Radio briefs: WABE host Jim Burress’ voice recovers, Martha Zoller back on WDUN and the Dickeys ponder what they did wrong

Originally posted Thursday, June 27 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Jim Burress, local afternoon host on 90.1/WABE-FM, said his voice is on the road to recovery after a medical scare that left him worried about his ability to do his job.

He visited the Emory Voice Center on Tuesday and the news was positive. 

In a text, Burress said his voice is now 90 percent normal and full recovery is likely. “Such a massive relief,” he said.  

Earlier this year, he lost his voice and wasn’t sure it would ever come back. 

He has had spinal issues over the yeras in which his spinal discs have begun collapsing. He had spinal-related surgery in January, but it damaged the nerves in his right vocal flap, which became paralyzed.

“I’m able to make sounds like a labored whisper,” he texted in early March, “but nothing loud and nothing resembling a true voice.”

But now, nearly four months later, he is back on air and feeling good. “I’m still having to retrain myself how to speak properly from a technical perspective but I’ll take that,” he wrote.

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Martha Zoller, a Republican congressional candidate for Georgia's 9th District, campaigns across from the World Language Academy at Chestnut Mountain during runoffs for the primary election in Flowery Branch, Ga., on Tuesday Aug. 21, 2012.
Photo: David Tulis

Martha Zoller, after several off the air working for Sen. David Perdue and Gov. Brian Kemp, is now back on Gainesville’s AM 550 and FM 102.9 WDUN. 

In an interview, she said doing field work for Kemp was fulfilling but grinding. She was driving 500 to 1,000 miles a week building Kemp’s field staff but with her husband retiring, she wanted to spend more time at home. 

So she is back on radio as a host starting this week, which she said was “like riding a bike.” She also feels she can have more impact as a pundit. And she can get Purdue and Kemp on her radio  show with ease. 

Zoller started in radio in 1994 hosting “The Martha Zoller Show” until 2009 on WDUN. She then worked with a new FM talk station at 103.7 for four years, then briefly for WGAU. She also ran for the 9th District Congressional seat in 2012, losing to Doug Collins in the Republican primary. 

Over the years, she has been a conservative political analyst on Fox News and CNN, as well as Fox 5’s “The Georgia Gang.” She is currently doing regular stints now on “Political Rewind” on GPB.

Her current radio show began on WDUN this past Monday and airs one hour daily from 9 to 10 a.m. She expects her show to get an extra hour soon. (Brian Kilmeade’s syndicated show runs now from 10 to noon.)

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Cumulus co-founder Lew Dickey lost control of his company in 2015. 
Photo: AP

Lew and John Dickey, for the first time in public, ruminated over the mistakes that led to their downfall four years ago at Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, the radio company they created. It has since stabilized under the steady leadership of Mary Berner

The Dickeys believe their over-emphasis on centralized planning that hurt employee morale and programming quality.

Former COO John Dickey said in the midst of consolidation, they were ultimately improvising as they went along, according to comments captured by Radio Ink at the Conclave in Minneapolis: “Nobody’s looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. It was kind of like sandlot football. You’re making up plays as you go. In the course of doing that, you get some things right and you make mistakes. Going forward the industry has learned from some of the things that we’ve done.”

On the topic of forcing down rules from headquarters, former CEO Lew Dickey said that was a mistake. “We could have, should have, changed course. It’s difficult to have a centralized strategy. It should have been fully distributed. We should have pushed all the power back out to the markets with some basic guidelines. In context, I was sitting in living rooms with Octogenarians buying radio stations. These were unsophisticated operations running out of a checkbook so you needed to have best practices. As we grew and grew, in retrospect, it was a sub-optimal approach.”

John Dickey noted that radio is in slow decline and centralization in programming is inevitable given the financial considerations at play. But he said sales still needs to be super local, something they did not do. 

“We tried to centralize sales, create standards, and hold sales teams accountable. I think you’re going to see more sales teams less centralized. You’re going to see more self-serve platforms. You’re going to need to figure out how to compete against Facebook, Amazon, and Google on attribution and geo-targeting.”

>>RELATED: Cumulus strategy VP tells me in 2018 about the company’s post-bankruptcy strategy

Cumulus emerged from bankruptcy last year with significantly less debt and significantly improved employee morale and lowered turnover. It also recently sold off several stations - including Talk 106.7 - to reduce debt. Today, it announced it was unloading the storied talk station WABC-AM in New York for $12.5 million. 

About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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