Industry Views

SABO SEZ: Howard Stern Deserves a Big Thank You

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imNO ONE has done more to elevate the status and improve the working conditions of on-air talent as much as Howard Stern.

Howard turned 70 this month and he has been on the air for 50 years – half of the time of the existence of radio. During his brilliant career, he has elevated the capabilities of radio to a scientific, pristine art. His success is neither an accident nor luck. It’s not even God-given talent. It’s all work. Nobody has ever worked harder on their radio show than Howard and, as a result, no radio star has ever earned as much money or deserved as much acclaim.

Several important notes:

— For Howard, radio always comes first. When he made the movie Private Parts the production fit around his radio show.

— “America’s Got Talent” ended taping at the pre-agreed times to accommodate Howard’s radio show.

— I made the first call to his agent to recruit Howard to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. He was already making a lot of money… his motivation for moving was to give his radio show the support and freedom necessary to see just how great he could make it.

— He loves radio.

Whatever you’ve heard Howard earns, it’s probably close. That’s good for everybody on the air in the world. He earns more than any TV star. He earns more than 99.9% of all movie stars. I think it’s pretty much Taylor SwiftPaul McCartney and Howard. A radio star is actually in that conversation!

When he started in the 1980s, he was suspended for saying douche bag. Now you can say douche bag. Thank him for winning that fight.

Thank him for proving that radio stars do better with real writers and producers. Radio stars can create four hours a day of magic with little help. (TV Sitcoms produce 22 minutes a week, for 22 weeks a year with 11 writers.) Thank him for moving millions of dollars of products a week with his live reads, enhancing the value of your live reads.

Thank him for being harassed by the federal government. Thank him for not blinking. Thank him for raising the profile and stature of American radio. Thank him for being funny.

I just don’t think he’s been thanked enough…

Walter Sabo was a founding architect of SiriusXM Satellite Radio and began the recruitment of Howard Stern. He has consulted RKO General, PARADE magazine, Hearst BroadcastingPress Broadcasting, and other premium brands. He launched the first company to engage online video influencers, Hitviews. As an executive, he was EVP of NBC FM RADIO giving Dr. Ruth Westheimer her first media job and fostering the creation of adult contemporary. As VP ABC Radio Networks, Sabo hired Ringo Starr to be a DJ for a 24-hour special.

Industry Views

SABO SEZ: City to Town – A Perspective on Trump Voters

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imAcknowledging that this publication is fiercely non-partisan and that I – in my role as a broadcaster – am basically the same, I offer the following, not as a political opinion piece, but rather a personal observation based on experience that might shed light on the deeper nature of a large segment of the American population prone to listen to talk radio.

A few years ago, I moved from Manhattan to Shaker Heights, Ohio. Geraldo Rivera made the same journey for the same reason; our wives went to Shaker High. In our brides’ minds, that’s enough reason to return.

During the period of the Donald Trump presidency, a new phenomenon was sweeping the East and West Coasts: People who did not vote for Trump demonized and marginalized those who did. Lifelong friendships were ended by anti-Trump individuals who merely suspected a friend was pro-Trump, often with little evidence. Celebrities threatened to leave the country if Trump became or remained president. They would flee to Canada, without any consideration of whether or not Canadians wanted them!  

At first, I would ask anti-Trump people if they had actually voted for Hillary Clinton? That question was inevitably met with an icy glare, but no answer. They hadn’t. Anti-Trumpers were seething, ignited by their guilt that they assumed Clinton would win and therefore making their voting participation unnecessary. What else could explain the fevered emotion against a president – on his FIRST day in office? Trump hadn’t done anything to anger Scarlett Johansson into leading an angry insurrection mob. But she did. Day one.

Living in Ohio, I have spent time with hundreds of Trump voters and learned something valuable. Trump supporters do not match the level of passion in support of the president as those who hate him. Not even close. The disparity is stunning.

No Trump voter has threatened to leave the country if a Democrat wins. No Trump voter has said, “I hate all Biden voters, I wish they would die,” as Howard Stern has said about them. No Trump voter refuses to befriend a Joe Biden voter just because, hey, if we’re friends we are friends.

Yes, Trump voters go to the polls for him because of – his policies. And what are those? The Ohio parents and workers I know matter-of-factly want Trump first and foremost so they can afford gasoline and heating oil. When the price of gas went up, parents had to cut down on after school activities, school competitions and distant playdates, they just couldn’t afford the trip. They can’t hop on the bus to Chelsea Piers. They don’t care if it’s Trump specifically, they just want cheaper gas – sir can you do that?

Next, they vote for the candidate who will support safe neighborhoods, cheaper meat, cheaper milk, their kid in the Marines home for the holidays, Israel, better schools.

I learned this from parents waiting for dance class and band practice to end. Patient parents proud of their kids. They weren’t chanting for Trump or bashing Biden. They just want enough gas to get home.

I’ve learned that many people who hate Trump voters do so while getting into an Uber, a taxi, bus, or subway. They don’t own a car. They buy food for one, not for five times seven days a week. They don’t have to go to three different food stores to get the cheapest items… they just hit Food Emporium ($6.98 a gallon of milk). In Ohio, $2.29 a gallon, Walmart.

Of course, there are other issues swirling around Trump and Biden – but right now most deplorable Ohioans have to pick up the kid at school on time, let their child buy one toy at Dollar Tree, I said one, and hope there is enough spaghetti for dinner.

Walter Sabo was a founding architect of SiriusXM and began the recruitment of Howard Stern. He has consulted RKO General, PARADE magazine, Hearst BroadcastingPress Broadcasting, and other premium brands. He launched the first company to engage online video influencers, Hitviews. As an executive, he was EVP of NBC FM RADIO giving Dr. Ruth Westheimer her first media job and fostering the creation of adult contemporary. As VP ABC Radio Networks, Sabo hired Ringo Starr to be a DJ for a 24-hour special.

Industry Views

SABO SEZ: Reflections on the Death of Sears and “Mass Appeal” Radio

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imSears used to sell everything. Tractors, tires, insurance, investments, chickens. In 2004, Sears was the dominant retailer in America. By the end of the decade, it was feverishly closing stores and dying.

Marketers blame the failure on aging store decor, failure to support the brand online, and merchandise offerings that were too broad. Circuit CityCompUSAFirestone and other highly targeted stores were super-serving specific product lines and diminishing the appeal of Sears’ profit leaders.

Nope. If a broad product line was the problem, Walmart would be a very small business. Operationally, Sears died from within by centralizing all buying and selling decisions. Local stores had zero autonomy and therefore were unable to stay ahead of customer preference trends. The bureaucracy was poison. Financially, Sears was a publicly traded company managed in the end by Wall Street speculators who probably wanted it to fail for their own gain.

SHOCKING WALMART NEWS: Walmart is the highest grossing company in the world. Larger than Chinese oil refineries, General MotorsVolkswagen, and Microsoft. It is the highest grossing company in the world.

Walmart’s decision strategy is surprisingly decentralized. It learned from Sears’ mistake. The employees you see working in Walmart are in charge. Each employee is assigned to a department. They see the profit and loss for their department and for each item they are selling. Employees are shown those numbers from day one. Walmart associates are expected to keep shelves stocked and to stay ahead of demand by ordering from distribution centers on their handheld computers.

No checking with corporate or clearing adds.

In times of crisis, such as hurricanes, Walmart colleagues can donate food, water, and other supplies to rescue workers without chain of command approval. Just do it. After one local disaster, a Walmart corporate type commented on the vast amount of donations made by a local store: “That’s a good use of autonomy.”

Walmart also learned from Sears how not to finance their company: 50% of Walmart is held by founder Sam Walton’s dependents and the Waltons control the board of directors.

So… what does this mean to you?

Walter Sabo was a founding architect of SiriusXM and began the recruitment of Howard Stern. He has consulted RKO General, PARADE magazine, Hearst BroadcastingPress Broadcasting, and other premium brands. He launched the first company to engage online video influencers, Hitviews. As an executive, he was EVP of NBC FM RADIO giving Dr. Ruth Westheimer her first media job and fostering the creation of adult contemporary. As VP ABC Radio Networks, Sabo hired Ringo Starr to be a DJ for a 24-hour special.

Industry Views

SABO SEZ: Five Golden Actions for 2024

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imResearch shows that readers to trade publications like articles with five bullet points. Here are my five bullet points for 2024. If these were to be deployed, you could be thriving by the end of the year. These actions would increase sales and audience share.

1. Radio should be easy to buy. It’s not. Easy fix: Look at your website. Based on the website how would you buy time on your station? It should be as simple as a realtor’s website. Put up pictures of your salespeople with ALL of their real contact information – not a FORM. Offer their email and cell number. Offer a “tour” of the offerings with information about the talent and the audience. What does the host sell best? How about a very brief audio message from each host to your potential advertiser?
2. Every medium creates its own stars. Example – David Caruso, good on TV, bad in movies. Your hosts, good on radio, lousy at original podcasts.  Sure, edit up the interviews or bits and make them into a podcast. But don’t ask a host to get off the air and make brand new content for a podcast. Engage locals who are good at making original podcasts and offer them a stage.
3. Sell the biggest number. Your morning show probably has more listeners than the “Tonight Show” has viewers in your city. 1010 WINS has more listeners in New York than FOX News has viewers nationwide. Go check. Those are the numbers that put radio in perspective!  Stop selling the smallest number, TIME SPENT LISTENING. Who came up with that!?
4. Don’t make potential advertisers jump through hoops. If you have spent your career in programming, you may not know the tyranny of MEDIA CREDIT. New radio advertiser: Good buy, high rate, longterm business. Sounds great. Not so fast. At most companies, new business still has to go through the gauntlet of a MEDIA CREDIT CHECK. End that.
5. What’s wrong with the hosts? Many hosts use a content formula that MUST generate a diminishing audience size and older and older and older demos.  Repeat. WHY? If you start to trust that what you talk about socially, with your friends, your audience will grow and grow younger. Be more like Bruce Collins, PD at WBAP, Dallas. Bruce just hired James Parker who has been featured for years on “Sterling On Sunday.” James is going to talk about life, fatherhood and funny. He joins “New Jersey 101.5” alumnus, Casey Bartholomew, 10:00 am – 12:00 noon, who talks about life, fatherhood and funny.  It’s working so well that WBAP will now be simulcast on Class C2 FM, KLIF.

Five bullet points. Goals: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Walter Sabo was a founding architect of SiriusXM and began the recruitment of Howard Stern. He has consulted RKO General, PARADE magazine, Hearst Broadcasting, Press Broadcasting, and other premium brands. He launched the first company to engage online video influencers, Hitviews. As an executive, he was EVP of NBC FM RADIO giving Dr. Ruth Westheimer her first media job and fostering the creation of adult contemporary. As VP ABC Radio Networks, Sabo hired Ringo Starr to be a DJ for a 24-hour special.

Industry Views

TRUE CRIME: What Would You Do?

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imWHAT WOULD YOU DO? A very good major market DJ murders his wife and injures her lover upon catching them in the marital bed. An 11-year-old girl was in the house – a witness. The murderer is convicted (second-degree murder/“situational crime”) sent to prison, does his time and is released after a few years for good behavior while incarcerated.

Upon release, the convicted murderer is hired as an on-air talent by at least three publicly held companies, with properties licensed by the federal government and heavily staffed with women employees. “Hey, he’s a good jock!” He works continuously from the time of his release until he retires about 18 years later in 1991.

Within the past decade, major market on-air talent have been fired, chastised, suspended or forced to mumble meaningless public apologies for posting tacky memes, joking about sports sideliner Erin Andrews (at the same time TMZ reporters were making the very same jokes about her on FOX), questioning team owners’ judgements, or posting “inappropriate” remarks on all forms of social media. Entire businesses have been lost because of silly off-air comments by talk hosts or DJs. Dr. Laura is an amazingly great talent.

Many of the job security issues faced by today’s on-air talent are the result of social media posts they made a few years ago – or sometimes things they said a few decades ago. Worse, people in all professions get in trouble for expressions uttered outside of the parameters of their actual jobs. A joke about the boss, a compliment about the attractiveness of a co-worker or mocking a product – in very few words – could easily destroy a career.

Considering this oh-so-touchy environment, would the murderer be hired today, or even allowed in a radio station’s lobby?  No, “Humble” Harve Miller, the murderer, would not be hired today by the very same companies that hired him a relatively few short decades ago.

Based on today’s standards, the CEOs of the companies that did hire Humble Harve should be immediately fired or at least forced to issue written public apologies and be deprived of their bonuses or suffer a claw back of their retirement packages. Immediately. My god! An 11-year-old murder witness! 

Too much? Too late, you say. Not practical? Agree!! Those actions would be just as overwrought as firing or shaming a host about their Erin Andrews joke or meme posted on X.

How likely do you think one of my proudest hires, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, would have a chance to become the number one radio personality in New York City today?

Perspective: memes, jokes, asides, and minor league slander only become big deals when the paranoid company stops time and puts out a public apology. The apology inevitably, not the incident, reaches a much larger audience. The public awareness brought about by the apology or employee firing actually causes damage to all involved.

Walter Sabo has helped some of the largest media companies in the world increase share of audience. Clients have included Conde Nast, SiriusXM, ABC, Gannett, RKO General, American Tower, TuneIn and more. The company he founded, HITVIEWS was the first to identify and monetize online influencers as revealed at the TALKERS New Media Seminar in 2008. His Talk Media Network show, “Sterling On Sunday,” generates significant audience share for stations such as WPHT, Philadelphia; KMBZ-FM, Kansas City; KMOX, St Louis; and KFBK, Sacramento. You can learn about the show at www.waltersterlingshow.com or email Walter at walter@sabomedia.com.

Industry Views

SABO SEZ: Seek New Story Sources and Surprise Your Listeners

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imEarlier this week, Michael Harrison published his top 10 list of suggestions for being a successful talker. Item number three really caught my eye:

“Avoid worn out talking points. Be original. Always bring something new to the table. Otherwise you DESERVE to be replaced by AI.”

 When consulting client stations, the PD and I will take the on-air team through a pragmatic brainstorm session to discover completely unused source material.

First the material should be intriguing to you and appealing to your listener (singular.) New sources mean surprises and the fastest and most economical method of generating word of mouth, phone calls and cume is to present surprises all day.

1. Close to home. Pay foreground attention to incidents at home. Your home. Events that you may view as mundane could bond you with your listener. Consider that water in the basement, check engine light, parent/teacher conference, bad bank behavior, in-law interference. If any of those experiences has happened to you, you honestly know that they are a bigger deal than speeches in Congress.

2. Search the names of locations that you never discuss. Those searches have revealed to me and my listener that the number one fear in Siberia is the vast forest fires and that as the permafrost melts, it could expose million-year-old deadly viruses. One “Siberia news” search. Try this, search “Keith Fons North Pole Alaska” You will discover a bizarre Christmas story.

3. Local morning TV shows have unique fun stories that you don’t see because you’re listening to the radio. Go to their websites and you will see all of their topics, with audio, dated. 

Take a different approach to proven topics. A trait of successful hosts is that they discuss common topics but take a very different tact. Some examples: When TV legend Ann Bishop of WPLG Miami died, fellow broadcaster Neil Rogers mourned Bishop by saying, “She did nothing for me, sir.”

On crime in Cleveland, the late Mike Trivisonno on WTAM declared, “the best thing that could happen is for the Mafia to come back to Cleveland.”

Howard Stern surprises you every time he opens his mouth. It’s the fresh topics combined with surprising POV=Star. 

Walter Sabo has an outstanding track record advising media companies wishing to increase their share of revenue. His weekly syndicated show Sterling On Sunday aims to provide three hours of completely unique topics.  Contact him at walter@sabomedia.com or 646.678.1110

Industry Views

The Vital Element of Surprise

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

Visitors to Disneyland five years ago will be given a memorable experience when they visit this month. About 50% of Disneyland has changed since 2018. The theme park constantly changes, trying new rides, exhibits, displays. Walt Disney never considered his park to be finished. Roy Disney said that Walt viewed Disneyland as a giant block of clay which could be molded and remolded constantly. Changing the park constantly gives visitors surprises, joy and the excitement of the unexpected. The unexpected at Disneyland is newness in its ideal form: Everything is new, memorable and completely safe.

Your show, music or talk, has the same power to create memorable entertainment. Wrapped in the safety of your voice, and your familiar station, you can SAY the unexpected, the surprising, the new.

Remember when the news was a radio station? Remember when a radio station generated word of mouth, talk at work, and gossip among friends? It could have been yesterday or years ago. A radio station or on-air talent was at the epicenter of the community’s conversation when it did the unexpected. 

The short list 

A station said the name of your business. Gave away an outrageous prize. Roasted a pig. Lesbian Dial-A-Date. Broke a record. Asked the caller if they were naked. Aired Amazing Mouth TV Spots. There is no top-of-mind real estate claimed by a station if it is following the format really well.

Delivering surprises is not hard, but it is essential to the medium’s growth. Today, the most recent “surprises” have been all wrong. Too often the surprise is the public shaming and forced apology of a host because of an unfortunate comment about Erin Andrews or slight of a team owner.  (BTW, the single dumbest management move is a public apology. Thousands of people learn of the incident who would never have known about it if the moment was allowed to pass.)

You may be worried that if you or an air talent break the corporate dictate format, all will be fired. No. You know where you can experiment. Your experiment could lead to a new, fresh awareness of your station and of your hard work. Do it.

WALTER SABO’s company, Sabo Media has advised the C Suite of some of America’s largest media companies including SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Apollo Advisors, Conde Nast, Wall Street Journal Radio, RKO General, and NBC. He is a member of the Nominating Committee of the national Radio Hall of Fame and on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.  His radio show, “Sterling on Sunday” is heard nationally.www.waltersterlingshow.com  Contact him at walter@sabomedia.com

Industry Views

SABO SEZ: Stream to Success

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imIn May 2007, I was enjoying the brand-new app called YouTube. Still independently owned, still relatively unknown. Some of the videos pulled millions of viewers, more viewers than enjoyed by ESPN or any cable network. More interesting, the videos with high counts were not made by NBC or ESPN or any traditional video source. High view count videos were being made by people with no experience in traditional media, they were experimenters producing in their basements and bedrooms.

As these new performers were pulling major view counts, they revealed that they worked at Starbucks, were going to school and wanting to make enough money to get out of their parent’s house. Wait. Some video creators were winning more viewers than ESPN and they were broke? Simultaneously major brands like Pepsi and Budweiser knew they had to enter the online video space and each attempt was a disaster. BUD TV! Online video entertainment was a brand-new medium; USG User Generated Content.

I started a company called HITVIEWS. The goal was to placed brand messages in User Generated Content. The first company. No one had ever done it. We gathered the top video performers and started to marry them with brands like Pepsi, FOX TVTimberlandMTV,  CBS TelevisionIBMLogitech, many more. A TALKERS conference introduced the first Influencer (we called them “Web Stars”), Caitlin Hill, to radio executives.

From this pioneering initiative into online video, I can share a significant amount of information about the ingredients of a successful video campaign.

  1. Use video stars, influencers, to deliver your message. It’s a different medium and requires different stars.
  2. Engage every capability of the platform. The videos with the highest view counts demand the most interaction with the viewer. Click now. Comment below. Make a response video. Send a text back. THEN answer all responses. Every single viewer response must be answered by you or it is wasted.
  3. It’s not radio or TV. Don’t bother putting up videos at a fixed day and time. Put up as many videos as you possibly can. Two days is too old!
  4. Funny works best.

Online video success makes the medium the message. The touch screen, mouse, keyboard. Audio, video capabilities must all be integrated into the entertainment. If full functionality is not part of the show, the show is boring.

Walter Sabo has consulted the largest media companies worldwide in digital initiatives. He was the on-site consultant for SiriusXM Satellite Radio for nine years. He can be reached by email at walter@sabomedia.com and his network radio show can be discovered at  www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

The Problems Facing Radio Were Not Caused by Consolidation

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

imAs your friends get fired and on-air hosts are replaced with WideOrbit and Profitable Software, the mournful refrain is to unfairly blame consolidation. Consolidation has, in fact, made the medium financially viable and brought hundreds of individual stations from a river of red ink to the glow of black ink. Prior to consolidation, over half the radio stations in the U.S. lost money – year after year. Not a secret stat, those numbers were revealed annually by the NAB.

The flaw in the deregulation law was the elimination of the rules regarding financing of station acquisitions. Previous regulations required a licensee to prove it had the financial resources to cover expenses through the term of the license. Licenses could not be purchased with debt. Licensees could not sell the license until it expired. Radio stations could not be used for speculatory financial gain. When those rules were tossed, the industry hit a financial tailspin from which it has not recovered. That’s the problem.

That is not a “problem” with radio. In talks with publisher Michael Harrison about his exciting role in the United Nations as executive advisor to World Radio Day 2024, we shared a key observation: The world’s radio industry is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Working with clients in London, Toronto, Montreal, Amsterdam, Athens and Sydney, the passion for the medium continues to grow and is supported by audience engagement and response.

Internationally, there is a robust radio set design and manufacturing industry. European listeners seek clothing featuring radio set themes and artwork. Believe me, the food at the NAB Europe is much better than that crap served here.

Follow the money. Radio is not legacy media. Radio is proven media – proven for over 100 years. Local retail advertisers are a practical lot. They buy advertising that works for this weekend. If it doesn’t bring feet to the floor and dollars to the door, sponsors just don’t repeat-buy.

I was the in-house programming guru at SiriusXM Satellite Radio for eight years starting pre-launch. The reason Sirius exists is test after test revealed that Americans liked radio so much, used radio so much, they wanted more stations. More choice. More.

Consolidation, with considerable credit to Randy Michaels, allowed radio to convert from a frequency media buy to a reach media buy. That puts radio in budgets with TV. The opportunity right now is to actually monetize radio’s clout as a reach medium. Create scarcity. More spots mean cheaper spots, smaller budgets and higher expense. More spots mean much less efficiency for media buyers. Media buyers have to spend their budgets. They would prefer to spend that money with one or two outlets before lunch rather than having to “make the buy” by purchasing dozens and dozens of stations acquiring spots that are cheap, bonused, thrown in, flanked, and here are some tickets.  The fix starts with raising the price to meet the public’s perception and usage levels of radio.

Walter Sabo has grown audience share for a roster of clients that has included SiriusXM Satellite Radio, RKO, ABC, Apollo Advisors, Hearst, Wall Street Journal Radio and many others. Reach him at walter@sabomedia.com. Learn about his unique radio show at www.waltersterlingshow.com

Industry Views

ENOUGH! The Selling Culture Has Failed Radio

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling On Sunday
Talk Media Network

The creeping culture of sales-determines-all has brought the industry to this moment of despair. The selling culture has failed the medium. It is time to, once again, segregate the sales and programming departments. Take the budgets away from the program directors and inspire them to create exciting UNPREDICTABLE programming.

Earnings calls for most radio companies were held this week. Not pretty. Declarations of the demise of radio are constant, emotional, and desperate. Bleak conditions in the radio industry have occurred before. A review of past crises and how they were overcome is constructive, urgent, and essential.

For example, in 1952, network TV was launched and showed signs of success. NBCABC, and CBS moved their money from radio to TV. Longform radio shows were cancelled leaving stations across the country with a problem. At the time, most radio stations were small shops, usually family-owned, therefore the need to add hours of local programming was a financial challenge. The solution was presented by a programmer.

Todd Storz’ family owned stations in Omaha, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New Orleans, St Louis and Oklahoma City. He was young and obsessed with radio. His stations were losing money and the future, without network show blocks, was uncertain. Todd ate at a diner daily and noticed that even after it closed, the waitresses put their own money in the jukebox to hear the same songs they had heard all day. Hit after hit. Todd created a list of the top 40 songs, built a production sound and put it on his Omaha station. The station was #1 overnight. His top 40 format was aired on his owned stations with the same results.

Ruth Meyer was the program director of WMCA, New York where she established the GOOD GUYS dynasty. Before WMCA Ruth was the PD of Storz’s station in Kansas City. I asked her who did what at Storz and she said, “It was all Todd.” Todd was a programmer who never spent a day in sales. Storz’s programming idea changed and, yes, saved the industry.

When Todd died at 38 years of age his father – a businessman – took over the company. After Todd’s death, the stations died too. Why? Storz station manager Deane Johnson explained, “Todd’s death [and the control of the radio stations falling to Todd’s father] brought about a shift from a ‘programming company’ to a ‘money company.’”

Radio’s next challenge was FM. It is a popular myth that the shift from AM listening to FM was driven by the higher quality of the FM signal. FM’s signal had been available since 1948. No one listened.

You don’t go to iMAX to watch the huge, superior white screen. You go to watch a movie on the huge superior white screen. When the FCC mandated an end to AM/FM simulcasts, the general managers had no idea what to do and isn’t it time for golf?

Obsessed, very young radio fanboy programmers such as Michael Harrison and Allen Shaw joined with frustrated senior programmers like B. Mitchel ReedScott MuniMurray the K and Tom Donahue to EXPERIMENT with new programming techniques. They imagined and implemented progressive rock, free-form, album rock. THEN the crowds came to FM to hear exciting UNPREDICTABLE programming.

In 1966, Tom O’Neil, the founder/chairman of RKO General owned many money-losing, major market stations. The solution? Better sellers? Better sales training? A sales master course? No. The answer was Bill Drake. O’Neil hired Bill Drake and allowed him to create exciting UNPREDICABLE programming. Drake’s programming saved many RKO stations and was copied by hundreds of stations across the country. Drake’s programming saved them, too.

ALL of radio’s challenges today can be solved with programming invented by programmers free to program. Enough with “it’s not in the budget.” Enough with “it will bring in money.” Enough with “it’s good for sales.” Enough with talent having to generate half their salary in billing to be retained. Enough!

Unleash today’s program directors to follow their instincts, their facts and no more having to check with corporate. Why? Because checking with corporate hasn’t worked. Checking with corporate stops the flow of ideas, it freezes them in time. Radio is live, in the moment. When radio programming is frozen in time it MUST failGive up corporate engagement. Let programmers surprise you.

To quote a mentor, ABC Radio Network’s VP Dick McCauley (a sales guy), “A great salesperson is one who has a great product.” He said it a lot.

Walter Sabo was the youngest executive vice president in the history of NBC. He was the programming consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. According to a Sirius corporate EVP, “Sirius exists because of what Walter Sabo did.”  He hosts a Talk Media Network radio show as Walter M. Sterling, “Sterling on Sunday.” Find out more here: www.waltersterlingshow.com  Contact him at walter@sabomedia.com or 646.678.1110

Industry Views

Sabo Sez: Consolidation Has Been Radio’s Savior

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling On Sunday
Talk Media Network

imHALF 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 MohniHeart 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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

Don’t Leave Cash on the Nightstand

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling On Sunday
Talk Media Network

imAmazing fact: In ancient times, from 1962-1972, the highest-paid on-air talent in New York City was “an overnight guy.” He was paid salary plus sales response. I’m talking about Long John Nebel on WOR, WNBC, then WMCA. Long John’s live reads moved product because his audience was captive. One-to-one his listeners were attached to their radios in the truck cab, night watchman’s building lobby, parents pacing with their babies, students cramming. His background was not in radio; he was a skilled auctioneer. Obviously, the same listeners exist today – and are anxious for someone to talk to them. Check out this old clip of Nebel in action: https://youtu.be/wYMCkpYFtbk

One of today’s bizarre misconceptions is that overnights/late nights are not important for sales or audience share. Totally and completely wrong!

— As an executive, when launching a new format, any new format, the first time period I staffed was overnights. Late-night, overnight is the doorway to a station. Listening patterns to AM drive are habitual, hard to change. Late night listening is discretionary. Audiences will sample new radio offerings when they seek pure entertainment rather than essential utility elements.

— Late-night cume feeds morning drive. Study the flow of audience from late-night to morning drive, you will be surprised how much of the AM drive cume depends on the last station heard before turning off the radio.

— No distractions. It is easier to sell any product or idea to a person who is giving you 100% of their attention rather than rushing to work, calming the kids and remembering to avoid road construction. As George Noory’s success confirms, the percent of listeners who act on a commercial message is higher overnights than at any other time period.

— Every format has a default hour – one hour of the day when it will have its largest audience share. For all-news, for example, it’s always 5:00 am – 6:00 am. Lite FM’s, 1:00 pm. Live, local talk: 11:00 pm.  Listeners seek companionship, sympathy and empathy from talk shows.  If a station offers a “best of” at 11:00 pm, it is ignoring the built-in strategic advantage of the talk format. 11:00 pm is primetime.

— Rate integrity. A station may charge top dollar for morning drive. Upon further study those high rates usually come with nighttime bonus spots.  Bonus spots cut the rate in half. The nighttime results story can stand on its own and command premium pricing without bonusing.

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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

Speaking the Conversation of the Listener

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling On Sunday
Talk Media Network

In the strum and dirge of daily radio life, it is easy to forget the mad skills required to do what we do. Consider the TV sitcom. 22 minutes of content, 22 times a year. The cast ad libs – nothing! Between eight and 11 writers scribe every word. Hair, makeup… handled by others! A donut run? No, there’s the crafts services table that will make you, the star, whatever you want any time you want it. Hot? A production assistant sprays mint scented water on you.

How’s your day? You or your on-air talent create a three- or four- or perhaps even five-hour show out of thin – or should I say rarefied – air! Writers? You mean that kid who has to go to class at 11? Production? Sure, as soon as the spots for the weekend are cut. Food? Ya got quarters?

You are a miracle of creativity, ambition and sheer talent. Reward? The company wants to cut your live read fees and could you help out in sales? As a point of reference, when Dr. Ruth Westheimer killed in the ratings at WYNY, we gave her a Seville.

GOOD NEWS. You can fix this. Talk radio is the last frontier of free form radio. Fact is you can do whatever you want.

Most talk shows and stations peaked about six years ago. The audience is not growing, it’s not attracted to talk radio’s offerings of endless political theory. So, stop.

What works? Take a look at the ratings of KMBZ-FM Kansas City; KFGO, Fargo; KFBK, Sacramento; WABC, New York’s Frank Morano; WTAM, Cleveland’s Bill Wills; WLW, Cincinnati; KFI, Los Angeles; KDKA, Pittsburgh’s midday. (I will now be flooded with other examples but listen to those stations.) Hosting a network radio show, “Sterling On Sunday,” I have learned what those audio outlets exemplify works!

Talk about your day. Talk about what two best friends would discuss over a quick lunch. The topics that generate ratings are not always the “hot talk radio topics.” The list that works reads like this, try it:

— Trouble with the in-laws.

— Is “Storage Wars” fake?

— Tip at the drive-thru?

— Cell phone for a 10-year-old?

— Married? Is texting cheating?

— How can I do less and earn more?

— Yes, it was a controlled demolition.

— Taylor Swift bi? Harry Styles bi?

— Are you kidding? Women ARE in charge!

— Turn on the AC, shut the damn window.

The power of the mirror. When the radio speaks the conversation of the listener, the ratings go up. Guaranteed.

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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

Lessons from Rush

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

Rush Limbaugh’s initial success spawned a nation of imitators.  Throughout the country hosts and executives heard Rush and concluded that the key to success was bashing liberals for three hour – or all day!

Oddly that wasn’t Rush’s mission.  When Ed McLaughlin launched Rush’s show an article appeared quoting Rush and his role.

Rush said, “I’m here to inform, inform, inform.”  Ed was the founding GM of KGO, he ran the ABC Radio Networks for about 20 years. He knew how to make great radio because that’s all he knew how to do.  I was in his office the day the article quoting Rush appeared.

Ed said to me, “I will have to talk to Rush about that. His job is to entertain.”  Following Ed’s conversation with him, Rush carried out his mission, he entertained.

Rush did not get ratings and cash for espousing conservative views. There were other spokespeople who did that very well such as William F Buckley – an erudite conservative who never got ratings.

Listening hard to Rush airchecks, he was mostly entertaining. How did he do that?  First, he never offered duplicate arguments for his opinions. Every single day he presented brand new evidence and facts and stories to support his point of view. Secondly, he riffed. There were long periods featuring funny, human stories. Cat stories!  Third, Rush understood radio to a pristine point of science. When he had nothing to say, he used the medium’s most powerful tool… silence!

He understood the essential bond with the listener and therefore we never heard his producer on talkback, rarely, rarely, rarely a guest interview.  Phone calls were extremely well screened, coached and ready for air. Sharp produced bits were designed to drive the conversation.  The show was a show not a lecture.

Rush understood that the biggest mistake he could make would be to change his position on anything. Regardless of a caller’s absolute facts, Rush would say, “So what of it sir, I’m right.”  His battle against facts made the show work. Radio wrestling.

Today’s winning hosts don’t waste time forming political opinions, they invest their time in building an entertaining show.

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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

Talk Radio’s $4 Billion Mistake

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

imIn the early 1980s, talk radio made a $4 billion mistake. Prior to then, there were approximately 50 full-time talk stations in America. They were predominantly found in major markets and had been in the format since Marconi. The original talk stations had two key traits: They were dominant in ratings and much of their popularity was driven by women hosts.

Mary Margaret McBride hosted an NBC, then ABC Network show based from WOR, New York at 12:00 noon.  From 1938-1957 she led midday radio listening. Nope, not a cooking show. She featured the most powerful, newsworthy guests and grilled them. She prepped for 23 hours a day and sweated every minute. Her popularity was so great that she required five secretaries just to answer her mail. Her 10th anniversary was held at Yankee Stadium. McBride’s 15th  anniversary filled Madison Square Garden, hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt. Correct, Mary Margaret and her listeners were honored by Mrs. Roosevelt.

How about the money? During many early years, it was believed that no advertiser would buy daytime radio.im Then Mary Margaret read live copy. OR Mary Margaret had her guests read live copy. Sales for advertisers exploded. (Source: It’s One O’ Clock, Time for Mary Margaret McBride by Susan Ware https://a.co/d/iHShiad)

The historic galaxy of remarkable women talk show hosts is vast: WOR (Always number one through most of its history) Martha DeaneDora McCannPatsy McCannMary HealyPegeen FitzgeraldArlene FrancisSherrye HenryJoan Hamburg — yes, all at the same time. Throughout the country the stars include: Sally Jessy Raphael (20+ years on major market radio), Dr. Ruth WestheimerDr. Tony GrantAnnie AielloMimi BenzellDorothy KilgallenJohnnie Putman and the most powerful broadcaster in Ireland, Marian Finucane. (Worth the listen: https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/21683976/)

The audience for the content featured by those hosts is thriving and watching daytime TV. Before 1982, daytime TV was the happy land of soap operas and game shows. Then, as content delivered by women hosts left radio, it was embraced by TV. Sally! Dr. Ruth! Oprah! Ellen! The View, The Chat, The Chew, Jenny JonesJoan RiversQueen LatifahKelly ClarksonRicki Lake.

Today daytime talk TV is a $4 billion business. I take credit for… a lot. I am proudest of the fact that few execs have hired as many women managers and women hosts.

Question to talk radio chieftains, where are the women hosts?

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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.

Industry Views

Passion Versus AI

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

imLast week I had the privilege of moderating a panel at the TALKERS conference. Confession: I listen to speech patterns and tones more than words.

The prestigious panel featured Dan Mandis, program director and host, WTN-FM, Nashville; Ross Kaminsky, host KOA, Denver; Phil Boyce, SVP, spoken word format, Salem Media Group/ops VP, New York region/WMCA/AM 970; Josh Leng, CEO, Talk Media Network; and Matt Meany, program director, WABC, New York/Red Apple Media.

Yes, their collective knowledge and experience is unbeatable. They answered questions of great interest: How does iHeart measure social media accomplishments? Should one be fired for social media or podcast content or just for their air work? Establishing a syndication base, how does that happen? Where are the women – kudos to Salem’s Phil Boyce for celebrating their women hosts. What do programmers really look for in hosts? All valuable answers.  See the video of this session here.

Their words aren’t the “win.” The win is the fact that each of these pros has passion, passion and more passion. Their knowledge results in caring, heartfelt, supportive shares. They care about the future; they care about their craft. Programmers have to be optimistic about radio’s positive impact in order for them to do their jobs. Their descriptive tones make radio appealing.

The panel represents radio’s caretakers, gardeners, guides. The executives on the stage reveal qualities and qualifications that become overwhelmingly apparent in their demeanor and speech patterns. That’s what I hear.

Radio does not have to compete or fret over AI.  AI coders have to fret over their inevitable failure to capture or even coldly mimic the depth of emotion and confidence expressed by Matt, Josh, Phil, Ross and Dan. Good luck with that algorithm …losers.

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 walter@sabomedia.com. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com.