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John Curley: An Impossibly Funny, Extemporaneous Guy

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I’m going to hit the boilerplate information at the top. Then I can venture into the complex, funny and curious mind of John Curley.

Curley has worked alongside Shari Elliker on KIRO since January 2021. He had been paired with Tom Tangney on The Tom & Curley Show, which debuted in 2014. Tangney had been at KIRO for nearly 30 years. Before that, he was an Emmy Award-winning TV host. 

Curley explained Tangney’s departure this way.

“Tom’s mother was 94 while she struggled through the pandemic,” Curley said. 

“He’s in his mid-60s, and I think he essentially understood life is ephemeral, and he had other things to experience. Perhaps he felt the job wasn’t as much fun as it once had been.”

Curley described his former partner as a polar opposite when it came to politics. 

“You could hit your brother on the head with a telephone,” Curley said. “Then, a short while later, you’d be playing Nerf football in the yard because there was nobody else to play with. That’s the way it was.”

You just buried differences you were bound to have that day and moved on.

“Patch it up quick,” Curley explained. Tom and I had that brother relationship. We’d go at it on the air, and after a commercial break, we’d be fine again.”

Politics was a contentious issue between the duo, but Curley said on the radio today that the Left vs. Right thing doesn’t work anymore.

“The audience feels the tension.”

The pandemic affected Curley’s life hard and forced him to redefine his priorities. “I lost half a million dollars,” Curley said. “My auction business cratered.” Still, John Curley Auction Entertainment is doing quite well, thank you. The man could sell hair extensions to Donald Trump. Maybe even dreadlocks.

One afternoon on the air, Tom Tangney pissed Curley off something fierce. So Curley set down his headset and went outside in the middle of the show. Broadcasting from his cabin, he figured he had some chores to do anyway.

“I didn’t want to scream at him, so I hopped on my tractor and took care of a few things,” Curley said. 

You might ask how that went over. 

“I know a big fan who listens to our show a lot. She said it was 20 minutes of intense radio. She thought Tom was going to have a heart attack, wondering where I had gone. But he is one of the most good-natured human beings I’ve known. Nothing phases him. He’d laugh at negative text messages sent his way and never took anything personally.”

Sounds like a eulogy, but Tom Tangney is alive and well.  

Curley never looks at his messages at work. 

“The IT guy would call me and ask me to delete 87,000 unread emails. I guess I was clogging the system.”

Curley is an impossibly funny, and it turns out, extemporaneous guy. He can really think on his feet. A woman in the office, Stephanie, asked Curley if he could come back and take a look at a video. The guy in the video was drunk as a skunk, holding a mop and fixing to smash in a window on a truck. 

“Stephanie asked me to do a voice-over, kind of like a baseball play-by-play description of what the guy was doing.”

Curley did. And it was hilarious. 

“The man fixes his stance and starts reigning blows on the window with the mop handle. That’s 14 attempts if you’re counting at home.” That’s just a snippet. The man goes on to climbing on the roof and quickly falling off the relatively short roof. Somebody get some salami and cream cheese and rub it in this guy’s face. He’s down.” 

We laugh at an idiot’s expense, but he deserved it.

As the kids say, the video was picked up and went ‘viral.’

Curley is a little odd. And I mean that in the most fantastic way.

He lives in a 300-square-foot cabin with no indoor toilet. But that’s not the odd part.

“I never watched The Godfather until recently when I was flying back from Paris,” Curley said.

“I remember reading about Marlon Brando and how he worked the scene. The cat with him wasn’t even supposed to be in the scene. Somehow the cat was on the set and tried to get off. He jumped into Brando’s lap before the take when he’s in his office for his daughter’s wedding. Here is Brando, just petting the cat. It’s biting at his hand, all while this guy is asking for a favor. When Don Corleone comes to a decision, he sets the cat on the desk, and it disappears. It just all organically developed.”

Yup. That’s a taste of what it’s like talking to John Curley. 

He’s tight with his brother Chuck, always has been. They made a pact when they were kids. 

“We were having breakfast and reading the ‘commercials’ on the side of the cereal boxes. On one box was an ad for the movie Star Wars, which had just come out. We vowed to never see the movie. A sacred pact.”

They never did. To compound matters, Curley said he interviewed George Lucas on a junket a while back, and Lucas asked him what he thought of the latest installment of the series. 

“I told him I never saw any of them,” Curley said, once again, no trace of embarrassment. “I can still see his face.”

You had to figure if there was no indoor toilet in his cabin; a television was not part of the scene either.

He’s never seen Cheers, Titanic or ET. So Curley gets a pass on those. None are what I would refer to as required viewing. Besides, there was still room on the door for Jack. 

If he were ignorant of movies and television, you’d assume the guy read books all his life. You’d be wrong. But he did catch up. 

“I read magazines or newspapers to be current, but I had never spent time reading books. I’d never read Dickens, Slaughterhouse Five, Great Expectations.

Yup, no embarrassment. 

“I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. I also knew television was like heroin. I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard about people sitting at home and binging a series. I’d just feel empty. I’d never do it.”

His father subscribed to one of those book series where if you purchased Little Women, you’d get The Great Gatsby for free!  “Collect all l00 of our classic books,” and get a free bowl of soup. 

“I plowed through them all,” Curley said. 

“I do see why it’s important to read classics. Not just going through the motions, but what you can really take away from them. I don’t feel any smarter. A great sense of satisfaction. Now I see that reading is important, and I’m not just going through the motions.” 

When his father passed away, he and his brother Chuck couldn’t help themselves from goofing around–even at the funeral. 

“Each of us were on opposite sides of the grave,” Curley said. “Chuck was lifting up his leg as if he was going to climb in. I did the same. What we realized and what we were saying is, we recognized we were the next ones in a grave. One of us was going to be first. We wondered how many more summers each of us had left.”

His mother left him some money when she passed, as well as 10 acres of land. Curley said he sees all sorts of snakes, cougars, bears, and bobcats. 

“I know a guy named Larry who tracked a cougar who had jumped over some fences,” Curley explained. “He tracked it down and killed it.”

A couple of weeks later, Larry invited Curley over to dinner. While he was enjoying his meal, Larry’s wife Dana asked Curley how he was enjoying the cougar meat.

Amazingly, Curley didn’t drop his fork and stop eating. He wasn’t repulsed. 

“It’s just a cat,” he said. “I’ve only got a couple more bites, just let me finish.”

Just as he lives off the radar, Curley said he doesn’t have a lot of friends. 


“People assume if you’re on radio and TV, you hang out with all sorts of people. I don’t. My mother told me she was going to throw a surprise party for me on my 26th birthday. She said she couldn’t do it because she couldn’t think of any of my friends.”

I’m pretty sure he loves his brother Chuck, even if Curley didn’t say it. Maybe it’s an Irish thing. Chuck is a lawyer and enjoys a fine life. Still, Chuck is very intrigued by the way his brother’s life turned out. 

Chuck told his brother that he’d followed all the rules in life. He said he completed all the assignments on time, worked the extra credit problems, went to law school, graduated top of his class, had a rainy day fund, changed the oil in the car before he was required to, changed batteries in his home fire alarms regularly. Chuck played life by the numbers.

‘You’re further along than I am,’ Chuck told his brother. ‘You don’t play by any of the rules. You have nice clothes. You’re successful.’ It’s not that it bothered his brother. Instead, he was just amazed at how far his brother had gone coloring outside the lines. 

“We talk all the time,” Curley said. “He’ll call when he’s driving into the office.”

The magic still happens when Curley visits his brother at Christmas. 

“I’ll sneak up behind him and start pounding on his back for no reason.”

When they were younger, one of them would just start doing jumping jacks out of nowhere.

“My brother would be watching TV, and I’d start doing jumping jacks. That was really a warning. It symbolized that ‘Grand Dad had something to say.’ That meant I was about to drag him to the carpet, put him in a wrestling move, and fart in his face.”

When they get together today, if one starts doing jumping jacks, it’s a clear signal for the other to start running. 

A Billy Bob Thornton Story.

Curley interviewed actor, director, and writer Billy Bob Thornton on a press junket. He said you sit a lot closer to your interview subject than you’d think. Almost knee to knee. 

“You sit around with the star and wait for them to adjust the lights,” Curley said. “Billy Bob, like most of them, was polite. But they’ve been answering the same questions for hours. You can understand how this could be hard for them.”

They were at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, asking each other which way they were going to sit for the interview.

“I’d never seen that switchblade thing,” Curley said without embarrassment. He meant to say Sling Blade. “We were just waiting, and I told him I figured he was sent a lot of scripts.”

Billy Bob politely smiled and nodded. 

“I’ve got a great movie idea,” Curley told Thornton. Keep in mind, Curley is a guy who hasn’t really seen a lot of movies. It figures he’d have an idea for one.

“I could tell Billy Bob was thrilled,” Curley said sarcastically. “I told him it was a true story, and he said, ‘Let me hear it.’”

Curley did. It’s a rather long and convoluted story, but the critical component is that Billy Bob listened to Curley’s pitch. 

‘Hollywood would have ruined your story,’ Billy Bob told Curley. Curley asked Billy Bob what he would do with the story.

It’s not essential here what Billy Bob told him, just because Curley had the brass balls to pitch a goofy story to an accomplished Hollywood guy like Thornton.

Curley presumably got his dry wit and humor from his father, Jack Curley. He kept his father’s last voicemail before he died. 

“He told me he’d just come from the doctor,” Curley said. “It’s cancer, he told me. The fast kind.”

The senior Curley told his son if he didn’t have any plans on Sunday, he should come out to see him and say goodbye.

“I got to the house and saw my father,” Curley said. “I asked him how he was feeling.”

‘Anxious,’ his father told him. 

“I said, why? You’ve been a good Catholic all your life. He told me he didn’t think there was a heaven. Statistically, he said, there was no more room in heaven. There were too many people.” 

It was time. As Curley was walking out of the room, he told his father goodbye. 

“He told me I was a good son,” Curley said. “I couldn’t believe it. My father was about to cry. I figured, god-damn, I’m going back to that old Irish guy and get an ‘I love you’ out of him before he goes. I turned at the door and said, ‘I love you, Dad.’ He just nodded at me and said, ‘I know you do.’”

In a way, this was hard for Curley. He didn’t get the ‘I love you’ he’d hoped for. His brother Chuck told him, ‘You know, in his world, him saying ‘you were a good son’ was better than an ‘I love you.’

“My father had a giant personality,” Curley said. “I once asked him what he considered a friend to be. He told me, ‘A friend is someone I can borrow five bucks from, not pay him back, and he never says anything.”

His interview with daredevil Robbie Knievel is another humdinger.

“I said to him, ‘So, you’re going to jump 150 motorcycles.”

Knieval let Curley in on a secret. Yes, he was going to jump the motorcycles, but there was much more of a show to it all. 

“He told me, I’m gonna ride out, take a couple of laps around the track as fast as I can. I’m going to sit and stare at the ramp for ten seconds. I’m going to go to the top of the ramp and sit some more like I’m thinking. I can easily jump the bikes; I’m just milking the moment. Some of my crew would come up the ramp and talk with me. I’d point to something in the distance, but of course, I was not pointing at anything. Just trying to create tension.” 

Curley said it’s just like on his radio show. When the show goes off the rails, the audience can feel it. Then Curley said, like Robbie Knievel, he’ll bring it back. 

“I know a guy, John Medina, who wrote  Brain Rules. He teaches at the University of Washington. He said the human brain can only stand a certain amount of information in so many minutes. In the middle of a lecture, he’ll come out of nowhere and ask the students, ‘What color is a giraffe’s tongue?”

What?

“He’d go around the room, and people would guess. Nobody would be right because they probably had never thought of such a thing.” He told them, “I’m going to give you a hint–a giraffe eats 80 percent of the day.”

A student raised their hand and said the color of a giraffe’s tongue is purple. Medina told the student he was right. Because the tongue is in the sunlight for so much of the day, it could get sunburned. The purple color of the tongue would, in essence, repel light and avoid sunburn. 

“All of this was to give the student’s brain a rest,” Curley said. “Medina refers to it as Brain Candy. He said he knows if you come up with some kind of trivia question during a long lecture, the thought and answer will release some dopamine, thereby satisfaction when you know the answer. The brain is now refreshed with the presence of dopamine, and they will retain the rest of the lecture.”

Then Curley gets to the interview he conducted with Woody Allen.

He told Allen his brother Chuck dated women for two or three dates. Then came a test. He would show them the VHS or DVD of the movie Annie Hall. If the date didn’t laugh at three specific points in the film, Chuck would not ask them out again. So that’s three significant laughs in three particular spots.

“I told Woody Allen my brother chose his wife because his then-date laughed at those three spots in the movie. Chuck figured these were easy laughs, and if they didn’t, that was it.”

Woody Allen was intrigued. He leaned forward and asked Curley a question. 

In a dynamite Woody Allen impression, Culey said Allen asked, ‘What scenes did your brother pick?’

Good question, Woody.

First, laugh. When Christopher Walken told Allen’s character Alvy Singer told Walken, ‘He was due back on the planet earth.’

Second laugh: When Alvy was at the dinner table with Annie’s parents and grandmother. 

Third laugh: When Alvy was in bed with his girlfriend and couldn’t put his mind at ease, wondering how Oswald was able to get three shots off from a book depository. How it made no sense.

Allen asked if his brother was married. Curley told Allen he wasn’t, that he couldn’t find anyone to laugh at those three spots in the movie. Allen replied, ‘that’s funny.’ 

“I told him, ‘no, seriously, he didn’t get married because he couldn’t find anyone to laugh at those spots.”

John Curley is probably the only person in history to cause Woody Allen to remain flabbergasted.

And I’m exhausted. 

BNM Writers

Nick Kayal Move Highlights Growing Appetite for News/Talk

Kayal moving to News/Talk is a trend that we continue to see in our business and there are several reasons why this will happen.

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AUDACY

Sports Talk to News Talk.

The trend continued this week when Nick Kayal announced would be the next morning show host at WPHT in Philadelphia. In full disclosure, I know Nick, as I was an intern as he was an employee and growing his career at 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia. Nick built a very solid sports talk resume, but decided to make the move to news/politics.

As I was reading his announcement on social media this week, I felt like I was reading my own reasons for leaving sports talk for news talk on a permanent basis five years ago. Nick wrote, “Over the past 6-7 years, my apetite for political content has increased and now I finally get to voice my opinion on these subject matters.”

Expect this to be a trend that we continue to see in our business and there are several reasons why this will happen.

First off, sports talk is oversaturated. There’s just too much of it, and at some point we’ve crossed the threshold where supply has exceeded demand. There will always be room for great sports talk hosts, but jobs aren’t growing in that space, and in fact, are likely to shrink in future years.

Meantime, if we flip to the News Talk side of the business, the number of jobs expanding is admittedly also not a big part of the equation, but there is less competition in the space for those jobs when compared to Sports Talk, especially when it comes to younger hosts and employees. 

I say the following with all the love in the world for my News Talk colleagues: I was at this week’s FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) Radio Row event, and as a 34-year-old, I felt like a college kid given that I was significantly younger than most of my fellow hosts. There’s nothing wrong with that for right now, as many of them are still sharp, on their game, and delivering great ratings and revenue for their respective stations, but if we look 5-10 years down the road, they may want to find themselves on a beach or ski slope on a more regular basis. So, the next wave of News Talk hosts may not be in the News Talk space right now, and given the greater number of employees in Sports Talk, they may very well be over there. 

This is a natural migration for both sides. The News Talk bench is not deep and as the younger Sports Talk employee gets older, their interests may change. Most 25-35 year-olds care more about sports than news and politics. But as a generation that grew up during the explosion of Sports Talk approaches and enters their 40’s, their interests and desires could shift as well.

Just as important in this conversation is the fact that we all know sports, politics and culture continue to collid, for better or for worse, and those who may have more conservative-leaning beliefs and opinions are more likely to try and make that move.

As someone who spent several years in sports talk and maintain strong relationships there, I know those who don’t pray at the “Alter of Woke” feel like their opinions aren’t welcomed and will be shunned by their colleagues and bosses. They mask it, as they like to a prefer to talk about the games anyway. But when sports and culture collide, they clam up or just toe the line. 

How long will that last? How long will they want to continue to bottle it up?

I’m not here to answer it for them, but I know that for me, there was a point where I thought I’d rather spend four hours a day talking about things that impact my city, state and country than discussing whether or not a quarterback missed an open receiver on 3rd and 10 or a pitcher was left in a game too long. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love sports and love being a sports fan, but hosting a daily, local show where that is part of the job became less appealing when given alternative options. And I don’t believe I will be alone in this regard, especially as we move forward through the next several years in our business. 

Additionally, the icing on the cake is that in many towns, major sports news that a News Talk host will find interesting is, in fact, news, and will be a fit for the program. In Philadelphia, the Eagles are news on Monday after a loss to the Giants. In Kansas City, the Chiefs are news. Nothing is bigger. I do a Chiefs segment on Friday and Monday during football season. You can’t do four hours on it, but mixing it in is part of the job if you’re in a big sports town. 

Now, there is a downside. As I told Nick Kayal in a personal note after his announcement, “Be prepared to be shunned by some of your former sports colleagues”. 

A sad reality, but true, in my experience. Hey, that’s the “Tolerant Left”, right?

If you can get over that, which should be easy, then come on over. We’re having fun, making great content, and always looking for who and what is next.

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BNM Writers

Nick Kayal Transitions from Talking Sports to News/Talk

Kayal has worked almost exclusively in radio sports in Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and other cities, but made the switch to talking politics.

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Seasons change, minds change, and jobs certainly do.

Nick Kayal has worked almost exclusively in radio sports in Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and other cities. He most recently left Sports Radio 92.9 The  Game to do mornings on 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia. 

This isn’t just a job change for Kayal. It’s an entirely different animal. He’s switching from sports to news and talk. 

“Kayal and Company is the perfect show for me to host,” Kayal said. “I’ve got a multi-voiced show with an outstanding supporting cast. Greg Stocker and Dawn Stensland will have open microphones. We’ll have a guest from time to time. Some calls here and there, but it won’t be caller-heavy.”

Kayal said it will be a ‘good blend of things.’

The change has been in the works since the beginning of the year but was announced just yesterday. Former morning host Rich Zeoli will be moving to afternoons. Kayal said Zeoli has been looking forward to that.

“Rich knew the change was coming,” Kayal explained. “He was involved in the discussions. I think he really wanted to change his lifestyle. He even said so on air. Afternoons are where he started and I think he wanted to get back to that family balance. Rich is going to continue to do what made him so successful in the mornings. He does a great job at building an audience.”

Kayal said they will keep a lot of the same segments on the show. Instead of talking about Jalen Hurts of the Eagles, they’ll be talking about Joe Biden. The passion for sports and politics in Philly is the same, Kayal explained. “I don’t think my prep or delivery will change much. I want to hit on big stories, but I’m not going to filibuster on a topic.”

Getting ready for the new show, Kayal has had lunch with Stocker a few times to chat. Stocker will also serve as the show’s executive producer. The two have kept in touch through the spring and summer, and Kayal has been in Philadelphia for nearly a month.

Kayal said the response to the change has been overwhelmingly positive among listeners. 

“Twitter is usually a cesspool of negativity,” he said. “But this announcement has been 95% positive. Just a couple of negative responses here and there.

Kayal served as a host at crosstown sports 97.5 The Fanatic WPEN from 2009-2015 and doesn’t think the switch of focus will cause the show to lose listeners.

“I imagine some of the people who listened to me in sports might be a little shocked to hear me dealing with news topics,” Kayal said. “Listeners hate change, by and large. After a host change some might say they’re never listening again. That station is dead to me. People have their routines and they don’t like it when somebody or something messes that up. Most usually come back. Radio is very habitual.”

He doesn’t think he’ll miss sports all that much. That isn’t to say he’ll never do sports again, or that he’s sick of sports. 

“After 15 years of talking about nothing but sports, if I spent any more four-hour cycles talking about it, I’d blow my head off.” 

The show may touch on a major sports story if it happens, especially in Philadelphia.

“We might talk for a couple minutes after a win or loss. But one of the reasons I wanted to do this was the diversity of topics. I have an interest in a lot of things, including pop culture. We’re going to be dealing with a full menu of topics.”

He said any time you’re talking conservative news and politics, it’s the best of both worlds. 

“You may not want to listen to some of the mainstream media, so you turn to conservative radio. You have liberals who will listen to call you on your mistakes, but I’m open to that. The same goes the other way.” 

Kayal said he won’t mind admitting if he’s wrong on the air, like some other hosts. 

“There’s going to be some guys that BS their way through everything, stick to script,” he explained. “There are times when conservatives or liberals are off base, say something I don’t agree with. I’ll call them out on that.”

Dawn Stensland will be the news anchor at the top of the hour and co-host. 

“Dawn is like the protective mom who will go to bat for you,” Kayal said. “Rich Zeoli told me that this morning and said she’d go to bat for me too.”

Kayal will have a prep sheet going into the show, but he’s not afraid to dump one thing if another is working.

“I’ll call an audible at the line of scrimmage, so to speak. I want things to be organic on the show. If people are reacting to a topic, you can always get to an item in your preparation the next day. No need to rush. You have to go hard all the way through the show, finish strong. Like every other show I’ve done. There are benchmarks you need to hit during your show. People will listen for a period of time. If they’re in the car on the way to work, they’ll hear something. Then I have to approach the next hour as though nobody has heard the news, reset on the topic like it’s the first time I’m doing it. More than likely it’s a new audience. You can’t afford to have a bad segment.”

Sure, that can be beyond stressful. But if you come in prepared, if you have an opinion, make somebody laugh, make somebody mad, you’re doing something right.

“I want listeners to get the sound of the show,” Kayal said. “You’ll tune in to hear us having an exchange, bouncing off each other. I like to think we all have an innate ability to know where something is going, but chemistry between the hosts is going to be a major thing.”

 If everyone on the show has the same vision and check our egos at the door, Kayal said they’ll have a good show. He explained a show will have great ratings periods, and there’s a chance they will fall off. But the show must always deliver the best it can. 

Kayal went to school for criminal justice and pre-law at Temple. He studied political science for about a year, then changed to pre-law during his sophomore year.  He thought he’d be a defense attorney or prosecutor. 

“Law school only lasted three months,” Kayal said. “I just knew it wasn’t for me.” 

Some of the things he learned during his undergraduate degree and stint at law school helped him craft his arguments on the air. 

“I use those skill sets and traits in a monologue or during an interview,” he said. “It taught me how to ask leading questions. We’ll talk about crime on the show. It’s really about putting on a performance. So many guys are infatuated with being right, getting ratings, and revenue. To me, it’s not all about being right. 

He’d been reading Barrett Sports Media for a long time and came across a job opening for his new station, WPHT. 

“I’d always had the desire to do political stuff,” Kayal said. “I was working for Audacy in Atlanta, so coming to Philadelphia was almost like going through a transfer portal. Going back home has been icing on the cake. The process started in January of this year. They flew me out in March, and we did a two-hour mock show off the air. They had me fill in for Rich a couple of times in April. After the third week, I could tell they were pleased, and they offered me the job in June. I had to sit on it until yesterday.”

We now know Kayal can be trusted with a secret. 

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BNM Writers

The Intersection of Radio and Politics

Anybody with a radio career longer than one rating book has witnessed a stunt or two. Stunts can be remarkably effective for calling attention to something.

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Four of the most enjoyable years of my life were spent on Capitol Hill as Communications Director for Congressman Michael R. Turner (R-OH). Mr. Turner is currently the ranking Member of the influential House Armed Services Committee. Should Republicans take back the House in November, he will likely become the committee Chairperson.

When talking to old media friends during that period, I often explained that the job wasn’t that different from broadcasting. The Congressman was like the “morning guy,” and the communications position was similar to the marketing and promotions role.

When Texas and Florida Governors Abbott and DeSantis began sending illegal immigrants, or unregistered persons for the more politically correct, from their states to Democrat strongholds, critics referred to it as a stunt. Neither of the governors seems to mind the term stunt.

Anybody with a radio career longer than one rating book has witnessed a stunt or two. Stunts can be remarkably effective for calling attention to something.

I don’t know if the “Concert for Bangladesh,” the granddaddy of benefit concerts, solved the refugee problem or if “Live-Aid” ended hunger. I am sure that these events, which were stunts when you think about them, created massive attention for important causes.

When we first put Howard Stern on WYSP-Philadelphia, we had no idea what the ratings impact would be. At the time, there was no shortage of critics who said: “it will never work.”

We couldn’t know, with certainty, whether broadcasting a show from New York would work in Philly. We were sure that doing it would get WYSP, a moribund station, a great deal of attention. At worst, it would be a “stunt.” At best, well, that’s in the history books.

Speaking of Howard, I believe Donald Trump, a regular guest on The Stern Show for approximately 20 years, ripped off “The King of All Media’s” 1980s and 90s formula to win the presidency. Think about it:

  • He never apologizes – no matter what
  • The more outrageous, the better
  • He plays to a dominantly male audience who loves and defends him
  • He does what he does for his fans
  • It’s always “us” against the world
  • He picks feuds with others and then sics his fans on the attacked
  • The only thing better than the celebrity feuds is staff in-fighting
  • His live events are huge love-fests

What else do politicians have in common with broadcasters? 

Ronald Reagan was called “The Great Communicator.” Reagan graduated from Eureka College in 1932. Later that year, his public career began as a WOC-AM/Davenport, Iowa sports announcer. He moved to WHO-AM/Des Moines in 1933, where he famously recreated baseball games using ticker tape reports. He went to California to cover spring training for the Cubs, which launched his Hollywood career.

Radio demands storytelling skills: The best in class in politics and radio are great storytellers. What do you know about Abraham Lincoln’s personality? He loved to tell a tale. In the opening minutes of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the president (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) tells a couple of free Black soldiers about the travails of barbers who have cut his hair. 

In another scene at the War Department telegraph office, Lincoln offers an anecdote about Ethan Allen, prompting an incredulous Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill) to proclaim: “You’re going to tell a story! I don’t believe that I can bear to listen to another one of your stories right now.”

At his best, Joe Biden tells stories. He has always gotten confused about numbers and details, not unlike Reagan. But he effectively uses stories to make his point. That’s how he became “Scranton Joe” and why we know “Corn Pop was a bad dude.”

Positioning matters: In 1992, realizing that the recession was the top issue on voters’ minds, Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor, James Carville created the positioning statement, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton stayed on message, promising to “focus like a laser beam on the economy.”

In 2008, Barack Obama simplified his positioning to a single word: Hope, to which he added the slogan, “Yes we can!” It brilliantly captured the zeitgeist and catapulted the first-term Senator to the White House.

Focus on a few big ideas at a time: Over the years, radio programmers have learned to focus on a couple of essential things at a time. When Barack Obama took office, he had a lengthy list of items that needed attention. The economy, unemployment, bank bailouts, and U.S. auto manufacturers were in trouble. Fighting continued in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bin Laden was still hiding, and the president wanted to use his popularity to pass healthcare legislation. It was too much for the public to follow, and it appeared nothing positive was happening.

A 55% to 43% margin agreed that “since he’s taken over in the White House, Obama has tried to handle more issues than he should,” in a March 2009 CNN/Opinion Research survey.

Reagan kept his agenda simple. He wanted to make the government smaller and less intrusive. He did that through tax cuts, known as “Reaganomics.” He wanted to win the Cold War by building up the military. Everything else was secondary.

Radio is a personal medium: Air personalities have always gotten out and pressed the flesh. Many figured out early in the game to use social media to build relationships with listeners.

Bill Clinton understood the power of building connections (no pun intended). Remember the first Presidential Town Hall Debate? A voter asked the candidates (Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot) a question about how the economy (national debt) affected them personally. Clinton walked to the edge of the stage, as close to the audience as he could. Only Clinton answered in human and non-technical language in what became known as the “I feel your pain” moment. 

During the same town hall debate, Bush checked his watch. These two moments pretty much sealed the election for Clinton.

Program to your P1s: In politics, they call it “playing to your base.” Whatever your thoughts about Trump, no president has ever focused so intently on their base.

Biden ran on a “Cume” strategy. He was going to unite everybody. During the Democrat primaries, he may not have been most voters’ first choice, but he was everybody’s second choice. During the general, Biden had broader appeal. According to a Morning Consult exit poll, 44% of Biden voters said their vote was more against Trump than for Biden, compared to 22% of Trump voters who said their ballot was primarily against Joe Biden. 

The concepts behind successful radio stations and winning political campaigns are similar. During my four years on Capitol Hill, I used countless lessons learned as a program director. When I returned to radio four years later, the skills I acquired in Washington helped make me a more effective programmer.

With continuing radio “reductions in workforce,” public service provides career options. Because there’s an intersection between radio and politics, the skills are transferable. The work is rewarding, and the experiences are fantastic. 

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