Changes are abound at 77 WABC in New York. But one constant for the News/Talk giant is Juliet Huddy. In three years at WABC, Huddy has been a pleasant, informed voice, albeit shifted from mornings to middays and back again. But in this climate, Huddy is persevering and even reinventing herself with a new travelogue show.
When she landed at WABC in 2018, Huddy was thankful for the opportunity presented by then-program director Craig Schwalb. She left Fox News in 2016 as one of the high-profile Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment accusers and quickly realized the industry was willing to keep her sidelined.
“I really was freaked out that I never was going to get a job in media again,” Huddy told Barrett News Media. “I didn’t think that I would have the problems that I did when I left Fox.”
Instead, her two-decade career at Fox that included a stint at the Fox New York affiliate almost felt whitewashed from the memory of any TV executives. Whether it was network, cable, or local, there were no takers for her talents.
“I started reducing my demands basically down to smaller markets, top 50 and then top 75,” Huddy said.
She had faith that TV honchos would read between the lines with her departure. But after several months, it was becoming abundantly clear that she would not get another TV gig, at least for the foreseeable future.
WABC would throw Huddy a lifeline to salvage her sinking career. Social media connected her with the station. Huddy sent a tweet based on something morning hosts Bernard McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg were talking about.
“Sid, of course, jumped on it,” she said.
An online conversation caught the eye of Schwalb, who invited Huddy to have a presence in the morning show.
“I owe everything to Sid and Craig Schwalb,” Huddy said.
Although delighted to get back on the air, there were awkward feelings for the veteran broadcaster as O’Reilly was a regular weekly guest with Bernie and Sid. She also learned that another frequent morning contributor Bo Dietl, the former NYPD detective, “had been tracking me down as one of the accusers.”
Huddy said, “It was just a strange place to work.”
Her comfort level also suffered directly from Bernie and Sid, who would show their allegiance to then-President Donald Trump. Huddy, who was a lifelong Republican, had been vocal in her opposition to Trump.
That, and her personal-turned-very-public allegations regarding O’Reilly also gave fodder for callers.
“I don’t know that some of the talent helped out with that, put it that way,” she admitted. “When you’re painted a certain way, you really need the time to explain yourself and talk through it with the listeners who are upset with you.”
Curtis and Juliet
Huddy didn’t have the platform with Bernie and Sid as the news person. Once she joined Curtis Sliwa to co-host the midday show, she had time to share her opinions but was now part of an ill-fated on-air “marriage.”
Since Sliwa’s longtime radio partner Ron Kuby was axed by WABC in 2017, it was a constant rotation of co-hosts, usually women— including Rita Cosby and Eboni K. Williams—before Huddy got the chance to sit next to Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder.
“I felt very constrained. I felt like Curtis wanted me there as his sidekick, and I’m not a sidekick,” Huddy said.
Ironically, Sliwa was instrumental teaming with Juliet, but “in his mind, being so instrumental meant that he could be the boss of me.”
A lack of chemistry is one way to put it, and Huddy, who already had been in the business for 25 years, was flabbergasted by the reception from the radio legend.
“I never had an issue with my co-host, my colleagues, and talent. Never,” she said.
Huddy survived longer than most in the “modern era” with Sliwa, allowing him to “drive the bus.” But as the show dragged on, she realized her voice was being suppressed by his larger ego.
“That was when the dynamic between Curtis and [me] changed,” Huddy recalled.
Whether it’s the Sliwa experience or dealing with angry callers for her lack of loyalty to the GOP and Trump, Huddy said she’s not adverse to fighting back.
“I think I strive on chaos,” she said. “So, ultimately, I think it’s been a good experience.”
Move to Early Mornings
Prior to Sliwa’s apparent temporary departure from WABC, it became clear that Huddy could no longer work with him. Management offered a one-hour early morning news show at 5 a.m. with overnight host Frank Morano.
“That was not something I would have chosen,” she admitted. “The situation with Curtis was just getting tenuous. It was one or the other, I guess, and that was me.”
Huddy said the decision rested, ultimately, with Red Apple Media owner John Catsimatidis.
“He could have gotten rid of me,” she said. “That was another option.”
While not happy switching her body back to a pre-dawn broadcast, it did get her away from the anxiety with Sliwa, and based on the content; there was no longer a need to dump callers for using profanity toward her.
Having said that, Huddy is in the business long enough to read the tea leaves.
“The message was: ‘We don’t want you to have an opinion because it’s getting you into trouble, and it’s potentially alienating listeners,’” Huddy contended.
Making the best of the situation, she enjoys working with Morano and has a setup to go live from home, although most times, you’ll find Huddy in the Third Avenue studio. Shortly after its debut, the Early News was expanded to 6:30 a.m., boosting the lead-in for Bernie and Sid.
As part of the show that started in January, Huddy looks for stories to talk about that the “traditional” news stations would pass.
Her new co-host is good friends with her old co-host, and she said Morano is “instrumental in Curtis’ mayoral run,” but it doesn’t cause on-air issues because “he’s so easy to work with.”
While she “didn’t know what to make of” Morano initially, his work ethic has impressed her.
“He’s a really hard worker. He’s an amazing interviewer,” she said. “I think he’s got such a huge future.”
Plus, Morano defends his co-host against people who complain to him about why she’s still on the radio station.
“He’s got my back. I just really appreciate that,” Huddy said.
Within six weeks of her being taken off the midday show, Sliwa took a leave to run for mayor. Having won the Republican primary in June, at the very least, it keeps him off the air until November when he faces Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the general election.
Huddy said, “I’m guessing since he’s such a close friend of Catsimatidis, there will be space made available to him.”
Despite Sliwa’s leaving, Huddy did not make any overtures for getting her old timeslot back.
“I don’t even think it was really a thought in their mind, frankly,” she said. “[Catsimatidis] wants to bring his people in. I just knew the writing was on the wall about having my own show,” Huddy said.
A solo weekend show was another option, but staying on a daily work schedule, even if it meant waking up in the overnight, was more important for her not to “fade off into the oblivion.” For a full-blown return to talk radio, “I don’t know that it’s the right place or it’s the right time,” she admitted.
Jet Set Juliet
“I’m taking what life is giving me, and I’m making the absolute 100-percent best of it,” Huddy said.
Her evolution at WABC includes a passion for travel with a daily segment using her moniker Jet Set Juliet on the Early News. Although Sliwa always referred to her with that name, she’s not ready to give him credit for creating it.
“It came about while I was working with Curtis. I just don’t remember who came up with it,” she said. “I’d like to think that I did because it’s brilliant.”
Coming soon, Huddy will host a video podcast edited from trips she takes around the world. She’ll use the station Stage 77 set with its state-of-the-art technology to incorporate the multimedia mixed with her “stand-up” introductions.
It will get posted to the WABC website, and her social media feeds.
“With where I am in my life, how old I am (51), where my husband is and what we want from our future, my five-year plan is: I really want to be living over in Europe, and I want to be covering travel, giving you the American’s perspective about living life like a local.”
Keeping the Red Apple Shiny
Catsimatidis took over the legendary call letters in 2020 and quickly put his handprint all over 77 WABC. The billionaire businessman is the CEO of the Gristedes supermarket chain. The biggest difference from corporate owner Cumulus to Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Group can be found in two words: Family-run.
“That can be great, and that can be bad,” Huddy said. “One day you can have a great relationship with your boss, and then next day it might not be that great. That’s a lot different than the corporate environment.”
Right-wing talk is on the weekday lineup, but it is music that fills the frequency on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Within months of Catsimatidis’ purchase, Bruce Morrow “Cousin Brucie” was brought back to WABC decades after leaving. Tony Orlando is also spinning classic hits and 970 WNYM host, and Saturday Night Live alum Joe Piscopo does a weekly Frank Sinatra.
“I know Catsimatidis loves that type of music,” Huddy said. “It’s his baby. He can do whatever he wants to it.”
That is another change from the Cumulus regime, freeing the schedule of brokered shows to beef up original WABC content on weekends.
The station just expanded the Rat Pack programming with Dean Martin’s daughter Deana and one-time American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis, a Tony Award nominee, who grew up in Brooklyn to Greek parents. Huddy thinks the family heritage endears him with Catsimatidis.
“I’m sure they love each other probably because of that connection,” Huddy said.
Incidentally, Huddy, a self-proclaimed “music freak,” proposed doing her own 1980s show. Nothing was offered by WABC brass.
While WABC under Catsimatidis has shown deep pockets, one area where they have gotten tight is in the news department. They abruptly ended a deal recently for iHeart to provide weekday newscasts. Curiously, program director Dave Labrozzi took over the midday anchor shift. Likely to keep it under the radar, Labrozzi briefly chose the on-air name, Rocco Lorenzo, before dropping any name altogether.
“It’s an unusual way to do things,” Huddy said. “But I’m not running a radio station. I never would want to, and I would never want to be a boss. I’m the last person to judge decisions being made like this. All the power to them. It could be an incredible trend.”
More conservative moves are on the talk front, led by Greg Kelly, who was plugged into (most of) Sliwa’s slot. The former Fox 5/WNYW morning co-host went right-wing with a popular Newsmax show.
“I’m just surprised at how right he has become,” she said of her former Fox colleague. “I never got that from him. Is he doing this for effect? Is he doing it to be more of an entertainer than journalist? I think when you’re working for Newsmax, you’ve got to look at people and think ‘that’s not necessarily journalism.’ I’m not sure where his head is.”
Station management and/or Catsimatidis himself will have a decision to make should Sliwa, 67, lose, as predicted, in the mayoral race.
“You’d have to look at the ratings to see who did better, as I’m guessing that’s what will dictate whether he’ll return to those hours or not,” Huddy said.
Kelly’s narrative is a perfect fit alongside the other station hosts. However, Huddy would like them to loosen up on the barrage of right-leaning talk by tapping into the growing number of Independents.
“I would hope that they would realize that, and they would start to maybe pick up on that,” she suggested.
Personally for Huddy, the working relationship with program director Labrozzi has improved since the Curtis fiasco ended.
“I don’t think he had a real understanding of who I was,” she admitted. “I don’t know why that was exactly. I have my ideas. We have a much closer relationship and camaraderie than we did before.”
By comparison, she misses working with Craig Schwalb, who took a flier on her and will “always have a ton of love for him.”
Her strong feelings for television aren’t going away either.
“I literally have dreams about it and it hurts my heart [when] I see a breaking news story and people that I used to work with covering it,” Huddy admitted. “It still gets me every single time.”
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.