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The Death of Mikhail Gorbachev, Remembering USSR

Anybody who has been a broadcaster for a long time has heard, “you should write a book.” Gorbachev’s passing causes me to reflect on one of the best stories from the book I’ll write someday.

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Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the eighth and final General Secretary of the Soviet Union, passed away Tuesday at age 91. There are far better tributes to Gorbachev and his impact on the world than I could write. 

However, because of his policies of “Perestroika” (reform) and “Glasnost” (openness), I was able to experience the Soviet Union as it was going through its period of transformation after seven decades of totalitarian rule. What I saw cemented my beliefs about capitalism, communism, socialism, and democracy. 

Anybody who has been a broadcaster for a long time has heard, “you should write a book.” Gorbachev’s passing causes me to reflect on one of the best stories from the book I’ll write someday.

As the summer of 1987 began, Billy Joel was wrapping up his 11-month 100-date Bridge Tour when he announced he would play concerts in the Soviet Union. 

Although Joel wasn’t the first western musician to play behind the Iron Curtain, he would be the first American to perform a fully staged rock concert in the Soviet Union with a full sound, light, and stage show. To produce a grand spectacle with three dates in Moscow and three in Leningrad, Joel was investing $2.5 million of his own money. 

An entourage of over 100 people, including his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, their young daughter Alexa, and two-film crews, would travel with Joel and his band. Eventually, that list included me and the afternoon DJ at WYSP-FM/Philadelphia, Ed Sciaky (Shock-EE).

At the time, I was programming WYSP. We were less than one year into “Howard Stern all morning, Classic Rock all day.” We had just hired Sciaky from WIOQ for afternoon drive. 

When we hired him, Ed was doing nights at WIOQ. At the time, WIOQ was a soft-eclectic AOR station. It had an incredibly loyal audience that gave it moderately successful ratings. 

Ed was known as the DJ who first played Bruce (Springsteen – is there another?), Billy Joel, and others. Both (and again, many others) had at one time or another slept on an infamous sofa that he still owned years later. He had relationships with many big-name rock stars and tons of Classic Rock credibility, which WYSP needed at the time.

When he announced his Russian concerts, Joel said there would be broadcasts back to the U.S. We jumped into action. We started by finding out if there was already a host for whatever radio broadcasts were planned by having Ed call Billy Joel’s management. They hadn’t gotten that far. Ed offered his services, and the ball was rolling

We had a friendly relationship with the syndicator. They knew of Ed’s relationship with Billy, so they had no objections. It was starting to look like going to the U.S.S.R. with Billy Joel might be possible. There were, of course, the small matters of getting the permission of the Soviet government, our government, not to mention the company we were working for (Infinity at the time), as well as the budget to pull it off.

And so, I started making phone calls. It was Ed and me (as his producer and I’ll use the word “negotiator” – what you didn’t think I was going to let somebody else go, did you?) And as silly as it may sound, it really did require somebody with skills to navigate the maze of Soviet rules and situations that followed.

When you were young, did you ever play your mom off your dad to get something you wanted? You know, “mom, dad said it was okay with him if it was okay with you.” Then you reversed the phrase to your dad until eventually somebody actually did say okay.

For weeks that was the game; we played with the two governments and, to a lesser extent, with Joel’s management and the syndicator (because they had given us the okay). We kept telling everyone that everybody else was good, but we were waiting for their permission.

Miraculously it worked.

We received visas to the Soviet Union. We didn’t join the tour in Moscow. I arrived in Leningrad a few days before Ed to coordinate studio time. We were only granted the studio at Gosteleradio for one day – which may have been a blessing. Gosteleradio’s facilities were built before WWII, at least in appearance. 

Trying to describe the Soviet Union isn’t easy. The best single word is gray. Everything was gray. The people were enigmatic but gray. The sun shined brightly, but the sky was gray. 

From the time we got there, one strange thing after another would happen – little coincidences. 

Ed and I received visas issued for the same number of days. Since I arrived a few days earlier, my visa expired first. Once I received the visa, all communication from the Soviet officials ceased. Therefore, I departed for the U.S.S.R. with two return tickets; one for the day the visa expired and the other on the same return flight as Ed. All I could do was visit Intourist in the lobby of the Hotel Leningrad and explain that my visa came back with the wrong date and I needed to stay a few days longer as part of the Billy Joel tour.

Every day I stopped by the Intourist desk. Every day, the nice woman there robotically smiled, nodded her head, and said: “We don’t have any information. Maybe tomorrow. We shall see.”

The shows were on August 2, 3, and 5. I believe my visa required me to leave on August 4. There was still no news that morning. I packed and headed to the front desk to check out. Literally, a minute before I did, the Intourist woman approached me with news of the approval of my visa’s extension. Several situations worked out at the last moment during our trip.

Not everything in the Soviet Union made sense. There were rules, lots of rules. Across from the hotel was a part of the street where people weren’t allowed to walk. There wasn’t anything there except a police officer who waved everybody away. Ed wondered what was so mysterious there. He asked people we met why they weren’t allowed to walk there. Nobody gave him a satisfactory answer. Always anti-authority, Ed was determined to uncover the mystery. He asked people what would happen if he walked over there. The Soviets looked at him like he had three heads. Their response made Ed look at them like they had four heads: “We don’t know. Nobody has ever tried it before. Let us know what happens if you decide to try.”

A press bus took media to and from the hotel and the Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex. Ed and I missed the bus one night going to the show. We were starting to figure out where we would go to hail a taxi (which weren’t always easy to find) when a local who spoke English well appeared and realized we were in distress. We explain the situation. He told us there was no problem because a bus was coming. A minute later, a bus with an English “out of service” sign stops in front of us. Ed and I look at each other for a minute. The entire ride there, we ask each other if this is a kidnapping or not. It’s not, but we never saw the guy again to say thank you.

The underground economy was prevalent at the time. The Soviet version of work was different than in the U.S. People didn’t work eight-hour shifts, go home, and then do it over again. The Soviets worked for a day or two straight, then off for a day or two. Some jobs seemed made up to me. I guess it’s how they achieved full employment. For example, you didn’t keep your hotel key. Each floor had a key-lady that kept your key when you left your room. They certainly didn’t need to take our key to enter while we were gone.

The key ladies often fell asleep, so it wasn’t too difficult to leave with the key, although we usually left it on their desks. We saw other people asleep at their desks during their official jobs. I recall an engineer at Gosteleradio snoring loudly. I always wonder if this is how Chernobyl happened.

But don’t let that give you the wrong impression of the Soviet people. They may have slept on the clock, but on their time, they were the most industrious people I’ve ever seen.

Nearly every person we met had a side hustle. Soviet collective farms weren’t doing well, but it was amazing what they could grow on the small plots of land that were set aside for personal use. Some set up little gift shops in their flats and sold tchotchkes such as Matryoshka dolls (wooden nesting dolls) or lacquer boxes. Those who drove a car drove as a private taxis. Others exchanged money. All of the trading for American goods, especially cigarettes, blue jeans, and dollars, were huge. A pack of Marlboro reds was the surest way to flag down a private taxi in Leningrad.

We flagged down one private taxi when Ed and I wanted to visit the synagogue. We tried communicating with the driver, who explained that it would be closed for repairs. We understood what he meant when he told us it had been closed for many years. 

Through a combination of a few words in English, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, we were able to communicate with our driver. He had been a doctor, persecuted because he was Jewish, and reduced to menial work. He had one son who had been able to escape to Israel, where the driver believed he was a doctor. We promised to try to find his son and contact him to let him know his father was alive if we could. We found his son in Israel when we returned. We were able to call him. We called the driver back in the Soviet Union one time. We were able to say, “We spoke to your son; he loves you,” before the line went dead. We were never able to get through again. 

While I still have extensive notes with contact info for every person we spoke with, I cannot find the names of the driver or his son. Nonetheless, it was one of the best results of our trip to the Soviet Union.

When we could not get a studio at Gosteleradio after the first two days, Ed and I had to resort to guerilla tactics so that he could broadcast back to Philadelphia. It was 1987 before there was email, let alone the internet. We came prepared with alligator clips. We took apart the phone and attached the microphone – primitive but effective!

From the hotel room, we fed breaks down the line. Ed and I discussed the television show that Billy Joel had been a guest on. We reviewed the concerts. We talked about the way the people reacted. During the first Leningrad show, the audience got so amped that they reduced several hundred wooden folding chairs in front of the stage to toothpick-size scraps.

We also talked about the official and unofficial jobs. I remember calling it the ultimate tribute to capitalism. That’s when the line went dead. An hour later, the operator told us there were problems with the overseas connections, “maybe due to weather.” It would be more than eight hours before we would get a call through to the United States. We took the hint and avoided such conversations for the rest of our stay.

These are just a smattering of the experiences that Ed and I had in Soviet Leningrad. After we returned home, I spoke with comedian Yakov Smirnoff after one of his shows. 

Just over a year earlier, WYSP participated in a charity to raise money to fight hunger, Hands Across America. It was a 15-minute event to form a human chain stretching across the country. WYSP brought in Yakov Smirnoff for our Hands Across America event, so we had spoken before.

After the show, I went backstage to talk to Yakov. I was excited to tell him these and other stories from our adventures. He said, “I know, I know. You had a fun time. What a country,” turning his trademark phrase around on his homeland. He proceeded to finish my stories, adding “KGB.”

At first, I thought he was being funny. “Yakov, what would the KGB want with us? We are completely harmless and don’t know any secrets,” I asked. Yakov filled in the gaps explaining that they weren’t there to spy on us or get information from us. They were there to ensure we had a wonderful time, and that’s what we would tell everybody back home.” It’s still the best explanation for the “coincidences.”

“Perestroika” (reform) and “Glasnost” (openness)? Da!

I wonder if others traveling to the Soviet Union during this era had similar experiences.

Mr. Gorbachev, thank you for the hospitality. R.I.P. If only Vladimir Putin were so accommodating.

Footnote: Ed Sciaky passed away from complications related to diabetes in 2004 at the age of 55. We called each other “comrade” and loved sharing these stories.

BNM Writers

More Than 11 Million Watched Queen Elizabeth Funeral Coverage

For the 6:00 AM to noon Eastern period, Fox News was, by far, tops on cable with 1.97 million total viewers including 298,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. CNN’s morning ratings received a hefty boost from its normal levels, averaging 1.52 million viewers.

Douglas Pucci

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The state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II was the top news story for the week ending Sep. 25. Like her coronation back in 1952, the event for Britain’s highest-ranking monarch was it’s first in the modern era since the dawn of television.

According to Nielsen Media Research, 11.4 million Americans tuned in on the morning of Sep. 19 across the thirteen outlets televising the funeral. That figure is slightly above the combined audiences for the main morning news programs on broadcast and cable.

For the 6:00 AM to noon Eastern period, Fox News was, by far, tops on cable with 1.97 million total viewers including 298,000 within the key 25-54 demographic. CNN’s morning ratings received a hefty boost from its normal levels, averaging 1.52 million viewers and a mere 4,000 shy of FNC’s 25-54 demo. MSNBC (991,000 total, 106,000 adults 25-54 from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.) also drew above-average numbers in the morning.

At the peak of coverage, within the 11:00 AM-Noon ET hour (4-5 p.m. in London) for the funeral service, it was CNN on top within the key 25-54 demo (404,000; +51,000 from FNC) but FNC led in overall viewership (2.4 million; +326,000 from CNN). MSNBC trailed with 1.1 million viewers and 115,000 adults 25-54.

On the broadcast networks, NBC edged out ABC by 3 percent — each of them drew around 3 million total viewers in that 11 a.m. hour. (Note: these figures mimic what they normally do for Today and Good Morning America per day). 

Newsmax drew 192,000 viewers and NewsNation posted 32,000 — again, on-par with their respective morning ratings.

Of course, these amounts pale in comparison to the TV audiences in the Queen’s homeland of the United Kingdom. According to its data service BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board), an average of at least 27 million people had watched, of which the vast majority (approximately 70 percent) tuned in to BBC1’s coverage. At its peak, it generated a 95 share, meaning 95 percent of all televisions turned on within the UK territories had the funeral on their screens.

Cable news averages for September 19-25, 2022:

Total Day (Sep. 19-25 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.440 million viewers; 206,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.844 million viewers; 82,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.603 million viewers; 116,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.163 million viewers; 50,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.155 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.121 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.121 million viewers; 13,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.115 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (Sep. 19-24 @ 8-11 p.m.; Sep. 25 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.155 million viewers; 281,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.251 million viewers; 110,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.674 million viewers; 132,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.188 million viewers; 20,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.178 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.167 million viewers; 46,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.158 million viewers; 56,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.046 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.043 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top programs of other outlets with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/20/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.678 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 9/19/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.582 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.348 million viewers

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.226 million viewers

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/20/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.208 million viewers

6. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 9/22/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.150 million viewers

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.076 million viewers

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/22/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.001 million viewers

9. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Tue. 9/20/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.918 million viewers

10. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 9/23/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.906 million viewers

35. State Funeral Queen E II “Committal Service St Georges Chapel” (CNN, Mon. 9/19/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 2.074 million viewers

29. Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC, Wed. 9/21/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.276 million viewers

188. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 613” (HBO, Fri. 9/23/2022 10:00 PM, 57 min.) 0.879 million viewers

332. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 9/25/2022 11:21 PM, 32 min.) 0.523 million viewers

337. Weekend Recharge (TWC, Sun. 9/25/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.516 million viewers

395. Kudlow (FBN, Wed. 9/21/2022 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.398 million viewers

397. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 9/20/2022 11:00 PM, 33 min.) 0.395 million viewers

439. Forensic Files “Jean Pool” (HLN, Tue. 9/20/2022 12:00 AM, 30 min.) 0.325 million viewers

517. Closing Bell (CNBC, Wed. 9/21/2022 3:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.260 million viewers

750. Newsnation Prime (NWSN, Sat. 9/24/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.158 million viewers

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

1. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 9/20/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.490 million adults 25-54

2. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.476 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 9/20/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.468 million adults 25-54

4. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.467 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.457 million adults 25-54

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/22/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.440 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 9/22/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.408 million adults 25-54

8. State Funeral Queen E II “Committal Service St Georges Chapel” (CNN, Mon. 9/19/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.404 million adults 25-54

9. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 9/19/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.388 million adults 25-54

10. Jesse Watters Primetime (FOXNC, Wed. 9/21/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.387 million adults 25-54

76. All In with Chris Hayes (MSNBC, Wed. 9/21/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.226 million adults 25-54

109. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 9/25/2022 11:21 PM, 32 min.) 0.187 million adults 25-54

168. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 9/20/2022 11:00 PM, 33 min.) 0.143 million adults 25-54

173. Forensic Files “Traffic Violations” (HLN, Tue. 9/20/2022 12:30 AM, 30 min.) 0.139 million adults 25-54

182. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 613” (HBO, Fri. 9/23/2022 10:00 PM, 57 min.) 0.136 million adults 25-54

225. Weekend Recharge (TWC, Sun. 9/25/2022 11:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.121 million adults 25-54

317. Shark Tank “Shark Tank 1020” (CNBC, Tue. 9/20/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.096 million adults 25-54

534. Kudlow (FBN, Wed. 9/21/2022 4:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.058 million adults 25-54

912. Newsnation Prime (NWSN, Sat. 9/24/2022 7:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.022 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

Dave Ramsey Never Wanted To ‘Do Radio’

That is the legacy, to date, of The Ramsey Show and Ramsey Solutions, which has helped people get out of debt and become financially independent for 30 years.

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You can touch a lot of lives in the course of the day if your goal when waking up is to help and serve as many people as possible. And you can help, counsel, motivate and love untold numbers of people when you build a team to share that aim, and you do so for nearly 11,000 days. That is the legacy, to date, of The Ramsey Show and Ramsey Solutions, founded by Dave Ramsey, which has helped people get out of debt and become financially independent for 30 years.

Last week, the show released a bonus episode on YouTube and podcast, with the current team of Ramsey personalities reminiscing with their leader, Dave Ramsey, on the evolution of the program, and its mission, over the last three decades.

The show began 30 years ago when Dave Ramsey made a guest appearance on a friend’s real estate program on a local Nashville radio station. The host of the show quit shortly thereafter, and Ramsey was asked if he wanted to take over the time slot.

“I’m not doing radio,” Ramsey said at the time. “Radio people don’t get paid nothing. They’re like bankers – big egos and titles and no money. I need money. I am broke, my kids are hungry. I am not doing this.” Ramsey had just gone through bankruptcy, after watching his personal real estate empire crumble, leaving his family in financially dire straits. He had emerged with the goal of helping others avoid the pitfalls and pain he had brought on himself.

Eventually, Ramsey agreed to host the radio show a couple of days a week as a way to promote his self-published book, Financial Peace, which he was promoting and selling out of the trunk of his car. Ramsey said the awful Money Game program was “hillbilly, red-neck radio.” In time, Ramsey took over the program on his own and re-branded it The Dave Ramsey Show, based largely on the example laid out by other top radio stars, such as Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger.  

“We shifted everything to Dave Ramsey, branding off the single person brand. And then everything drove through that brand,” Ramsey recalls. “That focus is what helped us move everything. Events, books, website started working. It was in the early days of the web.”

About fifteen years ago, the brand began to look toward the future, branching out to include multiple personalities and building an eventual succession plan.

“In my mid-40’s I said this thing’s not going to outlive me if we don’t decide how we’re going to carry the message in the next generation,” Ramsey said. “As we started thinking about that we said well, we don’t really say anything that’s unique. Lots of people have said, live on less than you make, get on a budget. You know, lots of articles that were boring, written by boring financial people.

“The only thing that’s unique is that we actually love the people. We actually care about people, and we actually help them. We’ve got compassion for them and we’re sassy and smart-aleck and funny and tell stories and entertain and convince them in the midst of that to go through their transformation. So we realized at that point that the business, the whole thing we built, would just die with me if we didn’t have other people that could do the same thing.”

Enter new personalities, such as those who appeared with Ramsey on the special 30th Anniversary episode – his daughter, Rachel Cruze, Ken Coleman, Dr. John Delony, George Kamal and Kristina Ellis. 

When listeners visit the Ramsey Solutions headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, they are greeted like friends, with Janelle graciously checking them in and offering them a cookie and cup of coffee.  Over three decades, the radio program – like the brand itself – has become much more than a radio show about money.

“I would say it’s a place that people call in with their questions about their life, and it’s more heavily geared towards money. But yeah, it’s just a couple people sitting in a radio studio, friends, and taking people’s calls.” Cruze said.

“We’re kind of diving into whatever mess is going on in life and going, here’s how we can help,” Kamel interjected.

The program has evolved into areas such as relationships, boundaries, career growth, mental health, college planning and small business building.

“The pressure for someone to call in live on the air and talk to somebody, that’s a terrifying proposition for a lot of people, so there’s that,” said Coleman, who focuses heavily on his role as a career coach. “And then they’re dealing with something where they go, I feel like I need a breakthrough. And so, regardless of the topic, like Rachel said, it’s just a real person with a real struggle who needs real help.”

In addition to the flagship Ramsey Show, many of the personalities now also host individual podcasts, which focus on their specific areas of expertise. And during this special anniversary episode, the hosts recalled some of the more memorable calls they’ve taken on the air. From the hilarious to the emotional, Ramsey and his co-hosts have tackled it all on the air over the years. 

The man planning to get out of debt. 

The war vet dealing with PTSD. 

The college student searching for Biblical principles for handling money.

The millionaire developing a plan to become incredibly generous.

The main considering installing a pay phone in his home.

The brother forming a business partnership with his sibling.

The frightened mother cowering in a back room, hiding from her angry and violent spouse.

“I remember the first couple of calls I took on my podcast, and it came out organically. My first response to their question was, why are you calling me? That’s a huge thing. Why haven’t you called your friends or your pastor or your family members?” Dr. Delony recalled. “And to a person every response was, dude I got nobody. Like, you’re the only person to call. And so if you’d have asked me right when I was starting, what is the role of the show, how do I explain it? I would have said it’s a show people call about life.

“Now I think my answer would be different. It’s – We’ll Be There. When you’ve got nobody, we’ll be honest with you. And we’ll tell you what we think. We think we’re pretty smart. We think we know what we’re talking about, but we’ll be honest with you.”

In many respects, the Ramsey Show has become a place where callers can talk about subjects they may not even feel comfortable discussing with their own friends and family. After all, money conversations can be sensitive.

“I also think it’s just like a safe space. These topics we talk about, sometimes there’s a stigma around them. People feel shame and they feel intimidated to talk to their friends and family. It’s like this is a spot where we’re comfortable with this,” Ellis said. “You can bring us your ugly stuff. You can bring us the things that you don’t want to mention to anyone else and we’ll work through it.”

It’s a long way from the “awful, hillbilly program” on local Nashville radio. But through constant growth and evolution of the program and the organization, the company has helped countless people around the country and around the world. And judging by the trajectory, this group plans to help a whole lot more over the coming decades.

“The thing is when you tell people the truth about how to get a job, or the truth about, here’s how you do this relationship, or the truth about what you got to do with your money, they hear it even if they don’t like it,” Ramsey summed up. “Truth has a way of getting to you. And they know you love them. And we love them. We care about them.”

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BNM Writers

The Two Americas and the One Thing

Red – blue. Liberal – conservative. Republican – Democrat. No matter how you say it, the divisions run deep. More than ever, it seems there are two Americas.

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Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. used the phrase “two Americas” in a 1967 speech. North Carolina Senator Johnathon Edwards made two Americas the theme of his 2004 run for president.

Not since the Civil War has America been as divided as today.

Red – blue. Liberal – conservative. Republican – Democrat. No matter how you say it, the divisions run deep. More than ever, it seems there are two Americas.

Can the two Americas agree on anything? 

As I’ve come to understand that gender is fluid, America is “systemically racist,” and not all lives matter – and people can get fired for saying they do – it is hard to imagine ANYTHING on which the two Americas agree.

Fortunately, I receive a weekly email from Edison Research. One of which set me straight. There is at least ONE THING that the two Americas have in common. And it’s a podcast.

Data from Edison Research’s Podcast Metrics is fascinating. Before revealing what the two Americas have in common, let’s examine the differences in Republican and Democrat podcast listening habits.

Self-identified Democrats are more likely to listen to podcasts monthly than those who say they are Republicans by 41% to 36%. Intuitively, this finding makes sense as we dig deeper into the results. Republicans are probably listening to more Talk Radio, though the data provided doesn’t explicitly state this.

Edison Research notes, “when it comes to podcasts about politics, Edison Podcast Metrics shows wildly different listening patterns depending on which party one prefers.”

Eight of the top 20 podcasts among Republicans are political. Democrats, on the other hand, place only three podcasts that are political or deal with political topics in their top 20.

Republican podcast listening is more focused on politics, while Democrats have a wider range of podcast interests that make up their top 20 podcasts. Make of that what you will. Further, several of the leading podcasts among Republicans are available on the radio. This finding suggests a few possibilities: 

  • Republican listeners are giving up time spent listening to the radio for podcasts and whatever financial implications that means
  • They can’t get enough of their favorite conservative talk hosts, listening to their shows over again
  • They are listening to other programming that is not available in their market or when they are not able to listen (possibly even because they are listening to another show)

In the last two cases, the podcast is effectively a DVR.

Edison Research created the graphic below, which shows the overall rank of political podcasts or ones that touch on political topics separated by self-identified Democrats and Republicans. 

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Here we see the ONE THING that Democrats and Republicans have in common: “The Joe Rogan Experience” is the most listened to podcast regardless of major party affiliation.

What makes Joe Rogan bridge red and blue America is beyond the scope of the research. Therefore, we can only speculate why Rogan appeals to podcast listeners who belong to both political parties. Responses from long-time, regular Joe Rogan listeners, are welcome and appreciated.

Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” Once in a generation, a broadcaster becomes bigger than the medium. Howard Stern did for over a decade. Football broadcasts earn this stature every week. Has Rogan achieved that status, or does he still fall short of this description even with the ability to cross the aisle? If Rogan has reached that level, he is the first podcaster to do so. 

Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin shared additional insights telling me, “Rogan’s reach is 50% higher among Republicans, but he still leads with Democrats. That’s how far ahead of the field he is.” However, Rogan doesn’t lead across the board. He isn’t first among women. Rogan does win virtually every male demo, including 55+.

The Edison Research email also breaks down the data to reveal which show (among the larger ones) has the highest proportion of its audience that is Republican: “The Michael Knowles Show” (from the Daily Wire). The show with the highest Democrat composition is “Lovett or Leave it” (from Crooked Media). 

I’ve never met or communicated with Joe Rogan. I don’t know his goals and ambitions, but America is looking for a leader who crosses partisan lines. If Rogan doesn’t care to lead and avoids stepping into a partisan mess, he could help the country. At the very least, he could develop an even larger mass audience.

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