By Mike Kinosian
Not only does virtually every cluster have a single programmer overseeing multiple stations, he or she somehow finds time to handle an on-air shift on at least one of the properties.
Tenacity in some cases is organic, while in others, it is owing to corporate mandates.
Either way, with so many worthy contenders, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to isolate a consensus pick as the “hardest-working person” in the industry.
Gracing any list of those with an indefatigable – at times super-human – work ethic is CRN Digital Talk Radio vice president of affiliate sales & marketing Jennifer Horn, who once would jest she collects jobs as others collect stamps.
With each passing day, there is more truth to that statement than frivolity.
The complete picture
Well over 35 years ago while working at Los Angeles’ KFI, Mike Horn was intrigued to read a trade publication article that indicated Los Angeles rocker KMET appeared with a seven-share in the Phoenix book. That was far before streaming or internet radio. The noteworthy ratings accomplishment happened due to an Arizona cable television system featuring the Southern California outlet as its Channel 3 audio. No one would listen to radio on television, Horn originally thought, but – upon digesting that Phoenix article – he suddenly considered this concept to be a viable alternative to his previous long-held goal of station ownership.
Discussions with an executive of a Los Angeles cable company led the enterprising Horn to program a country music channel, which he later flipped to oldies for greater mass appeal.
Hookups were done by phone lines, but they were eventually upgraded to satellite as visionary entrepreneur Horn began infusing money into the venture.
Different offerings found a home on what became the Cable Radio Network (CRN), although when noncommercial music formats programmed by Digital Planet and DMX began surfacing, Horn decided to focus on talk.
Reflective of the change in direction, he rebranded CRN to CRN Digital Talk Radio. “CRN is first and foremost to me and it is what I have been at the longest,” remarks Mike Horn’s energetic, bubbly daughter Jennifer. “I love that it has evolved to me being the number two running it with my dad. I have always done the marketing and public relations part but I have now immersed myself into the finance side of the business. That has really helped because I have a [total grasp] of what is going on with the company.”
Answering in a female voice
Such significant responsibilities would constitute the average person’s one and only full-time job, but it is hardly the extent of Jennifer Horn’s impressive bulging vitae.
Included with the on-air component of that resume is a ten-year association with talk radio icon Doug Stephan, whose highly successful self-syndicated “Good Day” program is renamed “Doug, Jennifer, & Victoria (Keelan),” and as Jennifer comments, “It gives me a little more freedom to be involved with content selection and fresher topics. We are trying to do less politics with more news stories and content for women. That is the focus and it is fun to be involved with this project. One of the most important things we need to do in the industry is to bring women into talk radio.”
Ever since January 2015, Horn has been fronting “The Jen & Don (Dix) Show” on Salem Radio-owned KTIE “AM 590 The Answer,” Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario. The one-hour program airs weekday evenings, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm and is re-broadcast on the Inland Empire facility the next morning (5:00 am – 6:00 am). Most of the time, Horn does the show from Salem Radio’s Glendale studios, although she occasionally originates it from CRN. “We do a ton of station events, including movie premieres, debate parties, and we have events with big-name celebrities,” she notes. “It is a lot of fun to get out into the community. I love the fact we are afforded that luxury at ‘AM 590’ [especially since] one thing lacking in radio today is that stations are not visible and they don’t get to know their listeners.”
Those keeping score have correctly counted three weekday jobs for Horn; just this month, however, she added a fourth to the mix, as she was asked to join the “Morning Answer” on Salem Radio Los Angeles’ KRLA. “They have an awesome three-person morning show with Brian Whitman, Ben Shapiro, and Elisha Krauss, and brought me in as another voice,” Horn explains. “Brian is the liberal, while Ben and Elisha are conservatives who are not in the Donald Trump camp. They wanted to make sure they had someone to even-out the ‘Never Trump’ field. My job is to represent people who are going to vote for Trump. When people talk about the future of talk radio, you have to bring in qualified women without pigeonholing them. I love that Salem empowered me to be a woman who has a political perspective. It is rare to find women on talk radio – there are only a handful of us. It is awesome that some companies are taking risks and letting women talk about politics. I would love to see more of that.”
Jammed pack schedule
Approximately five months ago, Horn actually cut back her Doug Stephan schedule by one hour from 3:00 am – 6:00 am (PT) to 4:00 am – 6:00 am (PT).
Awakened by a 3:45 am alarm each weekday, she is on with Stephan some 20 minutes later. “I do two hours with Doug and Victoria; am out of the house by 6:30 am; and arrive at KRLA by 7:00 am for two hours of ‘The Morning Answer’ until 9:00 am.”
From there, she goes to CRN’s brand new (as of August 1) Chatsworth facilities in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, taking a break from her corporate duties at approximately 1:30 pm to tape “The Jen & Don Show,” which she produces. “I collect stories throughout the day and put them into a Google doc,” details Horn, named the 2001 “Woman to Watch” by Women In Cable and Telecommunications. “Once I finish taping that show, I return to my CRN duties and go home so I can get to sleep by 9:00 pm. If I get to bed later than that, I am kind of a mess the rest of the [next] day.”
Learning the business from A-to-Z.
Plans of becoming a psychologist were dashed years ago by Horn, who most would easily perceive to be outgoing, yet she confides to being a “brutally shy” little girl. “My mom had a theater background. When I was growing up, she taught English and drama; my dad, of course, was in radio.”
Unlike her natural performer parents, Jennifer rarely spoke in her classes at school. “I was such a quiet, goodie-goodie who liked to keep to myself,” she acknowledges. “It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I decided to ‘fake it until I made it.’ I began ‘faking’ an outgoing spirit and now I cannot stop. While I occasionally still feel it, I actually believe I broke myself of that shyness – it is mostly gone. I loved what my dad did for a living and it always interested me [but] I never had any intention of going into radio because there is no way I would want to talk into a microphone all my life.”
Simultaneous with witnessing her father launching CRN, then-first-grader Horn endured the breakup of her parents’ marriage. “He was putting a ton of blood, sweat, and tears trying to get this business off the ground,” she reflects. “I was always smart in school and about the time I was 12 years old, I decided to spend some time with him at work. I didn’t get to see my dad every day so I thought spending extra time with him would be awesome.”
Alphabetizing the CRN record library one summer was her baptism into the business with Horn admitting, “It was a bear of a job” because it entailed so many titles, but she realized she found work satisfying; moreover, her dad started to pay her. “I taught myself everything. I would order records from the labels and I would help put together song rotations. He would trust my judgment in doing that. I would help when we did remotes. I became a radio brat and just had a ton of fun.”
Jen-to-Penn a no-go.
Most likely, it is a function of one of the wackiest presidential contests in recent memory, but politics is undoubtedly dominating each news cycle.
Seemingly lost has been the momentous story regarding catastrophic flooding in Louisiana where at least 13 lives have been lost and some 40,000 homes damaged.
Another natural disaster in this country – the infamous magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake – struck at precisely 4:31 am on (Monday) January 17, 1994. It is a time and date most Angelinos will never forget and, in a convoluted way, essentially helped accelerate Horn’s foray into radio.
Part of the estimated $40 billion of damage from that quake was the obliteration of Bishop Alemany high school, the San Fernando Valley institution in Mission Hills that Horn was attending at the time. “For the rest of my junior year, we had to relocate to the San Fernando Seminary across the street,” she recalls. “I was going to school from 7:00 am – 11:00 am. My dad told me he needed someone to do payroll so I taught myself that job. In addition, I began doing promotions and started to help in marketing. I realized I liked that a lot.”
So much so, in fact, that she ditched her plans to traverse the country to attend Penn State University, opting instead to be a “commuter kid” at the same school Mike Horn attended, California State University – Northridge, where Jennifer earned a degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. “For me, it was more about getting work experience,” she declares. “I began to learn about affiliate sales and other parts of the business. Today, I love it when my dad and I get together for our meetings.”
Grateful for a priceless present
Anything but glamorous though was the initial on-air experience for Horn, who summarizes it as “sort of funny” when she found herself pinch-hitting for her dad. It was the start of a holiday weekend. No one was at the CRN studios to do a show and her father found himself stuck in a common Los Angeles traffic jam. “He was not going to make it back in time for his program and the engineer couldn’t get a ‘Best Of’ show, so we had nothing. My dad said I had to go on the air and do it for him.”
Despite being “petrified” and claiming to be completely unprepared, Horn decided to have fun with it. “I sucked it up by going through my entertainment stories,” she divulges. “When my dad walked in, he told me he couldn’t believe what he had heard. He said I was naturally good. I thought he was just saying that because he is my dad [but he assured me] he was telling the truth. From there, I began filling in when he needed a substitute host.”
One day while visiting CRN, Doug Stephan said he was searching for a young female co-host with a fresh perspective for his daily morning broadcast. A proud – if not biased – Mike Horn suggested that Stephan should give Jennifer an audition. “I did two try-out days with Doug,” she recounts. “On the second day, he asked if I would like to join him. That was ten years ago – we are now just sort of stuck together. Doug has become family to me. We are very loyal to each other. We have fun together and we complement each other very well. In that respect, it seems as though we have known each other forever. When I think of how many years I have actually been pursuing an on-air radio career though it does not seem like ten years at all.”
Over the course of their decade-long on-air partnership, they have done the daily morning broadcast from the same studio no more than five times and Horn emphasizes that has actually been “the greatest gift” that the Massachusetts-based Stephan has ever given her. “It is perhaps the best training I have had in talk radio because it made my timing really good. In a [team show], you can’t be stepping on each other. When you are working in a separate studio, you listen for your cue so you can pick up the cadence of your co-host[s]. You know when to jump in without it sounding like a train wreck. You have to listen in order to be an effective talk show host.”
Confident in establishing her own identity
Notwithstanding the enjoyment that Horn derives from her numerous jobs, CRN is her “passion project,” although the fetching thirtysomething Jennifer fervently strives to be her own person with unique individuality. “Finishing college was one thing I needed to do for myself,” she stresses. “Taking the job with Doug helped to define me and continuing my career with Salem was huge. People tell me that I am crazy for having so many jobs but I could never leave CRN – it is where my heart is. At the same time, it is very important that I have my identity, as well. That is why I pursue all of this other stuff. As Mike Horn’s daughter, I have to work a lot harder. At CRN, I always make sure our employees know that I am working just as hard as they are and I am not skating through things. My dad brought me into a business that I wound up loving. He taught me if I wasn’t passionate about whatever I was going to do, it was not worth doing. He has given me so much insight about the industry and I am truly blessed to have him as my dad – but I never want anyone to think I have been ‘handed’ this opportunity. I have had to work long, crazy hours to create this life for myself.”
Especially since she has segued into political talk radio, it is important for Horn to be able to engage in what can often times be heated on-air conversations. “There is a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” she opines. “I take it very seriously. My dad never got into that so it is another way that I can make myself unique and create my own identity. It is an absolute kick for me. I have grown up on the air and I think I am just beginning to hit my stride with my on-air persona. I am very secure in my viewpoints and I am happy to defend them. I do not feel bad about having opinions.”
Much too often, young women in both music and talk radio are relegated to providing nothing more than laugh-track status. “Even though I think that every once-in-a-while I’m pretty darn funny, I don’t ever want to see women [generalized] as ‘giggle-girls’ in talk radio,” Horn asserts. “With experience on the air, you own your opinions and explain them in an eloquent way. I feel as though I am just getting to that point in my career.”
No one in broadcasting better typified the role of on-air “sidekick” than Ed McMahon, who – parenthetically – was someone Horn admired and a CRN personality just prior to his passing at age 85 in 2009. “Being a good, effective co-host is sometimes harder than being a good host,” she maintains. “It requires that you are not always talking. Most of the time, you have to listen. Your timing becomes very focused and you can come up with your zingers. Originally, [Doug Stephan] probably liked the fact that I was energetic and that I would have fun with him, but I began doing my own jokes every now and then.”
All of her current on-air assignments find Horn in some permutation of a team concept but a solo effort is not something she would rule out. “I love everyone I am working with and find inspiration from all of them,” she insists. “I get to work with many talented folks from a variety of walks of life. I love to play off people and I get to learn a lot. At some point though, whether or not in the political sphere, I think it would be fun to try something on my own – I would definitely love that.”
LA baseball fans about to be truly “blue”
Multi-tasking comes naturally to Horn, particularly given that in addition to being founder/president of CRN, her father continues his CRN on-air presence. “I have learned so much from him,” Jennifer enthuses. “He is a wonderful radio personality and I have picked up a great deal just by being near him. The same is true with Doug Stephan. You learn a lot from the people you work with and I have had the great pleasure of listening to Barry Farber. It might not sound very cool for someone my age, but [86-year-old] Barry is one of the best storytellers; I absolutely aspire to have his class, grace, and eloquence. He is a definite pioneer in the talk radio industry.”
Fondest accolades are reserved as well for the inimitable, esteemed Vin Scully, who wraps up 67 years in the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast booth. “Outside of my own parents, he is probably the voice I know the best in this world,” Horn proclaims of the Hall of Famer and baseball’s quintessential play-by-play announcer. “After this season is over, I will really cry buckets because I cannot imagine listening to a Dodgers game without Vin.”
As far as comedic timing is concerned, Rick Dees earns a wholehearted thumbs-up from Horn. “I grew up listening to him every day on my way to high school [when Dees was the morning driver on Los Angeles CHR juggernaut KIIS ‘Kiss-FM’]. People will listen to you when you are informed and can explain your viewpoint. At the same time though – you also have to entertain them. You are not teaching a class. Salem’s Dennis Prager does a great job, as does John Phillips [3:00 pm – 6:00 pm with Julian Barberie on Cumulus Media Los Angeles talker KABC]. I am a radio geek, so I love to bounce around and hear what is going on, but I tend to shy away when it comes to listening in terms of content. I make sure that I am coming up with my own material. For political talk, I enjoy [Premiere Networks’ Rush Limbaugh]. Even people who don’t agree with his political point-of-view will listen to him. He has something that draws in listeners. I cannot listen to Rush all day though because I have to be Jennifer Horn.”
Relentlessly in preparation mode, Horn combines old-school techniques with today’s digital platforms. “As he gets ready to do his shows, my dad still uses an X-Acto knife to cut stuff from newspapers,” she points out. “I have alerts from all my news sources and I am always pulling information. Social media is a great thermometer to gauge if what you are doing is compelling. There is no grey area on Twitter: People either love you or hate you there and they are not afraid to be mean. It is nice to know that what you are saying resonates with the audience, but you cannot live and die by your Twitter and Facebook followers. Thank God for the internet – I don’t know how talk hosts did it 25 years ago.”
Perpetuating paternal-inspired pioneer pattern
Anyone navigating around a challenging timetable similar to that of Horn’s is not typically afforded a tremendous amount of personal time. “I protect my weekends and save them for fun things and relaxation,” she underscores. “If I didn’t relax on the weekend, I wouldn’t survive. I try to get away and disconnect as much as I can.”
Self-described “sports girl” Horn loves baseball games and she “bleeds Dodger Blue,” while the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim get an “honorable mention” as her favorite American League team. “I really like hockey and the LA Kings. When I was growing up, my dad would take me to the press box to see the Kings’ games at the Forum [the NHL team’s previous home prior to their present downtown Los Angeles venue, the Staples Center]. Hockey is fast moving and it was cool to see the players up-close. [Two] of the best moments were the Stanley Cup [victories in 2012 and 2014]. I love to go the games and watch those teams play in person. In addition, I love to read and to go to the movies. There are so many ‘touristy’ things I haven’t done here in beautiful Southern California. I try to put together a list of places to go I haven’t been to yet so I can get to be a tourist in my own city.”
An email from “Nathan,” a Doug Stephan listener in Palm Springs (California) holds a special place in Horn’s heart. “His wife had cancer and she would listen to Doug’s show early in the morning,” she cites. “She had taken a liking to me. After she died, Nathan wrote to say how much comfort I had provided her. She would laugh along with me and my laugh made her smile. While it is nice to have awards hanging on your wall, this is probably the best tribute I have received. It still makes me tear up a bit [and it reminds me] that we have such a powerful medium where we can touch people like that. That is the best part of our job.”
Ten years from now, Horn might not be juggling as many on-air jobs as she is today, but she stresses that she would still like to be “lucky enough” to do something on-air. “Consolidation will be the key. Getting to turn on the microphone and seeing the ‘on-air’ sign go on still excites me so I am definitely not ready to go off the air yet. In fact, this is something I want to keep exploring more and more. Once my dad starts to think about retiring, I would love to be able to streamline our business where I would be able to run it with his oversight. I would always want him to be involved as we figure out where we need to go to stay ahead of trends. I am sure I will be figuring that out.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.