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CBS Sports Radio Wants Taz To Be Taz

“All Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.”

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Nineteen years ago, the wrestler known as Taz made a decision that would change the life of the man named Peter Senercia. If you didn’t know, Taz and Peter are the same guy. Also, if you didn’t know, the change had nothing to do with wrestling.

Taz was already a star during his run in Extreme Championship Wrestling. His defection to the WWF (remember, this was pre-rebrand) was big news in the industry, and the way the WWF chose to introduce him to their fans was even bigger news. 

He was the mystery opponent that would face Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2000. It was a perfect introduction. Taz made Angle submit, and ended the former Olympian’s undefeated streak at Madison Square Garden.

Image result for tazz 2000 royal rumble

So how did he go from that life to one that has him waking up well before dawn every morning to talk about Carson Wentz’s health or whether or not Anthony Davis will join LeBron in Laker Land? 

His journey to a nationally syndicated sports radio show began, naturally, in the professional wrestling world. Long before he and Marc Malusis were handling morning duties for CBS Sports Radio, Vince McMahon was tricking Taz into auditioning for a role at the broadcast table on Smackdown.

“I got a couple of injuries. I tore my bicep and I had this recurring neck injury,” Taz told me as we sat in an empty office at CBS Sports Radio’s Manhattan headquarters in September. 

It was the middle of 2001. The writers had put him in a feud with Smackdown color commentator Jerry “the King” Lawler. Vince had an idea to have Taz show how little he respected Lawler by doing his job for one match.

Image result for jerry lawler and tazz

“They wanted me to sit in for the opening match as a color commentator, mocking him and working with Michael Cole. Just one match, then Jerry was supposed to attack me from behind and take back his seat,” Taz said. 

“I was like ‘Cool. Yeah. No problem.’ And then I did the match and then I sat there. I was waiting for someone in my headset to tell me to leave, because Jerry Lawler never attacked me.”

Taz wasn’t the only one that was confused. As match after match started and ended he sat at the table with play-by-play man Michael Cole. 

“I didn’t get it. I looked at Michael Cole and he was like ‘I don’t know, man.'” You can sense some frustration in his voice as he tells the story. “Guys come out, they wrestle, and I’m like ‘What’s going on here? Why am I just calling all these matches?'”. 

Jerry Lawler eventually did attack him from behind, it just took longer than Taz was told it would. “I forgot he was coming. I mean, like, it really hurt.”

When he got back to the locker room, Vince McMahon told Taz that he liked the way Taz sounded. The only response Taz could come up with was “What do you mean?”

That is when Vince explained his vision for the next phase of Taz’s career. Injuries were mounting for him. Usually, wrestlers in that situation get released. They either retire or head back to the independent circuit working for a fraction of a fraction of what they got in the WWF. But that wasn’t what Vince wanted for Taz.

The travel schedule was taking its toll on Lawler, who was handling analyst duties on both Smackdown and Monday Night Raw. The WWF needed someone to take over those duties on Smackdown, and Taz made his home in the suburbs of New York City. It would be no problem at all for him to make the hour trip to the company’s Stamford, Connecticut headquarters to receive the training necessary to turn him into a star.

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Taz would hold various broadcasting roles for the company until 2009. That didn’t mean he was entirely done in the ring. He would win a tag team championship in 2002, and when his time at the WWE was over, he would join the TNA Wrestling brand. 

But something else happened while he was calling matches for the WWE that got us from there to here with Taz’s career.

Michael Cole, who had spent time working for CBS Radio as a reporter before finding his way to professional wrestling, had a connection at a radio station in Houston. This connection called Michael and said that Smackdown would be taping an episode at the Toyota Center while his morning show was on vacation for the holidays. Did Michael and Taz want to fill in on the show?

Cole pitched Taz on the idea. In his mind, it made total sense. The WWE was going to pay for their flight no matter when they got to Houston. Why not go a day or two early and have some fun on the radio?

Taz didn’t see it that way. “I didn’t want to do it, and he’s like ‘Taz, just do it. Come on. It’ll be fun.’ I said ‘Radio’s hard dude! I’m a TV guy and radio is very hard!’ I knew that much.”

Cole eventually won him over. They did the shows, and Taz was hooked. It wouldn’t be the last shows the duo would do together on radio either. They would go on to host a week of shows on Howard Stern’s Sirius channel and then periodically on New York’s Free FM.

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Taz says the fact that radio was so hard is why it appealed to him and made him want to be on the air more. Michael Cole told me in an email that it wasn’t as hard for Taz as Taz thinks.

“Taz is a natural broadcaster. He has a very unique take on a wide variety of subjects and really connects with the audience.”

Mark Chernoff must have seen that natural talent too. The Format Captain for sports radio at Entercom isn’t putting just anyone in morning drive on any of his stations, let alone on the company’s nationally syndicated network. 

When I asked him if he could see skills from Taz’s WWE days translating into his radio career Chernoff said, “Well, he’s an entertainer and if you don’t know how to entertain then being in the media and being on a daily radio show probably isn’t for you.

“You can’t teach entertainment. You know, people can pick up knowledge as they go, but personality and entertainment? Either you have it or you don’t. He’s got it. If you just talk to him off the air, he’s entertaining. He’s got a big personality.”

That big personality is key to what Taz and Marc Malusis do every morning on CBS Sports Radio, because all Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.

Image result for taz and moose

See, Taz may not make a living in the ring anymore, but he is still wrapped up in the business. He’s never given up The Taz Show, his thrice-weekly podcast where he gives opinions and responds to listeners’ opinions on the most recent developments in professional wrestling. 

If you’ve ever looked at ESPN or Fox and noticed how much their websites devote to WWE coverage or how often WWE Superstars show up on those networks, you have seen the reach of Taz’s influence. Radio.com, which hosts The Taz Show, was the first outlet that wasn’t wrestling-specific to offer real time reaction to some of the sport’s biggest events. That turned into the show streaming live on Radio.com everyday.

“I’ve been at every agent meeting and every production meeting in my history with ECW, the WWE, and TNA. I’ve sat with Hulk Hogan and in conference rooms with Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo and Vince McMahon and on and on and on,” Taz says as if he needs to sell me that he knows what he is talking about.

When I ask what it is about his show though that created an opportunity for him that didn’t materialize for other popular wrestlers-turned-podcasters like Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Jim Ross, his answer comes quick and is unwavering.

“Not only were we taking listener phone calls, but I was proud that (The Taz Show) wasn’t guest driven. It was topic driven. Those two things are very different, as you know.”

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In that way, The Taz Show is structured way more like a sports radio show than any of iTunes’ other most popular wrestling podcasts. It also forced Taz to drive the bus and learn how to develop topics and opinions instead of being a good listener and reacting to someone else’s story.

Still though, a lot of what Taz & The Moose is is uncharted water for the pro wrestling icon. For one, he will admit that he is still learning to be a fan of everything. That’s not easy to do when you grew up a New York sports fan and are doing sports radio in New York City.

When I ask Taz how often he has to remind himself that the show can’t just be about the Yankees and Red Sox or what the Giants should do with Eli Manning in the offseason, he laughs. “Almost everyday,” he says. “And our bosses remind us.”

Chernoff says Taz doesn’t give himself enough credit. He thinks Taz focuses so much on what he isn’t supposed to do that he forgets how much he is doing right.

“Some of our meetings it’s just ‘remember that you’re doing a national sports show,’ and I give (Taz and Marc) lists of where they’re on. You have to remember where you’re on in national radio, and when you’re on. On the West Coast, stations that are taking the show live are airing it in overnight.”

Chernoff, who in addition to running CBS Sports Radio has run WFAN in New York since 1993, is very familiar with analyzing audiences and topics. He told me that what he wants Taz to remember is that it is okay to do local radio for the affiliates.

“On WXYT in Detroit or WJZ in Baltimore, if there’s things going on there, those are pretty big cities! Even in some of the smaller markets. You know, they’re on in a lot of Ohio. Ohio State football and all that is going on with Urban Meyer might be a local story for that audience, but there is huge national interest.”

Taz will always be able to connect with an audience regardless of what he is talking about. So what if he has to remind himself that maybe a listener in Kansas City might not care about how Manny Machado would fit in the Yankees’ lineup?

That listener probably isn’t counting on Taz to deliver a nuanced take on what Dedric Lawson allows Kansas’s offense to do when he is on the floor. They are coming to Taz to entertain them, because for so many guys in America, that is what Taz has been doing for nearly 20 years (25 if you’re an old school ECW fan).

Sitting across from him it is easy to see how he connects with people. We spent the better part of an hour together and I walked away feeling like we were buddies. Why? Because he tells great stories, has a big, infectious laugh, and just exudes charm.

I never asked Taz if he would give up his radio success to be able to get back in the ring and compete at the highest level of pro wrestling night-in-and-night-out again. I didn’t have to. It’s clear Taz is where he thinks he is supposed to be.

“There’s nothing like radio, and I am proud to say I’m a radio guy. I’ve become a radio guy, and that didn’t happen overnight. I feel like my career has evolved over the years. I’m blessed, and I am happy about that. 

“I can tell you it is my dream job, doing daily radio. It’s tough, and yeah, it is a grind. There are some days you don’t want to go on air, but once the mic goes on, you gotta bring the energy to get people awake. You gotta have fun.”

BSM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

It all came together very quickly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

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

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

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

Bull can certainly relate to that.

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other simple tricks

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

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

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