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Jordan Burrows Has Big Aspirations For the Future of CBS News Detroit and Himself

“I like to think of myself as an anchor you’d like to have a beer with.”

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Life will sometimes dictate where you end up, even if it wasn’t your first thought or choice. When your career path calls, you answer. Perhaps we’re not as much in control as we think we are. Jordan Burrows started college with thoughts of entering the education profession.

“I wanted to be a teacher,” Burrows said. “I was involved in some cadet teaching classes in high school and thought it might be a good fit for me.”

The beneficial thing about college is it opens up so many options and alternative possibilities.

Burrows is a reporter and anchor for WWJ-TV CBS News Detroit. While not a writer early in life, he said at Indiana University he took pride in everything associated with writing.

“I was kind of late to the game,” he said. “I didn’t grow up watching the news and the job has been kind of a rush,” Burrows said.

He’s a Hoosier and said he loves the Midwest.

“It has a grittiness I enjoy,” Burrows said.

He jumped at the opportunity to work for CBS News Detroit and is excited to anchor the weekend mornings and report throughout the week.

Burrows said his old station in Salt Lake City was starting to sink. He was ready to move into the Detroit market for several reasons.

“I was all in,” he said. “My parents are older and I can be near them. My dad grew up in Farmington Hills, just outside of Detroit,” Burrows explained. “This is a kind of homecoming for me. Back with the Tigers, Red Wings, and IU.”

He recalls the first day in the working studio in Detroit. Burrows said it was almost magical. He also understood it was going to take some hard work to stay.

“You have to love this job to continue to do it,” he said. “Out of college, you understand you’re going to be in a grind. Some would be more suited for an office job, but not me. I love all kinds of stories from feature stories to breaking news. I don’t get any grief in this job, and so far they let me do what I need to as long as I’m getting the work done.”

It didn’t matter to Burrows that WWJ-TV is last in the market, considering it just launched news again. “For me, that has never been a problem. It’s what you make it, and we’ll keep getting better. We have a great team and I would like to keep working my way up.”

Burrows graduated from Indiana University and loves college sports. He cheers for all things IU, but also roots deeply for the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers.

He started his journalism career as an anchor and reporter in Lafayette, IN. From there he moved to Salt Lake City to take an anchor/reporter position and worked there for a few years.

Once he decided on broadcasting, Burrows looked into sports media, then switched to news.

“There were more news jobs than sports jobs,” Burrows said. “I applied to at least 50 jobs in hopes I’d get a call and a chance. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way and you take on a new challenge.”

Walking into his new job at WWJ-TV, Burrows said he felt like he’d made it by working for one of the “big guys”.

“We’re owned by Paramount and that gives me a feeling of job security.”

Job security is vital for Burrows as he is getting married to his fiancé Abby next year. He credits her for a lot of his success.

“She’s been by my side since we met, supporting my journalism career. She used to be in the business so she understands how grueling it can be.”

When he landed the job in Detroit, he did it without the assistance of an agent but did have some friends help along the way.

“I had an agent in Salt Lake City,” Burrows said. “I realized I could get it on my own. An agent would have said the same things I did.”

Sitting in front of the camera and speaking to a million people can be daunting for anyone. Burrows said his confidence grew by the time he finished his studies. Before IU, Burrows studied at John Carroll University in the Tim Russert School of Communications in University Heights, Ohio.

“There were only maybe four thousand kids enrolled,” Burrows explained. “I liked the ability to get to know my professors. However Mark Cuban, an IU alum, donated $5 million to IU, and I thought that was exciting. I decided to transfer. Indiana was more of a print journalism school before this, unlike Ball State University which emphasized broadcasting.”

By the time Burrows finished college, he found he was $70,000 in debt. “I’m grateful for my education, but it comes at a price. I know a lot of journalists who left to pursue other careers because the reporter salaries just didn’t pay the bills.”

Burrows attended Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, IN. He said while he wasn’t necessarily in the popular crowd, he got along with everyone.

“I had nerdy friends, some athlete friends,” he said. “If friends wanted to go to a sporting event, I’d go with them. I’ve made friends I intend to keep in touch with my whole life. I have a big, loyal friend group. My best friends I’ve known since I was seven years old.”

Burrows covered the Michigan State shooting in February and was cranking out live shots around the country, including L.A., San Francisco, Boston, and Minneapolis. He continued throughout the morning and afternoon, providing content for several other stations.

“It was a crazy day. I was still going through some training at the station,” Burrows said. “I got a call in the morning and was told to drive to East Lansing. All the while I’m trying to learn more about the shootings while driving to East Lansing. I tried to not be on the phone, but it was difficult. I worked 12 hours straight on that story. I was educating the public, and attending all the press conferences. It was a rough story but I learned a lot.”

He said he’s known people who have gotten into this business for the wrong reasons. Burrows explained how you must have thick skin in the industry.

“The pay is miserable in the beginning,” Burrows said. “At all my broadcasting jobs I had to work a second job to make ends meet. It’s the ‘I want it now’ mentality that gets people into trouble.”

He’s not jaded but understands how he business can burn you out. Some bad eggs in this business will wear you down. “I’m always hoping for the best,” Burrows said. “So far at this station, it’s been a honeymoon phase.”

Burrows said he takes a lot of pride in his work. He is proud at the end of the day when he considers all the work he’s done.

“I see my career going in two possible directions,” Burrows said. “I’m hopeful I can see some growth from within at my current station. I also think I’d be a good national correspondent, but who knows? I love to travel and am always in search of bigger stories on a bigger platform. Whatever life throws at me I’m ready.”

The predominant number of people in the business are good people, Burrows said. There was one recent exception. He was doing a live shot for the Michigan State shooting.

“I made sure I was well out of range of the press conference,” Burrows said. “I see a younger guy come up to me. He says something along the lines of, ‘You’re so rude. This is the biggest story in years and you’re doing a live shot?”

Burrows was just doing the job in a manner he thought would best serve his viewers.

“You don’t have to be rude to people like that.”

Burrows’ boss said to him, ‘Who made that guy the ethics police?’

“I want to help the viewer to understand a story but also want to deliver with the right tone,” Burrows continued. “I enjoy interviewing people from all walks of life, politicians and the man on the street, you name it. I like to think of myself as an anchor you’d like to have a beer with.”

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BNM Writers

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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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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