Connect with us
BNM Summit

BNM Writers

Alex Silverman Didn’t Inherit A Fixer-Upper At KNX News

“We’ve got to meet the audience where they are. We are with them when they’re getting ready for work…”

Avatar photo

Published

on

After graduating with a degree in journalism you start sending out tapes and resumes. Both will land on the desk of a person who has read thousands of resumes and heard the same number of tapes. Alex Silverman has a ton of experience in the industry and recruiting journalists. He said there is one thing you can’t overlook: the cover letter.

Silverman said they’re not just a good idea, they can be the difference between you getting an interview and being passed over.

“When I’m recruiting, I want to see a strong cover letter,” Silverman said. “You, of course, want to hear who sounds good, but you also want to see who the good writers are. They shouldn’t be too wordy. I want them to get to the point in a way that shows me something about them. Show me you’ve done some baseline research on the position. What they want to get out of the experience.”

For six months, Alex Silverman has served as Director of News & Programming at KNX News 97.1 FM in Los Angeles. For the prior four years, he was Brand Manager and Program Director at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia, after serving as assistant director of news and programming at WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York City.

After joining WCBS in 2011, he helped lead coverage of major news events in New York and around the country, including Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Orlando nightclub shooting.

His recent move from Philadelphia to the number two market in the country wasn’t something Silverman spent much time thinking about.

“I loved Philadelphia and hadn’t been thinking about making a move, but this job came open. KNX was an amazing opportunity.”

His move within the company was announced six weeks before he was scheduled to leave. Silverman figured that would be a good time to research the city and monitor the station.

“I talked to a lot of people so I could understand their position at the station,” he said. “It’s an amazing team with so much talent. I wanted the opportunity to learn something about each of them. It also didn’t hurt that I was driving cross country and needed something to occupy my time.”

L.A. wasn’t completely foreign to Silverman who had friends there and had visited regularly in the past.

“It’s a very cosmopolitan place with so many different personalities and transplants from all over the world. But still, like in Philly, there’s a lot of pride in local institutions.”

Silverman said the station’s research shows the L.A. audience is keen on local news. You can’t assume just because something in Philly worked one way, that the new station operates the same way.

“Here, you’re against a larger landscape. We’ve got the entertainment industry landscape. Traffic isn’t just traffic here, it’s a universal shared experience. Sensibilities are different, but in many ways, news is news.”

Silverman said when he arrived the station was not a fixer-upper. The previous PD is a bit of a legend in the business.

“Ken Charles was my predecessor,” Silverman said. “Everything was already operating at a high level. He deserves a lot of credit for taking this station to where it is today. Ken has been a mentor to me. We have a great relationship, and I’ve even learned from Ken from afar. He had programmed WSYR, the first station I ever worked for.”

Digital production is of importance to Silverman as it should be to every radio station. Getting people to know what the station is doing digitally and where to find it is a big challenge.

“We’ve got to meet the audience where they are. We are with them when they’re getting ready for work, on their smart speakers. We’re on their phones on the Audacy app when they’re out for a walk.”

Silverman said he needs listeners to understand what the station does is relevant to them at that moment. He said someone can tell Alexa or Google to ‘Play KNX News.’

The challenge will be on a couple of fronts.

“It’s our job to get people to understand we’re not just FM and AM,” Silverman explained. “Our market research has informed us the city has a strong appreciation for what we do. They say we’re relevant to their lives with our news coverage. These relationships were built over time.”

Silverman said they source their news. They are on the phone with the California Highway Patrol and inform listeners why they’re stuck on the 405.

“We’re covering stories beyond what you’re hearing on other stations. Craig Fiegener — one of our reporters — has been doing an in-depth series tracking the new mayor Karen Bass, and whether she’s fulfilling her promises on dealing with homelessness. We’re the only one doing that. It’s on a special page on the website. Our goal is to create interesting content. Make sure people know it’s available wherever they go.”

Silverman doesn’t dictate coverage assignments, but he’s involved. Throughout the day he and his staff stay in the loop and see what they’re doing.

“We have an incredible news director, Julie Chin, and she handles who and what we’re covering,” he said. “I’ll look at the higher level of our reporting in terms of what we should be focusing on. One big focus of mine is making sure reporters are investing in deeper stories. Less formulaic. To go beyond the 45- second story.”

Silverman was born in Central New Jersey. Syracuse University was an easy choice given its location. He’d also learned about the quality of the broadcast journalism school.

“It was a great place to start, a small enough market that I could get an on-air job while I was in school. I was lucky. I was doing essentially what I do now while I was still in college.”

It’s no secret fewer universities are still offering journalism as a degree track.

“It’s getting harder and harder across the industry to recruit journalists. That’s particularly true in radio. Fewer people are getting into the industry, especially when it comes to off-air roles.”

Silverman said it’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason for the trouble in finding recruits. He suggested it could be general attitudes toward the business.

He was also an adjunct instructor at Fordham teaching social media and journalism.

“When I was a reporter and anchor in New York, I became interested in teaching,” Silverman said. “They let me design the course from the ground up. Social Media for Journalists. It was a fascinating experience. Teaching has helped me in the sense of what was on people’s minds. The mindset of people who were a generation behind me.”

Silverman said he always knew he wanted to be in radio. He is fascinated with the medium and can pinpoint why. 

“We always had the radio on in the car when I was growing up,” he said. “The intimacy of radio touched something in me – that you could be listening to someone and picturing what the person looks like. Imagine them right there talking only to you.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Silverman used to listen to Wayne Cabot. He was an afternoon guy for many years and now is the morning anchor on WCBS 880.

“Wayne is one of the people you want to emulate,” Silverman said. “He’s one of the nicest guys you could meet and an incredible broadcaster. He was responsible for my getting a job at WCBS. I had emailed him out of the blue and he invited me to the station. He listened to my material, and he was kind enough to become a mentor. He didn’t have to do that.”

At school, Silverman became the GM of WJPZ, the student-operated station. Silverman called it an informative experience. He was essentially doing what he does today while still in school.

“I was overseeing more than 100 student volunteers,” he explained. “I was suddenly responsible for everything at a licensed radio station. I had to learn the engineering side. I still go back to Syracuse to work with the students and help on the technical side. For me, it’s a sense of giving back.”

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

BNM Writers

A Message to Radio Leaders About Burnout

While you’re focused on the bottom line, pay closer attention to the people on the assembly line, the talented men and women trying to crank out an excellent product.

Avatar photo

Published

on

A photo of an exhausted person

Life is show prep. That’s what my Dallas radio co-host Amy Chodroff always said and she was right.

If you do a news or talk radio show you get it, it’s non-stop. You spend every day of your life reading news and considering opinions. You scrutinize reported facts, look for bias, gauge your reaction, and think about how you’ll present it on the air.

This is the only way you can do your job. Your listeners expect you to know more than they do, to inform them, and to offer insights into every situation and with every interview you present on the air.

Life is, in fact, show prep. But if you’re a news or talk radio show host you might have trouble explaining that to some people who don’t understand this because they’ve never tried doing it.

Your bosses, for example.

When I retired recently, this conflict was the tipping point. I had a recent health scare that thankfully turned out to be nothing more than a wake-up call. As long as I could remember, I was getting up at 2:30 AM every day to do a radio news show that aired live from 5 until 9 AM.

By 9:05 AM, I was mentally exhausted, but the boss felt I should put in a full eight hours on the clock, joining the newsroom staff from 9:00 until noon or 1:00 P.M.

More than the extra work itself, dodging that insistence wore me out and took me to retirement. I tried but couldn’t effectively explain that I worked as much at home and wherever else I happened to be as I did when I was in the building.

Life is show prep. And I suppose that can sound like a justification for going home after a four or five-hour shift, but if you’ve never done it, you can’t know the truth.

I got breaking news alerts on my phone while at home with family and in restaurants with friends. I was in daily contact with my co-host and our producer. Text meetings and phone calls between us during weekends were frequent. Show prep doesn’t allow time off between air shifts, even when you’re on vacation.

You may be a sales executive, administration manager, or an engineer thinking, ‘Yeah, I think about work away from the office, too.’ But what you don’t do when you’re in the office is perform to the immediate judgment of thousands of people live, non-stop, four hours per day, five days a week. It’s a never-ending multi-tasking job that requires keeping one eye on the clock, part of your brain focused on the real-time on-air content, while other parts are planning what you must do next and 20 minutes from now and next hour as you’re making notes for future reference.

While all of this is going on, you’re also signaling your co-host, producer, and if you have one your board operator. If you’ve never done all of that there’s no way I can explain that being on the air requires more concentration and energy in four hours than your eight-hour work day does. It just does.

Show prep never ends. Never.

You will read far more versions of various news stories than anyone you know except your on-air partner if you have one. Those stories are rabbit holes and you’ll dive into them, looking for red flags and nuance, double and triple checking your sources because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. Now more than ever you can trip an information landmine with any single step. Your credibility and career depend on preparing your show carefully but quickly, 24/7.

Now we have this idea that news anchors and talk hosts should have three or four more hours of additional responsibilities after their show ends, as tomorrow’s show prep continues. It’s ignorant and debilitating. Yet, here we are, in the new era of corporate bean counters and the elimination of trained human resources in radio newsrooms filled with empty workstations and only one or two people on duty to answer the phone, gather information, write or rewrite it, record various sources including their own on-air reports while setting up and performing interviews. These under-appreciated magicians often have hourly newscasts to prepare and perform as well.

Radio news staffs are seriously shorthanded. How can a manager improve efficiency? Why, call on people who have just done a four-hour show preceded by an hour or two of in-studio prep and all that work they did at home.

An RTDNA study published a year ago revealed that nearly 70% of news directors reported their staff were overworked and suffering from job burnout.

Ya think?

There is an implied hint of good news in the RTDNA’s most recent look into the problem: Radio news staffing changes are actually increasing slightly. Hey, great! But if you look at the numbers below the headline you’ll be shocked. How do radio news and talk survive?

“The latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey shows the typical (median) radio news operation has a full-time news staff of two for the second year in a row.”

TWO FULL-TIME NEWS STAFFERS!

(Disclaimer: Your numbers may vary, depending on market size and how many news and talk hosts are folded into the count when they get off the air.)

There was a time when providing factual news and the exchange of ideas was a lofty yet achievable ideal. It was so exciting we couldn’t wait to get to work.

In those days, air talent was paid their actual value related to radio station earnings. My salary as a morning news host in Sacramento was five times more than I made in Dallas, 40 years later. The pressure to do more eventually burned me out. Now I know people half my age making less than half of my salary when I started in Dallas 12 years ago. Major market news and talk talents are cashing paychecks equal to or less than what their grandpas made as medium market top-40 deejays.

I don’t have any solutions to the money problems that face every news/programming/sales and general manager each day. I will suggest a thought, though:

While you’re focused on the bottom line, pay closer attention to the people on the assembly line, the talented men and women trying to crank out an excellent product. What would your profit and loss statement look like without them?

Sit down with your program and news directors, news writers and reporters, producers, and show hosts. Show them a little love. Ask them what they need and how you might be able to help. They’ll want you to pay them more and hire more people, you know that going in so think about it now. Is that possible?

You’re smart, which is why you’re the manager. I’ll bet you can figure out a way to do it.

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BNM Writers

How News/Talk Radio Hosts Can Use Caitlin Clark to Reach Broader Audiences

This is what’s going on in their lives, and you have an opportunity to connect with them.

Published

on

A photo of Caitlin Clark
(Photo: John Mac C.C. 2.0)

Caitlin Clark and Donald Trump have something in common, and I have no idea if it’s their politics. But Caitlin Clark in the 2024 news cycle is Donald Trump circa 2015-16 to the news/talk radio topic selection.

Just like no one had seen anything like Donald Trump in modern American politics, no one has seen anything close to Caitlin Clark in the WNBA.

The WNBA has existed for nearly three decades but has smashed all ratings and attendance records, at least for games involving Clark. Caitlin Clark is bigger than the WNBA, just like Donald Trump when he first burst onto the scene, at least, was bigger than the bubble that was American politics.

The other thing both have in common is that they transcend their respective supposed lanes. Donald Trump was bigger than politics when he entered the political arena in 2015. Caitlin Clark is bigger than women’s basketball. Politics was not the story in 2015; Trump was the story. Now, the WNBA is not the story; Caitlin Clark is the story.

So, if you’re a news/talk radio host and you’re not taking advantage of the Caitlin Clark news cycle, what are you waiting for? As the battle for younger listeners continues in the news/talk space, this is your opportunity; don’t miss it.

Your target, in-demo audience — parents in their late 30s, 40s, and early 50s (think 35-54) — who have daughters between the ages of 8 and 18, are probably talking about Caitlin Clark in their homes, around the dinner table, and when driving them around town to practices and friend’s houses. This is what’s going on in their lives, and you have an opportunity to connect with them.

This doesn’t mean breaking down Caitlin Clark’s box score. I admittedly have no idea how many points she’s averaging per game. But it’s about diving into the cultural issues surrounding Clark in recent weeks. From cheap shots on the court to Olympic Team slights, these topics are opportunities to weave a broad, cultural news topic into a radio format and show that extends beyond the hard news/politics/nuts and bolts news stories.

Undoubtedly, those are important, but they remain a lane that isn’t necessarily growing, especially in the coveted 25-54 demographic.

And with a news/talk host’s ability to understand the current cultural and political climate likely better than your competitor on the sports talk station, you have a topic and angle unique to your town and potential listening audience.

In the last two weeks, the most calls we’ve received on a single segment came during a topic on Caitlin Clark being shoved by Chennedy Carter, which went viral two weekends ago. Men, women, young, and old all wanted to chime in and had an opinion. And it came on a Monday morning when most of us in the chair can attest that the phones are usually slower than later in the week. You had sports mixed with culture and race bubbling into one topic that can be seized compellingly by a news/talk radio show.

Caller reaction cannot be the main driver of what makes good radio or a compelling topic, but it can be anecdotal, in that moment, for what the audience is willing to and wants to react to.

So, while I can’t tell you who Caitlin Clark’s team, the Indiana Fever, will play tonight, tomorrow, or the night after (or even if they play), I can tell you I’ll be following for any viral moments that might play in the news/talk space.

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BNM Writers

The Case for News Media Outlets to Utilize Paywalls

Why are we giving our work for free?

Published

on

A photo of a newspaper printing press

As local newspapers across the country shutter Americans are craving local news, but not in the traditional sense. A new Pew Institute Research study found a large majority of Americans believe local news outlets are at least somewhat important to the well-being of their community.

Yet, only 15% say they have paid or given money to any local news source in the last year.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Except, in this case, there is no such thing as free news. People are in need of, and crave, local journalists’ hard work but are unwilling to pay for it. This is unsustainable.

Pew found 32% of those polled are looking to TV for local news, which is still the most common source of news. However, this is down from 41% in 2018. Just 9% look to print and another 9% look to radio for news. It’s no surprise to anyone Americans are looking to get local news online from websites (26%) and social media (23%).

While the transition from print to digital is relatively easy from a strictly content standpoint, having people pay is borderline impossible. The most common explanation is that people don’t pay because they can find plenty of free local news. The answer for our industry to survive is simple: paywalls.

Even with a Borrell Associates prediction of local broadcast TV advertisements growing 5.9% it won’t last. The agency noted the 2024 bump will fall after the election. We can not rely on every election cycle to survive.

In 20 years, TV won’t be able to subsidize digital (in some markets they are already unable to do this). In fact, this business model needs to be flipped around before local TV and radio stations shutter like newspapers have.

As I said in a previous article, it is unethical to have social media companies pay news outlets for content (like the legislation in Australia and Canada pushed through). But the money has to come from somewhere.

Why are we giving our work for free? A dollar per click on digital advertising is only sustainable (and offers a livable wage) when it comes to clickbait. However, the mind-numbing click farm is not why most of us do what we do.

Journalists are supposed to provide information, stand up for the truth, and have some sort of moral integrity. This does not mean we and our colleagues need to live on barely minimum wage. (Full disclosure, moral integrity does not mean “activist journalism,” which is bad and not actually journalism. I mean have the integrity to keep yourself and your view out of the story.)

Suits, this is where I turn to you. In 2022, local TV over-the-air advertising revenue totaled $20.5 billion according to a Pew study. The same study said profits from digital advertising revenue reached $2 billion. So where does this money go? It’s certainly not in the newsroom.

On average starting salaries are $37,600, according to The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). They calculate since 2020 those who work in news on average lost 8.3% in real wages. However, the amount of airtime for local outlets increased by 18 minutes per weekday. Meaning more work, less pay, and even less time to enjoy that breaking news pizza.

People are now making more at fast food restaurants in California than your newsroom associate with a bachelor’s degree. This is not normal. Invest in your people.

Journalists have so much more to offer the community yet they are not being paid. The companies they work for are not making as much as they could because everyone is afraid to put up a paywall.

If all local news outlets unanimously ask their readers to pay (like we used to before the dot com boom when everyone had to buy a paper) people would pay. They need us to be properly informed. While we are fully aware of our industry’s credit crunch, those outside of our world are blissfully unaware of our precarious situation.

Most importantly, local news outlets are facing a news dotcom problem, ‘Dark Money.’ Axios reported this week the number of biased outlets, that say they are impartial, is more than the number of actual local daily newspapers in the U.S.

Not only are we not being paid for the value of our work, we are competing with people who have bad intentions, unlimited money, and unlimited bandwidth. True news might be dead at the national level but we can not let this happen to local news.

There is no such thing as free news. So why does the industry as a whole treat our valuable content in this way?

Subscribe To The BNM Rundown

The Top 8 News Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox every afternoon!

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement Will Cain
Advertisement

Upcoming Events

BNM Writers

Copyright © 2024 Barrett Media.