By Mike Kinosian
Fast-talking, blue-sky selling, out-of-towners with disingenuous “I’m here to help you” patter and an altogether insincere demeanor is how some will often times erroneously paint the typical briefcase-toting advisor.
At the same time, a running industry punchline further diminishing the aura of this brutally competitive occupation was that each out-of-work program director and air talent was only hours away from hanging out his or her consulting shingle.
Numerous names have appeared in directories that list individual programming consultants, as well as firms employing multiple people in such capacities.
Precious few, however, have enjoyed the universal respect, unparalleled success, and gravitas of Sabo Media president Walter Sabo, who for the last three years, has been devoting his entire attention to a two-hour (11:00 pm – 1:00 am) Sunday night/Monday morning talk show on CBS RADIO Philadelphia’s WPHT, where he communicates to his audience as Walter Sterling.
Parallel to what many others in the industry will find relatable, Sabo was born with what he jokingly refers to as “the curse” and acknowledges that working in radio is an avocation in which participants don’t have a choice. “If you ask most people in radio if they would prefer to work in television, they’ll wonder why you’re not asking if they would rather be a plumber. It’s not the way we are wired – I was born that way.”
Just 15 years old when Sabo landed his first radio job, he did so at now dark Washington, New Jersey AM daytimer WCRV and the experience proved invaluable in advance of him entering Syracuse University, a veritable factory for churning out one outstanding broadcaster after another.
Convinced that he could not learn what he needed to know about radio in college, Sabo didn’t enroll in any radio or television courses at the New York State institution.
Instead, he was in the Newhouse School of Communications with a concentration on advertising and in arts & sciences as an English major.
Ironically, he’s now an adjunct professor at the Newhouse School and enjoying that role. “I thought they would want me to teach radio but they said they wanted me to teach the art of the pitch,” Sabo explains. “I want my students to look at the idea they want to sell from the perspective of the audience or the buyer. The art of the pitch is to have superior knowledge of whom you are presenting. Adults know that, but it’s a revelation to the average 19-year-old student. There is no radio course anymore at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Lord knows I have tried and it makes me sad.”
Between his junior and senior year at Syracuse (1973), Sabo approached WOR/WXLO general manager Arthur Adler about a summer position at the then RKO General-owned New York City AM/FM combo. “WOR-AM was an ‘actual’ radio station [but] FM – at that time – was unimportant,” Sabo depicts.
Summer openings didn’t exist at those two stations, but there was a full-time position in the promotion department and Sabo was asked if he wanted the ‘cool job’ of managing the M&M Mars campaign. “It involved an enormous amount of promotion, contesting, and follow-through,” he recounts. “It was a crash course in how to do a ‘big-boy’ contest.”
Formerly operating under the WOR-FM calls prior to 1973, WXLO promised the client a one-hour, Sunday morning talk show, which Sabo accepted. “I had one semester to go before I graduated,” notes the then-20-year-old who earned his Syracuse degree with honors in three-and-a-half years. “RKO General had a tuition-assistance program and the company paid for my final semester of college. I took courses at night – paid for by RKO – while doing promotion work for M&M Mars and hosting a weekly talk show on a New York City FM station.”
That power-packed schedule lasted for a year as Sabo worked with program director Al Brady Law, whom he describes as a “great boss”; morning talent Mike Phillips; midday personality Joe McCoy, who later programmed New York’s WCBS-FM for more than 23 years; and Walt “Baby” Love, who handled nights and subsequently became urban contemporary editor at Radio & Records. “I could not have been luckier,” Sabo mentions.
Six months later, however, Al Brady Law exited the station and was replaced by Jerry Clifton. “That was a very different culture, but I learned from both of them at the height of their abilities,” Sabo rationalizes. “I got to watch them up close. I learned a lot of basic programming from Al and strategic programming from Jerry.”
Following his WXLO tenure, Sabo transitioned to cross-town WNBC, performing similar responsibilities under program director John Lund. The Who’s Who mid-1970s on-air staff there included the iconic Don Imus in morning drive; 1988 National Radio Hall of Fame inductee Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow in middays; afternoon talent Bob Vernon (“with a V”); Oogie Pringle 7:00 pm – 12:00 midnight; and smooth-as-silk Dick Summer overseeing overnights.
Notwithstanding those heritage WNBC calls and the station’s outstanding on-air lineup, Sabo was quickly setting his sights elsewhere, hoping to become head of programming and affiliate sales for the ABC FM Network – an objective he achieved at the astonishingly young age of 23. “I wanted to work at ABC and at that moment in time, it was ‘the’ radio company,” he asserts. “I was very blessed because [ABC Radio Networks president] Ed McLaughlin, [ABC Radio vice president and general manager] Bob Mahlman, and [head of affiliate relations] Dick McCauley are three of the most decent men in broadcasting. You could screw up – and I did – but you had better not cheat or lie to them. They taught me the incredible importance of ethics and success. They were like priests and you were not going to misbehave. Any affiliate relations deal you made had to be ‘pure’ – there was no wiggle-room in those affiliate clearance contracts. The ABC FM Network was the first to create and syndicate rock concerts and rock shows.”
Over the course of 18 months, he put on new programming and affiliated 63 stations; however, when renowned television programming guru Fred Silverman became NBC’s chief executive officer in 1978, Sabo put together a highly detailed book of what he would implement on each NBC station. “I did what I had to do to get an appointment to meet with Fred,” Sabo recalls. “I knew enough about Fred and the people at NBC Radio to believe he wouldn’t like them – and he didn’t.”
Able to arrange what eventuated to be a two-hour 30 Rock meeting with the NBC chief executive officer, Sabo confides that Silverman was more impressed with Sabo himself than the ‘damn research book’ (as Silverman dubbed it) he had written. “Fred called me at home the next morning at 8:30 and said, ‘Be the executive vice president in charge of the FM stations. Do that for a while and let’s see what happens.’ I went in at the right day and the right time.”
Educating FM’s inventors of its viability
Like Sabo, the now soon to be 80-year-old Silverman is a product of Syracuse University.
Perhaps what isn’t widely known though about the man who in 1970, was named CBS-TV’s vice president of programming, and five years later became president of ABC Entertainment, is that he is, in Sabo’s words, “a radio junkie. He knows about jingles and how radio is supposed to sound.”
Problem was this master of television had no idea how to execute it on radio. “He loved radio and he loved talking to me about radio,” Sabo remarks. “He has studied old radio shows for how they did the drama and he used it in television. Since he was a radio ‘fan’ and not a radio ‘executive,’ he protected me. I think it is fair to say that the other radio executives who had been there for a while and who were considerably older than I was hated my guts on sight.”
All NBC-owned FM stations at that time were automated and that sector had lost money for 40 years. “The transmitters were literally older than I was and they operated at 70% to 80% in order to save electricity,” Sabo cites. “Major [Edwin] Armstrong invented FM in the RCA lab. It was funded by [RCA president David] Sarnoff, who correctly fell in love with – and became obsessed with – color television. He abandoned FM and decided to divert all their money to color television.”
From the moment the colossal conflict that Armstrong and Sarnoff had over this to when Sabo was hired, not one cent was put into NBC’s FM properties. They had premium allocations and premium dial positions, yet Sabo laments, “Culturally and systemically, NBC refused to believe in FM’s viability or to invest in them – and I walked into that. My first meetings with the corporate staff were to prove to them that the medium their company invented was viable.”
Turning on the AC
One less-than-subtle obstacle Sabo encountered was the way the company branded its AM and FM facilities. When he got off the elevator in Chicago, he saw a sign that read, “WMAQ Radio & WKQX-FM.” In San Francisco, it was “KNBR Radio & KYUU-FM.” None of these automated facilities had their own devoted studios, so it is Sabo’s contention that the company didn’t think FM was radio. “In New York, there was a reel-to-reel machine on a cardboard box in the hallway of WNBC for [WYNY FM commercial spot] production, while in Chicago, [WKQX FM] production had to be done on the ‘audition’ channel of the board,” he elaborates.
If Sabo wanted to switch the FMs “live,” he needed to hire seven to nine full-time NABET engineers, with each of those salaries starting at $48,000 a year. To make matters worse, he wanted to do an unproven, unnamed format. Nonetheless, he had a very clear vision in his “fevered brain” of what adult contemporary ultimately became.
Artists such as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, (and a bit later, Barry Manilow) were recording adult-appealing ballads. For tempo, Sabo wanted to combine oldies from the Beatles and Beach Boys (among others), as well as Motown titles that had similar appeal. “It was the first time a format like that was put together,” Sabo maintains. “We put it on WYNY, New York; WKQX, Chicago; and [Mike Phillips-programmed] KYUU, San Francisco – which went from a .8 to 4.4 in its first book.”
Exact genesis of adult contemporary in Sabo’s mind was in the mid-1960s when he was at that “screaming top 40” Washington, New Jersey AM daytimer WCRV. “I thought it would be so cool if stations just played songs like The Association’s ‘Never My Love,’ but the program director told me such stations wouldn’t [attract male listeners].”
Citing Fred Silverman as the reason adult contemporary was kept in-place for approximately a year until the format kicked in on the three aforementioned NBC-owned FM properties, Sabo confirms that the NBC honcho did some “amazing” things.
For a specific example, NBC-TV was scheduled to record and air a Rod Stewart concert. “I was sitting in a meeting with the head of television, the head of television sales, and the head of television network programming,” Sabo recollects. “Fred looked at me and asked what I was going to do with WYNY. After I answered, he asked how much I needed to promote it and I said a million bucks. Fred looked at NBC’s chief financial officer and – in front of all the television guys – he said, ‘Cancel the Rod Stewart concert and give the money to Walter.’ He found radio interesting. They hated me because he never got mad at me. A July 1981 Fortune Magazine cover article [about Silverman] talked about how he turned around NBC Radio. That caused me a problem because it mentioned me by name and Dick Verne, who started up The Source [prior to becoming president of NBC Radio], by name. He could have mentioned my peer, Bob Mounty, who was the head of the AM stations. It did not help my relationship [among the other NBC executives].”
Upon Silverman’s departure from NBC to MGM, where he had a deal to produce shows such as “Matlock,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Father Dowling Mysteries,” Sabo returned to ABC. “Fred and I worked together on several projects; pilots; interesting cable ideas; and he came to my wedding, so we’ve had a nice friendship,” Sabo assures.
Felonious contract negotiations
Certain images can be emblazoned in our minds for a lifetime. For Sabo, the indelibly etched vision occurred when he was in college and saw a picture of the imposing, esteemed Bill Drake. The quintessential pinnacle of a quality consultant – arguably the greatest one ever in the field – Drake was shown poolside with a red phone in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. “I thought to myself that looks like a really good job and I want it,” Sabo logically states. “I did what I had to do to get to know the head of RKO General.”
Whether at ABC or NBC, plum career opportunities for Sabo did not happen at lightning speed, although his exemplary accomplishments before reaching his 30th birthday are nothing less than historic.
This particular RKO mission took two years of him “working the room” with RKO chairman Tom O’Neil before being offered a chance to consult its then-12-station chain, which included WOR/WXLO, New York; KHJ/KRTH, Los Angeles; WFYR, Chicago; KFRC, San Francisco; WGMS AM/FM, Washington, DC; WRKO/WROR, Boston (not to be confused with today’s Beasley Media Group-owned WROR); WAXY, Miami; and WHBQ, Memphis. “It was a five-year/no-cut contract,” beams Sabo. “The original draft said ‘unless accused of a felony,’ and I got it changed to ‘unless convicted of a felony.’ I consulted them for five years and – much to my shock – they renewed the deal until the company was sold. During that time, some of those stations got their highest ratings ever. When my contract started in July 1983, they were not making money as a division [but] by the time I was done in December 1990, they were doing a profit of well over $20 million.”
Pressing talk onto FM
Hyper-focus though came when Sabo Media helped to put FM talk for a younger audience on WKXW, Trenton “New Jersey 101.5” in the Middlesex-Somerset-Union market. “In its first book, the darn station was #1 [among adults] 25-34,” he proudly reports of the station that debuted on March 1, 1990. “I learned that you can program talk for any demographic you want; therefore, that’s what you better do.”
By design, “New Jersey 101.5” has more women than men and it skews young.
Moreover, it plays music on the weekend, prompting Sabo to underscore, “It’s not a talk station. The reason it plays music on Saturday and Sunday is that I looked around the country and I could not find a talk station that does as well or better [those days] than during the week. In fact, even the best ones were doing half the audience on weekends than during the week. I wondered why we should sign up for that so I looked for a music format that does better on weekends than during the week.”
Classic hits-oldies and alternative were the two formats he uncovered that satisfied that criteria. “We put on oldies on Saturdays and Sundays and the station’s shares were the same [weekdays and weekends].”
Whereas WKXW “New Jersey 101.5” was targeted to a 38-year-old female, another Sabo Media-consulted client that surfaced in Orlando about four years later – WTKS “Real Radio 104” – was aimed to a 28-year-old male, leading him to program triple A there on weekends. “It prevents the station from being a talk station with ‘chronic callers’ and the music precisely targets the cume,” he opines. “If you don’t like that music, you are gone for good – period. Meanwhile, when you have discretionary time on the weekend, it attracts you. On Monday morning, there’s programming made for you and it works. In a million years, I never would have anticipated that it kept [WKXW and WTKS] on music buys. It gave them concert, bar, club, and – until it dried up – [record] label business.”
Back then, both WKXW and WTKS were owned by Press Broadcasting, where Bob McAllan continues as president and chief operating officer. “He is the reason they are successful when most other non-sports FM talk stations failed,” Sabo emphasizes. “I can say without fear that he is the best group head I’ve ever known.” Townsquare Media now owns WKXW, while WTKS is an iHeartMedia property.
Undoubtedly another one of Sabo’s shining stars in his consulting days was KLSX, the Los Angeles talk FM (now CHR KAMP “Amp”) that then featured “The King of All Media” Howard Stern in a greatly extended morning drive block and Tom Leykis in afternoons. “It was the market’s #1 local biller for ten years,” Sabo declares of the station Greater Media owned before selling it to current license holder CBS Radio in 1997. “Since we were starting to attract younger demos, I was able to build up a practice of traditional AM talk stations [including Boston’s] WRKO; [Miami’s] WIOD; and [Milwaukee’s] WISN. Much of the product we created when I was at the ABC Radio Networks was talk, so I’ve actually been involved with [the format for a long time].”
Memos to the master
Despite being in an enviable position of applying his distinctive stamp and invaluable expertise on a number of well-known call letters for roughly three decades via his Sabo Media consultancy, Sabo made a stunning decision several years ago to focus completely on being a talk radio host. “When I began doing the talk show, I realized that I love it and my wife said that I have never been happier,” he enthuses. “The opportunity to do the talk show, which turned out to be incredibly satisfying, enabled me to tap into all those years as a talk radio programmer. I have a great crew at WPHT – everyone there has been very nice to me.”
Occasionally doing fill-in work at Cumulus Media New York City news/talk WABC puts him in the unique situation of working for program director Craig Schwalb. “I gave him his first programming job,” Sabo discloses. “When he sends me a memo, I tell him that I think I came up with that idea. He’s a really good guy and it’s a privilege to be there; I have a lot of fun doing it. At the same time though, I know you cannot ‘dabble’ in radio. I could not have had better or bigger clients,” but he has apparently closed that chapter of his vitae.
Not only did Sabo work as a hands-on consultant for over-the-air properties, he consulted SiriusXM on-site for eight years. “I was there from pre-launch and made the first call to Howard Stern to say it was time to come to satellite. I did all that and it was fantastic.”
Topics and subjects Sabo addresses on his talkfest are not generally heard these political-intensive days elsewhere in the genre, and his response/feedback have been from younger – mostly female – callers. “I realized there was a huge bank of material that people talk about when they go to the food court for lunch,” he observes. “I talk about [such things as] how people deal with parent-teacher conferences; why the engine light never goes out; and how to make a hamburger on the grill without having the meat fall through the coals.”
Fascinated by how the U.S. Department of Labor defines employment, Sabo incorporates that sort of material into his program, as well. “If you work one hour a week, or if you work 15 hours a week in a family business or a nonprofit for no pay – congratulations – you are employed. If you are [only] working one hour a week, you don’t feel employed. I haven’t found the earlier definitions yet, but I believe the definition of ‘employed’ has changed over time [so] comparing stats year-to-year is silly.”
Amazing national exposure
Highly confident that a daily, three-hour Sabo-hosted program that relies on lifestyle topics versus a constant diet of political banter will fly, he puts forth that, “From 1928 – 1984, the #1 radio station in billing and #1 in audience in America talked about only that stuff, 24/7. That station was [New York City’s] WOR, which had a 70% female cume. Most of the WOR hosts were women or married couples where the woman was clearly in charge [and] you did not mess with [them]. They were not doing cute cooking shows. WOR had one-hour talk shows every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; Arlene Francis [of “What’s My Line?’ fame] had the best numbers of them all [1960 – 1984]. At about that time, those topics migrated to daytime television talk shows with hosts such as Oprah [Winfrey], Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael, Jerry Springer, Maury [Povich], ‘Judge Judy’ [ Sheindlin], and Ellen [DeGeneres]. Those shows generate four billion dollars a year and we [in radio] gave it away. I am not doing anything new. It is the most proven form of talk radio in the history of radio.”
Concurring with that assessment and obviously applauding Sabo’s approach, Westwood One executive vice president of news and talk programming Bart Tessler invited him to fill-in two nights for the network’s venerable Hall of Fame talent Jim Bohannon. “It was easy because the people there know what they are doing and I booked it in a way that I was safe,” Sabo comments of the 10:00 pm – 1:00 am programs earlier this month (7/11 and 7/12). “One guest on the first night was The Amazing Kreskin, which meant I didn’t have to do anything. Another person I had on was [author] Stephanie Osborn, ‘The Interstellar Woman of Mystery.’ She was a NASA payload expert and a rocket scientist.”
Research for many radio stations in terms of implementing new formats or concepts is confined to who is doing it and where it is being done. “We do not have the capabilities to do testing the way they do in television,” Sabo insists. “It isn’t the money – it’s the tools.”
Consequently, many in the medium are almost forced to copy what others do. “That is our research,” Sabo assesses and it could be why some news/talk facilities veered off-course. “Simultaneous with that was the advent of satellite-distribution, which happened in 1983 – 1984 and meant you could have broadcast quality without telephone lines. It then became viable to have long-form talk shows from a central source. While Rush [Limbaugh] began in 1988, there were [other national hosts] before him, including [Dr.] Toni Grant, Bruce Williams, Sally Jessy Raphael, and [Dr.] Dean Edell. Prior to satellite distribution, there were exactly 59 full-time talk stations in America. Almost all of them were in major markets because those were the only cities that could economically support that payroll. They were all doing local shows. It was not a ‘mission from God’ to talk about politics. Limbaugh has been an enormous success because he is incredibly talented, not because he talks about politics.”
According to Sabo, it is “completely unnecessary” for some traditional AM news/talk stations to have a one-share. “I strongly believe there is a great opportunity for talk stations today to increase what they offer [however] I am not saying to get rid of political talk shows. It’s good if a station has a gifted talk show host – but make sure [he or she is] entertaining. The most response I get from my show is when I talk about trouble with the in-laws – that’s when the phones and emails go crazy. It is what you talk about with your friends, so why wouldn’t you put it on the air? This is what someone like Elvis Duran [highlights on his morning show originating from iHeartMedia New York City CHR WHTZ ‘Z-100’ and syndicated on Premiere Radio Networks]. Stations that just talk about politics are so afraid to talk about anything else and there is no reason to be.”
Proactive career tip
Especially at a time when terrestrial radio appears to be facing one monumental challenge after another, the medium could not ask for a more fervent cheerleader than Sabo, who took full advantage of being mentored by some industry heavyweights. “In all of those cases, they offered themselves to me and made it possible – but – I showed up; I was the one who sought it,” he stresses. “People today are absolutely seeking that kind of opportunity. I do not know any CEO worth a darn who wouldn’t help an eager young executive. The biggest mistake college graduates make is they go to human resources or apply for jobs online. That is not how you are going to get the career you want. You need to seek out the decision-maker at any given company and do what you have to do to get in front of them. Believe me – most of the time those executives are eating lunch at their desk alone. They will be more than happy to sit down with [a focused, ambitious person] who says they want to work for their company. Go into any company’s radio stations and you will find dozens of Walter Sabos. These are people who are not interested in anything else but radio.”
Doom and gloom about radio’s impending demise is hardly a new phenomenon but as Sabo quips, “Something is wrong in our PR message because we fail to make it stick that [this medium] is insanely successful. Every general market article I’ve read for the last 40 years says radio is ‘rebounding’ or having a ‘rebirth.’ We are part of the flow of the day to the point where people don’t have to think about it or go to the Apple Store to learn how to ‘work’ the radio. At no time does it require active thought. We turn on the radio and it works.”
Passion of the medium has actually intensified for Sabo in his return as an on-air talent. “I am reminded of how profoundly we can talk to people in a unique way on radio,” he proclaims. “The later at night a person listens, the greater the chance they are alone – and I’m alone with them. Team meetings are at 9:00 am – not 9:00 pm.”
Correspondence that Sabo receives from his two-hour, weekly broadcasts are highly-detailed. “Listeners understand what I’m doing and they share their life with me. They don’t get those kinds of letters in television. Anyone on radio late at night could move any product off the shelves like crazy. It is a tragedy that those time periods – which are by far the most engaging on every station – are given away.”
Preparation for each one of Sabo’s shows takes a significant chunk of time. It’s something he always knew was required, but the often dry-humored Sabo never experienced it first-hand. “I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Howard Stern’s studio at Sirius. This isn’t an exaggeration: To his right hand was a three-foot high stack of paper that he could go to whenever he needed. He told me he plans every show as if no one from his staff will show up or that he won’t have any guests. If I were to send him an idea for his show at this second, I’d get an answer within 10 minutes if he thought it was [worthwhile] – that’s all he does.”
Understandably, many might blurt out Facebook or Twitter as the most important social medium, but Sabo is convinced it is radio. “We are very good at it because we invented it in 1957 when the seven-second delay was created. A listener can go on the air and talk one-on-one with a mayor, governor, or president. It is pathetic when a television show host tries to take a live phone call. The person is looking around and at the ceiling – it is very sad. We have been ‘streaming’ to the car since 1938; the first year that FM radios were standard in cars was 1983. When I was in charge of ABC’s FM Network and NBC’s FM-owned stations, I needed a car with an FM radio. Lincolns and Cadillacs were the only ones that had FM radios at that time. People in the finance department did not look kindly on those [expense report receipts].”
Troublemaking attitude encouraged
Abundance of technological platforms aside, it is exceptionally rare when a “hit” isn’t on radio and Sabo, who was Merlin Media’s chief operating officer for six months in 2011, is adamant that music radio remains the primary medium for music discovery. “It is disappointing, however, that staging; jingles; and promos on a top 40 station today are the same as they were in 1984. Many of the shows are still called the same thing such as ‘The Morning Zoo.’ You could substitute the music from 30 years ago and wouldn’t know the difference. I want to hear personalities say things that are subversive and scary. Part of top 40 radio’s original appeal was that your parents hated it. That was because the on-air talents were screaming and saying dangerous things. A kid today can listen to top 40 radio with their mom. I want a radio station that scares me to death.”
Executives who hired Sabo allowed him to rock the boat and he freely admits, “It is amazing what can happen if you get the right boss. When I began consulting Sirius and we hired personalities, I wanted them to curse on their first show and to say they hated a particular song. I didn’t care when they cursed or what song they said they hated. They had to do it to rewire their brain. I like it when radio causes trouble; people have to talk about it because it’s different.”
Modesty is combined with candidness in Sabo’s belief he was not a logical hire for any of his early-on prestigious jobs that earned him VP stripes at a remarkably tender age but as he correctly points out, “I didn’t hire myself, so I had nothing to do with it. I am proudest of the people who gave me those opportunities. I’m also proud of the people who followed me into these positions and made it come to life. For some reason, I was able to attract some terrific air talents and executives. To me, the big ‘win’ is anytime I have gotten anything on the air that has never been done before. It is rare when it happens and it is always incredibly difficult. Those things would include putting on adult contemporary, which is the financial backbone of American radio; being able to launch a young-skewing FM talk station [27 years ago] and seeing it continue to thrive; and the fact that everything we put on in my eight years at Sirius was brand new.”
Fiercely determined on doing a talk show five days a week as soon as possible, Sabo (Walter@SaboMedia.com) realizes that it’s not up to him. “Others must decide. I do not think for one second that I am the best talk show host, but I am darn sure about these topics and that ‘the host’ will catch up.”
Having never been a day-to-day program director, he would find administrative aspects of either setting up a network of syndicated shows like the one he does, or programming one station a distraction. “I don’t have enough RAM to do both,” he jests. “My goal is to do the best job I can [on a weekday talk show] – that’s it. I can’t listen to my show and think of the whole of the radio station. A station’s programmer understands the needs of that station better than I ever will. There are many [other] talk show hosts who want to try different stuff. The reason it is worth trying with me is because of my background as an executive who was responsible for FCC licenses in top ten cities for 30 years. I know what a person can get away with; I know what’s slander; and I know the rules. That gives me tremendous freedom. At the same time, in terms of content, you had better change stuff; otherwise, the format will have no future.”
Albeit limited to a two-show run, Sabo’s national exposure sitting in for Jim Bohannon accentuated his enjoyment of dealing with a nighttime audience, but he has an open mind when it comes to when his show should air. “[A syndicator, group owner, or programmer] can hear the potential for me in various dayparts in a way that I never can,” concedes Sabo. “It’s none of my business when my show is on, but five days [or nights] a week is the goal.”
Fully agreeing that their “daddy” should be on the radio Monday through Friday are his five-year-old; 12-year-old; and 14-year-old daughters. “Our girls are terrific and smart,” a justifiably proud Sabo boasts. “When I was playing radio in my bedroom, I called myself Sterling Walters – a popular radio name at the time. I wanted to use that name on WPHT, but one of my girls forbade me – she said it should be ‘Walter Sterling.’ My daughters always tell me that by the time I get off the air, I’m done talking and they don’t have to listen to me at all.”
Email managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com