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Jason DeRusha Has Brought His TV Experience to Radio

DeRusha said he’s always loved doing television news. It wasn’t as though he was fed up and wanted a change. In fact, he said he had incredible freedom to be himself on television.

Jim Cryns

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Sure, it was a little cringe-worthy, but the sentiment was in the right place. 

When WCCO Television said “goodbye” to longtime television personality Jason DeRusha after 19 years, they brought in a guy and a piano into the studio. The musician lodged DeRusha’s name into the lyrics of a couple of songs. For instance, on “Let it Be” by The Beatles, the revised lyrics included “When I find myself in times of trouble, Jason DeRusha comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

I’m from the Midwest and I know that was a sincere form of flattery and love, albeit a little mawkish.

WCCO’s DeRusha jumped to television in June of this year. Four days later and six city blocks from the WCCO TV headquarters, DeRusha flicked on the microphone inside the WCCO-AM 830, which airs weekdays from 3-6 p.m. 

DeRusha said he’s always loved doing television news. It wasn’t as though he was fed up and wanted a change. In fact, he said he had incredible freedom to be himself on television. 

“I reported on what I wanted to,” DeRusha said. “The move to radio was very much about opening doors at what I’d consider a midpoint of my career. This was an opportunity to learn new things, explore a different medium.”

DeRusha grew up in Des Plaines in suburban Chicago. He attended Maine West High School and rocked 8.9 watts on an FM station. “In high school we had WMTH and did a lot of play by play. This was before the Comcast’s of the world.”

He went on to study journalism at Marquette University, about an hour north of his hometown. “I knew from a very young age I was looking for a school where I could get a great education with a broadcast program. At Marquette, I didn’t have to sit around to get involved.” 

A self-described nerd in college, he said he wasn’t the life of a party. Wasn’t a lot of fun. “I used to fill in on an easy-listening station but never told my friends.”

His relationship with WCCO has outlasted most marriages.  DeRusha started as a featured guest with Chad Hartman.

“I’d been filling in on shows for 10 years,” DeRusha explained. “This year during my first full-time week, I realized how different this was going to be from filling in. It’s one thing to do two shows a month, and quite another to do five shows a week. I now have creativity to talk about different issues and have fun. All that while still engaging with our audience.”

DeRusha said fans have expressed how different it feels in how he delivers stories. He said they’re taken aback by how he used to read a story on television versus ‘experiencing’ it more on the radio. 

“As a news anchor you don’t get to say as much as you feel as you’re always trying to get to traffic and weather,” DeRusha said. “Viewers said they felt I always had more to say than I was able to. Now I have that opportunity. It frees you up, a different way of thinking. The free-thinking allows you to make good talk segments that are different.”

On the radio, DeRusha will talk about ongoing stories, crime and some court cases, the same as he would on television. He explained topics covered on television will sometimes make a good transition to radio; other times they won’t. 

“I’ve always been a believer that life is the ultimate prep for morning and TV and talk radio,” DeRusha said. “Things I say must resonate with the audience, it must be a similar experience.”

He said in the past he was hyper-focused on local news and stories. But there are times we might want to talk about national issues.  He said his show and WCCO are a ‘full-service’ radio station. 

“We invite everyone to the table,” DeRusha said. “I’m not coming at you from the Right or Left. I may say something one side hates, then vice versa. I’m going to have strong opinions. If you disagree with me you might convince me of something. I’ve had callers make such a good case it forced me to rethink my stance. There’s nothing better than that as host. To recognize when you may have been seeing something in the wrong context. Listeners bring things to the table I hadn’t thought of. Or caused me to look at a topic in the way they described.”

 DeRusha said empathy for both sides of an opinion is critical 

“My whole career has been about bringing people together. Making them a little smarter than they were before. We want to laugh and have some fun. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I’m not going to come out being an absolute firebreather.”

Prior to DeRusha transitioning to radio, he’d heard horror stories about brand managers trying to micromanage the newbie. The boss walking them step by step through each segment. He said that hasn’t happened. 

“Brad Lane has been incredible with me,” DeRusha said. “He’s been a wonderful coach. He knew I was figuring out a new medium. He never tried to say, ‘look, if you took this position, the phones would light up.’ The whole process for our show is figuring out what my authentic take might be. Is it one of my interests or a curiosity?”

 DeRusha said he wouldn’t have taken this job if he thought they were going to push and mold him into a ‘personality,’ or to take a stance on a certain position. 

He said it has been a real joy they have not tried to coach him into amping up stories and issues. 

That kind of pseudo effort reeks of insecurity and the audience knows it when they smell it. 

“They hired me because they knew me and my work,” DeRusha said. “Audiences here know me too. If I’d come on the air as a different person, I think the whole thing would fall apart. On TV people can spot a phony. On radio it’s more acute and obvious.”

 DeRusha said he’s observed as other people have transitioned to radio from talk, and took a few notes along the way. He said his afternoon show is a drastically different approach than he’d take in the mornings. 

“I don’t have fifteen guests and we aren’t overloaded with news reports,” DeRusha said. “It’s more lifestyle, politics. In the afternoons, you have the chance to breathe on the air. Especially since I started off during a political season, I could have felt very constrained.”

DeRusha is a well-known food critic in Minneapolis, a regular contributor to Minnesota Monthly. “I started reviewing suburban restaurants around Minneapolis,” he said. DeRusha was a James Beard Foundation Award finalist for his TV work covering food. The publication had a restaurant critic, but that person was being spread thin. 

“The critic had a catalog that was huge and had trouble hitting all the new places,” DeRusha explained. He added it’s hard when a regular critic is reviewing a Michelin Star restaurant and then rushes  downtown to review a hoagie stand. There’s a bit of a cultural difference and it’s perhaps best to keep them separate.

DeRusha said he isn’t like Anton Ego, the food critic in Ratatouille. He’s not trying to put the hurt on a restaurant, scribbling disparaging thoughts in his notebook, describing how a health-hazardous rat just prepared his meal. Instead, he takes more of an illuminating approach. 

“I brought a journalist’s approach to food writing,” DeRusha said. “I ask a lot of questions. 

When he arrives at a restaurant, DeRusha said most of the young employees at the restaurant don’t see him as Anton Ego. However, the older managers may get a little bit of a heart palpitation when they see the critic at a table. “My wife laughs,” DeRusha said. “She can identify the point I’ve been ‘discovered’ as the food critic. I bring in a lot of other food writers, chefs, writers,” De Rusha adds. “I love the fact they get to talk about what they’re doing. Talk about issues they’re passionate about.”

On the radio, DeRusha said you can give things a try. See if something sticks. 

“That’s the beauty of this job,” he explained. “You give it a try and see if something works. If it doesn’t, so be it. The first six months have been a lot of experimenting. People have responded to things I’m passionate about. When I started filling in on talk, I realized it was important to ask the right questions to get a reaction. Now listeners want andexpect me to react.”

The host is the conduit, and at times the focal point. It’s a different rhythm in radio; telling a story, setting up the conflict, accentuating the rising action, revealing the decision point and result. In radio, you can start at the end and work your way back in a story. In television it’s the opposite. 

“You have lots of different tools in your belt,” DeRusha said. “Different techniques for various stories. When I’m on the air I think about how I used to listen. I have two teenagers. I used to spend the afternoon drive in the car listening to the show While driving one kid to practice and picking the other up from school. I often think about being the listener in that moment.”

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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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