Media man

Sam Shad wears many hats in his quest for market saturation

Photo by David Robert

That grin, those big square glasses, the receding hairline, the snappy witticisms—they’re everywhere these days: television, radio, the Internet, billboards. Sam Shad pokes his fingers in three different pies, splits his day four different ways and wears five different hats. He tap dances, too. Well, maybe not. He has, though, worked as a DJ, a weatherman, a political pundit, a human-interest reporter, a utility player for his own ad agency and a television producer. He possesses one of those sparkly personalities custom designed for broadcast media, a cheery, glass-half-full, do-it-now sort who backs up his hype with long hours and critical attention to detail2.The recent work of Sam Shad Productions1 in bringing political issues into the homes of northern Nevadans has earned him the title “hero"2 from at least one media critic who praises Sam’s newest incarnation of the television show Nevada Newsmakers1.

Meanwhile, the production company’s Best of Reno1 dining infomercial irritates at least one culinary professional, who charges that Sam and company are lost in the kitchen.

Whether he irritates you or makes your media pulse flutter, he’s making news. He makes it as a weatherman, a political reporter and an ad exec. He draws the praise, and he draws the fire.

A guy like Sam must wake up pretty early in the morning to manipulate media the way he does.

dreamy miasma and the alarm clock shocks us out of warm beds, Sam Shad sits inside his at-home radio studio at a computer, reading weather Web sites. For many years, he broadcast a radio show from this spot. This morning, over a microphone and an ISDN line, he sends his weather forecast to a local radio station. First job completed, he throws off that hat—I envision a sombrero, something to keep off the weather—and gets ready for the day.

Today, it’s a pin-striped suit and, like every other day, those silly white socks and sneakers. He hops into his 2003 BMW Z4 convertible1 and checks in with his ad agency on Stewart Street. He telephones a spokesman for the State Trial Lawyers Association, wanting a hardball question for one of today’s guests on his political program Nevada Newsmakers1, which touts itself as a “no holds barred political forum.” Sam and co-host Ande Engleman1, who is “one of the smartest, savviest people in the state,” in Sam’s estimation, will soon appear on billboards throughout the metro region. “Cutting Through the Clutter"1 is the slogan that Sam’s own agency developed to advertise the show. The billboard photograph shows the two of them ripping through a paper curtain with a hedge trimmer—frolicking fun and hard-edged news topics squeezed into 22 minutes four times weekly.

The show recently moved to KRNV Channel 41. (It is rebroadcast Sundays on KKOH1 radio and nightly on Cable Channel 121.) Director Tom Crist has embraced Sam’s vision of a fast-paced, Fox-like news broadcast with moving shots and a roaming hand-held camera. Since 1993, the show aired monthly on KOLO Channel 81, but a recent change in management bumped the program.

Is Sam bitter? Are you kidding? First off, it’s not in his professional interest to be bitter. Second, his show appears to be having more success than ever. Moreover, I’m not sure this guy has the all-too-human thorn of discontent buried in him. Sure, he’s putting on a front for a stumblebum weekly reporter. On the other hand, his front is the reality, the sincere posture of a man who thinks Reno is “the greatest place in the world.”

Crisis is opportunity. Sam likes the old Chinese proverb.

For example, even though one of today’s Nevada Newsmakers1 panelists points out that Nevada has the fourth-worst per-capita economy in the nation, Sam isn’t troubled. The governor and the Legislature will use the crisis to complete the necessary work. He has faith.

Throwing off his political fedora, he kicks back after the studio taping with a pristine white ball cap at a cafe on Wells Avenue, sipping a decaffeinated coffee. The hat isn’t real, but the attitudes and the postures are.

“Come on, Sam, is it possible for an ad and PR man to be an ‘in-your-face’ political host? Can you really play hardball?”

He laughs it off. The only ones who think there could be any conflict of interest are reporters like me.

“You saw the show,” he says. “Did I take it easy on them? I keep the panelists in line.”

In addition to hushing noisy panelists, Sam also disclosed, when a medical doctor appeared as a guest, that the doctor’s lobbying group was a sponsor of the show. “We’re going to ask you the tough questions anyway,” he grinned.

Any conflict of interest between Sam’s political fedora and his ad/PR jester’s cap doesn’t slow him down. He sets one nicely atop the other. It is worth noting, however, that the interests of a political reporter and an ad executive don’t always square. Sam’s answer: honesty and integrity. It’s an acceptable response. Nearly any important community figure finds himself dealing with potential conflicts of interest at some point.

It’s how one deals with the situation that’s most important.

Fade in

Closer to the point, if you hear or see any news happening—maybe you know of a local celebrity we could cover who would return the favor by buying ad space—then give us a call directly by dialing # B.S. on your low-, low-priced Cricket cellular phone.

Now back to the news.

Fade out

and operating with the knowledge that it’s healthful to wallow in dirt, I would like to fling some mud at my subject at this point, but he’s a difficult target. He keeps dancing around and changing hats. I’m getting confused. He’s extremely “clean” in personal and professional hygiene. Delve into Sam Shad’s personal life and what do you find? Well, a Type A personality who met his wife through common business interests. After six years of working together, Sam married Bonnie McCorkle, his executive producer and all-around support staff. In the ‘80s, as her man spun discs for weddings and bar mitzvahs, she helped with sales for Sam Shad’s Mobile Music Company1. In the office, Bonnie tells me, he’s the boss.

And at home?

They just laugh.

Shot for a billboard, this photo shows Sam Shad and Ande Engleman “Cutting through the Clutter.”

Photo by Brad Summerhill

the American music circuit, New York, Nashville, Memphis, San Francisco. A native of London, where three state-sponsored channels and only one pop music station afforded few opportunities in broadcasting, Sam opted for the American Dream. He waited until he was 21 to make his move, since he couldn’t see the sense in crossing the pond and not being able to drink a beer.In 1978, he moved from Sausalito, Calif., to Reno, where he was told to lose his working-class British dialect. He opted out of the Great Basin desert drawl by spending hours and months reading aloud the New York Times to empty rooms and breakfast tables. Finally, when he was ready for Reno radio, the marketers asked him if he had any unique trait to promote himself, something that would make him stand out.

“Well,” he said, “I used to have a British accent.”

scrutinizing the camera work. He makes a mental note to tell the director not to hold a particular shot for so long. The hand-held camera wavers distractingly as it frames a guest standing at the microphone. They’ll need a tripod.Today’s Nevada Newsmakers1 starts out with a seven-minute segment devoted to the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance. Sam and Ande pepper the guest with questions about his pursuit of tort reform. Sam lunges toward the camera, talking viewers into the commercial break. This must be the definition of an “in-your-face” format. The insider term is “breaking the fourth wall.” Behind-the-scenes shots reveal cameramen and cords. They reveal Sam’s white socks and sneakers. Sam wants the show to feel quick and intimate. The lead-in from a commercial jolts the spectator with music and graphics.

The next segment features an economist on the state’s budgetary woes. When the show returns from a series of slickly-produced local ads, three loud-mouthed panelists compete for air time. It might be Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick1 badmouthing peace demonstrators. Today, labor advocate and Sparks Daily Tribune1 columnist Andrew Barbano1 wins the battle of the sound bite, spinning phrases around the heads of Las Vegas lobbyist John Pappageorge1 and political consultant Jim Denton1.

“It’s always been boomtown or bust in this state,” Barbano announces, in regard to the idea of caps for damages on medical malpractice lawsuits. “It’s ‘enter all ye who dare at your own risk’ because government and state doesn’t care.”

In a later interview, Barbano praises Sam for his work on Nevada Newsmakers1.

“Sam’s in a class by himself,” he says. “He’s doing a crackerjack job of presenting the issues that are most important to the state.” He has some mild criticism of Sam’s exclusive focus on the state Legislature, but he adds, “Sam is among an extremely rare elite who has figured out how to make a political show interesting and commercially viable. You’ll find this few places in the country in an age of deregulation when TV stations do the minimum amount required by law in fulfilling their duty toward the public good. From the standpoint of public service, Sam’s a hero. I can’t praise him highly enough for what he’s done."2

As the new show finishes up its first month, the range and prominence of Sam’s guests and panelists, at least so far, has been promising. Gov. Kenny Guinn1 was Sam’s first guest. Whatever their private opinions on Sam’s status as a political reporter-cum-advertising executive, the state’s political heavyweights recognize that he’s an important media figure2.

Furthermore, Sam has no competition. If a lobbyist wants free air time in northern Nevada, he knows there’s one guy to see. The only vaguely similar show is Face the State1 on KTVN Channel 21, which airs at odd hours, usually around 3 a.m. on weekends, and features “innocuousness personified,” according to Barbano. The KTVN program consciously avoids debating tough issues, he says. Barbano is attempting to revive his own political show, Deciding Factors1 on Channels 11 and 21. Last year, three shows aired. When it wasn’t preempted by infomercials, or when the station didn’t forget to actually broadcast the program, the audience saw a tough-minded political talk show, but even if a new incarnation of Barbano’s program airs weekly in a decent time slot, assuming the planets align correctly, Barbano realizes he still won’t provide Sam any real competition2.

It is difficult to make these shows function, and even more difficult to make them pay. KPBN Channel 5 has attempted to fill the gaps in Nevada’s political news coverage with an irregularly scheduled interview show called In-Depth and with a series of candidate debates this past election cycle, for example. The station naturally undertakes this mission with all of the sedate, possibly Valium-induced flair for which public television is so famous. While local public TV can often cover issues more thoroughly and insightfully than other broadcast media, whether it can reach and hold viewers remains another matter.

Sam says his formula has been to plug in the talent he recognizes, like Ande Engleman, to fill a specific niche. In doing so, he has pulled off the trick of creating media space that advertisers want to buy.

There ought to be competition, he insists. “I would love it.”

For the time being, though, Sam’s the only game in town.

Fade in

Our next segment is about food. And speaking of food, have you checked out the beer-battered onion rings and sesame ahi tuna at the Sage Creek Grill & Taproom? It’ll make you wonder why you ever cook in your own kitchen!

Fade out

favorite pastime—eating.

He doesn’t mind stuffing his face in public, either. In fact, eating has become just another in a growing list of occupations for a man who slowed down once in his life—when he had a heart attack in 1994.

His cardiologist must draw a nervous breath every time he sees Sam suck down a buttery, breaded concoction of veal scaloppini or chicken parmesan, whatever culinary spectacle is that segment’s feature on Sam’s other major TV venture, his Best of Reno1 dining program, which airs Fridays at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV1 and a dozen times a week on Cable Channel 121.

The show’s format involves Sam and co-host Lise Mousel ogling scrumptious delicacies as they are being prepared and then sitting down to taste the haute cuisine or, at times, more hearty fare, all the while cracking scripted jokes, bugging cartoonish eyeballs at the feast they are about to receive, and generally sniffing, poking and chortling.

Sam won’t show up just anywhere, though. Restaurants pay top dollar to feed him, and it seems that, on air at least, he’s never met a dish he doesn’t like.

Naturally, the cooks roll out their best dishes for him, but it would be an interesting experiment if an underling presented moldy cheese and stale crackers. Would Sam gulp it down with a grin and a cock of the eyebrow? Would his characteristic over-the-top enthusiasm prevail? Or would he spit “Eck!” and tell us to boycott the place?

If a situation arose involving bad food, he says, he wouldn’t put it on the show.

“Come on, Sam,” I ask, “are they real restaurant reviews? Isn’t there a question of veracity here?”

“No!” he says. “It’s advertising as entertainment. There isn’t a single item that isn’t what we represent. We don’t represent ourselves as food critics.”

Sam Shad picks up talent where he finds it. He says that Ande Engleman is “one of the smartest, savviest people in the state.”

Photo by Brad Summerhill

Given the show’s format, the natural implication is that these two are well-intentioned spokespersons and culinary connoisseurs with trustworthy opinions, if not exactly “food critics.” The show offers no disclaimer that “the following is a paid advertisement,” but Sam argues that it’s self-evident and that no one watching is stupid enough to think he offers unbiased reviews. He draws an analogy to product placements in films and TV. Buffy the Vampire Slayer1 drinks Pepsi1 instead of Coke1 to sugar herself up to slay vampires, or whatever it is she does. It’s advertising that doesn’t announce itself as advertising, and it’s simply the direction the world of media is taking. In this, Sam has the support of ad professional Esther Isaac, who asks, “Do you have to hit them over the head with it?”

Ad businessman Joe Hansen, though, sees a conflict. Not only the format of the show, but also the presence of former news anchorwoman Lise Mousel1 and a potential misunderstanding of Cable Channel 121, as being a “public information” channel all create confusion that warrants a disclaimer, he says. The show, says Hansen, has “an implied integrity and an implied objectivity” that is not really there.

Another critic, the general manager of a prominent local restaurant who wished to remain unnamed for personal reasons, says simply, “You’re thinking it’s an opinion. I think it’s jaded. I think it’s misleading. Is it culinary education, or is it just pumping up business? What are [they] so enthusiastic about?” During one show, Sam made off-the-wall comments about the vegetables the chef was using, obviously not knowing they were out of season. “They’re talking about things they have no knowledge of.”

I ask the general manager’s chef his opinion of the Best of Reno1 dining program, and he says, “It was a little corny. It was almost like a commercial.”

Sam’s Web site, www.bestofreno.tv1, features a button labeled “check out our reviews.” The button links to promos uploaded by the restaurants themselves, an unabashed misuse of the word “reviews.” As far as Sam is concerned, there is no confusion. He and former newscaster Mousel are unabashedly enthusiastic about every restaurant they enter. Restaurants pay anywhere from $500 to $3,300 per month in order to get these two chatty chums, pals on and off camera, in the door. Why? In the month that Best of Reno1 broadcast from the Gold Dust West’s Wildwood Restaurant1, the place sold literally a ton of meat, 2,000 pounds of prime rib and burger patties. You think viewers don’t like Sam Shad? (And yes, you too, Lise.2) People can go anywhere for a greasy burger. It’s not coincidence that they show up where Sam and Lise have been performing their hat dance.

In 1994, after already changing his rich diet, Sam suffered a heart attack. Now, for a living, he consumes the region’s richest entrees from some of the area’s top chefs. He slurps up shrimp scampi—wearing a chef’s toque now—and does his happy dance. Off camera, he gulps down cholesterol medicine and thumbs through Cooking Light1 magazine.

He has always loved cooking, everything from grease to gourmet. Sam doesn’t see, or won’t admit, the prevalent irony: that he must monitor his dietary intake while pretending to indulge in notoriously fat-laden restaurant fare. He just nibbles, he’ll tell you. And he loves it. Paraphrasing doyenne of haute cuisine Julia Childs, he says it’s better to have a mouthful of buttery quiche than a plateful of soggy veggies.

Sam and Lise may be the most effective ad duo in the region. Even skeptical stumblebum reporters can see their on-air charisma. They have a real, if sickly sweet, ad mojo working for them. Their jokes are self-consciously lame, and the on-site camera work in the kitchens is top notch.

Sam did turn down a client on one occasion. It was a matter of morals, not cuisine. Let’s just say the unnamed restaurant didn’t feature a “family-friendly” atmosphere.

On a recent radio spot that Sam wrote to promote the dining program, the duo exchanges insults, Sam teasing Lise about eating too much and Lise teasing him about being so short. Sam’s self-deprecating streak is an integral part of his cultivated charm.

“I was medium sized in England,” says the broadcaster, who might stand 5-5. “My sister was short. She was 4-11. So people over here called me short, but if I write the jokes, then I control it. Oh, did I say that? How revealing was that? What a control freak!”

The Napoleonic streak Sam jokingly mentions seems to be one of the only chinks in his headgear. He did experience a bad business partnership in the early 1990s, but those days seem long gone as the Best of Reno1 show travels to Sacramento—where Sam says he hopes to attract River City tourists to Reno—and a Best of Las Vegas1 program waits in the wings.

“I eat like a horse,” he says. “Ask anyone who comes over to my place for dinner. They don’t leave hungry. I put out so much energy, I have to eat a lot.” It’s not platefuls of Alfredo sauce that keep him going. It’s sensible, balanced nutrition—and many, many calories. He says he doesn’t miss the fatty fare. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense for him to discuss good nutrition and a balanced diet on the dining program. It would seem out of place, sort of like an ad during a news broadcast or a piece of “puff” journalism inside a hard-hitting weekly review2.

Fade In

Even Sam Shad needs a break from the restaurant scene now and then. (Keep that ticker ticking, buddy.) And when he hits the grocery store, he enjoys the smiling faces at Raley’s, fine purveyors of fine foods, where you’ll never find a funny-smelling fish.

Fade Out

be a workaholic, Sam claims he hasn’t worked in years. When you love what you do, after all, it’s not really work. His wife, Bonnie, doesn’t consider him a workaholic either. He knows how to turn off, she says, how to relax and enjoy the weekend.

I find it hard to believe. As he says himself, “You can’t fake it.” You can’t fake this level of energy and drive. It’s not something a person can crank up or down like a volume control.

That energy has led him through some tough and some tremendous interviews over the years. He was able to sit down with Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell with a reel of NASA film coverage to discuss the real events that shaped the eventual Hollywood movie. His toughest interview was a well-meaning community business leader who was uncomfortable with a microphone and shuffled papers before answering “yes” or “no” then going silent. Twelve minutes into a one-hour live radio program, the guy completely clammed up. As Sam will tell you, dead air is the worst form of death for a broadcaster.

He has, he claims, asked the hard question, even visibly angering Sen. Harry Reid one time. A gracious Reid returned for further interviews and didn’t take the incident personally.

His best interview featured Jehan Sadat, wife of Anwar Sadat, who, in response to Sam’s question, said her husband had in fact consulted her about speaking to the Israeli parliament. They both understood that his traveling to Israel could be tantamount to a self-imposed death sentence. She agreed it was the right thing to do. Sam says he has never felt a more impressive “aura” around a person than around Mrs. Sadat.

He does allow himself political passions and political opinions, he says. He was outraged, for example, when the so-called marriage protection clause passed last fall, changing the language of the Nevada constitution. He can’t believe Nevadans really understood what they were voting for. Nevertheless, he encouraged both sides to speak out during his show.

As he maintains an open political forum, he remains open about his personal life as well. When one of Bonnie’s two daughters had a baby, Sam broadcast the news of becoming a grandparent on his former morning show on KOLO. When he had the heart attack, the community responded to his openness with touching support, he says. Watching his morning show from doctor-ordered bed rest, he did his best to control things via telephone, calling in hints and orders to his spouse and executive producer.

It didn’t take him long to get back on his feet. That was several hats ago. Now he’s got a whole new wardrobe—same white socks and sneakers, however.

The weatherman sombrero, the political fedora, the relaxed-fit ball cap, the chef’s toque, and the ad man bell cap—with five head pieces stacked atop his crown, he doesn’t need any self-deprecating short jokes. He must be 7-2, if you measure all the hats at once2.

And now that we have raised Sam to an appropriate stature and given him his “props” (please note double-layered puns), only one question remains.

Will this infomercial sell?