Radio is still a special thing. Despite all of the hand-wringing and fear over what podcasts and streaming audio will do to the industry, all of the numbers say that the majority of listeners are still with us. The majority of ad dollars are still with us.
Does that mean we go back to what was business as usual in 1995? Of course not! But here is a question worth pondering: does radio know that radio is still more popular than digital audio or social media?
It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Brad Carson, program director of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis, told me that he views social media as a means to support what is happening on air. That has been valuable, particularly during the pandemic, when media was the only way most people had to be social.
“Last summer we saluted local high school seniors for the month of May in Memphis who had their season cut short due to COVID and made it an athletic celebration of sorts to brighten those student-athlete’s days shouting out them, their achievements, and their local school name. It wasn’t just on-air. It became part of all of those viral platforms because we married our on-air audio from the salute moment with images of the students. And we needed that last May because major league and college sports games vanished for a brief moment.”
He thinks that all social media is worth understanding. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but Carson’s point is that if you make time to understand something like TikTok or figure out the most relevant content for Instagram, it expands your reach beyond the target demo.
But isn’t the target demo where we put most of our eggs in media? Certainly when sales reps hit the street they are telling the story of the station’s performance with target demos. Does it make more sense to try to pick up a little bit from every age group by stretching a social strategy as far as you can or should a station focus on the platforms that deliver the highest number of 35-54 year old men?
Brian Long, program director of XTRA 1360 FOX Sports San Diego, has built a social media strategy for his station based on what makes sense for his audience and what his station can make the most use of.
“Twitter is by far the most easily integrated with terrestrial news & sports,” he told me. “I also think Facebook and FB Live plays well with the older demo, but certainly not something that has the immediate impact of Twitter.”
I asked Long what he thought the best case scenario was for the performance of a radio show’s replay podcast. To him, it was an example of investing in things that are worth investing in. That doesn’t mean you don’t offer on demand replays. It means those are not the digital products you expect to draw the interest of your already dedicated listeners.
“I’ve found most traditional radio shows that develop a podcast that is slightly different from the daily show seem to cut thru better. The goal should be to try and give the listeners an experience that is unique.”
The opinion echoes something Joe Ovies told me earlier this year when he explained to me why he prefers to release best of podcasts instead of full show replays. The afternoon host on 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh told me that what makes radio special is the spontaneity of what happens live. That is something you cannot get on a podcast. If a station is going to invest time in creating a digital strategy and podcasts are a huge part of it, don’t you need to make sure all of your audio is special? You can’t recreate live on a podcast. Likewise, your podcast isn’t doing anything for you if it is the exact same thing listeners get on radio.
Carson reiterates that he doesn’t think radio companies’ emphasis on technology and digital platforms has to be viewed as a problem. Just look at his relationship with video.
Brad Carson puts out a video every single day on his social media platforms. It is him staring into the camera and talking about what is going on in his city and at his station. Usually all of that is happening while his dog licks his face.
For Carson, the videos are about building and supplementing the connection he and his staff have created over the airwaves.
“Whether it’s in the form of Twitch, video clips in-studio, Zooms, FB Live, Instagram live, or daily talent videos, we have found that it’s important to use video to connect,” he told me via email. “Think about it. During the pandemic, THAT IS the appearance. The pandemic seemingly has taught us the importance of RADIO.COM, smart speakers, and social. Video is part of those.”
He made it clear to me that the digital platforms should not interfere with the way radio companies think about what goes out over the airwaves. When I tell him that radio needs to do a better job of showing how silly the “radio is dying” narrative is, he takes things one step further.
“It’s definitely not dying. Frankly, I’ve been in radio for over 25 years and I’m not kidding when I tell you it’s the best I’ve ever felt about our industry. ESPECIALLY Sports.”
Long agrees. In fact, it never really dawned on him that focusing on a digital and social strategy could be conceived as sending a message that radio doesn’t know its platform’s own value. A digital strategy is just the 2021 version of trying to do what radio has always tried to do: be where the people looking for information are.
“The reality is long gone are the days of waiting for the newspaper to arrive on your door step or waiting for a radio show to begin to get up to date,” Long says. “People expect information as it’s happening. Social has the best chance of delivering that.”
Brad Carson acknowledges that everyday a new digital competitor to local radio pops up. Entertainment encompasses such a wide swath of options that it will always be a crowded field, but radio isn’t going to be lost in it.
“Yes, there are a lot folks not in radio starting podcasts, launching beats to cover teams for internet only companies, the dying newspaper industry, or the TV sports people who get a minute at night on the local news that’s DVR’d. Those things are great, but radio has a massive advantage over all of them because we can leverage the most listened to medium in the country and expand into those areas in unique and special ways because of our local talent,” he says.
Radio is a unique medium and sometimes it is easy to wonder if the people at the top realize that. ESPN has rebranded their offerings in the space as “ESPN Audio,” and that is a more accurate reflection of the way they approach the business now. It certainly makes sense to use other media to supplement the business you have established using the terrestrial airwaves. Too often though, it feels like radio companies are focusing on those other media and losing sight of facts like radio’s widespread familiarity and accessibility because it is something we know how to do well.
The need to learn a new platform can often create a warped sense of its place in your organization’s hierarchy. The radio business cannot ever lose sight of the fact that for us, the old fashioned broadcast has to remain on top. Everything else we do should serve it!
Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.
Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans
Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.
It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.
I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.
One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.
Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.
I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.
For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.
That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.
So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.
This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.
I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?
That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.
Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?
Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.
As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday.
Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.