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Bob Stelton – 710 ESPN Seattle

Jason Barrett

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It was November 2009 when I first crossed paths with this week’s featured personality Bob Stelton. Bob had spent 12 years in sports radio at that point with stints at Sporting News Radio and KJR in Seattle and I was looking for a new host to join me in St. Louis at 101 ESPN.

Initially I thought there was no way he was going to leave the 2nd largest market (Los Angeles) to move to the 20th largest market (St. Louis) but Sporting News Radio had gone through some layoffs which left Bob looking for his next opportunity and after we made arrangements to have him come to town for a trial run with Bryan Burwell, we both could tell that there was a good connection and a situation worth exploring.

steltonburwellI remember telling Bob when I hired him “St. Louis is a tough market to break into as an outsider so I want to place you with Bryan which will help you get over“. Fast forward 9 months later and the show had made some progress but nowhere near where the others on the station had gone.

I then had to make a tough call and part ways with Bryan, a guy who I liked and respected a lot. I called Bob and told him I wanted to meet for dinner and talk about the show and I broke the news that evening that I was going to make a change and put him on solo.

Bob looked at me with his “I mean business” stare and said “let me get this straight, you said this is a tough market to break into and now you feel that our best way to grow the ratings on the show are to put me on solo and takeaway my partner“? I responded back with a confident “yes” even though I knew that was a damn good question and he had every right to question the game plan. To get an idea of Bob and Bryan as a team, check out this video.

As luck would have it, we made the change and within the next few months the show took off and started delivering inside the Top 5 like the rest of the radio station. Much of that success was due to how hard Bob worked to shape his identity with the audience and build relationships in the market. He was also open minded, candid and honest with me and his producer John Semar about his views on the show and that team collaboration and desire to do whatever it takes to win was a big reason why he did so well.

bobgroz2It was not only a big turning point for the radio station but it was a big achievement for Bob as well and the momentum from that success would ultimately put him in a position to land a weekday spot in his hometown of Seattle working 12pm to 3pm with Dave Grosby for 710 ESPN.

The rollout video that 710 ESPN put together for the start of the show was excellent. Make sure to check it out.

When you listen to Bob host a show, one of the first things you’ll notice is the way he presents himself to his audience. He has a deep voice and showcases a youthful approach with some of his phrasing and he’ll come across as a guy who’s serious, informed and passionate yet loves to have fun as well. Sometimes it’ll even happen at the expense of an update anchor which I’m sure Cliff Saunders remembers all too well (sorry Tasty Cakes).

Much of that presentation I believe stems from Bob’s background. He was the lead singer of a rock band on the Seattle music scene in the 1990’s so he got comfortable at a young age at entertaining audiences on stage. I used to love breaking his chops that he was the only musician in Seattle during the 90’s explosion to not land a record deal. I’m not sure he enjoyed that line as much as I did though! Here he is rocking out back in the day.

bobsteltonIn addition to being an avid lover of music, Bob practices martial arts and is a diehard UFC fan. He’s also a Mariners and Seahawks fan and one of the few guys I know who likes Alex Rodriguez. I’m pretty sure that Bob is also the only guy on this planet to attend a Train concert and nearly get into a fight. Who knew that a song like “Drops of Jupiter” could cause such a reaction?

Having managed him, one of the things I appreciated and respected was how he put his heart and soul into his show each day. I can tell you that the same effort is given off of the microphone and he was always looking for feedback for ways to improve. Breaking into a new market and being successful can be very difficult but when you have the right mindset and a strong work ethic it’s definitely possible and Bob is proof of that.

I exchanged a few texts and emails with him to pick his brain on his background in the radio business and some of his professional viewpoints on critical elements of doing sports talk radio and I’m happy to share the details of our conversation with you.

stelton2Q: What was it that intrigued you enough to want to explore a career in sports talk radio? 

A: I grew up playing sports. Although I was a musician, most of my idols were sports figures so I listened to a lot of sports talk and frankly, I felt I knew as much and could do it at least as well as those I was listening to.

Q: Who was the first person to hire you and what was the best/worst part of the job? 

A: Tom Lee the PD for KJR in Seattle hired me to run the board for The Tacoma Rainiers games. The best part of the job was actually being paid to be in a place where everything was about sports. Sports were now paying my bills…sort of. Worst part…I was making $6 an hr and AAA baseball on the radio wasn’t the most electric thing in the world.

mitchlevyQ: Reflecting through the years, who are some of the broadcasters/personalities who you’ve enjoyed listening to and would list as an influence? 

A: Mitch Levy here in Seattle was a tremendous influence. One of the best interviewers in radio. Howard Stern for his interviewing skills and creativity. He’s not for everybody but I have absolute respect for his fearlessness…he’s brilliant! PBP guys, VinScully is the greatest ever! Jim Lampley is fantastic as well.

Q: If there’s one thing that’s surprised you about the sports radio business that you had no idea about prior to getting into it, what would it be? 

A: It seems silly but I always thought that I couldn’t possibly EVER get tired of going to games or speaking with athletes. After a few years of covering struggling teams/players, you realize how draining it can be to talk about those things on a daily basis. Trying to find new angles on a losing team or struggling players can feel like a death march if it’s something that lasts a while. And going into those locker rooms to talk to those players about “what is wrong with this team“, is no picnic.

stelton5Q: Where do you believe you’ve grown the most as a talk show host? 

A: With more experience I’ve just become more comfortable with who I am and my strengths and weaknesses. When you first start, you tend to mimic, on some level, those who influence you. After a while you find your own voice and it becomes obvious what works for you.

Q: What is one thing that you don’t feel you do well as a broadcaster that you need to improve on? 

A: I can be a little rigid in my opinions. At times I have a hard time seeing the logic to an opposite opinion. When you put a bunch of time and effort into creating your position on something, it’s not always easy to embrace an opposite point of view. Although, great debates are certainly born out of that, at times.

stelton8Q: Having done local and national talk radio, how do you prepare differently for both? What do you enjoy most/least about both?

A: Local radio, you feel like you have an attachment to the team your covering and their fan bases. You have an identity and a connection with them both. The scope of what you talk about, such as the teams and topics, are much more narrow in local radio. Mariner fans don’t want to hear me talking about the Mets or Dodgers. But national radio gives you a much bigger plate of material to work with. The headlines are the headlines no matter which city is involved in the story. So, whatever story you’re talking about that day, there is an interested audience there for you. As a national host, you have material all year around but you really miss being attached to a specific fan base and the passion that goes with speaking to one specific market about THEIR teams.

Q: How important is utilizing audio in your show each day? What are some ways you incorporate it into your daily presentation? 

A: If you don’t use it, what’s the reason behind it? Audio is a great launching point for me. It sets up a conversation and listener reaction. It sets up a tease to the next segment (Coming up next, you won’t believe what Richard Sherman had to say about the 49ers, you’ll hear it next!) It supports or counters your opinions. Creating more conversation with your co-host and audience.

bobgrozQ: When it comes to the Producer/Host relationship, what is it that you want & need from your producer in order to be the best you can be? 

A: I need a producer that cares about the show as much as I do. I want them to take pride in the success of the show. I want them to take ownership of it. I want them to be thinking about how to improve and grow the show as much as I do. I love a producer who will challenge my opinions or ideas. It forces you to really dig deeper into the subjects and creatively it’s great to have two minds going on an idea and bouncing different scenarios off of each other. It’s a lot like writing a song, you piece together everybody’s contributions and see what you have. Sometimes it’s great! Sometimes it stinks! But, that process is crucial to keeping a show fresh.

Q: What is the most difficult part about being a personality and dealing with audience feedback that isn’t always positive? 

A: Sometimes if the negative feedback gets personal, it can be a little challenging. Or if it’s clear that somebody is responding to what they THINK you said and, not what you actually said. Outside of that, I love listeners who want to challenge my opinion. Again, it’s just another form of material to work with.

bobstelton3Q: How often do you meet with your Program Director, Producer or other staff members to critique the show and your performance? 

A: I meet with my PD every couple of weeks. I love constructive criticism! As soon as I feel like I know everything or, everything I do is perfect, I’m dead. That’s when you stop improving or trying to improve. I don’t always agree with every critique but more often than not, a fresh set of ears will hear things you don’t because you’re too close to it. It can be very hard to be objective about your own show.

Q: When you reflect on some of the things you’ve accomplished in your career so far, what tops the list? 

A: To be employed in this business as long as I have feels like an accomplishment. Anybody in the business knows how tough it is to have any level of sustained security. Having success on a national level for 7 years was big for me. Then succeeding in a local market that I had never even been to much less really followed, is something that I’m very proud of.

stelton3Q: What would you say was the most difficult moment of your career? 

A: I’ve been out of work one time since 1997. The network I was with for 7 years, downsized in a very big way. And, I was not renewed when my final contract was up. I was out of work for 8 of the longest months of my life. That had me a little unnerved. But, it also made me really appreciate the places I’ve been since.

Q: For someone out there reading this who’s thinking of entering the industry and striving to be an on-air talent, what advice can you pass along to help them on their journey? 

A: LEARN EVERYTHING! Don’t ever think you’re above doing any job. Just because you want to be a host doesn’t mean that’s where you start. Run the board, cut sound, produce, go into the locker-rooms, etc… do it all so that once you do become a host, you have an appreciation and understanding of what it takes to make the whole thing tick!

You can hear Bob Stelton on the “Bob & Groz” show weekdays from 12p-3p PST on 710 ESPN in Seattle. For more information on the show you can click here to visit their show page. You can also follow Bob on Twitter @BobStelton.

Jason Barrett Podcast

Jason Barrett Podcast: Jeff Smulyan, Never Ride a Roller Coaster Upside Down

Jason Barrett

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There would be no sports radio if not for Jeff Smulyan. He takes JB through the triumphs and disappointments of his career and explains why he is sharing so many stories in a new book, Never Ride a Roller Coaster Upside Down. To pick up your copy, click here.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3z9hErM

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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Sports Radio News

Zolak & Bertrand: Kirk Herbstreit’s Comments A Wake Up Call For Patriots Fans

“Next time you feel like they shouldn’t be booing them, there’s someone from a national perspective – who has been calling games now in the NFL for at least all of this year – but is very familiar with the league and all the different cities and he’s been in college environments for a decade plus, and said their fans aren’t angry enough.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Zolak and Bertrand

Things appeared to come to a head for the New England Patriots and their fans last week as the team fell to the Buffalo Bills 24-10.

Many fans of the Patriots with the loss seem to have accepted the fact that the glory days of the franchise are officially over. Thursday Night Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit even noted that it was off-putting that fans near his broadcast vantage point were fine with the Pats coming out on the losing end.

“I just felt the sense of acceptance of where they are,” Herbstreit said during a Friday appearance on The Pat McAfee Show. “It really shocked me. I’m just so used to the Patriots’ 20 years of excellence, and not just the NFL in all of professional sports. And to see their fan base just like, we suck, whatever, game’s over, like early they were like that.”

On Zolak & Bertrand Monday, co-host Scott Zolak disagreed with Herbstreit’s take.

“I don’t know what you want from a fan base to do after that when the game’s over, and the place starts to dump out,” he said. “The game was well in hand.”

Zolak’s cohort Marc Bertrand felt differently, praising Herbstreit for offering that sort of perspective.

“Next time you feel like they shouldn’t be booing them, there’s someone from a national perspective – who has been calling games now in the NFL for at least all of this year – but is very familiar with the league and all the different cities and he’s been in college environments for a decade plus, and said their fans aren’t angry enough,” Bertrand said. “They let ’em off the hook.”

Bertrand felt like Patriots fans had every right to be pissed off with the product the team put on the field last week and have done so far this season. Especially when people are paying top dollar for admission to games.

“That product doesn’t match those prices last Thursday night,” he said, continuing to agree with what Herbstreit said. “You don’t hear that a lot around here. So I thought it was a nice change up.”

Zolak and Bertrand both seemed to determine that perhaps it was a case of fans being too nice and being willing to accept failure from head coach Bill Belichick and his staff.

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Sports Radio News

Paul Finebaum: ‘I’ve Been Accused Of Giving Up Objectivity For Nick Saban’

“I’ve been a flag waiver for Nick Saban since the day he got there.”

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People not from the state of Alabama may not realize that there was a time when there was no more vocal critic of the football team than Paul Finebaum. On Monday morning, he told Cole Cubelic of JOX 94.5 in Birmingham that his perspective began to change in January 2007.

“I’ve been a flag waiver for Nick Saban since the day he got there,” Finebaum admitted.

To be fair to Finebaum, Saban and the Crimson Tide have won five national championships and eight SEC championships since his arrival. It has been way easier to wave the flag than find fault.

Paul Finebaum says that some people don’t see it as that simple though and he has had to learn to accept some criticism.

“I’ve been accused of losing all my objectivity and focus to support Saban,” he said. “I believe in that because I believe he has completely transformed that school into what it is today.”

Acknowledging that Saban has been a game changer not just for Alabama football, but for the university itself, doesn’t mean that Paul Finebaum never has anything critical to say about the coach and his team. In fact, he told Cubelic that he was really put off by the way Saban campaigned for Alabama to be included in the upcoming College Football Playoff.

“For a coach of Nick Saban’s intellect to go on national television and use the point spread as a reason for entrance, when he was a big favorite in the two games he lost, he was an overwhelming favorite at Texas, the game where he needed a last-second field goal, and probably was the game that cost him the birth in a TCU head-to-head comparison.”

Saban appeared on multiple television shows and halftime shows stating that if you put Alabama up against any of the other teams in consideration for the final two spots, they would be the favorites. Finebaum thought it was a step too far.

“I want to make it clear,” he said. “I understand Nick Saban standing up for his program. I’ve hear people say ‘well, every coach would do that’. Well, you know what? I didn’t see Ryan Day doing that. I didn’t see Josh Heupel doing that. I saw Nick Saban doing that and I think that is what was so startling to me.”

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