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It’s Always Football Season At Tide 102.9

“When basketball is a few games into its season and as baseball and softball get started, talks of recruiting and Saban’s coaching staff rule the airwaves in Tuscaloosa.”

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Townsquare Media’s Tide 102.9, “The Home of Alabama Sports,” relies on a rather straightforward business model: feed the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, all the content it can handle surrounding Nick Saban’s juggernaut Crimson Tide football team.

Sitting at a 212 market size and covering one of the most successful programs in college football gives Tide a prerogative to shatter expectations for a small market by producing original local content direct from the source.

Former national champion Alabama Crimson Tide fullback turned host of The Blitz (weekdays 6 – 7 a.m. CST) Martin Houston said he believes calling Tuscaloosa a small market is a relative term.

“I look at the fact that we’re in the market with the best college football program, possibly in history,” he said. “So that means there are going to be tremendous eyes on it, not just from a local standpoint but also a national standpoint, especially considering Alabama’s fan base.”

Tide has the advantage of easy access to press conferences, practices and events as the station is just five miles away from campus. Ryan Fowler, host of The Game (weekdays 2-6 p.m. CST), said he can take advantage of his location by recording an interview and running to practice while the interview plays over the air and be back in time to give a report on practice that day.

“That’s what separates us from the competition. We’re here in Tuscaloosa. We’re not trying to pretend to be Tuscaloosa,” Fowler said. “When you mention that word ‘Tuscaloosa’ you get instant credibility. If you mention Tuscaloosa in Seattle, they’re going to know ‘Hey, the University of Alabama.’”

Residents of the city can look to Tide for local coverage as well. Fowler says it’s his duty to the community to present important local coverage of traffic and weather situations when necessary. It helps break up his four-hour solo show in the afternoons and make it feel more about the community.

“I like to say I’m not a caller-driven show, I’m a caller friendly show,” Fowler said. “We invite callers to be a part of the show. We want them to have a sense of ownership.”

Ownership is a good word, as listeners naturally drive every decision at Tide 102.9, but this audience has shown they have the power to create real change in the lineup. Over time listeners drove ESPN out of the Sunday schedule altogether. Tide once had the Atlanta Falcons games air on Sundays but a demand for a full replay of Saturday’s coverage of the Alabama football game created the change.

It is safe to say Tide 102.9 listeners need Alabama football and not much else.

That presents the question: What does “T-Town” talk about for half the year when Alabama football is resting and preparing for another run at the national championship?

The answer won’t surprise you. It’s Alabama football.

When basketball is a few games into its season and as baseball and softball get started, talks of recruiting and Saban’s coaching staff rule the airwaves in Tuscaloosa.

“Everybody always says the offseason is the most challenging. I agree. It is hard,” Fowler said. “But I’ve seen my biggest growth in the offseason. Alabama fans are so accustomed to looking for football, they find whoever can provide that content. We’re offering something that a lot of people are just not able to do because they’re not in Tuscaloosa. They’re not connected with what’s happening here at the University of Alabama.”

Often times when an Alabama team’s season takes a dramatic turn for the worse, fans in Tuscaloosa shift their focus momentarily to vent their frustrations. Such is the case for the men’s basketball team, which started conference play hot with a victory over Kentucky and a close road game with Tennessee before hitting a dangerous three-game losing streak. That was enough to move the conversation for Fowler’s and Houston’s shows to discuss the future of the program.

For a more in-depth basketball perspective, fans can catch Inside the Locker Room with Wimp and Barry Sanderson weekdays 7-9 a.m. CST, but even they have to give in to the football conversation to move the needle.

“I think people are hungry for it,” Houston said referring to the prospect of a consistently successful basketball team. He said many of the sports at Alabama struggle to have a loyal fanbase dedicated to their specific sport like football does. He pointed out the example that most Alabama baseball fans are generally going to be even bigger football fans.

That said, a 20-0 start from the No. 5 softball team doesn’t stir a conversation from the locals beyond the occasional on-air shoutout.

The hyper focus on Alabama sports could expect to see a dip in listenership for non-Crimson Tide fans, yet surprisingly the rival fanbase is active for Tide.

Fowler has several callers that back up rival schools, nearly one for every SEC program. Fowler said “sometimes their opinion is valuable and sometimes not so much,” but it is interesting to see things from their perspective.

Townsquare Media market president David DuBose clarified that Tide 102.9 does not split coverage drastically with other schools, that the focus remains on Alabama in every situation. If something were to happen to Auburn that can relate to the Iron Bowl, naturally, it will be discussed. However, the station is not going to create time to talk about Auburn for the sake of it or to be fair, something state competitor WJOX is naturally required to do.

Tide respects the JOX brand out of the Birmingham area, but feels it has the edge in Tuscaloosa.

Fowler mentioned that Tide was built to fill a gap in JOX’s in-depth coverage of Alabama football. When JOX moves to a syndicated ESPN show or has to talk about other SEC schools, Alabama fans in the Tuscaloosa area have Tide 102.9 to turn to keep the conversation on the Crimson Tide.

For example, Fowler says he often has The Paul Finebaum Show, which broadcasts live on JOX, on the television in his studio and keeps an eye out for opportunities when Finebaum has to cover another school or a lesser sport. “That’s my time to drive,” he said. “I know the listeners are flipping. Alabama fans are not going to hear him talking about South Carolina women’s basketball, Kentucky men’s basketball or Vanderbilt baseball.”

“We think we’re in a sweet spot,” DuBose said. “We keep an eye on what they’re doing, but we concentrate on how we do things here.” That sweet spot is firmly ahead of JOX in the Tuscaloosa market ratings.

“We have a different formula here and I think our formula works for this market,” DuBose added.

The formula includes a focus on pushing digital content.

DuBose said there isn’t a sports station in the state posting the amount of digital content as Tide. The station looks for the local unique visitors across the spectrum of digital services they employ to broaden the reach of its content. Everything from breaking news for Alabama football to each show’s featured interviews are uploaded to the station’s website and media outlets like SoundCloud, Youtube and Twitter.

Tide also streams live with its own mobile app that has close to 20,000 downloads. The app is compatible with Amazon Alexa and has live presentations of every sporting event for the University of Alabama.

Martin Houston takes advantage of the digital age to boost his early morning show and to expand the market size of his audience.

“For me, being on the air, radio airwaves is just a part of what I do. I do my show with Facebook Live every day and then through social media. So I look at it as it’s not a small market, in my opinion, because you have so much opportunity and so much reach because of the team we cover.”

Houston mentioned he knows of fans in Baltimore and Russia who found his show through his digital outreach.

However, the digital strategy of Tide 102.9 will take a slight hit, as will the rest of the station, as up and coming producer Marquis Munson took an opportunity to jump to a larger market when he joined Nashville’s ESPN 102.5 The Game on March 2. In just under two years at Tide, Munson became the program director at the station while serving as the executive producer of The Game with Ryan Fowler.

“Marquis is a superstar in this business,” Fowler said. Fowler also complimented Munson on his work ethic and for his part in getting the station’s ratings to an all-time high. “He’ll be very successful up in Nashville,” he added.

“He was one of the leaders, and in my opinion, of the paid staffers at 102.9, he was very, very important, if not the most important,” Houston said.

Munson will still be with Tide on a part-time basis, working with the station’s full-time producers and helping with scheduling, especially during the spring sports season where rain delays and cancellations can become a nuisance.

“I’m excited for a fresh new start to my life and I want to thank everyone personally from the bottom of my heart that has rocked with me since day one,” Munson said in a personal statement on Twitter.

In a tearful on-air goodbye, Munson closed out his final moments with Tide 102.9 with Fowler’s signature sign-off.

The next step for Tide 102.9 will be filling the void Munson leaves behind.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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