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Mary Walter Has Done Both Radio and TV at the Highest Levels

It’s easier to go from radio to TV than it is to go from TV to radio. I think that a lot of TV people think it’s going to be so easy, and they flame out.

Ryan Hedrick

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Connecting with an audience in today’s ever-changing media landscape can be tough. But Mary Walter has a talent for doing just that. She’s shown time and again that she knows how to build strong relationships with her listeners, a key factor in her success in her decades-long career.

Walter’s career journey took her from New Jersey 101.5 to WCTC (1450 AM) in New Brunswick and ultimately to WMAL in Washington D.C. She made history as the first female anchor of a morning show in New Jersey and gained even more recognition when both the Howard Stern Channel on Sirius XM and Fox News expressed interest in her achievements.

Walter is immersed in obligations that have made her busier than ever. Her podcast brings her joy as she enjoys the freedom to select the topics she discusses. Despite being an opinionated host, she places great importance on the factual aspects of significant news stories. Thanks to her expertise, she is in high demand, with broadcasters across the country eager for her to step in for them.

Through her work with Newsmax and Fox News, she has gained invaluable insights into a pivotal era in cable news, which could potentially rival the emergence of Fox News as the leading channel in America.

In a sit-down with Barrett News Media, Walter shared her thoughts on her career journey, Chris Licht’s departure from CNN, Newsmax’s significance in the media landscape, and much more. 

Ryan Hedrick: What led you to join the team at Newsmax TV?

Mary Walter: I had done some work for Newsmax in New York City in 2013-2014, and they were starting out there. It was a skeleton operation, and I was doing some shows with them back then, and it just petered out, and I said to myself, ‘These people aren’t going anywhere.’ (Laughs).

RH: With Chris Licht leaving CNN and turmoil going on at Fox News, how do perceive Newsmax’s role in the media landscape?

MW: Newsmax, right now, is sitting in the catbird seat. Chris Ruddy has been deliberate in his choices. You see him scooping up people for — whatever reason — left Fox News, or were pushed out of Fox News. He’s got Greta Van Susteren and Eric Bolling. He also has Jen Pellegrino, who was an intern at Fox News. Quite a few bookers at Newsmax used to be at Fox News. I think it was smart for Chris (Ruddy)  to bring many people over from Fox News because many of them already know each other.  

RH: Did you see something special in Newsmax when you started?

MW: I thought the network was a good idea, but they were taking on Fox News, and Fox was at its heyday. I was very blessed to be at Fox when it was at its zenith, so you didn’t foresee coming down the road what happened to Fox News. In a way, Chris Ruddy (Newsmax CEO) is a visionary in that sense. He said I can be the giant killer, and good for him, he’s stuck with it, and he’s done a great job.

RH: The news media industry has been undergoing rapid changes in recent years. How do you think these changes have impacted how news is consumed and delivered, particularly in conservative news?

MW: I think it has become easier to consume what you want to consume, to hear what you want to hear, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I also think we have blurred the line between opinion and news. When I think of a journalist, I think of someone like James Rosen at Newsmax or Bret Baier at Fox News. Those guys don’t give their opinion. We used to have Bret on at WMAL, and we used to play a game to get him to give his opinion, and he could wiggle out of those six ways from Sunday. I just had James Rosen on my podcast, and we talked about everything but politics.

Somebody like me is an opinion host. People only hear what they want to hear. Somebody like Chris Licht comes in at CNN and says there’s another opinion out there, and we’re going to carry it, and employees went in on a full revolt.

I think not being forced to consume something you don’t want to hear is detrimental in many ways. That is one thing that I think conservative media does a little better than liberal media is that both Fox News and Newsmax TV will have someone that has a different opinion. I think it’s a very dangerous road you go down when you don’t hear anything other than what everyone around you says.

RH: When did your journey at WMAL in Washington DC begin?

MW: I was at WMAL before Newsmax in 2011 and did some fill-in shows. Fred Grandy had the morning show, and he left, and I co-hosted with Brian Nehman, who I think had been on Fred Grandy. I co-hosted with Brian for a couple of weeks.

RH: What was your first break in the industry?

MW: My first job in this industry, I had zero radio experience. New Jersey 101.5 FM was a huge station at the time, it was only a year old but had taken the state by storm, and also in the Philadelphia area. You could even hear it in New York. It wasn’t like your typical political talker; they did a lot of New Jersey stuff and a lot of lifestyle stuff.

The station had a show at night that was a relationship show, and the woman who hosted was leaving, and they had an on-air contest to replace her. My husband was in Philly, and I was driving down there, and you had to call in, and they had some women on who had called in from the night before, and they were going to take your questions. So, long story short, I called, and they called me back the next day. I had nothing else to do at the time. I was a computer consultant, and they offered me the job within a week.

RH: What did you do after you left New Jersey 101.5?

MW: I got fired after five years of being at New Jersey 101.5 because everybody gets fired in radio (laughs). After that, I went to WCTC in New Brunswick, NJ. It’s a small local talker in Somerset County, but I was the first woman in the state to be the anchor of a morning talk show. First-morning host in New Jersey.

I did that for four years, and then the 9/11 attacks happened, and I wound up back at New Jersey 101.5 because the company got sold, and my old boss wound up being my new boss, so he hired me back. I did that for five years and got to work with Craig Carton, and after five years, and out the door again, and I got contacted by Howard Stern and Fox News.

RH: Why did Howard and Fox News reach out to you simultaneously?

MW: Back in the day, there used to be a radio column in the New York Daily News, and it ran every Thursday. You used to be able to hear New Jersey 101.5 in New York City before they made them pull their signal back. That’s how Sean Hannity knew me, that’s how Geraldo Rivera knew me, so people knew that station.

At the time, Howard Stern had just gotten three stations from Sirius, and they were paying him like $100 million to program these stations. So, I got contacted by Tim Sabean, who was his guy at the time, and Mike Elder from Fox News because Fox had just started Fox News Radio about six months before.

It was a crazy time. I also got contacted by a station in Philadelphia and a bunch of other people. At the time, talk radio was huge, and radio itself was huge at the time. This was before Comrex and ISDNs. You had to drive to the job, and I said I wasn’t driving to Philadelphia, but I considered the possibility of taking the train into New York.

I never got offered anything by any of Howard’s people, but they wanted me to recreate the relationship show; that’s what the conversations were about. A week later, I went into Fox, and I thought that they had a great operation plus there were more opportunities there for TV and for my career to grow. I thought it was a more high-profile job. The Howard Stern thing died, and the Fox News thing prospered.

RH: As someone who has worked in both television and radio, what are some key differences you’ve noticed in terms of storytelling and engaging with the audience?

WM: I love radio. I’m a radio creature. I love the longer form. I love being able to take calls from the audience because sometimes I learn things, sometimes they challenge me, and sometimes you can change my thinking.

That, to me, is what radio should be about. Radio should be an exchange of ideas. It should be that soapbox in the town square instead of me just monologuing for two hours. That’s my style, I like to engage the audience. You can’t do that so much on TV. At Fox News, it’s an hour and a half for hair and makeup for three minutes on camera.

They are such different mediums. It’s so much easier to go from radio to TV. If you host on radio and you know what it’s like to fill a 15-20 minute on one topic versus TV where you are reading the teleprompter, and you’ve got two other people on set with you, and everybody gets to say one thing, and you move on, it’s a totally different animal. So, it’s easier to go from radio to TV than it is to go from TV to radio. I think that a lot of TV people think it’s going to be so easy, and they flame out spectacularly because there’s a lot of prep that goes into the radio.

RH: What have been some of the most memorable moments or interviews during your time at Newsmax and WMAL? Is there a particular story or event that stands out to you?

WM: Probably the most memorable was sitting in the White House with Donald Trump. That was one of the gifts that WMAL gave me, and I will forever be grateful. I did not like living in Washington D.C. because if you’re not a D.C. person, I think you find it difficult to live there. Being in D.C. when Trump was president and being a conservative at that time was an incredible experience. By the way, I am not a registered Republican. With Trump, we received an invitation at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but we didn’t know who we were meeting with or who it was for.

Trump wanted to talk to the people that put him in office. We were in the press briefing room, and then they brought us into the Oval Office, and when the doors opened, Trump told us to come on in. I don’t care who the president is, it’s an incredible experience. Trump was everything you expected him to be. He said to us that he wanted to know what the listeners thought about him because he knew those were the people that put him into office.

RH: With the rise of social media and digital platforms, news consumption habits have changed significantly. How have these changes affected your evolution as a talent?

MW: I’m on Twitter, I’m on MeWe, I’m on Gettr, I’m on those things. I spend a lot of time posting because my schedule is so crazy from day to day. I send links to all of my podcasts where you can listen and watch afterward. And I do find that social media can be good and bad.

It’s just like what’s happening in the cable news area and the consumption of news. You can build that information bubble. On Twitter, you have the people you follow, and then you have “for you,” which is not necessarily the people you follow. I’m always on the “for you” because I want to hear other people’s opinions.

I want to hear other things. I know what I think and how I view stuff, I want to be challenged, and I think it’s part of my job to be challenged. I’m on Twitter a lot, and I’m on social media a lot to see how other people are taking the same story that I just saw and interpreting totally differently.

RH: In an era where “fake news” and misinformation are frequently discussed, how do you approach fact-checking and ensuring the accuracy of the information you present?  

MW: The advent of all of this is facts versus feelings. So, if I don’t like your facts or you’re hurting my feelings, then suddenly, it’s fake news. With the way Trump popularized that saying “fake news”, he was calling these people out for publishing stories.

At the time, we didn’t know what he knew. He knew that The New York Times was given this stuff. He knew that the Times had published the story about the dossier, which was fake. The initial use of mis and disinformation, and fake news was dead on. It has now been co-opted to describe anything I disagree with. I am always tweeting out links to stories with verifiable facts.

RH: Are there any projects or initiatives you find particularly exciting and would like our readers to know about?

MW: I love my podcast. It’s Mary Walter Radio, live on YouTube and Gettr, 7:15 EST on Tuesdays. It’s also on Apple iTunes and Spotify. We have an election coming up in New Jersey, so I am watching that.

Other than that, I am keeping busy by being on the fill-in for Todd Starnes, Rob Carson, Mandy Connell, and then, of course on Newsmax. I also fill in for Brian Kilmeade and Guy Benson on Fox News Radio.

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The Lost Radio Art of Building a Community Around Your On-Air Product

Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community.

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A photo of a crowd

How well do you know your radio audience? Wait, that goes the other way, too: How well does your audience know you? And are they your audience, or something more than that?

It’s something to consider in an era when media has become overcrowded and audiences are scattered among many platforms. Is your constituency passive – they listen, watch, or read, but don’t feel any particular loyalty or fealty to you – or is it a real community with a strong two-way connection to you and your brand?

I’ll defer to Seth Resler, who has been promoting the importance of community for radio, as to specifics on why community is important (and the missing element in radio marketing). It does occur to me that radio used to be able to do this, and do it better than any other medium. Great personalities and stations were able to create bonds with their listeners that today’s media just doesn’t do as well anymore.

From Jean Shepherd’s “Night People” to Howard Stern’s legion of fans, teens picking sides in the Top 40 battles of yore (were you a KHJ Boss Radio listener or a KRLA die-hard? WABC All-Americans or WMCA Good Guys? WLS or Super CFL?)… even in those pre-social media days, there was a connection that was more than just passive or background listening. It’s why there’s (perhaps too much) nostalgia for those days, especially among the Facebook commentators who want radio to be just like that today. Those days are over.

But community building isn’t, and all you need to know is “Swiftie” or “Bey Hive” to understand what a rabid fan base can do for you. Media in general doesn’t get fans like that anymore, but it should be taking cues from how fans behave online. DJs and hosts should be celebrities, not anonymous one-name interchangeable plug-and-play voice trackers.

Events you create should be big deals clearly identified with your brand (look at D.C., where the “HFStival” is returning even though WHFS as a radio station is long gone from the market). Got a newspaper? Create and promote social media accounts and aggressively promote them as the best local forum on every topic, like local restaurants, local politics, local everything. Ideally, you should make your identity synonymous with your audience and your locality. Your name should mean something more than just “a radio station” or “a newspaper” or “a website.” Think big, then think bigger.

Here’s an example of something someone should be doing: Right now, we’ve entered Hurricane Season in these parts, and as I write this, it’s pouring. The local TV stations in West Palm and Miami all compete to be identified as “the weather station,” promoting their meteorologists being “most accurate” and “number one for weather.”

Great, but it just ends there with the marketing. They could have Facebook groups, and Instagram posts, and Zoom open meetings where people can ask questions and get answers, and report conditions in real-time. Some do have hurricane preparation events, but they could be more than just a card table and canopy with brochures and a station employee there to meet and greet. They all have apps, and that helps, but there’s no interactivity.

As a local resident, do I know who to trust most on the weather? Do I feel loyalty to any of the stations? Not really. There’s no community. So I just turn on the TV and whichever channel I happen to land upon first is what I’ll watch for weather updates. They’re basically the same. Radio?

I couldn’t tell you which station is the go-to for anything. A lot of them just simulcast TV news coverage in emergencies anyway. I haven’t met anyone here who’s a real fan of any local radio station, though that may be a function of the number of new arrivals here, mostly from Long Island; they’re all more likely to say they listen(ed) to 1010 WINS for news anyway.

TL;DR: Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community. Turn fans into family. Ask Seth Resler for more. We have too many ex-New Yorkers here. Ranger Suarez for NL Cy Young. Okay, that wasn’t in here, but still.

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Steve Cochran Isn’t Looking in the Rear View Mirror After WLS-AM 890 Exit

“(WLS) and I were never a natural fit. But I believe — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something … everybody wasn’t rowing the boat in the same direction, but I’m good.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Steve Cochran
(Photo: Steve Cochran)

There’s a longstanding adage in the radio business: “You haven’t really been in radio until you’ve been fired.” Steve Cochran has embodied the mantra 11 times after exiting Chicago news/talk station WLS-AM 890 last Friday.

After a two-year run in mornings on the Cumulus-owned station, the two sides went their separate ways in what Cochran said was an amicable parting.

“I liked those people a lot. They’re good people. We just have a disagreement on what show should be on there,” he said. “The signs aren’t hard to figure out. It was not contentious. I’ve certainly had ugly ones. This was not it. We just simply disagree on how to do the best show in in Chicago. And frankly, I felt like I was doing not just that, but the best show in the country. And the last sane talk show in the country.”

That sentiment — “the last sane talk show in the country” — is something Cochran had shared on the air during his stint with the station.

When asked what that exactly meant to him, Steve Cochran noted that it includes two separate issues. One is the business side of radio which affects companies like iHeartMedia, Audacy, and Cumulus. He believes some of the larger radio operators are solely focused on stock price, which in turn affects the on-air programming.

But maybe more importantly is the political polarization that has enveloped the talk radio space that Cochran has become most disillusioned with.

“This is not a secret: I’ve leaned right most of my life, but I’ve voted right and left depending on the candidate — the way I think everybody ought to,” said Cochran. “Because the far right and the far left, as I’ve said a million times, will kill the country. And I just wanted to drive the middle. I still think you could monetize the middle, but you have to have a company that’s willing to really invest in that.

“They held up their end of the bargain and they didn’t tell me how to do the show. And I held up mine and told him that I would be hard on Trump, but I would also be hard on any Democrats that deserved it. I pound on the mayor of Chicago, who’s a disaster, and the Democratic machine in Chicago, which is also a disaster, over and over again. We got good response from a lot of people that said, ‘Look, you’re fair. I don’t always agree, but I appreciate it.'”

He continued by noting that welcoming each side of the political aisle to talk radio needs to be much more prevalent than it has become, stating “Unless we get back to talking to each other, we’re done and everything in politics now is about not doing that.”

Steve Cochran admitted that he might not have been the best fit for WLS — and vice versa — but was interested in giving the position a test run after more than 15 years at crosstown rival WGN.

He called the relationship “a joint experiment”, before noting that that the proposed mission of the Cumulus-owned outlet to be “the most conservative station in America,” in the words of former colleague John Howell, wasn’t the perfect situation for him at this stage of his career.

After more than 40 years in the industry, and being 63 years old, it’s logical question to wonder what the future holds for Steve Cochran.

And he revealed he has the same thoughts.

“I will miss being on the radio. I don’t know that I’ll ever be on the radio again, and that’s a very weird thing to say after 43 years,” he shared. “I just think radio is still the greatest medium.”

As much as he questions his potential future on the air, Cochran questions if radio entities will be able to shift their focus away from AM radio to a more easily accessible distribution platform for younger audiences.

“The mistake these companies have made in regards to AM talk radio — and I said this to Cumulus — is stop calling it AM. When you say ‘AM,’ it sounds like an antique store. And it’s a natural turnoff to anybody under the age of probably 45.

“So in talk radio, AM should be treated like every other content platform. It’s just another content platform. It should have as much of the same opportunities and revenue streams as well. Cameras in studio, a video guy, social media people to monetize all of that,” he said. “I think the companies who are gonna win this — the remaining companies that may feel like they’re stuck with these big AMs — will figure out a way to treat them like content platforms and not like ‘Grandma’s down on the corner, the light’s on so I guess she’s ok.'”

If his morning show at WLS-AM 890 really was his last radio hurrah, Steve Cochran is content with that.

“When I left (WGN) — that was not my call, or my desire, though I hated the way the company was being run at that point, and still being run, frankly, it’s half the radio station once was. And (WLS) and I were never a natural fit, but I really believed — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something,” Cochran said. “But it involved a lot of promotion, a lot of focus, and everybody wasn’t rowing the boat the same way.

“So I came back, I had my say, and I think I’m better at this than I’ve ever been. I’d like to be able to do it somewhere, but for the time being, and maybe fully, I’m gonna do it in podcast form.”

His podcast — Live From My Office — has published more than 350 episodes since its launch. In addition to his podcast, Cochran continues to be a stand-up comedian in the Windy City, with a set scheduled for Friday night at the Raue Center for the Arts.

It would be easy for him to view the departure from the venerable Chicago station as a sad note. However, Cochran reiterated that he had no bad things to say about management in Chicago or the company, and noted that they stuck to everything the two sides agreed upon before the “joint experiment.”

“I didn’t get notes or direction or censorship or editing by WLS in Chicago or by Cumulus and I respect that. That was our agreement going in, and they honored it,” Steve Cochran shared. “But I have considerations for sponsors and consideration for the framework of things when I’m working for somebody else. So I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. That’s a bit of the freedom, but that’s just a small piece of it ’cause I never felt restricted at WLS.”

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How Hunter Biden Talk Should Be Handled By News Media Members

I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

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A photo of Hunter Biden appearing on Fox News
(Photo: Fox News)

The surviving first son — Hunter Biden — was convicted of 3 felonies over his gun buy after lying that he was not a drug addict. I am not going to joke about addiction. It truly is a horrible infliction affecting people in families all over the world and the First Family. But stick with me here. I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

Hunter Biden was raised by an absent father. Sen. Joe Biden has often told the story about taking Amtrak home every night to be at home for his kids. Do you know what would have been better? Raising the kids in Washington DC. Arriving at midnight on a train is not parenting. It is virtue signaling about a commitment to fatherhood. Fatherhood is about being there for your children.

My old man was often on the road when I was a kid. It was necessary for his career as a Sales Manager. I know that if my dad could have been home for dinner every night, he would have done so. Hunter Biden’s mother was killed in a car wreck. It is a terrible thing. While Joe Biden has told that story often as a ploy for sympathy, Hunter Biden was not a prop. He didn’t choose to be raised by a political family. His lack of connection to his father was obviously a part of his addiction. Many of the addicted are hiding from pain and that pain is often familial.

Hunter learned early that the Biden name made things easier. Hunter went to Georgetown and then to Yale Law. I have no idea what Hunter’s qualifications were, but both of those institutions love bragging that a Senator’s son attended. Hunter graduated and Yale Law ain’t no summer picnic. Obviously, graduating from both institutions is an honor.

Hunter started on the grift immediately to cash in on his father’s name. Took a consulting gig with MDNA bank that had donated over $200k to his father’s campaigns. When I was in school and had started my first radio job, my full-time gig was with a hotel. I did the night audit. My dad called me and suggested that I call his fraternity brother who owned several large hotels. I told my father that I wanted to make it on my own. I didn’t want a job from a friend.

Just as a note, I was close to my parents and still hold them in high esteem. (They are no longer with us.) I decided to make my own way. I have this belief that it is not Republican or Democratic, it is reality. There amazing people are elected to Congress. The problem with Senators and Representatives is that they see the massive amount spent in the District of Columbia.

I believe that nearly all Congress can be corrupted by the cash. Hunter Biden just saw a way to cash in. It was raw greed based purely on connections to his father. There are adult children of elected officials who are cashing in because of connections to their lawmaker parents. It is dirty, it is wrong, and it is totally immoral.

Hunter Biden just joined the party. Sadly, Hunter’s father did not stop it. Joe Biden encouraged it. Nearly every member of the Biden family has cashed in on “The Big Guy.” It is dirty and the person guilty is Joe Biden. Joe Biden, who’s claimed he’s “Blue Collar Joe”, owns three homes. I had a friend point out that Joe had a book deal. My retort? Who purchased the books? My thinking is that lobbyists and big donors were at the center of it.

Joe Biden was greedy. Not because of a product, service, or company that he founded. It was because Joe Biden used his power as a U.S. Senator to become stinking rich. I love Delaware. They have The Waffle House! Imagine a strung-out Hunter Biden ordering the All-Star Special! By the way, the pork chops and eggs are amazing at The Waffle House. This is from personal experience.

Hunter cashed in on daddy. It was a family thing. But President Joe Biden chose public service as his career. Joe Biden could have stopped the Biden family scam at any moment. Why didn’t the President stop it? It was greed.

Hunter Biden and his Uncle James (Jimmy) Biden started a hedge fund that was financed by Allen Stanford. Stanford was convicted of a Ponzi Scheme and will get freedom in 2103. The Biden family made big bucks off this. Google Allen Stanford, Hunter Biden, and James Biden. I’ll tell you two people who didn’t have to return any money. Hunter and James Biden.

Hunter Biden may be the most ethical of the Biden family. He needed crack, booze, hookers to mask his personal pain. Hunter is obviously an adult and can make his own decisions. There are children from very functional families who just implode in life. There are children from impoverished families who have risen above their circumstances.

Hunter Biden is an emotional wreck. His father and stepmother have been enablers. His wives and girlfriends have allowed this behavior. But there was no chance for Hunter. He was wrecked by a dysfunctional family and a greedy dad.

I feel sorry for him. Hunter’s fall has more to do by his father than anything else. Beau Biden was the favored son. Hunter was the Prince Harry of the USA. Hunter deserves sympathy and perhaps some crack.

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