For three decades, Len Berman was an accomplished sports anchor in New York. He left WNBC in 2009 after a 27-year run at 30 Rock.
That was only the end of his TV career, though. Since 2015, Berman has proven to be a more than capable radio host as one-half of the WOR Morning Show with Michael Riedel. His transition to a different medium would be made easier from dabbling in news at WNBC.
Tom Cuddy, WOR’s program director, thought Berman could “broaden his horizons” after seeing him years ago doing sports on WBZ in Boston and from appearances on WNBC.
While covering the Olympics in 1992 Berman made strides into news, co-anchoring with Sue Simmons and again in 1996 when they both were in Atlanta.
“Len was a superb sports anchor, but I think he would’ve embraced anchoring the news, and he would’ve been good at it too!” Simmons said.
Berman would also rotate as co-anchor with Simmons on Live at Five in 2005 when Jim Rosenfeld left for WCBS.
“We had an easy on-air rapport, Simmons said. “He’s such a professional.”
Some may also remember Berman’s brief radio run in 1993 at WFAN. It’s not a highlight for the award-winning sportscaster, who was supposed to do a four-hour show with veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica.
“The minute I signed the contract I tried to get out of it,” Berman admitted. “Then I got killed by [Bob] Raissman [with the New York Daily News] and by [Don] Imus. That was all me. I got cold feet.”
The burden of Berman’s nighttime TV gig led Joel Hollander, WFAN general manager at the time, to split the shift with Lupica. Within a few months, Berman was let out of his contract, but he was not soured on radio.
“Believe it or not, I didn’t think I wanted to do sports radio,” Berman said. “I didn’t know who the second line was on the New York Rangers, let alone the first line. I could tell stories, but I wasn’t what you’d call a sports fanatic.”
So, Berman had the journalistic chops to step out of his comfort zone, but he wasn’t prepared for the politics, even before the Trump era.
“I never thought of myself as anything until I had to label myself,” Berman said. “I guess some of the policies are more liberal than not when it comes to guns or abortion. But I always judged each issue on its own basis.”
From the world of sports, Berman knows all about fan frenzy, but “that’s chicken feed compared to this.”
Opinion comes with the territory and that was unique for Berman, who prided himself on delivering sports commentaries from all perspectives. That “MO” is out the window in talk radio.
The emails come in and if they aren’t over the top politically, he’ll respond. He cited a recent listener who complained about Berman’s views on Israel. Berman, who is Jewish, responded that he’s a strong supporter of Israel, but “that’s doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that the Israeli government does, much like I consider myself a pretty good American. I don’t agree with everything our government does.”
“I appreciate people who respect your opinion and [who] treat [you] honestly and fairly,” Berman said.
His more progressive views are a contrast to powerhouse syndicated host Sean Hannity and the late Rush Limbaugh, heard on WOR for years.
“From 5 a.m. until 9 at night I’m the only voice that leans left on the radio station,” Berman said.
That meant once Donald Trump was elected, Berman was the lone host in opposition.
Incidentally, Berman voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but opted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
“It was easy on the Trump side to come up with opinions,” Berman said. “Either fortunately, or unfortunately, I came down on the side opposed to Trump. Maybe it made for good radio that we had two sides.”
Aside from the unexpected political cauldron that Berman would walk into, his on-air TV life didn’t automatically translate to radio.
“When I first started, I think the boss wasn’t real comfortable that I could handle a show from beginning to end,” Berman admitted.
He was fine with speaking to guests or callers, but the basic radio elements were foreign to him, such as navigating segments or doing a live commercial read. While it seems simple on the surface, Berman was used to putting together a 3:15 sportscast nightly at WNBC. Now, he was responsible for four hours of content daily.
“That’s very different,” Berman said. “It’s a whole different skill set.”
Tough Times with Todd
Berman initially was teamed with Todd Schnitt, but that was an ill-fated partnering.
“It was no secret that we did not get along,” Berman admitted. “It probably showed on the air.”
Schnitt, a native New Yorker, was the conservative voice who had been hosting his own show, The MJ Morning Show. He’s been fronting a political-centric afternoon drive program, The Schnitt Show, since 2001. However, failing in New York City would be a blemish to his career and, for the 34 months together, a blemish for Berman.
“Can you imagine coming to work and you don’t talk to your co-host except when you’re on the air?” Berman said. “It was uncomfortable. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”
As awkward as it was, though, Berman had no intention of walking away from WOR because, “it was just something to do,” after his forced retirement from WNBC.
But iHeart, according to Berman, was grooming Schnitt to become a star at WOR. Therefore, with the chemistry failing, Berman thought he would take the fall. At one point, Berman joked on the air that he was like Alan Colmes, who had a Fox News show with Sean Hannity. One day Colmes was gone, and the cable news wars were altered forever.
“I was just shocked that it didn’t happen,” Berman said.
So, when Cuddy contacted Berman in October 2017 about Schnitt’s exit, he was stunned. It was a sudden departure and Berman was forced to fly solo in the studio the next day.
Officially, iHeart said they couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Schnitt, “[but] I’m being very honest with you. I always thought something happened, I never knew what,” Berman admitted. “Maybe he wanted a lot more. WOR does not overpay. Trust me.”
Since 2018, Berman and former theater critic Michael Riedel have a much better ying and yang.
“You figure that one out. Here’s a political radio station, you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show,” Berman said.
Berman auditioned with fill-in guests on air and with the mics off. When it was finally Riedel’s turn, Berman was not familiar with his print or broadcasting background. Perhaps, it was that discovery that led to immediately clicking.
Their producer thought the off-the-cuff chatting was perfect and laid the groundwork for their on-air relationship.
“We both had broad experiences, so that’s why it’s worked,” Berman said. “We really do mix it up,” he said. “We’re very big on having fun.”
Battle for Morning Ratings
He is proud of a long stretch, topping news/talk rival Red Apple Media’s WABC for more than a year, but Berman doesn’t get too caught up in the ratings. Another competitor is Salem’s 970 WNYM/The Answer. But the weaker signal makes them less formidable.
Another feather in his cap is occasionally ranking number one on Long Island among all morning shows.
WABC’s Sid Rosenberg recently told Barrett News Media that his morning show with Bernard McGuirk has “beaten the shit out of WOR lately.”
Berman countered, “If they’re ahead of us by a tenth or two-tenths, trust me, they’re not beating the shit out of us.”
The WOR host is so laid back about the competition that he’s never heard WNYM morning host Joe Piscopo or Bernie and Sid, although Riedel has listened to their WABC show podcast.
“I haven’t. I always had that approach in radio and television that I’m going to do the best job I can possibly do and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Berman said.
But Berman does have a history with Rosenberg, as a guest several times on his South Florida show. He also texted Rosenberg a couple of years ago about a matter unrelated to broadcasting.
“[He’s] a character,” Berman said. “If he wants to knock us, go for it. I’m not going to fire back.”
Life Since COVID
Since the pandemic took hold in New York in the spring of 2020, Berman and Riedel are working remotely. You can add news anchor Joe Bartlett to the list, who was planned to retire in 2020, but moved back home to South Carolina and has kept working each morning.
“There are people who don’t know, I don’t know how that’s possible, none of us [is] in the studio,” Berman said.
Berman is based on Long Island, while Riedel is at home in the West Village.
As mask restrictions are loosening and vaccinations are increasing, it remains to be seen when the duo will return to their Tribeca studios.
“They have not made any decisions yet,” Berman said.
The fully vaccinated Berman said if iHeart brass require him to go back to radio station for hosting duties, “it’s something I would consider.”
However, Berman said, “I have the luxury of having already been retired. So, if I decide I really don’t want to get up another hour early and commute all that much, at least I have the luxury of knowing that I have that option.”
He is under contract, but in the fluid world of radio, coupled with the post-COVID cutbacks, there remains a lot of unknown.
“It really is day-to-day or month-to-month, as far as what my thinking is,” Berman said.
Len and Jill celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2020, but with his wife’s real estate business thriving, he’s in no rush to retire and head to Florida.
“At some point we’ll go back, at least for the winter,” Berman said.
Jerry Barmash has been a fixture in New York radio for decades with anchor stints on WABC Radio and Bloomberg News. Jerry was also heard on WINS, WCBS and Wall Street Journal Radio. As a media writer, Jerry’s pieces were featured in Broadcasting & Cable, NY Daily News and Watercooler HQ. Jerry also hosts the interview podcast Here Now the News. He’s on Twitter @JerryBarmash and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Kaye Learned Tough As Nails Attitude From Her Marine Corp Parents
“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”
Her mother called her ‘dynamite in a dress.’ Andrea Kaye had an explosive energy and temperament. Her mother may have been right about her daughter’s intensity, but she was wrong about the dress.
“She thought I was going to be like my older sister, in a dress, playing with dolls. I was a tom-boy as a kid,” Kaye continued. “I was riding a bike with no shoes, riding like a crazy kid, and scraped off all my toenails. Our neighbors, ‘the Reen sisters’, comforted me while Mama wrapped my feet in bandages.
“We called them the Reen sisters because all four of them had ‘Reen’ at the end of their names; Doreen, Maureen, etc. Another time I jumped off an air conditioning unit and almost bit my tongue in half. To this day, my family still laughs about that stuff.”
Her tomboy ways kept her a regular fixture at the Camp LeJeune emergency room. But even when she wasn’t getting into scrapes while playing, she got into scrapes and arguments over politics.
Also as a kid, Kaye would have intense conversations with her Uncle Jake, a Colonel at Fort Benning. “All the adults in the room would ask why he was arguing with a child,” Kaye explained. “My Uncle said, ‘Because she’s making a darn good point.’ He made me feel respected. He never treated me like a child.”
Both parents were in the Marine Corps. Kaye never seemed to shy away from being called a ‘military-brat.’ The kid was tough as nails. She brings some of that toughness to The Andrea Kaye Show, which broadcasts on Monday-Friday from 6:00-8:00 PM on The Answer San Diego.
Her mother grew up on a dairy farm in a little town near the Mississippi and Louisiana border. Not far from where Kaye went to high school, Slidell High. “Mama knew what hard work was,” Kaye explained.
Her mother worked extremely hard each day, especially after her mother Mary Lee got burned in a house fire. She had to help raise her younger sister while running the farm. “Compared to what she had to do on the farm, the Marine Corps was a vacation,” Kaye explained. “Mama has a tee-shirt that reads, ‘Not as Mean, not as Lean, but still a Marine’. Could be why she beat four cancers in three years. Not what you would call a ‘fluffy’ life.”
Kaye’s grandmother on her father’s side, worked in a textile mill in Opelika, Alabama. This was the same mill in which they filmed Norma Rae, starring Sally Field.
“With nothing but sixth grade education there weren’t many options,” Kaye said.
The work took a toll. Her grandmother lost most of her hearing and got black lung. Her dad grew up on a dirt floor and dreamed of a better life with travels to foreign lands and was thrilled to join the military as a way out. He believed in the American Dream and instilled that inspiration in Kaye.
“We’d drive around and he would show us the neighborhoods we could live in if we got an education and worked hard.”
They had a lot of love while growing up in the family, but Kaye wouldn’t call it an emotionally nurturing childhood. Marines who were battle weary and from tough and impoverished childhoods aren’t necessarily the types to coddle.
But they were the types to play lots of board games and cards, like gin rummy. Rides at amusement parks across the country were a family staple.
“We’d watch lots of movies and TV, especially musicals,” Kaye said. “Who knew two Marines could love The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof so much?”
One time her mother bribed Kaye’s brother and his friends with cookies and cake if they would watch her perform songs from The Sound of Music.
“Mary Lee was my mother’s mom. She had to be tough because her husband died while my mom was in the womb,” Kaye said. “She didn’t have time to be nurturing with four kids and a dairy farm to run.”
She said Mary Lee would babysit often.
“She didn’t believe in sugar-coating for kids,” Kaye said. “One of my sisters asked her what a dead person looked like?”
Mary Lee packed the kids into the car and took them to a viewing with a dead man in a coffin and said, ‘This is what a dead person looks like.’
“You asked her a question and you got an answer,” Kaye said. “Mama was the same.”
That didn’t mean her parents didn’t love them, Kaye explained.
“They didn’t believe like today’s parents that everyone should get a trophy and everyone had to be happy every day. We were raised with the pragmatic truths of life. They were all about supporting what we wanted to do. There were no barriers to those dreams. That was instilled in my sister, brother and me.”
Kaye was born at Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, living in the base housing Tarawa Terrace, also known as “Terrible Terrace”. They moved around a bit but settled in the New Orleans area.
“I loved everything about the military,” Kaye said. “I loved the bases, uniforms, marching, the regiment, the chain of command. I loved the military bearing and authoritative presence they had at all ranks. I was mesmerized by it all. Daddy was a Vietnam vet and when he was deployed, multiple times.
“Me and my siblings and Mama went back to the dairy farm with grandma,” Kayes said. “My father never talked about his time in the service. We had no idea what he did. My sister, Donna, who we just called Sister, asked Daddy once what he did for a living. He said, I shoot the bull all day. So when she was asked once what her dad did, she told them, “He shoots bulls.”
The mystery of the military was part of the allure. Kaye was so enamored with the military, she gave some thought to how great it would be if she could attend West Point after the family had visited. Her mother and father brought the military with them when they took a break from the base.
“Even though I love the military, I had a love and hate relationship with regiment when Dad and Mom took us on a vacation,” Kaye said. “We had to get up at 4:00am. It wasn’t like my father was harsh like the pilot Bull Meecham in The Great Santini. Still, we had a very specific way of doing things. I learned to fold clothes according to regulation”
Kaye was always interested in going to college, imagining where she might enroll. She ended up choosing Louisiana State University to study political science.
“LSU was an amazing experience,” she said. “Louisiana is like being in another country. The language, food, culture. LSU is the perfect educational community of the unique culture. I embraced every aspect possible. I joined a sorority and lived in the house. Spent Saturday nights in the famous Tiger Stadium called Death Valley, and ate my weight in crawfish. I wanted the big university experience, and I got it.”
She’d thought about becoming a lawyer, perhaps a Supreme Court justice.
“I became obsessed with politics during my teen years,” Kaye explained. “I studied political science at LSU, admitted as a 17 year-old. I also gave some thought to becoming an attorney. In my family there was a constant theme of justice, of right and wrong. I have always been fascinated by true-crime.”
Kaye said her parents were always concerned about justice, committed to their beliefs of right and wrong. Always looking to improve her circumstances, instead of working her normal summer job at Fasulo Drugs in Slidell, she got a job in the French Quarter selling timeshares.
“I was able to make more money in six or eight weeks over the summer than I’d make all year working at the drugstore,” Kaye explained.
It was then Kay recognized she had an aptitude for sales. During her third year at LSU, she decided to switch her major to business. “I’m glad I did. There’s such an intersection between politics and business. I already loved politics and needed to learn more about business.”
She visited La Jolla, California after she graduated from LSU. It was a quick vacation but she fell in love with the area, and state. After graduation she started her first corporate job with No Nonsense panty hose.
“I was going around to K-Marts and other retail stores around Louisiana,” Kaye said. “I traveled around the state. It was a great first out of college job, but not a life choice. I earned my bones at No Nonsense. It was a grind.”
She couldn’t shake her love for La Jolla and San Diego, so she quit her job at No Nonsense and moved to San Diego, where she was hired by Xerox.
“Xerox sent me to Las Vegas, a branch of the San Diego office,” she said. “You have no idea how hot it is to be in a suit in Las Vegas when the temperature is 115-degrees. Still, I’d take it over the Florida heat and the mosquitos in New Orleans.”
After a year in Vegas, Xerox relocated her to San Diego. Xerox is where she made her bones, working in one of the toughest industries, and for a legendarily tough company.
Kaye said she may live in California, but her soul is on the New Orleans Bayou.
“I love, love, love Louisiana,” she said. “Down to the core of my being. One of the reasons I left was because after the oil industry crashed, so did the economy. There was a not so funny billboard outside Lafayette that said, ‘Last one to leave, turn out the lights’. The economy had completely tanked.”
At the time she left for California, Kaye said she didn’t understand her soul connection with New Orleans. “I didn’t know how much I’d miss it. I try to get back at least once or twice a year and still have family and friends there.”
The transition from sales to media wasn’t all that difficult for Kaye. She said every company she worked for required her to do some kind of media work.
“When I was with No Nonsense, I would join radio stations on the air when they were doing promotions from a parking lot. They’d talk to anyone. I would say, ‘I’m Andrea from No Nonsense. Come and check us out.’ It wasn’t difficult for me. I just wormed my way in and identified myself and the product on the air.”
She has ‘acted’ in corporate industrial videos and some infomercials. Again, this came naturally. She ended up getting an agent.
“It’s different in New York and L.A.,” Kaye said. “In those cities you can get an agent for particular things. An agent for acting, and agent for modeling. In San Diego, they only had agents that were a one-stop-shop. You were required to do any medium the agent put you up for. You’d be called upon to audition for commercials on TV, or a model in print ads, even some acting gigs.”
Kaye appeared in one movie, Lore Deadly Obsession. The film was about real-life serial killer and cannibal Richard Chase, who killed six women and drank their blood in the late 70s. He was dubbed ‘The Vampire Killer.’
“That was the first time they used the term ‘serial killer,” she explained.
Kaye is married but never had children. “It just wasn’t my dream,” she said. “I never had the fantasy of staying home and starting a family. That was Sister’s dream, and she fulfilled it. So did my brother. My fantasies were about living a life that was different. Bigger and brighter than my folks and their folks before them. Just as each generation behind me lived a bigger and brighter life than those before.
“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has also served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his book: On Story Parkway: Remembering Milwaukee County Stadium, available on Amazon, email email@example.com.
Should the Media Support Police?
BNM’s Rick Schultz writes Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack, so where is the media?
Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack.
So where is the media?
This past weekend, Fox News @Night hosted a discussion about public support for the police and, in doing so, highlighted a group dedicated to wounded officers and their families.
Retired Las Vegas Police Detective Lt. Randy Sutton of TheWoundedBlue.com joined host Trace Gallagher to discuss the current state of affairs from law enforcement’s perspective.
“Well, when it comes to America’s crime crisis, something appears to be missing in society and in mainstream media, covering and honoring law enforcement officers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty,” Gallagher began. “I want to know why it is that mainstream media, and that society, feels like, you know what, the war on police is not worth covering?”
“This news network is pretty much the only one that’s giving the truth out about the war on cops. Last year, 207 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Almost sixty thousand were physically assaulted in the line of duty, Trace,” Sutton responded. “They’ve been shot, they’ve been stabbed, they’ve been beaten. And yet, you don’t even see it in the newspapers. It’s barely covered because it’s not politically expedient for the political Left and for the mainstream media to even cover.”
Gallagher then drew attention to a graphic showing a mid-October statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police, @GLFOP, which read…
The spewing of anti-police rhetoric by some political and media figures as well as the failed policies of rogue prosecutors and judges, are placing our officers in greater danger. This culture of lawlessness must stop!
“A lot of people don’t know when officers get injured, not only is the officer affected. But the family and a lot of things change,” said Marcus Mason, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy, who was injured in the line of duty. “I spent about a month in the hospital, so my family had to drive to and from home, daycare, dropping off children, and doing different things to get people to work to get people to come see me and things like that. A lot of financial things are a burden put on your family. And so, The Wounded Blue was there to help my family in making those things easier. Whether it’s paying for gas or the increase in groceries and things like that, and making things easier for my family to be able to come and spend time with me.”
TheWoundedBlue.com’s mission, as stated on the website, is to improve the lives of injured and disabled law enforcement officers. They place a strong focus on de-stigmatizing mental health within the law enforcement community, in addition to providing peer support and community outreach. Their emergency phone number – (702) 290-5611 – provides “immediate trust, validation, and confidentiality, which breaks down barriers when a person is in a vulnerable state.”
Vickie Speed, whose brother-in-law was “executed in the line of duty,” joined the panel to share part of her sister’s recovery story after the violent episode.
“We got involved with Randy because he actually stepped in to help her with PTSD and trauma and I saw what he did,” she said, noting that she also lost her husband to cancer. “Just losing my husband alone, I just had a real passion to give back and not just help widows, but I’ve actually run into law enforcement that’s now retired, that’s reaching out.”
Gallagher pointed out that while the group’s mission is crucial to families recovering from such tragedies, the real shame is that Wounded Blue is needed in the first place.
“My peer team, amazing people,” Sutton said. “All of my peer team are officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten, run over. And you know what, but I fully believe this, that the American people believe in their police and want to help. They want to have an avenue to help. And now we’re giving them that avenue by supporting these wounded officers, by going to TheWoundedBlue.org and giving what they can, can make a difference. In fact, they might even save a life.”
The question posed by Gallagher, although never definitively answered, is whether the mainstream corporate media will ever reflect the widely-held sentiment of most Americans. The feeling is that law enforcement should be applauded and supported, especially on the heels of a violent attack.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
The Power of Events and the Electronic Campfire
The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.
Of all the people who have ever played music on the radio, Jim Ladd (currently heard on SiriusXM’s Deep Trax Channel) may be the most gifted communicator. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Ladd when I programmed KLSX-FM/Los Angeles.
Ladd referred to radio as the “electronic campfire.” Although he coined the phrase to describe FM progressive radio, it’s a terrific descriptor of radio at its best. When a radio station is firing on all cylinders, it becomes a communal experience.
I always enjoyed big station events. Surrounded by staff and listeners, in a shared communal experience that only a fantastic radio team could create, is when I truly understood Ladd’s term, “the electronic campfire.”
The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.
The Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s Cinderella story this year, even if they turned back into a pumpkin two games short of the championship. What a ride for my Philadelphia friends and former colleagues.
The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and earned a return trip in 2009. We had station rallies before each game and lit the WPHT tower in red light. Because Philadelphians are so sensitive about comments made by national announcers (and there are no local television broadcasts), we synced the local radio broadcast to the national broadcast. The legendary Harry Kalas called the final out in a moment etched into many Philadelphians’ minds. Those broadcasts received some of the highest shares of the PPM era.
For 25 years, Philadelphia had a unique city holiday: Wing Bowl. The genius of Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti conceived this event for the Friday before the Super Bowl at a time when the Eagles were perennial losers. What started as a chicken wing eating contest in a hotel lobby became one of the WIP’s biggest annual ratings and revenue days. The morning show broadcast live from a packed Wells Fargo Center. Combine Mardi Gras with a chicken wing eating contest, and you have some idea of what Wing Bowl was. If you don’t know, look do a quick search.
I also was involved in three of Howard Stern’s victory parties, or as Howard called them at the time, the funeral for the competition. We did it in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – which was especially fun because we tapped into special effects available from show biz fans in Hollywood. The third time was in Cleveland, where I could enjoy the spectacle mainly as a listener.
When the Smashing Pumpkins came through the Twin Cities recently, it reminded me of the biggest radio event I’ve ever seen. In 1998 we had a struggling station in Minneapolis called Rock 100.3. We were trying to put the station on the map. Summers are short in Minneapolis, and the city celebrates with a week-long festival called the Aquatennial. Friday night is called the Block Party, with music on several different stages throughout downtown, sponsored by various radio stations.
Previously the biggest act the Block Party ever featured was The Black Crowes, drawing about 35,000. We promised to do better – even if we hadn’t figured out how. After a lot of hard work and even more good fortune, we found the Smashing Pumpkins were looking to do a free unticketed show. In 1998 there was no band bigger than The Smashing Pumpkins.
We convinced then-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton that it would be good for the city and The Smashing Pumpkins played the Block Party in front of 125,000 fans on a 90-foot stage with a six-figure production budget on what was then a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. If we had a two-share, every one of those listeners was at that show – and they brought a friend!
There were no significant incidents at the show, except for the inmate convicted of murder who escaped long enough to see the concert and was then taken back into custody without incident after the show.
Nothing like the free Smashing Pumpkins concert will happen again in Minneapolis. The site is now home to Mayo Clinic Square, which includes the Mayo’s Sports Medicine Clinic, the offices and practice facilities of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx, restaurants, office and retail space for Jack Links, and the 251-room Loews Hotel.
Not every event requires a six-figure budget, the most prominent band of the era, or booking the city’s NBA/NHL facility. It’s not even necessary to finish number one in morning drive and then engage in 1980s or 90s-style radio wars.
Stations that don’t have budgets must be more imaginative in creating events. It is not an option for stations to discontinue events – at least those that hope to continue to attract an audience.
When I arrived at WIP, I found a station with a handful of morning shows. Each personality was an experienced entertainer and showperson. When we put them on the same stage together, it was magic. We did it in a public venue and held a debate about Philadelphia’s favorite topic: The Eagles. We dressed the stage like a presidential debate and followed a similar format (it was during the 2008 presidential election). It became an annual event. Over the years, everything from the podiums, timer, wardrobe, and challenge flags (yes, we even had challenge flags) became sponsored. Moments ranged from hilarious to tense.
There were two total lunar eclipses this year. How fun would it be to get an expert from a local planetarium (or even an astronomy club) and invite listeners to share an experience in the middle of the night? Depending on the station’s format playing “Dark Side of the Moon” either at the event or on the air.
Events (and personalities) build equity and loyalty for radio brands. Find a great radio brand, and you’ll find a history of great personalities and big events. When Progressive Rock radio began, some, like my friend Jim Ladd, dubbed it the “electronic campfire.”
Despite never-ending budget cuts, radio brands must continue to create events. Radio will have more commercials and compete against more narrowly targeted competitors. Podcasters, streamers, and satellite radio can’t do local events. Few, if any, will ever create communal experiences the way radio has been for over 100 years. Fire up the campfire. The combination of personalities and events remains radio’s best bang for the buck.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.