Few names in the public arena can evoke such polarizing reactions as Glenn Beck. With very little middle ground, just the mention of his name either sends someone up the walls while another will sit down and have a spirited conversation on the state of an eclectic collection of topics.
While Beck began his career in radio as a thirteen year old, he has branched out and extended his reach through television and the internet. After stints with CNN Headline News and Fox News, Beck now hosts a self-titled show on his own network The Blaze – which is available on a subscription basis online and is beginning to be picked up by regional and national satellite and cable providers.
Beck has amassed a wide-ranging stable of media venues including print publications and a news website, but it may be the medium where he began his career which has the most untapped potential for growth and innovation with his company, Mercury Radio Arts. The Blaze Radio Network is one of the least publicized branches of the media mogul’s empire but Beck is quietly building a talented roster of broadcasters and is tapping into the app based listening capabilities of new technology.
In Beck’s most recent project, Man in the Moon, the Blaze radio personalities made the trip to Salt Lake City to broadcast live in the days and hours leading up to the event over the Independence Day weekend and were more than happy to share their insights into the state of the brand and where it’s headed.
“There has been basically zero marketing for the Blaze Radio up to this point,” said Skip Lacombe, producer of the Doc Thompson show. “Aside from an ad on the Blaze TV here and there and maybe something on the blaze.com – it’s all just been word of mouth and it’s grown exponentially. I think that goes to show there is a need for it and a market for what we’re doing, as more people hear about it, it just keeps snowballing.”
The lineup includes Doc Thompson and Skip LaCombe which airs in the morning daily, Jay Severin in the afternoons as well as Saturday programs featuring Buck Sexton and the newest addition – Joe Pagliarulo, as well as live simulcasts of the various television programming.
While there is a common ideology and philosophical thread between all those on air, each has their own method and ideas of what the best way of communicating those ideas to their audience may be.
“Jay Severin and I could be the same person as far as the way we believe. I mean we are like 99% of the way there the way we believe. Jay and I both, it’s all about personal freedom. You can boil it all down and if I can’t have that personal freedom it doesn’t matter. But Jay approaches it one way and we approach it another. We are the jokers in the deck and the avenging angels,” Thompson said.
“We try to focus more on the humor aspect of things,” Lacombe said. “That’s one thing the left has retained ownership of forever and we don’t’ see why that is. You can be conservative and humorous at the same time and that’s the only way we are going to be able to reach out to some of the younger people.”
Severin brings the attitude of the salty veteran to the group and anchors the Blaze Radio in the realm of serious political matters.
“There is a tremendous team spirit, as for what I do – I come more from the news and politics background,” Severin said. “I realize that talk radio, such as it is, is evolving. It’s like soldiers, we’ll always need soldiers even in a time of peace – I feel we will always need somebody with that background and grounding in news. I come out of twenty plus years of running political campaigns, advising candidates for governor, senator, congressmen etc. all across this country and in foreign countries, so I know – I think, more than most people in the business how all that works.”
Buck Sexton is a former CIA agent and now co-hosts the Real News each night on the Blaze TV and entertains Team Buck, a devoted fan base each Saturday afternoon.
“I had – to be completely honest, tremendous private sector opportunities when I left the agency and government service and was on my way to one of the best business schools in the world. I sat down and to have gone through that process and coming so close to going to either NYU, Columbia or the Wharton School of Business and to cast that aside is just madness – unless you know that this is what you are meant to do. And after talking to Betsy Morgan who is a president of the Blaze and talking immediately to Glenn, I knew this is where I wanted to be. I lost a large deposit for school, I turned down all these other people that where offering me jobs and to cast that all aside – I do, I absolutely love what I do,” Sexton said
“I have a problem now when I go on vacation – if I miss my radio show to go on vacation, I can’t enjoy it. I’ll go on vacation but it has to be after I’ve done the show and then I’ll come back Monday afternoon so I can be back in time for Real News because I miss doing it when I’m not there. I love doing radio, it feels like such an intimate medium and venue with the people that are listening. I view it as a conversation with each and everyone listening, it’s like a one on one conversation magnified out many thousands of times.”
Understanding where the Blaze Radio is headed and their potential for growth is complex and requires understanding the motives of its founder and sole owner of all the Blaze brands.
“Their goals are very lofty,” Thompson said. “Something dawned on me, I was trying to explain Glenn to my brother and I paused and said; ‘Ultimately Glenn wants to change the world’ – that’s my perception of how he approaches things. He wants to change the world for good and he goes about it in all kinds of different ways – books, TV, movies and educating people through entertainment. And all the money he brings in goes to fund other projects and humanitarian projects like Mercury One. When it comes to where you want to be, Glenn never thinks small, it’s just go get it done.”
In the aftermath of the tornado outbreak in Oklahoma, Beck via his charity arm, Mercury One – organized donations of physical necessities as well as fundraising efforts over the airwaves. Thompson and LaCombe chipped in by doing an unprecedented 24 out of 27 hours of live broadcasting and on location in Moore, OK.
“Things like going to Oklahoma and doing 27 hours of live radio don’t pay extra. It’s not like they came to us and offered a whole bunch of money, they asked if we could help out and we were just grateful to be a part of that. There’s not a lot that Doc and I are especially talented at, but if we could go and lend our voice, we were happy to do that. And Mercury One raised $1.5 million in under 48 hours so it was an amazing experience to be a part of.”
Beck’s success in multiple arenas only serves as comfort for his Radio talent.
“I’m going to have to say I’m a confident ignoramus because I don’t know anything about the business side. And frankly I’m so confident because of Glenn’s genius and success that I feel like I am Google employee or Microsoft employee number 78. So I figure, do my job, do it well and the business side of it takes care of itself. I know that we exist for our sponsors and for our audience and if I can serve those both well, I assume that what helps me feed my family takes care of itself,” Severin said.
“Sean Hannity who is a good friend, said to me that I am very fortunate and; ‘this is where the medium is going and this is where its going to be so you’ve really hitched your wagon to a thoroughbred’ – so my confidence comes from Glenn’s success in everything he does and has done.”
Sexton joins in on the vision as a member of each of the platforms and has lofty goals of his own.
“Glenn is such a visionary and even people that vehemently disagree with his politics, respect his vision,” Sexton said. “Which is a testament to really being able look forward and to see where media is going and where this company can go. When I first started as a writer on theblaze.com there was maybe a half dozen of us at most and now there is a whole newsroom full of people but of course like anything, the more we grow the more we want to grow. We have very dedicated and loyal readers and viewers but we want tens of millions of people to have access to our work and to feel like they are a part of what we are doing.”
Radio has been a favorite medium for over a hundred years and in the ever evolving digital age, the Blaze Radio is looking to take advantage of the internet and smartphones via their website and apps like Stitcher, Sound Cloud and iHeart Radio.
“I love doing radio, I find that each week more people are listening and more people are tuning in and I think we have a unique opportunity to kind of meld radio – which is kind of thought to be an antiquated medium with some of the new technology and gizmos out there. Like having an app, everyone has a smart phone and if radio can become that digital medium where its not just in your car or near a stereo – I think that can be a game changer. I think we will be very much ahead of that wave or at the very least on that wave on that media platform. And I think we have a very talented radio lineup which is, square one and very important, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to be a part of this company,” Sexton said.
Radio may not be a visual spectacle, but each host holds an affinity for the ability to use imagination and design something from nothing.
“I’ve always loved radio,” Thompson said. “It’s such a special medium, it allows you to create whatever you can dream up and talk about and tell a story. You don’t need a $50 million budget and describe it and if you’re good at it, somebody like Glenn – it’s just captivating.”
“I feel like I have a very deep personal and almost emotionally attachment to the Blaze Radio aspect of this because it’s given me such an entrée with my audience where it’s like we are friends because in a sense we are –even though we have never met. I really do care about this and I hope that we become monstrous and are able to do everything we hope to do,” Sexton added.
“On radio, when you sit down live for three hours everyday you kind of open up a vein and you really have to be who you are,” Severin said “And that’s really - for the first time in my career, I’m not looking over my shoulder, I’m encouraged to be myself and be candid personally and politically and to be honest and open with people who I know really care about these things – which is a tremendous moral booster to me and my colleagues.”
The Blaze Radio talent is as varied as the topics discussed and by using a hybrid of technology and personality, the outdated medium looks to recreate the mystique of being the theatre of the mind and help push the boundaries of what is thought to be possible.
“I have always said that I want my company to go from being a voice of one to voice of many and that is exactly what is happening with The Blaze Radio Network. As technology and methods of distribution change, one thing will always remain the same and that is the unmatched power of radio,” Beck said.
The entire lineup can be seen at www.theblaze.com/radio.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company