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Radio’s Control Has Gerry Callahan Appreciating His Podcasting Freedom

“The first 20 years of my radio career ratings were the only thing that mattered. Then it became about avoiding headaches. It was stunning. That’s when I realized things had really changed.”

Jim Cryns

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During the last few months on the morning show on WEEI in Boston, Gerry Callahan said his crew was called into the boss’ office quite a bit. Management told the show that ratings were not their primary concern, they just didn’t want any more trouble.

“The first 20 years of my radio career ratings were the only thing that mattered,” Callahan said. “Then it became about avoiding headaches. It was stunning. That’s when I realized things had really changed.”

Early in his radio career, Callahan said you wanted a bit of trouble wafting around your show, something to keep the conversations fresh.

“We were encouraged to walk on a tightrope,” he said. “When you get to a point where there is nothing contentious, nothing happening, people stop listening. You wanted a bit of good trouble just to survive another day. It’s not like that anymore. We were never called to the boss’ office to be told ‘you had a great show.’ We’d go in and they’d say, ‘Why did you say that?’ Or, they’d say the owner of the Red Sox was emailing them upset about something they didn’t like.”

After graduating from UMass Amherst with a degree in communications, Callahan started working at The Sun newspaper in Lowell, MA. He started at the paper in 1983.

The only thing I’ve ever associated with Lowell, MA is the film The Fighter, featuring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.

“I went to the premiere of that movie,” Callahan said. “I can’t tell you how good Christian Bale was in that movie. I know Dickie Ecklund and Bale captured him perfectly.”

The 2010 film depicted Dickie Ecklund as a former boxer, drug addict, and part-time lunatic. His claim to fame (and it really was his claim) was to have knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout. The truth was Leonard essentially tripped backward. Still, that technicality never stopped Dickie from telling every person who has crossed his path since how he’d knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard.

“Dickie is a good guy,” Callahan explained. “His brother Micky Ward had a good career. Won some belts. Dickie was always jealous of his Micky’s success.”

When he began working at The Sun, Callahan said he arranged media guides in alphabetical order. He recorded little league scores over the phone from around the area. Later he started covering the Red Sox, Celtics and the rest of the New England sports teams.

Then it was on to the Boston Herald in 1989. After that, Callahan’s star continued to rise when he began to write for Sports Illustrated from 1994-1999.

As a sportswriter, Callahan spent a large part of his early career in press boxes. Covering teams tends to take the fan out of you. If you’re objective, there’s no rooting in the press box.

“Sometimes you meet your heroes and it can be disappointing,” Callahan said. “The Red Sox clubhouse that I started working in was not one of the greatest environments to cut your teeth. With guys like John McNamara, Jim Rice, it could be a nasty place.”

Callahan recalled when he was a kid in 1975, he said he cried when the Red Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.

“As a writer in 1986, I laughed when they lost to the Mets,” Callahan said. “They collapsed. Like any good columnist, you rooted for chaos.”

Callahan said the arrival of Larry Bird in Boston changed the culture of sports in Boston.

“Bird was easily the most colorful and intriguing guy I’ve ever covered,” he said. “From the day he arrived he had this huge chip on his shoulder, and each game was an event with Bird. He was clutch, very smart, cocky. There’s a huge misconception about Bird being a ‘Hick from French Lick.’ Let me tell you, he was smart and knew everything that was going on around him. He was a great interview. Blunt. A wise-ass.”

Callahan said he also enjoyed his encounters with Curt Schilling, a man he said was opinionated and polarizing.

“Like Bird, he was cocky and clutch,” Callahan said. “I tend to like guys the mainstream media doesn’t like. I’m kind of a right-wing zealot, like Schilling. Like Bird, Schilling was fearless and a fun guy to cover.”

He grew up with newspapers and reading the work of legendary Boston sports columnists.

“There were so many columnists that they were hard to keep up with,” Callahan said. “They were everything to me. Like most things, they died out in time. I could have told you the top 10 writers in the country. I was familiar with everything they wrote, and watched everything they said when they went on television.”

When Callahan was young it seemed a career as a columnist in sports journalism was too far away to give serious consideration to.

“I didn’t think I was going to become the next Mike Lupica,” Callahan said. “I worked hard at The Sun and then the Herald. It was then I started to think maybe I could do this the rest of my life. I was happy just writing for The Sun. I started growing as a writer and moved up the chain. That’s when sports radio was becoming a big thing and it was good time for me.”

The influence of newspapers have partially died at their own hand, a demise of their own creation Callahan said.

“The Boston Globe used to be so respected, now it’s a joke,” Callahan said. “John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, bought the paper for his wife Linda as kind of a plaything. Nobody reads that paper and it has zero influence. There was a time you could say a newspaper controlled the narrative in a city, shaped the dialogue. Not anymore. Now it’s bloggers, podcasts, Twitter, everywhere else that controls the narrative. Newspapers are essentially insignificant.”

Callahan recalls a time he told a young associate how he used to read five or six newspapers a day. The kid laughed.

“I said I had three papers delivered daily to my house,” Callahan said. “I’d read a few out of town papers when I got to the office. The kid couldn’t believe I was serious. There was a time I couldn’t have imagined starting a day without a newspaper, now I don’t even buy one.”

Newspapers were still going strong when Callahan began his career. He said the Boston Herald had a huge sports department and a dozen reporters from the suburbs would also come to town to cover Boston sports.

“I don’t know if there are any suburban writers there anymore,” Callahan said. “I’m not sure how many television stations come in from the suburbs as I haven’t watched lately.”

As his writing career flourished, Callahan started popping up on various radio shows in the city, and his on-air presence improved. Then came the offer to do a morning show on WEEI.

“It was a gradual thing,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was on the air full-time right away. I’d make some regular appearances on afternoon shows. A lot of writers in the city were doing this back then, and I was one of them who was offered a full-time gig. There were a lot of people with real opinions and we had real debates. We were encouraged to be ourselves and talk about the issues of the day.”

Callahan thinks one of the problems with talk radio today is that it’s controlled by special interests, activists, and advertisers.

“In my final years people were walking on eggshells all the time. Hoping not to upset the wrong person and incite an email campaign. It got to a point where you just didn’t feel comfortable talking about things. All the things I talk about now on my podcast I couldn’t talk about on the radio. I couldn’t talk about Covid lockdowns. The censorship on Twitter. That’s the kind of stuff you get canceled for these days. I have much more freedom on my podcast, nobody controls me.”

The Gerry Callahan Show can be heard on Newsmax Radio and Apple Podcasts.

He’ll tune in once in a while to talk radio, but said it has become boring and sanitized.

“Everyone is tiptoeing around. I originally thought about calling my podcast, Things You Can’t Say on the Radio,” Callahan said. “On radio I couldn’t talk about election irregularities. It was such a controlled environment. People were living in fear. The bosses, GMs, program directors.”

As an example of the mood change, Callahan said he used to talk with Tom Brady every Monday morning for 19 years.

“The reality of things hit Tom Brady too,” Callahan said. “During the first 16 years we had a ball and talked about everything. Then the last three he got kind of quiet. Something spooked him. He used to be friends with Donald Trump. Played golf with him, hung out. All of a sudden you weren’t allowed to like Trump. You couldn’t joke about him anymore. Brady’s mother and wife hated Trump and I think Tom went into a shell. What happened to Brady has happened to a lot of people.”

According to Callahan, the mob mentality has taken control. In the old days if someone was upset with someone or something that was said, they’d write a letter to the station. Then it became a phone call. Now it’s a mass email.

“You need a strong boss. Someone who will stand up for you, defend you,” Callahan said. “I don’t have to answer to anybody today. We don’t swear a lot or get into graphic sex stories, but we’re free to discuss what we want. We’re on the Newsmax platform. I’d been on Newsmax a lot. I don’t like to rely on guests too much.”

The radio career ended more than three years ago. He started his podcast a few months later. Even though he’s with a large company like Newsmax, he still has to find ways to promote the podcast. Callahan said much of the promotion is done on his social media platforms.

“There’s no other way to do it. You do your best, do your thing. Options are limited. I try to watch the way the entire field operates. No local podcasts can be really successful. You can still do local on radio and television to make a living,  but to make it on a podcast you need to appeal to a larger audience.”

There are times he misses the early morning adrenaline rush, the immediacy of being part of the breaking news and current events. He said they’ll present their podcast between 9:30am and 10:30am, trying to keep it at 57 minutes. It gets posted an hour after that.

He’ll tackle the same issues he had while on morning radio, whenever possible.

“I hope George Santos never resigns, he’s giving us so much material,” Callahan said. “I was listening to an interview he did with Sid Rosenberg and Bernie McGuirk where he said he went to Baruch and played volleyball. Santos told them the whole story about what a great team they had. They could have checked this with any sports information director but never did. All those details about how he blew out his knee.”

Callahan said he’s not going to write a book about his experiences as he’s a self-described grinder. “I’d take too long and tinker with it,” he said. “I’d slave over a book. I used to slave over my pieces for The Herald, sweat through four columns a week.”

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Kansas City Chiefs’ Playoff Runs Giving Local News Talkers Bump

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes in five years of watching the Kansas City Chiefs make deep playoff runs, we haven’t seen any real loss, in fact, we’ve seen bumps.

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In case you hadn’t heard, the Kansas City Chiefs are heading to a fifth-straight AFC Championship Game. Coincidentally, that coincides with the five years I have worked and hosted a News Talk Show in Kansas City. 

Some want to give all the credit to guys like Patrick Mahomes. Meantime, I sit back and wonder if I’m the real good luck charm this team needed all along. But I digress… 

In my first year, it admittedly concerned me that the Chiefs were making a huge playoff run. I thought it would mean we’d lose all our listeners to sports talk. But in five years of watching this team make deep postseason runs, we haven’t seen any real loss for our station in January/February, in fact, we’ve seen bumps in prior years, as more Kansas Citians may be sampling the AM band looking for the two sports stations in KC (which only reside on AM) and stumble upon our News Talker.

That being said, we’ve also enjoyed getting to tap into the city’s excitement and giving our own spin on one of the most dominant sports teams in recent memory. No, we aren’t going to start breaking down the Chiefs secondary against the Bengals wide receivers for four hours. That’s not our place or role. But I will, and our station should, discuss the energy in the city, the business angles of what hosting these events mean to big and small business alike, and more conversations that are appropriate for the format.

If it’s your market that’s next with a big World Series, Super Bowl or NBA Championship run, do not fear. Just own it in the lane that you operate and think outside the box. Your audience will be there.

Two examples come to mind that we’ve tapped into this week. First, we welcomed Patrick Mahomes’ high school coach on the show. Here’s someone who knew Mahomes when he was a teenager. He shared stories about the likely NFL MVP growing up that sports talk listeners weren’t going to get. We turn the story of the week into a human interest story on the biggest star in town that appeals to casual fans, along with some diehards, who may stumble upon our station.

Second, we are having a conversation this Friday with the man who is set to sing the National Anthem before the game on Sunday. He is a Missouri native named Generald Wilson, who is a veteran and has sung at several NFL Playoff games, World Series and more. Anything that combines celebrating the United States of America, with a local veteran and the Kansas City Chiefs, is a home run for us.

This is an opportunity for us to lead the way with civic pride as a talk show and talk station. We aren’t going to beat the sports station at their game, and nor will we, or should we, try to. But we can take another exciting opportunity for Kansas City and make it fit our audience’s wants and needs. 

Plus, if nothing else, this is a welcomed reprieve from talking about classified documents. This reminds me, I need to go through one more file cabinet in my office… Go Chiefs. 

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BNM Writers

Mark Davis Was Always Fascinated Hearing Folks On Radio

Mark Davis told Barrett News Media’s Jim Cryns that growing up he was always fascinated hearing folks on the radio, leading to an eventual career.

Jim Cryns

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I’d only been speaking with Mark Davis for about thirty seconds when an epitaph for his tombstone occurred to me.

Here lies Mark Davis. An unapologetic conservative, but he was never a jerk about it. 

A few moments later we were discussing An Evening with Mark Davis and Mike Gallagher, to be held on April 18, 2023, in Grapevine, Texas, in the heart of Dallas-Ft. Worth.  Gallagher makes a daily appearance on the Davis morning show just ahead of his own program on the Salem Radio Network. I suggested it reminded me of the current tour with Steve Martin and Martin Short.  

“That’s a wonderful comparison,” Davis said. “During this event, you’ll see an obvious mutual affection that enables us to deliver a show reflective of the segment we do on the air. We’ll cover a lot of topics, put our spin on things and have a good time. I think that will appeal to a lot of people.”

Davis said it’s natural for him and Gallagher to do a joint event given their chemistry. It could be as natural as two old friends sitting on a couch in the middle of the stage, sipping Scotch or coffee. Whatever two opinionated old men drink. Two avuncular figures getting together for a chat, yelling at kids to get off their lawn.

“Mike is a true friend, someone I love to spend time with both on and off the air,” Davis said. “Our relationship on radio is our predominant connection, but we’re constantly on the phone with each other. I’ve been with him through loss, various moves, issues both large and small. He’s always there for me, in good times and bad.  He’s like the brother I never had.”

Davis said Gallagher is a guy you’d like to have a cup of coffee with, adding that his friend enjoys the rough and tumble of topical talk radio, but always with a giving spirit.

“We both want to do shows to make a person’s day better. Give people something to both think and laugh about. We go through tough times but that doesn’t mean we can’t approach things in upbeat tones.”

You can listen to The Mark Davis Show weekdays from 7-10 am on 660 AM The Answer (KSKY) in the DFW area, or online at 660amtheanswer.com

Growing up, Davis said he was always fascinated hearing folks on the radio. 

“As a teenager I was captivated listening to people having conversations.  This was before I ever thought of doing this for a living.  It made me appreciate the magic of hearing people in a studio across town, yet it felt like it was presented just for me.”

His father was a career Air Force man. His mother stayed home to raise her only son until he went to high school. She then sold real estate and was an executive with United Way in Washington, DC.

“I was given a lot of latitude to follow any career I wanted,” Davis said. “I was an only child, but we were solid middle class.  It’s not like I was pampered.  But do the math.  I got 100 percent of the parental attention.”

“They were always there for me,” Davis explained. “I was loved. If I had the choice, I guess I’d rather have had a sibling. To have someone who was in the same proverbial boat. A shared experience with the same mother and father. I never knew what that felt like.”

When he was 16 and growing up in the Watergate era, Davis was very interested in current events, news, and journalism. The imagery was all around, and he’d already enjoyed writing. 

Davis wanted to study something in school that would give him a chance for a job. He didn’t think a degree in history or English screamed employability. Both of his parents recognized their son’s interest in reading and told him covering news might be a logical career choice.

At the University of Maryland in 1975, Davis started taking courses in print journalism. 

“I learned to write headlines, turn column inches into certain amounts of space,” Davis explained. “But in my junior year I discovered WMUC, the campus radio station. That changed everything for me. Part of the charm of college radio is you get the opportunity to do it all. I was a disc jockey, I worked the record library, I did sports play-by-play, I covered news.” 

That’s when it dawned on Davis this was what he wanted to do with his life. During his junior and senior years at the University of Maryland–College Park, Davis was cutting tape, writing stories, writing into audio, anchoring newscasts.

“A lot of journalism is collaboration,” Davis said. “In a newspaper, your piece of writing goes through various editors, a group of people along the path to print. On television, the story you see on the airwaves is handled by a lot of people. On the radio, it’s just you, a tape recorder and a typewriter. You write around sound, anchor the newscast. If it’s all good, you did it. If it’s bad, it’s all on you.”

During the summer of 1973, the Watergate hearings were in high gear. Davis was still in high school when Richard Nixon resigned his presidency.

“I didn’t go into journalism hoping to bring down the next president,” Davis said. “I saw it as a force for good. To uncover secrets. Shine a light on things the government was trying to get away with.”

Davis looks back with gratitude on his full life. His family, his career, and his friendships. He said, ultimately, by virtue of being born, you’re lucky. It’s a gift from God. 

“Make the most of that, make the country or world a better place,” he said. “Support your family and find a sense of service. When you’re finally able to pull your own head out of your butt, you can discover it’s time to serve others. My faith guides me to this. If I start using my days in devotion to others, my life will be better. I imagine people driving around, hanging out in their homes and offices, and I have the opportunity to speak with them. They give their time to me, and there’s nothing more valuable than their time.”

Davis said his approach to being on the air is to welcome more people, not turn them away. “Now more than ever,” Davis explained. “We’re so entrenched in arguments. We may be bruised and even bloodied, but optimism and success are possible, even in the toughest battles I’m trying to fight.”

You can’t fake a daily show. People often ask Davis what it takes to be a talker on the air. 

“I tell them you need your unique picture of the world, know a little about a lot, care about a lot, be curious about a lot,” Davis said. “Figure out what you believe and make it clear you believe it. You might run afoul of some people, but you’ve got to find a way to navigate those times. People can agree, disagree, but let’s reasonably come together. Be welcoming.”

Davis explained he’s always been interested in inviting a reasoned argument from the other side. Does he consider himself a journalist? Yes, he does. “That doesn’t make me the sole definer of what is or is not news,” Davis said. But he doesn’t consider himself a reporter, as he was at the start of his career. 

“I did that years before talk radio landed in my lap,” Davis said. “To be a reporter you must be objective, give everything equal weight. I’m not required to do that, but I do try to be fair.”

Talk radio is opinion-based. You share your views, mingle with others, and offer up your ideas. Even though Davis has been working in what he calls ‘opinion journalism’ for 40 years, he’s still chronicling events as they happen. Interviewing people along a journalistic path. 

“I’ve always been open to opposing views,” Davis continued. 

“Is that vital in today’s terrestrial radio? Sadly, I don’t know. It may not be. It’s not that every show needs to be like mine. Some like mine succeed. Some come at you like a sledgehammer and some of those succeed, too.  Markets will embrace what they will embrace. I have to be honest with myself every day. I don’t know how people sleep after saying things they don’t believe. I have to derive some sense of satisfaction. Not just from getting calls, making a good living, but sharing things I believe. Dealing honestly in agreement and disagreement.  People may like or dislike me, but they’ll always know I’m sharing what I feel honestly.”

Davis said issues we used to talk about with friends and neighbors just don’t happen anymore. 

“It’s through talk radio we discuss borders, gun control, abortion rights, drugs, and education,” he said. “We’re reacting on the fly and discussing what people used to talk about at the water coolers and over the fence in the backyard. We don’t have those personal relationships anymore. We’re not talking to neighbors.”

I spoke with Davis about the current situation in Memphis regarding the fired officers and alleged beating of a suspect. He said one of the big problems in society is people are not getting all the facts before jumping to conclusions.  There are people that are going to immediately assume the police are guilty. 

“It’s my default setting to support the police,” Davis said, “until or unless I see evidence that they were in the wrong.  The George Floyd situation was enormously complicated. It was a horrible day of police work, but I have a tough time calling it murder. There are people who seek what they call justice by remedying past wrongs with current racial revenge.” 

I asked Davis if he felt today’s America was the most divided ever.

“Some of my listeners perhaps don’t recall 9/11,” Davis said. “Some don’t really know what happened in the 1960s. Some say we’ve never been this divided before. That’s crazy. We’ve probably always been a divided country. But cable TV shout-fests and social media make it seem worse.  The problem isn’t that we’re divided, the problem is we’re arguing with each other like we’re toddlers. Never listening.”

Regarding the kerfuffle over New York congressman George Santos and the web of lies he spun to get elected, Davis said not every story has an instant satisfying resolution. “He was duly elected. Many of the voters on Long Island are disgusted and want to get rid of him. Others still prefer him to a Democrat. The end of his term will come up fast and they’ll be able to get rid of him if they wish. Redemption may be at hand, but ultimately it’s up to the voters.”

We discussed our shared love of film and its ability to teach life lessons. 

“You’ve got the collaborative effort of actors, directors, set designers all coming together to create a visual experience,” Davis said. “When it’s at its best, it can change lives. When I was 12 years old, I saw George C. Scott in Patton.” He said Patton’s devotion to duty, history, and to his men was something he can’t shake from his head. “I revisit that performance in my mind. I think the most important thing is selflessness.”

Davis said another portrayal that has stuck with him is Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener in the cult classic Being There. 

“Chance, the character played by Sellers, is the dimmest bulb imaginable,” Davis said, “but he was representative of the way our country behaves. There are many awesome moral messages in that film. Basically at his heart Chance is a good person.”

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BNM Writers

The George Santos Story Requires a Poker Face From Journalists

There is a thesaurus full of adjectives to describe the goings on and while the late-night talk and morning zoos can have all the fun they want, the news has to play it straight.

Bill Zito

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My plan this week all turned with a simple daily read-in.

An inherent risk of doing the news is coming across content that you as an individual find ridiculous, puzzling, or downright hilarious. Perhaps others might even feel the same way but the deal is, not everyone shares the same perspective or sense of humor.

We live in a world inside and outside of journalism where there is no shortage of people who are offended by mere words or images or the combination of such and/or the manner in which they are presented.

In fact, I imagine someone will find something here along the way to be resentful or irritating.

Like countless other professions, we in this field are expected to perform our duties with skill and acknowledgment. Many times, that is an easy task but sometimes it’s not. When it isn’t, the reasons have nothing to do with disrespect or insensitivity.

The difficulty lies with the absurd or at least the common perception of what’s deemed illogical, irrational, or ludicrous.

I think however, things become easier with an ongoing story or series of events. Take the controversies encircling Congressman George Santos (R-NY). The revelations began scarcely two months ago yet seem to add on to a virtual tote board almost daily.

There is a thesaurus full of adjectives to describe the goings on and while the late-night talk and morning zoos can have all the fun they want, the news has to play it straight.

Network and local news anchors and reporters run the risk of appearing almost deadpan in their delivery because comedy is not what they are there for. They are not what’s funny, it’s the truth or at least the information they’re presenting that’s funny.

Nevertheless, they have to tell it cold. That’s not easy.

With stories like Santos’, I’m pretty sure an almost journalistic immunity is developed over the days and weeks as new information whether they be claims, accusations, or questions emerge regularly.

More challenging are the sporadic tales of truth that fall into an undiagnosed category yet are still news and are in fact, information worthy of dissemination.

Take a simple local burglary as an example: a theft from a local hotel room. Neat, straightforward, and makes for an easy anchor read over the surveillance photo of the suspect who got into somebody’s room and made off with a Gucci bag, a Fendi bag, and a hairless cat named Princess.

That anchor read best be off-camera and not with an over the shoulder shot of the suspect. Unless your anchor is a statue.

I’m sorry, nobody should be the victim of a crime and nobody should have their pet stolen but where I come from, if you start talking up hairless cats…somebody’s giggling.

We all know what happened to Mr. Bigglesworth and Rachel’s impulse buy.

Radio people, you’re on your own.

Day in and day out, regular people do stupid things or criminals get caught with their pants down and as long as nobody dies or is hurt and fortunes are not lost, it can usually become a kicker story and everyone is happy and gets a laugh in the process.

But life and news stories don’t always work that way. Sadly, and uncomfortably, people die awkwardly or get hurt in strange ways. The mere telling of the tale becomes uncomfortable or there are details so pertinent yet clumsy that they must be included.

If you look at the words macabre or dark, they are often followed by the humor. But most times, a journalist cannot go that way while telling a story.

And of course, there are no shortages in the objections to depictions and descriptions society once found historically and socially acceptable. Many legal and community challenges develop over team sports names, club monikers, etc.

People have opinions.

These stories usually present little or no challenge to the journalist as there has developed over time a growing dialogue and positions of support on all sides to addressing the issue or change proposed.

There are always exceptions or at least some stories like this harder than others to tell while walking in a straight line.

I refer back to some read-in content summarizing a movement calling to end the use of the word “mummy” for what or who we have come to know as mummified remains. From what I’ve read, museums in the UK are moving away from the term in favor of longer descriptions as the singular term is perceived to be dehumanizing.

Unexpected perhaps, but worth pondering.

There’s no effort to decry or defend the position here but the perception of a viewing, listening, or reading audience is predictably likely to be mixed and varied, ranging from a fist in the air, “right on” to an eye-rolling, “seriously?”.

Those telling this story need to know that so they can drive the information home head on without veering off the road of stoicism and professional passivity.

It’s times like these when a true poker face is a gift.

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