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Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo Has No Plans of Slowing Down

“19 years for Mike and the Mad Dog and around 13 with Sirius. It’s hard to believe. I knew I would be at Sirius a long time and I wasn’t going back to FAN, but it’s definitely surprising.”

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Pick one voice to hear repeatedly for 30 years, you’ll probably select a sound more soothing than Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo.

But here we are after 30 years, and there aren’t many voices I’ve listened to more than his. And if you’re reading this interview, it either means you similarly spent thousands of hours listening to Russo, or he helped pave a career path for you in some way.

His show intro takes close to two minutes, his greeting alone takes about eight seconds, “Annnndddd good afternoon everybody!” Sports radio and its program directors are built to demand instant content, Russo opens his show doing the exact opposite, but that’s the benefit a host has when he IS the format.

With Mike Francesa, Russo helped build the concept of sports radio. Creating a successful format that suits your talent is enough of a career success, but Russo still had a Part Two left.

Taking a character from one successful show and attempting to build something new doesn’t always work. Following Cheers with Frasier is rare. But after nearly two decades with Francesa, Russo is still going strong with his own show, his own channel and his own audience 13 years later.

Brandon Contes: You’ve been with SiriusXM for 12 and a half years now, it’s going on almost 13 years since you last hosted an afternoon show with Mike Francesa on WFAN. Is that jarring?

Chris Russo: It sure is. It’s almost like you forget you did Mike and The Mad Dog for such a long period of time. 19 years for Mike and the Mad Dog and around 13 with Sirius. It’s hard to believe. I knew I would be at Sirius a long time and I wasn’t going back to FAN, but it’s definitely surprising. And Mike retiring while I’m still working is odd too. You do your talk show every day, but when you think about it – yes, strange.

BC: Has one portion of your career been more fulfilling than the other? Helping to create the sports radio format with Mike, or launching your own brand and channel with Sirius?

CR: It would be hard to ever top 19 years of Mike and the Mad Dog, especially considering we were the first to do a two-person, five-hour afternoon show in the format. There were individual shows in different cities, but there weren’t 24-hour sports stations. The fact that Mike and I started afternoon drive on an all-sports station, hard to top that.

SiriusXM is a different accomplishment, but when you’re the first to do something in a genre, that’s hard to beat. It was New York City, it was the first radio station to do all sports, it was 1:00 – 6:30pm, 50,000 watts. That sticks. Going to Sirius was more about me trying to do a national show, find a new audience, and put a station on the map. But with Mike, we created the format.

BC: Was there a point during the summer of 2008, that Mike, Chernoff or anyone at WFAN could have said something to get you to stay?

CR: [Long Pause] I don’t know. I think I was probably looking for a break after 19 years at the same place. SiriusXM gave me a channel, I wanted something different, I liked the flexibility of getting away from the New York teams. Probably not. I think Mike and I wore each other out a bit. Money wasn’t going to do it, there was a limited number of that. It was time to make a change, Mel Karmazin wanted me and he offered me my own channel with Sirius. At 48-years-old, I wasn’t getting that offer again.

They already had Howard and he set the precedent for a person to leave a big New York station for Sirius. You had confidence in the company, and we had a lot of trouble those first six or eight months during the economic crisis, but I trusted Mel that we would figure out a way and he did. So I don’t know if there’s anything Mark or Mike could have said in June of 2008. I think I was going to go.

BC: When Imus left in 2007, how serious were you about wanting the morning show?

CR: It was something I thought about. It was a new challenge, I liked the idea of getting home at 11 in the morning. I don’t know if I would consider it serious but thank God it didn’t happen because I would have done mostly all sports talk and that might not have fit morning radio. There was a thought about putting both of us in mornings, although I don’t think Mike wanted to get up. And there was a thought about splitting us up, but it never got that serious. It’s nice to get home at 11am, especially in the summer, having nice weather and the whole day, and I think I liked it from that aspect more than the actual dynamic of hosting a morning sports show. As it turns out, it was the best thing for me not to get that show.

BC: Do you miss the competition of terrestrial radio and the ratings battle? Did it ever bother you to see Francesa and Michael Kay on the back page of the newspaper?

CR: No. What I do miss is the give and take I had with Mike. The discourse between the two of us couldn’t be topped because Mike knew every sport. Most hosts know one or two, but Mike and I knew something about all of them.

Mike & The Mad Dog may finally be ready to get back together?

I also miss the hometown teams. On a slow day, you could always rely on the local teams to get through a show. On Sirius, from February through August, there are days where you might not have a topic to grab everyone. A local station can always turn to the home teams, I don’t have that with Sirius. I can’t break down Julius Randle for 45 minutes because a listener in Phoenix might not even know who he is. You have to find something that grabs everyone.

BC: How long did you do your Saturday show on FAN?

CR: For about 19 years. I did Saturdays and Sundays in the late-80s before they put me and Mike together. I gravitated to Saturdays around ’90 and did it for about nine months every year. I loved it. Just like Mike loved his Sunday NFL show, it was a break in the routine for us.

BC: That show was my introduction to sports radio. I would sometimes go to work with my dad on Saturday mornings and FAN would play on the way home. And as a seven- or eight-year-old, the voice and laugh caught my attention and once I realized you were talking about the Knicks and Mets, I was hooked. Did you feel a different connection with the Saturday audience?

CR: Definitely. The Saturday audience is different. Even if it’s the same group of people, it had a different feel. There was more give and take with the calls because you have more time as a solo host, and it had more of a wide-open tableau. You could talk about anything because Friday night isn’t a big sports night so I was able to keep it different from the topics during the week or from Mike on Sunday.

BC: Were you a Stern listener at any point before going to Sirius?

CR: No, I definitely was not. I drove to work about 10:30, 11:00 o’clock so he was already off-air. And if I was focused on anything in the morning, it would have been Imus. I usually don’t listen to the radio too much. I always wanted my own fresh opinions, I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else. But based on my life at that point, it just didn’t fit into my schedule. So I really didn’t listen to Stern until I got to Sirius.

BC: Have you enjoyed your interactions with him and going on his show occasionally?

CR: Absolutely. Five times total. I’ve been totally into it. But it’s almost like when he gets Mike from Mahopac (Sour Shoes), he feels like he had Chris Russo on, so it’s been awhile, but I love going in there. He makes a sanitation worker sound interesting, a jewelry salesman sound interesting, he could make my father sound interesting! No matter who he’s talking to, he has the ability to be engaged. He used to like talking about anything going on with Mike and me, I also loved talking about Imus with him. I haven’t been on in a couple years, but I really enjoy it.

BC: What about going on Letterman? How many times did you do that?

CR: I think it was 37 times. The first was February of ’91 and the last time was about two weeks before he retired in 2015. I loved doing that show. And I’ll give you one story. They used to put me on in the third segment, 12:20am. Twice within a month in 2003, I was bumped. Once for Demi Moore and the other for Courtney Love. A week later, I’m driving into work and he calls my cell to apologize. I said, ‘Dave what are you doing calling me? This is ridiculous, don’t worry about it.’ He told me ‘it won’t happen again, if you’ll give us a break we’ll have you on again.’ Since then, every time I was on, I was the second guest and they gave me two segments.

BC: Did you enjoy the live audience aspect with Letterman? Because you were always good at feeding off the energy at remotes.

CR: I did, absolutely. There’s more pressure. You have to make them laugh, you have to be funny. The reason Dave liked having me on is because he knew I could carry the segment for nine or ten minutes. He could set me up and I could talk, it wasn’t pulling teeth. He put me on the first time because he heard me on-air and was making fun of the way I spoke, but it ended up being a long-lasting relationship.

BC: Francesa was complimentary of Pat McAfee when he got started in radio, it’s interesting now to see him on your channel. He’s very different from your brand of radio, but he generates interest.  

CR: The sports talk genre has changed. Most hosts, anywhere you look, TV or radio, it’s 80% football even in the offseason and then they sprinkle in other topics. I never did football 12 months a year and in New York you don’t have to, but hosts today don’t do baseball, golf or tennis, they’re not even breaking down the NCAA Tournament. They spend most of their time on the NFL and they’ll mix in the NBA.

Pat is the new breed. He’s a big personality, but he uses the NFL to get his point across, a little wrestling too of course because he’s a wrestler. Now do I love the cursing? Probably not. But I appreciate that the genre has changed from what it was in 1989 when Mike and I started. The NFL is bigger and baseball is not as big. A lot of the younger people on-air didn’t grow up on baseball. It’s really an NFL dominated genre right now and Pat does a superb job of appealing to the younger audience who are into fantasy football and DraftKings, while that’s not where I grew up. There’s going to be a time where my show won’t be able to survive, but for the moment, I can still hang in there without doing 12 months of football.

BC: What about Morning Men, you’re an old school sports historian and then you have a polar opposite in Mike Babchik on your channel, but the rabid following of FALs he and Evan Cohen built is incredible.

CR: Babchik does a wonderful job. I love Babchik, and Evan’s a great sports talk host. Morning Men I look at a little differently because you can’t do a ton of sports in the morning and they have to compete with Stern on the same platform, that’s not easy. It’s a tricky spot, but they’ve done a tremendous job of finding a niche for themselves, and that’s not easy to do on Sirius where you can get lost with a million shows and channels. But Babchik and Evan haven’t, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

BC: Why do you think you’re okay with Morning Men bits and more willing to play along, be the butt of a joke, but you weren’t as forgiving when it was Craig Carton doing it at WFAN back in 2007?

CR: That’s a good point. I think it has something to do with Imus because we were loyal to him and Craig was his replacement. I know the Carton and Mike relationship never warmed up, Carton and I have warmed up some. But you’re right. I don’t know what the reason was, we gave Carton a much harder time than I’ve ever given Babchik. Maybe in hindsight, I regret that.

Maybe I should’ve let it go, not say anything, just let them do their show and get established. I don’t think it was as bad as everybody makes it out to be. But there is a feeling that Mike and I didn’t give Boomer and Carton any support when they started. If they feel that strongly about it, there must be some truth to it, and I have to own that.

BC: Last year you were very critical of WFAN and what the station became, what about today with Craig and Evan Roberts in afternoons, is it more stable?

CR: I don’t listen much, but they’ve done pretty well in the ratings and now they have a simulcast with SNY coming, so give them credit for that. But I’m not up to date with what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis. Evan’s had to change his role and I think he’s done that, and Carton’s had to change a little because there’s more sports in afternoons than mornings. Gio has done a good job with Boomer in mornings. Give Malusis and Maggie credit for hanging in there. I just don’t know exactly where FAN is as a channel and a station if I’m being honest. I don’t know enough. One thing I will say is, Evan’s done a good job of letting Craig get his feet wet and reestablished.

BC: Are you surprised Mark Chernoff is retiring?

CR: Yea, he loves to work, radio is his life and he’s a routine guy. He gets up in the morning, goes on a run, has a catch with his kid when he gets to see him. But coming into the radio station at 6am, he’s always had that routine and he doesn’t have a ton of hobbies. He doesn’t play golf or tennis, so I am a little surprised to see him leave.

BC: Did you program Mad Dog Radio at the beginning?

CR: I did. I had a lot of help, but I programmed it. With Sirius, there’s a big chain of command, so I couldn’t just pick anyone I wanted and hire them. We’ve evolved a million different ways over the last 13 years. They still try to run things by me, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but I’m busy with the TV show, my radio show and now podcasts, there’s a lot going on. I know what’s happening with the channel, but I’m not involved in the decision-making process.

BC: Did you enjoy being part of the decision-making process?

CR: I did, but I learned I’m better on-air than off-air. It’s not easy to hire people, fire people, get approval, listen to tapes. There was a period in ’08 and ’09, I was doing a five-hour show, with no commercials. To juggle all that work was very tricky. They kind of put me out of my misery five years in and it’s been a plus.

BC: 61 years old and you’re not subtracting at all from your career, you have a daily TV show, a daily radio show and now you’ve even recently added a podcast series, Digging Up The Past. Why enter that medium?

CR: SiriusXM owns some podcast companies and they need content, that’s the biggest reason. In my last deal I said I would do it and I didn’t quite realize the involvement with it. I did one in the fall about Thanksgiving Day football, and now I have a four-part NCAA podcast that we did 22 interviews for. It’s the kind of stuff I like, it’s historical and most of the young talk-show hosts today, they’re grasp of history goes back to the mid ‘90s. They don’t go back to 1961, they don’t know who Jerry Lucas is. You can’t give me a normal podcast to do with an interview that I already do on the radio, so that’s where this idea came from where we have long-form episodes and it’s fun. It’s time consuming, 22 interviews plus narration takes time, but it’s good quality and I’ll always make sure my audience knows it’s worth the time to listen.

BC: What does the podcast allow you to do that your radio show doesn’t?

Chris Mad Dog Russo on Twitter: "Check out Digging Up the Past! We will  look at the evolution of the Thanksgiving games from its origins to classic  games to becoming the day's

CR: I can get any one of these guests on my radio show, but you can’t get 22 of them together on one show because their schedules will never line up. But for a podcast, you can schedule it around them and piece it together, so it helps to complete a story.

BC: I think Francesa was 62 when he announced his first retirement, when does Chris Russo start to think about it?

CR: Not until my youngest gets out of high school and he’s a sophomore. What am I going to do if I retire and he’s still in school in Connecticut? I can’t go anywhere, I can’t move to Florida and play golf, so until he finishes high school there’s nothing to think about. When he goes off to college and it’s just my wife and I left in the house, then I could see taking a step back, but not for another couple years, minimum.

BC: Would you cut TV or radio first?

CR: I think I’ll always do radio in some capacity. Some sort of radio format.

BC: Is the flexible schedule that podcasting offers enticing as a post-retirement option?

CR: Yea, that’s appealing, it gets you out of the daily grind. Doing a show everyday for 49 or 50 weeks a year, it’s a lot. There will be a time that I won’t want to do that, but we’re not there yet.

BC: Last thing, because this made the rounds on social media in the last couple weeks. Were you made aware that there is a Tom Izzo who works at WFAN? It was not the basketball coach commenting on you blowing your nose.

CR: What happened was, my son who’s a senior at Tampa texted me and said, ‘look at this dad, Tom Izzo’s wondering if you farted.’ He thought it was the Michigan State Tom Izzo, so I did too. He wasn’t aware there was a Tom Izzo at WFAN, nor was I. And after I said it on-air, that’s when we found out it was a different Tom Izzo at FAN.

But that day I was just blowing my nose all day for whatever reason. That’s another adjustment we’ve had to make in the last year, TV at home, radio at home, you don’t get a break in-between where you’re in the city and feel the energy. I’m doing one show in the basement, the other on the third floor. It’s strange.

BC: Are you going back to the studio?

CR: Undetermined, but I would think so. It depends on SiriusXM and MLB opening their studios. Maybe by the summertime, but who knows.

BC: Is the ability to work from home a benefit to prolonging your career?

CR: You hit it right on the head. I do like the city, but it’s 17 hours a week that I spend commuting on a train, walking and driving. It’s a lot. Especially in the summer when you want to be home by six every night. You work harder at home, 17 hours of commuting is now 17 hours working, but overall, not commuting is a big plus. 

BSM Writers

Nothing Is Easy In the Cold, Not Even Broadcasting

The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end!

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No matter what you may think, doing play-by-play for any sport is a difficult thing. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. Prep work dominates things leading up to the broadcast, getting notes, nuggets and entertaining tidbits take up time. Then once you’re prepped, some stadiums are better than others to broadcast. Some booths are easier to work than others.

Then there’s the forgotten element, the weather.

How will you handle inclement weather of any kind? Warmth, rain, snow and oh yeah, the dreaded freezing temperature. Before we get into it, here are a few of the less-than-ideal conditions my fellow broadcasters have had to deal with over the years. 

THE FOG BOWL

During the 1988 playoffs between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, a dense fog rolled onto the field during the game, making it nearly impossible to play or see. Numerous players complained they couldn’t see 10 yards in front of them. Both teams were forced to use their running game because receivers couldn’t see long passes. The broadcast was called by Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw on CBS. 

“We couldn’t see anything—absolutely nothing,” CBS-TV play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist told the Associated Press. “We had to look at the TV just like everyone else.” Lundquist’s color man, Terry Bradshaw, told viewers the game should have been suspended.

THE FREEZER BOWL

At -9 degrees Fahrenheit, the 1982 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers proved to be the second-coldest game in NFL history. It was so cold that Bengals QB Ken Anderson suffered frost bite on his right ear. The temperature was not only -9 degrees, but the wind chill was measured at -58 degrees, by far the worst in league history.

THE ICE BOWL

The 1967 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys became known as the “Ice Bowl.” It remains the coldest game ever played in the NFL, at -15 degrees with a wind chill of -48 degrees. Lambeau Field’s turf-heating system actually malfunctioned before the game, leaving the turf rock-hard. Officials actually had to resort to calling out plays and penalties because when referee Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle, it actually froze to his lips.

The last two are examples of something topical since last week’s “Super Wild Card” game in Buffalo was played in extreme temperatures. At kickoff, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill made the temperature feel like minus-5. A far cry from the above games, but come on, it was freezing cold out there. 

The CBS Sports NFL announcing team of Ian Eagle and Charles Davis said Saturday’s game between Buffalo and New England was the coldest work environment they’ve experienced during their broadcasting careers. 

“We kept the windows closed in the booth until one hour before kickoff,” Eagle told The Athletic. “When we finally opened them, I had a sense that it would be manageable. I was wrong. CBS rented some industrial heaters for the night, but unfortunately, they were no match for the Western New York frigid air. It really hit me in the third quarter. I started shivering and actually had a few moments where my jaw got locked up mid-sentence. It was by far the coldest I’ve ever been calling a game.”

Davis recalled two games he called at Lambeau Field that were similar, but not as bad as it was in Buffalo.

“It helped that the evening was relatively clear, and the winds minimal, but make no mistake about it, ‘the Almighty Hawk (wind)’ made its presence felt and I kept drawing on one thought — everyone involved was cold, and they were persevering,” Davis explained to Richard Deitsch.

“In addition, we were watching history be made in front of us by the Bills offense — seven drives, seven touchdowns, something that had never been done in the NFL playoffs. Beyond impressive, and it definitely helped us maintain focus. I’m not sure anyone would choose to do a game under those conditions, but there was definitely a sense of pride among our team that we all worked to the best of our abilities on a night that would test all of us.”

Davis said that there was no way not to think about his discomfort. He gave credit to the stage crew in the booth that helped to keep him and Ian Eagle warm. There was also a jacket involved, a familiar one given to Eagle during the game, leading to an excellent exchange between he and Davis just before the third quarter started. 

Charles Davis: Where did you get the jacket?

Ian Eagle: What jacket?

Davis: That!

Eagle: Oh, this? Yes, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, you might have noticed, wore this a few weeks ago and it hit the internet by storm. Kurt saw that we had this assignment. Kurt now runs a program “Warner’s Warmers,” he just sends the jacket out to whoever needs it. I feel like, I want Jiffy Pop Popcorn. This thing is very warm. This is the same jacket. Kurt sent this to me. Let me tell you, not all heroes wear capes, they wear “Silver Bullet Puffers.”

Davis: Let’s talk about the game for a minute. Kurt, a brother would like a jacket too…

I’ve never really experienced calling a game in that extreme weather, especially after all the years I’ve called baseball games. But being in the Midwest, even those early days in April and sometimes into May, cold temps are a factor.

I think the coldest game I ever called was a game with the Cubs where the temperature at the start was about 31 degrees with a wind coming off the lake. We debated on whether or not to open the windows in the booth. One voted no, one voted yes, so the compromise was the window near the play-by-play guy was cracked open just a bit. Games just sound different with the windows closed. It’s not as clean. It sounds like you’re doing a game in a closet. But sometimes self-preservation comes first. The same goes for extremely warm weather too. 

The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your pen isn’t working all that well, and how do you score a game without taking your gloves off?  In those conditions, as Eagle was saying, your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end! I know it sounds exaggerated but in the moment, its not. 

People sitting at home still want you to call the game. They are looking for the same information you would have given if it were 40 degrees instead of 40 below with the wind chill. It’s a big ask, but the broadcast crew has to find a way to adjust to the conditions and do what they are there to do. It helps when everyone understands that. It’s not to say that you can’t talk about the way things are in the booth or on the field from time to time. But don’t let it dominated the airtime, as tempting as it might be to do so. 

Just think, if you’re cold in the booth, what’s life like for the sideline reporter?

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BSM Writers

Ben And Woods Aren’t Doing a Show For One Person

“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show.”

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There’s no confusion about where their allegiances lie. And when it comes to being relatable to the audience, there’s few things Ben and Woods do better than buying season tickets at Petco Park, wearing Padres hats and cheering for the lone professional team in San Diego. 

Some hosts choose to never openly root for the teams they talk about on an everyday basis. Steven Woods and Ben Higgins strive to never hide who they are on the air. They’re Padres fans and they’re not afraid to show it. 

“I was in music radio before and sometimes it was hard to hide my disdain for some of the music that I played, so I just decided not to,” said Woods. “I just let it out there. People I think appreciate authenticity and if I didn’t like a song I’d tell you. But I still had to play it, right? With the Padres, it’s why I never sit in the press box, because I can’t cheer in there. I bought season tickets so that I can go and scream at the players like I want to. I think it resonates, because there’s fans listening in the car that want to see them do well too.”

“I do believe in journalistic integrity,” said Ben. “But to me that means you have to be honest. You have to be honest in your opinions and you can’t be afraid to be critical. No one is more critical of a team than their own fans. They are the most critical people of all. I don’t wanna be the fan that constantly criticizes, but at the same time, why would you listen to a show that is just relentlessly positive and gives you a white wash version of what’s not really reality? Every team has problems and it’s our job to point them out or nobody’s going to take you seriously.”

When you think of baseball towns, New York, Chicago and St. Louis are probably the three cities that immediately come to mind. But in a football world, San Diego has emerged as a new baseball town with the Chargers recently leaving for Los Angeles.

If you have any doubt that San Diego is now a baseball city, just listen to Ben and Woods on 97.3 The Fan from 5-9 am every weekday morning. The duo has no issues with doing three-plus hours of Padres talk, even during the offseason.

That’s not a new thing. Ben and Woods have always conducted the show the way it is now. They want to talk baseball, but they also want to hit off-topic content that will give the listener a chance to laugh on their way to work. 

That’s been the case since the show was at Mighty 1090. Ben and Woods were at the station as the morning show when it folded in 2019. That was an incredibly trying time for both talents. 

“It was pretty heartbreaking to be honest with you,” Woods said. “I had a brand new baby and the show was going great. We were on the rise and then it went away. It was shocking. It was also scary.  I think uncertain is the best word. We believed in our product and we knew there was a market for it and there was a station that just so happened to need a morning show. The timing was pretty serendipitous.”

“I had been a listener for 15 years before I ever worked at that station for the first time,” Ben said. “And then you get there and you feel like, wow, we’re here and then all the sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t overnight, at some point we lost the signal transmission then we went streaming and it was kind of a slow death over the last few weeks. Ultimately it just ended one day. It was a very strange thing. The fact we got picked up at 97.3 The Fan, got back on the air so quickly was really great.”

Sports radio show 'Ben and Woods' heads to 97.3 The Fan

Things are going extremely well for Ben and Woods at 97.3 The Fan. They’re thriving in morning drive with a unique show that’s different from any other in the market. Sure, they’ll talk about sports, but their focus is more on the overall entertainment of the show. 

“It’s morning drive, you’re there to entertain,” said Woods. “You do have to get really creative. We get very creative, because we have to. We take a lot of risks, more so than people would like. The way I look at it as no one remembers us talking about the NFL Playoffs. But they do remember the time we played a 17-minute Bob Dylan song in its entirety on the radio and sat through it. I remember that and always will. Nobody is ever going to say, ‘man, nobody breaks down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like you guys’. But they’ll remember, ‘holy crap, you guys literally played a 17 minute Bob Dylan song it’s entirety’.”

“When we started it was 95 percent sports and I was afraid to do anything else,” Ben said. ”We started doing segments like Ben reads raps, there was a really good response and I started to warm up on OK we can branch out a little bit. Now, if there was a day we didn’t have a non-sports topic I would say that was a weird show.”

“Rest assured, Opening Day comes, we’re blowing out every bit we have, period,” Woods said ”We’re one of the few shows in town that has no problem doing 3 1/2 hours of just Padres talk. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself a little bit. I always call it punting. It’s an easy thing to say, hey, the playoffs are this week let’s get the local beat writer on from every single team and we’ll interview them. Like anyone here gives a rats ass what the Packers beat writer has to say. There may be one guy, but I’m not doing a show for one guy.”

“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show,” laughed Ben. 

One of the reasons the show has the identity that it does, is because of Woods’ background in multiple formats of radio. No, he’s not a sports radio lifer, and in a way, it’s probably greatly benefitted the show. He’s taken his creativity from the music side and perfectly blended it with his love for sports. 

“I like sports radio more because there’s a lot more creativity,“ said Woods. “ I didn’t get to pick the music I got to play at all. Not even a little bit. I didn’t have a lot of chances to talk so for me, as a creative person, this is tremendous. We can do whatever we want and our bosses are pretty cool about giving us a lot of leeway. I’ve learned how audiences react. I’ve learned how to keep an audience. It’s energy, it’s being compelling, breaking balls, having fun. Guy’s driving to work in the mornings, he wants to get a snicker or a laugh, he’s not looking for breakdowns of defenses and things like that.”

Ben and Woods is much more than just the two hosts in the chair every weekday. The cool thing is that anyone that listens to the show knows that. Paul Reindl is the executive producer of the show and has a talent and relationship with the hosts that anyone would dream of. 

“He’s the worst,” laughed both Ben and Woods. “Paulie is great. We were able to get away this weekend and after we drank like 40 beers and whiskeys, I was like bro, I’m so proud of you and you’re so valuable to the show. But he’s an unsung hero behind the scenes. He has an uncanny ability to bring sound drops almost intuitively. He’s got pages and pages of drops we’ve collected over the years. He’s just an awesome producer.”

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BSM Writers

Sports Are Learning To Meet Gen Z Where They Are

“The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity.”

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Should sports radio be concerned about where audiences will come from in the future? It is an interesting question that we talk about here a lot. It is also something that the New York Times tackled indirectly last week.

A column from Joe Drape and Ken Belson declared this generation of kids “The eSports Generation” and went on to explain just how disconnected from traditional sports they really are.

An alarmist might ask if this is the beginning of the end of traditional sports leagues. Someone a little more level-headed, like Joe Ovies, may want to dive a little deeper to see what leagues are learning and how they are adapting.

Joe hosts The OG in afternoon drive at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. He is always interested in how changes in technology and consumption patterns effect sports and his audience. I saw him tweeting about the New York Times piece last week and asked if he would want to write a little something for us.

Enjoy!

Demetri Ravanos


“Meet your audience where they are.”

How many times have you heard that phrase in the last 5 years from a consultant, manager, or any number of Barrett Media posts as content consumption trends continue to spread out over a variety of platforms? Turns out the same applies for pro sports leagues, who are fearful that an entire generation of fans will be lost and their traditional business model will crater as a result.

The New York Times recently highlighted what sports marketers are doing to win over Generation Z, which typically applies to kids born from 1997 to 2012. The Times hits the usual beats.

There’s a reference to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, an esports star who is also a traditional sports fan, who the NFL hoped would be a Pied Piper for youth fandom. There are examples of MLB, famously stingy when it came to fans using their content on social media, now working with TikTok influencers. And of course, highlighting the NBA’s wide ranging approach to online engagement and their franchise run NBA 2K esports league. Most of the article was based on a recent SSRS/Luker on Trends report, which conducts regular surveys about sports and society.

The issue for pro sports leagues isn’t that Gen Z kids aren’t “passionate” enough about sports. It’s that Gen Z is more likely to admit they simply don’t like sports.

“Only 23 percent of Generation Z said they were passionate sports fans, compared with the 42 percent of millennials (defined as 26 to 41), 33 percent of Generation X (42 to 57) and 31 percent of baby boomers (57 to 76) who identified themselves as passionate. More striking was that 27 percent of Gen Zers said they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.”

The new york times, Jan. 12, 2022

Also factoring into the waning interest in sports from Gen Z is the dramatic decline of youth sports participation. There is a larger discussion to be had about the role of parents and specialization in this decline, but we can address that topic another day. As it relates to pro sports leagues today, the drop in youth participation absolutely impacts the level of interest in kids who might want to watch the best in the world of sports do their thing.

“Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.

On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.”

the New york times, Dec. 19th 2021

The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity. Meeting up on the playground or at a friend’s backyard for a pickup game has been replaced with meeting your friends on a Discord server and deciding if you’re going to play Halo or Call or Duty after school.

If you have kids in the age range that I do, none of this should be a surprise. You see it every day and don’t even think twice about it. But if you do stop and think about how frictionless it has become to be online all day with your friends, you start to realize the impact of never being bored or getting dragged to things by your parent because there were no other options.

Watching sports and going to sporting events isn’t frictionless. It’s a pain in the ass. Older generations deal with it because we don’t know any better, it’s just what we do. But Gen Z isn’t about to stop what they’re doing just to watch a game. Why would they? They can get the highlights later.

Gen Z is about dropping in and out of entertainment options whenever they feel like it. In other words, why would they sit around waiting for their favorite song to be played on the radio when they can easily pull it up on YouTube or Spotify.

Pro sports leagues can create all the social content and tout billions of views. They can tout engagement with Gen Z because a bunch of kids bought NFL related skins in Fortnite.

Awareness of their leagues isn’t the problem. It’s getting Gen Z to care enough to watch the game. Take my kids, who are fully aware of what’s going on in the world of sports, but getting them to sit down and actually watch the game is torture. Throw in the increasing cost to attend sporting events, I’ve started leaving them at home because it’s a waste of money given my 13-year-old is just gonna play Clash Royale in that $75 seat.

To be clear — I’m OK with my kids just not being into sports. It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s simply understanding we’ve transitioned to a world of niche communities. You can still thrive within those niche communities. Just look at sports talk radio as an example, where you’re not winning with cume, but with passion around sports. That’s what great sports talk radio stations sell. Pro sports leagues will be fine doing the same.

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