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Shari Elliker Credits Improvisational Work for Helping Career

Elliker credits the improvisational work for helping her career. Recognizing how to respond, go with whatever is happening in the moment. 

Jim Cryns

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Shari Elliker has an extensive array of experience in radio in some major markets. Currently, she is co-host of the John Curley and Shari Elliker Show on KIRO-FM in Seattle from 3-6 pm PST.

While that’s all fine and well, that’s not what intrigued me the most. What about her portrayal of fictitious anchorperson Andrea Tandy on the HBO series, Veep?

“I auditioned for the part,” Elliker said. “I didn’t think much about it until I got a call from the casting director telling me the director of the episode really wanted me for the role.”

That was great news, but Elliker had other responsibilities she’d committed to. 

At the time, she was working with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (what Elliker referred to as basically a report card for the nation for grades 4-8). 

“The episode of Veep was set to be shot in Howard County, Maryland,” Elliker recalled, “and they had the whole soundstage up there. The casting director called me back, and again she told me the director really liked me and asked if there was some way I could make it work.”

Elliker figured it was worth a shot, called the production company, and told them they were her first priority but wondered if she could make the taping. They told her it was no problem and they could do what they’d planned with her at another time.

All was set for the filming, and Elliker aced it.

“I was thrilled,” Elliker said. “During shooting, I had papers in front of me, as any anchor person would. That was lucky as I was able to look down if I got stuck on a line.”

Elliker said while it was fun, she wasn’t thinking of it as a ‘big break’ in Hollywood. The production company didn’t stay in Maryland much longer.

“I don’t think they had any plans to expand my role, and the Maryland film incentives had dried up.”

She did tape three additional episodes of Veep and one more voice-over for the production. 

Then, as quickly as they came, the Veep production pulled up stakes and headed back to California.

Attending the University of Maryland, Elliker was the GM of WUMD. The school had two radio stations; one in College Park, Maryland, and the other in Baltimore, where she went to school. Elliker originally wanted to be a film major. After a couple of Super 8 projects, she realized that wouldn’t happen. 

“One of my Super-8 projects was about a guy I had a crush on in the dorms. Another was about a sandwich that made itself. Not Fellini stuff.”

With the film dream as vapid as Alex Jones and Infowars, Elliker knew she had to think quickly. Finishing school quickly was a goal, so she switched to communications.

“I learned a lot being on the air at WUMD. They didn’t have what you’d call a robust communications program. It wasn’t even called ‘communication.’ It was more of a hybrid option. It was interdisciplinary where you’d design your own curriculum.” 

Later, Elliker joined a political satire group in D.C., Gross National Product. 

In 1988, GNP launched Scandal Tours, an insider’s bus tour of the sites that have made Washington infamous, and highlighted shady characters like Gary Hart, Fanny Foxe, Marilyn Monroe, and the White House JFK practically turned into a Motel 6.  Elliker played Fawn Hall and Rita Jennrette. 

“Tourists would get on a bus, and the players would wear costumes and act out the scandals,” Elliker said. “We’d run to the back of the bus, hop in the bathroom and change our clothes. Then we’d run back to the front of the bus and grab the microphone.” 

GNP also did stage shows out of The Bayou, a club in Georgetown.

“It was a little like Second City, but more political,” Elliker said. “We’d make fun of both sides, but we weren’t mean-spirited. In 1992 it was easier to poke fun at everything. We did a lot of President George Bush jokes, Dan Quayle jokes.” 

Elliker credits the improvisational work for helping her career. Recognizing how to respond, go with whatever is happening in the moment. 

“I imagine those skills are helpful no matter what business you go into.”

“I was also doing dumb industrial films playing roles like a postal worker,” Elliker said. “One time I was a heroin addict looking for government cheese. Not sure how that ended.” 

Now we come to traffic reporting. Elliker said back in the 90s, traffic reporters were ubiquitous. She wanted to do voiceovers, and a good way to get work would be to get her name recognized. 

“I figured if I got my name out there somehow, it would end up being beneficial,” she said. In a brash move, Elliker called the Metro traffic manager in D.C. and the regional manager happened to be there. 

“I told him I was wondering how one becomes a traffic reporter. He told me I had a nice voice and to send a tape. I taped a  traffic broadcast, then recorded myself reciting the information verbatim.”

It worked. The regional manager told Elliker they needed someone to report on traffic at the Bay Bridge in Maryland, near the Eastern Shore.

“It was beach traffic and the job was god-awful,” Elliker recalls. “Large trucks would downshift in the middle of my report. This went on for the entire summer, and I knew this wasn’t for me.”

Now that reporting traffic was in the dumper, the famous Don and Mike Show called her out of the blue. They had a traffic reporter on maternity leave and asked Elliker if she’d do an afternoon drive until they could find a replacement.

Nope.

“I said I wasn’t going to do an afternoon drive.”

Then, maybe. 

“I thought about it and figured what’s the worst they could do? Talk mean to me? Make fun of me?  I called them back and said I’d do it for a couple of days, and to my surprise, they were really nice and kind to me. I ended up getting the job and did it for four years, becoming part of the ensemble cast. I very much was the giggle-chick on the Don and Mike Show.”

Elliker left D&M in 1998 so she could expand her role in the morning show on WHFS.  She said the WHFS show was different. It was a legendary station born out of a basement.

“I was not cool enough; I was really a dork.” Elliker said people at the station were all ‘super cool.’  “They had a HFSetival, a giant deal with 20 bands. The station took themselves so seriously. The station was on Corporate Drive, but jocks were forbidden from saying it because it wasn’t cool.” 

Elliker hosted her own morning radio show on WBAL in Baltimore from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. starting in 2007 but moved to afternoons once the station went to a news format in the afternoons and moved their veteran talk show host Ron Smith to mornings.

In addition to all this other stuff, Elliker did win the Associated Press “Best Talk Show” in both 2007 and 2008 for The Shari Elliker Show on WBAL.  

(She asked me not to bring up the awards as she’s a humble soul, but there it is.)

Her current show with John Curley on KIRO is news/talk, but it’s always an irreverent look at the world. Despite being on the same show, Curley and Elliker are a country apart during broadcasts. Curley is in Seattle, and Ellikeris in Virginia.

When Elliker was with the Don and Mike Show, Curley would come on as a regular guest, and they got to know each other. Curley was looking for a co-host. 

 Elliker went to Seattle and met with Curley. 

“We talked about all types of topics,” Elliker said. She and Curley hit it off right away. They ended up hiring TomTangney from the station, and they worked together on the Tom & Curley Show for ten years. 

Elliker left a strong impression because in 2021, the station called to say Elliker Tangey was retiring after 27 years at KIRO. After some fill-in shifts, she got the open job. That’s a good thing because Elliker seems to like her new partner. 

“John is brilliant,” she said. “He’s so present. I’ve worked with a lot of people, dealt with a lot of personalities, but John is simply the best. He has command of subjects. Discusses stories that are relevant, funny, disarming. John is never afraid to be vulnerable, even telling a childhood story every so often. They are often hilarious but heartbreaking. I really respect him.”

Living across the country might be healthy for a marriage, but how does it work for a broadcast team?

“We divide the show,” Elliker explained. “I’ll present some of the facts, John will give me his take on it, and we’ll go back and forth. It would be so boring for me if I didn’t find him completely entertaining every day. He truly makes me laugh.” 

Elliker said they had developed a rhythm, kind of like dancing. 

“We give each other room. You get to understand where the other may be going with something.”

Like I said, a healthy marriage.

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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