One thing about talk radio that can’t be controlled is the news cycle. The sports talk world could not control the way COVID-19 stopped all sports for months. And of course the news talk world can’t control its news cycle either.
So when you get a hot cycle, ride it. And that’s what news talk continues to get.
In many ways, this feels like the grand finale, but in some ways, this feels like just the start of something even bigger.
This week alone has included the balance of the U.S. Senate hanging in Georgia, several U.S. Senators objecting to the Electoral College votes, the President giving multiple national speeches that lasted over an hour, plus the protests on and in the U.S. Capitol that went through the day on Wednesday.
Of course, with what took place Wednesday at the Capitol, preaching peace and order is priority No. 1 for any responsible host. Regardless of political stripes or opinion on the outcome of the election, what took place on Wednesday was an embarrassment for the greatest country in the world. Talk show hosts will need to navigate a very tense and emotional few days moving forward.
But as I look to the start of the New Year and where the news cycle has been, in Kansas City, we’ve been fortunate to be able to localize the Electoral College objection as two of our senators, Josh Hawley in Missouri and Roger Marshall in Kansas, were on the list of 12 senators who would be objecting to the Electoral College vote. Also, Kansas GOP chairman Mike Kuckelman was going door-to-door in Georgia for the Senate run offs, so we were able to do check-ins with him as a local voice. We also carried the President’s entire speech uninterrupted from Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Regardless of one’s opinion on this, it was the biggest news item of the moment and KCMO Talk Radio was the only station in town to carry it.
Is this the last hurrah of what has been an incredible news cycle dating back to Donald Trump coming down the escalator and running for President in 2015? Or is it “just the start” as the President said towards the end of his speech on Wednesday?
For news talk, it feels like a little bit of both.
In the short-term, things will quiet down. Heck, they have to based on where the news cycle has been the last few months. Joe Biden will be President, news talk can play the dissenting voice which it has always been good at, but without the lightning rod that is Donald Trump, the news cycle can’t possibly move any faster.
In the long-term, the fracture within the Republican Party is something that might be around for a while. We saw it building in recent months and weeks, but it’s arguably the biggest thing to keep a close eye on as we move into 2021. And in many ways, talk radio will be Ground Zero for this debate to take place. Sure, there are different media outlets that will take different angles to the future of conservatism, and social will be buzzing, but still, talk radio reaches millions of Americans every week and creates important and unique dialogue that no other medium duplicates. 2020 was some ride for news talk and while 2021 might slow down some, it may not be as much as we all originally thought and expected.
WGN’s John Williams Was Determined To Get Into Broadcasting at Any Level
Sending out tapes every six months was a part-time job for Williams and anyone else who wanted to venture out to a larger market.
WGN broadcaster John Williams knows two things for sure; Coffee’s for closers, and someone out there has eaten the entire left side of a menu at a restaurant.
“There are movies that enable male bonding,” Williams said. “In Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s bonding in terror. In Diner, the bond is about growing up with friendships.” (You can correlate each of the opening intentions with the movies above.)
Williams said he believes these types of bonding opportunities make us better as human beings. “My dad was in the Air Force, and we predictably moved around quite a bit,” he said. “I always envied my friends who had a steady upbringing, who were able to feel the consistent ground under their feet. They’d known each other for years, shared inside jokes together.”
A 10-year-old John Williams found himself in fourth grade in Honolulu. “Once again, I was an outsider. We lived in Taiwan before that. Most of the kids were Japanese or Hawaiian, and I was one of the ‘haole,’ or white kids. I never had to spell the word, I just was the word.”
Williams was in second grade at the public school in Ewa Beach as one of two white kids in his class. “The racial difference wasn’t a factor but the fact that I was an outsider was.” He transferred to a Catholic School and, over the next three years, made friends and gained some confidence. Like most any of us, he just wanted to be accepted.
“I was a mild, meek kind of kid who never really got his bearing. I read a lot and was always curious enough. I asked the right questions. I’ve always been interested in everything. I wasn’t a recreational reader then.”
When he was young, Williams said comedians helped shape his thought processes. “I grew up with comics and their albums. We memorized the bits from George Carlin; later, it was Richard Pryor, Steve Martin. They were insane. Before his reprehensible behavior was realized, Bill Cosby influenced a lot of comics.” Cosby taught a lot of us how to tell a story.”
Throughout his childhood, Williams said he always thought he’d be a writer. “Becoming a broadcaster was so presumptuous to me. When you wrote, you didn’t have a microphone in your face at a radio station. Who was I to think I could pull that off.”
He kept busy writing short stories, poems, always typing away at something. “One year, I got a typewriter for my birthday. A Corona. I even had the click-out eraser cartridge, the whiteout. I still have a lot of that stuff around. But I always could find a sheet of paper, right?”
Hhmmm…a nerd and a hoarder.
He attended Joliet junior college and earned what he said was an ‘associates degree in nothing,’ leaving him unqualified to do anything. In defense of junior colleges, Williams also said he felt an associates degree can, in fact get you ready to do anything well. “It was excellent,” he said. “It primed me to talk about anything.”
“After that, I went to Southern University of Illinois in Carbondale. They had a good broadcasting school. I tried getting into Northwestern, but that didn’t happen. I transferred to SIU as a junior. I couldn’t partake in any real broadcasting classes until my senior year. Couldn’t get in front of a microphone until then.”
His ambition was to be able to get into broadcasting in any form, at any level. “During my senior year, I was so nervous. I couldn’t hold a piece of paper without shaking,” Williams said. “I’d have to put the paper down on the counter in front of the microphone so it wouldn’t shake, and I could read the copy.”
Sending out tapes every six months was a part-time job for Williams and anyone else who wanted to venture out to a larger market. “This was in the late 80s,” Williams said. “I’d enjoyed a good career at WMBD in Peoria from 1982-1992 but looked for more. I was doing well in the mornings.”
Demo tapes went to cities like Cincinnati, Des Moines, Minneapolis, and all the mid-major markets. All the ads read, No Phone Calls. In attempts to get around this roadblock, Williams felt he was kind of slick.
“I’d call and say, “Hey, I’m not calling about my tape; I just wanted to see if you got it.” You never knew how that would play out. More tapes went to Orlando and Miami, Florida.
“I called and did my ‘follow-up’ and was put through to the program director at WIOD in Miami. I couldn’t believe it. I got through. The voice on the other end asked, ‘Are you John?’ He knew my name! I answered a feeble ‘yes.’ ‘John,’ the program director continued, ‘Apparently you can’t read because the ad said, NO CALLS!’”
After swallowing a trough of pride, a big break was getting from Peoria, which was 188th in the market at the time, to Minneapolis, which was 15th. The salvation manifested in the form of WCCO. He worked there from 1993-1997. “To go from 188-15 was a leap in every sense of the word,” Williams said.
Then, a really big break. After the usual barrage of outbound tapes, he got a call from WGN and was told he was on their short-list. He couldn’t believe it. “To go from 15th market to number three was beyond my imagination. The place where Wally Phillips, Bob Collins worked was like hallowed ground.”
Williams arrived at WGN Radio in September 1997 as a midday host.
Planning out a show can be like walking a tightrope. “I don’t see the upside of talking too much about push-button and red meat topics. WGN is not a silo-broadcasting company. Other stations take a narrow approach and then preach to that choir. They are safe in that silo. But we’re a big tent station. We want to accommodate as many people as we can. You can get your tough talk politics elsewhere. There’s no point in running listeners off when they disagree with you. And frankly, those who would agree with you are exhausted with politics right now, so we don’t really need to go there. At least not much.”
How does Williams approach his day? He said he gets up in the morning, does his ‘clicking’ for news. “I go to NewsNation, Fox News, The New York Times. I buckle down. If I don’t, my show suffers.” He has a whiteboard in his office, and he breaks it all down, breaks it into half hours.
“I go for a mix on my show,” Williams said. “I don’t do all interviews. I don’t want to do all open lines. I better have some breathing area, a chance to get the lay of the land.” Williams says it’s all about relatability, not an overdose of what Putin’s strategies might be.
“I had a great interview recently. I spoke with Kyle Buchanan, who wrote Blood, Sweat & Chrome, The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road. We talked about director George Miller and other things.”
After 41 years in the business, Williams feels he’s hit his stride. “I was miscast a couple of times,” he said. “There were times I didn’t feel I was doing well. I don’t worry about my longevity too much now, but you do think about it. My motto was and is to stay in the game. Be versatile. You say you need someone to cover Chinese hockey? Where do I go to learn Mandarin?”
Everyone is Welcome at Keven Cohen’s Table
“For the first eight months, The Point was hemorrhaging money,” Cohen explained. “Bleeding would be too tame of a word.”
Somebody had better step up and take the blame.
Ostensibly, both his mother and father are responsible for the odd spelling of Keven Cohen’s first name—probably more his mother.
“I think she had too much of the epidural medicine,” Keven Cohen jokes.
He likes the uniqueness but said it has caused its share of problems.
Cohen was born in Detroit, but the family moved to Florida just before his 13th birthday. He later studied broadcast journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Where a lot of kids wanted to be a ballplayer, Cohen wanted to be Ernie Harwell, the legendary broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.
“In our neighborhood, we didn’t ask when the Tigers played; we asked when Ernie was on.” That’s how revered the man was in Detroit. “To this day, I’m an obsessive Detroit fan. I like to say you can take Keven out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of Keven.”
Growing up, Cohen said he was inseparable from his older brother Marc. “We have been best friends since the day I was born,” Cohen said. Cohen was able to convince his mother and brother to move to Columbia so they could be around each other.
His sister was the lone holdout, but Cohen does speak to her every day, as a rule. Marc was a teacher but hung that up for corned beef, opening his Groucho’s Deli. His sister is a physical therapist. They’re like peas and carrots…and more peas.
Cohen started out in radio at WRUF in Gainesville. He spent five years at that station.
“After graduating college, they created a position for me as assistant sports director,” Cohen explained. “They were grooming me to take over for the sports director. The problem was that I realized that the sports director wasn’t going anywhere soon.”
In 1994, Cohen began searching for a new opportunity, but he still didn’t want to go too far from Gainesville. He’s truly a man dedicated to his family.
“My father died in a car accident when I was young, and I couldn’t bear the thought of moving too far from my mother in Florida,” Cohen said.
After enjoyable years at WRUF, Cohen began exploring new opportunities. He recalls landing his first dream job in Columbia, South Carolina. He knew he was as talented as the other 267 applicants for the sports job, but he had something else. Moxie.
“The guy that hired me in Columbia now does the radio play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves. Jim Powell,” Cohen said.
Cohen knew the competition would be tough, but he had his sights set firmly on the job. Interestingly, when many young radio people send out tapes, they send them everywhere around the country. This wasn’t the case for Cohen. Family is so important to him; he again didn’t want to go too far from home. The only tape he sent out was to Columbia. The distance between cities was doable.
“I called Jim Powell and pleaded with him to give me fifteen minutes with him,” Cohen said. “I told him I’d gladly drive the nearly six hours to Columbia, meet with him, then turn around and drive back to Gainesville. That’s how serious I was about the job.”
Powell was impressed with the young man’s spirit, and they talked for more than an hour and a half. A week and a half later, Powell called Cohen. Powell told Cohen there were candidates for the job with better demo tapes, but he liked Cohen’s tenacity and drive.
“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Powell told Cohen. The bad news was the station wouldn’t pay moving expenses. The good news was he had the job if he wanted it.
“When Jim Powell speaks to colleges and high school students, he still uses my tenacity as an example,” Cohen said.
After 18 years in a community, Cohen had developed some deep roots and friendships.
He was at WVOC in Columbia from 1994 until 2012, a good run in any radio market. Then management decided to go in a different direction and fired Cohen. This happened ten years ago, but you can still hear the pain in the recollection.
“I was devastated,” Cohen said. “I’d cut my chops on the radio there. I put in more than 18 years there. I was blindsided.” At the time of his firing, Cohen was hosting pre-game shows for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and it was the middle of the season. An election was just a short time away. Management figured that would be the perfect time to give him the ax.
For the ace-kicker, hours before his firing, Cohen had lunch with one of the salesmen and returned with a $64,000 sales package from a local business. They still fired him.
Isn’t that a fine how-do-you-do?
“My firing made the front page of The State newspaper,” Cohen explained. “There were protestors outside the building, upset that I’d been fired. Personally, I never felt any bitterness toward Clear Channel—publicly or privately for the firing.”
As they said in The Godfather, It was just business. Most people reading this are well aware of that sting. People in this business get stung so often that they don’t even bother putting baking soda on wounds.
WVOC gave him the talk all fired people know too well. They put him on the sidelines with a non-compete clause.
“I told them to keep their severance package; I just wanted to work.”
No dice. WVOC said that wasn’t going to happen.
“I’m the kind of guy who turned the firing into motivation,” Cohen said.
Cohen was offered a job in Jacksonville, Florida, but wanted to wait. He was promised a job by another station in Columbia when the non-compete expired.
“The call never came,” Cohen said. “I was so discouraged as I’d turned down the Jacksonville job. There were no other talk stations in Columbia. I either had to leave Columbia or leave radio.”
There were plenty of opportunities Cohen could have grabbed that required a briefcase. Banking or insurance companies would have begged to get him. He had earned a stellar reputation in the community, and many businesses felt he’d be good for their business if he worked for them.
Now it gets a little weird.
One night, Cohen couldn’t sleep, so he went down to the basement. He was able to fall asleep and was visited in a dream by a friend who’d died from cancer.
“In the dream, Rick told me everything was going to be alright, and I should start my own radio station.”
Thanks, Rick. Not like that’s a tall order or anything.
“It hit me that starting my own radio station was something I could and should do,” Cohen said. “I ran up to tell my wife about the dream and asked if she’d support me if I attempted to create my own station. She said if I let her go back to sleep, she’d support me.”
What a gal.
“I’d never considered this before,” Cohen said. “The only thing I’d ever done on radio was my show. I reached out to some people to get the ball rolling.”
Cohen said four banks were no help. “They knew me well and loved me, but realized I’d never run a radio station before, or anything even close to that. I don’t blame them.”
The dream (the one with Rick) paid dividends. Cohen was fired from WVOC in November 2012 and started his radio station in October 2013, less than a year later.
“For the first eight months, The Point was hemorrhaging money,” Cohen explained. “Bleeding would be too tame of a word.”
He said advertisers were initially wary, and he understood that as well. But they started to come around.
“Things were very lean at first,” Cohen said, “but when we hit the 10 ½ month mark, we broke even for the first time. Then, we started making money. Not a ton, but it was coming in.”
The Point, 100.7. FM, 1470 AM, has become a player in the market. “The community has been so supportive,” Cohen said.
The Point has evolved in its format. “I wanted an old-school talk radio station,” Cohen said. “I always wanted it to be community-driven. I’ve never pressured my hosts or news people to lean a certain way, politically or otherwise. They are on their own, as long as it’s ethical and moral.”
Cohen doesn’t like to micromanage. “I do all the traffic, schedule all the commercials, create all the sales. I’ve tried to create a family. We socialize together; I go out to lunch with hosts. They feel like they can talk with me about anything.”
On his morning show, Cohen doesn’t utilize a call screener; he just answers them as they come in. “There’s no way of picking and choosing which so many hosts like to do. Everyone is welcome at our table,” he said.
Which to me sounds a lot like, ‘We’ll leave the light on.’
Fox News Led the Coverage for Buffalo Mass Shooting
News began to be presented within the 4 PM ET hour, with extensive coverage arriving at 5 PM ET when officials spoke to the press. Fox News Channel led in total viewers.
The three major cable news networks focused on the city of Buffalo, NY, on Saturday, May 14, for its breaking news coverage of the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket. The gunman, who long spouted White supremacist views online, drove to the predominantly African-American area to commit his murderous act. Ten people, all of them Black, were killed.
News began to be presented within the 4 PM ET hour, with extensive coverage arriving at 5 PM ET when officials spoke to the press. Fox News Channel led in total viewers. The network’s audience noticeably grew as each hour unfolded: 966,000 viewers from 4–5 PM, then 1.16 million from 5–6 PM, and 1.37 million from 6–7 PM, according to Nielsen Media Research.
CNN was runner-up, first averaging 850,000 viewers from 5–8 PM, then 826,000 from 8–10 PM; FNC’s 8–10 PM combo of “One Nation” and “Unfiltered” drew 1.46 million viewers. However, in the key 25-54 demographic, CNN captured cable news’ top spot for the first two hours of prime time, delivering 225,000, compared to FNC’s 195,000.
From 5-10 p.m., MSNBC averaged 552,000 total viewers and 61,000 adults 25-54. They peaked at 5:50–6:16 PM with 634,000 viewers/93,000 adults 25-54 for the press conference featuring Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, NY.
Cable news averages for May 9-15, 2022:
Total Day (May 9-15 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.466 million viewers; 222,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.621 million viewers; 68,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.485 million viewers; 99,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.186 million viewers; 55,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.136 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.119 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.110 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.105 million viewers; 20,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (May 9-14 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 15 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.225 million viewers; 331,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.983 million viewers; 96,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.604 million viewers; 133,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.209 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.172 million viewers; 47,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.154 million viewers; 24,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.147 million viewers; 16,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.068 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54
- NewsNation: 0.057 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.569 million viewers
2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/9/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.409 million viewers
3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.313 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.227 million viewers
5. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/11/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.131 million viewers
6. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/12/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.102 million viewers
7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/11/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.034 million viewers
8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/13/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.973 million viewers
9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/12/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.956 million viewers
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 5/13/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.781 million viewers
27. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/9/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.157 million viewers
152. CNN Special Report “Inside The Mind Of Vladimir Putin” (CNN, Sun. 5/15/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.944 million viewers
181. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 600” (HBO, Fri. 5/13/2022 10:01 PM, 56 min.) 0.789 million viewers
315. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/15/2022 11:05 PM, 35 min.) 0.520 million viewers
393. Sex & Murder “The Two Matthews” (HLN, late Sun. 5/15/2022 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.357 million viewers
402. The Daily Show “May 12, 22 – Tribute To Gran” (CMDY, Thu. 5/12/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.331 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top CNN, MSNBC, and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54
1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/9/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.535 million adults 25-54
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/11/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.490 million adults 25-54
3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.462 million adults 25-54
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/12/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.452 million adults 25-54
6. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/12/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.443 million adults 25-54
7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 5/12/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.426 million adults 25-54
8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/9/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.419 million adults 25-54
9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.418 million adults 25-54
10. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/10/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.413 million adults 25-54
38. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/9/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.277 million adults 25-54
55. CNN Newsroom (CNN, Sat. 5/14/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.236 million adults 25-54
101. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/15/2022 11:05 PM, 35 min.) 0.194 million adults 25-54
132. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 600” (HBO, Fri. 5/13/2022 10:01 PM, 56 min.) 0.155 million adults 25-54
147. The Daily Show “May 12, 22 – Tribute To Gran” (CMDY, Thu. 5/12/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.149 million adults 25-54
200. Sex & Murder “The Two Matthews” (HLN, late Sun. 5/15/2022 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.120 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research