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Gene Mueller Lasted 40 Years in Milwaukee Radio Because He Was the Real Deal

Gene Mueller retired from a 40-year relationship with WKTI/WTMJ in February. How do people last that long in a market? Strangely, it’s not that uncommon in Milwaukee.

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People can be remembered for the oddest things. In 1982,  Milwaukee was crazy with World Series fever. The Brewers faced off against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Brewers’ only franchise appearance in the Series, which they lost in seven games. 

Catching up with the newly retired host of the morning program on WTMJ, I reminded Gene Mueller of a throwaway bit he and on-air partner Bob Reitman did during the Series. The Cardinals had a pitcher, Joaquin Andujar, whom Gene Mueller referred to as ‘Walking Underwear’. While it wasn’t the joke heard around the world, for whatever reason it has stayed with me for 40  years and I still chuckle. The point is, sometimes it only takes one thing a person says to remember them forever. 

Mueller retired from a 40-year relationship with WKTI/WTMJ in February. How do people last that long in a market? Strangely, it’s not that uncommon in Milwaukee. There are two other morning shows where the hosts have enjoyed similar longevity. A good chunk of the reason he survived that long is that Mueller was the real deal. 

“People in Milwaukee can sense when you’re authentic and really giving it your all,” Mueller said. The same holds true for Milwaukee’s professional athletes. If they see the effort, they will give you the devotion and support. Milwaukee is a city that likes habits. “They don’t want to hop on the next trend,” Mueller said. 

The rigors of rising hours before the sun does the same is familiar to anyone in the business. This is not lost on Mueller. “That was always the first thing people asked me–how did you get up so early? Yes, I gave up a lot for this career. We all do. I don’t want to ever sound like I’m whining, but you know going in you’re going to be swimming upstream against 99.8% normal circadian rhythm.”

Mueller said that was the top reason he retired when he did–to get his life back. “Not to be morbid, but I lost some friends during the pandemic and I realized there are so many things I never got to enjoy. Like going to a hockey game on a weeknight, watching a movie later in the evening.”

In other words, things most of us take for granted.

Arrival at WKTI

Reitman and Mueller, as the WKTI morning show was named, matched two diverse Milwaukee personalities who had cut their chops at other rock-oriented stations in town. Mueller was at 93-WQFM before he moved to WKTI. At that time, Retiman was working solo and a partner was a new experience for him. “I’d only met Bob Reitman once,” Mueller explained. “I was just blown away and somewhat intimidated. I was going to be working with Bob ‘frickin’ Reitman.” That was the big-time for a kid who began up in quaint Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

“I never thought I’d have a chance to work with a guy like that,” Mueller said. He said at first it was a bit rocky as they had such different styles and Mueller feared he might be some kind of interloper on an established personality. “I’m sure Bob wondered, ‘Who is that dirty little kid?’ Instead he quickly made me part of the show.” It wasn’t long before the duo became household names in Milwaukee. 

After he signed off for the last time at WTMJ on February 25th, he went to Florida for a vacation. He started thinking about bits and topics he’d like to talk about on the show when he returned. “It hit me that I’m not going back to a show. This was the first time I was able to watch the Oscars with my son.”

While he didn’t last long in college at Stevens Point, it didn’t matter. He knew what he wanted and was all-in with a career in radio. “I really didn’t have my eye on journalism,” Mueller said. “But being a smartass on the radio and getting paid for it appealed to me a great deal.”

The transition from WKTI to WTMJ.

While the studios are only a few feet away from each other, they were in different worlds. Bob Reitman retired in December of 2006. Along with longtime producer and personality Gino Salomone, Mueller kept on until May of the following year at WKTI. 

Then the decision was made to move Mueller to the morning spot at WTMJ. “I was in awe of all the people that worked there through the years and wasn’t sure I was really up to the task,” Mueller said. “The general manager at the time, John Scheweitzer, always liked me and thought I’d do a great job. He gave me a ton of opportunities so I guess I felt I should give it a shot.”

The regiment of the morning show at WTMJ made the transition a little easier. The format and clock were preordained. “News at the top, weather on the tens,” Mueller said. “Part of the move across the hall required me to think I was no longer going to do bits that involved somewhat sophomoric humor.”

One of many blessings throughout his career was the advent of new technology, Mueller explained. “Everything was at my fingertips with the internet. It was a godsend,” Mueller said. “I could do instant research. The technology allowed me to craft together vignettes quickly before I went on the air. Everything became so easy, so quick. The audio editing included. Kids in the business today don’t know what a cart machine is and ask me if I really worked with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Yes, I did.”

The way news is covered has changed as well. “Not everyone out there is dealing with both sides of the story any longer,” Mueller said. “We have so much news from so many different places, and there’s no pushback. Reporters and writers deal with minimal sources and few confirmations. They give their audience what they want to get, facts be damned.”

Milwaukee has always been home for Mueller. “It’s the most wonderful radio market in the world, I love it here,” he said. “I saw what happened to friends who went on to the large markets. It was cutthroat. You had to produce or you were gone. It’s a little more forgiving here, more gentle.”

Mueller said he’s going to take some time to decompress, but suggested there were already a few projects being tossed about. One gets the feeling he’s never going to fully relinquish  the medium he loves. 

“First, I want to go and live a bit.”

He’s earned it. 

BNM Writers

Dan Mandis Has Done Every Job Imaginable in Radio

Mandis has been in the news radio business for a long time, which means it presents him the opportunity to wear many hats throughout his career.

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When WWTN personality Dan Mandis was ten years old, he wanted what every other red-blooded young man wanted; to have something to do with professional baseball. 

Only one problem; he sucked as a player.  

“I played little league, but I was terrible,” Mandis said. “They stuck me out in right field. I was Lupus in Bad News Bears.”  

Wow. Lupus? He must have really sucked. But Lupus made a mean martini for coach Buttermaker. Mandis had another baseball dream.  

“I wanted to be Vin Scully,” he said. “He was the greatest play-by-play guy in history, the absolute best. He drew pictures with his words.” His love of baseball hasn’t aged well. Instead of current teams and games, Mandis said he likes to flick on YouTube and watch the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. 

“If you grew up with baseball, it has a place in your heart,” Mandis said. “I collected baseball cards, and I was the kid who had the transistor glued to his ear listening to games.” 

There are two things I know for sure about Nashville; Minnie Pearl and the drinks are way overpriced.   

“We’re all about the free market,” Mandis said. “People from the north can come down, and we’ll take their money.” He’s been working in Nashville for eight years and just signed for another four years. According to Mandis, Nashville feels comfortable because the city embraces ‘everything that makes this country great.’ Oh, and there’s no state income tax. To avoid the exorbitant drink prices, Mandis suggests you go to a liquor store and pre-game before you go downtown. If you don’t know what that means, ask one of your kids.  

“I hate to sound like I’m pandering, but this state is ripped right out of Americana,” Mandis said. “Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are crime-ridden and have massive homeless issues. Down here, we have southern values.” He admits Nashville has its share of crime but nothing like other cities. The suburbs, he says, are second to none. 

If you find yourself in Nashville and are into presidential history, he says you have to visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. There are lots of wineries and whiskey producers. Mandis sounds like a public service announcement for Tennessee.  

He loves baseball films too, like For Love of the Game and Moneyball. 

“For me, those are comfort movies,” Mandis said. “If it has baseball and a love story, I’m hooked.”  

Mandis likes prequels more than sequels, especially the Star Wars franchise.  

“I prefer Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad. Saul is one of the more intriguing characters in history.” He said movies don’t pack the same punch they used to.  

“I was a terrible student in high school. My passions didn’t really lend themselves to do a lot of reading. With one exception, I’m fascinated by the Civil War and so much of that went on down here. If I could go back in time, I’d be in the crowd for the Gettysburg Address.” 

That seems like a wasted wish. Lincoln’s speech was only two minutes long. 

The south and things southerners love have been a target during the past few years. Mandis said he understands when folks became upset when some of the statues were taken down. “I’m against it,” he said. “If you’re going to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee, that’s a mistake. He’s an important historical figure, and many in the south appreciate his role in the Civil War.” 

Mandis said he wouldn’t think of going up to someone and tell them to tear down their statue because he didn’t agree with them. 

What would he do if he got fired after the next four years? Retire and go off into the sunset? “I work in radio, and I’m a man of modest means,” Mandis said. “My goal in radio has always been to be that morning guy who has been in the market forever.” He’s not looking for syndication, a major market, or hoping to be a top-ten radio personality. That’s not on the radar. “I’ve had a long and pleasant career.” 

You can listen to Mandis daily from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. on Nashville’s Morning News on WWTN.

Working in radio for as long as he has, Mandis has become a deft interviewer. He counts his interview with Steve Perry of Journey as one of his best and favorite.  

“I was allotted 20 minutes to talk with him,” Mandis said. “We ended up talking for about an hour and twenty minutes. He found the first question I asked to be interesting, and it was golden from there.” 

He said it pays to do your research on a subject. “I cared enough to really know about him, prepped for the interview, and I could tell Perry respected that.” Mandis said rock star Perry used to clean Turkey coops for a living.  

Mandis has done it all; worked as a call-screener, board operator, producer, news anchor, a news and traffic reporter, and now host. He also worked with Dr. Laura Schlessinger for many years.   

Mandis said his favorite all-time radio gig was traffic reporting in his hometown of Los Angeles. “I loved it. It goes back to my dream of play-by-play. Back in those days, all the reports were (for the most part) live. In a region the size of Los Angeles, it was a blast to do live reports on big-time radio stations as the traffic situation evolved. Such a blast.” 

“I was an off-air PD, then became a full-time host. I believe that’s unusual, but not sure.” He has amassed a collection of awards, including the Colorado Broadcasting Award for best radio imaging. Mandis was an AP winner for best reporter in Indiana and was nominated for a Marconi last year. “I was robbed,’ he jokes.  

He said his father was a big talk radio fan, listening to KABC in Los Angeles. “Early, I hated it, but tastes change,” Mandis said. “It was always a dream of mine to host a show on KABC in honor of my dad. I kind of did. I guest-hosted Red Eye Radio, and their LA affiliate is KABC. Given my lack of success in getting an opportunity on KABC, that will have to do.” 

“I’ve never really worked in anything but talk radio,” Mandis said. “It’s the greatest and most viable format, in my opinion.” 

If the radio gigs dry up, he’ll always have Lupus’ spot in right field.  

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BNM Writers

Possible Reversal of The 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision Dominates Network TV Coverage

“Surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2.”

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News of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft majority opinion that would have the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights — immediately spread like wildfire on the evening of May 2nd.

The development, first reported by the website Politico starting within the 9 p.m. ET hour, holds monumental implications for the nation if the Court officially does overturn the law.

Yet, surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2. Compared to the three prior Monday nights (averaging Apr. 11, 18 & 25), MSNBC’s flagship program “Rachel Maddow Show” slipped 4 percent to 1.94 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its lead-out “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (1.45 million) was down 7 percent. 826,000 then tuned in to “The 11th Hour” up 3 percent.

Over at CNN, the 9 p.m. hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” (660,000 viewers) ticked up one percent. “Don Lemon Tonight” grew ten percent in the 10 p.m. hour (689,000 viewers) but fell two percent in the 11 p.m. hour (517,000 viewers).

Fox News Channel’s coverage focused on how the leak from the Supreme Court occurred. “Hannity” (2.79 million) stayed even, while the subsequent two lead-out programs on the night jumped up the most (of all cable telecasts) in raw figures — each increased by two million viewers: “The Ingraham Angle” (2.4 million; +9 percent from the 2.2 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25) and “Gutfeld!” (2.15 million; +10 percent from the 1.95 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25).

Cable news averages for May 2-8, 2022:

Total Day (May 2-8 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.484 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.631 million viewers; 69,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.478 million viewers; 102,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.183 million viewers; 52,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.132 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.132 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.112 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.111 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (May 2-7 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 8 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.286 million viewers; 352,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.996 million viewers; 107,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.605 million viewers; 131,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.223 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.149 million viewers; 54,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.142 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.059 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.052 million viewers; 10,000 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. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.449 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.431 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.371 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.284 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.220 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.188 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.182 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/6/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.047 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.876 million viewers

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.941 million viewers

159. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.870 million viewers

161. Stanley Tucci “Piedmont” (CNN, Sun. 5/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.859 million viewers

290. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.567 million viewers

356. The Daily Show (CMDY, Wed. 5/4/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.434 million viewers

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

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.623 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.533 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.503 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.480 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.444 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.441 million adults 25-54

76. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54

81. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.228 million adults 25-54

96. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 5/2/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.211 million adults 25-54

129. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 5/3/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.167 million adults 25-54

152. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

What Would a Jeff Warshaw Consortium Takeover of Cumulus Mean?

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

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On April 14, 2022, reports became public that a consortium led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw made an unsolicited, $1.2 billion bid (including debt) to acquire Cumulus Media.

Reuters reported that Warshaw planned to take the company private with a bid of $15 to $17 per share. As a result, Cumulus shares which traded in the $10 – $11 range over the past year, jumped to $14.21, a 40% increase and a level not seen since July 2021.

Cumulus management responded to the reports by acknowledging the indication of interest and stated it was “reviewing the letter.”

During Cumulus’s Q1 22 earnings call on May 4, President/CEO Mary Berner announced a $50 million stock buyback program and rejected the Warshaw consortium acquisition bid.

Radio companies have lagged the overall financial markets for over a decade. I have participated in conversations with groups that already own radio stations and others currently outside the industry who have considered buying radio groups.

In 2013 music streaming service Pandora bought an FM station in Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon first hearing that news, some of us thought perhaps they realized how undervalued FM signals were and would invest in the medium. Alas, Pandora thought they had found a backdoor means to lower its music royalty costs but otherwise had little interest in broadcast radio.

As somebody who has been involved in every facet of the radio industry for nearly 40 years, I was interested in far more than just the investment implications of the proposed buyout.

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

To answer that question, I used reviews from the website Glassdoor. Reviewers can rate the company on a one to five bases, with five the best and one the worst.

These reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt as former employees may have an ax to grind, but this caveat holds equally true for all employers.

The company Jeff Warshaw currently runs, Connoisseur Media, receives an average of 2.9 stars (out of five) on Glassdoor. This rating is based on just 32 reviews, so the low sample size is a factor to consider.

Cumulus currently has an average of 3.2 stars on Glassdoor based on over 800 reviews.

These Glassdoor reviews suggest that a new Cumulus led by Warshaw wouldn’t be an improvement over the current management. If it takes a knight on a white horse to make Cumulus a better company to work for, it will have to wait for another day.

To be fair, I don’t know Jeff Warshaw. I have never spoken with him. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to him at the appropriate time (assuming that his attempted takeover remains ongoing). I also welcome employees of Connoisseur or Cumulus who feel the average reflected on Glassdoor is unfair to contact me (andy@andybloom.com). I will accept comments and input anonymously regardless of whether it is more positive or negative than Glassdoor poses for use in a future column.

While we’re looking at the reviews for Connoisseur and Cumulus, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see how the other major radio broadcast groups fare:

iHeart also rates a 3.2 with over 2,200 reviews.

Audacy receives a 3.5, which is misleading as it’s based on 23 reviews. Entercom had 691 reviews and rates a 3.1.

The best I can find in the industry among the majors is Cox with 4.1. Again, this may be deceiving. Apollo Global Management scores a more modest 3.1.

Hubbard has no reviews. I’m not sure why.

SiriusXM appears to have the highest current score at 3.6.

You’ll find common themes, positive and the negatives are dizzyingly familiar across the companies throughout these reviews.

The main reoccurring negative themes include:

· Low pay

· Long hours

· No chance for advancement

· Doing the work of too many people

· Management pays lip service to feedback but doesn’t do anything

The main reoccurring positive themes include:

· The people

· Fun place to work

· Perks – such as free tickets

· Glad to be working in the industry

I was curious about the differences between the companies employees rated higher and lower to work for. Listening to a couple of recent earnings calls revealed some of the variations. In next week’s column, we will examine some of the differences.

Are the pros and cons listed above familiar to you? I welcome your input and anonymous comments for next week’s follow-up column. Please reach out to me at andy@andybloom.com.

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