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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”.

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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.

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BNM Writers

The Future of News/Talk – Part 1

Part one of a series seeking to find the answers to the question, ‘What’s the future of news/talk radio?’

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Photo by Andrew Magill CC BY 2.0.

As I’ve mentioned before, spoken word media is very much at a crossroads.

The passing of Rush Limbaugh, in a way, was symbolic of the proverbial “fork in the road” that the news/talk format is currently staring at. 

With that in mind, the question needs to be asked; what is the future of news/talk radio? 

Oh, I forgot, “radio” is a dirty word these days.  I should have said news/talk MEDIA.

Over the next few weeks, we’re embarking on a multi-part series to find the answers.

As I’ve often said, when tough questions like this are asked, I enlist the help of people that are far smarter than yours truly.  We’ll get the perspectives of people from all sides of the industry, from talent to management to sales and beyond.

For part one of our series, we turn to a consultant.

Phil Tower has had an impressive career in broadcast media.

He’s been a host in multiple formats, worked in management at various levels and has also spent nearly 30 years as an Adjunct Professor of Communications and Mass Media at several different colleges. 

On a side note, he’s also someone that, for years, I could never get a hold of.

Tower has owned and operated his own media consultancy in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan for the last decade.  I remember him as the guy I would listen to on WOOD-AM and WLAV-FM.  As an aspiring radio nerd, teenage me tried to call him, introduce myself and get his advice on how I could do what he did.  

Naturally, I never got past the secretary who worked the switchboard at the radio station. 

Thanks to the power of social media, Phil and I finally connected a few months ago.  Now, after all this time, I can finally get his advice.

With the passing of Rush, many of his affiliates seem to have been left in limbo.  What do you think iHeart’s plans will be for that time slot?

Premiere Networks has already been very public about the fact that they are going to continue to honor the legacy of Rush by continuing to keep the show going by utilizing a strong lineup very talented fill-in hosts (Ken Matthews, Todd Herman, Brett Winterble, Mark Steyn) that are already very familiar voices for his audience. I think this is a very wise strategy for Premiere Networks to employ. Rush Limbaugh was bigger than life and his show aired for 30+ years. Given that, Premiere has a treasure trove of timeless audio cuts from Rush Limbaugh that will still be relevant given whatever topic A is for a given day.

What should Limbaugh affiliates be doing right now?

The smartest move is to be patient and stay the course. I highly doubt there will be a serious ratings degradation for the short term and maybe even longer.  A few stations have already made the move to launch local shows and while that may work in the long run, often when stations introduce a new show and host to the audience, they take a much bigger risk of losing ratings and revenue.

There will be syndicated options in that time slot (Cumulus is offering Dan Bongino).  Would stations be better served to look for LOCAL alternatives?

Unless they already have a well-established local option, I would advise stations to look at the offering of syndicated choices if they can’t lock up the Rush Limbaugh Show for their market. I firmly believe that the next 12 to 18 months will present a much clearer picture of how the spoken word format will evolve after the passing of such an iconic host. At the same time, I don’t think Rush will ever truly “disappear from relevance” given the long-lasting impact he has had on the spoken word format.

For stations (even smaller market ones) that want to look for a local solution to Limbaugh, where could they look?

Unless they have a strong option already existing in house, I would look at successful news journalists, TV hosts with a strong brand and popularity in their own market. There may also be options in terms of local bloggers/podcasters who are especially successful as social influencers. I think it’s very important to look at talent who can express themselves confidently both as a speaker and writer. Writing skills are more important than ever.

There are over a million podcasts cluttering the spoken word space right now.  How can terrestrial stations continue to stand out with so many different content choices?

The battle for “share of ear” Is as intense as it ever has been.  Terrestrial stations can stand out by super serving their listeners and by being available on multiple platforms and reminding their listeners of that daily. I think it’s also very critical that successful terrestrial brands make all of their shows contact available as podcasts. I also strongly urge them to go one step beyond that by encouraging/pushing local hosts to create standalone content for podcast. Loyal listeners have already demonstrated they want this content.  In the iHeartRadio ecosystem, the practice of hosts creating standalone content for digital was the norm. That discipline should become standard practice for every spoken word talent looking to extend their personal brand.   I’m very bullish and always hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the spoken word format. The one huge upside to the podcasting boom is that it has by default become a new massive incubator for talent.  Every smart programmer in this format should be aware of who is hosting standout podcasts in their region and they should be paying attention to those talent. I’m also especially hopeful that the format will be more welcoming to women.  Lots of women are creating great dynamic content and killing it as podcasters and there’s no reason that many of them couldn’t be as successful in live radio. I don’t care if they have a political bent or they’re just unique people who are strong storytellers.  In the end, women hosts deserve more seats at the talk radio round table.

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BNM Writers

Simone Says Media Fans the Flames of Racism

“Things are bad enough right now, but the media is making it worse,” Simone said on Tuesday’s edition of The Mark Simone Show heard on New York’s WOR. “Not every tragedy that happens is racially motivated.”

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Photo by Jenny Salita CC BY-ND 2.0.

Unlike some conservative radio hosts, Mark Simone readily admits that racism is a problem that needs to be addressed in America, but also calls on the media to stop “fanning the flames of racism”.

“Things are bad enough right now, but the media is making it worse,” Simone said on Tuesday’s edition of The Mark Simone Show heard on New York’s WOR. “Not every tragedy that happens is racially motivated. Some are and that needs to be addressed. But the media jumps to push a certain narrative and I think it’s dangerous.”

Simone uses the recent shooting death of African-American Daunte Wright by Caucasian police officer Kim Potter. According to reports, during a traffic stop Potter meant to taser Wright, who was allegedly resisting arrest, but instead mistakenly pulled her firearm and fatally shot Wright Potter has since resigned her position, and as of Wednesday morning, according to The New York Times, the shooting was ruled “an accidental discharge”.

“What happened was a horrible, tragic and stupid,” Simone said. “How does a 25 year veteran of the police force confuse a taser and a gun? That should not happen. It was an idiotic mistake and she should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. But was it racially motivated? I don’t think so.”

Simone blames the media for rushing to judgment before all the facts are known.

“I would ask them to stop it, but I know they won’t,” he said. “The media is married to the BLM movement. On the surface Black Lives Matter sounds like a positive thing, but in reality, when paired with the media, it is a dangerous combination that fans the flames of racism instead of settling them down.”

Simone adds that this coupling of the media with BLM leads to bias reporting.

“There have been 17 cops killed just this year,” he said. “In one of the most horrific videos I’ve seen, a police officer was shot and killed at a traffic stop by a man with an assault rifle. Why isn’t that video the lead story for Lester Holt and NBC News? Why doesn’t CNN or MSNBC cover that story? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative of racism. We all know that there is a small percentage of bad cops out there, but they treat everybody badly. They are overaggressive and demeaning. That’s just the way they act and that doesn’t change based on skin color.”

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BNM Writers

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.

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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 thejudge 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.

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