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Dan Bongino Wasn’t Going Six Feet Deep Without Taking His Shot at Talk Radio

BNM’s Jim Cryns stated that he firmly but kindly informed Dan Bongino I would whip his a– if he didn’t behave during our interview.

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I firmly but kindly informed Dan Bongino I was going to whip his a– if he didn’t behave during our interview. He dutifully listened quietly and respectfully. Then answered my questions for the next 40 minutes. 

If you believe that, you’re going to gobble up the rest of this piece.

In the 1990s, Bongino was a New York police officer. Later, he became a Secret Service Agent. He ran for Congress three times, then pivoted to right-wing commentary. Now he hosts one of the most successful radio shows in the country. Last month, Unfiltered with Dan Bongino, was the #1 cable news prime program with total viewers and the 25-54 demo on Saturdays.

Steven Spielberg couldn’t find funding for a script like that. Nobody would believe the yarn.

Switching gears from being a Secret Service agent to a radio talker is like a garbage collector choosing to become a ballerina. Both seem absurd, but in Dan Bongino’s case, very real. 

In 2006, Bongino joined the elite Presidential Protective Division during the administration of President George W. Bush. He became one of the earliest tenured agents to be given responsibility for an operational section of the presidential detail and he remained on protective duty with President Obama.

Yes, Bongino told me he would have taken a bullet for President Obama in the line of duty. We didn’t discuss if he’d do that today as he’s a radio host.

So, what do listeners seek when they tune in to Bongino’s show?

“I can only speculate and go by their feedback,” Bongino said. “I rely on my Facebook page and email from my website to get a better idea of how they’re reacting to my show.”

Bongino said when he started his own show he was given a ton of ‘advice’ from radio professionals. Suggestions Bongino dumped right in the circular file.

“They told me, ‘Don’t read all the feedback, you’ll go crazy.’ I read the feedback.’ I find the feedback to be incredibly instructive. Most often I’ll hear the comment, ‘You tell it like it is.’ I guess I do. A lot of that has to do with me not growing up in the business. I’m a business owner, tech investor. Radio came later. I’ve seen all these worlds with my own two eyeballs, and heard with my own two ears.”

Those experiences have helped make him an explosive, controversial voice on the radio. The man could make Andre the Giant cringe in a fetal position.

“I enjoyed my time with the Secret Service,” Bongino said. “It was my dream job. What I always wanted was to be a Federal Agent and it was tough to leave.”

I’m still a little vexed at how you go from taking a bullet for a president to sitting in front of a microphone. Radio is a tough industry, but c’mon.

“I didn’t like the idea that we were losing the country after Obama’s election. I felt like an eagle had his talons in me,” Bongino explained. “I had a hard time sitting around, just swallowing what was going on around me. I felt I had to do something. I had a comfy Federal job. Why would I give that up? It’s not like you’re going to get fired unless you do something stupid. Like a lot of people, I felt helpless. I decided I didn’t want to go six feet deep without taking a shot.” 

In radio or on the Secret Service job?

Bongino did some appearances on local radio. They must have gone well as he was asked to parlay his popularity on a weekend gig at WMAL. 

“It wasn’t my own show, but I was one of the regular hosts,” he said. 

With the appearances on WMAL going well, an astute PD recognized the kids’ talent and Bongino started guest-hosting on WCBM, and WBAL.

“Things were going well and I got what you’d call my big break.”

 Actually, Bongino created his own big break. Huge break. Monumental break. 

“I was listening to Neal Boortz fill in for Hannity and thought that would be fun,” Bongino said. “I called Lynda McLaughlin from the Sean Hannity show and asked her if I could host at some point.” He made the call from the privacy of his basement so he wouldn’t be interrupted. McLaughlin asked if he could come up the following week. 

Hell yes I can!

I’m imagining that’s how he got his job with the Secret Service. He watched Clint Eastwood in Line of Fire and figured, that looks like fun. I’ll give them a call.

I told him his call to McLaughlin required balls the size of grapefruits. 

“What other sizes of balls are there?” Bongino joked. (Or was he joking?)

After the call, he started filling in for Hannity. To be fair, Bongino had some familiarity with McLaughlin.

“I’d done a number of guest spots with Fox, so she knew who I was. It wasn’t like Tom from New Jersey just called Lynda and asked if he could host. She took a shot on me and it was a risky call. I’ll always be grateful to her.”

That’s a huge fill-in gig. Like Carrot Top filling in for Johnny Carson. Bongino said he liked Hannity’s crew and has since grown to know them well. Not long after that, Bongino started his own podcast, The Dan Bongino Show. 

“I started the podcast by putting 10,000 on my credit card. Got a producer.” 

Bongino filled in for Mark Levin and his voice and face were gaining worldwide recognition. 

Then, a big loss for conservative radio when Rush Limbaugh died.

“After Rush passed, way too soon, I was called and asked how I’d feel to take over that slot. Notice I didn’t say his show.” 

Limbaugh worked for Premiere, but some may have seen it the other way around. The former NYC cop and Secret Service agent would be taking over 300 affiliates. It was easily one of the biggest launches in the history of radio.

“I remember every second of that first day,” Bongino said. “I’d been filling in for Levin and Hannity, and a contributor for Fox for 10 years. I was excited, but I wasn’t nervous. It’s the cliche, you never forget how to ride a bike.”

Only this bike had Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth cards in the spokes.

Conservatism is what matters to Bongino. The money and fame have come with the territory, but they’re not what he thinks about in the morning when his feet hit the ground of the floor on his immensely expensive home.

Bongino was full of excitement when he was tapped to take over Rush’s time slot, not show. He was adamant about informing Rush’s audience about some ground rules.

“I said in the first open if they thought I was there to replace Rush, they should tune out at that moment because I can’t.  I told them, ‘Seriously, go listen to another show. I can’t replace the MVP of the league for the last 20 years. Rush invented the game of conservative audio. If you’re looking for someone to replace him, let’s break up right here, rip the Band Aid off and get over it right now.’”

Nobody seemed to listen to Bongino. 

“I was there and stayed because I wanted to. Financially, I’ve done fine on my own. I still ask myself how somebody replaces Rush Limbaugh.”

Don’t ask Yankee Wally Pipp. It turned out pretty well for Lou Gehrig.

“The second ground rule was to honor the man’s legacy, to never embarrass him.”

Those are huge shoes to fill. Jimmy Fallon is no Johnny Carson. Then again, Fallon’s not even a Pat Sajack. 

“I suck compared to Rush,” Bongino said.  “He could talk for an hour about a firefighter’s uniform, how cool the buttons are on the sleeves. It’s a gift. I think my show is good or I wouldn’t waste listeners’ time. But it’s not as good as Rush’s.  Rush was AAA ball and I’m AA. I’m fine with that. He was a guy that consumed his product. He’d go on for hours about technology. I can barely turn off my phone. I ask my wife to download apps for me because I don’t know how the hell to do it.”

Bongino said everything he does on the air is intuitive. His style is different. 

“I never wanted to clone Rush. I think he was more optimistic than I am. He had more patience with people.” 

Still, Bongino said he shares some traits with Limbaugh. 

“We both had the passion. Rush could have walked away anytime he wanted. He had ‘stupid money.’  (We acknowledged there is another popular term for that kind of money.) Rush probably didn’t know how much was in his bank account. We both love what we do. There’s an energy to live radio you can’t find anywhere else. Podcasts are great, but you can edit, alter the product. On the radio we’re live, working without a net. It’s a unique platform.”

Bongino said he was grateful for the seven-second delay. 

“There are some things I’ve said that I probably shouldn’t have,” he smiled through the phone. “People call me and ask if it’s ‘still radio’ the way we knew it. Those who listen to me know what we call radio is really an audio delivery mechanism. When I first started, people would sit you down and say, ‘I want to coach you; You shouldn’t say ‘folks’ on the radio, don’t ever tell anyone what you’re going to talk about for the rest of the show, don’t tell people what you did on the weekend, they don’t care.’”

Trust me, he doesn’t. 

If you’ve been paying attention, what do you think Bongino did with that advice from PDs, and management? He did everything they suggested he not do. What else did you expect?

Rush’s listener base was ridiculous. It sounds weak and lame, but we’re all independent thinkers. We’d go to Rush to get grounded. Dana, Clay and Buck are all great voices, but I think they’d tell you the same thing. We’d tune into Rush at noon as you’d tune into the Godfather of radio. Voices are fragmented now, but there are some great voices out there.” 

After our conversation about radio ran its course, I had one nagging question. Would Bongino really take a bullet for a president?

“Yes, absolutely,” he said. And I believe him. “But bravery isn’t in taking the bullet. You’re going to do that by instinct. You train for that. It’s kind of like a football game. Everybody on the presidential detail has a figurative number, a play. With that number, the offensive tackle does what they’re supposed to do. The fullback goes through the fourth hole. You’re just going to do it. You’re not going to bitch about it. You’re not going to celebrate a good play.”

Bongino said the bravery was in choosing the career, to instinctively go in front of a person and risk your life. 

“We call it an ‘assault on the principle,’” he said. “We go over it so much, it’s a natural reaction. You’re not going to think about it. It’s reflexive. We do a lot of training to distinguish between a balloon popping and a round of ammunition. You learn to discriminate between the sounds. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you learn.”

You think criticism of a PD or a listener is going to phase him? Think again.  The man trained to run in front of an assailant, akin to the heroes at Normandy.

Not one single person was surprised when they heard Bongino wanted to be a NYC cop. Not a single person on earth was surprised to know he wanted to be in the Secret Service. 

“When it came to a career in radio, it was the inverse reaction,” Bongino explained. Everyone was like, ‘What the hell?’ I never talked about politics. I guess I got fed up with all the cancel-culture dipshits.”

Is it hard to handle the accolades from having a huge national presence?

“My Aunt Jane told me once that self-praise stinks. I’ve always been cautious about that. I know I’ve taken a lot of chances in my life. What the hell, it’s those chances that make interesting stories.”

“All the stories I’m telling you are born out of apocalyptic failures,” Bongino said. “Failure is a gift forcing you to try something different.”

BNM Writers

Market Still Finding 2023 Footing

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

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While it’s hard to imagine 2023 being as painful for investors as 2022, experts still cannot say for certain we are destined for blue skies ahead. Many in the media are starting the year by sifting through the stock market tea leaves; trying to figure out what historical data can tell us about probabilities and expectations for the next twelve months.

Some think the United States is poised for a market rebound, while others remain quite bearish, feeling that negative policy implications have yet to be fully realized.

Peter Tuchman of Trademas Inc. joined Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program Friday, to offer his thoughts about where the American stock market might be headed in light of the newly-divided United States Congress.

“Markets have a sort of a gut of their own,” Cavuto opened. “Today’s a good example. We’re up 300 points, ended up down 112 points. What’s going on?”

“Markets don’t like unknowns, and markets need confidence. The investing community needs confidence,” Tuchman said. “And I think it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild that. And as we saw the other night with what went on in the House, it feels like people should get busy governing as opposed to all this posturing.”

Six months ago, Tuchman didn’t have a solid feel for the direction of the market. And just two trading weeks into the year, he still doesn’t believe any real trend has been established.

“The market has yet to find its ground. It’s yet to find its footing,” Tuchman told Cavuto. “And still, even coming into 2023, the first week of trading we have not found our footing. We have come in on a couple of economic notes that were a little bit positive. We opened up with a little bit of irrational enthusiasm. By the end of the days we were trading down.”

Meanwhile, some financial outlets, such as CNBC, have dug into the data showing what a market rise during the year’s first week – such as what we experienced this year – potentially means for the rest of 2023. They published a story last week with the headline, Simple ‘first five days’ stock market indicator is poised to send a good omen for 2023“.

On an episode of his popular YouTube program late last week, James from Invest Answers dug into 73 years of stock market data, to test that theory and see if the first five days of yearly stock market performance are an indicator of what the market might do over the full year.

“Some analysts pay attention to this, the first five trading day performance, can it be an indicator of a good year or a bad year,” James began last week, “I wanted to dig into all of that and get the answer for myself. Because some people think yes. Some people swear blind by it. Some people think it’s a myth or an old wive’s tale. Some people think it’s a great omen.”

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Based on James’ analysis…

If the gains from the first five market days of the year are negative, the market rises 86 percent of the time over the full year, with an average gain of 6%.

If the first five days are positive, the market increases 92% of the time, with an average yearly gain of 16%.

Most importantly, in this year’s scenario, where the first five days saw a jump of more than 1%, the market traditionally ends positive for the year 95 percent of the time. Those years see an average yearly gain of 18%.

“Is it a good omen, does it look bullish?” James asked. “Well, yes, based on history. But remember, there are factors like inflation, interest rates, geopolitical turmoil, supply chains, slowing economy. All that stuff is in play. But history also says that the market bounces bounces back before the market even realizes it’s in a recession. That’s an important thing to know.”

On his Your World program, Cavuto wondered if the recent House speaker voting drama has added to the uncertainty facing markets.

“Historically, Wall Street definitely is a bit more friendly to a Republican administration,” Tuchman said. “We’re in new ground, there’s no playbook, Neil. And I went over it with you the last time. There’s no playbook for coming out of a pandemic. No playbook for what’s gone on over the last two and a half years. Let’s think about it. March 2020, the market sold off so radically. We had a rally of 20 percent in 2020. 28 percent in 2021, in the eyes of a global economic shutdown due to the Federal Reserve’s posturing and whatnot.

“And now we’re trying to unwind that position. In tech, and in possible recession, and inflation and supply chain issues. So, there’s no way historically to make a judgment on what the future looks like in that realm, let alone what’s going on in the dis-functionality of what’s happening in Washington. I would like to disengage what’s going on in Washington and try and rebuild the confidence in the market coming into 2023.” 

So while the data might indicate a strong year ahead, the fact is that many analysts still won’t make that definitive call amidst such economic turmoil gripping the country. 

Along with U.S. markets, they remain steadfast in their search for solid footing.

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BNM Writers

Does Radio Need A Video Star?

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

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Last week numerous stories about using video with broadcasting or audio podcasting became a hot topic of discussion.

A Morning Consult poll found that 32% of Americans prefer podcasts with video, compared with 26% who like just audio better. Among podcast listeners, 46% said they favor them with video, compared with 42% who said they would rather listen without video. It’s worth noting that these are podcast listeners, not radio listeners.

Video has become the latest trend in audio. Almost everybody is trying to do some form of video. Many shows already stream online. A few others simulcast on a television or cable channel. It seems nobody believes in pure audio anymore. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t go into television instead of radio.

Before everybody else starts adding webcams in the studio, it’s worth weighing the reasons to move ahead versus slowing down.

The first person to realize they could use video of their show may have been Howard Stern. In June 1994, Stern started a daily half-hour show on E! network, featuring video highlights from his radio show. Stern added slick production values and faster pacing on the E! show.

Don Imus started simulcasting on cable during the same month. It’s possible others that I’m not aware of started earlier.

Stern’s E! show made sense. It answered the most common questions people asked about the show, in addition to what’s he really like; the first questions people usually asked were: 1) Are the women really as good-looking as he says? 2) Do they really take their clothes off? The E! show answered those questions. In addition, it gave a backstage glimpse of the show.

The same month Stern’s E! Show began, Imus began simulcasting his show on cable networks. I would have feared losing ratings. In fact, Imus’ program director did!

I spoke to my long-time friend and colleague Mark Chernoff (Current Managing Director of Mark Chernoff Talent and on-air talent 107.1 The Boss on the NJ Shore, Former Senior VP WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, VP Sports Programming CBS Radio) about the impact simulcasting Imus’ show had on WFAN. Chernoff may have the broadest range of experiences with simulcasting radio programs with video. 

Imus began on CSPAN but shortly afterward moved to MSNBC. Chernoff told me: “When we started simulcasting Imus, I suggested we’d lose about 15% of our radio audience to TV, which we did.” Chernoff added that there was a significant revenue contribution and that the company was content with the trade-off.

WFAN had a different experience simulcasting Mike and the Mad Dog on YES in 2002. “In this case, TV was helpful, and we increased listenership,” said Chernoff. WFAN also benefited financially from this simulcast.

Imus was on in morning drive while Mike & the Mad Dog were on in the afternoon. Keep the era in mind, too. Before smartphones and high-speed streaming, it was not uncommon for people to have televisions in the bed or bathrooms and have the tv on instead of the radio as they got ready for their day. In the afternoon, fewer people would have had video access in that era.

Ratings measurement moved to Portable People Meter (PPM) by the time WFAN started streaming middays on its website. Chernoff reported streaming had no ratings or revenue impact – positive or negative – on middays. However, the company did provide an additional dedicated person to produce the video stream.

The early forays into video by pioneers such as Stern, Imus, and Mike & the Mad Dog are instructive.

There are good reasons to video stream shows. Revenue is a good reason.

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Another good reason is if the video can answer questions about the show, as the E! show did for Howard Stern.

On the other hand, audio companies are going to throw a lot of money at video, based on the notion that it’s what they “should” do because:

  • It’s the latest trend. Being late on this trend is different from missing the Internet or Podcasting. Industries already revolve around video; television and film come to mind.
  • Podcast listeners like it (by a slight plurality).

Before turning on webcams, see what viewers will see. The studios at many stations I’ve worked at were better not seen. Considerations include; the set, lighting, wardrobe, visuals, and a plan.

Too many video streams of studios feature the fire extinguisher prominently in the shot or the air personalities milling about during terminally long breaks.

Before going live, watch the video with no audio. Is it interesting? Compelling? Does the video draw you in, or is it dull?

With program directors now spread so thin handling multiple stations, a dedicated person to oversee streaming should be a requirement for stations streaming shows.

Other considerations:

  • How could this help us, and how could it hurt us?
  • How does the video enhance the show?
  • Will personalities do their radio show or perform for the cameras?
  • What production values are you able to add to the video?
  • What happens during those seven- eight-minute breaks if it’s a live radio show (vs. a podcast)? What will people streaming video see and hear? Does everybody on the show get along?

Do you have revenue attached? What do you expect will happen to the ratings?

WFAN earned significant revenue for two. Therefore, the company wasn’t concerned when the ratings took a hit for the first one and were surprised when they helped the second one. They didn’t see any impact on ratings or revenue the third time.

After all the budget cuts and workforce reductions over the past decade-plus, before audio companies invest in video, shouldn’t we get: people, marketing, promotion, or research monies back first?

Most of us decided to get into radio (or podcasting) instead of television or film. There’s a reason they said, “video killed the radio star.”

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BNM Writers

Streaming Platforms Cannot Be Forgotten By News/Talk Program Directors

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes that if you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations and what comes through the streaming platforms.

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If you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations. Didn’t you know that? Oh. Well, you do. 

I’m not just referring to our over-the-air broadcast but also what comes through our streaming platforms. Alexa, Google Home, apps, computers, etc., are all streaming platforms of our radio stations, which for most of us, are airing different commercial inventory than what is coming through the radio.

I understand none of us are unnecessarily looking to add to our plate, but our streaming platforms are the way we are getting more people to use our product. So neglecting, or forgetting about it, is a bad business decision, especially in the talk space. 

Across all clusters, talk radio is far more likely to have high streaming use when it comes to total listening hours. Listeners are more loyal to our personalities and often can’t get the AM dial in their office buildings during the day, or even if they can, they don’t want to hear our voices through static, so they pull up the stream. 

It’s never been easier to listen to talk radio stations, thanks to our station apps and websites (although welcoming some sites to the 21st century would be a good idea). So, given the challenges many of us face on the AM band, why not push our audience to the stream and make sure the stream sounds just as good as the over-the-air product?

The tricky part in putting together a quality stream sound is trying to balance what ads are programmatic, which ones are sold locally, where is the unfilled inventory and what is filling that gap?

And unlike your over-the-air product, where you can go into a studio, see what’s coming up, and move inventory around, that technology is not available in most cases. So yes, it’s a guessing game.

But as the talk climate continues to change, the best thing we can do to build our brand and trust with the next generation of talk radio listeners is to find them and engage them where they are, which may not always be next to a physical radio. That will be on a stream. How do I know that? Because if they have a smartphone, they have (access to) the stream.

Of course, the over-the-air product remains the massive revenue generator for our stations, as in most cases, the streaming revenue is not close to comparable. But then, if we look years down the road, that will likely start to change. 

To what degree? That’s unknown. But double-digit growth on an annual basis should not be out of the question when it comes to stream listening. It should be a very achievable goal, especially in our format. So our listeners who are P1’s, love the station and want to consume as much of the content as they can, can be on the AirPods in the gym, desk at work, or in their home office and listen to our radio stations. 

Heck, with Alexa and Google Home, they don’t even have to turn a dial! They just speak. So if they’re there, let’s keep them there.

There are simply too many media options today to lose our listeners due to sloppy streaming quality that makes us sound like a college radio station. Instead, listeners, who find us there should be rewarded with a listening experience that is just as high-quality as what they would get on the AM or FM band.

And if we play our cards right, it will be better, serving the industry incredibly well through a new generation of listeners.

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