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Brett Winterble is the King of Queen City Talk Radio

BNM sat down with Brett Winterble to discuss his journey, the role news/talk stations play in local communities, and reflect on his memories of Rush Limbaugh.

Ryan Hedrick

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Charlotte radio host Brett Winterble has a special connection to his new community. Winterble recently celebrated his second year at WBT Charlotte’s News Talk. His tenure there began shortly before the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The versatile radio veteran has traveled all over the country, perfecting his craft. Winterble was raised in Far West Texas, went to school in the Northeast, and has worked at radio stations in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Winterble – an elite talk show host who once filled in for the late Rush Limbaugh whom he used to work for and who he credits in helping him find his way in the business – was tapped by renowned programmer Mike Schaffer to replace legendary WBT host John Hancock who retired after an illustrious run in the Queen City.

During a 20-show trial, Winterble proved to his bosses that he possessed the ability to connect with his callers on a deep level. His understanding of how to draw parallels between national stories and localize them proved uncanny in the hiring process.

Winterble has really embraced his journey. Shortly after officially accepting his current gig, the coronavirus forced the world to a halt. What did that mean for Winterble? The position he accepted and his duties were altered as WBT used its powerful signal and strong community ties to help businesses stay afloat and the community remains informed. Local radio shined during this time, and WBT was no exception.

Barrett News Media recently sat down with Winterble to gain some perspective on his journey, discuss the critical role news/talk stations play in their local communities, and reflect on his memories of the greatest talk radio host of all time, Rush Limbaugh.

What makes WBT Radio unique?

It is an honor to be at WBT Radio, a station that means so much to the Southeast and a station with such a legacy. We are about to celebrate our centennial anniversary. WBT employs special people who believe in great radio, love their community, and are dedicated to their craft. I consider myself very fortunate to have this opportunity; I couldn’t be happier.

What were you doing before you came to WBT?

I was doing an afternoon drive show in beautiful San Diego, California, on then-KFMB and was enjoying myself immensely. I received a call from Mike Schaefer, Program Director, WBT Radio, who told me that they were looking to fill the opening left by WBT Hall-of-Famer John Hancock. It was a great opportunity; I got to sit in for about 15-20 shows, and they offered me a chance to come in and do a PM drive show, and I absolutely jumped at it. 

During that period, how did you approach doing a show in a market that you weren’t completely familiar with?

Even though I was physically doing a show from my home studio on the West Coast, I was mentally present in Charlotte. I had been to Charlotte several times; I was familiar with the landscape and the city, and I was able to project that.

The beauty of living in an interconnected world is that you can find stories that are relevant in several different places. Great radio is about connecting with the audience one-on-one, and that’s what I was able to do.

How did you find your identity as a conservative news/talk host?

I’ve never self-declared, hey I’m a conservative talk show host. I’m a husband, I have a couple of teenagers, and I believe in relating to the audience.

I believe most people live their lives in a little bit of a conservative way; they want to have money in their pockets, they want to have strong family values, they want to provide, they want to do charity. Those are transcendent values, right? So, I believe if you live those values and behave those values, it comes through to the audience.

How should talk radio stations position themselves as the information age evolves?

How does any radio station build that audience and connect to that audience? The answer is simple; building your local audience and leveraging local relationships. In the world of talk radio, I think we tend to think of it in the national picture.

Much of my show is looking at the national landscape and then cross-applying to what’s happening locally, how it’s relevant, and getting context in that regard. The beauty of talk radio is the ability to impact the local community with local talk.

You started at WBT at the beginning of the pandemic; what was that like?

I came to Charlotte in February of 2020. I sat down with then-GM Matt Hanlon and our PD Mike Schaefer, and we had this whole plan to roll me out and meet the community. I got to go to one Hornets game, and then COVID hit. I remember how much work our hosts did on WBT to build equity with our audience during the pandemic. I was the new guy replacing a legend. Our WBT team dug in hard to the community.

Businesses that were suffering, we created a hotline for them to call in to pass along any information that they needed to. We went 6-7 days a week doing COVID coverage and doing news/talk coverage. That was a core component of what WBT does, and I was so happy to slip into that glove.

How did Rush Limbaugh influence you?

Rush Limbaugh was the single most dominant broadcaster that I have ever come across in my life and could not have been a gentler, better person than you would have expected. He was incredibly generous and incredibly charitable.

I first started working with Rush Limbaugh as a 25-year-old who had joined his syndication company before he was working with Premiere [Networks]. The thing that I took from Rush was to pursue my dreams. Rush was fired seven times, and he was proud of the fact that every time they thought he was down, he just kept growing to be a stronger talent and a better person. 

One of the interesting storylines on my journey was the first day that I filled in on WBT was the day Rush announced that he had stage 4 lung cancer. I was handed that information at :50 past the last hour of his program. I’m sitting there, and I’m listening to this, and I’m hearing what he is saying, and this is my friend. I had no idea he was ill. 

To hear that [announcement] and to know that in four minutes, I was going to go live on WBT. It would be one full calendar year later that I would be coming into my first full year anniversary at WBT that Rush passed away. The idea that I would be sitting in that seat that I was trying out for, and I had been blessed to fill in for him while he was still alive, is not a moment that was lost on me.

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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Barrett Media Writers

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