Filling in for the Holidays. Today marks the beginning of “holiday fill-in season” on talk radio which pretty much runs through the rest of the year. It is the time when a significant percentage of full-time hosts working at individual radio stations (and even syndicated hosts for that matter) take all or part of their annual vacations. This process provides fill-in hosts and part-time weekend and bench hosts with the opportunity to get out there and hopefully shine. It also has the potential to provide listeners with fresh voices and perspectives. And it always presents already overworked programmers with the challenge of keeping their schedules flowing and appealing. They want someone who is professional and interesting – but they also want someone who won’t upset the applecart of stationality or listener expectations. WGN, Chicago PD Bill White explains, “I equate a fill-in host to someone hosting a dinner party in someone else’s home. Fill-in hosts should be respectful of the regular host’s audience but not rearrange all the furniture. We also look for fill-in hosts who will be comfortable and compliment the regular host’s audience.” Thus, qualified substitutes are a valuable commodity at this time of year when the demand for their services is drastically increased, especially when most stations’ air staffs have been cut back or depleted due to the economy and PDs must look for help from outside. For example, one of the industry’s most popular substitutes, former congressman and KFYI, Phoenix talk host J.D. Hayworth is subbing for Compass Media Networks nationally syndicated host Todd Schnitt on 12/20 and 12/28. He’ll be heard on hosting local shows on KXNT-FM, Las Vegas on 12/23 and 12/29-30; WLS, Chicago on 12/24, 28-30; WGST, Atlanta on 12/26; KOGO-AM/FM, San Diego on 12/27; and WPHT, Philadelphia on 12/28-30. Demand for quality substitutes is so high that some hosts already doing full-time work use it as an opportunity to pick up extra income and exposure. As if he is not already doing enough on his “regular” gigs, hard working and extremely talented Clear Channel talk host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo (KPRC, Houston; WOAI, San Antonio; KOA, Denver; and “The Weekend”) fills in for Premiere Networks syndicated star Glenn Beck on 12/20, 23, 28 and 30. This year’s holiday season coming in the thick of the big election cycle creates even more pressure to keep stations on track. Greater Media-owned WTKK-FM, Boston PD Grace Blazer tells TALKERS, “It’s important at 96.9 FM-WTKK to provide our audience with relevant shows throughout the holiday season that are timely and topical. Our host vacation schedules are scattered and their fill-ins are often regular participants to their shows and share similar philosophies. Since January 2012 is a huge month for presidential politics and New Hampshire is our neighbor, I think it’s imperative to keep 96.9 Boston Talks ‘primarily’ intact and compelling.” At Peak Broadcasting’s KMJ, Fresno, PD Skip Essick likes to avoid throwing curves to listeners, “I try and keep programming as normal as possible. This year it will not be as much of a challenge with Christmas Eve and Day on the weekend – same thing over New Years. But, for instance, the day after Thanksgiving – which was designated as a company holiday – I ran full staff with regular programming. I’ll do the same for Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, and the numerous Monday holidays throughout the year. In a nutshell – if our listeners are at work, so are we.” Some hosts prefer to work over the holidays and at Buckley Broadcasting’s WOR, New York, program director Scott Lakefield tells TALKERS that’s the case. “For instance, John Gambling began a ‘tradition’ of sorts of taking his ‘holiday’ vacation in January. He will be live 12/27-30. Generally speaking, though, my theory is to try to do ‘best-of’ compendium shows during vacation times, with the exception of drive-time when information is a bigger component and it is thus necessary to be live. Guest hosts in my experience drive far more listeners away than hearing some ‘classic’ moments from their favorite hosts does.” In the sports talk radio world this situation can be particularly compelling since so many outlets have a high percentage of local full-time hosts and thus more slots to fill. Plus, opinions and personality categories in sports talk are often more idiosyncratic than general news/talk, making it more challenging to find the proper fit. CBS-owned Sports Radio 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh PD Terry Foxx tells TALKERS, “Holiday fill-in for us is very important. I match up our part-time hosts based on how I feel they will entertain and incite opinions from our fans in certain day parts.” Some stations have fill-in hosts with a history at the station such as veteran TV/radio personality Wayne Powers who subs for Keith Larson on WBT-AM/FM, Charlotte 12/26-30… and the list goes on. J.D. Hayworth, who is looking to get back into the business on a regular basis as either a local or syndicated host, tells TALKERS, “As a genuine ‘broadcasting baby boomer,’ I remember the ubiquitous Robert Q. Lewis on TV game shows: most frequently, a panelist…but quite frequently, a guest host…and eventually a regular host! So, I’m being ‘Lewis-like’ over the holidays! During my years at N.C. State, the joke was Lou Holtz recruited me at right tackle, but I ended up ‘left out!’ So…I’m used to waiting on the the bench, but very happy to get loads of holiday airtime. I’m certain these appearances will help me leave the bench and get back in the game full time!”
John Thompson Ends Regular Talk Show at WTEM, Washington. The iconic former Georgetown University basketball coach and talk host in the DC market since 1999 will step away from his regular show on Red Zebra’s WTEM in February to pursue other interests. Red Zebra director of programming Chuck Sapienza says, “While a sad day for the station, we fully support Coach Thompson’s decision to move on to other projects. As Coach and I discussed at the time of his decision, this is not a retirement. His fans will still hear Coach Thompson on ESPN980 from time to time. Thompson’s program airs from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm daily with co-host Doc Walker. Sapienza doesn’t state what the station’s plans are after Thompson steps down.
Chattanooga’s Brewer Media to Drop News/Talk on WPLZ-FM Citing Expense of the Format. It’s been three years since the locally owned Brewer Media put a news/talk format on WPLZ-FM, Chattanooga. Owner Jim Brewer II tells the Chattanooga Times Free Press he would have needed more staff to be competitive in the market. “I think we offered a good product and I will miss having news/talk in our building…being a small, single market cluster, it’s exceedingly difficult to compete against national broadcasting companies who have so much syndicated programming and infrastructure.” The station will flip to an unspecified music format in the new year and will lay off talk hosts Robert T. Nash and David Karnes as well as PD Gary Poole, news director Louis Lee and a couple other employees. Brewer Media owns three other FMs in the market including sports talk WALV – ESPN 105.1.
Birach Broadcasting Flips WWCS, Pittsburgh to Sports; Affiliates with Fox Sports Radio. Birach Broadcasting has been airing a Spanish music format on the signal but flips to sports on January 1 as Fox Sports 540. It’ll take most of the Fox Sports Radio Network-distributed lineup – Zakk & Jack, the Dan Patrick show, “Loose Cannons,” Petros & Money, “Fox Sports Tonight” and JT the Brick plus Premiere Networks’ Jim Rome. FSRN vice president and general manager Don Martin states, “After a short hiatus, Fox Sports Radio is thrilled to be heard again in the great city of Pittsburgh!” The network was previously affiliated with Clear Channel’s WBGG. In addition to CC’s WBGG, CBS Radio operates sports KDKA-FM in the market.
Dr. Jenn Berman to Host New VH1 Program “Couples Therapy.” Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and host of the Sirius XM talk show, “The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn,” is the host of a new cable TV show produced by Irwin Entertainment, the producers of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” The program will follow the travails of five celebrity couples and they go through therapy with Dr. Jenn Berman. Shows hit the air in the spring. Dr. Berman tells TALKERS magazine, “It’s such a pleasure to be a part of this exciting venture on VH1. I’m looking forward to being that connecting link between viewers and the process of examining the challenges of a celebrity relationship. I think people will be very surprised by how much they identify with these celebs and their personal struggles.” Couples taking part in the program are: DMX (Rapper) & Tashera Simmons, Linda Hogan (“Hogan Knows Best”) & Charlie Hill, Chris Nirschel (“The Next Food Network Star”) & Angelina Pivarnick (“Jersey Shore”), Kasey Kahl (“Bachelorette”) & Vienna Girardi (“The Bachelor”) and Reichen Lehmkuhl & Rodiney Santiago (“The A-List: New York”).
Michigan Talk Host Michael Patrick Shiels Named to State Travel Commission. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announces WJIM, Lansing-based talk host Michael Patrick Shiels – heard throughout the state via the Michigan Talk Network – will serve on the Michigan Travel Commission. “One of the key components to building a better and stronger Michigan is to continuously promote all the attractions our state has to offer, including our beautiful lakes and great landmarks. Michael Patrick Shiels is a great addition and uniquely positioned to be a great asset to the commission.” In addition to his radio work, Shiels is a travel writer and founder of TravelTattler.com. Subject to approval by the Michigan Senate, Shiels will serve the remainder of Jim Berryman’s term through September 2014. Berryman recently resigned.
Ira Weintraub Takes PD Role at WTKA, Ann Arbor. Cumulus Media Ann Arbor names APD and morning show producer Ira Weintraub program director for sports talk outlet WTKA – The Ticket 1050. Market manager Matt Spaulding says, “Ann Arbor is a market with a tradition of providing compelling, passionate and relevant broadcast products to the listeners of southeast Michigan. Ira Weintraub has absolutely earned this promotion and we are confident that he will help lead WTKA to many more years of broadcasting success.”
WGN, Chicago’s Milt Rosenberg Hosts 2011 Retrospective Tonight. “Extension 720” host Milt Rosenberg hosts a special edition of his program this evening (12/19) titled, “WGN Year in Review” with fellow WGN personalities Garry Meier, John Williams and David Kaplan. The hosts will look back on the stories that made the year 2011 from the Rod Blagojevich case to the death of Osama bin Laden to the hiring of Theo Epstein as the Cubs’ general manager. The program airs at 10:00 pm.