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FalCon4 Shows Audience’s Devotion To Morning Men

“Every year I can confidently say we have more people and I think that will continue next year. Hopefully they give us another one, but we will have more people again”

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If FALCon and the relationship Morning Men has with its listeners can be summed up in 3,000 words, this would be it.

Every weekday, from 6 – 10am ET on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio, Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik provide listeners with a sports talk radio show growing in popularity and an entertainment value that goes beyond sports. Morning Men is nothing like the show Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo creates in the afternoon, it’s probably nothing like a show Russo would have picked to listen to.

When Steve Phillips left the channel’s morning show for MLB Radio five years ago, the decision could have been made to fill the void with someone who can continue the classic sports talk model. Instead, producer, Mike Babchik went from being a third voice and sidekick, to the star of the show.

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While many incumbent radio hosts wouldn’t be comfortable allowing a drastic change to the scope of their show, Evan Cohen became part of the transition and let Morning Men take on a life of its own. In doing so, the show also took on the personality of Babchik, even drawing out a side of Evan he didn’t know he had.

That’s what Morning Men is. It uses sports talk as an avenue for people to be open, to share vulnerabilities and laugh at the things maybe you’re not supposed to laugh at. The show will test limits, even during their live broadcast. Playing beer pong in a speedo, the “Babkini” and a beer chugging contest all while “Larry Long Balls” and “The Sheriff” are in town, isn’t something most radio stations push in the year 2019.

The fans and listeners embrace everything about Morning Men in a way that few national shows achieve. If you’re a first time listener, you want to learn the inside lingo and what it means to be a “FAL.” If you’re a longtime listener, you want to hear every minute so you don’t miss out on something that could be discussed at FALCon 5 next year.

So much emphasis in radio is put on ratings, subscribers and streaming numbers, but maybe witnessing a raucously supportive crowd travel the country to attend a party should also be considered a measurement of success.  

FALCon 4 was my first Morning Men event, but it wasn’t my first time watching a radio show conduct a remote broadcast. My expectations were that of watching a normal two-hour live broadcast, but FALCon is less about seeing the show and more about the fans and listeners celebrating being part of the show.

At the end of their two-hour broadcast during FALCon, I was able to speak to Evan, Babchik and Steve Torre about the event. First up was Mad Dog Radio’s longest tenured morning host, Evan Cohen.

BC: It’s really amazing that you have this feeling that surrounds a national show, that you’ve built this community that wants to get together, travels to get here. Everyone knows the inside jokes and they gather to talk about it and create friendships over it.

Evan Cohen: Yeah and we appreciate it. Give credit to our bosses, Steve Cohen and Steve Torre for allowing us to do this because we knew we couldn’t be the regular sports show and really stand out. We had to be different and our way of being different is trying to be even more inclusive of the fans and making them the show. One of the sales people from Sirius came to this last year and said it feels like you’ve done national, local and I thought that was a great way of putting it.

BC: You were on this show doing more traditional sports talk when it was you and Steve Phillips. How has the transition been in getting to where the show is now?

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Evan Cohen: This show is all of our shows, but it reflects Babchik’s personality more than anything and maybe a side of mine and Andrew’s personality that we didn’t know we had until Babchik brought it out of us.

BC: Was there any concern about Bachik going from producer to full-time co-host, knowing how different he was going to make the show?

Evan Cohen: No, this is what we wanted because he’s the kind of guy that will say and do anything that others won’t, but also will say the things you’re thinking and he actually says them out loud and it’s not a shtick, it’s who he really is. The internal support is amazing, the fact that everyone from SiriusXM is here is great.

BC: Having management here to play beer pong with Babchik and watch him dancing around in a speedo is definitely a different kind of support.

Evan Cohen: It’s something I didn’t initially expect, but winning over our own team was so important and understanding that this is different from what a national sports show is supposed to be, but that’s what we needed it to be. The best part about this, if I’m going to say one single thing about this event, is all of the people you just saw, come here to see each other. This show has created a family for our listeners to be together with each other which is a wonderful thing for us.

BC: Does this event fire you up and motivate you when you see the turnout and feel this energy?

Evan Cohen: It’s unbelievable, honestly. Every year I can confidently say we have more people and I think that will continue next year. Hopefully they give us another one, but we will have more people again. I also give Dog a lot of credit for this because we’ve discussed it and he doesn’t want to come here and steal our thunder. But we’ve been saying, number five he has to come. Our fans, FALs and us, we’ve made it and now we can bring him into it.

BC: How about the support the show gets from Chris Russo specifically? There’s a lot of back and forth between the shows – you guys make fun of him a lot – it’s something maybe not every super star radio host would be okay with.

Evan Cohen: Amazing. This morning, he calls me to wish me luck, sends me motivational texts and then records all the ins and outs for the show. We want him to be a part of our show. The biggest thing that ever happened to us was him realizing he actually enjoys us making fun of him. His wife, who is wonderful, she loves it too and she’s even given us material for it, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.

BC: Did Russo’s motivational texts inspire you to want to talk about baseball for two hours today?

Evan Cohen: No, they made me want to read them on-air and make fun of him, [Laughs] because that’s what he would want, but it means something when you have this person that I grew up idolizing and still do, cares as much as he does.

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BC: And he cares about this show and event which is so far and away different from anything he’s done, but he recognizes it’s working and creating its own following and sees that as something beneficial to the channel.

Evan Cohen: Absolutely, and that’s important for us because without his support, I don’t know that we could do this. It’s also Steve Torre, Steve Cohen, Danny Kanell, the support is amazing and everyone in this room is friends with each other now, which is crazy because how could they even know each other? This show brings people together and they’re friends for life. It’s amazing.

It wasn’t hard for me to spot Babchik in the middle of the room, standing on a table, donning a speedo still 30 minutes after the show ended, but getting him away from the crowd to ask him a few questions was the more difficult task.

BC: You’re obviously a shy person, were you nervous in front of everyone today?

Mike Babchik: No, you get this strange calmness that takes over you. [Laughs] Maybe it’s being in a room full of people that love you. When you have all these people that fly in and love the show, they love Evan and Babs, you feel like you can do anything. I don’t know if I would get naked and wear a speedo in front of people that weren’t fans.

BC: You lost the beer chugging contest to Kanell today, but you did beat Joey Chestnut in a matzah eating contest not too long ago, which was more important to you?

Mike Babchik: The win! Forget the loss! I drank too much last night so it tainted this beer chugging thing, but Joey Chestnut legitimately lost to me. Without a doubt, I won. I crushed him! I picked the right thing and ate more matzah than he could. It’s one of the greatest achievements of my life.

BC: How awesome is it to have this crowd, as a national show to bring all these people together from all over the country into this bar and have them as fired up to be part of the show and talk about the show as they are?

Mike Babchik: That’s what it’s all about. It really is a community of fans and listeners, it’s more about their friendships. They want to get together and they do it through this show. Now people have friends all over the country, it’s crazy to think that someone from New York can now have a friend in Wyoming, but because of this show we’re able to bring a lot of people together.

BC: There are people that actually met here today for the first time, but they share inside jokes and their favorite segments and that’s the beauty of radio, that it can bring people together like this and fans become not only a consumer of the show, but they’re actually part of the show.

Mike Babchik: It’s incredible, the show just took over. It was organic and people felt comfortable enough with their own vulnerabilities to make it work. They get together and communicate with each other through the show and on social media and to have an event so they can all meet is just a great thing.

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BC: You started out as a producer on a normal sports talk show, now, not only are you the co-host, but the show has taken on your personality and transitioned from a traditional sports talk show to what it is now.

Mike Babchik: The evolution is amazing. I got lucky, but give so much credit to Steve Cohen, to Steve Torre and to Evan who really had a vision for this. It’s a different type of show. Not a lot of people thought it would take off, but the bosses had faith, Evan had faith. That’s what it’s all about and here we are a couple years later, filling places up in New York City.

Lastly, the program director, midday host and Mad Dog Radio originator, Steve Torre gave a few thoughts on the channel’s morning show and FALCon 4

BC: For a national show to have this type of turnout at an event like this on a random Saturday, people have traveled from all over the country – Syracuse, Maryland, Texas, California even Canada – fans are flying in to turn this two hour broadcast into a vacation, it’s unprecedented.

Steve Torre: I’m 55 years old, I’ve been in radio for a long time, NY radio for 20 years and I attended various events for the station and the parent company and we would have big numbers, people would have a connection to the talent – but it’s mind-boggling to me that we have the amount of people that we do here, traveling on their own dime and flying in from various parts of the country.

I was talking to someone who flew in from Wyoming and took two flights to get here and it kind of hits home that we have that type of connection with the audience. That they’re putting in that much time and effort to get here for a two hour event – it blows my mind, but it’s a sense of satisfaction that we’ve achieved something that’s rare, where it’s a national show, but it has a local feel.

BC: Three hundred people at a bar in New York isn’t that crazy, but no one is here by accident, every single person here knows the inside jokes and can share their favorite segments with the person next to them and that’s what Stern was so great at building with a national show. Building a community of listeners that couldn’t afford to miss a show because they didn’t want to lose out on an inside joke. And if they didn’t know about something, it’s even more important to listen so they can figure out what they’re not in on.

Steve Torre: Sometimes from a national perspective for programming, if you’re listening to the show for the first time and you’re not really aware of the inside jokes, you’re wondering how you can draw in another audience.

If somebody is listening for the first time at 7:30 on a Thursday morning and they’re wondering, ‘what’s a FAL?’ you’re hoping through the strength of the content that they’ll stick around to learn. They’ve developed ‘Morning Men tell a friend’ which has grown the audience, but you worry that there are too many inside things for a new audience. But with the numbers today and the connections you see they have with people, it makes you realize that’s not the case because this event keeps growing.

BC: How about Babchik stepping in a few years ago from being the producer, and give Evan credit, because the show is totally different from when he started, but he allowed it to take on the personality of Babchik.

Steve Torre: When Chris Russo and I first started developing this channel, we had a blueprint of what works for talk radio and not that it was horrendous, but we had to make mistakes to really figure out what works. With this show particularly, it took us a longer time to find our groove and establish ourselves. When you’re doing something nationally, where your parent company already has ESPN, Fox Sports and several sports entities, you want to do something different to catch the listeners ear, and Evan had the wherewithal to understand how important Mike’s contribution was.

Just talking to Mike off the air, I could tell he had an ear for what was relatable to people. He’s the everyday guy and he follows sports, but why does he need to be an expert? He’s like your buddy you’re talking to at the bar or on the phone. We realized Mike’s just a regular guy, he might not be an expert X’s and O’s wise, but he knows sports and can relate to people.

BC: It’s more about entertainment than knowing baseball analytics.

Steve Torre: Entertainment, personality and there is room for X’s and O’s and following an important story. Not to bring anything negative into this, but we served a purpose during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and we were able to have some levity. I would describe this show as entertaining and being relatable to people. You can see the connection these people have with the show and it’s satisfying to see the type of impact it’s made.

BC: How about Russo supporting the show and his willingness to allow Mike and Evan to make fun of him as much as they do, but still seeing it as a benefit for the show and station?

Steve Torre: It’s a great point and it speaks to him about how comfortable he is that he can just sit back and take a beating because he does. Probably 50, 60 percent of what they play back for entertainment value is a result of what we call ‘Dog-isms’ – some of his faux pas, mispronunciations and botching of the English language. They’re exposing him and making him look like what some people would perceive as a complete fool, but he embraces it because he knows he’s Doggie.

He’s reached a certain status. I don’t know if he would’ve done this 20 years ago, but trust me when I tell you, on and off the air, he supports them. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t know that. They know he supports what they do and it makes them comfortable that he’s not going to get defensive or be offended. There are times that they come to me with a bit and ask if I think Russo’s going to be okay with it. We’ll run it by him and every time he says, ‘of course, what are you kidding?’  That’s a very important part of it.

BC: And it’s great to have that cross-promotion between shows on the channel.

Image result for morning men and chris mad dog russo

Steve Torre: I’ve been trying to go around and talk to a lot of people here to show appreciation and most of them tell me what they love so much is the fact that we have a great connection and the shows all crossover. My partner Danny Kanell is here today, Dog isn’t here, but it’s because he doesn’t want to take away from their day. Even though Mike and Evan are immensely popular and people are here for them, if Dog walks in, it steers some attention away and he genuinely doesn’t want to do that to them.

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

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 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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