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The Talent Vote: Sports Talk Afternoon Shows

Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Demetri Ravanos

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The BSM Top 20s are generators. They generate clicks, comments, and conversation in our industry. Every year, JB reaches out to dozens of PDs and executives to generate those lists.

I thought it might be fun this year to add a new twist and let talent get in on the conversation. Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Afternoon drive is as prime time a spot as a local sports talk station can offer, so today we are looking at some of the format’s biggest stars. The executives put ESPN New York’s The Michael Kay Show and 93.7 the Fan’s Poni & Mueller at the top of the Top 20 Major Market and Mid Market lists respectively. Now it is time to see what the men that do the job everyday think.

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CARL DUKES – 92.9 THE GAME (ATLANTA)

I listen to my peers from all over the country, and I’m always looking to be entertained as much as I am trying to find out what’s going on in any particular market. In what might be the most competitive markets, Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti along with my old friend Big Jim Murray (who was in Atlanta when we started the station here) kill it on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

The biggest thing that gets the audience engaged in the show, I believe, is the entertainment value. They are laughing and having fun! These guys get their audience to respond. This show connects with that passion in Boston. 

They drive the audience with great content, opinions, and  entertainment. The show is interactive.We live in a fast-paced society and as host you get about 2 mins (and sometimes less than that) to grab their attention and get the audience engaged. Once that happens, if you are talking about the right things, people will give you a chance.

Listeners want to hear what you have to say about the biggest topics in sports, and more importantly those in their hometown. Most successful sports shows are either driven by a host’s dynamic personality or by exceedingly strong sports content. I think they have both. These guys put up numbers and they are fun! That’s a win for me! 

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Felger & Mazz finished #2 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Afternoon Shows

ANDREW FILLIPPONI – 93.7 THE FAN (PITTSBURGH)

My favorite show on this list is Schopp and the Bulldog. Here’s why:

I started working with them in 2008. Straight out of college. There are still radio techniques from working on that show that I apply today. I think both hosts have top 10 market and national talent. But are from Buffalo and at this point are institutions in that town.

Mike is creatively one of the best hosts in the business. He came up with original benchmark segments. He used callers better than any host I had been around. He could be combative, but would also use them when the show organically went off the rails on non-sports topics too.

Bulldog plays the common man, Buffalo sports fan character well. Because that’s who he probably is at his core. However, he’s one of the best hosts I’ve heard at giving opinions or reacting on his feet. And he’s extremely intelligent but can communicate his thoughts without trying to sound smart. 

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Schopp & The Bulldog finished #7 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Afternoon Shows

JAY RECHER – 95.3 WDAE (TAMPA)

To me, the conversation starts and ends with The Michael Kay Show. 

I don’t get to hear them as often as I’d like, but every single time I go to visit my family in NY, I flip the dial to 98.7 ESPN NY to hear what Michael, Don and Peter are talking about. 

Michael was a voice of my childhood, growing up as a Yankee fan on Long Island. He’s seen it all and when he puts his stamp of approval on something, you know he means it. It’s no BS. 

Don’s passion for this business bursts through the speakers like the water out of the hoses we used to drink out of as little kids. It’s must-listen radio when he’s spitting that hot fire. 

And whether it’s taking a completely different perspective, discussing pop culture or talking about something like WWE, Peter’s the perfect complement to a show that I think is tops on-air on the ride home. 

Never a dull moment listening to these guys. 

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The Michael Kay Show finished #1 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Afternoon Shows

CARRINGTON HARRISON – 610 SPORTS (KANSAS CITY)

Few people in this business are truly creative in terms of topic development, infusing new ideas and unique points of view. Nick Wilson is one of those guys. I have a lot of respect for the high level of content Nick creates and his consistency.

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Nick Wilson finished #13 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Afternoon Shows

As the week rolls on, we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. That means next up is Program Directors. Stay tuned!

By the way, just because I didn’t reach out to you to contribute doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Who do you think the best afternoon show on sports talk radio is? Feel free to add your comment below.

BSM Writers

Grading How the Networks Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Dish Network Played With Fire Dropping ESPN and Almost Got Burnt

When it comes to entertainment choices, we have never had more power as a consumer.

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Watching college football Saturday was never more difficult for some of you. No, I’m not talking about ESPN shoving the square Aaron Judge peg in the round college football hole, I’m finished with that. I’m talking about the poor souls among us that awoke to DISH Network versus Disney/ESPN. 

Imagine waking up to the first day of October, the greatest sports month on the calendar, only to find 80% of college football wasn’t going to be available to you. That’s what happened to DISH Network customers when the satellite company pulled the Disney properties at 3 A.M. ET Saturday.

This type of dispute is nothing new. Providers and networks have been embroiled in contemptuous contract negotiations many times and they have often led to programming being removed by the provider. This normally comes after numerous warnings from both the provider and the network. That, apparently, didn’t happen in this case.

I’ve lived through enough of these to realize the majority of it is sabre rattling on the part of both parties. That said, the sabre rattling gives me the opportunity to make plans in case of the emergency of missing my games. I can’t imagine climbing out of bed with my normal college football Saturday excitement, flipping to ESPN to watch GameDay and seeing the screen telling me failed contract negotiations are giving me a blank screen instead.

What I can’t imagine is how badly I would’ve choked on my Frosted Mini Wheats when I also realized this was no mistake and I was going to spend a college football Saturday without ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network. It never seems these contracts end and force me to miss the Westminster Dog Show, it’s always during critical events.

Of course, the loser is the consumer. I have also lived through enough of these to know the consumer normally blames the cable or satellite provider. It is the natural reaction; ESPN didn’t stop showing games, or Aaron Judge cut-ins (I swear, I’m almost over it). No, your neighbor is watching ESPN just fine. It’s greedy DISH Network’s fault. As is normally the case, the actual truth falls somewhere in the middle.

I don’t know that it matters who is ultimately at fault, or if they both are, you end up feeling powerless in these situations. You are beyond frustrated but, what can you do? Pro tip: I’ve made DirectTV prorate my bill for the days I was without channels due to carriage disputes. I’m sure I blew the pennies saved but it gave me a small victory in a lost war. Also, never be afraid to try to parlay it into free HBO for a year. All they can do is say no.

You can also do what several people I know did, enjoy a free Saturday trial of YouTube TV. And that’s why providers are now playing with fire now when they can’t reach an agreement with the broadcast companies; changing providers has never been easier.

In fact, last Saturday I found myself in the untenable situation of having no PAC 12 Network while USC and Oregon State were facing off in a key conference tilt. I signed myself right up for a seven day free trial of FUBO TV and watched every play. When I canceled immediately after the game, FUBO asked me why I was shutting it down. One of the choices was, literally, “I just wanted to watch one game.” I was honest with them, I appreciate their self-awareness.

When it comes to entertainment choices, we have never had more power as a consumer. There are more providers than ever before and our ease of access has never been greater. A decade ago, had Dish Network dropped ESPN overnight, your options would’ve been bleak. You would’ve called DIRECTV or your local cable company on a Saturday morning and prayed an actual human would’ve answered. In the event you actually spoke with someone, they would’ve told you they would be out sometime between 10 AM Monday and December. Now, you just press a few buttons, enter a credit card and email address and the entertainment world is your oyster.

A little discomfort for both parties is all it took. Like clockwork, the Disney properties returned to DISH Network Monday, just in time for the most watched window of the week for ESPN – Monday Night Football. It is also very likely ESPN has the added anxiety of airing the MLB Postseason while missing a slice of their subscribers.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t the concern for the viewer in Des Moines that ended this. What ended it was two of the most expensive properties ESPN has, NFL and MLB Postseason, on the horizon that returned your DISH Network. I just hope you got your free HBO before it was too late.

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BSM Writers

790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”

Demetri Ravanos

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When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.

Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.

There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.

Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.

I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.

Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”

Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.

I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.

“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”

His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.

When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.

“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”

Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.

The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?

It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”

He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.

“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”

It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.

As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.

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