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After 35 Years Behind The Mic, Doug Stephan Won’t Be Stopping Anytime Soon

“I’ve planned for what the inevitable is sooner or later…My feeling is I’ll be here today and gone tomorrow, or I’ll drop in front of the microphone and that’s the end.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Doug Stephan
(Photo: Doug Stephan)

No one has been in the talk radio game longer than Doug Stephan. Literally.

Stephan — who began his radio career in college more than 60 years ago — launched his national news/talk radio career in 1988, mere weeks before one of the titans of the industry, Rush Limbaugh, moved into national syndication.

Yet, after 35 years of hosting Doug Stephan’s Good Day, he doesn’t see an end in sight.

“My children and I talk about the what-ifs all the time. I’ve planned for what the inevitable is sooner or later but I joke with (co-hosts) Jen (Horn) and Jai (Kershner) on the air. If we have that discussion, my feeling is that I’ll be here today and gone tomorrow, or I’ll drop in front of the microphone and that’s it. That’s the end,” said Stephan.

Am I going to do this forever? I’ll do it as long as I’m smart enough to do it. As long as I don’t embarrass myself and my family and the people who are on the air with me. I mean, I say things on the air now that embarrass them, but that’s not the kind of embarrassment I’m talking about,” he continued with a chuckle. “If I can’t do it, I’m going to know that I can’t do it. So then I will stop. But I see no reason to stop. I’m serving a purpose. I feel like there’s an audience.”

Doug Stephan is one of the few talk radio hosts who doesn’t spend much time in the conservative political world — or any political realm for that matter. He believes that’s what separates his program from many others.

“Even though we’ve had a lot of struggles in the last couple of years since we’ve left Radio America with technology, stations — when they get the opportunity to know what I do — come back again. They sooner or later find what I do — because it’s there’s really nothing else, and I don’t mean to sound like an egotist — but it just isn’t what everybody else does,” Stephan said.

“It’s hard to stay away from politics,” he continued. “Too much politics becomes limiting. It becomes ageist. It becomes like one note, especially if you don’t have people that have — how can I say this tactfully? — who have a lot of world experiences. There’s not a lot of practical stuff and it sounds everything sounds the same.”

The news media landscape has seen drastic changes in nearly ever aspect since Stephan began in the medium. Nothing has shifted more than technology.

‘When I was getting started with this, I was sort of attached to and had to be in a studio,” he said. “Because I lived all my life in Framingham, Massachusetts, and I worked all over the place. For example, when we started the American Radio Networks, their studios were in Baltimore. So I would get on a plane on Sunday nights, and I’d fly to Baltimore. I had a car there and an apartment there, and I’d do the program. Then Friday morning, when I got off the air, I’d get on a plane to come back up to my farm and my children.

“I did it pretty much everywhere that I had been. And it worked, for the most part, because I was dedicated to order to my children. I had gotten divorced when I was very young. But the kids needed me, and I, frankly, needed them…At that time, they were my priority. But because I couldn’t do what we can do today, I had to be where the studio was.”

He continued by noting that while his daughter was a student in England, he’d travel back and forth every month to be with her in the late 1990s. Those trips included a briefcase that featured a Comrex unit that could plug into three phone lines and provide broadcast-quality audio. Doug Stephan broadcasted his show in 40 different countries with that “brick.”

As technology has advanced, Stephan is no longer tied to the studio, which allows him to live full-time at his Massachusetts farm. When asked if he thought he did better work at home on the farm or inside the hustle and bustle of a studio, Doug Stephan admitted he doesn’t necessarily view it as linearly as that.

“People tease me the bomb could go off outside the studio and I wouldn’t pay attention to it because I was focused on what I was doing on here,” he joked. “I’m not sure that’s always true. I think I bring in, especially these days, I read what’s going on outside the studio into the conversation. People are likely to hear me talk about what’s going on on my farm. They know that I’m on the farm and they know that I have cows. They know that I spend a lot of time doing real farm work. And so that has helped, I think, with my credibility, if that’s what it is. I think that I’m a real person and do real things and I don’t think it makes any difference where I am when I’m in a studio or if I’m at a station.”

While it’s natural to question if the 77-year-old has maybe lost a step or two, Stephan makes no bones about the current interaction of his Good Day program.

“I think that I’m doing probably some of my best work, if that’s what it is. I don’t call it work. It’s not work for me. It’s my chance to engage a lot of folks who are, I think, friends. And I look at the exchanges on social media that people are kind enough to share their thoughts with me,” he shared.

“I think I do the best job I can at his work. Even though I don’t call it work, I think I’m engaged because I really like it. I think I do a better job in some respects than I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s because I have more experience. My voice has kept up. My brain works. I still get excited. I wake up every morning and I’m ready to go.”

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News Media Should Have Thrown Shade at Eclipse Hysteria

Just stop it. You know better.

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A photo of an eclipse

The news media coverage of the eclipse this week was borderline ridiculous.

“In the cozy corners of our homes, where the laughter of our children should resonate
with joy and curiosity, a shadow has been cast—not by the celestial ballet of the sun and moon during a total eclipse, but by the media’s relentless frenzy surrounding these celestial events. As a parent watching this unfold, I can’t help but feel a mix of frustration and concern.”

Those aren’t my words. They were posted earlier this week on LinkedIn by a man named Chuck Leblo. He continues: “. . . the media’s approach to covering total eclipses has shifted from educational and awe-inspiring to sensational and anxiety-inducing.”

I’ve never met Mr. Leblo. He describes himself as a strategist and professional problem
solver. More to the point, he’s a family man with uncommonly common sense.

“Gone are the days when an eclipse was a chance for families to gather, armed with nothing but protective glasses and a sense of wonder, to watch the moon dance with the sun. Instead, we’re bombarded with headlines screaming about potential disasters, the dangers of improper viewing, and an array of eclipse-induced calamities waiting to befall the unprepared.”

Chuck – (I sense a kinship, I believe he’ll allow me to address him by his first name) was blessed to be in the path of totality for Monday’s stellar phenomenon, as was I. Because of that, we were probably dosed with more frenzied hyperbole than most Americans suffered. Weeks ago we were warned that half of the planet’s population would surely descend on our neighborhoods, throwing our lives into chaos.

Headlines:
“The April total solar eclipse could snarl traffic for hours across thousands of miles” – USA Today, April 7

‘Plan now’: Dallas leaders urge residents to prepare for crowds, congestion during solar eclipse” – NBC-DFW, April 2

“Large crowds in the path of the total solar eclipse April 8th could put a strain on cell service” – TheWeatherNetwork.com, April 5

The governors of Arkansas and Indiana issued proactive states of emergency. Cities and counties from Texas to Toronto did too. This all hit home for me around two weeks ago when my wife ordered me to stock up on food and tp as we did during the COVID-19 crisis.

S—’s getting real.

As I write this on Tuesday, April 9, the day after the eclipse, I can’t find a single reported case of hotel and car rental madness anywhere in the U.S. Traffic snarls? I was out and about yesterday before totality. Traffic actually seemed less than usual, as it has been this morning.

I’ve heard some radio reports (aka rumors) suggesting that fear of traffic congestion has people holing up in bars and drinking heavily. Allegedly. No sign of that, either, officially
or anecdotally.

Zebras, ostriches and people huddled at Dallas Zoo as solar eclipse darkened the grounds – Dallas Morning News, April 9

That’s the biggest morning-after headline here in the largest city in the path of totality.

Chuck and I think the news media has jumped the shark. We’d be laughing about it over a beer if we ever met and it wasn’t so maddening.

“What message does this send to our children,” Chuck asks. “Instead of marveling at the wonders of the universe and the scientific principles behind such events, they’re left wringing their hands in worry. The media’s penchant for dramatizing natural phenomena has transformed a teaching moment into a source of stress. Our children, who look to us for understanding and reassurance, are met with our own concerns, magnified by sensationalist reports.”

On December 16, 1982, I was anchoring the news at KGNR, Sacramento, when a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber crashed shortly after takeoff from nearby Mather AFB. Rumors of nuclear weapons on board flashed through the community.

My boss, WGN of California G.M. Robert Henley, came into the studio and reminded me to keep our audience calm and reassure them that we’re still looking for facts. I knew that, he was just reminding me. We didn’t add any conjecture or speculation. We never said things like, “We’ve heard…” or, “What if…”. All we said was, “Here’s what we know right now…”

In that case, nine crew members died in the crash but there were no nukes on board. Local and national media handled the story with the proper, professional perspective that was beyond question in those days.

Professional news reports beyond question, just the facts, no hype. Just imagine.

If that bomber was to crash locally now I shudder to imagine the shock wave produced by local media following the lead of social media lies and hysteria.

“In a world where information is at our fingertips, it’s disappointing to see fear used as a
tactic to grab attention. The total eclipse should be a moment of unity, wonder, and learning, not a cause for anxiety.” – Chuck Leblo

Yesterday afternoon I stood in my driveway with my officially approved protective lenses and watched the total eclipse. Pushing 73, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before and will never see again. I shared the thrill with Chris, my teenage neighbor. We usually only howdy at the mail box but we shared some real neighborly excitement yesterday.

Chuck, his wife, and their eight-year-old son watched the eclipse with a picnic blanket in their front yard.

Chuck and I want to end the hype. Stop the bulls—. Just stop it. You know better.

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Kristina Koppeser Takes Pride in Leading Community Service at KYW Newsradio

We’re really proud of the Crystal Award nomination. I’m going to be there on Tuesday. So I hope I’m accepting and I’m accepting it.

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A photo of the KYW logo and Kristina Koppeser
(Photo: Kristina Koppeser)

As many in the industry head to Las Vegas for NAB, Barrett News Media was able to catch up with some of the speakers this year, including, KYW Newsradio Brand Manager Kristina Koppeser.

Not only will she be speaking on recruiting and talent retention she will be representing station as they are nominated for a Crystal Award.

Krystina Alarcon Carroll: How did you get into the industry?

Kristina Koppeser: I have been working in news media in some fashion for over a decade. Radio I kind of got into a few years ago. I’m actually new-ish. I worked in television before [radio] and before [TV] I work in traditional digital media. I worked at Twitter, now X, for a while, and [Twitter] is where I sank my teeth into breaking news for the first time in my career, and I really enjoyed it.

So that kind of parlayed a job into a Hearst Television role. Then the pandemic hit, my husband and I were living in New York City but the space was just not doing it for us anymore. So we started looking at other cities we could live in and I saw this opening for a digital managing editor got that job. Now I’m here and I’m running the station, two years later.

KC: So what are you going to be talking about at NAB?

KK: So I am doing a talk on recruiting, talent retention, which is something I think we’re all thinking about constantly in this industry. Radio is one of the oldest mediums, but I think as we move into the next generation and the 21st century, we’re kind of thinking about ways that we can diversify, not only what people are doing, but what audio is. Radio is still the bulk of our business, but people are on their phones now. So, that digital aspect is important.

Finding people who can learn both do both and are not afraid of trying new things is a really important part of what I’m doing.

We have a very diverse newsroom that I’m very proud of. It’s very reflective of Philadelphia, and I think that’s really important in our storytelling and making sure that we have people in our newsroom who know and understand the city in a way that I think less diverse newsrooms don’t have that kind of breadth of knowledge. So I’ll talk a little bit on that, but really, it’s about how to find the right people and how to kind of look for diamonds in the rough.

I’ve always in any job tried to go off the beaten path to find somebody who I think might not be a shoo-in on paper, but there’s something about them that I’m like, ‘I think that I can make this work,’ and I think I can find something about their background or whatever that might not be. I think I speak to that, too. I’m not a traditional radio person in that I’m running a radio station.

KC: Your station was nominated for a Crystal Award this year. Is volunteering something you look for in your team? And why is that so important?

KK: Not actively, because it’s one of those things where we have — the brand kind of attracts people who naturally are inclined to volunteer. We’re really proud of the Crystal Award nomination. I’m going to be there on Tuesday. So I hope I’m accepting and I’m accepting it.

But I think that people who do spend their time — their free time — giving back to the community is very much what it’s about. In our work and our personal lives, our community always comes first. I like to think of us as public servants. What we’re doing is we’re providing a public service through information to this city under the collar counties and South Jersey. So while it’s not something that I think is an absolute must, it comes up naturally in interviews.

If you look at the nominees, when I was talking to our staff about all the things that they did I was humbled and floored. We’ve got people who volunteer in anything from community theater, volunteer firefighting, the Boy Scouts, Gift of Life, American Cancer Society and National Brain Tumor Society, coaching youth sports, food programs, historical societies, and more.

We have all sorts of people from all different walks of life just donating their time, which I think is great. I can talk about it forever because I’m so proud of everybody and we have such an amazing group of people who are just really selfless. On top of everything else.

KC: What’s the advice you have for young people who are looking to follow in your footsteps?

KK: Oh, that’s a really good question. One piece of advice I have just in general is I say yes to everything that excites you, right? I talk to young students who are trying to go into broadcast and be an on-air talent. I say it’s great to have a goal but I think that it’s important to know that there are many paths to get there and that it’s not it might not be the first thing you do, and your career is going to be long.

It’s hard sometimes to communicate that to people who their professional life is only one year, right? So, I tell them to say yes. To look at every interview as a learning experience, to like the interview process can be rigorous and sometimes really, disheartening if you’re going to know if you’re not going to return back.

Another piece of advice I have for young people wanting to get started in the industry is focus on being versatile. Media is not just one thing anymore — social media skills, as well as broadcast skills — are essential to reporting and journalism. So learning early to be adaptable, and to find ways to become a newsroom “Swiss army knife” as I like to call it, puts you in a better position to learn and succeed.

All of those things are going to make sense one day and it’s hard to kind of find that faith, but I can look at my resume and I have said yes to a lot of very different types of roles over the years. But the reason I did that is because I knew that if I could try something different or new, challenge myself, I’d come out the other side more knowledgeable and a better candidate for whatever came next.

Lastly, be comfortable with chaos. Someone once told me that in an interview, and I was like, ‘I think I could do that.’ Everybody should be comfortable with chaos.

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Why News/Talk Radio Should Champion Debates in 2024 And Beyond

We should want them to get on stage because if not, it will only encourage those all the way down to our local level not to step on the debate stage.

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A photo of the 2024 Republican Presidential candidates
(Photo: Fox News)

This week, news broke that the major TV networks were working on sending letters to the Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigns, essentially pleading with both men to commit to Presidential debates later this fall. And it should be of concern to each and every news/talk radio host in the country.

The letter, which included NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, and CNN and has not been finalized, notes that general election debates have “played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976,” with “tens of millions” tuning in to watch a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens.

“Though it is too early for invitations to be extended to any candidates, it is not too early for candidates who expect to meet the eligibility criteria to publicly state their support for – and their intention to participate in – the Commission’s debates planned for this fall,” the letter states.

Biden has not publicly committed to debating Trump, although he has not ruled it out.

“It depends on his behavior,” Biden said in early March.

Trump has posted on social media that he will debate “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

I have seen many in the News/Talk radio space opine that the debates are overrated, don’t matter, and we should not care whether or not these two take the stage. But we should care. And we should want them to get on stage because if not, it will only encourage those all the way down to our local level not to step on the debate stage.

I can speak firsthand about how difficult it has been to get even our most local candidates, like mayors, to debate in recent election cycles. Candidates don’t want to do it, partly because the quality and depth of candidates get weaker by the cycle and because their consultants and advisors tell them not to debate. They perceive the downside to exceed the upside. No one will remember the good things you say, but if you have a massive blunder, it may sink your campaign.

It’s fecklessness from the candidate and control from the consulting class. And in the end, the biggest loser is the voter. They get bombarded with TV, radio, and digital ads while not really knowing how a candidate handles anything of substance, thinks on one’s feet, what their presence is like in the public arena, and so much more that allows voters to gauge the quality of a candidate beyond their political party identification and talking points.

If Donald Trump and Joe Biden never step on the debate stage this fall, you can likely kiss most debates goodbye. They’re already falling by the wayside in federal, state, and local races, and if the two Presidential candidates opt out, you will only see more of that down the ballot.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the TV networks stated in the letter. “Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

This is the pitch that local TV and radio stations should also make to their area’s Senate, Congressional, Gubernatorial, and Mayoral candidates. Given the partisan nature of our politics, the voter may not need it, but they certainly do deserve it.

Selfishly, these are content generators, and can be revenue generators for TV and radio, but two things can be true at once. Yes, they’re good for our business, but they’re also beneficial for the voter.

Without them, it’s another barrier being put up between our candidates and the electorate. And nothing about that is American.

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