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Greg Martin Constantly Has One Eye Toward the Future For KTSA

“I run an AM station now, but in the future will be streaming. I’m not knocking AM, but it’s an old technology.”

Ryan Hedrick

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Growing up in San Antonio, Greg Martin discovered his passion for radio at a young age. Interning at KTSA, a nearby station, little did he know that he would eventually find his way back to the place where his love for radio first ignited. Starting in the Top 40 format, Martin was drawn to news/talk radio. One program that caught his attention was Rush Limbaugh’s show, which seamlessly blended intriguing observations with entertaining content.

In San Antonio, the radio industry thrives with a remarkable array of professional broadcasters, committed advertisers, and a political environment that empowers KTSA to maintain its consistent position as the highest-earning station.

Martin’s incredible journey has led him to a successful Hall of Fame career, built on his unwavering trust in his talented hosts. They deliver compelling content that effortlessly combines entertainment with the latest current events, providing an engaging radio experience for their audience.

Recently, Martin sat down with Barrett News Media to discuss various topics. He shared his thoughts on the news/talk format after Rush Limbaugh’s passing and his coaching and support methods for radio personalities. Martin also shared ideas about being inducted into the San Antonio Radio Hall of Fame. Furthermore, he highlighted an ongoing crisis in the radio industry that still needs to be addressed.

Ryan Hedrick: As the program director of KTSA in San Antonio, how would you describe the current state of the city’s news/talk radio scene locally?

Greg Martin: Our model has never been built on ratings. We’re a local, direct conservative news/talk station in San Antonio. We only get a few national dollars. WOAI has been dominant for years. Rush [Limbaugh] ‘s unfortunate passing leveled the playing field in the market. We took the Markley, Van Camp, and Robbins Show, which we generate from San Antonio. 

Our local talent has been here longer than I have. Our morning guy grew up here at the radio station, and his dad was on the air for 50 years. These are respected and trusted voices in this market. We have more local hours than anybody across the street, so we are fortunate to have that in our favor.

We are the top billing station in the market, either one of two most months; KTSA is a money-making machine. We have a good thing here. This live and local model is built on our talent and their relationship with the audience and our great clients. We move product, and that’s how we know the station works.

RH: How did the news/talk format change after Rush Limbaugh’s passing?

GM: When he passed, we immediately saw this man’s impact on the format he invented. He was the original. Many people have come after him and tried to model themselves like Rush and carve their paths. We’ve had an opportunity to see who rises to the top when that seat is vacant.

We have Dan Bongino, who has stepped in, Dana Loesch is a great talent, and Clay Travis and Buck Sexton have done well. But I am a big fan of Markley, Van Camp, and Robbins because the news is so heavy, and you need to be able to laugh. They’re good at doing that. They are talking about the world of the day, but they find the absurdity of most of it and make people laugh.

RH: Could you share your philosophy on coaching talent and developing successful radio personalities at KTSA?

GM: I’ve been fortunate. The guys doing talk radio at this station have been doing it longer than I’ve been at the format. I’m a Top 40 guy, I came from the Top 40 days, and that’s a majority of my career, and then I moved into operations. These guys are pros. As far as coaching them, my philosophy in working with a great consultant like David Hall is not to beat these guys up.

My guys are expressive types, and you never want to squash that. For every one thing I like a correction on, there are three or four more things that I want more of. It’s a craft, a talent many people don’t have. I’ve got a great relationship with these guys; we’ve been working together for twenty-plus years. There are a lot of hallway huddles, and some of my guys are still working remotely. I’m here as a resource and their coach.

RH: Congratulations on being selected to the San Antonio Radio Hall of Fame in 2022! How did it feel to receive this honor, and what does it mean to you personally and professionally?

GM: When they first brought the award to me, my first reaction was, ‘I’m only 50,’ maybe they’re running out of people to nominate. Honestly, I’m genuinely humbled by it. I started at KTSA in 7th grade and went to Krueger Middle School, right down the street. The program director then let me in to answer phones and do whatever I could to learn something. All these people that I am inducted with, I grew up admiring. They were in their prime when my career was just getting started. All these guys in San Antonio have had great jobs, and it’s nice to be counted among them.

RH: What do you think the future holds for AM radio in an era dominated by digital media and streaming platforms? How does KTSA adapt to the changing landscape?

GM: I grew up listening to and working on AM radio. I run an AM station now, but in the future will be streaming. I’m not knocking AM, but it’s an old technology. We need streaming that works well. I have yet to find one streaming station that executes flawlessly, and I think we have an issue there. The other crisis that nobody discusses in the industry is the engineering crisis. There aren’t engineers out there to work on these AM stations anymore. They are few and far between.

We must clean up the technology and streaming platforms and make the listener experience seamless, just like it is over the air because that’s where the future will be.

RH: Could you elaborate further on your perspectives regarding the engineering dilemma surrounding AM Radio?

GM: Those guys who work on that technology are not coming up. The interest is not there, and it’s sad to say. Society does that as technology evolves. I talked to my kids, my daughter is 21, and my son is 19, and my son said the other day that the only time I hear your station is when the brief time my car is connected to Apple Car Play.

My daughter, we took a trip to South Padre Island, and I was listening to KTSA, and she said, ‘Your station still has a connection down here?’ It was funny that she thought of it as a connection, not a transmission. There’s a lack of interest from the younger folks.

RH: How do you see the role of talk radio evolving in the digital age? What steps has KTSA taken to stay relevant and engage with a younger audience?

GM: It’s something you do over time; I don’t think you put your product on an FM and believe they will listen. You must have good content. The world is so heavy in politics, and cutting through the noise is complex. We are a South Texas conservative news/talk station, and we stay true to that, and people find us. You put a guy like Sean Rima on, who is like everybody’s cool uncle, and people want to hang out with him. I think it’s about content and what you put out there, and you can’t always be so freaking heavy. It would be best to find some balance, or you will burn yourself out and drive all your listeners away.

RH: Which news or talk radio personalities do you particularly enjoy listening to, and what makes them stand out or unique?

GM: KTSA afternoon host Jack Riccardi has an incredible ability to tell a story, unpack a story, explain it, and then give his unique perspective. He doesn’t have to take one phone call; you’re just sucked in. He can shift from talking about Biden and Trump indictments, and suddenly, he’s talking about his favorite restaurant that he had lunch at today because he’s doing an endorsement, and you didn’t even notice. All our guys here are solid, and I like Markley, Van Camp, and Robbins. To have guys from three generations who have the chemistry they have, the fun they have, the show moves, and to me, it’s a must-listen-to every day.

RH: KTSA Radio has a significant impact in San Antonio. Could you elaborate on what makes KTSA an influential voice in the community?

GM: It’s the trust that our hosts have built over the decades. Trey Ware has been in the market for a long time. Elizabeth Ruiz was on the air in our news department for 30-40 years before she signed off. We pair Trey [Ware] with Sean Rima, a completely different off-the-wall, and fun personality. Trey is the quarterback of the show, and Sean is the clown.

Our local involvement in the community is excellent. All these guys have charities that we support. We do an annual event with Jack Riccardi over Christmas called “Wrappin’ with Jack,” where we collect toys and items for a local non-profit agency. We also do a Trey Ware food drive each year.

Pre-pandemic, we hosted town halls and mayoral debates in our Alamo Lounge. We host our annual “Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Radiothon” out of there, raising money for the enormous Thanksgiving dinner in the United States, which happens downtown. We’ve been here forever, and we’ve stayed relevant, and we keep chipping away. We were never in this to win a rating battle, but when the ratings come, we are honored by that.

RH: What key factors do you consider when selecting new talent to join the KTSA team? Are there any specific qualities or skills you are looking for?

GM: I’m not looking for anybody that’s just passing through looking to put KTSA on their resume. If you want to be here, it’s an investment in your future, and you can make a lot of money here, but it will take some time to build up your brand in this market.

You are always looking for someone with a unique point of view. Storytelling is huge. I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to defend your position. We’ve always backed our talent in this building. I’ve never had to say you can’t talk about this or You can’t go this direction. I’m not looking for anyone right now. I like the staff that I’ve got.

RH: As someone deeply involved in the radio industry for many years, what advice would you give aspiring radio professionals looking to make a news/talk radio career?

GM: It’s more than the AM/FM; understand it all, get into it all. Content is king. Surround yourself with people you admire and respect on whatever platform it is. I remember coming to KTSA when I was in sixth grade and watching Ricci Ware doing a talk show and thinking to myself, how cool that was. I surrounded myself with people doing the things I wanted to do. I was knocking on doors and being persistent. I think you must be persistent. 

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As History Unfolds, It’s Important for News/Talk Radio to Remain Focused on Playing the Hits

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward.

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A photo of Donald Trump and Joe Biden

The age-old radio adage is to “Play the hits”.

It applies more directly to music stations, but the phrase can also relate to sports talk and news/talk. So, suppose you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself behind a microphone on a news/talk station the last couple of weeks. In that case, you might be having an internal conversation about whether you’ve focused too much on the national political discourse since the unforgettable Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden debate on June 27th.

My short answer is: No, you’re not too focused. 

But in an effort to not stop this column at 100 words, I’ll explain further.

I’ve long advocated for focusing your local shows on your local radio markets as much as possible. It will separate your show from the national syndication that can be piped into any station nationwide. Your local flair is what will build your credibility in your community. It’s what will separate you. Local will win. 

And given that it’s been an unusually predictable few months in the election news cycle, there hasn’t been much to lean into on the national political side. Joe Biden was the unimpressive, octogenarian incumbent going up against Donald Trump, who rolled quickly through a primary and was set to be at the top of the Republican ticket for a third-straight election cycle. It was a rematch of 2020, a period in American history most Americans would prefer to forget, given the state of the nation at the time. Unfortunately for many, they are being forced to relive it. 

However, what happened two weeks ago in Atlanta between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has given a massive jolt to an election season that had been relatively boring. Tens of millions of Americans were tuned in that evening, and given Biden’s debate performance, it has kicked off two weeks of speculation of Biden dropping out, party infighting, replacement conversations, various media reports, and drama that we haven’t seen around an incumbent President in an election year since 1968.

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward engagingly and entertainingly while also, when appropriate, bringing on guests who will provide them with insight they can bring to their conversations with friends, at the water cooler, on group texts and on social media.

In a perfect world, you can also localize these national stories by getting reactions from local officials, reading/playing their social media reactions on your show, or if you’re in a swing state, your options beyond that are unlimited.

But now that we are in a national news cycle that has been on fire, don’t force yourself into local talk. Find your top local stories that are compelling and impacting your radio listener’s day-to-day lives, and work to blend it with the historical moment we find ourselves living through on the national political stage. And always be working your hardest to think of and find new angles, while moving the story forward.

In the end, just like your local CHR station has to play Taylor Swift multiple times an hour, you need to give your audience what they want and “Play the hits.” We’re living through history, after all.

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James Golden AKA Bo Snerdley Relishes New Nationally Syndicated Weekend Show

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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A photo of James Golden
(Photo: James Golden)

Radio host, radio executive, producer, author, and a jack of all media trades. Since he was 14-years-old James Golden (AKA Bo Snerdley) has devoted his entire life to the media industry.

The on-air talent’s weekend show —The James Golden Show — just became syndicated through Red Apple Audio Networks.

“I really appreciate having the platform that WABC has provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have a show that’s now in a bunch of different markets and growing! It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Long before Golden hit the airwaves as ‘Bo Snerdley’ on The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a teenager visiting his cousin, DJ Gerry Bledsoe, at work. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. So many things happened that day. In fact, that day was when one of the older guys there, the guy who’s had a reputation as being a real grumpy, curmudgeon type guy, for some reason, took a liking to me.”

He let Golden into the show where Golden learned how to cut tape. “It took me a lot of years before I actually got a job, and ironically, it was at the same station, doing marketing and research, looking at ratings and learning how to analyze ratings and learning how to do marketing. Later on, I moved into the programming side and started doing music research.”

James Golden was one of the first in the country to do music research which led him to WABC. There he worked with the station’s transition from music to their first talk program.

“I think in life you’re given the sort of the things that you need to fulfill whatever destiny you have. I had always been interested in news, politics, and all of it. This dual love I had for music, it allowed me to transition when the station changed format and to become their senior producer of news. And it was at ABC some years later that I met Rush Limbaugh. And of course, that turned into a 30-year relationship.”

The Author of “Rush On The Radio,” recalled the first time the pair met. “So my first day working on his show, I brought him some news stories. I was in the habit of doing that before I even worked on his show. I developed a friendship. When I saw something interesting, that I thought he would be interested in and I would take it to him. So it was a smooth transition for me being rotated on the show.”

It wasn’t before long James Golden became Bo Snerdley. “So I walked in, dropped off some stories, and on the way out he says, ‘Well, everybody on this call screen has got to be a Snerdley, have you come up with your name?’ So The Daily News was on his desk, and it was on the sports page. Bo Jackson was in the news for some of the headlines, but I just wasn’t able watch it. So I just said ‘Bo’ and walked out. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I’d be Bo. But it’s great and I love it. I’m comfortable with either one.”

Golden recalled the time spent with his friend saying, “No words can ever describe it. He was the best that there ever was to me, or ever will be in the industry. His talent, as he said, was on loan from God. But it was something unique. The incredibly intelligent, incredibly hardworking. 30 years in, he still brought it. Even when he was sick, [Rush] did as much of the work that he could to make sure that his show was extremely well researched and well delivered.”

While working on Rush’s show, James Golden also had his own weekend show. He worked 7 days a week for years. Today, he is back at his radio home. “Back at WABC, doing six days on air with them, and it’s just been a wonderful ride for me.”

Throughout the years, the former executive producer turned host has seen significant change in the industry.

“For some people, it’s not as much fun as it used to be. And I’ll just speak frankly about that. When the bean counters took over because of corporate interest — instead of it being a lot of different families with smaller radio groups, it moved into more of a big business — for a lot of people a lot of the fun was taken out of it, because those decisions that used to be made locally are now being made by regional managers or by national managers, some of whom had more of a background in sales and didn’t understand the programing,” he shared.

“So there’s always that schism. And so for a lot of people in the industry, I have friends who have left the industry because it just was no longer fun for them.”

Another big difference? You no longer have to work your way up through the markets.

“You had to work your way up through lower markets to get to a higher market. You don’t have to do that now. People that are just good at what they do, if they have very good communication skills, you can learn how to become [one of the] best radio hosts. There’s only one best radio host and [Rush] passed away, but it is still about your ability to tell a good story. To understand and to I think it really is how much you are in love with the medium yourself.”

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The Difference Between News/Talk Radio Programmer and Bureaucrat

The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets.

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Let’s talk about the worst aspect of every news/talk radio programmer’s job: commercial stops, those designed traffic jams that occur every ten or twenty minutes bringing your excellent content to a dead halt. And so, you wait, knowing full well that you’re losing a significant percentage of your audience to button pushers looking for a station where talkers are still talking and news is still being broadcast.

The way most news and talk radio stations operate today commercial clutter takes up 20-30 minutes of each programming hour. It would be nice to say that’s because your inventory is sold out thanks to great ratings but we know better. It happens because it’s allowed to happen. Some of that load is likely bonus spots and far too much of it consists of recorded promos that use branding phrases begging the listener to wait through the clutter.

Yes, commercials are necessary but there are some things to consider that might make them less annoying and potentially informative and entertaining.

Warning: old fart flashback straight ahead.

When I was a young program director I had the authority to reject any spots that I didn’t feel met our standards. Yes, I’m quite serious. I didn’t exercise the option often but if a spot was of lousy audio quality, badly produced, boring, or even just plain stupid, I could kick it back to the sales exec and/or ad agency and ask them politely to make it better.

You might think that could result in an impolite opposite reaction. It never did, not once. From time to time I talked with an advertiser or his agent and they always said the same thing: You’re the expert. I want my time and money spent well on your station.

Sales execs could get annoyed but usually went along as good teammates without too much grousing. Besides, schmoozing clients with better ideas is part of their art; the best enjoy it.

Often these conversations would lead to brainstorming sessions with the production director. (Remember that creative and crucial position?) Ideas were tossed around, writing began and a highly effective ad was usually the result.

If you’re a program director or air talent today your mind must be reeling. It has probably never occurred to you that you could have the authority to actually determine all of your news/talk station’s programming, not just the words between the breaks, every blessed minute. Why not? You’re responsible for your station’s content 24/7 though you have no control over half of it.

Most program directors in corporate-owned stations today have been hired as functionaries at the end of a long chain of corporate bureaucrats. Your days are filled with layers of programming and sales hierarchies. Presidents have lieutenants, regional and format V.P.s, who send out the memos and convene Zoom meetings to address general issues with generalized answers.

They dive into recent studies and charts for boilerplate policies, seldom suggesting anything bold or of local significance because they can’t, they don’t know your town. The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets. They’re smart enough to know that what worked in Boston might not fly in Amarillo – except in a vague, general way.

As a local PD today your log is bloated, your programming is filled with syndicated shows, and your hands are tied. 

Unless you have a creative fire in your belly and the guts to assert it.

Dream up great promotions that will excite your audience in your hometown. Enlist the members of your on-air, newsroom, and production staff. Invite them to a pizza place for some brainstorming. Don’t make it mandatory, suggest it will be fun and exciting because it will. Your crew will be happier and bubbling tomorrow. Before long fresh ideas will start trickling in regularly because everyone is enthused, involved, and feeling appreciated. You’ll all make each other’s great ideas even greater. You’re having fun and it’s contagious.

If you can ignite a spark of excitement and faith from your GM and sales department you might find yourself with the programming reigns in both hands.

You weren’t hired to be a clickbait expert, you are a radio expert. You know more about the stuff that comes out of the speakers than anyone else at the station. And you can identify problems and turn them into opportunities. You need to spend your days refining the product, not in endless meetings trying to implement generalized corporate buzzspeak into local program policy.

Attend the Zoom meetings, be a cheerful good soldier but if called upon speak your mind with truth and passion. It’s infectious.

Explain to your boss why you should be allowed to reduce the on-air clutter by as much as half and that you need to spend most of your time every day with your news and talk talent because they’re your stars. It’s why they pay you. The station and the community are all that matters to you.

Tell her/him you’ll read the interoffice memos faithfully and join digital meetings when you can but that the corporate culture will mostly just have to take care of itself.

And, oh, by the way, you need the authority to reject bad radio commercials.

You may not get everything you ask for but I promise you’ll earn some respect.

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