ESPN Radio acknowledged on Friday that Will Cain is on his way out. While there has been no official comment on his future plans, Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports reported that Cain was working on a deal with Fox News all the way back in early April.
How Cain, an outspoken conservative, fits in at Fox News is clear. Where he fits in is a little less clear, but this is a sports media site, so who cares, right? Let’s put Will on the shelf and look at this from ESPN Radio’s point of view.
A lot of names have been thrown around to fill the hole Cain leaves behind. Every name mentioned is from ESPN’s current roster of talent, and that is absolutely the wrong approach. It’s not that Mina Kimes, who has been mentioned as a candidate for a show on ESPN Radio, isn’t talented, but choosing someone in house would be playing it safe and missing a golden opportunity.
The time is right for ESPN Radio to follow the playbook it did in 2004 when it replaced Tony Kornheiser in its late morning slot with Colin Cowherd. The company didn’t ask “Which SportsCenter anchor can also host a radio show?”. It went outside of Bristol and found a great local host that was ready for a national platform.
If ESPN wants to go down that path again, there are plenty of great candidates. Here are five people, in alphabetical order, that have what it takes to make the leap to a national platform and create something truly unique for ESPN Radio.
CHAD DUKES (106.7 the Fan in Washington, DC)
If ESPN Radio wanted to replace one conservative voice with another, Dukes would be an ideal choice. He’s a strong candidate even if ESPN Radio didn’t take politics into account. Howard Stern once said that Dukes is “the kind of sports radio I would listen to.” You don’t get a chance to hire someone like that everyday. With influences like The Sports Junkies and Opie & Anthony, Dukes would bring a unique perspective to the lineup.
MIKE FELGER (98.5 the Sports Hub in Boston)
The powers that be in Bristol are almost certainly familiar with Felger. His show has dominant ratings and is the reigning Major Market Personality of the Year at the Marconi Awards. The only move to make for Felger to take the next step is going national. Plus, his TV and reporting experience could make him a valuable multi-platform asset for ESPN’s NFL coverage.
CARRINGTON HARRISON (610 Sports in Kansas City)
Carrington is one of the most creative local hosts in the business today and knows how to engage listeners of all ages. Case in point, his Kanye Madness Bracket took the Internet by storm two years ago. It would be easy to dismiss comparisons to Bomani Jones and Nick Wright as conveniently about the commonalities of race and geography, but Carrington Harrison comes from the same school of intelligent discourse and measured takes. Sports radio needs more of that.
DANNY PARKINS (670 the Score in Chicago)
Danny Parkins has stood out and been a winner everywhere he has been. ESPN Radio has certainly taken notice, given that he and Dan McNeil have overtaken Waddle and Silvy in the ratings. Plus, he’s a young dude that could be a long term investment for ESPN just like Colin Cowherd was 16 years ago.
MIKE VALENTI (97.1 the Ticket in Detroit)
Let’s be clear. While I think Mike Valenti would be a home run hire, I know it is the longest of long shots. Entercom has a lot invested in Valenti, and would probably find a way to give him a prime spot on CBS Sports Radio if he ever said being on a national platform is his only priority. There is a reason for that. The guy is outspoken and unapologetic in his opinions. He has absolutely perfected channeling the frustrations of Detroit sports fans into content and if he could do that on a national level, he could become the cornerstone ESPN Radio is missing right now.
ESPN is always looking for new stars, and radio is the perfect place to develop that star. It’s a platform that relies on personality. Look at what ESPN did with Cowherd and Dan Le Batard. Look what FOX did with Nick Wright.
Look, this is also a chance to re-establish ESPN Radio’s identity separate from ESPN. Right now, every show that airs from 6 am until 9 pm features someone that also has a TV presence with the company. Maybe that is good for name recognition, but is it always good for content? Radio and television are two totally different skill sets.
Finally, it is worth thinking about Andrew Marchand’s report in the New York Post from last month. According to Marchand, there is a major shakeup coming that might include new shows in every prime day part.
If that is true, ESPN Radio is going to need some really strong shows to soften the blow for affiliates. If the network were to hire one of the five above talents right now and put him in the 3-6 pm window, it would give the show time to develop and find direction so that it is ready to be put in a day part with higher clearance when the full overhaul comes to fruition.
It takes time to build a star, which is probably why we are hearing so many names already established on TV as candidates to fill radio roles. Once you get past name recognition, I struggle to see the benefit of that strategy. ESPN took a chance once before on a host that walked through the door with a ton of talent and no fame and it turned out to be a home run. There’s no reason the network couldn’t do it again.
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.