November 16, 2012

Radio Comes To TV With Dish Nation
Mandy Feingold

Morning radio is quickly becoming a hit on evening television thanks to Dish Nation, a new show developed by 20th Television that began airing on FOX television affiliates nationwide in September. Dish Nation spotlights four morning radio shows, including WPLJ/New York’s The Big Show with Scott & Todd, hosted by Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill; Atlanta’s syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show; Dallas’ Kidd Kraddick in the Morning, which is widely syndicated and heard locally on KHKS; and Blaine & Allyson in The Morning on WDVD/Detroit. Each morning crew is seen riffing on what’s hot and happening that day in Pop culture as they each bring their own unique perspective and humor to the topics at hand. The man behind this idea is Stu Weiss, the Executive Producer of Dish Nation, who many moons ago began his own career in radio in upstate Pennsylvania. Weiss is now a veteran of the television world, but he admits that radio remains his first love, and that is why he was inspired to start a television show based on the medium.
           So far after only two months on the air, Dish Nation is proving to be a winning formula. The show’s viewership grew by 18 percent in the first four weeks it was on, and now, out of the 40 shows that are in first run syndication this season, Dish Nation is the second youngest skewing program. FMQB spoke to Weiss about the show’s instant success and what it is about these four morning shows that connects with so many fans on a national level.

Give me a little background on how the show was originally developed. How did you get the idea to bring radio to TV?
I’ve been a fan of radio since I was 11-years-old. I always found radio people to be engaging. It’s the one medium that truly feels like one-on-one communication. They have to be funny four hours a day. I’ve always been in awe of radio talent and how they keep it fresh everyday. I remember listening to WABC growing up and hearing Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy and all these enormous characters of the day. Personally, I got into radio when I was 17. I started at WBRX-AM in Berwick, PA which is about 50 miles south of Scranton. That was my first step into broadcasting. Then I went into television, but radio has always been my first love.
          Here we are decades later, and I own a company called Studio City. We are a marketing company that has been around for 18 years. We provide on-air promos to pretty much every studio. We do promos for Live With Kelly & Michael, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Ellen, The Talk, we did over 200 spots for the Olympics. I’ve had the opportunity to work with every single studio every day because we do these promos. And from working with all these shows, there was an opportunity for us to realize, “Television needs a show like [Dish Nation].” We presented this show to the folks at 20th Television, and they green-lighted it. We did a six-week test last summer on a couple of Fox stations, and the ratings were strong enough to bring it to series. Now it’s a 260-episode per year series on five days a week, 52 weeks a year.
         When you look at entertainment news, you see shows that have pretty much the same voice: Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, and Insider. They all have a scripted, talking head, hard news voice. TMZ was one of the only voices out there that wasn’t taking entertainment news all that seriously. But there still wasn’t a show that did daily, topical entertainment news that had a comedic voice. So we came up with this format of finding the best radio people that represented a prism of America. It needed to have old, young, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, women, men, a true prism of America and that’s what this magical cast is. And they’re all funny! It was pretty easy for 20th to look at the opportunity that a show like this presented, because it connects in some way with every member of the audience.

WDVD/Detroit's Blaine & Allyson,
Atlanta's Rickey Smiley and Ebony Steele,
and WPLJ/New York's Scott Shannon
and Todd Pettengill.

How were these four morning shows chosen?
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s there were a lot of wacky morning zoo shows. Every major market had them. I don’t know what happened over the last 15 or 20 years, but there has been a homogenization of morning radio. There has been more of an emphasis on playing the music, and less focus put on personalities, unfortunately. For me to find the funniest radio shows, maybe at some point there might have been 500, but now there are only about 200, so it was easy to whittle it down. To find the radio talent that we chose, we wanted to have a voice from different geographic centers. It was the goal to try to get every sector of America on the show, and find the funniest people in those sectors. It had to be an established morning radio show in a top 30 market, and it had to have an element already in the show that was devoted to entertainment news. I found four stations that already were doing that.

Logistically, how does it all come together? Are you filming every show every morning while they’re on the air?
Yes, we film them five days a week. They’re on the air mostly from 6 a.m. EST to 10 a.m. EST so our cameras are rolling from about 5:30 to 10:30 in the morning. They are streaming into our facility in Los Angeles. We have three cameras in pretty much every station. Each camera has an individual fiber feed that comes from their station to us. We’re taking in the feeds of twelve cameras every day, five hours a day, so we are ingesting 300 hours of content a week. Out of that, we make five 30-minute shows a week. We have people here transcribing everything they say. We have eight segment producers and eight editors who are screening all the feeds and making notes. Then two hours into their day they start producing the segments. It’s a heavily post-produced show because we have to wade through tons and tons of material. They are all on the air at the same time talking about the same topics, and there is a minutia to collecting it all and making sense of it, but there is a formula to it now and we’ve got it down. Thanks to the six-week test we did last year, it pretty much put the mechanics in place for us so that when [the premiere date] September 10, 2012 rolled around, we were ready. It’s probably the most complicated format on television to produce and execute on a daily basis because no other show has 12 cameras live. We have to put all that material together in a cohesive, 30-minute show that airs that night, and it covers 12 or 13 stories an episode.

Do you give the cast guidelines on what topics to discuss each day, or does it just so happen that they all touch on many of the same topics naturally?
It’s a combination of both. Sometimes we’ll get the idea from them, but most of the time they use our stuff and put it on their radio shows. We are usually breaking news for them. We get together here at 1 a.m. (Pacific Time) and gather information about what has been going on overnight, and figure out which stories will resonate with our audience. It has to be news that will translate to funny, because at the end of the day, we’re kind of a sit-com that does entertainment news. There are some stories where we think, “How are we going to make this funny?” But then we find the humor in it. Our goal is to be a funny entertainment news show.

What unique contribution does each individual morning show bring to the Dish Nation table?
The contributions are without measure. We gather the stories and give them about 16 topics every day we want them to hit. We have our meeting from 1 to 2 a.m., which is 4 to 5 eastern. Then we meet with our field producers – we have a producer at each of the four radio stations. At 2 a.m. we give them a list of topics with some background on each topic, and some directions they can go in with each topic if they want to. But the results usually are that the morning shows go anywhere they want, and they go to a place we never expect them to go, and it’s always shocking and hilarious. The journey they take us on is always a surprise to us. We never see it coming, and that’s the highest form of comedy. The segments that are the most surprising have been the most successful, and that’s what they all bring to the table.

The crew of Kidd Kraddick in the Morning.

It was recently shown that viewership grew by 18 percent in only 4 weeks. To what do you attribute that instant success?
The number I was reading today is that we are #1 in 18-49 adults of all new shows. It’s remarkable what the show has achieved. We’re #1 with men 18-49 among all news shows. I’m astounded by it, and all I can say is that this cast is amazing and they’re resonating with an audience willing to embrace a brand new genre. The magic sauce here is the fact that it’s multi-generational, from Radio Hall Of Famer Scott Shannon to Jenna Owens in Dallas, who is in her 20s. You have an even distribution of male and female voices on the show. We have black, white, Hispanic, straight and gay – chances are you will turn this show on and there is someone in this cast you will relate to and look forward to, and you’ll see them every day. With a cast of 15 people, it’s like the Modern Family of entertainment news. It’s a great family, and to see how they all interact with each other, you get to be a fly on the wall. They bring so much energy to each story and they’re clearly having fun. The audience is getting their entertainment news and laughing along with it.

Are there plans to include more radio personalities on the show from different markets?
Absolutely. Those wheels are currently in motion. There are opportunities we’ve carved out in the show to have a place for new talent to be spotlighted, even if for only a week at a time. There are a couple of markets we’ve identified and some people we have already reached out to about bringing a fresh new voice to the show. We’re on 52 weeks a year so at some point our cast needs to take a break and be on vacation. Sometimes there’s a sick day. So it’s a healthy thing to start integrating different, new faces into the show. This is an enormous opportunity for radio as a whole. I don’t think there’s ever been an opportunity for radio talent like this, where you have a nightly show on broadcast television that features the depth of talent we have in so many cities. Radio has never had a platform of this size in the history of television, and we hope the radio community takes advantage of it. We want to tap into the enormous talent pool that radio presents.
         Historically, radio has provided a lot of amazing talent for television. Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman and Ryan Seacrest have transitioned from radio to television. Seacrest has maintained his life in both worlds, and that is what’s happening here with our talent. In many cases, one has helped the other. Blaine and Allyson from WDVD/Detroit have seen their ratings shoot up through the roof since our premiere date. We’ve grown in ratings and so have they, so there has been great synergy between the radio stations and us, and the radio stations and the local television station in each market. The reach between our social media efforts and that of the cast members is over 2 million Twitter followers when you put together each one of our 15 cast members. No other TV show on the air can reach 2 million Twitter followers, but our cast goes that deep with their fans. They have been on the air for years and they have an enormous following, so the synergy that exists between the TV stations, radio stations, social media, websites, and what we’re doing to send our segments out and have them go viral – it’s a spider web network of communication that is pretty crazy, and that has all contributed to our success. But at the end of the day, it’s funny, talented, engaging, authentic talent that is giving people their entertainment news every night.

With all the different media options available to people today, can you speak to the importance morning radio still has to local communities?
Kidd Kraddick has a campaign that raises money for kids with cancer. Scott and Todd were on the air last week during the hurricane. They were on the air with us for six weeks doing a comedy show, and then the week when Hurricane Sandy hit, they had to be the voice of calm and try to get their audience through it. People had no power and all they had was the radio to listen to. They had to be the voice of hope for the city of New York, and it was amazing watching that. In moments like that, where radio people are the funny people you wake up to every day, and then they become that beacon of hope for you – it really connects with people on a personal level. We were stunned watching them. It was just amazing. With Blaine and Allyson in Detroit, that city has been through quite a bit, and here they are representing a city that has been through the toughest of times, and now they’re on a national television show that’s giving America a really different point of view of what Detroit is and how fun that city might be. That is a powerful thing. Each one of these people is a great ambassador for each one of the towns they represent. In the case of Kidd Kraddick and Rickey Smiley, they are syndicated on tons of stations and yet they manage to be the hometown sound of each one of the towns they’re in. Rickey has connected with his listeners in a way that is very special. These are all strong, unique, dedicated, authentic voices, and people love them.

It’s a fine line to be able to connect with your local audience, and be syndicated and able to connect with the people in all those other markets as well.
As I mentioned before, there has been a homogenization of radio. I think a lot of voices have been silenced. I don’t know what the end goal was, but I think it has resulted in the silencing of many more unique voices. While I hope that my show is successful for decades to come, I do hope also that radio will take a look at itself and maybe go back to its roots to bring the comedy back and bring back that authentic voice to each individual town. I hope people look at Dish Nation and say, “You know, we need one of those in our town. We should have a local morning deejay.” Then maybe people will turn off their iPods and Pandora. I hope radio re-engages with the younger generation so radio can become cool and hip again, and it becomes a medium that younger people take seriously. Hopefully it’s a great day for radio.

[eQB Content By Mandy Feingold]


Nikki Nite,
VP of Prog. & Ops,

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