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Q & A with Marc Kestecher

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From his early days of having beer spilled on him while calling an Arena Football League game, to his dream role of calling the NBA Finals last June for ESPN Radio, Marc Kestecher has quite the tale to tell. He’s a very bright guy with plenty of insight to share on numerous aspects of sports broadcasting. Marc also has an outstanding reputation as one of the great individuals in the business. After reading this piece, I’m sure you will be able to see why many people think so highly of him.

BN: How did you initially break into the business?

MK: Well, I guess I wanted to be a broadcaster. My parents didn’t think it was a real career so we took a look and chemical engineering was the route. I was pursuing that at Syracuse University for two years until I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was at a great university with broadcast students. So, I switched into communications.

Everything changed when I got an internship my junior year with the Albany Yankees Double-A affiliate. I was working under a guy named Dale McConachie. We worked together that summer during my internship. He was a basketball announcer in Albany for the Patroons, a CBA team. I had switched to take classes at University at Albany, so I was working with him. The season started in October or November, and by December 25th, he landed the Triple-A baseball job in Portland, OR and he was going to take it because baseball was his thing.

The Patroons were left without an announcer and as they looked for a suitable backup, they asked me if I had any experience. Fortunately, I had been taking as much time as I could to make tapes, sit in the crowd, call the game when I wasn’t doing anything on air with Dale. That tape landed me a two-week, four-city road trip audition, which apparently I passed. I had it for the rest of the year and I was on my way.

BN: How did that lead to you ultimately landing in Bristol?

MK: I went from my Albany years — for six, to Cleveland — for almost three. A guy that I worked with at WKNR radio in Cleveland, Greg Brinda, was on the short list of fill-ins for ESPN Radio GameNight, which was on weekends — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Great show.

I gave Greg my audition tape to give to anybody, which turned out it never got listened to, but part of the deal for Greg when he went up to Bristol was on Monday morning he would do his Cleveland radio show from a Bristol studio. The guy who ultimately hired me happened to be in the booth while one of my updates was coming down the line, and he was like, “Oh, what’s that voice?” From there, Greg gave them my number and they brought me out for a series of auditions in the fall of ’98.

BN: What do you remember from those auditions?

MK: I remember being incredibly nervous. It was a little different because I had been used to being in my own booth. In the old ESPN Radio days it was a little, corner broadcast booth with three microphone positions and most of the time there were three co-hosts. I would have to walk in about a minute before the update and one of the hosts would have to vacate — usually, right about the time they were sending it to the update. So, one guy would get up, I’d quickly sit down and have to deliver my update in front of Chuck Wilson, Tony Bruno, Keith Olbermann, or Chris Berman. It was nutty.

I couldn’t believe where I was sitting, but I thought I held my own. I thought I did a pretty good job. I did the best that I could do. I got a second audition and by then I was feeling a little more confident. By the end of the second audition, I had a feeling that there was gonna be an opening and I started hunting apartments. Sure enough, I got a third audition, and after that they offered a contract.

BN: How has ESPN Radio changed over the past two decades?

MK: Well, it’s a complete change in many ways in A) our studios. We went from that corner, little tiny dinky studio, to state of the art, digital, multi 55-inch plasma HDTV viewing studios. Also, how people receive our content. We were only on terrestrial radio stations. Then, ESPNRadio.com happened and we became available online. Then, with the advent of smartphones — the app. Many people get it that way.

I should add somewhere in that timeline, I don’t know if it was 2001 or 2002, whenever SiriusXM went on the air, satellite radio started delivering us 24/7. That also helped and became another way which we were heard. From how we go about putting our stuff together in studio, to how it is received by everybody, it’s just changed completely over the 20 years that I’ve been there.

BN: Do you think there’s anything that translates from doing play-by-play to hosting sports talk radio shows?

MK: I think the one common thread is the unscripted nature of it. I think as a play-by-play guy, you do all of your preparation in the days before your event. Then, once the game starts, you can look at your chart all you want, but you’ve got to basically keep your head up and call the action that you see in front of you. Have most of the stuff that you want to add memorized in your head.

Even though it’s a world apart from a talk show, there are some parallels in that most of your prep is done before, and you don’t know what direction you’re heading in if you’re taking phone calls. Callers may drive that show. We don’t do that as much nationally, but there still are guests and co-hosts that can take things in completely different ways then you would have planned.

I don’t do talk shows, so I don’t know exactly what the thread is, but just from having done a few here and there, it would be the kinda tightrope, high-wire-act nature of being on air — cracking a microphone and filling three hours of time.

BN: When you’re doing play-by-play, it’s so important to be concise. As a color commentator, Cris Collinsworth has talked about diagnosing a play and having maybe 10 seconds to do it — it’s not the easiest thing to pull off. Do you have any tricks of being concise when you’re doing a game?

MK: It’s more than a trick. It’s just that internal clock after the reps of doing hundreds of games. You know when something that has to be described on radio is coming up, and you have to get the idea of what you see and share it in this small timeframe. I think it’s just repetition.

Look, there are some naturals out there. Especially, analysts I’ve worked with who’ve never done games on radio or even TV. On radio, concise is obviously most important cuz your play-by-play guy needs to describe everything because you can’t see anything. On TV, things can be disjointed — you can see things and you may want to describe things, but now you’ve added a third element of what does the producer/director want to do? What replays are they going to show? What package are they going to squeeze into this moment?

Analysts on television, and even on radio, they’re impressive in two different ways — the conciseness of the radio analysts and then on TV, being able to work around multiple things that are happening at the same time — and then still describing the most important part of the game.

BN: You mentioned the internal clock. I’d imagine there are times when the color commentator says something that triggers a thought, but your foresight kicks in and you know there isn’t time for it. How has your foresight improved over the years?

MK: I think I always had a sense of the timing of the game, especially on radio. Where I’ve gotten better over the years, and with repetition, is to hold that thought. To expand on that thought, but yet at the same time I’m doing something else. It happens in nanoseconds, but now I have to describe something — and obviously in a game like basketball or hockey — you may have to hold onto that thought for 30 seconds or 60 seconds.

In football, you know you’re going to have time after a play is done unless you have a hurry-up offense. In baseball, generally you call the next pitch and you can get right back into it. So, it’s really positioning yourself for how you’re going to continue that thought. I think it can be very overwhelming in the beginning just trying to handle the action in front of you. That’s the part that repetitions help is knowing that you can hold that thought, and know exactly where you need to get to, to continue that conversation.

BN: When I think about hosting shows, sometimes listening can be really difficult because as a host, I’m organizing my thoughts, the reads, the tease, and I’m looking at the clock. Do you find listening to be one of the toughest things to do while calling games?

MK: Listening has been a work in progress for my entire broadcast career because there are so many avenues you can go down based on the response from your analyst’s, callers or from an interview subject.

I’d say almost 100% of the time, I script out my questions. I have a flow, an order of how I want an interview to go. I also don’t want to miss anything that’s important or get sidetracked, but at the same time I’m trying my best to listen to what the answer is or what the analyst is saying, because I think it sounds great when you’re having a conversation rather than I talk, you talk, I talk, you talk. Also, something might be said that I didn’t realize and just from a curiosity standpoint — maybe for the betterment of the interview and broadcast — that’s the direction it should go. It can open up more avenues.

BN: How extensive is your preparation for calling games?

MK I guess it depends on the sport, but it’s very extensive. For football, it’s a serious one-week project. Sometimes, when I have time, I can turn it into 10-days or two-weeks. That’s not usually normal unless you’re coming off of the summer and getting right into the first week of the season because there’s so many other things going on.

I generally try to give it a hard seven days to gather stories and stay on top of things. A lot of my preparation turns to video prep. I can watch games, see patterns of how coaches are going to rotate their players and just get a better sense of who normally comes in and out of games.

BN: What percentage of your prep hits the cutting room floor?

MK: You’d be shocked. On radio, I don’t know if I can give it a fair percentage. There are days where I feel like I only use 20% of what I had because A) the game was so good, or if it’s a quick game like in basketball, you’re really confined to description and working off of your analysts. I’d say for football and basketball on radio, I’d like to think I get close to 50%, but there are times where it’s significantly less depending on the action.

BN: What would surprise people about the difference between calling professional games compared to college games?

MK: I think people might be surprised at how much more preparation goes into a football game. Appreciating the fact that when there’s more than 200 players combined, and some of them have the same jersey — you’ll see a #1 on offense as a wide receiver. You’ll see #1 on defense as a cornerback. You’ll see #1 on special teams. And sometimes there’s a fourth #1. There’s two guys you might see on special teams — they can’t play at the same time, but they’re all wearing #1. So, being prepared for just a ton of players. If you have a blowout, you’re getting past your two-deeps. Now, you’re working with freshmen and sophomores who usually don’t play. It’s an amazing haul.

I think people also may be surprised — on football broadcasts — how many people are in the booth. You’ve got your play-by-play voice and analyst. The statistician and spotter. If it’s a network broadcast, we have a producer. And then there’s a tech, the engineer who’s getting us on the air. So, it’s a huge production. It’s like a traveling family during college football weekend that I think people would be surprised about.

BN: I just flashed back to being a little kid and having multiplication flash cards. You have to know the players immediately. It can’t be five seconds later. How do you go about that?

MK: I have, and most guys have, what they call a spotter chart. You can put all of your offense and defense, numbers, colors, names. I find that with my video research the first two or three days can be difficult because you’re seeing the same number over and over and it’s just not sticking. Or, you’re preparing for two football games in the same week and you’re just not getting the right #38. Then, somewhere magically by the fourth day or so, it just starts popping into your head. It’s an amazing process of memorization. It is kind of like flash cards, and I take that spotter chart with me for the game just in case I need to look down.

Also, people may be surprised to learn that having a spotter, which I have for just about every football game, is invaluable. His one job is to identify players for me. I generally handle the offense. I’ll have a spotter watch the huddle and see who the running back is. So, pre-snap I’ll get the running back from my spotter. I’ve got everything else on offense. Together, we’ll work on defense, but I really lean on my spotter for who makes a tackle — especially runs up the middle where it’s hard to see amongst 10 people, or three guys are colliding on a short pass over the middle. He or she has their binoculars on, or just sees it quicker than I do and points to my chart, so that we correctly identify who the tackler is.

BN: If you’re working a college football game, and a month or two later you’re broadcasting the same team’s game, how much of the previous experience sticks with you vs. having to relearn everything again?

MK: It’s funny because after an entire week, and by the fifth day I’m finally starting to get the names, you’d be surprised how quickly after the game is over you can flush that out of your brain. If I had to do the game over again five hours later, I might have to relearn some things because I’m on to the next game already.

I do find that with football and even with college football, if I get the same team a month later, it just comes a lot quicker. It may only take a few series to watch and be like, “Oh, that’s right. I got that guy.” You have all the skill guys. You have most of the defense. It is actually a nice thing if you have USC Week 1, and then USC pops up in November, because you know it’s not gonna take quite as long. For me, it may require watching a quarter or a half not necessarily five days.

BN: I interviewed Craig Sager a few years ago, and I remember him telling me that when he’d do sideline reporting for the NCAA Tournament, he’d wear a lot of neutral colors. He wore a lot of plaids because fanbases would freak out if he was wearing a colored jacket that matched the rival school. They’d accuse him of rooting for that team. Do you pay any attention to what you wear when you’re calling a game?

MK: I always thought that was nonsense. And I have to tell you, I can report that when I’m packing my suitcase for college games, and even pro I suppose, I try to make sure I do not wear the color of either team. Sometimes I forget, but I’ll share a story with you from about six or seven years ago.

I was on my way to Arizona for the BCS National Championship Game, and I had a college hoops game at Oklahoma State. I packed a purple tie not thinking anything of it. Oklahoma State was hosting Kansas State, and purple is their predominant color. Fran Fraschilla, my analyst, had kind of mentioned it on the ride over. I still kind of blew it off. Then, I did get a couple snide remarks at the arena. Some, I think, were in jest. Some, I think, weren’t. I remember thinking to myself, “You know what, that’s the last time I’m not gonna pay attention to what colors I’m gonna put in my suitcase.” Because when you are visible, which you are for basketball games, not so much for football, it can be a problem.

BN: Is there anybody in the broadcasting business of play-by-play, that is a known fan of a particular team, or do most guys keep that under wraps?

MK: I don’t think for play-by-play. Look, we’re all human. We all love sports. So, I would guess, we all had a team growing up that may be in a field that you’re working in now — whether it’s baseball or football or basketball. What I will say is, over the years it’s hard to imagine for those of us who love sports, that you start to lose that everyday zeal of your team winning at all costs.

I’m still a sports fan. I still watch the teams that I grew up rooting for, but I find I don’t have a rooting interest, and especially when I’m broadcasting them. I mean that goes completely out the window. It could be a team that I don’t care about by the time I’m broadcasting it. You have to take that out of the equation.

I’m sure there have to be some announcers that still really enjoy certain teams and follow them, but none that I know of. Especially as a national announcer, you’re calling it down the middle anyway. If you’re a home team announcer, you could be accused of being a homer, but you’re calling 162 in baseball or 82 in the NBA. I think your normal slant is going to go towards the home team where you’re trying to entertain the home team fans. So, maybe that goes into your process. I think most of us, we just root for close games. We root for Game 2 of the World Series where you have unbelievable action that will be remembered for a long time. That’s what you root for the most.

BN: Speaking of Game 2 of the World Series, a Dodgers fan jumped into the Astros bullpen. Have you ever worked a game where something wild like that took place?

MK: I don’t know if I had anything crazy in my years, but I have been in front of tense crowds. I can remember working the FIBA Tournament in 2010 in Istanbul. Turkey was playing in the opposite semifinal from the US. I think it was Turkey against Serbia. It’s legendary in Europe about basketball and the fans. Even soccer, we’ve heard all the soccer stories about the national teams playing each other. There was that feeling. It was a little bit tense in the building.

More on a humorous side, when I was doing Arena Football in my early years, I was doing a game in Iowa and Kurt Warner was the quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers before he had made his ascent into the NFL. The broadcast position was kind of an overhang in the first row of the second deck. The fan’s knees were on my back. There was beer spilling everywhere. Nothing malicious toward us, but I remember thinking this is the wildest scene I’ve ever been a part of. I’m a road announcer in the middle of this madness.

BN: We were talking earlier about the challenge of listening. You’ve worked with some tremendous people over the years — Dr. Jack Ramsay, Hubie Brown, etc. — has there ever been a time where the guy you’re working with has said something so well and so interesting that it was hard to focus on what you were going to say next?

MK: I’ve had the great pleasure to work with Dr. Jack. I still get a chance to work with Hubie and it is daunting in that when you talk about listening — you wanna take in what they say, and many times you wanna amplify it as a play-by-play guy, but sometimes there’s nothing more that needs to be said because they’ve seen everything. All you can hope for is it triggers a story where there’s something the two of you have shared in the coach’s office, or perhaps even something historical.

I always found working with Dr. Jack and still working with Hubie, I try to stay on top of my basketball history. Something that might be germane to the game — something I might know casually, but I wanna know more details. Cuz those guys lived it, and many times they coached it, and they were a part of those players.

The story that I always enjoy telling was in the NBA Finals for a number of years we had Dr. Jack and Hubie as part of a three-man booth for the Finals. With Mike Tirico as play-by-play. I think one year Jim Durham was the play-by-play. So, we would go out for meals on the road during the Finals and invariably every night at one point, the salt shakers, the pepper shakers, the sugar packets, all became like a diagram board on the table, with Dr. Jack and Hubie basically giving us a PhD-level course on why the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs were doing what they were doing.

It was a learning experience. Here are two guys that have been through it all, who know basketball inside and out, and even they were disagreeing on strategy from some of the best NBA coaches and best players of the current day. So, that was one where I shut up, sat back, and took mental notes.

BN: What do you see as the future of sports updates when it comes to sports talk radio?

MK: Unfortunately, it feels like they’re being lessened in importance. Much of that is attributed to the fact that people are getting breaking news on their smart phones. People can be on their computer or their tablets or on their phones and dial up the information they need right then and there anywhere in the world if there’s some kind of cell coverage.

I do believe two things, 1), there’s still value in it. We can develop the news on a second level or third level. You may have the bulletin, but we may have a little more available on the why and the how, and we can pair it with audio almost instantaneously — especially at ESPN Radio where we’re rolling on press conferences and play-by-play. We can deliver that in a nice, neat 60, 90, two-minute package.

Also, 2), I think within the construct of a talk show, there’s always a good place at the top and at the bottom of the hour. Take a break from the show and deliver for two minutes, here’s the latest of what’s going on. I think if you’re listening and you’re in your car and you don’t have access to your phone, we’re getting you the news. We’re putting everything out there digitally as well. So, even if you’re getting alerts on your phones, you’ll get a nicely packaged two minutes with audio, a nice presentation with news and background that still has value, but I do agree, it’s not as valuable as it may have been 20 years ago. We just have to find ways to make it more valuable or keep it relevant.

BN: How challenging is it to find ways to keep updates valuable and fresh?

MK: I think it’s very difficult. It’s incumbent on my bosses and the creative people to come up with different ways to package that content and deliver it. Many times, they challenge us to come up with different ways to write it and to execute it. Maybe it’s not just “here are the scores” but it’s “here’s the score and the biggest part of that game.” Or, maybe people are utilized live on-site like we’ve done in the past with stringers where you can add greater context.

There’s only so many ways you can deliver a SportsCenter update on the radio. I think you can package it better, or make it more concise, or add more elements to it to make it move faster and sound better. So really, it’s incumbent upon the people I work with to just get their heads together and constantly come up with different ways to put SportsCenter updates in front of people in different ways throughout programming, whether it’s terrestrial or digital.

BN: What else would you still like to accomplish in your sports broadcasting career?

MK: I think when I got into the business, I wanted to be a play-by-play guy. I had a very circuitous route to get to where I wanted to get — NBA play-by-play — and I never could’ve imagined in any circumstance that I could get the top network NBA play-by-play job. It was the plan, but it really wasn’t the plan.

I was happy just to be able to do play-by-play on ESPN Radio especially for NBA. I was even more thrilled to be able to be the B-announcer, and that would’ve been fine for the rest of my career. So, to be the A-announcer was beyond my wildest dreams. I got to do my first NBA Finals last June.

I guess the best answer for me would be not to be satisfied, but to continue to do it. My goal at this point is to do a second NBA Finals, which I’ll do this June. Then do a fifth, and then do a tenth. Just continue to get better. I listen to all play-by-play guys around the country. I’ll hear one guy and say, “You know what. I should do something more on that realm. Here’s a little piece that I would like to try.” Just try to get better myself — challenge myself to prep harder — be better at what I do, and hopefully just evolve into the best radio broadcaster I can be.

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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