I’d describe George Wrighster as a man that has controlled strength. He’s motivated by obstacles and driven by naysayers, but it isn’t written all over his face.
It’s a bit like Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers’ quarterback wasn’t visibly emotional when he slid to the 24th overall pick in 2005, or when his team drafted Jordan Love to possibly take his spot. Best believe Rodgers hasn’t forgotten about being slighted though. I think George is similar. The former NFL tight end is a competitor, but he might not let you see that your doubts ticked him off. He’ll just get back to work and grind so that one day you are eating your words.
George has achieved a lot in sports radio within a relatively short period of time. He can be heard on two national platforms — FOX Sports Radio and SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. His brand new show on Sirius began two short months ago. The Oregon grad shares some interesting thoughts about not being pigeonholed as a former athlete and also what it’s like to help change the landscape in a mostly white dominated industry.
I’ve known plenty of things about George, like how he rages against heavy metal music and trashes Velveeta cheese. Hey, we can’t all be perfect. But the Oregon grad touches on many things that aren’t common knowledge. George shares a wise thought about building a community. He unveils what got him listening to sports radio in the first place when he never listened during his playing days. George talks about the show that freaked him out the most and also shares a list of his strong goals. Makes sense though. It’s his controlled strength at work again. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How’s everything going with the new gig at Sirius?
George Wrighster: It’s going really good. I got a chance to do a couple of special projects too. I did an MLK special with Kirk Morrison and some stuff with the college football national championship. I hosted some other shows on the network. It’s cool getting more opportunities and more reps, trying to get better.
BN: What’s the main goal you try to accomplish when doing shows, especially your new one?
GW: I want people to feel educated and entertained when they listen to the show. It’s important to me that people also feel like this is a place where they can get the truth and honesty and not just shtick. As you know, it’s easy to just pump out hot takes. But when it’s actually something that you believe and you can support it with some stats and data or personal experience that makes it believable. I think that’s the best thing that you can do. We all see sometimes where people say things and you’re like there’s no way this dude believes that. He’s just saying it because it’s going to get people riled up.
I try to talk about stories in a different way that people normally may not. I try to approach it from the human side of things and not get too far deep in the weeds on the X’s and O’s, but kind of how athletes are real people; how these things impact their sport and their decisions. We also talk a little politics on the show — how politics and business intersect sports in certain aspects too. We’re not debating propositions. No, we’re not doing all that, but we are at that intersection where sports does intersect with politics and business. We do go there.
BN: What do you remember most about your first show on Sirius?
GW: It’s funny because as many shows as I’ve done — solo, with other people, all of that — I remember the first night that the light came on and it was just me. I was nervous that entire day, dude. I went walking around the neighborhood because I would take the baby on a walk every day. I was nervous that whole day. I was like oh my God, what if when the light comes on, I can’t say anything? Nothing comes out?
It’s funny to think about because you’ve done it so many times, but the fact that it was all on me, it was my show, solo, it just hit me like, dude, I’m responsible for this whole ship. But the good part is, I was like if the ship sinks, if the car crashes, it’s going to be because I gave it everything that I had and it just didn’t work. It’s not going to be because I let somebody else control my future.
BN: What happened once you cracked the mic that first night?
GW: Every show has different clocks, how long each segment is and all of that. Our first segment for the opening monologue is between 15 and 22 minutes max. It was funny because that first 20 minutes, or however long I went, it felt like it was two hours long. It was crazy to me because I record my podcast sometimes for 30 minutes straight with nobody talking to me. It’s just me talking to the camera because I do it on a live stream, nobody responding, not taking comments, so it was just funny that it felt so long when I had to do it all by myself. But now it breezes by.
BN: How did that opportunity come about for you at Sirius?
GW: This was years in the making. This is where you say relationships matter and keep banging on the door and then one day it might open. Back in 2014 I finally got into the NFL’s broadcast boot camp. That’s where former and current NFL players can go get media training and get in front of executives. There are executives and actual decision makers from FOX, from ESPN, CBS, a bunch of places, and former athletes who have made it. You get a lot of workshops and they teach you how to interview. They expose you to TV and radio because a lot of times people don’t know which lane they want to be in or if they truly want to be in it. So you get big exposure.
When I got back from it one of the people that I met there was Steve Cohen. Not the Mets’ Steve Cohen, but the Steve Cohen who, at that point in time he may have been the program director or Senior Vice President over at Sirius. I just followed up with him. Every six months, four months I’d shoot him an email telling him what I was doing, letting him know I was available if anything came up.
Fast forward about four months ago, I got an email from Steve Cohen. He was like yo, we may have an opening over at Sirius. What are you doing now? That was weird because I hadn’t emailed Steve in a few months, but I was going to email him soon. I keep these reminders to email all of these people. All of these times he was always like yo George, I’ll keep you on the radar if anything comes up. He sent that e-mail, followed up, and then I tested. Apparently I did pretty well. They offered me the job and here we are.
BN: Was the test a demo or a fill-in show?
GW: It was a demo because they do things a little bit different over at Sirius. If you’re not under contract with them or don’t have an agreement with them, doing an on-air demo there doesn’t happen, I don’t believe. We did it just like an actual show. We produced an actual show except for it was only an hour and a half long. We took breaks; so I had to talk to commercial break and interview guests. And yeah, we did it like a mock show.
BN: What was it about sports radio where you said you know what, this is the road I want to go down?
GW: I’ve done TV, and I do want to do more TV as well, but radio allows you to communicate with people in a different way. In TV you’re speaking in sound bites a lot more. You don’t get a chance to expound, not as much storytelling. With radio you get a chance to build an audience and communicate with them. They become part of your family, part of building a community.
I saw that with a guy out here in LA named Fred Roggin. Fred just builds a community with his family. It’s the same thing with Petros Papadakis on his show Petros and Money. They build a community and the people are so invested. I like that. The idea that you don’t just build a community for that station; you build your community. So when you do move locations or you do change because it’s business — sometimes contract disputes happen, sometimes companies are bought and sold or whatever — then your audience is portable because that’s your family.
BN: When you talk about community, it makes me think about race. Sports radio is a very white dominated industry. As a black host, do you have that at the forefront of your mind that if you do a good job, it might open the door for others?
GW: Absolutely. I look at this as a two-fold thing. Yes there is a racial element and I’ll talk about that next, but the first thing is as a former athlete, they will pigeonhole you as just the sport that you played. That’s the first thing. I started writing to make sure that didn’t happen. Writing on other sports, commenting on other sports and all of that.
As an athlete I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into just football, and also pigeonholed just as an analyst. When you can host the show and be an analyst it opens up more doors for you. So now I don’t have to sit in the two chair. I can sit in the one chair also. It just gives you more diversity. As a former athlete, opening up doors as being a solo host, that’s hard to do.
But as far as a host of color, especially those who sit in a single chair, that’s tough. There aren’t a lot. There are a lot more who do two-man shows, and mind you they do a great job, but I think there is something to be said about the lack of diversity. Colin Cowherd obviously is one of the best to ever do it. So are Dan Patrick and Jim Rome. My goal is to ascend to that level the way some little kid can look at me and say oh wow; I can do this if I want to.
BN: I interviewed LaVar Arrington. He called it having a babysitter when the radio guy is in the one seat and the former athlete is in the two seat. His thought was hey man; two athletes can have a good show too. What are your thoughts on how the former athlete is typically paired with the radio guy?
GW: Yeah, he’s right. LaVar is right when he says that it’s like the babysitter, or the hall monitor where that person has to be the quote-unquote adult in the room. Truthfully it’s literally about the mechanics — tossing to break, watching the clock, understanding how to progress a story, how to manage callers — all the mechanics. That was something that I always pressed. Even when we started doing the show on FOX, I was like yo, I want to have more responsibility on the show. I think that once people see that you want that responsibility, and that you actually will take it seriously, and that you’ll go practice it when nobody’s listening, and then when you get the opportunity you do a good job at it, then they say oh okay, let’s throw him a bone.
Eventually something bad happens. I remember one day on FOX during the Sunday show I do now with Dan Beyer, something happened to Dan’s mic or it was a power issue or something, and he was out. I had to do it for a couple of segments and it was like, oh okay, cool, so now we know that he can do this. The more and more that you do it, then people can believe and trust because the thing that they want the most is to know that you’re not going to burn the house down. That it’s not like Home Alone where you’re going to come back and the house is ransacked or Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead where you’re going to have a party. No, you’re just going to go in there, live life like normal, put out a good show that’s entertaining, and everything will be fine.
BN: Did you listen to sports radio much during your playing days?
GW: Absolutely not. No. Not at all. The thing that started getting me to listen to sports radio was Marcellus Wiley because I had played with him. We were friends, and I just wanted to support him. Then I realized, good God, I love sports radio.
My kids sometimes get annoyed, they’re like dad, do we have to listen to talk radio today? They already know that if it’s 12 o’clock here at home, I’m probably listening to Finebaum. I don’t know why I like Finebaum so much especially during college football season. Schein On Sports. I watch Colin. I like Skip and Shannon. I tune in to Steven A. sometimes. I appreciate how much work they really put in. Yeah it’s easier when you have an army of writers and staff and researchers, but you still have to go out there and deliver it.
BN: Is there anything else about sports radio in general beyond hot takes that turns you off for you when you listen?
GW: I usually only listen to people that I like. The only thing that makes me change the dial now is if it’s a topic that I don’t want to hear about, or I’ve felt like I’ve heard too many times. I’ll turn the dial, but I like this person, so I’ll be back. It’s just I’m tired of you today. I love my kids but some days I want to go to dinner all by myself, or with my wife and leave them at home. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them, but I need a break.
BN: Who have you learned the most from in sports radio?
GW: Dude, easy answer, this guy named Brett Winterble who I hosted my first show with on The Beast 980 here in LA. Brett had been a producer for conservative talk radio but he was a huge sports fan. He was the adult in the room.
Brett actually now has a huge talk show in North Carolina. He just filled in for Rush Limbaugh and had like the highest ratings for any fill-in there. Brett literally had been through the grinder of ascending in this business. We had a producer that was absentee at best. Brett taught me how to produce a show, how to cut sound, how to come up with content. He taught me things that if I were in a normal situation with a producer and all that stuff, they would have done a lot of that work already, so I wouldn’t have learned how to do it as quickly. It would have taken me years to learn something I learned in eight months because it was a crash course. It was either fail or do it.
Brett was just the consummate professional, freaking hard working, just a grinder. He’s just a smart guy too. He showed me the ropes in this business. He gave me a lot of valuable tools and experiences from his life that I wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten. I owe a lot of credit to Brett.
BN: You’ve had a number of partners. Have you taken elements that you think work from those other hosts and molded it to your own style at all?
GW: I would say yes. From Brett I learned that this was his livelihood. He was always the adult in the room. He was always going to make the right decision for the show. To make sure that things did not go off the rails. I took that from Brett.
Oh, I forgot somebody else I learned a lot from was Petros. Petros is just Petros. I think that a lot of times when people get into this business — and I fell victim to it too — of I have to be radio guy. I have to be TV guy when the thing that people really connect with the most is you being you. That’s what Petros showed me was just be you. You don’t have to be anybody else; just be the best George that you can possibly be. I don’t know if there’s anybody more themselves than Petros.
BN: Goals. Is there anything specifically that you want to accomplish in sports radio or beyond?
GW: Yes. I would like to have a simulcast like Colin does. Be number one on the Talkers 100. What that would mean for me, it would be a sense of accomplishment in my second career doing something that wasn’t so physical like sports. Doing something that was foreign, working at it, and then reaching that goal.
I do want to have a simulcast with radio and TV at the same time. But my ultimate goal, if I could be doing either my radio show or a podcast version of it like Joe Rogan does, while hosting a show on the Food Network and College GameDay on the weekends, I would be the happiest person in the whole world.
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.