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Rick Dayton Looks to Bring Civility Back to Afternoons on KDKA in Pittsburgh

Following the October departure of controversial host Wendy Bell, former local TV anchor Rick Dayton takes the reigns weekdays from 3-6pm.

Ryan Maguire

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2020 was a big year for the nation’s oldest radio station.

Newsradio 1020 KDKA celebrated their 100th anniversary, acquired an FM-simulcast, and now, they have a new afternoon show.  

Following the October departure of controversial host Wendy Bell, former local TV anchor Rick Dayton takes the reigns weekdays from 3-6pm.  

Having spent a few years in Pittsburgh working with KDKA and their cluster mates, I wanted to reach out to Rick and find out what his game plan was.  

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had never met Rick.  I do remember watching him anchoring mornings at KDKA-TV during my time in the steel city.  Yet, we were never acquainted.

I came away impressed.  I’ve long advocated for a return to civility in the news media.  Rick brings that in spades.  What he also brings is a genuine sense of intelligence, curiosity, and humility that should resonate with listeners in the ‘burgh.  During our conversations, I found him to be intelligent, quick witted and very, very enthusiastic about his new gig.  

On the surface, this may seem like a “safe” hire for the heritage news-talker.  Rick is very affable and will no doubt be a paradigm shift from the flame-throwing Bell.  However, I’ve always maintained that “nice” doesn’t necessarily equal “boring”.  Being an engaging personality doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a jerk.  Many successful people I’ve worked with have proven that and Rick strikes me as being cut from the same cloth.

Oh, and one more thing about Rick…he has a HELL of a lot to say.

Rick Dayton, right, calling College of Wooster (OH) Men’s Basketball in 1987.  Photo: Matt Dilyard

Talk about how this gig first came about.

I approached KDKA Radio this fall after losing my job at KDKA TV after nearly 11 years. With the political campaigning in full swing, they asked me to host a series of four Pre-Debate Tailgates that were scheduled before the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates. One of those was ultimately cancelled so it ended up being three three-hour shows. We talked about a myriad of subjects and had a lot of guests on those programs. It was not a call-in show as much as it was about sharing information about how the debate would work, the subjects that would be covered, who would be moderating, etc. The shows went very well and were well-received that KDKA Radio management asked me if I could fill-in for a week and a half during afternoon drive. I did that for eight days, and the rest — as they say — is history.

You’re taking over for Wendy Bell, who generated a fair share of controversy during her stint on KDKA.  What concerns did you have about taking over the job given her highly publicized departure?

I have no control over what happened in the past. What I do know is that KDKA is a legendary station and has been the home to so many of my role-models and rock-solid journalists and hosts. I think about Fred Honsberger, John Cigna, Mike Pintek, Jack Bogut. Those are men I listened to — not only when I was growing up in Grove City, PA, but when I came back to Pittsburgh to continue my television career in 2009.  If you listened to them, you learned a lot. Not just about the subject, but about how to be a good neighbor. You may not have agreed with everything Fred said — and he may not have agreed with you — but there was a certain level of civility in the discussions. You ended the conversation with him and still respected him despite the fact that you may not agree on the subject at hand.  And most importantly, you looked forward to what tomorrow’s show might bring. Mike Pintek did that. So did John. And I will not soon forget that Jack Bogut sent me a card in the first month of my arrival back in Pittsburgh welcoming me home. I am very cognizant of the examples they set, and the legacy they have helped establish at one of the finest radio stations in the country.  Those are big shoes to fill.

What do you envision your show to be?

At 6:00 each afternoon, I want listeners to say to themselves “I learned something from Rick’s show today.” I want us all to learn something. I want to learn from each other. I want to help teach — not by being the teacher, but by using the show to introduce people I know who are much smarter than I am. Pittsburgh is such a vibrant, dynamic city. There is so much going on, and things are changing very quickly. The transformations in this city through its three renaissance movements have been well-documented. But with that, this city is now home to some remarkable, brilliant people and fascinating companies. I want my listeners to meet those people, and to get to know them as neighbors.  If my guests happen to be names the audience already knows, I want my conversations with those newsmakers to go into areas people simply don’t get to hear. One of the things I am most excited about is that by having a three hour show each afternoon, I don’t have the same time restrictions that I have been limited by in the past. It is sometimes very difficult to tell a comprehensive, balanced story in a minute and thirty seconds. I don’t have to do that anymore. I can take 15 minutes, or an hour, or all three hours if necessary. 

The other thing I want the show to be known for is balance and civility. I will talk with people from all walks of life, all types of political views, and perspectives. I may not agree with them, and some of the audience may not agree with them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a dignified, congenial conversation about the topic at hand.  Will there be hard questions? Absolutely. Will there be some awkward exchanges? Likely. But just because the show has my name on it, doesn’t mean that my point of view is the only one that matters. Remember what I said about getting to 6:00 PM and saying, “I learned something today?” That goes for me too. I can’t wait to learn from our guests and from the incredibly diverse population of people who count on KDKA Radio every afternoon from 3 to 6.

Your background is primarily in television.  What challenges have you found in being effective crossing over to radio?

While I have been a TV news anchor and reporter for the past 19 years, I got started in radio and have nearly as much experience painting word pictures in what has been called the “theater of the mind.” My first job as a broadcaster came back in the early 1980’s in my hometown of Grove City, PA. I started working at WEDA-FM, a 5,000-watt daytime radio station, on Saturday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. I anchored the news at the top of every hour, tore stories off the teletype machine, and wrote and read those stories on the air. It was my job to anchor world, national, state, and local news every hour, then play music on reel-to-reel tape decks and play the commercials during the breaks. I also got my first taste of live sports coverage as they station covered Grove City High School. 

From there, I went to college at the College of Wooster. One of the big reasons I chose Wooster was for the radio station it had on campus.  It was entirely student run and programmed. Because I had three years of commercial radio experience when I walked onto campus, I pretty quickly rose thought the ranks. I was Sports Director my sophomore year and did college basketball and football. I was the General Manager my junior year and was responsible for a staff of more than 100 students. It also means FCC requirements and underwriting campaigns to pay for equipment and engineering needs. It was my responsibility to be the liaison between the College administration, station faculty advisor and the staff.

Rick Dayton working in the Capital Broadcasting Studios in Raleigh, NC

After graduation from Wooster, I went into sales for several years. Sold copiers and business machines for a while, then went to work for an IBM Business Partner selling computer systems and software to candy and tobacco wholesalers across the country. I did that until 1995 when I decided I missed broadcasting too much and went to work as the selling advertising for WCHL-AM, the flagship station for the Tar Heel Sports Network in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In addition to selling airtime, I also had the chance to do play-by-play for high school football and for the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team. That ultimately led to a full-time job with Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh. They were the parent company of the North Carolina News Network. I ultimately was promoted to Sports Director of NCNN, but I also produced and anchored a daily syndicated show on professional golf with Bobby Clampett called DriveTime. I was also responsible for recruiting affiliate stations to carry the show. At Capitol, I also had the opportunity to call baseball, men’s and women’s basketball and some football for Duke University, NC State University, and East Carolina University. In addition to covering all the NCAA powers in the state of North Carolina, I also covered the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, and minor league baseball. We covered the PGA Tour and NASCAR, including a daily show I hosted called Winston Cup Today. Capitol syndicated “We’re Talking Sports with Rick Dayton.” It was a sports lover’s dream to be able to call games in the NCAA Final Four and be there for Payne Stewart’s amazing win at the US Open at Pinehurst.  I also was able to work as host and contributor for Inside Basketball with Duke’s Coach K, the weekly TV show of the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.

Rick Dayton, center, calling East Carolina Basketball in November 1999

All that sports and radio background taught me about preparation, about how to get ready to call a game by knowing the back-stories on players and coaches. But more than anything else, it taught me how to think on my feet, to paint pictures with nothing but my voice and the sounds coming through a microphone. It taught me how to interview people at their highest and lowest times of their careers. And most of all, it taught me how to listen to people — and to hear what they were saying and what they weren’t saying.

That’s why I am thrilled to be coming full-circle and return to my roots in radio.

I’ve always felt that the talented hosts were the ones that knew how to truly engage their audience.  Just providing news and entertainment and taking phone calls isn’t enough.  In what ways do you plan to engage your listeners?

One of the highest compliments I have been paid in my career came from Henry Winkler. He is the television star who played Arthur Fonzarelli (“The Fonz”) on Happy Days. I interviewed him on live TV several years ago here in Pittsburgh. It was about a 6- or 7-minute segment. When we got done, he shook my hand and said, “That is one of the best interviews I have ever done in my career. You knew things about me and asked questions I have never been asked before. I could have talked with you all morning.”  I have heard similar comments from many people, people who are often nervous or anxious about being interviewed. Many times, when we finish the interview, they tell me how at ease I made them feel. They felt like they were heard. The felt safe talking with me.  And this comes has come from Republicans and Democrats from people of all races and religions.  Callers have told me the same thing when I have done call-in shows.  We may not agree on the subject matter, but we can have a civil conversation.  That’s how you get people coming back day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. You treat them with respect. Give them something the world doesn’t give them.  I try very hard to live my life by the Golden Rule that I learned in Sunday School many years ago in church. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It sounds so simple, but those words of Jesus are so profound and life changing. My experience has taught me that by doing that, the engagement with listeners and guests becomes much easier.

Rick Dayton in the KDKA-TV studios.  Photo: Heather Abraham

Pittsburgh is a market full of many talented radio personalities and many are fighting for the same audience that you are.  How do you plan to stand out?

By being genuine to who I am and what I believe. I am not a yeller. I am not going to call names. I am not going to puff out my chest and tell everyone how great I am. That’s for someone else to decide. My job is to work hard, to prepare, to find great guests through my years of experience as a journalist, to get those guests to be on KDKA Radio with me, and the allow them to tell us what they know and what they think. To allow them to be the teacher for the segment, to help make us smarter, kinder, better, more informed. I believe people are starved for a level of civility that is lacking in our culture today. Talk Radio doesn’t have to be a shouting match.

Finding younger listeners is something that many in news radio (and news media in general) feel as a high priority.  What are your overall thoughts on that?  How will you bring new listeners to the party (so to speak)?

My wife Jenny and I have three amazing sons. They are 24, 22, and 20.  They went/go to three different colleges, Case Western Reserve University, Grove City College and Allegheny College. They studied three very different things. Our oldest was a double major in Biology and Cognitive Science at Case where he also played baseball. He’s now a third-year med student at Northwestern in Chicago. Our middle son graduated with a double major in Accounting and Finance at Grove City College. He was a four-year starter on their baseball team. He now works as a financial analyst in Charlotte, NC. Our youngest is a junior at Allegheny College. He is majoring in Economics with minors in Physics and/or Psychology. He was an Academic All-American on the men’s golf team as a sophomore. I don’t say these things to brag about our sons (but we are fiercely loyal to them and immensely proud of the young men they are becoming.) I say to because Jenny and I have spent a tremendous amount of time with them and with their friends and their teammates who are from all across the United States. We have had those kids in our home many times when they couldn’t get home for Thanksgiving or need a ride to the airport. I think that has allowed us to have a really good sense of what is important to that “younger generation.”

I also spent nine or ten seasons hosting Hometown HighQ on television here in Pittsburgh. It is an academic quiz show for high school students. I love those kids and have kept in touch with many of them through social media and conversations with their parents and teachers after their graduation. I feel a connection with those kids. They teach me about what is important in their lives, about what is happening in their schools, about the things that matter to them and their friends. 

I have hosted more than a hundred assemblies in area high schools about safe driving through the Ford Driving Skills for Life Assemblies.  Talking with kids face to face about the hard decisions they will face being the wheel — and about the consequences of bad decisions has been an eye-opener for me. 

Those are just some of the reasons I think I won’t find myself just “preaching to the choir” of people my age, and my background, and my beliefs.

As we head into 2021, a lot of the “low hanging fruit” news stories that we saw in 2020 will no longer be there.  The election is over, much of the civil unrest has dissipated and (hopefully) we’ll have a COVID-19 vaccine mass distributed.   How do you overcome the challenges of delivering stories that cut through the clutter?

There will always be “easy” stories to tackle. Sometimes those easy stories need to be discussed. Sometimes they don’t. The critical thing is to make sure that the stories at matter ARE discussed, thoroughly, fairly, equitably and with a level of decency.  But to do that, I will have to do my homework, to be ready when the show starts, and not simply rely on callers to pass the time. I have plenty of opinions on subjects. As a news anchor, it wasn’t my job to share those opinions. It was my job to present both sides of the story and let our viewers or listeners decide what they think. Now on Talk Radio, I can weigh in. I can take a side. I can present why I feel what I feel. I can ask you to tell my why you agree or disagree. Maybe you will change my mind. Maybe I will change your mind.  Regardless, we can hang up the phone or turn off the radio at 6:00 and still be friends and still respect each other.

I’ve always maintained that KDKA was one of my favorite places to work.  Have you had a chance to catch up with the likes of Larry Richert, Marty Griffin as well as the guys on the Fan?

One of the reasons I am so excited to join KDKA Radio is that I have some many friends at Entercom in Pittsburgh already.  Larry Richert (with his former partner John Shumway) were on KDKA TV with me every morning for nearly a decade. They are both dear friends. Marty Griffin and I worked together at KDKA TV for many years and have always been close. Larry and Marty were key in recruiting me and encouraging me to apply for the open Afternoon Drive position. Lynn Hayes-Freeland has been a dear friend and mentor and was very helpful to me when I came back to Pittsburgh in 2009. I took over the Waiting Child franchise when she left KD so we have talked many times.  Lynn and I also have similar senses of humor thanks to the influences of one Harold Hayes, but that’s different story for a different day. I have known Robert Mangino, and Rob Pratte for years. Andy Amrhein who does the Hardware Show on Saturday mornings is one of my closest friends in Pittsburgh. Paul Rasmussen, Rose Ryan Douglas, Jeff Hathhorn, Scott Stiller, Greg McAtee, Jim Graci — they are all friends. I have been on the Bubba Show on Star probably 100 times over the years. Have done appearances with the gang on Y108. And because of my love of sports and background as sports guy and the amount of sports that I cover in Pittsburgh, I have a great relationship with the team over at The Fan.  Colin Dunlap, Chris Mack, Chris Mueller, Andrew Filliponi — they all reached out to me to welcome me to the team. I have immense respect for Starkey and Cook as they are both gifted writers and journalists.  Jim Colony and I both live in the North Hills and play golf together all the time. Amy Mauk in Promotions is someone I have known for years from volunteering as a server at KDKA’s Spaghetti Breakfast. So, my move to KDKA Radio feels a lot like a homecoming for me.

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Rich Zeoli: CNN & MSNBC Want Trump to Run in 2024 ‘More Than Anybody’

Zeoli later added the cable outlets wanted Trump to campaign again even more so than the CPAC Dallas attendees.

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An unofficial straw poll was taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas Saturday, and attendees overwhelmingly suggested they’d prefer former President Donald Trump be the Republican nominee for the 2024 Presidential ticket, garnering 69% of the vote. Rich Zeoli of 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia surmised those in attendance weren’t the only ones who would strongly prefer Trump run again.

“No doubt CNN and MSNBC took sharp turns left during the Trump presidency, but they’re very excited that Donald Trump won the CPAC straw poll vote,” Zeoli said. “So perhaps he will be running (for President in 2024), and perhaps CNN and MSNBC will get to trash him again.”

Zeoli later added the cable outlets wanted Trump to campaign again even more so than the CPAC Dallas attendees.

“You know they want him to run more than anybody wants him to run. It’s them. For the ratings. That’s what they’re looking for.”

Trump is currently both mulling a 2024 presidential bid, while also considering suing CNN for defamation after the network has characterized him as a “liar” for pushing 2020 election conspiracies.

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Carlos Medina Joining XTRA 106.3’s The Morning XTRA

Medina, who earned the nickname “Front Office Los” for his expansion knowledge of sports and statistics, has joined the show immediately.

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Carlos Medina, also known as “Front Office ‘Los”, is joining Tug Cowart and Scott “Rhino” Rheinhold on XTRA 106.3’s The Morning XTRA in Atlanta.

“Carlos’ sports and numbers background make him a great addition to our contemporary and dynamic and entertaining morning show, The Morning XTRA, and will provide insight and entertainment not found on any other Atlanta radio station,” Dickey Broadcasting Company General Manager David Dickey said.

Medina, who earned the nickname “Front Office Los” for his expansion knowledge of sports and statistics, has joined the show immediately. He has also worked as a contributor to Dickey Broadcasting’s 680 The Fan since 2004.

The Morning XTRA airs from 6:00 AM-9:00 AM weekday mornings.

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Jimmy Farrell Named Cox Media Jacksonville VP/Market Manager 

One of the stations that Farrell will be managing includes News 104.5 WOKV.

Eduardo Razo

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Cox Media Group has a new Vice President and Market Manager for its Jacksonville, FL stations. Radio Insight relayed the company’s announcement on Friday that Jimmy Farrell would be promoted from the Director of Sales to overseeing all stations in the market.

One of the stations that Farrell will be managing includes News 104.5 WOKV. After joining the Cox Media Group 19 years ago as an Account Executive in Orlando, Farrell is “honored” to be taking over the role.

“CMG has given me the opportunity to work with the best and brightest in the business, and I’m truly honored to be appointed the next Vice President and General Manager of radio in Jacksonville,” said Farrell. “I look forward to these new challenges and the significant opportunities to come.”

Farrell’s career continued to progress after arriving in Orlando, going from Local Sales Manager at WWKA’ K92 FM’ to General Sales Manager, and most recently as Director of Sales.

“This is an exciting time for CMG Radio, and I continue to be energized by our people,” said Rob Babin, EVP, CMG Radio. “Jimmy is an exceptional leader with a passion for the radio business, CMG, and the teams he leads.

“He has a strong track record of leading sales teams and driving revenue at CMG Orlando and Jacksonville. I look forward to his impact in this new role.”

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