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Country Radio Legend Ray Stevens is Ready to Talk on KCMO

“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.”

Ryan Hedrick

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A photo of Ray Stevens with the KCMO logo
(Photo: Ray Stevens)

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.  

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The Lost Radio Art of Building a Community Around Your On-Air Product

Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community.

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A photo of a crowd

How well do you know your radio audience? Wait, that goes the other way, too: How well does your audience know you? And are they your audience, or something more than that?

It’s something to consider in an era when media has become overcrowded and audiences are scattered among many platforms. Is your constituency passive – they listen, watch, or read, but don’t feel any particular loyalty or fealty to you – or is it a real community with a strong two-way connection to you and your brand?

I’ll defer to Seth Resler, who has been promoting the importance of community for radio, as to specifics on why community is important (and the missing element in radio marketing). It does occur to me that radio used to be able to do this, and do it better than any other medium. Great personalities and stations were able to create bonds with their listeners that today’s media just doesn’t do as well anymore.

From Jean Shepherd’s “Night People” to Howard Stern’s legion of fans, teens picking sides in the Top 40 battles of yore (were you a KHJ Boss Radio listener or a KRLA die-hard? WABC All-Americans or WMCA Good Guys? WLS or Super CFL?)… even in those pre-social media days, there was a connection that was more than just passive or background listening. It’s why there’s (perhaps too much) nostalgia for those days, especially among the Facebook commentators who want radio to be just like that today. Those days are over.

But community building isn’t, and all you need to know is “Swiftie” or “Bey Hive” to understand what a rabid fan base can do for you. Media in general doesn’t get fans like that anymore, but it should be taking cues from how fans behave online. DJs and hosts should be celebrities, not anonymous one-name interchangeable plug-and-play voice trackers.

Events you create should be big deals clearly identified with your brand (look at D.C., where the “HFStival” is returning even though WHFS as a radio station is long gone from the market). Got a newspaper? Create and promote social media accounts and aggressively promote them as the best local forum on every topic, like local restaurants, local politics, local everything. Ideally, you should make your identity synonymous with your audience and your locality. Your name should mean something more than just “a radio station” or “a newspaper” or “a website.” Think big, then think bigger.

Here’s an example of something someone should be doing: Right now, we’ve entered Hurricane Season in these parts, and as I write this, it’s pouring. The local TV stations in West Palm and Miami all compete to be identified as “the weather station,” promoting their meteorologists being “most accurate” and “number one for weather.”

Great, but it just ends there with the marketing. They could have Facebook groups, and Instagram posts, and Zoom open meetings where people can ask questions and get answers, and report conditions in real-time. Some do have hurricane preparation events, but they could be more than just a card table and canopy with brochures and a station employee there to meet and greet. They all have apps, and that helps, but there’s no interactivity.

As a local resident, do I know who to trust most on the weather? Do I feel loyalty to any of the stations? Not really. There’s no community. So I just turn on the TV and whichever channel I happen to land upon first is what I’ll watch for weather updates. They’re basically the same. Radio?

I couldn’t tell you which station is the go-to for anything. A lot of them just simulcast TV news coverage in emergencies anyway. I haven’t met anyone here who’s a real fan of any local radio station, though that may be a function of the number of new arrivals here, mostly from Long Island; they’re all more likely to say they listen(ed) to 1010 WINS for news anyway.

TL;DR: Your media outlet needs to develop a closer bond with your audience and make them (and you) part of a shared community. Turn fans into family. Ask Seth Resler for more. We have too many ex-New Yorkers here. Ranger Suarez for NL Cy Young. Okay, that wasn’t in here, but still.

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Steve Cochran Isn’t Looking in the Rear View Mirror After WLS-AM 890 Exit

“(WLS) and I were never a natural fit. But I believe — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something … everybody wasn’t rowing the boat in the same direction, but I’m good.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Steve Cochran
(Photo: Steve Cochran)

There’s a longstanding adage in the radio business: “You haven’t really been in radio until you’ve been fired.” Steve Cochran has embodied the mantra 11 times after exiting Chicago news/talk station WLS-AM 890 last Friday.

After a two-year run in mornings on the Cumulus-owned station, the two sides went their separate ways in what Cochran said was an amicable parting.

“I liked those people a lot. They’re good people. We just have a disagreement on what show should be on there,” he said. “The signs aren’t hard to figure out. It was not contentious. I’ve certainly had ugly ones. This was not it. We just simply disagree on how to do the best show in in Chicago. And frankly, I felt like I was doing not just that, but the best show in the country. And the last sane talk show in the country.”

That sentiment — “the last sane talk show in the country” — is something Cochran had shared on the air during his stint with the station.

When asked what that exactly meant to him, Steve Cochran noted that it includes two separate issues. One is the business side of radio which affects companies like iHeartMedia, Audacy, and Cumulus. He believes some of the larger radio operators are solely focused on stock price, which in turn affects the on-air programming.

But maybe more importantly is the political polarization that has enveloped the talk radio space that Cochran has become most disillusioned with.

“This is not a secret: I’ve leaned right most of my life, but I’ve voted right and left depending on the candidate — the way I think everybody ought to,” said Cochran. “Because the far right and the far left, as I’ve said a million times, will kill the country. And I just wanted to drive the middle. I still think you could monetize the middle, but you have to have a company that’s willing to really invest in that.

“They held up their end of the bargain and they didn’t tell me how to do the show. And I held up mine and told him that I would be hard on Trump, but I would also be hard on any Democrats that deserved it. I pound on the mayor of Chicago, who’s a disaster, and the Democratic machine in Chicago, which is also a disaster, over and over again. We got good response from a lot of people that said, ‘Look, you’re fair. I don’t always agree, but I appreciate it.'”

He continued by noting that welcoming each side of the political aisle to talk radio needs to be much more prevalent than it has become, stating “Unless we get back to talking to each other, we’re done and everything in politics now is about not doing that.”

Steve Cochran admitted that he might not have been the best fit for WLS — and vice versa — but was interested in giving the position a test run after more than 15 years at crosstown rival WGN.

He called the relationship “a joint experiment”, before noting that that the proposed mission of the Cumulus-owned outlet to be “the most conservative station in America,” in the words of former colleague John Howell, wasn’t the perfect situation for him at this stage of his career.

After more than 40 years in the industry, and being 63 years old, it’s logical question to wonder what the future holds for Steve Cochran.

And he revealed he has the same thoughts.

“I will miss being on the radio. I don’t know that I’ll ever be on the radio again, and that’s a very weird thing to say after 43 years,” he shared. “I just think radio is still the greatest medium.”

As much as he questions his potential future on the air, Cochran questions if radio entities will be able to shift their focus away from AM radio to a more easily accessible distribution platform for younger audiences.

“The mistake these companies have made in regards to AM talk radio — and I said this to Cumulus — is stop calling it AM. When you say ‘AM,’ it sounds like an antique store. And it’s a natural turnoff to anybody under the age of probably 45.

“So in talk radio, AM should be treated like every other content platform. It’s just another content platform. It should have as much of the same opportunities and revenue streams as well. Cameras in studio, a video guy, social media people to monetize all of that,” he said. “I think the companies who are gonna win this — the remaining companies that may feel like they’re stuck with these big AMs — will figure out a way to treat them like content platforms and not like ‘Grandma’s down on the corner, the light’s on so I guess she’s ok.'”

If his morning show at WLS-AM 890 really was his last radio hurrah, Steve Cochran is content with that.

“When I left (WGN) — that was not my call, or my desire, though I hated the way the company was being run at that point, and still being run, frankly, it’s half the radio station once was. And (WLS) and I were never a natural fit, but I really believed — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something,” Cochran said. “But it involved a lot of promotion, a lot of focus, and everybody wasn’t rowing the boat the same way.

“So I came back, I had my say, and I think I’m better at this than I’ve ever been. I’d like to be able to do it somewhere, but for the time being, and maybe fully, I’m gonna do it in podcast form.”

His podcast — Live From My Office — has published more than 350 episodes since its launch. In addition to his podcast, Cochran continues to be a stand-up comedian in the Windy City, with a set scheduled for Friday night at the Raue Center for the Arts.

It would be easy for him to view the departure from the venerable Chicago station as a sad note. However, Cochran reiterated that he had no bad things to say about management in Chicago or the company, and noted that they stuck to everything the two sides agreed upon before the “joint experiment.”

“I didn’t get notes or direction or censorship or editing by WLS in Chicago or by Cumulus and I respect that. That was our agreement going in, and they honored it,” Steve Cochran shared. “But I have considerations for sponsors and consideration for the framework of things when I’m working for somebody else. So I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. That’s a bit of the freedom, but that’s just a small piece of it ’cause I never felt restricted at WLS.”

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How Hunter Biden Talk Should Be Handled By News Media Members

I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

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A photo of Hunter Biden appearing on Fox News
(Photo: Fox News)

The surviving first son — Hunter Biden — was convicted of 3 felonies over his gun buy after lying that he was not a drug addict. I am not going to joke about addiction. It truly is a horrible infliction affecting people in families all over the world and the First Family. But stick with me here. I have some points that you may not have considered, and this could be useful for your show! 

Hunter Biden was raised by an absent father. Sen. Joe Biden has often told the story about taking Amtrak home every night to be at home for his kids. Do you know what would have been better? Raising the kids in Washington DC. Arriving at midnight on a train is not parenting. It is virtue signaling about a commitment to fatherhood. Fatherhood is about being there for your children.

My old man was often on the road when I was a kid. It was necessary for his career as a Sales Manager. I know that if my dad could have been home for dinner every night, he would have done so. Hunter Biden’s mother was killed in a car wreck. It is a terrible thing. While Joe Biden has told that story often as a ploy for sympathy, Hunter Biden was not a prop. He didn’t choose to be raised by a political family. His lack of connection to his father was obviously a part of his addiction. Many of the addicted are hiding from pain and that pain is often familial.

Hunter learned early that the Biden name made things easier. Hunter went to Georgetown and then to Yale Law. I have no idea what Hunter’s qualifications were, but both of those institutions love bragging that a Senator’s son attended. Hunter graduated and Yale Law ain’t no summer picnic. Obviously, graduating from both institutions is an honor.

Hunter started on the grift immediately to cash in on his father’s name. Took a consulting gig with MDNA bank that had donated over $200k to his father’s campaigns. When I was in school and had started my first radio job, my full-time gig was with a hotel. I did the night audit. My dad called me and suggested that I call his fraternity brother who owned several large hotels. I told my father that I wanted to make it on my own. I didn’t want a job from a friend.

Just as a note, I was close to my parents and still hold them in high esteem. (They are no longer with us.) I decided to make my own way. I have this belief that it is not Republican or Democratic, it is reality. There amazing people are elected to Congress. The problem with Senators and Representatives is that they see the massive amount spent in the District of Columbia.

I believe that nearly all Congress can be corrupted by the cash. Hunter Biden just saw a way to cash in. It was raw greed based purely on connections to his father. There are adult children of elected officials who are cashing in because of connections to their lawmaker parents. It is dirty, it is wrong, and it is totally immoral.

Hunter Biden just joined the party. Sadly, Hunter’s father did not stop it. Joe Biden encouraged it. Nearly every member of the Biden family has cashed in on “The Big Guy.” It is dirty and the person guilty is Joe Biden. Joe Biden, who’s claimed he’s “Blue Collar Joe”, owns three homes. I had a friend point out that Joe had a book deal. My retort? Who purchased the books? My thinking is that lobbyists and big donors were at the center of it.

Joe Biden was greedy. Not because of a product, service, or company that he founded. It was because Joe Biden used his power as a U.S. Senator to become stinking rich. I love Delaware. They have The Waffle House! Imagine a strung-out Hunter Biden ordering the All-Star Special! By the way, the pork chops and eggs are amazing at The Waffle House. This is from personal experience.

Hunter cashed in on daddy. It was a family thing. But President Joe Biden chose public service as his career. Joe Biden could have stopped the Biden family scam at any moment. Why didn’t the President stop it? It was greed.

Hunter Biden and his Uncle James (Jimmy) Biden started a hedge fund that was financed by Allen Stanford. Stanford was convicted of a Ponzi Scheme and will get freedom in 2103. The Biden family made big bucks off this. Google Allen Stanford, Hunter Biden, and James Biden. I’ll tell you two people who didn’t have to return any money. Hunter and James Biden.

Hunter Biden may be the most ethical of the Biden family. He needed crack, booze, hookers to mask his personal pain. Hunter is obviously an adult and can make his own decisions. There are children from very functional families who just implode in life. There are children from impoverished families who have risen above their circumstances.

Hunter Biden is an emotional wreck. His father and stepmother have been enablers. His wives and girlfriends have allowed this behavior. But there was no chance for Hunter. He was wrecked by a dysfunctional family and a greedy dad.

I feel sorry for him. Hunter’s fall has more to do by his father than anything else. Beau Biden was the favored son. Hunter was the Prince Harry of the USA. Hunter deserves sympathy and perhaps some crack.

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