In a past column I wrote for Barrett News Media, I mentioned that some of my best interactions have been with colleagues who oppose most (if not all) of my political views.
Todd Herman is one name that stands out.
The morning man on Seattle’s KTTH-AM and guest host for The Rush Limbaugh Show is a fascinating person who has led a fascinating life. He’s worked for Microsoft, founded startups, and spent time working for the RNC. Yet, his passion for storytelling led him to where he is today.
He’s not your typical conservative talker. He never comes off angry, but instead calm, confidant and curious. When I would challenge him on an issue his first response was not to challenge me back, but to discover why I thought the way I did. His faith drives him to look for the good in people.
I caught up with Todd recently to talk about his work with Limbaugh, the radio industry, and where conservative media is headed.
You earned the very rare opportunity to be one of the regular guest hosts on The Rush Limbaugh Show. What has that experience been like for you?
If you had the opportunity to do fill in work for the person you admire most in your industry what would that be like for you? For me, it caused to me speak a word I had used all once before in my life: “Surreal.” Since I have been honored to fill in for Rush, for a number of years, it’s now a lot of fun. It’s a joy, and that is because of the EIB team and the Rush Limbaugh callers. Being around the show, even as a rodeo clown fill in, I wish more people really got to know what Rush and his team at EIB have built. This is beyond a media company or a radio show; the connection Rush’s listeners feel to him is not a soft bond, it’s a strong bond. What I experience when doing the show, comes partly from what I feel from callers. The EIB team–and, in that, I include Ken Matthews and Mark Steyn, also guest hosts–is an obsessive focus on serving that audience. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves: Rush’s Team has been with him for up to thirty-years! Think of this industry or media in general! Where do teams like that stick together that long, with this much success? I know a little bit about culture and longevity, and the focus on delivering excellence isn’t accidental. What continually strikes me when I work with EIB, is the culture of graciousness. “Bo Snerdley” and Kraig Kitchin have helped me understand when I am at my best as a host and when I drop below my best and they do that with great bedside manners, albeit with two very different personalities. There are people in radio who would be wise to pay to get their feedback (well, we would all be wise to seek that), and I get paid to listen to it and learn from that. So, it’s graciousness and I extend that assessment to all the show people, the finance, show revenue generators, and right back to the foundation: the audience. But even with all that, when the show theme rolls and I hear Johnny Donovan say my name, I am just struck with awe and gratitude that God somehow decided to make this possible, and of course, to my home team in Seattle at 770 KTTH, for giving me a daily platform of weekday mornings.
You have a unique background. You were an executive for Microsoft during the Gates days, you worked in D.C. for the Republican Party and even [founded, lead, and sold] several startups. Most (if not all) of those fields are far more lucrative than radio. Where does your passion for the business come from and why do you still do it?
I love story. I love to tell them and hear them. I am deeply passionate about proper governance and the rule of law. So, as a host, I am blessed to be able to combine these elements into a radio show. I prefer radio to Podcasting, because I crave walking the highwire of live radio, where what occurs to me, as I analyze news, is a split second from landing with my audience, and the stories I tell are directly shared with the people who make possible my career. I adore extemporaneously expressing my thoughts and getting feedback. My love of this all, got fed to me. During my youth, my father would play Paul Harvey and I especially loved “The Rest of The Story.” In my teens, I got the great gift of a lifelong best friend whose father, Gary Taylor was an important radio and music executive. With he and his son, my dearest friend, I was able to learn from Gary’s play by play critique of radio, and you will hear me reference sort of old time FM radio talk, on my local show–“Oh, I hit the post on that bump!”–I adore the mix of those kinds of performance dynamics with more thoughtful moments, things I heard from people like Jim French (a Seattle radio legend) and good-spirited mockery, like Pat Cashman did (another great radio person from Seattle) and I now get to work with a great monologuer, Dori Monson. My life changed forever, though, when I heard Rush Limbaugh, and all of these pieces came together and all wrapped around one man’s opinions, intelligence, wit, and love of the craft; when I heard Rush’s show, I was sold, I had had to do it. I am certainly not comparing myself to these greats, I am just explaining how I came to love this medium.
Given your background in the tech sector, I had to lob you a question on that front! What are the best things radio can do to evolve itself and reach the younger, tech-savvy consumer base?
I have a firm rule, Ryan; old people have no business explaining how to reach young people unless the old folk are speaking from direct observation at scale and in-depth, evidentiary data. So, with those caveats in place, I would hope radio executives are cool hunting beyond apps and gadgets and down to the “why?” What I mean is this: Why does a young person use TikTok for some content and Snapchat for others? Why are so many young people doing their own cool hunting (their own version of A&R) and finding artists before the labels do. For instance, my daughter was listening to Cavetown, there were about 100 people on that YouTube channel. She has done that with a lot of artists, who have gone on to some good level of fame. So, this is still about content, story and relationship and these young people are far more similar to their parents and grandparents than we are led to believe: My daughter has dumped TikTok and now watches long form documentaries and stories, that has happened as she has aged; as I grew up, I listened to less hair metal and more of the Beatles, stopped Hogan’s Heroes and started watching more sophisticated stuff. Beyond that “focus group of one” comparison, consider the YouTube sensations, Dan & Phil. Where did their careers lead them? To a BBC deal and a hugely successful series of live stage shows. I saw both tours of Dan & Phil, and with the notable exceptions related to cultural shifts, these stage shows were good, old fashion shtick, some Joseph Campbell, some Odd Couple, some Vaudeville. So, these “tech savvy” young people–which I would express as “tech culture” young people–bought tickets, stood in line, bought merch, screamed, and cried when the guys came on stage, and then, in Seattle, chased their tour bus in teen hysteria. Is that a tech story? No, it’s a content story and Dan & Phil–who are now guys in their 30’s–built a strong bond with their audience because they adapted to a new aesthetic: They spoke in intimate terms, close up shots, often with no music, to their audience. Sure, Dan & Phil are performers, but they knew their medium well enough, to know when to emote and when to clown.
You and I have very different political views. Despite that, we had some fascinating conversations and always had the ability to, many times, meet each other in the middle. Can that kind of mentality make for good radio?
Could that mentality make good radio? Sure. Can a radio show like that succeed? No and yes. No: not as a new radio show. The Nation has been divided so completely, and these divisions are being inflamed so brilliantly, that I believe a new radio show with left and right cannot work. You will be losing 50% of the audience every few minutes. Yes: if the radio show pre-existed our Nation being divided so expertly. If the audience got to know the hosts before the great divide, then they can love the hosts without regard to the divide. Yes: if the hosts have a solid basis of friendship that pre-dates the great divide, the audience will sense that. Again, we have a model of that: Tom & Curley in Seattle, their show, and their friendship pre-dates the great divide; it’s fun, engaging radio because they are terrific performers, it still works because their audience grew up with them and with Curley, in his 80th year of radio, they stick with him to help him into old age. I said the mentality we share could make good radio. You and I can find a way to respect one another’s views, because I think you and I enjoy honest debate. You are a guy who likes to think about what people tell you, and I am a person who is fascinated with how people think. My faith calls me to have love for people and your nature, I believe, is to find the good in folks, even dangerous, right-wing lunatics like me. These characteristics make for great conversation, and I imagine it could work well in a Podcast where people choose to listen to a Left and Right dynamic and have success. But, not with radio where tune-ins matter.
What is the future of not just conservative talk radio but conservative media? How will it manage to exist and thrive despite the rise of “wokeness” and “cancel culture”?
That depends on how serious the New York Times is about the government having a “reality Czar” who decides what is or is not “true.” It depends on whether the totalitarians at Facebook, Google and Twitter get to continue to disappear us. If CNN hosts get their way, and OANN and NewsmaxTV are stricken from Comcast and Verizon pipes, it will be a hard path. We will have to buy our own servers, our own networks, pipes, and that clearly would take enormous investments. What’s happened in content, though, is fascinating: I firmly believe we are the news media. My audience knew about eight months ago the 35 Cycle PCR tests used to justify the deadly, medically useless, politically targeted lockdowns of schools, churches, and small businesses, were tragically flawed and delivered up to 98% false positives for Covid. Now, the World Health Organization finally admitted these tests are deeply flawed. My audience knew in March of last year, that all of the evidentiary data indicated children are at less risk from Covid than they are from flu; they knew people ages 20 – 40 are more likely to die playing football than from Covid. My audience heard, firsthand, that Hydroxychloroquine was never controversial until CNN manufactured that false reality, and suddenly it’s safe again. Now–as if by magic–we have Democrat politicians demanding schools open. It’s insane in a way, but my little show, Rush’s huge show, Glenn Beck’s program, in Seattle, my great colleague, Dori Monson, we have become the places where people can hear a counter narrative that breaks with what has, in far too many cases, become what I call the Mockingbird Media; shows and hosts who repeat and amplify the talking points of technocrats and leftist government, without a shred of skepticism. I am not claiming some mantle of infallibility, far from it, but in relation to Covid, somehow, we were right from three days after the partial, selective, deadly lockdowns began. So, unless we are disappeared, we will thrive by being the people who are committed to speaking fact and being open about our opinions and biases. However, if Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and CNN and The New York Times get their wish, and conservative news sources are disappeared, then the counter narrative is gone. If that happens, large scale debate is over and with it peaceful dissent. Should those things fall, America is gone. Hopefully, people in our industry with actual power, will not let that happen.
Winterble, Daugherty Discuss Dr. Seuss, Cancel Culture
“We lost a battle for sure,” Daugherty said. “Did we lose the war? I don’t know. I hope to heck not.”
After moving from the San Diego to Charlotte market last year, radio host Brett Winterble has quickly learned that the best way to attract listeners in the Tar Heel state is to forge a connection with college basketball. That’s why former North Carolina Tar Heel basketball coach Matt Daugherty is a frequent quest on The Brett Wintertble Show which airs on WBT AM in Charlotte. Daugherty was in studio again on Thursday, and while the pair did touch on sports topics, the main part of their conversation was devoted to Dr. Seuss and cancel culture in general.
”You look like a guy who read Dr. Seuss as a kid,” Winterble said to Daughtery. “My favorites growing up were, One Fish, Two Fish and of course the classic, Green Eggs and Ham. I read them and my kids read them, but now all of a sudden, they are too dangerous. Dr. Seuss has been banned. Our glorious monarch, King Joe Biden I has decreed that Dr. Seuss cannot be read at a celebration of Dr. Seuss Day. Five weeks ago they were just fine, but now they are too dangerous to even be sold on Ebay? What in the world is going on? Have we as conservatives lost the war?”
Winterble’s comments come after six of Theodor Geisel’s works are no longer going to be published due to racial stereotypes. Geisel wrote more than 60 other books under his popular pseudonym Dr. Seuss which will still remain in print, but that does not stop Winterble and Daugherty from claiming Dr. Seuss is a victim of cancel culture.
“We lost a battle for sure,” Daugherty said. “Did we lose the war? I don’t know. I hope to heck not.”
Winterble makes the comparison to other items sold on Ebay, but yet six Dr. Seuss books are banned.
“You can go on there and buy a poster of a certain political leader that ruled Germany in the 30’s and 40’s (Hitler), but Dr. Seuss is too dangerous? You can go on there and buy polyurethane items that should only be used in the hushed tones of the bedroom and yet people find Dr. Seuss objectionable? What’s next?”
Daugherty worries that cancel culture will eventually cross over into the world of sports.
“I think we will eventually start erasing players from the Hall of Fames,” he said. “Now of course, there were some scoundrels, particularly in baseball, but you can’t just erase that history. You can learn from it, but you can’t remove it.”
“I love working with young people,” Daugherty continued. “I always tell them to stand up for what you believe in, but to be a good leader, you also have to be able to listen. It seems we have lost that art of debate. We see plenty of argument, but people rarely make a point and then take the time to listen to the other side. If you can do that, you learn something. A lot of it has to do with dialogue happening over social media instead of face-to-face. 50 percent of communication is body language. You can’t see that on Twitter. It’s so much easier to cancel someone or throw out zingers if you can’t look them in the eye and see how much it hurts them.”
Winterble agrees and also urges open discussion if something is considered offensive or harmful.
“People have their identity so wrapped up in whatever issue it is, that when someone attacks the issue, it feels like they are attacking the person. There is some value in all of these things (like the Dr. Seuss controversy), but the default position should not be to rage quit and erase everything.”
FOX News Leads Cable News Ratings Thanks to Trump CPAC Speech
FNC was most assisted on Sunday Feb. 28 with its live broadcast of Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Orlando, Fla.
For the final week of February 2021, Fox News Channel accomplished a feat it has not done since the final week of October 2020 — topping all of cable news in both total viewers AND the key demographic of adults 25-54. It is a position FNC had long been familiar pre-2020 election. For the week ending Feb. 28, Fox News averaged 1.388 million viewers and 222,000 adults 25-54 in total day (6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m.) data from Nielsen Media Research; for prime time (Feb. 22-27 @ 8-11 p.m. and Feb. 28 @ 7-11 p.m.), FNC drew 2.478 million viewers and 376,000 adults 25-54. Each of those total-viewer marks were tops on all of cable; their total day 25-54 performance also leading cable.
FNC was most assisted on Sunday Feb. 28 with its live broadcast of Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Orlando, Fla. It generated the network’s highest 5PM ET hour ever on a Sunday among total viewers with 5.74 million total viewers and 966,000 in the 25-54 demo. The pre and post programs that bookended the speech also benefited: “America Reports” with John Roberts and Sandra Smith scored 3.15 million viewers and 501,000 with 25-54 in the 4PM ET hour; “The Big Sunday Show” at 6PM ET notched 3.72 million viewers and 708,000 with 25-54 demo.
CNN, the usual Sunday prime time cable news leader, took a backseat to Fox News on the night of Sunday Feb. 28. FNC continued its positive ratings wave from the late afternoon with “Life, Liberty & Levin” at 8PM ET having drawn 2.25 million viewers and 334,000 in the 25-54 demo. “The Next Revolution” with host Steve Hilton at 9PM ET delivered 1.88 million viewers and 351,000 in the 25-54 demo for its exclusive interview with Trump, topping CNN’s just-renewed “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” (1.32 million viewers/286,000 adults 25-54). within the hour.
MSNBC was the week’s respectable No. 2 cable network in total day (1.166 million) and prime time (1.967 million). Despite FNC’s recent return to the lead cable network spot, MSNBC still managed to win the entire month of February 2021, averaging 1.4 million viewers in total day (vs. Fox News’ 1.3 million and CNN’s 1.2 million). It is MSNBC’s first time ever as the most-watched network on cable (not just cable news) for one full calendar month.
Boosted by the second Trump impeachment trial and up-to-date COVID-19 information, MSNBC’s live breaking news coverage drew 1.53 million total viewers during their dayside slot of 9am-4pm ET (vs. CNN’s 1.52 million and Fox News’ 1.4 million); also, the top viewer figure in all of cable.
Here are the cable news averages for Feb. 22-28, 2021 — the total viewer figures were cable’s three best marks for the week in both total day and prime time:
Total Day (Feb. 22-28 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.388 million viewers; 222,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.166 million viewers; 159,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.909 million viewers; 201,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (Feb. 22-27 @ 8-11 p.m.; Feb. 28 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.478 million viewers; 376,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.987 million viewers; 283,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 1.295 million viewers; 298,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top CNN program and its associated rank) in total viewers:
1. Special Report “Trump Speaks at CPAC” (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 4:47 PM, 94 min.) 5.736 million viewers
2. The Big Sunday Show (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 6:21 PM, 39 min.) 3.720 million viewers
3. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 2/24/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.468 million viewers
4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 2/22/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.463 million viewers
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 2/25/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.407 million viewers
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/22/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.343 million viewers
7. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 2/23/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.329 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/23/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.298 million viewers
9. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 2/25/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.238 million viewers
10. America Reports (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 4:00 PM, 47 min.) 3.148 million viewers
63. Cuomo Prime Time (CNN, Mon. 2/22/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.825 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top CNN program and its associated rank) among adults 25-54:
1. Special Report “Trump Speaks at CPAC” (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 4:47 PM, 94 min.) 0.966 million adults 25-54
2. The Big Sunday Show (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 6:21 PM, 39 min.) 0.708 million adults 25-54
3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 2/25/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.572 million adults 25-54
4. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 2/22/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.538 million adults 25-54
5. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 2/24/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.513 million adults 25-54
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 2/22/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.501 million adults 25-54
7. America Reports (FOXNC, Sun. 2/28/2021 4:00 PM, 47 min.) 0.501 million adults 25-54
8. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 2/25/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.499 million adults 25-54
9. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 2/23/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.491 million adults 25-54
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 2/23/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.486 million adults 25-54
12. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Mon. 2/22/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
Stay Out of the Swamp and Focus on Local Stories Worth Telling
If push comes to shove, we can leave the latest Biden gaffe to our syndicated friends, and superserve our market in a way that they will remember well beyond the word “COVID”.
As many talk radio hosts around the country settle into a new role as the pushback against a new administration in charge in Washington D.C., it is important to not get caught up in the “swamp-talk” on a daily basis.
Donald Trump provided four years of daily, dramatic content for local and national hosts. And for many it worked, because it’s what people wanted to talk about around the water cooler. Despite all of Joe Biden’s policy failures thus far, he’s not nearly as compelling an individual to cover. Heck, he hasn’t even done a press conference with the media since Inauguration Day.
Meantime, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the issues our listeners are facing in our backyard have become all the more pressing. And no issue appears to be hitting home more for my audience than the inability of too many schools to not fully re-open.
Despite study after study showing that there is very minimal transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms, too many students have been held hostage by the teacher’s unions, local school boards and, yes, the new administration.
But so much of this issue is local to a city or a region because of how each district is handling things differently. For the last several weeks, I have been updating my audience in Kansas City as to the latest around what schools are doing, how they’re planning, and if/when they will be opening back up.
Every day it feels like I could do a four-hour show on opening up our schools with the amount of phone/text/tweet traffic we get when discussing this topic. Parents have had enough and they are seeing through the charade.
But rather than simply listening to parents complain all morning, which certainly has its purpose, but can get repetitive, I’ve taken the approach of doing our best to find new angles to this issue each day. Both Missouri and Kansas are advancing bills through the legislature to provide more school choice for parents. This is becoming more and more popular in urban, suburban and rural settings. Where do these bills stand and what do they accomplish?
It might seem wonky, but with how desperate so many parents are to get their kids back to learning in the short term, and then wondering how to remedy their own situation in the long term, this is when the show can stand out in sharing information, entertaining, opinion, analysis and reaction.
That’s led to conversations with the lawmakers in both states to discuss where their bills are in the process and where they’re headed.
It also helped create a segment that became our most listened to interview of the past week. It was an interview with a Kansas City, Missouri school board member who is opposed to opening in-person learning. It was a strong conversation with a bantering back and forth of ideas and perspective, never getting nasty, which led to a segment that received a ton of feedback.
So as we continue to navigate a new administration in Washington D.C., playing “watch dog” is an important part of the job that the listeners expect.
But the unique nature of the moment with COVID-19 provides us with so much original content that is frustrating our listeners, who are parents (oh, and likely in-demo listeners I might add!), holding back communities and doing short and long-term damage. So if push comes to shove, we can leave the latest Biden gaffe to our syndicated friends, and superserve our market in a way that they will remember well beyond the word “COVID”. At least I sure hope so.