In our continued coverage of how radio is covering the two political conventions, today we check in with our friends at Westwood One. In Cleveland, the Westwood team included correspondents Bob Costantini, Jim Roope, Alan Scaia, and Karin Caifa. Chas Henry anchored long-form coverage and Michael Toscano anchored evening short-form special reports.
Programming included live podium feeds of all sessions; anchored coverage of the presidential and vice-presidential acceptance speeches and other major events; four special reports per hour during evening sessions; live correspondent Q&A opportunities for affiliates; and a live simulcast of CNN TV coverage. Of course, Westwood One News will be in Philadelphia this week for the Democratic National Convention. Bart Tessler is EVP For News and Talk at Westwood One. We spoke to Tessler this weekend about Westwood’s coverage.
RI: Tell us about the Westwood One coverage in Cleveland?
Tessler: Westwood One News provided affiliates full service 24/7 coverage from the Republican convention in Cleveland, originating primarily from our broadcast booth in Quicken Loans Arena directly across from the podium. That included live anchored coverage of major events like the Donald Trump and Mike Pence acceptance speeches; special reports twice per hour; live reports from our correspondents in hourly newscasts; and almost 200 live custom reports for stations. We also hosted our affiliates broadcasting live from the convention in positions we set up in the arena and on Media Row.
RI: How many people did you have covering the event and who were some of the people you had there?
Tessler: Our team of a dozen staff included reporters Bob Costantini, Jim Roope, Alan Scaia, Karin Caifa, and Westwood One News VP Kevin Delany.
RI: Tell us about how it was covering such a crazy convention.
Tessler: Actually pretty straightforward. Since we’re in the news business, we’re particularly looking for the non-scripted events and we certainly had that with both the Melania Trump speech
plagiarism story, as well as Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Donald Trump. Those events and others confirmed we had the right plan to cover 24/7, including live network and custom local reports from 5 a.m. through midnight. Our affiliates on site were extremely pleased with both the positions and access we were able to give them.
RI: How was radio treated overall?
Tessler: Very well. Radio talk shows drive Media Row. Numerous high-profile guests were available, both through the RNC and independently. Our Westwood One news booth inside Quicken Loans Arena was built in a converted Budweiser bar at center court. Broadcast seat positions for our stations were similarly well located. The Capitol Hill Radio/TV gallery staff, which handles credentialing, did a terrific job representing us and getting us the facilities and credentials we needed.
RI: Did you have easy access to all the people you wanted to interview and how hard or easy was it to get them on the air?
Tessler: For the most part we did. Westwood One News had a broadcast position on the floor of the convention and we were able to interview delegates there. Plus we could do so in our booth and on Media Row. Then there are the numerous unplanned opportunities: Bob
Costantini’s hotel room was overlooking the pool. When he heard N.J Gov. Chris Christie’s voice at midnight during a reception at the pool, he ran down to interview him. Jim Roope caught up with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at the Host Committee party. I interviewed Newt Gingrich as he approached the arena for a morning briefing and podium sound check for his convention speech when our cars were side by side waiting to get swept by secret service staff and dogs prior to entering the arena parking lot.
RI: What role did digital and social media play in your coverage this year and how did it compare to previous conventions?
Tessler: We interact with social media as providers and consumers, sending reports and programs out, tweeting updates, as well as following events from the RNC, the Trump campaign, and other sources. It has taken a giant leap in four years and saved a lot of trees at the RNC press center.
RI: What will your coverage be like in Philadelphia?
Tessler: We’re planning very similar coverage and programming in Philly for the Democratic convention as we provided successfully in Cleveland. Our facilities and logistics at Wells Fargo Center replicate those at Quicken Loans Arena. With Bernie Sanders having endorsed Hillary Clinton, we may not get a Ted Cruz moment. But we’ll be ready for whatever breaks inside our outside the arena.