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Keeping Calm in a Crisis: The Programmer’s Perspective

“Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.”

Ryan Maguire

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When I was managing KIRO Radio in Seattle, I had a very funny routine with our afternoon news anchor, Heather Bosch.

Heather is a pro’s pro who was in her second stint at KIRO after spending 5 years in New York at CBS News.  She knows her craft and knows it well.

Anyway, the routine would happen during a breaking news situation.  I would be in my office, get word of a story, and then sprint to the newsroom to alert the team.  Usually before I could even make it to the editor’s desk, Heather would wave me off.

“We’re on it, chief,” she would say (usually while feverishly typing).

I would then give her a thumbs up before retreating into my office.

What I learned from Heather and the great news team at KIRO was- less is more when it comes to management in situations like this.  At times, this was a tough pill for me to swallow.  Ask anyone that’s worked with me and they’ll tell you that I’m very hands on.  When breaking news happens, I like writing stories, editing audio, doing interviews, posting on social media, etc.  I like being “in the trenches” with the team. 

However, doing that often only causes disruption.  Step one in “keeping calm in a crisis” is KEEPING CALM.  If the PD is running around with their hair on fire, they’re doing their entire staff a disservice. Odds are, they will follow their lead for better or worse. If you’ve done your job as a PD or News Director, you’ve hired a staff of talented, anchors, editors, producers, hosts, reporters, and digital specialists.  You’ve established procedures for how to handle breaking news from step “A” to step “Z”.   Let your people do their jobs and be thinking of ways to support their efforts strategically, not tactically.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know Ken Charles, who currently serves as the Program Director of All-News KNX-AM in Los Angeles.  Ken and I have had the chance to discuss and exchange ideas on radio, news and the media and I’ve found him to be one of the more insightful programming minds in the format. I wanted to get his perspective for the finale of my three-part series for BNM.

RM- What are the best things a PD of an all-news or news-talk station can do in a breaking news situation?  

KC- Big breaking stories are an evolution.  Often you really don’t know what you have, especially in a social media world, until you get eyes on the incident. So, advice number one is – trust your people and stay out of their way.  Your reporters are on the scene and can see things you cannot back at the station.  Your editors/producers are in contact with your reporters and also making calls, scanning social media etc. to find out exactly what is going on. Let them do it, let them work the story.  As a manager my role is to let them be in the now while I am looking a few hours or even a few days ahead to make sure we are properly staffed, we don’t burn out our team and we can maintain our coverage for hours, days or even longer.  I have seen too many situations where a station didn’t look ahead and got caught out of position and without proper coverage as the story continued beyond the first few hours.  Think of the PD role as the Head Coach, the ND’s role is the offensive coordinator and the anchors, reporters are your players on the field.  Lastly, most of the preparation for breaking news occurred the last 87 times you covered breaking news.  While every story is different with unique components you learn something new every time and that makes your coverage a little better the next time.   We have an amazing team of professionals who have covered way too many earthquakes, wildfires, “trials of the century” police situations, protests, school shootings, terror incidents etc. etc. etc.  All of those events have prepared us for the last 8 months and through the 2020 election and into the next big breaking story. 

I remember covering a hurricane that was racing up the East Coast.  While my reporter was on the beach in North Carolina as the storm roared overhead, the competition had their reporter stuck in Charleston hundreds of miles from the actual story.  My reporter was feeding live shot and you could hear the wind while the other guys were reporting it was 86 and sunny.  Being prepared, learning from previous events, and allowing our team to report the now while my role was looking ahead allowed us to completely own the story. 

RM- What do you convey to your hosts, producers, editors, reporters, and hosts in situations like that? 

KC- Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.  Stories affect real people, and those real people are our neighbors, friends and in some cases coworkers.

RM- Can you recall 1-2 anecdotal examples of how your station handled a breaking news story or crisis?  What did you do? 

KC- Over the last few months, in addition to COVID we’ve had protests in the streets, the 2020 election, the President getting COVID, wildfires and on and on and on and on..what haven’t we done?  I have an incredible staff of talented professionals, I have a news director who is great partner in making sure we execute the plan and don’t miss a thing, we have 2 dedicated women keeping our digital and social presence moving at the same speed as the on air product and together they all make sure we cover the story, hopefully make an impact on people’s lives and help either get them through the story and keep them informed throughout the story.  What do I do?  Trust them and stay out of the way.

RM- What are the best traits a young pro looking to get in this field should have that would best prepare them for a crisis? 

KC- Being fearless and inquisitive and remembering that the story is not happening at the command center, it is happening in a neighborhood, building or sadly a school.  Go where the story is not where the PIOs tell you to go.  Talk to real people, not just officials.  Officials aren’t the story, people are. 

RM- 2020 has been (to say the least) a unique year for the news media.   How do you keep your team balanced amongst the chaos? 

KC- It has just been crazy.  For the team still in the building the goal is to try to be as normal as possible despite masks, plexiglass and gallons of hand sanitizer and remember to laugh and try to still have some fun.  For the team who is not coming into the building it is to keep constant communication, make sure they have the things they need to do their jobs and for every one constantly remember that safety is the most important thing.

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BNM Writers

Don’t Be Afraid of the Paywall

The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.

Ryan Maguire

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I was talking with a former radio colleague of mine a few months ago. We got into a rather lengthy discussion about online radio listening and on-demand content.

We segued into a discussion about subscription-based services.

“It’s shocking to me why radio operators don’t put their content behind a paywall,” I said.

“Hell no,” he replied. “We could NEVER do that!”

“Why not?” I queried.

“People would never pay to listen to our shows. If we started charging them money to listen to our content, they would just go somewhere else!”

That line gave me a EUREKA moment. What my former colleague said is perhaps the radio industry’s biggest problem- they don’t have enough faith in their own content.  

A someone who spent nearly three decades working for terrestrial radio stations in eight different markets across the country, this pains me. Radio is missing out on a golden opportunity to break open new revenue streams that they desperately need. The solution has been sitting in their studios the entire time.

Radio’s biggest asset is their content. And more operators need to double-down on that. Company to company, market to market and station to station, radio still boasts the biggest portfolio of local and syndicated talent in the country. Yet, they don’t maximize the revenue from this talent. Instead of putting a dollar value on that content, they’d rather give it away for free and make money the way they have for 100 years…spots and dots.

Radio’s efforts to generate new revenue streams have been mixed, at best.  I’ve seen first-hand the dabbling into things like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, SEO and website building.  Eventually every new fad I’ve witnessed championed has, for the most part, fizzled out within a year or two.  Why?  Because nothing they come up with is innovative.  Everything I’ve seen radio get into had already been done by the Groupons, Go Daddy’s, Googles and Amazons of the world…and those companies did (and continue to do it) it far better.  

Radio is using an antiquated revenue model, relying too heavily on selling ads to survive. One problem, spot revenue has been on the decline for well over a decade. Advertisers are seeing higher ROI by investing in more non-traditional campaigns to get their messaging out. 

What’s worse, radio has seen serious listener erosion for a long time. In large part because younger consumers have grown tired of having to soldier through 20+ minutes of commercials in a given hour (or even one of those damn “Kars4Kids” spots).  

Time and time again, consumers (younger ones, in particular) have proved with their wallets that they will pay a few extra bucks for quality commercial free content, on virtually every platform. Hell, its as if they’re conditioned to do so.

Netflix Revenue in 2019 was over $20 billion.

Disney+ managed to gain over 60 million subscribers in less than a year.

Spotify did almost $7.5 billion in revenue in 2019.

SiriusXM is now a $2 billion company and has already swallowed up competitors in Pandora and Stitcher.

Huge multinational corporations like Apple, Sony and Amazon are pouring cash into developing original audio content.

And the list goes on and on.

The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.  

Everyone has already left for the party and radio is still in the bathroom fixing their hair. The truth is, they look fine and should have been at the party hours ago.  

There will always be room for ad-supported content in the audio world. But the reliance on it needs to be drastically reduced and a big part of the needed shift should include the building of paywalls to support subscriber-based content.

As I prepared to write this column, I did a little-self exercise. How many commercial-free subscription services do I actually have?  

Here’s my inventory:

You Tube Premium

Amazon Prime Video

Netflix

Hulu

Disney +

CBS All-Access

HBO Go

New York Times

Spotify Premium

The Economist

The Athletic

SiriusXM

TuneIn Premium

NFL Sunday Ticket

Crunchyroll (my husband is a big fan of anime)

DC Universe

Shudder

World of Wonder

That’s a lot. And by the way, as anyone will tell you, I ain’t rich! But what’s an extra $15 dollars a month if I get to see John Oliver and Bill Maher every week? What’s an extra $25 a month if I can listen to Stern?

And to be honest, if my favorite terrestrial radio talent were pushed behind a paywall, the decision for me would be easy.

As a die-hard (and constantly suffering) Detroit Sports fan, I’m an almost daily listener of Mike Valenti’s on 97.1 The Ticket. His Monday shows after Sunday Lions debacles are must-listens. If I can get the Radio.com app to NOT crash on me, I make a point to be logged on to his live stream.

That being said, If Entercom were to tell me that I’d have to pay $5.99 a month to listen to his show online, get commercial free access to his podcasts (and maybe some additional bonus content), I’d sign up without even giving it a second thought. I’m guessing a decent chunk of his nearly 200,000 weekly listeners would do the same.   

Even if say, 5% of his audience (10,000) agreed to pay that subscription fee, that’s $60,000 in revenue. How many radio stations would turn down a $60k annual these days?  

All is not lost. There are some operators who are moving in the right direction. No one does digital better than iHeart. Yes, they have the largest scale, but they have also invested more than anyone else in top tier talent as well as the technology to deliver it. In 2019, their podcast revenues alone were about $100M. A big reason for that is because they’ve approached things fearlessly. Sure, they have ad-supported content online. But they also created a space for the paywall as well. iHeart Radio Plus and iHeart Radio All-Access are upgrades to their digital content services that unlock different features such as ad free artist radio. On a smaller scale, Good Karma is starting to do the same as they continue to grow their footprint.   

Radio has, for the most part been far too conservative. They’re the guy at the poker table that gets bluffed easily, may win a few hands, but would rather fold than call. At some point, they’re going to have to push all their chips into the center of the table. Otherwise, like that overly cautious poker player, they’ll continue to slowly hemorrhage money until it’s time to call it a night.

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BNM Writers

America Exposes the Media

The media, as a whole, is not fair and balanced. News is not really news. In actuality, news is now a reflection of a point of view.

Rick Schultz

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America is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of unity. Agreement is everywhere, spanning across political, cultural and geographic divides. Among all issues, there is one on which Americans of all stripes can agree – the media should not be trusted.

On Friday’s Ingraham Angle, Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Raymond Arroyo hosted a panel of swing state voters in Columbus, Ohio. This panel of Republicans, Democrats and Independents voiced a common concern – they do not trust the mainstream media or big tech.

During a discussion about the newly-uncovered evidence and corruption charges against Joe Biden, a panelist named Deb pointed out that many viewers most likely hadn’t even heard about the uncovered laptop and email allegations. 

“What bothers me is our news has become so personalized, that if you’re a Biden supporter, you’re not getting that side of the story,” she said. “If you are a Trump supporter, you are, so the Trump supporters are going to continue to believe that this is a Joe Biden corruption piece, and the people who are Biden supporters are going to believe that this is a bunch of hooey.”

NPR – partly funded by Americans’ tax dollars – blatantly admitted they would not even cover the new revelations about the alleged pay-for-play scandal engulfing the Democratic nominee.

“We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories,” NPR announced as it’s reason for not covering the shocking developments. “And we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.” Interestingly, there was no such blackout during many similar stories that, while lacking evidence, targeted the president over the last few years.

The truth is, the veil has been lifted, and America no longer believes in or counts on the media. According to Gallup in 2020, only 40% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence in the mass media – such as newspapers, TV and radio – when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly. On this, there is a large degree of national unity. Some Americans believe this media deception is purposeful, because forcing us into our respective camps is good for business. 

“The response of the media and the press is symbolic of what it takes to create the system that we are under,” said Sadie, a self-described Independent. “The divisiveness is just advanced and supported, split, that’s exactly what democracy requires under a two-party system, and they did it very effectively.”

Americans knew something was wrong when, last decade, the media as a whole refused to look into a presidential candidate’s web of shady ties and anti-American network of friends. They knew, of course. They just felt it was their solemn duty to keep their audiences uninformed. As Sean Hannity has repeatedly, “2008 is the year journalism died.”

Then, in 2016, the same media went from celebrating and glorifying a cultural icon, only to do a 180 and go into full demonization mode once he announced a run for president.  Same guy, same media. Americans watched the flip, which validated what they’ve always suspected of the mainstream press. As a result, that year saw only 32% of Americans admitting they had trust in the media’s truthfulness – a record low. The charade is over. 

Regarding the current scandal, some voters admit they don’t care about the content or the media’s motives.

“This is actually, for Democrats, a non-issue, a non-story. It’s not being covered like it is on Fox, and quite frankly I’m kind of tired of it,” said Lauren, a Democrat. “I don’t believe that it’s a thing, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter.”

“She’s right, it’s not being covered,” responded Kevin, a Trump voter. “The question is, why? Why don’t you see it on NBC, ABC or CBS? That’s the question we should be asking.” Proving the point, a Democrat named Mark admitted that, even though the initial email and laptop revelations had been made many days earlier, this was the first he’d heard of the allegations. How can Americans agree on anything when we don’t all hear the story or get the facts?

Americans of all stripes know the truth. The media, as a whole, is not fair and balanced. News is not really news. In actuality, news is now a reflection of a point of view. If you agree, you like it and gravitate to it. If not, you are drawn to the opposite media view elsewhere. In some circles, this philosophy is referred to as “advocacy journalism,” which is short for picking a side and anchoring your “reporting” accordingly. 

Ingraham wrapped up the segment, asking the live panel, “How many people out there think a media outlet, again regardless of who is in the White House, should regard stories about our adversaries funneling money to family members of a sitting president, that’s not a story. How many of you think that’s the way a media organ should react?” 

Not one member of the panel raised a hand. Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Not. One. Hand. 

On this, Americans are unified.

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BNM Writers

Viewership Not as Strong For Biden-Trump II

Douglas Pucci

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The second and final U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden took place on Thursday, Oct. 22 and across 15 outlets, it drew 62.95 million viewers. While the first Biden-Trump debate from Sep. 29 (73.13 million) ranked as the second most-watched debate in TV history, Biden-Trump II failed to crack the top 15 most-watched debates (placing 17th).

Once more, Fox News Channel — expected to top cable in total viewers for the week ending Oct. 25 — was the top outlet for a debate; Biden-Trump II drew 15.41 million viewers. CNN drew less than half of FNC’s audience figures with 7.51 million viewers but still ranked as runner-up on cable; MSNBC (6.93 million) close behind. 

ABC led the broadcast networks in debate coverage with 11.23 million viewers. The debate’s moderator was NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker which may have led NBC to be the lone network to increase its viewership from the first debate; it drew 10.63 million, up 9 percent from Sep. 29. CBS attracted an audience of 5.72 million.

Here were the half-hour total viewer breakdowns of Biden-Trump II on the broadcast networks:

9:00-9:30 p.m. ET

ABC — 10.881 million

CBS — 5.319 million

NBC — 10.249 million

Univision — 1.288 million

Telemundo— 1.397 million

9:30-10:00 p.m. ET

ABC — 11.648 million

CBS — 6.000 million

NBC — 11.017 million

Univision — 1.506 million

Telemundo— 1.479 million

10:00-10:30 p.m. ET

ABC — 11.248 million

CBS — 5.858 million

NBC — 10.683 million

Univision — 1.501 million

Telemundo— 1.489 million

Unlike Biden-Trump from Sep. 29 and Harris-Pence from Oct. 7, Univision (1.43 million) was Biden-Trump II’s top Spanish-language outlet. Telemundo delivered 1.41 million viewers.

The debate affected the crowd for Fox and NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football”. Giants-Eagles drew 10.61 million viewers, the smallest audience for TNF in two years.

For the week ending Oct. 18, 2020 in total day data (from 6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. each day), Fox News Channel led the cable news networks in both viewers (2.38 million) and adults 25-54 (418,000). MSNBC (1.32 million) bested CNN (1.16 million) in total viewers while it was vice versa in the key demo (CNN’s 287,000 adults 25-54 vs. MSNBC’s 207,000 adults 25-54).

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.854 million viewers

2. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.843 million viewers

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.427 million viewers

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.326 million viewers

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.159 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.129 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.035 million viewers

8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.994 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.956 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.710 million viewers

23. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.872 million viewers

66. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.905 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC program with associated rank) among adults 25-54:

1. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.158 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.076 million adults 25-54

3. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.051 million adults 25-54

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.999 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.988 million adults 25-54

6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.916 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.890 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.883 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.853 million adults 25-54

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.843 million adults 25-54

22. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.674 million adults 25-54

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