Over the course of my nearly three decades managing content for spoken word brands, (and six months with a digital startup) I’ve been blessed to have the opportunities to lead some amazing talent.
One thing I never had a shortage of, was advice on how to coach, mentor and lead.
If I had a nickel for every leadership summit I was dragged to, every life coach I had to meet with, every book on successful management I had to read, I’d be able to retire by now.
The reality is, there is no right answer to “what makes a great leader or coach”. It’s different for everyone because everyone is different.
That being said, there are five key things I’ve learned that have served me well in managing talent.
None of these ideas are new. I’m sure that many of you have heard them before. They were all conceived by people that are far smarter than I am.
Oh, and before I begin, I’m certain that many former hosts I’ve worked with will read this and think to themselves:
“What a load of crap. He NEVER did that with me.”
I will qualify this column by saying that every one of these five tenants that I’m about to share came with years of making mistakes and learning the hard way.
LET THEM KNOW YOU HAVE THEIR BACK…QUICKLY
The minute that a Program Director walks into the building, the talent universally has one question on their minds: “Can this guy get shit done?”
No one likes an empty suit. No matter how many wins you have on your resume, you are 0-0 when you take over any new station. You need to get some “wins” and you need to do it fast or else you will lose everyone even faster.
The best way to win over talent is by showing them you can help them be successful. More often than not, it involves removing obstacles that they couldn’t overcome.
I remember once when a talent came to me because he was upset that he was using two producers on his show. He preferred one over the other. We talked about it, what he said made sense and I asked him the simple question, “Why weren’t we doing this already.”
“The old PD wanted to do it this way,” he replied.
“Done,” I said. “I’ll talk to the producers and let them know that we’re making this change so you won’t have to be the bad guy.”
In the weeks that followed, that host went on to produce some of the highest numbers in the history of the radio station.
Another time, a veteran host literally tiptoed…tiptoed into my office, sat down and said meekly, “I need a favor.”
There was a stunt he wanted to do, it was a fairly minor one. Without going into the details, the worst risk, I could surmise was that we may get written up for a misdemeanor by the police. Deep down, though, I knew it would make for GREAT radio.
So, I went up to the GM’s office, laid it out to him, emphatically stated that it was a good idea and eventually got the green light.
The stunt was a winner, the station got great publicity and the talent went on to get some of the highest ratings of his entire career.
GIVE SPECIFIC FEEDBACK AND DO IT OFTEN
One of the best quotes I ever heard on coaching talent was from the legendary spoken-word programmer Jack Swanson from San Francisco.
“Don’t treat talent like children,” he said. “Treat them like puppies.”
My fellow dog parents will understand this quote. Step one in getting a puppy is teaching them how to behave. You don’t do that by yelling at them when they do something wrong. You do it by PRAISING them when they do something right. Screaming at a puppy when they take a whizz on your living room carpet won’t get them potty trained. However, praising the HELL out of them when they relieve themselves in the back yard will, over time, do the trick.
When talent do something good, let them know. Find the things in their show, podcasts and social media that you like and talk to them about it. Be SPECIFIC. “Hey, that was a great show or a great segment” is empty praise. You need to cite, chapter and verse, what you liked and WHY.
If you do this often enough and consistently enough, they’ll understand what you are expecting from them. On the flipside, they’ll have a better idea of what they’re NOT supposed to do.
Look, most talent understand when they’ve screwed up. Going back to the “puppy” analogy, my two Boston Terriers have developed (as many dogs have) the habit of walking up to me slowly with their ears down, then rolling over and exposing their bellies when they’ve been naughty. Once I see this, I know that somewhere in the house there is a mess I’ll have to clean up. Many of the talent I know have acted the same way. I remember a conversation with a host who had gotten into an ugly shouting match with his co-host on the air. Right as they went into a commercial break, he walked into my office. The conversation went as follows:
“Uhm, did you hear that last segment?”
“Do we need to talk about it?”
“Yea, we probably should. Just drop in after the show and we’ll figure it out.”
The conversation that followed his show was long, but not contentious. We both knew what the problem was and that we were more focused on fixing it rather than assigning blame.
MEET WITH THEM ON THEIR TERMS
One morning show host I had, hated meetings. My first month on the job, he would literally dart out the back door of the building right after his show so he could avoid me calling him to my office or cornering him in the hallway.
One thing he DID like, however, was beer.
So, I made him a deal. Once a month, we’d meet over a couple of beers and just talk. I really had to couch this as something that wasn’t masquerading as “just another meeting”. He reluctantly agreed. The first few times we met, I made a point to not talk about work at all. We’d talk about sports, our families, politics, money, etc. These “beer summits” continued on a fairly regular basis. The end result: he opened up. HE started bringing up things about the show that bothered him. I didn’t have to. It was all about putting him in a comfort zone and letting him talk on his terms, not mine.
There was another host I had, who would walk into my office after almost every show, sit down on my couch and just start talking. He CRAVED feedback. CRAVED it. He wanted to know how I felt about virtually every program. Many times, I’d sit down and aircheck him on the spot. Once he left the building, though, he was done. He wouldn’t respond to calls or texts. I would try e-mailing feedback and he’d never read it. Eventually, I figured out that he was giving me a window to work with him and, as long as I stayed within that, I could reach him. As a rule, I never scheduled anything the one hour AFTER his show ended.
LISTEN MORE…TALK LESS
Talk show hosts all have two things in common.
- They talk a lot.
- They all want people to listen to them.
Some of the best ways to gain a talent’s trust is by shutting your mouth and listening to what they have to say.
I remember a particular Monday morning one fall, just as I was about to head to a sales meeting, our morning show host walked into my office, shut the door and slumped down on the couch in front of me.
For twenty straight minutes, he ranted and raved about everything wrong with his show, with the station, with the industry, and so on.
After his passionate diatribe (when he had to stop and take a breath), I chimed in.
“What do you want me to say?” I asked.
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO SAY SHIT,” he screamed. “JUST FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!”
That statement was so powerful, it literally knocked me back in my chair. From that day on, it was cemented in my head.
Many times, talent don’t want advice or counsel. They just want to know that they’re being heard. They sit in an empty room for 3-4 hours every weekday, talking into a microphone, and hoping that what they’re saying will resonate with people. If they can’t get that satisfaction from their show, YOU will have to give it to them.
SHOW THEM HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a fellow PD tell me, “I don’t talk ratings with my hosts, ratings are all bullshit, anyways!” This is something that, for the LIFE of me, I’ve never understood.
Oh, I get it, we don’t want them to focus on ratings. We want them to just focus on doing good content. Here’s the rub: hosts are going to worry about ratings no matter what. Why shouldn’t they? A portion of their income is usually TIED to them (by way of bonuses). If we don’t give them OUR spin on the numbers, they’ll seek it out from other people.
Look, as PD’s, we all have a love/hate relationship with Neilsen. And if we can actually get the digital folks in the building (or company) to give us accurate numbers on streaming or podcast downloads…it can be a headache trying to unravel it all. But the reality is, we’re doing ourselves (and our talent) a major disservice if we don’t explain the methodology and how we can get it to work to our advantage. We don’t necessarily need to give people an algebra equation to solve. However, we need to explain the numbers in terms they can understand. Don’t downplay them. Often, hosts and producers are smarter than we give them credit for
Virtually every talent I’ve ever worked with wanted to know how the ratings and digital analytics games work. So, I let them take a peek behind the curtain. I’d whiteboard stats for them and bring in experts to explain best strategies on a regular basis. There were times I’d actually have hosts and producers taking photos of PowerPoints I had so they could remember them. Competitive people like to know the score and how to win the game, sometimes all you have to do is talk to them about it.
Project Veritas Fights Back
Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.
James O’Keefe leads perhaps the most successful undercover journalism operation in the country today, Project Veritas. Time and time again, he and his group have done the job most in the media no longer want to do – holding those in power accountable and uncovering the truth that these entities hide from the public.
It is true that many Americans feel that today’s mainstream media serves as little more than an advocacy appendage of the liberal left. O’Keefe and his supporters, meanwhile, believe it is his organization that does the job the media no longer cares to do.
Project Veritas filed a lawsuit against the New York Times late last year, and Sean Hannity invited O’Keefe on his Friday radio program to share the details of recent developments.
Last month, a New York judge refused to dismiss the suit, implying that it had “substantial basis in law to proceed.” The move in no way foreshadows the suit’s ultimate outcome, but it was such a big development in favor of Project Veritas that former president Donald Trump personally congratulated O’Keefe in a video recorded at Mar-a-Lago.
Fox News reported online in March that the “judge denied the paper’s motion to dismiss the suit by the right-wing guerilla news outlet over the Times’ portrayal of Project Veritas’ reporting on alleged voter fraud in the congressional district represented by Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. last fall. Times reporters Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu described Project Veritas’ reporting as “deceptive,” “false,” and “with no verifiable evidence.” Fox News also quoted the judge as saying, “The facts submitted by Veritas could indicate more than standard, garden variety media bias and support a plausible inference of actual malice.”
“James O’Keefe comes under constant, never-ending, non-stop fire. There have been more lawsuits, attempts to silence, cancel, shut down his operation,” Sean Hannity pointed out on his radio program last week. “The untold story here is that every single time that these accusations are made against his organization, or they’ve tried to take Project Veritas to court, that’s just another tactic of trying to silence people…they’ve won. They’ve never once lost a lawsuit against them.”
Hannity also mentioned the high price O’Keefe has paid so far to fight back in this particular battle against the well known newspaper.
“Yes it costs a lot of money, it’s cost us a quarter million dollars to get to this phase of the litigation,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve taken on the New York Times and their army of lawyers and we’ve won this historic motion in the State of New York Supreme Court. This judge, Sean, this is like one of the first times ever, one of the few plaintiffs since the 1960’s, unlike the Sarah Palin case, she sued the New York Times over the Op-Ed page. We sued the New York Times over a news article in the A Section, Sean, where they called our voter fraud videos deceptive. They said that we used unnamed sources, which we did not. They said we had no evidence. We did have evidence.”
Hannity has long been a public supporter of Project Veritas, often promoting their work and sharing their reporting on both radio and television. A frequent critic of the mainstream media, for both their overt and covert liberal bias, Hannity offered O’Keefe a chance to air his side of this confrontation.
“The judge in this historic 16-page order has said that it was the New York Times that acted deceptively. That they used misinformation by putting their opinions in the news article.” said O’Keefe.
Ironically, the decision in New York last month came the same week a federal judge said “we are very close to one-party control” of the media.
The lawsuit will now proceed with discovery and depositions, and time will tell where the facts lead.
Sean Hannity will undoubtedly keep us posted.
CNN Rebounds To Edge FOX News In The Ratings
“CNN edged FOX News with 25-54 viewers, due to all-day coverage of the April 2nd car ramming attack at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. that led to one police officer dead as well as the suspect.”
Photo courtesy of CNN
CNN snapped Fox News Channel’s three-week winning streak in the cable news universe in the key adults 25-54 demographic in total day (6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m.). This week, according to Nielsen Media Research, CNN (210,000 viewers aged 25-54) edged out FNC (204,000), due to all-day coverage of the Apr. 2 breaking news of a car ramming attack at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. that led to one police officer dead as well as the suspect.
CNN was the top cable news outlet that afternoon, from the moment news had broke within the 1 p.m. ET hour thru to 4 p.m. ET (the following figures based on total viewers and adults 25-54):
CNN: 1.356 million, 303,000 adults 25-54
Fox News: 1.305 million, 225,000 adults 25-54
MSNBC: 1.177 million, 164,000 adults 25-54
CNN: 1.703 million, 392,000 adults 25-54
Fox News: 1.509 million, 255,000 adults 25-54
MSNBC: 1.414 million, 221,000 adults 25-54
CNN: 1.606 million, 400,000 adults 25-54
Fox News: 1.483 million, 277,000 adults 25-54
MSNBC: 1.473 million, 222,000 adults 25-54
All three cable news networks experienced growth from the prior Friday (Mar. 26) within the same 1-4 p.m. time slot. CNN gained 72 percent (1.56 million, from 0.90 million), MSNBC grew 44 percent (1.35 million, from 0.94 million) and Fox News increased 21 percent (1.43 million, from 1.18 million).
MSNBC (1.93 million) — which usually airs their popular Nicolle Wallace program “Deadline: White House” — surpassed CNN (1.42 million average) at 4-6 p.m.; Fox News (with its popular discussion panel program “The Five”) led all of cable news at 5-6 p.m. with 2.59 million viewers. Among adults 25-54, though, CNN was tops in the 4-6 p.m. slot with 342,000 viewers within the demo; Fox News averaged 295,000 and MSNBC 249,000.
It was just the second week within the past six weeks CNN led all cable news outlets among adults 25-54. Fox News had led in the other four weeks.
For the entire week, concluding Apr. 4, Fox News Channel was tops of all cable networks. While prime time has been key to the network’s lead, their morning programming has also led their cable news competition. “FOX & Friends”, which airs weekdays from 6-9 a.m. ET, delivered 1.2 million viewers and 219,000 in the 25-54 demo for Mar. 29-Apr. 2, topping CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” across both categories and extending the program’s streak over MSNBC — the previous morning leader from Election Day 2020 thru Feb. 2021 — for six consecutive weeks in the demo and two weeks in total viewers.
Here are the cable news averages for Mar. 29-Apr. 4, 2021 — the total viewer figures were cable’s three best marks for the week in total day:
<strong>Total Day (Mar. 29-Apr. 4 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)</strong>
- Fox News Channel: 1.198 million viewers; 204000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.019 million viewers; 149,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.816 million viewers; 210,000 adults 25-54
<strong>Prime Time (Mar. 29-Apr. 3 @ 8-11 p.m.; Apr. 4 @ 7-11 p.m.)</strong>
- Fox News Channel: 2.186 million viewers; 358,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.639 million viewers; 237,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.023 million viewers; 275,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top CNN program and its associated rank) in total viewers:
1. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 3/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.251 million viewers
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 3/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.134 million viewers
3. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 4/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.082 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 3/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.000 million viewers
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 3/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.989 million viewers
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.926 million viewers
7. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 3/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.897 million viewers
8. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 3/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.821 million viewers
9. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 3/29/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.805 million viewers
10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 3/29/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.769 million viewers
44. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Fri. 4/2/2021 2:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.703 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top CNN program and its associated rank) among adults 25-54:
1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 3/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.515 million adults 25-54
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.513 million adults 25-54
3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 3/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.506 million adults 25-54
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 3/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.501 million adults 25-54
5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 3/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.494 million adults 25-54
6. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 3/29/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.486 million adults 25-54
7. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 4/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54
8. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 3/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.460 million adults 25-54
9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 3/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.451 million adults 25-54
10. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 4/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54
14. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Thu. 4/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.412 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Scott Masteller’s Sports Radio Days Prepared Him For News Talk
“So many careers have been damaged by going down the road and taking the wrong turn. I think it’s the job of a program director to be looking out for their talent and helping them navigate through all of these challenges that are taking place.”
Scott Masteller has undoubtedly been one of the most fundamental and profound power players in the News Talk/Sports format during his significantly extraordinary career. Masteller has shaped talent, and influenced programming and implemented strategies nationwide while still maintaining pristine relationships within the business. One of his best qualities though goes beyond the actual radio X’s and O’s. It’s his willingness find time to speak and offer advice to those who he’d crossed paths with during his broadcasting journey. Masteller’s career has included a number of memorable stops. The latest one, which he’s been at for the past six years, involves programming and leading Baltimore’s historic heritage station WBAL. Scott and I caught up to reflect on his career and talk about some of the biggest challenges facing the radio business today.
Chrissy Paradis: What convinced you to pursue a career in radio and broadcasting?
Scott Masteller: It started when I was in college. I met a guy who was involved in the college radio station. He invited me to come down and check out the station, and I pretty much fell in love with the whole idea of being on the radio. I was a jock playing music and the more I would do, the more I got interested in it. Then, I got my first on-air job at a small station in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and I was actually really happy there for a long time. As things evolved, other opportunities presented themselves and that started me on my journey traveling across the country to be more involved in broadcasting.
CP: And that saw you shift from playing music to working in two of the more challenging formats – sports and news talk. Those formats involve being on-mic for 40-50 minutes an hour. You chose to direct your focus behind the scenes, working in programming with a number of local stations. Eventually the call came though to move to Bristol, CT to serve as SVP of ESPN Radio where you’d have a hand in shaping the network’s content and working with affiliates across the country. How did that opportunity manifest itself?
SM: I was on-air earlier in my career, and I modeled them. A lot of people don’t know this, I did minor league baseball for five seasons, three of which, I was in Wichita, Kansas. I wasn’t making any money and there was an opportunity to go to a station in Lexington, Kentucky where I became a host and play-by-play guy and the Program Director, so from that point on, everywhere I went, I was on air and the program director. From Kentucky, I went to Salt Lake City, from there I went to Portland, Oregon where I spent five years. About two years in, they felt that I could be more effective as a program director without an on-air role. At first I fought it, because I loved being on the air, but I had been doing more of the part-time stuff and focusing more on strategy and coaching—giving feedback, developing balance, and at the same time I was going to conferences, meeting people and networking. I became aware of an opportunity in Dallas, Texas. ESPN was putting an owned and operated station on the air, and I love challenges, especially building and fixing things. I was able to secure that position and so I went to Dallas. I ran ESPN 103.3 for five years, and we did some good stuff. Then after that run, I was asked to move to Bristol to become the Senior Director of Content, and oversee all the studio programming for the ESPN Radio Network.
I was there for quite a while, for about eight years. From there, it just kind of evolved. But through that process, I met a lot of people that I really respect. People that mentored me, gave me great feedback with my ideas, and helped me learn the business, so to speak. I’ve had a pretty good run, and been fortunate to find the next job when I wasn’t looking. I just tried to do a good job where I was, and from that, other opportunities presented themselves.
CP: You mentioned having an opportunity to coach, work with and develop shows and talent who have pretty recognizable names in the industry. What was the most pivotal project that you worked on that you feel has played a significant role in developing your skill set?
SM: Well, the first big town I worked in was in Portland, Oregon, and before he became a network megastar Colin Cowherd was the midday host at the sports station I managed KFFX. I got to know him, and learn about him and he just was tremendous to work with. To work with such amazing talent even early on, helped me learn about what it’s like managing high profile personalities.
When I went to Dallas, one of the best shows I was ever associated with was led by the longtime sports columnist and talk show host in the market, Randy Galloway. Randy was well known for his coverage of the Cowboys, very opinionated. We built the show around him, with some players to support him. I feel that’s one of the best shows that I was ever part of. Randy was awesome at what he did. He’s retired now, but I do stay in touch with him and found him to be tremendous.
Then when I went to Bristol—so many talent, but once again, Colin was there and I got to watch him, and the way he prepped and executed his show. His prep process is just so impressive. I walked in early in the morning, and he would be in there with his production team figuring out what he’s going to do. The best talent, make it easy because they’re so dedicated to being great.
And when I left ESPN, I decided to go a different direction. I went into news and news talk, where I’m at now at WBAL, which is a heritage radio station. In the last year, we put together a new morning show where we took two of our highest profile talent, Ben Clifford Mitchell IV ( he goes by C4) and Brian Nieman. It may be one of the top two or three shows I’ve ever worked with because they have incredible chemistry and they want to get better every day.
The great talent are always trying to make themselves better. They’re never satisfied with where they’re at and when you look at Mike and Mike and the success they had, they were always focused on getting better. They weren’t waiting for feedback from somebody else to get better, they were focused on doing it themselves. That’s really what makes the job for a programmer kind of easy, if you have those kinds of people to work with.
CP: There’s definitely no shortage of opinion in spoken word whether it be news or sports. Some are very comfortable speaking their minds and not worrying about the potential consequences, and others may toe the line whether it’s due to fear or not wanting to earn the wrath of the audience. The mic, as you know, can be a dangerous place sometimes. How do you handle that with your staff?
SM: It has proven to be even more dangerous in 2021 than anytime previously. We spend a lot of time with our talent every day, making sure that everybody has a smart game plan for what they’re going to do on the air. You’ve seen so many careers damaged by going down the road and taking the wrong turn because of the scrutiny that everything is under right now. I think it’s the job of a program director, to be looking out for their talent and helping them navigate through all of these challenges that are taking place. That allows them to go in and create great content that people will want to listen to. But, things you could do on the air, two years ago, you may not be able to do today, just because the landscape has changed.
CP: In terms of working in news-talk with WBAL—how did you feel the experience of working in sports prepared you for what felt like a natural, effortless transition? After working with these high profile hosts and covering national stories, how did that play a role in your evolution into becoming a news talk programmer?
SM: The one thing ESPN prepared me for that they had a paid strategy in terms of how they integrate news content with personality oriented content. The work that takes place there, in terms of the news division of ESPN, you have to have so many sources, to put a story out. You have to have a smart strategic plan for what you’re going to do, and understand that there are certain times the story is bigger than anything that’s going out over the air; that all plays into what takes place at a station like WBAL. The collaboration at our station between our news department and our programming department, I believe is the secret sauce that builds to the success of our radio station.
I meet every day with Jeff Wade, our news director, and we’re always strategizing on what the big stories are, how many press conferences we’re going to carry and then how we are going to react to those press conferences—it’s a much different approach than you might see at some other radio stations, because of the fact that our company is committed to news content. Basically, we’re part of a television company—that plays into all of our strategies on a regular basis.
I think that’s one of the biggest strengths that we have, that we can react to the news stories, while still evolving and developing topics, which still, to this day, I believe for any talk show host, the topics are what will make or break you; you pick the right topic, you’ll get quarter hours. You pick the wrong topic, you’ll lose.
CP: There’s one thing that you’ve been lucky enough to learn, it’s that authenticity is essential. Having transparency on the air, it’s palpable. And there’s a strong bond that you can build with your listeners through it. What elements do you see as the most integral part of tackling topics on the air; the host’s opinion, the passion, or the feeling of honestly connecting with the listeners?
SM: I think it’s a combination of all those elements. One of the words I use a lot with talent is tone and how you present your ideas on the air. You have to be real. You can’t be fake. The audience is so much smarter than some talent realize, so if you go down a path, and it’s not real and genuine, the consumer will see right through that. Usually when that happens, they quit and go elsewhere. The consumer holds all the power now because there’s such a saturation of platforms, devices, and content selections that your content has to stand out every day. The host cannot assume that the listener knows, you have to explain it to them.
I think that’s a big part of the process.
The other thing, which has always been part of what I believed in is that you can’t be mean spirited. You can be passionate, you can be opinionated—you can show that emotion on the air, but it’s got to be real. Because if you’re not real, they’re not going to stay and listen.
CP: As you’ve developed your philosophy for managing and working with talent, what is the best advice you could give somebody that you’ve benefited from yourself? A tried and true Masteller-tested method.
SM: One, when a talent asks you, did you hear my segment on such and such today? Be honest with them. If you did hear it, tell them you heard it and tell them what you think. If you didn’t hear it, say I’m sorry, I missed it. I’ll pull the audio and then give you some feedback. But the more you can listen to what they’re doing, that’s what talent want feedback on and what do you think of that segment? They’ll say ‘was I okay in that interview? or ‘was I over the top or where I need to be?’ I think that’s critical.
Also, the program director needs to be part of a support system for the talent. I’ve always had this thing ever since I was a program director—I don’t like to go in the studio when somebody is on the air. I don’t like to call the hotline to the studio unless I really, really have to. Why? Because when I was an on-air talent, there’s nothing that I was more nervous about, then when a program director would come in and stand behind me while I’m doing my show. And I’d be thinking, ‘you know, what, if you’ve got something to say, I’ll listen to you and I want the feedback, but can you wait until I’m off the stage?’
I believe it’s important that the talent knows you’re in his or her corner, to help them get better and to succeed. Nothing gets me more excited than when I see a talent grow to the next level, get a great rating book, and are able to showcase their skills.
It’s also important to know when to have the conversation with the talent and when to let them be and wait. Choosing wrong may impact them.
CP: 2020 has been such an unprecedented year and it’s thrown a lot of curveballs to the industry, but especially the news talk format. What did you do to adjust your station to the dynamics at hand with coverage of the pandemic? Was it more about adapting and reacting or deliberately planning?
SM: From the beginning of the pandemic, we had numerous meetings on how we were going to maintain our quality and how we were going to take things to the next level. The thing about WBAL is we’ve got talk shows, we’ve got news, local news and we produce the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League, and we actually oversee the production of the games; so we had to figure all that out.
It was kind of starting to come together as we would go because we’ve got really smart people, amazing people that know what’s going on. We all worked collaboratively together and figured that out. Once we got to that place, where we were good, then it was about just continuing to produce content like we normally do. That’s what we’ve really tried to do and even today, we’re still working primarily remotely, but the listener gets the same quality product they’ve always got—that’s what our goal is.
CP: What is your proudest moment (or one of the proudest moments) of your career thus far?
SM: One of my proudest moments was having the confidence to transition from sports to news talk, and being able to get the job at WBAL in Baltimore. It’s a heritage radio station with a tremendous history and I respect the heritage of what that station is all about. While at the same time we’ve done some really good stuff to build it to a higher level. When I left ESPN, I thought I’d stay in sports forever, but this came up, and I saw how important this station is. I’ve had as much fun working for WBAL as anywhere I’ve ever been.
CP: You’ve been significantly helpful to me in helping me find my voice, encouraging me to pursue the career goals and aspirations I had for myself, understanding that they in fact were attainable, and recognizing how essential authenticity is in this industry. I feel very lucky to have learned this valuable information so early in my career and carry it with me as I venture forward. Which mentors/mentor helped shape you, and gave you that confidence to embark on the amazing journey that’s been your career?
SM: I was fortunate that my one uncle, Bob Masteller, was an amazing mentor to me, because my dad passed early. He would always say, ‘Scott, you need to have a board of directors!’
So, there were several people, some from the business, some from outside the business. My wife, Carol. And a couple of people in the industry, Bruce Gilbert at Cumulus, Rick Scott, the well known sports consultant and then different GM’s that I’ve worked with that have really made an impact on me over the years.
It’s a collection of all those voices, and we don’t always agree, but that’s healthy, and I continue to call on all of them today to help me navigate through different challenges. The more that you can have other people who you trust; that to me is a really good thing.
CP: What would be your advice for someone who is looking to begin their career or grow their career in the radio industry?
SM: It’s just real simple: network, network, network. And then network some more! The more people you can meet, the more relationships you build. And then, when you find somebody you can trust, try to cement that relationship, so it becomes more than just somebody you can connect with on LinkedIn, someone you can reach out to when you have questions, thoughts or ideas.
Those relationships are the key to being able to be successful. The more you can get to know different people, and it may be someone you meet today, that may not do anything for you for five years, but at some point, you may cross paths and that person’s aware of something.. It’s just about meeting different people and that can help you find your voice.