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Martha Maurer Hopes to Be a Trailblazer for KTAR News

“I may not be the first woman in this role at our station, but I still am the first of Mexican-American descent, and I’m able to be in a position where I can open doors for more diverse people in our newsroom.”

Ryan Hedrick

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A photo of Martha Maurer and the KTAR logo

New KTAR News Program Director Martha Maurer doesn’t just talk about leadership – it’s a value that was ingrained in her from a young age.

Her mother worked tirelessly, taking on multiple jobs to provide for her family. She worked as a caregiver, working with people with disabilities. Despite Maurer’s success in news and working for numerous talented and influential people, Maurer’s mother remains her source of strength. As a single parent, she showed her children the importance of hard work and commitment through her example. 

Maurer’s journey at KTAR began in 2011. She had just returned from Mexico, working in PR and marketing and freelancing as a journalist. She had graduated from the prestigious Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University years earlier but, upon returning to the U.S., realized that her skills were outdated because of the underway digital revolution.   

Maurer’s career is an example of the rewards of consistent hard work. When she first joined KTAR, she had no experience in English-speaking news radio for a commercial station. However, she was determined to succeed from the beginning. When management asked her about her goals for the future, she expressed an interest in the news director position.

Although she had never considered becoming the program director, she was named the first Latina news director in KTAR’s history. Maurer is not interested in political discussions. Instead, she focuses on her community and strives to open doors for other aspiring journalists. 

KTAR News is a highly respected news organization that boasts award-winning journalists. It is a top brand in the industry and is known for producing reliable work. Maurer, who was named the station’s program director earlier this month, has no plans to make major changes or disrupt the team’s work. She has confidence in their ability to maintain the high standards for which KTAR is known. In today’s climate, where misinformation is widespread, she focuses on strengthening the connections between KTAR’s past, present, and future. 

In this interview, we delve into her distinctive career trajectory, the pattern of women reaching upper management positions with news/talk brands, and her thoughts on the major challenges she may face at KTAR in the future. 

Ryan Hedrick: After graduating from Arizona State University, what career path did you pursue? 

Martha Maurer: I went to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism (at ASU) and graduated in 2007. While at ASU, I started my internship, leading to a job at the local Univision TV station (Spanish television). I worked production and then worked my way up to being a weekend program host of a small community show that aired at 6 AM on Saturdays, and then little-by-little would do stories for the actual evening newscast both on-air and off-air. So, that was my start in journalism from 2006 to 2008.   

I moved back to Mexico for a little over three years, and while I was there, I did a little bit of freelancing in Spanish TV and radio until I came back to the U.S. in mid-2011 and I found out that I was outdated because there was this digital revolution that swept through and I couldn’t find a job in television news with someone who wanted to teach me from the ground-up. I started looking around and found an opportunity with KTAR as a news desk editor/assignment editor, and that’s how I got my start in radio.  

RH: During your initial interview at KTAR, did you have any indication that the company would eventually prepare you for the role of program director? 

MM: When I interviewed for the assignment desk editor position, I had never done English news radio before for a commercial station. The little bit of radio that I had done had been at ASU and then the freelancing in Mexico, but it was a private, small station, nothing like it is here [in Phoenix].

So I came not knowing anything about the radio industry or having worked in a large newsroom but what I did know, while I was away [in Mexico], is that I did appreciate working with a big team. When I was working in PR and marketing, I ended up overseeing a large team at a five-star resort.

I walked into this newsroom, knowing that I wanted to climb up the ladder. On the day of that interview for the assignment editor job, the then VP of Programming — who happens to be Ryan Hatch (now Senior VP and Market Manager of Bonneville) — walked into the office during the interview and asked me a few questions where I saw myself in 5-10 years. (Maurer made it clear that she was applying for an entry-level position, and Hatch took the time to express interest in her future goals at the station.) 

I pointed to the news director chair, and I told him I would love to be in his chair; I want to grow, and I want to get to a point where I lead a newsroom. As opportunities came up and I took them, that showed that I was someone who worked hard and was willing to get to the next position.  

I had never considered becoming a program director up until a few years ago. I’d be lying to you if I told you I always wanted to get to this point. I always thought that I could offer some great leadership. Leadership has always been important to me. It was shown to me by my mom, it was shown to me throughout my school, high school and at ASU, and I always tried to stay involved with leadership programs because it gave me self-love to believe if you work hard, you can get it done.  

RH: It is becoming increasingly common to see women in the news/talk radio industry hold high-ranking positions and receive recognition for their achievements, including at KTAR. Can you provide some insight into this trend and how it relates to your recent successes? 

MM: I’ve been the news director for KTAR for five years. At that time, when I was named news director, I was the first woman and the first Latina at the then 96-year-old station. Our station just turned 101 years old this summer. To have that accomplishment back then meant so much to me because, for that time, there hadn’t been a person of my background leading a newsroom. I take the responsibility of leading this newsroom seriously.  

At the end of the day, no matter what your background is, you still have to be able to do the work. You have to show that you are the best person for the job. So, now as I step into this role as program director, I take that as a great accomplishment as well. I’m really proud; though I may not be the first woman in this role at our station (first female PD), I still am the first of Mexican-American descent, and I’m able to be in a position where I can open doors for more diverse people in our newsroom to match the makeup of Arizona which is a diverse state.

But more importantly, to provide our audience with the kind of content and diversity in the voices that they can identify with.  

I’m very proud of all the women who have worked their way up in this male-dominated industry. Being from Arizona, growing up in Arizona, and going to ASU, I see diversity everywhere. That makes me feel proud of where I went to school and the work we’re doing here at KTAR.  

RH: Under your leadership, how do you see the programming at KTAR evolving? 

MM: That’s a tough question. Certainly, I hope to be able to bring that diversity into everything that we do. We have very talented people here at KTAR, many have been here for decades, and that’s important because at the end of the day, for this heritage station and for the people that we work for, Bonneville is a company that truly cares about its people. I want to continue to keep that in mind, to be guided by the principles of Bonneville for everybody who works for us and for our community.  

We’re not just here trying to make some money; we’re trying to do better for the community. One of the things [I am trying to accomplish] is not changing our station; it’s strengthening the work that we do. Locally, here in the valley, telling the stories that really matter and impact and are important to our audience.

We can’t forget our next generation. More people will be coming into this industry, and we want to keep it alive. Radio is not just the radio industry; it’s the media industry, we have to evolve to the changing demands and needs and the way that people consume the content.

RH: Based on your experience in television, do you have any unique ideas or plans for cross-media partnerships that you would like to implement at KTAR? 

MM: Locally, we already have a partnership with the ABC affiliate (ABC15) here. I hope to be able to branch that into perhaps a Spanish-speaking affiliation at some point. Again, back to diversity. Provide more opportunities for all Arizonians to consume the content in another language, with more intent to cover specific communities. (Nothing specific in in this area to share right now)  

RH: As a new program director at KTAR, what do you consider to be your biggest challenge so far, just over a week into the job? 

MM: We are about to go into another big election, which always comes with challenges. We want people to trust our station. Overall, trust in journalism could be higher. Our job is to maintain our ability to be the place that people can go to and trust the source. 

I think [the greatest challenge] is staying true to who we are, delivering on the promise that we have to our communities, and hopefully, people will continue to listen, however that may be, whether it’s digitally, mobile device, or on video. It’s not just about the radio. It’s about being where the audience is. Finding new channels, new avenues to provide the content, and staying true to ourselves so that our audience can continue to trust the information we give them.  

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Radio Has an Overloaded Spot Block Problem and Here’s How to Fix It

Raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership.

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While the radio industry insists that our medium is still king, I’m skeptical. I hope the numbers are being spun properly, I just have doubts. In either case, we’re sweeping a lot of stuff under the rug. People may still be “sampling” radio but are they listening? Do they buy what you’re selling?

The typical news/talk station airs 22 minutes of commercials per hour. When you add in five minutes of network news and spots plus recorded promos (commercials for ourselves), we’re talking half an hour of content killer.

I’m a typical listener. With rare exceptions, I only listen while I’m driving. Behind the wheel, my habit is standard: punch around my presets until I hear something of interest or at least actual content and not commercials. When a talk segment ends, I listen to the tease and then punch out. I don’t sit through what I know will be a five or six-minute commercial break. If the tease was done well and it interests me, I’ll try to remember to come back. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

Here in Dallas these days, I mainly listen to our two excellent sports talk stations, The Ticket and The Fan. And I always smile when I hear them constantly trying to convince me that by choosing to listen to their particular station I’m part of an exclusive club. That’s nothing new really but the branding is ingenuous.

105.3 The Fan cleverly labels listeners “TOLOs”, implying people who wisely “Turn it On, Leave it On”. The Ticket merely plays the highest authority card, referring to their listeners as “P1s”. I know what it means but the average listener has no clue. It’s an inside joke. I’ve never heard the station explain it but their faithful listeners supposedly wear the badge proudly.

I’ve never seen any figures on shared listening but I expect the crossover between the two sports talk stations would be nearly 100%. People do what I do, punch back and forth looking for interesting content.

After hiring and inspiring great talent and setting the tone for a station’s identity, a news/talk programmer’s primary job is trying to navigate a sea of clutter. There are various ways to do it but anything short of reducing the number and length of commercial breaks is just rearranging the furniture.

One of the most common tactics is promoting a commercial-free segment. In my opinion, that’s just calling attention to the problem and admitting that commercials are a necessary evil. I’ll bet your clients love that.

I admire and pity radio salespeople who have always had to fight to survive in a dog-eat-dog world but now also have to sell clients on the idea that their money will be well spent even though their message might be buried in the middle of a five-minute cluster.

Are there too many commercials on the air? Hell yes. 22 minutes per hour for talk and news? Why do people sit through that?

They don’t. They pop around the dial as I do, and are increasingly learning that podcasts offer information and entertainment with far fewer interruptions. The RTDNA and the RAB don’t want to admit that. Nielsen puts a rosy spin on the numbers because broadcasters are their main customers. Even highly respected news outlets report the idea that radio is doing great but read this and see if you don’t share my skepticism below the headline:

Americans Listen To Far More Radio Than Podcasts—Even Young People, New Data Shows

“American adults still spend an overwhelming majority of their daily listening time on radio broadcasts despite the rise in popularity of podcasts and music streaming services, new Nielsen data on listening habits in the first quarter of 2024 shows. Though younger audiences are starting to buck that trend by choosing on-demand audio at a higher rate than their elders.” Forbes, May 1, 2024

I’m not the smartest guy in any room. I’ve never been a GM or Sales Manager. I have been an air talent and program director, though, and I can smell as well as hear the problem. There are far too many commercial interruptions for radio to survive this way for much longer.

Retired WGN morning legend Spike O’Dell agrees.

“Are spot breaks too long? Coming from the talent side of this issue my answer is absolutely. I’m a realist and understand that they’re necessary but a five-minute stop set is a show killer and a ratings killer,” he said. “Why in the world would a listener want to wait through that amount of time unless the content was the most fascinating subject ever?

“When I left the airwaves, we were at 23 minutes of spots an hour, and even I got bored with my own show. Spot breaks and amount of spots played per hour is a long-time sore subject to discuss or ponder. But, it didn’t take this talk show host very long to learn that I was never going to win this issue. Money will always win out. Sometimes management should do the wrong thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Journalist, former media exec, and USC professor Jerry Del Colliano agrees and has an audacious idea: do what every other industry does and raise prices.

“Charge more for spots and limit to 12 per hour.  If there is demand for more, stick to 12 and raise the price of an ad,” he said. “Programmers have known for decades that commercials don’t build time spent listening — and they aren’t doing advertisers any favors by crowding too many spots in and creating an impossible situation to help advertisers succeed.”

Guy Zapoleon is famous for his music radio expertise and innovations but he’s also a veteran radio programmer who has to deal with clutter. He agrees. Cut the spot load and raise the rates. He says it should have been done long ago.

“Telecom and the major companies becoming publicly traded companies along with overpaying for radio stations derailed that idea. Look, I’m a fan of what Now 102.3, a Hot AC type station in Canada, is doing. They only run six minutes an hour versus 12 minutes for most of the competitors but they charge more to meet budget demands. They also go overboard helping their clients with remotes and ideas to drive customers to their clients to increase their ROI value.”

Now, there’s a thought: raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership. Offer them more personal attention, and hands-on assistance than you’ve had time for while juggling a client list and spot load that would choke a horse.

Back to Jerry for a moment. I asked him how and when programmers should design breaks. He brushed aside quarter-hour maintenance and stayed focused on the much bigger consideration.

“Where you place them is less important than the total number per hour but the idea of loading up two-quarter hours to run all your spots obviously isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and won’t work.”

Cutting more jobs can’t improve profitability. Increasing your spot load chases away your audience and your sales strategy. The only thing left is raising rates and reducing inventory.

Explain to your clients that by paying more they are getting an exclusive opportunity to be center stage rather than being shoved to the back of a very crowded bus. Assure them your programming is the best in town.

And make that true.

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Libsyn’s Rob Walch Has Watched Podcasting Grow From Infancy to Audio Juggernaut

“When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

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A photo of Rob Walch and the Libsyn logo
(Photo: Libsyn)

Libsyn Vice President of Podcaster Relations Rob Walch is one of the founding fathers of podcasting, helping and inspiring countless people to start their very own webcasts.

“I’ve been in [Podcasting] since 2004. Got in it early on. I read it in an article in Engadget on October 4th, 2004 and it said, ‘If you want a podcast, just add this enclosure tag to your blog feed and you can podcast.’ I went, what the heck does that all mean?,” he told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

“So I figured it out and launched a podcast. There wasn’t many, maybe 100, podcasters at the time. And my podcast was about podcasting. So it was the first podcast specifically about podcasting called podcast411.” Getting the inside scoop from other podcasters, the podcast about podcasting focused on tech and promotions.

His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Just three years later, Rob Walch joined Libsyn. He now runs podcasting relations, business development, “and a whole lot more.”

The former engineer turned podcaster has seen a lot change since the industry’s beginnings, most notably accessibility. “When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

A “convoluted method” of uploading, transmitting, and manually adding each podcast into iPod tracks and then syncing to iTunes was laborious, and finding a new podcast wasn’t any easier.

“There was not really any centralized directory. There was Podcast Alley and a bunch of other places. Then Apple, in June of 2005, launched iTunes and it supported podcasting and that really was like the first inflection point of podcasting.” Another change to amplify podcasting came two years later with the launch of the iPhone.

However, Walch noted the most notable change that amplified podcasting came in 2015.

“The real big one was iOS 8. When it came out, the Apple podcast app was native and people can tap this purple app on my iPhone, and ‘How come I can’t delete it?’ They they started learning about podcasting.”

Rob Walch believes Apple gave the podcasting industry so much growth because, “At one point in time it was six iOS downloads to every one Android download.” Today the ratio is less skewed with 3.2 iOS downloads to every one Android download.

“I think the other change that happened after — it wasn’t an inflection point, it was a slow burn — was all the apps that you listened to music on began to have podcast directories … I think that, combined with everything else that led to where podcasting became ubiquitous, where we are today.”

Rob Walch also noted no matter what you read, “Apple Podcasts, is the number one place where podcasts are consumed. It’s 50% of consumption.”

Today, Walch believes the biggest trend in podcasting might be hindering to the audience. “People overly expecting video to take them to the next level and finding out that that’s not really the case. I think there’s way too many people that think they can just convert a traditional audio podcast into a video podcast, and it’s going to flower and bloom. Some do. Most don’t.”

“Most people forget that the reason podcasting is popular is because there’s more time in the day to consume audio than there is video,” he later said. “And if your audience is more of a B2B audience and you’re not good with video, don’t do video. Concentrate on the audio.”

Doing this also puts your podcast in direct competition with every video maker on YouTube instead of just podcasters.

Walch’s passion for podcasting has been evident since the very beginning of his career.

“My goal has always been to help people get into podcasting and that was what podcast411 was about. It was the first that said, ‘Here’s how you podcast. Here’s how you get done.’ That was the whole idea of the podcast was to teach people how to do it. I wasn’t selling webinars, I wasn’t trying to sign people up into this mastermind group or any of that into any of those slimy, hyper-marketing type things. I just wanted people to be able to podcast.”

For those looking to take to the mic, Rob Walch has several words of wisdom.

“Anybody could do it. That there is no magic bolt. There’s no secret sauce. There’s no way you’re going to instantly grow an audience. You have to get lucky for a show, in some ways. But you also have to be dedicated to it.”

He also noted people do not ask the right questions when it comes to launching their own podcast. “You got to answer these two questions, which is: What are you going to call your show and what’s it going to be about?”

“When you go into search, it’s called predictive search results. As you start typing, it starts giving you the results. The first word in the title of your podcast is so important. So if you’re starting a podcast, the thing you really want to make sure is: What is the one word that you think people would be searching for your topic? And it’s not your name. If they know your name, they’ll find you. Put that at the end. But what’s the one word in the topic if you’re going to spend money on Google AdSense?”

Rob Walch suggests going to Google Trends and looking at the top three popular words for the topic you want your podcast to be about. He gave this example, “I had a friend whose podcast was called the Fifth Race Podcast, and people are like, ‘What’s that about?’ It was about Stargate because it was this obscure reference in Stargate to the fifth race. And if you were Stargate fan, you got it right. But that’s not what people would say, or even people that were into Stargate don’t search for the fifth race. They search for Stargate.”

“I just said to just put ‘Stargate: The Unofficial Fifth Race Podcast.’ He just changed his title around. He went from not being searched and not being found when you search Stargate, to being the number one show when you search Stargate. Just making sure you know what people are searching for and optimizing the title of your show really will help people stumble upon your show. And that’s so important to grow your show.”

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How Radio Personalities Can Be Both Likeable and Opinionated in Difficult Conversations

Don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast.

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We often talk about being as relatable as possible as a talk radio show host. Be present with where your listeners are. Think like they do. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s easy to do on paper, but there’s always that push and pull as a talk radio show host. You’re interacting with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and other prominent folks in your community to whom your listener may not have access.

That is part of what makes you credible in their eyes, and it’s part of what gives you insights on topics that the “average listener” cannot get access to. It’s why they listen to you.

But in the end, they — at least in part — want to listen to you because they like you and relate to you. Which means you have to relate to them. And please, don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast. Likable and wildly opinionated can, and ideally should, work in conjunction.

I bring all this up to discuss a topic that can apply to news/talk or sports talk radio hosts: stadiums and subsidies. It’s an incredible topic that can cross both formats. 

In Charlotte, city leaders are expected to vote next week on whether to approve the funding of $650 million for renovation projects at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.

In April, voters here in Kansas City rejected a ⅜-cent sales tax extension for the Chiefs and Royals. That topic is back in the forefront this week as the State of Kansas held a special session and passed legislation to use its STAR Bonds program to try to lure one or both teams to the Kansas side of the state line.

I’ve heard overwhelming media reactions suggesting stadium projects involving taxpayer subsidies are no-brainers. Cities or counties, a.k.a. Taxpayers, must help out where needed to fund the building, or upkeep of stadiums. Of course, the fear is that the team(s) will always leave their current city.

Sports media folks typically will support it because, if God forbid, a team were to move, their livelihood would be at stake. Plus, they deal directly with players, coaches, and team executives who can sell them regularly all the perks a new stadium can provide for the team and media members.

News/talk folks can fall victim to hearing too much from their political contacts who often promote and sometimes are the ones who vote on these projects. They’re influenced by lobbyists and others who are legally doing their job but are also on the payroll for the big-money entities involved. 

But who’s looking out for the little guy? That should be you.

While you may have the access and contacts in the higher-end social circles of your community, that’s not where most of your listeners live.

Political feelings always ebb and flow, but we are living in a country where populism is becoming more popular. The last few years have been hardest on those from the middle class on down. COVID’s economy benefited work-from-home white-collar workers, where one parent could stay home with kids who were stuck learning from home.

In contrast, the same economy hurt working-class folks, who were less likely to be able to work from home and certainly could not watch their kids daily as they tried to learn from home. On top of that, the stock market has gone gangbusters the last couple of years, while the working class has struggled to pay for its groceries.

The economy has been very different since COVID, depending on your socioeconomic level.

That said, as populism grows in popularity on the right and the left, understand where your radio listeners are at in their lives and their likely unwillingness, or at the very least, fair skepticism, to fund stadiums for billionaire team owners.

Don’t let your relationship with a player, coach, or team executive overly influence your opinion. Don’t let your buddy, the politician or a lobbyist, get into your ear on how amazing their plan would be.

I think back nearly 15 years, when the New York Giants and New York Jets opened MetLife Stadium to much fanfare. Then, the dreaded PSL (Personal Seat License) came into being, which simply gave fans the “rights” to purchase their seats.

It was, and remains, an all-time scam. Former WFAN host Mike Francesa obliterated the teams. To his credit, while he had relationships with the franchises going back decades and could easily afford nearly any ticket in the building, he never lost touch with where the “average fan” was.

So, as these stadium projects continue to pop up around the country—and they could be coming to a town near you soon—I’m not telling you how to think or what to say on your radio show. Just be aware of the political climate in the country today, and always put yourself in your listener’s shoes first and foremost. You’ll never regret it. And they’ll trust you even more for it.

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