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Mark Simone Learned Talk Radio From The Industry’s Greatest Voices

“The worst thing for us is not to have a competitor. That’s what gets you lazy. With them (WABC) doing stuff it makes us have to do better.”

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Mark Simone has been a popular presence on radio and numerous television appearances for decades. Since 2013, he’s been the midday host at WOR. Simone is also Sean Hannity’s main fill in on his Premiere Networks syndicated show, an estimated 200 times as host through the years. He was the top back-up for Don Imus, with as many as up ten weeks per year.

The year was 1977 when it all began for him in New York City on the now-defunct WPIX-FM, putting him on the precipice of 45 years. Milestones escape him as he is too busy to focus on the past.

“Oh yeah, could be,” Simone told BNM. “You’re right. I just never think of that stuff.”

He’s been taking on conversative politics for years, but that only scratches the surface for this versatile broadcasting giant.

Whether doing a music show, comedy, (yes, comedy), or talk, Simone’s common theme is entertaining the audience.

While at WPIX-FM, Simone would spin the cutting-edge music of Blondie and The Police. But his gift of gab would shine almost immediately as host of “The Simone Phone” that he credits as the first FM talk show.

The Sunday morning show was a ratings winner where music was mixed with bits including “Dial-A-Date,” a segment that would be copied by stations thereafter.

With Simone quickly gaining a following, in 1980 he jumped ship to WMCA, the top talk station of the era. He joined a “Murderer’s Row” of radio hosts with Bob Grant, Barry Gray, Barry Farber and Sally Jessy Raphael, before starting her syndicated show. WMCA also had Larry King, one of the top network shows of the time.

“They were looking for somebody really young,” Simone said. “Just like today, they wanted new, younger talk.  So, they put me on there with that lineup and that’s where I first did talk radio for a couple of years.”

His days of music were not over. When he landed at WNEW-AM in the early 1980s, Simone was doing a hybrid show of music and talk. WNEW 1130 was the Big Band station in New York.

Comedy Today

Another legendary celebrity, Steve Allen, would co-host an afternoon show with Simone. It was a three-hour comedy show where some of the biggest names and those on the cusp of greatest would participate in the “open mic.”

The show was initially only heard on WNEW before getting picked up nationally on the NBC Radio Network in 1987.

Bill Maher and Jay Leno were among the regulars. Each day the show featured the talents of famed TV writers Herb Sergant and Larry Gelbart.

“That was the greatest radio show I ever heard,” Simone said.

Simone and Allen would hold a roundtable of sorts with the comics, discussing the latest news.

“It was the greatest graduate school ever in comedy,” Simone said.

Once that show ended, it was seamless for Simone to hold down the afternoon slot solo, “but we continued the flavor of that show,” as comedians still were a major part.

For example, there was Jerry Seinfeld chatting with Simone each week as his eponymous sitcom would struggle to find viewers.

“He didn’t think [Seinfeld] would make it. He was worried it would get canceled for the first couple of years,” Simone recalled.

Another NBC star, Jay Leno would frequently appear to test out a monologue before delivering it to millions on The Tonight Show.

Proud of that time at WNEW, Simone also had a budding comic segment called Punchline, where future headliners Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell were introduced.

As the show had so many big-name guests, it was decided Simone (and company) would host in front of a live audience.

“We did it from Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on 59th Street with about 150 people every day in the audience.” Simone said. “It was great.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes

“Frank Sinatra used to listen every day. It was that kind of audience,” Simone said of his daily WNEW show that would eventually lead to a friendship with the iconic singer.  

“He’d wake up about 2:15, 2:30 every day, have breakfast listening to me like at 3 in the afternoon,” Simone said. “So, whenever I’d see him, he said, ‘I’m listening to you,’ which is the worst thing in the world because it made me more nervous.” 

He would also do a Sinatra show for many years on WNEW. After the Chairman of the Board died Simone resurrected the program Saturday nights when he was employed at 77 WABC Radio.

“It was good that I did that because everybody from Sinatra-world was still alive [2000-2002] and we had them on the show, all the great singers and all the people that had worked with him,” he said. 

WABC went back to the future with WNYM 970 morning host Joe Piscopo helming a Sunday night Sinatra and Cousin Brucie oldies show, which Simone also hosted at WABC.

“That was one of John’s ideas to bring both those back. Obviously, I couldn’t do them,” Simone said. “[Piscopo] is the perfect guy to do that right now.”

Despite the Saturday Night Live alum doing his weekly specialty show, Simone doesn’t think a larger role at WABC is in the cards.

“Bernie and Sid are a very successful show. You can’t trade that for a guy that hasn’t proven himself in the market,” he said. 

In the bigger picture, Piscopo’s WNYM is barely a rival to WOR. In fact, the Salem Media Group station performs so poorly in the ratings that Simone said they stopped subscribing.

Red Apple, No Red Herring

He spent more than a decade on WABC before moving down the dial to another legacy station. WOR will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022. Throughout the 2010s, WABC was in the hands of Cumulus Media until billionaire supermarket mogul John Catsimatidis purchased the station under his newly formed Red Apple Media.

“Before [Catsimatidis] got there, the place was a mess under Cumulus,” Simone said. “It was just sinking and sinking.”

Simone considers Catsimatidis one of his closest friends, gathering for dinner three times most weeks and the topic of hiring him “came up a lot,” but Simone admitted the timing didn’t work as he already re-signed a multi-year contract with WOR by the time Catsimatidis took over at WABC.

“But, you never know,” Simone said. “I really like iHeart, though, but obviously working for John would be great too.”

Agree or disagree, the radio station has made major changes to the lineup since Catsimatidis started signing the checks in 2020. Even though there are managers and executives, namely Chad Lopez (President, Red Apple Media) and Dave LaBrozzi (Program Director), Catsimatidis is completely in control of his radio station.

“It’s all John,” Simone said.

Catsimatidis, who doesn’t bring a media corporate mentality can “take some chances that nobody else will take with it. There’s no cheapness. Whatever It takes to make the best product, he’ll spend it,” Simone said.

However, part of the praising is selfish in nature.

“The worst thing for us is not to have a competitor. That’s what gets you lazy,” he said. “With them doing stuff it just makes us have to do better.”

Having said that, Simone’s iHeart bosses are “pretty generous,” and he believes “the four highest guys in radio” are in the iHeart’s New York City studios.

Plus, iHeart is entrenched as the top media conglomerate in the country. From on-air talent to management, they are a well-oiled machine.

“It’s another level with Tom Cuddy, top program director around [and] Thea Mitchem is like a programming genius who runs the whole cluster,” he said.

In 2022, WABC will mark 40 years as a Talk format, but Simone said that those legendary call letters mean nothing as the current line-up needs time to gel.

“WABC will get there, but it’s too early to compare,” he said.

WOR has seen a drop-off in recent Nielsen rating books, after a 2.5 in back-to back months to start 2021, has slipped to 1.8 for May, while WABC, although lower, has been more consistent from 1.9 to 1.7.

Personally, Simone, as stated on his website, has over 18 million listeners monthly.

Simone claims the slippage is across the board in talk radio as COVID-19 is winding down. Speaking of the pandemic, Simone and his WOR hosts have been broadcasting remotely since it began last year. It was at the time their numbers “went through the roof.” They came close to number one and were tops on Long Island among all 67 stations on AM and FM.  

They won’t return to the studio until at least the fall, he said.

Change at the White House is causing a more chronic condition for radio and TV hosts without the daily exploits of Donald Trump to explore.

“That hurt everybody. That hurt us. That hurt Steven Colbert,” Simone said. “Trump was an incredible source of material every day. People would listen the whole two hours to my show. You could just talk about Trump forever—whether you loved him or hated him—it was riveting for people.”

By contrast, President Joe Biden is the “most neutral, bland; there’s nothing to talk about, no one wants to hear about it.”

Perfect for those situations, from his earliest days in radio, Simone has not relied exclusively on the political chat.

“I was always careful to make sure the show was about everything,” he said.

Weeks after Trump left office, Rush Limbaugh left an insurmountable void on the radio landscape.

Buck Sexton and Clay Travis launched on Premiere Networks in Limbaugh’s midday slot on June 21.

“You just have to wait and see. When [Joe] DiMaggio retired, that’s it. You’ll never see that again, and some kid replaced him. The kid later turned out to be Mickey Mantle, so anything can happen,” Simone said.

Best of Limbaugh portions were featured for months in the transition until the new hosts were named.

“The clips they played; it was the [wisest] things Rush ever said. So you wanted to hear all of that just to get it on the record.”

Moments after this interview, Simone was slated to appear with Greg Kelly for his regular Newsmax appearance.

Over the years, Simone has also been a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business shows.

That ability to move effortlessly from topic to topic helped him growth with his radio audience.

“That’s the way I do my show now. We’ll be talking about the latest bill in the Senate. The next thing you know we’re talking about the iPhone and the best restaurant,” Simone said. “It’s just a little bit of everything.”

Throughout his broadcasting career, Simone has built relationships and, even more important, learned from his influences that include Ted Brown, William B. Williams and Dan Ingram. Even Johnny Carson would the most important piece of advice, always talk to middle America. 

“I worked with the absolute best ever—the greatest voices on the radio—if you need an education,” Simone said. “I had the best teachers you could have.”

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

Brady Farkas

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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