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iHeartMedia’s Chris Berry Remains Bullish on Radio’s Future

As executive vice president of News, Talk and Sports for iHeartMedia, Chris Berry believes broadcasting’s future is bright as long as it continues to evolve.

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Sports teams often take on terrifying names like the Badgers, Wolverines, Gladiators, and Lions to presumably intimidate opponents. Chris Berry had the dubious distinction of attending a school that believed a slow-moving, gentle, and seemingly melancholy mammal was the appropriate creature to name their team after.

“How would you like your team called the Manatees?” Berry asked. That menacing team name came from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida.

When he lived in Bradenton, everything was rather sedate. “Florida Interstate 75 stopped at Tampa. We were beyond that. You had to want to go down there.”

As in many Florida cities, Bradenton has changed. When he was a kid, Berry said you’d often drive by little shacks selling boiled P-Nuts.

“I think they ran out of space on the sign to spell out peanuts,” Berry jokes. “I was in Sarasota last week before the election. Now it looks like Fort Lauderdale.”

Berry attended the University of Mississippi, the alma mater of writer William Faulkner. “In high school, I took the test that was to send you in the right direction of what career you should pursue. My results informed me I was supposed to be a cop or a reporter. When you look at it, psychologically they’re not that different. I think I wasn’t in any hurry to lose my life, so I decided to become a reporter. Instead of a gun, I picked up a typewriter.”

As executive vice president of News, Talk and Sports for iHeartMedia, Berry believes the future of broadcasting is bright as long as it continues to evolve. As technology progresses, Berry believes broadcasting is much like a man-eater.

“Media is like a shark,” Berry said. “You have to keep adapting and moving or you’ll die. Radio has been adapting and I think television is starting to as well.”

Sharks. Now that’s a tough team name.

In his current role, Berry is the brand manager for the spoken word formats that are programmed by iHeartMedia and oversees its national and local news operations. “We have more people in more places than any other radio group,” he said.

iHeart’s “24/7 News” is divided into eight regions, and the anchors, reporters and writers in each of those regions are responsible for developing and delivering “news of day” as well as breaking news for over 860 radio stations in 160 markets.

Berry’s experience in both network and local radio management makes him uniquely qualified for the positions.

Prior to joining iHeartMedia, Berry was vice president of radio for ABC News in New York, He also held management roles with CBS Radio in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, and served as General Manager of WMAL in Washington D.C. and ESPN LA 710.

Initially, he thought he wanted to be a newspaper reporter, as he always enjoyed writing. Fresh out of Ole Miss, he got a television job as a weekend news producer and writer at WHBQ in Memphis.

Not long after his arrival, the news director left. One person’s departure is another person’s opportunity.

“The day the news director started, the producer of the six-o’clock news quit,” Berry explained. “I went into his office and introduced myself. I told him I was the weekend producer and could do the daily six-o’clock news. I was 22 years-old and he let me do it. That first year we won an AP award for best newscast.”

Not long after Berry heard CBS radio in Los Angeles was looking for a news writer at KNX Newsradio. He figured if he could land a job like that, he might move into television in that market. He took the writing test and got the job.

At KNX, he learned a lot about breaking news and said they had a fabulous staff. A huge audience with a million listeners a week.

Berry was writing news for morning drive then another stroke of luck. The woman in that executive producer job had appendicitis and Berry took over her job. “Two years later I moved to Washington as executive producer for CBS Radio. That is where I learned cover national news and politics.”

From there, it was to Chicago, first as assistant news director, and at the age of 29 he was promoted to news director of WBBM, the youngest ever at a CBS-owned station.

Berry said he was proud of the work in Chicago.

“We were all news at WBBM. I used to say, ‘we can interrupt the news to bring you the latest news.’ Today you have Twitter, all of social media, TMZ providing you with instant news. We did it first on all-news radio.”

In 1996 he joined The Walt Disney Company and its ABC News Radio division in New York City. After serving as general manager of operations for the network, he was promoted to vice president and general manager of News for the ABC Radio Network in 2000.

 When a friend who had jumped from CBS to ABC suggested Berry go with him to New York and run ABC’s radio network, he embraced what he called an incredible opportunity.

“At the time, ABC Radio was the hallmark in the business,” Berry said. “I was responsible for Paul Harvey News and Comment, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented journalists in the business. We won many Edward R. Murrow awards for our coverage.”

Berry is also proud of the coverage he managed on 9/11, something that will always stay with him.

“We offered our broadcasts that day to any station in the United States,” Berry explained. “They could run our coverage unfettered. I know thousands of stations carried our content that day. The team I was leading was honored with a Peabody Award for that work. It was a pivotal moment in our country’s history, and it unfolded on the radio.”

Another point of pride for Berry took place after the 2000 election. Berry oversaw coverage in the Supreme Court decision in the election between Bush and Gore.

“For the first time in history, we broadcast inside the Supreme Court during proceedings,” he said. “We provided pool coverage for the decision. That was an important journalistic milestone, and we were able to provide that content. It had never been done in broadcasting before. Then a year later we had 9/11.”

From ABC News he moved into station management at the Walt Disney Company’s radio division, first at WMAL in Washington, then at KSPN in Los Angeles. For the past 13 years he has been overseeing iHeart’s news operation from Phoenix.

“One of the great things about iHeart is that we operate like a startup. We will run with something and see if it works. That innovation comes from the top.” The adaptation philosophy Berry espouses includes the formation of the Black Information Network.

“Bob Pittman, CEO of iHeart Media, is truly a visionary,” Berry said. “About nine months before the George Floyd tragedy, we had a meeting, and Bob pointed out the fact that there was an underserved radio market for African American news. Floyd’s death absolutely changed a lot of things, and iHeartMedia Division President Tony Coles led the charge. Tony said if we didn’t move on the Black Information Network then, when would be the right time?”

Within about two months they had everybody hired for BIN, and today the format is heard in more than 20 markets.

“It’s news as seen through the lens of an African-American consumer,” Berry explained. “And they are stories that really aren’t heard anywhere else. I am very proud of the fact that we have the sort of latitude to start something like BIN.”

The Black Information Network is a harbinger of change in the industry, as is the changing complexion of how news is gathered.

“TMZ is an interesting operation,” Berry said. “For one thing, they pay many of their sources for news. When it comes to breaking news such as the Kobe Bryant tragedy, they paid their sources. They were also well ahead with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. As a result, it is the rare instance when they are wrong.”

There are concerns about the future of journalism. The Internet has no editor. Anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can tell a story, which may or may not be true.

“I hope as we go forward the traditional news media is able to follow the basic tenets of journalism,” Berry said. “Unfortunately, we have had situations where established and respected news organizations like the Washington Post and ABC News have gotten stories very wrong.”

Berry is also a strong believer in the importance of local news. “Today, local newspapers are often the only news gathering outlets that regularly go to city council meetings,” Berry said. “If nobody is keeping an eye on our elected officials, the opportunity for corruption becomes very attractive News media is the watchdog. If the dog isn’t barking, we will all be in trouble.”

Berry said he believes the biggest competition for radio is time. With new websites popping up every day as well as new podcasts, the piece of the pie gets smaller every day and attempts to engage consumers has become fierce.

“When you’re driving home at night in your car, you have a lot of choices as to what you want to do with your time,” Berry said. “You can talk on your cell, listen to a podcast or the radio, or just do nothing. That’s the biggest challenge. The news that is delivered has to be intriguing.”

The competition has intensified as some resources are drying up.

“I think the Detroit Free Press only publishes a hard copy on Sunday,” Berry said. “In that situation, it is society that loses. I think the weekly community papers will survive because that’s content you can’t get anywhere else. The local police blotter and high school scores. Axios and Patch have done some work with that and identified that need, and we in radio need to continue to embrace that localism.”

During his career, Berry has had many reasons to be proud of radio journalism, and he remains extremely bullish on its future.

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1 Comment

  1. Dave Garver

    November 16, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    “Berry is also a strong believer in the importance of local news.”

    This is rich coming from the guy that oversaw the destruction of actual, LOCAL newsrooms for the implementation of the shit-show that is their “24/7 News.”

    Fortunately, this anchor read the writing on the wall and got the hell out. 🙂

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BNM Writers

Activist Journalism Should Have No Place in Mainstream Media

Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism.

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A photo of a protest

Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan was shocked most Americans are supportive of deporting illegal aliens (because that is the actual legal term for undocumented immigrants). CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan has no idea America is not a democracy (the Irish journalist might want to take a civics class before making this false claim). And the Surgeon General is calling on social media outlets to have warning labels. It’s just more proof that activist journalism has grown all too prevalent in mainstream media today.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.” Lord of the Flies might only be a book, but many journalistic outlets are becoming savages for the sake of activist journalism. Perhaps we (the media) are becoming the beast we once feared.

Brennan’s shock at her own outlet’s poll made headlines because many felt it shouldn’t be a surprise. No country in the history of Earth has been or will be completely content with an exorbitant amount of people from another country landing within their borders. The report, which claimed 62% of Americans support deporting those who come here illegally, is now framed with additional results. 53% of Hispanic voters say they would favor the program.

The new CBS poll also found more Americans “overwhelmingly” trust President Trump on border security than President Biden. While we have yet to see Ms. Brennan’s jaw drop on air a second time, I’m confident it’s already happened behind the scenes. Reactions like this are not only un-journalistic (because just give us the news, we don’t care about your opinion that’s what talk radio is for), they show how out of touch some members of the media are with America outside of the large markets.

Speaking of out-of-touch with America, CNN seems to believe it’s a good idea to have a biased non-American report on the election. Regardless of his citizenship, Mr. O’Sullivan needs to learn more about the Constitution and the founding of the American government before reporting on it. I have said it before and will say it again, America is not a democracy, it is a democratic republic. Those on the right saying America is just a Republic are also wrong.

Mr. O’Sullivan’s false narrative that America is a democracy is a prime example of activist journalism in the works. Other “reporting” from him (if you can call it that) also included interviews with Pro-Palestinian groups who say they will not back Biden. Yet he does not ask one very simple question: Then who will they back? Trump? Doubtful, but if that is the answer it never made it into his story.

These national outlets might want to take a lesson from their affiliates, as local news now has more Americans’ trust than the bigger, more staffed, and better-paid counterparts. Why? Because there is less opinion and more journalism at the local level. This is likely why a May Pew Institute Research poll showed 69% of Americans believe that local journalists in their area are mostly in touch with their community. With even more (85%) believe local news is “somewhat important” to the well-being of their local community. National news poll numbers don’t even come close (as I previously commented).

What’s most concerning out of all the past week’s headlines, however, is Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy’s call for social media to come with a warning label. This would be as effective as posting warning labels on cigarette packs (meaning this is going to do nothing to stop people from partaking in addictive habits).

You can not save everyone and you certainly can’t save agenda-driven “journalists” from developing propaganda and posting it to social media. If a warning label on cigarettes won’t stop smokers from smoking it won’t stop social media users from scrolling. It is a drug, some people are addicted. It is an unfortunate but true part of life.

Most, if not all, Americans are aware of the addictiveness of social media just like they know the dangers of smoking. Warning labels won’t make people stop and think. It’s just more government overreach.

This is the thing local news does best, gives you unbiased information, it does not tell you how to think about certain issues (usually), and the good outlets call out government overreach when they see it.

We can not regulate our way out of life nor can the industry continue to render activist journalism and try to pass it off as real news. People are getting smart and turning to local news for facts. Hopefully, these stations won’t be corrupted by the same powers that now influence our national outlets.

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BNM Writers

Fox News Leads 80th Anniversary of D-Day Coverage

More than 3 million viewers watched coverage of the 80th anniversary on cable news.

Doug Pucci

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One of the notable news events in June was the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi Germany back on Thursday, June 6. More than 3 million viewers watched the coverage on cable news with Fox News leading the way.

President Biden attended a ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in France alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. In his remarks, Biden pledged “We will not walk away” from Ukraine, using the example of the fight to liberate Europe from Nazi domination In parallel to the current war against Russian aggression. “To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable. If we were to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

The morning news programs televised the D-Day remembrance ceremonies within the 8-9 AM ET hour on Thursday, June 6. Fox News was tops on cable overall, according to Nielsen Media Research, with 1.467 million viewers including 153,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. The network sent host Martha MacCallum to Normandy to broadcast live from the site of the invasion, sharing stories of combat veterans.

The MSNBC’s entire 6-9 a.m. ET block averaged 1.019 million viewers and 128,000 adults 25-54.

CNN/HLN’s combined broadcast drew 475,000 viewers and 110,000 in the 25-54 demo.

Later in the month, on Tuesday, June 11, music superstar Céline Dion joined Today co-host Hoda Kotb on NBC for the singer’s first one-on-one interview since publicly revealing she suffers from a neurological condition called stiff person syndrome.

Getting a huge assist from its America’s Got Talent (5.527 million) lead-in, the one-hour news special entitled “Celine’s Story” delivered 3.227 million viewers, marking it the most-watched program on all of television within the 10-11 p.m. hour on June 11. It outdrew such other 10 p.m. news shows as Fox News’ Gutfeld! (2.496 million), MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (1.078 million) and CNN’s NewsNight (433,000).

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How KDKA Transformed Overnights to Grow Its Future and Reach Younger Audiences

“The overwhelming feedback has been positive. It makes us local, it gives us a bench … it makes the radio station’s brand bigger and connects us in different areas.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of the cast of KDKA Next Take and the KDKA logo
(Photo: KDKA)

In February, venerable Pittsburgh news/talk station KDKA announced a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh that would see students from the college host a weekday overnight program.

The program — KDKA Next Take — is heard from 1-5 AM and replaced the nationally syndicated Red Eye Radio in the Audacy-owned station’s lineup.

A product of the imagination of Audacy Pittsburgh Senior Vice President and Market Manager Michael Spacciapolli, he believes the show has been a success in its early run.

“The show certainly offers a different perspective on the way that this generation looks at the world and from their viewpoint as opposed to other hosts who are in a different time in their life than them,” Spacciapolli said. “So we certainly are able to share a different point of view from them, while at the same time utilizing those points of view on social and getting them to really engage the radio station from a social perspective and hopefully engaging in and not just speaking to, but engaging people in that demographic, as well.”

Needing to attract younger audiences has been at the forefront of the news/talk radio industry for quite some time. Another issue discussed by leaders of the format are often centered around where stations will find the next crop of young talent.

With the partnership with Pitt, KDKA took the initiative to seek out those who might be interested in a radio career, rather than hope those potential employees found them.

“I’m always looking for great talent. Everything I do and in every aspect of the radio station, I’m looking for the most talented people. I’m always looking for where is the next great talent in everything we do,” said Spacciapolli. “This gives me the opportunity to have them working with us on an everyday basis and learning everything they do — from their work ethic, to their thought process, to their ideas. It gives me an opportunity to have our own ‘bench’ and have an opportunity to see where talent could come from in the future.

“There’s going to be talent there that we are potentially going to take a look at in different roles. Do they leave Next Take when their time is up on the show and do they immediately become full-time hosts? Probably not. But can they become part-time hosts? Sure,” he added. “Can they become producers? Absolutely. Can they become reporters? Can they become part-time reporters? Absolutely. Working with us gives us the opportunity to certainly move in that direction much more quickly and confidently than we would have previously.”

For decades, overnights were a proving ground for aspiring hosts. The daypart allowed for opportunities for young hosts and provided a low-pressure timeslot to experiment and hone your craft. But with the rise of automation and syndication, those positions have largely fallen by the wayside.

However, Audacy Pittsburgh looked at the partnership with the college and saw opportunity. The collaboration allows a younger generation access to the station that is largely dominated by older hosts and listeners.

Additionally, it provided even more local coverage to a station that prides itself of being “The Voice of Pittsburgh.” That factor wasn’t lost on Spacciapolli.

“A big part of my vision was it gave us the opportunity to be local, gave us the opportunity to be local overnight, which for me is how we win in this business is being local, staying local, talking to people in Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh, and this gave us the opportunity to do that on a pretty big scale and with fresh content every day.”

It would be natural for a full-time or even part-time employee of the Pittsburgh news/talk station to be jealous that a four-hour program was being given to college students. But that hasn’t been the case, Spacciapolli shared.

“The overwhelming feedback is very positive … Because there’s no expense it’s not like it’s somebody else could have been doing it. It would have continued to be syndicated if we weren’t able to do it through the partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. So it just makes the radio station’s brand bigger. It connects us in different areas and hopefully grows the brand and gets the brand younger.”

The program is recorded live-to-tape earlier in the day before airing in the 1-5 AM timeslot, which allows for some fine-tuning and takes the pressure off the radio novices, while also allowing them to helm a show instead of working in the wee hours of the night while trying to focus on their studies.

Spaccipolli shared that an overnight program hosted by college students interested in one day working in the industry doesn’t have to be proprietary to KDKA. He said there’s one deciding factor in the success of the endeavor.

“It’s about the relationships and the partnerships. And, fortunately, I have a great relationship with the University of Pittsburgh, they’re a great partner. I was able to get deep enough into this relationship with them and find ways to potentially make this work,” he stated.

“This is not easy. It’s not something you can pull off easily because, traditionally, I think, people think about it and they think, ‘Oh, there’s got to be significant expense.’ And in this situation, there’s not because that wouldn’t have fit our model for where it is and what we’re trying to do with it. So there isn’t that expense. You’re not gonna be able to make it work everywhere. Fortunately, we were able to do it here.”

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