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Everyone is Welcome at Keven Cohen’s Table

“For the first eight months, The Point was hemorrhaging money,” Cohen explained. “Bleeding would be too tame of a word.”

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Somebody had better step up and take the blame.

Ostensibly, both his mother and father are responsible for the odd spelling of Keven Cohen’s first name—probably more his mother.

“I think she had too much of the epidural medicine,” Keven Cohen jokes.

He likes the uniqueness but said it has caused its share of problems.

Cohen was born in Detroit, but the family moved to Florida just before his 13th birthday. He later studied broadcast journalism at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Where a lot of kids wanted to be a ballplayer, Cohen wanted to be Ernie Harwell, the legendary broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.

“In our neighborhood, we didn’t ask when the Tigers played; we asked when Ernie was on.” That’s how revered the man was in Detroit. “To this day, I’m an obsessive Detroit fan. I like to say you can take Keven out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of Keven.”

Growing up, Cohen said he was inseparable from his older brother Marc. “We have been best friends since the day I was born,” Cohen said. Cohen was able to convince his mother and brother to move to Columbia so they could be around each other.

His sister was the lone holdout, but Cohen does speak to her every day, as a rule. Marc was a teacher but hung that up for corned beef, opening his Groucho’s Deli. His sister is a physical therapist. They’re like peas and carrots…and more peas.

Cohen started out in radio at WRUF in Gainesville. He spent five years at that station.

“After graduating college, they created a position for me as assistant sports director,” Cohen explained. “They were grooming me to take over for the sports director. The problem was that I realized that the sports director wasn’t going anywhere soon.”

In 1994, Cohen began searching for a new opportunity, but he still didn’t want to go too far from Gainesville. He’s truly a man dedicated to his family.

“My father died in a car accident when I was young, and I couldn’t bear the thought of moving too far from my mother in Florida,” Cohen said.

After enjoyable years at WRUF, Cohen began exploring new opportunities. He recalls landing his first dream job in Columbia, South Carolina. He knew he was as talented as the other 267 applicants for the sports job, but he had something else. Moxie.

“The guy that hired me in Columbia now does the radio play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves. Jim Powell,” Cohen said.

Cohen knew the competition would be tough, but he had his sights set firmly on the job. Interestingly, when many young radio people send out tapes, they send them everywhere around the country. This wasn’t the case for Cohen. Family is so important to him; he again didn’t want to go too far from home. The only tape he sent out was to Columbia. The distance between cities was doable.

“I called Jim Powell and pleaded with him to give me fifteen minutes with him,” Cohen said. “I told him I’d gladly drive the nearly six hours to Columbia, meet with him, then turn around and drive back to Gainesville. That’s how serious I was about the job.”

Powell was impressed with the young man’s spirit, and they talked for more than an hour and a half. A week and a half later, Powell called Cohen. Powell told Cohen there were candidates for the job with better demo tapes, but he liked Cohen’s tenacity and drive.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” Powell told Cohen. The bad news was the station wouldn’t pay moving expenses. The good news was he had the job if he wanted it.

“When Jim Powell speaks to colleges and high school students, he still uses my tenacity as an example,” Cohen said.

After 18 years in a community, Cohen had developed some deep roots and friendships.

He was at WVOC in Columbia from 1994 until 2012, a good run in any radio market. Then management decided to go in a different direction and fired Cohen. This happened ten years ago, but you can still hear the pain in the recollection.

“I was devastated,” Cohen said. “I’d cut my chops on the radio there. I put in more than 18 years there. I was blindsided.” At the time of his firing, Cohen was hosting pre-game shows for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and it was the middle of the season. An election was just a short time away. Management figured that would be the perfect time to give him the ax.

For the ace-kicker, hours before his firing, Cohen had lunch with one of the salesmen and returned with a $64,000 sales package from a local business. They still fired him.

Isn’t that a fine how-do-you-do?

“My firing made the front page of The State newspaper,” Cohen explained. “There were protestors outside the building, upset that I’d been fired. Personally, I never felt any bitterness toward Clear Channel—publicly or privately for the firing.”

As they said in The Godfather, It was just business. Most people reading this are well aware of that sting. People in this business get stung so often that they don’t even bother putting baking soda on wounds.

WVOC gave him the talk all fired people know too well. They put him on the sidelines with a non-compete clause.

“I told them to keep their severance package; I just wanted to work.”

No dice. WVOC said that wasn’t going to happen.

“I’m the kind of guy who turned the firing into motivation,” Cohen said.

Cohen was offered a job in Jacksonville, Florida, but wanted to wait. He was promised a job by another station in Columbia when the non-compete expired.

“The call never came,” Cohen said. “I was so discouraged as I’d turned down the Jacksonville job. There were no other talk stations in Columbia. I either had to leave Columbia or leave radio.”

There were plenty of opportunities Cohen could have grabbed that required a briefcase. Banking or insurance companies would have begged to get him. He had earned a stellar reputation in the community, and many businesses felt he’d be good for their business if he worked for them.

Now it gets a little weird.

One night, Cohen couldn’t sleep, so he went down to the basement. He was able to fall asleep and was visited in a dream by a friend who’d died from cancer.

“In the dream, Rick told me everything was going to be alright, and I should start my own radio station.”

Thanks, Rick. Not like that’s a tall order or anything.

“It hit me that starting my own radio station was something I could and should do,” Cohen said. “I ran up to tell my wife about the dream and asked if she’d support me if I attempted to create my own station. She said if I let her go back to sleep, she’d support me.”

What a gal.

“I’d never considered this before,” Cohen said. “The only thing I’d ever done on radio was my show. I reached out to some people to get the ball rolling.”

Cohen said four banks were no help. “They knew me well and loved me, but realized I’d never run a radio station before, or anything even close to that. I don’t blame them.”

The dream (the one with Rick) paid dividends. Cohen was fired from WVOC in November 2012 and started his radio station in October 2013, less than a year later.

“For the first eight months, The Point was hemorrhaging money,” Cohen explained. “Bleeding would be too tame of a word.”

He said advertisers were initially wary, and he understood that as well. But they started to come around.

“Things were very lean at first,” Cohen said, “but when we hit the 10 ½ month mark, we broke even for the first time. Then, we started making money. Not a ton, but it was coming in.”

The Point, 100.7. FM, 1470 AM, has become a player in the market. “The community has been so supportive,” Cohen said.

The Point has evolved in its format. “I wanted an old-school talk radio station,” Cohen said. “I always wanted it to be community-driven. I’ve never pressured my hosts or news people to lean a certain way, politically or otherwise. They are on their own, as long as it’s ethical and moral.”

Cohen doesn’t like to micromanage. “I do all the traffic, schedule all the commercials, create all the sales. I’ve tried to create a family. We socialize together; I go out to lunch with hosts. They feel like they can talk with me about anything.”

On his morning show, Cohen doesn’t utilize a call screener; he just answers them as they come in. “There’s no way of picking and choosing which so many hosts like to do. Everyone is welcome at our table,” he said.

Which to me sounds a lot like, ‘We’ll leave the light on.’

BNM Writers

The Cost of “Thoughts”

Jack Del Rio made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter.

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The first recorded use of the expression, “A penny for your thoughts,” was made by Sir Thomas Moore precisely 500 years ago (1522). But, no doubt, a penny went much further in the 16th century.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that inflation continues to increase above expectations. The current annual rate of 8.6% is the highest since 1981. The cost of thoughts, or at least saying them aloud, well, saying certain things in a public forum, has gone up far more than the CPI.

Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders (formerly known as the “Washington Football Team,” and before that, the Washington Redskins), made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter. Specifically, his Tweets compared (what he called) “the summer of riots” to January 6th at the U.S. Capitol. As the late, great Alex Trebek would say, Del Rio’s comments were “in the form of a question.”

Faced with media scrutiny about his Tweets, rather than back down, Del Rio referred to January 6th as a “dust-up at the Capitol.”

Can I tell you a trade secret of press flacks? They all have a small can of lighter fluid and a pack of matches within reach behind a piece of glass with the words “break only in the case of emergency” scrawled on it. Certain phrases or words will cause a press person, at great personal danger and sacrifice, to break the glass, douse themselves with the accelerant, and strike a match before flinging their immolating body in front of the podium. Okay, not literally, but I guarantee the Commanders’ public relations director would think this alternative less painful than hearing those words come out of Del Rio’s mouth in front of the press gaggle.

The controversy that followed was swift and certain: as was the reaction from Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. He promptly assessed a $100,000 fine on Del Rio for his comments.

Two points here: First, this is not a sports story. Talk Radio observers should be far more concerned with the consequences of this story than NFL or sports fans. Second, it doesn’t matter what you think happened on January 6th. You should still find the fine issued by Rivera chilling, whether you call it an insurrection or a dust-up.

I used to believe that comedian Bill Maher and I were about as far apart on the political spectrum as any two Americans could be. Maher and I, however, hold similar views on freedom of expression.

On his HBO show, “Real Time,” Maher defended Del Rio by saying: “In America, you have the right to be wrong. They fined him; the team fined him $100,000 for this opinion. Fining people for an opinion. I am not down with that.”

Because this is where we meet, I’d like to buy Bill Maher a drink and have a laugh over all the times he’s been wrong, or we can share that drink and a smile for understanding that freedom of expression IS the foundation of democracy – no matter who’s right or wrong. Freedom of expression is an issue where liberals and conservatives must find common ground.

The football team currently known as the Washington Commanders may need another name change. Perhaps the “Comrades” would reflect the team’s philosophy better? Levying such a hefty punishment for stating a political (and non-football) point of view because it is out of step with what is apparently official policy seems more reminiscent of the Politburo’s posture than a free society.

Del Rio’s words are understandably offensive to many. At the very least, they were ham-handed for someone who has been in the public spotlight for so long. But a $100,000 fine? Stifling political opinion is far more dangerous than anything Del Rio said.

Taking the Del Rio incident into context with the “Cancel Culture” of the past few years, Talk Radio hosts should look over their shoulders. Del Rio is also an excellent reminder to think twice before posting a politically unpopular opinion on social media.

Inflation has eaten away at the value of a penny and increased the cost of making politically incorrect statements, including on the air in recent years. What inhibits individuals from expressing their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and emotions is a threat to Talk Radio and democracy.

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BNM Writers

Joe Pags’ Dream to Work In Media Started Early

Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.

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If you’ve ever been required to interview someone for a segment or article, you know pretty quickly when it’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

Joe Pags was answering my initial questions as freely as Ebeneezer Scrooge hands out Krugerrands. Teeth have been pulled from the human head with greater ease. It just wasn’t happening. 

After a few minutes, I think I grew on him.

I discovered we actually had a few things in common; both of us lived in Lake Worth, Florida, we knew a lot of the same places and faces, and we both understood that summer heat in Florida is like purgatory. 

However, Pags and I will both have a fond devotion to The Noid. We will always share the memories of being a manager at Domino’s Pizza. 

“I worked at Domino’s when pizzas were delivered to your door within 30-minutes, or it was free,” Pags said. “After a while they went to 30 minutes or three dollars off the price. Too many people were getting into accidents trying to beat the clock.”

What Pags did not mention was that even when you legitimately made it in less than 30 minutes, you had people questioning your delivery time. I guess that’s human nature.

Soon, pizzas were just for eating, not working; Pags started his radio career in 1989 in Palm Beach County, Florida.

After that, it was a stint as a television anchor from 1994-2005 in Saginaw, Michigan, and then Albany, New York. From there he was called back to radio and landed at the Clear Channel Talk Flagship, WOAI, in 2005. The Joe Pags Show has been a fan favorite since its debut in 2007.

For Pags, the media dream started early on. 

“I grew up listening to talk radio at a very young age and was determined to make my living doing it one day,” Pags says. “I actually have a tape somewhere on which I erased the DJ’s voice and recorded mine over the songs.” 

Pags is probably thrilled that the tape will never be released.

Years later, he found he could pay the bills doing something he loved. “I’m lucky enough to work with great people on both local, and national radio and television,” Pags explained.

As a kid, Pags listened to Neil Rogers on WIOD. It was consistently a top-rated show in the MiamiFt. Lauderdale media market and had been since his Miami debut in 1976.

“I also remember Steve Cain, Rick, and Suds on that station,” Pags said. “It was a lot of talk radio, but it was fun. It was entertainment. Rush Limbaugh was doing the politics stuff back then.”

Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.

“When my voice changed at 13, I developed more of a bass tone; I knew I was on my way. I had a New York accent and had to shake that.”

Before he embarked on a career in radio, his music career was going well. Pags played French horn and saxophone; apparently, he was pretty good.

He played gigs at the prestigious Breakers Hotel, among many others. “I used to play at the Backstage lounge adjacent to the old Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter,” Pags said.

No word on whether Reynolds ever caught Pags live or not.

As a kid, he played baseball. Pags said he was pretty good. What took center stage for Pags was music. It was the French horn and saxophone that captured his heart. 

“I played professionally on the Empress Dinner Cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway,” Pags said. “I also did gigs at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. We made some good money.” 

Before Domino’s and radio and music, it all started with a strong desire to succeed. That often comes from your family’s belief in you. Sometimes it’s not there.

“I knew that if I worked hard enough, if I showed the love for the work I was doing, then I’d succeed,” Pags said.

His family lived in Lake Worth, Florida, from 1973-74, and Pags returned every so often. “I got back to Florida recently when I went to Mara Lago and watched 2,000 Mules.

San Antonio has been home for the past 17 years for Pags and his family. “I’ve been here at WOAI. I’ve got my own studio in a great area.” His daughter Sam is his executive producer. I asked Pags if there was any nepotism when it came to hiring Sam.

“Darn right, there is nepotism,” he said. “This is Joe Pags media. I get to hire whoever I want,” he quipped. “Sam has always had a love of broadcasting. When I became syndicated in this business, I told her I trusted her more than anyone else I knew and asked her to produce my show.”

The other day I spoke with Will Cain for a piece. He told me if I visited Austin, I should also see Texas. So I asked Pags what Cain was trying to say. “He means Austin is a city like Portland; only it’s in Texas. There’s a lot of homelessness in Austin. A lot of crime. The University of Texas in Austin goes far to the Left.”

Where does Pags’ tough demeanor come from? 

“My father was 100 percent Italian. We had some good pasta dishes around our house with my grandparents around,” Pags explained. “We didn’t have a good bakery in Lake Worth, so I remember my mother and aunts bringing great bread recipes over from the homeland.”

Pags has always been interested in what takes place on the periphery, not just the core of matters. He’s done a lot of things throughout his life. That experience has helped shape his radio show. Pags said his show tends to be white-collar, but he grew up blue-collar all the way. 

“I liked the Superman movies. I enjoyed Rocky,” Pags explained. “As a car-buff, I loved the Burt Reynolds films with Smokey and the Bandit. Stuff like that.”

Lake Worth, like a lot of other Floridia areas, has been known to be a little rough and tumble. Just watch Cops for a week if you don’t believe me.

Pags said other than a little shoving match at the bus stop, he didn’t encounter much rough stuff. “I was a musician, I wasn’t in that mix. Perhaps a scuffle in little league.”

When he was a teenager, he thought music would be it. “I’d played with some big-hitters at the time, like The Coasters,” Pags said. 

“Music career opportunities really didn’t come along as I’d hoped. In some ways, people in the industry were full of it. I still did some freelance work on the saxophone.”

Pags said he was always willing to work for what he got. “I poured coffee and ran errands for $4 an hour,” Pags said. “I had my car repossessed, and got evicted from my apartment. I still kept at it. I never was deterred from what I wanted. I knew what I wanted, but never really expected things to happen the way they did.”

Pags said if some youngster asked how to be what Pags is today, his answer was succinct. “Pour coffee, run errands, whatever you have to do.” 

I asked Pags what he does in his downtime? Let’s just say he’s not running to tee-off at 7:00 am with the guys at the club on his day off.

“I’m a domestic sports car guy,” he says with pride. “I’ve got three Corvettes, a Camaro Super Sport. My Camaro was a 1967, red with white stripes. I sold that car so we could afford to adopt our daughter. I got the better end of that deal.”

He doesn’t do any weekend racing on local tracks like other aging Indy wannabes. “I like to look at those cars in the garage,” Pags said. “My dad was a big car guy. My dad is probably why I’ve succeeded in my life and career. Not for the reasons you’d think.”

Pags’ relationship with his father had the typical ups and downs. Same as it is for most men.

“My father didn’t think I’d amount to anything and had no problem relating that to me,” Pags said. “Conversely, my Mom was always extremely supportive of my interests and goals. I knew if you were good at what you did, people would take notice.”

Pags said his father excelled at being a naysayer. A glass is a half-empty kind of guy.

“He was so negative. He thought I’d never succeed at anything,” Pags explained. “I was out of the house at 17, and I was determined to become something. To prove him wrong.”

Before his father passed away, Pags believes his father became aware of a lot of things. 

“A light went on in his head, and he was just so surprised I could make a living doing what I did,” Pags explains. “When I became a big enough success, he recognized my drive and determination. I’m still not sure if he was hard on me because he thought it would help me in the end. Whatever his reasoning was, it gave me the drive and determination to see things through.”

Pags’ father became so proud of his son that he’d tell friends Joe was going to be on Fox News and how they should tune in.

“It was my mother, with her ultimate support, that really made me want to succeed. For her,” Pags explained.

“I learned that if someone disparages you or makes you feel small, you have choices. You can go into a shell and take it. Believe what people say. Or you can go out and knock down some doors. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. Soon I will be syndicated on 200 stations. All that came from believing in myself. I’ll prove it to iHeart. To other broadcasters.”

Pags said at some point; you’ve got to find some kind of edge. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to agree with things my father believed and said, just to shut him up. I had to stand up for my own beliefs.”

I can relate to a guy like Pags. He’s got a tough exterior, not easy to crack. But like me, I know in the center is a soft, creamy nougat. 

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BNM Writers

The Rise of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

According to BNM’s Pete Mundo, Ron DeSantis sounds an awful lot like someone who is gearing up for something bigger than “just” being the Governor of Florida.

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For at least the last six years, the long-standing belief is that talk radio has been the home for Donald Trump sycophants. While I’ve always viewed this as an overly-simplistic analysis of tens of millions of weekly talk radio listeners in this country, it’s fair to say that certainly, from 2015 through 2020; the news talk audience was supportive of the 45th President. 

And now, as time goes on, there are signs that the dam is breaking. There’s anecdotal data I can share and then more scientific data to touch on.

This past Monday, I spent one segment of my show saying I would burn through as many calls as I could over 8-9 minutes on Trump or Ron DeSantis to be the 2024 Republican Presidential nominee. I brought this up in the wake of DeSantis’ criticism of Joe Biden’s energy policy from late last week. He sounded an awful lot like someone who is gearing up for something bigger than “just” being the Governor of Florida.

Over those 8-9 minutes, I fit in 14 phone calls. Going into it, I told my producers privately that my guess was that the calls would split fairly evenly but probably lean towards Trump. 

That’s not what happened. 

Instead, we ended up with nine of the 14 callers in favor of DeSantis, with five going for Trump. 

Then there was some interesting polling this week. One poll of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire found DeSantis edging out Trump 39 percent to 37 percent. The most telling fact about the New Hampshire poll is that while DeSantis leads Trump by just two points overall, he leads among Fox News watchers by 14 points and among conservative radio listeners by 16 points.

As is always the case, one poll should not be viewed as an absolute, but there are clear signs that Donald Trump’s stranglehold over Republican voters is waning. And from my perspective, it’s waning faster than I expected. 

Politics move fast. One day you’re hot; the next day, not so much. And to see DeSantis rise this quickly when all the focus is on Joe Biden and the 2022 midterms, not the Republican primary in 2024, makes this poll even more surprising.

And while I have no interest in getting ahead of myself, talk radio is likely to be the battleground for this issue if and when it does ultimately come to fruition. Talk radio is obviously far more interactive than cable news. Callers, texters, and Facebook/Twitter users can all be participants and have their perspectives shared with thousands of listeners at any given time.

And if those most in tune with the news cycle of the moment find themselves shifting to someone like Ron DeSantis, then the run-of-the-mill Republican voter is likely to follow suit when the time comes.

But, if we do end up getting a Trump vs. DeSantis primary, then 2024 could end up making 2016 look like child’s play. But I’ll stop here because, once again, I’m not looking to get ahead of myself.

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