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Rich Valdes Was Mentored By Talk Radio Titans

“One of the first things Mark taught me was to be genuine. He told me you can’t go on the air and be someone you’re not comfortable with.”

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Regardless of how much experience someone has in an industry, you’re taking on a whole new world when you replace a legend. Rich Valdes has always been cognizant of that.

Jim Bohannon passed away last November after decades on top of the radio industry. Bohannon was the primary fill-in host for Larry King’s national radio show and Bohannon’s show aired on 300 stations across the country at the time of his death.

“I filled in for Jim for a few months while he was in treatment for cancer,” Valdes said.

When he got his own nationally syndicated show, Valdes recognized how the slot had only two hosts in 45 years; Larry King and Jim Bohannon. Bohannon’s show was one of the most coveted slots, number 15 out of 20 when Valdes took over.

“I just said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ I was ready to become an old man in that seat. To become a  cantankerous conservative curmudgeon for the rest of my days.”

Bohannon told Valdes before he took over his slot, ‘You have a track record, people have heard you and you’ve got the goods and the talent,” Bohannon said. “You have the ability to do the job’.”

Filling in for Bohannon allowed Valdes to better understand what made Bohannon so great. Valdes shared that doing talk radio has been one of the greatest challenges of his life. Valdes studied Bohannon and his on-air presence.

“When they told me I was going to be filling in for Jim, I started listening to hours and hours and hours of his tapes to hear his style and his cadence, just to make sure that I delivered the show the way the audience was looking for and expected.”

Westwood One has rebranded Bohannon’s show as Rich Valdes’ America at Night, airing Monday through Friday from 10:00 PM – 1:00 AM ET.

Valdes started as an associate producer on Mark Levin’s show, which at the time was the second largest nationally syndicated live daily conservative talk radio program in the US.

It was Levin who enthusiastically endorsed Valdés for his new hosting role. Bohannon called Valdes “a very bright, vibrant young man. Levin once said of Valdes that he was an “unapologetic patriot.”

“What I think he was saying was a lot of people are willing to go along to get along,” Valdes explained. “For example,  standing for the pledge of allegiance. I don’t care who is looking or doing what. We’re standing for that. For love of our country. For entertaining and informing others.”

Levin also coined Valdes as “Your liberty-loving Latino amigo.”

“That’s a nickname Mark Levin gave me when I filled in as a guest host on his show,” Valdes explained. “One of the first things Mark taught me was to be genuine. He told me you can’t go on the air and be someone you’re not comfortable with. ‘Richie, always be yourself,’ he’d tell me. You’re funny, smart and you’re good at being you. Nobody else can be you. Some hosts try to emulate other hosts, but listeners can detect that.”

On his show Valdes takes calls throughout the night. However, the final hour of the night is dedicated to calls from across the country covering all the hot topics from the day.

A couple of Valdes’favorite radio hosts and influences include Mark Levin, Curtis Sliwa, John Batchelor, and Spanish-language broadcaster Luis Jimenez.

“Curtis is very good and has always been a radio geek,” Valdes said. “He’s a protegee of Bob Grant. Grant used to say things like, ‘Get off my phone you skunk.’ He gave pushback but was funny at the same time. Both treated a topic or conversation in their own way. Curtis brings his Brooklyn upbringing onto the show.”

Valdes said Sliwa is a product from his neighborhood. That’s his whole thing.

“He’s a very local sounding New York host, with all the slang, sayings, and a whole lot of humor,” Valdes said. “Curtis has a lot of contrarian points. He routinely attacked whichever mayor was in office, except the ones who were tough on crime. He always told me, ‘Richie, it’s theater of the mind. Take them on a journey, paint them a picture.’”

When Valdes was 33, he was working in government. His mother had passed away and his father died a few years after that.

“I guess I was a little depressed and had enough of working in government,” Valdes explained. “I’d taken some time off to take care of my dad, living off savings for a couple of years. A friend of mine told me I was always listening to talk radio, and I should get into the field. To me, that was like saying I wanted to be in the NFL. It just wasn’t realistic. Not on my radar.”

Valdes figured you needed a connection or hookup to make something like that happen.

“I’d never gone to school for broadcasting so it wasn’t in the cards.”

The friend urged Valdes to reach out to connections he already had, people in his network. That was the way to open doors.

“I took his advice,” Valdes said. “Mark Levin was looking for a producer to handle the live call-in portion of the show, the screening, assisting with other stuff. They didn’t want anyone who lacked a background in politics and policy. I was a news junkie, so that fit in with what they were looking for.”

Valdes knew he loved radio, but as in anything else you may enjoy, but don’t know how to get into.

“It’s like when you’re looking at a Mustang,” Valdes explained. “You may love the car but that doesn’t mean you know how to be a grease monkey, jump right into the engine. Radio people are fascinating. I’ve always worn a suit to work. Radio people never wear a suit to work. I think that’s so cool.”

Valdes served a couple of years in Chris Christie’s administration in New Jersey, mostly in the department of children and families, family success centers and other program management.

“I went wherever the governor’s office wanted me to go,” Valdes said. “I was a liaison of cross-developmental functions. Whatever was in the administration’s best interest. I was at the forefront of a lot of significant cuts to state budgets.

I imagine they were looking for someone they felt could communicate.”

Valdes worked as director of communications for a small college in New Jersey.

“I studied communications, organizational behavior, and business.  I was always a talker,” he said. “I’d analyze culture, trends, underperforming staff and areas, charting, finding people that were in the wrong places.”

That expertise led him to a TEDx Talk at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.

“It was an education-focused forum regarding innovation,” Valdes said.

Someone had referred Valdes for this talk as he’d dealt with students, outreach and faith-based organizations. In his forum Valdes explained how people can use their own networks and political skills to navigate their own lives, the politics of education.

“It took me a couple of months to complete that presentation,” Valdes said. “I wanted it to be flawless. I had a quote from Einstein I memorized for the presentation, but I forgot it. It didn’t come out the way I’d intended. At the end of the day, there was great applause. The organizers said I did a great job. It taught me something about my radio career. You may think you have a monologue all set and you’re ready to knock people dead, only you forget a piece of it. The clock runs out and you have to rely on your instincts and experience.”

Faith is an important part of Valdes’ life.  He said for many people faith can be overshadowed by popular culture.

“We have block parties in our neighborhood and it’s the church that makes things like that happen. It is the church that brings communities together.”

Relating to his show, Valdes said listeners can be confident they are listening to the genuine article every time they tune in.

“I could never perpetuate something I don’t believe in,” Valdes explained. “It goes back to always being authentic, the thing Mark Levin said to me. Some topics need to be covered whether you disagree with me or not. I’ll always stand by my opinions. People will call in angry, calling with a contrary point. I just thank them for their call and move on.”

Valdes said he’d rather lose his job than have listeners think he compromised his actual beliefs and views.

“Nobody at Westwood One has ever asked me to change my opinion for the company,” Valdes explained. “Personally, I feel the company’s goal is to weed those kinds of fakers out, ensuring they are authentic on the air.”

Valdes said he can recall many times he sat in his driveway just listening to the radio, unable to pull away.

“My wife would open the front door and see me sitting there, asking me why I was just sitting there. I told her I wanted to see what Levin was going to say to that guy on hold. Listening to Levin does that to me.”

He explained Air America was always crying, whining, moaning.

“You couldn’t laugh on the air. Oh, never. That would be horrible,” he said with sarcasm. “They were always relating how this was the worst place ever, despite having all the opportunities in front of them. For someone to trash the U.S. when I see people coming from all over to live here, just doesn’t make sense to me. Also, people don’t subscribe to their hard left ideology.”

Valdes believes he understands why there is a dearth of left-leaning shows on the air.

“I think the free market is responsible for the lack of left-leaning shows,” he said. “We had Air America, but that basically sucked. It just wasn’t good. Radio, above all else, should be entertaining and informative. You have to get people to want to stay in there during a commercial to see what you’re saying on the other side of what you started.”

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1 Comment

  1. Tim Rice

    February 21, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    Growing up in Chicago, I am familiar with many great radio hosts. Rich Valdes (With an S) belongs!

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BNM Writers

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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Jordan Peterson Has a New Model for Higher Education

“We built a social media network into the platform and we hope that it will be the best social media network that there is.”

Rick Schultz

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A photo of Jordan Peterson
(Photo: Jordan Peterson)

Is it time to give higher education a makeover? Yes – according to one of the world’s preeminent thought leaders — Jordan Peterson — who is changing the game for higher levels of learning.

A segment this weekend on Fox News Digital highlighted famed psychologist and author, Jordan Peterson, as he discussed his new mission to educate the masses in a new and innovative way through his new start-up, the Peterson Academy.

“So what have we got with Peterson Academy?” he began. “Well, it’s a University in that we feature the best University professors in the world. And I have the privilege of being able to call on such people and to make them a good offer and to have them participate avidly and to teach only what they really want to teach in the way they want to teach it.”

Peterson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, has written three books that have sold more than seven million copies. A simple online search will turn up many of his most notable philosophical monologues, covering such topics as morality, finances and culture. His massive worldwide following allows him to call on the best of the best to teach through his new venture.

“We bring them down to our studio in Miami or go to their home country to film them and we’ve produced, I think, the best courses that have ever been filmed. Not only in terms of their academic content but also in terms of the production quality. So very high-quality production levels, using animation and background images and all filmed in front of a live audience,” Peterson noted. 

Collaborating with students is old hat for Peterson. Throughout his career, he has taught some of the most highly regarded courses at Harvard and the University of Toronto. In addition, he has published more than a hundred scientific papers with his students and co-authors. And his material will not be the run-of-the-mill brainwashing many think their children receive at typical colleges and universities.

“Very focused courses. No politically correct nonsense,” Peterson said of the course material at Peterson Academy. “The opportunity for people to obtain a bachelor’s degree to begin with. We’re not accredited but we’re working on that, and we have ways of dealing with that that I can talk about.”

Due to government collusion through the student loan industry, costs for higher education have skyrocketed in recent decades. As many experts have pointed out, rising tuition costs are caused by the government’s insistence on saddling teenagers with astronomical debt loads. All to the benefit of mostly far-left universities and their personnel, who live off the taxpayer largess.

“We hope to bring down the price of a bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s degree equivalent by, like, 95 percent. And I think we can do that,” Peterson said optimistically. “But more than that, we have stellar lecturers and we have stellar courses. We have accreditation processes, examinations let’s say, that teach while the examinations are occurring.”

In his mind, however, the new organization will add much more value than just nuts and bolts education. 

“More than that, we’ve understood as we’ve assessed what a university does, that you think of a university as professors and lectures and exams. But that’s a small fraction of what a university does. A university provides young people a place to mature and a place to develop a new community of peers. And hypothetically a place to find a mate. And those are very valuable services that people don’t think about as the university,” Peterson said. 

The Peterson Academy is founded by Peterson and Mikhaila Fuller, and students can enter their email address on the website to be notified of the organization’s official launch. The site slates June as the official launch.

“Universities bring bright, young people who are ambitious together and they can meet each other. And so they form social network, they form romantic relationships. That’s part of the reason the universities can get away with charging, like, three hundred thousand dollars for a four-year degree,” Peterson told Fox News Digital. 

As part of his other work, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast frequently tops the charts in the Education category. Peterson often creates memorable sound bites with his direct, common-sense approach to many of the more complex societal issues. For this, he has garnered a loyal tribe of followers, eager to hear his take on some of the more thorny issues facing the world. He has taken that same networking approach to begin building a following for his new university.

“We built a social media network into the platform and we hope that it will be the best social media network that there is. And for a variety of reasons I think we’ve taken the best features of the social media networks that currently exist,” he said. 

The Peterson Academy is tentatively set to launch this month, targeting a unique audience that seeks thoughtful, truth-based higher learning.

“We’re going to have a very specialized audience, right,” Peterson said. “It’s only going to be people that want to be educated and want to be educated in a manner that isn’t politically correct.”

Peterson told Fox News Digital, his new online university will “help people fulfill their desire to get a true education that they can’t find in today’s ‘demented’ and ‘unsalvageable’ universities, all at a much more affordable price.

As the world lurches back toward freedom of thought and educational choice free of liberal biases, Peterson summed up his organization’s thesis Saturday on a post on X.

“I would like to extend my thanks to the modern university (@Harvard and @Columbia in particular) for doing everything they can to make my endeavours both necessary and successful.”

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BNM Writers

Do News Media Members Need a Copywriting Refresher?

Broadcast news, with very few exceptions, has gone over to the side of the cute and cuddly, the shiny and shocking, the “poke you with a stick to get your attention” society.

Bill Zito

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A photo of a dictionary page

We are in a banner year here already and we are barely halfway done. 2024 has already seen the 96th annual Academy Awards, the 75th Emmy Awards, the 77th Tony Awards but of course none of them can outshine last month’s release of the 57th edition of the Associated Press Stylebook for use of news media members everywhere.

(Yes, kids it’s out there. Buy it, collect it, trade it with your friends.)

I kid because I love. I think somebody has to set some rules so it might as well be the AP. Yes, I realize there’s also the Chicago Style Guide as well as a few others but really, there are Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, and their associates as well but I didn’t read those either.

I think the guides are great references and maybe they are the ultimate authority in a lot of cases but I’m fairly sure a scarce, few platforms outside of the giants in print pay them the mind they once did. I myself, stand in AP’s corner because they still shun the Oxford comma as any fine, upstanding outlet should be doing.

Besides, in TV and radio writing (Yes, TV News uses the written word on occasion) most everything said on air is written in all capitals while all accurate and dignified terminology is exchanged for sayings and slang like, “Creep,” “Accosted” and “Gunned Down.”

It’s the more outlandish words that get the attention of the audience and nobody is really concerned anymore with proper capitalization, tense, or even proper pronunciation.

(Yes, an overstatement on my part but with more than a hint of truth to it,)

In the new edition of the AP’s guide, there is much devoted to the use of words relating to law and justice, when and how to refer to those convicted of crimes and suspected of them as well.

Progress is good, right?

When is a criminal not a criminal but instead a person convicted of a crime?

Is it an assault weapon or is it not and does it matter when it comes to the story or the headline?

Is the teen a juvenile or is the child a minor and is using the wrong one hurtful or dehumanizing?

A rose by any other name…yes, yes, we get it.

Consider another identifier or descriptor that style guides might suggest if we followed them without impunity.

Is Mike Tyson a boxer who is also a convicted rapist or is convicted rapist Mike Tyson also a boxer?

I’m okay with growth and development in speech and description if for no other reason that over time it has gotten most of us to stop using words we shouldn’t be using and to start identifying people and circumstances as what they truly are.

Having never been formally schooled on AP style as I was not educated or raised as a journalist I’ve always played fast and loose with my writing and struggle with anything beyond the very standard first and second references and abbreviations.

Don’t get me started again on the Oxford comma as I’m still stopping random people on the street and asking people when and where that pretentious and superfluous bit of claptrap came about.

I offer nothing but praise for the noble newspaper reporters and editors as I largely consider the talented among them to be the last bastion of civilization in journalism.

Broadcast news, with very few exceptions, has gone over to the side of the cute and cuddly, the shiny and shocking, the “poke you with a stick to get your attention” society.

To reiterate, I like when there are rules and guidelines, as long as they are there for the right reasons. If you’re promoting accuracy and clarity, I’m on your team. If you’re latching on to an agenda, public interest pressure or political correctness which muddies the waters of truth, you and I have a problem.

I have often found myself at odds with some writing styles, sayings and/or manners of speech when it comes to reporting in general and it’s not always about grammar or AP stylistics.

Unless you can prove immediate malice or criminality, I take great exception when a journalist tells an audience a police officer gunned down a suspect especially referring to an officer involved shooting. It’s cool NYPD Blue talk but it’s misleading and inflammatory. Let’s wait for the investigation, okay?

Alleged is a great word. Overused, misused, a crutch used by those inexperienced and demanded by jitter news management who have no concept of the parameters of slander, defamation and libel.

Person of Interest and Suspect, both names of TV shows which is why the news media often gets them wrong when reporting about criminal activity. It’s certainly easy enough to check and learn how and when to use these words before you hit the air.

And finally, a personal favorite and one we can all remember and enjoy:  You don’t have to be the New York Post to call the police officer a cop to know that it’s not disrespectful.

Somebody somewhere once told somebody in news that cops don’t like to be called cops.

Of course, there are exceptions. As an ex-cop I can tell you that real cops don’t mind being called cops. Those who insist on being referred to as police officers at all times probably never got their uniforms dirty.

A cop is always a police officer, but a police officer is not always a cop.

Or to put it differently:

A Journalist is always a Member of the Press, but a Member of the Press is not always a Journalist.

Not long ago, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lobbied hard (and succeeded) to have the media refrain from using the term, committed suicide, when describing a person taking their own life. The argument being that it tainted the act with criminality, contrition, or fault. The AP updated its guide to reflect the terms, completed suicide or the more often used, died by suicide and encouraged journalists to make use of these wordings along with “killed themselves” or “took their own life.”

As the husband of a wife (a retired police officer) who committed suicide, I have no objection to writing, saying, or hearing those words in describing the tragedy. In my viewpoint, it is what happened, and were it to be reported in the news, alternative language would not have made a bit of difference. I also have worked extensively with AFSP and other suicide prevention organizations over the years and I disagree with them on this point. But that’s all it is, a difference of opinion and a matter of perspective.

The idea of an organization, a political lobby, or corporate entity pushing the free press into a viewpoint or a particular way to tell a story does not leave me with feelings of comfort. That’s a larger concern of course when it comes to regulated style, less worrisome are where and when to use capital letters, accents, or quotes, but the ideas are still worthy of scrutiny by any of us who report what’s going on. 

The truth is still the truth and the masthead and byline, or their broadcast equivalent must stand by the story they are telling and the way they are telling it.

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