That’s the adjective John Middlekauff doesn’t hesitate to use when describing Guy Haberman’s hair.
He makes the assertion unapologetically – how Middlekauff makes all of his points. In his defense, he’s right on the money when it comes to Haberman’s salad. His hair is objectively glorious.
Catch Guy outside of work and he’s more than likely wearing a hat. It almost feels like a merciful act – his attempt to keep those around him from feeling inferior about their own fading follicles.
“It’s definitely one of the top insecurities a man faces,” declares Middlekauff. John chose to lay down his arms in his own battle with his receding hairline nearly a decade ago – but that doesn’t keep him from admiring his best friend’s impressive mane. In doing so, he showcases the best form of self-confidence.
It’s superficial – but in so many ways comparing hair is a perfect metaphor for Haberman and Middlekauff. They’re different, almost opposite. Guy – your classic polished broadcaster, able to call a game or drive a 3 hour talk show at the drop of a hat. John – your opinionated take master, unafraid of sharing his opinions on any subject with little to no regard of how it might make you feel.
The story of their partnership is almost hard to believe. It’s a testament to hard work, loyalty, and a little old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit.
It’s also a case study of the industry’s not-so-slow evolution from terrestrial radio into the digital age.
It started as Davis High School classmates in the early 2000s.
For Guy, it was always sports broadcasting. He made his television debut with Davis Community Television calling Friday night football games on a 5 day tape delay. After graduating in 2003, Haberman made the trip down Highway 99 to attend Fresno State and continue pursuing a media career.
For John, the future was never that clear. He knew he loved sports, but wasn’t sure exactly the capacity in which he wanted to carve out a spot for himself. He wound up at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where he wrote a weekly article for the school paper. That first experience on the media side of the sports world was put on hold after a brief summer internship with the Kansas City Chiefs. The internship was on the business side of things, but it allowed Middlekauff to realize he wanted to work for a football team.
With a plan in place, John’s next stop was Fresno State as a GA for the Bulldogs. Fortunately, his High School buddy Guy was still in the Valley and had a spare bedroom.
By this time, Guy was making a name for himself on the Fresno sports scene. In the summer of 2007, he started calling home games for the Fresno Grizzlies – the Giants’ AAA affiliate. He was also the away voice of the Central Valley Coyotes, Fresno’s AF2 franchise.
Ask Haberman for a minor league Arena Football story in 2019 and he doesn’t know where to begin. He looks overwhelmed with memories as he begins to sort “appropriate” from the rest of the tales in his mind.
“Lubbock,” he finally offers.
“I always use this as an example of the best press box I’ve ever been in too. The arena was in a civic center – it looked like a library from the parking lot. Then I walk in to see the field which was,” he pauses, always careful with his words.
“Let’s just say not ‘regulation.’ Then we find the press box which is literally, I’m not kidding you, a Tuff Shed – like my grandpa used to have. There was a hole sawed into the side, and that’s where we went to work.”
When Guy wasn’t calling Coyotes games in midmarket cities across the western United States, he was contributing daily to 940 ESPN Fresno. He began working for the station as an upperclassman doing updates and rolling the breaks during the syndicated shows. With the trust of his superiors, he began filling in where he was needed before becoming an everyday personality. He didn’t know it at the time, but his presence had caught the attention of some decision makers just up the road in San Francisco.
“Guy had a natural likability on the air,” remembers Jason Barrett, Program Director for the newly launched 95.7 The Game.
“He was smart, informed, relatable and sounded like he loved doing what he was doing.”
It was October of 2012 when Haberman was invited up to the city to audition for the station’s 7-10 pm slot. Fortunately for the Fresno Grizzlies expert, the Giants were in the middle of a World Series run.
“It worked out perfect for me, I was super dialed into the roster. I had plenty to talk about,” Guy recalls.
A couple months later, the job was his.
By this time, Middlekauff was also in a major market – working as a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles. John was able to land the position on Andy Reid’s staff after just two years in Fresno. The jump from the Western Athletic Conference (at the time) to the National Football League is quite a career leap, but it’s one John admits didn’t exactly satisfy his ambition.
“I wasn’t one of those guys who grew up dreaming of having a job in the NFL,” he explains.
“I never set out to work on an NFL staff, but it worked out that way. It was a great opportunity, but it just never hit me as being a big deal.”
John’s honesty is refreshing. It sets him apart. It’s also gotten him in trouble with his bosses a time or two. One example came during a pre-draft meeting with brand new head coach Chip Kelly in early 2013.
“We had a disagreement about a player,” describes Middlekauff, his smile almost audible through the phone.
“Pretty soon after that I was replaced as the Eagles’ West Coast Scout.”
Getting fired is common in professional sports – but John’s response to being dismissed was not. He decided he didn’t want to chase another position with another team. He didn’t want to uproot his life and move to another city for 3-4 years before doing it all again. Rather, he wanted to put his experience in the NFL to work in the media.
As a West Coast Scout, John was operating out of San Francisco – and his transition to the media world began just as his high school friend and Fresno roommate was starting his nightly show on 95.7.
Naturally, Guy asked John for a little football analysis. Once again, a Davis local caught the attention of the big boss.
“I remember being on my couch hearing John do a hit in studio on Guy’s night show,” details Barrett, roughly 6 years later.
“It was really good. I sent Guy a text and asked ‘who is this guy and where’d he come from?’ Soon enough I signed him as a football season contributor.”
Several months later, Haberman & Middlekauff launched in the station’s 10 am to Noon slot. Two high school friends in their late 20s in a top 5 market. It was a challenge they were happy to take on.
Radio was a new venture for John, but that didn’t affect the show’s success. Guy doesn’t remember the inexperience ever being an issue.
“John’s smart, and he’s a quick learner. He picked up on everything we were trying to do in no time.”
“Guy’s pragmatic, he’s level headed and he’s a high level broadcaster. He was able to drive no problem. I can just talk,” shrugs John in true Middlekauff fashion.
However it worked – there was no denying the popularity of the show.
By the summer of 2014, Haberman & Middlekauff were quickly becoming recognizable Bay Area personalities outside of their midday window. Among other gigs, Guy was hosting A’s pre/post game shows while John was making appearances on nearby Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area. Opportunities for the young duo were presenting themselves and both were taking advantage. Two careers on a traditional upward trajectory.
Unfortunately – turnover is also a far too common tradition in the sports media world.
Jason Barrett, the architect of Haberman & Middlekauff, left The Game in 2015. In any industry, especially sports radio, new management can make incumbent employees uneasy. A byproduct of new leadership oftentimes results in the loss of jobs. The Game’s new Program Director had a different vision for the station – one that didn’t include Middlekauff.
It was late in the summer of 2016 when Guy was told his partner and the Best Man at his wedding would no longer be working for 95.7 – but that his job was safe. With just a couple months left on his contract, Haberman opted to walk away from the station.
It was an incredible act of loyalty by a man Middlekauff describes as, “maybe the most genuine human being on the planet.” It also freed the two up to explore the digital space.
“The two times I’ve been fired in my life turned out to be the best things that could’ve happened to me,” proclaims John in a tone that makes it hard to disagree with.
By the Fall of 2016, both Guy and John could see the industry shifting. Their fanbase wasn’t the 50+ crowd listening to AM radio on their way into work – their audience consumed sports talk through their phones. Combine that with a well-established Haberman & Middlekauff following and the decision to launch a podcast was simple.
Three years later, the show pushes 100K listens a week with aspirations to reach 200K in 2020. Outside of the inherent creative freedom that comes with running their own show, podcasting has proved advantageous for both partners.
“In traditional radio, the clock is king – it dictates everything you do and how you do it, it takes discipline. Time doesn’t exist on podcasts, you’re able to discuss anything,” points out Haberman.
For John, an entrepreneurial spirit has awoken.
He describes what a difference it makes to have direct relationships with sponsors. Having the ability to handpick sponsors, partners that fit with himself and Guy. After years of just focusing on day to day content, they’re finally able to see and run the big picture – and it’s hard to imagine them ever going back.
A passion for sports isn’t what makes Haberman and Middlekauff appealing. Listen to an episode and you’re quick to understand that sports is just one of a number of interests the two have. Spend twenty minutes with Guy and he’ll start breaking down his all-time favorite Letterman interviews and the current state of late night television as it compares to the Carson days. The same amount of time with John will result in a conversation about the future of streaming entertainment and what will become of brick and mortar theaters. Is there a commercial real estate boom on the horizon?
The 10 to noon time slot on 95.7 was good to them, but like an encroaching hard network out, there was always an expiration date. Guy and John outgrew terrestrial radio. Like anything in 2019, sports fans want their sports talk on demand – and the two Davis High Blue Devils have plenty to offer.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.