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What if a Program Director Became a Campaign Manager?

“What lessons would they use that apply to the campaign?”

Andy Bloom

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I’ve previously written about the similarities between politics and broadcasting.

In that column, I compared the Congressman (I worked for) to a radio station’s “morning guy” and the communications director position as similar to the marketing and promotions role.

As we head down the final stretch of the 2022 mid-terms, I thought about what it would be like if a program director (or brand manager) became somebody’s campaign manager during this election cycle. What lessons would they use that apply to the campaign?

A well-funded campaign would be familiar to those who programmed great radio stations before the early 2000s. Campaigns have budgets for research (called polling in political circles) and marketing (the majority gets spent on television, but there is also online, direct mail, and occasionally radio). Events fall under the promotions budget. But programmers wouldn’t escape sales. In politics, it’s known as fundraising.

Polling will frame the competitive battle. As in media research (including audience estimates), polling shows relative strengths and weaknesses. By the nature of our industry, programmers have learned to narrowcast. Campaigns have to appeal to broad swaths of people over 18.

Conducting media research is easier than political polling because the sample replicates the population. What complicates political research is trying to get the right balance of people belonging to each political party and ideology. If you’ve ever lamented the undersampling of a demo cell or ethnicity, at least they are predictable from project to project. It’s more complicated in political polling.

In addition to adjusting for population and demographic considerations, pollsters must correctly capture the right mix of Democrats and Republicans, or the data is wrong. Individuals’ party affiliation changes as issues and personalities come and go. Hitting this moving target is usually the difference between pollsters who get it right and those who don’t.

Even if pollsters get the correct percentage of Democrats and Republicans, pollsters still must identify those most likely to vote from those who won’t. If they include the opinions of people who ultimately don’t vote, their data is also wrong.

On the other hand, analyzing political data is usually simpler because, for the most part, polls measure only two competitors.

Polling usually measures who’s leading, by how much, and amongst which groups. It helps determine which issues are most likely to motivate behavior (voting) and party or candidate images for those issues.

Like program directors, campaign managers use data to formulate a strategic plan. While tactics often get adjusted, once the campaign manager implements a strategy changing course can be difficult, and if done, it’s usually a sign of desperation.

I was once in a radio battle where the competitor had the luxury of using two stations to flank mine and squeeze our position. As a result, we changed strategies several times. The results were abysmal.

In June, Democrats decided that their strategy would revolve around abortion rights. A majority favor abortion rights, at least in most situations. It’s an emotionally packed issue, and Democrats “own the image.” I’m sure, at the time, it looked like it would pay dividends.

When I became the new program director of a radio station, recent research suggested the audience believed that the station played a specific type of music – that it had actually shied away from over the past several years. The recommendation was to be the station playing that type of music. What the research didn’t make clear was as long as that’s what the station was known for, it would never have significant ratings.

That’s where Democrats find themselves after spending the entire campaign messaging almost entirely on abortion rights.

With additional probing, the researchers and campaign manager might have learned voters’ lives are being impacted more immediately by inflation (especially increases in the price of food and gas).

Perhaps Democrats thought they would address inflation legislatively with the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Radio programmers discovered long ago that adding a positioning statement about now playing more variety – or fewer commercials – without producing a significant product difference stopped working. The Inflation Reduction Act did nothing to fix the problem immediately. It amounted to a positioning statement that had no teeth. Further, Republicans have stronger images on economic matters.

Working with candidates on their speeches and public statements is similar to airchecking. When Biden makes statements that the “economy is strong as hell” or that Republicans will increase inflation, it’s not believable (except among Democrat P1s). He damages his credibility with independents and uncommitted voters.

Winning over voters’ trust is probably more important than any single issue. Biden, Harris, and many other Democrats squandered the trust they earned because of their distrust of Trump. These are a few examples of how Democrats damaged the trust voters placed in Biden and the Democrats, with more to follow.

Democrats also missed the public’s mood about crime and the border in some parts of the country. Again, Biden’s statement that his administration has a good record on crime and Vice President Kamala Harris’ declaration that the border is secure undermine their overall credibility. Further, the GOP has stronger images on these issues as well.

In the final couple of weeks before Election Day, Democrats are looking at data showing that they are behind and that abortion rights have lost immediacy as an issue, even among suburban women.

Programmers familiar with weekly music research understand “Burn.” I believe, but haven’t seen data, that the abortion issue became tiring after so many messages.

In a last-minute attempt, Democrats are switching strategies and making Social Security, Medicare, and democracy itself issues. Last-minute strategic changes will backfire, as they did for me in a radio battle once long ago.

Polling shows that other than among Democrat’s P1s, there is little appetite for more January 6th hearings.

Social Security and Medicare are more complicated issues that may scare a few people in the remaining days. When faced with budget realities, Democrats will find that they are going to have to discuss the gigantic programs that eat up so much of the federal budget. Campaigning on preserving Social Security – as it currently exists with no changes – will come back to haunt Democrats.

Programmers advise our personalities to perform in ways consistent with their persona. I’ve yet to meet a Country PD who told their morning show to do more blue humor.

I’ve seen firsthand what happened to a successful talk show host with center-right appeal when they decided to move to the left.

I like to quote Charlie Manuel, skipper of (at least for the moment) the last Philadelphia Phillies team to win a World Series, who preached: “Know thy self.”

Biden ran to “save the soul of America.” That may have had meaning when he was out of public office and running against Trump as the incumbent. Two years into his presidency, the country is (if anything) more divided. Meanwhile, the once grandfatherly Joe Biden has become angrier as he argues that electing Democrats is the only way to save the soul of America.

Authenticity is critical to effective communications. Michael Dukakis did damage by putting the helmet on and riding around in a tank. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, scored points playing saxophone on Arsenio Hall. Know thy self! Reagan was a great storyteller (a trait from his early radio days).

Biden needed to remain consistent with the public character he’s developed over 50 years or change his message to make the point without sacrificing his image.

His speech in front of Independence Hall before Labor Day provided terrible optics. It was dark and authoritarian. His words didn’t match his character, and the tone was out of sync with expectations. If a member of one of my airstaffs did something similar at an appearance, a discussion would likely ensue shortly afterward.

Personally, I find telling people there is only one way to vote to save democracy both disingenuous and hypocritical. I’m sure Democrats believe the country would be far more democratic if only one party existed. The implications are staggering, but that’s a column for another day.

The president’s party typically loses seats during the mid-term. Biden administration policies set up economic conditions that helped set up Republicans for a potential wave election.

The Supreme Court gave Democrats a signature issue to run on over the summer with its Dobb’s decision. However, voters just had a summer fling with Democrats and abortion rights. The economy, inflation, jobs, wages, etc., are almost always the most critical issues when voters decide how to vote.

Democrats built their strategy on the wrong issue. Republicans had healthier images for the issues that usually drive voting, to begin with. Democrats then largely ignored these issues. In the final ten days, Democrats have started panicking and are throwing anything they can find at voters.

I don’t think it will work. Republicans will win the House with 225 to 230 votes and the Senate with 52 votes – although the Senate may require run-off elections that would take until early January.

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BNM Writers

Dom Theodore Saved Glenn Beck’s Career Before Beck Saved His Life

“I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test … he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan … that’s a good friend.”

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A photo of Dom Theodore and the Glenn Beck Program logo

Dom Theodore, the man Glenn Beck credits with saving his show, said the famed talk radio host saved his life. After 30 years of friendship, the pair have shared a lot together.

However, Theodore’s influence can be heard on more than just Glenn Beck’s show, it can be heard across the country.

“I’ve only done radio my entire life. I started answering phones at a radio station when I was 12 years old, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Theodore told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

Growing up in Detroit, a young Dom Theodore answered phones for WKQI. “I would come back as the program director of that station, which was kind of interesting.”  He eventually landed in Tampa, where he met Beck. “Glenn and I just hit it off really, really well. We became really close quickly.”

Dom Theodore, the Program Director at WFLZ was just across the hall from Glenn Beck, who was doing afternoon drive at WFLA. Soon after was the moment which Beck calls the moment Theodore saved his career.

Just a few months into Beck’s new gig, he dropped a career bombshell on Theodore. “He said, ‘I think I’m getting fired.’ I said, ‘Ok. Why do you think you’re getting fired?’

“‘Well, the program director of WFLA said to me today, ‘I hope it’s too early to say that we hired the wrong person’.”

Doing a show trying to please everyone, Theodore believes Glenn Beck lost sight of his own vision. “I said, ‘You know what? What’s happening is you’re doing somebody else’s show. You’re not doing The Glenn Beck Show. You’re doing somebody else’s show hosted by you. And so that’s never going to work. It’s not connecting because it’s not coming from [the heart].

“’My advice to you is go in there and do The Glenn Beck Show. Do that show that you wanted to do from day one, the one that you told me about.’ And he said, ‘Ok. Won’t I get fired for doing that?’ I said ‘You might, but you know what? Would you rather get fired for doing something that you think might work instead of continuing to do what you know isn’t working?’”

This helped launch Beck into the superstar we know today.

Many years later, Dom Theodore says the radio host saved his life. “I almost died in 2020. They discovered cancer in both of my kidneys. I had to have my kidneys removed and a transplant, all within a period of about six months, and it was a horrible time.

“There was not a test a procedure or anything that I went through that Glenn and (Beck’s wife) Tania weren’t on the phone the night before praying with me. I was at the Mayo Clinic getting a test and Glenn was on the air at the time. And he paused during a stop set and he called me and he prayed with me before I went in for that scan, and I will tell you, that’s a good friend. That’s a real friend.”

Today, Dom Theodore said of his health, “Thankfully, I’m doing ok for the most part. Now I have a transplant, and I’m still standing.”

Still working hard and as passionate as ever, he is looking for more content innovation in the industry. “Because of the debt service that a lot of these big companies have, the focus has been on producing what we’ve always done just at a lower cost point. Instead of experimentation and innovation.”

He noted, “The only way that this industry survives is content innovation. I know no one wants to hear that. I know that I’m saying things that are politically incorrect, and I don’t really care. I don’t really care. The radio industry CEOs hate this when people like me speak. They hate it because they know I’m right.”

Theodore noted what makes good radio is simple and hasn’t changed over the years.

“Somebody asked Les Moonves this question at one of our CBS meetings, and his answer was absolutely brilliant. He said, ‘Entertainment hasn’t changed since the days of the Colosseum. At the end of the day, it’s about having an interesting story and telling it in a really interesting way.’ And I do believe that that is the core basis of everything we do.”

While cultivating good talent takes time, Theodore said good talent often comes from interesting people who are often creative. 

“What did the radio industry do in the last 10 or 20 years as it’s become more and more corporate? We threw all those people out. Now, ‘They’re too high maintenance. Just get rid of them. So why don’t we replace them with people that conform, that do as they’re told, and execute the plan that comes from above? Never questions authority.’ There might be a better employee, but that sure doesn’t make for better content.

“By the way, where did all the creatives go? Where do they go? Digital. There’s no rules and on YouTube, I can do whatever the hell I want. Why do I need some program director to tell me what to do? I can do a podcast and do whatever the hell I want. And some of them did it. And we’ve lost a generation of talent because we didn’t want to deal with the maintenance. I mean, how shortsighted is that?”

For those who are less shortsighted and looking to follow in the footsteps of Dom Theodore, he said don’t.

“I made a lot of mistakes through the years. First of all, don’t follow in my footsteps. Learn from my mistakes.”

The second part of his advice is being true to yourself and confidence in your truth. “I think being true to yourself is a matter of not conforming. In your gut that little voice inside you knows that you’re right and you’re doing something that’s different than what anyone else is doing. And therefore, because people don’t understand it, you’re being told that it’s wrong. You’re probably right and they’re probably wrong. And time will bear that out. So, have confidence.”

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Analyzing Nielsen Trends on a Quarter-Hour Basis

It makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

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A photo of a line graph with the Nielsen logo

If you read last week’s column, you know how to use the Nielsen PPM Analysis Tool to look at individual days in the survey month. It’s worth taking time each month to see how your stations as well as your competitors are doing each day. Are you seeing any patterns in the data?

Now let’s drill down even deeper. Again, one of the goals of the PPM system was to let you see discrete days and times and have some confidence in the data because the full panel would be there. In other words, a sample size that limits some of the crazy wobbles we get in the diary service. That has prevented PPM from having some crazy wobbles as well, but for the purposes of this column, let’s set that issue aside.

To start, fire up AT. Much like the day-by-day data, you’ll choose Trends, even if that doesn’t seem all that logical. Last week, I showed you that selecting the drop-down box next to the survey would give you the option to choose “day” which shows all the individual days within the daypart. 

Now, go to the “Time Period” option and click on the drop-down box next to the daypart.  You’ll see options for “block”, “hourly”, “half-hour” and “quarter-hour”. While I’m going to use the “quarter-hour” option here, you can also use this option to look at individual hours or half hours. Click on the “quarter-hour” option and you’re ready to go.

A warning for you: If you choose a broader daypart such as Monday-Friday, 6AM-7PM or God forbid, total week, AT will spit out a lot of data. That first daypart has 52 different quarter hours (13 hours times four) and if you’re looking at the survey month, you have 20 days. Let’s say you choose four stations to review. 20x4x52 is too much data for you to review at one time.

The best use of the quarter-hour option (or even the hour or half hour) is reviewing something major that happened. For a news/talk station, how did your station perform when Trump’s conviction was announced? Perhaps you had a big-name interview on your air that you promoted heavily? Was there a major local news story that occurred in your market that you covered extensively?

For a sports station with play-by-play, how well does each team perform? When I first joined Cumulus, I reviewed an entire season of the Golden State Warriors on KNBR. It didn’t matter who the opponent was because the best-performing games were the ones when the team went East. A 7 PM ET start time was 4 PM in California meaning more audience as the games were on during afternoon drive. For example, Golden State against a not-so-good team like Orlando or Charlotte on the road would pull far more audience than say, a Lakers game on a weekend.  How did the ratings look when a coach or manager was hired or fired? 

For any format, how does your morning show perform on a quarter-hour-by-quarter-hour basis? Are there obvious peaks and if so, what is the talent doing? When are the weak times?  Those will likely correlate with stop sets and there’s not much you can do but look closely.  However, if you have a stop set immediately after the best performing time of the morning, maybe you should move it.

The “hourly” option is useful when you have programming that doesn’t match specific dayparts. Most public stations have actual “programs” versus daypart shifts. Which hours perform best and yes, I know the answer will be Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but even those programs will have stronger and weaker hours. 

As always, I also recommend that you select the PUMM option along with your other estimates (persons, share, cume, etc.). Is one of your stronger quarter hours up against less available audience? If so, you might want to consider moving the content to a time when more listeners are available if that’s possible.

We all know that one Nielsen data point does not constitute a trend. While the quarter-hour option in AT offers the opportunity to drill down into the data, you probably need to look at a few months or more of data to discern trends that may motivate you to consider changes. 

Nonetheless, it makes sense to analyze your stations and your competition at this level because every quarter hour matters.

Let’s meet again next week.

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Merrill Reese is a Hall of Fame Broadcaster and Hall of Fame Person

I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Andy Bloom

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A photo of Merrill Reese
(Photo: Matt Mirro)

Long-time Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer. This is not news to anybody who knows Reese. However, the NFL will make it official on August 2nd when Reese receives the prestigious Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for 2024.

According to a news release by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Reese will be honored during the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week, which includes the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner in downtown Canton on Friday, August 2, and the Class of 2024 Enshrinement on Saturday, August 3, in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.”

He will join past Pro Football Hall of Fame Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award winners, including Fred Gaudelli, John Facenda, Al Michaels, John Madden, Pat Summerall, and Curt Godwy, among others.

There are so many reasons why Merrill Reese is a Hall of Famer.

Starting with his booming baritone voice and distinctive, often imitated (many Philadelphians do a Merrill Reese impression) but never duplicated style.

Reese has already been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and Temple University’s (his alma mater) Communications Hall of Fame.

Reese became the “Voice of the Eagles” in 1977. The 2024 season will mark his 48th consecutive season as the Eagles play-by-play announcer.

Reese is the longest-serving current play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

I’ve lived all over the country. I can think of no other city where people turn down the sound on national television broadcasts to listen to local announcers. In Philadelphia, Eagles games are synced with the largest cable provider and people really do turn down the television sound and turn up Merrill Reese and broadcast partner Mike Quick.

Reese called the Eagles Super Bowl LII victory in 2018, including the infamous “Philly Special” play, quoted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame release: “Foles in the gun. Clement to his right. Now lines up behind Foles. Foles moves to the right, and it goes directly to Clement, and Clement reverses it, and it goes into the end zone…And it’s a touchdown by Nick Foles!

While Merrill tasted the “Thrill of victory” in 2018, during three other visits to the “Big Game,” he knew the “Agony of defeat.”

But there are so many other calls that Reese has given testimony to, including: “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” (1978) and “The Miracle at the Meadowlands II” (2010), and his trademark, “It’s gooood!” after Jake Elliot’s 61-yard game-winning field goal against the New York Giants in 2017.

Then there’s Reese’s frankness. While he’s an unapologetic Eagles fan, he calls it out when the team or a player isn’t playing well, sometimes irritating the team’s management.

Life doesn’t begin and end with the football season. He takes part in so many community and charitable events. Many are on behalf of the Eagles, but many are not.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Reese is an ambassador for the City of Brotherly Love. He’s made guest appearances on “The Goldbergs” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

My first programming experience in Philadelphia was in 1985. That’s when I became an Eagles fan, and part of the attraction was Merrill Reese’s booming voice and passionate play-by-play calls.

I didn’t meet Reese working in Philadelphia in the 1980s or 1990s. The third time was the charm. I was named program director of WIP-AM in 2007. In 2008, I added responsibilities as operations manager for WPHT-AM, WYSP-FM (now WIP-FM), and WIP-AM. WYSP became the Eagle’s flagship radio station in 1992 (a fantastic story unto itself for another time).

Finally, I met and got to know Merrill Reese.

I saw firsthand the preparation Reese puts into each broadcast and his passion for football, especially for the Eagles. But I’ve never seen anybody who loves what they do more than Reese – and it shows.

Reese has said many times that he will never willingly retire. Believe him.

During my eight years as WIP’s Operations Manager, I was fortunate to develop a close bond with Reese. He was a mentor and one of my most trusted advisors. During football season, we spoke often – sometimes multiple times daily. During the off-season, we talked a couple of times weekly.

Reese is not only an extremely knowledgeable football announcer but also an astute observer of the broadcasting industry. He had an ownership stake and was the VP/GM of a suburban Philadelphia station for over three decades. He accurately predicted the successes and failures of WIP and other stations. His advice helped me avoid numerous mistakes.

My children grew up knowing him as “Uncle Merrill.” They would visit him at least once a season in the broadcast booth during half-time.

When my son was in second grade, there was a class assignment to have a relative with a unique job come in and talk about their work. My son asked, “Uncle Merrill,” who happily obliged and was a huge hit. It was amusing how many parents found a reason to attend school that day.

To this day, I bleed green. Even living 1,000 miles from Philly, I still listen to every Eagles broadcast by Merrill Reese and Mike Quick.

When I think about everything I miss about the Delaware Valley, Merrill Reese is right there at the top of the list.

Merrill Reese is a Philadelphia institution and treasure, and this August, he will be a well-deserved Pro Football broadcast Hall of Famer.

But Merrill Reese is more than a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He’s a Hall of Fame person.

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