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Q&A with 3HL of 104.5 The Zone

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Some sports talk shows act like you stepped inside the octagon with them as they seek surrender via hot-take submission. Other shows like “3HL” on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Tennessee take a different approach. One of the goals Brent Dougherty, Mickey Ryan, and Dawn Davenport have is to talk with the people, not at them. It’s a refreshing approach that helps the show continuously thrive.

Southern hospitality is a phrase that isn’t always applied correctly. The expression is absolutely valid though when describing “3HL.” I could feel it when I sat down with the cast. You can hear it when listening to their show. It doesn’t mean the trio has a shortage of strong opinions. They just present their views in a way that invites a conversation while keeping the vibe positive and welcoming.

It wouldn’t make sense to root against this approach. It’s nice when the good guys (and girl) win, and when a show that “gets it” happens to be cranking out monster ratings in the process. Check out more on their philosophies and unique career paths below. Find out which host interned for another, the early days of speeding in a Ford Escort station wagon, and doing a show with a meat salesman.

Brian Noe: How long have you had this new trio?

Dawn: August 15th, I think. So not very long. It’s been like six months.

Brent: We broke ground on this version of “3HL” in August.

Dawn: It is just at our six-month mark. We should’ve partied. We made it. We haven’t killed each other.

Noe: What do you think has been the biggest improvement during those six months?

Brent: I don’t know? Have we gotten better?

Dawn: Oh, from day one of me joining? Oh yeah!

Brent: Better?

Dawn: I hope so.

Mickey: I think it’s just more learning each other’s personalities. Brent and I have known each other for over 20 years. He was my intern when I was a television anchor in the ‘90’s in Kentucky. He knows there are certain things he can say and exactly how I’ll react. We’re kind of learning what’s a hot-button topic for Dawn that you can say something and you know what kind of reaction — and she’s learning the same thing about us. To me that’s the biggest thing is just getting to know each other’s personalities.

Brent: But like a week ago, we finished each other’s sentences a couple of times.

Dawn: And it was completely random to where during the break at one point I looked at him and I go, “How the hell did you know I was going to say that?” You like pulled it out of nowhere.

Brent: It’s been fun and Dawn brings a lot to the table too from a female perspective. That’s rare in this country. It’s awesome because we’ve known her for a long time and she’s got that TV background. We watched her on television [WKRN]. We already knew each other when we hit the ground and Dawn joined “3HL.” I feel like we hit the ground running because of that and because I watched everyday, so I already knew kind of what your mannerisms were. I think that helped.

Noe: How would you explain the differences between having a guy and a girl in that chair?

Brent: Man, that’s a good question. I don’t even view it that way. Honestly, she was a collegiate athlete and her entire background in this business is in sports outside of — well, you did the one show.

Dawn: Outside of slummin’ it in morning show news.

Brent: But even the way that y’all did that morning show — it was kind of the way that we do this show. Even though that was news and this was sports. In terms of entertainment, to me it was basically the same.

Dawn: It was less scripted and personality-driven.

Brent: But in terms of having a different vibe of having a woman in the chair in the room — there really isn’t one to me because she’s such a big sports fan and entertainment fan. She’s a really good communicator — that’s what you need — and a good entertainer. That’s the other thing to me.

Mickey: It does give our show perspective though if there’s a case where there’s a sexual assault. If there’s something that involves a female point of view. Instead of us saying, “Well, here’s what we think” or “This is what I read that somebody said,” you actually can get the female point of view, which to me is huge for us because she can break down any sport, but at the same time she can also say, “Hey, as a woman” — like we were talking about the US Olympic hockey team. They had no benefits, were making no money, and when we talked about them winning a gold medal for the first time in 20 years you said, “No no, they’re champions for women’s rights.” You went through all the things that they had done to make things better for the future generation of women’s hockey players. I think that gives us really an opportunity to offer a viewpoint on things that how many shows in the country even have? Very few.

Noe: Dawn, sometimes I’ll hear a female host, and it’s like they’re just trying so hard to prove they know their stuff. Others feel very comfortable and you come across that way — not going over the top. Where does that come from?

Dawn: I think it comes from being around sports for so long. The minute I graduated college I was doing local TV sports. In local TV sports, you do everything on your own. There’s nobody there to help you or hold your hand so you have to know your stuff because you are your producer. You’re your writer. You’re your shooter.

I’ve been around sports doing it for so long. I think that’s where that comfort comes from. Also, because I’ve been in this town for so long, and I started as a weekend sports anchor, so I’m fortunate that I know the history of the teams here. I can pull from, “Oh, hey do you remember back in 2008 this team did that,” so I think from that standpoint I’m comfortable because I do know what we’re talking about so well. Then, when I work with SEC Network I’m very knowledgeable about it because that’s what I do.

I’m also fortunate that the people in this town from the minute I got here welcomed me in and accepted me. I’ve never felt the need to prove that, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about. I can talk sports. I promise.” I feel like this town was very open to having a female in the sports world and that’s helped me because I haven’t had to go overboard to try and prove myself because people have accepted it.

Noe: What type of role does Program Director, Brad Willis play in your show’s maturation? Is he very hands on or does he let you guys work things out?

Brent: His goal with us always has been — ‘cause we’ve made changes with this show before — he’s more into letting things grow and develop. With the three of us, have it grow organically, and that’s kind of where we are with it.

Dawn: Which I think has been great. Instead of him pushing, “Hey, you need to talk more, you need to do this.”

Brent: Yeah, he treats us like professionals. I’ve been doing this for 21 years. We’ve all been doing this so long that you just take some time to know and learn and understand where he can go, where she can go, where I can go. It just kind of organically happens. He’s been completely hands off. Now, if we have questions about something that we’re doing or trying, he’s always available.

Mickey: I think the key for him is he’s there for a resource, but he wants the show to happen organically. It’s like, “Look, if you have something unique, come to me and let’s work it out,” but on a day-to-day basis it’s, “You guys are all three professionals. I hired you to be professionals. Do what you do.”

That was when I joined the show, which is a little over three years ago, after a couple of weeks he pulled me in an said, “I brought you in to talk. So talk. Just give your opinion on things. You don’t have to work your way in.” It was the same thing with Dawn. We told her, “Hey, just give your opinion. You don’t have to be tentative or anything like that. You just jump in. We’re all here to be equal. To have equal time to have equal opinions, so you just jump right in. Don’t feel like you have to warm up to us. Just jump in.”

Noe: How much have you had to deal with comparisons to previous hosts like Clay Travis and Blaine Bishop? Does that happen a lot?

Mickey: When you follow a personality like Clay, obviously there are going to be people who compare things. I’ve gotten to know Clay since I’ve moved to town and we get along great. Anytime I see him we always catch up and kind of talk about how things are going. He’s been great to get to know and it’s been a lot of fun to see all the stuff that he’s accomplishing on a national level.

There were some people who were really unkind in the beginning especially. There’s still a handful of people out there who are hanging onto it. My thing was I just had to be myself. If you like that, you like it. Maybe the nicest thing that people have said to me over the last 3+ years is, “I wanted to hate you, but once I listened to you, I realized I liked you. I thought when the show changed I would hate the show, and hey, I don’t hate you. Matter of fact I kinda like you.”

Literally people have said things like that to me, so I’m winning that way. But I know the dynamic of the show changed. It did. I think it’s okay to like him and like what he does. I think it’s okay to like me and like the current version of the show. That’s all I would ask anybody for the chance to.

Noe: Has there been anything that gets under your skin or you just go home and are like, “Man, I would’ve been better off not receiving that message”?

Dawn: Well, if you work in broadcasting, especially sports broadcasting, you’re always going to get a message where you’re like, “Yeah, well.” (sarcastic laugh)

Mickey: Well, and you [Dawn] were on TV — and women to other women who were on TV — you wouldn’t believe the things about your dress or your hair.

Dawn: Let me tell you, morning news viewer complaints are the worst thing I’ve ever endured in my life. Nothing that any sports person can ever say to me will ever upset me as much as some of the females and Facebook messages I got during morning news.

Brent: Social media is a wild place.

Dawn: It’s a different world nowadays — even from when I first started in the business. If somebody didn’t like you, you got a phone call or a hand-written letter. Now, it’s different because people immediately can facelessly tell you that they don’t like you, but this town is pretty good honestly. You’re always going to have people that don’t agree with what you say.

Mickey: But the feedback is overwhelmingly more positive than negative. But you can say, “I like donuts,” and you have some overwhelmingly negative responses to that. That’s just the world that we live in.

Brent: We live in a world where people just love to hate things. You see that on social media, but doing what we do as she said, we all have a thick skin. You have to or you won’t have success in this business anyway aside from some hater on social media. We don’t pay attention to it necessarily. To get to where we are, you’ve got to be confident in yourself. Sure, we try new things and sometimes we make mistakes and we’re harder on ourselves than anybody could be that listens. I think some mean guy on Twitter or whatever, I think that’s more about him than it is me.

Noe: How much does your role differ from a three-person to a two-person show just in terms of driving it? Not repeating one of their takes or sacrificing your own opinion to just move it forward. Does it differ greatly between the two?

Brent: I look at my job as a facilitator — almost like a scoring point guard. I’m trying to set him up with stuff and her up with stuff, but also trying to take my shot. The way I kind of visualize it in the moment — because I’m watching break time and how long is the break coming up? When do we need to hit that break? Who’s got a live spot coming? What caller needs to go next? I’m trying to balance all of those things while also throwing topics and throwing opinions. To me it’s a fun challenge. The way I visualize that is I’m going down a river with currents and I’m just trying to keep the boat as straight as possible. That doesn’t change whether it’s two or three people.

Noe: Is there anything specific to Nashville regarding topics that surprisingly work? Where you feel like, “Really? That’s what you guys are interested in?”

Brent: It’s kind of meat and potatoes honestly.

Dawn: Daily, there’s something that I’m like, “Wow, people really want to talk about that.”

Brent: Has it been a surprise to you? So, we get out of football and now it’s crazy topics that you can bring up. The response to some of those crazy topics I think surprises you sometimes.

Dawn: Yeah, it really surprises me and when we first started to go on kind of like tangents that had to do with sports but weren’t maybe necessarily specific SEC football talk, I would get nervous over there in the chair. I’m like, “Why are we not talking sports? We gotta go back to talking sports.” They’re like, “Relax. We’ve got a long show. It’s okay. It’s how it works.”

I think what surprised me the most — and I had been on the show with you guys before a couple of times, just sat in for an hour or two hours — what surprised me is some of the random topics that people want to talk about that maybe aren’t necessarily completely sports.

Brent: Here’s an example — yesterday we were talking about the Olympics and the US women had won the gold medal. I watched it. I stayed up and I thought it was the moment of the Olympics. I thought it was awesome. I thought that would get a little bit of traction. These guys started talking about the cross country race, which I didn’t even see. The next thing we know, Mickey finds the audio. We play the play-by-play and it’s one of the best sports calls ever. We go 45 minutes with people calling in about how awesome that was.

Mickey: The one guy said they were three wide like NASCAR and he was in the middle of the night watching it at his house. He felt like he raced the race with them. He felt like he sent them enough America to push them through. People get so emotionally invested in the Olympics ‘cause that’s your flag. That’s your country. They’re representing all of us. Your college football team represents your state or your region, but this is everybody. That was one of the most passionate phone calls we’ve ever had from anybody about anything.

Dawn: Talking about women’s cross country skiing. Like who cares, you know?

Brent: ‘Cause the basics are you’ve got to talk about the Titans every day in this market. You have to. When they suck, they get a 20 share on television. Over the last year and a half the Predators have risen to one of the better teams in the NHL so you need to spend a little time on them. Even though, as good as they are, their regular-season TV numbers are like a tenth of what the Titans are. We pay attention to those things. So it’s Titans, NFL, SEC, college football, and then whatever crazy stories you can find.

Noe: How do you guys balance the local stuff that you know is going to hit, with something that might go beyond Nashville that you know is still going to matter to people?

Mickey: Honestly, you can just look and see at what people are talking about on social media. To me that’s a huge metric because we all certainly follow people in this market and we have people that give us feedback — “Hey, did you guys see this? Do you guys know about that?”

Brent: That helps with what we do. Social media, that changed the game because now you can talk about things immediately as they happen. When I got into the business it was the mid-‘90’s. You didn’t have any of this. We weren’t monitoring these things.

You can get a tweet that pops up — I remember one show we were doing, and we were going to do some Preds guest or something and the Manti Te’o story came out on Deadspin. We sent one of our guys out of the studio to read it because it was so long. One segment went by and he was back in there and we were talking about it. That’s how fast things go and we bailed on the guest. We try to be as current as possible and talk about what people are talking about.

Noe: In terms of things being current — topics move so fast and have a short shelf life — a Vols football game on Saturday, of course you’re going to talk about it on Monday, but how do you have that sense of, “This is a little old. It’s not what people are talking about now”?

Brent: 100% you think about that. You’ve got to figure out a different way to present it. Ask questions because people definitely still want to talk about that. SEC football season? You want to talk about that every day. Like every day.

Dawn: I feel like football transcends that thought. You can talk about a game that happened two weeks ago and people are still interested.

Brent: But you would present it differently in the afternoon than you would on Sunday morning where Jamal Lewis ran for 225 yards. Stuff like that. You’re thinking about different ways to present it.

Mickey: By that time you’ll have different ways where you may analyze it and look at it or maybe what it means more for what’s going to happen ahead of time. This market is just so funny. It’s such a football-centric market. Let’s say we came on today and we talked about Ole Miss football. Vols fan – he’s interested in that. Mississippi State fan — she’s okay with that.

SEC fans, you can talk about any other school or program and they’re okay with that ‘cause they want to know what they’re doing too, right? To me that’s the most interesting thing maybe about living in an SEC-centric market is it doesn’t matter what team or what program or what coach you talk about, there’s just an unbelievable level of interest by every team and every program’s fans about another team’s fans and program.

Dawn: We also have so many alums from all of those schools.

Mickey: It used to be they all moved to Atlanta and Brent says they’re coming here now.

Brent: This is the SEC melting pot. Just downtown condos — this is where the young people that are graduating college in this area are coming. They’re not going to Atlanta. They’re coming to Nashville. This city is growing and the vibe is different and awesome. It’s really exciting.

Noe: When you have high ratings and Brad Willis comes to you with a major lineup change, how do you react to that?

Brent: The first question is who is going to be on the show with us, right? Then when you find out it’s Dawn Davenport, I have zero concern whatsoever. I know that we’re going to keep rockin’ because I know how competitive she is and that’s what I want. I want somebody that’s going to win every day. She’s got that track record. From my perspective I wasn’t concerned at all. I was excited.

Noe: How about you, Dawn? When you’re going into the mix and they’re getting monstrous ratings, do you feel any extra pressure? 

Mickey: No pressure.

Dawn: Yeah, no pressure at all.

Brent: You can relate to that too Mickey.

Mickey: Yeah, no pressure.

Dawn: Radio ratings are different obviously than TV ratings. I got them every day on the morning show.

Brent: And we don’t get them that often. She would ask and I’m like, “I don’t know.” (laughs)

Dawn: I’d ask, “How are we doing? Are we doing okay?” Brad would say, “Oh, we’re doing great!” I’m like, “Okay, well can I see? Do you have numbers from last week or whatever?” I had to learn how it actually worked. I was definitely nervous stepping into a successful show and replacing a former athlete [Blaine Bishop] that people really valued his opinion. I was definitely worried about it, but I had listened to the show enough to know that I felt like it would be a good fit and that we would be okay.

Noe: Do you have a TV background at all, Brent?

Brent: No.

Mickey: You were my intern for one semester.

Brent: Yeah, I needed one class to graduate at UT, the University of Tennessee, and I needed to do an internship. Living here and I was hanging out in Bowling Green. I had some friends at Western Kentucky. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to do an internship, I might as well do TV. I might as well go to WBKO,” which is in Bowling Green — the ABC affiliate there. So, I just knocked on the door and he can tell you more about it, but I just knocked on the door and got that internship.

We went all over South Central Kentucky on Friday nights covering high school football and it was awesome. There were a couple of things that happened along the way where I was like, “I don’t want to do TV.” (laughs) “I don’t want to do TV.” Because you work all day — there is a rush during the news when the stuff you’ve been working on all day is going, but things that you can’t control happen.

Mickey: He saw a couple of times where we went out and shot seven games and brought the tapes back and the tapes got out of order and you didn’t know what highlight you were doing. He saw things like that. Or the tape machine would fail or the teleprompter would go out. We don’t have a tape machine or a teleprompter. They just turn on the microphones and we talk.

Dawn didn’t really know the story — it was either a Saturday or a Sunday night. We had a 5 o’clock news — I was the weekend sports anchor at WBKO. The weatherman walks out. He comes back in and he goes, “There’s some kid outside in the parking lot that wants to ask to be your intern.” I go out and it was that kid right there.

So, it’s been over 20 years ago in the fall of 1996. I come out and here’s Brent Dougherty. He says, “Man, I wanna be your intern.” He starts explaining things and I said, “Look, man, that’s fine. You can just be my intern.” We had great chemistry and we drove a Ford Escort station wagon for several thousand miles that fall covering games.

Brent: At 100 miles an hour.

Mickey: Years later, I wind up moving to Nashville to pursue music. I got out of TV. I just came here and wanted to play music.

Dawn: He’s a heck of a bass player by the way.

Mickey: Well, I like to think so. (laughter) I’ve played 12th & Porter, 3rd and Lindsley. I’ve played in Europe and all over the US. I’ve got a couple albums on iTunes, but you know, no big deal. (laughter) I was driving down Interstate 65. This is a true story. I had my radio on scan. I was scanning FM stations after recently moving to town. I went to hit another button and I hit a bump, and I switched my radio to AM and he was on 1510 AM. It was him talking!

I don’t think I even had a cell phone at this point. I drove to my apartment and called the radio station and left him a message. We had lost touch with each other. He was producing a show for a couple of heavy hitters in town. He said, “They’re going to let me do a show on Saturday. You should come and do it with me.” So for years, I managed a real estate office and played music and I would go on Saturday and do a radio show with Brent and another guy named Russ Berrie, who’s a meat salesman. The three of us did a Saturday show for years and years before we both wound up coming over here to The Zone.

Brent: We used to joke about Russ, he was slingin’ his meat all over the southeast. (laughs) He’s a good dude, that guy.

Mickey: He sells ham. Yeah, great guy.

Brent: Man, you went into the long story like Noe’s writing a book or something. The history of us. This is us and no one’s crying.

Noe: Dawn, these two have known each other for 20 years — is it ever weird where two people know each other so well and you’re trying to learn them as you go?

Dawn: I don’t think so. I haven’t felt that at all.

Mickey: And you don’t get our Fletch references though. That’s the one thing.

Brent: The whole key to knowing us is really simple: watch Fletch. It’s the key to life and to understanding making a friend.

Dawn: The good thing, I knew them prior. Especially you [Brent], I’ve known you since I moved here and we’d run into each other at events and I’ve hopped on their radio show a million times. That’s the good thing. We’ve hung out outside of work too. I’m on a daily text with your wife right now [Mickey]. (laughs) So, I feel like I kind of jumped right in. Obviously I haven’t known them for 20 years, but from that standpoint, have really gotten to know them and I know their families.

Noe: Is there anything from the TV world that translates very well to sports radio and things that just don’t fit whatsoever?

Dawn: Well, the don’t fit is I panicked when I first started. In TV, this block is six minutes and 40 seconds, and you’ve got to hit six minutes and 40 seconds so you can hit clicks and do all of that, and everything is scripted. At least for the morning show, for what I did the last five years, everything is in there. It might not all be scripted — there’s a lot of adlib, but for the most part it’s super organized. You know exactly what you’re talking about, and when, and you know exactly what’s coming.

With sports talk radio? When I started I was like, “So, we’re not going to script out every single segment and know exactly when we’re going to talk about what?” And they’re like, “No, because if somebody calls in and some subject gets going, we’ll stick with that.” I was like, “Okay?” It took me awhile to be okay with — not necessarily spontaneity, but kind of — like a lack of specific, everything is timed out.

Brent: And it’s funny, in my course of doing this job I love the freedom to be spontaneous. I love that. It leads you down a creative space that really is unlike anything else that you could do in this business. I love that part of it. I knew from doing this — after having TV people come in and do an hour every so often, they always would say that, like, “Man, that’s so much fun because I’ve got like two and a half minutes to do my sports and that’s what it is. Here’s the script. I never really have time to give my opinion. It’s really not that kind of place to give your opinion.”

Dawn: That’s where I’ve had to grow because I wasn’t allowed to give my opinion at all. Then as a sideline reporter you have 15-20 seconds to do your report. It’s not an opinion-based job. That was something coming in I’ve really had to work on — learning that it’s okay for me to give my opinion now because you can’t in news.

I think the plus of doing news — especially that morning news show that I was part of — there was a lot of adlibbing. There was a lot of personality conversation and that has lent well to stepping into this job because it’s basically what we did, especially in the 4am hour. It’s what I did for five years really. This is just a different level.

Brent: Early on she would ask me during a break, “Did you know you were going to go into Tennessee-Vanderbilt basketball right there?” And I would say, “No, but that microphone is on, and I’m talking, and that’s what came out.” She’s like, “Okay.”

Dawn: In the beginning, it took me awhile to be okay with it.

Brent: Yeah, and I think that’s part of the organic transition and I think we’re there now. But I learned from her to be a little more structured in terms of what we do.

Noe: Did you do anything to try to draw out more opinions because they weren’t used to it?

Brent: I didn’t really have to necessarily, but she has this notebook of stuff that she keeps. She’s got like, I don’t know, eight-nine pages for today. She knows what the topics are because we kind of text during the day. There’s going to be stuff that we all see that we haven’t communicated to each other. It’s almost better that way to me because then you get more into that spontaneous reaction from Mickey about women’s curling or whatever.

There’s a lot of that, but when I do that — I’ve jumped out of an airplane and I’m flying through the air. I’m going from topic to topic in my head and I go into something — I know that she has researched it and has some notes jotted down. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I’ll talk long enough to let you flip through your papers to get to that topic. It’s a growth process.

Noe: Do you find it more challenging in the heart of football season to hit on everything you want to get in there, or is it now where it’s a lot slower? Which is more challenging?

Brent: Challenging might not be the word, it’s just different. I have fun in — I love football, it’s my favorite thing — but doing what we do, I actually think I have more fun in the non-football area because of the random things that we can talk about. We’re a Nashville show. We love the city of Nashville. We’re going to talk about things that happen in Nashville. It’s not necessarily going to be sports-related.

If I walk over to the Tin Roof and sit down and talk with people, if there’s 100 people in there, what percentage of people just want to talk about sports? That’s all they’re interested in. Four? We think of it in terms of, hopefully, entertaining people every day. We have no fear at all, in fact we love doing it — going off topic. That infuriates stick-to-sports guy, but I don’t care.

Mickey: Four percent of the guys who want only sports. They get infuriated.

Brent: This time of year is really, really fun to me. For example today, we’ve got this college basketball corruption scandal and that’s going to be a healthy part of the show, but we also have one of the top-20 tennis players in the world coming on. We’ve got one of the best hockey players in the world coming on. Guests kind of dictate topics with us.

Noe: In terms of the goals you have for the show, does anything change that mindset when you’ve gone thru lineup changes?

Brent: For me, no. My job is to help our clients grow their business. From there it’s to entertain the guy that’s at a job that he hates, is having an awful day, and is in his car for 45 minutes and wants to be entertained. He wants an escape from whatever it is he’s dealing with and everybody’s dealing with something. Those are the two things I think about. As long as it’s a room full of creative people that like to have fun, I’m good.

Mickey: When we were driving around 21 years ago in that Escort station wagon, I used to tell him, “Look, here’s my goal; I’m going to put as many people’s kids on TV tonight as I can. We’re going to spray the crowd. We’re going to have the band. We’ll have an establishing shot of the cheerleaders and I want to put as many people’s kids and grandkids and neighbors and friends on TV as I can, to give more people a reason to watch.”

Brent: I’ve always thought about that too. I remember him saying that and that really stuck out to me. I think about that all the time.

Mickey: When you go out and you’re in the grocery store and you’re the TV person and they go, “You had my nephew on the other night,” and I say, “Oh, did he score a touchdown?” And she said, “No, you just said how cool he looked. He was the tuba player,” and I’m like, “Oh, I remember him.” But that meant the same thing to her as the kid who scored the touchdown that won the game. That’s her nephew or friend or son or grandson or whatever. To me that was so powerful to do that.

When we go out and people tell us, “Life is going this way and there’s some bad things happening, but I’ll tell you what, I know when I’m in the car listening to you guys, I can forget about it.” That’s the greatest, to me, thing that anybody can say about what we do is you helped me forget my problems for an hour or for 30 minutes, or gosh there are some people who are going to listen to the whole show I guess on their computer at work.

Brent: God love ‘em.

Mickey: Yeah, those are special people, but for somebody to say, “Man, I’m going through this terrible thing, but I know I’ve got a refuge for X amount of time with you guys every day.” That’s one of the main reasons that we do what we do. We love doing it, but we love the interaction with people and knowing that you can actually help somebody have a better day, forget something bad that’s going on in their life.

Even if we come in and things aren’t great for us, we still think, “Gosh, there’s a whole lot of people listening — they have bigger problems, they have bigger things they’re dealing with than we do, not that we’re immune to dealing with things, but let’s just get together. Let’s entertain them. Let’s enlighten them. Let’s tell them what’s going on in the sports world. Let’s have a few laughs. Let’s give them a little kind of place they can go for four hours a day.”

Noe: Do you think hosts lose track of that where it’s “I want to be a hot-take guy” and it gets too far away from wanting to entertain people?

Dawn: Yes.

Brent: Yeah, but everybody has to be themselves and this is who we are, and I love it. I’m so blessed to have been able to do this on this radio station. 104.5 The Zone is one of the best radio stations in the country. I am so blessed to have been able to work with four of the most talented radio people that I could ever be around. I’m so happy with the team we have here with Mickey and Dawn. I’m looking forward to the next however long y’all want to do this. 50 years? 60?

Dawn: Time to retire. (laughing) Seriously this guy, they were like, “Oh, you guys want Presidents’ Day off?” I’m like, “Oh yeah, let’s take it off.” They’re like, “Oh, well are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want to work?” I’m like, “What is wrong with you? I love my job, but you guys are not normal.”

Brent: I mean there’s flame-thrower guy out there, that’s not me. That’s not what we do. That’s not who we are.

Dawn: We don’t have the hot-take, piss-you-off, be-mean-to-you-kind-of person really. Unless you really push our buttons.

Mickey: The angry Chihuahua. One of the first conversations we ever had was let’s just pretend like we’re in a sports bar talking to our friends. Let’s talk to people. We’ve always tried to talk with people and not at people.

Brent: There are times when everybody gets riled up. It’s an opinionated business. We’re paid to have an opinion. That’s the reality of the situation, but I think we’re more into building people up.

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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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Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not

“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”

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There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City. 

Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in. 

A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.

“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”

Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show

“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”

He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.

“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”

For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.

“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”

“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”

So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN. 

But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.

“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.

“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”

But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.

“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”

He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.

“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”

Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely. 

Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task. 

“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”

Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm. 

Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success. 

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Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”

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The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.

The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.

Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.

But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.

When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.

There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.

And the fans know it.

The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person. 

In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night. 

They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.

And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.

I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.

A star is born.

When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”

And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.

But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.

“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”

He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.

“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”

But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.

“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.

And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.

Resonating with Boston 

When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.

It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said. 

While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time. 

Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.

“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”

But there just may be something else at play.

“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”

The Family Dynamic 

Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.

But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?

“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”

“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”

What’s Next?

At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?

“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”

Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.

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