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Mack Rosenberg Is A Swiss Army Knife For WCBS

“When I dedicated myself to a career in news, it felt good. There was a sense of relief.”

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WCBS 880 news anchor Mack Rosenberg got his name from his parents’ interest in two people. First, a baseball player. A backup catcher with the Mets by the name of Mackey Sasser.

“My parents liked him, even though he had a case of the yips,” Rosenberg said. “He couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher.”

The other person was someone his mother liked. An actor on the 80s show Knott’s Landing. “It was one of my mom’s favorite shows,” Rosenberg said. “The actor’s name was M. Mack Patrick MacKenzie.”

It’s unknown whether MacKenzie could throw the ball back to the pitcher.

Rosenberg studied at Fordham University, majoring in communications and media studies with a concentration in television and radio. He served as a sports manager, broadcaster, host, and beat reporter at WFUV and is now a news anchor, reporter, producer, and writer at WCBS 880 in New York.

He refers to himself as the Swiss Army Knife of WCBS. His ability to do a lot of things at the station makes him more valuable.

He’s the son of music-loving parents. Rosenberg is the singer in a rock cover band aptly named Drive Time. A self-described old soul, Rosenberg said music from the Doobie Brothers, The Who, Steely Dan, and his favorite band, The Eagles, tell stories and provide melodies he lives for.

“I was introduced to 70s music early,” he said. “My dad was at the original Woodstock in ‘69. I’m not sure how much of Woodstock he remembers,” he joked.

Rosenberg said he wishes he was born in the 50s to have experienced that genre of music first-hand.

“Steely Dan is a band that arguably is one of the most diverse and original of them all,” Rosenberg said. “I don’t know how good a source I am, but my band members and I have a great appreciation for Steely Dan. They’re right up there with the other bands I mentioned.”

He recognized he could sing when he was seven years old.

“I recorded myself singing along with Motown’s greatest hits. Those tapes still exist. I may be the only one who enjoys them,” he joked. “I’m frequently singing in the car and the shower.”

If you’re going to emulate a singer, Steve Perry of Journey isn’t the worst choice. Rosenberg also said Freddy Mercury of Queen is one of the greatest singers of all time.

Rosenberg recently experimented with a band that plays a lot of 90s music like Nirvana and Alice in Chains, but those songs didn’t give him the same feeling as the ones he does with Drive Time.

“They didn’t resonate with me,” he said. “At the same time, a good song is different for everybody.” Rosenberg tried playing piano in kindergarten, but that didn’t gain traction.

His mother was a teacher for 30 years, a speech pathologist mainly for the New York City board of education. His father works in logistics for a plastic company. At 74, a man of structure and routine, he has no plans to retire anytime soon. That sense of structure and routine was passed down to Mack.

Rosenberg was a sports junkie from his early days. “I’m still a diehard listener of WFAN and listened to WCBS-FM as well. It was my place for oldies.”

He spent a lot of time immersed in baseball video games and called them as a radio broadcaster as he played. “I got pissed off when I started to lose, and my game calling suffered a bit,” Rosenberg joked.

As a kid, Rosenberg was judged one of the top announcers in 2002 for a New York Mets broadcaster contest. He sent in a tape of him announcing to a video game.

“The winner of the contest got to call an inning of an actual Mets game.”

His dream throughout college at Fordham was to work in sports.

“I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Rosenberg said. “I broadcast a ton of Fordham sports. I knew what they were all about. I did this for four years and soaked everything in.”

As a college student, he worked at NPR affiliate WFUV and received media credentials from the station. He covered the Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Jets, among others. Pretty much all of the New York Metro area sports teams. Rosenberg also hosted a weekly Fordham sports show on FUV.

“The first thing they tell you at Fordham, on day one, is WFUV is not a college radio station. It’s a real station,” he explained. “That’s why journalism people go to Fordham. For someone interested in news or sports, it’s the biggest candy store in the world.”

Rosenberg covered the New York Giants training camp in 2011. It was a thrill as he was working around beat reporters he grew up with. That experience was a bit intimidating, even surreal.

“I was dealing with professional players and coaches as a college student. It was daunting to be reporting next to journalism professionals, writers I knew as a kid.”

He was worried he’d make a mistake in front of them.

A particular memory was when Rosenberg was covering the Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin was holding court with the media.

“I wanted to ask him a question about an offensive lineman Will Beatty who was working his way back from a pectoral injury. I asked Coughlin how Beatty was progressing. Coughlin looked at me with a slightly irritated look and asked, ‘Is this your first day here? We’ve been talking about Beatty for awhile.’”

Shortly afterward, an experienced journalist walked up to the young Rosenberg and urged him not to take Coughlin’s comment too seriously.

Between a career in sports and news, Rosenberg faced the equivalent of the old game show Let’s Make a Deal. Sports or news? Would it be door number one or door number two?

“Nobody’s journalism career path is the same,” Rosenberg said. “If you’re not planning on becoming a lawyer or doctor, there’s no single approach to a career.”

In college, it was all about sports. As he walked out of college, he’d just covered the biggest teams in sports and thought that it would be possible to work in sports.

Rosenberg said he wishes there was somebody at Fordham who could have told him just because he covered New York sports didn’t mean he was just going to walk into a sports job. The odds were he’d have to swim as a small fish in a big pond like everybody else.

“It made me see there could be a career in news for me. I imagine I might have been described as patiently impatient.”

His first full-time job was as an assignment editor at Verizon FiOS 1 News, the now defunct local TV news station serving the tri-state area.

“I learned the foundation of what local news is,” Rosenberg explained. “While at WFUV, the news department would report about a pothole in the street, and in the sports department, we would laugh at that. I later realized that could be real news.”

Still, he was sending out tapes for a sports job.

“I had a hard time understanding why I didn’t get picked up for a sports job.”

He did some fill-in work in news at WFUV, mostly early mornings. It started to snowball from there.

“My first full-time job in news was overnights, six days a week at WTIC, the Hartford CBS radio affiliate,” Rosenberg said.

“I grew up in Westchester County, north of New York City. I would drive two hours each day to (the station). I’d pull up to the station at 10:15 at night and roll the car seat back in hopes of catching a couple minutes of sleep.

“When I dedicated myself to a career in news, it felt good,” Rosenberg explained. “There was a sense of relief.”

He began to mold himself into a news person. Rosenberg had to determine what made a good story. What elements were necessary. Which reporter would be good for a particular assignment.

“I had to be 100 percent confident I could tell a good story. Since taking the job at WCBS in 2018, my on-air presence has improved,” Rosenberg explained. “I’ve had the chance to develop my personality and become a credible source for New York.”

Rosenberg grew up listening to a lot of the people he started to work with.

“At first, it was odd to be in the same room as them,” Rosenberg explained. “But I got to learn about who they are beyond the air. You get to know them as a person. You find out what makes them tick, the things you have in common. They might ask me when the next gig is for my band.”

Morning anchor Wayne Cabot was one of those legends for Rosenberg. Someone he describes as brilliant.

“We share a love of music both on and off the air.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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The Case for News Media Outlets to Utilize Paywalls

Why are we giving our work for free?

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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?

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