For the first time in more than two decades, Mike Golic won’t be part of ESPN Radio’s lineup as the network launches a new morning show featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti.
Set to debut Monday, Aug. 17, the new show announcement was met with some surprise and little outside support. But if ESPN chose to replace Golic with hosts who were more familiar with their radio brand, the response would’ve included “same recycled talent.” And when ESPN instead announced hosts who are new to their national radio brand, it’s still greeted with skepticism.
While Keyshawn Johnson might be new to a national morning radio show, he’s not new to radio, media or the grind. After an eleven-year pro football career, nearly a decade on NFL Countdown, and spending the last four years as a morning radio host on 710 ESPN LA, Johnson’s resume backs his new opportunity.
Brandon Contes: You already had a successful radio show in Los Angeles, a major market and your home city. Was it difficult to move across the country to launch a new show with new co-hosts?
Keyshawn Johnson: Not extremely difficult, I felt like this is what was meant to be. Our show in Los Angeles was different, but I believe we had the best morning show in the country. We weren’t a national show, but we had plenty of people listening on the podcast and the app.
When this opportunity with the network presented itself, I talked it over with my family and was met with some resistance, but we all agreed this was the best move. I get to do the morning show, but it also became more than just that because I’ll be contributing on television to ESPN and NFL Live, so it was a package deal.
BC: How did you feel the new show announcement was received publicly?
KJ: As far as I know it was received fine. Everybody has their own opinions. If you’ve been listening to Mike and Mike or Golic and Wingo for years, you’re going to form your own opinions about what’s next. A lot of people are misinformed, I think they thought ESPN was just putting together a group of guys that never did radio or media.
BC: That was interesting because there were some people questioning the new show and I saw Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo was even critical. You fired back on Twitter a bit, but it did seem like people just didn’t realize you were doing a radio show for years – you’re not new to this industry.
KJ: People are misinformed and they speak that misinformation, that’s what’s wrong with sports journalism. They just say things. For the people who question my experience, what are you talking about? This is what I do. [Mad Dog] made a mistake. He’s entitled to his own opinion, but whatever. I didn’t listen to him when I was here and I don’t listen to him now.
BC: Maybe not Mike and the Mad Dog, but did you follow local media, pay attention to headlines and talk radio at all when you were playing?
KJ: I did, I listened because I thought it was important to be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings.
BC: Did you always know media was going to be your second career?
KJ: Yea, I think so. I went straight from the field to Countdown. It happened immediately and I knew then that this is what I was going to wind up doing.
BC: I’m curious about when you interviewed Dwayne Jarrett at the ’07 Draft. Because you were still under contract with the Panthers. They draft a receiver out of USC, did you have any concern during that interview that you might get cut?
KJ: I wasn’t worried about that. I could have kept playing. I had offers, but I didn’t want to play football anymore. I even told our GM in Carolina, Marty Hurney that it was probably going to be my last year and you might want to draft somebody, so I wasn’t stunned. The rest of the sports media world might have been, they were all yelling about it, but I already told the team I had one foot in and one foot out. ESPN already offered me a deal to do Countdown on Mondays because the Panthers didn’t have a Monday Night Football game on the schedule that year, so I was going to fly in for that every week even if I played another year.
BC: Is there a competitive aspect to radio and media that you can tap into as a former athlete?
KJ: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s competitive because there’s nobody else out there that’s me, there’s nobody that’s any of my co-hosts. Everybody has their own opinion on how to do something, how to host a show. You’ll hear people say, ‘they’re not that good,’ and you’ll also hear people say ‘they’re really good.’ Everyone has a different opinion, so I don’t get caught up in the hype. But as far as I’m concerned, nobody can touch me because I’m going to give you the real stuff, the real facts. I’m not just talking from the hip.
BC: How much do you pay attention to your radio competition, do you know much about FOX Sports Radio and Clay Travis who you’ll go up against nationally every morning?
KJ: I really don’t. I’m sorry to say, I honestly don’t and I really don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Somebody can be loud, but just because you’re screaming doesn’t mean you’re right. You can scream and be condescending, I learned about Trey, what did you say his name was?
BC: Clay Travis
KJ: Trey Travis?
BC: Clay Travis
KJ: Clay – Travis
BC: Yea, there ya go. [Laughs]
KJ: I kept thinking his name was Trey or Travis, I really only just heard of him when I took the job. Apparently, he said something on social media? And one of the guys I worked with in L.A. told me about it. I asked who he was and they explained he’s some dude on FOX that wants attention. That’s fine, good for him.
BC: How about local radio competition, like Boomer and Gio on WFAN in New York. Will you pay attention to what other shows and markets are doing?
KJ: I do what I do. They’re going to pay attention to us. I don’t need to pay attention to them because I don’t have problems telling the truth, telling facts, getting guests and not being one-sided. We’re going to be different, we’re going to be real.
BC: What about going from local radio to national. Before it was just L.A., now you have so many markets you’re trying to appeal to. How do you filter through all of the different topics?
KJ: It’s going to be challenging, but we’re going to talk about the big picture and in doing that we’ll also hit on the local stuff. We’ll talk about all the New York teams, Jets, Giants, Yankees, Nets, Knicks, Mets, Rangers. We’re going to follow L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland, Florida, and we’ll hit on what the big topics are. We’re not talking about a guy who gets a traffic ticket in Nebraska, we know what’s in the news and what we need to talk about.
BC: A lot of the early success of your show will be dependent on football. If there’s a season, it naturally generates more fan interest in sports media, do you expect there to be a season?
KJ: All sports will impact our show, but if the pandemic takes it away, we can still talk sports. There’s still plenty to give insight and information on. Just because there isn’t a game being played, doesn’t mean we can’t have a sports conversation. And I think the NFL is going to play.
BC: Would you be comfortable playing under the circumstances?
KJ: Yea, I think I would be.
BC: Are you comfortable hosting a sports radio show without sports? How were the last few months on ESPN LA?
KJ: It was great, we had a blast. We created things to talk about around sports. Whether it was something to do with the pandemic, the teams in the bubble, whether players would venture out.
I took the side that players wouldn’t leave the bubble to go look for extracurricular activities. I had the other guys and Stephen A. Smith coming on the show to say I was crazy. But we made it a fun discussion. We talked about players versus the owners in Major League Baseball and their money issues. We had a conversation about Roger Goodell’s apology, but not really an apology to Kaepernick. There’s always something to have an opinion about.
BC: Is national radio more or less conducive to venturing away from sports?
KJ: It’s all about who the hosts are. Typically, I don’t think a lot of hosts are comfortable talking about social issues. Because the majority of them haven’t had to go through social issues and they shy away from having those conversations.
BC: That’s an interesting point, especially in an industry that is largely white male dominated.
KJ: It has been largely dominated by white males, but hats off to Norby Williamson and Dave Roberts and their willingness to go in a different direction.
BC: Dan Le Batard, as talented and entertaining as he is, there are people who think he might be better suited for the digital space because he doesn’t stick to sports as much as the ESPN and Disney brand might like. Has ESPN conveyed that to you and had conversations about sticking to sports?
KJ: No, and for what it’s worth I don’t know enough about what Dan does to have a conversation about it. But I know I’m not here to talk about major political issues because that’s out of my wheelhouse, but I will certainly talk about social justice, police brutality and Black Lives Matter. I will certainly discuss those things as they continue to be involved in my community. No one’s going to muzzle me from that.
BC: How should a sports radio show sound to you?
KJ: It should sound authentic. It should sound real. Fans and listeners should be able to know who you are, get to know you personally. When they roll up on me, I want them to feel good about who I am.
BC: How do you take over for someone like Mike Golic who was in this spot for 22 years?
KJ: Just do our part to be ourselves. That’s all we can really focus on.
BC: Did you know your new co-hosts Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti at all before this?
KJ: I didn’t know them at all, but I’ve worked with a lot of people. I didn’t work with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson who were together for decades when I got to Countdown, but we didn’t miss a beat. I don’t know why the decision makers decided to blow up that show when they did, but it definitely wasn’t me. Same with LZ, Travis and Jorge Sedano at ESPN LA, I didn’t work with them until we started the show, but I think we did just fine.
BC: Tony Romo was on the Cowboys during your two years in Dallas right?
KJ: Yea, he was on the team, but he didn’t play.
BC: Did you have any idea back then that he had the personality to become the media star he is now?
KJ: I never thought about it. He was just on the practice squad, but I used to hang out with him a bit and take care of him. I had floor seats to the Mavericks and I would give him tickets sometimes. But he’s really good at doing games, and that success is great for him.
BC: Did you have interest in Monday Night Football or being a game analyst somewhere?
KJ: No, no. On television, I like the studio. I got a pretty face.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.