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The Evolution of Mad Dog Sports Radio

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In society, we use terms like mainstream and underground to describe popular and unfamiliar trends. To those working in the terrestrial radio business, local AM and FM radio represents the norm. An audio platform like SiriusXM satellite radio is viewed as unfamiliar territory because it requires a cost, and leaving the traditional radio space to hear it.

But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for consumers who seek great content and minimal disruptions. The platform offers some of the most popular media personalities in the industry, and has over thirty million people subscribing to hear it.

So why then, especially in the sports audio space, does the platform not receive bigger accolades for the work they produce? This is one of many questions that linger in my mind when I think about SiriusXM. It’s even more magnified when I strip away all of the company’s individual audio brands and put the focus directly onto their sports channels.

MadDogRadioWithout question, the Mad Dog Sports Radio channel features a number of exceptional high profile personalities. To the common sports fan, Stephen A. Smith is a household name. To sports radio fans, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo is one of the founding fathers of the format. To newer sports media consumers, Adam Schein is a rising star who’s grown his brand thru his work on Showtime, the CBS Sports Network, SNY and SiriusXM’s NFL Radio and Mad Dog Sports Radio.

When I look at the Monday-Friday 6a-7p lineup that Steve Torre and Steve Cohen have assembled for Mad Dog Sports Radio, it’s stacked. If their product was featured on a local New York radio station, it would pack a punch, and give WFAN some concern. It’d also likely receive a lot more fanfare and media buzz.

But it’s not a New York brand, even though the majority of its personalities possess New York roots.

In mornings, Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik are both from the big apple. The same holds true for Smith and Schein. Russo, although not originally from New York and currently residing in Connecticut, has built his entire brand and career by entertaining listeners in the concrete jungle. This is what makes it easy to label Mad Dog Sports Radio as an East Coast brand.

But is that a bad thing?

nyMost of the world’s top national programs originate out of New York City or Los Angeles. Whether it’s Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Saturday Night Live, Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick or Jim Rome, they’re all reaching fans across the country while setting up shop in one of the top two media markets. Their location doesn’t take away from their abilities to connect with people and understand the issues that exist in every pocket of the nation.

I was granted access by the great folks at Mad Dog Sports Radio to get a stronger idea of the way they operate. With apologies to the hosts who work at night, I’m keeping the focus of this piece on the M-F 6a-7p lineup.

In addition to sitting down and talking radio with each of the channel’s key personalities, I also spent time with the braintrust (Torre and Cohen). I wanted to get a better idea of how they measure success at Mad Dog Sports Radio, what fuels their passions, and what they consider to be their biggest challenges.

The Beginning:

It was August 19, 2008, when Chris Russo signed a five-year contract with SiriusXM to headline a new sports talk channel titled “Mad Dog Radio” on SiriusXM. Russo, was leaving WFAN where for nearly two decades, he had been one half of “Mike and the Mad Dog”, the most popular local sports radio program in the history of the format. His departure from terrestrial to satellite radio would send shockwaves throughout the industry, and it became possible due to the vision of one man.

mdr-cohen4“I give Mel Karmazin all the credit. He came up with the idea to get Chris and develop a channel around him,” said SiriusXM SVP of Programming Steve Cohen. “When he and Scott Greenstein came to me and asked ‘do you think this would be a good idea if we can get him here’, I said ‘absolutely, are you kidding me?’. Chris is the same guy I started working with in 1988. He has the same work ethic, the same mispronunciations, the same passion, and the same talent. Without him, I’m not the sports programmer that I am today.”

As part of the agreement, Russo would host five hours per day on the channel, and be involved in the hiring of the on-air staff. If a channel is going to built around an individual’s name, it only makes sense that they have a say in making sure the brand reflects what they stand for.

Sensing that he’d need additional help to run the channel properly, Russo brought in long time WINS anchor Steve Torre to serve as Program Director and afternoon show update anchor. Torre would later add hosting duties too.

“Mad Dog and I knew each other for 20 years, and were long time friends, but never had worked together,” said Torre. “When this started to develop, the transition was easy because of the familiarity, but I also had limited management experience, so there was a lot I had to learn.”

On September 15, 2008, less than a month after he had signed with the company, Russo debuted his new program “Mad Dog Unleashed”. By February 2009, the channel would be fully functional with live programming available twenty four hours per day. The original personalities to host programs on the channel (in addition to Russo) were Gary Williams, Bruce Murray, Bill Pidto, Andy Gresh and Larry Krueger.

It was nearly one year later (July 9, 2009), when Russo would learn a lesson about being involved in management. During a ten-minute rant, he proceeded to berate his entire staff on the air for his station being ranked outside the Top 100 stations on satellite radio. He concluded the rant by firing Torre.

mdr-torre2The segment created such a stir that even Howard Stern got involved, bringing Torre on the air as a guest to get an idea of what transpired. Torre was later rehired, and it’s unknown if the rant was legitimate or a radio bit.

“I’m never going to be able to manage him,” added Torre. “We’ve had battles where we’ve wanted to strangle each other, some of it has been well documented. Chris won’t ever be afraid to say ‘you’re out of your mind, I’m Christopher Russo’, but he’ll also give you respect, ask what you think, and allow for give and take. That’s all you can ask for.”

As the years progressed, Mad Dog Sports Radio got a taste of what it’s like to add and lose key talent. Williams would depart for the Golf Channel, Krueger to KNBR, and Gresh to 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pidto would return to television.

That allowed Russo, Torre and Cohen to introduce new voices, including former Mets General Manager and ESPN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, John Feinstein, Scott Ferrall, Dino Costa, and Jason Horowitz, just to name a few. They also shifted Schein over from NFL Radio, and partnered with ESPN to bring Stephen A. Smith to the channel after Russo again made headlines after stating that he couldn’t find a qualified black personality to host a national sports radio show.

However, Ferrall, and Feinstein would eventually leave to join the CBS Sports Radio Network, Costa would be terminated after numerous run-ins with station management, and Horowitz’s venture on the channel was short lived, leading to the addition of current morning man Evan Cohen. Phillips, would also be moved over to SiriusXM’s MLB channel, which opened the door for Mike Babchik to join Cohen in mornings.

MDR-Russo1Russo acknowledges that building and developing the brand has required a lot of patience, fine tuning, and creativity.

“We did a lot of editing with this channel trying to find the right pieces,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes but I think now we have a really good vibe. I probably shouldn’t have started with an overnight show. That wasn’t necessary. I also thought the updates were still significant and that didn’t matter because people don’t buy the channel for that. I learned through that process of what to do to find a connection. There’s a fine line because you want people to be nutty and creative and do what they want and not get in the way, but there’s a line that you shouldn’t cross, even here. We took some chances in the beginning and we have some issues still, maybe we’re a little New Yorkish, but I like how it’s come together”.

The Morning Men:

If there’s a secret ingredient inside the Mad Dog Sports Radio meal, it’s Mike Babchik. He doesn’t receive the fanfare of the other on-air talents, and he’s largely unknown to the majority of people in terrestrial radio, but I dare you to spend one morning listening to him perform with Evan Cohen. If you don’t come away from that listening experience laughing, cringing, nodding in agreement, and wanting to strangle him for something he said, then you may need to be checked for a pulse.

MDR-BabchikSimply put, Babchik is an entertainer. His chemistry with Cohen is a huge reason why “The Morning Men” have been able to find their groove. During the course of one morning that I spent in studio observing the show, he weaved in a number of popular Jewish words to highlight each game result as part of a morning show “Dog Bites” update bit, accepted feedback from a caller who wanted him to undergo an exorcism, conducted an NCAA Tournament Memories draft which included telling a story about passing out drunk and getting his braces stuck in the carpet, and swapped opinions with Cohen about Carmelo Anthony.

“Mike is the single most talented person in radio because he will say what everyone is thinking, and not care if he looks bad because he knows there are people out there thinking the same thing,” said Cohen. “The goal of the show is to relate to as many people as possible, and to do that, you need an everyman, and that’s Mike.”

Prior to being named Cohen’s partner, Babchik produced the morning show. With former Mets GM, and ESPN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips installed in mornings, Cohen was brought on to guide the program. Quickly the morning show created a strong vibe.

“The first time I met Evan I thought he was an intern” said Babchik. “I sent him to get coffee.”

With the show offering credibility, opinion, and entertainment, and all three members developing a friendship and chemistry on and off the air, the morning show was set up to have long term success.

But then something changed.

phillipsPhillips’ agreement was coming up for renewal, and an internal decision was made to shift him over to the MLB Radio channel where his strengths and profile as a top tier baseball analyst and former GM would shine even brighter. The move though left a gaping hole opposite Cohen, and finding the right individual to counter his brash opinions, and lend some brevity to the conversation was important.

“Steve was huge for us, and gave us credibility,” said Torre. “He was relatable and had tremendous knowledge. When he moved on to the baseball channel, the obvious question was ‘who do we get for a co-host with Evan’? I said ‘we have someone (Babchik) right here under our noses, who’s already a big part of the show. Let’s give it a chance’.”

Although the feelings about adding Babchik internally were positive, the call didn’t belong to Evan. That gave him cause for concern. He also had to figure out whether or not he could forge a regular chemistry with Babchik as his main partner, something they hadn’t yet done.

mdr-evan3“I had no idea if we could do a great show together,” said Cohen. “Torre told me ‘Mike is not the norm, but he has the ability to be great’. I knew we we’re from the same area, and knew a lot of the same people. That certainly helped our off-air chemistry, and allowed us to become friends, which helps when you become on-air enemies at times.”

Taking the step from producer and third voice of a show to the main co-host chair isn’t always a smooth adjustment. It’s an even bigger gamble when your name isn’t familiar to the entire radio industry, and high profile talents across the country are ringing the phone lines of Steve Torre, and Steve Cohen, expressing interest in the position.

So what gave Torre the confidence that it would work?

“I always knew their chemistry was great,” said Torre. “There was always a positive reaction to Babchik, and you know why that is? Because he’s the loveable loser, the everyman. People relate to that. That’s why I felt we’d be ok giving him the shot.”

mdr-babchikcohenWhen changes happen in radio, it’s common for personalities to wonder about the future direction of the show they’re involved in. Adding the wrong person to a successful show can send the train off the tracks very quickly. Despite the uncertainty, Cohen’s nerves were settled when Torre told him the company was going to roll the dice and take a chance on Babchik.

“Steve Torre deserves all the credit,” said Cohen. “He was smart enough to pair me with Mike, and saw that there was natural chemistry between us that can’t be taught. That decision has allowed my own personal career to grow, but more importantly it’s allowed the show to grow.”

Next, the show needed a name. SiriusXM SVP of Programming Steve Cohen shares the story of how they decided on branding the show “Morning Men”.

“When Phillips was leaving, Evan was mad at me because I agreed with the move, and he didn’t get a heads up about it,” said Cohen. “So we’re brainstorming the name of the show (Me, Torre, Evan and Babchik) and I’m explaining that it’s a guy talk morning show, it’s how dudes talk, it’s sports and entertainment, and Frank Raphael, a Hitchcock looking figure, opens the door and says ‘Morning Men’. I look at Evan, we just stare at each other, and I said ‘that’s it’. Torre’s like ‘what’s it’? I said ‘the name of the show’. He says ‘are you out of your mind’. I said ‘No, think about it. People call up, it’s how they greet you. It fits them too’.”

mdr-mmWith the pairing now solved, and a brand new show name in place, the rest was up to Evan and Mike. Developing a relationship as partners, furthering their chemistry, and identifying the roles each of them would play was important. Babchik recognized that the show had to be different and make an impression each day.

“In the morning, you don’t want to wake up to a hardcore debate,” said Babchik. “Our thought process is, if you’re out with your friends talking sports, we’re the guys who you relate to. Evan preaches don’t waste space, and he deserves a lot of credit for changing the mindset here, and making sure we all understand our roles. He’s the good guy, I’m the weird guy, and it works.”

In analyzing the show, and what makes it different from the rest of the channel’s programs, I came away with four key takeaways.

* They don’t take themselves too seriously – Russo, Schein and Smith may dive deep into topics, conduct lengthy conversations with guests, and offer piercing opinions on a variety of sports topics, but the morning show places its focus on having fun, interacting with their callers, and keeping the pace fast. They go into unplanned content areas often which plays to each of their strengths, and Babchik’s ability to think on his feet, and follow Cohen’s lead, leaves listeners wondering what the duo might say or do next.

mdr-babs* The Sports Updates (Dog Bites) are fun and unique – Instead of providing the classic sports update that many stations are known for, the Morning Men utilize audio from Russo’s show, and weave in clever lines to have fun with the day’s news. For example, if it’s National Bagel day, Babchik will work in references to bagels in every story he reports. You’ll hear something like “The Spurs poppy seeded the Mavericks”, and as I alluded to earlier, on the day I was there, the references were Jewish, and game results included the terms Oy Vey, and Shalom.

* The guests they secure are people who are topical or interesting and fit their personalities, not necessarily the biggest names – as Evan told me, they’d rather pull two minutes of a guest appearance on Russo’s show or from another one of SiriusXM’s sports channels, than place a guest on the show for 10-12 minutes who’s ultra serious. As an example, the morning show has been trying to land former NBA player Cliff Robinson because he’s now a drug dealer. They look for people who fit their brand of content, not necessarily the biggest names.

* They brand the show by incorporating Mad Dog into it – Evan told me that one of the turning points for the show was when Steve Torre, Steve Cohen, and Scott Greenstein, approached them and said “we need more Dog on the channel”. That gave the show an opportunity to showcase their creativity. They began using Russo’s voice for all of the show’s intros, but acknowledged quickly that reading liners and delivering them in straightforward fashion didn’t fit their style. A change was made to start pulling cuts of things Chris said on his show that were funny, and provided an opportunity to respond.

By adopting that strategy it’s subconsciously connected the morning show to Russo. Their dedicated fans (FALS) are a result of that approach, as Russo mispronounced the word pal on his show, and the morning show grabbed the audio, and ran with it.

mdr-evan2When it comes to the show’s content creation process, Cohen and Babchik use multiple ways to develop their game plan. They’ll monitor social media to see what’s trending, and drawing reaction. They’ll look to see what’s popular on the satellite company’s other channels, and if a great rant is delivered by Mad Dog or Stephen A. it almost always finds its way onto the program. Ultimately though, it still comes down to what excites them individually and collectively.

The morning show meets daily with Torre to discuss the way the program is performing. They’ve developed an open door policy with their bosses which gives Torre and Steve Cohen an all access pass to enter the studio at any time, and call them out on something if they feel they’ve done something wrong. The only downside to that arrangement is that it’s led to Cohen earning the nickname “Larry Long Balls” (it’s a long story).

In a nutshell, the morning show has fun, and their energy is noticeable. It begins with the chemistry that exists between Cohen and Babchik, and thanks to the support of the men up above, they’re allowed to provide a different type of experience on Mad Dog Radio.

“When a listener calls in and says ‘when Howard’s not on, I listen to you guys’ I’ll take that every time,” says Evan. “We can control 3 things – the way we treat our fans, the way we treat our teammates, and the way we treat our advertising partners.”

So far, so good!

Adam Schein:

If the mornings are known for offering a blend of sports, pop culture, hilarity and chaos, middays are known for presenting a different tone. They’re informative, passionate, and provide a highly respectable presentation on the world of sports, and it begins with the ringleader Adam Schein.

mdr-schein3The Syracuse educated Schein attacks the microphone with enthusiasm segment after segment, and his advanced vocabulary, and genuine joy for discussing the ups and downs in sports makes him very relatable. Combine that with exceptional production value and topical high profile guests courtesy of his producers, and you have the makings of a great national program.

Every music bed leading into each segment brings with it high energy and a quick pace. The calls Schein takes, add to the conversation but never slow down the momentum. There’s this feeling you get when you listen, that the show is searching for the answers to help the everyday sports fan feel more informed.

Equally as impressive is the way Adam communicates with his audience. Every person who calls the show is referred to by their first name multiple times during the conversation. That shows Adam is listening and values the time they’ve taken to reach out and contribute to the program.

“What makes this channel great is the variety,” says Schein. “The Morning Men do a totally different show than mine. Mine is different than Stephen A’s. His is different than Mad Dog’s. There’s a method to the madness, and we try to keep it unique and interesting for the audience.”

Although Mad Dog Sports Radio has been in existence since 2008, Schein has actually been with SiriusXM longer. He signed on in 2004 to help launch NFL Radio, during a time when the company had only 200,000 subscribers. Why did he feel optimistic about the future of the company, when it was still foreign to everyone else?

mdr-stevecohen“The number one reason I wanted to come here was Steve Cohen,” Schein said. “He’s a radio guy, and he’s done it all. He understands what makes great sports talk radio. We met for a hamburger in May 2004, and just talked, and it confirmed what this place could be, and would be. It’s become a success because of his vision.”

Schein’s confidence in Cohen was certainly high, but those feelings were also mutual. Cohen saw something early on in Adam that convinced him he was destined to do big things.

“Adam was an intern at WFAN who I always had great respect for,” said Cohen. “His work ethic was tremendous. He was smart, entertaining and hard working. I could tell quickly he had great respect for this business, and I knew he was going to do well. He didn’t even ask me how much money the job would pay when we met. I told him you’re going to be my workhorse, and he looked and me and said ‘where do I sign’.”

mdr-schein6Despite not signing on upon the channel’s inception, when a second opportunity presented itself in 2013, Schein didn’t hesitate. With the product further developed, and a hunger to test himself as a well rounded all-sports talk show host growing, Adam came on board.

Soon the Mad Dog Sports Radio audience would learn what makes Schein stand out. Passion, opinion, knowledge, entertainment, and high energy, are all part of his repertoire. During the span of sixty minutes while sitting a few feet away from him, I observed as he delivered one strong opinion after another.

He started with “I’d rather play with 10 people on the field than employ Greg Hardy. He’s tone deaf, a distraction, and under no circumstance would I sign him”. From there, he moved on to the Oakland Raiders where he added “Raiders fans are not on Planet Delusional if they believe their team can win 10 games next season. This team has what it takes to be the best in the division next season.”

It’s easy to recognize how much pride Schein takes in his work. His respect, and intelligence, and appreciation for the audience are a big reason why his program is an enjoyable listen. It’s that same approach on-air that manifests off the air, and makes working with him attractive to behind the scenes people. Adam says that despite his name being in the lights, he understands that success is created by having good people around you.

MDR-Producers“The only request I’ve had from management is to make sure we have quality producers”, he added. “I think it’s very important. Yes it’s my name, my voice, my face, and my show but it’s OUR show. I like to surround myself with really smart producers because I want to be challenged. I value their opinions and ideas, and I thrive off of the collaboration process.”

In terms of crafting the daily game plan, Schein says he follows a similar model to the one he used while hosting programs on terrestrial radio. He’ll provide a hard hitting monologue, take phone calls, interview a couple of timely guests, and mix in a few other topics that have the largest appeal. He’ll also use Twitter on occasion as a trial balloon to gauge which topics generate the biggest interest.

So how does he know when it’s working?

“You feel it,” he said. “I never judge a show based on how many people are calling. Your management and your audience know if you had a good show. You have to have a Plan A, B, C and D and you never deviate from it based on the calls. You look for angles that appeal to a variety of people. People are going to love you and hate you. You’re supposed to create that reaction. That’s why you were hired. The main thing is, are they listening?”

mdr-schein4As much as he enjoys talking sports, and connecting with his production staff to develop each day’s show, there’s one thing that stands out when you talk to Adam – his love for his place of employment. As one of the originals of SiriusXM, he’s proud of where he performs, and believes much of the good fortune that has followed him in his career is a result of making the decision to join Steve Cohen.

“This is such a great place to work,” says Schein. “People are genuinely happy. It’s a destination for people. If you want to be in sports radio, it’s a place to target. That’s because of the quality and diversity of the programming. The original slogan of the company was ‘it’s the best radio on radio’, and I don’t listen to anything else. Where it is now is amazing, but where it’s going, is going to be even better. I’m signed long term here, and it’s a place I really love working at. I also believe that this channel, Mad Dog Sports Radio, has the #1 sports radio lineup ever.”

Stephen A. Smith

If you enjoy loud opinions, delivered with a purpose, by someone with a reputation for being unafraid to tackle controversial subjects, then you’ve come to the right place. Stephen A. has become a larger than life sports media personality, and with that honor, comes a lot of fame and disdain.

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Much of the love and hate that Smith receives, stems from his over the top personality, and candid assessments that are provided on ESPN’s highly rated “First Take” where he lines up daily opposite Skip Bayless. But many industry experts who talk about Smith’s radio program, form their opinions based on what they see on TV, or what they previously heard while he was a host at 98.7 ESPN New York, not by what he’s producing through the speakers at Mad Dog Radio.

In this business we preach to create content worth stealing, deliver strong opinions that grab the audience’s attention, and be unwavering in your stance when you feel something, even if it’s not commonly accepted. Smith checks every one of those boxes, which is why he’s built an empire as one of America’s opinion leaders.

On the day of my visit, I had the pleasure of sitting back and watching Stephen A. entertain, and what I thoroughly enjoyed was how he could turn the volume up to ten during one segment, but bring it back down to five during the next. Unlike Schein who invites the audience in and treats them respectfully, Stephen A. has no problem verbally slapping a caller in the head if they contribute an opinion he believes is nonsensical.

MDR-SAS1In the matter of minutes, Smith points out that the only time Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler has smiled is when he signed his contract, and after a caller named Hudson suggests the New York Jets should hold off on paying Ryan Fitzpatrick big dollars, and instead spend seven million dollars per year on Geno Smith, Stephen A. gets fired up and tells him “if you think Geno Smith is worth 7 million dollars per year you’ve lost your damn mind”. He gets even more annoyed when Hudson avoids answering his questions adding “Rule #1 Hudson. If you’re going to call this show, you answer my damn questions. I’m done with you.”

For a service that relies on subscriptions and keeping people satisfied, one could question if taking a caller to task is the right approach, but anyone who knows Stephen A. understands, that this is real, honest, and consistent with who he is.

“Of course I care about the subscribers and the people I work for” said Smith. “I don’t take lightly the responsibility I have to represent Steve Torre, Steve Cohen and Scott Greenstein well, but if a caller is getting on my nerves, I’m going to let them know. People know what I do and how I operate and I’m going to stay true to that.”

MDR-SAS3There’s no manual in this business which tells you how to field phone calls, so the fact that Schein and Smith offer different styles which reflect each of their personalities is a real strength. It’s consistent with how they deliver their programs, and the more variety that Mad Dog Sports Radio listeners have throughout the day, the better.

The other interesting twist is that Stephen A.’s program is produced by ESPN Radio. The network and SiriusXM formed a partnership to make Smith’s venture into satellite radio a possibility. With it being commonly known that the rules can be different on the airwaves of Sirius, Smith explains how working with two organizations impacts the way he approaches his program.

“The only thing ESPN asks me not to do is curse, and I respect that,” he said. “I’d rather work for someone with standards than someone searching for them. Each of these companies allow me to be me. I’m a national figure, and this platform aligns with many of my interests. They’re supportive of what I do, and treat me well, and that makes it a great place to work at.”

During the course of my visit, Stephen was a featured guest during a SiriusXM Town Hall with Karen Hunter. It was on this show that the audience had an opportunity to see a very different side of the polarizing ESPN personality. That’s one of the real benefits of having so many talented people under one roof, and being able to concentrate on creating powerful content that excites the audience.

Over the course of his one hour appearance, Smith opened up about his issues with his father, not celebrating his birthday because it falls on the same day when he lost his brother, the challenge of being a black man in a predominantly white male industry, plus he tackled a variety of other topics that were equally as compelling. You can hear it by clicking here.

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As I observed him, I was reminded of why he’s become the success that he has. The hour of conversation between Smith and Hunter, was one of the most honest and interesting hours of content that I’ve listened to in a long time. His ability to run point on his radio program, and deliver razor sharp opinions, and interviews that produce substance, in addition to entertaining exchanges with the audience, and a major league profile, benefits the channel. Because he’s in a workplace where he’s encouraged to operate the way he feels most comfortable, listeners are treated to some memorable material that not every personality has the skills to deliver.

But with a national TV platform, and a relationship with ESPN Radio that’s been established for the better part of the past decade, why make the move into the satellite radio space? Smith says it’s simple.

“Why’d I come here? Because it’s SiriusXM,” said Smith. “This is the gold standard in radio. The quality is incredible and there’s this feeling of not being restricted. No rules if you will. I’m wise enough to know not to put myself or the brand in a bad spot. But there’s no question, this is the pinnacle of the sports radio profession.”

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo:

When your face and name are on a brand, and you’ve walked away from the most recognized sports talk show and radio station in New York City, you’re sure to have pressure on your shoulders each day. But for Chris Russo, he doesn’t allow the complexity of the situation to impact his focus.

mdr-russo3“When you leave terrestrial to come here, it’s flattering. Who gets a station named after them?” says Russo. “At first it was a little overwhelming, but after a while you don’t think much about it. I do think having a name like ‘Mad Dog Radio’ probably helps because it’s not something like Sirius Sports Today. It’s not clumsy, it’s an easy name, and a good moniker to have. I try though not to get too wrapped up in it, and just focus on the show each day.”

At his core, Chris is a sports talk show host. He may have involvement in the creation of the channel and who represents it on the air, but the dirty work falls on Steve Cohen and Steve Torre’s shoulders. That allows Russo to concentrate on doing what he does best, informing, entertaining, and delivering opinions that pierce the brain of the audience.

But if you’ve listened to Chris over the years, you’ll notice one big difference in his content.

By offering a program on satellite radio that reaches people all across the country, a national focus is required. After talking about New York teams for nearly two decades, and continuing to live in Connecticut where the nightly television offerings are those same New York franchises, many would assume that a big adjustment would be required. But Mad Dog says that wasn’t exactly the case.

RussoSiriusXMhoriz(Dave Rubin)1“I’m not a New York fan so that’s helped me,” said Russo. “When I got here I didn’t have to worry about switching my allegiance. The content was easier. The biggest transition was dealing with no commercials. Five hours of radio here is like seven hours on terrestrial radio. At times I liked it, sometimes I didn’t. When you’re doing a good interview you love it, but other times it can be tougher. I’m now on three hours per day which isn’t enough. Five is too much, four is probably perfect.”

To the audience, more Mad Dog is a good thing. But to those on the inside, providing fifty great minutes of content per hour, with limited break times can be a daunting task, even for an industry icon. Program Director Steve Torre admits that it took Russo time to adjust.

“This is a lot harder to do than terrestrial radio,” said Torre. “Chris used to host 5+ hours with a partner, and it included twenty minutes of commercials, updates, benchmarks, and jingles. He comes here, and he’s doing 5 hours solo with limited break times. For the listener it’s great, but for the host it can be very challenging.”

Unlike many terrestrial stations which form partnerships with local teams to carry their games, on Mad Dog Radio there is no home team. Because the audience is spread out, and have different interests, it makes it harder to rally behind one organization, or spend large periods of a show on one team or topic. For a host like Chris who’s spent hours on WFAN battling with Mike Francesa over the Yankees and Mets lineups and rotations, that’s an area of his game that he’s not able to tap into as much.

mdr-russo5However, he does have the advantage of having been in the business long enough to form relationships with listeners who have New York roots, but now live elsewhere. Despite moving away, they still make listening and calling his show a priority. He represents a piece of their upbringing, and remains a connection to their home turf.

“I do have an advantage with New Yorkers who live in other towns and want to call up and talk sports with me,” said Russo. “But at the same time, you don’t want to turn it into a show for transplanted New Yorkers.”

So does that mean Chris feels he’s shed the New York label?

“I still feel like I’m a New York host in a lot of ways,” added Russo. “I’ve done a million of remotes to show that we can do other things besides New York sports. I’ve done the SEC Championship game, the College Football National Championship game, Spring Training, the NHL team store, and a few others. I’ve done a lot to get away from the New York thing but everyone knows my New York connection. I think though that it’s also helped me.”

As much as New York remains attached to his broadcasting career, that hasn’t led to any less interest or reaction from listeners who reside in other parts of the country. On the day of my visit, Chris’ lines were lit up by callers ranging from Philadelphia to St. Louis, Utah, South Carolina, and Florida. All of them interested in picking his brain on the NCAA Tournament, Carmelo Anthony, and NFL news.

mdr-russo2The one constant that remains when you listen to Russo is that he brings passion, and energy to everything he does. He also has a deep bucket of knowledge that he reaches into every so often, just to remind you that he knows his stuff. If you’ve enjoyed listening to Chris during his days on WFAN, you’re likely to enjoy him now. The only noticeable difference is the reduction on New York heavy content.

Another difference that exists off the air, is the change in focus towards judging success. For SiriusXM, the total number of subscriptions is what matters most. In local radio, many live and die by the monthly ratings. After spending two decades charged with the responsibility of finishing 1st with Men 25-54 in the nation’s #1 media market, how has Russo adjusted?

“We don’t have to worry about ratings which is a big advantage,” he said. “That said, I do think about phone calls, and what’s going to generate interest from the audience. We have 119 channels here. It’s like radio socialism. I make fun of it all the time. We’re all in this together. You’re not pressured from a subscription or ratings scenario on a day in and day out basis. Nobody overanalyzes you that way. In eight years I can count on one hand, if that, somebody coming up to me and saying ‘maybe we’re not doing enough of this or that’. They let you do what you want to do. They give you a channel, a show, and they trust you to do your job. ”

It’s clear that Russo has fun once the light goes on. He lives for the opportunity to inform and entertain, and when the lines start ringing, he feels good about the connection he’s making. He’s also a fascinating interviewer who digs for answers, and isn’t afraid to push his guests to tell him what he wants to know.

russoSince signing on in 2008, Russo has solidified his status as a top performer on satellite radio. He re-signed with the company in 2013, and during that negotiation reduced his on-air schedule, while adding a television presence on the MLB Network. On occasion he’ll extend the show an additional hour when big events happen, or road shows are scheduled, but with his contract set to expire this September, and rumors swirling about a future reunion with Francesa, does he envision being back at the birthplace of his national sports radio career?

“I have young kids so I don’t see any reason why I’m going to quit,” said Russo. “As long as they’ll have me, I’d love to stay. I don’t think I’d go anywhere else. I took a little bit of the audience from WFAN and brought them here, so now I’m going to take them somewhere else? They may not go with me to the next place. They’re loyal but they’re not that loyal.”

Does that mean he’s shut the door on a return to terrestrial radio? No. But at this point, SiriusXM is in a good position because the options available for a Mike and the Mad Dog reunion in New York are few, and finding companies capable of writing big checks for sports talk programming are not easy. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen, but it’s still a long shot.

If there’s one thing that could sway him, it’s the opportunity to regain a higher profile. Although thirty million people subscribe to satellite radio, and the Mad Dog brand is established on a national stage across the nation, it has to be humbling for one of New York’s all-time great performers to not generate the same level of attention in his own backyard that he once did. While I can find the positives of flying under the radar, it’s easy for me to say when I haven’t produced nineteen years of fame as one of New York’s most popular media stars. Hosting the Mike and the Mad Dog reunion special, and seeing the buzz that the show created, certainly had to add to that curiosity.

mdr-russo4After listening to Francesa rib Russo for years about vanishing from the earth, I asked Chris how important relevance was to him.

“You get that knock of ‘who hears you, and did you go into the witness protection plan’?” he said. “Especially me, because New York is such a concentrated market with WFAN, and ESPN New York, and everyone knows me from my days on 660. Most New Yorkers, like most others fans, are going to be into their local market stations. So you have to understand that, and it bothers me at times. For nineteen years I’d go to a deli, and they heard the show that afternoon. Now, they don’t hear it. You don’t have a main fan base, and that takes time to get used to.”

The flipside to that conversation, is that Russo has now become a more familiar name beyond the New York market. That’s not something he’d have been able to do if he remained hosting a local radio program in New York. He’s also opened doors for himself on television, and given his baseball insight, local availability, and unique style, you’d assume he’d remain attractive to the MLB Network in the future.

All that being considered, here we are eight years later, and Mad Dog Radio is still going strong. Chris is entrenched in afternoons, and continuing to provide an exceptional sports radio program. He’ll have a lot to weigh as he considers his future, SiriusXM will too, but if you look at where the channel was, and where it is now, I think it’s safe to say great progress has been made.

The Conclusion:

MDR-RussoSASWhen you’re inside the headquarters of SiriusXM, you can’t help but chuckle when you find Mad Dog Sports Radio’s studios right next door to “The Catholic Channel”. I can only imagine the reactions next door when Cardinal Dolan is delivering a sermon, and the high octane opinions of Russo, Schein, and Stephen A. start penetrating the walls.

As I thought about my visit, and the past few years of consuming the Mad Dog Sports Radio product, I’m left with the belief that the channel has evolved nicely, and become one of the satellite company’s best. Steve Cohen, and Steve Torre deserve a lot of credit for that as does Russo.

Chris is clearly the face of the brand, and his talents speaks for themselves. The decision to shift Schein over from NFL Radio fit the personality of the channel perfectly, and the addition of Stephen A. not only added an ingredient that had been missing, but his profile, and style made for a perfect match.

mdr-mornmen2The one move that may not get the back page headlines, but also deserves acknowledgement, was the decision to pair Cohen and Babchik in mornings. The duo provide a nice spark, and a brand of entertainment that hadn’t existed previously in that timeslot.

I’m also impressed by the unique way the shows are imaged. In mornings, Cohen and Babchik feature Matt Damrow as their primary voice, while incorporating Russo into the mix to further brand the channel, and show. Schein, utilizes Roch Bordenave, who has a strong sound, similar to Paul Turner, the voice of WFAN. Jim Cutler provides the voice over for Stephen A.’s show due to the ESPN partnership, and Rena-Marie Villano rounds things out as the voice of Russo’s program. In addition to the personalities being different, the sound is too, and that keeps the programming fresh.

The one big challenge going forward will be retaining Russo. Without him, the channel would likely require a brand makeover. With him, they’re positioned well for the foreseeable future. Even Torre recognizes that despite the company’s growth, competitors will be lining up to pursue their talent.

mdr-torre“We want to keep our high level talent here,” he said. “But trying to keep them can be challenging financially. In the past we’ve had to fight a perception of how established we were as a company. The competition never ends. Terrestrial has taken hits, but they’re still making money in a lot of markets. We’re also up against a monster in ESPN that’s carried under our own umbrella.”

I’ll give the channel credit for building its strategy around high profile personalities, and listener interaction. The lineup Mad Dog Sports Radio offers M-F 6a-7p is second to none, and they possess a strong ability to entertain, inform, and generate a response.

I also appreciate quality production, timely guests, and a commitment to topical content, and once again that’s an area where the personalities on Mad Dog Sports Radio deliver. Whether it’s the result of talent instincts, programmer feedback, effective producing, or a combination of all of the above, the bottom line is that it’s working.

The only area I wish I had a better read on, was how the channel performs in comparison to the other sports and talk offerings on SiriusXM. Most people agree that Howard Stern is the company’s biggest draw, and while I don’t expect Mad Dog Sports Radio to be in the same neighborhood with the audience he pulls in, I’d be curious to see how Russo’s channel is received compared to others such as NFL Radio, and MLB Radio.

Not receiving ratings measurement makes that problematic, but it’s also a big reason why the content is as good as it is. The focus internally is on satisfying the audience and every set of ears possible, not creating programming to appeal to a meter. If more brands in our industry worried about providing a programming benefit to the audience, and less on satisfying ratings and sales objectives, we’d all benefit from it.

Whether you love satellite radio or not, I think we can all agree that when a customer base grows from 200,000 to 30 million in twelve years, a company must be doing something right. Mad Dog Sports Radio is just one of SiriusXM’s great brands, and if they can continue offering high profile personalities, and excellent programming on a consistent basis, I’d expect their support to increase. All they have to do now is make sure they retain the man the brand is named after.

Barrett Blogs

Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

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Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

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Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

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Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

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Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

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