The temperature read minus 11 degrees as Sean Pendergast turned into the driveway of his Chicago home. Only a couple of hours before, he had been informed his job as VP of Sales would no longer be available to him. The company he had been with for over 10 years no longer needed his services. He was unemployed while trying to raise three children. Along with that tough news, he was also going through a divorce that had turned his personal life upside down. It was a cold, dark night on February 23rd, 2007 and Pendergast felt he had hit rock bottom.
But one simple email may have changed his life forever, and it just so happened to have come earlier that day. A co-worker in Houston, who also lost his job that day, asked that Pendergast reach out to his contacts at Sports Radio 610 in hopes of landing a gig on the sales staff. After being crowned as a 5-time Smack-Off winner on the Jim Rome Show, Sean “The Cablinasian” had gained notoriety over the radio, as well as contacts at the biggest sports station in Houston. As he sent the email to someone in production that would get the resume in the right hands, Pendergast, as a joke ended with:
“PS. Carve out a couple of hours on the weekend for me. I may be coming, too.”
What was intended as a harmless joke, ended up as a twist of fate, as Pendergast soon received a call regarding the message at the bottom of the email. Chance McClain, the recipient, called Pendergast with the news that he and a group of others from Sports Radio 610 were starting a new sports radio station in Houston named 1560 The Game. Not only did McClain want Pendergast to be a part of it, he wanted to capitalize off his notoriety from the Jim Rome Show and host the afternoon drive.
That was Pendergast’s first conversation over the phone regarding a career in sports radio. The next, he was told, would come in the next few days. It would actually come five minutes later, as John Granato, the man in charge of putting the daily lineup together, called for the interview that would ultimately decide if Pendergast would get his first job in radio. Much to his surprise, the interview wasn’t much of an interview at all. Instead, the phone call consisted of Granato asking, “So, are you coming?”
Pendergast was the kid who grew up in the northeast, calling into radio stations as a 12-year-old, disguising his voice as someone who was over 18, so he wouldn’t get kicked off the air. He was the college student with the radio show that loved the craft and dreamed of becoming a host. He was the adult that just got let go from a job he hated while going through the most challenging tribulation of his life. And now, in his late 30’s he was a first-time sports radio host in Houston.
John Harris, now the sideline reporter for the Houston Texans, would serve as Pendergast’s first co-host at 1560 The Game. The two shared a lot of similarities, as Harris was also doing a show for the first time after leaving a regular job that he hated. For the next four years, Pendergast and Harris would cut their radio chops on the afternoon show of the fourth-highest rated sports station in Houston.
After showing early talent and experiencing success in his new sports radio role, Pendergast came to the conclusion around year three at The Game that he needed to find a way to Sports Radio 610. Sure, he was thankful for the opportunity given, but now it was time to make his way to the biggest and best station in town. The one he always listened to while living in Houston and calling the Jim Rome Show. The one that was the home of the Houston Texans. Pendergast started by networking in any and every way he could.
That started with Pendergast making it a point to introduce himself and talk to the Sports Radio 610 PD at every Texans game in the press box. He also became friendly with the other radio hosts at 610, just in case they’d have something nice to say if his name was floated around for a position at the station.
Eventually, in 2012, he would get an interview with 610 for a host position on the morning show. However, he would come up short as the station decided to hire current Fox Sports host Nick Wright. Though he didn’t get the gig he was striving for, he left with pieces of advice that would help him down the road with 610. Through the interview process, PD Gavin Spittle taught Pendergast how to structure his contract, as well as other things he could do to help improve his craft and become more hirable.
After taking those suggestions to heart, a host position on the afternoon show at 610 would open a year later. On January 1st, 2014, Pendergast conquered his goal of making it to the best station in Houston. Though he took an abnormal journey to the host seat, Pendergast’s story is one of how well networking can work. Whether it’s an email or simply engaging with important decision makers, the slightest things can alter someone’s career path in the sports radio industry. Luck is always needed, but working hard and making the right connections will never go out of style.
Today, you can hear Pendergast on The Triple Threat weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Radio 610 in Houston.
TM: I think a lot of people may be in this situation. You lived it, so you’re perfect to ask. If you’re a host at the smaller station in town and want to get to the bigger one, would you do so by sacrificing pay and title? Such as becoming a producer or reporter?
SP: I don’t think I would have taken a backward step professionally, because the guy you want to be is the host. I had three kids at the time I was making that career decision, they were all around their high school years, so I had a line that I had to draw that said, okay, you can’t go below this. Now I did take a pay cut to go over to 610. I was making decent money at 1560, I had been there a while, I had some good sponsors and even though our ratings and signal weren’t great, our sponsors and listeners were very loyal. But I did take a pay cut to move stations. It was almost a ‘prove it to me’ kind of thing and so I busted my ass the first three years there and we had really good ratings.
I always made it a point to be very involved with sponsors and the sales, which I don’t know that everyone in this business does, but the one thing I’ve benefited from is my background for 15 years in the business world. It’s really helped me in terms of being a radio businessman. After the pay cut to move to 610, I crunched the numbers and knew where I had to be in order to make ends meet and provide for my kids, child support, things like that. But it was worth it. I always feel like if you work hard at it, if you’re good at it, you may take a couple of steps backwards but be five steps forward. That’s how it’s worked out for me and it’s really gratifying.
TM: Is that a PD and an owners dream? To have a host that’s good, but is also willing and has experience in the sales world?
SP: It would be for me. Let’s face it, the most important thing is revenue. Ratings are obviously important, but we know how flawed that system is. At the end of the day, it’s all about making money.
I’ve been in a position of management and leadership in the corporate world, never in radio, but If I were a PD or a manager of a cluster, and I was looking at hosts where all things were equal in terms of on the air talent, but one had a background of being cognizant of the business side and understood what the sales staff had to go through, I would think that would be nirvana.
TM: With social media being such a big part of our daily lives, could a host contribute by developing and keeping a relationship with a client with Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
SP: No question about it. It’s big for me, and I know the sales staff at the station uses my social media following as a selling point. Not because it’s just a decent size, it’s decent in terms of a local host, it’s not in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s 28 thousand or so of a lot of Houstonians. I engage a lot on there, and I think it’s important that they know I’m very active with it.
It’s not just me tweeting something out because you ask me to, I feel strongly about the products I endorse and I try to present them in a humorous and creative way. I know the clients I have think social media is important. That’s half the thing. The perception of the client, whether it truly winds up being important or not, I don’t know if we can truly measure that yet. I think it’s still this animal we’re trying to wrap our arms around. But I do think it’s a measure of relevance.
I do think you can use it creatively and I have clients that even pay me just for the social media following. They don’t have the budget for radio, but they know I have a social media following. They pay me for my engagement on social media to talk about their business. There’s not many, just a couple, but I think it’s crucially important and evolving. I think as more things go online it becomes more important. I know that was the reason I got hired at 610, because I had a big social media following.
TM: Changing gears a bit since you’ve been at a low moment where you’ve lost a job. Is it tough working at a station where things are changing and people are getting replaced?
SP: Emotionally, it’s hard. We just had that happen last week, our HR director, who’s been super helpful for me, I mean if you have kids and you have benefits, your best friend is the HR director. Ours just got let go, because Entercom is consolidating some of those positions. It’s really hard to watch. But from the position I’m in, there’s very little I can do about it.
You feel for those people, you wish them the best, and offer whatever help you can, but for me, as a host, I just want to make myself as valuable as possible. I think the way you do that, is twofold. One is the revenue side, taking care of sponsors and making sure you’re engaged with them, whether it’s taking them to lunch, inviting them to the studio, or even inviting them to Texans practice. You also need to have conversations with them and understand where their challenges are to see where we’re falling short. Also finding out what we can do to tweak our approach to make radio work for them. You can have the greatest relationship in the world, but eventually you’re going to reach a breaking point where the client looks at it and realizes they can’t spend money on something that’s not working.
The other way to do it, and something I set out to do, is to show versatility. My personal goal was to host a two-man show as No. 1 chair, host a two-man show as a No.2 chair and host a solo show on a pretty regular basis. Just so I can show versatility and show my station that whatever needed to be done, I could do it.
TM: You drive a three-man afternoon show, along with Ted Johnson and Rich Lord, with Ted being the ex-athlete and football guy. How do you balance each day, when some days need to be driven more towards certain hosts on the show?
SP: It’s my job to make sure that I’m self-aware enough to know that I have topics from the rundown that are Ted friendly or Rich friendly, or something that I know we’ll get a real healthy debate on. Not to the point where everyone is going to end up hating each other behind the scenes, but something that’s a healthy debate that we’ll have a difference of opinion on. We’ve been together long enough for me to know what that stuff is.
The best advice I got when I moved to a three-man show was from Jim “JR” Ross. His advice was to be the point guard. He did a three-man booth back in the day for Monday Night Raw and he told me to be aware of what everyone’s strengths are and that they’re getting their touches. That’s kind of what I’ve abided by, is just accessing as the show goes along that everyone is getting their stuff in.
TM: Here’s something else that’s a little off topic but I’ve been pondering on it. Why it may not be that big of a leap, I have a theory that I always try to find radio people when I need a guest for a show. Reason being, is that I believe being entertaining with a good flow is just as important as information. Radio hosts understand that and not all newspaper and internet writers do. Do you take that thinking into account with your show? Or just look for solid information that someone on the beat can provide?
SP: To me, the best interviews are the ones where they leave some nuggets. The ones where you look at the text page after they’re done and people are texting in to react what they said. Reporters aren’t always the best for that, because their strength is supposed to be just reporting the truth and getting the facts.
I tend to like radio guys or people whose platform is either internet based or podcast based. I think there are TV guys or reporters who like to get on the radio and deliver their opinions, because maybe their medium doesn’t allow them to do so. I just want make sure that someone, at the end of the day, is interesting and that the audience is learning something.
That’s the biggest thing. I want to feel like they’re coming away with something that’s either a fact they didn’t already know or some point of view they hadn’t previously thought of. I just want to make sure they’re interesting and give interesting answers.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.