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Tom Waddle Isn’t Running Out Of Ideas Or Incentive

“I think the growth has just been in our ability to try to share our life experiences on a day-in, day-out basis. I think the growth has gone from strictly an all sports type of presentation to more lifestyle and family life.”

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It’s funny how paths cross in the sports radio industry. Many moons ago I was at ESPN 1000 in Chicago to chat with former program director Adam Delevitt. As I walked around the downstairs area of that gigantic downtown building, former Chicago Bears wide receiver and ESPN 1000 radio host Tom Waddle walked by. He nodded his head at me and said hi. That interaction didn’t tell me everything about Waddle, but it told me a lot. It told me he didn’t have an ego. It told me he was actually — wait for it — nice.

O'Donnell: Even Dick Clark probably couldn't save Chicago's ESPN radio

Waddle spent 20+ years as a football player and has been in the sports broadcasting business for 25+ years. He’s learned many tricks of the trade and has fine-tuned his own style of mixing in fun and family life with sports. Waddle is highly respected not just because he’s great at his profession, but also because he shows other people the proper respect. Look, Yelp isn’t the only place someone can leave a bad review. That’s especially true in sports radio where colleagues can turn into enemies if you mistreat them.

There are several interesting topics that Waddle discusses below. He touches on Waddle & Silvy co-host Marc Silverman’s decision to announce his battle with cancer and the response of their listeners. Waddle also talks about the impact concussions have possibly had on his broadcasting career and how the personal criticism he received as a player has helped shape his approach behind the microphone now. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s it like doing sports radio right now with a pandemic going on?

Tom Waddle: I don’t mean to sound callous or take it for granted but quite frankly — there are no sports, there are no games, but we have not been devoid of conversation. The NFL obviously went about their business. They went through the draft and had their offseason and free agency, which provided us conversation. Every day there’s a new story about different leagues trying to get ramped up and what their plan is to try to get back to some sense of normalcy. While we haven’t had the opportunity on a day-in, day-out basis to recap NBA games or Major League Baseball games, we still have had a full complement of things to talk about.

So far — now the longer this lingers, the more difficult it may become. Maybe our listeners would argue with us about finding new, entertaining things to talk about, but we don’t sit around in our daily meetings and go oh, what are we going to do now? We’ve always had something to talk about. It hasn’t been ideal, but at the same time it hasn’t been the massive struggle that maybe some thought it would be.

BN: In what ways have you felt that the show has been different?

TW: I think that it’s been more of a personality-driven show. Silvy and I have been doing this together now for better than 13 years. We’ve been more than willing to welcome people into our personal lives. That’s always been the dynamic that’s existed with our show but now even more. We’re both working from home so there are times when you’ll hear my dog bark, or he’s got young kids, so one of his kids will come flying down the steps and have a breakdown that’ll get on the air. We’ve learned to deal with the humanity of it all. I think that there’s probably a larger element of your own personality and your own personal life in the show now than maybe there used to be.

BN: It doesn’t get much more personal than Silvy announcing that he has cancer. What are your thoughts on him making that announcement and the situation overall?

TW: Yeah, myself and Adam Abdalla, who’s our executive producer, and Jeff Meller, who’s also one of our producers and is our sound guy, we’ve been working together for so long that we all know where each other is coming from. We just took the approach that we were going to let Silvy lead the way with how he wanted to handle this. This is obviously his individual battle, but we’ve kind of looked at it as teammates of his to battle this together.

I’m not surprised at all what he wanted to do was to handle it head-on and to be very open about it. I think as long as I’ve known him and worked with him, he’s always been very much interested in developing a relationship with the different listeners. He’s always asked listeners to share their own private situations with us on the air whenever they’re comfortable, so I think he took the approach that it would be unnatural and it would be hypocritical if he didn’t do the same. I thought he handled it with tremendous grace and tremendous strength.

Waddle and Silvy - ESPN Chicago

I think also he’s got such a great relationship with all of our listeners in the greater Chicagoland community, I think he’ll derive some strength from knowing that he’s going through this battle in somewhat of a public arena. I thought he handled it great. I thought our listeners responded well. I think again the fact that he handled it the way he did will provide him some comfort and some strength.

BN: After 13 years on the air together, in what area do you think you and Silvy have grown the most?

TW: I think just our willingness to share our own personal lives. We’ve been at different stages in our lives despite being fairly similar in age. I think he’s 47 or 48. I’m 53, so I’m a little bit older, but I was married at 24 and had a kid at 25. I’ve got basically four adult daughters. I have a 27-year-old, a 24-year-old, a 22-year-old, and the 16-year-old is not an adult but I could argue she’s the most mature of all of us. I’ve always been in that father family environment for a very long time.

When we first started he was still single and obviously didn’t have any kids. He had a different approach and ran a little more red hot about certain things and was a little more red-assed about stuff. But I think as he got married to Allie and had kids I think it’s provided a different perspective for him. While you’re never going to take his edge away from him, we’ve kind of been able to round off and sand down some of the rough edges so to speak. I don’t feel I’m speaking out of turn. I think that he would agree to that as well.

We’ve always had kind of a brotherly relationship. A lot of times I’ve been the older brother because I was in a different stage of life. I’m proud to have been able to provide some advice at least at times with regard to being a husband or being a father. I think the growth has just been in our ability to try to share our life experiences on a day-in, day-out basis. I think the growth has gone from strictly an all sports type of presentation to more lifestyle and family life. I think we spend a lot more time trying to have a laugh and keep people entertained.

BN: Would it be boring to you if it was just sports, sports, sports without personality or life included?  

TW: It would for me. I come with a different experience, not a better experience, not a worse experience; it’s just a different experience. Having played all my life, I have such a huge passion for sports, but I’ve also found when I retired there’s more to life than sports. It’s given me this career in radio and television over the last 25 years. It’s given me an opportunity to branch out and do different things and speak about different things. I think you’re reluctant to do it when you’re first involved in the industry, but over the course of time you become more comfortable with letting people in and letting them know who you are other than just being somebody they used to watch on Saturdays or Sundays. 

I don’t want it to be all sports because I have a lot of life experiences that I like to share and like to talk about. This kind of stage gives me the closest thing to competing and performing as I think I possibly could find coming out of the sports world. Live television and a four-hour radio show is the closest thing that I’ll ever get to trying to recapture that adrenaline rush that comes on Sundays. I don’t want to focus just on football, basketball, and baseball. I think that at times you can drone on about that stuff and lose your audience. I’ve enjoyed branching out and being able to talk about different things.

BN: In the past you’ve joked around a little bit about the concussions you suffered during your career. Is there any impact from your playing days on what you do professionally now?

TW: I try not to make light of it because there are guys that have had to deal with stuff that is probably more significant than what I’ve had to deal with. I was a teammate of Dave Duerson. I played against other guys around the league that aren’t with us any longer. I maybe at times try to use humor as a way to deflect from what is the serious realization that it is such a real thing. I do have moments.

I’m fortunate that it hasn’t overwhelmed me, but I’d be lying if I told you that there aren’t moments occasionally over the course of a month where I’ll have a couple of days that I know exactly what I want to say but I struggle to be able to verbalize it. There are other times where verbally I’m okay but my mind is a little bit cloudy. I don’t know if it’s old age, if it’s what I used to do for a living, or it’s a combination of both. I’m aware of it and I take it seriously, but look I signed up for it, so I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t part of the job description.

BN: Is there a topic over the last 13 years in Chicago that has felt like Groundhog Day where you say, oh man, another day of talking about this?

TW: The Bears quarterback situation falls into that category. It’s not just Mitch Trubisky related. You could talk about the Bears struggles with the quarterback position for decades. Now I don’t have a problem with it because I’m a football-centric person. I have a huge passion for the game and for this team, but I can see how that would become tedious for some.

I think that the Cubs/Sox rivalry at times gets to be a bit manufactured especially when one team is good and the other team is not. It’s funny, I infrequently find myself going to work and saying, ahh shit, I got to talk about this again. You know? 

We’re fortunate because we have so many teams and there are so many different issues to talk about. I don’t think we get into that mundane type of mode at all because there are things on a day-in and day-out basis. The Bears quarterback situation is obviously one of those conversations. The Bulls struggles to be relevant over the last several years has been one that it does feel like Groundhog Day. At times you feel like they’ve been running in place. I would say those were probably the two that make you feel the most worn out.

BN: As far as The Last Dance goes, how much have you guys talked about it on your show?

TW: It’s been a huge focus for us. Obviously without games going on, it takes up a large portion of our show at least on Mondays. We’ve developed a nice relationship with Jason Hehir who’s the director. He comes on with us on Mondays to recap the previous episodes and previews the next couple of episodes. We’ve had a great relationship with him and a great response.

Silvy covered that second three-peat so he’s got a lot of insight and thoughts on it. For the fans my age it’s a great walk down memory lane and for the younger fans that didn’t really witness it, it’s a nice opportunity for them to see something that they weren’t aware of or were too young to really appreciate. Then come Monday and Tuesday it gives them an opportunity to participate as well. It certainly has come at the right time.

BN: What was your favorite part of The Last Dance?

TW: My memory isn’t great so for me the first thing I just wanted to be reminded of how great a player Michael was. To see him back in the early ‘90s and then the mid-to-late ‘90s, there are some things athletically that guys struggle to do now in 2020.

We always talk about on our show how sports evolve. In the world of football people get bigger, faster, and stronger. There weren’t any guys like Brandon Marshall playing wide receiver in my day. There weren’t 6’4”, 230-pound guys running 4.4’s. The game evolves. The athletic part of it becomes more impressive as time rolls on. Michael was doing that stuff back in the ‘90s. It was nice to just remind yourself that he was so far ahead of his time athletically and he was able to do some things then that guys can’t do now.

BN: As far as your future is concerned is there anything you would like to do within your current role, or beyond ESPN 1000 before you retire?

TW: I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had some great opportunities. I’ve done national television in Los Angeles with some great people at the NFL Network and worked with some of the greatest guys and best players in the world in Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin. I had the same great opportunity at ESPN to work for six years on the television side and obviously on the radio side, ESPN has given me a great opportunity both nationally and locally.

What I want to do is continue to do what I’m doing now with the people that I’m doing it with for as long as we have this passion and desire to do it. I’m not running out of ideas and I’m not running out of incentive. I’m not getting tired of participating in this job. I love the people that I’ve worked with. I love the old group with Jim Pastor and Adam Delevitt. Craig Karmazin took over when they purchased the station and we’re with Mike Thomas now who has such a great track record in this industry.

Waddle & Silvy Show - PodCenter - ESPN Radio

We’ve been surrounded by winning people. I haven’t hit the wall. I did in football but there’s only so far you can take 6’1” and 185 pounds. Fortunately in the world of sports broadcasting and more importantly in the radio industry — size, speed, and age really isn’t a factor. I’m still very much enthused with what I do and love the people I work with. I want to continue to keep doing this as long as we possibly can.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

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

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grant cohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

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

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

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

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

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

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

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

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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