The landscape of sports radio and radio in general, for that matter, is constantly changing. This presents challenges for sports programmers around the country. With more ways to listen to content, you have to keep up or risk getting left behind.
With the Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York just around the corner, we’re featuring one of those sports programmers who will be in attendance. I caught up with John Mamola, the program director at WDAE in Tampa. Mamola and I discussed the Summit and how his station is facing those challenges.
Andy Masur: What are you looking forward to in the upcoming BSM Summit?
John Mamola: Just bouncing off the one I attended in Chicago, I love hearing from guys like Mitch (Rosen, PD 670 The Score in Chicago) and on a local level Mike Thomas (new GM of ESPN 1000). Just to gather their thoughts, I mean, you know, the best of the best is who I love hearing from. Especially from a local perspective. At the same time, you know, guys like Justin Craig, Scott Shapiro, who deal with syndication and affiliates, the relationships between the local affiliates and the national syndicators. Also, how they can potentially craft their programming to a local audience if at all. That’s my biggest challenge here in Tampa. We run Dan Patrick but how can we make him as much Tampa as possible? Hearing ideas and general discussions with those guys on how exactly they do that is invaluable for me. Hearing guys chime in on their own and things that they’ve tried on a local level for national syndication.
I’m looking forward to hearing things on Nielsen and ratings and percentage of the ear and that kind of stuff. How podcasting is becoming more and more a prevalent medium for people as opposed to the actual radio in the car. Anyone who’s really associated with that, that’s definitely of interest to me.
AM: You mentioned a few names, are those the guys that you’re most looking forward to hearing from at the BSM Summit?
JM: The bigger names on the local level, so guys like Mike Thomas and Mitch, and you know, Chernoff. I’m really interested to hear from him because he didn’t attend the one in Chicago. Anyone that deals with how people are consuming sports radio is of interest to me.
AM: What did you think of the first one you attended in Chicago?
JM: It was great! I’m just happy to see that the first one was a good kickoff, starting point, for the second one. Looks like the one in LA went extremely well. I’m happy to see a third one in New York.
I also like how Jason has taken these to major markets, Chicago, New York and L.A. I’d be interested to see where the fourth one goes, if he continues to do this and I hope he does. Maybe something a little more south, maybe not so top 20, maybe something top 40 just to kind of get a different spin on things, maybe a different feel on things from the people in that local market.
AM: So how long have you been at this? Give us some of your background.
JM: I didn’t have any notion of getiting involved in radio, until i found out that my pre-pharmacy credits didn’t transfer to the university of Illinois-chicago. Not happy about that. I watched Private Parts and thought “hey that looks like a fun career!”, so I looked up the Illinois Media School, took a tour the very next day and that was the start. I got my internship at The Score, worked my way up to overnight board op, then a part time board op on the weekends, and then full-time in the mornings. Then WDAE came calling. There was an opening, I thought, “okay, well I have a kid on the way, and I just got married, so I have to start thinking career as opposed to a job.” I figured something as a programmer would be a little more stable, if there even is such a thing as stable. I’ve been here since April of ’11 and the PD since about three years ago.
AM: What are some of the challenges facing local sports radio and national sports talk?
JM: The biggest challenge for me, is I don’t truly have a head-to-head competitor. It’s not a bad thing but, at the same time, it’s not a good thing. I like competition. I’m from Chicago, where it’s MVP (ESPN 1000) and The Score going head to head. It’s a little bit of a different way of approaching things and a different way of competing. It’s all about winning the ears of sports fans in the market.
We haven’t had a real true winner (sports franchise) down here in quite a while. Fans become complacent, there are beaches to go to, and a lot of fun things to do in Tampa. That’s why attendance at Rays games has been last since well before I was born probably. The Bucs have struggled, and even though the Lightning are the hottest ticket in town, they’ve had 230 straight sell-outs, the amount of platforms they’re on here locally is not near the same amount that the Bucs and Rays have.
It’s a different sports market when you come from such a die-hard city where people are raised and their dads were raised to root for certain teams. You just don’t have that down here. It’s really interesting sometimes the balancing of hyper local with Rays, Bucs, Bolts as opposed to national stuff with Patriots, Giants and Bears and all that kind of stuff. We try to do, not necessarily a 50/50 split between local and national, we try to do, probably 70/30. just because we know that there are a lot of people down here that are just not from here.
Nationally, I think the biggest challenge for every radio station around the country is “how do I become even more prevalent in every single area where people consume media?”. Younger audiences are going to YouTube, Twitch and they’re going to different streaming outlets, you know Spotify, people listen to podcasts on Spotify. How can we continue to expand our spider web to where we’re just as prevalent with a Spotify listener or a Pandora listener? How can I get a videocast on a Twitch channel where I can reach new listeners or new viewers? I think that’s the single biggest challenge because the days of just turning on the radio in the car or having a home radio where you just listen, is becoming extinct. How do I become easier to get to right away for that person who has an hour and a half to two hour drive, instead of having to search for me.
AM: So then how do you brand your station, knowing how important the on-air product is, but also realizing the other platforms need your attention?
JM: We still are content first. My main focus is, “are we providing the best content we can at that given time?”. Are we playing the hits as much as we can? That’s first and foremost, because if you’re not doing that, then they’re not going to come find you anyway. Multiple times per hour, we remind people that, on that iHeartRadio app you can listen to WDAE live, on the go, or however you may wish, headphones, smart speakers or whatever you want to do. We actually run imaging every hour to remind people they can listen to us wherever they want to. It’s just finding different ways to make sure that everybody that’s attached to every single one of our talents and our properties has full access to whatever they may need, whenever they need it, at all times.
We’ve seen the results. We had over a million MUVs (mobile user views) last year. It was with a very strong social push with all of our talent. The biggest challenge is how do we get outside of that? We’re just trying some different things, because with technology it’s all about trying and failing. Once in a while we get a hit, then it’s about trying to build off of that hit.
AM: Is there a value, even if the teams are playing poorly, to having play-by-play on your station?
JM: Absolutely because play-by-play brings cume. That brings the potential listener that may not consume you Monday through Friday, but boy do they love Rays baseball. We’re in a great spot locally here where, every franchise is with iHeartMedia. All the teams have their own individual sticks. For example, the Lightning are on our news station, the Bucs are on our rock station, we have USF football in addition to Rays baseball. We air every Rays game, all 162 plus weekend and evening Spring Training games. The value of play-by-play is still very high. It helps you brand your station as “The home of X”, but at the same time it brings in a different kind of listener where you can hopefully use the limited space you have in that play-by-play to come back to you every morning. You do have those little windows of opportunity potentially, with every single play-by-play deal that you have. If you’re not maximizing that to it’s the greatest potential, then you’re not taking full advantage of what could potentially lead to new listeners each and every day.
AM: How much do you have to talk to your talent about keeping a play-by-play partner (the Rays in your case) happy, but still speaking the truth on the air?
JM: We have great working relationships with all our partners. The general rule is “keep it on the field”. We’ve built up a lot of clout with the Rays, so when the whole announcement with the Montreal split came up, we aired the press conference in full, that was a good 65 minutes of radio. The owner of the Rays was coming up with this concept and trying to sell the media and answer a lot of questions. At the same time, we’d be lying to our audience if we were all 100 percent on board with it. The only direction I gave my talent was, at least let the man have his say first. He said his peace and our talent reacted as such. Honestly the organization wasn’t happy with the reaction, but at least they knew that we would be willing to at least give it a chance. I know there are some sports stations that you have to walk a line and you can’t go over it. For us down here there really isn’t a line. We all understand the business we’re in, and we all want to win. We may have disagreements, but we’re just talking sports.
We don’t lay off anything. It is what it is. We’re talking about sports. We’re talking about games that grown adults play, so we can all have our own opinions on things and i think the franchises understand that.
Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench
“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”
As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.
Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.
Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.
Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.
Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media.
Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???
One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.
My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”
Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.
Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country.
Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format.
There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.
If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.
I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort.
Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.
Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks
“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”
CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.
“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”
You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.
John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.
One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.
“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.
He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.
With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.
BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.
Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.
CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.
In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.
Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.
Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.
The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.
Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?
I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.
CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.
Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?
“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”
A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!
Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.
The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.
I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?
This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?
Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.
One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.
You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.
Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.
Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.
Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.
Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.
As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.
The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.
Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?
The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.
The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?
Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.
Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.
Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.
Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.
Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.
What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.
Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.
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