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Bryan Nehman Believes Chemistry is King on WBAL

“Our interactions are totally authentic. Organic. Some things he’ll be more upset about than me.”

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The Wire, which debuted on HBO in 2002, is widely considered the finest broadcast show of all time. The show depicts life on Baltimore streets, dysfunction in the police department and local government, a broken school system, and extreme violence and drug activity. But that’s just Hollywood writing. Right? Bryan Nehman disagrees.

“It would be accurate to say the show is totally fair,” said the veteran broadcaster and Maryland native Nehman. “Some things depicted aren’t as bad, some aspects are far worse. There is so much corruption in the city. Our mayor had to resign. Our police chief has been indicted and charged with a crime. A state attorney was indicted on the Federal level. We have massive problems as a city and The Wire hit it to a ‘T.’ The schools are a mess. Anybody that says it isn’t hasn’t been here.”

Nehman is the co-host of C4 and Bryan Nehman weekday mornings on WBAL NewsRadio 1090 and FM 101.5.

Nehman is Maryland through and through. He grew up in Crofton, Maryland, attended Arundel High School, and is a graduate of the University of Maryland. His radio career began with an internship for the Bowie Baysox and led to reporting and anchoring at WNAV and WMAL before joining WBAL.

At WBAL, Nehman has been paired with Charles Mitchell IV, also known as C4.

“C4’s family essentially is Baltimore,” Nehman explained. “He’s one of the area’s most recognizable and respected voices.”

Mitchell IV comes from a long line of politicians. His family was among the pillars of the Civil Rights movement. The courthouse in Baltimore is named after his father. His uncle was a U.S. Congressman. He comes from a very important family in Maryland.

Nehman said he’s an Independent, and so is his partner C4.

“I’m a former Republican who essentially soured on the party,” Nehman said. “I imagine our show is perceived by some to be conservative. We talk about issues and bring in guests from both sides. Have good conversations. Our opinions can be strong but we’ve had great success in keeping things civil. Something you can learn from.”

Nehman said they don’t script their show and there is no contrived outrage.

“Chemistry is everything,” Nehman said. “You must do something that is natural. I’ve worked with many different people on morning shows. You don’t have to be best friends off the air. On-air chemistry is critical.”

He seems to have it with C4.

“Our interactions are totally authentic. Organic. Some things he’ll be more upset about than me. We try to be engaging and have a good fight. That’s usually the feeling we experience after people come on our show. It’s fantastic.”

According to Nehman, a lot of people in the state legislature and city government listen to the show.

“They’re all welcome to have a voice on our show,” he said. “We’re not going to pitch softballs. We’re not Sean Hannity.”

Nehman said Mitchell IV has made him a better broadcaster. He said C4 is an optimist, always looking at someone’s better side.

“I’m not really that way,” Nehman confessed. “I’m not a Debbie Downer, but I am most definitely a Reality Rick. Clarence has helped me examine things from all sides before I go off on a tangent. I’m generally a cool customer but I can get riled up.”

His moving from a larger market in D.C. up the road to Baltimore was a head-scratcher for many in the industry where upward movement is the goal.

“I knew it was a smart move for me,” Nehman said. “I always saw what was happening in Baltimore. I felt WBAL would be a more stable move both short and long-term. WBAL was based in news and I wanted to get back to that.”

It worked out well for his family, which was a prime consideration. Nehman grew up smack-dab in the middle of both cities. The family didn’t even have to move homes for the switch.

“I was comfortable as someone who knew everything about Baltimore,” Nehman said. “Truth is, I know a lot about both cities. We are equidistant to both cities, about 25 miles. And live in the same house.”

Nehman studied history at the University of Maryland.

“I credit the history department with helping me learn to write,” Nehman said. “We were constantly writing essays, taking written exams. You had to write a lot. I learned so much about modern political history through teachings at Maryland.”

While he got into Maryland back in the day, Nehman doesn’t believe he had the grades to get in today.

“It’s a better school than it was when I was there.”

In high school and college, Nehman said he was a friend to most kids in high school.

“I guess I was a jock too, but I got along with people. I was interested in pop- culture and history. I could talk about anything, which helped me in my career.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to people talk about sports.”

When he was 15, Nehman said he was one of the kids listening to AM radio in bed. Nehman said he was amazed he could get Chicago Blackhawks games in Maryland all the way from Illinois.

“I’d listen to Costas Coast to Coast every Sunday night. I loved that format and Bob Costas. I just loved radio. I was the kind of guy that listened to the news. I don’t know if anyone else in my age group in high school listened to the news. I’d call into WMAL to talk about sports when I was a kid.”

Nehman also enjoyed listening to Tony Kornheiser, a broadcaster Nehman said provided great stories.

“He’d bring in so many political figures on his show,” Nehman said. “Rush Limbaugh was a gigantic influence on my career. You may not have agreed with him,  but he was brilliant. He was what gravitated me toward right-wing talk. Rush had his own sound. His own cadence.”

Nehman said Limbaugh never rushed his speech. He said Limbaugh and Kornheiser were on opposite sides of the political spectrum but he learned a lot from both. Nehman said politics were not as volatile as today.

“It used to be more of a professional taste for the listener, now it’s much more niche,” Nehman said.

In an early gig, Nehman worked at WNAV in Annapolis, Maryland. He got that job because he interned for the Bowie Baysox at the University of Maryland.

“The station manager said he’d pay me $5.25 an hour to push buttons,” Nehman explained. Nehman quickly agreed.

“I went from College Park to Annapolis each Saturday night. When I left College Park, all my friends were partying. When I finished my shift at WMAD, I’d drive back home and my friends were still partying.” Nehman said his pals didn’t listen to his shift as they weren’t really into Frank Sinatra.

I talked with Nehman as he was heading down to Sarasota, Florida for a few days to take in some of the Orioles spring training.

“The station is sending us down,” Nehman said. “They give us some great perks and they don’t fire people. They send you places, instead. In Baltimore, the Orioles and Ravens mean a lot to the city. Not just economically, but how they’ve improved the city in general.”

Nehman admits the Orioles have been so bad for so long it has been a bit depressing.

“It’s all about money,” Nehman said. “For a long time, they couldn’t compete with the Red Sox and Yankees.”

Nehman said it’s pretty clear the future is digital.

“There’s no doubt in my mind about that,” he said. “It’s the future. Podcasts are getting some traction. I read a comment recently where some Gen Z kid wrote, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a podcast in real time?’ I thought, Geez. They don’t even know radio exists. We’ve got to figure that out.”

According to Nehman, radio is like a cockroach. It will be the last thing to go after a nuclear war. Somebody has got to talk into a microphone.

Nehman doesn’t necessarily hope his kids follow in his footsteps, he just wants them to be happy.

“I was having this same conversation with my fourth grader,” Nehman said. “My middle child is more like me. Maybe even more of a downer,” he jokes. “I tell them happiness doesn’t come from just being rich. There’s so much more than money. There’s the family work balance, not dreading going to work every day. I may have some anxiousness about a show at times, but I’ve never dreaded going into the station. Never dreaded going into work.”

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As History Unfolds, It’s Important for News/Talk Radio to Remain Focused on Playing the Hits

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward.

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The age-old radio adage is to “Play the hits”.

It applies more directly to music stations, but the phrase can also relate to sports talk and news/talk. So, suppose you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself behind a microphone on a news/talk station the last couple of weeks. In that case, you might be having an internal conversation about whether you’ve focused too much on the national political discourse since the unforgettable Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden debate on June 27th.

My short answer is: No, you’re not too focused. 

But in an effort to not stop this column at 100 words, I’ll explain further.

I’ve long advocated for focusing your local shows on your local radio markets as much as possible. It will separate your show from the national syndication that can be piped into any station nationwide. Your local flair is what will build your credibility in your community. It’s what will separate you. Local will win. 

And given that it’s been an unusually predictable few months in the election news cycle, there hasn’t been much to lean into on the national political side. Joe Biden was the unimpressive, octogenarian incumbent going up against Donald Trump, who rolled quickly through a primary and was set to be at the top of the Republican ticket for a third-straight election cycle. It was a rematch of 2020, a period in American history most Americans would prefer to forget, given the state of the nation at the time. Unfortunately for many, they are being forced to relive it. 

However, what happened two weeks ago in Atlanta between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has given a massive jolt to an election season that had been relatively boring. Tens of millions of Americans were tuned in that evening, and given Biden’s debate performance, it has kicked off two weeks of speculation of Biden dropping out, party infighting, replacement conversations, various media reports, and drama that we haven’t seen around an incumbent President in an election year since 1968.

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward engagingly and entertainingly while also, when appropriate, bringing on guests who will provide them with insight they can bring to their conversations with friends, at the water cooler, on group texts and on social media.

In a perfect world, you can also localize these national stories by getting reactions from local officials, reading/playing their social media reactions on your show, or if you’re in a swing state, your options beyond that are unlimited.

But now that we are in a national news cycle that has been on fire, don’t force yourself into local talk. Find your top local stories that are compelling and impacting your radio listener’s day-to-day lives, and work to blend it with the historical moment we find ourselves living through on the national political stage. And always be working your hardest to think of and find new angles, while moving the story forward.

In the end, just like your local CHR station has to play Taylor Swift multiple times an hour, you need to give your audience what they want and “Play the hits.” We’re living through history, after all.

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James Golden AKA Bo Snerdley Relishes New Nationally Syndicated Weekend Show

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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(Photo: James Golden)

Radio host, radio executive, producer, author, and a jack of all media trades. Since he was 14-years-old James Golden (AKA Bo Snerdley) has devoted his entire life to the media industry.

The on-air talent’s weekend show —The James Golden Show — just became syndicated through Red Apple Audio Networks.

“I really appreciate having the platform that WABC has provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have a show that’s now in a bunch of different markets and growing! It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Long before Golden hit the airwaves as ‘Bo Snerdley’ on The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a teenager visiting his cousin, DJ Gerry Bledsoe, at work. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. So many things happened that day. In fact, that day was when one of the older guys there, the guy who’s had a reputation as being a real grumpy, curmudgeon type guy, for some reason, took a liking to me.”

He let Golden into the show where Golden learned how to cut tape. “It took me a lot of years before I actually got a job, and ironically, it was at the same station, doing marketing and research, looking at ratings and learning how to analyze ratings and learning how to do marketing. Later on, I moved into the programming side and started doing music research.”

James Golden was one of the first in the country to do music research which led him to WABC. There he worked with the station’s transition from music to their first talk program.

“I think in life you’re given the sort of the things that you need to fulfill whatever destiny you have. I had always been interested in news, politics, and all of it. This dual love I had for music, it allowed me to transition when the station changed format and to become their senior producer of news. And it was at ABC some years later that I met Rush Limbaugh. And of course, that turned into a 30-year relationship.”

The Author of “Rush On The Radio,” recalled the first time the pair met. “So my first day working on his show, I brought him some news stories. I was in the habit of doing that before I even worked on his show. I developed a friendship. When I saw something interesting, that I thought he would be interested in and I would take it to him. So it was a smooth transition for me being rotated on the show.”

It wasn’t before long James Golden became Bo Snerdley. “So I walked in, dropped off some stories, and on the way out he says, ‘Well, everybody on this call screen has got to be a Snerdley, have you come up with your name?’ So The Daily News was on his desk, and it was on the sports page. Bo Jackson was in the news for some of the headlines, but I just wasn’t able watch it. So I just said ‘Bo’ and walked out. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I’d be Bo. But it’s great and I love it. I’m comfortable with either one.”

Golden recalled the time spent with his friend saying, “No words can ever describe it. He was the best that there ever was to me, or ever will be in the industry. His talent, as he said, was on loan from God. But it was something unique. The incredibly intelligent, incredibly hardworking. 30 years in, he still brought it. Even when he was sick, [Rush] did as much of the work that he could to make sure that his show was extremely well researched and well delivered.”

While working on Rush’s show, James Golden also had his own weekend show. He worked 7 days a week for years. Today, he is back at his radio home. “Back at WABC, doing six days on air with them, and it’s just been a wonderful ride for me.”

Throughout the years, the former executive producer turned host has seen significant change in the industry.

“For some people, it’s not as much fun as it used to be. And I’ll just speak frankly about that. When the bean counters took over because of corporate interest — instead of it being a lot of different families with smaller radio groups, it moved into more of a big business — for a lot of people a lot of the fun was taken out of it, because those decisions that used to be made locally are now being made by regional managers or by national managers, some of whom had more of a background in sales and didn’t understand the programing,” he shared.

“So there’s always that schism. And so for a lot of people in the industry, I have friends who have left the industry because it just was no longer fun for them.”

Another big difference? You no longer have to work your way up through the markets.

“You had to work your way up through lower markets to get to a higher market. You don’t have to do that now. People that are just good at what they do, if they have very good communication skills, you can learn how to become [one of the] best radio hosts. There’s only one best radio host and [Rush] passed away, but it is still about your ability to tell a good story. To understand and to I think it really is how much you are in love with the medium yourself.”

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The Difference Between News/Talk Radio Programmer and Bureaucrat

The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets.

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Let’s talk about the worst aspect of every news/talk radio programmer’s job: commercial stops, those designed traffic jams that occur every ten or twenty minutes bringing your excellent content to a dead halt. And so, you wait, knowing full well that you’re losing a significant percentage of your audience to button pushers looking for a station where talkers are still talking and news is still being broadcast.

The way most news and talk radio stations operate today commercial clutter takes up 20-30 minutes of each programming hour. It would be nice to say that’s because your inventory is sold out thanks to great ratings but we know better. It happens because it’s allowed to happen. Some of that load is likely bonus spots and far too much of it consists of recorded promos that use branding phrases begging the listener to wait through the clutter.

Yes, commercials are necessary but there are some things to consider that might make them less annoying and potentially informative and entertaining.

Warning: old fart flashback straight ahead.

When I was a young program director I had the authority to reject any spots that I didn’t feel met our standards. Yes, I’m quite serious. I didn’t exercise the option often but if a spot was of lousy audio quality, badly produced, boring, or even just plain stupid, I could kick it back to the sales exec and/or ad agency and ask them politely to make it better.

You might think that could result in an impolite opposite reaction. It never did, not once. From time to time I talked with an advertiser or his agent and they always said the same thing: You’re the expert. I want my time and money spent well on your station.

Sales execs could get annoyed but usually went along as good teammates without too much grousing. Besides, schmoozing clients with better ideas is part of their art; the best enjoy it.

Often these conversations would lead to brainstorming sessions with the production director. (Remember that creative and crucial position?) Ideas were tossed around, writing began and a highly effective ad was usually the result.

If you’re a program director or air talent today your mind must be reeling. It has probably never occurred to you that you could have the authority to actually determine all of your news/talk station’s programming, not just the words between the breaks, every blessed minute. Why not? You’re responsible for your station’s content 24/7 though you have no control over half of it.

Most program directors in corporate-owned stations today have been hired as functionaries at the end of a long chain of corporate bureaucrats. Your days are filled with layers of programming and sales hierarchies. Presidents have lieutenants, regional and format V.P.s, who send out the memos and convene Zoom meetings to address general issues with generalized answers.

They dive into recent studies and charts for boilerplate policies, seldom suggesting anything bold or of local significance because they can’t, they don’t know your town. The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets. They’re smart enough to know that what worked in Boston might not fly in Amarillo – except in a vague, general way.

As a local PD today your log is bloated, your programming is filled with syndicated shows, and your hands are tied. 

Unless you have a creative fire in your belly and the guts to assert it.

Dream up great promotions that will excite your audience in your hometown. Enlist the members of your on-air, newsroom, and production staff. Invite them to a pizza place for some brainstorming. Don’t make it mandatory, suggest it will be fun and exciting because it will. Your crew will be happier and bubbling tomorrow. Before long fresh ideas will start trickling in regularly because everyone is enthused, involved, and feeling appreciated. You’ll all make each other’s great ideas even greater. You’re having fun and it’s contagious.

If you can ignite a spark of excitement and faith from your GM and sales department you might find yourself with the programming reigns in both hands.

You weren’t hired to be a clickbait expert, you are a radio expert. You know more about the stuff that comes out of the speakers than anyone else at the station. And you can identify problems and turn them into opportunities. You need to spend your days refining the product, not in endless meetings trying to implement generalized corporate buzzspeak into local program policy.

Attend the Zoom meetings, be a cheerful good soldier but if called upon speak your mind with truth and passion. It’s infectious.

Explain to your boss why you should be allowed to reduce the on-air clutter by as much as half and that you need to spend most of your time every day with your news and talk talent because they’re your stars. It’s why they pay you. The station and the community are all that matters to you.

Tell her/him you’ll read the interoffice memos faithfully and join digital meetings when you can but that the corporate culture will mostly just have to take care of itself.

And, oh, by the way, you need the authority to reject bad radio commercials.

You may not get everything you ask for but I promise you’ll earn some respect.

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