Next time I pass the CAA building in Century City, I’ll be shouted down by talent agents who won’t like the dirty secret I’m about to tell. They can get right in line, joining the numerous haters who can’t handle the truth in this space. Know the $8 million salary of Stephen A. Smith, the $6 million salary of Skip Bayless and the salaries of other leading loudmouths in the sports debate industry?
You can remove one zero and one comma from their annual wages.
That’s all the networks need to pay.
And maybe they’re finally starting to get it, with Fox Sports 1 cutting ties with Jason Whitlock, whose paltry ratings on “Speak For Yourself’’ spoke for themselves. Please don’t attach this breakup as an attack on black America in the violent aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, as some media dramatists might try. If anything, Fox is defending black America, given Whitlock’s provocative commentaries on race and politics.
Recently, with a take incendiary even by his standards, he accused LeBron James of exploiting Michael Jordan’s aversion to social activism after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, when James wrote, “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man! Like WTF man are you kidding me?!?!?!?!?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! I’m sorry Ahmaud(Rest In Paradise) and my prayers and blessings sent to the heavens above to your family.” James’ anger is justified today after another sickening episode of police brutality — and Whitlock’s position looks embarrassing. “This isn’t helpful. It’s twitter-trolling,’’ tweeted Whitlock, claiming James was grandstanding as Jordan was winning critical and ratings acclaim in “The Last Dance’’ documentary series. “It’s using this man’s tragedy to build a brand as more outspoken than Michael Jordan. There are all kinds of ways to draw attention to this tragedy. Suggesting that we are hunted everyday/every time is just s–t-stirring.”
But trust me when I say Fox doesn’t care what comes from Whitlock’s mouth if the ratings justify his bluster. They didn’t, sometimes sinking to the level of Kansas City drive-time radio. Simply, the network bosses let his deal expire, realizing they didn’t have to hand him bigger money.
I have personal knowledge in this particular area. For eight years, I was the most-utilized regular panelist on ESPN’s “Around The Horn,’’ appearing on the vast majority of daily shows during the program’s high-popularity era. Every ratings period, a producer would report in our conference call that the numbers rose yet again, to the point a project once mocked as a “Pardon The Interruption’’ knockoff was approaching the commercial success of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Airing each weeknight at 5pm ET, ATH was responsible for generating lead-in momentum for PTI.
Damned if we weren’t about to pass the old men. At one point, we were creeping toward a million viewers daily, and while this was before cord-cutting and cord-nevers and Netflix and YouTube and various iterations of Facebook, our impact was staggering. I couldn’t walk down the street without someone asking if Woody Paige is really that goofy (he is). Charles Barkley, who often would rip me and Bayless on TNT, bought me beers in a Cleveland bar. I’d be standing in a terminal at O’Hare, waiting for a late afternoon flight, when someone would look at me, then at the TV above, and say, “If you’re that guy, how can you be standing here?’’ Some trashy websites no longer with us — R.I.H. (Rot In Hell) — would cover me like Justin Bieber. In Florence, we’d just finished walking 463 stairs to the top of the Duomo when a kid in a Ohio State jersey yelled, “Around The Horn!’’ When a panelist was involved in a court case that later was dropped, the New York Post headline read: “AROUND THE HORNY.’’ We were parodied by “Saturday Night Live.’’
Judge Judy had to be nervous. Montel Williams, too. Maybe even the local newscasts. Maybe even Ellen DeGeneres, though probably not.
And what was my biggest annual salary for a hit show that more than doubled Smith’s typical ratings on ESPN’s “First Take,’’ drew five times Bayless’s typical ratings on Fox Sports 1’s “Undisputed’’ and safely can call itself the second-most-watched show — the numbers don’t lie — in the history of Embrace Debate programming?
About $300,000, not counting summer pay when subbing for Kornheiser beside the sacred PTI mugshot cutouts. With inflation, call it $500,000 by today’s rates. And I actually employed one of those Hollywood agents, a guy who ordered wild boar ragu on his pappardelle.
“Know how much money we’re making for ESPN?’’ I’d mumble under my breath every time a new title sponsor was introduced.
Stop before you accuse me of complaining. To this day, I’m grateful to have made the annual six-figure, one-comma salary long enough to put my kids through college and feed the dog. I would have done the show for free. But would someone explain what was happening in John Skipper’s head — perhaps I shouldn’t ask — when the former ESPN president went bankroll-bonkers on Stephen A.’s compensation? I’m all for people in sports media getting PAID, in a business that might not exist next week, but when only Tony Romo is making more than Smith in the all-time roll call of sportscasters, um, what the hell? A laughable travesty, Howard Cosell is venting somewhere. Bob Costas, the G.O.A.T. of his genre, was well worth his $7 million a year at NBC. Al Michaels and Joe Buck are worth their $6 million. Jim Nantz is worth his $5 million.
Why? Their audiences, for major events, are in the megamillions. They call the games that serve as gold and sustenance for their networks.
Stephen A.? He yells at Max Kellerman, who used to yell at me.
Bayless? He shouts down Shannon Sharpe, who seems oddly respectful of a guy whose ass I kicked when we were Chicago columnists.
But as an effective tag team on ESPN, Smith and Bayless became valuable when their urban-meets-Bible-belt act generated rare credible numbers in late mornings, a slot formerly surrendered to “SportsCenter’’ reruns. Fox Sports 1, trying to make a splash as a new player, chose to break up the Bristol band by throwing huge money at Bayless. ESPN had no choice but to appease Smith with epic money.
The model could be changing, though, at least at Fox. Bayless, whose lukewarm ratings also don’t justify his salary, might have to accept a sizable pay cut. Or, maybe FS1 abandons a debate element that hasn’t approached ESPN’s success in the twisting-and-shouting arena.
As someone who has engaged in past Twitter crossfire with Whitlock, I looked for a reaction on his feed. All I saw was this, from Sunday: “God’s design. One mouth. Two ears. Two eyes. We should all do 4 times as much listening and observing as talking. Don’t be afraid to reflect, acquire knowledge and listen to others with more wisdom. Social media compels us to speak even when we have little of substance to say.’’
Imagine, Whitlock with little to say about the world.
Maybe it’s because everyone stopped listening. And watching.
Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”
After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure. In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.
“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM. “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”
Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube. The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.
It all came together very quickly.
“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”
The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday. The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.
“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber. “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television. For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment. So far, I’m having a ball.”
And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.
A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels.
“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber. “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel. Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”
The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career. He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.
Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests. And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.
Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.
“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber. “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up. It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there. The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”
There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.
For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to.
“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber. “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation. I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that. I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”
Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing. A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio. For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.
The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber. “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about. I was doing a five-hour radio show. It’s too long. That’s crazy. Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.”
Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore. The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.
Kind of like Adam The Bull!
“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber. “But the game has changed.”
Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms. The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.
I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.
Bull can certainly relate to that.
“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle. “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device. It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.”
With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business. In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month. But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.
“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber. “I still love radio. I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation. I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”
The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve. Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.
I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday
“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”
Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.
- How many games will the home team win?
- What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
- Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?
Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?
I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.
Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.
Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.
I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.
Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.
I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.
Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.
Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.
And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.
Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content
“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”
It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.
TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.
TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!
This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours.
So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success.
Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video.
If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point.
Other simple tricks:
- Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video.
- 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time.
- Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video)
- Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.
- Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video.
- Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well.