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It’s Chest Hair And A Big Medallion For Jason Smith

“I think people deal with a lot of negative stuff now and everybody’s lives have changed forever. Can you still listen to people screaming at each other for three hours? I don’t think you can.”

Brian Noe

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FOX Sports Radio host Jason Smith is a smart dude. It dawned on me during my discussion with him that he’s not just playing chess or checkers, he’s actually playing both games on the air each night. The checkers approach is simple; find ways to entertain listeners and make them laugh. We aren’t splitting atoms and solving the world’s problems. Let’s loosen the collar and enjoy some figurative dessert together. That’s the easy part.

The Writing Life of: Jason Smith - Whispering Stories

Due to Jason’s timeslot — 7-11pm PT — it would be foolish to discuss the biggest stories of the day while using the same angles as daytime hosts. He and co-host Mike Harmon have to figure out new ways of approaching the top stories. That isn’t easy. Daytime shows can afford to be like pop music while taking a straightforward approach. A nighttime show is more advanced like jazz with key changes midsong. Straightforward becomes repetitive and stale. Fresh and unpredictable is king.

It takes a special talent to blend checkers and chess together. Jason is one of the few that is up for the challenge. An emmy-award winning producer and author, Jason talks about the best piece of sports radio advice he’s received, which is actually quite funny. The worst piece of advice he’s gotten is a great lesson for everybody in the industry. Jason also shares an awesome story about how wood, yes wood, played a major role in his radio career. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: How did your path unfold to where you are now?

Jason Smith: I don’t recommend my path for anybody. [Laughs] I don’t know that it works anywhere but in Los Angeles. I did radio in college at Syracuse. I got out of college and I got a job at ESPN. I was a production assistant, associate producer and I was really enjoying life. It was a great job and I loved it. Then I became a producer at FOX when my wife and I moved to Los Angeles. Everything was awesome. I was going to be a TV person, producer, executive and do all this stuff.

Then something happened — this was the moment where I realized I have to get back and I have to do radio. I was producing Monday Night Live, which was a TV show that aired in Los Angeles after the Monday Night Football games. This was back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. It was a variety show. Bill Weir was the host. We were doing the first show that night and Bill’s co-host was Ellen K who was on with Ryan Seacrest and before that was on with Rick Dees. This is when she was on with Rick Dees. Bill was going out doing these appearances and as a producer of the show I was there with him to help with the talking points.

We go to — back then it was 1150 in Los Angeles, the only sports talk station I think at the time. We walk in there and Bill does a hit with the people on the air there. Then we go and do a hit on Rick Dees’ show. I’m like wow this is cool. Rick Dees is doing a national morning show. We walked into the studio and I met Rick Dees. I think radio people will understand this, but the smell of the studio — the wood, the equipment, took me all the way back to everything I did in college. At that moment I said to myself I’ve got to get back into radio.

All the things that happened after that, it was the smell of the control room and specifically the wood and seeing the carts, which is what they used to play songs off of. It was just one of those epiphany moments where I knew okay what I’m doing now, I’ve got to stop doing this. Within the next year, I segued from doing that. I was filling in doing sports talk radio in L.A. Ellen K helped me get an introduction with the program director at 1150. That’s where my career went from there. If I don’t walk into Rick Dees’ studio and smell the studio, I’m on a different career path.

BN: Wow, that’s crazy, man. Were you married at the time? 

JS: No, my wife and I have been together since the mid-‘90s. We met in Connecticut and we moved out to L.A. together. Then we got married in 2007. We had been together for like 12 years before we got married. We were just lazy.

BN: [Laughs] Okay but you were together when you had this radio epiphany. How did your now-wife take that?

JS: She was incredibly supportive because she knew it was going to mean me quitting my job. Right away she said to me okay well then you have to quit. I said really? She said yeah. I said wow; I was expecting more of a conversation. She said well the first thing I’m going to tell you is your mood is going to change because you seem much happier.

She said producing and what you were doing, you just don’t seem as happy. You’re a little bit shorter with your comments. I can tell at times the way you talk you’re not the happy-go-lucky person that you were.

She was so incredibly supportive because she knew if I was going to leave and do this I had to be open at any time they could call me to fill in. I needed to say yes every single time. They couldn’t call me to fill in and I say, I can’t, I have to work, because they’re going to call somebody else and somebody else is going to get that. So I had to quit. I had to go with no job and just hope that when I was filling in they would keep calling me. They called me enough to fill in where we were able to stay afloat for a while.

Then FOX Sports Radio started and I got in there as a part-time update anchor overnight on the weekends. That was at least a steady paycheck. She was really supportive. Without that I don’t know if I would have been able to do it. Right away there was no conversation. It was okay good. You want to do this? Let’s do it. Without that, I don’t know.

Who is Jason Smith? - ESPN Radio - ESPN

BN: Were you listening to the hosts as an update anchor thinking, ‘This guy stinks. I could do a way better job’?

JS: [Laughs.] I knew I could do it. I had to bide my time because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It was like okay I have to pay my dues. I have to be an update anchor. I was doing what I wanted to do so I was okay with that. I would get chances here and there to co-host. It was good.

As I noticed what was going on, I was like okay; I’m not seeing anybody reinvent the wheel here. I think I can be pretty good at this and start to figure out my own personality. I knew that I would have my own path. Everybody has their own personality and their own way they do the show. I knew the way I was going to do it, my interests, I had a feeling it was going to hit and it was going to resonate.

BN: Are there things you’re incorporating in your show during the pandemic that you anticipate continuing once more sports return?

JS: Absolutely. I think that we saw the landscape change a bit when it comes to where we’re going to be after COVID-19. Everybody still wants the hits, but you don’t have to play all the hits. You can get outside the box and do something that is fun, that is entertaining, that may be something that everybody is talking about that’s outside of sports because it’s still a hit.

I look at it this way; I did radio as a DJ in college. There were different stickers on all the songs you played. There was a red sticker that was on the hottest songs. Every two hours you played a red. Then every four hours you played a song with a white sticker on it because that was a song that was either on the way up to being popular, or it was popular and now it’s on the way down. I think in sports talk radio it used to be where we’ve got to play all the reds and we’ve got to play the whites. But really you just have to play the reds.

The reds can be all the big sports stuff going on and outside of it because the more time goes on, the more the line is blurred between sports and other topics. I’d rather spend two minutes talking about how it’s the big 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back than if I’m doing a story about something that Dwight Howard may have said earlier in the day. I think that appeals to more people. It’s more fun for me and I think it’s something that is a little bit outside the box that gets a little unpredictable.

BN: The “stick to sports” crowd used to be a lot more vocal in the past. Now that we’re unbuttoning the top button and straying outside of sports during the pandemic, do you anticipate listener habits changing where they might want hosts to loosen up if sports conversations get too serious in the future? 

JS: Oh yeah. That top button, then the next button, then the next button, and suddenly it’s chest hair, and it’s a big medallion. What’s going to happen is we’re going to see when sports returns there’s going to be that initial rush just to get back to what people are used to and that is the breaking down of games. Obviously with the NBA playoffs coming up really quick it’s going to be okay, what do we think about that? But once we get past that it’s going to be you know, I kind of like sometimes when it’s not so serious and every topic is not life or death.

I think people deal with a lot of negative stuff now and everybody’s lives have changed forever. Can you still listen to people screaming at each other for three hours? I don’t think you can.

I think you can listen to people doing that for a little while, but eventually you’re going to say okay I’m ready for something else. I think that something else is going to be much more in the form of entertainment and doing things that are going to make people laugh. I’m glad about that because I know we can do that well. I don’t know that everybody can, but I think that’s going to be the way that sports talk radio kind of segues. A morning show type atmosphere might permeate itself into a midday show, an afternoon show, a night show. I think you might see the tone of shows change.

BN: In what ways does your approach differ between your normal nighttime show and when you fill in on daytime shows?

JS: The biggest thing is that when I’m doing the show during the day — if I’m in for Dan Patrick let’s just say — the big stories are there. It’s meat and potatoes and we’re eating. We’re driving opinions and entertaining and you’re not really thinking as much. When I do the show at night, I have to sit back and think what’s a way to talk about something that’s still a big story, that everybody wants to hear, that is 10 hours old? While I can’t just go completely off the deep end and talk about something that really doesn’t relate, I have to find different ways to bring up the same big story. I’ve got to give you more at night to make you think about it and do it a little bit different.

BN: What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten over the years?

JS: Oh, I’ll tell you the best piece of advice I got was from JT the Brick. We were at FOX together. This is when I was coming up and I was trying to get opportunities. One thing I couldn’t figure out was how could I get myself in the position to get an opportunity to succeed. How can I go from part-time update anchor to fill-in show host? How do I go from fill-in show host to weekend show host? How do I go from weekend show host to five-day-a-week show host? How do I do these things?

He said let me tell you something, you will get more opportunities because people in front of you blow up and can’t handle success than you will on your own merit. I said you’re kidding. He goes no, trust me; you will get more opportunities because of that.

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This advice he gave me was probably 15 years ago. Sure enough I look up and I go yep I got that job because a host and a co-host got in a fistfight and I got a job the next day. I got the next job because the host of the show didn’t want to do the whole show live and put the whole show on tape and they didn’t like that, so okay I get it. That has been true for 15 years is that people will blow up in front of you and that’s the opportunity you get to move up more so than hey, this guy’s doing a really good job, what can we do for him?

BN: What was the worst advice you’ve received?

JS: One of my managers at ESPN. ESPN was tough because when I was there they really only wanted to promote three shows. They wanted to promote Mike and Mike, Colin, and Dan Patrick. That was it. I understand that these are the moneymaker shows, but I still wanted a chance. I wanted to move up and I wanted people to know what we were doing. Being on overnight I wanted to make sure people knew hey we did this. We had this interview on. This is doing really well. We would send down information to our bosses. Here’s what we did last night and just let people know what our show was doing.

I had a manager tell me listen I understand that but don’t do that. Let me praise you. Let me go into meetings and praise you because that’s what’s going to cut through is if I go in and say something good about you. I said okay.

After that my career just stalled at ESPN. It absolutely stalled. I didn’t really know where to go from there. It was tough. I was at the point where I’m like okay I’ve been doing AllNight for a long time and I can’t light myself on fire. It was very difficult to get noticed. I said okay let me back off. I backed off and nothing happened. That was the worst advice ever.

Whenever I talk to someone and they ask me a question about hey what’s a piece of advice, one of the things I tell them is you have to make sure people know what you’re doing. You can’t trust anybody else. You’re going to be the best champion of yourself and you have to make sure that you’re the one in charge of that. If you want to make sure people know something you’re doing, you have to make sure to tell them. That was just horrible advice. It really hurt and it stalled me out of ESPN.

BN: Is there anything in the future that you want to do specifically or is your mindset more about the next show, the next day, the future will take care of itself?

JS: Well I kind of have a short-term and a long-term. I think mainly toward the next show. I’m a content guy and I concern myself with what are we doing tonight. How are we going to cut through? What are we doing in this next segment? What are we doing in the next hour? That’s the main thing. I know because of that a lot of other things take care of themselves. We’ve been on a very good run the past few years. It’s been a really great ride. 

In the future, there are a couple of things I think about. At some point I think I would love to do mornings. Whether it’s locally here in L.A., I’d like to do that, but I’m having so much fun with what I’m doing now. It’s terrific. It’s really fun doing this at night. I’ve done nights most of my life.

Outside of that, I’ve been writing a lot. I love to blog about TV. That’s another big passion of mine and something I would really like to be able to do. I’d like to get my second novel published too. Those are the things that I look at in the future. 

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Mainly it’s every day what are we doing with the show and obviously now how we’re going to navigate COVID-19 and post COVID-19 realities. Down the road those are a couple of things I’m thinking about. I kind of wonder what that would be like. It’s not something that actively I’m looking at and going okay what are we going to do to make this happen? Where I’m at right now I really enjoy it and just enjoy the day to day.

BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Quick bites

  • 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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

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iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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