Connect with us

BSM Writers

Meet The Market Managers – Matt Hanlon, Radio One Charlotte

“WFNZ is a great brand that this market loved. We just needed to get them to believe in it again. We made a few changes to improve the product, and the audience has consistently rewarded us with #1 TSL because they like what they’re hearing.”

Published

on

Succeeding in radio as a market manager requires understanding how to motivate people, maintain relationships, elevate programming, and create solutions for clients to generate revenue. Few understand those things better than Matt Hanlon. A veteran of the industry for nearly 30 years, Hanlon has a passion for the industry that’s on display 24/7, and a desire to win that’s felt by everyone around him. He’s a leader who doesn’t assume his prior experiences will provide the answers to tomorrow’s problems. It’s why he continues to educate himself on new technologies in order to stay connected to local listeners. He’s also not afraid to shake things up whether that means introducing a new talent to a market, rolling the dice on a first-time programmer or adjusting the plan if something isn’t working and a new direction is needed. If the path to progress requires adjustments, Hanlon is going to do what’s necessary to win. 

When you analyze Matt’s career, it reads like a tail of two halves. Part 1 is where Hanlon gained his introduction to selling media. He spent a decade working for both Backer, Spielvogel & Bates, and Katz Media Group, where he held multiple positions as a media buyer, before ascending to a sales management role. During that period, he worked on campaigns for familiar brands such as CBS, Campbell’s, Mars Brands, and Miller Beer, and did business with various radio companies. He also had the privilege of working with the late Bob McCurdy, who helped him learn more about the importance of making budget and balancing expenses.

But the second half of Matt’s career is where his background in media sales helped him take the next step into radio management. He joined Citadel in 2001, spending 14 years with the company, growing from Market Manager in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to company President. He was responsible for managing Citadel’s Midwest Region of 85 stations across 14 markets with 1500 employees, and helped develop, build, and grow ‘The Huge Show Radio Network’ with Bill Simonson, gaining affiliates across the state, while generating seven figure revenues.

Following his run with Citadel, Hanlon’s next radio journey led him to Charlotte to manage three of Entercom’s market leading brands, WFNZ (sports), WBT (News/Talk) and 107.9 The Link. In less than five years, Hanlon has helped all three brands evolve, while remaining a vital part of the local listener’s lifestyle, and producing wins on the business end. The collective success of his three brands caught Urban One’s attention, giving the company added incentive to expand in the market, which they did in November 2020 during a multi-market multi-station swap with Entercom.

Having had the pleasure of working with Matt over the years, he’s never been one to seek the public spotlight.  He prefers to let his people enjoy the credit and his brands’ results do the talking. But after a little bit of pleading, he finally came around, and I’m thrilled to share with you some of Matt Hanlon’s insights from our recent conversation as part of our Meet The Market Managers series presented by Point To Point Marketing.

JASON BARRETT: I want to pick your brain on a number of things because you’ve had an interesting career full of many different experiences, but I have to start by asking you about managing a cluster thru a pandemic and tragedy as you have in 2020. I don’t know of anyone else who’s dealt with more challenges than you have over the past year. You changed WFNZ’s PD direction in March, right before the pandemic rocked the nation. A month later, a great man, talented OM and longtime friend Darrin Arriens passed away following a bout with Covid-19. Then, after bringing in new PD Terry Foxx and appearing to have tragedy behind you, WFNZ APD/EP Mark Seidel unexpectedly passed away in September (his death was not related to Covid). Two months later, tragedy thankfully didn’t strike a third time, but you did learn that your cluster would be changing ownership as a result of a deal between Entercom and Urban One. With all of that taking place in less than a year, how do you keep a staff feeling positive, confident, and focused?

MATT HANLON: JB, we have gone thru a lot as a staff. I have as well personally, but as strange as it may sound, I think going thru all of this has brought us closer as a group. I really do. It’s hard to develop and maintain relationships when you don’t work next to someone every day, and when you couple that with losing Darrin and Mark, it had a deep impact on our building. As painful as those losses were given what they both meant to all of us personally and professionally, and let me make sure I say this, those guys were loved inside our building, and we miss them both tremendously, somehow those difficult times have brought us together as a staff.

You mentioned the ownership change too, and going through that was seismic. As you can image, when people learn they’re going to be changing employers, all sorts of questions get raised. Fortunately, we were acquired by a great company that gives us tremendous support. The first few months have given me a great feeling about where we are and where we’re going. What helps a lot is that the management team at the top is small and accessible. We’re in complete lock step about our future because they articulate things very well. The directive that we have is to strengthen our brands by creating more solutions for our clients while providing a stronger listening experience for our audiences, so that’s where we place our focus as a staff.

As far as keeping our team on track is concerned, we have a lot of people on our staff who want to be successful. But when you’re dealing with Covid-19 and the loss of teammates, you have to adjust and over communicate. We’ve never been more active using virtual companies than we are now. If it means having to take more phone calls to activate the staff, then that’s what we do. We do have a good team here that has many of the answers so we just need to allow them to do what they need to do to help us the best they can.

JB: Since I focus a lot on sports media, I want to turn the attention first to WFNZ. Under your watch, the radio station has generated consistent success in the market. It’s also improved its reputation across the entire sports format. Why do you think that’s been the case? Is there some magic formula you’re using?

MH: It’s 100% due to being able to reactivate the people. WFNZ is a great brand that this market loved. We just needed to get them to believe in it again. We made a few changes to improve the product, and the audience has consistently rewarded us with #1 TSL because they like what they’re hearing. I think we have the right people in the right seats with Nick, Kyle, Mac & TBone. These guys are good enough to be on any sports station in the business.

JB: In terms of local sports radio though, WFNZ isn’t facing stiff competition. Do you wish it did? I know you love to compete, so do you miss the daily battle or do you prefer less stress and knowing you hold the dominant format position in your market?

MH: Well, we do have another station in the market that broadcasts sports on the radio, but the market does invest its time with us most and we’re grateful for that. The competition may not be the same for sports radio as it is in some other cities, but there is healthy competition from the marketplace. I think brands need to have the ability to capture the mindshare of the marketplace thru a mix of good content or talent. We have 14 hours per day of discretionary sports talk radio so of course we’re the leader in that space. I’m proud of that and see it as an important layer of our business, but competition does exist. It might be Barstool Sports, though maybe it’s not. It could be ESPN television, but maybe it isn’t. In order to be a legit sports station, you have to be a brand that extends beyond the radio dial. Audiences today have so many options to choose from when deciding who to watch or listen to. In Charlotte, we want WFNZ to be a brand that sports fans know, trust, enjoy, and want to spend time with.

JB: Before you moved to Charlotte, you spent time in Michigan where you worked for Citadel. At one point, you oversaw more than 80 radio stations in the company’s Midwest region. It was during that run that you helped launch Bill Simonson’s ‘The Huge Show Radio Network’ all across the state. We’ve seen other companies explore regional syndication but not all of them have had the success that you did. First, what was it that you saw that convinced you that a move like that could work?

MH: Well, first you can’t be afraid to take a risk JB. We had that part covered. Second, you need a passionate fan base. Michigan was literally a peninsula so sports in that state is very rabid and provincial so it just worked perfect there. Next, you better have a great talent. Bill Simonson was a generational talent, still is, and he was the right guy for us to build around with ‘The Huge Show’. I heard Bill on the air at night and I thought he was doing one of the best shows in the country. He was even better at that time than Mike Francesa was on WFAN. That’s how dialed in he was. We quickly moved him into afternoons which created a lot more interest from both advertisers and listeners. The last piece to that puzzle is that you need to have a strong business model. I got the idea for the network from Knight Quality in Boston. Norman Knight had taken AM radio stations, strung them together, and turned the model into large revenues.

When we put The Huge Show Radio Network together, it became a scarcity model for regional syndication. It was never a ratings play for us. We had a lot of clients and stations jump on immediately, and others were calling out of fear that they’d lose out. We even had stations in Chicago, Milwaukee and Indiana that wanted to air the show. That’s where I saw the power of it on display and how it could motivate others to grow their business.

Back then JB I had to knock on doors and tell a lot of people ‘Hey, I have an idea for you‘. I remember I’d take the Jim Rome contract, and white it out, and type in ‘The Huge Show’. That’s how I learned how to do syndication. It meant having to do things a little differently. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sign deals with affiliates in unconventional places. I remember going to Jim Sommerville’s house in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, he had a tower in his yard, and I had him sign the agreement at his dinner table. I had to climb a fence that day to get to him. In the end, we got business done and it all worked out.

Eventually we got the network on to a dozen stations and at one time we were generating roughly 8 million dollars a year in revenue. It was a heck of a run.

JB: To build a regional network of that magnitude though, you must’ve had to get stations on board who were owned and operated by other companies, some who likely saw you as a competitor. How did you knock down that wall?

MH: That’s true JB. I knew we had to get operators of other stations on board to really make it big, and to do that I had to get them to trust me. Every single one of them was my competitor at that time. I was in 8 of their markets. I think what it came down to is that there was mutual respect and they saw value in what they’d be getting in content, and how it could provide them greater value of their commercial units. There was a lot of trial and error for all of us but they stayed on. When they had conflicts we created solutions for them, and it seriously turned into a really good business for everybody involved.

JB: So having had success with a regional syndication model, I noticed that you haven’t taken that same approach in Charlotte where you operate a successful sports brand in WFNZ and have some personalities who’d likely be attractive to other stations across the state. Could a model like that work where you are now?

MH: In Michigan, we had all the right pieces in place at the right time. That’s why the model became very successful. When you look at other cities, not just Charlotte where I’m located now, they usually have a lot of people invested in teams from all over the place. You can do a regional network anywhere but so many factors come into play including the delivery system. There’s no way of telling what the future holds so I never say never, but right now we’re focused on maximizing what we have in front of us.

JB: As a Market Manager, you have to take into consideration a number of different things when deciding who the right fit is to program one of your radio stations. Many people have experience, relationships, ideas and leadership skills, so what ultimately matters to you most when evaluating candidates and deciding who to trust with the oversight of one of your brands?

MH: I think a programmer has to be a contemporary communicator. That means being able to understand where the listener consumes your product. If you don’t live that lifestyle yourself it’s tough to relate to it. You also have to be immersed in today’s technology and culture. In my case, I’m someone who looks at many different things. Are you creative? Smart? Are you good at building relationships with talent and the local teams? Terry Foxx for example who programs WFNZ is very mature and professional. He arrived here in July and instantly gained respect locally with the teams in our market, as well as with the talent in the building, simply by the way he conducts business. You have to be able to get next to all of them that way you can understand, support, create and innovate.

JB: You brought up the importance of being able to work with the local market teams in a positive manner. As you know Matt, some organizations are great to their radio partners, others try to use their influence to control the messages being relayed about the franchise across the airwaves. How do you balance that part with team owners and their key executives?

MH: When you’re in my job JB, I think so much of it has to be figured out early on. I believe you have to commit to sell the team’s product no matter what their record is. If they’re bad, you still have to help them. I’ve asked our partners to do the same for us. Obviously we all want to win, and we pull for each other to do well, and when times are good, the results and attention are ideal for everyone. But you also have to be honest with each other, and more importantly, the audience. We will never compromise a sportscast or newscast by ever adjusting content in someone’s favor just because we’re partners. There has to be trust on both sides to allow each other to do the job right. If trust is there you can work thru anything.

JB: I do want to ask you about something unrelated to sports talk because you do oversee an iconic News/Talk brand in WBT. This is a station that I’ve been able to hear in NY at night due to its massive signal. Like many other News/Talk brands, the format featured Rush Limbaugh in its weekday lineup. Rush unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago, so now stations across the country are trying to figure out what to do. Personalities on Rush’s level are impossible to replace yet you have an audience and advertisers who have been loyal to that timeslot and you’ve got to give them something to keep them with you. Do you see a capable replacement out there on the national circuit or do you see more news/talk stations going local to fill the void?

MH: I went thru something similar to this in Western Michigan with Howard Stern, and I’ll tell you JB, it’s not easy. I don’t think this will be the same though as Stern. There were places when Howard left that would just turn off the radio station. It was bad.

When it comes to replacing Rush, I’m sure the network will try to move forward just as we did with Adam Carolla, David Lee Roth, and Rover. It’s just hard and the odds of it continuing to work aren’t high. What made Rush unique is that he always had something to prove. Whoever comes on after him isn’t going to have that same chip on their shoulder or the history of having to take on big battles. It’s a totally different job now. I do think there’s an appetite for that messaging but there isn’t going to be another Rush Limbaugh.

For us, the impact on a station like WBT is mitigated by the fact that Brett Winterble is in our lineup. Brett is in afternoons for us and he previously worked with Rush so many of Rush’s local fans also appreciate Brett. We also didn’t promote Rush a lot on the station. We didn’t hide him, but we put most of our attention on our local programs so in this situation not much will change for us.

Barrett Blogs

Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

Published

on

How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not

“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”

Published

on

There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City. 

Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in. 

A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.

“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”

Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show

“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”

He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.

“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”

For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.

“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”

“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”

So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN. 

But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.

“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.

“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”

But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.

“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”

He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.

“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”

Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely. 

Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task. 

“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”

Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm. 

Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success. 

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”

Published

on

The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.

The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.

Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.

But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.

When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.

There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.

And the fans know it.

The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person. 

In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night. 

They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.

And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.

I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.

A star is born.

When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”

And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.

But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.

“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”

He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.

“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”

But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.

“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.

And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.

Resonating with Boston 

When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.

It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said. 

While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time. 

Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.

“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”

But there just may be something else at play.

“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”

The Family Dynamic 

Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.

But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?

“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”

“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”

What’s Next?

At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?

“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”

Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Copyright © 2021 Barrett Media.