Getting your first radio job is often called the hardest thing to do. However, Ray Stevens has a different perspective. For him, navigating the industry in the post-pandemic era has been challenging. Stevens has been off the air in a full-time capacity since 2019. In that year, when the pandemic had just started, Cumulus Media, the parent company of WLS, the radio station where Stevens worked, decided to let him go.
Ray Stevens, an award-winning personality — including the prestigious Macaroni Award — had to reinvent himself to remain relevant. He produced podcasts and leveraged social media to promote specific projects.
Additionally, he maintained relationships with advertisers who sought him to voice their commercials on various radio stations in Chicago. Ray Stevens also collaborated with Chicago’s FOX TV affiliate to create a feel-good segment highlighting positive news from around Chicagoland.
Ray Stevens looks back on that period with gratitude, as he is thankful for persevering through the challenges that came his way. Despite his previous success at large stations and his confidence in his skill set, Stevens knew that he would have to be patient and continuously network to find new opportunities.
Filling in for KCMO’s morning show and host, Pete Mundo, allowed him to develop a deep appreciation for the KCMO audience. He was particularly impressed by the local commercials and believed that the team at KCMO went above and beyond to produce excellent local radio.
Ray Stevens has landed a great opportunity. KCMO Radio recently revealed that Stevens will be hosting the station’s midday show. This announcement follows Chris Stigall’s announcement of his departure from radio to pursue other opportunities. Stevens is thrilled about his show and the potential of creating similar bonds with his audience as he did during his decades-long tenure at US99 in Chicago.
In an interview with Barrett News Media, Ray Stevens talks about his path to KCMO, how he handled the adversity of being laid off during the pandemic, the one thing he regrets most in his broadcasting career, and some of the qualities that he thinks make a great talk show host.
Ryan Hedrick: What are your feelings about being named the new midday host at KCMO?
Ray Stevens: I’ve been doing a lot of fill-in work. I would consider myself the main fill-in guy at WLS (AM 890 in Chicago), and I have a weekend show at WLS in Chicago. By way of Cumulus Chicago, guys like Bill Hess (Cumulus Corporate Program Director), Dave Milner (Cumulus President of Operations), and Marv Nyren (Cumulus VP and Market Manager), I met Pete Mundo out in Kansas City.
The first time I ever listened to KCMO was when it came through my headphones. The thing that got me right away was one, I was listening to myself, but two, I heard the production, I heard the local commercials for local advertisers, and not just the swath of AM commercials that you usually hear, and it was done right.
KCMO has a sales team that works. They have an imaging team that gets it. It’s just a good-sounding radio station. Subsequently, I would fill in for Pete Mundo (KCMO Morning Host and Program Director) whenever he would go on vacation, being that there wasn’t a conflict with WLS at the time.
And then I met Pete, and he’s just a nice guy. The way he conducts himself on the air, the way he conducts himself off the air. The way he does radio, he doesn’t yell at anybody, it’s intelligence. It’s not a morning zoo, it’s informative, it’s local. You add all that into him being a good guy, and I couldn’t ask for a better situation right now.
RH: Is there a learning curve for a Chicagoan to understand the priorities of Kansas City residents, and how do you plan to overcome them?
RS: I used to look at that as a challenge. I come from a parochial town in Chicago that loves its homegrown media. When I fill in in Kansas City, all of a sudden, I start getting Twitter followers. Last week, I got a message from a guy named Travis. He’s in Kansas City and said, “I can’t wait to listen to you every day. I listen to you every time you fill in. It’s going to be a great fit.”
The listeners at KCMO always made me feel at home, and I think that’s probably one of the real reasons why I jumped at the chance to do this. I’m sure there will be a learning curve, but filling in it felt right. Kansas City is a good midwestern town, and I’m a midwestern guy. It’s going to take work, and I’m not afraid of hard work. If you listen to what the listeners say, pay attention to social media, and listen to the producer who’s been there forever, I think I’ll be alright.
RH: Audacy’s KMBZ dominates the ratings in Kansas City as a top news/talk station. Are there any plans for KCMO to challenge KMBZ’s position?
RS: I’m a guy who thrives on success, and I think it comes as you work at it. I’ve won Marconi Awards, CMA (Country Music Association), AMA (American Music Awards), and Country Music Broadcast awards; I’ve been number one in Chicago. I think those things come with a dedicated team and a lot of people around you.
Right now, our focus is to do the best two-hour midday show that we can. I’m sure I will be more integrated into what we must do, where we have to go, and what we must do to get there. I’ve worked for the company that was Audacy; I know what they do. I think those talks will come down the road. But right now, let’s get in there and try to do a job as good if not better than Chris [Stigall] did.
RH: I have noticed a lot of discussion in our industry regarding the qualities that make an audience want to tune into a show. Some people advocate using hard-hitting political talk to grab listener’s attention, but I am curious to know your thoughts on this approach.
RS: I’ve done talk radio for a long time in a city that hasn’t voted Republican for over 100 years. You can be a conservative, and you can have compassion. I don’t know why many of the guys talk like they are tough guys and say, “We’re right, you’re wrong, and that’s just how it’s going to be.” I don’t agree with a lot of stuff that gets said as you move farther to the left, some of those folks’ opinions.
At the end of the day, we are all in a world where we live together. I think if you can be what I call a “compassionate conservative”, you can reach out and grow your station in other ways. Not everyone will always agree with you, but at least they can say they get where you are coming from.
In Chicago, I work with the Chicago Street Pastors, where we get into the neighborhoods. These people aren’t listeners of conservative talk radio, but you go in there and do what needs to be done because, although crime is horrible right now, prosecutors are horrible right now. It’s like that in just about every big major city. I think you have to be inclusive with people to get your point across. They might not like your point, but maybe they will respect it at the end of the day.
RH: You are part of a long line of talented individuals who have excelled as both music jocks and talk personalities. Music jocks tend to thrive in the talk radio format. Why do you think that is?
Ray Stevens: I think you have to be laser-focused; you have to know what you want to say and do it concisely in a short time frame, and that’s a skill. To be able to do that and to be able to catch people’s attention is a real skill. Probably about a month ago, I had a young lady reach out to me who grew up listening to me on US99 in Chicago (country station). She said, “Would you do me a favor? I would like to fly you and your girlfriend to Dallas to announce the first song at my wedding.”
I was blown away by that. The first thing I said was thank you because when someone thinks of you on that level, that’s a connection that sometimes you forget you can make when you’re on the radio every day. Streaming will never be able to do that. SiriusXM will never be able to do that. I was really taken aback by the request, but I didn’t want to fly and cost her the money to put me up in a hotel and food and all that stuff.
So, I did a video for her, and she wanted to be introduced to the song by Kenny Chesney, Don’t Blink. It was really an honor to do that for her, and you forget that you can touch people in short bursts of time.
Everybody wants to be Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Howard Stern, or any of the big guys. The first time I heard [the slogan], “less talk, more music,” on our country radio station, I knew I had to go somewhere else. I think it’s in all of this. If you crack a mic anywhere, I don’t care what sized market it is, you can do talk radio. You look at every record like another talk topic. That’s the way I approach it.
RH: What is Ray Stevens’ perspective on winning on the radio and having a top-rated show?
RS: When we are doing stuff that matters to the listener. If it doesn’t matter to their heart, head, or wallet, why are you doing it? We take for granted the time that they give us. So, you need to work your ass off to prep to make sure that you are going to bring them through to the next break.
But more than that, winning is, to me, making the listener first. But, in this day and age, you better be able to go out on a sales call, close a deal, do a good endorsement deal for someone that doesn’t sound like a commercial, and keep the sales staff happy because, whether you like it or not, and it’s never going to change, sales first and then the on-air product.
As a pure radio guy, it hurts me to say it, but that’s the world we live in right now. And as this business continues to consolidate, we need to know that winning looks like great ratings, you have to have revenue, you have to connect with the listeners, and give them something that matters. I always come back to love the listeners and do what’s best for them.
RH: What is the one experience you regret in your radio career?
Ray Stevens: I stayed at US99 too long. I worked there for over 24 years. I went from being the night guy to the morning guy to having crazy success with a woman named Lisa Dent, who now does talk on 720 WGN and John Howell. If I had advice for anybody, even though it was a great run and so successful, I wish I would’ve pivoted to talk sooner. Maybe pursue my television work a little sooner.
Radio people are all supposed to be these nomads with a trailer behind their vehicles, and I know this sounds crazy, but I wish I would have done that a little more.
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 Latest Example of How to Not Produce a Debate
If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. For the first time since it’s been my job to watch a Presidential debate for a living, I turned one off. After 82 minutes (9:22 p.m. CST, not that I was watching the clock or anything), I had enough. I couldn’t subject myself to the torture that became the second GOP Presidential debate on Wednesday night from the Reagan Library.
If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening, and there are multiple reasons why, beyond the usual bemoaning of “the candidates won’t stop talking over each other.”
The debate was overproduced. In the opening there were videos of Reagan (nice and well done, don’t get me wrong), each anchor had various lines they were reading between each other, which felt forced and unnatural, and as a result, it took over three minutes from the opening of a debate to a candidate finally speaking.
I understand TV isn’t radio, but in a PPM world, imagine taking three minutes to get to your content, when people are tuned in at that moment to consume the content you’ve been hyping up and promising for weeks. Time is a zero-sum game. Every minute a candidate is not speaking, because a moderator is, or a pre-produced piece is playing, can’t be gotten back.
Give people what they came for. A 15-second welcome, a 60-second introduction of the candidates, if that, and dive into the questions is a 90-second process. Keep these things moving and give the viewers what they came for. And that’s the candidates.
The debate lacked direction and clarity. Anchors spent far too much time asking long-winded questions with ridiculous and unnecessary details. As a viewer, it came across like the anchors were trying to impress us, rather than asking a question, getting out of the way, and letting the candidates — you know, the people running for President — try to impress us. They’re the ones who I want to be impressed by because they’re the ones we’re being asked to vote for.
Also, the topic direction had little flow and was disjointed. On certain topics, only one to three candidates would get to answer questions on the issue. I’ve laid out the case for keeping the flow of a debate and moving it along, but only giving half the stage the chance to answer questions on the most pressing issues in the country is a disservice to the voter who is there to here what everyone had to say.
At one point in the debate, Chris Christie was asked about a looming government shutdown, which was followed by a childcare cost question to Tim Scott and then it was an immigration/dreamers question back to Chris Christie. And that was in a five to seven minute span. Huh?
Rather than finding the six to seven big topics and diving into them with each candidate, while letting the candidates then organically and respectfully spar, it was like watching an ADD-riddled teen try and bounce between topics with no clarity or purpose.
And Yes, the Candidates
Of course, there were plenty of these moments that typically derail debates, notably primary debates, where multiple people are talking over each other and no one is willing to give in to be the first one to shut up. Then, the debate begins to inevitably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher and suddenly the obnoxious noise even makes your dog look at you and wonder what in the hell you’re watching.
There were too many candidates on stage and then the moderators also ended up losing control, like what happened last go around.
But as I wrote last month, this debate format is a broken system. But for some reason, we keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Ronald Reagan was rolling over in his grave watching that debacle last night. It’s too bad he’s not still here to try and help fix it.
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.
3 Ideas to Turn CNN Max Into a Streaming News Juggernaut
The last thing CNN needs to do is to have CNN Max hiding in plain sight.
It is so easy to find a gamut of stories and opinion pieces within the past year or two criticizing many different aspects of CNN and the way it operates. Many of those evaluations have been absolutely fair.
Now though, it is time to give CNN credit where it is due.
This week marked the launch of CNN Max and it has been as seamless as a fresh glazed donut coming straight out of the oven. The stream’s video quality is crisp. Commercials are inserted properly. Most of the exclusive programming feels exactly like something you would see on linear CNN.
But the most fascinating thing Warner Bros. Discovery has been able to pull off is the ability to stream most of the same programming that airs on domestic CNN via Max. It is a stroke of business genius and puts the company and network ahead of its counterparts when it comes to offering a quality streaming alternative. As has been mentioned in the past, the network has been able to bypass MVPDs and stream their primetime anchors without permission from cable operators because CNN Max is mostly a direct simulcast of CNN International which airs U.S. programming live overnight while Europeans are in bed.
Despite the successful launch, there are still some tweaks that could improve the product exponentially. One major benefit would be to have replays of programs that viewers may have missed from earlier in the day. Each show on serves a specific purpose and although similar coverage of news is told throughout the day, each anchor has a unique way of stringing the narrative together. Viewers deserve to get the chance to see how a story develops throughout different parts of the day and see specific segments in its entirety that may not get clipped for social media.
Viewers also need a chance to fully sample CNN Max’s exclusive programming and at the moment, if you don’t watch it live you’ve missed it forever.
Speaking of clips, it’s important for highlights of the day to be available quickly within the Max ecosystem. On CNN Max’s first day, Kasie Hunt scored an exclusive interview with Sen. Joe Manchin that made headlines.
Unfortunately, the only way a viewer could see it if they missed it live was if they scoured the network’s website for it or waited for a clip that the social media team would eventually put out. Part of being a modern-day news organization requires accessibility to be at its best at any given time of the day.
If viewers have a difficult time finding out the major highlights of what’s been on air, it may be harder to convince them to try a new product.
Viewers also deserve the opportunity to subscribe to alerts. News breaks on a consistent basis and unless you’re scrolling through your social media feed all day 24/7, it is almost impossible to follow everything that’s happening. Max needs to provide an option for specific types of alerts dealing with breaking news or major storylines that have developed live on air on CNN Max with the option to tune in now or to see clips or full episodes that deal with a specific headline. Alerts will increase engagement and maintain a relationship with the consumer they may not be able to get at another major entertainment app that streams similar programming as Max.
Promotion within the app is also important. While Max did an awesome job of showcasing the various shows that are live at any point during the day, it used the same graphics of the same hosts with the same descriptions every day. Viewers who read promos on entertainment apps are used to seeing different plot lines and convincing pictures showcased once a week whenever a new episode of their favorite show is ready for viewing. Max needs to treat news stories in the same fashion.
As stories break throughout the day, Max needs to promote their live programming with information blurbs containing new developments and questions that viewers might get answered by tuning in. Show previews could also promote featured guests. Using the same stale graphic of a host, show name, and generic show description will eventually become stale and annoying for viewers. Viewers will unfortunately train their minds to ignore the static messaging.
Warner Bros. Discovery also needs to take advantage of CNN Max’s predecessor. CNN Plus was able to maintain a decent amount of followers on social media – at least 35,000 on Twitter. Turn that page into a promotion spot for CNN Max that aggregates clips, promos, and previews of what viewers can expect on Max or what they may have missed.
As the brand develops a presence on social media, it will also develop name recognition among future cord-cutters who are deciding between Max and other services. The last thing CNN needs to do is to have CNN Max hiding in plain sight. CNN Max can be additive to cable ratings if people have an understanding of where and how to access it.
CNN Max is creating a direct relationship between the consumer and CNN. It’s a relationship that has always had a middleman. Unfortunately for the cable industry, the middleman is slowly dissipating away.
With this newfound bond, the network should take advantage of the digital real estate it has access to and create real interaction with viewers. Optional polls, factoids, written descriptions of stories on screen, or even biographies of the guests on air at any given time could provide viewers with an extra reason to stay tuned in. It keeps viewers occupied and helps elongate the amount of time viewers spend on the stream and the app as a whole.
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.
Re-Watch The 2023 BNM Summit, On Demand Tickets Are Now Available
“If you weren’t able to make it to Nashville for the 2023 BNM Summit, I invite you to purchase an on-demand ticket to watch the show. The cost is just $49.99.”
When one of our Summits ends, it’s over for the attendees and speakers. The work is far from done though for yours truly. After packing up a SUV and driving home, the immediate focus turns to posting photos, gathering video of the sessions, sending out final invoices, making sure all ads on our websites and newsletters promoting the conference are updated, adding watermarks to the video footage to support our sponsor, editing clips for social, and then building a web page for folks to be able to go re-watch the show.
It’s a mountain of work and I dive head first into it because I want to make sure that anyone who attends one of our shows has an opportunity to catch a session they may have missed or go back and re-watch a speaker to make sure they have the right information before passing it along to help an individual or entire staff.
When you buy a ticket to one of our shows, I try to provide maximum value. You get an action packed two-day event featuring difference makers in various roles across the industry, access to multiple parties including free drinks, and a FREE on demand ticket to re-watch the show. The ticket price itself is also kept lower than many other events because I’d rather see folks in the room benefitting than worrying about whether or not we crushed our revenue goals. I don’t create these conferences to keep myself busy, boost my ego or get rich. I run them to try and improve the media business. It isn’t easy especially given how reluctant many radio folks are to get out of their buildings and routines to learn something new but someone has to try.
There’s an old Benjamin Franklin quote that I’ve loved and adopted over the years, which says “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” That’s what our conferences are about. We discuss opportunities and challenges and have open and candid conversations with smart people, share information, and provide examples that have hit and/or missed because the goal is to make improvements, and you can’t do that without deeper inspection.
With that said, if you weren’t able to make it to Nashville for the 2023 BNM Summit, I invite you to purchase an on demand ticket to watch the show. The cost is $49.99. Just click HERE to sign up. Once you press the Subscribe button down below, it will take you to the next page to enter your information to gain access. Those who attended the Summit have already received instructions on how to watch the show for FREE.
We will return with a 2024 conference in either Chicago, Dallas, New York City or Washington DC. Given that next year is an election year and we’ve got one of these shows under our belts now, I’m sure the next event will be even bigger, and better. If you’d like to vote on where the 2024 BNM Summit should take place, log on to BNMSummit.com. You should see the poll question just below our main section.
Thanks again for supporting the show. Until next time, may your revenue and ratings continue to rise.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Media. Prior to launching BM, he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].