Maverick talk show host, Rick Smith is this week’s guest on the award-winning PodcastOne series, “The Michael Harrison Interview.” Ranked by TALKERS at number 100 on the journal’s Heavy Hundred list, Smith – who has positioned himself as a tell-it-like-it is champion of the working class – is described by Michael Harrison as “somewhat of a square peg in a scene dominated by round holes on both the left and the right.” The Chicago-based genre-bender is a 30-year Teamster trucker-turned-working-class talker heard 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm ET on dozens of radio stations across the U.S. – a mix of commercial and public. He tells Harrison, “I’m not a red hat, I’m not a blue hat… I’m a hard hat.” His left-of-center talk media footprint is enhanced by exposure on a variety of cable TV channels including Free Speech TV, DirecTV, Dish and more. He has a successful podcast with millions of downloads, and he streams on Facebook, X, Twitch and YouTube. All this is accomplished with a modest, independent operation run by two people and a homemade studio. His show’s slogan is “Where working people come to talk.” Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.
Radio stations in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are working to keep citizens informed as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall. The effects of the Category 3 hurricane are likely to cause widespread power outages that will cut power to millions, leaving them with battery-powered AM/FM radios as the sole source of information. This emergency situation – on the heels of radio’s outstanding performance in Maui – will certainly give timely support and ammunition to those in Congress pushing the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act.
Starnes Media Group – owner and operator of news/talk KWAM, Memphis – is dispatching news anchor Ben Deeter to Milwaukee to cover the first GOP presidential debate next Wednesday (8/23). SMG is making Deeter available to radio stations for live hits via a Comrex at no charge. Interested stations should reach out to SMG via email at: email@example.com.
Benztown announces the launch of Role Callers, “an exciting and innovative new on-air enhancement service for radio stations that need to shake up their sound.” Benztown says, “Role Callers provides stations with paid phone actors that offer high-engagement content perfect for drive time or anytime. Role Callers delivers highest quality voice acting services for cash or barter, directed by Benztown producers in collaboration with station program directors and producers, and totally customized to their needs… The actors call in to radio stations, asking questions, playing along with comedy bits, sharing local information, talking up contests and promotions, and more – all according to the specific needs of each station.” Benztown president Dave “Chachi” Denes says, “We live in a digitally overloaded world, and human interaction and connectivity have become increasingly crucial. Role Callers serves as an invaluable tool, effectively sparking live listener engagement on some of the nation’s most prominent morning shows.”
By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling On Sunday
Talk Media Network
HALF of all radio stations in the United States lose money – at least they did back in 1991. The NAB used to put out an annual report revealing how many radio stations were profitable. Usually half the stations in America lost money. Since consolidation, the NAB stopped putting out that report. It is reasonable to believe that far, far fewer stations lose money today. Shared costs, real estate, technical economies due to digital equipment versus analog all indicate that there must be fewer money-losing properties.
The business of radio is very strong and appealing to investors. Apollo Advisers was the first money-in Sirius. The Apollo fund recently bought Cox radio. Marc Rowan, Apollo’s CEO is the smartest guy in any room. Rowan doesn’t invest in hunches; he buys businesses that grow return on investment.
In 1970, 7% of all ad dollars went to radio. Today, 7% of all ad dollars go to radio. In 1970, Procter & Gamble spent almost zero dollars in radio. Thanks to consolidation and the vision of Randy Michaels, radio has shifted from a “frequency” ad buy to a “reach” buy. Reach commands higher rates and more sophisticated advertisers. The RAB’s Erica Farber and Sound Mind’s Kraig Kitchin focused on winning P&G dollars. Today, Procter & Gamble is a top-five radio advertiser.
Are you sick and tired of “experts” saying that radio is slow to digital? Radio is not slow, radio was first-in. Mark Cuban put thousands of stations on Broadcast.com in the 1990s. Today radio leads the list of most downloaded podcasts. NPR has been the leader in podcasting since Alex Bennett started the industry. Under Bob Pittman and Jarl Mohn, iHeart and NPR dominate downloads.
Why the pessimism and anxiety in the hallways? It started with the management of consolidation. There are major consulting firms to help employees go through mergers. Consolidating an industry and its workforce is both an art and science. No radio company sought or engaged experienced expertise to manage consolidation. Instead, when a quarter’s revenue was missed, people were fired. Your friends in the next office were suddenly out of work. Layoffs should have happened all at once, based on a strategic plan. There is no plan. Firings are executed on random dates, with no notice; a horrible practice that continues. That’s why you’re miserable. No plan.
Radio stations in Canada, Europe, Australia and the UK are having excellent years. Canadian Music Week conventions, Commercial Broadcasters of Australia and European conferences are bursting with optimism and good news about radio. Why? Consider this possibility: Most radio companies outside the US are owned and managed by executives with a programming background. To do their jobs, programmers must be optimistic about the future. A salesperson’s job requires them to spend their days listening to media buyers’ objections to advertising on radio – negotiators! It sucks.
Consumers like or love radio. The reason SiriusXM Satellite Radio has 34 million listeners PAYING for radio is that listeners want MORE stations. Much, perhaps most, “music discovery” comes from radio listening. 53% of Americans will listen to radio today. In 1970, 53% of Americans listened to radio daily.
Walter Sabo was the youngest executive vice president in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in-house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.
The winners of the 2023 Radio Mercury Awards were announced last night (6/8) during the 32nd annual awards presentation held at SONY Hall in New York. RAB president and CEO Erica Farber, who also serves as chair of Radio Creative Fund, says, “Tonight was another great night for radio, celebrating the creativity that agencies and radio stations are producing on behalf of their clients. The Radio Mercury Awards continues to advance the medium forward by showcasing and awarding work that is innovative and effective.” This year’s Radio Marketer of the Year Award was presented to Procter & Gamble. See (and hear!) all the winners here.
Civic Media announces the addition of three Wisconsin radio stations to its network of news/talk/sports outlets. The company calls itself “a network of 18 radio stations across Wisconsin in 12 distinct news/talk media markets.” The new stations – WLCX-AM, Eau Claire “The Eagle”; WCFW-HD2, Chippewa Falls/W228EP, Eau Claire “93.5 The Tap”; and WRJN-AM/W260CV, Racine – are carrying the Civic Media talk show lineup that includes “As Goes Wisconsin” with Kristin Brey; “The Todd Allbaugh Show”; “Matt Flynn-Direct”; “The Devil’s Advocates” with Crute and Dom; and more. The early morning shows across the network are local, with “UpNorthNews Radio” with Pat Kreitlow airing on WLCX and WCFW, and “The Lou Rugani Show” airing on WRJN.
By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday
The whining is non-stop. Many in radio mourn the advent of consolidation, corporate dictates, staff cuts. They miss the way the industry was – before.
A few reminders about – before. Half the radio stations in the U.S. lost money. Voice tracking? Yes, it was called automation, analog automation and it was a technical nightmare. The meta forces that control our industry today were not created by your current boss. They were created by irresponsible venture capitalists who only looked at the fifth-year projections. A budget projected to the fifth year is at best a guess, but it is most probably a lie.
What can you control? If you are a host, you can control your next show. If you are a program director, you can control your next promo, next break, next collection of shows. You control the product and that makes you the most powerful person in the radio ecosystem. You control the product. Let’s improve the product right now. Listeners know or believe that all radio is live. Live means surprises, the unexpected, the urgent!
— Prep the surprises. Rather than sourcing the New York Post, Daily Mail and your local newspaper, try throwing them away for just a day and tap brand new, unexpected sources. Search “Siberia news” and “Alaska news.” You will be stunned at the unique menu of stories and fresh material. Surprise! Did you know the biggest challenge in Siberia is rampant forest fires? How about the fact that melting permafrost has given up well preserved woolly mammoths and new breeds of humanoids? Live means surprise.
— Build the stage. Your station or network has a vast, digital production library that you don’t use. Take the time to sit with that library for a whole day and let your creativity explore the sounds and SFX. You will discover new beds, sounders and dramatic effects to build your show’s image and present the unexpected. Already use production? Scrap it and start fresh.
— Water in the basement is the most urgent news in a listener’s life. Not the debt ceiling or January 6. Water in the basement! Other urgent news is: The moving van is two days late. The mother in-law is speaking. Logan died on “Succession.” Give yourself permission to talk about what happened to you over the weekend rather than what happened in Washington, DC.
Your current list of topics is old news, no surprises, nothing urgent. Stop, it’s not working. The typical talk radio topics reach people who typically cannot stand up to change the dial. Surprises, the unexpected and the urgent could boost the survival probability of the AM band — better than a tornado.
Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at email@example.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com. Meet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2023 on Friday, June 2.
Podcast Radio announces that it is launching a new production house to “create, promote and distribute podcasts alongside its radio stations.” The company says, “The new venture will provide end-to-end bespoke podcast production solutions to brand partners worldwide. Suitable podcasts will be made and distributed on Podcast Radio itself and other platforms such as Apple, Spotify and Google. Podcast Radio will also provide promotional opportunities by way of advertising campaigns and on-air interviews with the podcast host or contributors.” Company founder and CEO Gerry Edwards adds, “This is a natural extension of what we do. We’ve made our own Podcast Radio Originals for some time, but we now want to extend our extensive production skills to brand partners as well.” Podcast Radio intends to take podcast content to radio listeners. It plans to begin distributing a 24/7 American version of its programming to radio stations and groups across the US beginning soon. To that end, it has partnered with New York-based KMG Networks to syndicate the programming.
Radio pro Nikki Ramirez (Cumulus Media Atlanta and Audacy Miami) joins Research Director Inc as sales & business development lead. Research Director says that “in this new position, Ramirez will accelerate radio stations’ awareness of Research Director’s powerful Programming & Ratings Toolbox, designed to provide a deeper understanding of market performance immediately after Nielsen’s data release.” Company CEO Marc Greenspan says, “We’re excited to leverage Nikki’s extensive radio industry knowledge and experience, both on-air and behind-the-scenes, to fuel our growth in helping radio stations across the U.S. maximize the value of data to improve both their ratings and their revenue. She joins our team at a pivotal time as we look to showcase our unique ability to help clients improve their programming effectiveness and sales success.”
NYFestivals says, “Captivating audio entries created by storytellers from around the world were judged online by NYF’s Radio Awards Grand Jury to determine the 2023 Shortlist. Shortlisted entries include audiobooks, podcasts, dramas, documentaries, breaking news coverage, entertainment, and music specials from radio stations, networks, prominent production companies and independent producers. For 2023, Podcasts dominated the Shortlist with the Grand Jury advancing 105 Podcast entries to the next round. Podcasts engaged listeners with entries in multiple categories including Drama, Comedy, Sports, Entertainment, Series, Technology, News Business, and Social Justice.” Also NYFestivals announces that new for 2023, the National Press Club Award will go to the highest scoring entry in the news program categories Best Coverage Of Breaking News Story, Best Coverage Of Ongoing News Story, Best Nonfiction Series and News Podcast. The winner will be announced during the New York Festivals 2023 Storytellers Gala virtual event on April 18. See the 2023 Shortlist here.
By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday
Oh, excuse me, hold on. Here it is! The hourly report from quasi research companies or real research companies like Nielsen declaring that radio is just fine, thank you! Massive surveys (choose one) reveal that radio works! Radio appeals to younger demos! Radio moves product! Radio has more listeners in AM drive than the “Tonight Show” has viewers! A landslide of data proves that after 100 years of success, radio is a viable medium.
As both a radio executive and host, I don’t need to know that radio works. I see the sales results from your show and from “Sterling On Sunday.” No advertiser gives us money for the heck of it. The checks clear; there’s your proof. The research that is desperately needed would support innovative, disruptive programming. Radio will grow its place in American media by surprising listeners with new formats, new forms of presentation and things that are… new.
Radio exists today because of innovations like Top 40! Urban! Progressive Rock! AOR! Modern Country! FM Talk! and The Seven-Second Delay!
Today, however, there is nothing harder than selling a radio executive a new idea. Any new idea. It is hard for a very good reason. Radio stations are major investments and failure is expensive. In 1977, the most expensive radio stations in history sold for $11 million. (WMAL/WRQX-FM, Washington DC.) In absolute dollars, experimentation was a minor financial risk. Risk would be manageable if owners had sophisticated research tools to test new ideas.
State-of-the-art new product research is required to take radio safely onto the golden path to innovation. How’s your research and development budget? Oh.
Each television network invests about $100 million a year in developing and testing new shows. Those networks deploy stunning techniques to find and test new ideas. There will be new formats and techniques when the collective “we” is finally convinced that radio is a success. Then our research investments can be focused on cutting-edge product research tools that can guarantee a successful pilot season and future.
Walter Sabo, consultant, can be contacted at Sabo Media: firstname.lastname@example.org. Direct phone: 646-678-1110. Check out www.waltersterlingshow.com. Meet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2023 on June 2 at Hofstra University.
The company breaks out its new Benztown News/Talk audio imaging library for radio stations, that focuses on bringing updated and more frequent caller and host audio, an accelerated update schedule, and more daily topical promos and sweepers designed exclusively for news/talk stations. Benztown says the updates include a refocused approach based on caller/listener interaction and daily topical pieces. It adds, “The Benztown News/Talk Library is created by the industry’s top imaging and production specialists, led by imaging director, Adam “Ketch” Kecskemeti, and imaging voice, Mike Hansen. Paired with Benztown’s Ambush News/Talk Library, led by imaging director Scott Phillips, and format voice JJ Surma, and housed on Benztown’s industry-leading platform, news/talk radio stations have every imaging tool and solution at their fingertips.” Benztown VP, sales & operations Masa Patterson says, “We are incredibly excited to bring America’s best news/talk stations an enhanced and expansive toolset they need now more than ever. Benztown News/Talk is all stations need to produce what their listeners count on them for, from conservative talkers to straight-up traffic and weather. With this increase in caller interaction and daily topical elements, it has everything news/talk stations need to get a jump on tomorrow’s news today – and more.” Listen to a composite of the expanded Benztown News/Talk Library, paired with Benztown’s companion library Ambush here.
The National Association of Broadcasters announces the finalists for the 36th annual NAB Crystal Radio Awards that recognize radio stations for their year-round commitment to community service. The finalists will be celebrated, and the winners announced during the We Are Broadcasters Awards ceremony at 10:00 am on April 18 on the Main Stage at NAB Show in Las Vegas. NAB will also present Bonneville International’s news/talk KTAR-FM, Phoenix with the esteemed Crystal Heritage Award during the ceremony. The Heritage Award recognizes radio stations that have won a total of five Crystal Radio Awards for exceptional year-round community service efforts. Only 10 other stations have received this honor. See the finalists for this year’s awards here.
Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio, Inc. reveals the results of the 2022 edition of its MIW Gender Analysis Study that compiles and analyzes the number of women in radio broadcasting who are rising to the ranks of management, either as general manager, sales manager or program director/brand manager. MIW says the results represent the calendar year 2022 and are reflective of 11,215 AM and FM radio stations across America, as accounted for by PrecisionTrak. Regarding general managers, 20.65% had women holding the GM position in 2022. This is basically flat from last year but has shown consistent growth from 2004, when the percentage of female general managers was only 14.9%. MIW calls the sales manager position “the best management opportunity for women in radio.” Last year, 33.45% of stations had a woman sales manager (basically flat from 33.59% in 2021). The greatest challenge for women in radio management continues to be in the area of program directors/brand managers, according to MIW. Women currently program 11.72% of stations, versus 12.09% in 2021. MIW board president Ruth Presslaff comments, “Historically we have celebrated modest to very modest gains. But this year we’re calling out to industry leaders to recognize the leadership, creativity and dedication of women broadcasters, particularly programmers, and put them to work improving your content, your culture and your cash flow.” MIW points out that a study conducted in late 2022 by The WICT Network, Empowering Women in Media, Entertainment and Technology indicates that women working in the media, entertainment and tech industries have increased over the past few years from 33% in 2019 to 38% in 2022. “It is the hope that the radio industry will better begin to mirror the continued growth of women in the general media space and provide an encouraging future for women in radio.”
By Walter Sabo
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Surprisingly, my company Sabo Media has bought commercial time on radio stations. It’s a surprise because brands have come to us because the word “media” is in the name. Some brands think Sabo Media is a media buying company. Hysterical.
Here’s what I learned placing buys for real clients onto big radio stations. (Note, at no time did I remind/tell any station that I was a radio guy).
RADIO IS HARD TO BUY. For years we’ve heard from advertising agencies that radio is hard to buy. It is. Top line of my adventures in buying:
First, I had to reach somebody, anybody at the stations. Challenge number one. Look at your website. Where is “selling” information to inspire a local retailer to buy your station? There is none. How can a potential advertiser contact you? FILL OUT A FORM. What? No information on who gets the form or when they will call back.
Solution: No forms. Put an AE’s direct phone number, cell number and real email on the site under CONTACT. Put a picture of the AE so local retailers can make a visual connection. What do real estate sellers do? You should do that.
The buys we made were for books and cat litter. As a radio guy, I knew the secret knowledge we share of how to get the best results for the clients; i.e. which dayparts and copy would work. For the book campaign I asked the talent to read a portion of the book on the air and share their feelings about the book. I did not negotiate price or ask for any bonus spots. The goal was superior service from the station!
At one San Francisco station, I was never connected to an actual account executive. Instead, I only got their assistant. Imagine, new client, top of the rate card and no AE! Radio is hard to buy.
Solution: All new business should be sent to the sales manager. Letters of thanks from the on-air talent and the market president should go to the new client. Thank you letters work. Add direct phone numbers on those letters. One of the “gifts” of consolidation is the elimination of a main number and operator. Yes, stations make it really hard to reach anybody in a station.
I placed a morning drive order in Chicago. Top of the rate card, live read, talent encouraged to adlib and have a good time. I got the strangest response from the general manager. He called me and berated me, demanding to know why I thought “his” audience would want to purchase this book! I still don’t understand his anger but the buy ran.
Solution: When your station gets a top of the rate card, live read, just say, thank you.
Now to the cat litter. “Lucy Pet Products” made an amazing litter. It never, ever smelled. A gift from heaven. The litter helped prevent urinary tract infections – and that was the problem. One company would not accept the easy-to-change copy because it was making a medical claim. A claim for cats! The same company runs spots for not-approved-by-the-FDA vitamins, hospitals, liposuction clinics and boner medicine. But litter that didn’t irritate cats? We can’t have that.
Radio is hard to buy.
But the other side is this: An iHeart market sales manager thanked me for the buy and then asked, “What can I do for you?” I said, “Jingle Ball!”