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Jason Hammer Doesn’t Wanna Be a Rush Limbaugh Wannabe

“We try to be conversational, we try to be funny, and we try to mix in some bits and humor because that’s who we are. But we’re not giving you a lecture.”

Ryan Hedrick

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A photo of Jason Hammer and the WIBC logo
(Photo: WIBC)

In a corner office tucked away on the fourth floor of WIBC Radio in downtown Indianapolis, Jason Hammer is getting ready for another show alongside his partner Nigel Laskowski. Having experienced the feeling of being an outsider looking in, Hammer is familiar with the industry’s challenges but considers himself a student of the broadcasting game with a deep appreciation for the predecessors who paved the way.  

Nearly seven years ago, Hammer joined the station as the Promotions Director and eventually ascended to become co-host of the highly-rated Hammer and Nigel.

Prior to his arrival, he had been laid off from his marketing job at a casino and was out of the business. The Hammer and Nigel Podcast, which was broadcast from a bar, was already attracting a sizable audience, and it provided both Hammer and Nigel with exposure and an outlet for their creative energies. They managed to secure a few advertisers, including a limousine company that could transport their guests to and from events while hanging out at a bar. 

You must understand the immense effort Jason Hammer has put into reaching his current position. The broadcasting industry is notorious for its tendency to hire and fire employees, yet Hammer has faced numerous opportunities to abandon his passion for broadcasting.

Despite the challenges, he persevered and remained steadfast in pursuing his dreams. He could have easily opted for a career as a marketing executive, but he had unwavering faith in himself and his abilities. In a world where dishonesty is rampant, Hammer takes pride in his authenticity and staying true to who he is. 

During a conversation with Barrett News Media, Hammer shares his observations on talent development trends in the industry. He also addresses whether he critiques other talk show hosts behind the scenes, explains how he’s built a dynamic on-air relationship with his partner Nigel Laskowski and reflects on how the untimely passing of comedian/radio talent Ron Sexton deeply affected him. 

Ryan Hedrick: Before we get into your career, let’s discuss the untimely passing of Ron Sexton, a comedian known for portraying Donnie Baker on The Bob and Tom Show.  

Jason Hammer: It’s heartbreaking because he was such a fun guy to be around. He coached baseball, he did stand-up comedy, and he was a great sports talk show host before making his way over to The Bob and Tom Show. Being that diverse is something that warrants the respect of the broadcast community.

He wasn’t just one-dimensional. He could easily be one-dimensional and be the “voices” guy on Bob and Tom, but that’s not who he was. He toured around the country; he coached kids’ baseball. That kind of stuff is awesome.    

RH: How long have you been working at WIBC?  

JH: I came to WIBC several years ago as the Promotions Director. I had been working at the casino in Shelbyville [Indiana] doing marketing, and they made some changes, so I got blown out. I was out of radio for a little bit, and so was my partner, Nigel [Laskowski], and we started this podcast because we still had this creative bug going. The podcast took off, and everybody loved it. We used that [podcast] to get some momentum going and get back into the game.   

From there, Nigel started doing some voice work, I became the promotions and marketing guy here at WIBC, and then from there, we got a weekend show, did some fill-in work on The Fan 93.5/107.5 FM, got a night show, and I think they were grooming us for what eventually became the afternoon show.   

RH: How did you feel when you were announced as a full-time host, alongside your partner, for the afternoon show at WIBC?  

JH: It was about six months after the Trump election, and we got the keys to the afternoon show. At the time, the station wasn’t having the success that it’s having now. Tony Katz was starting to get into his groove in the mornings, Greg Garrison, who had been an icon in the middays, was inching towards retirement, and The Chicks on the Right in the afternoon were doing their thing, but the station didn’t have the numbers and the revenue that it has right now.   

We knew we had a big opportunity here, but we knew we were going to have to build and grow our own audience. The show we do is not your traditional news/talk show. It’s not your mom and dad’s news and talk show; in fact, we make fun of those types of shows.

Every city has an Aldi version of Rush [Limbaugh]. That’s not what we do. We try to be conversational, we try to be funny, and we try to mix in some bits and humor because that’s who we are. But we’re not giving you a lecture. We’re doing a show, and I think there’s a big difference there.   

RH: Many talk show hosts often say things solely to keep or increase their audience. However, Hammer and Nigel are not like that. How long did it take for you and Nigel to develop your unique style? 

JH: I think that was early on, like, as long as we’ve been in radio — because we didn’t come up ideally wanting to be political talk show hosts, we came up wanting to be great broadcasters and do a good show — so we’ve always said, ‘I don’t like any of these people.’

95 percent of politicians, I don’t want to be friends with. I really don’t. If given the opportunity of hanging out at a State Dinner for the Republicans or staying at home and gambling on sports, sign me up for gambling.   

That’s important to who we are. We’re not bought, we’re not paid for, and we can be completely honest. I’ve been ripping the Republican nominee for Mayor here in Indy because he’s been acting like a Democrat. I don’t have to worry about hurting the feelings of my friends at the Indiana GOP because I don’t do my show for them. I do the show for the people listening that are in their car that need a mouthpiece that need somebody to say what they want to say out loud.   

RH: Before transitioning to FM, WIBC was an AM station. What is your opinion on AM radio’s importance and potential preservation in the industry? 

JH: News/talk radio, along with sports, will always have a place on the dial. Things like AI can take over music. I could totally see that. Now, when it comes to someone driving along in their car and wanting to hear a conversation, I think there will always be a place for news/talk radio and sports radio, assuming it’s done well.   

I hated hearing that AM radio was going through all that. There’s some great programming on AM radio. You go around this country, and some of the best stations are on AM radio. Our friends in Cincinnati have a phenomenal station called “The Big One” 700 WLW.

The fact that you’ve got a Senate that’s led by Democrats and a lot of big names in the House that realize this is freedom of speech, this is men and women speaking their minds here, let’s get rid of it.

That’s kind of the playbook for the left. They don’t like to hear differing opinions. They don’t like to hear free speech. AM radio is doing something right if people want to get rid of it.   

RH: Are there any talent development trends in the news/talk format that catch your attention, either positively or negatively? 

JH: You’ve got people that want to be Rush. There’s only one Rush. The dude that put talk radio as it exists today on the map. You could take some of the things that he wanted to do, but you have to do that yourself. You can’t be dime store Aldi’s Rush.  

The other thing is, I think with the success of Greg Gutfeld’s show on Fox News, you’ve got a group of unfunny people who have never been funny now trying to do comedy on news radio, and it’s painful. It’s like that one guy in Good Morning Vietnam, ‘In my heart, I know I’m funny’. You get that a lot. There’s nothing wrong with doing what you do. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re a flamethrower, bring the heat.  

RH: Do you often critique other talk show hosts, playing the role of a Monday Morning Quarterback? 

JH: Yes, one hundred percent. I’m a total Monday Morning Quarterback. It’s not just all negative [if they do something well, I’ll go back and listen to it]. I take a lot of road trips. If I’m driving down to Tennessee, I want to hear what the Nashville guys are talking about. If they’ve got something that I think is cool, I’ll listen to that podcast later, but if it’s something that’s brutally bad, note to self, ‘Don’t be that guy.’  

RH: What do you think is the reason behind your exceptional chemistry with your on-air partner Nigel Laskowski? 

JH: We do the work, we prepare, we’ve got a good rapport, and we’re both family guys. We study the art of broadcasting. We’re like radio Money Ball, guys.  

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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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