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Rich Valdes Learned Politics is a Cutthroat Business From Mark Levin

“I learned a lot working with Mark (Levin). He’s a fantastic broadcaster. He’s a brilliant legal mind, an amazing author.”



With an ultimately positive attitude, Rich Valdes is grateful, humbled, and shocked to be awarded the number one Latino radio host by Metropolitan Magazine. “I was a little bit of a late bloomer, you know,” Valdes told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

“I was a little bit humorous. I was kind of all over the place, a little rebellious. It was really undiagnosed ADHD, I didn’t know, and it just manifested in different ways.” Of his youth Valdes noted, “I one of the few things I was really good at in school was speaking. So, I gravitated towards, you know, telling jokes and being around people and just being that kind of guy.” His way to the top, however, was quite unconventional.

During high school, Valdes began “drawing designs in people’s hair,” which he later turned into a business. After getting married and having a child he sold his barbershop business and became a corporate sales executive for Verizon.

For Valdes, it wasn’t enough. He then worked for college and post-secondary education schools. Rich Valdes said it combined “my passion for service and helping people with business.” He later added, “I did that for probably about eight years, and it was really cool. And that was how I ended up getting into politics in many ways.”

He worked for Chris Christie’s campaign. Once elected the administration offered him a job, which he said no to. They later came back with a different offer, “The role was director of Faith-Based affairs in the office of the governor. They said, we can give you something that’s a little bit more behind the scenes where, you know, you’re just another cog in government, but you can make a lot more.”

Taking the job, Valdes called it  “an interesting time” because he didn’t realize how cutthroat politics is. “People ask me, what was it like working in the state Capitol, and I guess the way I would describe it is imagine walking through an entire city where every single person is holding a knife, ready to get you at any, at any time. They’re ready to like, uh, you know, and you don’t know these people, and you have no idea why they want to stab you, but they will.”

Valdes added, “And it’s just whatever, you know? Are you in their way? Do you have something they want? Whatever it is, you have no clue. And I never really fit into that mold because I didn’t want to hurt anybody. And I didn’t really have that killer instinct that that they did.”

Rich Valdes then began writing a monthly column for the Washington Times until, “I met somebody who said, hey, I know somebody who’s looking for somebody that has a background in politics and media. Maybe you’re a good fit for them. I spoke with them and it was James O’Keefe when he ran Project Veritas. I came on to manage a project, and then eventually he moved me up to being the national field director. So I was in charge of pretty much all of the undercover stories we were doing and hiring people to go undercover in these things. It was was really cool, really fun experience.”

Valdes was part of the team that aided James O’Keefe, dressed as Osama bin Laden, across the Rio Grande. There were no Border Patrol agents in sight.

The stunt caught the attention of Senator John McCain, and in Valdes’ own words, “Senator McCain had asked, I think, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, ‘Are you aware of an American journalist named James O’Keefe that crossed from Mexico into the United States undetected?’ And they said, ‘No, he was detected. We saw him on our cameras.’ [Sen. McCain asked,] ‘Why don’t you stop him?’ And the guy had no answer, just no answer.”

Shortly after Rich Valdes took a leave of absence to take care of his parents.

“My mom got ill, and then she passed away. And as she was holding my hand, taking her last breath, she said, ‘Take care of your father.’” His father had fallen down months earlier and was living with a traumatic brain injury. Valdes said of the time, “It was very tough,” adding, “I took care of [my father]. I worked, and I would come home and help him, and I moved in with him. I got divorced at that time, so it was all happening at the same time. I got divorced, my mom died, then I became my dad’s official babysitter.”

For two years, Rich Valdes lived with his dad off of savings. “And then he passed away. And then it was like, wow, I have no job. I have no parents. Um, I have kids, uh, that live with me half-time. I’m divorced. What do I do?”

Valdes went through his Rolodex, “I started emailing people. I was like, ‘Hey, man, I want to get into talk radio. Who do you know? What do you know? How can you point me in the right direction?’” Those emails paid off, Valdes saying “Somebody put me in touch with Rich Sementa, [the executive producer of The Mark Levin Show.]”

Valdes recalled their first conversation, “[I was told] We’re looking for somebody who knows politics and can help choose the best callers for the live portion of the show where we take callers because we’ve had a lot of people, but they’re usually young people that are, you know, working for, for not a lot of money and radio and, and they don’t last. And we’re looking for somebody a little bit more stable.

“But the hours are crazy. You know, it’s nighttime afternoon and nighttime work and it doesn’t pay a ton. And I was at this, like, rock bottom place of my life, and I’m like, it sounds great. Tell me more.”

Rich Valdes later added “I looked at it as, you’re going to pay me to teach me the radio business. I’ll take it. Right. Because it, to me, was like the ultimate paid internship. And, uh, and I ended up being there for five years and getting raises throughout and really fitting in.”

A week into working on Levin’s show the Executive Producer pulled Valdes aside, “[Sementa] said, ‘Wow, you really talk a lot.’ And I was like, ‘Ok, thanks? Sorry.’ And he was like, ‘You know, we’re in the control room. Mark is supposed to be doing the talking. The host on the other side of the glass. We’re supposed to be really quiet, paying attention to what [Levin is] saying.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s hard for me not to talk.’

“He’s like, ‘Well, we’re going to have to figure out a way for you to do all your talking before you get in here.’” Valdes added, “he literally, like, a little kid, grabbed me by the wrist and was like, ‘I want to introduce you to somebody down the hall.’ And we went over to a guy named Chris Libertini.”

Valdes recalled their interaction, “Libertini says, ‘Oh, yeah, Rich told me that you’re really, really smart, and you have a lot to say, but, um, you know, you have nowhere to say it.’ And I was like, ‘Ok, sure.’ I had no idea. [and Libertini’s] like, you ever thought of doing a podcast? And I was like, I don’t even know what a podcast is. Um, you know, if you tell me about it, I’ll consider it.” And the rest is history.

Valdes said of his five years working on the Levin show, “I learned a lot working with Mark. He’s a fantastic broadcaster. He’s a brilliant legal mind, an amazing author.” The now 45-year-old said the best advice Levin ever gave him was “Just be yourself. Nobody can be you better than you. And if you’re trying to be somebody else, you’re going to look like and sound like a cheap imitation of that person. But if you’re yourself, you’re golden and it hit in a different way.”

As for what comes next for Rich Valdes he told Barrett News Media, “I’m on contract till 2025 right now, and my expectation, my hope is that we’ll re-sign for another multi-year deal, and hopefully I can have a career that’s as long as (Jim) Bohannon, (Larry) King, and Levin’s and I’ll be a really happy camper.”

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In News/Talk Radio, Sometimes It’s Ok to Break the Format

Sometimes, it’s ok to skip a break or two if the content is so compelling that you know your listeners can’t get enough.



photo of radio switchboard

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. As hosts, we spend hours preparing for our radio shows. Reading, listening, and consuming news of all kinds. Putting together a road map for every program. Figuring out where potential guests might fit into each hour, if at all. It’s a daily puzzle, but occasionally we have reminders that plans can, and should, go up in flames when appropriate.

Last week was a week of chaos in Kansas City, as one woman was killed and nearly two dozen injured, including one dozen children, following a shooting shortly after the Chiefs Super Bowl parade wrapped up in front of Union Station.

As broadcasters, we are asked to give the facts to update the public on a minute-by-minute basis as to what is happening in their community, but then, as talk show hosts, we are also required to opine and create engaging content around the tragic news that impacts our communities.

It’s a fine line to walk, at times, especially considering the amount of misinformation that can rapidly circulate on social media, with far too much attention being given to being “first” rather than being “right”.

And while we are working to navigate news that is constantly changing, when there’s a moment to “break the clock”, so to speak, it’s worth doing.

Friday morning, 36 hours after the shooting, FS1’s Nick Wright offered to come on my show to debate gun control, which he had been advocating for on his platforms since Wednesday afternoon. 

I had used my social media to refute many of his points, which led to his suggestion that he join my show that morning and debate on the air. The entire backstory was written about here on Barrett News Media

This came together 30 minutes before he appeared on the air. And there goes the show plans.

The conversation began at 8:05 am, and I thought to myself, if this is going well, I will keep him through a break and wrap around to the bottom of the hour.

It became apparent in the first 60 seconds that this was not going to be a hold-over conversation and that it was going to be intense. At that point, I decided to let the conversation ride as long as it felt like it was engaging content for the audience. 

That meant three breaks and the news reports had to go. Don’t worry, sales staff, we made it all up!

But I also did something I usually don’t do, I monitored our KCMO Talk Radio stream in real-time, which was jumping 15-20% each quarter hour as the conversation continued.

As for the content of the conversation, you can listen to that on our podcast and determine for yourself how you feel it went (and I’d be open to your critical feedback). 

But from a radio formatics standpoint, there are times, albeit very infrequently, when breaking the clock and the format of the hour makes sense. It has to be a feel, as much as anything else, but remember, with real-time streaming numbers that you should have access to, you can use the immediate technology available to you to at least get one data point that might clue you into if your gut is right.

In the meantime, keep hitting your breaks, getting your spots in on time, and playing by the PPM-friendly rules. Your GM, sales manager, and program director will appreciate it.

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Saluting Black Broadcasters: Arthel Neville, Fox News

“Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race.”



A photo of Arthel Neville

True to herself and true to the truth, Arthel Neville has graced TV screens for over 20 years. From hosting entertainment news, to acting, and for the last 10 years anchoring at Fox News, Neville said her successful career is thanks to, “A lot of hard work and it worked out and paid off.”

Growing up in New Orleans, music and celebrities we a part of Neville’s life, thanks to her famous musician father, Art Neville. Despite the fame, the Neville’s kept home life humble. “He was always daddy. He’d come home, he’d help me with my homework in the daytime because his work was at nighttime. He helped clean the house and mow the lawn and just regular stuff.” She later added, “I was always exposed to celebrities and people who had not your standard jobs, if you will. But I was always raised to just be humble, and it always just normal to me. So that was no different than if your dad went to work at a bank every day.”

After high school, Arthel Neville went to Xavier University, where she turned pre-pharmacy and made the Dean’s list. But while she was in school, “I was doing some local commercials in New Orleans. I got a regional, commercial for Burger King at the time. In my first year of college, I took a gap year.”

Neville went to New York and stayed with her dad’s friends and gave acting a full-time shot.

“I went up there and did the cattle calls like everybody else but I also got an opportunity to work on Saturday Night Live as an extra,” Neville said. She also appeared on All My Children but after 12 months, “I knew my mom told me, ‘You have one year and you have to go back to college.’ So I said alright. I didn’t get this really major part in the soap opera and then I knew that was time to go.”  

Transferring schools, Arthel Neville landed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She picked the school because “At the time Dallas had a major production facility complex. So I could work to help pay for my college.” She put together a tape and a colleague connected her with a KVUE Executive Producer.

KVUE hired Neville and she transferred to the University of Texas. For two and a half years, she went to school and worked as a full-time student and full-time general assignment reporter. Neville said of the time, “I would go to class from 8 AM to 1 PM and then I go to work from 1:30 PM to 10:30 PM.” She later added, “My days off at the time were Tuesday and Wednesday because, you know, low man on the totem pole then. So you see this cycle of just nonstop working and working and rarely I would get a holiday off my vacation time.”

Neville did the market climb until she got her national break  as an entertainment reporter on E! “I had my own celebrity one-on-one celebrity interview show for E!. This was before everybody and their grandmother was doing celebrity interviews. So it was a really big deal and it was a 30-minute show. So again, that was a big deal.” She later added,  “I’m still very, very proud of that work to this day. Really quality work. So once you get on that plane, offers start to come in. You get a lot of attention.”

Arthel Neville made appearances on several shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Moesha, and Monk. She noted, “You’re a celebrity at that point and then they call you in and word got around that I can act. So I kept getting the calls and I had a lot of fun doing that. I loved it, really a lot of fun.” She added, “After a while, I decided to leave the entertainment space and get back into hard news because I figured that that is what would provide the most longevity.”

Over the years, Neville has covered thousands of stories. But the most meaningful to her is her work after Hurricane Katrina.

“As a journalist, the story is not about us. When that story was about me, that was personal. That was my hometown ravaged and that was we lost. We lost a collective of ten family homes. I will say no one [in my family] died in this storm, thank God.”

Arthel Neville later added, “I mean, there are times when I’m out there just in a boat going to my house, I’m going to break down because I’m a person. Even writing the story had a lot of crying. I did [cry] some on camera because I’m not trying to make it about me, but I’m also a person. But mostly off-camera. That was the most difficult assignment of my life because it was personal.”

Arthel Neville has made history several times in the industry. At E!, she became the first African-American woman to host a nationally syndicated entertainment news magazine program. More recently being awarded the DeWitt Carter Reddick award from Moody College of Communications in 2017, their first African American female honoree.

When asked what Black History Month meant to her she focused less on race and more on what commonalities we, the human race, have.

“I am a Black woman 12 months of the year, 365 days of the year. So Black History Month is nice for other people who don’t walk my path and live my life to maybe stop, and focus on people who have created created a pathway not just for me, but for you and everybody else. It’s not just for Black people. People who have come in before us, who have made things better for the country.”     

She later added, “Black History Month is a time to focus and remember that we should embrace commonalities. We have more in common than not as a human race. So stop it with the looking at people from the perspective you think they’re different from you because they look different. We’re all human beings and let’s take that. Take this month to focus on that. Love each other.”

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Radio — The Communication Business Where We Don’t Communicate

Corporate policies are cold and rigid.

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A photo of a radio host in a dark studio

When I was a radio program director in the 1970s and 80s personally responding to job applicants was an important part of every work day. Nobody told me to do it, it was just obvious. Replying to letters from people who mailed me their personal introductions, resumes, and airchecks was as important to me as if they had made an appointment and were seated in my office, freshly scrubbed, smiling with hope, and making their best first impression.

Every afternoon I read their letters and resumes. I listened attentively to their carefully packaged tapes as if mining for a rare gem, which I was. I wrote encouraging letters to them whether I had a possible job for them or not. I took unexpected phone calls from job applicants.

Why wouldn’t I? These were passionate broadcasters offering their unique, hard-earned experience. They respected our station and were excited for an opportunity to join us. Besides, I’d been in their position myself and would be again. These hopeful young talents deserved my attention. To me, as a program manager, it was my primary responsibility.

None of this happens anymore. Radio job seekers today have to run a gauntlet of dehumanizing corporate job websites. When you’ve filled in all the blanks and linked the resume you spent hours perfecting you hold your breath and click “submit”. You did it! The website immediately gives you the impersonal assurance that your application has been received. You wonder if that’s true. You may never really know.

Bob Helbig is the media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. He recently found that while 60% of employers surveyed said they felt they regularly communicated with applicants, only 28% of job seekers said they felt the communication was sufficient.

Corporate policies are cold and rigid. I recently talked with a major market talk radio program director who asked to remain anonymous, which in itself tells the tale. He told me he’s not even allowed to take word-of-mouth recommendations for new hires. Email and phone inquiries are out of the question. When somebody tells him, “Hey, I know a great reporter you should talk to,” all he can reply is, “Please tell them to apply online.” The most he can do is file a name in his memory and hope it pops up in the HR-approved list of candidates.

Back in the day, I would have phoned that reporter and invited him or her to come in and talk.

As a job applicant, you know you face strong competition. All the career websites offer volumes of advice about how to prepare a strong resume to stand out from the crowd. You’ve done that. You plug it into the web portal, hoping to make an impression. You count the days since you submitted your application and check your email many times daily hoping for an encouraging reply from a real human, maybe even from the big-name program director who holds the key to your future.

Patience. You have to wait still longer.

After a few days, you wonder if a real person has even seen your application or if the algorithm is just weeding people out. Yes, indeed it is.

Artificial Intelligence now entering the process might speed things up a bit but it won’t help your need for human contact. God forbid AI takes over the screening process entirely but you can’t rule that out.

Nobody writes or calls even to say, “Thanks for your interest, we’ll get back to you.” You’re left to wonder if your love of radio, your hard work, and your beautifully written pitch even landed before a real person’s eyes.

The worst part is knowing that hearing nothing is nothing personal.

Jeff Altman is a career coach and host of the No BS Job Search Advice Radio podcast. He told Forbes, “The hiring process has been turned into sausage-making. People apply for jobs through an applicant tracking system where they are expected to homogenize their experience so they are plucked from the thousands of others. They are asked the same questions by most employers until, eventually, they are chosen and onboarded.”

How did we get to this complex and impersonal process? Laws, of course. Federal and state mandates to prevent any form of discrimination in hiring practices are good things but they don’t allow for human integrity and discretion. They’re ironclad. The difficulty for HR departments lies in making sure that the rules are followed to the letter by management employees who are not lawyers. The list of federal regulations alone is long and daunting.

“For instance, you can’t ask questions that reveal a person’s race, gender, religion, marital status, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, or age on an application or during an interview. This information could lead to biases and discrimination in the hiring process.”

Those restrictions are fairly obvious these days but they’re just the tip of a large iceberg, most of which is hidden below the surface and beyond the limits of what program directors, news directors, sales, and other radio managers are expected to know. So, yes, the software is asking only legally acceptable questions before any live interviews can take place.

I really hate being the “back in my day” old fart but my god, is there no way we can allow a young person to walk into a radio station with stars in her or his eyes, and talk to somebody about their future?

Must we expect job applicants of the 21st Century to understand that’s just the way things are or could the process be massaged a bit to keep them hopeful and feeling less like a piece of uninspected data?

Would it be so hard to send job applicants a pleasant and somewhat personal email along the lines of: “Hi, Mark. I’m in the H.R. Department at BigTime Media and I want to thank you for your application for our on-air opening at News/Talk 95.3 WTF. I will call or text you when your qualifications have been reviewed and let you know whether you can expect a follow-up live interview with somebody at the station. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. – Sincerely, Mary Sunbeam, BigTime Media”.

Sure, it’s another form letter but at least it addresses the applicant by name, refers to the specific station, and gives them a sense of humanity and hope for future contact. Assigning applicants to a real-life personal H.R. staff member like Mary Sunbeam might require a little more effort but it would be an enormous boost to the company’s reputation.

There might be other ways to go about it. The point is people need to feel their applications are worthwhile and accepted with some degree of sincere gratitude.

The ugly irony is we’re in radio, yet we talk to people, not with them.

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