manage his congressional campaign. He was running against Paul Tsongas.”
Thanks to Tradup’s fledgling skills and neophyte approach, his candidate lost by a landslide, running against future presidential candidate Paul Tsongas.
“It’s good to be known for something,” Tradup jokes. “We lost by the largest landslide of Massachusettes, which dated back to the Pilgrims. And with a breadth of responsibilities within his network, Tradup finds time to smile.
In the first election, Tradup admits he didn’t vet his opponent well enough.
“Tsongas never held a real job in his life,” Tradup said. “He went to Dartmouth, then joined the Peace Corps. That’s not a real job. He was on the city council of Lowell and quit to become Middlesex County commissioner.”
That dubious experience prompted Tradup to exit hands-on politics for good. Still, he wondered where he could still harness his love of affairs of state, so he decided he’d cover politics as a journalist. He started working for WCNY, the public radio station in Syracuse.
“I covered state and local news, and was a regular on All Things Considered. I didn’t get paid much, but I got all the free tote bags I wanted. I became a connoisseur of Ramen Noodles.”
His first stop in commercial radio was in Columbia, Missouri at KTGR, the Tiger. This was the beginning of what Tradup termed his recurring ‘two year plans.’ Essentially spending two years in each job until he ended up with Salem, his tenure nearly three decades. At the time KTGR was a country music daytimer. That wasn’t where the fun ended.
“At the top of the hour for the legal ID, we had to growl,” Tradup recalls. “You know, like a tiger growling. We’d say, “It’s 1:30 at KTGR…(insert growl here.)”
Tradup was less than thrilled.
“I told the station manager that I knew I was just a young guy, but as the station’s news director, it was humiliating to have to growl. I asked if there was some kind of sound effect of a growl we could use instead. He screamed, ‘No, you S.O.B. Folks love that.”
After he’d had his fill of growling, Tradup moved down the road to KCMO/Kansas City for two years, then on to New York and WMCA AM as a morning show producer. The station had legendary hosts like Bob Grant and Barry Farber. The station was owned by R. Peter Straus doing business as Straus Communications. Straus was director of Voice of America under President Jimmy Carter.
“We were a little radio station in the middle of Midtown Manhattan,” Tradup said. “We were small, but there were a lot of ears tuning in to our station. We had everybody on that station; Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, David Dinkins, Rudy Guiliani. It was great for me because I loved politics.”
Then he got a call from WASH FM and John Kluge. He told Tradup they needed an operations manager.
“Kluge told me they wanted a new morning show and asked if I’d create it,” Tradup said. “I did and it was called Continental Breakfast with Arthur Crofton and Linda Sherman.”
Crofton was American, but he had British parents and had the Alistaire Cooke accent working. “It was a soft rock format. Crofton was the British touristy type, and Linda had the American perspective. We’d do a different remote every month. The show did well, it punched through. It can be very hard when you’re doing something new. Harden and Weaver ruled the roost in the market, but we were a strong second.” Harden and Weaver Show was the top show in D.C. for more than 38 years.
After that, it was KRLD in Dallas, a 50,000-watt station with rating problems.
“On Sundays we had the Cowboys, but they said they needed someone to juice things up during the week,” Tradup said. Tradup was the juicer.
“One of the first things I did was replace an operations director who had been there for 17 years. They were doing a lot of things by rote, them saying things were always done that way. I think if you bring in a fresh perspective it always helps. We brought in full-time news staff, helicopters.”
Tradup said that was when the station produced features during Cowboy games. Shows like Coaches Corner, and shows with Preston Pearson and Bullet Bob Hayes.
“When I arrived I remember listening to former Cowboy player Bob Lilly’s show, which was sponsored by a local grocery store. I thought it was kind of boring. The KLRD guy was asking him a lot of boring questions and I realized the show had to go.”
It’s not easy to tell “Mr. Cowboy,” a fierce defensive tackle, his show was going to be axed. It turned out to be just fine with Lilly.
“He was living in Colorado, a very nice guy, a professional photographer at the time,” Tradup said. “I called and said, ‘I said I hate to do this to you, but I was thinking I have to cancel your show.’”
To Tradup’s surprise, Lilly was totally cool with it. He told Tradup he couldn’t understand why the station had him doing the show in the first place. He didn’t really know or relate to the younger players. Lilly said they’d just wanted him to talk about the ‘old days.’
This was also about the time Jerry Jones had just come to Dallas, and everybody knew he was going to fire Tom Landry and bring in his pal Jimmy Johnson.
“I don’t think you could argue from a business decision, but it was the way he handled it that bothered me,” Tradup said. “I remember picking up the now defunct Dallas Herald and there was a color photo of Jones and Johnson celebrating their new era at Mia’s Tex-Mex Restaurant. The reason this was not appropriate is this was Landry’s favorite Mexican restaurant. It was his place. Not very classy.”
Then came the storied WLS radio in Chicago. He’d gotten a call from the late Norm Schrutt, at the time the ABC group president who oversaw the station. He asked Tradup if he wanted to come to WLS. Tradup was dating his future wife Lori and didn’t want to mess that up with a move.
“The first question Norm asked me was whether I wanted to come to WLS and I answered ‘no.’ The second question he asked was, ‘are you stupid?’”
Not the beginning of a great interview.
Schrutt told Tradup he was offering him a 50,000-watt radio station owned by Capital Cities/ABC. Reminded him they owned ESPN, and that they even had cable deals in China.
Schrutt continued. “Don’t you understand? Chicago is the third largest market. You’re in Dallas.”
Tradup knew what market he was in. He got the trade magazines. As you may have guessed, Tradup eventually went to WLS.
“Norm introduced me to the staff. He told me while I was running the station that it’s my baby. It’s nice nobody can tell you what to do, but it’s your butt on the line when things go bad.”
After unpacking at his new home in Chicago, Tradup had his first experience with Sun Times media columnist Robert Feder.
“Norm had told me there was one guy I should never talk to. That was Robert Feder. My first reaction was ‘why?’ I was taking over a new station and it was in everybody’s best interest if I got along with this guy.”
Schrutt told Tradup that Feder was the guy who destroyed WLS. When Tradup came to WLS, they were 27th in the market and were hemorrhaging money with a 1.3 share.
“Feder operated on the theory that when there’s smoke there’s fire,” Tradup explained. “When salespeople saw bad writing on the wall, they’d jump ship, and he’d write about that. Other people would get nervous and leave. Feder would attack the station on this and that. When I got there Don Wade and Roma were there. They’re the only people I kept when I came on board. The station was still playing music when I got there.”
Tradup said during a typical hour on that incarnation of WLS, you’d hear a Dean Martin song followed by a Phil Collins song. It was a big bowl of dirty soup. When WLS flipped to talk, Robert Feder flipped too. He grew up with Dick Biondi, John Landecker’s Boogie Check, Old Uncle Larry.
“Robert Feder figured if Norm hired me I must have been a bad guy,” Tradup said. “I asked my assistant Lanette to get Feder on the phone. The color drained from her face and she asked me if I knew about the bad blood between Norm and Feder? I said I did, and she got him on the phone. ‘What the heck is your problem?’ I said to Feder.”
‘I beg your pardon?’ was Feder’s reply.
Tradup asked Feder why he had such a bone to pick with WLS.
Feder told Tradup he grew up necking with his wife on WLS along Lake Michigan. He talked about all the history of the station, including WLS being the station that ran the Hindenburg disaster. A whole lot of colorful radio history and necking. And he saw ABC as an out-of-town, absentee landlord that didn’t appreciate WLS as a Chicago institution.”
“I told him I’d hoped he’d find I was a good guy, even though he didn’t know me,” Tradup said. “I had a lot of good ideas. It wasn’t like Chicago really needed another talk station. In those days, Chicago didn’t need another friendly WGN. You couldn’t be hipper than The Loop.”
“I told him I’d make a deal with him,” Tradup explained. “I’d give him complete access to what I was thinking or planning. If I was going to change talent in a day part, I’d tell him. I promised I’d never say ‘no comment.’ I only asked him two things; Don’t take something I say out of context to make me sound stupid. I could do that well enough on my own. I also told him I’d give him a heads–up if something was coming down the road. We agreed and we’re still friends to this day.”
Tradup said his Christian faith and background in journalism have taught him candor, integrity and truth-telling always are the best policy in the long run.
“If people learn anything from this interview, I hope they’ll take that advice to heart.”
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.