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A Conversation with WIP Program Director Spike Eskin

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The workforce is filled with people who have a job from following the footsteps of a parent, but those that find a career in radio rarely do it because they stumbled on the position.  A career in radio is built on passion, and although Spike Eskin grew up in the business, it’s not his father’s legendary status in Philadelphia sports radio that sees Spike with the position he’s in now, but Spike’s own passion and love for the industry that has him programming the station he grew up listening to.

The current program director for WIP in Philadelphia has filled more jobs than you could find at one radio station.  First, building a 15-year career in music radio, transitioning to sports talk, hosting afternoons on the same station that his father helped build and now he’s putting his stamp on Philly’s beloved WIP from the PD chair.  Mix in website work, social media among other responsibilities and the 42-year old Spike Eskin is as well-rounded as anyone in radio.

Spike grew up in Philly, he understands what makes WIP tick, but also offers a modern perspective of how to maintain the station’s future success.  Eskin began hosting podcasts before most people ever heard of the platform and uses his creative drive to program the station.

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Spike in Philly to discuss his career and ideas on the industry as a programmer.

BC: We’ll skip when did you first become interested in radio since you grew up around it, but at what point did you decide to make a career in radio…and not sports radio, but radio in general.

SE: I think like a lot of radio people, once you discover you like it there are very few options besides doing this.  I remember my freshman year, I went to Southern Cal and I took a communications class in my third trimester and realized I enjoyed journalism as a career so I transferred to Syracuse and started working at their college station, Z89 and it was really then.

Instead of having a fraternity or parties, I had the radio station and for us at the station, that was our obsession.  Back then it was music radio that I became really passionate about, but once it clicked in college I don’t think I ever thought about doing anything else.

BC: When you were in music radio did you look at the talk format as a possibility?

SE: No, I worked in music radio until 2011 so that was 15 years and it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started to get a little bored because music radio went to a place where creativity wasn’t important anymore, so I started doing podcasts while I was at WYSP about 10 or 11 years ago.

BC: Which is pretty early on, not many people had a podcast 10 years ago.

SE: Yea, it’s funny. I found a bunch of the old pods on a drive I have…they’re not good (laughs) but they were reps.  The talk aspect seemed fun and I started writing about sports for the WYSP website and my former boss, Andy Bloom, let me do a show on 610 WIP while I was still a music DJ.  I realized how hard it was, but I would say my last few years in music radio, I started to find sports talk interesting, I don’t know that I thought it was something I expected to do forever, but I was interested.

BC: You were doing podcasts before probably 95% of the people that have a podcast today, how important are they to a radio station and to piggyback off that question…you’re offering podcasts as content to listeners, but you also don’t want to drive them away from listening terrestrially because that’s what generates ratings, so how do you balance that?

SE: I think of our podcasts as an extension of the brand.  I don’t want another version of a show that’s on the air terrestrially to also be on as a podcast, I want it to deliver in a different way.  For some of our younger hosts that don’t get a lot of air time, it’s a great opportunity to get reps, extend their brand and build a fan base.

Sports radio is a very specific type of content. I think podcasts should fill different desires.  I don’t think you can be scared of driving people away from listening terrestrially because if that’s the case then you shouldn’t stream, don’t produce podcasts at all, don’t acknowledge that there’s television or music because everything can drive people away from listening on the radio.  You have to think about the brand of your radio station in a bigger more holistic sense.  The more I can get people to know about WIP the brand, ratings are great, but I want to reach everyone.  If a person stops listening to the radio station because they’re listening to our podcasts so intently, I will find a way to measure and monetize that person.

BC: There are a lot of people that would like if you figured out how to monetize that person.

SE: The whole world is trying to figure it out, but I want to be in the business of having a brand that people care about and getting audience share, not just in the Nielsen sense, but in the overall headspace.  When they think about sports in Philadelphia, I just want them to think about us and there are different approaches.

Our voice on Twitter cannot be like our voice on Facebook. They’re different audiences.  Our voice on the air will not be like our voice on Twitter.  Twitter is younger. They love the NBA all the time.  Our radio listeners are a little bit older than the standard Twitter user. They like football more.

These are all extensions of our brand and I don’t think we can be scared of them.  Thankfully, Entercom has the same view, they believe in live and local content, they believe in sports and radio, but they’re also the second biggest podcast creator in the country.

BC: I always loved talk radio because of its intimacy, it took me awhile to get into podcasts because I didn’t think you could connect with the host the same way, but they’re relaxed and allow the host to experiment and try different things and it does build that connection.  How many podcasts do you have affiliated with WIP? 

SE: We probably have 15 that are done regularly and we have a relationship with BGN Radio where they have their own podcast and they have a show on WIP which is really big, but we really believe in podcasting.

BC: How often do you do your podcast, Right’s to Ricky Sanchez?

SE: Twice a week, depending on the Sixers schedule we might do three or four if there’s a lot going on and we’ve been going for five years on July 10th.

BC: That’s a great name, (laughs) not as good as Me and Giglio Down by the Schoolyard. (WIP host Joe Giglio’s podcast)

SE: (laughs) It’s the greatest name ever, he couldn’t think of a name so I told him to ask on Twitter.  He came back with the list and I said Joe…it’s not even close, it’s Me and Giglio Down by the Schoolyard…a lot of your Twitter followers might be too young to get it, but it’s so funny you have to go with it.

Joe is a great example, he’s our evening host, but half the year the Phillies are on so he’s doing pre and post, but the podcast was his idea because all these things are happening in sports that he doesn’t get to talk about and he’s losing out on reps.  Now he’s getting reps and has a way to build more of a following and connect his social media fans with fans that would listen to him on-air.

BC: Was it ever frustrating when you were getting started in sports radio, especially since you already had a 15-year radio career that you built on your own, but I’m sure you still had people saying you were only on-air because of your father?

SE: (laughs) I’m almost 42 and I still get some of that.  There was a point after I got the job in Chicago at a big station in a big market, that wasn’t at all attached to Philly, the Howard Eskin stuff stopped bothering me and I started to be proud of what he accomplished instead of being intimidated by it.  I’ll never forget, a listener told me…if people are bringing that up then it means they can’t find anything else that you’re doing wrong.  Right around then, maybe when I turned 30 it stopped bothering me.

When I started here, I started doing web and social media and a little bit on-air, one show a week.  I had some relationships with people at WIP already and I think I was established just enough to where they knew how different I was from my dad.  If you’re opinionated enough in sports radio, they’d rather fight about those opinions, I thought Michael Vick should start over Nick Foles, most people focused on that instead (laughs), if you’re doing it right they weren’t worried about who my father was.

BC: It’s similar to a professional athlete, you have Ike Reese and Jon Ritchie on-air, retired football players, I’m sure they had to deal with building credibility and listeners saying what do you know about the Phillies you’re a football player!  As ridiculous as that sounds, I never played a professional sport yet I know more about the Phillies because you played professional football not baseball.

SE: (Laughs) Right, if anything he should know more just because he played a professional sport.

BC: Of course, but they still have to earn trust from the listeners, so being Howard Eskin’s son, did you ever feel pressured to be extra opinionated or throw out a crazy hot take to build credibility?

SE: No, I think one of the good things about starting when I did is that I was pretty comfortable with who I was.  I started in sports radio when I was 34 or 35 and been on the radio for 15 years and even though it wasn’t sports, I was really comfortable in my own skin.  I’m wildly different from my father in terms of personality type and views on things.

I actually think one of the things that made me not the best sports talk host was that I was probably a little too reasonable on the air.  “Well you know the truth is really in the middle”…(laughs). That doesn’t really work for sports radio.  So no, I never really felt pressure about it, I think we were so different and our differences were easily highlighted.

BC: Do you think it’s more important for a sports radio host to be passionate about sports or passionate about radio?

SE: I’ve always said that what we do is about radio and not sports.  I think I learned that when I started music and it was Top 40.  I didn’t like Top 40 music at the time, but I worked in it for a month and at the time it was Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and I loved it…then I went to active rock, then I went to alternative and then classic rock, I realized my job was to connect with who was listening and while the music was important to me personally, it wasn’t really important to my job.

I think our best hosts are the ones that are opinionated communicators and love radio.  You can’t do this job without knowing sports, but give me a guy that is passionate about radio and knows sports and I can probably turn him into a sports talk host better than the other way around.

BC: Right, if Howard Stern had a casual interest in sports he could’ve been the best sports talk host ever, but the biggest sports fan that doesn’t know about radio might not be successful.

SE: Our listeners love us, which is awesome, but some of them will say “I think I’d be a great host on WIP” and I’ll ask them why?  “Because I know everything about sports”…and in the back of my mind I know that’s just a base, this isn’t a quiz show.  Everyone has a smartphone with every answer to every sports question ever, knowing the answer is not the most important thing.

BC: Which is also why many sports radio hosts can switch markets and be successful without knowing everything about the market they’re going into.

SE: I’m always amazed by that. I remember when Josh Innes started here from Houston and then with Chris Carlin where I got to see it up close, but I never thought about someone moving here and having to be on our radio station without having lived all of this.

I’m amazed by sports hosts that can do that, especially Philly which is a specific type of place, but that’s hard.  I can take a local host and make them a national host a lot easier than I could take a national host and put them in a local market.

BC: Who were some radio guys you looked up to when you were younger other than your dad?

SE: I was an enormous Howard Stern fan, I would tape the show when I would go to school, I’d sit in the parking lot and listen, I’d buy the pay-per-views and had Crucified By The FCC at home. I was obsessed with Stern.

There was a jock on Power 99 in Philly called Golden Boy and I loved him, he was the first DJ that I really liked.  When I was an intern at YSP there was a guy called Cousin Ed that I really liked, but Stern was really the guy for me.

I also listened to so much WIP when I was younger and I loved Mac and Mac, Glen Macnow and Jody McDonald who were on before my dad, Craig Carton was also great on IP.

BC: I’m always interested with people in radio, whether or not they’re Stern fans because I can’t see how someone in this industry doesn’t think he’s at the top.  And I wasn’t even a listener before he went to Sirius, but even if you don’t like all of the jokes and different things he did, just from an interview standpoint he’s fascinating to listen to.

SE: The most important thing I took from Stern was…and podcasts do a great job of this.  The thing about Stern is if you’re not a regular listener and you turn it on and everyone is laughing at something, you might not be able to figure out for 25 minutes what was funny, but they formed a community that made it if you did think it was funny you felt like you were part of a club joking around with your friends.  Forming that community aspect of the show…was the best thing Howard did.  I’ll even see it now if I’m listening to Howard and my wife is with me. I’m laughing and she’s just staring at me because she can’t figure out what’s funny.

BC: How was the transition of being on-air and then going into programming?

SE: I think it got to a point where I was doing web-work, on-air, KYW Newsradio, TV, social media…and I hit a crossroads where I had to pick what I really wanted to do.  I honestly remember, when Innes got here at night and after 20 minutes of listening to him, I thought…this guy’s our night host?  And I’m not even close to as good as he is…

I always loved programming, when I was on the air in music and got into music programming, the goal was to get off the air.   I think the reason is, I love the process of creating it, but four or five hours a day, five days a week, I don’t know how they do it.  It’s tedious to me.  When Jeff Sottolano left and the opportunity as program director came up, I felt like I had put some time in here and really understood the radio station.  Obviously my time in Philly, my history with the radio station made me a unique guy so it happened at the perfect time for me.

BC: It was a pretty different route to go from a large market on-air personality into management.

SE: Well I was an APD at WYSP and at Q101 in Chicago I was left in charge.  The thing I love about programming is I love helping people to get better and it gives me the ability to be creative on a more macro level without the tediousness of having to do it for four hours a day.

BC: That’s interesting, I would think one of the things you loved about being on-air was the creative aspect because it’s a great outlet, and you would usually think of the program director as someone who doesn’t have that creative passion.

SE: What I love doing is sitting in with the shows and they’ll be trying to figure out what the topic is and I could come up with the take and they’ll get excited and say yea that’s it!  I’ll say great…now you have to do it because I can’t do it for four hours (laughs).

It’s easy to come up with the take that the Eagles made a mistake not trading Nick Foles, but to execute it, make it compelling and make people want to argue and agree and feel passionately…that’s where the host’s talent comes in.  I have just enough in the on-air and creation part of the show to fulfill that desire.

BC: Do you think you differ from most sports radio program directors in large markets?  Are they as creative in developing topics for shows?

SE: I don’t know. I have never been much of an industry person.  I respect that we have some great PD’s at Entercom right now, and I have had some good dialogue with them, but my dialogue has never been what’s your day like?  So I don’t know how they do it. I do know that now as a PD you have to be more versatile than you ever had to be in the past, so I don’t know if I’m different, but it works for me here.

BC: What about in terms of developing topics, the balance of leaving the sports realm?

SE: I think WIP has always been a station that does that, but I don’t think we can ever forget what we are.  I use the analogy of there being a road that you’re set on. There are cars and turns that get in your way, but you think of your show as that road and the road is Philadelphia sports. That doesn’t mean you don’t pull off the road and get gas.

I think that texture is really necessary, the listeners need to know who the hosts are as people and what TV shows and food they like, but I don’t think you can ever forget why we’re here in the first place.

BC: Andy Bloom was still here when you were hired as PD?

SE: Yea, he hired me as program director and then I took over as the sole programming guy for WIP in January 2016 when he left.

BC: So how did your role change from being program director while he was still here to program director without him here?

SE: It was all my responsibility.  We were a radio station in flux. We had some challenges.  There’s a big difference between having a bunch of ideas for how to get better and then actually being the one to say we’re making this change, or this is not the right host, this is not the right promo, this is not the right clock.

I was more like an APD even when I was hired as PD.  The great thing about being an APD is you can say I think we should play this, I think we should hire that host, and it’s somebody else’s ass whether you do it or not. It’s their call.  They’ll get the credit if it works, but they also get the blame if it doesn’t.  When you’re that person, you need to be certain about everything.  It was a lot more responsibility, but it was also a lot more exciting for me to make the station sound how I felt it should sound.

BC: Obviously the goal is to not have to make lineup changes often, but you’ve had to make quite a few changes in the relatively short amount of time that you’ve been in charge.  Getting rid of someone might not be easy, but how about the excitement level of building a show and especially seeing it pay off with a show being successful.

SE: It’s great.  It’s like being the general manager of a sports team.  The challenges of putting players together who have never played together before is very scary, but also very exciting.  If you’re putting a team together, most times they’ve never worked together before.  You can do all the practice shows you want, but you don’t really know if they can work together until they’ve done it for six months.

When I was growing up listening to WIP, everyone had their favorite show, but you could put WIP on at any time and even if it wasn’t your favorite host, you’d still listen to the station.  That’s the goal, to have different shows with different personalities, but have a cohesive feel within the station so even if it isn’t your favorite show, it’s still WIP.

BC: How helpful has it been to have Angelo Cataldi there throughout all the changes as the anchor of the station.

SE: It’s impossible to…impossible impossible impossible to state the importance of being able to have an anchor like Angelo.

THE BEST who has ever done it in morning sports radio.  I don’t think there is anyone better than him and he’s still doing it at an amazing level.  He’s the Peyton Manning of sports radio, he knows where everyone is going to be, knows the right lane and executes perfectly.

His presence both behind the scenes and on-air allowed the radio station to go through that change.  I don’t know how we would’ve done it without him.

BC: Do you think about needing to replace him when he retires?

SE: Sure, you think about it.  Who knows if it’s two years, five or seven years.  Angelo’s passion for the show hasn’t decreased since I’ve been here so who knows when it will be.  It makes it more difficult because you can’t plan for it specifically. You can keep your eyes and ears open, but that will be the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced at WIP, maybe even in radio.

BC: And you can look at WFAN who just tried to do that with Francesa.

SE: Yea…that was tough for Chris and them.  It will be a challenge, but I’d like to think we’ve put ourselves in a position so that whenever Angelo leaves, we’ll be able to take it head on.

BC: Were you clued in the whole time when Carlin was a possibility to replace Mike?

SE: When Chris came here, WFAN was not in his plans.  I know he’s said that, but having lived it, it really was not a thought.  Chris was coming here to stay in Philly.  When it was presented, I think it was an obvious decision for Chris to want to go to WFAN based on his history, but that being said I think he was really enjoying himself here and the show with Chris and Ike was really starting to hit its stride.  I’m sure he was excited to be back at WFAN, but part of him still would’ve liked to see how things would’ve ended up with Ike here at WIP, but he wasn’t eyeballing that job when he came here.

It took a lot of guts for Chris to come down here.  Coming to Philly as a perceived New Yorker, doing Mets pregame on TV, which you can’t hide from and the first thing people saw when googling Chris was Imus firing him.  To walk into Philly and host with a former all-pro Eagle on afternoon drive in the middle of the football season…that takes guts!  And he survived, he didn’t get to see what the next version was, but he weathered the storm and was a crucial part of us evolving.  Even though he’s not here for it, he provided a bridge for us that I’m very thankful we had.

BC: I want to go back to when you said it takes at least six months to really be able to tell if a show can take off or not. You look at a situation like Carlin going to New York to host with Maggie and Bart when they’ve never done a show together, and you’ve had similar situations here at IP. Are there specific things you’re listening for when you first put hosts together knowing there’s a chance in six months the show might not build the way you wanted it to?

SE: Hearing hosts that give each other the space to be themselves is important.  One thing we’re lucky enough to have with our shows is the hosts are different, but their differences fit.  Our midday and afternoon shows, there are definite quarterbacks of the show, but the other host’s personality and presence is just as big, but they don’t get in each other’s way.  There’s an unspoken chemistry that you can hear, but the most important thing I listen for at first is, are they listening to each other and giving each other space.  If they’re doing those things and you can hear some spark, it’s a good sign.

BC: Did you ever talk to your dad about hosting on WIP full-time again with all of the changes you’ve had to make?

SE: I did not talk to him about it.  It’s funny to say full-time, he is working full-time, just not doing four hours on-air each day.  I don’t want to speak for him, but one thing I think that happened when he stopped doing his afternoon show is he loves the relationships.  He loves being at Eagles practice, getting information and delivering the scoop.  Sometimes the radio show nailed him to a chair for four hours when he could be out getting information and doing something else.

He loved being on-air, but I think this has been a great next career for him.  He still does his Saturday morning show, he does sideline for the Eagles, he does an hour twice a week with Giglio who he loves, he does a weekly spot with the morning show, so he’s on five days a week, but without having to sit in a chair and call people nitwit for four hours a day.

BC: Exclude WIP, and not necessarily the best show, but who do you think is the most talented sports radio host.

SE: Man oh man, (long pause)…I’ll give you two that I love.  I think Damon Amendolara on CBS Sports Radio is amazing.  I remember when I started here I would get to work at 6:30am so I would wake up around 4 and get to hear him doing overnights and I could hear at that point how good he was and now that he has an even bigger opportunity with the network, it’s great.  And then Dan Le Batard is fantastic, he does a lot of those things that Stern did with building a community.

BC: Do you ever see yourself doing five days a week again on-air in any format?

SE: I don’t plan to.  The last time I did it was afternoon’s here with Josh and it was fun, but it was exhausting.  Sports talk radio every day is exhausting.  But here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to radio, I went from late night host to midday producer to late night host to midday host to music director back to late night host to APD to PD to middays in Philly to web and social media guy, to afternoon host and PD…(laughs) I don’t know what two years from now will be like.  I will look at every opportunity when it is in front of me, but when I took this job, my hope was to make sure the next 25 years at WIP are as good as its first 25 years and I plan to do that.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

Barrett Blogs

Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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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