When you think of the biggest names in sports radio, Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, Mike and Mike, Jim Rome, and Mike Francesa are names that come to mind. There’s a good reason for that, they’ve all been successful, and have performed on brands that are well known to listeners and industry professionals.
While many of these personalities are outstanding, and have received their due for the great work they’ve produced during the course of their careers, there are many others who fly under the radar. Identifying great talent on familiar brands isn’t exactly rocket science, but discovering authentic, unique and entertaining personalities across the country, in unfamiliar territory can be quite the challenge.
For a programmer, the job is similar to that of a professional scout. Anyone can recognize LeBron James in high school and determine that he’ll make an impact on the next level. If you don’t, you should probably stop scouting. But not every scout travels to Baxter Springs, Kansas and discovers Mickey Mantle while initially looking at one of his teammates.
I thought it’d be fun to to shine the light on some deserving personalities who I’ve had a chance to listen to and are worthy of some praise. Some of these hosts are well established in their existing markets, but not necessarily familiar beyond their local regions.
To make sure we’re on the same page, let me state that this is not a Top 15 list. It’s a piece that offers insight into the styles and attributes of fifteen different radio hosts across the country.
Also, if a personality I chose to highlight is involved in a program that includes one or multiple partners, this doesn’t mean that the others on the show aren’t good or don’t play a critical role. This is a subjective analysis based on my own personal tastes, and the objective is to make them and their work more familiar to anyone who enjoys listening to sports radio.
I hope you enjoy the column, and if you follow me on Twitter and wouldn’t mind retweeting it, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Cory “Sludge” Cove – KFAN Minneapolis – Few brands have delivered better than KFAN in Minneapolis. Paul Allen, Dan Barreiro and The Common Man receive most of the credit for it, however discounting Cory and the morning show’s contributions would be a big mistake. Afterall, the program just hit #1 in the market last week!
“Sludge” as he’s affectionately known to Minneapolis listeners, has a great sound, and is a big part of the popular morning show “The Power Trip“. For listeners who prefer a heavy sports focus, and deep level of discussion and analysis, this show won’t likely meet your expectations. In my opinion, it’s a program that wanders through the desert without a compass, and embraces every part of the journey.
The ingredients that make it special, are a heavy dose of guy-talk, laughter, unscripted conversations, and a little bit of sports. The show skews younger, incorporates a lot of funny audio clips, and offers a similar production value to what you’ll hear on top performing FM music morning shows.
Case in point, last week during the span of one hour, the show discussed the Minnesota Wild’s home opener, Madonna and Lady Gaga, Fantasy Football, the new Steve Jobs movie, the upcoming Vikings game, and the different styles of Republicans and Democrats.
You may read that last paragraph and ask “where is this show going“, and if you’re a person who’s used to listening to heavily formatted talk shows, this one may take some time to warm up to. I’m a big believer though in creating content that feels loose, and showcases what personalities do best, and the formula this show uses has registered with the audience, while putting the talent in position to showcase their best attributes.
From an individual standpoint, you can hear how much fun Cory has guiding the morning show. He interacts well with his crew, enjoys discussing all aspects of pop culture, politics, music, sports, and everyday issues, and has a strong ability to shift gears and keep the audience on their toes. He also has no problem presenting an opinion or generating a reaction.
A natural entertainer who’s been a big part of KFAN’s success, Cory earns my praise for the way he conducts the show, and for helping it establish its own identity in the Minneapolis market. To hear Cory’s show click here.
AJ Hoffman – 97.5 ESPN Houston – One of the first things I noticed when listening to AJ’s show with Fred Faour was the production value. It’s excellent. Tons of sound, actualities, current and high energy rock music beds, and it all compliments AJ’s style perfectly. With the show on FM (ESPN 97.5) and competing against two familiar AM brands, there’s a big commitment to the presentation and it works. You often hear the term “Old School Meets New School” in the sports radio format, and Fred and AJ are a great example of that dynamic working well.
What I like about AJ as a talent is that he’s very authoritative, energetic, and unfiltered. His background as an MMA fighter probably factors into that. Last week for example he questioned whether or not Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien was good at his job, and if he deserved the same type of venom from Texas sports fans that Charlie Strong was receiving.
I’ve also heard AJ call out other media personalities who he believes mail in their performance. He’s gone on record and stated that he feels Jim Rome relies on the same tired shtick and needs to modify his material, and whether you agree with him or not, there’s no disputing where he stands, and he doesn’t back down.
AJ also brings a good sense of humor to the airwaves, and looks for opportunities to create laughter on the show. His chemistry with his partner is very strong too. I find myself immersed in the content when he’s delivering his opinions because they’re easy to follow, and delivered with conviction. To hear some of AJ’s work on ESPN 97.5 click here.
Anthony Stalter – 101 ESPN St. Louis – When you’re working for a successful brand that features Bernie Miklasz, Chris Duncan, Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr, and Kevin Wheeler, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Make no mistake about it though, Anthony is an intracle part of the station’s success.
Having started with the station as a Producer of the afternoon show, Program Director Chris “Hoss” Neupert saw on-air ability in Anthony early on. When the station lost midday host Bernie Miklasz in 2013 (he’s since returned to host morning drive), filling his void was no easy task. Neupert took a gamble, and moved Duncan off of the afternoon show, and gave Stalter his on-air shot as his partner, and two years later the pairing has paid off.
When you listen to Anthony, you take away a number of things. First, he has an excellent voice, and sets the tone for the program. Second, he has a great sense of what the local audience is interested in, and he leads Chris into good situations.
You’ll also hear someone who takes his preparation seriously. That serves him well when discussing baseball topics with Chris. Sometimes it can be difficult for a radio guy to feel confident when they’re sitting across from a partner who’s played the game at the highest level, but Chris values Anthony’s assessments, and that helps build his credibility with the audience.
Anthony understands when to start the content with his own opinion, and push Dunc to respond, but also when to sit back, and let Chris take over. The energy on the show is high, and there’s no shortage of self-deprecation when they screw something up. Because they share a mutual love and interest talking about sports, and their ages aren’t far apart, they connect as a team, and have a lot of fun on the air. To hear Anthony’s show click here.
Chris Kroeger – 610 The Fan Charlotte – When you listen to Chris, you may come away with the opinion that he’s a homer for his local teams, and that’s ok because he admits that he is. The word “we” comes up often when he’s discussing his local teams, and quite frankly, I like that. If you listen to him, you’ll recognize quickly how invested he is in the market’s local teams.
At only 28 years old, Chris is still coming into his own as a personality, but what he’s put together so far is extremely impressive. His energy, enthusiasm, and relatability are easy to detect, and with the show’s format featuring different contributors, he shows he can be a chameleon and adapt to any situation.
In listening to the banter last week between Chris and Mushin Muhammad, you can tell he appreciates the position he’s in, and works hard to pull out great material from those who contribute to the program.
If you’re looking for a talk show host fueled by negativity, Chris won’t be your cup of tea. He looks to present an informative conversation built around finding solutions, and a show that highlights the connection between the host, its guests, and the audience. The pace is fast, his command of the program is strong and easy to follow, and his discussions with his guests are extended and provide great engaged listening.
I also hear a lot of sound utilized during the show. One particular skill Chris possesses is an ability to react well off of it. He uses audio to set up his points and create emotional responses, and when executed that way, it can pay great dividends. To hear Chris’ show click here.
Jonathan Zaslow – 790 The Ticket Miami – If I could only use one word to describe Jonathan, it would be entertaining! His pairing with Joy Taylor on 790 The Ticket makes for a great listen, and one of the best parts of their show is how willing and comfortable each of them are with putting their lives on display for the audience.
Zaslow will attempt voices when the moment calls for it, he’s been hypnotized on the air, and one of the show’s staples, “The wheel of humiliation” puts members of the show in a position to pay the price if they pick NFL games poorly. A few weeks ago Dan Le Batard and Stugotz asked for permission to steal the bit and use it with their national audience, and Jonathan demonstrated in that moment that he can deliver some bite too.
What I like most about his style is that he has fun, great energy, a strong rapport with his crew, and there are no restrictions on what he’ll discuss. He can get into a detailed conversation about the problems with the Heat, or venture into an area that causes your jaw to drop.
For example, yesterday morning he talked about his preference for candle wax over a tickle feather inside the dungeon at his home. Does he really have one? Is he saying something for effect? Perhaps, but it led to some very funny conversation between himself, Joy, and Brett Romberg, and that ability to keep the audience guessing is a real strength.
If you’re commuting to work in Miami, and looking to laugh and learn a little about sports and the characters involved on the morning show, you’ll love what Jonathan brings to the table. The show cares about the local teams, is comfortable in any setting, lets creative content evolve organically, and each member of the show cares about connecting with the audience. To hear Jonathan’s show click here.
Aaron Goldhammer – ESPN 850 WKNR Cleveland – Aaron has been a fixture of the Cleveland sports scene for close to ten years, and his passion, sense of humor, and sarcasm, serve him well in connecting with his audience on WKNR.
He got his start, and developed his personality by working with one of Cleveland’s best personalities Tony Rizzo, and since leaving Rizzo’s show, he’s more than held his own as host of “The Golden Boyz” with Emmett Golden.
It won’t take you long to notice Aaron taking command of the room when he hosts his program. He’s a high volume, and high energy type of talent, and that’s a great fit in a passionate market such as Cleveland. He’ll intertwine sports and pop culture when opportunities arise, and Aaron won’t hesitate to take the audience behind the curtain and give them a sense of the chaos that unfolds with the staff each day.
The music on the program skews younger, and there’s a heavy content focus on Cleveland sports, which is presented with a “pray for the best, but prepare for the worst” type of mindset. That plays right into the emotional spirit of the local fan base and who he is as a local talent. To hear Aaron’s show click here.
Doug Franz – Arizona Sports 98.7FM – There are few local market shows that have enjoyed the longevity, and success that “Doug and Wolf” have in Phoenix. While Ron Wolfley possesses a big personality, and is one of the most entertaining people I’ve listened to in the format, Doug is an exceptional broadcaster who’s skill can be overlooked if you don’t pay attention.
There’s an art to pulling out the best material from an authentic talent like Wolfley, and Franz does it very well. He’s shown over the years that he’s not afraid to stand up and assert his own voice, but he also realizes that getting Wolf going is critical to the show’s success.
I’ve noticed over the years a growing confidence in Doug to assert himself, and start conversations with his own opinion and put Wolf in the reactor position. Early on in the show’s history, there was a bigger focus in getting Wolf’s opinion first, and reacting off of him. That shows growth, trust and understanding in Doug and Wolf’s relationship.
Another area where I’ve seen Doug improve is with his ability to present himself as the expert. He’s done a great job sharing the insight he gains from working on the sidelines during football games, and there was no better example than this past Monday when the show discussed Steve Sarkisian’s alcohol issues. Hearing Doug offer a firsthand account of what he witnessed during the game while working on the sidelines was must listen radio.
Equally deserving credit are his topic selection, pacing, and preparation. On Monday’s show for example, I listened for a full hour and during that period, three quarters of the content revolved around the Arizona Cardinals. There were plenty of other selections to choose from, but instead they played the hits and provided the content that had the largest audience appeal. When hosts approach their segments with the listener’s best interest in mind, they usually win, and Doug and Wolf have done a lot of it. To hear Doug’s show click here.
Chris Vernon – 92.9 ESPN Memphis – Originally from St. Louis, Chris has been a fixture on the Memphis airwaves since 2004. I became aware of him when I started working in Missouri in 2006. Three years later when I was building 101 ESPN, he was one of the first people I reached out to about possibly joining the radio station.
While that situation didn’t materialize, one of the biggest reasons I was interested is because he always sounds like he’s having fun. Chris has an infectious energy, genuine interest in sports, presents himself as the voice of the local sports fan, and his interviews with high profile guests often sound like conversations between two friends.
A good example of this is when Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace appears on his program. While some shows spend 10-12 minutes with a guest, hit the important stuff and then move on, Chris won’t hesitate to keep a guest for 30-40 minutes if they’re interesting. His chats with Wallace often run longer, and never feel fatiguing.
If there’s another area of his game that stands out, it’s his understanding and willingness to embrace the responsibility of working with clients and helping them earn business. This comes from having worn multiple hats and performed as an on-air talent, and sales person. Personalities who’ve done both jobs develop an appreciation for how difficult it is, and they usually do a better job on the air with helping clients experience success.
I find that Chris is more likely to inform and entertain than divide an audience with his opinions, and he likes to use music throughout the show to add flavor to it. You’ll also hear produced pieces utilized when guests appear, which I think adds a nice touch. To hear Chris’ show on 92.9 ESPN click here.
Grant Paulsen – 106.7 The Fan Washington DC – In sports radio circles outside of Washington DC, Grant is still an unknown commodity, but he might be familiar to you if you were a viewer of the David Letterman Show. As a child, Grant contributed to the late night program, and while that made him familiar to national audiences, it’s the work he’s doing now with Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan that I’m most impressed by.
First, he comes across on the air as a very likeable personality. He’s emotionally invested in the local market’s teams, and his preparation and ability to provide you with something you didn’t know is very strong. As the point guard of the show, he navigates the program smoothly, and keeps a good steady pace. I also enjoy the chemistry that exists between him and Danny.
What I’m even more impressed by is how easy he makes it for the audience to tune in and follow along. His teasing is fantastic, but his ability to pay it off is even stronger. Nothing frustrates audiences more, than sitting through commercials to hear a host provide an answer to something they teased, only to not receive what they were promised.
On Tuesday for example Grant referenced the situation in NY where a caller cried on Mike Francesa’s show. He promised to play the audio, and offer his and Danny’s thoughts on the last time sports made them cry. When the show returned from break, Grant immediately reset the story, played the audio, and discussed the Jeffrey Maier incident during the Yankees-Orioles playoff game in 1996, and how it made them both emotional. They then gave a few more examples, and asked the audience to share their stories, and the result was ten good minutes of radio. The following segment led in with Faith Hill’s “Cry” which demonstrated that the production team is in sync with the hosts, and have a great sense of how to use music, and sound to compliment the content.
While these things may not seem like a big deal to some, it’s that type of execution, and entertainment value that keeps shows winning. When great ability and chemistry are combined with a smart approach to creating good radio, good results follow. To hear Grant’s show click here.
Chris Mueller – 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh – In 2008 Chris won a competition called “Top Fan” on the now defunct “ESPN 1250” which gave him his radio break. 7 years later, he’s taken hold of afternoon drive on 93.7 The Fan with Joe Starkey, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Don’t let the youthful photo fool you. While Chris still has his best years ahead of him, when you tune into his program, he sounds like an experienced pro. He’s got a very strong delivery, and presence, and is well spoken. He lives and breathes Pittsburgh sports, and puts a heavy emphasis on Steelers content which shows he’s in tune with what moves the audience most.
The Starkey and Mueller show comes across as a program which has been together for years, yet has only been in place since February 2013. When you single out Chris, you hear a confident personality who is quick on his feet, brash, unapologetic, and asks the questions that local fans are thinking about. While Starkey may be one of the best and most respected sports figures in the market, Chris doesn’t let that stop him from establishing his own voice.
His opinions often produce the largest response, his energy is excellent, and his emotional connection to the local teams serve him well and are a big reason why The Fan’s future remains very bright. To hear Chris’ show click here.
Brent Dougherty – 104.5 The Zone Nashville – A little known fact is that The Zone in Nashville is one of the highest rated sports stations in the country. The afternoon show 3HL (Three Hour Lunch) which is hosted by Brent Dougherty, Mickey Ryan, and former NFL defensive back Blaine Bishop, is a big reason for it.
What makes it work is the comradery that exists between the three personalities. Ryan joined the mix only thirteen months ago, and prior to his arrival, the multi-talented Clay Travis was part of the program for five years. Regardless of the talent mix, the show has moved along like a freight train and continued to dominate the market.
Although he could pat himself on the back for what the show has accomplished, that’s not how Brent operates. On one of his profiles he states that the daily goal for 3HL is to make sure it is the most fun, fast paced, highly interactive, opinion driven and creative sports talk radio show possible. If you listen to it, you can hear it check those boxes pretty frequently.
Despite the program offering three distinct personalities, Brent does a few specific things to stand out. First, he’s been blessed with an incredible set of pipes. His voice is full and helps him distinguish himself on the show.
Second, he does a really good job of interacting with his partners, and callers, and his warm personality makes him easy to listen to. He presents subjects that suit the audience’s interests, and Blaine and Mickey trust, and follow his lead, especially during interviews.
As it relates to conversations with guests, he asks good questions, and treats those who appear on the show with respect, and makes them feel comfortable. They in turn provide him with good information. I heard three different examples of this working to perfection.
He had Michelle Beadle explain why she wanted to appear on Sharknado. He led Ernest Byner into talking like a pirate, and he got Charissa Thompson to fire a few friendly jabs at former partner Clay Travis, and express her appreciation for Eddie George’s male model looks.
While the show performs well because of the trio, it’s clear that Brent is the engine that moves it along. His influence and ability to direct the show expertly are a big reason for its success. To hear Brent’s show click here.
Danny Parkins – 610 Sports Kansas City – I first became aware of Danny when he was hosting his own program in Syracuse, NY and I describe him as one of those talents who is wise beyond his years. Paired with Carrington “CDot” Harrison on 610 Sports in Kansas City, the duo have an infectious energy and passion that has catapulted their program to the top of the ratings in afternoon drive.
When you listen to him, you can hear a talent who has a great handle on how to run a show. He’s focused with his opinions, and delivers them with confidence, but doesn’t belabor his points. He presents content that has the largest appeal to the local audience, and finds different ways to approach topics and keep himself and his partner engaged. He’ll use additional evidence to help defend his positions, but isn’t afraid to acknowledge when he’s wrong, and make fun of himself.
For example, I caught the opening thirty minutes of the show yesterday to hear how local fans were reacting the day after the Royals knocked off the Astros and advanced to the ALCS. From the opening production piece (which was absolutely brilliant) assembled by producer Ben Heisler, to the opening conversation between Danny and Carrington about how wrong they were about Johnny Cueto, it was some of the best content available in the format, period! If you have fifteen minutes to spare, go take a listen for yourself. Here’s the link.
What I enjoy and appreciate about Danny is how seriously he treats his position. I hear resets inside the content, teases to leave the audience pondering the answer, and a solid understanding of how to get the best out his partner, while still getting his own touches. When you add in the fact that he’s originally from Chicago but has embraced the local market, and made it his own, you can see why he’s had success. To hear Danny’s show click here.
Michael Grady – The Fan Indianapolis – He’s the public-address announcer for the Indiana Pacers, but his soothing tones on Emmis’ Indianapolis sports station “The Fan”, are where he’s making his biggest impact.
What’s impressive about Michael, is that he’s still under thirty years old, yet sounds mature beyond his years. He’s a guy who has paid his dues behind the scenes before getting his on-air shot alongside former NFL player Joe Staysniak, but if you listen to him host his show, you’ll recognize quickly that he was born to be on a microphone.
What I love about Michael is how smooth and upbeat he sounds when hosting his program. He has this certain swagger with his delivery that jumps through the speakers, and he comes across as a likeable and approachable human being. He’s respectful when interacting with his partner and high profile sports figures, but firm when necessary. That approach carries over to the way he interacts with his callers too
One of my favorite segments is when former NFL and College Football Coach Rick Venturi stops by. Rick is a savant when it comes to the subject of football, and Michael does an excellent job of asking good questions, and knowing when to push for more. Their rapport is strong, and I’m sure it leads to an increase in local listening.
When you combine those traits with strong knowledge and a deep passion for Indianapolis sports, you have a winning combination. To hear Michael’s show click here.
Guy Haberman – 95.7 The Game San Francisco – I may be a little biased here because I discovered Guy in Fresno, and hired him at 95.7 The Game, but I believe he’s an incredible talent who’s just starting to hit the prime of his career.
When I scouted him in Fresno I was drawn in by his preparation, maturity, likeability, and polished presentation. My initial reaction was that I was listening to a young Dan Patrick. At that time, Guy was 27, and had only been on the air as a host for a few years, but he sounded as if he’d been doing the job for 10-12 years. I brought him into San Francisco to host evenings, and his skill and work ethic have since led him into middays, pre/post on Sacramento Kings games on Comcast television, play by play for the Pac-12 Network, and play by play duties on Oakland Athletics broadcasts.
What I think makes Guy a special talent on the air, is that he doesn’t talk down to the audience, and his love for sports is genuine and comes across in everything he does. It doesn’t matter what sport is on television and which team’s are playing. If an athletic competition is taking place, he’s likely to watch it and take something away from the experience.
His chemistry and friendship with his on-air partner John Middlekauff also can’t be taught. Their connection off the air is even stronger than the one they share on the air, and that friendship, and understanding of each other is a big reason why the show has gone as high as #1 in the ratings.
Overall you’ll find excellent content selection, good interviews, a smart and informed sports conversation, and a good positive vibe when you listen to him. To hear Guy’s show click here.
Gavin Dawson – 105.3 The Fan – Without a doubt, Gavin is one of the most polished and smooth lead hosts anywhere in the country. He carries the moniker “The General” which perfectly describes his role on the show. You can listen minute by minute and feel the program moving into interesting content areas, and that’s often the result of Gavin’s decision making.
Keep in mind, he drives this show for five hours, and has to control it while working with a large cast. The show includes Chris Arnold, Mike Bacsik, and Jeff Cavanaugh, and Gavin won’t hesitate to pull in other cast members if he feels they can add something of value to the show.
I think the crew do an incredible job of picking their spots, avoiding stepping on each other, and allowing the flow of the conversation to develop. There seems to be a mindset of “we” rather than “me” which is important. I noticed that each host gets their touches, and when they do, the interjections are delivered in short bursts. This keeps the content moving, and prevents the program from becoming fatiguing.
One of Gavin’s best attributes is his ability to decipher when the show needs an in-depth discussion on a serious sports issue, and when a couple of laughs are necessary. As a radio lifer, I respect how committed he is to executing the formatics, and how prepared he is heading in and out of his breaks. For example, I listened on October 1st, and during the final hour of the show, these were his teases:
- Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want one of “those” when he retires…we’ll explain next!
- It’s been a couple of weeks but next it’s time for letters from prison with Jeff Cavanaugh
- There’s a TMZ story about Dez Bryan’t finances that you’re going to want to hear about
In each situation, he never gave away the answer and kept the audience curious. Then when the program returned from its commercial breaks, they dove into the story within 2-3 seconds. The only time it didn’t occur was during the last segment when Gavin explained that the Dez Bryant story would be covered, but first they needed to call an audible and deal with a breaking news story surrounding a mass shooting at a college in Oregon.
In listening to Gavin’s approach, topic selections, and mixture of proving serious sports talk and light hearted entertainment, it’s no surprise the show has taken the lead in middays in the Dallas market. To hear Gavin’s show click here.
OTHER HOSTS WORTH SAMPLING:
- Ronnie Lane – 620 WDAE, Tampa, FL
- Nick Bahe – 1620 The Zone, Omaha, NE
- Cecil Lammey – 105.5 ESPN, Denver, CO
- Rob Long – 105.7 The Fan, Baltimore, MD
- Brent Axe – ESPN Syracuse, Syracuse, NY
- Mark Zinno – 92.9 The Game, Atlanta, GA
- Cam Cleeland – 1080 The Fan, Portland, OR
- Phil Mackey – 1500 ESPN, Minneapolis, MN
- Matt Moscona – 104.5 ESPN, Baton Rouge, LA
- Anthony Rothman – 97.1 The Fan, Columbus, OH
- Matt Jones – Kentucky Sports Radio, Lexington, KY
- Mike Meltser – Sports Radio 610 KILT, Houston, TX
- Carrington Harrison – 610 Sports, Kansas City, MO
- Gordon Monson – 1280 The Zone, Salt Lake City, UT
- Joe Fortenbaugh – 95.7 The Game, San Francisco, CA
Where Are The Sports Radio Programmers of Tomorrow?
“As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019.”
I don’t get the opportunity to write as often as I’d like to. Consulting projects make that harder these days but I do miss it. Fortunately I’ve been able to assemble a quality team to deliver news and industry opinions to your inbox and social media platforms each day. If you receive our emails, then you should notice one of those improvements today with our BSM 8@8 Newsletter. If you aren’t receiving our emails and would like to, click here to sign up.
The reason I chose to write today is because there’s one specific area of our industry that I’m concerned about and need to draw attention to. That’s the emergence of tomorrow’s sports radio program directors.
If you work in or follow this business, can you recall a year during the past decade where we saw more programming changes in sports radio than this one? I can’t. WFAN in New York, WEEI in Boston, KNBR in San Francisco, WIP in Philadelphia, Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, ESPN 97.5 in Houston, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 750 The Game in Portland, ESPN 94.5 in Milwaukee, The Fan in Indianapolis, 107.5 The Game in Columbia, ESPN Las Vegas, 1620 The Zone in Omaha, and 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City have or are soon to undergo PD changes. This follows a year where 101 ESPN in St. Louis, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, WFNZ in Charlotte, and 680 The Fan and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta changed programming leaders. 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, ESPN 1000 in Chicago, 710 ESPN in Seattle, and ESPN LA 710 went thru changes too in the fall of 2019.
Twenty three brands undergoing change at the top of a station’s programming department in that short period of a time is an eye opener. But what really stands out are the lack of new faces to arrive on the PD scene let alone even come up during the interviewing process.
For every Rick Radzik, Amanda Brown, Kyle Brown and Qiant Myers who were elevated to PD positions over the past two years, there are proven leaders like Kevin Graham, Jeff Rickard, Tommy Mattern, and Terry Foxx who’ve landed in new situations. Those folks absolutely deserve those positions, so let me be clear, proven PD’s should always be valued. As I’ve told many decision makers before, a great PD is a difference maker. The film industry pays big money for Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and Quintin Tarrantino because their track record highlights their abilities to deliver box office hits. Proven PD’s who can do the same for a radio station deserve similar respect.
But if you’re a younger person looking to advance your career into a programming role today, how do you take that next step let alone earn the nod when more experienced people want the same gig? Who’s advocating on your behalf? How would a corporate executive or market manager know that a producer, board op, promotions director or part-time host is capable of becoming the next great programmer?
Better yet, how does any corporate executive or market manager running a local brand know anything about your management style, vision, multi-platform skills, ability to lead people and work with multiple departments, and create exciting content, events and promotions if you’re working for another company in a different city? Here’s the answer, most times, they don’t. You apply for the job, your resume and email arrives in their inbox, which leads to them asking others about you. If someone you’ve crossed paths with says something good about you, you might get a call. If not, your materials go on file should the station have future needs.
Having led PD searches for a number of brands the past few years, I think the first step is finding out who’s interested in growing. Does anyone know of your desire to one day lead a brand besides the host you work with and the programmer you work for? Who have you sought out to gain knowledge and mentorship from outside of your building? Are you counting on an internal promotion to become a leader or assuming your PD will hype you up to potential employers? What are you doing to make sure the right people know you’re hungry to take the next step and you’re ready to go wherever an opportunity exists?
As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019. Maybe folks don’t think to come my way as much. Maybe they assume the company they’re working for will take care of them when the time comes. Maybe they don’t have the motivation to relocate or upset their current situation. Maybe the pandemic forced folks to press pause on pursuing advancement. Or maybe the role of a program director isn’t as appealing as it was to leaders from my era.
Some assume that because they’ve been successful at producing, and have done it for a long enough time, it means they’re ready for the next step. But programming is much more than managing a show. Not everyone is built to handle a verbal lashing from a market manager, balance a budget, negotiate deals, coach high profile talent, understand and examine PPM ratings, and unify departments. Let’s not forget interactions with corporate, being multi-platform skilled, knowing how to study and attack the competition, dealing with negative PR, and being the brand leader who keeps play by play partnerships in a healthy state.
If you’re behind the scenes in the sports radio industry, your path will most likely lead to becoming either a host, PD, moving into sales/marketing/imaging/digital/corporate or leaving the business. Top 10 markets and national networks are an exception as there are some very talented producers who’ve continued to work with top shows/stations for a long time. Both invest more in off-air positions. In many other cases, the financial upside for behind the scenes help is limited so eventually you reach a fork in the road when you have to decide the best path forward to make a decent living.
But those looking to take the next step don’t often think about positioning themselves to land the next big opportunity. They don’t take time to build relationships with key executives who they’ll one day interview with for a top job. Instead they think about that day’s show and the immediate tasks at hand. You can be the most creative, multiplatform savvy, best guest booker and strongest talent coach in America as a producer but if nobody else knows it outside your building, it’s going to be hard to take the next step. Which is why you have to make time to help yourself. You can start by emailing me. That can’t hurt.
Program directors have a responsibility here too. They should be making time to teach and push their behind the scenes people to want to advance their careers. They should also be telling anyone who will listen why one of their own is ready for the next step. Not enough do that. I can count on one hand the number of PD’s who’ve come to me championing one of their own for a top programming job over the past six years since I began helping stations find PD’s. Just going thru the interview process can be huge for an off-air professional who dreams one day of leading a brand. It helps them learn what to expect, how to present themselves, which areas they need to improve on in order to make the jump and most importantly, it shows them you care about them and their professional development.
I know that the job is busier today than ever for a PD and finding time is a pain in the ass. But coaching people is one of your biggest strengths. It’s why why you’ve been trusted to lead your brand. When twenty three positions open up and more than half require hiring elsewhere in the country and turning to folks inside different companies, that should raise eyebrows. Have you told others to consider someone on your staff? Did you push for them to be interviewed, even if they weren’t the right fit because you knew it’d serve them well later? Did you invest time in them to to make sure they were ready for the next step? And that doesn’t mean just giving them the crap you hate like filling out affidavits, building clocks, and corresponding with the traffic department.
Have you conducted 1 on 1’s with all of your off-air crew and learned who aspires to one day do what you do? Have you taught them how to analyze ratings and content? Sit in on show meetings? Critique talent? Recruit future staff? Participate in creative brainstorms or sales meetings? Have you told your GM or other high ranking executives or PD’s in your company about their passion to lead?
It should go without saying that if you’re in a position to lead and develop people, that it applies to more than just on-air talent. It should include grooming future programmers too. Any executive with oversight of your brand should be asking “who on your staff is ready to take a step?” If the answer is no one, they should be asking what your plan is to change that so the answer is different the next time they ask. If you’re skilled enough to lead a brand for years or even decades, those above you should want to protect the future by having you develop the next crop of programmers too. Your report card as a PD isn’t complete if all you can point to are good quarterly ratings. There are plenty of brands who’ve won in spite of their PD and others who have lost despite having an elite program director.
By the way, shouldn’t a PD want to see people inside their operations get called upon to take the next step? As hard as I pushed my crew to perform in St. Louis and San Francisco, when one got an opportunity to become a PD, APD or EP I was proud as hell. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing someone you have mentored, challenged and cared about take their career to a higher level. If you spend years in the position and have producers and assistant programmers not landing opportunities, let alone receiving calls to be interviewed for openings, you should be asking yourself ‘what haven’t I done to get them to that next level’ and ‘do I have the right people here who want to grow?’.
Lastly, I recognize everyone is under pressure to add good help. A station operating without a leader in the programming department creates a lot of problems, especially when it lingers for months. But you also need to find the right people or you end up with bigger problems later, most notably, others questioning your ability to hire the right people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned going thru these processes with different companies is that often times, decision makers want to move fast and find people who are referred by others they know and respect. If they hear a few good things said in conversation by a candidate that match what they value, they’re ready to move forward. Some get caught up in resumes or similar experiences/interests but not all ask the right questions and research people well. It’s amazing what you’ll learn if you investigate properly and ask questions that make folks uncomfortable. If you’re going to trust someone to lead your brand and staff, and set the tone for your operation, spending the extra time to be sure about those you hire is absolutely necessary.
Taking a chance on the APD or smaller market PD isn’t as safe as hiring a veteran leader. If you have a proven winner interested in your opening and feel confident that they fit your needs, I’m all for them being hired. But don’t make the mistake of assuming someone with less experience can’t make a greater difference. Imagine if we were back in 2004 and you passed on Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg in favor of a proven Newspaper editor to lead your brand’s digital strategy. How would you look today? That could be your radio station in five years if you overlook those with an ability to see the future better than the present when future openings arise.
To grow this format we need a mixture of new blood, new ideas, people who view the audio business differently from those in the present or past, and proven performers who’ve helped turn this format into a very successful one. We have to ask the right questions, fully research candidates, challenge our executives and programmers to take a greater interest in developing the next crop of sports radio executives, and consider new roads rather than the ones we’re most familiar with. We also need to hear from people who haven’t told us of their interest in taking the next step. We need to encourage them to want to grow and show them the path to do so. If we each do those things better, our format is going to spend a lot more time thriving and less time surviving in the years ahead.
John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit
“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.
But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.
When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.
If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.
During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.
Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.
After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.
John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.
We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.
I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski
“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”
The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.
I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.
Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.
Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.
Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.
By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.
A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!
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