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Communication at Arizona State University years earlier but, upon returning to the U.S., realized that her skills were outdated because of the underway digital revolution.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.
Ryan Hedrick works for WIBC in Indianapolis as a Morning News Anchor/Digital Content Producer. Prior to moving to Indy, he served as Assistant Program Director and Co-Host of the Morning News Express at WFMD. His career also includes stints at News Talk 103.7 FM in Chambersburg, PA, Sirius XM in Washington D.C., WBEN in Buffalo, NY, and WIBW-AM in Topeka KS where he earned the Kansas Association of Broadcasters (KAB) award for Major Market enterprise reporting in 2016. To connect with Ryan, find him on Twitter @SureToCover.
The Time is Right For Rupert Murdoch to Leave, But Is it Right For Fox News?
Murdoch may have never wanted to retire but there’s probably no reason for him to stay. His work is finished.
The writers of Succession couldn’t write the script we saw come into full display on Thursday. Out of nowhere, one of the most consequential media leaders of our time decided to resign. Rupert Murdoch will ride off into the sunset having left a legacy that has changed media and the state of our democracy forever.
Rupert Murdoch has elected presidents, changed mindsets, and caused hysteria and pandemonium for billions of people over the course of his career. It may not be hyperbolic to say he is one of the few media titans who could’ve had a direct impact on your personal life. Whether you love him or hate him, he was successful at the machine he wanted to create. He has decisively been a shadow emperor of the Western world for the past 20-40 years.
Because of the blueprint he has set in stone, don’t expect Fox News to ever change, even if he isn’t at the helm any longer. The fact is that numbers don’t lie. Fox News commands retransmission fees that are comparable to ESPN, TNT, and the USA Network without carrying any live sporting events. It is one of Fox’s biggest revenue generators despite losing an epic lawsuit to Dominion. It is one of the networks keeping the cable bundle alive and will help prolong it as much as possible because of its existing base.
Speaking of its base, the fact that it has a base in the first place speaks volumes. Fox News has something every other network on television only envies: super fans. There have been pitfalls along the way over the past three or four years but in general, Fox News finds a way to consistently beat its opponents in the demo as well as in overall viewers.
The network has had to switch out hosts for various reasons over the past couple of years but because of its formula of storytelling and team building, viewers don’t leave in droves.
It may not be journalism but it is the perfect way to keep allegiances and it has worked for Fox. Whether it was his tabloids, his syndicated shows, or his news network, Rupert Murdoch has always insisted on creating an environment of “Us vs. Them” for a group of people whose unique diversity is often underestimated. Murdoch has consistently found a way to turn anger and fear into dollars and if it ain’t broke, why fix the Fox?
The successor taking over for Rupert Murdoch also isn’t an unfamiliar seed of discomfort and madness. Lachlan Murdoch has had a say and has been in discussions about Fox’s direction for decades. Some reports say that his own way of thinking is to the right of his father. If there is any child of Rupert’s who supports the path of destruction and illusion that Fox News has created over time, it’s Lachlan.
One of the few problems that Fox may face is purely logistical. It has been reported that Lachlan enjoys living in Australia more than the United States. Operating a television behemoth from another continent could be risky, especially after the behemoth has allowed anchors to vomit election lies on screen and allegedly commit sexual assault off-screen. But that shouldn’t affect the network’s ability to operate because Lachlan has already been serving as co-chair even before this week’s announcement.
One of the biggest reasons you shouldn’t expect Fox to change is because they’re the only network that has broken the code. Newsmax, Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, and Tucker Carlson have tried or are trying. But they haven’t been successful. They achieved a level of prosperity in their own right but their numbers and margins of profitability are nowhere close to what Fox News makes. Their concurrent reach cannot even be compared.
The closest rival that has been able to penetrate some sort of mainstream relevance, although exclusively online, is The Daily Wire. And yet even with Ben Shapiro’s respective empire, it will be hard to match what Fox makes because of the business model Fox falls under. There isn’t any imminent competition that could drag Fox down and truly challenge the amount of viewers they receive or the kind of money they make.
Murdoch may have never wanted to retire but there’s probably no reason for him to stay. His work is finished. His worldview has a daily effect on the lives of billions. As the business models for media continue to change, it’s better to leave at the top than to try to solve the next problem.
Titans like Bob Iger and Mark Thompson could look back at Murdoch’s decision years ago and wonder why they didn’t leave as a champion as he did. Unless there was a pie coming at his face during a hearing in the United Kingdom, one of the biggest strengths of Rupert Murdoch is that he always knew when the time was right.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
What News/Talk Can Learn From A Sports Host Like Mad Dog Russo
How are you taking the news that is relevant in our space and making it stand out to the audience and making it relatable to your audience?
Sports media had one of its best viral moments in recent memory this week when Chris “Mad Dog” Russo shared his Saturday college football plans with the audience of ESPN’s First Take.
Russo was talking with Stephen A. Smith and Marcus Spears about this weekend’s game between Colorado and Oregon when Molly Qerim told Russo to share with the rest of the panel his plans for the weekend.
Russo went on to describe his Saturday afternoon, blow-by-blow, which included a cocktail and “half a THC gummy” for the noon ET games. After the first slate of games, Russo planned to make a call to his bookie, place a $10,000 bet on Colorado to beat Oregon, and then another cocktail, along with the “other half” of his gummy.
It was pure entertainment from Russo. He wasn’t trying too hard, it wasn’t over the top, but it was brilliant content.
The clip has been viewed millions of times since it aired because it was real, relatable, honest, funny, self-deprecating and delivered perfectly.
Only a handful would have seen or heard this clip, other than those watching the show in real-time, had they just done the standard “media talking heads break down the big college football game of the weekend”. But to Russo’s credit, he likely understands in today’s media landscape that the die-hards who want a full Oregon-Colorado breakdown can get that in a ton of different places in 2023. What’s he going to bring that’s unique, different, and stands out? And that’s exactly what he did.
As it pertains to news/talk radio, or news media at large, how do you have that Mad Dog-Gummy moment? It doesn’t need to literally be you talking about taking gummies before the next GOP debate on September 27th (although anything that helps get through one of those disasters would be welcomed). But how are you taking the news that is relevant in our space and making it stand out to the audience and making it relatable to your audience?
While it’s anecdotal, whenever I bump into KCMO listeners, the biggest feedback on the show is not my takes on Trump, Biden, Kansas City city council, or anything else for that matter, it’s, “I like when you talk about your girls.”
I have two daughters, four and two, who are absolutely incredible, entertaining, and yes, nightmare toddlers sometimes. When it’s relevant and topical, I will bring them up. I talk about them far less than the news, but they’re the “topic” that always gets the organic feedback.
Like Russo’s moment, it gives the audience insight into who we are as people, beyond what we think about the topic(s) of the day.
This doesn’t mean that a four-hour show should be about your weekend plans or your kids throwing up in their beds at night (although I could rip off a few of those stories and kill a few segments). But picking and choosing those moments will help you stand out in an overcrowded media landscape where the audience has options galore and needs more reasons than ever to come back to you and your show.
Give them insight into not just you the host/personality, but you the person.
I can’t think of the last time cable news or news talk had a viral moment like Mad Dog Russo. But maybe you can be next.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
A News/Talk Radio Autopsy After the BNM Summit
The news/talk audience is getting older. This is somewhat self-inflicted. We are still doing our shows in the same template Rush Limbaugh innovated in 1987. Time to change it up.
After the inaugural BNM Summit, I was more excited about our industry after the two-day event. Radio in many ways is a solitary pursuit.
Teamwork is sometimes not a factor in a morning show with a cast. You walk into the studio, put on the headphones, turn on the mic and go. I needed some excitement, some good news, and the chance to meet new friends and renew longtime relationships. I got it.
As an industry, we have been pummeled by bad headlines: some of which are self-inflicted, and some are challenges for our future. If you believe the headlines, smelting lead would be a better career choice. I don’t believe that, and you shouldn’t either. While smelting lead seems like an exciting career other than the whole lead poisoning thing, perhaps that is better than radio station break room coffee.
Have you ever considered how bad radio station coffee is? I don’t drink it. I drink a pot of my own before I strut into the office. Perhaps, it is time to call any reputable health inspector in to inspect that thicker than tar swill.
Radio is a terrific profession. How many jobs provide more laughs than broadcasting? It is fun. I have worked a bit outside the radio industry. Real-world jobs suck. Our stations develop awesome advertising campaigns for clients. Why not us? We don’t publicize our strengths. Podcasts are great, but when did a podcast raise money for the local foster children? When did a podcast show up at a client’s office with a smile and donuts? TikTok? Those Chinese Communist bastards are poisoning our kids. YouTube? Cool content, but the Google-owned platform is as likely to build commonalities with your neighbors as a lion is likely to lay down with a lamb.
Radio is a cool job. One where you can make a difference. It’s not exactly like Mother Theresa…. but it’s better than being an influencer on Instagram.
I am ranting.
You know who I am sick of? The radio coroner gang. Radio still reaches a majority of the American public. Your local big network TV affiliates may reach less than 40% of the public. They are no longer a big deal. Don’t give them any respect. Those jerks don’t deserve it, except for that pretty reporter who would be lucky to be my next wife. I know that I am old enough to be her dad, but hey, old dudes need love, too.
Radio is vital and needed. Radio needs to look itself in the mirror and say “We are essential”. I was in the room in Nashville with men and women who see a future. The BNM Summit delivered that.
By the way, the brother and sisterhood at the BNM Summit was strong. I haven’t been hugged this much since a family reunion. I wish that you could have been there. It was amazing. I really was pumped up. We matter. You matter. Your ideas are important.
We have challenges. We need to address issues with Gen Z and the generations to follow them. Radio does have issues with innovation. We run the same clocks that we did in 1970. We sweep the corners, which is stupid and does not reflect actual radio listening. If you are in a PPM market and are sweeping the corners, reevaluate your tune-ins per hour. Look at that carefully. So, your host comes out of the break at :27, and news is at “30. I guarantee your tune-out rate is through the roof.
You need 5 minutes of continuous listening to get credit. A listener is as likely to start listening at 23 minutes past the hour than almost any other time. Yet, we still sweep the corners. It’s insane. You may not like PPM. It is a fair assessment, but adapt or die. We have not adapted to PPM and radio has been using this technology for well over a decade.
The news/talk audience is getting older. This is somewhat self-inflicted. We are still doing our shows in the same template Rush Limbaugh innovated in 1987. Time to change it up. PPM gives us tools. If you delight in being a political insider, you are going to demo old. Go to a political event. It is geezer-rific. Talk about the interests of a 45-year-old. You can beat this. You have the tools, you have the data, and you have the talent.
I was watching a YouTube video on East St. Louis. That city in Illinois is now one of the most violent places in the USA. It was not always that way. East St. Louis was once a vibrant community with a bustling downtown, strong industry, and a great future. The community got complacent, and the employers started to leave. The city was not focused on growing and it has become a shell of the great place it was at one time.
Radio needs to look at that. What is next? Where is the innovation? How do we change the momentum? It’s all up to us. There are thought leaders in our industry reading this. These are brilliant people. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I know where we need to focus.
Being in the room with amazing leaders in the radio industry brought me more excitement. The BNM Summit was exactly what I needed. I could not be more enthusiastic about our future. Am I naïve? Perhaps. Do I understand the power of radio? Absolutely.
The power is in your hands. May every moment on your radio station essential.
Peter Wilkinson Thiele is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Media. He currently serves as the program director, and morning host of Newstalk KZRG in Joplin, MO. Additionally, Peter has held programming roles in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville and Hunstville. He has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. You can reach him on Twitter at @PeterThiele.