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Q&A w/ Traug Keller of ESPN Audio

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I’ve been wanting to do an in-depth Q&A with a member of ESPN Audio management for some time (if you read this column, you are more than familiar with my likes and dislikes on that network). Last week I sat down with Traug Keller, who oversees all aspects of the ESPN’s audio business including talent, staffing, national programming content, scheduling and event production. After a couple of emails with ESPN PR, conditions were agreed upon: I agreed to ESPN’s request that an ESPN PR staffer (Diane Lamb) sit in on the interview. ESPN agreed that the interview would be on the record at the start and anything off the record would happen only after SI.com’s questions were concluded. We met at a midtown Manhattan pastry shop. Over the course of a 45-minute interview, Keller answered all the questions I asked, which I respect, even when I felt he was selling me The Bristol soap. Our conversation is below.

SI.com: Let me read you a quote from someone: “If you’re not getting in trouble once in awhile you’re not pushing things enough.” Who said that about sports talk radio?

Keller: Let’s see. I said that at a conference sponsored by Sports Business Journal. That’s what happens when they let me off script.

Why do you believe that?

Don’t take the literal translation of that, but what I do believe is you have to push your opinion out there, even if it makes people uncomfortable, including your own bosses. It doesn’t mean you need to be nasty or you need to be degrading. But it does it mean you need to kind of talk the talk in what I believe is a very authentic medium.

How would you define the line between pushing the envelope and going past that line? Is there a line you have in your mind that ESPN Audio on-air employers cannot cross?

This should be all our lines: Whatever you do, don’t make anything personal. We can’t preach that enough. Do we always succeed? No. Do we constantly have to remind ourselves that it is a privilege to have the microphone? Yes. You can be critical but you cannot be personal. I know it happens, but at least we strive not to do that.

How would you define the overall content philosophy of ESPN Audio?

I fall back on—and it is not a fallback, it is what I believe—that we take what we cover seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I do think it needs to be fun. If you look at the front page of today’s newspaper, whether it is ISIS or immigration or Homeland Security or gridlock, I do believe people come to sports talk radio as an escape. We need to keep the fun quotient. Not that today’s sports is not really helping us out, but we need to be relentless in trying to strive for that.

How many listeners does ESPN Audio have per week?

We are just over 20 million a week.

What is the male-female breakdown?

It is a pretty heavy male to female skew: 80-20 male.

How many stations is ESPN Audio affiliated with today?

More than 500 affiliates and there are three owned-and-operated stations.

Let me ask you about some specific ESPN Audio personalities. In New York City, the nation’s biggest media market, the WFAN’s morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton averaged a 7.9 share in for the last ratings period, nearly doubling the 4.0 for your national show featuring Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg.

In Philadelphia, Angelo Cataldi and his Morning Show have nearly double the local listeners of Mike and Mike among men 25-54. In Chicago, ESPN Radio gets beat in the morning. This is not to be pejorative about Greenberg and Golic who obviously have a national following, but why have you not been able to get traction in certain major cities with your morning programming?

Let’s take a step back. Sixty percent of the people who listen to sports radio in aggregate across the country listen to us. So we look at it in total. We also look at it in terms of our brand. We think Mike and Mike does a good job extending the brand of ESPN. We are not going to do what Boomer and Carton do on their show. It is just a different show.

How would you define the line between pushing the envelope and going past that line? Is there a line you have in your mind that ESPN Audio on-air employers cannot cross?

This should be all our lines: Whatever you do, don’t make anything personal. We can’t preach that enough. Do we always succeed? No. Do we constantly have to remind ourselves that it is a privilege to have the microphone? Yes. You can be critical but you cannot be personal. I know it happens, but at least we strive not to do that.

How would you define the overall content philosophy of ESPN Audio?

I fall back on—and it is not a fallback, it is what I believe—that we take what we cover seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I do think it needs to be fun. If you look at the front page of today’s newspaper, whether it is ISIS or immigration or Homeland Security or gridlock, I do believe people come to sports talk radio as an escape. We need to keep the fun quotient. Not that today’s sports is not really helping us out, but we need to be relentless in trying to strive for that.

How many listeners does ESPN Audio have per week?

We are just over 20 million a week.

What is the male-female breakdown?

It is a pretty heavy male to female skew: 80-20 male.

How many stations is ESPN Audio affiliated with today?

More than 500 affiliates and there are three owned-and-operated stations.

Let me ask you about some specific ESPN Audio personalities. In New York City, the nation’s biggest media market, the WFAN’s morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton averaged a 7.9 share in for the last ratings period, nearly doubling the 4.0 for your national show featuring Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg.

In Philadelphia, Angelo Cataldi and his Morning Show have nearly double the local listeners of Mike and Mike among men 25-54. In Chicago, ESPN Radio gets beat in the morning. This is not to be pejorative about Greenberg and Golic who obviously have a national following, but why have you not been able to get traction in certain major cities with your morning programming?

Let’s take a step back. Sixty percent of the people who listen to sports radio in aggregate across the country listen to us. So we look at it in total. We also look at it in terms of our brand. We think Mike and Mike does a good job extending the brand of ESPN. We are not going to do what Boomer and Carton do on their show. It is just a different show.

Are you talking about doing local content or being more provocative?

Being more provocative. We can’t do that. I will tell you that a litmus test of mine for Mike and Mike and how it fits in with the brand is I wantMike and Mike to be able to be on with the moms driving the kids in the backseat to school. We get feedback on that, and it matters. It matters to our brand. Do we want to have the sports show of record where commissioners want to come to get their point of view across? Yes. All that stuff matters. It actually allows us to deliver an audience that advertisers feel very comfortable in and more and more today advertisers are trying to stay away from controversial talk.

We feel good about the brand we are putting forth. Now ratings are absolutely important. We added Cris Carter in the fall [to Mike and Mike] and it absolutely helped move the ratings. We’ve brought in [His and Hers co-hosts] Jemele Hill and Michael Smith from time to time and that has helped. We are doing things to constantly tweak the ratings. I’m not ceding it but I am telling you there is a larger picture.

How would you counter the perception that Mike and Mike is too vanilla for morning talk?

I think you can have that perception and in some ways we have had that perception. The changes you have seen in the fall are a reflection of that.

Mike and Mike’s content can sometimes come off as auxiliary PR or marketing for ESPN and a safe landing spot for guests as opposed to other sports shows where the hosts are more challenging of subjects. Fair or unfair statement?

I don’t agree with that. I think if you go back and listen to interviews, both Mike and Mike go about questioning differently, which is good, and you will see Golic get right in there. I would counter that tough questions are asked. Is it Outside The Lines? No. Is it meant to be an entertaining morning sports show? Yes. But I would say these guys are good questioners and astute there.

How personally disappointed were you with Bill Simmons that he took a public shot at Mike and Mike[Simmons was responding to Golic, who called him an attention-seeker.]​

Sometimes, like the sports we cover, we like to keep things in the locker room. That’s my answer.

What is a realistic timeframe for the full run of Mike and Mike? Fifteen years in an incredible run in sports talk radio on a national level. Is there a post Greenberg-Golic plan in place or is way too early to think about that?

I think it is too early. We have some exciting things that we are thinking about that will keep that show energized and dynamic for certain.

To read the rest of the article read Richard Deitsch’s column on SI by clicking here

Sports Radio News

Tony Bruno Relives Favorite Moments With Angelo Cataldi on 94 WIP

“I loved every day. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that.”

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Tony Bruno has been a staple of the sports radio business for decades. Bruno is from Philadelphia and was teamed up in the early nineties with a duo still dominating the local airwaves there today, Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti. The three reunited Thursday morning on 94 WIP to remember the glory days of their partnership and friendship.

One of the first moments Cataldi asked Bruno if he remembered was the update he did from a tree outside of their studio and the answer was an emphatic yes.

“Absolutely, it’s one of the highlights of my life – other than interviewing four Presidents and every sports athlete in history – there’s no bigger moment than me climbing up in the tree, which was obstructing our view of William Penn and the city skyline. That’s what I do, I was a man of action. I’m not one of these guys that talks the talk, I climb the tree to do whatever is necessary.”

More frivolity followed when Cataldi harkened back to a segment of ‘Damsels in Distress’ and a time in which Bruno was sent on the street during a snowstorm to help shovel people out of their driveways. Bruno quickly recalled, “Man of the people. I should run for – I should of run for Governor of Pennsylvania or Senate or something.”

Bruno added that his favorite rant (and one that Cataldi loved too) wasn’t about the Cowboys or sports at all. “My favorite was my Infinity Broadcasting rant where I went on one day and even ripped our bosses, all the way up to the top of Infinity Broadcasting.” Cataldi cackled and praised Bruno’s rants more before being interrupted by Bruno saying, “yeah, my only regret is I never really ripped Al (Morganti) the way I should have ripped him. I let him of the hook so many times.”

An insightful moment came at the end of the call when Cataldi asked rhetorically if Bruno ever thought they (Cataldi & Morganti) would still be doing this thirty years later and then asked if Tony ever regretted leaving.

“It was a tough decision, Ang,” Bruno answered. “I was given an ultimatum. When I came to work with you guys, I loved every day. Every day we had fun. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that. It wasn’t one of those, ‘oh I got to go; I’m too big for these guys’. I even turned the ESPN job down a couple of times.

“My kids were still younger then, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t have to move. They said just come up here on weekends and that’s how ESPN Radio started. So I was doing weekends and Tom Bigby (Program Director) didn’t like that either, told me it wasn’t going to work. It was a philosophical thing. When he told me, ‘you should go because we are not going to pay you what they’re paying you,’ I said ok.

Cataldi began to sign off with Bruno with genuine thanks: “I got to tell you something Tone, we are indebted to you for the rest of our lives because we both learned so much from you and you are one of the great talents that radio has ever had.”

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Sports Radio News

Dodgers Temporarily Pull Broadcasters Off Road

“If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road.”

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When the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the East Coast later this week, the men that call the action on TV and radio will not be with them. The games will instead be broadcast on AM570 LA Sports and SportsNet LA from their respective studios.

“Due to a few members of the Dodgers’ broadcast team having recently tested positive for COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, the Dodgers have decided to not travel their broadcasters to upcoming games in Philadelphia and Washington,” the Dodgers announced in a statement. Similar to the 2020 and 2021 MLB seasons, the games will be broadcast from Los Angeles,” reads a statement on the team’s Twitter account.

No further details are available, so the severity and the number of cases remain unknown.

Last September, both members of the Dodgers’ television play-by-play crew were forced into quarantine. Joe Davis was the first to test positive, followed later that month by Orel Hershiser.

On Wednesday, manager Dave Roberts told the media that the Dodgers’ roster and coaching staff are not effected.

“There’s there’s no symptoms in the clubhouse. I think that as far as the upstairs, as an organization, we’re all just trying to be very cautious. But as far as in the clubhouse, coaches, training staff, nothing like that.”

If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road. 2022 was supposed to be a return to normal for the Dodgers and many other teams after not letting broadcasters travel in 2020 and 2021.

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Sports Radio News

Pat McAfee: ‘No One Will Disrespect Jim Rome On My Show’

“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle.”

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Jim Rome is a sports radio icon and Pat McAfee recognizes that.

On The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday, McAfee was talking to co-host A.J. Hawk about how Rome trended recently on Twitter.

This happened after news of Tom Brady’s FOX Sports deal surfaced, and a list of the top paid sports media personalities was compiled. Rome came in behind Brady at number two making a reported $30 million a year, and many were surprised by that number. McAfee wasn’t.

“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for Jim Rome.”

McAfee gave props to Rome, 57, saying he’s been doing sports talk probably longer than anyone. He’s one of the most widely distributed hosts in the country. Pat said he won’t tolerate anyone talking smack about the Smack-Off King.

“No disrespect will be said on this show of Jim Rome, ever,” he said. “Love that man.”

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