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Confessions From a News Radio Heretic

I’m a radio guy, that’s all. I’m a nice person, a good friend, and a loving family man but I am not a journalist.

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My radio career began with seven years of playing top-40 hits. I grew up idolizing radio disc jockeys and once I accepted the fact that I would never be able to hit a curveball, being on the radio was the only thing I wanted to do with my life. I got the chance straight out of high school but as I aged through my 20s I got tired of contests designed for fourteen-year-olds. Playing “Mandy” and “Midnight at the Oasis” every hour and fifteen minutes started eating my brain. Most of all, though, I wasn’t doing what I wanted. I got into radio to be a star, not just to read promo liners:

(Over 12-second music intro:)

“Super-Q wants to jet you off to Hawaii! Listen for the sound of monkeys playing in the palm trees and be the first to call 555-WHBQ!”

(Hit the vocal: “YOU’RE HAVIN’ MY BABY. What a lovely way of saying how much you love me….”)

I just made that up. I’ve still got it.

Music radio was changing and I was growing up. I wanted to entertain and inform an audience by saying interesting things. As I tried to figure out how to go about it, I got dragged into a newsroom and was soon given an early evening talk show. (I don’t remember the details of that transition. Still seems weird.)

The next thing I knew I was taking over the number one morning show in Sacramento and goofing with the news a bit. My excellent partners, Bob Nathan and later, Amy Lewis, and I achieved 20 years of the highest ratings in Sacramento history. The record still stands 30 years later.

All we did was talk like real people. No hype, no pretense. We didn’t act smarter than our listeners. If a story was questionable, we questioned it. If it sounded dumb or we didn’t care about it, we said that.

The truth is, I never cared about the news.

Through 44 years of successful morning news shows in major markets, right up until the day I retired two months ago, I never really gave a rip about news and still don’t.

I never wanted to be a journalist and have never been a news junkie. Don’t get me wrong, I respect people who are and couldn’t have succeeded without them. I do care about the world but I have a decidedly laissez-faire approach to life. If a situation is none of my business or if there’s a problem I can’t solve, I’m not going to get worked up about it. It’s like the old joke about why you should never try to teach a pig to sing: It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

I know. Some of you are outraged, right? Listen to me, here, I’ve been saying this to my bosses and coworkers forever: I’m a radio guy, that’s all. I’m a nice person, a good friend, and a loving family man but I am not a journalist. Frankly, the word kind of annoys me the way some people use it to claim their exalted intellect, concern, and nobility more than, say, a disc jockey.

When I got into news, all I cared about was doing my job on the air as well as possible. It didn’t matter to me if I was playing records, taking phone calls, or reading newscasts. I was hired to attract and hold the attention of an audience. To do that, I had to be informative, interesting, and entertaining. Reading news is easy. Having people enjoy it is not.

What about credibility? Good question.

If you didn’t see something happen, you’re only repeating someone else’s account. By the time you’ve rewritten a piece of wire copy or a local newspaper item, it has been through a dozen rounds of the telephone game. No telling how many details or implications are precisely true. And that’s fine, just don’t pretend you’re some kind of authority. You’re just a town crier. Nothing wrong with that but you’re not looking for a cancer cure, either.

So, be honest about that. Be real.

Just be you.

Now, I’m talking about how to be a radio news presenter/host. The business of gathering, writing, and reporting news does indeed require effort and a degree of expertise that isn’t always acknowledged. You chose that pursuit and we all thank you. But, once you sit down at a hot mic, don’t be a dick about it, okay?

Reading and talking about the news isn’t brain surgery but it does require talent and hard-earned skill. I worked at it, and you know what? I did pretty well. I gave my employers and listeners what they wanted and I did it proudly. The only thing I couldn’t do was be pompous. When I got that first morning news show I decided to tell the news, not preach it.

This wasn’t an original idea. I’m no radio historian but in my world, entertaining news started with Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur at KABC in Los Angeles in the early 70s. They didn’t have a huge staff of reporters and writers as did crosstown all-news rival KNX, which delivered news – and still does – with unbiased authority. Ken and Bob’s resources were a teletype machine and the L.A. newspapers. They didn’t just read the news, they talked about it. They gave you the information and then examined it. The duo exchanged views and wondered aloud about what was not said in the official reports.

They talked about the news as if they were at Waffle House with a few friends.

They laughed a lot, and so did we all.

The Ken and Bob Company was Los Angeles’ #1-rated radio show for almost 20 years.

In the 1970s and ’80s, San Francisco’s KGO Morning News with Jim Dunbar and Ted Wygant was the radio version of iconic local newspaper columnist Herb Caen, whose Pulitzer Prize award described him as the “voice and conscience” of San Francisco. Dunbar and Wygant made you feel special for waking up each morning in Caen’s famous “Baghdad-by-the-Bay”.

And, understand this:  Dunbar and Wygant were fun and lovable but never at the expense of being trusted and believable. That’s the crazy thing about the “image” issue some have with News Radio: the credibility nonsense.

One morning I had one of the most respected local radio reporters in the country sitting in the studio with me waiting to go on the air. This guy was a local reporter with nationwide acclaim. He was an actual journalist.

As we waited for the commercial break to end he said to me, “If I was News Director here, I’d never allow you to do commercial endorsements.” It came out of left field. We hadn’t been talking about anything, we were just waiting for the recorded spots to end. As we waited I asked him, “You don’t think the audience is smart enough to know the difference between a news story and a commercial?” He brushed it off as a matter of credibility.

This man was a superstar reporter. He knew his job as well as anyone I’ve ever met. But he didn’t understand mine.

Despite what you may infer from social media, people aren’t stupid. They understand the difference between news and commercials and between fact and opinion. They like people who respect them and approach them with some modesty.

While we’re all trying to figure out how to save our industry from evil corporations and bankers maybe it’s time we focus on ourselves:

– Nobody cares about your academic degree except your parents. I respect and admire you for having one, but don’t wave it around with your condescending attitude.

– As smart as you may be you’ll be a little smarter tomorrow. Nobody cares about that, either, though you should.

– The serious pronoun problem in American radio today has nothing to do with gender, it is the one-letter pronoun, “I”. Stop already.

-Above all, remember that you have a gift. You are a communicator. Be proud of that, be passionate, be honest, and have fun.

Never, ever, crack that mic with anything less than gratitude and humility.

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BNM Writers

What to Do When Your Fear Your Media Career is Headed to the Graveyard

If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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A photo of a graveyard

“Do you guys ever think about dying?”

If you saw the Barbie movie, you know the line. Barbie is living the perfect and perfectly plastic life, perfectly choreographed and full of perfect smiles.

But the movie turns on that one line, basically shattering Barbie’s world with a concept no one there would ever have considered.

Death.

Why would you consider it when everything seemed in perfect order?

Well, when it comes to broadcasting and media, a lot of you think about dying … a lot. I do, too.

Of course, it’s not the stop breathing and get buried type of death but rather, the death of a career in media.

The truth is, when it comes to our business, very few people get to choose when it ends. Take a minute and consider a major media personality who truly “retired” after a multi-decade career.

It happens, but percentage-wise, it’s rare.

Take a minute and think. Name some. Name one. It’s not easy.

More often than not, you will get laid off or fired before you want to leave, and after a certain age, getting that next opportunity may be a bridge too far.

Then, you are done done.

That’s as much a music stopper as Barbie admitting she has considered her own mortality in the middle of the dance floor. Here on planet Earth, at least from the people in my orbit, the death of a media career often leads to even better professional options and more balanced lifestyle choices.

I have friends doing a million different things: Public relations, crisis management, content creation for large companies, political communications, fundraising, and teaching. Almost all of them tell me that it was such a stress relief to have a “normal” life, to not be worried about every pending contract or new boss.

Their work is appreciated. Their job is stable. And their schedule? Normal. Never has “normal” sounded so lovely than when they talk about watching shows with spouses, going out for a drink on a Tuesday, or having a regular pickleball game (or insert any middle-aged recreational sport).

I believe them.

Sort of.

The “sort of” comes from me not being able to actually envision that for myself. As enticing as it would be to see people on a more accessible schedule or play a weekly game with buddies, nothing beats talking and writing for a living. Nothing. And I am going to hang on until the lights are out, and we can’t pay to get them turned back on.

For me, I’m in too deep. I’m an indoor cat, incapable of survival outside.

Meetings. Deadlines. Reliant on other people. Meetings.

I’d be dead in a week. It’s beyond no, thank you. It’s, “I can’t”.

Sure, I have three teenagers and three college tuitions to pay. And two dogs. Two cars. And a mortgage.

Here’s where I am supposed to tell you that you should not only have thoughts about (career) death but also have a survival plan – a professional media-career living will if you would.

I should tell you that because you should.

But I don’t have one. And I don’t want one.

Why?

Because I don’t want to think about death anymore. I mean, I’ve already died twice. It wasn’t fun, and the third time most likely would be the charm in terms of getting me out of the business for good.

Why so stubborn? I don’t know.

Several times, I’ve said to myself, I need to make sure I have a backup plan … just in case. Each time, I find a reason not to get one.

Ultimately, what’s my point? Get a backup plan. Think about death. But it can’t take away from the essential joy of having the privilege of talking for a living. In that vein, don’t take it for granted. Ever. Even if the pay stinks and the schedule stinks. If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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BNM Writers

Is the Fairness Doctrine Even Possible in Today’s Media Landscape?

Is it right for media consumers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news?

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As many media outlets shutter their doors, some have clamored for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Newsweek released the results of their new way to connect with readers, by asking if its reporting is “fair.” Since September 2023, readers were asked to judge stories on the site, 78% said the outlet is “fair.” Another 22% found at least one story they read to be “unfair.”

AllSides Media has judged Newsweek to be center. However, let’s not forget they are the same outlet that wrongly claimed President Donald Trump was golfing on Thanksgiving in 2019. As Sheryl Attkisson noted on Full Measure this week, on Thanksgiving in 2019 President Trump was visiting troops in Iraq and the Newsweek story was fabricated.

While the reader assessment of Newsweek’s content is on par with AllSides Media, is it right for readers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news? If outlets like The Daily Caller (Right) or Vox (Left) would ask the same of their readers, would their echo chamber subscribers find them “fair?” While historically print (and later digital) outlets could (and still can) embrace the political leanings of their owner(s), from 1949 till 1987 TV news had guidelines they must adhere to: The Fairness Doctrine.

Long before Americans argued about bias in news, every TV outlet (there were only three major ones at the time) would follow “The Fairness Doctrine.” The Reagan Library notes the doctrine was “enforced by the Federal Communications Council, [and] was rooted in the media world of 1949. Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.”

To put it simply, the Fairness Doctrine made it so all sides of any story were presented. In 1985, under the Reagan Administration, the FCC found “the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Two years later, a panel under FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick repealed the Fairness Doctrine unanimously.

Keep in mind, at this point in time, CNN was the first and only 24-hour news network in the United States (it launched on June 1, 1980). Fox News wouldn’t be launched until almost 10 years after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, on October 7, 1996.

Also happening at this time, large corporations (with lobbying power) were buying media outlets. General Electric purchased NBC in 1986. Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1995. One year later, ABC was bought by Disney. These purchases did not go unnoticed. Saturday Night Live even mocked the acquisitions in a now-banned short called “Conspiracy Theory Rock!: Media-opoly.”

The unwillingness of news organizations to cover both sides of a story has led to the creation of biased outlets including: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, OAN, Newsmax, and others. None of these would be able to exist in their current form if the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t repealed.

News outlets that aren’t overtly biased use another trick to manipulate their viewers/readers, using emotionally charged verbiage. AllSides Media defines sensationalist words as presenting information in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. This includes words like “shocking”, “heart-breaking”, “explosive”, “scathing”, “chaotic”, “desperate”, and “remarkable”… this list goes on but you’ve seen and heard these words from the news outlets daily. This is the media telling you how to react to a story instead of letting you determine how you actually feel after they present the facts of the story.

Today, what’s most concerning are outlets saying ‘fair and balanced’ news is a disservice to the public. An August 2023 NPR article explored just this, saying “Objectivity actually comes from an accurate examination of facts (actions, documentation, and even educated opinions) presented in transparent reports. Often, that coverage should also encourage audiences to examine supporting evidence for themselves.”

The problem with this is three-fold:

  • Selective fact presentation develops a one-sided narrative
  • An “educated opinion” is not a fact. It’s an opinion that is neither right nor wrong.
  • It is impossible for human beings to be completely unbiased (see January 31st column)

While it’s great Newsweek is asking readers if their reporting is ‘fair’ is the reader’s judgment neutral, or just as biased as the outlet they prefer to read? Sometimes when we are clicking to satisfy our own confirmation bias it’s hard to tell.

What the media and all Americans need to start recognizing is their own echo chamber. Knowing we all have some sort of bias is not a flaw but what makes us human. Our flaw is the inability to recognize our bias yet call out others for being biased just because they are on the other side of an issue.

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CNN Sees Biggest Viewership Jump During Super Bowl Parade Shooting Coverage

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

Doug Pucci

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(Photo: Getty Images)

The cable news outlets got increased viewership from two different news events during the week of Feb. 12, namely the shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, of the mass shooting at the Super Bowl celebration parade in Kansas City for the Chiefs football team. One person died and roughly two dozen others were injured.

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

The following are what each network drew as the story unfolded on that Feb. 14 afternoon from Kansas City and how it grew from the same Wednesday time slots from Jan. 3 thru Feb. 7:

Fox News Channel

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.656 million viewers (+18 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 1.873 million viewers (+34 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 3.175 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 2.441 million viewers (+12 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 2.250 million viewers (+4 percent)

MSNBC

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.008 million viewers (+10 percent)
  • 4-6 p.m.: 1.504 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 1.763 million viewers (+17 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 1.474 million viewers (+13 percent)

CNN

  • 3-4 p.m.: 0.762 million viewers (+27 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.913 million viewers (+35 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 1.007 million viewers (+28 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 0.985 million viewers (+43 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.960 million viewers (+29 percent)

Newsmax

  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.343 million viewers (+23 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 0.354 million viewers (+16 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.547 million viewers (+13 percent)

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the results were announced for the special election race for New York’s third congressional district between its former representative Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican challenger Mazi Pilip. Suozzi left office in 2022 to run in the New York gubernatorial election but lost out to incumbent Kathy Hochul. Suozzi’s successor in Congress was the infamous George Santos who was officially expelled from office on Dec. 1, 2023 over charges of federal criminal laws including campaign finance fraud.

MSNBC and CNN were the only major national news outlets that provided live coverage of the special election results, stressing the significance of Suozzi’s eight-point win over Pilip as it reduced the GOP’s advantage in the House of Representatives by one.

From when the voting polls closed in New York at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC easily topped CNN in total viewers at 9 p.m. (1.616 million viewers vs. CNN’s 0.847 million), 10 p.m. (1.903 million vs. CNN’s 0.879 million), 11 p.m. (1.112 million vs. CNN’s 0.541 million), and at midnight (774,000 viewers vs. CNN’s 299,000).

From 9-11 p.m. ET, though, both MSNBC and CNN scored the same performance among the key 25-54 demographic: a 0.15 rating at 9 p.m. and a 0.18 rating at 10 p.m. (Note: a 1.0 rating in 25-54 equates to 1.21 million viewers within the aforementioned age range.) 

For the 10-11 p.m. hour, when the New York candidate speeches had aired, CNN grew by 68 percent (in viewers) and by 80 percent (in 25-54) from its Tuesday 10-11 p.m. hour output from Jan. 2 thru Feb. 6 — a time period that included a Ron DeSantis town hall and New Hampshire primary results.

MSNBC was up as well at 10 p.m. hour — +16 percent in viewers, +33 percent in the 25-54 demo — using the same reference parameters.

Even though Fox News did not offer live coverage of New York’s special election results, Hannity at 9 p.m. (2.528 million viewers; 0.21 A25-54 demo rating) and Gutfeld! at 10 p. m. (2.357 million viewers; 0.31 A25-54 demo rating) still held the top spots in their respective hours on all of cable news.

Source: Nielsen Media Research

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