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With Sports & NBC Behind Him, Len Berman’s Living in the Moment at 710 WOR

“Here’s a political radio station, and you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show.”

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For three decades, Len Berman was an accomplished sports anchor in New York. He left WNBC in 2009 after a 27-year run at 30 Rock.

That was only the end of his TV career, though. Since 2015, Berman has proven to be a more than capable radio host as one-half of the WOR Morning Show with Michael Riedel. His transition to a different medium would be made easier from dabbling in news at WNBC.

Tom Cuddy, WOR’s program director, thought Berman could “broaden his horizons” after seeing him years ago doing sports on WBZ in Boston and from appearances on WNBC. 

While covering the Olympics in 1992 Berman made strides into news, co-anchoring with Sue Simmons and again in 1996 when they both were in Atlanta.

“Len was a superb sports anchor, but I think he would’ve embraced anchoring the news, and he would’ve been good at it too!” Simmons said.

Berman would also rotate as co-anchor with Simmons on Live at Five in 2005 when Jim Rosenfeld left for WCBS.

“We had an easy on-air rapport, Simmons said. “He’s such a professional.”

Some may also remember Berman’s brief radio run in 1993 at WFAN. It’s not a highlight for the award-winning sportscaster, who was supposed to do a four-hour show with veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica.

“The minute I signed the contract I tried to get out of it,” Berman admitted. “Then I got killed by [Bob] Raissman [with the New York Daily News] and by [Don] Imus. That was all me. I got cold feet.”

The burden of Berman’s nighttime TV gig led Joel Hollander, WFAN general manager at the time, to split the shift with Lupica. Within a few months, Berman was let out of his contract, but he was not soured on radio.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t think I wanted to do sports radio,” Berman said. “I didn’t know who the second line was on the New York Rangers, let alone the first line. I could tell stories, but I wasn’t what you’d call a sports fanatic.”

So, Berman had the journalistic chops to step out of his comfort zone, but he wasn’t prepared for the politics, even before the Trump era.

“I never thought of myself as anything until I had to label myself,” Berman said. “I guess some of the policies are more liberal than not when it comes to guns or abortion. But I always judged each issue on its own basis.”

From the world of sports, Berman knows all about fan frenzy, but “that’s chicken feed compared to this.”

Opinion comes with the territory and that was unique for Berman, who prided himself on delivering sports commentaries from all perspectives. That “MO” is out the window in talk radio.

The emails come in and if they aren’t over the top politically, he’ll respond. He cited a recent listener who complained about Berman’s views on Israel. Berman, who is Jewish, responded that he’s a strong supporter of Israel, but “that’s doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that the Israeli government does, much like I consider myself a pretty good American. I don’t agree with everything our government does.”

“I appreciate people who respect your opinion and [who] treat [you] honestly and fairly,” Berman said. 

His more progressive views are a contrast to powerhouse syndicated host Sean Hannity and the late Rush Limbaugh, heard on WOR for years.

“From 5 a.m. until 9 at night I’m the only voice that leans left on the radio station,” Berman said.

That meant once Donald Trump was elected, Berman was the lone host in opposition.

Incidentally, Berman voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but opted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

“It was easy on the Trump side to come up with opinions,” Berman said. “Either fortunately, or unfortunately, I came down on the side opposed to Trump. Maybe it made for good radio that we had two sides.”

Aside from the unexpected political cauldron that Berman would walk into, his on-air TV life didn’t automatically translate to radio.

“When I first started, I think the boss wasn’t real comfortable that I could handle a show from beginning to end,” Berman admitted.

He was fine with speaking to guests or callers, but the basic radio elements were foreign to him, such as navigating segments or doing a live commercial read. While it seems simple on the surface, Berman was used to putting together a 3:15 sportscast nightly at WNBC. Now, he was responsible for four hours of content daily.

“That’s very different,” Berman said. “It’s a whole different skill set.”

Tough Times with Todd

Berman initially was teamed with Todd Schnitt, but that was an ill-fated partnering.

“It was no secret that we did not get along,” Berman admitted. “It probably showed on the air.”

Schnitt, a native New Yorker, was the conservative voice who had been hosting his own show, The MJ Morning Show. He’s been fronting a political-centric afternoon drive program, The Schnitt Show, since 2001. However, failing in New York City would be a blemish to his career and, for the 34 months together, a blemish for Berman.

“Can you imagine coming to work and you don’t talk to your co-host except when you’re on the air?” Berman said. “It was uncomfortable. It wasn’t a lot of fun.”

As awkward as it was, though, Berman had no intention of walking away from WOR because, “it was just something to do,” after his forced retirement from WNBC.

But iHeart, according to Berman, was grooming Schnitt to become a star at WOR. Therefore, with the chemistry failing, Berman thought he would take the fall. At one point, Berman joked on the air that he was like Alan Colmes, who had a Fox News show with Sean Hannity. One day Colmes was gone, and the cable news wars were altered forever.

“I was just shocked that it didn’t happen,” Berman said.

So, when Cuddy contacted Berman in October 2017 about Schnitt’s exit, he was stunned. It was a sudden departure and Berman was forced to fly solo in the studio the next day.

Officially, iHeart said they couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Schnitt, “[but] I’m being very honest with you. I always thought something happened, I never knew what,” Berman admitted. “Maybe he wanted a lot more. WOR does not overpay. Trust me.”

Since 2018, Berman and former theater critic Michael Riedel have a much better ying and yang.

“You figure that one out. Here’s a political radio station, you’ve got a Broadway guy and a sports guy and we’ve got a successful radio show,” Berman said.

Berman auditioned with fill-in guests on air and with the mics off. When it was finally Riedel’s turn, Berman was not familiar with his print or broadcasting background. Perhaps, it was that discovery that led to immediately clicking.

Their producer thought the off-the-cuff chatting was perfect and laid the groundwork for their on-air relationship.

“We both had broad experiences, so that’s why it’s worked,” Berman said. “We really do mix it up,” he said. “We’re very big on having fun.”

Battle for Morning Ratings 

He is proud of a long stretch, topping news/talk rival Red Apple Media’s WABC for more than a year, but Berman doesn’t get too caught up in the ratings. Another competitor is Salem’s 970 WNYM/The Answer. But the weaker signal makes them less formidable.

Another feather in his cap is occasionally ranking number one on Long Island among all morning shows.

WABC’s Sid Rosenberg recently told Barrett News Media that his morning show with Bernard McGuirk has “beaten the shit out of WOR lately.”

Berman countered, “If they’re ahead of us by a tenth or two-tenths, trust me, they’re not beating the shit out of us.”

The WOR host is so laid back about the competition that he’s never heard WNYM morning host Joe Piscopo or Bernie and Sid, although Riedel has listened to their WABC show podcast.

“I haven’t. I always had that approach in radio and television that I’m going to do the best job I can possibly do and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may,” Berman said.

But Berman does have a history with Rosenberg, as a guest several times on his South Florida show. He also texted Rosenberg a couple of years ago about a matter unrelated to broadcasting.

“[He’s] a character,” Berman said. “If he wants to knock us, go for it. I’m not going to fire back.”

Life Since COVID

Since the pandemic took hold in New York in the spring of 2020, Berman and Riedel are working remotely. You can add news anchor Joe Bartlett to the list, who was planned to retire in 2020, but moved back home to South Carolina and has kept working each morning.

“There are people who don’t know, I don’t know how that’s possible, none of us [is] in the studio,” Berman said.

Berman is based on Long Island, while Riedel is at home in the West Village. 

As mask restrictions are loosening and vaccinations are increasing, it remains to be seen when the duo will return to their Tribeca studios.

“They have not made any decisions yet,” Berman said.

The fully vaccinated Berman said if iHeart brass require him to go back to radio station for hosting duties, “it’s something I would consider.”

However, Berman said, “I have the luxury of having already been retired. So, if I decide I really don’t want to get up another hour early and commute all that much, at least I have the luxury of knowing that I have that option.”

He is under contract, but in the fluid world of radio, coupled with the post-COVID cutbacks, there remains a lot of unknown.

“It really is day-to-day or month-to-month, as far as what my thinking is,” Berman said.

Len and Jill celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2020, but with his wife’s real estate business thriving, he’s in no rush to retire and head to Florida.

“At some point we’ll go back, at least for the winter,” Berman said.  

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More people would actually have to go to these things.

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

Why?

I don’t see it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t get me started.

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BNM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

Brady Farkas

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

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