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No Issue is Off Limits For WABC’s Sid Rosenberg

“Imus was a brilliant radio guy, who tutored guys like me and Bernie, yet when you bring him up now all you hear about is Rutgers.”

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For more than a decade, Sid Rosenberg has been a reliable and powerful voice in New York radio. Not one to pigeonhole himself, the sports broadcaster at WFAN and WNEW’s “The Sports Guys”would eventually become co-host of the 77 WABC morning show. There, politics has taken center stage, culminating with former president Donald Trump calling in to Sid and Bernard McGuirk, days after switching from middays in 2018.

“He was glib. He was funny,” Rosenberg told BNM. “He was very good to me and Bernie. He’s known us both for a long time.”

That longstanding relationship played into their questioning as they opted to hurl softballs at the sitting president.

“Were we easy on him? Sure, because he’s a friend,” Rosenberg said.

Such a major get would have seemed unthinkable years earlier, but the natural transition began in Florida a decade earlier. He worked at three all-sports stations in South Florida but started to ease politics into the mix. The pendulum swung away from sports in 2012 when Rosenberg covered the Obama/Romney debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton. 

It was at his last gig—WMEN 640 AM in Palm Beach— Rosenberg created a politics/sports hybrid show, “much to the chagrin of my program directors and the GM.”

Rosenberg was at a crossroads professionally, enjoying sports, but equally passionate about the future of the country. A more wide-ranging show was born using the Don Imus and Howard Stern blueprint.

Of course, talking politics took an expected turn during the Trump years. It all came to a boiling point for broadcasting companies after the January 6, 2021 deadly insurrection at the Capitol.  A mandate was ordered, included at Rosenberg’s Red Apple Media that owns WABC. Hosts were told to no longer spread lies or misinformation on air.

“They didn’t have to do that with me,” Rosenberg said. “I was critical of Donald Trump from the very beginning. A guy like Bernie did need the edict.”

Overall, media have come under scrutiny for its coverage of Trump. When it came to the Capitol rioting and its aftermath, outlets didn’t lose sleep over the violence according to Rosenberg.

Left-leaning cable networks “loved it,” said Rosenberg. “They spent the better part of three and a half years finding new ways to criticize, if not malign, Donald Trump.”  

As for the top conservative voices, such as Sean Hannity, “They didn’t care. They were so angry with the way President Trump was treated and covered,” Rosenberg said. 

While the opinionated Rosenberg admits it was a bad day for Trump, he said, allowing it to define his presidency is akin to what happened to Don Imus.

“He was a brilliant radio guy, who tutored guys like me and Bernie, yet when you bring up Imus now all you talk about is Rutgers,” Rosenberg said.

The Brooklynite, who could be unapologetic on the mic, grew up listening to Stern as a teenager. Rosenberg kept following Stern’s show as he got older and had a family.

He would work with the I-Man years later, on and off, for close to 20 years at WFAN and WABC.

“Both of those guys have influenced me a tremendous amount,” Rosenberg said. “The one thing Imus did teach me was authenticity. He just wanted to make sure each day he was provocative, entertaining, compelling and gave you who he was. That’s what Bernie and I try to do every day. It used to be Howard, but less and less these days, because he’s become very Hollywood.”

As for Imus, who died in the final days of 2020 at age 79, he was also known as a curmudgeon later in life. 

“He was in a bad mood every f***ing day,” Rosenberg recalled. “You couldn’t discern if that was an act or not, but it wasn’t.”

Aside from that drama, little changed to the “Bernie and Sid” show, save for the move to mornings. Behind the scenes, though, was another matter, as Rosenberg had a front-row seat to ownership upheaval.

Cumulus sold WABC in 2020, when John Catsimatidis, the billionaire tycoon, bought the legendary radio station for $12.5 million. The new owner, who runs the Gristedes supermarket chain, made his first foray into media with the vaunted 50,000 watts at 770 on the AM dial. Catsimatidis, though, had been doing a radio show on rival 970 AM WNYM.

The changes from ownership are “night and day,” Rosenberg explained. “They care, let’s start with that.”

Rosenberg, who turned 54 on April 19, contends Cumulus was more focused on “making a couple of bucks,” and he said Mary Berner [President and CEO] was trying to make it worth something it’s not.

Berner would sell off a station “without any hesitation.”

By contrast, Sid speaks to Catsimatidis every day, a relationship that eluded him with Cumulus. Not long after the ink dried on the Red Apple Media takeover of WABC, they put forth a new contract, this time with their morning show. Rosenberg received a multi-year extension.

Aside from securing Rosenberg for the long term, Catsimatidis has used his love of New York City radio to explore a vintage weekend look.

“Cumulus didn’t give a shit. They sold it out—doctor this, lawyer that,” Rosenberg said. 

Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie) is back on WABC for a Saturday night oldies show. The station, thereafter, added Tony Orlando for his own spin on the classic hits from decades ago. It’s believed to be his first radio show.

Catsimatidis and company didn’t stop there.

They brought Joe Piscopo on board from 970 AM for a Sunday night Frank Sinatra program. Despite Piscopo’s morning show hosting duties for the Hackensack, NJ, station, Rosenberg has no concern for his job security.

“I don’t give a f**k if you’re Howard Stern, Don Imus, Craig Carton or Mike Francesa,” Rosenberg admitted. “I never look over my shoulder. I don’t think anybody is nearly as good. Joe is a solid talent. He’s good on the air. There’s no question about it. But he ain’t better than me.”

Under Red Apple’s auspices, Dave Labrozzi is the program director. He moved across the hall when WABC was still located above Madison Square Garden in 2019 after Cumulus’ WPLJ was sold. He replaced Craig Schwalb, now director of content integration and operations at WTOP in Washington.

“Dave and I have bashed heads more than I ever did with Craig,” Rosenberg said. “Schwalb was a little easier to convince than Dave. I would say Dave is a little more old school in the way he operates the station, what he expects from his talent.” 

WABC is keeping a close eye on iHeart’s WOR 710 AM, home to Sean Hannity (who originally was part of the TalkRadio 77 WABC team). As of March 2021, WABC trailed WOR, 2.3-1.9, in the Nielsen ratings. While WABC stayed virtually unchanged in the previous six months, a disturbing trend emerged at WOR, which slipped from 3.6 in November to 2.4 at the close of winter holiday book.

But Rosenberg claims his show has “beaten the shit out of WOR lately” with Len Berman and Michael Riedel.

While Rosenberg may not be going anywhere, the station did make an odd programming choice this year by cutting the morning show by 30 minutes. “The Early Show with Juliet Huddy and Frank Morano” was extended from 5 to 6:30 a.m. Sid, though, is part of the lead-in, providing sports and commentary.

“Three and a half hours is a long show anyway,” Rosenberg said.

Plus, cutting into “Bernie and Sid” for the greater good of WABC is fine with him.  

Staying connected to his “first love,” sports, Rosenberg was given a weekend show –Sid Sunday Sports – although it’s been off the air in recent months.

“The summer is here, and I don’t want to spend two hours on a Sunday afternoon while my wife and kids are going to the beach, sitting in a studio on Third Avenue talking baseball,” Rosenberg said.

He expects to resume this show in the fall for football season, “I believe.”

Rosenberg may not be talking baseball, but he did help WABC hire Ed Randall, his former WFAN colleague for his longtime branded ‘Talking Baseball’ Sunday afternoons.

From Randall to Morrow, weekends give listeners and station brass a chance to catch their breath from the heavier topics and news. However, politics is not eliminated from the weekend programming with Jeannie Pirro, Dick Morris, the owner himself, Catsimatidis and Rudy Giuliani, who also hosts a weekday program.

Giuliani made news on April 28 when feds searched and seized evidence from his Manhattan office as part of their investigation. Which begs the question, is it time for WABC to pull the plug on the former mayor?

“I don’t think so,” Rosenberg contended. “Anybody [who] knew, was involved with, let alone, close to Donald Trump, they’re looking to humiliate, embarrass, if not find a way to put him in jail. There’s nothing here. This goes right back again to the Russian hoax, the Ukraine hoax… You take Rudy Giuliani off the air, you’re basically saying he’s guilty, and he’s not.”

Until proof is shown that Giuliani did something illegal, “you don’t take the man off the air. Once you do that you’re saying, ‘he’s toxic.’”

Rosenberg is proud that WABC bosses are “not going to destroy a man’s career over a lie.”

However, Rosenberg does anticipate his former colleague Curtis Sliwa, who left WABC during a mayoral run this year, will be back on the air. Since leaving, Sliwa’s noon-3 p.m. slot has been co-opted by syndicated Charlie Kirk followed by Newsmax early evening star Greg Kelly with a two-hour local show. Kelly is known to New Yorkers for his several years spent on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York.”

Rosenberg, who is making appearances for the Republican candidate, expects Sliwa will win his party’s nomination in the June 22 primary, but “he’ll have difficulty beating Eric Adams [Brooklyn borough president]” in the general election.

Catsimatidis, who briefly talked about his own mayoral run and a possible gubernatorial campaign next year to oppose Governor Andrew Cuomo, maintains a close bond with Sliwa.

“So, I think these guys are kind of keeping it warm,” Rosenberg said.

Where the Guardian Angels founder will find himself for an eventual WABC return remains uncertain, but “that choice, while not solely up to him, will probably be somewhat up to him. If I had to guess,” Rosenberg said.

Harder to fill is the spot previously held by the legendary Rush Limbaugh, who died in February. Dan Bongino, though, could be the “heir-apparent” for conservatives, as Westwood One’s new midday host. However, Premiere Networks hasn’t named a replacement for Limbaugh’s slot, as they air “best of” clips.

“Rush was magnificent. I don’t care if you liked his politics or not,” Rosenberg said. “The guy knew how to do a radio show and that’s the bottom line.”

With the changes on the New York radio landscape, and at WABC itself, Rosenberg remains a constant, spanning more than 20 years on air. He uses that clout to create the best content.

“[Catsimatidis], along with Chad Lopez [Red Apple Media/WABC president] and Dave Labrozzi have given me a tremendous amount of freedom to do the morning show the way I always wanted to.”

BNM Writers

The Donald Trump Conundrum For News/Talk Personalities

I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

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With 721 days to go until the 2024 Election, Donald Trump decided it was time for him to officially jump into the race. He could not wait any longer. And on Tuesday night, in a speech that lasted more than an hour, he decided to move ahead and officially kick off 2024, one week after the 2022 midterms ended. 

This has created an interesting dynamic for talk radio. Not only does it give reason to quickly move on from the over-analyzing of dissecting what happened in the midterms, but Trump is generally good for business, especially when he has been (mostly) off the radar the last two years. 

And as is always the case with Trump, the opinions and emotions will be strong across the aisle.

But with the opinions and emotions so strong across the aisle, what’s the play for News/Talk hosts?

Many are comparing this to 2015-16, when conservative-leaning media broke down pro-Trump or never-Trump, and it changed the landscape and careers for some, depending on which side of the aisle one landed on. 

However, there are stark differences this time around.

Those who would call themselves conservatives would all agree that the policies implemented by Donald Trump were a success. Whether it was economic policy, foreign policy, trade policy, or judges appointed, the 45th President kept to his word on all of the above and they were all highly-successful, especially before the pandemic. 

There is no true “never-Trump” angle amongst conservatives like there was in 2016. The question this time around is simply: “Is Trump the best person to move Trumpism forward? Or is there a better option to keep the movement moving ahead?”

That’s a very different conversation amongst the news/talk audience, that if handled properly, should not result in audiences turning on their favorite personalities, regardless of which side of the conversation one might come down on.

For these reasons, I don’t foresee a “civil war” amongst conservatives in the way we saw it six years ago. 

And for our audiences, there will be hosts who lean more Pro-Trump or Pro-DeSantis (or whoever else), but I would suggest that in order to not risk alienating either side of the audience, that we guide the conversation this early in the process.

That doesn’t mean not having an opinion. That’s ultimately our job. But if we form that opinion, on either side, through the prism of, “We’ve still got 18-24 months of this, things will change, and here are the pros and cons of what I’m thinking…”, it creates an environment that invites listener interaction and makes your show the place to voice opinions on both sides of the issue.

Also, that audience interaction will remain our great leverage in this conversation that cable news, newspapers, and social media can’t duplicate with the same intimacy. So let’s take advantage of it and it will also give us an on-the-ground feel for where the audience is in our market in a way the political consulting class can only dream of.

That’s how we can win this 2024 news cycle, that, yes, believe it or not, has already started. 

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BNM Writers

Post Midterm Elections: A Fresh Approach?

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”.

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The leftovers from the midterm elections are still in the refrigerator but I’m looking forward to either finishing them or tossing them out.

I will not feed them to the dog, I love dogs too much.

Among the predictable messages that come after election results, no matter how long they take is “we need to do better”. That’s generally a given after looking at either side of a political scorecard but in this particular case, I think it resonates a bit more, for us.

We, the news people, need to do better. Actually, we need to be better. 

And, of course, we can be.

Once again, this is not an attempt at cheerleading nor is it a shot in the arm. 

I am no more a clean thinker than anyone else on the planet but I believe I share a common vulnerability; fatigue.

The hamster wheel that is a job like ours perpetuates a buildup, a film of apathy and when it comes to covering politics, or more accurately the antics of politicians and candidates, it’s a difficult ride to dismount. 

But once again, we have that regular opportunity to alter the game plan again. 

The faces are now changing in leadership (a little) and prominence (somewhat) but of course, some things will remain familiar. 

The House is flipping, 45 wants to be 47 and the old arguments will now feature a few new, differing voices.

It is these potential differences, I believe now as much as ever, our audiences want us to steer towards. If you ask yourself, “how weary am I” from the last two years of diatribe, in-fighting, out-fighting and people in power being just plain mean, ask yourself, “how weary are they?” … our audience?

I could name names, point fingers and cite examples but the joy of this business is the fact that anyone reading this (thanks, by the way) can think of countless citations all on their own.

 So, what is happening right now?”

Will another run at The White House come with a different approach by the now again candidate?

Congress has yet another opportunity to be something other than what they have been.

What will we do? 

Will we be different?

I would ask, should we be different but I already think we should, so ask yourselves.

Legislating, campaigning, and communicating… are all becoming more and more feral.

And we, in this business, wait for it, we pursue and we cannot wait to cover it.

Our broadcast sense of neutrality and non-partisanship deteriorates by the minute. 

Hell, we even add to it all.

We are on the hook for some of this, make no mistake. 

I’ve asked this before, but what’s more disheartening than hearing or seeing a veteran, tenured and respected anchor/reporter wearing their political and personal leanings in their coverage.  Former Presidents are Former Presidents, yet suddenly Donald Trump is Ex-President Trump. I never heard, of Ex-President Obama or Bush or Clinton or Hoover.

False Claims have now become Lies

We lash out in the only way most of us know how, in our writing. Are we being clever or clandestine or just unscrupulous? At a minimum, it’s immature.

If you really need that badly to step into your own stories using addition or omission, go get a talk show.

(This is not a positional complaint by the author here, it’s about how we report the news. Anyone wishing to know where this former cop-current newsperson stands on issues social and political, feel free to send a detailed list of questions. You’ll either be fascinated or incredibly bored.)

We are supposed to know what’s important and relevant and what is not. 

When we ignore that ability, we become exactly what we at least once didn’t wish to be.

What actually is happening in the story constantly takes a back seat to the language, the insults, and the juvenile name-calling that we’ve become so accustomed to. So much that it falls into our coverage without us even thinking about the issues that are actually being batted about, they are lost or diluted.

And that’s not what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s a lot easier to republish somebody’s rehearsed soundbite or republish a tweet than actually tell the story with detail and non-partisanship.

There is no wrong in reporting incendiary remarks or behavior when it is actually news but we are regularly caught in somebody else’s trap, an individual looking for coverage, for attention. They need facetime or namespace and they use us to do it. 

We did a weak job because the same people will do it again tomorrow. We put them in control of our jobs.

Afterward, we look at the work we just produced and realize we just got hosed. 

But, I say with a distinct level of insufferable naiveté, our job is our job, our work is our work.

We shouldn’t let somebody else take the wheel.

The truth is still out there and we don’t run from it, we pursue it. At least we are supposed to go after it.

The job is to clear away the brush, the camouflage.  Real journalists (I will never call myself one, I simply stand in awe of them) will sidestep the rhetoric, all veil and the deception. They can do that and still be creative, engaging and accurate.

The lawmaker, the politician, the candidate all hold dominance over the news media when their soundbites and exclamations drive the story. 

We can only control what we do.

I would much rather it be we to effect change as opposed to someone like Kari Lake or another politician or wannabe thinking it will be up to people like her to “reform” the media.

So, what are we going to do differently this time around? 

And before we arrogantly start thinking that it’s not we, who need to change, think again.

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BNM Writers

KRLD’s Drew Anderssen Wants The Audience to Feel Positive About The Future

Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business of radio leading him to his position at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks.

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You can always send in the traditional resume for a job. Maybe get a referral from a friend. Nepotism is almost a sure thing. Drew Anderssen sought a unique way to get himself into the business he loved. 

“As a kid, I was a chronic caller to radio stations, so I think that kind of made me, in effect, an intern,” Anderssen jokes. “I was always a fan of radio. I listened to the Edge in Dallas. It was an alternative station. It was a thrill to hear my calls on the air.”

Anderssen grew up in Dallas and moved back home. In May, Audacy hired Drew Anderssen to run the day-to-day operations at NewsRadio 1080 KRLD and Texas State Networks. Most recently, Anderson served as Brand Manager at WSB in Atlanta and spent the previous 24 years with Cox Media Group (CMG). 

“I wanted to be at Audacy,” Anderssen said, “but I also have a lot of family in Dallas. My dad has some health concerns, so that was also a driving force to come home. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d ever have left WSB. I still have a great relationship with Cox.”

Anderssen started his career with CMG in 1998 as operations manager of News-Talk KRMG in Tulsa, OK. In July 2012 he transferred to the PD post at sister WDBO in Orlando and added operations manager stripes in 2016. Prior to joining CMG, Anderssen spent several years in promotions, research and programming in Texas and Oklahoma.

Anderssen went to college at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. In addition to his career in radio, Anderssen makes no apologies for being an entrepreneur, owning several different businesses in diverse areas. 

“I find time for my businesses,” Anderssen said. “I’m able to continue my radio career as I put good people in the right positions. Once you get past the startup phase, you can step away with confidence. That’s why I like to expand my personal footprint beyond radio. I love entertainment and I love to make money.”

Well, there you go.

Anderssen was also blessed or cursed with a very curious mind. Get this; he does some pretty good impressions. 

“I can do essentially any character from In Living Color or newscasters,” Anderssen said.

Fire Marshall Bill? Wanda? Walter Cronkite, Ron Burgundy?

“Some of them were spot-on, and gave people a laugh,” Anderssen said. “My original plan was to go to medical school. I was a pre-med major then I got hit by the radio bug.”

His parents were concerned, perhaps a bit disappointed with their son’s career interest. It’s always convenient to have a doctor in the family. But how often do you really need a radio guy?

Anderssen said his education at Midwestern State had a practical and hands-on approach. 

“I was already working at the college radio station. It gave me an entry into media. I was having fun. My parents wondered when I’d get a ‘real job,’ figured I was never going to make a living. Who in this business didn’t hear that?” Anderssen said. 

He inherited his business acumen from his father, who owned a broadcasting school, among other interests. Elkins Institute of Radio Broadcasting was one of his ventures. 

“I imagine a lot of people in the industry today went through that school,” Anderssen explained. “It dissolved and is no longer around. My dad’s first job after he got home from Vietnam was to recruit people to enroll at Elkins.”

His career has allowed him to assess change and perhaps the direction of radio. 

“I think 20 years ago, maybe longer, we lived in an environment where the news brand wanted to be everything in terms of providing information,” Anderssen said. “Politics is a story generator for all news. I want people to come out of those experiences feeling positive about the future. This is what I love. We live in the greatest country, but I think that has been up for debate the last four years. I’m proud of the work we’ve done.”

He said we’re seeing a lot of targeted audiences with podcasting, a natural progression considering the intimate medium.

“We will see a lot more in the podcasting realm, some with great successes,” Anderssen said. “A lot of podcasters seek out that niche, make huge investments,  planting the flag, so to speak.”

Personalities like Nikki Medero and Mark Thompson immediately created a YouTube presence after KGO in San Francisco eschewed news in favor of gambling in October. 

“I think it makes a lot of sense to do that,” Anderssen said. “Sometimes you need to make a quick pivot. A lot of people may be in for a wakeup call. If you’re not in YouTube and other similar spaces, you’re missing an opportunity. I’d rather see people in our industry be more proactive than reactive.”

He said brands are built with platforms. The best thinkers in broadcasting had better be pondering how to leverage different platforms. 

Podcasts have created a bit of an identity dilemma for talent. Does talent carry over their ideas and opinions into the podcast realm? That can be concerning if they carry the journalistic mantle in the radio gig. 

“I think most talent in the business is seeking out that diverse relationship with their listeners,” Anderssen explained. “If some of our home-grown talent finds a national audience with their podcast, that can be a good thing for a radio brand. We can adopt a sort of 360-degree look at leveraging content across platforms. Build the individual and the platform.” However, Anderssen said on their podcasts, his talkers are obligated to pay homage to their local call letters. 

Earlier in his career, Anderssen said he was responsible for integrating radio and television newsrooms to work with some kind of synergy. He said in his experience he’s seen a bit of radio–envy among television broadcasters in the ability to express themselves. 

“Radio people are able to tell stories TV people can’t tell,” Anderssen said. “That’s the reason I think a lot of TV people want to get into radio. I knew a lot of reporters who wanted to explore more in-depth stories. Television reporters are handcuffed with a two-minute segment, and that can be frustrating. Especially with topics they’re passionate about.” 

“Journalists crossing over into their own views on a story is a concern,” Anderssen said. “I think there’s been a debate on where that line is for years. That line becomes grayer all the time. We’ve learned that television people are more often displaying their leanings and opinions on broadcasts.”

Anderssen said he thinks radio and television consumers want a human connection with the people they listen to. The connection takes on an emotional component. 

“The consumer is in their car and wants to come away with a feeling. You must be real to provide that connection and feeling.”

 “From a traditional news standpoint, you don’t want any of your people taking on an on-air opinion with a story,” Anderssen said. “You just want to deliver the story, not get caught up in some political Left or Right. We don’t want to put our brand in a position to take sides. We live in an extraordinarily divisive world. That said, you can find yourself in a bind.”

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