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2023 BNM Summit – Day 1

“We’re keeping you updated on news, key information, and interesting perspectives shared on stage at the 2023 BNM Summit in Nashville.”

Jason Barrett

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BNM Summit Nashville

The first day of the 2023 BNM Summit is underway in Nashville at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center. We’re keeping you updated on news, key information, and interesting perspectives shared on stage by our speakers. BNM editor Garrett Searight will be updating this column throughout the day as each session wraps up, so be sure to check back multiple times to avoid missing anything important.

Also, make sure you’re following us on Twitter/X at @BNMStaff. We’ll be sharing photos, video clips from the stage, and backstage conversations inside the Core Image Studio green room courtesy of our friends at Steve Stone Voiceovers so be sure to follow along.

Barrett Media President Jason Barrett kicked things off, welcoming attendees to Nashville for BNM’s inaugural news/talk media conference. After setting the scene for what to expect over the two-day event, Barrett moved into his opening remarks. He showed some statistics of news/talk radio’s highs and lows over the past decade including some recent signs from a few top markets which highlighted the format’s decline and audience ages rising. With additional battles ongoing with auto companies for dashboard supremacy, he emphasized how vital it is for brands to be much more active and exceptional at digital content creation and distribution.

9:10-9:45 = The Programmer’s Playbook Presented By:

  • Tim Wenger – WBEN
  • Craig Schwalb – WBBM
  • Drew Anderssen – KRLD

The first question from Barrett to the panel asked about attracting a new audience to their stations. Schwalb said it’s no secret that it isn’t easy to find marketing dollars. “We need to be really savvy on the digital side,” Schwalb added. “My approach has been to be more aggressive and that’s been really effective. We’re getting a new narrative out in the marketplace.”

Schwalb added that focusing on more than crime and showcasing new narratives and great storytelling has been a big addition to WBBM. Social media and video enhancements have been added, as well.

Anderssen admitted that AM radio’s challenges are evident, so embracing podcasting has been a major factor for the station. “As the format has aged, we as programmers haven’t thought about what is our target. The really good programmers understand that. It’s one thing to know your audience is 25-54, but it’s another thing to develop content for 25-54,” Anderssen said.

Wenger, who recently was named the Market Manager of Audacy Buffalo and will be tasked with finding his replacement, shared that his thoughts on programming hasn’t changed. He believes focusing on news more than talk is important. “The format has been more focused on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and that’s a limited audience,” Wenger said.

“No one wakes up in the morning and talks about Trump and Biden. They just don’t do it,” he continued. “Focus on other things will provide value. We should start the conversation on a talk station where the talk is.”

That led Barrett to ask about what the focus should be, instead of strictly politics.

Wenger said cameras on school bus stop signs is a hot topic of conversation in Buffalo, not the latest Trump indictment.

Anderssen added that what a 40-year-old focuses is on is what KRLD needs to be covering. “Things to do, what to do in your area, and events matter as much as hard news. It’s a reflection on the lifestyle of the user. We get so caught up on what we think news is, and this hamster wheel of ‘we’ve always done things this way’. That is the target demo now.”

The KRLD Brand Manager continued by saying that, obviously, weather and traffic have the ability to be the top news stories.

Schwalb said “10 years ago, we wouldn’t have treated a Taylor Swift concert as a news event. But that fits right into a 25-54. We treated it the same as a political convention. That’s something news stations might not have thought about before. Taylor Swift is a great example, to me, of something we really got behind and switched up cover on, and it also was a great breakup on the crime we often talk about…in a city like Chicago, you can spend all day talking about crime. You have a responsibility to the community to not simply focus on crime all day, but telling stories.”

Misinformation has become a buzzword in the last decade. A clip of former President Barack Obama saying that a splintering of media has created “different realities” for different people. Barrett asked the panel how they would combat that.

Schwalb said having a lot of filters and layers before a story hits the air is important. “If make a mistake, we share it. If we update a story, we’re transparent. It lends credibility.”

“The most dangerous word in media is ‘reports’. That just says we didn’t do our job, and we’re relying on someone else to do it. Being first is great, but being right is better,” Wenger said. “If we’re first with something, that’s great. But if we’re first with something that’s wrong, we look like idiots. I do think everything needs to be fact-checked, and if you make a mistake, own up to it.”

“News is a process, not a destination,” added Anderssen. “What you know now is probably going to be different in 10 minutes. Everybody in the world is media now. They all have their platform and their audience. Doing the vetting process and understanding the filters Craig (Schwalb) was talking about. I want to be first, but I don’t want to be first in getting a lawsuit, either.”

Artificial Intelligence is a rapidly changing landscape, especially in media. Barrett asked how brands can use the technology to their advantage.

“To me, it’s in the fun stage, which can also be the scary stage,” Wenger said. “What scares me is it can be taken to — you could bring Rush Limbaugh back with current content. On the sales side, it can be used for many things. Right now, it’s ‘go slow’. As far as investing in it to replace content, I don’t know.”

“I’m super bullish on AI, but I think there’s a responsibility fact that we need to rectify with,” Anderssen admitted. He added that he let Gmail let his nightly note to his staff last night and said it was a disaster. “I think we’re in the trial and experimentation phase. I think there’s applications in our format that have different applications. From imaging, to writing, I think AI is a tool that can make us smart and better deliverers of content rather than just going at it on our own. There are checks and balances AI can present that will make us better.”

“I can use it to help me write a better promo or write a better lede, so I think there are some places we dip our toes in,” said Schwalb. “But nothing will beat a well-staffed newsroom and having someone at city hall asking the questions that’s going to get the story and comeback and put together a story for our audience.”

The final question asked the panel to share one win and one loss in their career.

“I made a list,” Anderssen joked. “If you step back and think about ‘What I want to be known for’, I want to be known as a great people leader. Brands win from the inside out but also lose from the inside out.” He said he’s made interesting hires in his career that people would question, but he taught them a skill. On the flip side, he said he has held on to people he was comfortable with that he held onto for too long.

Wenger said being there for the community when it’s both celebrating and in mourning, “being there” matters to the listeners. “I don’t manage shows while they’re on the air. A lot of program directors do that. I manage in the office, at lunch, or somewhere else, but not while they’re on the air.”

“I experienced weather coverage in at WPRO (Providence). When everything was down, it was our station talking to the Governor and snowplow drivers,” concluded Schwalb. “I really enjoyed that working with WTOP and WBBM, and making sure we’re really invested in the community. When stations haven’t been invested in the community, you can tell.

“If you’re doing local really effectively, you can find ways of getting in touch with the community. Local radio is still really a competitive advantage.”

9:45-10:20 = News/Talk Radio in an Audio World

  • Larry Rosin – Edison Research

Rosin began his presentation with the two main takeaways he wanted attendees to depart with.

He noted there are two “mega trends” that have been seen in the last decade.

  1. “The phone is eating all the listening time”

Rosin argued that listening is moving away from radios and to phones.

2) “Linear media consumption is losing to on-demand.”

50.3% of time spent listening is now with on-demand audio. That number has risen from 31% in 2015.

He then showcased reasons for why that’s the case. 91% of citizens own a smartphone. 70% of Americans have a smart TV. 36% now own a smart speaker. In 2008, 96% of people owned an in-home radio. In 2022, that number is now 61%. From 1950 to 2008, the figure remained steady from 1950 to 2008. But it has shrunk dramatically in the past 15 years.

“People aren’t adding radios to their households. Of all the things they have less of, it’s radios,” said Rosin.

Online audio consumption was 2% in 2000. 70% of the U.S. population listens to some kind of online audio.

In 2014, 53% of all audio was spent with AM/FM radio. That number is now 36%. In that same timeframe, podcasting grew from 2% to 10% of all audio listening.

Since the pandemic began, radio has experienced a drop of listenership of 13%.

However, there is good news, especially for the news/talk audience. Spoken word listening continues to rise.

In 2014, 105 million people said they listened to some spoken word content. There are now 139 million people who say they listen to the content. Spoken word audio percentages have risen from 20% the same time period to 31% of all audio content.

Similarly to every other genre or format, though, spoken word content is growing rapidly on mobile devices, too. 73% of all spoken word content was listened to on AM/FM radio and 9% on a mobile device. 38% is now listened to on a mobile device, while 35% happens on AM/FM radio.

“Podcasting is a massive factor for spoken word,” Rosin added.

In 2015, 7% said they had listened to a podcast in the last week. That figure has grown to 31% in 2023. Radio previously had a 71 point margin over podcasting in the spoken word genre. Its advantage is now just 8% compared to podcasting (44% radio to 36% podcasting).

AM/FM radio and podcasting still dwarfs SiriusXM in the news genre. 64% of respondents said they listen to AM/FM, with 23% to podcasts, and 9% to SiriusXM.

Respondents that said finding personalities and talk shows is important to them, 67% said they go to podcasts as their first route of content. In 2015, radio had a massive advantage. It has dropped 23% in those eight years.

The research from Edison shows that 87% of radio listening happens over-the-air, compared to 13% of streamers. In news, that number is 84% for terrestrial radio and 16% for streaming.

10:20-10:55 = Talking With Talent Presented By:

  • Erick Erickson – Cox Media Group/Compass Media Networks
  • Chad Benson – Radio America
  • Tony Katz – WIBC/Radio-One
  • Andy Bloom – Bloom Communications/Barrett News Media

Bloom asked the panel why they do or do not video stream their shows. Erickson said he does not, but does clips. Benson shared that he does stream and loves the availability.

“To me, it’s a must. YouTube is the second largest search engine. They don’t go to the radio, they go to video,” Benson said.

Katz said he does stream his show and will replay the audio on his show. “I actually hate radio on video, but I’m the minority. People love radio on video,” Katz said. He added that he will eventually completely stream Tony Katz Today.

Bloom then asked how the hosts got their radio starts.

Erickson said he backed into radio by chance, and never told anyone he was not a radio guy until he signed his first contract.

Chad Benson said he worked with Robert W. Morgan, who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He shared he learned a lot from the host, despite his status as a “horrible person”.

Katz shared in 2008-2010 he nearly went bankrupt. After starting the California Tea Party, he began filling in for Dana Loesch. He later auditioned at 93.1 WIBC, but did not get the job originally. However, he later got the position and went from there.

Bloom asked what the panel what they want programmers to know about managing talent.

Erickson said his previous programmer supported him as he didn’t support Donald Trump in the 2016 election. He shared he was one of the only local radio hosts who didn’t support the candidate and kept his job. “Don’t do an impression of the conservative radio host. Call the balls and strikes,” Erickson said he was told. “Listeners might not agree with me on this, but they’ve hung around.”

“Know your talent,” Benson said. “Let the talent shine. You gotta let them do their thing. That’s why you hired them. More often than not, they just but a body somewhere. You can’t do that. If you trust somebody, put them in the position to succeed and go.”

“I’ve only had one program director, so as far as I know, David Wood could be terrible,” Katz joked. “Is the relationship adversarial? Is the relationship one of force or recognition? There’s a reason you have people on your station.”

All three panelists host syndicated shows, and Bloom asked how PDs can help foster a relationship.

“Call me. Text me. Anytime,” Benson. “I’m quick to respond. Bring me out. Let’s hang out. I’ll do the show live from there.”

“I started national syndication in March, and I’m stunned at the program directors who are stunned that I’m reaching out. I’ll come do local endorsements for you. I’ll do local events,” said Erickson. “It’s still somewhat funny to me that a lot of local program directors are stunned that it’s done this way.”

“I wonder if it’s generational,” Katz added. “We’re used to being multi-platform and reaching out and all the ways. A decade ago, it was a very siloed thing. There was never a crossing of the streams. I think that is it. I’m surprised that Erick is talking about that. I don’t disagree. Just call me. There are stations that I’ve been talking to for awhile. Just send me a text.”

The topic of live reads was broached to the panel.

“I only do them if I like the product,” Erickson said. “I live transparently with my listeners. They know I’m not a sports betting guy, so I’ve turned down sports gambling dollars. I like cooking, so my listeners know if I’m talking about Omaha Steaks, they know I’m using it.”

“It’s a real relationship and using the products, but it’s different on the national side.”

“The ability to say no and your PD and sales team accepting that. I will not endorse financial advisors. If I endorse a carpet cleaner, and they screw it up, I get new carpet. If I endorse a financial planner and they screw it up, I don’t sleep at night,” Katz said. “You have to be comfortable in where you’re at.”

When asked if they court controversy, the panel shared similar sentiments.

“I’ve had many aggressive conversations on the Never Trump movement, but if honesty is controversial to your audience, so be it,” said Katz. “Honesty creating controversy? That should be par for the course.”

“What is controversy? It’s not what’s said, it’s how it’s taken,” Benson said. “Everything can become a controversy in two seconds. Court controversy? I’m sure I said something today that offended somebody. Right, left, center, everybody is going to have controversy.”

“Controversy is going to find you. I’m sure we know people who are trying to be controversial just to get attention,” Erickson said.

Benson argued that if you’re not getting angry phone calls, you’re milquetoast. And no one wants to be milquetoast.

“I’ve seen program directors that get any angry email and think ‘I’ve gotta let the host know’,” Erickson said, which he disagreed with.

Bloom questioned if callers still play a strong role in today’s news/talk landscape.

“In an average week, I take a total of zero callers. Twitter is my caller,” Katz said. “I’m not anti-callers, but in the end, I often discuss on the air if I should take more callers, the vast majority say no.”

“I haven’t taken a phone call in seven years? Eight years? My local show, we talk callers. The reality is it’s just easier. People don’t wanna call, they wanna text,” Benson said. “That’s what they want. That’s the world we live in.”

“I take some,” Erickson said. “It sounds more local to them. I don’t take a lot of callers, and I’ll go some days without calls at all. I’ve got a great screener. When I filled in for Rush Limbaugh, he had three lines. I’ve got eight and wish I had three. I don’t mind them, but it’s not a caller-driven show. I lost a station because I didn’t take more calls.”

“The host should not be adversarial. I’m convinced of this,” Katz said of callers. “I don’t understand confrontation with callers. You sound like a confrontational jerk.”

Benson disagreed, saying the Real Housewives series works because viewers want to watch confrontation, not just women at dinner.

The final question pertained to whether they viewed themselves as an entertainer or an informer.

Katz said he better be entertaining for as often as he is on the air. “Just because the subject matter is culture or political or sports, it better be entertaining. If these are my options, I’m an entertainer.”

“I’m an entertainer,” Benson said. “Colin Cowherd told me ‘Nobody cares if you’re right or you’re wrong, they care if you’re entertaining.’ And he’s right. If you’re right and you’re boring, they’ll never come back. You better entertain, because there’s more eyes and more ears.”

Erickson said a conversation with Rush Limbaugh tasked him with answering “Are you gonna save the world or are you going to be an entertainer?” which shaped his view as a host.

11:05-11:40 = Keynote Conversation Presented By:

Steve Stone Voiceovers
  • Dave Ramsey – Ramsey Solutions

Barrett began the conversation by asking Ramsey about his 1992 start on SuperTalk 99.7 WTN.

“These billboard gurus decided if you did an extension outside of the square, it drew more eyeballs. But the extension was my bald head. So we went to go see one of the billboard, and there were birds sitting — and pooping — on my bald head,” Ramsey joked.

He shared the station was in a bind after a financial host quit, so he and Roy Matlock worked for free with the hope of selling mutual funds and Ramsey’s book. He shared the host after their midday show saw a woman who would read palms over the phone.

Barrett then asked about the growth of financial media, noting numerous TV networks and radio programs.

“We approach the space differently than most others do. We approach it with a life lens, instead of just discussing your mother’s 401K, which is boring as crud,” Ramsey said. “People are always going to be drawn to have some more (money), whether they go through a lens of Fox Business, the highbrow stuff, or the stuff we’re in with people trying to avoid foreclosure. It doesn’t matter what part of the demographic you’re touching, everyone touches money.”

When asked about distribution, Ramsey said having the right approach is paramount to success.

“One of our core values is that if we help enough people, we don’t have to worry about money. You can monetize stuff if you just do the right thing and help people. This is the 31st year. It isn’t like we gotta break even by summer,” Ramsey joked.

He then added that his podcast audience is completely different from his radio audience, so he did not cannibalize his audience at all. He added that hour of of the radio show in podcast form garnered $1 million in ad revenue last year.

“We’re agnostic to the delivery method, as long as it gets the message out there,” Ramsey said.

Prioritization of the radio show, podcast, YouTube, and satellite radio program could be viewed as an issue. However, he said the company has managed it well.

“What we’ve found is we just put everything on everything,” said Ramsey. “We rarely ‘sawdust’ something that can’t be used on another platform.”

“The good news about YouTube and podcasting is a lot of what is on there, the production values suck. You don’t have to have the Fox Business production values. This is not rocket science,” Ramsey said of how he’d suggest stations get started in creating additional content.

“The YouTube user’s expectation of production value isn’t high, they just care if the information is right. You can take somebody that’s got another job inside of the radio station, hand them an iPhone, put it on a tripod, and create a YouTube show. Same way with podcasts. The hardware necessary to do a podcast is already in your radio station.”

AM Radio has been an important driver of Ramsey’s success.

“AM Radio was dead before Rush Limbaugh,” Ramsey said. “If (my show) had sucked — when you well-distribute crap, you’re just well-distributing crap.”

Ramsey said AM Radio is ripe for a “renaissance” period, noting that “If you put content the people demand and is compelling, it will flourish. If AM Radio is giving them something they can’t get anywhere else, people will demand it.”

The host said reviewing your content is important.

“What we do with all of our brands is consume them all ourselves. The leadership team is required to consume it. We know if something makes us cringe because we actually view it,” Ramsey said. “I’ve listened to my own things and thought ‘Who is this in-bred hillbilly? My god, you sound like you live in trailer!’” Ramsey joked of his past performances.

“You’re insulting your audience with your traffic and what comes out on the air, what you’re allowing to advertiser, and what comes out on the air from your hosts. I’m the hardest on me and I’m the hardest on my own tapes. I still watch and think ‘That guy’s awful. Wear something else’. If you consume it, everybody does something that’s cringeworthy, but if you catch it before your audience does, they’ll listen if you don’t run them off.”

Not only is Ramsey a radio host, but he’s also operating a financial company with 1,100 employees. When asked about what the financial outlook looks like in 2024, Ramsey said he’s always seen some sort of financial consternation.

“We’re in an environment with doldrums, but economics at its core is psychology,” remarked Ramsey. “It’s ‘Do people believe that the sun is going to come up tomorrow?’. That’s what we do in business. We want to take advantage of prosperous times. That’s what we’re in right this second…We wanna be honest with ourselves of the moment that we’re in, but also know that that’s just the moment that we’re in. The moment we’re in right now is not like post-9/11, 2008, or the quarantine.”

Ramsey knows he won’t host his popular radio show forever. He has a succession plan in place.

“The brand’s gotta be better after I’m gone than it is when I’m here, and it already is,” the 63-year-old said. “We started studying family business and succession planning of all kinds. We just started the whole process. You gotta have organizational leadership. That was the first thing, was quality leadership.

“The second thing is you gotta transfer ownership to the second generation. So my kids sat in the room in their 20s and they weren’t allowed to talk. That’s been well over a decade. The three Ramsey children — they’re not children anymore. They’re competent adults. How do you do a brand transfer in a personality thing? That model has been born and polished since then.”

He noted that branding with his company — from DaveRamsey.com and The Dave Ramsey Show to The Ramsey Show and ramseysolutions.com — happened and only one radio show and three listeners noted, so it is a slightly easier feat to accomplish than originally expected.

11:40-12:15 = 10 Takeaways For Radio and Digital Imaging Presented By:

  • Jim Cutler – Voiceover Artist

Cutler opened up by explaining why “social proof” matters.

“My pet peeve is in-studio shots. It doesn’t make me want to learn anything,” Cutler said.

“Social proof is really fun. You can’t say ‘Hey, I’m popular’, but you can with social proof.”

What is social proof?

“Social proof is a phenomenon where people follow and copy the actions of others in order to display accepted or correct behavior, based on the idea of normative social influence,” said Cutler.

Cutler advocated for using real voices in imaging rather than your station voice. The easy way to utilize sound is the station app or the set up a voicemail box.

Cutler shared that attention spans have shrunk due to phone usage. YouTube analytics show that if you veer from the topic for as little as 15 seconds, views go down. With videos with millions of views, 32% of viewers have departed the video in the first 30 seconds.

He then shared that good copy is a great key to driving listenership. Saying “You never know what you’ll hear” or a lineup promo isn’t going to excite listeners. Topical promos are the biggest drivers.

1:15-1:50 = Content Planning For An Election Year Presented By:

  • Phil Boyce – Salem Media Group

Boyce explained that talk radio is uniquely American, sharing an anecdote that he consulted a station in Paris that wasn’t allowed to offer political opinions on the radio.

He continued by noting he thought Hillary Clinton would have brought the Fairness Doctrine back had she won the 2016 Presidential election. He continued by informing attendees that they should be prepared for the situation should it ever return.

“I don’t think they want the Fairness Doctrine to come back. They don’t want both sides presented,” Boyce alleged of Democratic politicians. “If they can get drag queen story hour for small children, what makes you think they won’t come after talk radio?”

The Salem Radio Network executive said that there is a civil war without bullets being fought against the talk radio industry.

He then shared statistics of Salem Media Group listeners and what their opinions are of former President Donald Trump. 63% of listeners would vote for Trump over any other Republican candidate. 37% strongly approve of Trump’s personality and public persona. 44% strongly approve Trump’s political policies.

1:50-2:25 = DH7 Brand Building For News/Talk Radio Presented By:

  • Rick Caballo – Dead Horse Branding
  • Melissa Caballo – Dead Horse Branding

The Dead Horse Branding team shared their seven ingredients for branding anything or anyone.

Artist/Strategy Build

Ask yourself “Who you are and what’s your super power?”

Logo/Identity

There are three things to your branding identity. “Consistency, consistency, and consistency”, Rick Caballo joked.

“When your listeners drive past your logo and see it, are you consistent and are they loyal?” Melissa Caballo asked. “That brand loyalty message: what does it mean, what does it mean to your listeners, and do you stray from it? You shouldn’t.”

Photography

A picture is worth a thousand words, but does your photography showcase a visual identity to your listeners? What messages are you bringing to your marketing concepts?

Website

The branding experts told attendees that your website is your “home and hub” of your brand. If all the third party platforms — social media, podcasts, etc — crashed tomorrow, where would your listeners find you? On your website. Your website is your home, so you should utilize it in the same visual identity as your other branding areas.

Public Relations

How do you do PR for your radio station? It comes through your messaging from your hosts. It is your brand’s credibility and social proof. Ultimately, it is the perception of your brand.

Marketing/Social Media

You have the whole world in your hands. Use it. Dead Horse Branding research shows that 46% of listeners want a visual component to their content. So complete utilization of all social media apps, including YouTube, is key. Essentially, your station should be on every platform that you use.

Licensing/Distribution

Put your money where your mouth is. Sit back and let others make money for you.

2:25-3:00 = Tomi Lahren Is Everywhere Presented By:

  • Tomi Lahren – OutKick

BNM President Jason Barrett led the discussion with Lahren. He asked how much she enjoyed the grind of getting to the top of her field.

“It used to be you could be on a TV or radio show and that was enough. Not anymore. If you wanna still be in the conversation, you have to be active on everything,” Lahren said. “It is a constant grind. There’s not a time where you can check out and not do social media or things that are asked of you, because you have to use every other medium to promote what you’re doing.”

While she’s constantly active, she still finds time to prepare for all of her platforms.

“Part of the luxury of being in it all the time is you’re updated on everything all the time. For me, it’s looking at things that fire me up. It doesn’t take me long to form an opinion, so it doesn’t take me long to find my content.”

The perception is that Lahren began her career in social media, but that’s not the case.

“I started at OAN and then moved onto TheBlaze. I did conservative influencing before people knew what it was. People saw me on social media because they didn’t know what One America News or TheBlaze was…people can see me and my opinion on social media in two or three minutes rather than three hours on a TV or radio show.

“When people feel like they know you, you’ve got a fan for life. When they feel attached to me and my career on a personal level, they’re fans. If you can do that, I would highly encourage it.”

Lahren was an early adopter of Twitter subscriptions, and she said she hasn’t really delved into the world completely yet.

“I haven’t leaned into it as much because I lean into it on Instagram and Cameo, which has been a huge side hustle for me over the years,” Lahren admitted. “The thing that I worry about on Twitter subscriptions is — there were a lot of people that were posting large sums of money they were getting — and I’m worried about people getting more sensationalized content just to make more money.”

“I will never self censor to appease an alogrithm or an advertiser,” Lahren continued. “The reason that Fox News is the number one cable company in the world and they got there because they found who their audience was. We realize the value of our viewers. We’re the same at OutKick. We’re the anti-woke on sports, culture, and pop culture. When you try to play the middle, you could just be going after the people who love you and the advertisers who want 100% of that audience. Find those people.”

Barrett asked Lahren how often she monitored what topics were driving traffic for her digitally.

“I’m selecting things people are already talking about,” Lahren remarked before listing conservative topics she usually talks about. “That hits well for us because people are sick of narratives and talking points.”

“Pop culture is a big thing for me. It always has been,” Lahren continued. “Talking about wokeness in culture is always a good one for me. That’s always been my sweet spot. When I started doing this, there weren’t many talking about culture. Now there are a lot of them, but that’s always going to be a home run for me.”

She was asked about endorsements and companies she’s willing to work with. She said she turns down 90% of the offers she’s presented.

“I don’t want to be someone chasing the grift. A lot of these social media followings are fake and manipulated,” Lahren admitted. “A lot of things you see are contrived because they’ve been able to mess the algorithm that makes them appear something they’re not.”

3:10-3:45 = Fixing a Broken Media Presented By:

  • Jason Whitlock – Blaze Media

Whitlock shared that the last time he spoke with BNM President Jason Barrett on a stage, he was hosting a show on FS1 as a sports host, but felt the need to branch out.

“I needed to be in a place — and obviously there were personal reasons as well — where I could be myself and have my thoughts. I needed to be in place where I could talk about my faith more authentically and it’s more difficult to do that in a corporate media environment,” said Whitlock.

“I completely enjoy what I’m doing, and I feel completely liberated to say what I think at a time when there’s a lot of resistance to truth and what people really think,” Whitlock continued. “That’s the liberation that I feel. That’s the biggest win.”

Whitlock said he has a struggle more than most digital creators.

“I face headwinds in a society and an internet that is opposed to my world view. The internet controls distribution and you don’t know who is tipping the scales one way or the other. Things are more manipulated on the internet and I’m at the forefront of some pretty strong headwinds against a traditional Christian worldview,” TheBlaze host said.

“I think a lot of people love to label me as a conservative, and I work at TheBlaze and they’re conservative, but I’ve never really voted conservative. But I am traditional. I lean on values I learned in the church, so if that makes me conservative, label me a conservative.”

“I’m just expressing what I genuinely believe. I’m trying to invoke thought,” he continued. “If I was just sitting around thinking ‘How can I make the most money today?’, I’d say much different things. If that were the case, I’d still be working in corporate media.”

Whitlock maintains he’s fiercely independent in his thoughts.

“For the whole industry, it seems that the results don’t matter. The rewards are staying with the narrative and staying on point. I just don’t do that. I don’t care about politics and I really don’t care about narrative. I used to get rewarded for the objectivity and the unpredictability of my opinions. Objectivity is no longer rewarded, but narrative is.”

Barrett asked Whitlock if he had a future in the news/talk radio world.

After a lengthy pause, Whitlock said “There’s a level of transparency and authenticity to me that spooks news/talk radio, or I’d have a national show.”

He continued by noting that news/talk hosts don’t attack the discussion on race the way he does.

“I’m just not sure if the corporate media space is comfortable with the way I would discuss it,” Whitlock concluded.

3:45-4:20 = New Solutions For Old Problems Presented By:

  • Lee Harris – NewsNation
  • Steve Moore – KMOX
  • David Wood – WIBC
  • Dan Mandis – SuperTalk 99.7 WTN

Harris asked what the problems were that news/talk stations were facing. Audience retention, revenue, and technology were several of the problems suggested.

“We’re staying on AM. Everybody wants to move, but we’re sticking it out, and think it will be just fine,” said Moore.

“I think it’s getting the news out where people are,” Wood said. “We’re hiring people that in theory are triple threats — being good on-air, online, and social media.”

“What we do is have fun,” Mandis said. “There are times where it’s time to do the politics and those things, but we try to have fun. It’s all about doing good radio. For me, luckily, we’re on FM. We try to make the news interesting and fun. Let’s face it, the news — especially if you’re a conservative — is not fun these days.”

Harris asked the program directors their opinions on social media.

“Social media is a brand extension tool for us,” Moore said. “At KMOX, we’re trying to grow our personalities and use this technology to grow their brands and their personalities and bring them back to our radio station.”

“Being able to look at streaming numbers, so when Nielsen doesn’t favor us, we still are strong. YouTube is nice to see the interactivity. You can see views go up when something is really hot and views go down when the topics are going down.”

“It’s a gut thing for me,” added Mandis said. “We do video streaming 5A-7P. We’ve had the same experience where you can see it wasn’t a great day topic-wise. One of the things we’ve noticed is you can watch the views and keep track of the views as almost a precursor to the ratings. We noted in June the numbers of the views were up, and conversely, our ratings were really up. If our video is down, my phone is blowing up at 5:02 AM. There’s a passion for people of embracing the video aspect of it.”

AI has grown to be a hot-button topic.

“There’s going to come a point where we can predict where it will go,” said Wood. “I’ll use it to brainstorm with myself, but it can be an idea starter.”

The topic of streaming was broached, and Mandis said his audience is migrating to the digital side.

“At least 20%,” Mandis said. “Depends on what you mean. Facebook, YouTube, the video, or audio on the website. What we’ve found is there is more reliability with Facebook or YouTube than there is on streaming or if we’re off the air. There’s lot of avenues for people to find us.”

Moore was asked about the potential for AM Radio to be removed from cars after his strong remarks about the station staying on the band.

“I think the KMOX brand is strong and the company will do what it can to protect the band and the revenue,” Moore remarked. “Radio needs to be radio. Revenue needs to be locally driven, and we need to focus on that.”

Wood argued finding talent in the format has been difficult.

“I’ve had good luck looking outside of radio. I had an afternoon show, later a midday show, called The Chicks on the Right and I thought ‘God, I hope they don’t find out they don’t need us anymore’. They eventually did, and are making more money podcasting. My afternoon show — Hammer & Nigel — hadn’t done talk radio. They were rock jocks in the market. But they’re real creative in different ways.”

Mandis agreed, saying he looks everywhere.

“What I focus on is looking at the balance of the station. You may have someone that’s a little more moderate but still conservative…everyone needs a little different lane than everyone else. For me, I look everywhere. There are a lot of conservative organizations that are really opinionated and speaking in front of crowds.”

4:20-4:55 = OutKick The Industry Presented By:

  • Clay Travis – OutKick/Premiere Radio Networks

Travis was born and raised in Nashville, and he knew he wanted to base his media company in the city.

“It’s funny, when I founded OutKick in 2011, everyone told me I needed to be in New York or LA, and it can’t be based in Nashville,” Travis said. “I actually think staying in Nashville was incredibly important for OutKick. I feel like (certain topics) get ignored in New York or LA…I am the consumer of the OutKick product, and so I know if we’re missing something or should be on top of something.”

“I’m excited about where we are and way more excited about where we’re headed,” Travis concluded of the company’s future.

Travis then mentioned that he doesn’t have many qualifications when it comes to potential hires.

“I am attracted to fearlessness. In many ways, it isn’t about what your opinion is, but can you share it and can you defend it?…I knew (Tomi Lahren) was a strong an unique voice. There will be more and more people that we add, but part of it is just who is available and when they’re available.”

Travis had humble expectations when he founded the digital outlet.

“When I started OutKick, I wanted to be able to make $100,000 a year from it. When I started in 2011, I wrote every article, I sold every ad, I edited every article. OutKick was profitable from the jump because I worked all the time…with each level of success, you’re able to have more levels of success. Your adjacent possibilities become greater. What we did with OutKick was we made the ‘adjacent possible’ possible.

“Part of that was sports gambling. I saw real clearly about 10-12 years ago, there was going to be a massive trend in sports media. If you look at the industry as a whole, cable transformed sports media. Fantasy sports transformed sports. And to me, the biggest paradigm shift and the one I’ve been able to take advantage of was sports gambling.”

Travis then opined on the power and focus of the media.

“The number one power of media is deciding what stories to cover. The number one power. So deciding what you cover is more important than what you say about what you cover. So that’s number one. Number two, there is a huge lack of differentiation between opinion and news. And a lot of people don’t understand that distinction… Every opinion should be rooted in substance of facts. And I always say on my shows — if I get a fact wrong, it pains me. want to come back to you and say, hey, I’ll give you an example. I was on my radio show live.

So, I think we live in a post-fact America where it’s a post-fact world and somebody decides, ‘I agree with this person at whatever their conclusion is to be anything under the sun’. And they don’t care about the way that we got to that. And I think the media in particular, is is guilty of that.”

Travis famously replaced Rush Limbaugh on his nationally syndicated radio show alongside Buck Sexton. He knows the importance of the show and the role of host.

“I think there’s a public trust to the audience that Rush (Limbaugh) built… I feel like there’s a public trust job to this radio show where Rush’s legacy and the show that he built is so important that I would imagine that when Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, for instance…The legacy of that show is so important, that really you are just someone who is there to further that legacy. And so that’s probably the thing that I’ve learned the most about it.

“In terms of radio, I really don’t think the topic matters that much. I think what we do is weird. And what we do is strange. I am a home studio, and I would gesticulate, move my hands, and things like that. And there’s nobody in the room and I’m talking into a microphone, and there are millions of people who listen to us every day, but it’s still a public job that is done privately, if that makes sense. And so I think what works in radio is honestly.”

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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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