Broadcast Journalist Job Description:
Right now, I work primarily in radio with Showbiz Express, which I own and syndicate. I put a daily one minute broadcast together, which is really a lot of work, that goes out to many radio stations. It focuses on entertainment and media news. I arrange and conduct interviews with people. For example, I would try to interview Charlie Sheen about the upcoming Emmy Awards.
Because it's radio, less is more. I report and edit the stories myself. After I get the sound bites, I think of how I can edit and mix those interviews (with other audio) to make a piece that the audience will want to listen to; then I send it out to radio stations across the country every evening, via e-mail.
How did you choose broadcast journalism as a career?
Before college, I started as a desk assistant and page, both for WNEW, radio and TV, in New York City. I was a page and seated people at a talk show. I went to college in Miami and got on the air on the college station. Then I got a job at a real FM radio station, on the graveyard shift on Saturdays.
That led me to a bigger on-air job at a radio station in Chicago, WMAQ. And you couldn't have gotten a better deal as a young reporter than working in Chicago radio, covering Mayor Richard Daley. Then there were massive cutbacks, and we college kids were getting laid off.
I wanted to get into television, so I parlayed my Chicago radio experience and got a job as a legal reporter for WISN-TV in Milwaukee. I also did a feature called "Friday Feast," it was like what the Food Network does now.
I knew I wanted to do a talk show. The Vice President of Hearst Broadcasting (owner of WISM-TV) told me that they had a show in Baltimore that they wanted to bring me onto. I moved to Baltimore and was part of a trio hosting a show on WBAL-TV.
And then a job came up in Washington D.C. It was called Panarama, and had been hosted by Maury Povich. It was a big show, where authors and politicians would go on for interviews. I spent the next eight years hosting Panarama on WTTG in Washington D.C.
Maury had left, but then came back to anchor the news and host Panarama again. I stayed with the station and became their entertainment editor, doing entertainment news for the Fox stations out of Washington D.C. That led me out here to Los Angeles. I wanted to start producing on my own shows; that is easier to do in radio than on television.
I created an entertainment division for Metro Networks (radio). That laid the groundwork for my own company. When Metro was sold to Westwood One, I created the Entertainment Tonight radio minute. It was then that I decided to do this on my own; therein was the beginnings of Showbiz Express. Now, I'm combining radio and television into the web.
Can you recall any humorous moments from your broadcast journalism career?
When I hosted Panarama, comedian Redd Foxx and composer Paul Williams were scheduled as our guests. My produced came up to me very calmly and said, "Everything is okay, everything is fine, but Redd Foxx canceled and we can't find Paul Williams." Then my stage manager said, "You're gonna die! 15 seconds, stand by!" I tried to interview the stage manager, who almost ran out of the studio.
So I told the audience, "Well, here's the deal, we don't have any guests." I adlibbed for about five minutes. I came up with a good topic, opened the phone lines up, took calls on the air and really had a great show.
Twenty-eight minutes past the hour, Paul Williams shows up and he comes on live. He says, "I'm really, really sorry. I worked late last night, got up this morning, turned on the TV and saw you say 'Paul Williams is going to be on.'" It was one of the funnier moments.
What advice would you have for people exploring careers in broadcast journalism?
Internships are great. They are really important. Interns did everything on Panarama. Eventually someone is going to say, "That guy is sharp" or "That woman is sharp." So when a production assistant opening comes along they 'll say, "Let's grab them."
Go over to a TV station or cable network and start as a runner, ask questions. You gotta really want to do it. If you just want to be famous, it isn't going to happen. Don't be afraid to change, if you find you're better as a reporter than a producer, then go that way.
What is the outlook for careers in broadcast journalism?
Throughout my career, everytime I would try to get a job, I always heard, "Oh, the budget is tight. We don't have the budget, it's very tight." I never heard when it wasn't tight. But there are jobs out there. The platforms are changing. Shows are being downsized, jobs are being downsized in radio and television, but they're going somewhere; there's a lot of visiblity in the Internet.
The web is becoming very important. I don't think we have scratched the surface. I think the jobs are going to be there. Content and distribution are always going to be "king." If you got that, you got a business. If you got a business, you need to hire people. The jobs are going to be there, they are just going to be different.
What factors can affect a broadcast journalism salary?
The market size aftects a broadcast journalism salary. If you work in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, you're going to earn more, usually. If you go to a Sunbelt market, you might get paid a smaller broadcast journalism salary, but your lifestyle might be a whole lot better.
You will make more on the network level, but the jobs will start to diminish as the network audience decreases. As the cable channels slowly rise in audience, so will the employment. The more versatile you are, the better off you're going to be.
On other hand, I also believe that you either have to become very versatile or specialize in something very big; even the specialists are becoming plentiful, the medical reporters, the legal reporters, etc.
If you specialize in something and become known for that, then you have an edge. Practice your craft, the more feedback you get from people that you trust and respect, the better off you're going to be. Trust your gut, go with your instincts.
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