Voice over artist Steve Stone has seen a lot over nearly three decades in broadcasting. But he’s never experienced the kind of job market that a global pandemic brings.
“It’s very disheartening to see what’s happened,” he tells me. “This kind of uncertainty is kind of like walking on jello, you know?”
His first professional hit came from the sports industry as COVID-19 infections began spreading rapidly in March and much of the country went into various states of lockdown.
“All my pro-baseball work went away. There was a solid two, three months there when no one knew what was going on. It was so difficult to know how to maneuver [professionally] because I had absolutely no control.”
Throughout the intervening eight months, Stone has continued working, like so many of us, from his home in Pittsburgh. He counts himself lucky to have been represented by Atlas Talent Agency for 20 years, whose agents, along with many other long-term clients, have helped him weather the economic storm of 2020.
“Dealing with change has been the most important skill of my career.”
You may not know it, but if you listen to commercial radio and are a sports fan, Steve Stone has been in your ears, many times over.
If your media diet includes CNN, CBS Radio, Fox Sports, Hearst television, or any of Sinclair’s or iHeartMedia’s radio and television affiliate stations and digital platforms, his voice is as familiar to you as a your favorite show host.
Stone’s career began in earnest in 1991 at an FM station in Santa Rosa, California, where he got his first on-air break as an overnight and weekend fill-in disc jockey. He would go onto work behind the mic as a producer and graphic artist there and at other radio stations in Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York City, and elsewhere.
Stone’s on-air work would eventually morph from his role as an on-air personality to an in demand audio branding talent, i.e. voice over artist. In between, he also developed his lifelong love of comic book illustration into a side gig.
“I was really fortunate to have really good mentors early in my career.” Stone says. “Plus, the more skills you have in anything you focus on, the better.”
Among his skill set, Stone puts flexibility at the top of the list.
And that makes sense given that his career has straddled two very different worlds, having started in terrestrial broadcasting and continuing right up to the current digital revolution.
Stone says he knew big changes were coming as far back as the late 1990s, when media companies began consolidating, scooping up or killing off innumerable local radio and television affiliates, thanks in large part to the 1996 telecommunications act. It led to what Stone describes as a kind of homogenized and formulaic broadcasting business model, a disruption that was compounded by dramatic technological changes.
“In my day, people would not adapt to technology. That happens with every big change. It’s how you deal with change that impacts your longevity.”
Part of Stone’s staying power in such a highly competitive business has to do with open embrace of vast technological change. The professional gains of his approach are obvious. But, he adds, there are some real losses. Particularly for his younger counterparts.
“When I think about my generation, I learned so much simply by being around really talented broadcasters. Two generations later, there has been a void of training and learning and a level of matriculation that has been lost,” Stone says.
“A lot of people younger than me are incredibly talented, but they’re learning from YouTube. It’s a great platform, but it’s just not the same as standing right next to a really talented pro.”
Stone acknowledges that digital innovation has created unthinkable opportunities (indeed, he says, the entire world) to would-be voice artists. But, he adds, it’s also produced an ever more crowded and highly competitive profession as the explosive growth of online streaming and podcasting over the past 10 years has prompted mass layoffs in radio.
“Years ago, you would compete for voice over jobs with people in your own market. Now, it’s anyone at anytime in any place around the world. Technology has become so accessible that it doesn’t take much to set yourself up to be able to do quality work independently from home.”
For Stone, whose work ranges from newscasting, radio ads to sports branding, the delivery method doesn’t really matter. The work of a voice over artist always boils down to one thing: storytelling.
“We are either telling our own story or someone else’s story. Can be a scary or festive attitude or a kind of bravado – that’s the acting part,” he says. “Everything is a story.”
And to remind himself, he keeps that core idea nearby.
“I have tattoos. And one of them on my arm says ‘tell the story.’”
The NFL Weathered the Storm, Fans Once Again Are Addicted
The NFL Playoffs kicking off this weekend, nearly 18 months removed from the NFL’s latest soiree into politics, yet the league is as strong as ever.
The NFL has us all wrapped around its finger.
Don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. As we get set for the NFL Playoffs kicking off this weekend, we are nearly 18 months removed from the NFL’s latest soiree into politics, yet the league is as strong as ever.
The NFL’s regular season viewership rose 10%, which is a bounce-back from a 7% drop in 2020.
About 17.1 million viewers tuned in to regular season games on TV and online. It was the highest regular season audience for the NFL since 2015, according to a statement from the league. With the audience for traditional TV falling, NFL games continue to dominate the ratings, ranking as 91 of the top 100 telecasts this season, the league said.
So what happened?
Well first we need to look backwards: 2020 was a perfect storm. The NFL did go political to a degree, adding “social justice” phrases to the end zones and the backs of players’ helmets. It was not as in-your-face as what the NBA did, but it was noticeable. It bothered a portion of fans who may have temporarily stepped away from watching football in a boycott. Add to that an incredibly tense 2020 election season, along with being in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was natural to expect to see a decrease in viewership.
Oh, and let’s be honest, the mostly empty stadiums were just ghoulish.
But the NFL weathered the storm. Because that’s what it does. It’s the best product on TV and it’s brought many back into the fold as things have gotten back to normal in 2021.
It’s also why I never boycotted the league. First off, I knew I wouldn’t last long. We all need outlets from the insanity of the news cycle. I knew myself too well. And if I was going to boycott, I was going to do it right. I never thought I could do an NFL boycott “right”.
Was that weak of me? I know I certainly took the backlash from some of my listeners. But based on the ratings numbers we are seeing this week, it seems like many who were tough talkers in 2020 have quietly come back to the league with their tail between their legs.
For the record, I’m OK with that. I won’t be admonishing anyone over it. The NFL puts on a first-class product. And let’s be honest, the NFL knew that they could toe the line of doing “enough” on the social justice front to appease those requesting it, while allowing time to heal wounds of those not wanting it, and not hemorage their audience in any significant way.
It turns out the NFL was right. Once again. We can’t get enough. Republicans, Democrats, Independents. And we’ll be tuned in starting with Wild Card Weekend on Saturday.
So as we get ready for another season of NFL Playoffs, there’s no conversation around politics infringing on the product and the league is dominating TV ratings in a way no other sport or show is coming close to duplicating.
The NFL weathered the storm, the stadiums are full, fans are back, and we’re all, once again, addicted.
It’s OK to admit it. I am. Will you?
Children Are Paying a Heavier Price Over Covid
“Too many parents, studies, and experts are concerned with the overall mental and physical health of a child that it’s impossible to ignore any longer.”
Here we go again, another COVID surge. Big businesses will thrive, small businesses will get by, restaurants will struggle, but for the most part, we can handle another wave. Schools, however, I’m not so sure.
Since everyone will try and decipher where I stand on the issue, let me be upfront. I’m triple vaccinated, I don’t like to wear a mask, but I do, when asked, and usually after a few minutes in a store, I pull it down so it’s not so annoying. I have an toddler at home who is not yet school age.
Schools are the front lines of this war. Kids who are forced to wear a mask to protect other kids, teachers, and themselves is seen as a small inconvenience for the greater good.
On the other hand, kids who are forced to wear a mask are having their self esteem destroyed, their ability to interact short circuited, and their mental health continues to suffer. They’re falling behind in their learning, and their overall general health is bad and is getting worse.
Schools have been able to find common ground on much tougher issues (bullying, drugs, violence, kickball) so why can’t we find an acceptable alternative when it comes to masks?
It’s all masks all the time or no masks ever again.
The latest numbers in St. Louis have 54 children ages 18 and younger in the hospital and 10 children in the ICU.
Each one tragic, and if I were a parent, I would want to call out the national guard. But, too many parents, too many studies, and too many experts are generally concerned with the overall mental and physical health of a child that it’s impossible to ignore any longer. If you disagree, look at the mental health of the adults around the kids. We parents aren’t handling this pandemic well so what chance do our children have?
Conversely, some parents are petrified of the great unknown when it comes to Covid. Children get it at a much lesser degree, and not as severe, except when it’s your child.
Politicians aren’t helping the situation either. They are using the issue to gain attention from their respective fringes, hoping it will propel them to a higher office. They win when we stay angry with each other. If one were cynical, one would say they don’t want a solution. Fixing the problem doesn’t help them.
During the polio outbreaks of years ago, schools would delay openings, cancel schools, and parents would limit who could play with their kids because “they have polio over there”. It wasn’t ideal, but in the 1930’s you had one parent home to help. ( In fact, radio, back in the day was part of the solution. Radio helped with the virtual learning. It was the zoom of its day.) Today with both parents working it’s much more difficult for a family.
At some point we have to arrive at a new normal. It’s been two full years and now our third February. We can’t continue to have virtual learning, and school board meetings where parents are screaming at each other like junkyard dogs. At what point do we put down our weapons, and come up with a compromise?
While one parent worries about the long term negative effects of the vaccine, the other parent worries about the long term negative effects of COVID. It seems like they should be able to understand each other.
In some ways there is no answer, but in others, we must find one. The children are watching. We are making them pawns in our political fights. We are using them to propel our political agenda. I worry what long lasting negative effects all of this will have on them long after COVID is gone.
CNN Remains Top Destination For New Year’s Eve Celebrations
“From 11p-12:30am, CNN drew 3.3 million total viewers, matching its second-best ever total audience of that date’s time slot.”
The calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, and cable’s No. 1 non-sports destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations, CNN, remained so. Once again at New York’s Times Square were hosts Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. Some of the guests featured were actor Leslie Jordan, performer Katy Perry, Academy Award winner Regina King and King’s former “227” co-star Jackee Harry.
For the 90-minute period of 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Eastern, it drew 3.3 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, matching CNN’s second-best ever total audience (with New Year’s Eve 2017) of that date’s time slot. It was during that time frame when the night’s most viral moment took place. Shortly after the clock struck midnight, a ticked-off (and tipsy) Cohen criticized the “victory lap dance” by “horrible” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.
CNN’s full 4.5-hour telecast averaged 2.12 million total viewers including 746,000 within the key 25-54 demographic (from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.). This marked a 35 percent decline in each key figure from their record-setting New Year’s Eve 2020. Still, it delivered cable’s best adults 25-54 performance of the week (ending Jan. 2) outside of ESPN’s football coverage, Paramount’s “Yellowstone” and TLC’s “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days.”
Cable news’ runner-up telecast for the week among adults 25-54 was CNN’s continued New Year’s Eve celebrations from New Orleans, Louisiana. It was hosted by a visibly-inebriated Don Lemon alongside fellow CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota and “Daily Show” comedienne Dulce Sloan. The special, which began at 12:30 a.m. Eastern, averaged 1.455 million total viewers including 614,000 in the 25-54 age range. While it dipped to its lowest total audience amount since 2014, the telecast ran until 1:30 a.m. Eastern, meaning the figure included the steep drop in viewership after 1 a.m. Eastern/midnight Central. Prior to Dec. 31, 2019, CNN had concluded Lemon’s portion at 1:05 a.m. Eastern. This was the first year Lemon spent New Year’s without Brooke Baldwin, his longtime fellow co-host on the occasion; Baldwin had departed CNN back in April.
In the overnight on CNN, a rerun of “New Year’s Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen” from 1:30-3:30 a.m. drew 755,000 viewers (with 252,000 adults 25-54); at 3:30-4:30 a.m., a re-airing of “New Year’s Live” with Don Lemon (remaining uncensored) posted 369,000 viewers and a still-above-CNN’s-total-day-average of 124,000 adults 25-54.
Over at Fox News on Dec. 31, their one-hour 2021 retrospective “Who Can Forget” at 8 p.m. drew 1.35 million viewers (172 adults 25-54), followed by the 1.85 million (including 242,000 adults 25-54) who tuned in to Greg Gutfeld’s one-hour New Year’s special at 9 p.m. “All-American New Year 2022” from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. averaged 1.85 million total viewers and 359,000 adults 25-54 — approximately twice more than last New Year’s Eve.
Also during the week, from federal court in New York City, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on federal charges of luring underage teenage girls to engage in sex acts with American millionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The jury had deliberated for five days before they found her guilty of five of the six counts charged against her. The verdict occurred on Dec. 29 at 5:10 p.m. Eastern. Fox News Channel was the top cable news outlet in breaking news coverage with 2.9 million viewers and 386,000 adults 25-54. Although no labels from Nielsen indicated the news event on CNN and MSNBC, the 5-6 p.m. hour of CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” drew 822,000 total viewers and 173,000 adults 25-54; MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” from 4-6 p.m. delivered 1.12 million viewers and 134,000 adults 25-54.
On upstart NewsNation, their “Rush Hour” program on Dec. 29 from 5-6 p.m. posted 119,000 viewers. Oddly enough, it was the least-watched weeknight edition from Dec. 27-31; overall, “Rush Hour” averaged 156,000 viewers for the week.
Cable news averages for December 27, 2021-January 2, 2022:
Total Day (December 27-January 2 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.225 million viewers; 187,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.531 million viewers; 58,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.529 million viewers; 110,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.224 million viewers; 74,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.164 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.154 million viewers; 28,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.094 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.093 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (December 27-January 1 @ 8-11 p.m.; January 2 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.749 million viewers; 232,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.774 million viewers; 75,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.743 million viewers; 170,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.245 million viewers; 82,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.191 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.156 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.111 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.063 million viewers; 13,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top CNN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.128 million viewers
2. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:00 PM, 10 min.) 3.015 million viewers
3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.940 million viewers
4. Special Report: Maxwell Verdict (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:10 PM, 50 min.) 2.897 million viewers
5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 12/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.762 million viewers
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.690 million viewers
7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.519 million viewers
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.415 million viewers
9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.325 million viewers
10. Special Report with Bret Baier (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.277 million viewers
14. New Years Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 2.124 million viewers
62. New Years Eve Live (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 1.455 million viewers
65. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 12/29/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.432 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top HLN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. New Years Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 0.746 million adults 25-54
2. New Years Eve Live (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 0.614 million adults 25-54
3. All American New Year’s (FOXNC, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.462 million adults 25-54
4. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.406 million adults 25-54
5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 12/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.401 million adults 25-54
6. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:00 PM, 10 min.) 0.397 million adults 25-54
7. Special Report: Maxwell Verdict (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:10 PM, 50 min.) 0.386 million adults 25-54
8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.379 million adults 25-54
9. All American New Year’s (FOXNC, Fri. 12/31/2021 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.364 million adults 25-54
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.361 million adults 25-54
74. Forensic Files “Who’s Your Daddy” (HLN, Tue. 12/28/2021 11:30 PM, 30 min.) 0.206 million adults 25-54
115. The Beat with Ari Melber (MSNBC, Mon. 12/27/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.155 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research
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