September 6, 2013 is a day that will go down in history, at least in the minds of former staff members of Talk Radio Network. It was a Friday—payday—and for many employees, it would be their last day. At the radio syndication company’s Oregon headquarters, paychecks were distributed alongside pink slips. It didn’t take long for employees to discover that some D.C.-based colleagues, including those who worked for the news offshoot America’s Radio News Network—also owned by their boss, Mark Masters—were being handed a similar fate.
Few could have predicted this hit to Masters’ talk radio empire. During the 2008 presidential election and Obama’s first term, the Talk Radio Network family was home to some of the most popular and conservative personalities on the airwaves, including Michael “America is on the brink of a second Civil War” Savage and Laura Ingraham. At its height, when the TRN family had some 350 affiliate radio stations nationwide broadcasting its programming, the independent syndicator proudly held its own in an industry increasingly co-opted by giants like Clear Channel and Cumulus Media. (Masters established a number of corporations under variations of the same name, such as The Original Talk Radio Network, Talk Radio Network Enterprises, Talk Radio Network-FM Inc., etc. to house various assets and talent.) According to a 2007 Bear Stearns report, at one point, TRN was ranked No. 2 in terms of listening share among talk show providers in the radio industry, beating out ABC Radio Networks and the CBS-controlled Westwood One.
What’s more, Masters—who had taken over the Talk Radio Network mantle from his father, Roy—had ambitions to expand away from wingnut warfare and into straight newsgathering. By 2011 (PDF), he was on a hiring spree, luring in top journalistic talent to help launch a nonpartisan news network, with the ultimate goal of 24/7 nationally-syndicated programming. Yet five years later, the news operation has vanished and TRN is now a shell of its former self.
What brought the TRN radio kingdom low? Was it the bad timing of a host of big lawsuits? Was it the flight of top talent to bigger stations? Was it, as some former employees allege, that the bosses bit off more than they could chew? Or that the legacy of Masters' father—a guru who performed live exorcisms, who inspired thousands of devotees to follow him to rural Oregon, and who counts among his fans the likes of Andrew Breitbart and Sean Hannity—loomed too large over the operation? The truth depends on whom you ask—and those who have the most to say about Masters’ rise and fall are also the ones most afraid to talk.
To understand how the Masters family got into the partisan bullpen of right-wing programming, it helps to know a little bit about the history of its patriarch, Roy.
The man who would come to be known as Roy Masters was born Reuben Obermeister in 1920s London. In a 1983 interview, Masters told the Grants Pass Daily Courier that his father, Boris, a Jewish diamond cutter, changed the family name for business reasons. Masters said that he explored a variety of religions as he was growing up, attending synagogue as well as a Catholic church and Seventh-day Adventist school. (In a different interview he would describe himself as a “completed Jew” who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah.) When Masters was 15, his father died of a heart attack. That same year, he had his first encounter with hypnotism, watching a vaudeville hypnotist perform at the former Brighton Hippodrome.
Fascinated by what he saw, Masters said he sought to learn more about hypnotic techniques, reading books on the subject and even observing witch doctors in Johannesburg when he visited South Africa for a diamond cutting apprenticeship. He took his diamond cutting practice to the United States in 1949 and settled in Houston with his wife, Ann. He eventually opened the Institute of Hypnosis there. Following a complaint from the American Medical Association in Houston about Masters’ nonmedical hypnosis practice, he was arrested and sent to jail for 30 days for practicing medicine without a license. During his jail sentence, Masters reportedly tested out his treatment on fellow inmates.
“I try to get them to look deeply into themselves and to feel like thinking and saying and doing what they themselves recognize as right and wise,” an Associated Press article from 1961 quoted Masters as saying from jail. (It’s a story he has repeated often in lectures and interviews.)
Next stop was Los Angeles, where in 1961 Masters established the Foundation of Human Understanding, based on a philosophy he termed ‘Psychocatalysis’—a mix, essentially, of Judeo-Christian beliefs, meditation, and hypnosis or, rather, “de-hypnosis.” In interviews and in his teachings, Masters frequently references Hitler and the Nazis, whose rise to power coincided with Masters’ coming-of-age in Europe. He talks about watching hypnotists and coming to the conclusion that Hitler had brainwashed the German people, and that human beings need de-hypnotizing.
From the beginning, the Foundation of Human Understanding and radio went hand in hand, with Masters relying on radio stations in Southern California to broadcast his ‘de-hypnosis’ gospel to the masses. Masters’ syndicated call-in talk show was renamed a couple of times, from “A Moment of Truth” to “How Your Mind Can Keep You Well,” (also the name of one of his books).
In 1978, one year before Roy moved the Foundation to what would become its permanent home in Grants Pass, Oregon, The Los Angeles Times reported on an event at L.A.’s historic Wilshire Ebell theater, during which Masters reportedly told a crowd of 1,200 people about the 58-acre plot of land he’d just purchased in Oregon “where we can put up a flag, take our house trailers, maybe build a little school…” According to the report, he then proceeded to “hypnotize” them.
“For the next hour, people were exorcised of all demons, sobbed uncontrollably, fell asleep in their chairs, fell out of their chairs and forgot their names,” L.A. Times staff writer Bella Stumbo wrote. “Grown men and women put their shoes on the wrong feet.”
The event—which audience members paid $50 to attend, according to the paper—came mere weeks after Jim Jones had convinced more than 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. “I could get people to die for me any day,” the L.A. Times quoted Masters saying at the rally. “I’ve got more power over people than Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones combined, because I’m smarter. I know how to punch people’s buttons.”
Soon, Masters was punching the buttons of his new neighbors in Josephine County, Oregon, where he had relocated his Foundation with thousands of fans in tow. In addition to the Tall Timber Ranch in Selma, the site of the Foundation’s headquarters, the Masters family started several businesses in the area, ranging from construction and real estate to used cars and a petting zoo. Though Masters claimed he never owned any of the businesses, the Foundation’s arrival stirred up community tensions. Rumors spread that Masters was behind a blacklist aimed at bankrupting local businesses to make way for enterprises owned by his family and Foundation members, known locally as Roybots. Those rumors, in turn, sparked a boycott of enterprises affiliated with the family.
A 1983 Associated Press article on the boycott quoted Masters as saying, “I think it is a small minority of pseudo-Christians instigating all these rumors against me. I am an expert in the field of brainwashing. I know every trick in the book.”
“Masters had connections with survivalists,” Grants Pass Daily Courier (PDF) reporter Edith Decker wrote in 2010. “He taught that women should be subordinate to men and that it was the mother of the family who was typically at fault for any family problems. He performed exorcisms.” (YouTube videos of Masters performing such rituals can be found here, here and here.)
Masters told the Daily Courier in 1983 that chose to move his Foundation to Grants Pass because the town’s location—away from major cities and “prevailing wind patterns”—would protect it from nuclear fallout. He also told the paper, “I don’t trust banks,” and said that he’d invested a large portion of the Foundation’s profits—from seminars, cassettes and paperback sales—in gold coins.
Masters also compared himself to Jesus Christ, telling the paper, “He is my brother. I’m maybe the second or third in a new human race.” He said that many of his followers “never had a father or they’ve been brutalized by their fathers or ruined by their mothers and they know nothing but degradation and alcoholism,” and that his followers clung to him, even looking to him as an idol.
“There are people hung up on me, no question about it. We make fun of it, we call them Roybots—that’s my term,” Masters said.
Masters’ influence in Oregon extended beyond the Roybots. He launched a lengthy legal battle against the Josephine County government that would ultimately result in the Foundation of Human Understanding being declared a church in 1986 and receiving tax-exempt status.
According to the Daily Courier, Masters also “kept his lawyers busy with suits against Us magazine for libel, against Oregon’s former secretary of state for allowing a candidate to suggest the foundation was a cult in the Voters’ Pamphlet,” and against two county sheriffs, one current and one former, for revoking Masters’ concealed carry license when they discovered an arrest record that Masters had allegedly not disclosed on his permit application.
According to a 1984 Associated Press article, Masters was charged with “unsworn falsification” by then-Josephine County Sheriff Jim Fanning, who had revoked Masters’ concealed carry permit after discovering (apparently through FBI records) that Masters had been arrested “for the unlawful practice of medicine in Houston, Texas in 1960 and in 1950 was arrested twice under another name for assault and battery in New Jersey.”
At the time, Masters chalked the omission of his arrest record up to simply forgetting “something very insignificant that happened 34 years ago.” He said the charge was motivated by “unbridled hatred and bigotry” and that he’d carried a gun because “I felt my life was in danger from all the negative press I’ve been getting.” Both the gun permit suit and the suit against the secretary of state were dismissed.
In 1988, Masters filed a $2 billion suit against a long list of people including the governor of Oregon at the time, state officials, school board members, and Daily Courier reporters for “maintaining a ‘good old boy’ network that denied Masters his rights.”
This lawsuit was also dismissed.
About a decade after Masters first caused a stir in southern Oregon, The Washington Post wrote about New Dimensions, the Foundation of Human Understanding’s glossy magazine that published photographs of aborted fetuses, derided the “dangerous” feminist system of child care, and accused the media of “selectively editing and diluting certain terrifying information” about AIDS as a means of “hysteria control.” According to the Post, issues of New Dimensions regularly included advertisements for Masters’ meditation tapes and books and other businesses linked to the family. It also included articles by Roy himself.
The Washington Post quoted one Masters article entitled “Anatomy of a Liberal,” which, the Post said, asked, “How does an intelligent, well-educated person come to passionately believe that unborn babies are not human, that homosexuality is normal and that self-defense is dangerous? … Through a traumatic conditioning process well known to terrorists and mind-control experts.”
A few months before The Washington Post article, The Seattle Times had also written about New Dimensions after a suburban deputy fire chief reportedly distributed copies of articles from the magazine’s AIDS issue, one copy of which is currently available on Amazon.com for $6.99. The articles, which were sent to paramedics and firefighters in Bellevue, Washington, claimed that AIDS could be spread by sneezes or kissing and that the national media and health officials were intentionally concealing this information from the public.
The Seattle Times said it reached out multiple times to the magazine’s managing editor, David Kupelian—who would go on to become the vice president and managing editor of conservative website WorldNetDaily—but that he did not respond.
According to The Washington Post, by this time, Roy’s son Mark had succeeded him in the role of editor-in-chief of New Dimensions. The Post reported that a 15-person editorial team produced the magazine out of a house next door to the Foundation of Human Understanding’s church building in Grants Pass. The paper also noted that the magazine published four times as many issues as it sold, sent unsolicited copies to Washington journalists, and offered free advertising space to conservative groups.
During those years, Roy Masters had a devoted following. In 1991, a Wichita woman named Jeanne Cvetkovich accused her ex-husband of becoming obsessed with Masters’ radio teachings—things like, “the greatest deception perpetrated upon the human race is the myth of woman’s love” and “every woman instinctively inherits this black widow spider knowledge, tempting her man and sucking out his life juices.”
Cvetkovich claimed her husband had kidnapped her two young children and took off for Oregon in search of Masters. (She would eventually be reunited with them when their father was arrested in Willmar, Minnesota, 19 months after he disappeared.)
Before she’d found the kids, a desperate Cvetkovich appeared on an episode of the Geraldo Rivera show. She told Rivera that Masters’ teachings preached how “the role of women is to be very submissive, quiet, never questioning. Not thinking. No decisions.” At some point, she said, “I just got sick of it.”
The dangers of a matriarchal household are a common theme in Masters’ teaching. In one of his older lectures at the Foundation of Human Understanding, Masters tried to explain that relationships end in divorce, and families become dysfunctional when women take a dominant role in the household.
“May I suggest politely that when you see everything revolving around the woman, all hell breaks loose. There is something wrong with that relationship,” Masters said in the lecture, explaining that a woman is “really designed to be a helpmate, to help a man fulfill whatever commands the beyond of man requires of him.” Pointing to past President Jimmy Carter as an example, Masters says, “When he was in power, I felt like children feel when they have no father and the woman is in control. The whole family is out of control and the spirit of the woman starts to get strong and mean and bitchy and witchy.”
In the 1983 Daily Courier interview Masters said one of the few things he recalled from his childhood was that his mother “was difficult to deal with.”
The same year that Jeanne Cvetkovich was frantically searching for her kids, Roy Masters completed construction on a radio station called KOPE-FM in Medford, Oregon, some 35 miles away from Grants Pass. A local radio personality named Roger Fredinburg remembers getting a call to see if he wanted to host a show at the new station. Fredinburg was familiar with Masters (he says that Masters had a reputation around town for being like Indian guru “Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh on steroids”) and he was intrigued by the new venture.
Masters “was testing the limits with how far he could go with local political attacks which, as a Reagan-conservative, political guy, I loved,” Fredinburg told The Daily Beast.
The network was built around Masters’ own show, which would eventually become “Advice Line.” (“Advice Line” is still broadcast today.) Masters claims to have been “America’s first radio counselor” and in some ways, his show calls to mind radio preachers like Father Coughlin—he advises callers on things like how to deal with a bisexual relative—“the danger is to reinforce the sickness by condemning or condoning”—and he regularly predicts the demise of American society, asking “How do you deal with the horror of tomorrow?”
By 1993, Masters had expanded KOPE-FM into a 24/7 national operation called Talk Radio Network (TRN). “Roy couldn’t be put on any commercial stations because he was too crazy,” Fredinburg says, “so he wanted to create a network that could carry good programming with the goal of syndicating Roy Masters’ lunacy out into the world.” (In a 1969 profile of Masters, which was recently posted on Medium.com and also lives on the Foundation of Human Understanding’s website, former CBS news correspondent William Wolff wrote that Roy “laughingly confessed” that “no client in his ‘wrong’ mind would dare sponsor me.”)
KOPE’s executives went in search of talent to fill the new network’s roster and became enamored with a charismatic Las Vegas-based conspiracy theorist named Art Bell. His weeknight program, “Coast-to-Coast AM,” discussed aliens, paranormal activity, and shadowy government cover-ups. The network purchased the rights to syndicate Bell’s show, and by 1998 it was being broadcast every night of the week on 400 radio stations across the United States and Canada.
In fact, Art Bell was so popular that in 1998, broadcasting giant Premiere Networks reportedly paid $9 million for both of Bell’s shows as well as for KOPE-FM, Talk Radio Network, and all 17 of the network’s other talk radio programs, including Fredinburg’s own show, a political lead-in to “Coast to Coast AM.”
“They didn’t want us, they just wanted Art Bell, but they treated us nice—they didn’t treat us like the evil stepchild,” said Fredinburg of his time at Premiere. But the good times were short-lived. During what Fredinburg referred to as ‘Merger Mania’ in the radio industry in the early 2000s, Premiere sold TRN (minus the Art Bell show, which it retained) back to Roy Masters—equipment, programming and all.
Up until this point, Fredinburg said he’d never worked with Mark Masters, Roy’s son who had edited the Foundation’s magazine. But Roy brought his boy in to run the radio network he’d just bought back, and Mark eventually became president and CEO of TRN.
Mark always had something special, Fredinburg said. Mark “is the chosen one.”
Reliable or, for that matter, any information at all on Mark Masters can be hard to come by, and it seems that’s the way he likes it.
When reached by phone for comment on this story, Mark told The Daily Beast, “I don’t understand the utility of this as a news story. It seems to me that it’s just designed as a weapon to affect the sale-ability of our inventory and I guess there’s a great deal of puzzlement around that for me. And that’s my only comment.”
According to the Washington Post, Mark was running New Dimensions, the Foundation’s magazine, by age 26. But where he really seemed to come into his own was at Talk Radio Network—transforming the family business from a home for his father’s lectures and Art Bell’s paranormal ponderings into a breeding ground for some of the country’s most marketable and inflammatory conservative commentators.
It was at Mark Masters’ TRN where Michael Weiner—a Bronx-born Jewish academic who’d earned his Ph.D in nutritional ethnomedicine at U.C.-Berkeley—flourished as Michael Savage, author of books like Liberalism is a Mental Disorder and one of the most outrageous and outrageously popular conservative talk radio personalities in the country. In a 2009 profile of the right-wing firebrand, The New Yorker called Savage “a heretic among heretics.” At the time, the magazine noted, his show “Savage Nation” was clocking in over eight million listeners each week and he’d been ranked third below Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the radio trade magazine Talkers’ “Heavy Hundred” list.
Bolstered by the momentum of Savage, Masters continued to accumulate up-and-coming conservative talent. His company poached the caustic Laura Ingraham (now the official guest host of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”) from competitor WestwoodOne at the beginning of her radio days, revived beloved voice actor satirist Phil Hendrie’s radio career, and provided Chicago shock jock Erich “Mancow” Muller with a national platform.
Masters employed a colorful cast of characters off the air as well. Producers Matt Fox and A.J. Rice had a political spoof side project that included one conservative Weird Al-like parody of “Feliz Navidad” called “Illegals in my Yard.” In-house attorney-turned-conservative commentator Ben Shapiro went on to establish a talk radio persona of his own, became editor-at-large at Breitbart.com, and founding TruthRevolt, a media watchdog site to counter the liberal Media Matters for America.
Regularly on the lineup, though nestled among the headliners, was Roy Masters. Multiple former TRN executives who were involved in handling the company’s finances said that the network appeared to stay afloat thanks to “loans” from Roy Masters and the Foundation of Human Understanding.
“Mark stayed close to the goose that laid the golden egg,” said a former associate of Mark’s.
When asked whether any of the TRN corporations had ever borrowed money from Roy Masters or the Foundation, Ron Severaid—who identified himself as “executive vice president and corporate secretary for most TRN companies”—told The Daily Beast that he could not disclose the specifics of internal financial information.
Masters spent a lot of time and money building connections within the industry, said the former associate—throwing cocktail parties at trade shows and advertising heavily in the radio trade publications.
“He turned everybody he knew into somebody else he knew,” the former associate said. “He spent a lot of time cultivating friends in high places.”
Roy was a link to many big names in conservative media, counting Andrew Breitbart and Matt Drudge among his fans. Conservative author Joseph Farah reportedly launched his right-wing website WorldNetDaily from Masters’ Tall Timber Ranch, and according to the Seattle Times, WND vice president and managing editor David Kupelian had once been the managing editor at New Dimensions. The Daily Beast reached out to Farah and Kupelian for comment. Kupelian did not respond and Farah said he would not be available for an interview before publication time.
In 1999, Drudge had Roy Masters as a guest on his Fox News TV show to discuss gun control in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting. Roy used the interview as an opportunity to talk about Hitler. “You have legislation by emotion. And the liberal government, particularly, is using the techniques of emotionalization to rob Americans of their reasoning,” Roy said. “In the old days of Hitler, the Nazis used to say that Hitler could only be understood by emotion. If you were emotionalized, you saw him clearly as the Fuhrer, but anyone who was reasonable and logical was seen as the enemy. You see the same kind of thing happening in America. We are becoming an emotionally divided country.”
Roy Masters also had a relationship with Sean Hannity. The talk radio phenom and Fox News staple has identified himself as a longtime listener of the TRN patriarch. In 2011, Hannity invited Roy on his radio show to promote Roy’s book The Hypnotic States of Americans. At the beginning of the interview, Hannity told Roy, “I first heard you on the radio, it had to be, in either the late 70s or 80s. On WMCA in New York. You did a weekend program that used to scare the living daylights out of us.”
“Roy’s tentacles run deep in the conservative culture,” Roger Fredinburg said. “It’s not funny.”
Fredinburg recalled meeting Hannity and Matt Drudge at a New York Talkers magazine event with the TRN crew in 1999. “They were all hugging on Roy, they connected to him somehow,” Fredinburg said. “It was really weird to watch. It kind of shook my faith in humanity, to be honest with you.” Whatever clout Roy may have had in the conservative community, all former employees I spoke to agreed that the elder Masters had no influence over the network’s day-to-day operations. In fact, many of them knew nothing about Mark’s father other than he might have had a show.
Ron Severaid told The Daily Beast that Roy Masters was not currently involved in TRN operations. “I believe he was at some point in the early years involved in management, but not with respect to any events that you’re talking about, the layoffs and the like.”
“I’ve been involved in TRN since the early 2000s, maybe even prior to that, late 1990s—his father hasn’t been involved,” Severaid said.
“This is not a Roy Masters production,” the publisher of one radio trade publication said, referring to TRN. “This is a Mark Masters production.”
But as much energy as Mark seems to have put into making friends in high places, former co-workers say he also burned bridges.
Many former employees described Masters as a demanding, overbearing micromanager who had no boundaries. “He uses people until they’re not useful anymore,” a longtime former employee said.
Fredinburg, who told The Daily Beast he was fired from TRN in 2001, went a step further. Masters, he said, “has this vindictiveness. He wants to go after people, he wants to crush them like a bug, he wants to sue them and make sure they never cross him again.”
This scare tactic, as Fredinburg sees it, was part of Masters’ own personal type of persuasiveness. “You may not believe in hypnosis,” Fredinburg said. “I didn’t either until I went to work for Mark Masters.”
Ron Severaid, who described this claim as “delusional,” told The Daily Beast, “Mark is not a hypnotist and there is no hypnotism involved in any of the TRN operations.”
Other former colleagues say Masters was well respected in the talk radio field.
The editor of one radio trade publication, who asked not to be named, said of Mark Masters: “He’s kind of a scrapper. He took a company that was essentially a distribution platform for his dad’s show and kind of made it into a player.”
“One of the reasons that Mark was successful was because people really adored the fact that he was an independent,” Eric Rhoads, publisher of Radio Ink magazine, told The Daily Beast. “I think that was his biggest strength.”
In an interview in the August 2010 issue of Radio Ink, which featured Masters on the cover, Mark talked about the importance of talk radio being a place “where the marketplace of ideas can be fully explored” and said of his on-air talent, “I don’t care if they’re liberal, conservative, libertarian. I care that they’re riveting.”
In the same interview, he told an anecdote about what it means to be a good salesman. “I’m a big Ford fan. I’m also a big fan of some of the new Chrysler products, and Cadillac. I’m a motorhead,” Masters said. “I can go on a car lot, and see a guy standing there looking at that car, and a salesperson is tracking him around doing curbside qualifying: ‘Well, where are you presently working? How much do you make?’ I could sell that car to the guy, not because I’m trying to sell a car, but because I believe in that car. Why would you buy something from someone who doesn’t believe in what they’re trying to sell you?”
What Masters evidently believed in was the power of talk radio, and that’s what he sold. Then, in May 2009, he turned to something completely different: the power of journalism. That month, TRN Entertainment announced it was teaming up with the traditionally conservative Washington Times to create a syndicated daily news program called “America’s Morning News.” The show would be co-hosted by Times editor and “Inside the Beltway” columnist John McCaslin and a San Francisco morning radio anchor named Melanie Morgan, and would partner with an investigative team run by Times honcho John Solomon (full disclosure: Solomon briefly worked for the Newsweek/Daily Beast Company). “Rather than commenting on yesterday’s news, this news radio show will have the capacity to make, break, and drive the news cycle,” Masters told Radio Ink. “Like '60 Minutes’ once did for TV, this show can do for radio.”
Over the next two years, Masters started building what would become America’s Radio News Network (ARNN), with McCaslin as the network’s executive vice president. Though TRN was headquartered in Oregon, McCaslin says Masters wanted ARNN to have roots in the nation’s capital. Masters began hiring talent, both within the Beltway and around the country, such as Lori Lundin, previously an anchor with Fox News Radio in New York; Ernie Brown, a news anchor and talk show host at CBS NewsRadio’s Dallas affiliate; and Rachel Crowson, whose resume included news directing, reporting and anchoring gigs at Voice of America and ABC News Radio.
In the press release announcing Lundin’s hire, she gushed, “Mark Masters [is] one of the most-influential people in radio today. It’s refreshing to see an entrepreneur investing in people and in radio…”
According to several former employees, Masters wanted America’s Radio News Network to be the “iPod of radio.” Others remembered it as the “iPad of radio.” Either way, the idea was the same: ARNN was to be a game-changing new product that would leave a lasting mark on the industry.
“He told us we were going to be the savior of FM radio,” said John Normand. Normand became the technical producer of ARNN’s evening show in May 2011, after 12 years at CBS radio. He recalled being instantly impressed with Masters the first time they met.
“He said a lot of things I wanted to hear,” Normand said. “He took me and some of the hosts out to dinner in D.C. and talked about his relationship with Roger Ailes and how he was instrumental in putting together Fox News radio. He said ‘nothing works at the top if everybody at the bottom isn’t happy.’ He made it sound like those of us on the front lines—cutting sound, producing shows—would be integral to the success, that he would listen to suggestions. For someone coming from a big corporation, that was appealing.”
Another former ARNN employee also remembered Ailes’ name coming up frequently. Masters “would talk about how he and Roger Ailes were best friends, how he was friends with Sean Hannity,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “The New Yorker did this huge write-up on Savage and Mark would talk about this a lot. He’d say, ‘When The New Yorker profiled me…’” (The New Yorker did mention TRN in its 6,000-word profile of Savage, but Masters in not named in the piece.)
Masters’ media connections, as well as his ambitions for the network, excited his new recruits. According to McCaslin and others, ARNN aimed to put out long-form, news magazine-style programs that would be broadcast on hundreds of stations nationwide. The staff would be breaking news. And perhaps most enticingly, at least to employees I spoke with, the network would be staunchly nonpartisan. Despite the fact that ARNN would be surfing off of the popularity of some of the most rabidly conservative voices on the radio, former employees said Masters wanted his news network to be explicitly objective. The tagline was “Journalism without Agenda.” Under this mission, ARNN rolled four daily news shows, in addition to “America’s Morning News,” eventually running back-to-back from 6am to midnight.
McCaslin likened the energy at ARNN to that of a startup, with the handsome salaries to match. McCaslin still believes that he and his colleagues were making “tremendous advances in radio news,” and said he’d never had any hard feelings toward Masters. Still, he admitted—without disclosing his salary—that he wondered whether the paychecks were too good to last.
Not too long after ARNN’s birth, trouble hit the TRN family in the form of two major lawsuits. The first began in December of 2010, when TRN’s prized host Michael Savage filed a lawsuit against the syndicator, claiming that TRN was using “illegal and unenforceable contract provisions, threats,” and “other strong arm tactics” to try to force him into “indentured servitude.”
According to Savage’s complaint, he said that he had been encouraged by his longtime employer to explore proposals from other syndicators during the two months leading up to his contract’s December 2010 expiration date. He allegedly received an offer that, in addition to more money, included the opportunity to have his show syndicated by one of the major radio behemoths capable of expanding Savage’s audience far beyond the approximately eight million listeners he was already reaching through TRN. Savage alleged that TRN presented him with a proposal that not only failed to match the financial benefits of the competing offer, but included anti-competitive terms that Savage said illegally sought to limit his negotiating rights. Savage’s suit also accused TRN of trying to use unenforceable terms from his previous contract to force him into staying at TRN and losing the more desirable new opportunity.
In a statement to the press at the time, Mark Masters dismissed the lawsuit as “unjustified and frivolous,” insisting that he and Savage had agreed on a contract extension to which Masters planned to hold the host.
“Michael’s contract is crystal clear, and we are 100 percent confident that the courts will justify our position,” Masters said. “ ‘The Michael Savage Show’ will remain on the air.”
Savage’s show did, indeed, remain on the air over the course of his lengthy legal battle with his syndicator. After two years, the dispute ended with an arbitration ruling in favor of Savage. The host was reportedly awarded more than $1 million and the rights to archived recordings of his show. It’s unclear whether Savage ever received the money. When asked about whether the company had paid any or all of the $1 million awarded to Savage, Ron Severaid told The Daily Beast that “there’s no final judgment yet in the Savage litigation—the case is on appeal.”
In the midst of the Michael Savage drama, the Talk Radio Network empire entered into another major lawsuit.
Since approximately 2003, the TRN corporations had relied on a third party, the large syndication and advertising network Dial Global, to bring in ad revenue. With other giant radio firms crowding the market, TRN contracted Dial Global to bundle its shows with outside programming into a package that would be more appealing to advertisers.
TRN and Dial Global enjoyed a relatively symbiotic relationship until August 2011, when Dial Global merged with Westwood One, one of the country’s largest radio content producers and distributors. That same month, Mark Masters’ Original Talk Radio Network, Talk Radio Network Enterprises, and Talk Radio Network-FM Inc., filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Dial Global, arguing that since Dial Global had acquired Westwood One, the company had essentially become a monopoly. The “Dial Group” monopoly, TRN claimed, could now effectively pick and choose which programs would get airtime based on the potential to make the most money. This, the three plaintiffs said, deprived independent syndicators like TRN of advertising revenue, the “lifeblood of radio programming.” The plaintiffs also charged that by pursuing its own talk-radio talent, Dial Global was competing with its own clients, and had started taking ad revenue from TRN shows and reallocating it to different programs, depriving the syndicator of the juice needed to support its programming.
Cumulus Media, which now owns the former Dial Global, declined to comment on the suit for this story.
In the original complaint against Dial Global, the plaintiffs wrote that “as the largest privately held independent spoken word syndicators, it falls upon the plaintiffs’ shoulders to stand up to the advance of this danger.” Many in the radio world, who had watched the once-diverse industry become increasingly controlled by a select few giants, agreed with Masters.
“Everyone in the industry thought [Masters] was crazy but it was the right thing for him to do,” Eric Rhoads, the publisher of Radio Ink, told the Daily Beast of Masters’ lawsuit against Dial Global. “I think what happened to him was tragic and TRN was not the only company that was hurt.”
If losing Michael Savage was a hit to TRN, then Laura Ingraham’s departure was another blow. When her contract expired in November 2012, she took her show on the road. By then, Dial Global had stopped representing TRN as a client in response to the lawsuit, cutting off a major potential source of revenue.
In January 2013, the TRN group filed a second complaint in the Dial Global suit, demanding a jury trial. This time, the list of plaintiffs had grown to include even more TRN enterprises like Talk Radio Network Entertainment and Talk Radio Network Operations, Inc., as well as America’s Radio News Network.
This new complaint included a section on how “ARNN has been injured as a result of Dial’s conduct.”
Eventually, the Talk Radio network companies agreed on a closed-door settlement with Cumulus Media, which, in the years since the lawsuit was first filed, had accumulated Dial Global. “We are pleased to ‘turn the page’ with the new owners of [Dial Global] and have put past issues behind us,” Masters said in a statement following the settlement.
It was a move that some of Masters’ colleagues, who had initially stood by him in his campaign against Dial Global, thought was akin to selling out.
Masters may have come out of the ordeal ready to ‘turn the page,’ but the financial fallout of his legal dramas seemed significant.
Former employees say that Masters continued to reassure his employees at ARNN that everything was fine, but that the boss’s legal battles seemed to be occupying most of his time and attention—and, they worried, his money.
“It got to the point where it was hard to believe anything he said,” John Normand, the ARNN producer, said.
“We had multiple affirmative claims in those cases,” Ron Severaid told The Daily Beast, “and the subject matter of the affirmative claims obviously had impacts on our budget and affected the layoffs that ultimately occurred.”
In addition, ARNN’s relationship with the Washington Times had apparently begun to dissolve. The Washington Times leadership did not respond to requests from The Daily Beast for comment on this story. Severaid declined to comment on the Times deal.
By September 2013, rumors were leaking online that TRN was allegedly refusing to pay its talent.
A person claiming to be a TRN employee published a release on PR Newswire under the pseudonym ‘Mary Donovan’. In it, ‘Donovan’ alleged that “media giant Mark Masters is suspending operations at the Oregon-based Talk Radio Network” and the company was “not issuing final paychecks to talent across the network.”
“I have heard through a phone call that the staff of America’s Morning News (100+ affiliates) has been told not to report to work Monday morning. Those stations (and possibly hundreds more) will check the satellite for their usual programming on Monday and get silence,” wrote ‘Donovan,’ who also included an email address (“firstname.lastname@example.org”) along with the plea “we need help…I have others who can collaborate on this story.”
The poster also alleged that one TRN employee was a cancer patient who “might not be able to afford her health insurance and treatments.” Former employees confirmed to The Daily Beast that a TRN worker had been going for cancer treatments at that time. Additionally, former art director Eric Richey, who worked at TRN for about 10 years and for Mark Masters for close to 15, told The Daily Beast that layoff day was his first day back at the office after suffering a stroke at work two weeks earlier.
The next day, the radio trade publication AllAccess.com published a statement from Masters denying reports that he was pulling the plug on all of TRN’s programming. He did, however, confirm cutbacks to the TRN staff and said that America’s Radio News Network would suspend operations temporarily. This suspension, Masters said, had been forced upon ARNN by the Dial Global lawsuit. “DIAL GLOBAL/WESTWOOD ONE has been collecting our advertising revenues, but refusing to pay them over to us or to account for them,” Masters told AllAccess.com, noting that “the current rumors of an alleged shutdown of broadcasting operations for non-ARNN programming are unfounded.”
John McCaslin quit his position as ARNN’s vice president and anchor when, he says, he came into work on September 10, 2013 only to discover, after watching his show’s staff dwindle for months, he was the last man standing.
“I found myself sitting there alone,” McCaslin told The Daily Beast. “For the sake of the listeners across the country, it wasn’t right for me to continue because we weren’t giving them the news that was our own and that’s what led to me walking off the set.”
“It’s a shame that it happened because it was purely financial,” McCaslin said. “[Masters] understood what to do from a news capacity and he did it overnight. We could’ve kept going if we had the resources to do so. I hope somebody gets the funding and tries to do it again.”
A month later, TRN’s talk radio host Andrea Tantaros sued the network for fraud and breach of contract, charging that Masters had lured her into a contract under false pretenses, failing to inform her of his legal battle with Dial Global, which, she said, had compromised the network’s financial stability and ultimately left her with an ill-equipped, bare-bones staff.
In a statement, Mark Masters indicated that he planned to fight, not only against Tantaros’ claims, but also to keep the host at TRN, suggesting that she was being influenced by an “unethical competitor” to turn her back on the network that discovered her.
“Less than a year ago, Andrea was not in radio at all,” Masters’ statement said. “Our skill, hard work, reputation and investment in her and the Show, combined with her brilliant performance, have led her to catching the attention of unethical individuals in the radio business, at a time when she is virtually new to the radio business. Those who have influenced her and put her in this embarrassing position have damaged TRN Entertainment, and we will pursue them for their greed and other malevolent motives, so that this will be a cautionary tale, not to be repeated.”
At the end of the statement Masters added, “We also like a good fight when it is for the right reasons, and this is for all of the right reasons. We are not vindictive, but we do look forward to catching the rats and finishing what they started.”
A year later, the suit ended in a settlement, the details of which remain confidential.
Some former employees say they are still waiting for money that may never come. Most, though, seem to just want to move on. “I don’t want these people back in my life,” one former employee told me. “I’m psychologically wounded from the whole thing.”
When asked about outstanding payments to ARNN employees, Masters told me in an email that the network “was not in a position to make payments for contract periods extending beyond the time it ceased operations.” When asked if it was accurate that some employees had still not received payment for their work at “America’s Morning News,” ARNN or TRN, Ron Severaid said, “No.”
In an emailed response to The Daily Beast’s first request for comment on this story, Mark Masters said that America’s Radio News Network was a “wholly separate company/network” from TRN, one “that achieved tremendous success in all areas other than certain financial issues, beyond it’s [sic] control, which sadly forced it’s [sic] closer almost 14 months ago.”
TRN, on the other hand, is still up and running. One current employee who spoke to The Daily Beast estimated that there are perhaps two dozen people working at the company, not including on-air talent. When asked to confirm the number of current TRN employees, Ron Severaid told The Daily Beast, “the specifics are confidential and proprietary” and that “there are sufficient staff in place to support our operations.”
“There are multiple companies that are in business and the operations continue. A lot of times people refer to the totality of the operations as TRN and for simplicity of reference, that’s okay. But there’s not a singular question as to TRN, quote, unquote,” Severaid said. “The ‘TRN operations’ continue in operations.”
“We certainly anticipate that the boarder enterprise will continue to expand from here,” Severaid said, “and we expect in due course we’ll in fact be bigger and better than ever before.”
The network’s website boasts some new talent, such as actress Sam Sorbo, an “international fashion model,” and co-author of the book The Answer: Proof of God in Heaven, as well as some old standards like libertarian commentator Jerry Doyle.
Ever present on the lineup is the man who started it all: Roy Masters.
According to the Grants Pass Daily Courier, Roy Masters sold off several properties in the 1990s, including the Foundation of Human Understandings’ Los Angeles headquarters for $1 million. Following a multi-year IRS investigation, the Daily Courier reported (PDF), the Foundation’s tax-exempt church status was revoked—but it’s still registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Today, the Foundation’s website peddles Roy Masters’ many books, his Cure Stress Device—a $59, credit card-sized MP3 player stocked with Masters’ British-accented meditation exercises—and nightly or weekly stays at the Tall Timber Ranch. New Dimensions magazine is no longer in publication.
But Roy Masters’ voice can still be heard nightly on “Advice Line.” It’s unclear how many stations actually broadcast his words, but CDs of his programs are available for purchase on the Foundation’s website. During a recent “Advice Line” episode, Masters celebrated the 66th year of his “knowledge of mind control, psychological warfare that’s being waged against you,” with a warning about Ferguson, Missouri.
“Every free person in this country will be a target,” Masters said. “The mob rule will be held in Ferguson and the wicked from every race and color and creed who hate this country will be there to see that the officer does not get any justice.”
“The next few months will decide your future,” Masters continued. “And I’m here to help you.”
Additional reporting by Brandy Zadrozny.