Dane Brugler is an NFL Draft Analyst for The Athletic. “When scouting 300-pound defensive linemen, some show explosiveness in their lower body while others explode with their upper body,” Brugler once wrote. “The rare ones do both.” The observation made me think of sports radio. Some hosts make you laugh. Other hosts make you think. The rare ones do both consistently.
Alfred Williams is one of the rare hybrid hosts in sports radio. He can make you think with his wide-ranging opinions on sports, politics, and beyond. The former Denver Broncos two-time Super Bowl champion can absolutely crack you up as well. I went out to dinner with Alfred and his former co-host Darren “DMac” McKee roughly two years ago. Alfred’s laugh is infectious. It’s a laugh that not only lights up the room or building, it lights up the entire block of your general location.
A sports radio veteran of more than 16 years, the Colorado Buffaloes product now has a new gig alongside JoJo Turnbeaugh on KOA NewsRadio 850 AM & 94.1 FM in Denver. Alfred talks about the transition from his decade-long partner DMac to his current role on Big Al & JoJo. The Houston native also talks about his past experience with Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy and the best advice he’s received throughout his radio career. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: You were off the air for six months during the transition from The Fan to KOA. What was that time like for you?
Alfred Williams: It was absolutely bittersweet. It really was. I kind of wanted a break. I needed a break. I had been going for about 15 years in a row. To have a little break was good, but my mom was dying. I got to spend that time with her. She ended up dying in July. I started back in September last year. It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it was going to be because my mom passed away, but it was a good break. It was needed.
BN: Has getting back to work helped you get your mind off things a little bit?
AW: It helped me with my grieving process. I’m thankful I have a good partner because he kind of talked me through it. He lost his father and he could kind of walk me through some of my internal rifts. When I’m talking, it just builds up frustration and anger — a lot of questioning why. You learn to hate things like the word cancer. All of the emotions, they come in waves. You just never get used to it. You just never get used to not being able to hear her voice.
BN: What has it been like for you to transition from DMac to your new partner JoJo?
AW: It’s been actually great. I still talk to DMac maybe once a week or so. But I love working with JoJo. He was the guy that I picked to work with. He was the number one guy. I had heard JoJo on 102.3 ESPN years ago and I liked the way that he handled the gravity of the show. I was a fan of it. He was not doing radio. For about six or seven years he was in management. They kept asking me who do I want and I just said give me JoJo because I just liked his vibe. That was an obvious choice for me.
BN: What was his reaction when he found out that you wanted him to be your partner?
AW: He was like no way. [Laughs] They told me I could pick anybody in the city that’s not under contract, or anybody in any one of our stations in Denver, or nationally if we wanted to go pick somebody up. We could get it done and try to make a go of it. I had JoJo in mind and he was like oh you got to be kidding me. You’re kidding me. I was like nah man. I heard him and he’s just got this great laugh. He’s got this fantastic laugh and his demeanor is in line with mine. It’s a good mix for me.
BN: You’ve got a great laugh yourself, man. When you guys start laughing together they probably hear you in Nebraska.
AW: [Laughs] I’m telling you, man. I’m telling you. I’m not going to lie; I’ve had moments on the show when I was in tears. We’ve had plenty of moments when we’ve laughed and it’s just been — man, what a roller coaster of a year for people who are in this business. Not everybody can handle all the things that are going on right now or they choose not to touch on it because maybe that’s not their format or maybe it’s not their expertise and they just ignore it. I’m so happy that I’m able to talk about the things that make us laugh, that make us cry, that make us think twice about situations.
BN: Have you been doing the show remotely at all during the pandemic?
AW: We started off and I think we did like 16 shows, but because we’re a news station we had essential workers permits. That gave me the opportunity to travel back and forth to the studio.
We were together when it was the beginning of coronavirus. We went to the Super Bowl together and then we went to the country music radio awards. Since we were together at the Super Bowl and 10 days later we were together, we were just like hey man, we’ll just do the show from the studio. We’ll put our masks on and go in and just do it from the studio. It’s not the same energy when you can’t see the person or talk in the breaks. All radio people understand it’s just smoother when you’re in person.
BN: How did you initially get into sports radio?
AW: When I was a player we had a one-hour show when The Fan first started up. I was playing for the Broncos. They wanted to do a one-hour show and I was okay with it so we just did that one-hour show. After football was over, Tim Spence, who was my boss who hired me, asked me to come do radio. At the time I had a technology company that was growing. I told him I couldn’t do it. That went on for four years. Then I came back and said okay I’m ready to do sports radio. He was like you’re not serious. [Laughs]
So I had this two-hour show with Scott Hastings. We had a blast, bro. We had a blast. Every day was silly and funny and we talked about sports and life and locker rooms. It was great. Then they wanted to move me and Scotty in the drive-time position, but Scotty was gone with the Nuggets. They put me with this shock jock DMac.
I’ll never forget, man, I got married on May 23rd. It was Memorial Day weekend. I got married on Saturday. I go in on Monday. I was 40 years old and I’ll never forget what my partner said to me. He said why did you get married? They’re going to make another 25-year-old next year.
At that moment I wanted to kick his ass all over that studio. I told them there was no way I was going to work with this guy. I told them no way. He started to court me, bringing BBQ and sandwiches, and just making sure everything was smooth. Eventually we worked it out and it was a good really run, man. We had a 10-year run. I worked with Scotty for five years, and then DMac for 10, and now JoJo for a year.
BN: Was it hard to move away from The Fan and DMac after you’d been working together for a decade?
AW: Yes, it was really tough because I was comfortable and familiar with everybody. When you change radio stations or you change jobs the grass looks greener on the other side. I had overtures, I’ve had at least three or four overtures in the past but this one felt like it was right because it was also the home of the Broncos, the home of the Rockies, and we can talk about anything. Not just sports, but anything that is hot and topical, whether it’s finances, weather, politics, or COVID-19.
BN: What would you say is the general vibe of doing a show in the Denver market?
AW: I’m going to be totally honest with you, man, it’s really uplifting. I am on a station that was a Republican station and still leans hard to the Republican side. We were the home of Rush Limbaugh for 25 years or more, so my audience wasn’t necessarily aligned with me politically, but what I found is there can be a middle ground. Conversations can be had and we can agree to disagree without being nasty, which is always preferable.
When you start talking about things that affect somebody and their political party’s ideas and you’re not on the same page, trust me it can be three or four hours of rough conversation. It’s okay that you have them as long as you can say okay I can understand your point. You can get to a middle ground. Maybe you won’t always agree but we can agree to be gentlemen with each other.
BN: What do you think is your biggest strength as a sports radio host?
AW: My biggest strength is I tell the truth. The truth is painful most of the time in sports. Especially if you’re from the home of the team that you’re covering. Maybe this is because I played for the team and I’m good friends with most of the guys that are over there with the Broncos in particular or with my CU Buffs, they know I’m coming from a good place.
If I say that they didn’t play a good game because of coaching or players, and I can say that’s not going to cut it, it’s not what we need to win, most of the time it’s a hard lesson if you are over in that building and you’re coaching one of the teams that I’m talking about. There have been some coaches in the past that didn’t appreciate it. I tell them to pound sand because I know what I’m looking at.
The problem with football is that it’s really complicated and it takes time to explain why somebody is good or why somebody is bad. You just have to keep telling people every day that this is why they are good, this is why they aren’t good. You have to do that every single day if you’re not on the popular side. I remember the conversations I was having about Tim Tebow. I was saying he’s not a good quarterback. You can’t even imagine how popular Tim Tebow was. After they won that game against the Steelers I was like, well this was the best win of his life. John is not going to have him back here as quarterback.
Sure enough I got, oh man, you’re talking about vitriol. You’re talking about people who just did not understand what I was saying and they just wanted Tim Tebow for other reasons. It had nothing to do with football. I think it was because of his religious beliefs that people we’re clinging to him. But as a broadcaster you just have to tell people what’s going on. If he’s making a good play or making a bad play you’ve got to be able to explain why he is good or why he is not.
BN: What type of feedback have you gotten after the story resurfaced of Mike Gundy calling you the N-word [in a game back in 1989]?
AW: You know it was weird. The best part about Twitter is that you get a national and international field. I’m not just talking to people in Colorado. I had some people who started following me and say “Way to jump on the bandwagon now, Alfred, after 30 years you’re bringing this up.”
They don’t know the context. They don’t know that I brought it up 30 years ago. I just learned not to argue with people that don’t leave their name. If you’re bold enough to leave your name and you can be found easily, then I’ll respond to you. But if you won’t leave your name, then I think it’s just not a good deal for me to even respond to you.
I was really pissed off that people looked at it like I was piling on. Shannon Sharpe called me about this incident at Oklahoma State 31 years ago. He said he got a phone call from somebody from Oklahoma State that said that Gundy was not a gentleman with me. I said you got that right. I told him what happened. He went on TV the next day and he started the conversation about Mike Gundy and what happened. I’ve been doing radio a long time. If I wanted to bring that up I would have brought that up years ago.
I didn’t bring it up because I brought it up 31 years ago and nothing happened, what would make me think that bringing it up today would make anything else happen? He hasn’t apologized yet so I guess he’s not going to apologize.
BN: Did that sort of thing happen a lot on the football field to you?
AW: First and only time. In all of my football career — high school, college — it happened once with him. In the pros, never once.
BN: Have you experienced any racism as a sports radio host?
AW: No, and that’s one of the reasons that I say it’s been uplifting. It’s different when you text in because when you text in your phone number is there, right? You can actually pick the phone up and call the person who texted you if they say something nasty. If they’re bold enough to call, then maybe they have something that they want to get off their heart.
Maybe I haven’t thought of a perspective that was different. I love people to call in. We read the text messages whether they’re good or bad. We read them because I think the audience is judge and jury when it comes to what should be talked about and what shouldn’t be talked about. I don’t back down and I don’t back away from it. We’re just talking. Let’s talk it out.
BN: What’s an area that you would like to be better in as a host?
AW: I’d like to be a better driver. I’ve driven well over 300 shows but I’d like to be a better driver. Every show has a feel and the driver is the person that gives that show that feel. I was told by Tim Spence years ago that I could be the John Madden of the show and look at it like this guy opens up and I give the perspective. I thought that was a great way to describe how impactful not driving can be. John Madden never drove and he worked with a lot of different guys over the years. He was a professional broadcaster. I kind of look at it like that. I just want to be the John Madden of my show, but I’d like to be able to have the skill set to set us back to the original sound when the co-host isn’t there.
BN: What’s some other advice you’ve gotten that has made a big difference for you as a broadcaster?
AW: This is the best advice I’ve ever gotten and it came from Tim Spence. This was at a time when I was doing TV and doing radio. He said either you’re a radioman or you’re not. At that time it was such a strong statement that I just stopped doing all the color analyst stuff and just stuck with doing radio. It’s made my life. I can have a sharper focus and it’s made my life more compartmentalized so I can just put things in the right place. I’m a radioman.
BN: I like it. That could be your nickname — Alfred “The Radioman” Williams.
AW: [Laughs] You know what? All people who are in radio that do this get pumped up every day so that they can have a good time to talk with their audience, and greet them, and bring some interesting points. The people who are not excited about having their show every day, man they’ve got to get the hell out of radio.
BN: Is there anything that you would like to do before your broadcasting career is over?
AW: No, I just want to talk to the people in Colorado and thank them every single day for giving me a chance. Every day I want to thank them for giving me a chance to be me. I want to thank them every day and tell them how proud I am to call myself a Coloradan.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
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.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.