Who Killed Art Bell?

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Radio talk show host Art Bell died a few months ago. Predictably there were the “thoughts and prayers” and R.I.P. posts on social media. There were a few articles about his career. The industry trades made mention of his contributions to radio. Then things got right back to normal as we traveled smoothly through another 24-hour news cycle.

About a week ago it was revealed what killed the 72-year old Bell: a cocktail of prescription drugs. Officially, the Nye County, Nevada Sheriff’s office said it “was the result of multiple drug intoxication from his own lawfully prescribed prescriptions.”

Sound familiar?

Bell had four prescribed medications in his body when he died: the opioid oxycodone, the pain killing narcotic hydrocodone, diazepam, which you know as Valium, and a muscle relaxant called carisoprodol.

Prescription drugs take out another well-known person, and fame doesn’t appear to be a good defense against accidentally killing yourself. Prince, Tom Petty, we can go all the way back to Elvis who died in 1977, all became room temperature due to abusing prescribed drugs. The doctors who wrote their script, the companies making and selling this addictive, legal poison and their own weaknesses enabled each to die.

I live in what can be described as an idyllic Midwestern town. Good schools. Good kids. Good neighbors who watch out for each other. Nothing bad ever happens here, except for the people regularly overdosing on heroin. I questioned one of our politicians and he told me “It’s bad, really bad.” People get hooked on prescription painkillers and when they can’t afford that anymore they move on to cheaper heroin they buy off the streets.

From 2009-2016, there were 4.45 billion prescriptions written in the U.S. Some research shows that between 55% (Consumer Reports) and 70% (Mayo Clinic/Olmsted Medical Center) of you are on prescription drugs. The most popular being (in this order): antibiotics, antidepressants and opioids like oxycodone.

For every Art Bell or Prince that OD’s, there are thousands of unknown people being buried. In the 12-month period ending December 2017, 70,467 people died of overdoses in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At the end of 2015, that number was 52,623. Other data shows that about 1.3 million people made a visit to a hospital emergency room in 2014 due to adverse drug effects with almost 10% of those people dying.

The pharmaceutical companies that lobby congressman in Washington are spending millions of dollars each year. And remember, in political terms, the word “lobby” is just another way of saying “to pay them off for their inaction and silence.”

These companies are spending billions advertising pills that may help with rashes, dry mouths, low-T and other maladies. The sick irony is these Big Pharma companies usually buy commercials in the same news programs that should be covering a story like this – the poisoning and medicating of an entire country for obscene profit. They won’t though. The lure of those drug advertising dollars are too great and there are bills to be paid.

We have become numb and frankly cynical when it comes to celebrity deaths. Whitney Houston? Had to be drugs. Tom Petty? Drugs. Prince? Nah. Couldn’t be…yep drugs. Art Bell? Him too.

Tonight as you turn on a cable news program to once again hear pundits yell about the commie Russians meddling in our democracy, Paul Manafort’s spending habits on clothes and the Mueller investigation, know that it’s all misdirection from a very real issue affecting our communities. It’s about a government colluding with media and drug manufacturers to sell poison to keep people feeling good, until they take one too many and end up dead like Art Bell.

For a talk host that made a living on conspiratorial topics, I guess his was the proper way to finally check out.

 

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Television’s future revealed online

 

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Did you catch James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney? McCartney goes back to visit his hometown of Liverpool, England. He stops at the home where he and John Lennon wrote some of the early Beatles’ songs. We hear the story behind the writing of Let It Be. He visits Penny Lane and the barbershop mentioned in the song. And then McCartney and his band are the live “juke-box” at a local pub. It’s some of the best television you’ll ever see.

It’s funny, heartfelt, up lifting, and like many of us, who’ve moved away from the town we were born only to return years later, something that can be very emotional. As McCartney says at one point standing in his boyhood home, “It just makes me realize how long the journey has been to date.” “The distance from here to where we went and where we are now is like phenomenal.”

When I first watched the video on Facebook it had around a million views. At last check it had over 89 million views just on Facebook. There are another 20 million views on YouTube. Almost 110 million views on those two social media platforms alone. There are plenty of other places the video has been watched too.

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Carpool Karaoke is a wonderful and brand-defining benchmark bit for Corden, who is such a likable guy. The huge social media audience for Paul’s day back in Liverpool got me to thinking.

What is The Late, Late Show? Is it a network television show or is it a creative house that makes cool videos to be watched in other places at other times?

The answer is what is so troubling for traditional media like radio, television or newspapers. For all the money and time spent producing that hour-long show broadcast each early morning, few people, in the grand scheme of things, are watching. The show has become a place to create viral videos to be watched at another time. And that’s why Carpool Karaoke is so brand-defining for Corden.  He’s accessible to his current and new audiences when and where they choose.

Check out these facts and figures.

Today, the United States has a population of around 326 million people. Of that about 1.23 million people watch a portion of James Corden’s The Late, Late show each night on CBS. That’s not a lot of people.

The McCartney video online reached over 110 million people (albeit not all in the U.S.).

Which is the problem for media outlets and for media talent. Where are you going to get the bigger audience for your brand today? We all know time spent with traditional media is declining because of increasing competition from emerging digital media outlets.

Regardless of where he’s currently catching a paycheck, if you were James Corden, where would you be focusing your future creativity energies?

If you’re a media talent, is the future the limited amount of people consuming your brand with traditional media, like AM/FM radio or local TV and newspapers, or is it meeting an unlimited audience online and in social media at the time and place they choose?

Great content is great no matter how it’s watched. As they say, “Content (you can monetize) is king.”

 

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Deregulation? An unspoken reason radio needs “government assistance.”

 

What could go wrong

The National Association of Broadcasters (N.A.B.), a group that would sell out a frail great grandmother in hospice, now wants more deregulation of the radio industry to the exclusion of consumers like you.

As with any lobbyists, they “encourage” politicians to do what’s best for the bank accounts of its members, rarely the consumer.

First a quick history lesson. The Telecommunication Act of 1996 was the first major change to communications law since the 1930’s. It focused on technologies like the Internet, cable and cellphones. At its signing into law, then President Bill Clinton said, “It promotes competition as the key to opening new markets and new opportunities. It will help connect every classroom in America to the information superhighway by the end of the decade. It will protect consumers by regulating the remaining monopolies for a time and by providing a roadmap for deregulation in the future.”

We were told it would encourage competition, increase diversity, drop prices, and create jobs. Instead we got media concentration, a reduced amount of diversity in programming and ownership, tens of thousands losing their jobs and prices? I’ll bet you never thought you’d be paying what you are for cable, if you haven’t cut the cord yet.

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Slipped in at the last moment, under Title II, Section 202, were a few words about increasing radio ownership limits. The bill overwhelmingly passed through the Senate. The House approved it without objection. And Bubba signed it.

Over 20 years later, the N.A.B., which in the past has come up with clever slogans like “Radio – Hear it Here,” now wants radio ownership limits increased through another round of deregulation. The reason? Business sucks. Radio advertising revenues are generally not good, either flat or decreasing, and the radio industry, some say, can’t compete with Google and Facebook, each of which are taking advertising dollars from other media, including radio.

Go ahead and blame it on increased competition from digital media, as some do. It’s easier to point fingers and accuse someone or something else, especially when it comes to an inability to financially compete, and worse still, lacking the desire to innovate and collectively change for the betterment of an entire industry. Making a call to a Congressman, whose hand is out, and pleading for government’s assistance and protection is much easier. Status quo takes a lot less effort.  And let’s face it, there’s always a Congressman on Capitol Hill willing to sell his soul for a few Benjamin’s.

There’s one thing rarely discussed when summarizing the financial issues facing radio today. Let me put this as simply as I can.

THERE ARE TOO MANY RADIO STATIONS AND TOO MANY COMMERCIALS TO SELL.

Clear enough?

Even the American airline industry figured it out. They were flying too many planes with too many seats. With all the empty seats, the airlines couldn’t increase ticket prices or create new revenue streams, like charging to check your luggage. The brilliant idea? Fly fewer planes and fewer seats. Create an increased demand for the product. Did all the main carriers come together and create a new cohesive business strategy for the industry? Possibly. Today, airlines are doing pretty well, making billions annually charging you to check a bag at the counter.

The former CEO of American Airlines, Robert Crandall once famously said, “I’ve never invested in any airline. I’m an airline manager. I don’t invest in airlines. And I always said to the employees of American, ‘This is not an appropriate investment. It’s a great place to work and it’s a great company that does important work. But airlines are not an investment.’” Crandall is credited with many innovations in the airline industry, but not with the idea of reducing inventory to increase demand and profit.

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It’s a core of capitalism – The Law of Supply and Demand. If there’s limited supply with high demand for a product the price increases. If there’s less demand with a lot of available product the price goes down.

Since 1996, thousands more radio stations are broadcasting in America. And today the FM band is being overrun with more and more low power translators, each increasing the amount of available commercial time to sell and diluting the product.

Since 1996, there have also been huge cutbacks in station personnel. One market I’m familiar with had 97 account executives in 2004. Today, there are around 20, each responsible for selling more commercial time than their 97 counterparts did 14 years ago.

Too many commercials to sell with limited or decreasing demand means per spot prices will go down. If you’re wondering why radio stations are playing 20 minutes of commercials an hour, it’s because there’s no price integrity with available radio time. Commercials are being sold on the cheap. A “dollar a holler” is no longer an industry insider joke with some stations and FM translators.

The N.A.B. is encouraging the Federal Communication Commission (F.C.C.) to increase ownership limits. In the Top 75 radio markets ownership limits would be increased to 8 FM, without having to sell any AM stations that owner may already have in that market. In markets 76 and above, there would be no limits, meaning in a small town one owner could have a monopoly in radio programming and advertising.

Deregulation worked so well the last time, what more could go wrong?

 

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The Politics of Profanity

 

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When I started in talk radio there were simple rules. Don’t insult kids or women who call. Since most talk hosts are men, that’s just bad form. Be nice. The other rule was don’t attack the person or name call. Be critical of their opinions.

It’s not “you’re a moron.” It’s a “moronic idea.” It’s not “you’re stupid.” It’s a “stupid idea.” Or in New York lingo, it’s not “you’re a f’in’ douche bag.” It’s…well…it’s “you’re a f’in’ douche bag.” Some things you can’t change.

A Facebook friend recently posted his thoughts about what was going on between actor Robert De Niro and President Donald Trump after the recent Tony Awards.

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He tries to make it real easy to understand. It’s a “Village” guy verses a “Queens” guy, two New York guys busting on each other. The only problem is that’s not how it works anywhere, even in the five boroughs.

Here are some recent lapses in civility.

 

First came Michelle Wolf. Who? She was the comedian at this year’s White House Correspondence Dinner that no one cares about except those in the Washington, D.C. media and political echo chamber. Each year some sort of staged outrage comes from it. She started off her almost 20 minute set by saying, “I’m not here to get anything accomplished.” But, she had a new weekly TV show starting on Netflix, so I’m thinking she did. She needed to get publicity. There’s a HUGE billboard advertising her new show right now in Times Square. She banged on the president, others, and then, rather uncomfortably, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she sat just to her left. Wolf called her a white, female Uncle Tom. Not good.

 

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Next there was Roseanne Barr who claims she didn’t know the dangers of Ambien when combined with a smartphone. Calling a woman an ape is never a good thing. And honestly why? Few know who Valerie Jarrett is or what she did and does for a living? I guess Roseanne missed the part about Barack Obama not being president for the last year and a half. Remember my “One Drink (and now Ambien) Rule.” No writing or responding to tweets after one drink (or an Ambien pill). Nothing good will come of it.

 

Then came Samantha Bee, who must have thought losing her low rated cable show wasn’t a risk even after the American Broadcasting Company canceled Roseanne, TV’s most watched show after that “ape tweet.” Bee thought it was appropriate to call Ivanka Trump a “feckless c***” just days after Roseanne got the pink slip. You want an ad hominem attack? That’s the definition of an ad hominem attack. Here’s what I don’t get. Someone wrote that line. The script went through editing and rewrites. The producers, directors, the lighting people, hell the people catering the show, all heard that line in rehearsals. Then the show is taped at the CBS television studios in New York at 5:45pm on Wednesdays in front of an audience and dozens of production staffers. It’s then edited for broadcast. Then it’s sent to TBS for broadcast at 10:30pm that night. You mean to tell me no one, at any time said, “Uh. You know. That ‘feckless’ comment? Way over the line.” Talk about a lack of decorum and basic common sense. Of course, social media immediately started talking up Samantha and I’m guessing that was the goal. The viewership in her show’s timeslot is way down year over year. No publicity is bad publicity as they say.

 

Finally, Robert De Niro. He took the Radio City Music Hall stage and said, “F*** Trump” at the recent Tony Awards. So much for eloquence. Look, it doesn’t take much to get up in front of a friendly audience and say something like this. It’s like giving a live microphone to a high school class clown to address an assembly of his fellow students. “F*** the principal.” And the students cheer. De Niro knew it was an applause line. He also knew the show was being broadcast live internationally. Why lower himself and put the television networks, their stations and the Broadway theater community’s image at risk?

Really stupid idea, Bob. It did nothing to further your political opinion. The comments were simply low class.  And take note, I’m being critical of the idea.

When you can’t debate another person’s opinions and you have no ideas of your own, the name-calling begins.  And blame falls to both political sides.

It’s the politics of profanity.

There’s an old quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw.

 

“Never wrestle with pigs.  

You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

 

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Worst part of a colonoscopy finally revealed

 

Darryl Colon

OK.  So I put it off for a few more years than I should have. It’s done now. A five or six foot tube was put deep into my colon with a doctor looking in the other end to admire the beauty of my digestive track.

How you decide this as your specialty in medical school is beyond me. Being a podiatrist was too gross?

I did a few Internet searches to find what was going to happen. Much of the information was polite, proper and not from the patient’s perspective.

Here’s the worst part of having a colonoscopy.

EARLY STEPS

After making the long put off appointment, the doctor’s office called and asked questions about my health history, what medicines I was on and if I was allergic to anything. The answers were no to everything. They’re always amazed I don’t take any prescription drugs. Their response is always, “No really. What are you taking?” I’m guessing lots of people are spending their kid’s inheritance on little pills, just like big pharma plans it.

They gave me a choice on how I could clean myself out. The first was drinking a gallon or two of stuff. The second option was downing two six-ounce bottles of the concentrated colon blow. The second option was more expensive, but I figured easier. I went with the two “sixers.” I was then sent an email detailing how to prepare and “cleanse” myself.

WEEK BEFORE

On the Thursday before the ceremonial tapping of the virgin rectum the doctor’s office called again asking the same screening questions. I guess they didn’t believe I wasn’t stoned on Ritalin.

TWO DAYS BEFORE

Here’s when you start drinking a lot of liquids. You need to drink 32 ounces of water during the day. Gatorade or its low calorie version G2 can be substituted. You also can’t eat corn, nuts, fresh fruit or raw veggies. And NO BEER. NO WINE. NO ALCOHOL. This procedure is starting to become inhumane.

You can’t eat after bedtime.   The last thing I ate was around 7:30pm.

ONE DAY BEFORE

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You can’t eat anything. I had to drink at least 32-ounces of clear liquids before it was time to administer that first “sixer.” I went for the Gatorade/G2 again.

By the way, stay near a bathroom all day. With all the liquids you’re drinking, you’re going to pee a lot. This is not a time to get stuck in traffic.

Focusing on the clock all day, time seemed to be moving faster and faster toward the prescribed time of 6pm. It was time to begin the “cleanse.”

I poured the first six-ounce bottle of that hyper powered laxative into the provided cup and filled the rest of the cup with water. I’ll be straight right now. This stuff tastes awful. And what makes it worse is they try to cover up the taste with some sickening cherry flavoring. It’s like trying to cover up the smell of a loose dog turd with a “country fields” scented air freshener. You’ll want to try and drink it fast to cover the taste. It took me a few gulps. Horrible.

You chase this swill with two 16-ounce glasses of plain water. You have to drink this within an hour of taking the medicine. You’ll want to get rid of that taste in your mouth, so chug that water.

What does the swill taste like? Imagine a galvanized steel bar, some rusty iron and some lead all mixed with the mercury taken from a thermometer. Even cutting it with water it has a weird consistency. Nasty.

Now you sit and wait. You won’t have to wait long. And out it comes. And then it comes out again and again. A little chunky at first and then just liquid. You’ll need to go four or five times. By 8:30pm it was over. Just two and a half hours of staying close to the bathroom. There wasn’t any cramping.

Off to bed I went.

COLONOSCOPY DAY

At 5:30am it was time to take the second bottle. This bottle is worse. It’s the same stuff. Maybe it’s because you already know what it tastes like and that’s why it’s tougher to swallow. I’m not going to lie. Getting this down was rough. This was chased with two more 16-ounce glasses of water within the hour. This treatment runs through you a lot faster. By 8am, I was cleaned out like a newborn babe.

I showered and heading to the hospital. As I was checked in, they made sure I had someone to drive me home. Then I had to sign about five documents releasing the hospital from anything nefarious that may happen. Usual stuff. Into the back I went.

Lilly, who was kind of cute for an older lady met me and told me to take off all my clothes except my socks. I dressed in one of those sexy hospital smocks that expose your ass. She then asked me the same screening questions for a third time. While this was going on another nurse came in to put the IV in my arm. She asked me what arm I preferred. I said, “My left.” She responded, “We’re going to put it in this arm.” Why did you ask? She started the IV drip to make me tired in my right arm.

Lily then asked me a few more questions and again made sure someone was there to drive me home. She also told me to go home and sleep, no work and not to sign anything legal the rest of the day. That’s when she told me I’d have to sign one more document in the operating room? What? I’m already wired up and drugged!

Roxy (yes “Roxy”) then came to wheel me into the operating room. The doctor came in and told me what he was going to do. I signed that other form. I have no idea what it said. I’m just hoping I didn’t sign the title to my car over to them. That’s when Roxy told me she gave me two more drugs, one a narcotic and the other to put me out. I asked when it was going to take effect. She said about two minutes. You’ll notice the room getting foggy and starting to spin and then….

Clean Like a Baby

 

And then I woke up. My wife was there. She tells me the doctor came over to tell me what he found. I don’t remember that part. Hell. I couldn’t tell you what he looked like. I remember drinking some Coke Zero. And home I went to sleep for about 4 hours. A few polyps were removed.

THE WORST PART

Drinking that liquid to clean you out. It really is worse going in than coming out the other end.

It’s not the most fun thing you’ll ever do. It’s not the worst either. And it sure beats colon cancer.

 

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Would CSNY’s “Ohio” make it to the radio today?

 

Last week social media was overtaken by Star Wars geeks and those thinking they were clever by sending wishes of “May the fourth be with you.”

There’s an old saying about not knowing history and being doomed.

May 4th is also the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in American history, the “inexcusable” killing of four students at Ohio’s Kent State University in 1970 at the hands of the Ohio National Guard. Nine others were wounded. The tragedy took place in just thirteen seconds.

Shortly after seeing the pictures taken on the Kent State campus that day, musician Neil Young wrote the lyrics to the song “Ohio.”

 

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming. We’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in O-HI-O.

 

Those searing words, coupled with the song’s haunting guitars make “Ohio” from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young quite possibly the most meaningful song of the Vietnam War era.

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The song was recorded in Los Angeles in just a few takes. Neil Young, interviewed in Rolling Stone magazine, said David Crosby cried when they finished the recording. Atlantic records quickly released the song and it was being played on the radio in just a few weeks.

That was the summer of 1970.

Would “Ohio” get any radio airplay today, in 2018, if history sadly repeated itself?

In 1970, there was no consolidation of radio, television or any traditional media for that matter. Media owners could only be the licensees of seven AM, seven FM and seven TV stations nationwide. They could own no more than one AM, one FM and one TV station in any one city. And forget about those stations being co-owned with a newspaper.

Because of this ownership fragmentation, most media companies were somewhat immune from government punishment – real, threatened or perceived – which controlled whether they kept their broadcast licenses at renewal time. A broadcast license was a license to print money. The big ownership targets would have been companies like NBC and CBS back then. Their networks made a few bucks, but it was their licensed broadcast stations that were the real cash cows, especially their AM radio and TV stations.

“Ohio” was indeed banned by many big city AM stations in 1970 due to the line about “Nixon coming.”  Ownership felt it was a harsh criticism of the then administration.  And who really wanted to be on Nixon’s famous “Enemies List?”  They weren’t really sure how their audiences were going to react either.  In fairness it was a confusing time for most, regardless of their generation.  As the years pass, time always seems to provide focus in helping to understand events like this.

That didn’t stop FM progressive rock stations and college radio stations from playing the song, though. Many of these FM stations were run by mom and pop owners, unlike the consolidators of today which own hundreds of stations. Back then, many of these stations, especially FM stations, spoke for, identified with and advocated for groups of people. Today we call this a “social network,” but it’s something that’s been homogenized out of today’s radio.

 

Gotta get down to it. Soldiers are cutting us down. Should have been done long ago.

 

So I go back to my question, would “Ohio” get any radio airplay today?

A downside to being a big consolidator, like iHeart Media, Entercom or Cumulus, is you need things from the government. Things like relaxing those pesky ownership rules again, helping to make more consolidation possible. Things like getting rid of the rule saying you need an “actual studio” in your city of license.  Or what about allowing foreign ownership of broadcast licenses? There’s a lot of money that could come from beyond our borders that would make Wall Street banks very happy.

Would the consolidators risk their futures by doing what may be right and playing a 3-minute song?

I doubt it.

 

What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground. How can you run when you know?

 

Kent State Marker

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The real reason Mike Francesa is back on WFAN.

 

I was talking to a radio outsider recently and he asked me about one of those weekend, brokered shows that seemingly pay the bills for many AM news/talk stations these days. The show was broadcast at bad time, on a low rated station and he figured it was a waste of advertising dollars.

He asked, “Why would they waste their money and time on this show?”

I responded, “Really? You don’t know? Their ego loves being on the radio.”

For some, being in media provides them a form of identity they crave, but can’t seem to fulfill otherwise. And when someone comes up to them and says they heard them on the radio or saw them on television their egos explode in delight.

In my lifetime I can think of only three famous people or performers that were able to walk away on top.

The first is The Beatles. They were offered generational wealth to get back together. They never did. If John and George were still alive, how pathetic would it be for them to be playing Las Vegas? You know they would. The mystique of The Beatles is kept alive today by them never again recording or sharing a stage together.

The second is the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong. Here’s a guy who could have taken his “one small step” and transformed that into billions. But, he became a professor at the University of Cincinnati and dropped out of the media spotlight. A trip to the moon and back in 1969 was enough for his ego.

The last is Johnny Carson. Did you know Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show for over 20 years? After all that time he was still “the guy” who replaced Johnny Carson. Granted it was a different time, but that’s how popular Carson was. When Johnny gave his “heartfelt” goodbye, he disappeared.

Few of us have the opportunity to leave on top, and for many of those that do, they return only to find they can’t go home again.

I’ve never met sports radio personality Mike Francesa. I do know that he, along with his then partner Chris Russo, changed the way sports talk radio was done in New York City and across the country. They both were and still are exceptional entertainers. Francesa is to be honored for all he has accomplished in his career.

With that said, here’s where the ego part comes in. Back in January 2016, Francesa announced he was leaving his WFAN radio show at the end of his contract, which expired almost two years later. Two years? Who does that? And why would you do that? An unchecked ego and a negotiating trick will make you do it. The strategy, then, was to get offers of love and money from WFAN radio’s competitors. The offers would probably come in by the dozens or so they thought. And as soon as an offer that he liked came along, Francesa would take that offer to his employer and say, “I want this and not the measly (reported) $3 million a year you pay me now.”

But, it seems nothing good came in during those two years. So his employer gave him a retirement party, a public send off, took his security card and sent him on his way. That was four months ago.

Well, he’s back as on May 1st.

A funny thing happens in a place like New York City when you’re no longer a “celebrity.” The best table at your favorite Italian restaurant is no longer available and you need to call ahead for reservations like the commoners. You no longer get the “A-List” celebrity treatment you’re accustomed to. And worst of all people constantly come up to you and remind you that you used to be a “celebrity,” and someone that was important.

The New York Post is calls Francesa return a “crawl back.”

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Former NFL quarterback and current WFAN morning host Boomer Esiason, outraged by his return revealed, “Radio can be a real sewer pit.” He’s right about that. It is a tough business. “They’ve gotten screwed by a guy who said he was never going to be on this radio station again.” He was defending Francesa’s replacements with that comment. I’m guessing Boomer and Mike won’t be exchanging Christmas cards.

Even worse, the local programming management of WFAN didn’t appear to want him back. In desperation, Francesa and his agents went right to the top to WFAN’s corporate ladder and apparently negotiated with the company’s CEO and President. He cut his deal with the Entercom C-Suite, which appears to have ignored the local station’s wishes. This will make for fun staff meetings.

Francesa’s new contract reportedly lasts until December 2020, just long enough to have another two year going away funeral each afternoon starting at 3pm. He’ll also reportedly take a big pay cut, something egos don’t handle very well.

Media can be a very cruel mistress to one’s ego and in this case one’s bank account.

Here’s the official word from WFAN’s owner Entercom.

Entercom, Mike Francesa and CAA Sports on Friday announced a partnership spanning broadcast radio, digital and live events. The partnership includes the debut of the “Mike’s On” radio show, featuring Mike Francesa, airing Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. on WFAN 101.9 FM/660 AM, beginning Tuesday. The partnership also includes the launch of a mobile app and online destination by the same name, “Mike’s On,” which will feature exclusive live video streaming of Francesa’s weekday radio program on WFAN.
“We are excited about this partnership with Mike and CAA Sports,” said Entercom President and CEO David Field. “We are proud of the terrific lineup on WFAN and are looking forward to bringing Mike back into the mix in this new, multiplatform and innovative way.”
“After exploring several options, this partnership with CAA Sports and Entercom was the perfect fit,” said Francesa. “This partnership allows me the chance to return to WFAN and all of our loyal listeners, as well as significant opportunities, including the app and live events, that are completely new. I look forward to working with both companies on making this a very successful venture.”
The “Mike’s On” app and website will be the exclusive home of the “Mike’s Football Sunday” show, beginning with the 2018-19 football season. It will also provide exclusive audio and video archival content of Francesa dating back through his storied 30-year career at WFAN, in addition to a live audio stream of Francesa’s WFAN show for sports fans in New York and throughout the country. The app will be free to download in summer 2018 and will offer a subscription option for fans who want to hear and view additional content. WFAN and “Mike’s On” will be hosting live events across formats and venues, including live broadcasts, one-on-one interviews and a speaker series. For more information, visit http://www.mikesonnetwork.com.
“From the very beginning of our relationship with Mike, we fielded a tremendous number of offers for him across an array of business areas,” said Michael Levine, co-head of CAA Sports. “As we got to know Mike, we believed that the best opportunity would capitalize on his entrepreneurial spirit, and build upon the appetite of his multi-generational fan base. Our partnership with Entercom enables Mike to interact with fans across multiple platforms, including digital and live events, bringing him closer to his audience than ever before.”
The audio stream for the “Mike’s On” radio program on WFAN will also be available on Radio.com.

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Surprising reasons Hannity did nothing wrong in defending Cohen

 

The Fixer

By now you know that President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, “The Fixer,” supposedly had only three clients. One was, according to testimony, radio and TV’s self-proclaimed “advocacy journalist” Sean Hannity. Hannity has spent hours upon hours defending Cohen and his actions to his angry septuagenarian audience.

Look me in the eyes, boys.

Cohen’s in hot water because he allegedly paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her mouth shut after supposedly screwing then private citizen Donald Trump a few years ago. And what guy, arteries loaded with Viagra, wouldn’t have screwed her?  Be honest now.

Believe me.I've had better.

Anyway, the story is the money didn’t come from billionaire Trump, but from Cohen, using his own money to take care of the problem for his “bestest BFF.” The money may have come from a loan against his house. What attorney wouldn’t tell his wife to hold off on that kitchen remodel for 10 years so they could pay off a porn star to help a friend cheating on his wife?  Everyone knows compassion like this is taught in the first year of law school.

The reason the $130,000 of hush money is a problem is because of federal election laws and it may have been an illegal campaign contribution.

Of course when the story of Hannity being part of Cohen’s exclusive Holy Trinity of clients broke, the on-air talent and staffs at CNN and MSNBC ran to the nearest Walgreens to get Depends since they were all peeing themselves with excitement. “Hannity broke the law by his non-disclosures” was the battle narrative. The same reasoning is being seen in social media.

I can’t believe I’m going to defend Sean Hannity, but here goes.  He didn’t do anything wrong.

Here’s why.

Over-the-air or “broadcast” radio and television stations are required by the Federal Communication Commission (F.C.C.) to clearly identify all commercial sponsorships. It’s part of the requirements of their license.

So let’s say I need some work done on my car and I go to my local mechanic Michael and say, “Fix my car for free and I’ll mention what a great business you have on my radio and TV shows.” Then I go on the air and say, “What a great guy Michael is over at Cohen’s Car Care.” Consideration given, time dedicated. That’s a commercial, and if it’s not identified as such it’s considered “plugola,” something the F.C.C. finds unpleasant.

Was Hannity’s daily defense of Cohen really a commercial for Cohen’s seemingly pro bono law practice? Having just three clients, in my opinion, no.

Hannity’s nightly TV show is on the Fox News channel, which is distributed through cable and satellite services, not federally licensed “broadcast” stations. The F.C.C. has no commercial identification requirements for these services. Its regulatory power is over the publicly owned broadcast spectrum or “broadcast” television. Hannity’s in the clear.

Now let’s move on to radio.

Since his show is broadcast on F.C.C. licensed radio stations there must be some felonious crime here that requires 30 years of hard time in Attica, right? A large and sweaty cellmate should be waiting and may find Hannity’s boyish good looks sexy, right?

Follow closely here.

Ultimately, it’s the licensee’s responsibility for what is broadcast over its radio stations. It’s not Hannity’s obligation nor the company that distributes his program, Premiere Networks. So he can go and spew anything he likes, illegal or not, because it’s the holder of that broadcast license that’s responsible. And believe me, no licensee is checking the content of any syndicated show they broadcast.

So for example, if someday Hannity flips out and starts dropping the “f-bomb” on his show, the F.C.C. can punish the affiliate stations, but not him. Remember, the CBS television network could not be held responsible when Janet Jackson’s nipple was broadcast during the Super Bowl. The F.C.C. fined the CBS owned “broadcast” television stations, which showed the offensive milky. The fine was eventually overturned in a 2011 appeals court ruling. The F.C.C. had no jurisdiction over the network or the producer of the halftime show, cable’s MTV.

Even if his defenses of Cohen were really a unidentified commercial for Cohen’s practice, and it was proven, Hannity could not be held responsible by the F.C.C. His affiliate radio stations could be fined. The licensed affiliates would be guilty since they are responsible for what they broadcast. Hannity’s clear again.

For the astute people, I know what you’re thinking, “Hannity’s an employee of Premiere Networks, which is owned by iHeart Media, which owns many of his affiliate stations. Here’s the connection we’ve been looking for.”

Are you sure? You may be missing a very important “legal” distinction here.

Is Sean Hannity an employee of Premiere Network and by association iHeart Media or is Hannity his own separate company providing services to Premiere Networks through a contractual business arrangement?

Making the kind of money he does – tens of millions a year – he probably would want to own and have control his radio show, instead of being an employee like you or me.  Ownership is where the money and power is in America.

Tax benefits are also a reason for an arrangement like this.  For example, if Hannity is an LLC or any type of a so-called pass through company, any profits from the business are passed through and taxed on the business owner’s personal returns at ordinary income tax rates. Under President Trump’s new tax laws a person can be taxed at the highest rate of 37%, but then as a pass through company taking a 20% deduction. This would lower the tax rate to 29.6%. 7.4% of a reported $30 million dollars a year is a lot of money saved, if this is indeed the case.

For a distribution company, a third degree of separation is then added for protection against F.C.C. regulations.

Hannity may have received free legal advice from Michael “The Fixer” Cohen, but he did nothing wrong by defending him on radio and television.

So sorry CNN and MSNBC.  You soiled yourselves for no good reason.

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Hannity’s misstep displays truth about “News Radio”

 

The program director of WBEN in Buffalo, Tim Wenger, posted this the day it was revealed Sean Hannity had connections with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Tim’s correct.

SEAN HANNITY 2

Hannity is not a journalist.  He’s the self proclaimed “advocacy journalist” laying cover over all his opinions.

Hannity and many of the talk clones have simply sold their platforms to become mouthpieces for (in Hannity’s case) the political right. That’s what capitalism is all about. Good for Sean.

However, Tim’s tweet did get me to thinking.

Right leaning apologists that populate AM conservative talk radio will be quick to point out the Fox News channel, along with its talent like Sean Hannity, is an opinion channel and that it’s not really a news channel. It provides important social awareness, like our country’s annual December battle known as the “War on Christmas.” It’s where like-minded people who have been oppressed and marginalized by the mainstream media can gather and get the “fair and balanced” opinion so they know what to think.

Fair enough.

But, many of the conservative, mostly AM talk radio stations across America still tell you they’re news stations, when in reality they are no different than what their talk hosts will claim the Fox News channel is, opinion stations.

Many of these stations began as news and information radio stations with news staffs that actually covered news affecting their communities. Stations, then, were very careful to avoid blurring the lines of opinion and news. Some gave themselves the marketing moniker of “News Radio.” Since producing news content was and still is expensive, this was a big point of differentiation for them, since few competing stations would be willing to spend the money to take them on. This is why in many markets (and if the market is lucky) only one so-called news radio station remains.

Then Rush Limbaugh came along, his act enabled in the 1980’s when the FCC decided it would no longer enforce the Fairness Doctrine. And with Limbaugh’s success, the Rush wannabees sprung up like weeds in fertile spring garden dirt. Where did many of these copycats and their opinions end up? On the so-called AM news radio stations.

While these AM stations kept telling themselves they were still news stations, their image as legit news organizations eventually became overshadowed by the rhetoric and opinions of Rush, Glenn, Sean, Michael and Mark with their national and some would claim extreme right wing political views.

bell curve

Years ago I was in a research meeting along with other news and talk programmers and we were shown a bell curve. The middle of the curve was where most of the available audience existed. To either side were the political left and right audience extremes. We were told our news stations lived in an area to the extreme right and we must market ourselves more moderately (to the middle) in order to gather the biggest audience.

I remember thinking, how does the audience know when the real news ends and Rush Limbaugh’s opinions begin? Was it the beginning beats of Chrissie Hynde’s song about her Ohio hometown?

We were told, “They just know.”

Of course they didn’t and still don’t.

So how does a “news station” retain the image of a news station when they devote, in many cases, 15 hours a day or more to conservative, syndicated, national, political opinionated talk?

The answer is it can’t.

Smart radio programmers know to cater to the incidental audience that will tune in, especially during breaking news. Think about it. When a big news story happens, such as the recent school shooting in Florida, people searching for that news may find the AM news station. If they instead hear right wing national political opinions, chances are they’ll conclude the station is not for them, especially if they’re moderates. To them this perpetuates the image that “talk radio” really means “conservative talk radio” and “news radio stations” are in reality “conservative opinions stations.”

You only get one chance to make a first impression.  It may be time for some stations to drop the news radio nickname and admit what they really are.

My thanks to “America’s Advocacy Journalist” for helping shed the sterilizing light of truth on “news radio.”

 

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5 Radio Road Trip Discoveries You Need to Know

 

Buffalo Route 1

Late last week I took a road trip to Western New York. If you’re moving (that means speeding), it’s about a 6-hour drive each way from my home in Cincinnati to Orchard Park. Traveling alone here are some of the things I discovered.

CONTESTS

Group Contest

Did you know you could win $1000 (or “a share of $480,000”) from hundreds of radio stations? It’s true. These are group contests where the money being given away is the same money that’s promoted on each of the company’s participating stations. To make matters worse, the iHeart Media radio stations and the Cumulus stations are running similar contests. A chance to win money, cue to call, text in. The Entercom stations have run the same contest in the past too.

Talk about banality.

Years ago, radio stations used contests tactically and with strategic thought. WNCI-FM in Columbus did a variation of the birthday game in a spring give away each year (Listen mornings at 7:20, if you hear yours you may win BIG money). They followed up that contest by giving away a house. Yes, a house. And there was a new car in the garage.

Radio stations used contests for two reasons (1) increase ratings and revenues by manipulating audience surveys, and (2) to differentiate the brand from the competition. It meant something to have the so-called “contesting” image.  Today, not so much.

We know radio consolidators have homogenized what’s left of any personalities and music. Add contests to that list.

And I never heard a winner’s promo on any of the dozens of radio stations I listened to – iHeart Media or Cumulus. Where’s the pay-off?

DAN PATRICK

Dan Patrick

He’s really, really good on the radio. Patrick is entertaining, informative, fun and a skilled and prepared interviewer. (Note to air talent: the important word here is “prepared.”)

On Friday’s show, Patrick interviewed disgraced college basketball coach Rick Pitino.  Coach Pitino repeated numerous times that this would be his last interview. Don’t take the bet. He likes to hear himself talk and loves the attention.

For about 20 minutes Pitino tried to preach his innocence. And the more he preached, the guiltier he sounded. Patrick asked him the questions that needed to be asked and then allowed Pitino’s ego to take over. Patrick was never confrontational.  He just let him talk.

As I lost one of his affiliate stations in my travels, I searched for another. From one small market and low power station to the next I listened for almost three entire hours. Great radio.

BOB PITTMAN

I heard a filler “sales” promo on a small Ohio AM station read by the CEO of iHeart Media. Mouth close to the microphone; in a breathy delivery he said people ask him all the time about the benefits of radio advertising.

I’m thinking someone wanted to suck up to Mr. Pittman and told him of a great idea they had and that was Bob being on the radio himself. This type of spot is better coming from a popular personality with a personal connection to the listeners and advertisers in those markets. I’ve heard Pittman preach this same “personality evangel” in the past. What gives now?

THE COLUMBUS TRAFFIC BUS

It’s never good when you have to ask someone why a radio station is called what it is.

There’s a station in ColumBUS that calls itself “The Bus.” I lived in Columbus. “The Bus?” How many people there call the city “The Bus?” I’m guessing few, if any.

So I asked someone in radio why it’s called “The Bus.” He said, “Colum-BUS. You know. ‘BUS.’ Um. Yeah. It’s stupid.”

Saturday afternoon as I was speeding south on I-71 listening to “The Bus,” each commercial set began with a traffic report. There were no traffic problems as the out-of-market reporter took 30 seconds to tell me. The only reason for these traffic reports on this “we play anything” jukebox and jockless music station were sponsorships. But, you know the interesting thing? When I flipped over to the news, weather and traffic station, WTVN, there were no traffic reports, for example at 2:30pm. There was local news, a short weather update and a network Master’s Golf update, but no traffic updates to tell me there still were no traffic problems to hold me up in “The Bus.”

At least if you’re going to do useless traffic, put the reports on the station that makes the most sense.

“WHAT BUFFALO SOUNDS LIKE…97 ROCK.”

97 Rock

To use the positioning statement “What Buffalo sounds like,” your station needs to sound like the market sounds, speak like the market speaks and advocate for the market each time a personality talks. In a day where like formatted music stations mostly sound the same, 97 Rock sounds like Buffalo. Next time you’re in Buffalo and you want a feel for the city, its people, its idiosyncrasies, the chip on its shoulder and its love for the Buffalo Bills, listen.

97 Rock’s sister station here in Cincinnati, 92.5 The Fox, is a good station, but it can be plopped into any market. It’s a Burger King. It’s white labeled. As radio has changed, so has 97 Rock, but it’s never lost its deep connection to the people of Buffalo and Western New York.

JP

Midday personality, JP, or John Picillo, has been in the market for decades. He has the rare ability to make an old song sound like it’s the first time he and you are hearing it and you’re sharing that experience together. The Doors, Pink Floyd, and the songs we’ve heard a thousand times before, all sound like a new music discovery. He’s has a connection to the music and a love for the market that’s comforting to any native Western New Yorker.

Anita West

Anita West is another decades long personality (who I adore). Gravely voiced, an attitude  and yet displays the endearing and caring qualities of Buffalo and its people. Years ago, I took my wife to a local tavern in my hometown. She said to me after a few beers, “Darryl. I’m not tough enough to be a Lackawanna (NY) girl.” Anita is.

97 Rock – WGRF-FM – a great radio station because of its personalities and long time programmer John Hager.

A station to be imitated and you know what they say about imitation.

(And before you say it, yes, they’re running the $1000 Cumulus group contest. You do know it’s a cram down, right?)

 

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