10 Questions with ... Don McDonald
September 17, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
A typical confused young man, I wandered aimlessly in the career-less desert until I saw an advertisement for new Dean Witter stockbrokers to sell stocks (and other financial products) adjacent to the socks department in one of my local Sears stores. Hired against the better judgement of the branch manager, I embarked on a true career doing something I never imagined in my youth. This leads to the next answer:
1. How did you get into radio in the first place? Why radio, especially after being a broker?
Great question (most interviewers love hearing that)! It was kismet. Almost every evening, after a busy day cold-calling until my head hurt, I would get into my broker-mobile (a conservative Buick Century) and drive home listening to the sage advice of Bruce Williams on KVOR in Colorado Springs (back when it was at 1300 AM). Hating â€œdialing for dollars,â€ I realized that I might be able to reach investors through talk radio.
I sauntered into the station and was greeted by both the program and production directors, who tried to dissuade me from voicing my own ad. I persisted, and after recording the spot was asked, â€œHave you done this before?â€ To which I responded, â€œNo, but I would love to do a talk show someday.â€
After a brief conversation, the PD suggested that I come in the next Saturday morning and give it a shot. This was in the days when weekends were the training ground for new talent, not the land of the â€œinfomercialâ€ masquerading as a real talk show (slightly older radio folks know this is true).
The proverbial â€œlong story short:â€ My show was a success, moved to weekdays, and got great numbers. Shortly thereafter, KOA in Denver hired me and a talk show host was born.
2. In a similar vein, what led you to move into business talk? How and when did it click with you that there was a market and a need for what you do?
In 1988, a group of broadcasters realized that there might be a viable national niche for a radio network devoted to business and financial news and talk. They went in search for someone who knew both money and radio and would work cheap. I fit the bill on all counts and was hired and financial news director.
I canâ€™t claim any credit for the initial idea, but I was part of the inaugural cast that brought this revolutionary idea to the airwaves and I helped make it successful, as my talk show became the most popular program on the network.
3. What sets you apart from other business shows? What do you offer that other syndicated financial shows don't or can't?
What sets me apart? Where to start?
- Mine is NOT a â€œbusinessâ€ show! One of my most fervent hopes is that, one day, we can quit lumping talk about money and LIFE into the category, business. Business sounds distant from most peopleâ€™s lives.
- I couldnâ€™t care less what particular companies are doing day to day. The gyrations of the stock market are almost meaningless. Most of what passes from financial or investing information is nothing more than a solicitation to gamble. What matters happens at the two extremes of the fiscal spectrum; the listenerâ€™s personal economy and the bigger, global economy. The rest is almost worthless noise.
- I donâ€™t sell anything! My show is not an informercial. Almost every other money talk show is a paid program, with a few notable exceptions: Clark Howard, Dave Ramsey, Bob Brinker.
- I believe in blunt honesty. Almost every financial product or service sold is, in fact, to too good to be true. There is no such thing as â€œwealth without risk.â€ Most advisorâ€™s and brokerâ€™s fees and commissions are too high (and never easily discerned), making the advisor rich at the expense of the client. Most of America is financially illiterate and the solution will not come from watching CNBC or listening to those who claim some â€œmagicalâ€ ability to predict the future. I have a nasty habit of making much of the financial services community mad because they arenâ€™t doing what is BEST for the listener/client.
My show is different in that I offer listeners a one-stop shop for an honest, well-researched opinion, advice, and perspective on anything involving money. I combine the best of all the money talk programs - debt reduction, consumer issues, real investing (not speculation) in an approachable, entertaining, educational package. I put special emphasis on entertaining, because if I just take calls, or just preach, or just interview guests; I donâ€™t stand a chance of reaching the people who need money help most - those who are just getting started in their careers who could be wealthy if they just get off to the right start.
4. How do you prepare for your show? What's the process? How much of it is all your years of experience in finance and talk and how much of it is doing research and direct preparation?
Each show takes hours to prepare. I read all of the financial press I can, listen to other money talk shows, watch videos, skim through several money podcasts, and investigate listenerâ€™s problems and suggestions.
Then, I go into the studio and record interviews, excerpt other media, record all manner of commentary and edit those into more concise and fun features.
There is no way I could do what I do, every day, for over 25 years without a combination of previous experience and a constant learning process.
5. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S. economy, short-term and long-term? How do you sense your listeners are feeling about their prospects?
Spreading gloom is, and always has been, a popular human pastime. Bad news (oh, and sex) sells. Yet, somehow, no matter how bad the situation becomes, we (the human race) manage to overcome and thrive. Anyone who thinks the situation today is more bleak than it was in 1941 or 1917 or 1893 or 1863 or... wasnâ€™t paying attention in school. Once again, no one can predict the future! That is an absolute. You can try. You might even be right sometimes, but that proves nothing. As the proverbial they say, â€œEven a stopped clock is right twice a day.â€
The global economy has, throughout recorded history, grown steadily and done so at an exponential pace. Yes, bad things will happen in the short run and we should be prepared for those. We just shouldnâ€™t live our lives (or manage our money) in constant state of fear. Good economic times have always far outweighed the bad ones.
6. Of what are you most proud?
After my four incredible children, the fact that I have helped many thousands of people build a better future by giving up speculation, understanding the realities of money, and spending more time on other valuable pursuits.
7. Who have been your mentors and inspirations in the business?
There are so many. I have to lead with the founder of Vanguard. I have had the great honor of spending a lot of time picking John Bogleâ€™s brilliant brain. He is one of the few people who really understands how business, investing, and money really work and is honest enough to point out the flaws in our system.
Off the top of my head I have to add Paul Merriman, Larry Swedroe, my long-time friend and business partner, Tom Cock, and my insightful former stockbroker wife, Debie.
8. Besides listening to your show, what should people do to be more financially literate? Do you think schools should teach financial matters -- how young should kids start to learn how to save, invest, spend, and maintain accounts?
Pay LESS attention to most of the financial media (Iâ€™m looking at you, CNBC and Fox Business). Understand that anyone who claims prognosticative power is actually LYING! Read all of the great money books by John Bogle, Larry Swedroe, Dan Solin, and that Don McDonald guy. Donâ€™t take investing advice from Dave Ramsey (his debt advice is great, though).
Yes, I do believe that kids, particularly in high school need more basic money literacy classes. They need to know how to create a budget, save for the future, and how investing really works. We should also ban from schools all of those dangerous stock picking games. Would we teach â€œhow to profit from pokerâ€ or â€œcreating extra cash through craps?â€ Why do we encourage kids to speculate on stocks?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________.
...my wife! Seriously, sheâ€™s awesome!
10. What was the best advice you ever got? The worst?
The worst: â€œYou canâ€™t...â€ As in â€œ...you canâ€™t be a stockbroker without the right educationâ€ or â€œ...you canâ€™t get a show on KOA unless youâ€™ve been in the business longerâ€ or any of the other things I shouldnâ€™t have been able to do, but did anyway.
The best: From the first caller to my first show on KVOR in 1985, a sweet older woman who said, â€œ...why donâ€™t you just tear up that script and talk to us.â€