Neal Augenstein on how he views his job, as a reporter ~
“Story telling is just what we do. Reporters have to boil things down to make it so anybody can understand it… if I could figure out the simple things. If I could understand something, if I could ask enough questions so I could understand the concept, it will be something that I could pass along to the audience. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I don’t mind looking like an idiot, and asking my question, if I can come away from there being a temporary expert on whatever it is.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen, and I am so delighted. I say that because I mean it. To talk head-to-head, person-to-person with a man that I’ve listened to on the radio for so long, and has the most memorable voice, and that is a supreme compliment, Neal Augenstein.Neal Augenstein: Thank you, Andy. Has it really been that long that you’ve been listening? It really sounded like it’s been years and years and years-
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it has been because I’ve been around a long time. I grew up in the radio and television business, but my love has always been radio. Voices are so important to me and so important to talent. You have an enormous talent and one of them is your voice.
Neal Augenstein: Thank you.Andy Ockershausen: You know that.
Jim Farley Made an Investment in Augenstein’s Talent and the Rest is History
Neal Augenstein: To be honest, it’s actually a miracle that I’m even on the air. I spend so much time in my career having bosses tell me, “you don’t belong on the radio.” When I started here at TOP in 1997, I had a lisp, and I couldn’t say the letters ‘L’ and I couldn’t say the letter ‘S’. One of the things that Jim Farley did before he would hire me full-time is he said, I’m going to send you to a voice coach.” He sent me to Ann Utterback.
Andy Ockershausen: I’ve heard that name.
Neal Augenstein: … who historically, she’s a voice coach-
Andy Ockershausen: You were probably fortunate that Farley recognized your talent, and then wanted to expand on it, rather than just let you go. He’s an amazing man.
Neal Augenstein: I was very lucky that he made … I considered it an investment in me. I also worked for a couple of years with a speech pathologist who helped make it a little easier for me to say those ‘S’s’ and ‘L’s’. Even to this day, I have to think about it when I say them, but thankfully, I guess I had other talents or other tools in story-telling that were able to compensate.
Andy Ockershausen: I compliment you on the ability. I don’t want to say story-telling so much as you sell what you’re covering by emphasizing it. I noticed that and I appreciate it so much. I know your work and I know how busy you are, but you still sell that story.
“Storytelling is just what we do.”
Neal Augenstein: Thank you. Really, story telling is just what we do. Reporters have to boil things down to make it so anybody can understand it. In fact, when I started in this business, or actually before I started in this business, I went to American University and got a degree in broadcast journalism. I realized that I really did not like politics. I thought to myself, “I must be in the wrong business.”
Andy Ockershausen: In the wrong city, that’s for sure.
Neal Augenstein: Certainly, in the wrong city. Eventually, when I got the chance to do some news, I thought to myself, “you really don’t know very much about politics, and you’re not that interested in it,” but if I could figure out the simple things. If I could understand something, if I could ask enough questions so I could understand the concept, it will be something that I could pass along to the audience. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
I don’t mind looking like an idiot, and asking my question, if I can come away from there being a temporary expert on whatever it is that I’m-
Representing the Listener and Making an Impact on Young People in the Business
Andy Ockershausen: You’re representing that listener who doesn’t have all the knowledge that you have, obviously, and you’re trying to explain it to them. The first time I really remember an impact about you, there was a meeting of … I was with Comcast way back with the Sports Network, and we were having a séance or something over at Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase Bank, in one of their rooms there. You were a speaker, and that room was full of young people in the broadcast business, just coming up.
I remember so much your delivery, and you’re speaking to these young people and handling them so nice. Here I am, I think I’m smart because I know everything only because I’ve been alive a long time, but you handled it so beautifully, Neal.
Neal Augenstein: Thank you. Thank you. Talking to people who … So many people have questions about the radio business-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Neal Augenstein: It’s so lucky to be part of a station that’s doing well, and to be able to share how lucky I am, to be able to tell stories, and learn things, and put questions to people in power. That’s really … I’m very lucky to be able to that, and every day it’s fun to come to work.
Andy Ockershausen: That is the secret of life. Getting up and loving what you’re doing.
Neal, and you obviously love your job and love what you’re doing, what were you doing before you discovered this radio phenomenon? Before AU?
On Growing Up in Connecticut
Neal Augenstein: Before AU I grew up in Connecticut. I was a kid who went to high school. I listened to the rock ‘n roll. The first radio station I ever went to was a station that probably admired WMAL. It was an all-service station back in Connecticut. I just found it fascinating to look at all the gadgets. I listened as a kid to Marv Albert doing a play-by-play …
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, my what a talent!
Neal Augenstein: What a great storyteller there. The music I listened to was WABC, in New York.
Andy Ockershausen: Radio 77.
Neal Augenstein on How He Ended Up at American University
Neal Augenstein: Yep, exactly. When you listen to it, even today, it still gives you a thrill. I went to college at AU, degree in broadcast journalism.
Andy Ockershausen: Did you take AU for broadcast? Did you pick it out, or did it just happen?
Neal Augenstein: I came down here to live. Girlfriend, at the time, was going to Georgetown, so I wanted to be in the same city.
Andy Ockershausen: Good for you.
Neal Augenstein: AU had a good broadcasting school.
Andy Ockershausen: Great school.
Neal Augenstein: Good communications school. I really did learn, I think, of a lot of things I still call upon these days. Not as much from the technical or broadcasting … the mechanics of broadcasting, more the strategies and mindset, and the importance of things like fairness, and consistency, and taste, and being objective. Those were the classes that I remembered the most, in which I call upon the most these days.
Andy Ockershausen: You prove it because you do it in your reporting, and I hear it all the time. I would share with you my AU experience. One of my professors was Fred Fiske.
Neal Augenstein: Wow.
Andy Ockershausen: Remember Freddy?
Neal Augenstein: Of course.
Andy Ockershausen: The talk show?
Neal Augenstein: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: I’ll never forget he taught us how to pronunciate. Anyway, I love the AU, I love the school, and everything going on there. Fortunately now, I live in the neighborhood. That’s school has expanded so greatly, Neal. It’s an incredible campus, now.
Neal Augenstein: Yeah. When I drive through and drive by, it’s expanding.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, my. Going up, going out.
Neal Augenstein: On the other side of Nebraska Avenue, and all the way down toward Wisconsin. They’re doing big things. They’re aiming high, and they’re changing-
Andy Ockershausen: … and they’re hitting a mark, too. My friend built that museum there. The doc … he passed on, but that’s a beautiful sight for the school, isn’t it. That museum?
Neal Augenstein: Sure. Sure is.
Andy Ockershausen: Katzen.
Neal Augenstein: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Andy Ockershausen: Cy Katzen. Listen, we’re gonna take a break here. We’re gonna come back, Neal … and I’d come back because we ain’t going anywhere. I wanna talk to you about your career in this scientific world, and what you have brought to Washington and WTOP. This is Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, and the inimitable Neal Augenstein.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen with Neal Augenstein. I was telling Neal, “it might be Vienna, Virginia, and it could be North Beach, Maryland, and it could be Vienna, and it could be anywhere, but it’s Our Town because they’re connected to WTOP.” That’s why I love it because you guys are powerful. The AM signal was unbelievable, and they got FM. They found that AM didn’t work anymore.
WTOP – The Move from AM to FM
Neal Augenstein: The move to FM, I think, was one of the biggest pushes toward TOP’s success. I was just talking about it yesterday with the Rotary Club. The fact that TOP, an all news station, went on FM … You remember? That was groundbreaking.
Andy Ockershausen: It was incredible.
Neal Augenstein: Not only that was on FM, that the … Bonneville put it on their best signal, on 103.5. That took WGMS off the air, and that was really an investment in the importance of news.
Andy Ockershausen: I was so, so, so sure that that was the greatest investment there could’ve been because that’s where the people were going, to FM.
Neal Augenstein: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Andy Ockershausen: When I started many years ago, FM was a little sidebar. Now I find that very few people under the age of 40 have every known what an AM is. They never listen to anything but FM … in their whole life. That’s startling. It sure kicked me out of the business. Anyway, I’m glad-
Neal Augenstein: A lot of that’s gonna change with listening, streaming online. Soon people will be listening just as much on their … in their cars, on the streaming. Hopefully, we’ll meet them there, and that’s sort of what … one of the things that TOP’s tried to do, is to meet listeners wherever they are, and that’s either on-
Andy Ockershausen: Is that what you were doing when you were the … when you took over those editor reporters, to bring them up to date on all the technology?
Augenstein on WTOP and the Internet of Things | Reporting from His iPhone
Neal Augenstein: Yeah. When WTOP, what was that, five or six years ago, I guess. I helped launch the WTOP tech section, which was a section on the website. I got to spend a bunch of time learning and reporting on things like social media, and consumer technology, the internet of things. All of these technical things that have to do with somebody’s smartphone, and that really are changing the way a lot of us live or lives.
Neal Augenstein: That was interesting … that was a chance to spend some time doing that. I’m not sure if you knew it, I think you did. In 2010, I started doing all of my reporting out on the field with just my iPhone.
Andy Ockershausen: Amazing.
Neal Augenstein: That came after the invention of multi-track audio editing apps, which let me do … interview somebody and then edit their sound bytes, and record my part-
Andy Ockershausen: Right there in your hand.
Neal Augenstein: … mix it all together, and send it back to the newsroom. I think that really transformed because think of allwhat we were doing before that. We had laptops, and we had, we’re carrying digital camera-
Andy Ockershausen: Reel-to-reel.
Neal Augenstein: We were carrying a little video camera, and every time you did an interview, you had to wait and reboot the computer, and transfer things, and mix it on the audio, the digital audio edit. With the iPhone, you could just do everything on one single device, and so I coined it, “iPhone reporting.”
Augenstein’s First iPhones on Display at Newseum
Neal Augenstein: Next time you’re at the Newseum, if I may blow my own horn for one second, go down to the basement by the cafeteria, and you’ll see one of my first iPhones that’s there in the Newseum.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s in the museum? I love it. Have you gotten the new one now that costs $88 million?
On Being a Traditionalist
Neal Augenstein: No, I have not. I’m a traditionalist, Andy. I don’t wanna spend everything-
Andy Ockershausen: Expand.
Neal Augenstein: … everything on the new gadgets, but my iPhone 7 is what I use now in the field.
Andy Ockershausen: It works.
Neal Augenstein: It works.
Andy Ockershausen: You do a beautiful job.
Neal Augenstein: Thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re are interested in your subject, and it shows, and you’re interested, and you sell the news. You talk about being a traditionalist … I’ll drop a name, I was talking to the chief of police in Montgomery County, I know you know him well-
Neal Augenstein: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Manger?
Neal Augenstein: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: I said, “what are you still running around with these colonel bars on your shoulder?” He said, “I’m a traditionalist. I’m never gonna put those stars on.” I said, “you feel like you’re in the Pentagon here with all these people.”
Neal Augenstein: I never noticed that. Now I’m gonna have to look at that the next time-
Andy Ockershausen: Look at what he’s wearing. He’s the only one that you see now that doesn’t have all the stars.
Neal Augenstein: That such …
Andy Ockershausen: He’s a terrific guy, too. I know you know that.
Neal Augenstein: Sure. He is a … I’ve worked with Tom Manger even back when he was in Fairfax County, and we had some great conversations.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
Neal Augenstein: Of course I supported him when he came over to Montgomery County.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, a real guy.
Neal Augenstein: Really good guy.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town, and I’m Andy Ockershausen, and I’m talking to Neal Augenstein. Now that we’ve gotten the police and police work, I wanna come back after the break here, and talk about the police and the police work, and what’s going on in Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and talking to Neal Augenstein. I’m sorry I’ve been mispronouncing Neal’s name. I know he’ll figure me because I grew up with Ockershausen nobody can spell it either.
Neal Augenstein: You haven’t been mispronouncing it, you’ve been halfway-ing it. That’s something I do as a reporter all the time, is pronounce a word or a name halfway, if I’m not sure exactly how to say it-
Andy Ockershausen: Get close to it.
Neal Augenstein: I get somewhere in the middle, and that usually works out alright.
Andy Ockershausen: Neal, your work in the capitol city of the world, as I call it, has been incredible. Your news coverage here is unbelievable. There’s so much going on in Our Town … there’s political news, of course. Then you got the military, and the defense, but then we got the people that live here, and the city government.
I’m stunned that they can’t get a hold of this shooting barrage. It’s … you cover it every day.
On Covering Crime in Our Town
Neal Augenstein: Covering crime is something that’s … You know the old adage, if it bleeds, it leads. We don’t really believe that here, but unfortunately, violent crime is a big part of people’s lives, and obviously everyone who has a family wants to minimize it as much as they can.
As part of what we do is, we have to tell some of the realities about what are happening in Our Town. That involves crime reporting. Sometimes, I think, that’s actually one of the challenges because when you hear about a heinous crime, and if you look online, there’s this rallying cry, “we’ve gotta punish the person. We’ve gotta do something about it.” Often that happens before a person’s ever been put on trial.
My job as a reporter is to talk to both the prosecutors and the defense. I’ve been talking … I’ve talked with the lawyers for the Beltway snipers leading up to the trial. Of course, these were guys who everyone was convinced that they were guilty, and, ultimately, they were found to be guilty. In covering something like that, I’m not allowed to indicate that I think that somebody is guilty. It’s my responsibility, as a reporter, to give somebody the benefit of a doubt. Obviously, I don’t turn a blind-eye to what’s happening, to the evidence-
Andy Ockershausen: You’re human. You have feelings. Absolutely.
Neal Augenstein: Right, but my goal in my job is to look at something as unbiasedly as I can. Sometimes I succeed at that, and sometimes I don’t.
Andy Ockershausen: You do a great job with it, Neal.
Neal Augenstein: Thanks.
The Police Alone Can Not Stop Crime, The Public Must Get Involved
Andy Ockershausen: It’s tough for you, and there’s so many stories that I’m trying to reach for this lady from the ACLU, who’s done a great job with the speech there … Talking about what the basis was. I am personally convinced that that police cannot stop this.
The police have tried for years, they try all kinds of things. The public has got to, and I don’t know how they do that, Neal, but there’s so many people that know things that are afraid to come forward. They’re scared to death.
Neal Augenstein: That is a reality.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s the way it is on the street.
Neal Augenstein: I think that that in all the jurisdictions in our area, it’s important to earn the trust of people on the street because that’s the way a lot of crimes are solved.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s the way it is.
Neal Augenstein: … is through a tip. Even people who don’t wanna share information because they’re afraid of what-
Andy Ockershausen: Retribution.
Neal Augenstein: … what it will mean to them. Police really do need that sort of-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. That’d help.
Neal Augenstein: … contributions from the public.
Andy Ockershausen: I noticed that our murder rate this year is … has climbed extraordinarily over last year, and still going up, I’m sure. Again, the public and the people have gotta help to do something about it. You’ve helped with your reporting.
This thing is going on with the “Mansion Murderer”, as they’re called. It’s tough not to have any thought, but “he’s guilty,” but he’s gotta go through the trial. They haven’t proved to the jury, yet. The jury’s still out. Until they do, there’s gonna be some doubt, and there are always people with doubt. That’s an interesting story.
By and Large, Legal System Seems to Get It Right Most of the Time
Neal Augenstein: That’s the thing, Andy. As difficult as some of these trials are, and as horrendous the crimes are, I’m comforted that, through my 20 years in the business, it seems like the legal system, as flawed as it is, that is seems to get it right most of the time.
Andy Ockershausen: Correct.
Neal Augenstein: Obviously, I’m not blind to the fact that that some of the legal system is more blind towards some people than others, and, again, the legal system isn’t perfect. I do think, by and large, by the time cases get through … criminal courts and maybe a civil case if there’s a lawsuit … Usually, by the time things shake out, in my opinion, they got them about right.
Andy Ockershausen: I respect your opinion. The fact that you follow these things, it’s not casual to you. It’s basically what you are, is to cover these stories, and be fair. You try to do that, I know you do, Neal. And so do your compatriots, WTOP has built such a fabulous newsroom, and a fabulous reputation, and we’re all … One of the reasons we’re listeners is, we have to be because you have everything we want. They got news, weather, they even got some sports now. Thank God.
One time you carried Maryland football way back, Neal.
Neal Augenstein: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Then Larry Israel took over and said, “we’re gonna go all news.” He called me and said, “I’m giving up Maryland football. Call ’em because you can get it now. We’re not gonna carry it anymore.”
Neal Augenstein: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s the way … it was very close. Nobody does that. Nobody cares about Maryland football, but they care about this town, and they care about Our Town. WTOP is so, so important, and, Neal, you are big part of it because your reporting is splendid.
Neal Augenstein: Thank you, Andy, That’s very kind of you to say. As you know, we’re lucky to be doing stuff that we love.
Andy Ockershausen: … that you love. You get up every day and feel like a million bucks.
Neal Augenstein: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: You know you’re gonna work hard, and you’re gonna go the right job.
Augenstein, I apologize for mispronouncing you … I mispronounce my own name, so I shouldn’t really apologize, but it’s been such a pleasure to meet you. We’ve met on other occasions, but I found out a lot of things about you, and I’m so glad.
You still live in the city? Yeah, you were …
Neal Augenstein: No, I’m now a Dulles, in the Dulles area.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh-ho!
Neal Augenstein: … with a couple kids and wife. I can’t afford to live in the city, Andy. I gotta get out where I can get more house for my money.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re smart, but you don’t have to slept in the city every day do you?
Neal Augenstein: Yeah, but since I work at five in the morning, I got no traffic at 4 in the morning.
Andy Ockershausen: You cover a lot of stories where you don’t have to report in, I’m sure.
Neal Augenstein: Right, yeah, but oft-
Andy Ockershausen: It’s like you’ve got your world with you. The iPhone.
Neal Augenstein: Very often. The news meeting is usually held right when I step out of the shower every morning, when I call in the news director … I mean, sorry, the news editor, who’s on duty at the time, and he or she points me in the right direction. I just take off, and that’s where we go.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s actually great, Neal. You’re a lucky man to be here, in Our Town, in these times. It’s exciting, and you make it so.
Andy Ockershausen: What was that young man we were talking about as a news producer, Janny?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Mike Jakaitis?
Andy Ockershausen: Mike. Mike was one of our guys.
Neal Augenstein: Jakaitis is the guy I who I spoke with this morning at four in the morning, and we decide on what my story for the morning is.
Andy Ockershausen: He’s gotta be here for 20 years, I’m sure.
Neal Augenstein: Yeah. I think he got here before I did.
Andy Ockershausen: Neal, thank you so much. I certainly appreciate, personally, what you do. From my association with these … with all the things I belong to, and you were big with one of our WRAP meetings. You do a lot for Our Town, and we really appreciate it, and we appreciate WTOP for you.
Neal Augenstein: My pleasure being here, and thank you for having me.
Andy Ockershausen: Thank you so much, Neal. Andy Ockershausen, this has been Our Town.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, season four, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite. With your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us line with your comments or suggestions, see us on Facebook, or visit our website at Our TownDC.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL in Washington, D.C., and thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.