Welcome to our SPOTLIGHT feature, where we highlight a ProfNet Connect user and share their personal story and insight with you. This SPOTLIGHT belongs to broadcast journalist Mark Riley, host of The Mark Riley Show on WWRL 1600 AM in New York. Please make sure to read more about Mark's impressive career just below the interview.
We hope you find SPOTLIGHT both enjoyable and informative. Please feel free to leave a comment after the blog entry.
Mark, please tell me about yourself and your role at WWRL 1600 AM.
I host the WWRL Morning Show from 6-9 a.m. EDT Monday through Friday. This is the morning-drive program and l usually have three expert guests each morning. My guests and the daily topics are news driven so although the show begins at 6 a.m., it's important that I spend 2-3 hours scanning the trending topics from the night before and breaking news from that morning.
The show airs live and streams on the Internet. I take calls from listener throughout the show. This requires added attention to detail because even though my producer does a screening, you never really know what a caller is going to say.
I've been in the radio industry since 1973, when I began as an intern at WLIB Radio, which was then located in Harlem. I've been extremely fortunate in that my career has allowed me to climb the ladder from intern to news writer, to news managing editor, to talk show host, and, finally, to program director. I have done both local radio for the New York metro area, and national radio on Air America Radio. In 39 years, I have conducted literally thousands of interviews with politicians, entertainers and sports figures, but I've also done street reporting for special events or action news.
How did you decide to become a broadcast journalist?
My parents emphasized recreational reading from an early age, and I went on to be an English major in college. I had always been fascinated with radio, although mostly in the context of music, and early on in my career I believed that I wanted to transition from news to music.
However, about three months into my internship, two things happened that changed my mind and the trajectory of my career. First, I actually covered a protest in front of the world famous Apollo Theater in New York. The second and most profound was when one of the newscasters asked me to write a story for him. At first I just thought it was some busy work, but after writing the story by hand and being told I had to learn how to type, he read the story on the air. Suffice to say I was hooked. Those opportunities to learn by jumping into the waters let me see what I was capable of achieving, and that's what every internship should be about.
This industry is full of ups and downs -- what has been the biggest challenge you've faced thus far?
In many ways, I am considered "talent," and every entertainer faces the challenge of staying relevant. The radio business has changed dramatically over the years, and not always for the better, so it's an ongoing challenge to evolve with the medium. The other is interviewing people who have lost someone close to them, whether it’s at the scene of a fire, or a shooting -- whatever. For a long time I didn't want to do that kind of interview, because I felt it was intruding on another person's grief. Over the years, I've learned how to master that very tough skill.
Do you have a favorite moment or a highlight?
Again, there are two. As a kid, I idolized and therefore always dreamed of interviewing Muhammad Ali. In 1976, I had that opportunity, just before he fought Ken Norton for the third time. The other was meeting and interviewing President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, during his first visit to New York after being freed from prison. It was a one-on-one interview in his New York hotel room and he was larger the than life on so many levels.
Is there a "best part" of being a broadcaster?
It would be impossible to wake up one morning and find there is nothing to talk about. The source for stimulation is exciting and unlimited. With the wide variety of people I have been lucky enough to interview, there is never a dull day at the office.
What suggestions do you have for public relations pros or anyone who wants to pitch you a story?
Because I have come through a few decades of communications, I really don't care if a pitch is emailed, snail-mailed or delivered by DVD. What I do care about is relevancy, and if you do your homework and listen to the show for a few days, you will quickly identify some keywords. I make every effort to be inclusive regardless of age, race or religion, but the core of this particular program is politics.
I consider myself accessible, so if someone is unsure, they should just drop me a line and ask.
What should they never do and always do?
Grammatical errors irk me. I am a schtickler for punctuation and spelling. Always remember that it's business and not personal. That means that just because I say no to one pitch, it doesn't mean you can't come back the next month and pitch again.
How can someone in PR develop a relationship with you?
Understand the balance between frequent communications and being a pest. Keep in mind that I am a journalist, not just a talking head, so I am looking for substance and, when possible, exclusivity and scoops. Like any journalist, I want to feel that my stories are breaking news and factually sound.
How do you use social media in your job?
I have a Facebook page, a personal website and I use HootSuite to cross-pollinate my social media tools. I also write a weekly blog.
How do you use ProfNet and how has it helped you?
ProfNet is an invaluable resource. I support it just based on principle because it represents the essence of grass roots journalism. That is, it all begins with building a good sound contact list and doing research. From there, industry folks can share ideas, watch trends and analyze best practices. I have often used ProfNet to find experts for specific segments and they never fail to provide quality resources. In my opinion, you're not a real journalist if you're not wired into ProfNet.
Do you have advice for someone just starting a broadcasting career in today's tough market?
There are many ways to get started now. Unfortunately, like many professions today, it could take a long time to make a living. The best way is to start up an Internet program and get practice using the microphone. Most people would be surprised at how much work it really takes to sound polished on the air. Pick a specialty, as there is no real place for generalists anymore, and rewire your brain to think about the interests of your audience first instead of your own.
How has the broadcasting industry changed from when you started your career?
I started my career using a notepad and pencil.
How do you see the business in 10 years?
The need for news and the elements of newsgathering will always exist. Hopefully in 10 years, there will be less sensational or shock-jock broadcasting and more fact-checking and accountability.
Can you see yourself doing something other than broadcast journalism?
I will always be in broadcasting, but even after 39 years I remain on the quest to have a program that combines my skills as a talker with my passion for music.
About Mark Riley
Mark Riley is an award-winning broadcast journalist with 30+ years of experience hosting and directing radio programs and pioneering media strategies that attract a loyal, diverse audience. In addition to his work as a broadcaster, Mark has achieved great accomplishments in political consulting; media training; and writing for print, Web, radio and TV.
On air, Mark is currently the host/presenter of WWRL 1600 AM's morning drive talk program. He is still remembered as a pioneer host of a four-hour evening news, interview, comment, and culture program, The Air Americans, on the liberal talk radio network Air America Radio. His work at Air America Radio includes co-hosting the morning drive show, Morning Sedition with stand-up comic Marc Maron.
His first radio opportunity was as the host of the public affairs program Urban Notebook, which skyrocketed in popularity throughout the New York Tri-State area. In 1986, Riley moved to the primetime morning slot and broadcast live from the world famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Since that time, Riley has worked his way up through a spectrum of roles including writer, editor, managing editor, executive editor and program director. During his 1992-1996 tenure as program director of New York’s WLIB (1190 AM), Riley identified the diversity of his New York City audience and set out to establish more balance between the African-American and Caribbean dimensions of the station’s programming. Riley also pioneered the station’s efforts to enhance listener awareness in the political arena, anchoring full coverage of all Democratic and Republican conventions since 1990, as well as coverage of both Democratic Inaugurals in Haiti.
In addition to radio presenting, Riley is a popular TV political analyst with frequent appearances on The Road to City Hall on New York 1 News. He is also heard on BBC Five Live, Up All Night as a contributor on their New York Talks segment.
Talkers Magazine recently posted its long-awaited 2012 Talkers 250 featuring the Heavy Hundred. At No. 94 on the highly competitive list from the “Bible of talk radio,” Riley shares accolades with conservative talkers Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, as well as fellow progressives Tom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes.
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