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Philly Special: Catching up with Alex Silverman of KYW

KYW recently added an FM simulcast for the first time in its long history. I wanted to talk about that, Alex’s thoughts on the format and how his team handled Wednesday’s shocking events in Washington D.C.

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I recall one afternoon early on in my tenure at KIRO in Seattle, my General Manager at the time called me into his office to introduce me to some partners of the station.

“This is Ryan Maguire, our new Director of News and Programming on KIRO.  People thought we were crazy for hiring him, but we couldn’t find any candidates for the job that were younger than Barbara Bush.”

(The Former First Lady has just died the day before).

My boss’ macabre sense of humor aside, he did have a point.  News-Talk and All-News radio has skewed older in listenership the last few years.  To this day, its one of the biggest challenges for the format.  In some cases, the best way to find younger listeners is with younger leadership.

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to catch up with Alex Silverman, the Brand Manager and Program Director at legendary All-News station, KYW in Philadelphia.  I had heard of him from my colleagues at KIRO (where he also worked previously) and others in the industry who hold him in high regard.

Once I followed him on social media (https://twitter.com/AlexSilverman) and spent time exchanging e-mails with him for this piece, I could see why.

He has an amazing amount of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism for news radio.  He also has the right ideas and the right mindset to take a heritage brand like KYW into new, younger generations of listeners.

KYW recently added an FM simulcast for the first time in its long history.  I wanted to talk about that, Alex’s thoughts on the format and how his team handled Wednesday’s shocking events in Washington D.C.

Wednesday was truly a surreal day in the history of our country.  How were you able to approach it…personally and professionally?

It was surreal, upsetting, and scary for sure, but I knew we had a team that could handle whatever the day might bring. We know that hundreds of thousands of people not only depend on us on a daily basis, but when something of great consequence happens, they turn to us because they trust us. That is a great responsibility which we take very seriously.

The past year has stretched everyone in every newsroom across this country to the limit, but it has also shown me how capable our newsroom is of handling the unexpected and the challenging. My role in these types of situations is to make sure the team has the support and guidance they need. As soon as things started to take a turn, we mobilized two reporters to Washington – one of whom was already in Delaware covering President-Elect Biden. We knew we were the closest Entercom all-news station to DC, so we would not only be able to serve our audience but also millions of listeners across the country. We had additional reporters working remotely who started calling their local contacts, and everyone shifted into continuous coverage mode: the anchors, the editors and production team, and the digital content team – and stayed that way into the night. We needed to not only make it sound big and important, but to place it in the context it deserved – as a dark day in the history of this country – so we talked a lot about the language we would use to communicate that.

What differentiated your coverage from what other media outlets were doing?

We’re fortunate to have the most experienced broadcast reporting team in Philadelphia, and that institutional knowledge and those contacts paid off immediately. One of the great things about all-news radio is our ability to pivot immediately into continuous crisis coverage. While there are a lot of moving parts to our operation, when it comes down to critical breaking news information, once it’s confirmed it’s just “hit the sounder, open the mic, and tell the world.” So, whether you were listening on 103.9 FM, or on a smart speaker in a home office, or on the RADIO.COM app, you were learning what was happening literally as we were seeing it with our own eyes or verifying it. RADIO.COM allows us to send push alerts to a larger audience beyond our typical listeners, and we were simultaneously producing newscasts for our sister stations in Philadelphia because this was a situation where people needed to know what was happening in real time.

Talk about your background and how your career journey brought you to KYW.

I’ve always been fascinated by the intimacy of radio and the one-on-one connection it creates with the listener; it’s something that I recognized at a young age and just knew I wanted to be in the business. I actually started out in management – as the GM of the greatest student-run radio station in America, WJPZ at Syracuse University – before getting my first on-air news job at WSYR in Syracuse. I spent some time in Seattle at KIRO as a reporter and anchor, then eight years at WCBS 880 in New York City, first as an anchor and reporter and later as APD. When the legendary Steve Butler retired in 2018, it was an amazing opportunity to be able to come to KYW Newsradio and lead one of the country’s great all-news stations.

What are the best parts of your job?

Getting to work with such a talented and connected team of broadcast journalists is a huge privilege. I learn something from them every day. When we break news and tell stories that matter to people, we get an enormously positive response from the audience and that’s always a great feeling.

Technology is providing many of the service elements all-news stations would provide (news-traffic-weather, etc.) on demand and instantly.  How does this format stay relevant in 2021 and beyond?

I’d push back on the premise just a bit because there’s a distinction between the content itself and the technology used to convey it. “Technology” on its own can’t produce the service we provide – it can’t replicate the journalism experience and institutional knowledge and storytelling ability. That said, as technology evolves, we are evolving right along with it. If you have a smart speaker at home and want the news from a credible, local source, all you have to do is ask it to “play KYW Newsradio.” All our stories are available on demand in both written and audio form on KYWnewsradio.com and on the RADIO.COM app. We’re on social media at the same time we’re on the air with a story. We have a local news interview podcast, KYW Newsradio In Depth, that focuses on big ideas that we wouldn’t have time to dive into in our typical format. All of this makes us a really strong part of the modern news ecosystem.

As for traffic, sure – the apps are great, I use them like everyone else. But they don’t tell the full story. If I’m stuck in traffic, I want to know what the heck is really happening and why. It takes a human being to provide that color commentary and that’s the service our listeners tell us they appreciate. The same goes for weather. We have a fabulous partnership with NBC10 here in Philadelphia. When weather is a story, people want someone they trust to explain what it means.

Your station was given an FM signal for the first time in its history and got a fresh rebranding as well.  What have the early returns been from your listeners and sponsors?

It’s incredibly exciting for us, and we saw the launch on 103.9 FM in late November as one of the most historic moments ever in Philadelphia media. It not only improves the quality of service for our existing audience, but also allows us to reach some areas where the 1060 AM signal was never particularly strong. I was actually driving around one of those areas in Bucks County the day we launched, and – I swear – the clerk at a deli saw my jacket and said “when’s KYW gonna be on FM? It’s so staticky around here.” I told him, and he was thrilled. So, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from both listeners and sponsors who know there’s more of a chance for new listeners to discover us on the FM band. It’s still too early to make any sweeping statements about the impact, but we’re very optimistic.

Caption- Alex Silverman talks about the FM simulcast on NBC10 in Philadelphia

You’re VERY active on social media which is not common for many Program Directors.  What’s your strategy behind that?

Having spent a lot of time on the on-air side, I’m used to having a public voice and engaging with the audience. It’s a good way to keep in mind that there are real people out there who have opinions and perspectives on what we’re doing, and I think they appreciate that kind of direct engagement. We can’t ever take our audience for granted, so we have to be everywhere they are – and social media is one of those places.

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BNM Writers

Americans Become Their Own Media

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

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Photo by Times Up Linz CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the mainstream, corporate media has transformed from watchdogs and information disseminators to cheerleaders, suppressors and protectors, citizens now have to take on the aforementioned traditional roles themselves.

If the truth is to be told, shared and understood, many Americans now believe they have no choice but to act as their own media.

Grant Stinchfield devoted part of his Friday Newsmax program to laying out why he believes the rapid, deleterious changes that have overcome our nation in just the last week will only serve to weaken the country. He was joined by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, who set the stage for what the country must be aware of as we enter a period of adjustment in America. Neither man targeted the mainstream media by name, but their discussion contained an unmistakable call for citizens to be alert and vigilant. They need to do the job that, in years past, was the duty of the media.

“With only three days in the White House, Joe Biden claims he wants to ‘Build Back Better,’ yet every move he has made leads you to believe he wants to tear it down worse,” Stinchfield began, noting the Biden quickly removed both the Winston Churchill bust and military battle flags from the Oval Office. “We went from America First to America Last in a matter of three days, and the D.C. swamp is reemerging.”

Presidents have traditionally entered office experiencing a “honeymoon period,” characterized by unsustainably high approval ratings. Not so this year, as Rasmussen Reports pegs Biden’s approval at just 48%, lower than the starting point for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Many Americans, possibly most, understand that sans a flood of mail-in ballots with a lack of signature verification, the likelihood is high that Donald Trump would still be president. Many citizens also fear what will be the immediate dismantling of the Trump policies that led to unprecedented peace and prosperity across the nation.

“There will be a lot of things that will not be able to be torn apart, and we need to concentrate on those,” Carson noted. “I hope people are paying very close attention, because you see two very distinct philosophies on how things should be run.”

The mainstream media, once a protector of the individual, has now become a protector of the ruling class. While not calling out the liberal media specifically, Carson has for years called out the true duty of government, as laid out in the Constitution.

“When this country was created, it was created as a place where there would be individual freedoms, where you could live your life the way you wanted, believe what you wanted. You had religious freedom as long as your rights didn’t impinge on the next person’s rights. But then there’s always been a group that has felt that the government should be in charge, that true utopia is a place where you give the government full power from cradle to grave, and they take care of you.” In just the past few days, American watchdogs and a sliver of the national news media has called out this overarching theme enveloping the new administration’s executive orders and policy proposals.

“I implore the American people – pay attention to what’s going on,” Carson said. “Remember what’s happened over the last four years, how the economy just skyrocketed because of the policies – removing all of those regulations, letting people spend their own money and determine their own way. Those are the things that had a very, very rapid ameliorating effect on America.”

Carson is right to put the onus on citizens to track the changing effects over the next few years, knowing much of the American media will attempt to deflect, deceive and obscure the truth from viewers.  

Stinchfield played a clip of President Biden, after months of blaming his predecessor for everything related to COVID-19, saying that “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” A far different tune than he and his party of resistance sang for the past year, and a clear example of what Stinchfield and Carson want viewers to be on the alert for.

“The way that the previous administration was able to get business, and industry and science and universities to all work together, to come up with a vaccine in record-breaking time. No one thought it could be done, and yet it was done because of the push there to try and save lives.” 

Carson did not mention the press as he summed up, however his all-encompassing point cannot be understated.

“China is not going to destroy us. Russia is not going to destroy us. Iran is not going to destroy us. North Korea is not going to destroy us. What will destroy us is us, if we continue to listen to the purveyors of hatred.”  

Americans can no longer trust the mainstream press to present truthful reality. They must now take that burden upon themselves.

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BNM Writers

CNN Comfortable in the Cable News Ratings Lead

According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.

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CNN continues to thrive since the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election.

The week ending Jan. 17, 2021 was highlighted by Congress’ second impeachment vote on Donald Trump on Wednesday Jan. 13, as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection by his supporters at the Capitol. CNN was not only the top cable news outlet in coverage, but it also topped ABC and CBS in key figures (NBC did not break in to regularly scheduled programming that day). According to Nielsen Media Research’s fast national data (not including out-of-home viewing), CNN averaged 3.8 million total viewers and 1.08 million adults 25-54 on Jan. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. ET.

MSNBC was runner-up in total viewers with 2.58 million; in third place with 464,000 adults 25-54. One positive for them on the day, as well as the week: the Jan. 13th edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show” was the most-watched cable news telecast.

An average of 2.4 million (530,000 aged 25-54) tuned in to ABC (12:24-5:00 p.m. ET).

CBS aired just 23 minutes of impeachment coverage (4:22-4:46 p.m. ET), yet drew more than Fox News Channel’s entire afternoon — CBS’s 1.9 million viewers/388,000 25-54 vs. FNC’s 1.39 million viewers/278,000 25-54.

Here are the cable news prime time averages for Jan. 11-17, 2021:

Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • CNN: 2.177 million viewers; 591,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.838 million viewers; 325,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox News Channel: 1.330 million viewers; 235,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (Jan. 11-16 @ 8-11 p.m.; Jan. 17 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • CNN: 3.121 million viewers; 880,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 2.834 million viewers; 508,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox News Channel: 2.489 million viewers; 424,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top Fox News program and its associated rank)  in total viewers:

1. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.765 million viewers

2. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.714 million viewers

3. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.705 million viewers

4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.682 million viewers

5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 1/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.319 million viewers

6. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.274 million viewers

7. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.249 million viewers

8. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 1/11/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.218 million viewers

9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.174 million viewers

10. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Thu. 1/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.015 million viewers

27. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.611 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and Fox News programs and its associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.414 million adults 25-54

2. Situation Room (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.368 million adults 25-54

3. The Lead With Jake Tapper (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.366 million adults 25-54

4. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.295 million adults 25-54

5. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.212 million adults 25-54

6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.195 million adults 25-54

7. Erin Burnett Outfront (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.185 million adults 25-54

8. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.175 million adults 25-54

9. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Tue. 1/12/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.163 million adults 25-54

10. CNN Special Coverage: 2nd Trump Impeachment Vote (CNN, Wed. 1/13/2021 2:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.138 million adults 25-54

24. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 1/13/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.945 million adults 25-54

59. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.693 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Note to Journalists: You’re Not Bigger Than the Moment

Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them. Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift.

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Photo by Alisdare Hickson CC BY-SA 2.0.

This past week, I did what many people around the country did.  I watched the inaugurations of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.

Indeed, we were watching an historic moment.   For the first time, America would have a woman serve as its Vice-President.  She would also be the first African American and Asian-American to serve as VP.

I wanted to witness that moment.  Moreover, I wanted to see how the various networks HANDLED that moment.

I wasn’t surprised at what I saw and heard.

As Harris was sworn in, anchor after anchor had to remind me that I had just “witnessed history”.  Some even added jazzy commentary about the “American Experience”.

Oy vey. 

A constant problem in the news media strikes again.

Far too often, journalists want to make themselves part of the moment.  They look for the catchy line or signature phrase that will forever be remembered, archived and hash-tagged to death.  Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them.  Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift. 

Like many people in the business, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

I harken back to one of my early jobs, working as a reporter for a small market news station.  One evening, there was a major fire at a warehouse close to where I was living at the time.   I had sprung into action, filled with the exhilaration of covering a breaking story.

As soon as I got to the scene, I spoke with a few witnesses and first responders, took notes, and then called into the newsroom.  They immediately put me on the air with the anchor in the studio, who asked me to divulge what I had learned.

“Oh my God,” I cried.  “It’s like a WAR ZONE out here!”  I then went on to describe the scene of the burning building like I was reporting from Manhattan during 9-11.  I wanted to make sure that I could grab and hold the attention of listeners.

The very next day, I was called into the News Director’s office.  I thought I would be getting a hearty pat on the back.  Instead, I got a swift kick in the ass.

“What the HELL was that last night?” he asked.

“Well, I was trying to report on….” He cut me off.

“You were trying to make yourself part of the story,” he said.  “You need to learn that when it comes to reporting, less of YOU is ALWAYS more.”

He was right.  It was a mistake that I never made again.

NO ONE DID IT BETTER THAN UNCLE WALTER

Walter Cronkite was the Godfather of electronic journalism.  He always knew that it was the moment that would often speak for itself.  He once famously said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”

When I worked in news/talk, I kept an autographed photo of Cronkite in my office, behind my desk.  I wanted to make sure that he was always looking over my shoulder.  I also wanted my anchors and reporters to see him glaring back at them whenever they would sit in front of me.  He was a permanent reminder of what our job was: we report the news without trying to BE the news.

Here are a few famous examples of how Cronkite mastered that philosophy.

“THE FLASH APPARENTLY OFFICIAL…”

All the major networks covered that fateful day on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  However, it was Cronkite who is most remembered.  It wasn’t because of some catchphrase or commentary he came up with to encapsulate the moment. 

Cronkite delivered the facts as he knew them.  The painful pauses you could see him take to contain himself made him come across as genuine.  In that moment, nothing else was needed.  The nation was in pain and he was there with the nation. 

Can you imagine how MODERN journalists and news anchors would have handled this?

“OH BOY!”

Not every moment Cronkite covered was marred with tragedy.  There was that historic occassion on July 20th, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Cronkite was sitting at the CBS Anchor desk preparing to deliver the news as it happened.

“I had just as much time to prepare for that landing as the space program did,” he said.  “I watched it from the beginning.  And yet, when that vehicle landed on the moon, I was speechless.”

The look on Cronkite’s face when ‘the Eagle had landed’ was one of the great moments in the history of journalism.  There was no need to wax poetic about the moment itself.  He was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning…just as the rest of the country was.  Once again, he came across as genuine.  There was no shame in being speechless because it was the best thing he could have done.

I cringe to think of how modern news networks would have handled that.

“AND WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!”

I’ll end with a brief segue into sports (as I’ve spent a few years in that format as well).

One of the greatest home run calls of all time came from Jack Buck.  It was also one of the simplest home run calls of all time and epitomized the idea of “less is more”.

It was October 26th, 1991.  Game 6 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves.  The Twins needed to win to force a tiebreaking Game 7 or else their season would be over.  In the bottom of the 11th inning, star outfielder Kirby Puckett came to the plate.

Buck was the Cronkite of sports.  He didn’t need to do anything but sign off with a reminder that there would be one more game to be played the following evening.  The sounds and images of that scene didn’t need further explanation or commentary on his part. 

Ironically enough, by not trying to become part of the moment, he becamepart of the moment.

Viewers knew they were watching history in the making.  They didn’t need to be reminded of it. As Uncle Walter would say, “And that’s the way it is.”

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