Todd "MJ" Schnitt
January 31, 2012
Todd Schnitt is officially retiring his "MJ Kelli" persona and the morning show he has hosted - alone and with partner BJ Harris -- for 18 years. He will now concentrate on his syndicated afternoon Talk series, "The Schnitt Show," which has been on the air for a little over a decade. Here, he talks about his transition from his longtime morning glories to 10 years of double-duty to full time Talker.
When did you decide to end the morning show to concentrate on your Talk show?
I've been mulling this for years. I've done both shows for 10-and-a-half years. The morning show, originally 'MJ and BJ,' started February 7th, 1994. BJ Harris left on February 2001, and then it became the MJ morning show, so I'll have done 18 years at 'FLZ in mornings when I leave.
So why did you decide to branch out into Talk radio?
I had always considered doing Talk radio, even though our morning show was pretty much talk. We played virtually no music; it was pretty much a FM morning talk show anyway. I wanted to venture out even more into news and politics. At the same time I getting serious about trying it, there were people inside the company who were encouraging me to do a talk show. The timing was right back in 2001. My talk project was planned before 9/11, but that expedited the start of The Schnitt Show.
Is there a difference in terms of show prep between your WFLZ show and the Schnitt talk show?
It's absolutely different; both shows are extremely different. On any given day there might be 5% content overlap, tops. Each show is prepped individually.
Is time management an issue when you're doing two different kinds of show prep?
I don't have much spare time, especially with two children who were born in the process of me doing the two shows. It takes a lot of work and it took some getting used to, but after a period of time, it become involuntary - almost like breathing. Now I will get to focus 100% on The Schnitt Show.
Who syndicates The Schnitt Show?
The show began in syndication in 2007 and the program is now syndicated by Compass Media Networks out of New York, headed by Peter Kosann. Compass is growing rapidly and is heading toward powerhouse status.
How did the advent of PPM impact the way you did your morning show and, for that matter, your talk show?
We definitely saw more fluctuations on both shows. I think we've had good success in the PPM world as well as in diary world. We certainly learned from PPM on what its hot buttons are. The thing is ... there are certainly not enough meters out there. I've been told by one of the guys who designed PPM that there needs to be four times as many meters in the field to be truly accurate. That was eye-opener for me. So it's probably too expensive to really get an accurate sample size. We're left with a situation where we've seen just one meter make a major difference in the ratings ... but those are the rules we have to play by these days.
One more question about your morning show tenure. Did you ever get used to getting up early?
Absolutely. Not only did I do that for 18 years, I did it for many years prior when I was part of Scott Shannon's morning team at Pirate Radio from 1989-91, then I continued with Shannon's morning team in New York from '91 until I left in late '92.
Originally I was a night-time DJ for many years, and I always had additional duties, including MD/APD and creative imaging. When Scott Shannon heard my production tape, he hired me from WNVZ/Norfolk to be Creative Director/APD for Pirate Radio in L.A., which also included doing bits and production on the fly during morning drive. Those were long days -- 5a to about 7p every day. That's how I cut my teeth in morning-drive radio. Both in L.A. and N.Y., I was able to do fill-in work and an on-air weekend shifts whenever I wanted, so I was always on-air ... and I always had the desire to do my own show.
One of the motivating factors in trying to transition to a morning-drive personality was -- and this is a true story that I never told anyone -- that Scott Shannon must have dropped his paycheck stub in the lobby of Pirate Radio back in 1990 or '91 ... and I found it. I looked at it said, "Holy moly, I've got to get my own morning-drive show."
Was it tough to leave WPLJ and get your first morning gig on your own?
First off, I had such an incredible experience with Scott Shannon during those years. It was remarkable experience, learning about the discipline of the job. Working with Shannon for nearly four years definitely prepared me and certainly helped to get my foot in the door. I landed my first morning gig after being hired by Dave Denver at WOVV in West Palm Beach, which is now Wild 95.5. I owe a lot to Dave; he helped start my morning career.
The show on WOVV lasted for a year-and-a-half. I also became the PD. In early 1994, I got a call from Mark Chase and BJ Harris at WFLZ. Marc was going to Cincinnati to run Jacor's WLW and WEBN, and they were looking for a new morning show. I drove three hours to Tampa and interviewed with BJ and Marc. They had talked to Shannon, who recommended me. They said they liked what they heard and said they'd get back to me in a couple of weeks. As fate would have it, they called me next day and offered me the job. That was in January of 1994 ... and I've been there ever since. Incidentally, BJ Harris was never supposed to be part of the morning show. We did a few warm-up shows on the weekend, it sounded good, so I drafted him!
As a "morning show guy," were there any perceptual issues you have overcome to establish yourself in the Talk radio world?
No, you just have to have the right content, pace and presentation. It's all about providing content that's informative, entertaining and compelling. I certainly had to go through a learning experience, but you never stop trying to deliver a better product. The minute you stop learning, evolving and developing in this business ... is the minute you get fossilized.
Has Talk radio evolved to a point where the host has to take a polarizing, black-or-white stance on every issue?
I tackle my show differently, but you have to firmly telegraph your ideology and let the audience know where you stand on every issue. You can't be wishy-washy or milquetoast. What I have done with The Schnitt Show is continue to get better at delivering hard news ... the most important political issues of our day ... in a sharp, upbeat, non-repetitive and entertaining fashion. My audience knows my core convictions and beliefs; I'm just trying to express them differently than some of the other Talk competitors out there. I'm bringing to the table a much more entertaining, engaging and fun listening experience. That's my formula going forward; my goal is to stand out from the pack by giving the audience what they want in a better, non-predictable package.
So how does a relatively "new" Talk personality become a credible alternative to heavyweights like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck?
There's no doubt that I have hard hill to climb. Since I don't have the national exposure yet, I have to work harder to get it and make audience more aware of me. One way to do that by is delivering a consistently good product to build word-of-mouth. Another way is to pop up in the news from time to time with some surprises.
What we've found out so far, though, is that we've had fantastic success in many markets after the programmers gave The Schnitt Show a chance to jell with the audience. Once the show has a chance to breathe and become part of the station, we really do click. Our national footprint is expanding nicely as we're currently on about 50 terrestrial stations, syndicated through Compass Media, and we're also on XM Extreme Talk channel 165, which I have been told is one of the higher rated shows on XM.
When you say, "popping up on the news," are you referring to TV appearances?
Now that I'm not doing morning show, I have the time to launch a multifaceted strategy to get national attention. I can do more of the TV talking-head live shots and devote more time to my affiliate stations. I plan to get on the road quite extensively and visit markets, where I can assist the stations' sales department with NTR. I'll be doing my show from affiliate markets much more frequently.
How are you integrating social media into your show?
I became very active on Twitter back in October and I now have over 13,000 followers. I can do a mini-text show on Twitter anytime I want. All my tweets post automatically to my Facebook page. Follow me now @toddschnitt and on Facebook.com/toddschnitt
Twitter is remarkable for show prep. I follow only breaking news sites, opinion writers and other applicable content. It's a highly dense source! I am not following Kim Kardashian, but I am happy to make a joke at their expense.
Do you see your role evolving into a TV/radio hybrid?
I certainly could do that if an opportunity such as that presents itself. As I grow, my network could certainly consider that. If you're tired of the rut of some of the political talk shows, give us a listen. I plan to reinvent a reasonable portion of my genre.
At this point in your career, do you set long-term goals or are you more focused on day-by-day growth?
I'd love to say we'll hit 100 stations by end of 2012, but I'm concentrating my efforts with Compass Media on solid, steady growth and ratings performance while delivering an exiting and compelling product. I skew my show a little younger and while I am on plenty of AM Talk stations, we also have a great list of FM Talkers around the country.
I caught the radio bug when I was five or six years old. I grew up in NYC listening to 77 WABC. In fact last year I had numerous phone calls and correspondences with the legendary Harry Harrison from WABC and WCBS-FM. Harry had heard that I mentioned him on one of my shows and he wrote me a letter to thank me. We've since then spoken numerous times and written back and forth. He was certainly an inspiration.
Looking back, I don't think I would change a thing. After all, 18 years of doing morning drive at WFLZ has been a remarkable experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I want to thank Clear Channel for working with me on a 100% Schnitt Show transition!
Any final thoughts?
I have a great crew that would be assets to any morning show. I certainly would call Fester, Froggy, Meredith and Hurricane if you need any sidekicks or producers. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.