By Mike Kinosian
TAMPA — When we profiled WRVA, Richmond’s Jeff Katz in this space last week (TALKERS, Wednesday, 3/9), the afternoon drive talent echoed one particular concern shared by many of his peers regarding talk radio’s future.
Specifically questioned was the depth of news/talk radio’s farm system and the source of the format’s next wave of great on-air personalities.
One budding star though might very well be developing in Central Florida: That’s where David Gornoski has been paying his dues as a podcaster and station talent, using “A Neighbor’s Choice” as his program’s unique umbrella title.
Show label or insurance company slogan?
The 33-year-old Gornoski (pictured here) assesses his endeavor as “more of a mission,” rather than a conventional news/talk show, succinctly mentioning the “Neighbor’s Choice” title “felt right” when he started this project approximately seven years ago. “It actually began as an informal book club with some friends I gathered together. We try to make sense of current events through the lens of anthropology – I called our little group ‘a neighbor’s choice.’ I thought we need to shake things up by taking ideas we’ve been [discussing] in our neighborly community to the public. I wanted to introduce a new way of looking at things and began doing a podcast online in 2015.”
Some believe “Neighbor’s Choice” refers to, in Gornoski’s words, “the idea that we all have a ‘choice,’ whether we choose good versus evil; choose to put others before ourselves; or to be totally self-driven in anything we decide to do in life. Do you love your neighbor as yourself, or do you love yourself first, putting others beneath you? The title doesn’t tell you what the show is about; it makes you think. I wanted to have a show with a title that has a ‘neighborly’ feel to it [although] some people have told me it sounds like a [slogan for a] life insurance company.”
Unusual as it may sound, Gornoski’s interest in the medium can actually be traced to his 1998 Cadillac Eldorado where he’d entrench himself to reverently listen to broadcasting icon/2001 Radio Hall of Fame inductee Paul Harvey. “I thought it was brilliant how this guy could give so much information and entertainment,” depicts Gornoski, who attended the University of South Florida (Tampa). “I wanted to learn how he could make a statement in 15 minutes, [while] it took others three hours. I’d write a script based on headlines I’d pull up from The Drudge Report and record 15-minutes of news & comment that I’d email to radio executives.”
Structuring his current radio show as “an apocalyptic ‘Mr. Rogers Neighborhood’ for adults,” Gornoski proclaims, “We have kitchen table conversations like my friends and I had when I first started this as a book club. I call it ‘apocalyptic’ in the sense that we’ve seen a lot of the things we didn’t expect in recent years. Many media institutions we thought we could trust are being disputed. ABC, CBS, and NBC used to be above the fray; the perception was they were trying to be objective with news. That creates an ‘apocalyptic’ moment because you don’t know what to believe. Everything seems like it’s falling apart. The CDC and FDA weren’t politicized groups – now they are. All these institutions that were rarified, untouchable pillars of consensus have become [untrustworthy]. We’re finding ‘this’ is fake and ‘that’ is fake. Why is it they always have us looking at certain negative things? I wanted to do a show that makes people feel empowered, positive, emboldened, and inspired. I typically don’t feel that way when I listen to many media options for news. I usually feel as though there’s nothing I can do except vote for the team they think I should.”
Diving into the heart
Rewinding to 2006 finds a then-17-year-old/fresh-out-of-high school Gornoski penning opinion columns for far-right outlets such as WND (WorldNewsDaily.com); Newsmax; The Daily Caller; Townhall; American Conservative Magazine; and American Greatness. “I was doing political opinion columns before the podcasts which turned into a radio show,” he recollects. “The actual radio show started as a weekly, one-hour [8:00 pm – 9:00 pm] program on [iHeartMedia Orlando news/talk WFLF, a sibling of Tampa’s WFLA]. I use the station I’m on now [Genesis Communications’ WHBO ‘News Talk 1040,’ Tampa] as a flagship to do the production, but it’s more of a national show. Most of our audience listens on the podcast and video, rather than the actual [terrestrial radio signal].”
Weekdays from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm is when Gornoski tries to create “an experience that gets to the heart of certain matters for the everyday person who is sitting in their car confused about the world.” That’s accomplished by doing “some deep dives in a way that everyone can participate in and enjoy.”
Thursday’s “Science & U” feature, which Gornoski co-hosts with NASA physicist Dr. Weiping Yu, has been a staple ever since the show’s inception. “The way you solve many of the ‘tit-for-tat’ political impasses that we are in today is to bring on innovators of our time who are creating technologies that can alleviate poverty or cure diseases,” Gornoski explains. “[Our guests] are doing great things in the world of medical research and nuclear fusion [among other areas]. It’s fun to dive into science stuff with Dr. Yu. We can actually achieve energy from ocean water. It makes a kid who might not have much self-esteem inspired so [he or she] would want to do that. They’ll stop looking at mindless TicTok videos and get to work on something important.”
Tribal spats need quashing
Excluding Thursdays, listeners to Gornoski’s two-hour WHBO program can expect to hear the latest about the crisis in Ukraine; the ongoing pandemic; politics; and culture. “We do it like a variety show,” he underscores. “Whenever there’s a war going on, I talk with veterans who have actually fought in combat so they can give me their analysis. Our whole principle is ‘skin in the game.’ I don’t want to hear from a DC think-tank representative. I’ll ask someone who has actually done it what a ‘no-fly zone’ really looks like. I [rarely] have on politicians, but I talk about politics in a ‘neighborhood’ perspective. I try to stay out of the partisan side of things. I’m looking for ideas and don’t want to get into Republicans versus Democrats.”
As a result, Gornoski purposely refrains from overseeing a three-hour daily broadcast that deals exclusively with the political scene. “I’m more interested in finding out if there is any breakthrough in curing cancer in children. The ‘can do’ spirit of [people such as] the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, and Nikola Tesla is missing. Generations before us wouldn’t have put up with this. When you actually see results, no one will say that [a person of one particular party] created alternating current, so they won’t use it in their home. People turn it on because it works. That’s where we need to go, uniting around solutions that are outside of politics. Picking one tribe and hating the other tribe doesn’t get us anywhere.”
Quite concisely, “Problem/Solution” is Gornoski’s fundamental show formula; however, he emphasizes the difficulty is, “We don’t get along. Politics is involved in everything in our life. It’s polarizing us and tearing us apart. My theory of the show is that the reason we are at each other’s throat is we keep going to politics to find a solution, rather than working together. If nothing is inspiring you to do something great, you will get stuck in lunchroom squabbles. That’s where all the problems are in our culture. Many people know politics is the problem, but they feel it’s an addiction they can’t quit. It’s because they have a narrow focus as the news media keeps them in a tunnel vision. As a country, we’ve lost an innocence, wonder, exuberance and self-confidence that anything is possible. I’m not going to lobby Congress to pass a bill – I’ll roll up my sleeves and make it happen myself. That’s what made America the envy of the world, [but] we are losing that.”
Nonetheless, he candidly acknowledges, “I’m like anyone else and can get sucked up into partisan issues. You can find clips of my show when I’ve done that; I’m okay with it because I’m human. My show is trying to aspire beyond the times we get heated and use rhetoric we probably shouldn’t, but that’s part of life.”
Nutrition is a very popular subject for Gornoski, who incessantly monitors news aggregators. “When the pandemic hit, everyone was thrilled to learn about nutritional science made simple. Things like vegetable oil and canola oil do many bad things to a person’s health; removing them can have a huge impact on your life. The science is out there, but isn’t being [discussed] on a broadcast medium. I have one of the few shows that talks about what bad products are doing to our health. [While] I don’t like the term ‘self-help,’ people will say to me the show is more than informative. They have stronger immune systems because we’ve empowered them with something that is real. The best thing about the show is when a listener says something they heard changed their life.”
There are occasions when Gornoski is queried about why he doesn’t do a video-only stream or podcast. “I like being rooted in an actual community,” he stresses. “WHBO [isn’t a Nielsen Audio subscriber], so I don’t know my show’s demographic breakdown. When we were on [WFLF, Orlando], it was very interesting that sometimes half our audience was [18 – 34]. I don’t broadcast my age and don’t brand myself as a ‘young voice’ – I talk about my ideas. When people see me in person, they usually say that, based on my voice, they [assumed] I was 40 to 50 years old. The point is that my ideas are young, fun, and exciting. The presentation is relevant and [the numbers showed] that younger listeners were specifically tuning into my show on an AM signal that millennials typically [avoid. In addition], I was actually getting some ‘Gen Z’ listeners.”
Perceiving Rogan as a hero
It is Gornoski’s contention that many who comprise the typical talk radio audience “hadn’t even heard of” podcaster Joe Rogan until attempts were made “to cancel him with the Spotify/Neil Young” situation.
Regarding the 54-year-old cast member of NBC-TV’s 1995 – 1999 sitcom “News Radio” (“Joe Garrelli”)/former “Fear Factor” host, Gornoski exudes, “Joe Rogan does a fantastic show and has been able to build a parallel universe with a younger demographic. If we bring a young, relevant, fresh and interesting perspective to talk radio, there’s no reason why we can’t have eleven million young people tuning into a [terrestrial] radio show. I don’t know why we assume that – [simply] because podcasting is a different technology – young people will stay in that new medium. Thirty-three years ago, Rush [Limbaugh] took a medium that had a certain expectation and was able to reinvigorate it with a punk rock feel that tapped into the zeitgeist at the moment. There’s a similar thing going on with Rogan. [Our format] would do well to look at what is making him so successful and see if there’s a way to reinvent [the sound] of talk radio.”
Amenable to syndicating his own show, Gornoski declares, “I’d love to see it grow terrestrially from one station to 500. Many people in America’s heartland aren’t turning on the podcast – they’re still hitting their local radio station. I want to reach them with these big ideas because they have big ideas, too. There’s something exciting about a live program that you can get on one button in your local community.”
Much of Gornoski’s free time is occupied by doing a considerable amount of reading; walking nature trails with his family; and “making” his own music. “I’m a singer and have created many songs. I haven’t released any – I just work on sound projects [that] might one day show up on radio. I like [Frank] Sinatra lounge music; big band; rock; 1980s new-wave; rap; and chill hop.”
Count Gornoski among those who reject the notion that facts are more important than feelings. “Facts are very important, but the truth impacts you in the heart,” he puts forth. “What makes a show exciting to me is when it’s gracious and merciful. The human interest part of reality moves people and is what talk radio needs to embrace. Fresh and interesting perspectives about where the culture is moving will again draw people to the AM signal by the millions. You will see a renaissance in radio. That’s one reason why I’ve taken a dive into talk radio. I don’t see radio being frozen in a generational sense – talk radio can be greater than ever before.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Mike.Kinosian@gmail.com