Industry News

Former Radio Executive Burt Sherwood Dies at 95

Burt Sherwood, whose long career in radio spanned over 70 years including on-air work as a WMCA, New York “Good Guy” in the station’s Top 40 days; general manager of WMAQ, Chicago during its highly rated run as a country station; general manager  at WMEE/WMEF, Fort Wayne; WIBG, Philadelphia; and WNHC-AM, New Haven, died peacefully in hospice care in Sarasota, Florida yesterday (9/21). Sherwood celebrated his 95th birthday this past May. He is survived by his wife Anne, daughter Ellen and son Jason.

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:  Contact him at or 646.678.1110

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:

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 or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at

Job Opportunity

Salem Media New York Looking for Sales Pro Seasoned in the Digital Space

Salem Media has an outstanding opportunity for a digital sales rep in the company’s New York market clusterim that includes AM 570 WMCA and AM 970 The Answer. Radio broadcasting background is preferred – especially applicants with an already existing book of business and contacts – but not entirely necessary for the right candidate. Interviewing now! Find out more and apply here. Salem Media is an Equal Opportunity Employer.