For over 20 years Cumulus Media’s WJOX has served the Birmingham market with its favorite drug: SEC football. The past few years have seen changes externally and internally, but those changes have not caused Alabama’s top sports station to waiver. JOX continuously makes the moves to provide their audience with the content they crave, with a variety of options to keep JOX content in the ears of its audience.
“It’s about a lifestyle. It’s about the college football lifestyle, most notably the SEC,” said Ryan Haney, the operations manager and program director at WJOX in Birmingham, Alabama. “Alabama and Auburn, that’s what fuels us.”
The Alabama market may be perceived as limited to strictly Alabama and Auburn football, but JOX gives its listeners a buffet of sports content to enjoy. The station provides central Alabama with three stations that combine to broadcast 600-700 games a year across a plethora of sports and competition levels, from local high school games to pro ball. Each station presents different takes with different partnerships.
The idea behind JOX is similar to ESPN, Haney said, “Give everybody everything under the JOX umbrella so they won’t go other places.”
JOX 94.5 is the flagship station broadcasting live and local with the premiere shows: JOX Roundtable, 3 Man Front, The Paul Finebaum Show, and JOX Primetime, a live evening show, something that is rare for a market the size of Birmingham. JOX 2 on 100.5 serves Birmingham and Tuscaloosa with JOX content along with ESPN Radio content such as “The Stephen A. Smith Show” and “The Dan Le Batard Show.” JOX 3 690 AM hosts Fox Sports and “The Jim Rome Show,” among others. Between the three Stations, JOX holds rights affiliations with the likes of ESPN, the Tennessee Titans, the Atlanta Falcons and Braves, UAB and many others.
That is a lot of content. But it’s the passion of the fanbases, for better or worse, that drive the market.
Haney says while listeners want their teams to be successful, there is payoff in adversity, citing coach firings, athlete controversies and unexpected losses, such as the one Alabama suffered to Clemson in the national championship, as some of the most listened days.
“Coaching changes and championship losses fire people up more than anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Radio has fought off new media stepping on its turf for over a century, and sports radio has been no different. As impressive as radio’s longevity is, it is not always the battle with the many media outlets that define radio’s victories, but rather how they intertwine and work together.
“It’s different, you know?” Haney said. “The radio industry, when I first got in it, was you did radio, I mean, it was on the dial. That’s what you did. And then came this thing called the internet stream and then this thing called the mobile app, and then it was podcasting.”
An overwhelming variety of new media choices for audiences could have bred fear for radio stations, but embracing new media has been a strength of JOX so far.
“You have to leverage relationships in this business to help each other because at the end of the day, while you’re all fighting for the same consumer, there are strategic ways you can help each other,” Haney said.
Social media plays a big role as well, where talent can show a more human side of themselves to resonate with the audience. Haney said branding is everything, and the way you brand yourself off air is just as important as on.
Those risks don’t just involve working with new media, but new people as well.
Early 2018 brought about a huge change when JOX’s well-established morning show The Opening Drive was replaced by 3 Man Front.
“Change is difficult on everybody. It’s difficult on the listeners, the staff and especially the people that lose employment,” Haney said. “By nature people don’t like change, but like anything, once the decision is made and you’re moving forward, you have a plan and you work that plan every single day.”
3-Man Front is Cole Cubelic, Aaron Suttles and Landrum Roberts. The show airs weekdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CST. Haney elevated his previous mid-day show, The JOX Roundtable, to morning drive after The Opening Drive’s exit.
“It’s raw,” Haney said of his newest show. “You hear those guys, they’re going to tell you what they think, and you may not always agree with it, and it may come off abrasive, but that’s not the intent. But, they’re being real. It goes back to being authentic.”
Roberts worked for JOX early in his career, producing and co-hosting a handful of shows, and after a lengthy break from radio, found himself on one of JOX’s premiere lineups.
Suttles brings a decade’s worth of award-winning journalistic experience. He is also a beat reporter for The Athletic covering Bama football.
Cole Cubelic is the flash hire of the group, having a working relationship with JOX for over a decade while building an impressive run with ESPN that began in 2011. The former Auburn offensive lineman has built a reputation for his honest, straight-forward style.
“In my opinion, Cole is one of the brightest stars at ESPN, and with Cole, what you see is what you get,” Haney said. “I know the guy personally and he’s very kind and reasonable. He’s passionate about what he does.”
The Opening Drive, hosted by Jay Barker, Al Del Greco and Tony Kurre, was a flagship show for JOX. The show’s cancellation shook up the station’s schedule and surprised many listeners.
“Those guys are personal friends of mine that had a tremendous run and they’re as responsible for the success of this radio station right now as anybody,” Haney said.
While 3 Man Front is one of the station’s three local offerings, JOX looks to Paul Finebaum for regional coverage of the SEC. JOX views Finebaum as family despite his show being broadcast from Charlotte, North Carolina. Paul has made an appearance on Mondays regularly for The JOX Roundtable, and The Opening Drive before that for close to a decade, and has shown his faithfulness to JOX while remaining an ESPN employee.
“He’s somebody that, despite where he is now, he still remembers where he’s from and what got him there,” Haney said. “I think what’s really important is that he understands how important he is in the Birmingham market.”
Call-in shows, like Finebaum’s, are a staple in the sports radio business. Haney compares Paul’s show to one of America’s most famous bands.
“Paul is Bruce Springsteen and his callers are the E Street Band, meaning Springsteen could do it on his own, but if you ever saw Springsteen and the E Street Band perform, you see that there’s a lot of really good players involved and Bruce will let his players each have a turn at the spotlight. Well, that’s kind of how Paul does his show,” Haney said.
But in the busy culture of today, and with podcasting on the rise, many consumers miss out on live radio, or simply choose to download their entertainment for their convenience. Rather than fight the idea of a podcast-radio partnership, JOX has embraced the growing medium, using podcasts for a multitude of purposes.
JOX’s main use of podcasts is taking the best segments to create a daily recap that lasts anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, aptly naming this category of content JOX Extra. The idea being, if you miss a show, when you listen back, you get the best content all in one sitting. Haney said it is not realistic to expect listeners to sit and listen to a four hour show after they’ve missed it live.
Haney said JOX Extra is a platform for hosts and producers to flex their muscles with more niche content. “It gives people a chance to talk about stuff they’re passionate about outside of what they just have to talk about,” he said.
From golf to pro wrestling to movie reviews, the audience is there to consume these popular topics that are not necessarily strong enough to combat the lifestyle of SEC football in central Alabama.
“Podcasting gives a great avenue to be authentic. We should be authentic on the air because authenticity creates loyalty, creates equity, with our listeners,” Haney said.
Sports radio is on the upswing and stations like JOX are a big reason why, providing quality content to an important southeastern market. Haney said he sees great things on the horizon as long as JOX sticks to its gameplan.
“If we bring in the right attitude, a game plan where you don’t play scared, you come in everyday and you work to get better,” he said. “You take calculated risks and if they don’t work you change them. That’s how you win.”
As for the future of the sports radio, Haney said the industry could go in a number of different directions, but will only continue its success if it stays flexible and keeps the audience in mind.
“The media landscape will keep changing. It changes daily,” he said. ‘But, if we super-serve our audience with what they want: Alabama, Auburn, the SEC and more, control what we can control, embrace new media, learn from our mistakes and work at them … everything will be fine.”
Tony Bruno Relives Favorite Moments With Angelo Cataldi on 94 WIP
“I loved every day. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that.”
Tony Bruno has been a staple of the sports radio business for decades. Bruno is from Philadelphia and was teamed up in the early nineties with a duo still dominating the local airwaves there today, Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti. The three reunited Thursday morning on 94 WIP to remember the glory days of their partnership and friendship.
One of the first moments Cataldi asked Bruno if he remembered was the update he did from a tree outside of their studio and the answer was an emphatic yes.
“Absolutely, it’s one of the highlights of my life – other than interviewing four Presidents and every sports athlete in history – there’s no bigger moment than me climbing up in the tree, which was obstructing our view of William Penn and the city skyline. That’s what I do, I was a man of action. I’m not one of these guys that talks the talk, I climb the tree to do whatever is necessary.”
More frivolity followed when Cataldi harkened back to a segment of ‘Damsels in Distress’ and a time in which Bruno was sent on the street during a snowstorm to help shovel people out of their driveways. Bruno quickly recalled, “Man of the people. I should run for – I should of run for Governor of Pennsylvania or Senate or something.”
Bruno added that his favorite rant (and one that Cataldi loved too) wasn’t about the Cowboys or sports at all. “My favorite was my Infinity Broadcasting rant where I went on one day and even ripped our bosses, all the way up to the top of Infinity Broadcasting.” Cataldi cackled and praised Bruno’s rants more before being interrupted by Bruno saying, “yeah, my only regret is I never really ripped Al (Morganti) the way I should have ripped him. I let him of the hook so many times.”
An insightful moment came at the end of the call when Cataldi asked rhetorically if Bruno ever thought they (Cataldi & Morganti) would still be doing this thirty years later and then asked if Tony ever regretted leaving.
“It was a tough decision, Ang,” Bruno answered. “I was given an ultimatum. When I came to work with you guys, I loved every day. Every day we had fun. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that. It wasn’t one of those, ‘oh I got to go; I’m too big for these guys’. I even turned the ESPN job down a couple of times.
“My kids were still younger then, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t have to move. They said just come up here on weekends and that’s how ESPN Radio started. So I was doing weekends and Tom Bigby (Program Director) didn’t like that either, told me it wasn’t going to work. It was a philosophical thing. When he told me, ‘you should go because we are not going to pay you what they’re paying you,’ I said ok.
Cataldi began to sign off with Bruno with genuine thanks: “I got to tell you something Tone, we are indebted to you for the rest of our lives because we both learned so much from you and you are one of the great talents that radio has ever had.”
Dodgers Temporarily Pull Broadcasters Off Road
“If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road.”
When the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the East Coast later this week, the men that call the action on TV and radio will not be with them. The games will instead be broadcast on AM570 LA Sports and SportsNet LA from their respective studios.
“Due to a few members of the Dodgers’ broadcast team having recently tested positive for COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, the Dodgers have decided to not travel their broadcasters to upcoming games in Philadelphia and Washington,” the Dodgers announced in a statement. Similar to the 2020 and 2021 MLB seasons, the games will be broadcast from Los Angeles,” reads a statement on the team’s Twitter account.
No further details are available, so the severity and the number of cases remain unknown.
Last September, both members of the Dodgers’ television play-by-play crew were forced into quarantine. Joe Davis was the first to test positive, followed later that month by Orel Hershiser.
On Wednesday, manager Dave Roberts told the media that the Dodgers’ roster and coaching staff are not effected.
“There’s there’s no symptoms in the clubhouse. I think that as far as the upstairs, as an organization, we’re all just trying to be very cautious. But as far as in the clubhouse, coaches, training staff, nothing like that.”
If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road. 2022 was supposed to be a return to normal for the Dodgers and many other teams after not letting broadcasters travel in 2020 and 2021.
Pat McAfee: ‘No One Will Disrespect Jim Rome On My Show’
“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle.”
Jim Rome is a sports radio icon and Pat McAfee recognizes that.
On The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday, McAfee was talking to co-host A.J. Hawk about how Rome trended recently on Twitter.
This happened after news of Tom Brady’s FOX Sports deal surfaced, and a list of the top paid sports media personalities was compiled. Rome came in behind Brady at number two making a reported $30 million a year, and many were surprised by that number. McAfee wasn’t.
“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for Jim Rome.”
McAfee gave props to Rome, 57, saying he’s been doing sports talk probably longer than anyone. He’s one of the most widely distributed hosts in the country. Pat said he won’t tolerate anyone talking smack about the Smack-Off King.
“No disrespect will be said on this show of Jim Rome, ever,” he said. “Love that man.”