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Blake Thompson Led a Digital Revolution for Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions

“It’s just about reaching the most people where they’re at. That’s how we went about it. We just learned early on to always try to be a step ahead in what’s coming.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Blake Thompson, Executive Producer of The Ramsey Network
(Photo: Ramsey Solutions)

In 1996, Dave Ramsey — host of what was then called The Money Game — told SuperTalk 99.7 WTN executives he wanted to nationally syndicate the program. When engineers told him they were too busy to handle the technical aspect, they asked who would handle the syndication. Ramsey pointed to his producer — Blake Thompson — who was in his first week on the job.

Thompson didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would go on to represent much of his tenure at Ramsey Solutions, leading the company into new frontiers.

While maybe not viewed as a usual suspect in the digital media landscape, The Ramsey Network has seen some of the medium’s greatest success in the podcasting and digital video mediums. The Ramsey Show’s YouTube channel features more than 626,000 subscribers. That number pales in comparison to its “Highlights” channel, which boasts just over 3 million.

The company has compiled more than a billion views on YouTube, while simultaneously eclipsing more than a billion downloads on Apple Podcasts.

Blake Thompson was hesitant to take credit for the company’s overwhelming success in the spaces. Instead, he pointed to the message Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions present, and the need to embrace whatever platforms their intended audience uses as the biggest drivers of the content’s success.

“It’s the same mindset of wanting to get to people where they’re at. So maybe a new generation comes up, and they’ve heard about our show because of radio, because their parents listened, or some older generation. The real young generation is starting to come up and they already know about us because of radio, which is so cool to see. But they happen to have a new Tesla that doesn’t have a radio, and they have a CarPlay, or they only use YouTube. They don’t even know what cable TV is,” Blake Thompson joked.

“And so with that mindset, it’s just about reaching the most people where they’re at. That’s how we went about it. We just learned early on to always try to be a step ahead in what’s coming … We try to stay ahead of the industry in with the right context and kind of see where it’s going and try to be a step ahead in planning of production … but now we’ve learned to shift and also spread and disperse more in our distribution department to these other platforms.”

Despite the network’s current success, getting to this point was a series of trials and errors.

“The thing we learned earlier was the format difference. We did, forever, just cut and paste. And when I say that, we did a radio format three hours a day, and then just put those three hours on a podcast Monday through Friday. We just threw up three hours up on YouTube,” Thompson said. “Well, the way you’re measured for success with analytics are just different on those and as time goes, they look at things differently. Where, of course, you want to be on radio all day long, but maybe on YouTube, they’re going more for consumption and how much time is really spent on the content you’re putting up.

“So we really learned that, actually, you could do too much content on some of those digital platforms. On podcast, we were doing 15 hours a week. You normally said ‘That’s great because people are getting all this information.’ But at the end of the day, you’re not having someone sit in their car for three hours. It’s the same with radio. You’re trying to catch up on where they’re at back in the day that we started trimming that stuff down. And we had to learn that we had to do those in different formats or different lengths in order to win in those spaces.”

Ramsey Solutions is actually seeing its digital efforts translate to increased listenership for its terrestrial radio offering of The Ramsey Show.

“The best way to describe it is that they’re going to a Short because they happen to be on YouTube and they see a clip of Dave — even an old clip in the studio — and he hits a felt need with them that we’re doing a good job leading them further down and then they realize ‘Oh, this guy’s on the radio. I just happen to be on YouTube looking on how to fix my car hood. And I see this guy and then I recognize him from a billboard in my market or I’ve heard that name.’

“So in our last survey, we’ve really seen a crazy amount of people who have even come from those digital shorts, or Instagram, or TikTok over into listening to radio,” Blake Thompson shared. “It was neat to see people discovering us in those really short formats on video in other places, and then realize that we’re in their market on radio and tune it in when they’re in their car heading to work.”

One could think that seeing the expansive growth on the podcast and digital video fronts would be a tempting endeavor to chase full-time, leaving behind the show’s radio roots. However, Blake Thompson remained adamant that Ramsey Solutions will continue to be a radio-first organization.

“The fact that we’re still winning there and that we still get testimonies from people who have paid off all their debt, or call in, or come to the lobby to watch this on the glass, it’s still a major thing. We just treat it as equal as any other thing, we kind of have the mindset of whatever we’re doing, we want to be the best at that,” he shared. “We don’t say one thing’s more important than the other.

“Because if you come at it with a mindset that it’s about the people and not the platform and the analytics and just the ROI, and it’s truly about the people, then that’s the way you’ll go about treating radio, treating YouTube, treating Spotify, and treating whatever the new thing is down the line. Radio is just so special to us because it’s what made The Ramsey Show more of a household name. Because that was the original. That’s the way we grew, that was our baby. That’s our mothership.

“So it’s a mixture of me being an old timer here, making sure (new employees) understand that mixed with that, ‘Hey, it’s about the audience.’ So as long as radio’s around — and I’ve had many platforms that have come down the line of ‘That’s going to beat radio,’ and guess what a lot of those are dead and gone, and radio’s still here.”

Blake Thompson has been the right-hand man of Dave Ramsey and his radio network for nearly 30 years. The media world has certainly seen transformative change in that time. And while Thompson freely admits he never saw the company reaching the heights it has, especially in the digital realm, he was quick to point out that Ramsey Solutions has grown into the image its founder had when he launched it decades ago.

“It blows my mind that Dave envisioned the campus we have now, the size of the team we have now, and more importantly, the amount of people affected by the messages in the lives helped and change in the hope given,” Thompson said. “We both started together in a closet doing a radio show here in Nashville at the time, and we would drive 40 miles round trip to go do that show in a little closet studio on the campus of the Opryland Hotel.

“He sold me on this vision because it had happened to him, gone into debt, and doing it the wrong way, that he was called to teach people how to avoid the way he did it. And the phones my first day when I’m in there were lit up. There wasn’t an open line.

“And I didn’t know much about money. I wasn’t taught this stuff in high school … but I saw the need, I understood that it was bigger than just Nashville and that other people needed it, but I never would have guessed that we would have hit a billion downloads on Apple … I had no clue that this was going to be ahead of us, at this size. Dave knew it because it equaled how many people’s lives were changed.”

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BNM Writers

How WTOP Consistently Became Radio’s Top Revenue Generator

“You can’t just go in there and present. You have to go in and have a good conversation … and uncover what their needs and where you can help.”

Garrett Searight

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Last week, BIA Advisory Services revealed the top 10 radio revenue-generating stations for 2023. In what has become as expected as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, Hubbard Radio’s WTOP was once again the top earning station for the year.

The projections claim WTOP earned $66.3 million in revenue for the year, which is nearly $25 million more than second-place KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. It was the ninth consecutive year the Hubbard Radio all-news brand took home the top spot, and the 13th time in the last 14 years it held first place.

It would be easy to question just what the secret formula is that leads the brand to the mountain top each and every year, but WTOP Senior Vice President and General Manager Joel Oxley believes it’s a relatively simple formula.

“We’re out there trying to work out marketing solutions and find marketing solutions for clients. We do everything we can to make sure to get things that work for them,” said Oxley.
“And whether that be WTOP just on the radio, or digital, or any number of different types of events, or more sponsorable things, we want to move the needle for them. So we’ve been concentrating on results for a very long time and working with clients to do that.”

That pure, unadulterated commitment to providing solutions for their advertising partners requires the brand to be early adopters of emerging platforms.

“We have to be extremely innovative to get in front of them. Most of the clients have heard it all,” continued Oxley. “You can’t just go in there and present. You have to go in and have a good conversation with them and try to uncover what their needs are and where you can help. Sometimes there’s not a good fit, but most of the time — with all the assets that we have, meaning digital, radio, and online, our websites — there’s a lot of different answers that we can come up with that will hopefully move the needle for somebody.”

A cynic could quickly dismiss the brand’s near-constant success as simply receiving millions in agency buys as a byproduct of being one of the top-rated stations in the eighth-largest media market in the country.

But that isn’t the case with WTOP.

“We’re now over 70% direct,” revealed Oxley. “While we always want to work with agencies and love working with agencies, that situation has just changed over the years. There’s not the amount of avails that there used to be, so we’ve had to go out and be very creative and work really hard and make sure to do the numbers.

“You got to prospect well, and then you’ve got to make a lot of outreaches. Then you’ve got to get a ton of appointments to hopefully get to the proposal stage to where you can close something. And then you’d have to make sure you deliver results because we’re dealing with people or CMOs and marketing directors and business owners who need to make sure that they’re getting results. That’s what we’ve concentrated on for decades here. We just keep after it.”

Despite being mostly focused on direct sales, WTOP — and sister station Federal News Network — also benefit from being in the nation’s capital, especially from federal contract advertisers interested in reaching employees of the federal government.

“That is something that we’ve worked really hard at,” Oxley said of the company’s relationships with the different advertising audience that many stations don’t have. “The combination of WTOP and the Federal News Network is a real good one.”

Oxley was quick to praise the station’s Director of Sales, Matt Mills, for his role in leading the station to be radio’s top-billing station year after year. He credited the consistency of working together for nearly 25 years as a driving factor in the continued revenue success.

And while the brand is focused on serving advertisers, that doesn’t mean that Oxley or Director of News and Programming Julia Ziegler lose sight of the fact that they also need to remain focused on serving Washington D.C. news consumers, too.

“It’s definitely a fine line to walk and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure that out,” admitted Oxley. “But one of the things we’ve realized over time is that we’ve actually had to go and do fewer minutes of advertising over time. We’ve just had to because, when you look at the broader landscape well beyond radio, you got to understand that there’s an awful lot of media out there that has a lot less advertising. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re at least somewhat competitive with the other media out there.”

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Bill O’Reilly Hasn’t Stopped Calling Out Media Deception

Whether on the cable television airwaves or in his current form, Bill O’Reilly continues to fight back against the spin that has persisted since the dawn of the media.

Rick Schultz

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A photo of Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly has never had much use for the typical liberal spin put forth by much of the media. And just because he now podcasts independently, rather than on Fox News, doesn’t mean he has changed his approach.

Late last week on his YouTube channel, O’Reilly illuminated viewers about some of the latest media dishonesty. 

“The late-night comedians, the three of them, are a good example of this, of what’s happening,” O’Reilly said. “So most Americans are catching on. The news industry and the entertainment industry, on television, is corrupt. Not honest.”

Bill O’Reilly began with pop culture comedians and how they don’t seem to have as much influence in popular culture as they used to. 

“So The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the week of April 29th, averaged 1.4 million people. More people watch me,” O’Reilly pointed out. “Late Show, Colbert, 2.3 million. Kimmel 1.6 million. Those are minuscule numbers when you think about Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and David Letterman, those people. So nobody watches them. In fact, Fallon is down 33 percent in five years. Colbert is down 23 percent. Kimmel is down 2 percent, because Kimmel never had any audience anyway.”

During his heyday while ruling cable news at Fox, Bill O’Reilly would regularly appear on television programs from both sides, especially when promoting a new book from his Killing series. These days, he says, Americans care far less about what late-night jokesters think about issues of the day.

“Now, why this is happening is because the late-night guys will only do Progressive, liberal comedy and guests. They won’t book…I can’t get on any of those shows. Even though I was on Leno and Letterman all the time.  And on Kimmel too. But not now. It’s all left-wing,” O’Reilly explained. “Here’s what happened last night on Colbert.”

The program then cut to a clip of liberal commentator and former Biden spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. 

“I think what we’re looking at now is some significant stakes for the country about the future of our democracy,” Psaki told Colbert. “I don’t think that anyone should be hiding from that, or talking around that. So, I don’t try to be anyone other than who I am and I don’t try to do anything other than present what my point of view is in an informed way. I do it with facts.”

“I have dubbed her the Queen of Disinformation,” O’Reilly countered. “But in Jen Psaki’s mind, everything she says is fact-based. Everything. Because that’s what she wants to believe. Now, would Jen Psaki report that Biden misled the entire world by saying that inflation was nine percent when he took office? No. No, wouldn’t mention it. So when she says I base everything on fact, no you don’t. You don’t report what you don’t want to report.”

With the media, choosing what not to report plays a big part in manipulating an audience. And when they do cover a story, they can tailor an angle that supports their liberal worldview. 

For example, last week an NFL player made “news” with an uplifting, traditional, pro-God commencement speech at a Catholic university. The media headlines read, “Americans voice protesting opinions on NFL player’s controversial speech.” 

From reading that headline alone, one would automatically have a default view that there was something wrong with the content of the speech. 

In fact, counter to the media narrative, much of the country – if not most  – agreed with the content of the speech. Why not run the headline, “Americans celebrate NFL players’ courageous, uplifting and truthful speech.”

As O’Reilly has pointed out for decades, the media consistently tilts their material, in addition to picking and choosing which stories to present that help them make their case. He continued to criticize Biden’s former spokeswoman.

“Anything that would make Biden look bad, you’re going to ignore it totally. And she’s on MSNBC, if you don’t know. I don’t know how anybody would know because nobody watches MSNBC,” O’Reilly said. “When you add it all up, you see what’s happening with late-night, morning programming, the news agencies that run the nightly news broadcasts. When you see it all, it’s gone. And so Americans are adrift. They don’t have anywhere to get the information.”

Before concluding the segment, O’Reilly shared another example from last week, where the media told a story that fit their narrative without providing proper context and truthfulness. 

“So on Tuesday, Indiana had a primary. Inside the primary, Trump got 78 percent of the vote. Nikki Haley 22%. So that’s a pretty big number for Nikki Haley because she’s out of the race, right?” O’Reilly asked, facetiously. “Well here’s what the left-wing press said.”

He then played three clips.

“Nikki Haley, who’s been out of the race for two months, got 125,000 votes and 21 percent of the vote,” MSNBC’s Willie Geist reported. 

“Nikki Haley, someone who’s no longer actually running, taking a substantial share of the votes. But still, what you’re seeing in Indiana is a large number. 22 percent,” NBC’s Sr. National Political Correspondent, Jon Allen, said. 

“Haley actually delivering a warning sign for the former president in last night’s Republican primary in Indiana. While Trump did win, former candidate Nikki Haley grabbed 22 percent of the vote, even though she dropped out of the race in March,” the anchor said on ABC News.

“All of those people are lying to you. All of them,” O’Reilly said. “So that was MSNBC and ABC News. They’re all lying. Why were they lying? How are they lying? It was an open primary. Anybody could vote for anybody. Nikki Haley got 22 percent of the vote because Democrats crossed over to vote for her, just like New Hampshire. Remember New Hampshire?”

In other words, the media was lending a helping hand to liberals intent on shaping a narrative by manipulating their audience.

“Democrats wanted to embarrass Trump so they voted for Nikki Haley. Because Biden was a lock and they were instructed to do that. Why didn’t NBC News report that? And how about ABC News? Why didn’t you report that? No, no, it looks bad for Trump. Nikki Haley got 22 percent, sends a message. Totally bogus,” O’Reilly concluded.

Whether on the cable television airwaves or in his current form, Bill O’Reilly continues to fight back against the spin that has persisted since the dawn of the media.

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Are The Days of Longform News Content a Thing of the Past?

It’s never been more important to get it right the first time in content, delivery and expediency.

Bill Zito

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A photo of a newspaper printing press

As usually is the case at any given time, there are several significant news stories that move along, often progressing day by day as the outlets work to keep up and turn them around for their audiences.

If you think about it, real-life events are presented almost like our current or past streaming series, The Crown, Bridgerton, Breaking Bad, or maybe The Sopranos, etc. The only real difference is we, the followers, are not allowed to binge-watch at our own desired speed. Chapters and episodes come only daily, even when what’s happening is changing minute by minute.

At present, tops on the watch lists include the Trump trial, the death of Iran’s President, and for some of you whose priorities are severely out of whack, Diddy’s apology. No matter what the community finds important, chances are they feel they are not getting enough information from their chosen news platforms on their specific stories of interest.

Radio and social media follow similar pathways, as they both lead their respective audiences to the information. The common key here is brevity. Leads and introductions are minimized and content overall shrinks to its smallest discernible size and time constraints.

Why?

The likely answer is simple. The content length is dwindling because the attention span of the current and future, targeted gallery member has as well. This is not a surprise, at least it shouldn’t be for anyone charged with tracking these things. That is not to say that that the target audiences are any less engaged or comprehend any less than the other members of society, not at all.

If anything, the targeted news consumer of the future, who are largely younger, tend to be a bit quicker, a little sharper on the uptake, and, most importantly, they know what they like and they are not going to wait around for the product to get better or to lead them where they want to go.

In other words, it’s never been more important to get it right the first time in content, delivery and expediency. That’s why more news events find themselves on Tik Tok, Instagram, or any one of the other social media go-to spots with which I possibly am unfamiliar.

Not everyone in radio gets this but some seem to be getting the message.

Okay, that’s a look at radio’s efforts but what are the other broadcast players doing to bring enough to the story table?

One brief live shot from Gaza, The Capitol, or New York followed by the overgrown panel of Cable Analysts does not qualify as extended TV coverage or storytelling. As I’ve more than inferred over time, these overblown panel presentations read more and look more like an episode of The Real Housewives of Who Cares, after one of them sits down to brunch with the others after having some work done.

But that’s mostly cable’s problem as they have hour-long shows to fill so they need unscripted time killers because like everybody else in the business, money is tight and spending resources on longer story segments, freelance crews in far away places and the overall cost of digging deeper into a story doesn’t seem to be a sensible use of the budget.

So where does the audience go for the longer form coverage? The network website? The print outlet’s paywall? How about the local TV station and their eight hours of news each day?

Nope.

You’re waiting for the answer, right? Well, I don’t know, either.

Actually, I’m guessing those who really care and who are genuinely interested in what’s going on are going everywhere. It may begin with the morning shows as they get ready for work, followed by news in the car or the paper on the train (Yes, a few still do that), leading to their phones and laptops during the day and reversing it all on the way home. Maybe that’s what’s happening.

If that is the case, they are taking a good chunk of their own time each day to do it. And while that might be good as they are technically spreading that wealth that is they, the audience around, it’s also not good for the news platforms because somebody always comes up short and winds up without a chair when the music stops.

Solution?

Everybody has to do a better job because nobody is answering polls, surveys, or focus groups saying “I get enough news from Platform A or Outlet B.”

Filling time with a diluted product gets the news station, network or tabloid to only one certain location:

Nowhere.

We just don’t know how long it will take to get there.

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