This past week, I did what many people around the country did. I watched the inaugurations of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.
Indeed, we were watching an historic moment. For the first time, America would have a woman serve as its Vice-President. She would also be the first African American and Asian-American to serve as VP.
I wanted to witness that moment. Moreover, I wanted to see how the various networks HANDLED that moment.
I wasn’t surprised at what I saw and heard.
As Harris was sworn in, anchor after anchor had to remind me that I had just “witnessed history”. Some even added jazzy commentary about the “American Experience”.
A constant problem in the news media strikes again.
Far too often, journalists want to make themselves part of the moment. They look for the catchy line or signature phrase that will forever be remembered, archived and hash-tagged to death. Journalists, anchors, and reporters need to understand that moments like this are never about them. Yet far too many act like Kanye West snatching the mic away from Taylor Swift.
Like many people in the business, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
I harken back to one of my early jobs, working as a reporter for a small market news station. One evening, there was a major fire at a warehouse close to where I was living at the time. I had sprung into action, filled with the exhilaration of covering a breaking story.
As soon as I got to the scene, I spoke with a few witnesses and first responders, took notes, and then called into the newsroom. They immediately put me on the air with the anchor in the studio, who asked me to divulge what I had learned.
“Oh my God,” I cried. “It’s like a WAR ZONE out here!” I then went on to describe the scene of the burning building like I was reporting from Manhattan during 9-11. I wanted to make sure that I could grab and hold the attention of listeners.
The very next day, I was called into the News Director’s office. I thought I would be getting a hearty pat on the back. Instead, I got a swift kick in the ass.
“What the HELL was that last night?” he asked.
“Well, I was trying to report on….” He cut me off.
“You were trying to make yourself part of the story,” he said. “You need to learn that when it comes to reporting, less of YOU is ALWAYS more.”
He was right. It was a mistake that I never made again.
NO ONE DID IT BETTER THAN UNCLE WALTER
Walter Cronkite was the Godfather of electronic journalism. He always knew that it was the moment that would often speak for itself. He once famously said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”
When I worked in news/talk, I kept an autographed photo of Cronkite in my office, behind my desk. I wanted to make sure that he was always looking over my shoulder. I also wanted my anchors and reporters to see him glaring back at them whenever they would sit in front of me. He was a permanent reminder of what our job was: we report the news without trying to BE the news.
Here are a few famous examples of how Cronkite mastered that philosophy.
“THE FLASH APPARENTLY OFFICIAL…”
All the major networks covered that fateful day on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. However, it was Cronkite who is most remembered. It wasn’t because of some catchphrase or commentary he came up with to encapsulate the moment.
Cronkite delivered the facts as he knew them. The painful pauses you could see him take to contain himself made him come across as genuine. In that moment, nothing else was needed. The nation was in pain and he was there with the nation.
Can you imagine how MODERN journalists and news anchors would have handled this?
Not every moment Cronkite covered was marred with tragedy. There was that historic occassion on July 20th, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Cronkite was sitting at the CBS Anchor desk preparing to deliver the news as it happened.
“I had just as much time to prepare for that landing as the space program did,” he said. “I watched it from the beginning. And yet, when that vehicle landed on the moon, I was speechless.”
The look on Cronkite’s face when ‘the Eagle had landed’ was one of the great moments in the history of journalism. There was no need to wax poetic about the moment itself. He was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning…just as the rest of the country was. Once again, he came across as genuine. There was no shame in being speechless because it was the best thing he could have done.
I cringe to think of how modern news networks would have handled that.
“AND WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!”
I’ll end with a brief segue into sports (as I’ve spent a few years in that format as well).
One of the greatest home run calls of all time came from Jack Buck. It was also one of the simplest home run calls of all time and epitomized the idea of “less is more”.
It was October 26th, 1991. Game 6 of the World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. The Twins needed to win to force a tiebreaking Game 7 or else their season would be over. In the bottom of the 11th inning, star outfielder Kirby Puckett came to the plate.
Buck was the Cronkite of sports. He didn’t need to do anything but sign off with a reminder that there would be one more game to be played the following evening. The sounds and images of that scene didn’t need further explanation or commentary on his part.
Ironically enough, by not trying to become part of the moment, he becamepart of the moment.
Viewers knew they were watching history in the making. They didn’t need to be reminded of it. As Uncle Walter would say, “And that’s the way it is.”
CNN’s Marilyn Monroe Special Scores Low Live Numbers Thanks To NFL Playoffs
“The first two hours of “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe” were down 13 percent in total viewers and down 17 percent among adults 25-54.”
CNN began their 2022 slate of original series back on Jan. 16 with the two-episode premiere of the four-part “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.”
Narrated by award-winning actress Jessica Chastain, the documentary series retraced Monroe’s story from budding starlet to Hollywood power-broker. Amidst the treacherous casting couch culture of Hollywood, she bravely spoke out about abuse at a time when silence was the norm.
The first episode of “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe” at 9 p.m. Eastern delivered 650,000 viewers that included 84,000 of the key 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. The second episode at 10 p.m. rose to 720,000 viewers and 95,000 adults 25-54. Based on total viewers, Fox News Channel ruled the cable news roost during the two-hour 9-11 p.m. period on Jan. 16 with the pair of “The Next Revolution” (1.147 million viewers/120,000 adults 25-54) and a rerun of “Sunday Night in America” (747,000 viewers/78,000 adults 25-54).
Compared to the first 2-hour installment of the documentary series “Diana” from Oct. 10, the first two hours of “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe” were down 13 percent in total viewers and down 17 percent among adults 25-54. The declines might initially appear alarming, but it’s also important to note its other notable viewing competition. NFL football on NBC aired directly opposite both CNN documentaries but for “Diana”, it faced Bills-Chiefs which drew an audience of 17.5 million; as for “Monroe”, a playoff matchup of Steelers-Chiefs averaged a more potent 28.9 million viewers — a 65-percent, +11.4 million jump from the aforementioned Sunday night telecast.
Also of note, these figures are only based on live plus same day data. Programming of this nature also exhibits value in delayed viewings and multiple repeat airings. A rerun of “Monroe” from midnight to 2 a.m. Eastern averaged 312,000 viewers, roughly the same ratio of percentage declines from the first rerun at midnight of “Diana” from Oct. 10 (349,000 viewers)
Live plus seven day data had not yet been released for “Monroe” at publish time; for “Diana”, its initial Oct. 10 telecast grew 226,000 viewers to a 7-day total of 1.014 million viewers — an increase of 29 percent.
CNN’s top regularly-scheduled Sunday show of 2021, the travel series “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” returns on March 13. Its series premiere from Feb. 14, 2021 drew 1.57 million viewers according to live plus same day.
Cable news averages for January 10-16, 2022:
Total Day (January 10-16 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 1.452 million viewers; 232,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 0.690 million viewers; 75$,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.482 million viewers; 99,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.195 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.194 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.153 million viewers; 35,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.145 million viewers; 24,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.103 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54
Prime Time (January 10-15 @ 8-11 p.m.; January 16 @ 7-11 p.m.)
- Fox News Channel: 2.291 million viewers; 346,000 adults 25-54
- MSNBC: 1.248 million viewers; 142,000 adults 25-54
- CNN: 0.597 million viewers; 132,000 adults 25-54
- Newsmax: 0.294 million viewers; 58,000 adults 25-54
- CNBC: 0.219 million viewers; 65,000 adults 25-54
- HLN: 0.211 million viewers; 65,000 adults 25-54
- The Weather Channel: 0.202 million viewers; 40,000 adults 25-54
- Fox Business Network: 0.058 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC, CNN and Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 1/10/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.621 million viewers
2. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.598 million viewers
3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.570 million viewers
4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/12/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.517 million viewers
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.516 million viewers
6. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 1/14/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.444 million viewers
7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 1/12/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.432 million viewers
8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.340 million viewers
9. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.125 million viewers
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 1/14/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.117 million viewers
21. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 1/13/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.355 million viewers
160. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 1/12/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.882 million viewers
200. Weekend Recharge (TWC, Sun. 1/16/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.713 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC, CNN and Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:
1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.625 million adults 25-54
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.559 million adults 25-54
3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 1/12/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54
4. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.520 million adults 25-54
5. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 1/10/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.502 million adults 25-54
6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.477 million adults 25-54
7. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54
8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 1/11/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.464 million adults 25-54
9. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 1/14/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.463 million adults 25-54
10. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 1/13/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.457 million adults 25-54
33. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 1/13/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.311 million adults 25-54
106. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Tue. 1/11/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.196 million adults 25-54
165. Weekend Recharge (TWC, Sun. 1/16/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.145 million adults 25-54
Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research…
Entrepreneur Literally Saves The Children
Like so many great American success stories, it started with taking a calculated risk to fill a perceived need.
For most parents, few thoughts evoke the fear and terror of a choking child. Instead, the panic, with time stopping still, each moment pulsing that scary, helpless feeling.
On Friday’s Greg Kelly Show, the radio host took a brief respite from plummeting Presidential poll numbers, skyrocketing inflation, and other news of the day to discuss this type of traumatizing event with a special guest.
The inventor of the anti-choking device, LifeVac, Arthur Lih, began by explaining how he invented the device in his garage. Like so many great American success stories, it started with taking a calculated risk to fill a perceived need.
“Well, I’m blessed; my Dad was an engineer, worked on the space program. My sister’s a doctor, so I grew up kind of learning and fixing, you know, the old school America,” Lih began. “I had an inkling of how to build things, and I heard of a seven-year-old – my daughter was seven – that choked to death. Procedures didn’t work, and I was scared.”
Lih told Kelly he used this unique engineering and medical background as a foundation once he became aware of choking children’s severe and immediate danger. He felt parents needed something that would be quick and easy to use, especially at the moment when they are paralyzed with fear.
“I pursued to find something super-simple because I knew I’d be scared,” Lih said during the half-conversation, half-advertisement. “I came up with a little plunger with a little valve. You place it; you push it; you pull it and sucks out the obstruction. We’ve saved over 170 kids now.”
The device is very similar to a mini sink plunger. However, the difference is in reverse engineering. When pushed down, the air vents out to create a suction; then, when pulled, it attempts to pop the object out.
Lih implored Kelly that the secret for parents is being prepared when data shows that one child dies from choking every five days.
Eventually, the discussion during the quasi-infomercial turned to current events, specifically the detrimental effects of the nation’s economic and national condition. Lih told Kelly that the pandemic and the porous border had created conditions for similar “knock-off” products to pour into the country and undercut his business and quality. In addition, he says these after-market replicas may let down parents when they need them the most.
“In a general scope, but an American-made medical product, particularly at this time,” Lih said. “Do your research, buy America. It will be regulated, and it will be safe.”
Kelly and Lih discussed online sellers who hawk non-regulated devices and products, and the pair ultimately urged consumers to buy directly from reputable manufacturers and businesses.
In wrapping up, the inventor said the greatness of America played a large part in helping him come up with this life-saving device.
“The reason LifeVac lasts forever, the reason it has a ball valve, the reason the vent system is so detailed is because of my Dad,” Lih concluded.
“He was part of the generation that put a man on the moon, that tried to do things we’ve never done. And in many scope, he lives on today with me because I made it last forever. You’re not supposed to do that because you want to sell one every year. I made it for everyone. I made it inexpensive. And I made it in America and today is the one year anniversary of him leaving, and me and you are talking, so that’s pretty cool.”
Midterm Election Madness Has Come Early
As we enter 2022, this can likely be the best and most passionate midterm year for the News Talk audience in over a decade.
It’s 2022. It’s a midterm year, which typically provides a lift to News Talk stations around the country. Of course, it will never be a Presidential Year, but it’s a chance to drum up plenty of storylines on the local and federal front to carry through the year.
As we enter 2022, this can likely be the best and most passionate midterm year for the News Talk audience in over a decade. I’d go back to the Tea Party movement of 2010 as the last time a midterm appeared to be shaping up this well for those with conservative values. Instead of playing defense, a la 2018, when Republicans held the White House, Senate, and House leading into those midterms, the party is now on offense. They’re in the minority in the House and Senate, while President Biden continues to see his approval rating fall off a cliff.
This should create an environment for a generally right-of-center audience that will be engaged and excited about what’s to come this fall.
How can your station handle this expected enthusiasm? Lean into it. From U.S. Senate to House races, all the way down to school board races, which will remain hot-button topics throughout the year (look at Exhibit A: Virginia).
From a content perspective, that means trying to capture as much of the news as you can for your audience. Lead the way. Get the candidates to try and make news on your show. Heck, get the candidates to make announcements on your show. For example, on KCMO in Kansas City, in just the last two weeks, we had the privilege of having a candidate for a U.S. House seat in Missouri announced exclusively on our show, while we also had a candidate for a county commissioner chair in the biggest county in Kansas in the KC Metro make his announcement on our program.
These don’t need to be long-form interviews, as the audience isn’t likely wanting to get into the weeds on some of the policy and topics just yet. Still, it will make the show and the station feel “big” that these candidates want to be on your station to make their announcement regardless of what they’re running for.
And not only will it be quality content that becomes appointment listening, if teased correctly. It also creates plenty of opportunities for afterglow with great promos and liners to continue building the station’s brand around the clock.
“Your Home in Missouri and Kansas for the 2022 Midterms!”
“Leading the way on the 2022 Midterms in Kansas City!”
These can work on rejoins, promos, liners, or anything you need from your station’s imaging perspective.
If I may add a caveat here, obsessing over the 2022 midterms in January or February will not carry you until November. But it’s undoubtedly already here and getting plenty of attention.
But don’t let that prevent a show from having great topic variety, local and national, all while still having fun at the same time.
After 2021 that was ho-hum compared to the previous five years, the news cycle is undoubtedly picking back up: Is your station prepared for the re-engagement that is likely set to return from a portion of the listening audience?
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