By Mike Kinosian
RICHMOND, VA. — Whether fair or not, market size/overall reach has been elevated as being an individual broadcaster’s dominant barometer of success.
Countless news/talk shows are heard on terrestrial, satellite, and internet radio, as well as through podcasts and other new media streams, yet it would hardly be a stretch to venture that a wildly significant number of news/talk hosts are fervently vying to become the next Rush Limbaugh.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that sort of lofty aspiration, which genuinely mirrors the longstanding mission of achieving any given profession’s ultimate brass ring.
Nonetheless, tremendous opportunities exist for local broadcasters to make a difference in the community.
That’s the exemplary case being carved out by ten-year Audacy Richmond news/talk WRVA “News Radio 1140 & 96.1” afternoon driver (3:00 pm – 6:00 pm) Jeff Katz.
Last month, the highly-affable Katz concluded a 36-hour fundraiser for The Friendship Circle of Virginia, in which “typically-developing” teens are teamed with disabled children. It is Katz’ contention that the former are actually “the ones who always rave about the experience” and that “friendships they make last for a lifetime.”
This particular charity does one fundraiser a year and Katz’ team – “Julia’s Jewels” – named in honor of his 19-year-old daughter, Julia (pictured at left with her father), who suffers global developmental disabilities/delays, set a fundraising record ($21,351) in a 36-hour, nontraditional radiothon. “It began on a Tuesday morning and went until Wednesday night,” recounts Katz. “We did many things online and I talked about it during the show, but we had limited time [36 hours] to raise funds.”
Marking the third time Katz has done the Friendship Circle event, he asserts, “It’s a great organization that does wonderful work with disabled kids [as well as for adults]. The ones who volunteer are [predominantly] teenage girls. Many of them initially look for community service hours, but they wind up so dedicated. Some go off to college and become ‘Special Ed’ teachers or therapists – it’s an amazing program. I love the chance to do things such as ‘Julia’s Jewels’ on this heritage radio station.”
Forced into the business
As a youngster growing up in Philadelphia, Katz was especially partial to radio talents such as Dr. Don Rose; Joey Reynolds; and “Evil” Irv Homer. “There were some very talented broadcasters and I fell in love with the medium, Katz notes.
To encounter one of his idols years later at an industry panel was nothing short of serendipitous. “I talked about how I was absolutely enthralled about what he was able to do,” Katz beams about the aforementioned Joey Reynolds. “What sealed the deal was that he once did a personal appearance at an appliance store in Upper Darby [Pennsylvania] and was wearing a black satin [WFIL, Philadelphia] jacket. I was determined to get one of those. When I told that story at the conference, Joey came over to me with tears in his eyes and [apologized tongue-in-cheek] for ‘forcing’ me into this line of work.”
Confident that law school was destined to be in his future, Katz had to alter that plan after his father suffered a heart attack. “He survived, but I needed to go to work, so my education was put on the back burner.”
Instead, Katz became a police officer; was active in the police union for several years; and is currently taking classes to serve as a volunteer police chaplain. “After you give a few press conferences outside the mayor’s office, it becomes pretty clear that you’ve gone as far as you’ll go. There won’t be any stripes, bars, or anything like that.”
Selling himself popped
Approximately 32 years ago, the first radio industry break surfaced for Katz when he landed a sales job at Atlantic City’s WFPG-FM. “I’m pretty sure I was the worst radio salesperson in history,” he jests. “I had absolutely no idea what I was selling, or why I was selling it.”
Several months later, a six-dollar an hour on-air opening arose and Katz asked his sales manager for permission to pursue it. “Since I hadn’t sold anything, he said he could probably get along without me,” Katz good-naturedly quips. “We were playing a Drake-Chenault music format and I got to read fishing pier tide heights once an hour. I loved it and thought I’d won the lottery.”
Interest in doing music radio waned though and Katz sought to shift his focus to talk, proposing the idea to general manager Dick Taylor, who agreed to give Katz a two-hour WFPG-AM program. The stipulations were that Katz had to continue doing music six days a week and find sponsors for the talk show. “I failed miserably when I was trying to sell [sell time on a music station], but this time, I was selling me,” he reasons. “It clicked that I could do that. I was able to sell ‘me’ and had a pretty interesting show.”
Talk radio hadn’t been on WFPG-AM in quite a while and by then, Drake-Chenault’s music-formatted automation reels migrated to that signal from WFPG-FM. WFPG-AM broke format two hours each evening for Katz’ talk show, which he did briefly before segueing to Hartford’s WPOP. “It was about then that Rush Limbaugh was making a splash nationally. All of a sudden, talk radio wasn’t about the latest book you read or recipes – you could really tackle issues.”
Crisscrossing both coasts, Katz would put in a mid-1990’s stint at San Francisco’s KPIX “when Ken Beck was doing FM talk” and to the Bay Area’s KNEW “where Ken Kohl ‘stole’ Michael Savage from [crosstown news/talk] KSFO.”
Three separate Boston turns followed for Katz, who oversaw mornings at news/talk WRKO; “Rush Radio,” which eventually became WXKS-AM “1200 Talk Radio”; and AM drive on The Boston Herald’s online radio station. “When I was single, I chased markets: If there was an opening in a bigger market, I was your guy and happy to go.”
Election morphs into a movement
Issues and newsmakers are part of what Katz calls “an eclectic mix” on his WRVA afternoon drive program; however, he insists that, with his community involvement, he’s had the opportunity “to do a little bit more than the ‘Republicans Right/Democrats wrong’ sort of stuff. There is a lot of great local content, so some days, we have [as many as four] different guests.”
Conversely, there are instances when one of his broadcasts will air guest-free. “I don’t know if I have a specific pattern,” concedes Katz. “I want people to tune in especially when we are talking about central Virginia and how state and national issues impact us. Since our shows are put up as podcasts, I don’t do a separate podcast. We have a pretty large footprint and in Virginia’s most recent gubernatorial election, I launched a ‘We The Parents’ charge. That phrase and hashtag caught on and [winner] Glenn Youngkin even said this went from being an election to a ‘movement.’ Much of it was brewed right here on my show. If I had to pick a political description, I’d certainly say I’m a ‘right-of-center conservative.’ Plenty of people here though are not politically-aligned one way or the other. We deal with local issues that don’t have a political tag hanging on them.”
Given that Katz is double-vaxxed against COVID and received the booster shot as well, it’s clear he deals with the pandemic head-on. “I wasn’t one who said people shouldn’t get the vaccine or that COVID was no worse than having a tooth infection. I understood that people got very sick. Long before any of this stuff happened, I was ‘that guy’ who had three jars of Purell.”
Clearly a critical time for Katz to disseminate as much valuable, available information as possible, he states, “There is a minimal amount of personal perspective. I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist [so I don’t say] what a listener should or shouldn’t do. I only share what I do and what my doctors suggest. We spend a lot of time on-air with those sort of conversations.”
Owners of many small, local businesses didn’t know how much longer they could keep their doors open and as Katz points out, “We tried to provide a platform for the person who owned a car repair shop and would never have the money to advertise. It’s great to do our part in trying to keep the businesses [afloat].”
Radio reserve gets resuscitated
Perhaps a solitary silver lining to come out of the deadly pandemic is that it is permitting some workers – including Katz – the luxury of doing their jobs remotely. “I used to be able to say to [my wife Heidi] that I’d ‘love’ to have a discussion about looking at carpet samples, but I have to get to work. Now, I literally have a twenty-second commute.”
During COVID’s darkest days, it was common for many people throughout the country to think there would be no escaping the deadly virus. Among the events Katz organized to offer hope was “Light Up RVA,” which he admits “wasn’t anything earth-shattering. It’s an old radio standby: We suggest that people drive with their headlights on during the day and leave on the front porch light. ‘Light Up RVA’ really got a lot of traction and – on a selfish note – great coverage for my show.”
Another of his campaigns was to make facemasks for law enforcement officers. “In the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was scrambling to find facemasks,” laments Katz. “It’s not like I know how to work a sewing machine, but a bunch of others did. Some people donated materials and others donated labor; we distributed [nearly] 5,000 masks.”
Stories of central Virginia law enforcement officers are shared via Katz’ “Blue Friday Honors.” Those saluted receive a gift basket filled with an assortment of goodies. “We do it so they know there are people in this community who honestly care about them. Frankly, we advocate on the air for law enforcement and members of the disabled community. I love having a voice for those who don’t ordinarily have one of their own. I can remind them that we have disabled kids in our community who must wait ten years before they can get services [to which they’ve been told they’re entitled]. It’s back to the power of local radio and no one else [here] is doing that.”
Hurling the heater
Among persons 12+ in Richmond’s latest Nielsen Audio sweep, WRVA places fourth (5.5, Monday-Sunday, 6:00 am – 12:00 midnight, January 2022) behind Radio One urban AC KKJS (8.3); Summit Media country WKHK (7.6); and Audacy urban contemporary WBTJ (6.2).
Moreover, at minimum, WRVA logs its third successive uptick for an overall net bump of nine-tenths (4.6 – 5.1 – 5.2 – 5.5, October 2021 – January 2022, 12+).
Being on-air in market #53 can be distinctly different from performing similar duties in top-ten metros. “There is more allowance here in terms of longer form,” opines Katz. “Richmond doesn’t have PPM [so] we don’t micro-manage 90-seconds worth of content to figure out where one meter went when something was said.”
Over and above Katz’ local WRVA exposure, he is occasionally afforded a national podium, owing to regular guest-host assignments for Premiere Networks’ Glenn Beck and Starnes Media Group’s Todd Starnes. “It never hurts to have your ego stroked,” acknowledges Katz. “This allows me to say that I’m still able to throw my fastball. [In addition], I fill-in on a regular basis in Phoenix and St. Louis [on Audacy-owned news/talkers KFYI and KFTK, respectively]. I don’t actively spend a lot of time thinking about [syndicating my show], but then again, nobody is actively asking me to do it. In all candor, however, it really is nice to sit in for Glenn or Todd and realize you’re talking with millions of people.”
Fan club president
Lack of talk radio’s bench strength is one thing in particular that concerns Katz, who served on the executive board of directors for the Republican Jewish Coalition of Charlotte when he did afternoon drive in that North Carolina market at news/talk WBT. “Over the years, I’ve seen many ‘notable people’ picked to do radio, but they don’t know how. It’s a great deal harder than sitting down and cracking the microphone. We’ve got audio-on demand podcasting which is a very interesting pathway, but great podcasters [aren’t necessarily] great broadcasters. Politically-focused talk radio isn’t dead – there isn’t that much space for everybody doing exactly the same thing. My fear is what happens next.”
One of Katz’ lowest points professionally came as a result of “being in love with the ‘Jeff Katz’ character,” as the Philadelphia native confesses to having devised an on-air presence whereby he was “going to do ‘bad-boy radio’ and ‘shock jock’ stuff. I wasn’t as professional as I should have been at that stage of my career; I wouldn’t want my kids to find any cassettes of what I did back then. In some shows I did in Atlantic City, I was laser beam-focused on me. Early in my career, nobody was a bigger Jeff Katz fan than … Jeff Katz. I thought I was one part Rush Limbaugh/one part Howard Stern.”
Another item Katz wouldn’t include on his “Greatest Hits” list is getting tattooed live on WRKO. “It was interesting, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. At the time though, I was having a blast.”
In stark contrast, September 11, 2001 found Katz in morning drive on Las Vegas news/talk KXNT, where he stayed on the air for roughly 18 straight hours after the 9/11 attacks on America. “Nobody at the station went home. We had family back east and flew in and out of [Boston’s Logan Airport] all the time. We were [frantically] trying to figure out if we knew anyone [on either American Airlines flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, or United Airlines flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles]. At that point, I had a newborn son [Harry, now a Stanford sophomore]; my other son, Joe, is a high school junior.”
Advocating as a public speaker
Multimedia proficient Katz was not only a Boston radio talent, he appeared as a Boston Herald columnist, as well. “I absolutely loved working for a working-class tabloid newspaper – that’s what I grew up reading,” he details. “I suppose there are moments that I fancy myself as being a writer. I sit down with a steaming cup of coffee and a blank screen. That experience was wonderful.”
Similar assessment is given to “In The Garage,” a Saturday (8:00 am – 9:00 am) offering Katz does with career auto mechanic/repair shop owner Stan Andrewski. “We have a lot of fun helping folks with auto issues, and some have compared it favorably to ‘Click & Clack.’ I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but that’s what we’re aiming to hit in terms of quality.”
Peering down the road, this volunteer police peer counselor would like to do more writing and add public speaking to his repertoire, particularly addressing parents with disabled kids. “Every one of us who goes through it thinks [he or she] is the only one who has ever done it,” declares Katz, whose other news/talk credits include WPHT, Philadelphia; Tampa’s WFTL; and a controversial departure from Sacramento’s KSTE. “You then have to figure out why it’s happening to your child and to you. There’s so much paperwork that I swear it’s designed for people to throw up their hands and [give up]. I’ve been appointed to several local government boards, [one of which] looks after folks with disabilities and substance abuse issues.”
Reflecting on what the thus far ten-year WRVA tenure has provided him, Katz comments that, “An alley with trashcans is all you’d see out the bedroom window of the house I grew up in Philadelphia. That was my view for roughly 20 years. We are so absolutely blessed here to be [practically on top of] the eighteenth hole of one of America’s greatest golf courses. It might sound silly, but I love sitting outside and having a little glimpse of trees, flowers, and grass. I’m just loving life.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Mike.Kinosian@gmail.com