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Peter Burns Knows 10,000 Other People Want His Job

“I probably went on eight interviews there, from SportsCenter to Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, all that stuff. I thought I killed every single interview I had, except for the one with SEC Network.”

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If there’s ever a day when Peter Burns has to search for motivation, he never has to look too far. 

Normally, all he has to do is look directly down at his rundown sheet where ‘dream job’ is the first thing written down each day. Though it may sound cliché, those two words are a daily reminder of the obstacles he’s had to overcome, the people who have helped him through it and how lucky he is to be in the spot he’s in today. 

But even if that doesn’t work, there’s one word that will always fix Burns’ self-doubt or lack of motivation almost instantly. That one word just so happens to be a name.

Jessi. 

Remembering Jessica Ghawi, aspiring sports journalist

Jessica Ghawi was a 24-year-old aspiring sports journalist in Denver, before her life was tragically taken in the Aurora, Colorado shooting in July of 2012 that left 12 dead and 70 wounded. Her future in the business was bright, mostly due to her relentless attitude towards chasing her dream in sports. That passion rubbed off on everyone she encountered, including Burns, who befriended her while working in San Antonio. 

The two quickly formed an incredible bond and respect for another. So much so, that when Burns chased down an opportunity in Denver, Ghawi couldn’t help but follow her role model to chase new opportunities. Soon after, she was already making a name for herself in the market. Any challenge that came her way, she took it on with an intensity that inspired everyone around her. Greatness in sports media wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ for Ghawi, it was only a matter of ‘when.’

Burns will never forget the phone call he got the next morning when he learned the news of what happened at the movie theatre. Someone he deeply cared about and respected was suddenly gone. There was sadness. There was anger. But ultimately, what prevailed, was the emotion of attacking every single day just like she would. 

“It’s just one of those things, where anytime that I’m like, I shouldn’t do this or I shouldn’t go for the show, or I’m starting to feel nervous, I think of her,” Burns said. “Because she would care and always seize the day. Every time I get a little bit of a snag, I think of her being like, ‘hey, get your butt in shape. Knock it off and go kill this.’ It helps me put the pedal to the metal and get things done. I keep her ashes in my studio and it’s a small reminder I have every single day, like, man, we’re blessed to be doing what we’re doing and don’t half-ass it.”

Nearly eight years have passed since the tragedy, but her memory hasn’t faded one bit. Burns will be the first to say that whatever great things he accomplishes in the business, he’ll always owe at least a piece of it to his friend Jessi. That includes his current gig at the SEC Network. 

Today, that’s where you can find him, living in Charlotte and doing extensive work as a studio anchor and radio host for the SEC Network, amongst other things. This week, he even has the opportunity to host The Dan Le Batard Show with Katie George while the normal crew is off on vacation. 

Joining the SEC Network is truly Burns’ dream job, because of his deep passion for the conference. SEC football was part of his upbringing, so the fit comes naturally for both he and the network. Being able to cover the sport you grew up loving the most is why Burns feels like he never has to work.

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“It’s funny, because I went on a bunch of interviews with ESPN when I first got signed by an agency,” Burns said. “I probably went on eight interviews there, from SportsCenter to Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, all that stuff. I thought I killed every single interview I had, except for the one with SEC Network. I was bummed because I’m such an SEC guy. That’s the one I got a callback from after the audition. 

“It’s been part of my upbringing so it was just such a natural fit. Even when I moved to Denver I was covering the Avalanche as well as the Rockies. I’m not a huge hockey fan and I just wasn’t a diehard National League fan as much as I used to be, so I had to work for that. I don’t have to work for the knowledge of the SEC because I follow every single storyline. And that’s not just football. I hope that’s what it sounds like over the air, like a kid being in a candy store.”

That’s a far cry from the guy who was working in oil and gas in south Texas, where he first realized he had to get into sports radio. Or even the guy who was fired from 760 The Ticket in San Antonio, for, self admittedly, having a bad attitude inside the building on far too much of a regular basis. But sometimes, getting knocked down can be a person’s biggest remedy. Getting fired did just that for his career. 

“You don’t know what you have until you lose it,” Burns said. “I realized as hard as I had worked to get to that job at 760 The Ticket in San Antonio I had taken it for granted. I just thought I had made it I didn’t have to work as hard anymore. It wasn’t until I had that reality check of, hey, why are you acting like this? It got out of hand to the point where I deserve to be fired. 

“Instead of blaming everybody I looked at myself and said, all right, you’ve got to fix this. If you fix it, and you work hard, you can try and get this gig back again. There’s no way I’d be doing what I do now unless I’d been fired. It took me understanding that, how great of a job it is, to never want to lose it again. I know when I say it, it sounds weird and cliché, but it affected me so deeply.”

Unfortunately, with the current Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it’s had on sports radio, there’s many talented hosts who have found themselves out of a job. So, as someone who’s experienced that feeling, what’s the best way to try and get back on your feet in this business?  

“Really try to understand, as good of ideas as you have right now, they all need to be profitable,” Burns said. “What I mean by that, is attacking it from the business sense. Anytime I try to get a show pitched, instead of just pitching the show, I’d always write down why this company is wanting to do this. I had to come up with three reasons why that person would say yes, before I would even pitch. So I would always start with, how someone can make money off this idea, whether it be sponsors or how it could be syndicated. My advice is almost to learn more the business aspect of things. If you can sell radio advertising, you can almost do anything. It’s hard to sell an invisible product and that was the best experience I ever got.”

Burns turns his “Worst Day Ever” into life lesson - ESPN Front Row

Hopefully, Burns is through with the toughest trials of his career. But it’s also those same challenges that have made him into the professional he is today. He’ll never let a day go by without being thankful for the life and career he has. He’s not making not that mistake again, nor would Jessi let him. 

“For all my show notes, the first thing I do is put the date and I write ‘dream job’,” said Burns. “The next thing I do, I have a radio clock that’s inside the studio in my house and next to it, it just says 10,000. What it is, is a reminder that if I didn’t want to wake up and do this job, there’s 10,000 other people that would say, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s always a reminder to kind of keep me in the grind of doing sports talk radio for six days a week and to realize how lucky I am, because there’s 10,000 other people that would do my job tomorrow.”

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 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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