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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.

BNM Writers

Bring Back the Art of Debate

In small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

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The last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about a quote I recently heard from Bill O’Reilly. I believe it was in a recent interview he appeared in with Glenn Beck, and O’Reilly was discussing his years as host of “The O’Reilly Factor”, the most-watched cable news show in the history of the medium. He was discussing how he went about booking his guests and said, and I paraphrase, “I tried to book the smartest people who could challenge me.” 

That’s one of the reasons that O’Reilly’s show was so successful. He did that on a nightly basis for over 20 years.

Unfortunately, that premise has gone by the wayside, in favor of echo chambers across the media landscape, including talk radio. 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t come back in some capacity and it doesn’t mean the host has to compromise their values. 

Each week on my morning show on KCMO Talk Radio, I interview Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Lucas is a Democrat, who has certainly angered lots of conservatives over the last 18 months on issues of COVID lockdowns, masks, and policing policy, just to name a few. One can debate how far left Lucas is on the “liberal spectrum”, but he will be the first to tell you he is a proud Democrat. 

Shortly after the pandemic began, I spoke with his office about doing a weekly hit to update the city on what was happening on the COVID front. The interview has continued ever since, every Thursday morning at 7:30, but has touched on any and every topic relevant to Kansas City.

And while every listener, plus Lucas himself, knows I have disagreed with much of his policies over the last 18 months, our conversations are challenging, but cordial, respectful, and informative for the audience.

However, like clockwork, after each weekly conversation, there will be a barrage of calls, texts, social media messages, and e-mails saying that I, as the host, “let him off the hook”, “am too soft”, and all the usual criticisms that come from a portion of the audience. These individuals insist they are done listening to our weekly conversations.

But you know what, something funny happens when I look at the KCMO Talk Radio streaming numbers each day or look at the ratings at the end of the month: Thursdays at 7:30 end up being one of our most-listened-to and highest-rated segments, by far. 

Then, when I go out in the real world, people tell me how much they appreciate the weekly conversations with the mayor, despite how much they may disagree with him. They think it’s important that our audience gets to hear from him, even if we aren’t his “based” constituency. 

To Lucas’ credit, he comes on my show, despite our differences. That’s a lost art for most politicians, left and right, who only want to go on media that is sympathetic to them and their beliefs. 

And then on the flip side, hosts on TV and radio have gone too far into the echo chamber, where they don’t want to hear from those who disagree with them. They also believe that the small portion of the audience that “wants blood” (theoretically speaking, of course) from their opponents, are the majority of the audience.

My research shows that’s not the case. And to reiterate, none of this requires a host to compromise their beliefs or become “squishy” on their opinions.

Granted, I wouldn’t spend hour after hour with guests who are disagreeable or don’t align with the audience, but the right guest in the right spot has real potential to create an excellent conversation and really good radio. 

There’s no doubt it’s harder than ever to book these guests, based on the aforementioned reasons, but in small doses and in the proper situation, it’s well worth your time to have your own ideas, along with the audience’s, challenged. 

And while hearts and minds are unlikely to change given the divisive climate we find ourselves in, you created a moment that connected with the listener, either good or bad, that will be memorable to them and keep them coming back for more. The loud-mouth haters be damned. 

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BNM Writers

FOX News Remains Go To Network For Noteworthy Events

“Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” drew 1.78 million.”

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Several noteworthy news events occurred during the week ending September 19, most of which Fox News Channel was the leading cable news outlet in its coverage viewership.

On Sep. 13, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Islamist militant group, the Taliban, took over Afghanistan. His appearance before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee   was tabulated only for MSNBC by Nielsen Media Research, to a delivery of 542,000 total viewers (from 2:16-4:00 p.m. ET). On the following day (Sep. 14), Blinken’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aired on both Fox News and MSNBC. Fox News was the clear victor, more than doubling MSNBC in total viewers (1.576 million vs. 0.648 million) and nearly quadrupled in the key 25-54 demo (257,000 vs. 66,000).

The California gubernatorial recall election on Sep. 14 that resulted in Gavin Newsom remaining as governor was extensively covered for four hours on CNN: 

10-11 p.m. ET: 1.049 million total viewers; 309,000 adults 25-54

11 p.m.-midnight ET: 1.013 million total viewers; 344,000 adults 25-54

midnight-1 a.m. ET: 0.846 million total viewers; 283,000 adults 25-54

1-2 a.m. ET: 0.575 million total viewers; 185,000 adults 25-54

Fox News covered the election results only in the 11 p.m.-midnight hour, averaging 2.05 million total viewers and 411,000 adults 25-54 — no doubt, assisted by its highly-watched prime time lead-in.

MSNBC spent only 26 minutes of live coverage in late night, resulting in 659,000 total viewers and 93,000 adults 25-54 (from 1-1:26 a.m. ET). 

MSNBC was the lone cable news outlet to air testimony by American female gymnasts before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the morning of Sep. 15. Gold medalist athletes Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman relayed to lawmakers how the FBI and U.S. gymnastic and Olympic officials failed to stop the sexual abuse that they, along with hundreds of other athletes,suffered from former doctor Larry Nassar. From 10:43 a.m. to 12:06 p.m. ET, MSNBC averaged 753,000 viewers and 62,000 in the key 25-54 demo; the gymnasts’ press conference from 2:10-2:30 p.m. (also on MSNBC) drew 813,000 viewers and 95,000 adults 25-54.

On Sep. 18, Fox News covered SpaceX’s return of its Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit, with the capsule carrying the four members of the Inspiration4 mission back to Earth after three days in space. It was the furthest humans had traveled above the surface in several years. The capsule Resilience splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. From 7-8 p.m. ET, Fox News posted 1.155 million total viewers and 141,000 adults 25-54. SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk.  

Lastly, on Sep. 19 at 10 p.m. ET, Fox News’ special “A Gabby Petito Investigation with Nancy Grace” delivered the highest-rated cable news show in the 25-54 demo of the entire weekend with 317,000 viewers. In total viewers, the live special drew 1.78 million.

Here are the cable news averages for September 13-19, 2021.

Total Day (September 13-19 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.483 million viewers; 238,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.767 million viewers; 86,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.587 million viewers; 125,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.194 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.140 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.137 million viewers; 27,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.135 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.084 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (September 13-18 @ 8-11 p.m.; September 19 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.659 million viewers; 417,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.375 million viewers; 156,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.799 million viewers; 177,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 63,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.203 million viewers; 65,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.163 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.151 million viewers; 29,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.046 million viewers; 6,000 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. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.776 million viewers

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.574 million viewers

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.528 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.343 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.294 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.274 million viewers

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.202 million viewers

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.171 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

10. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.121 million viewers

17. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.611 million viewers

127. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.209 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.629 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.621 million adults 25-54

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.568 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.544 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 9/13/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.542 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.538 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 9/16/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.514 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 9/17/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.510 million adults 25-54

9. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/14/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.491 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/15/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.479 million adults 25-54

29. CNN Special Coverage “California Governor Recall Election” (CNN, Tue. 9/14/2021 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.344 million adults 25-54

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Tue. 9/14/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.315 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Pivoting to News/Talk Was A Natural Move For Steve Malzberg

“Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

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RT America host Steve Malzberg’s accomplished career began in sports but deep down he always had a passion for politics. Even before right-wing commentators were accusing the woke sports media of pandering to a specific base, Malzberg saw the hypocrisy in some of the day-to-day coverage.

The liberal bent fueled Malzberg’s creativity and desire to be different. Topics like race in sports often gave him fodder for his nightly shows in New York City. Years of railing against liberal opponents eventually made switching to news/talk full-time, seamless.

Malzberg’s unique skill set has translated well in both radio and television. Following a lengthy run at iconic WABC Radio, he was hired at WOR Radio and was eventually replaced by New York’s former governor David Patterson.

In 2013, he was hired by Newsmax TV to host the Steve Malzberg Show. Last year, he inked a deal with RT America to host a media commentary show. Now, very content and with plenty of creative freedom, Malzberg offers his expertise on media bias to millions of people. Malzberg recently sat down with Barrett News Media to discuss his path to success, his job at RT America, and how the death of Rush Limbaugh rocked conservative media to its core.

Ryan Hedrick: How did your career start?

Steve Malzberg: I started in sportsfor the first ten years or so of my career. I hosted the New York Yankees pre and post-game shows for a year, Jets pre and post-game shows for four years, Devils pre and post-game shows for a year. I had the honor of going to Super Bowls, Stanley Cups Finals and everything else you could imagine.

RH: Was the news/talk format one you envisioned moving into?

SM: I always had politics in me. My career took a different turn the night OJ Simpson was driving around in a Bronco. That event led to me switching. I was supposed to cover the Knicks who were playing the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden in the NBA Finals.

My program director asked me to stay around, come on after the game and cover the OJ story. He invited me to come on the very next day and provide live coverage of the OJ saga and after that I started filling in for other hosts doing political talk and more in the realm of current news events.

RH: One of the biggest challenges for transitioning from sports talk to news/talk is finding your voice. Did that come naturally to you?

SM: Yes. I used to love covering Jesse Jackson when I was doing sports. He would protest that athletics needed more Black coaches. I remember Filip Bondy and Harvey Araton wrote a book on the NBA. One of the themes was how hard and how terrible it must be to be a Black NBA player and deal with white public relations people, that irked me.

RH: You were the first-ever host of Newsmax TV. Are you still a viewer of the network? If so, what are your thoughts on how it’s developed?

SM: I am not going to say anything bad about my former place of employment. Chris Ruddy who runs Newsmax TV was always very hands-on. I am sure he’s just as hands-on now. I know after I left, they brought in a lot of people with hard news experience. I think they have a great mix of talent there, but I can’t say that I watch so I don’t have much to say about the programming.

RH: You’re currently hosting for RT America. What role do you believe you and your network are playing in educating conservative news media moderates push back against cancel culture?

SM: On RT America I host Eat the Press which is kind of a play on Meet the Press, but it’s not aimed at the show by any stretch of the imagination. What we do is really devour the press and their bias. I have the freedom to present examples of media bias every week and I think I do my part of trying to hold the media accountable.

I also have wonderful A-list guests who continue to come on with me. Great conservative Hollywood people join the show such as Robert Davi, Kevin Sorbo, and Maria Conchita Alonso. They buck the trend in Hollywood.

Conservative media is doing a great job getting the word out there. Shows like Fox & Friends are blowing away CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. However, the media is still dominated by the left, and with the advent of social media and the ability and willingness of Big Tech to cooperate with the government and in some instances ban conservatives, we have an uphill fight!

RH: What role do you feel social media plays in helping conservatives get their truth out?

SM: Social media is where it’s at. If we are limited then we are losing. We can’t put doubts about the vaccine or questions about a third shot or any topic without the liberals at Facebook and Google monitoring us and taking us down.

RH: As a host with strong opinions, are you ever concerned about being censored or canceled?

SM: Censorship has existed in one form or another in broadcasting throughout my career. I could go back to any of the stations or networks I have ever worked at and tell you that I’ve been told what not to say, not so much what to say.

Censorship from management is something that you just need to put up with. If you don’t like it, you can leave. I always found that my censorship was carried out in my passion or support of Israel. At RT America, we have a meeting. I come up with the guests and ideas and book the guests and there’s only been one disagreement with a guest. I have never been told what to say or how to say something.

RH: What type of impact do you feel the death of Rush Limbaugh has had on conservative media as a whole?

SM: I was fortunate enough to know Rush and be there when he arrived at WABC in 1988. I knew Rush for many, many years. Limbaugh is irreplaceable. His death set conservative media back. No offense to the people that have taken over for Rush, but I don’t listen. It’s not the same and it’s not appointment radio. I just don’t see how you fill the loss.

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