Cable News Channels Saw Massive Spikes During Alex Murdaugh Verdict
Even the prime time lineup of nascent news outlet NewsNation got a sizable bounce, especially for “Cuomo”, which achieved its most-watched edition in total viewers, to-date.
The Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial came to a conclusion on the evening of Thursday Mar. 2, Murdaugh, a member of a prominent South Carolina family and former attorney, was found guilty of shooting and killing both his wife Maggie and their youngest son Paul at their residence, and cable news outlets benefited greatly.
The court case that riveted the nation throughout the month of February was, of course, covered by many news outlets including broadcast and cable news as well as the various syndicated newsmagazines like Inside Edition and TMZ.
Leading the pack in cable news coverage was Fox News Channel. Normally topping the 7-8 p.m. hour with Jesse Watters Primetime on this night that hour delivered 3.51 million total viewers including 443,000 within the key 25-64 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. A far distant runner-up in total audience was MSNBC with 1.37 million; in adults 25-54, CNN (243,000) was closest to FNC among cable networks.
All three outlets drew at well above-average levels within the 7 p.m. hour and the few hours afterwards due to the verdict, as the following percentage increases show in comparison to their prior week (Feb. 20-24, 2023) returns:
Fox News Channel
- Jesse Watters Primetime (7-8 p.m.): 3.511 million viewers (+32%); 443,000 adults 25-54 (+65%)
- Tucker Carlson Tonight (8-9 p.m.): 3.346 million viewers (+9%); 449,000 adults 25-54 (+15%)
- Hannity (9-10 p.m.): 2.852 million viewers (+18%); 404,000 adults 25-54 (+37%)
- The Reidout (7-8 p.m.): 1.373 million viewers (+24%); 156,000 adults 25-54 (+42%)
- All In with Chris Hayes (8-9 p.m.): 1.515 million viewers (+39%); 153,000 adults 25-54 (+53%) (for Feb. 20-24, MSNBC aired nightly hourlong specials in the 8-9 p.m.slot marking the one-year anniversary of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine)
- Alex Wagner Tonight (9-10 p.m.): 1.317 million viewers (+6%); 145,000 adults 25-54 (+26%)
- Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (10-11 p.m.): 1.544 viewers (+15%) viewers; 118,000 adults 25-54 (-9%)
- Erin Burnett Outfront (7-8 p.m.): 1.130 million viewers (+89%); 243,000 adults 25-54 (+91%)
- Anderson Cooper 360 (8-9 p.m.): 1.183 million viewers (+79%); 191,000 adults 25-54 (+48%)
Even the prime time lineup of nascent news outlet NewsNation got a sizable bounce, especially for “Cuomo”, which achieved its most-watched edition in total viewers, to-date.
- On Balance with Leland Vittert (7-8 p.m.): 123,000 viewers (+146%); 44,000 adults 25-54 (+389%)
- Cuomo (8-9 p.m.): 231,000 viewers (+116%); 49,000 adults 25-54 (+227%)
- Dan Abrams Live (9-10 p.m.): 160,000 viewers (+44%); 29,000 adults 25-54 (+32%)
- Banfield (10-11 p.m.): 180,000 viewers (+82%); 40,000 adults 25-54 (+135%)
CBS was the lone broadcast network whose breaking news coverage of the Murdaugh verdict was published by Nielsen. It delivered 3.824 million viewers from 7:04-7:14 p.m. Eastern; that night’s edition of the CBS Evening News which preceded the special report on many CBS affiliates in the Eastern and Central time zones had drawn 5.11 million.
Cable news averages for February 27-March 5, 2023:
Total Day (Feb. 27-Mar. 5 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.375 million viewers; 177,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.693 million viewers; 76,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.446 million viewers; 84,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.148 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.114 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.114 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.109 million viewers; 19,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.092 million viewers; 9,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Feb. 27-Mar. 4 @ 8-11 p.m.; Mar. 5 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.087 million viewers; 253,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.130 million viewers; 106,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.530 million viewers; 105,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.203 million viewers; 48,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.159 million viewers; 43,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.134 million viewers; 21,000 adults 25-54
- NewsNation: 0.115 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.099 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.061 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.511 million viewers
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.346 million viewers
3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 2/27/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.313 million viewers
4. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.189 million viewers
5. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 3/1/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.133 million viewers
6. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 2/28/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.087 million viewers
7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/27/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.076 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/28/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.009 million viewers
9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 3/1/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.943 million viewers
10. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 3/3/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.899 million viewers
21. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 2/27/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.383 million viewers
120. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Thu. 3/2/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.183 million viewers
181. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 626” (HBO, Fri. 3/3/2023 10:00 PM, 57 min.) 0.738 million viewers
360. The Daily Show “Mar 1, 23 – Hasan Minhaj” (CMDY, Wed. 3/1/2023 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.378 million viewers
375. Varney & Company (FBN, Thu. 3/2/2023 10:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.344 million viewers
379. Highway Thru Hell “(1108) Deep Freeze” (TWC, Sun. 3/5/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.335 million viewers
424. Forensic Files (HLN, late Sat. 3/4/2023 12:30 AM, 30 min.) 0.269 million viewers
425. Fast Money Halftime Report (CNBC, Tue. 2/28/2023 12:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.268 million viewers
460. Cuomo “Alex Murdaugh Verdict” (NWSN, Thu. 3/2/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.231 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 3/1/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.459 million adults 25-54
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.449 million adults 25-54
3. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.443 million adults 25-54
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/27/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.417 million adults 25-54
5. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.404 million adults 25-54
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/28/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.403 million adults 25-54
7. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 3/2/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.362 million adults 25-54
8. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Mon. 2/27/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.359 million adults 25-54
9. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 2/27/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.351 million adults 25-54
10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 3/1/2023 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.340 million adults 25-54
29. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 2/27/2023 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.263 million adults 25-54
32. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Thu. 3/2/2023 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.243 million adults 25-54
105. The Daily Show “Mar 1, 23 – Hasan Minhaj” (CMDY, Wed. 3/1/2023 11:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54
145. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 626” (HBO, Fri. 3/3/2023 10:00 PM, 57 min.) 0.124 million adults 25-54
241. Forensic Files (HLN, late Wed. 3/1/2023 2:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.094 million adults 25-54
342. Shark Tank “Shark Tank 713” (CNBC, Thu. 3/2/2023 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.072 million adults 25-54
385. Weather Underground (TWC, Fri. 3/3/2023 2:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.064 million adults 25-54
487. Cuomo “Alex Murdaugh Verdict” (NWSN, Thu. 3/2/2023 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.049 million adults 25-54
609. Mornings with Maria Bartiromo (FBN, Mon. 2/27/2023 8:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.034 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/
Nick Kayal Moved From Sports to News, And is Seeing Results at 1210 WPHT
“We hit the ground running from day one, and our audience has grown month-by-month against different demos and platforms.”
During the pandemic, Nick Kayal, a former sports talk show host, fearlessly pivoted his career to news/talk. This bold move resulted in numerous changes, including his current role as the highly regarded host of 1210 WPHT’s Kayal and Company show in Philadelphia.
With his vibrant and impassioned approach to news/talk, he’s spearheading the evolution of radio to cater to the next generation’s needs.
1210 WPHT stands out for its dedication to connecting with audiences through a variety of platforms. Greg Stocker, the station’s brand manager and a popular personality on Kayal and Company, has led this effort. The station has become a favorite among listeners of all ages, thanks to its focus on live and local programming from 6:00 AM-7:00 PM. As a result, 1210 WPHT has established itself as a significant player in the Philadelphia radio market.
In a recent interview with Barrett News Media, Kayal shared essential perspectives on the advantages of AM radio and the powerful influence of talk radio on Philadelphia’s story. Kayal highlighted 1210 WPHT’s success in captivating audiences with exciting content and attracting diverse listeners.
Ryan Hedrick: Many listeners know you from your background in sports radio. What prompted your transition from sports to news/talk, and how has your experience been? Have there been any challenges or rewarding aspects in making this switch?
Nick Kayal: I was a political science major in college as a freshman back in 2002, so I’ve always had an interest in politics. Then, I got away from that and changed majors to criminal justice and pre-law. I started getting really into politics right around 2015 as [Donald] Trump announced that he was going to run for president, and a lot of my political views always seem to gradually slide from moderate Democrat, to moderate Republican or conservative Republican.
Many things during the pandemic opened my eyes, from the lack of freedom to the control of the government trying to restrict its citizens, and the imposed mask mandates. Equally important is the whole cancel culture movement. The woke aspect of society and people constantly being offended, trying to shut you down because they disagree. Much of that also drove me because I’m a big believer in the First Amendment and free speech, and I don’t believe in silencing opposing viewpoints.
RH: Did you encounter any difficulties or positive experiences when making this change?
NK: It has been gratifying because many great, talented individuals have surrounded me. The feedback has been mostly positive, and all of that has been rewarding. We hit the ground running from day one, and our audience has grown month-by-month against different demos and platforms.
The only challenge, initially, was once I got the job having to stay quiet about it for a few months and then make it public and expecting some pushback from a bunch of liberals that were going to be mad because I was doing so-called conservative talk. Other than a few people I have a good relationship with unfollowing me on Twitter because they didn’t want to see my political views, there haven’t been any challenges. I was put into a situation to succeed.
RH: WPHT has a long history in Philadelphia. What makes the station unique, and how do you strive to connect with the local audience?
NK: What makes WPHT unique right now is that this is the first time in the station’s history that we’ve been live and local 6:00 AM-7:00 PM. We have four different amazing shows. We don’t have four shows that all sound identical and are formatted the same. The hosts are not trying to be Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.
In the morning, we do a modern-day news show for news talk. If you’ve ever watched (Fox News’) The Five, that’s what we do. We hit on the big stories; we have personalities; we talk about pop culture; it’s that kind of variety.
Dawn [Stensland] does her show; she’s also my news anchor and a TV legend in Philadelphia. She does more of what’s breaking and developing. Dom [Giordano] is on from noon-3:00 PM and really gets into the crime issues. Rich [Zeoli] does his thing in the afternoon almost like what he did in the morning, minus the supporting cast he once had, and of course, he’s a star in the industry.
As far as connecting with the locals in Philadelphia, it’s no secret. If you are a fraud, the audience will know it. I have a blueprint, and it’s called COPE. It stands for content, opinion, personality, and entertainment. If you check off those four each day, the results should come.
RH: As a morning host, what are the critical elements of a successful morning show? How do you keep the content engaging and relevant for your listeners?
NK: When you are doing mornings, you must be entertaining. How you define entertaining is up to each host. The last thing I want to do is do a 20-minute dissertation on the debt ceiling; my job is to wake my audience up, not to put them back to sleep. I don’t do anything long-winded.
In my opening segment, after we set the show-up and chit-chat, I do a piece at 6:10 called the “Big Take”. It’s five to seven minutes long, and that’s kind of my opening monologue. I used audio and video. After that, we hit on a couple of stories, and I get Dawn [Stensland] and Greg [Stocker] ‘s opinions on it, and whatever organically develops from that is how I keep the show moving.
We have a show sheet, but we are not beholden to it. It comes down to creating a game plan and letting your radio instincts take over.
RH: What role does talk radio play in shaping public opinion and fostering community dialogue?
NK: I’ve always been torn on shaping the narrative. I go into a show with my opinion each day. I try not to watch other people’s shows too much or listen to others because I don’t want those opinions to corrupt my views. Regarding shaping narratives, I’m not sitting there telling you what to think. You can agree or disagree.
Still, one thing I promised I would never do is to be an apologist for the Republican party or conservatives in general or MAGA Republicans. My job is not to improve your feelings but to get ratings, and I take the approach of getting ratings and eff the feelings.
RH: Can you share any memorable experiences or interviews you’ve had as a morning host? Is there a particular moment that stands out to you in your career?
NK: We have not gone heavy on interviews because we have a three-mic show between Dawn, me, and Greg. I can not give one specific interview.
Indeed, in sports, there were prominent people that I spoke with. When I was in the South, I talked to Nick Saban. Things may be different in 2023-24 if we may have somebody like [Ron] DeSantis on the show or [Donald] Trump, Tim Scott, or whoever that will be.
But so far, we have steered clear of interviews. To this date, the one thing that I am most proud of is the money we raised for the Travis Manion Foundation. Every year we do an annual radiothon, and this year we set a record in the mornings when we raised $92,000 in four hours.
RH: How do you see the future of talk radio and morning shows evolving in an era of rapidly changing media consumption habits? What strategies are you implementing to adapt to these changes?
NK: The way we view it, we are no longer a talk radio station. We are an audio and video content distribution platform or network of platforms. People listen to us when they want or when they have the time. They might be listening 45 minutes behind on a delay on the app or just catching up. They might go to the website and download the podcasts. Or they may go to YouTube and watch all four hours live on our channel.
We’ve had people tweeting us pictures of their smart TV’s where they’ve had YouTube up, and they’re watching us in their living room on their 65-inch flat screen, and it looks like we are doing a TV show. We are a variety platform now.
RH: What are some key advantages of AM radio over other mediums, and how can stations effectively communicate these advantages to listeners and advertisers?
NK: As crucial as ratings are, you will only last long with the advertisers and the revenue. It’s a matter of selling people on the value of AM and, indeed, to the automakers. AM radio is still how people get weather alerts, travel advisories, etc. There’s a human safety element. AM radio reaches over 40 million Americans weekly, well over 10 percent of the country. We still get a massive amount of people.
The biggest challenge is attracting the Gen-Z listener. I wonder if you can. That’s another audience we can tap into. There will always be that demand for talk radio because you know you can never replace live and local personalities. News/talk is expensive to operate when you’re live and local, but the value remains.
RH: Lastly, are there any exciting upcoming projects or initiatives you’re working on that you’d like to share with your listeners and readers?
NK: More than anything, our brand, WPHT, is where free speech lives. We encourage dialogue, discourse, and discussions, and, indeed, debate. We have some people in our audience who are not conservatives. We have people that disagree with us. The great thing about WPHT is that we offer well-rounded conversations and various shows.
We have some other things in the works that our Brand Manager, Greg Stocker, has been pushing for, and hopefully, in the weeks and months, we can get some of this rolled out. A lot of people say the station has never sounded better. Greg Stocker has only been in his position as Brand Manager for over a year, and he’s taken the station to new heights.
Within our doors and walls at Audacy in Philadelphia, there are very happy with how things are going at the station.
Ryan Hedrick serves as the Assistant Program Director and Co-Host of the Morning News Express at WFMD. Prior to WFMD, he hosted an afternoon program at News Talk 103.7 FM in Chambersburg, PA. He has worked at Sirius XM in Washington D.C., WBEN in Buffalo, NY, and for stations in Baltimore, MD. He has also worked at WIBW-AM in Topeka KS, earning the Kansas Association of Broadcasters (KAB) award for Major Market enterprise reporting in 2016. To connect with Ryan, find him on Twitter @SureToCover.
AM Radio Still Has Challenges Despite Ford’s Reversal
An AM tuner in every car is good, but a new law won’t fix the underlying problems.
Ever since Ford’s announcement that they would cease including AM radio in most of their vehicles (commercial vehicles excepted) starting in 2024, it’s become de rigueur to comment and come to the defense of amplitude modulation.
While Tesla, Polestar, and a few BMWs don’t have AM radios, when a large mainstream OEM like Ford made that announcement, the radio industry stood up and took notice. Even though Ford has now rescinded that decision, it’s not that anyone in the radio industry wasn’t aware that AM was in decline.
The initial Ford bombshell was enough to sound the alarms and fight for the survival of AM radio even as the industry has tacitly given up on the band. A telling statistic is that in 1990, there were approximately 1,850 FM translators on the air. By 2021, that number had increased to 8,521. That’s strong evidence it’s a popular move to rebroadcast your AM station on an FM translator, even if the translator can’t exceed 250 watts of ERP.
Nonetheless, the initial Ford news prompted several lawmakers to introduce a bill (The AM in Every Vehicle Act) that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a rule mandating AM radio in every vehicle sold in the United States. This being a research column, I’ll offer some background on how you can evaluate AM listening today.
If you’ve read my first few columns, you know that as an old guy, I enjoy history. Reading about The AM in Every Vehicle Act, I immediately thought of the All Channel Receiver Act of 1962, which required that the FCC mandate UHF receivers in all new televisions sold in the US.
In the early days of TV, while channels 2-83 were originally assigned for television broadcasting, most sets could receive only VHF (analog channels 2-13). Unless you were in an all-UHF market (there were a handful such as Youngstown and Peoria), there wasn’t much incentive to buy a set with UHF or to get a UHF converter.
From a personal standpoint, I had to borrow a neighbor’s 9-inch GE portable TV that had UHF to see Our World, the first multinational live program, in June 1967. The US participant was National Educational Television, the forerunner of PBS, and Rochester’s “educational” station (WXXI) was on channel 21. Why borrow a set? My family’s console Zenith didn’t have UHF and The Beatles were part of the show, performing “All You Need is Love” for the first time. I couldn’t miss that.
Even with a federal law, UHF stations took decades to catch up with VHF channels. I presented a paper at an academic conference in 1986 entitled “The UHF Affiliate in the ‘80s: More Travels Down Parity Road” using regression analysis to show that, based on Nielsen data, UHF still lagged many years after the Act was implemented.
Pierre Bouvard, one of the best people in the business, recently put out a piece claiming 82 million people cume AM in a month. Like just about everyone else in the business, I love Pierre, but at least one-quarter hour in a four-week period doesn’t mean much and that number is subject to certain caveats regarding Nielsen edit rules as I’ll explain.
During my time at the NAB in the late ‘80s, I put together a similar piece using RADAR, the Nielsen national radio network service. If memory serves, AM had a weekly P12+ national cume of around 90 million people. At that time, there was a lot of talk about the death of AM, but it had a weekly circulation that was bigger than US newspapers. Rush Limbaugh had just started his meteoric rise and with him, the rise of news/talk on AM. Streaming didn’t exist and translators couldn’t be used to rebroadcast an AM outlet. Now, we have a (likely inflated) figure that’s smaller, using a four-week instead of a one-week estimate.
It’s 2023 and while there are still some great AM stations out there, many outlets are programmed for religious audiences or people who primarily speak other languages, and usage of AM is low.
As a researcher who’s been looking at ratings for 40+ years, I’d place a small bet that if you were to run the persons 25-54 combined AM share in Nielsen for Monday-Friday 6 AM-7 PM in the 48 PPM markets, most markets would have trouble getting much past a 10-15 share, in other words, FM and other encoded listening would have the rest.
And I’d place another bet that the market-level AM cume ratings for that demo/daypart combination would generally be in single digits. The same numbers for the diary markets would likely be a little higher and P55+ would look better, but keep in mind that FM translators cannot originate more than 30 seconds an hour of “programming” which means any listening to an AM station that simulcasts on an FM translator will be credited by Nielsen to the AM parent, in other words, inflating the AM listening percentage.
If the station is total line only, streamed listening is included as well. You can run this in PPM Analysis Tool or Tapscan. RADAR allows you to look at national AM listening alone and the cume will be an impressive number of persons, but again, Nielsen edit rules will push some FM and online listening into the AM column, so a deflator is warranted.
Like many of you, I grew up on AM. In Rochester, the big top 40 station was WBBF (950 AM) which later on had competition from WAXC (1460 AM) with The Greaseman at night and a young Tom Birch. Nighttime listening to clear channel AMs on “the skip” was fun with music stations like WABC, WLS, WCFL, CKLW, and others.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night and spend a couple of quarter hours with Larry Glick on WBZ who was incredibly entertaining. That was the 1960s and early 1970s, but will requiring AM in cars in the mid-2020s mean much of anything when smartphone penetration is nearly 87 percent (per Statista) and almost any radio station or song a listener wants is available in excellent fidelity on demand?
Further, a frightening number of people don’t own a radio in their homes. If you subscribe to Nielsen in a PPM metro, look at the latest quarterly panel characteristics report. Nielsen reports the number of radios in the household by demo. If you’ve never seen that particular statistic, you’ll want to have a stiff drink available before you look at your market or your company’s markets. Living in Kentucky, state law requires me to suggest bourbon.
The obvious question is “Are we trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped?” Sticking with the equine theme (another Kentucky requirement), we can lead the horse (listeners) to water (AM), but we can’t make them drink (listen).
An AM tuner in every car is good, but a new law won’t fix the underlying problems.
Let’s meet again next week.
One of the radio industry’s most respected researchers, Dr. Ed Cohen writes a weekly column for Barrett News Media. His career experiences include serving as VP of Ratings and Research at Cumulus Media, occupying the role of VP of Measurement Innovation at Nielsen Audio, and its predecessor Arbitron. While with Arbitron, Cohen spent five years as the company’s President of Research Policy and Communication, and eight years as VP of Domestic Radio Research. He has also held the title of Vice President of Research for iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, and held research positions for the National Association of Broadcasters and Birch/Scarborough Research.
Be advised that Dr. Ed had a Twitter handle listed as a way to reach him but unfortunately, that’s an old account that was set up during his time at Arbitron many years ago and he has no way to access it. He’d enjoy hearing your thoughts though so please feel free to reach him at email@example.com.
How Howard Stern Cashed In On Objectionable Content
Everybody wanted to know exactly what Stern had said to incur FCC fines. We couldn’t rebroadcast those bits and didn’t want to discuss them.
Since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threw his hat in the ring for the Republican nomination, the mainstream media has discovered there is a human worse than Donald Trump, which is saying something considering that Trump has been called or compared to Hitler in The New York Times, The Washington Post, by CNN’s Dana Bash, on MSNBC by Rachel Maddow, by Democrats including Reps. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on The View, Saturday Night Live, by a former head of the Anti-Defamation League, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, and many others, including Howard Stern.
The left and their partners in the mainstream media have a long list of grievances against DeSantis, none more disingenuous than the claim that he is banning books.
In reality, Florida has given parents control of their children’s education by allowing them a say regarding age-inappropriate materials in public school libraries.
Several organizations keep track of books that are being challenged and “banned.” Topping every organization’s list is “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The book’s Amazon description includes: “bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction.” The author is also an illustrator and illustrated the book. Although I have not read it, I understand the illustrations are sexually explicit.
The book gets challenged and pulled from public school libraries for graphic sexual content. The left maintains conservatives want to ban the book because of an anti-LGTBQ+ crusade. The objections wouldn’t be different if the depictions were of heterosexual sex. It isn’t age-appropriate and therefore shouldn’t be in a school library.
I wondered if I could find “Gender Queer” at a big-name brick-and-mortar bookstore throughout Florida. I checked more than a dozen Barnes & Noble bookstores. Many had the hardcover and paperback in stock and ready for pick up in two business hours or less.
There are no banned books in Florida. Adults can buy any title they want and read it where they choose.
Some restrictions on content (such as keeping sexually explicit content out of public school libraries) are legitimate. Other objections might come from outside the community impacted by the decision or by small minorities or religious groups. Radio people understand these situations.
It reminds me of a tale of three wise men named Howard Stern, Mel Karmazin (Infinity Broadcasting President), and Don Buchwald (Stern’s agent).
In November 1986, three months after we began simulcasting The Howard Stern Show on WYSP, Philadelphia (where I was program director), the FCC started investigating three indecency complaints.
Two of them were from Reverend Donald Wildmon of Tupelo, Mississippi. Wildmon was the director of the “National Federation for Decency.” The third was from Mary Keeley, the mother of a 15-year-old girl. “Morality in Media,” an organization similar to Wildmon’s, instructed her on how to file an FCC complaint.
The FCC gave WYSP’s parent company, Infinity, 30 days to respond. Karmazin answered with a vigorous defense in December 1986. He “urged the Commission to conclude its inquiry without further action.”
In April 1987, the FCC rejected Infinity’s defense and concluded that Stern had aired indecent material, even though he did not utter any of the famous “Seven Dirty Words” previously understood to comprise the standard. Because he dwelled on sexual or excretory matters, not just fleeting references, the FCC found the material “patently offensive.” The FCC was also concerned because “there was a reasonable risk that children may have been in the audience.”
Because the Commission clarified its standards, it limited its action to warning Infinity and other broadcast licensees that future cases would be actionable by fines or license penalties.
The FCC’s ruling confused broadcasters. What could you say and what couldn’t you say on the radio? What made something indecent?
Steve Lerman was the principal regulatory counsel to Infinity. I had several meetings with Lerman and can only imagine how many sessions the Stern crew had with him trying to understand where the FCC had drawn the line.
Steve is a great guy, and the smartest lawyer I’ve ever met, but his personality has never been described as dynamic. If you’ve seen “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” you know what he sounds like. Recall the scene with Bueller’s teacher, played by Ben Stein: “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller? Anyone?” That’s Steve Lerman.
Lerman told us to imagine him reading a transcript of what Stern said before the Supreme Court as they sat in their robes stone-faced. “That should give you a pretty good idea of whether it’s indecent,” he taught us.
In 1988, Stern added his third station, WJFK, Washington. Otherwise, life seemed to go on as normal. Then came the annual Christmas Party Show in 1988, resulting in more complaints to the FCC.
In the Fall of 1989, the FCC asked Infinity to explain the complaints about the Christmas Party show. The FCC rejected Infinity’s argument that the material was no more offensive than daytime television programs and, therefore, not indecent. The Commission slapped each of the three stations with a $2,000 fine and Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), which could result in license forfeiture.
That day was the first time I was asked to appear on Nightline. Of course, I didn’t accept. The program director at WYSP didn’t speak for Howard Stern or Infinity on FCC matters. Nightline showed press conference footage from earlier that day. I recall seeing Stern visibly shaken.
Infinity (later CBS Radio) fought legal battles over indecency with the FCC for several years.
In the meantime, the three wise men displayed their brilliance.
Everybody wanted to know exactly what Stern had said to incur FCC fines. We couldn’t rebroadcast those bits and didn’t want to discuss them. The combination of Howard, Mel, and Don recognized people were curious, and nothing is more desirable than something banned. That was the genesis of “Crucified by the FCC.”
“Crucified by the FCC” was a box set released in CD or cassette formats, plus a 12-page booklet about the show’s history and battles with the FCC. It was released in early 1991 and included material from the Christmas Party show that brought the FCC fines.
Sold directly through an 800 number and promoted heavily by the stations during Stern’s show and throughout the day. Howard did promotional appearances, including this appearance with David Letterman:
No sales records were released, but we were told it sold several hundred thousand copies.
Prohibiting books from school libraries today may present an opportunity for a financial bonanza for authors and artists.
My friend Joe thinks it could be the DeSantis literary program. Ban Romeo and Juliet due to underage sex, and teens will flock to Shakespeare.
If I were selling books today, I would borrow from the three wise men.
If I had a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I would cordon off an area like video stores did for adult movie titles. I’d make a sign that read “BANNED BOOKS” or “Banned by the Governor.” Online I’d make a “Banned Books” button prominent.
Since nobody is really banning books in America, I’d use the lessons three wise men taught me about controversy and use the objections to some titles to sell books that otherwise few people would be interested in reading.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.