There are dozens of conservative radio hosts in the U.S., but one of the most intelligent and easygoing with his audience must be Erick Erickson.
Erickson, a lawyer by trade, has been able to effectively use his courtroom skills to motivate listeners. The leading GOP voice for a decade has been hosting a show on WSB during that time.
Erickson took a step toward establishing a national brand when he brought his Atlanta-based show to Cox Media Group. He also moved into the noon-3p ET slot, to fill the void left by the death of Rush Limbaugh.
For now, they have cobbled together approximately 20 affiliates, through Cox and separately in Georgia, but Erickson has bigger dreams for his three-hour daily broadcast.
“I would very much love to be nationwide and on the big stations,” Erickson told BNM.
But the midday competition is tight for air space. iHeart has Clay Travis and Buck Sexton holding down the Limbaugh slot. Cumulus features Dan Bongino, and Audacy has Dana Loesch.
“It definitely puts me behind the pack,” Erickson admits. “I don’t plan on doing anything else for the rest my life, so I’m going to be here for a while.”
Erickson is a native of Jackson, Louisiana, who has been tied to Macon, Georgia, for years, even winning a city council seat in that city. He is tied to his Southern roots and his listener base. However, for a successful syndicated product, he makes some production tweaks. Not only will he focus more on Georgia stories, but Erickson will also even localize with the weather, an element that wouldn’t work across a wider market scope.
As he builds the network, Erickson will drop the Georgia political angles instead because it has broader appeal.
Erickson followed the model of talk show host Neal Boortz, who he would guest host for early in his radio career. Boortz, who also was Atlanta-based and had a national presence, would find ways to use hyper-local stories for a larger audience.
Even before expanding his radio footprint, Erickson was already seeing a national audience from his livestream.
“I learned almost everything I know about radio from Rush,” Erickson said of his mentor.
Limbaugh took Erickson under his wings, as the two became friends. The legendary broadcaster would be a sounding board for Erickson, who could “send him an email at 3 o’clock in the morning and get a response.”
The bond would lead to fill-in opportunities on Limbaugh’s show.
But more important, Limbaugh pushed the lawyer to forge his own path in front of the microphone.
“I was not going to go into radio, but he told me he would never talk to me again if I didn’t do it,” Erickson recalls.
Rush was integral in an Erickson morning syndicated show, helping connect him to his agent.
“I would not have been doing what I’m doing, but for him,” Erickson said.
Limbaugh is missed within conservative circles, even as the Travis/Sexton tandem gets established. But Erickson knows the broadcasting heavyweight is not replaceable. In one conversation between them, Erickson confided that he would rather back up Limbaugh instead of hosting his own show.
He didn’t want to compete against the greatness of Limbaugh and feared that no one would listen to him.
“Don’t worry about it. Even if I’m dead you still won’t be as good as I am. So just be yourself,” he recalled Limbaugh’s remarks. “There’s something liberating about that.”
Erickson has a good rapport with his audience, something else he learned from Limbaugh. As the next generation of conservative talkers deal with the fractured market share, finding an heir apparent to the “Excellence in Broadcasting” great, who died in February, would appear to be a daunting task.
“I would like to think that I could be doing what he did and not just make it about politics,” Erickson admitted. “But he was very unique. I think they broke the mold when they made him. If I could get close, I would be honored.
Erickson’s key to growth is staying true to himself. He cautions that those who want to become the next Limbaugh by doing a version of him will not make a lasting “impression” with listeners.
“Radio’s very relational, so you’ve got to be as honest about yourself and as authentic as possible,” he said.
Touching All Bases
Even before Erickson started his radio gig at WSB, the conservative evangelical was an influential figure in the GOP. By 2016, he was named the most powerful conservative in America, according to Atlantic Magazine.
Erickson, who is in the seminary, has a knack for engaging listeners in debate and conversation, not anger and vitriol. But in this heavily politicalized climate, started with the Trump presidential campaign in 2015, not all opinions are welcome.
Erickson has been a harsh critic of Trump. Although he did support the one-term chief executive’s re-election bid, Erickson was not in bed with every move Trump made. Most dramatically, would come after the 2020 election where Trump fought baseless charges of fraud.
“I told my audience, ‘No, it wasn’t stolen. Here’s why.’” Erickson said.
That take did not sit well with many of his avid listeners, but it has also brought some liberals into the flock, who “hate listen because I get email from them all the time.”
Erickson, 46, is sure there are moderates tuning in as well.
He took another controversial stance with his recent comments about the COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, calling them “idiots” for believing the conspiracy theories after saying on his show that an unvaccinated relative died of the virus.
“I never want to be held hostage by my audience,” Erickson said.
Making those remarks won’t be popular with his base, and could even potentially hurt worse if advertisers dropped him. But Erickson said that big picture concerns no longer enter his mind. What’s vital is building trust with the audience.
In 2015, while running conservative blogger RedState.com, Erickson was holding an annual conference, inviting the entire list of Republicans vying for the White House, including Trump.
However, as this was right after Trump’s infamous comment about Megyn Kelly at a debate, Erickson disinvited the future 45th president.
“I did it because I thought it would be a distraction if he came. Little did I know he would make me a distraction. He came after me in every way, shape or form,” Erickson recalled. “A lot of people were calling my station demanding I be fired.”
As his listener base grew, Erickson had the confidence to announce he would not endorse Trump in 2016.
“I know people who didn’t support Trump in 2016 and are no longer in talk radio,” Erickson said. “My audience and I–we have a relationship.”
However, Erickson has dealt with his share of people crossing the line in a dangerous way.
“Oh gosh, I’ve had people show up at my front porch,” he said. “When I didn’t support the president in 2016, we had to have security at our house for several months. My kids got chased through a store, a guy yelling at them that I was destroying the country by not supporting Donald Trump.”
His children’s schools were switched because of bullying based on their father’s position.
“I get hate mail all the time,” Erickson said. “At this point, it comes with the territory.”
A hope for syndication expansion brings the financial resources to protect his family “with a lot of land and a big high wall around the house.”
But any ugliness from listeners is not a deterrent to doing the job. “If anything it motivates me to double down,” although Erickson doesn’t make light of the serious incidents.
“It was definitely scary. They’re alarming,” Erickson said.
The impact is felt even more by his children, who are “less likely to want to go with me to Atlanta.”
The Erickson family lives about an hour away from the city.
The heightened sense of fear would come to a head for his children as they shopped in Atlanta’s Lenox Square. A woman approached Erickson screaming his name.
“Both of my kids, at the moment, thought they were going to be dead,” he remembered.
It turned out to be just a “superfan,” who wanted to have a photo with Erickson. The lady was nice, but “it alarmed my kids so [badly]. That was three, four years ago and my now 12-year-old still refuses to go back to that mall.”
When it comes to checking the rivals, Erickson follows the Limbaugh mantra, not listening to other hosts, including those who would fill in for him. Limbaugh would give that tidbit in response to Erickson, who had been guest hosting for him.
With that in mind, Erickson never heard Buck Sexton and Clay Travis, who launched their midday show on June 21.
“I’m the only talk radio show that I listen to,” he said.
The only person that Erickson will listen to on occasion is Mark Levin, because “I find him deeply entertaining and I like the guy personally. It’s not meant to be disrespectful of anyone else. I just don’t want anyone else’s voice in my head when I’m trying to shape my own voice for my audience.”
Dana Loesch is also a viable option for the right-wing side of radio. Erickson, who knows Loesch and her husband well, holds her in high regard, but “we do different things.”
Overall, many hosts are trying to keep the Trump supporters intact or have a bombastic delivery, he said.
Erickson incorporates his legal and seminary training to bring the most complete package.
While he admits to getting “preachy” at times, his most effective approach is to put all the details on the table — “the facts that help me, the facts that hurt me,”– before giving his conservative take on any specific story.
“I don’t want to think for anybody else,” Erickson said.
Another commodity among the conservatives is Larry Elder, who took his celebrity to the recent recall efforts against California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“I think that Larry Elder had as much right to be in that race as anyone else,” Erickson said.
However, once Elder became the face of the opposition, Erickson said, he was doomed.
“The moment it became a race between Newsom and Elder was the moment that it became the race that Newsom would win,” he said.
TV or Not TV
Before his radio days even began, Erickson was approached about an opportunity to join CNN as a contributor. From 2010-2013, Erickson was a prominent conservative voice on the cable news network, thought by many to have more of liberal slant.
He sought the counsel of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Limbaugh.
They felt he could get a Fox deal where he’d be safe and comfortable or take the CNN job in “enemy territory” where it would be more beneficial learning to deal with people you disagree with.
“It gave me a fun role at CNN where I could talk about Republicans as a conservative activist who really didn’t care for the Republican establishment,” Erickson said.
He followed that with a five-year stint at Fox News.
Rise in Radio
A career path in radio happened by accident for Erickson. In his hometown of Macon, Georgia, a morning show host was arrested in a drug raid. The local Cumulus station needed someone for the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Erickson was already known for his CNN work and was a guest putting on his elections lawyer hat to discuss current events.
The host, embroiled in legal hot water, was fired. Erickson held on to the slot for three months. The positive feel for Erickson didn’t end there. As Erickson was told, Bob Neil, the former CEO of Cox Media, was driving his family to Disney World and heard Erickson’s show as they passed through Macon. Liking what he heard, Neil wanted to bring him into their broadcasting family.
“I had no experience in radio whatsoever,” Erickson said.
He declined a regular weekend show but was willing to fill in for Herman Cain. Shortly thereafter, with Cain running for president, Cox needed to replace him.
His hesitancy melted away with encouragement from Limbaugh, and Erickson never looked back as he polished his performance.
In 2016, he had a health scare with blood clots in the lungs that nearly killed him. His wife has an incurable form of lung cancer.
“I try to live life and be as relatable with my listeners, maybe sometimes to my detriment,” he said. “[I’m] trying to just interact with my audience and make sure that they’re not alone.”
He recalls another piece of advice from his mentor Limbaugh: “Remember you’re not there to save the world; you’re there to keep people company.”
Jerry Barmash has been a fixture in New York radio for decades with anchor stints on WABC Radio and Bloomberg News. Jerry was also heard on WINS, WCBS and Wall Street Journal Radio. As a media writer, Jerry’s pieces were featured in Broadcasting & Cable, NY Daily News and Watercooler HQ. Jerry also hosts the interview podcast Here Now the News. He’s on Twitter @JerryBarmash and can be reached at email@example.com.
Andrea Kaye Learned Tough As Nails Attitude From Her Marine Corp Parents
“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”
Her mother called her ‘dynamite in a dress.’ Andrea Kaye had an explosive energy and temperament. Her mother may have been right about her daughter’s intensity, but she was wrong about the dress.
“She thought I was going to be like my older sister, in a dress, playing with dolls. I was a tom-boy as a kid,” Kaye continued. “I was riding a bike with no shoes, riding like a crazy kid, and scraped off all my toenails. Our neighbors, ‘the Reen sisters’, comforted me while Mama wrapped my feet in bandages.
“We called them the Reen sisters because all four of them had ‘Reen’ at the end of their names; Doreen, Maureen, etc. Another time I jumped off an air conditioning unit and almost bit my tongue in half. To this day, my family still laughs about that stuff.”
Her tomboy ways kept her a regular fixture at the Camp LeJeune emergency room. But even when she wasn’t getting into scrapes while playing, she got into scrapes and arguments over politics.
Also as a kid, Kaye would have intense conversations with her Uncle Jake, a Colonel at Fort Benning. “All the adults in the room would ask why he was arguing with a child,” Kaye explained. “My Uncle said, ‘Because she’s making a darn good point.’ He made me feel respected. He never treated me like a child.”
Both parents were in the Marine Corps. Kaye never seemed to shy away from being called a ‘military-brat.’ The kid was tough as nails. She brings some of that toughness to The Andrea Kaye Show, which broadcasts on Monday-Friday from 6:00-8:00 PM on The Answer San Diego.
Her mother grew up on a dairy farm in a little town near the Mississippi and Louisiana border. Not far from where Kaye went to high school, Slidell High. “Mama knew what hard work was,” Kaye explained.
Her mother worked extremely hard each day, especially after her mother Mary Lee got burned in a house fire. She had to help raise her younger sister while running the farm. “Compared to what she had to do on the farm, the Marine Corps was a vacation,” Kaye explained. “Mama has a tee-shirt that reads, ‘Not as Mean, not as Lean, but still a Marine’. Could be why she beat four cancers in three years. Not what you would call a ‘fluffy’ life.”
Kaye’s grandmother on her father’s side, worked in a textile mill in Opelika, Alabama. This was the same mill in which they filmed Norma Rae, starring Sally Field.
“With nothing but sixth grade education there weren’t many options,” Kaye said.
The work took a toll. Her grandmother lost most of her hearing and got black lung. Her dad grew up on a dirt floor and dreamed of a better life with travels to foreign lands and was thrilled to join the military as a way out. He believed in the American Dream and instilled that inspiration in Kaye.
“We’d drive around and he would show us the neighborhoods we could live in if we got an education and worked hard.”
They had a lot of love while growing up in the family, but Kaye wouldn’t call it an emotionally nurturing childhood. Marines who were battle weary and from tough and impoverished childhoods aren’t necessarily the types to coddle.
But they were the types to play lots of board games and cards, like gin rummy. Rides at amusement parks across the country were a family staple.
“We’d watch lots of movies and TV, especially musicals,” Kaye said. “Who knew two Marines could love The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof so much?”
One time her mother bribed Kaye’s brother and his friends with cookies and cake if they would watch her perform songs from The Sound of Music.
“Mary Lee was my mother’s mom. She had to be tough because her husband died while my mom was in the womb,” Kaye said. “She didn’t have time to be nurturing with four kids and a dairy farm to run.”
She said Mary Lee would babysit often.
“She didn’t believe in sugar-coating for kids,” Kaye said. “One of my sisters asked her what a dead person looked like?”
Mary Lee packed the kids into the car and took them to a viewing with a dead man in a coffin and said, ‘This is what a dead person looks like.’
“You asked her a question and you got an answer,” Kaye said. “Mama was the same.”
That didn’t mean her parents didn’t love them, Kaye explained.
“They didn’t believe like today’s parents that everyone should get a trophy and everyone had to be happy every day. We were raised with the pragmatic truths of life. They were all about supporting what we wanted to do. There were no barriers to those dreams. That was instilled in my sister, brother and me.”
Kaye was born at Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, living in the base housing Tarawa Terrace, also known as “Terrible Terrace”. They moved around a bit but settled in the New Orleans area.
“I loved everything about the military,” Kaye said. “I loved the bases, uniforms, marching, the regiment, the chain of command. I loved the military bearing and authoritative presence they had at all ranks. I was mesmerized by it all. Daddy was a Vietnam vet and when he was deployed, multiple times.
“Me and my siblings and Mama went back to the dairy farm with grandma,” Kayes said. “My father never talked about his time in the service. We had no idea what he did. My sister, Donna, who we just called Sister, asked Daddy once what he did for a living. He said, I shoot the bull all day. So when she was asked once what her dad did, she told them, “He shoots bulls.”
The mystery of the military was part of the allure. Kaye was so enamored with the military, she gave some thought to how great it would be if she could attend West Point after the family had visited. Her mother and father brought the military with them when they took a break from the base.
“Even though I love the military, I had a love and hate relationship with regiment when Dad and Mom took us on a vacation,” Kaye said. “We had to get up at 4:00am. It wasn’t like my father was harsh like the pilot Bull Meecham in The Great Santini. Still, we had a very specific way of doing things. I learned to fold clothes according to regulation”
Kaye was always interested in going to college, imagining where she might enroll. She ended up choosing Louisiana State University to study political science.
“LSU was an amazing experience,” she said. “Louisiana is like being in another country. The language, food, culture. LSU is the perfect educational community of the unique culture. I embraced every aspect possible. I joined a sorority and lived in the house. Spent Saturday nights in the famous Tiger Stadium called Death Valley, and ate my weight in crawfish. I wanted the big university experience, and I got it.”
She’d thought about becoming a lawyer, perhaps a Supreme Court justice.
“I became obsessed with politics during my teen years,” Kaye explained. “I studied political science at LSU, admitted as a 17 year-old. I also gave some thought to becoming an attorney. In my family there was a constant theme of justice, of right and wrong. I have always been fascinated by true-crime.”
Kaye said her parents were always concerned about justice, committed to their beliefs of right and wrong. Always looking to improve her circumstances, instead of working her normal summer job at Fasulo Drugs in Slidell, she got a job in the French Quarter selling timeshares.
“I was able to make more money in six or eight weeks over the summer than I’d make all year working at the drugstore,” Kaye explained.
It was then Kay recognized she had an aptitude for sales. During her third year at LSU, she decided to switch her major to business. “I’m glad I did. There’s such an intersection between politics and business. I already loved politics and needed to learn more about business.”
She visited La Jolla, California after she graduated from LSU. It was a quick vacation but she fell in love with the area, and state. After graduation she started her first corporate job with No Nonsense panty hose.
“I was going around to K-Marts and other retail stores around Louisiana,” Kaye said. “I traveled around the state. It was a great first out of college job, but not a life choice. I earned my bones at No Nonsense. It was a grind.”
She couldn’t shake her love for La Jolla and San Diego, so she quit her job at No Nonsense and moved to San Diego, where she was hired by Xerox.
“Xerox sent me to Las Vegas, a branch of the San Diego office,” she said. “You have no idea how hot it is to be in a suit in Las Vegas when the temperature is 115-degrees. Still, I’d take it over the Florida heat and the mosquitos in New Orleans.”
After a year in Vegas, Xerox relocated her to San Diego. Xerox is where she made her bones, working in one of the toughest industries, and for a legendarily tough company.
Kaye said she may live in California, but her soul is on the New Orleans Bayou.
“I love, love, love Louisiana,” she said. “Down to the core of my being. One of the reasons I left was because after the oil industry crashed, so did the economy. There was a not so funny billboard outside Lafayette that said, ‘Last one to leave, turn out the lights’. The economy had completely tanked.”
At the time she left for California, Kaye said she didn’t understand her soul connection with New Orleans. “I didn’t know how much I’d miss it. I try to get back at least once or twice a year and still have family and friends there.”
The transition from sales to media wasn’t all that difficult for Kaye. She said every company she worked for required her to do some kind of media work.
“When I was with No Nonsense, I would join radio stations on the air when they were doing promotions from a parking lot. They’d talk to anyone. I would say, ‘I’m Andrea from No Nonsense. Come and check us out.’ It wasn’t difficult for me. I just wormed my way in and identified myself and the product on the air.”
She has ‘acted’ in corporate industrial videos and some infomercials. Again, this came naturally. She ended up getting an agent.
“It’s different in New York and L.A.,” Kaye said. “In those cities you can get an agent for particular things. An agent for acting, and agent for modeling. In San Diego, they only had agents that were a one-stop-shop. You were required to do any medium the agent put you up for. You’d be called upon to audition for commercials on TV, or a model in print ads, even some acting gigs.”
Kaye appeared in one movie, Lore Deadly Obsession. The film was about real-life serial killer and cannibal Richard Chase, who killed six women and drank their blood in the late 70s. He was dubbed ‘The Vampire Killer.’
“That was the first time they used the term ‘serial killer,” she explained.
Kaye is married but never had children. “It just wasn’t my dream,” she said. “I never had the fantasy of staying home and starting a family. That was Sister’s dream, and she fulfilled it. So did my brother. My fantasies were about living a life that was different. Bigger and brighter than my folks and their folks before them. Just as each generation behind me lived a bigger and brighter life than those before.
“My fantasies didn’t involve radio as a kid, but they did involve my voice. And they did involve using that voice in some way to influence.”
Jim Cryns writes features for Barrett News Media. He has spent time in radio as a reporter for WTMJ, and has also served as an author and former writer for the Milwaukee Brewers. To touch base or pick up a copy of his book: On Story Parkway: Remembering Milwaukee County Stadium, available on Amazon, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Should the Media Support Police?
BNM’s Rick Schultz writes Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack, so where is the media?
Never has the danger to police officers been greater, and never has the thin blue line been under such attack.
So where is the media?
This past weekend, Fox News @Night hosted a discussion about public support for the police and, in doing so, highlighted a group dedicated to wounded officers and their families.
Retired Las Vegas Police Detective Lt. Randy Sutton of TheWoundedBlue.com joined host Trace Gallagher to discuss the current state of affairs from law enforcement’s perspective.
“Well, when it comes to America’s crime crisis, something appears to be missing in society and in mainstream media, covering and honoring law enforcement officers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty,” Gallagher began. “I want to know why it is that mainstream media, and that society, feels like, you know what, the war on police is not worth covering?”
“This news network is pretty much the only one that’s giving the truth out about the war on cops. Last year, 207 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Almost sixty thousand were physically assaulted in the line of duty, Trace,” Sutton responded. “They’ve been shot, they’ve been stabbed, they’ve been beaten. And yet, you don’t even see it in the newspapers. It’s barely covered because it’s not politically expedient for the political Left and for the mainstream media to even cover.”
Gallagher then drew attention to a graphic showing a mid-October statement from the National Fraternal Order of Police, @GLFOP, which read…
The spewing of anti-police rhetoric by some political and media figures as well as the failed policies of rogue prosecutors and judges, are placing our officers in greater danger. This culture of lawlessness must stop!
“A lot of people don’t know when officers get injured, not only is the officer affected. But the family and a lot of things change,” said Marcus Mason, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy, who was injured in the line of duty. “I spent about a month in the hospital, so my family had to drive to and from home, daycare, dropping off children, and doing different things to get people to work to get people to come see me and things like that. A lot of financial things are a burden put on your family. And so, The Wounded Blue was there to help my family in making those things easier. Whether it’s paying for gas or the increase in groceries and things like that, and making things easier for my family to be able to come and spend time with me.”
TheWoundedBlue.com’s mission, as stated on the website, is to improve the lives of injured and disabled law enforcement officers. They place a strong focus on de-stigmatizing mental health within the law enforcement community, in addition to providing peer support and community outreach. Their emergency phone number – (702) 290-5611 – provides “immediate trust, validation, and confidentiality, which breaks down barriers when a person is in a vulnerable state.”
Vickie Speed, whose brother-in-law was “executed in the line of duty,” joined the panel to share part of her sister’s recovery story after the violent episode.
“We got involved with Randy because he actually stepped in to help her with PTSD and trauma and I saw what he did,” she said, noting that she also lost her husband to cancer. “Just losing my husband alone, I just had a real passion to give back and not just help widows, but I’ve actually run into law enforcement that’s now retired, that’s reaching out.”
Gallagher pointed out that while the group’s mission is crucial to families recovering from such tragedies, the real shame is that Wounded Blue is needed in the first place.
“My peer team, amazing people,” Sutton said. “All of my peer team are officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten, run over. And you know what, but I fully believe this, that the American people believe in their police and want to help. They want to have an avenue to help. And now we’re giving them that avenue by supporting these wounded officers, by going to TheWoundedBlue.org and giving what they can, can make a difference. In fact, they might even save a life.”
The question posed by Gallagher, although never definitively answered, is whether the mainstream corporate media will ever reflect the widely-held sentiment of most Americans. The feeling is that law enforcement should be applauded and supported, especially on the heels of a violent attack.
Rick Schultz is a former Sports Director for WFUV Radio at Fordham University. He has coached and mentored hundreds of Sports Broadcasting students at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Marist College and privately. His media career experiences include working for the Hudson Valley Renegades, Army Sports at West Point, The Norwich Navigators, 1340/1390 ESPN Radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, Time Warner Cable TV, Scorephone NY, Metro Networks, NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Cumulus Media, Pamal Broadcasting and WATR. He has also authored a number of books including “A Renegade Championship Summer” and “Untold Tales From The Bush Leagues”. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RickSchultzNY.
The Power of Events and the Electronic Campfire
The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.
Of all the people who have ever played music on the radio, Jim Ladd (currently heard on SiriusXM’s Deep Trax Channel) may be the most gifted communicator. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know Ladd when I programmed KLSX-FM/Los Angeles.
Ladd referred to radio as the “electronic campfire.” Although he coined the phrase to describe FM progressive radio, it’s a terrific descriptor of radio at its best. When a radio station is firing on all cylinders, it becomes a communal experience.
I always enjoyed big station events. Surrounded by staff and listeners, in a shared communal experience that only a fantastic radio team could create, is when I truly understood Ladd’s term, “the electronic campfire.”
The past couple of months reminded me of some of the best events over a long radio career.
The Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s Cinderella story this year, even if they turned back into a pumpkin two games short of the championship. What a ride for my Philadelphia friends and former colleagues.
The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and earned a return trip in 2009. We had station rallies before each game and lit the WPHT tower in red light. Because Philadelphians are so sensitive about comments made by national announcers (and there are no local television broadcasts), we synced the local radio broadcast to the national broadcast. The legendary Harry Kalas called the final out in a moment etched into many Philadelphians’ minds. Those broadcasts received some of the highest shares of the PPM era.
For 25 years, Philadelphia had a unique city holiday: Wing Bowl. The genius of Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti conceived this event for the Friday before the Super Bowl at a time when the Eagles were perennial losers. What started as a chicken wing eating contest in a hotel lobby became one of the WIP’s biggest annual ratings and revenue days. The morning show broadcast live from a packed Wells Fargo Center. Combine Mardi Gras with a chicken wing eating contest, and you have some idea of what Wing Bowl was. If you don’t know, look do a quick search.
I also was involved in three of Howard Stern’s victory parties, or as Howard called them at the time, the funeral for the competition. We did it in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – which was especially fun because we tapped into special effects available from show biz fans in Hollywood. The third time was in Cleveland, where I could enjoy the spectacle mainly as a listener.
When the Smashing Pumpkins came through the Twin Cities recently, it reminded me of the biggest radio event I’ve ever seen. In 1998 we had a struggling station in Minneapolis called Rock 100.3. We were trying to put the station on the map. Summers are short in Minneapolis, and the city celebrates with a week-long festival called the Aquatennial. Friday night is called the Block Party, with music on several different stages throughout downtown, sponsored by various radio stations.
Previously the biggest act the Block Party ever featured was The Black Crowes, drawing about 35,000. We promised to do better – even if we hadn’t figured out how. After a lot of hard work and even more good fortune, we found the Smashing Pumpkins were looking to do a free unticketed show. In 1998 there was no band bigger than The Smashing Pumpkins.
We convinced then-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton that it would be good for the city and The Smashing Pumpkins played the Block Party in front of 125,000 fans on a 90-foot stage with a six-figure production budget on what was then a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. If we had a two-share, every one of those listeners was at that show – and they brought a friend!
There were no significant incidents at the show, except for the inmate convicted of murder who escaped long enough to see the concert and was then taken back into custody without incident after the show.
Nothing like the free Smashing Pumpkins concert will happen again in Minneapolis. The site is now home to Mayo Clinic Square, which includes the Mayo’s Sports Medicine Clinic, the offices and practice facilities of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx, restaurants, office and retail space for Jack Links, and the 251-room Loews Hotel.
Not every event requires a six-figure budget, the most prominent band of the era, or booking the city’s NBA/NHL facility. It’s not even necessary to finish number one in morning drive and then engage in 1980s or 90s-style radio wars.
Stations that don’t have budgets must be more imaginative in creating events. It is not an option for stations to discontinue events – at least those that hope to continue to attract an audience.
When I arrived at WIP, I found a station with a handful of morning shows. Each personality was an experienced entertainer and showperson. When we put them on the same stage together, it was magic. We did it in a public venue and held a debate about Philadelphia’s favorite topic: The Eagles. We dressed the stage like a presidential debate and followed a similar format (it was during the 2008 presidential election). It became an annual event. Over the years, everything from the podiums, timer, wardrobe, and challenge flags (yes, we even had challenge flags) became sponsored. Moments ranged from hilarious to tense.
There were two total lunar eclipses this year. How fun would it be to get an expert from a local planetarium (or even an astronomy club) and invite listeners to share an experience in the middle of the night? Depending on the station’s format playing “Dark Side of the Moon” either at the event or on the air.
Events (and personalities) build equity and loyalty for radio brands. Find a great radio brand, and you’ll find a history of great personalities and big events. When Progressive Rock radio began, some, like my friend Jim Ladd, dubbed it the “electronic campfire.”
Despite never-ending budget cuts, radio brands must continue to create events. Radio will have more commercials and compete against more narrowly targeted competitors. Podcasters, streamers, and satellite radio can’t do local events. Few, if any, will ever create communal experiences the way radio has been for over 100 years. Fire up the campfire. The combination of personalities and events remains radio’s best bang for the buck.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.