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The Legends Speak; Bits and Pieces

The most recent print edition of Radio Ink is the Top-40 Most Powerful issue. One of the feature stories in that issue is one that I authored for the publication. It’s an interview piece with four programmers who had held positions at the top of the programming success ladder for many years. That interview is one to be read and shared. The honesty with which these four individuals spoke offered insight that was unique and fresh in many ways. The participants included Scott Shannon, Buzz Knight, Ed Salamon and Mike Kennedy.

Scott Shannon, is the highly rated morning anchor on WCBS-FM/New York City. He is best known for launching Z100/NYC as PD and morning anchor, creating and hosting the first ever Morning Zoo at Q105/Tampa while serving as PD, same for Pirate Radio in Los Angeles, and immediately prior to WCBS-FM was the PD and morning anchor at the legendary WPLJ/NYC.

Ed Salamon started at KDKA/Pittsburgh in the Research department and learned what the audience wanted … and gave it to them. He also programmed WEEP/Pittsburgh, WHN/NYC, served as Corporate PD for Storer Media, before going on to hold senior level executive positions at Westwood One and United Stations Radio Network. He was the Executive Director for the Country Radio Broadcasters before moving on to education where he taught Mass Communications as an Adjunct Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in 2003 and later at Belmont University in a similar capacity.

Buzz Knight most recently served as EVP of Strategy and Innovation for Beasley Media Group, which he joined in 2016 upon the closing of the company’s purchase of Greater Media, where he was the VP/Program Development. He is an accomplished major market programmer and today heads-up the consulting firm Buzz Knight Media. He also hosts the podcast “Takin’ A Walk.”

Mike Kennedy is a Kansas City legend who has programmed multiple stations in that market, entertained on-air, was VP/Programming for Wilks Broadcasting and also Steel City Media and most recently the OM/PD for Audacy owned 106.5 The Wolf and 99.7 The Point. Mike has been involved in every aspect of radio, and like Shannon, is a highly success air talent as well as programmer.

As happens with films when they’re edited, so it is with an article like this, and some parts of the interview fell to the cutting room floor. Those thoughts and comments, that were too lengthy for the constraints of a print magazine, are shared here in bits and pieces. The conversation that we started in the print edition needs to be rounded out. Although I expect that the print edition will be shared by the many who appreciate the experience and candor spoken by our guests.

Scott Shannon noted that radios problems aren’t, as many believe, on the hands of the owners of the biggest radio groups today. He sees them as trying to save an industry and fix the problems created by the early aggregators at the start of deregulation. That is those who started buying up radio stations in many markets, cutting jobs in order to cut costs, and damaging the product itself. That trend has continued, unfortunately, which has led to interrupting the pipeline to easily find and train talent.

There are places where personalities are training, like personal Podcasts, Streaming Radio and on social media platforms like Amazon’s AMP, TikTok and Clubhouse. These locations require a leap of faith by a programmer to believe that the talent can translate to radio. There are some very strong examples of those who have succeeded in radio after coming from a non-traditional entertainment product line. To Shannon’s point though, it’s not as easy to find these people, because of fewer opportunities.

Buzz Knight noted that talent development and retention, innovation and revenue generation are critical areas that need to be addressed by broadcasters who are in the business for the long haul. The point that Knight was making, and one that I agree with him on, is that all too often today operators are focused on the now and not the future for growth. That’s understandable given the publicly owned companies have to show a profit every quarter. That’s unfortunate because listening habits are seasonal, we’re at the mercy of the rating system, and audience change takes time to imprint in a market.

We’ve all heard the expression that in radio we suffer an inferiority complex. It’s true. We’re the first to apologize, to praise a competitor from outside of the industry and to point out our own flaws. Knight noted “this is not the time for the industry to have an inferiority complex. The industry should operate in an offensive posture when it comes to messaging within the advertising community.”

To that end, the RAB lashed back at SiriusXM last week, when the satellite broadcaster distributed nationwide an advertising campaign that asked the question “Why waste your time with AM/FM Radio?” Thank You RAB. Blocking a serious attack from a competitor is always the right move. I applaud the RAB for doing this. The facts they shared show that OTA Radio dwarfs SiriusXM. However positive the RAB’s press release was, it is on our shoulders as broadcasters to improve the product, to stop the erosion. Want to beatdown the DSP’s and Satellite Radio? Make OTA Radio better.

Personality is clearly one of the ways to do that. Ed Salamon talked about the level of air personalities that he worked with in New York City and when he was overseeing Ten-Q in Los Angeles. He compared the likes of The Real Don Steele, MG Kelly, Jackson Armstrong and Beaver Cleaver to today’s talent. The on-air personalities took responsibility for connecting with the audience because they saw the value of making that connection for the station and for themselves in their own careers.

Mike Kennedy shared his concern that many radio stations direct their audience away from their talent to programming coming from other platforms and out of the market. He’s not wrong that when we point an audience elsewhere, they have to leave somewhere, and that’s likely where they heard about the other product. He’s not suggesting that we stick our head in the sand, ostrich like, but that it seems like the companies believe in the power of talent … just not their own in many cases.

The wisdom that comes from the more than 160 years of combined experience from these four legends is impressive. Their self-effacing approach underscored the honesty of their opinions. They were outspoken in regard to the beliefs they hold to be truths. Truths worth reading. The complete original article is in the July 2022 issue of Radio Ink.

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