Roughly 10 years and 1,500 miles.
That’s what separates Rod Lakin and Ryan Porth.
Lakin has called the Phoenix area home his entire life. Now, approaching 40, he’s raising his own kids in the Valley of the Sun.
Staring at 30, an engaged Porth is just starting to settle down in Nashville – his adopted city since the age of 12.
Two men in two different stages of their personal lives.
With that information, you’d think you’d be able to tell one apart from the other on a phone call. That’s not the case.
Lakin and Porth share a quiet sincerity in their tone. They listen intently and chose their words carefully. Effective communication is a skill both have come to value as Program Directors. They’re methodical. Calculated, but still personable and relatable. It’s no surprise that when asked the key to day to day success at a sports radio station – both of them point to the same thing.
Of course, both PDs arrived at their checklists in different ways.
Outside of a brief period of time when he considered pursuing a career as a firefighter roughly 15 years ago, Lakin has been in the Phoenix sports radio scene since his Sun Devil days in the early 2000s. After nearly two decades, he’s worn just about every hat one can wear on his ascension to Arizona Sports 98.7 PD – a title bestowed upon him this past summer.
Halfway across the country – Porth has had a similar trajectory – only accelerated.
“I’ve always been in the right place at the right time in my career,” declares the Cincinnati native.
Fresh out of high school, Ryan opted to launch his own website covering hockey rather than further his education.
“I honestly wasn’t ready go to college,” he freely admits today.
In 2012, after four years in the digital space, Porth was low on revenue and found himself at a crossroads. Like Lakin’s brush with firefighting, Ryan was close to enrolling at a nearby university before fate intervened with a part time board op position at 102.5 The Game.
Porth’s foot was in the door, but he credits one coworker in particular for helping him pry it open.
“I had a lot of heart to heart talks with Chase McCabe during those times. I needed to learn a lot about how to work in this industry and just overall organization,” Porth pauses.
“I needed a checklist.”
McCabe’s influence was the encouragement Porth needed. He was green, but mature enough to take constructive criticism and better himself. By November of 2013 he was brought on full time and has never looked back.
Several months later – Lakin hit a milestone of his own when he was named Arizona Sports APD in March of 2014. Working closely behind then-PD Ryan Hatch, Lakin had plenty of time to prepare for the day he would eventually take the next career step. Along the way – he developed what he calls the “Cs and Ps of Programming”.
- Content – The on-air product needs to reflective of the interests of the audience. Are you talking about the things people care about? Are you doing so in an impactful and entertaining way?
- Communication – Are you communicating a clear vision of the station and setting an organizational context so that everyone has clarity of purpose in achieving the mission?
- Coaching – Are you facilitating a high-performance culture by supporting the hosts, producers and support staff and putting them in the best possible position to succeed?
- Planful – A great programmer is someone who can anticipate situations and maximize the conditions of the market.
- Purposeful – A great programmer is completely committed to the cause and must be able to inspire others to follow that direction.
- Performer – A great programmer must consistently demonstrate measurable success.
“I use this as kind of my checklist,” explains Lakin. “Everyday I ask myself if I’m doing everything I can to support all the Cs and Ps.”
Ask Rod to go into depth on any particular checklist item and he’s not lost for words on the responsibilities that fall under that category.
Externally you have to be available to all of your play by play partners. In Lakin’s case it’s the Cardinals, Suns, Diamondbacks, Arizona State and Phoenix Rising.
Internally it’s your responsibility to coordinate between promotions, sales, and your talent to be sure everyone is aware of the bigger picture and their particular role.
Here Lakin can’t help but point directly to his predecessor.
“You have to get people excited and inspired to buy your vision, and no one was better at that than Ryan Hatch.”
Assigning credit is a theme for Rod. Scott Masteller taught him to plan and anticipate. Bruce Gilbert is the man he thinks of when he’s coaching and putting people in a position to succeed.
Just last July – Hatch, the master motivator himself, took the VP of Programming for Bonneville Phoenix leaving the PD position to his well-groomed protégé.
Unfortunately, management transitions aren’t always that smooth – particularly not in this industry.
Back in Nashville, Porth’s new approach to work afforded him several promotions in just a few years. On August 10, 2016 – Porth was named APD of The Game.
“I’m a big believer that hard work pays off – I just dedicated everything to the station,” he recalls.
Ryan’s recollection of the Summer of 2016 is bittersweet. He’s rightfully proud of his career development – but the celebration was short lived. Just two weeks after being named APD, Porth’s friend and boss Jeremy Bennefield was dismissed as PD – putting the interim responsibilities squarely on his shoulders.
“I would describe the first couple of months as Program Director as ‘turbulent.’”
On a human level, Ryan was forced to say goodbye to a mentor. On a professional level, he was tossed into the deep end without a life jacket.
One day at a time, The Game’s interim Program Director pushed through the adversity. A little over two months later – the “interim” qualifier was removed from his title.
“I walked through the door every day with a good attitude and just did what I could to make everything work,” remembers Porth.
The biggest lesson learned in the young PD’s “turbulent” start to his tenure? Lakin’s 2nd “C.”
“I had to learn to communicate with 20-30 people in the building differently. I figured out pretty quickly you can’t just deliver a message the same way 20-30 times – everyone is different,” exhales the young but battle tested Program Director.
Two Program Directors in two markets at two different points in life. Both earned their positions – one gradually, the other by fire.
On paper the differences are easy to spot between Lakin and Porth – but as programmers they’re remarkably similar. Each are quick to point to superiors who were instrumental in their growth. Neither underestimate the importance of proper communication within their building and beyond. As far as the future of terrestrial radio?
“Content sources are growing, attention spans are dropping,” explains Lakin – his tone casual and concise.
“That’s not a bad thing – it can be an opportunity.”
Jack Ferris writes feature stories for BSM and serves as an update anchor for iHeart Radio in San Francisco and as a freelance contributor for the PAC-12 Network. Previously he has worked as a sports anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane and as the co-host of the Don West Show on KPQ in Central Washington. You can find him on Twitter @JFerris714 or reach him by email at FerrisJack54@gmail.com.
The Big Ten Didn’t Learn ANYTHING From the NHL’s Mistake
However, to not have your product ever mentioned outside of Saturdays ever again on the network that literally everyone associates with sports seems like a steep tradeoff to me.
My favorite moments in life involve watching someone/something on the verge of a great moment and after a lot of struggling, get to the moment that makes them happier than you cam imagine. You can feel your scowl shift from tepid observer to interested party and then finally transition to open fandom. I was on the verge of another one of those moments coming into this week until the Big Ten decided that they would make biggest mistake since the Legends and Leaders divisions.
The conference was closing in on a brand new set of media rights to go into effect starting with the 2023 football and basketball seasons. The discussions were near a climax when the USC and UCLA called Big Ten commish Kevin Warren. Then, the negotiations relaunched and something special was about to happen. The Big Ten was inches away from declaring themselves the richest and most forward-thinking conference in the entire country and if they could win a few football games, they’d be head ahead of the SEC.
You can argue until you are Gator Blue in the face but the fact is, the Big Ten was about to explode and pass the SEC. The conference was about to have games on FOX, ABC/ESPN, CBS and NBC. All of the networks. ALL OF THEM. They were also developing a package for a streaming service to test the waves of the web. It all sounded so damn smart.
Then, the Big Ten went dumb.
The conference got greedy and asked for too much from what would have been their most profitable partner in cachet, ESPN. Reportedly the conference asked ESPN for $380 million per year for seven years to broadcast the conference’s second-rated games… at best. My jaw hit the floor.
Pure, unapologetic greed got between the Big Ten and smart business. The conference forgot a lesson that the NHL learned the hard way. ESPN dominates sports. ESPN is sports.
I don’t need to go to far back in the archives to remind you that ESPN’s offer to the NHL for media rights wasn’t as lucrative financially as NBC’s was, but the NHL took the short-term money and ignored the far-reaching consequence. ESPN essentially wiped them from the regular discussion. Yes, there were some brief highlights and Barry Melrose did strut ass into the studio on occasion, but by no means was that sport a featured product anymore.
One afternoon I had someone tell me that they were upset ESPN was airing a promo for an upcoming soccer match that ESPN was carrying. He told me, “they’re only promoting it because they have the game.”
That’s kind of how this thing works. ESPN is in business with some sports and not others so it makes a lot of sense to promote those you are in business with, yeah? ESPN doesn’t spend a lot of time promoting Big Brother, Puppy Pals or ping pong either. Why would they? There is no incentive too.
Here’s the sad question. Why would ESPN bother promoting the Big Ten? Why would ESPN spend extra time on the air, on their social platforms, on their digital side, to promote something they don’t have access to? The Big Ten is a big deal, but is it that big of a deal?
I am not suggesting that ESPN will ignore the Big Ten. They will still get discussed on College GameDay. But why would the network’s premiere pregame show for decades go to any Big Ten games and feature the conference?
There will be highlights still shown on SportsCenter, but I’m willing to bet they get shorter.
The Big Ten chose network television and a streaming service over the behemoth that is ESPN. As far as streaming is concerned, consider that over half of all NFL frequent viewers still don’t know that Thursday Night Football games are on Amazon only this year. That’s a month away and that’s people who call themselves frequent NFL viewers and that’s the biggest, baddest league in the land. Good luck telling them Purdue/Rutgers is on Apple or Amazon. Streaming is a major part of the future, but it still isn’t the now.
ESPN may seem like the safe bet, but that’s because it’s the smartest bet. NBC is a fine network that spends a bajillion dollars on America’s Got Talent and The Voice. Fine shows, but tell me where I can watch highlights of the recent Notre Dame/Stanford game.
CBS is a wonderful network that dominated with the SEC package for a long time, but that’s because the very best SEC game each week went to CBS. Will they still dominate if they have the league’s #2 package? Because why wouldn’t FOX, Big Ten Network co-owner FOX, get the best game each week for Big Noon Saturday?
There isn’t a single one of us that has a good damn idea where college football will be in three, five or seven years but I do know that ESPN isn’t going anywhere. I know ESPN has elite talent at every level of production and on-air that’s been in place for a really, really long time. I also know ESPN cares way more about sports than the other networks. CBS would like the Big Ten to do well, but CSI: New Orleans is a priority, too.
The NHL went for quick money and it cost them market share. The sport is still trying to recover after being largely ignored by ESPN for 17 years. It wasn’t out of spite, it was out of business. The NHL once thought it didn’t need ESPN. Where’s the NHL now?
The money the Big Ten will generate is amazing, I will not deny that. It seems like a boondoggle of a lifetime to grab this cash. However, to not have your product ever mentioned outside of Saturdays ever again on the network that literally everyone associates with sports seems like a steep tradeoff to me. The Big Ten is going to get paid a lot now but in the long term, they will pay the most.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
Will Big Ten Lose Relevance Without ESPN’s Machine Behind It?
Does ESPN’s grip over sports talk and the college football scene affect how a Big Ten team is perceived versus how an SEC or ACC team is looked at? We have yet to determine that but I don’t believe it will.
It’s a historic time for the Big Ten. The athletic organization is about to become the first college conference to pass $1 billion per year in television rights. The other big news comes straight out of Bristol, Connecticut. ESPN is stepping away from broadcasting its games for the first time in 40 years. ABC will also no longer air Big Ten games for the first time since 1966.
I became a fan of college football during the Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart era and have so many memories of watching USC on Fox Sports Net and ABC. It’s so crazy to imagine that ABC won’t be airing any USC home or intra-conference games for the first time since 1954. This is a move of epic proportions.
The change could be seen as questionable to some from the Big Ten’s point of view. ESPN is still in 80 million homes. ABC is opening up more slots in prime time for live sports to be available in as shows like Dancing With The Stars begin to transition to streaming exclusively on Disney+. Most of all, ESPN dominates the college football conversation. College Gameday is one of the best studio shows on television and attracts the attention of everyone from the influential to the Average Joe.
SportsCenter is still the sports news show of record and literally faces no other competition besides similar news programming on league owned networks. First Take, as bloviating as it can sound on television, is still one of cable’s highest rated live broadcasts on a daily basis and has a lot of relevancy on social media. Pardon The Interruption is one of the few shows on sports television (if any) that can still draw 1 million viewers on a daily basis. Paul Finebaum is an expert in the game that people trust, watch and listen to on a daily basis and is currently aligned with ESPN’s SEC Network. Finally, the College Football Playoff and Championship still air on the “Worldwide Leader”.
Does ESPN’s grip over sports talk and the college football scene affect how a Big Ten team is perceived versus how an SEC or ACC team is looked at? We have yet to determine that but I don’t believe it will. There seems to be an assumption among fans in forums and social media that all of a sudden ESPN is going to overrun its audience with debate topics and stories across its platforms that are focused solely on the SEC.
While there will be increased attention on the SEC across Disney-owned networks and sites, as there should be because that’s what ESPN is paying for, it is a proven fact that what rates best is a solid product with interesting conversation from multiple angles. Audiences will be able to easily decipher rather quickly whether what they are being served is interesting versus what is being fed to them purposefully and react very quickly.
There is nothing executives love more than a highly rated, lively, and contentious broadcast that draws attention and contributes to the national conversation. Even though ESPN is more friendly with the SEC now, there is a reason why it is called show business is not called show friends. Why would ESPN want to drain out ratings from their linear programming especially given the already strenuous rope that basic cable is holding onto as a whole?
Let’s just say Big Ten powerhouses like Ohio State and Michigan are both ranked in the top 10 and playing in their traditional yearly game. Despite the fact that Fox will be broadcasting the game, I just don’t see how or why SportsCenter wouldn’t be giving such a prolific game the same coverage it would on a normal basis. There would most likely be no reason for College Gameday to not do their show live from the game or for shows like First Take and PTI to not participate in some sort of debate about it. It’s just not good business for a sports information destination to not engage in the practice of giving out information and analysis about sports even if they don’t own a particular sport or league’s broadcast rights.
It might be possible to reduce coverage with less popular leagues such as NASCAR and the NHL, which ESPN has been accused of doing in the past, and get away with it without affecting your bottom line. While NASCAR and the NHL each have millions of fans worldwide, their fandom alone can’t compare to the influence which the alumni of major colleges and universities across the country can sway. The Big Ten alumni base is so far and wide that it would be too noticeable after being done consistently not to make some sort of dent. Disney’s own CEO Bob Chapek is an alum of Indiana and Michigan State.
The assumption that Gameday prefers SEC schools has already existed for a long time and could be a determining factor of why Fox’s pregame show Big Noon Kickoff, which has predominantly broadcasted its show from Big Ten schools, is already beating or coming close to Gameday’s ratings week after week.
I also don’t want to underestimate Fox, CBS, and NBC’s impact on the sports conversation. FS1’s “embrace debate” shows may not get the highest ratings but their distribution across social media and the podcast world is well established. The Herd with Colin Cowherd is the 13th most listened-to sports podcast in the country. Replays of FS1 shows are available 24 hours a day on FAST (free ad-supported television) channel apps such as Pluto TV and Tubi that reach millions of people. Fox also recently launched a channel with Fox Sports clips on Amazon’s news app that can reach up to 50 million active users.
CBS Sports has a news network reminiscent of the old ESPNEWS on that same app as well as Pluto TV and is a producer and television distributor for Jim Rome, one of the most listened to sports talk show hosts on radio. It also distributes the highest-rated sports talk morning show in New York – Boomer and Gio – on national TV.
NBC’s sports talk universe exists primarily through their Peacock app (which will reportedly have an exclusive package of its own) and includes Dan Patrick, number 12 on the podcast charts, and Michigan alum Rich Eisen, who has a robust presence on YouTube.
ESPN has more concurrent linear television viewers than its rivals daily. But sports talk content from Fox, CBS, and NBC can still reach a substantial audience through YouTube, FAST channels, streaming services, podcasts, and radio. Fox, CBS, and NBC’s non-sports talk programming throughout the day on their broadcast networks can also serve as a venue to expose the Big Ten’s athletes and schools in a non-traditional way and reach more people not exposed to college sports yet.
The biggest thing we can’t forget is that as of now, for the next 10 years, there will only be one college sports conference whose games are as widely broadcast to the masses as the NFL’s – the Big Ten. Unlike the cable networks, at least 100 million people (1/3 of the country) have a way to access Fox, CBS, and NBC every week. Whether ESPN is talking about the Big Ten or not, the conference will always be able to reach more people than the SEC and other counterparts week after week. Sports fans are already used to flipping between Fox, CBS, and NBC to watch their NFL games on Sundays. They know where to find all three channels and that alone makes the Big Ten the closest comparison that will ever exist to the NFL in our current media landscape. You literally can’t match that.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Producers Podcast – Nuno Teixeira, ESPN Radio
How do you go from Jerry Springer to ESPN Radio? It is the journey Nuno Teixeira made. Mike Greenberg’s radio right hand shares what he learned working in two very different environments.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.