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Mike DeWald Has Learned From News Radio’s Best Reporters

“If you lined up three stories and wanted to pick the best, it’s probably going to be the one that stuck with you.”

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In Santa Rosa, California there’s an ice rink once owned by cartoonist Charles M. Shulz, the guy that gave us Charlie Brown. It’s the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, more commonly known as Snoopy’s Home Ice. Mike DeWald told me he’s been skating at Charlie Brown’s place since 2010.

“It’s the best part of my week,” said Mike DeWald. “I don’t know what triggered my wanting to play. I guess I just wanted to try it. I played street hockey as a kid. One weekend I just went to the hockey store. It’s a pricey sport to get into, it all could have been a terrible mistake,” he joked. “Now I’m there three times a week. It’s sort of my way to unplug. You get away from everything. Sixty minutes of not having to think on those days.”

DeWald is a reporter with the Bay Area all-news station KCBS.

A good chunk of his life was spent producing The Drive with Steve Jaxon on KSRO for 13 years on  KSRO 1350-AM/103.5-FM. 13 years. That’s longer than most human marriages. Only Gray Wolves, Macaroni Penguins, and sandhill cranes tend to take their relationships as seriously.

Jaxon was very understanding of the move and DeWald’s need to take on a challenge. He probably figured it was time for the kid to spread his wings.

“I think Steve had a sense it would happen at some point,” DeWald explained. “It was tough for both of us.

They were on the same wavelength most of the time. That’s even more surprising when you consider DeWald was just 19 when he started working with Jaxon. They’re still friends and spend time together.

The fact DeWald went into any form of broadcasting may have surprised people who knew him when he was a kid.

“Early on I was the shyest person you ever met,” DeWald said. “You remember the shyest person you ever met? Well, I was shyer than that guy.

“I learned a lot from Steve. I learned about delivery, timing, and how to be comfortable with myself. Allow me to have my personality.”

DeWald said Jaxon had been a fixture in Sonoma County for a long time. He started as a music guy and worked at a bunch of stations from East Lansing to Austin.

“He had a vision of what he wanted to do,” DeWald said of Jaxon. “He wanted a heavy dose of lifestyle. He wanted artists, musicians, and people who did interesting things. Not unlike a late-night television show, only on radio.”

The show had a very exciting feel to it. They fed off each other’s energy. “To some extent, it was like, ‘let’s see how far we can push this.; We’ve crammed bands into the small studio space.”

I’m not sure if this is legal, but Jaxon once had a camel come into his studio. It was broadcast live on Facebook.

“That’s one of the funniest things I can remember,” DeWald said. “It was so messy. The camel destroyed the hallway, with mud everywhere. Our boss was on vacation and had the proverbial house to ourselves. If he knew we had a camel in the studio, we’d have been dead.”

It was so messy DeWald had to call a cleaning service and told them he had an emergency.

“They showed up at the station the next morning and I was already there.”

Jaxon may or may not have thrown DeWald under the camel, so to speak. The reason the camel was there in the first place is that a local ranch raises therapy animals.

“Every couple of months we’d have somebody from the ranch to talk about an animal on the air,” DeWald said. “A lot of times it was a serval cat. We had a skunk one time that had been de-skunked. We’d learn about the animal.”

DeWald said a regular guest on Jaxon’s show was comedian Paul Mecurio. He’s the guy who warms up the audience for Late Night With Stephen Colbert on CBS. He does the same for The Daily Show on Comedy Central.

“We had Paul on the show a ton of times,’ DeWald explained.

Mecurio was able to get DeWald tickets to see Colbert’s show in New York City. He said it was unbelievable to see all the show action in real-time.

“It’s much smaller than you’d think,” he said. The desk was small. The chairs were small. Even Stephen Colbert looked small.”

Mecurio warmed up audiences for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

“Paul brought us backstage after the show and we were going out for drinks,” DeWald explained. “He had to do something and told us to wait in the kitchen and that he’d be right back. We didn’t know what to do. So we were just standing around.”

Suddenly, in walks Jon Stewart, just milling around backstage doing whatever Jon Stewart does after a show.

“He was so cool,” DeWald remarked. “Jon Stewart is the most down-to-earth guy you could imagine. We didn’t want to bother him, but he approached us and started talking. He was talking about Paul and his kids. It was just one of those moments when you see yourself outside your body, hovering around.”

DeWald started in radio at 17 as a high school junior at Santa Rosa’s active rock station KXFX before moving to the News/Talk side, producing several shows on KSRO.

He scored an internship at 101.7 The Fox.

“I just jumped in,” DeWald said. “I excelled at the technical aspects of the job. Then a strange meeting. When the internship was completed, the first-morning show guy DeWald worked with escorted him to the GM’s office.

“I wasn’t sure where this was going,” DeWald said. He couldn’t be fired as technically wasn’t an employee. He also knew he performed his job well during his internship.

It was a conversation, not a formal interview. A get-to-know-you talk, as DeWald described it.

“I didn’t know what a job in radio entailed at the time, so it wasn’t my greatest performance,” recalled DeWald. “I think I made just enough of impression to keep my foot in the door for a call for an opening a year later.”

DeWald started with a part-time job opening at KCBS Radio in early 2020. It was a lot of work on the production side like scheduling interviews. After nine months they started letting him cover press conferences, and mold that coverage into a wrap.

“I was lucky because one of the reporters, Holly Quan, took me under her wing,’ DeWald explained. “She said ‘do this, try this, and don’t do that.’  She was an incredible mentor. I tried to learn as much as I could. I’ve worked with so many great reporters and editors, I tried to learn something from all of them.”

Some stories jump out at you when written and delivered in a special way. DeWald said he tried to key in on what made each reporter he worked with successful, and tried to harness it to form his own style and identity.

“Some reporters are very good at getting to the heart of the story,” DeWald explained. “They seem to discover what’s new and important and hone in on that.”

He described how some reporters excel at working with natural sound. Some can build an atmosphere and add it to the story. It could be a car door slamming, birds chirping, or dishes crashing.

“The really good reporters can be both informative and authoritative, but also conversational,” DeWald said. “They can present that story memorably. If you lined up three stories and wanted to pick the best, it’s probably going to be the one that stuck with you.”

The reporting role at KCBS Radio turned full time in 2022, with DeWald taking on a combination of AM Drive and weekend air shifts.

While many journalism graduates see themselves as the next big media personality, DeWald had no such aspirations. During his junior year in high school, he loved the production side of music. He thought the producer job was the coolest thing in the world. He loved the idea of creating things. Running a board. Engineering.

The first show DeWald produced was The David Glass Show in 2006. Glass was all about politics.

“A brilliant guy and thorough interviewer,” DeWald said. “He prepped like a madman and gave me a lot of exposure to the news side.”

After graduating from Sonoma State in 2010 with an economics degree.

“I think it has all just played out the way it was supposed to. I’m glad it went this way.  I just hope it keeps going and I’m thankful for my start.

A pinch-me moment for DeWald happened when an interview had been arranged with President Jimmy Carter, who was on a book tour.

It was huge for the station but DeWald may have been too young at the time to understand how big it was. Didn’t appreciate the moment.

“I remember whoever was on the other line saying, ‘Hold for the President.’ I still get chills from that.”

He said President Carter was kind and generous with his time.

“I think he gave us 15 minutes,” DeWald said. “He didn’t care, we were just a smaller station. He took his time with us. Carter is a man among men.”

DeWald said reporting in the field has forced him out of other comfort zones and perhaps made him more outgoing, especially during 2017’s Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, at the time the most destructive fire in California’s history. He’s a man truly enamored with the power of radio.

“I go out to a fire zone and describe what I’m seeing,” he said, “but to have it be the devastation of your own community, it’s incredibly difficult.”

During a fire, DeWald got calls from stations all over the world hungry for a first-hand account. He got calls from Germany. From England.

“Here I was doing all these live hits with Europe. I didn’t have an official template to rely on and was learning on the fly. After a few of those types of stories, I think I developed a strong foundation of reporting, thankfully I was able to bring it full circle at KCBS.”

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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.



A photo of Donald Trump and Joe Biden

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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