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Does Sports Radio Value Its Black Audience?

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

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Congratulations, sports radio! (not really)

You’re so unique! You’re in a lane by yourself! You just so happen to be one of the only mediums in life where the dominating topics involve African Americans, but its hosts and audience are dominated by Whites.

Black folk are NFL fans too'

Seriously….how did this happen?

In urban radio, the format is dominated by Black hip-hop artists and Black on-air personalities like Funkmaster Flex of HOT 97 (New York City) and Big Boy of Real 92.3 (Los Angeles). And a majority of its listening audience is also Black. The same goes with urban adult contemporary radio.

Cable network VH1 got rid of all that “Behind the Music” stuff and went all “Love and Hip Hop,” “Flavor of Love,” “For the Love of Ray J,” and “Basketball Wives,” and not surprisingly, VH1’s audience also went majority-Black.

Place Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take, add rapper Wale to do the show intro, bring Black celebrities onto the show regularly, and whaddya know? The viewership of the two-hour daily First Take was at 53 percent Black, according to 2017 ESPN data, by far the largest Black viewership on ESPN during any part of the day.

One can understand The Golf Channel having a majority-White audience. Same with the NHL Network. But…from LeBron, to Zeke, to Deshaun Watson, to Kevin Durant, how in the world did the sports radio format, which endlessly discusses the actions of athletes that are mainly Black, sustain such a large percentage of White on-air hosts and listeners? African Americans are very engaged in radio; and surely we love sports, so what’s the issue here? And don’t you dare say, “Well, the NFL and NBA are majority-Black but the people who attend the games are majority-White…” That is an economic issue, a lesson in generational wealth, so we won’t even go there in this column…

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

I believe that the sports radio format, in general, cannot attract an increasingly Black audience because there are not enough sports radio program directors who “have been” Black. Notice I said, “have been.” As in, sports radio PDs “have always” been White for decades, and just like hockey, NASCAR and golf (with the exception of Tiger Woods), if young African Americans never see people that look like them in certain positions, a lot of them will believe it’s not a viable career choice. So, this goes back decades. 

More African American PDs would eventually equal more Black on-air hosts. More Black PDs would eventually equal more Black producers, executive producers and assistant PDs. The way people snap photos at work with their phones today, word would spread visually on social media and word-of-mouth to other Black individuals that this is a career for you. But you don’t see it, so you just move on to something else.

Terry Foxx is the program director at WFNZ in Charlotte. As outstanding as he is, shouldn’t have to carry the mantle as the only Black sports radio PD in the nation’s top 60 markets. He can’t move these mountains by himself.

I’m not the only one giving an opinion here. Some people in the sports radio format also wanted to weigh in on this column’s polarizing topic: “Does Sports Radio value its Black audience?” Below are the conversations I had with a few of them.

Emmett Golden, on-air host, ESPN Cleveland

Golden, Emmett | Good Karma Brands

Rob: Emmett, do you believe that in general, sports radio is specifically tailored for White men? Or do you think that the Black male audience is also thought about when making programming decisions on hosts, music selections, producer selections, etc?

Emmett: Generally speaking, I would say sports talk radio is tailored to White men because most of the people running radio stations are White men. I believe there are exceptions, but if you look at the lack of Black hosts, especially those that weren’t former pro/college athletes, you can’t help but feel like African Americans aren’t top of mind when people are programming radio stations. Now, over the past year with all of the social unrest going on in our country, I do believe there is a shift happening. I think there is more thought put behind having a diverse line up now than there has ever been before. 

Rob: Why do you believe there aren’t more Black sports radio hosts on the air these days?

Emmett: There are a variety of reasons. One of them is that I don’t think the decision-makers understand the spending power of the African American community. We know that “Cash Rules” and I believe that some people think that there’s more disposable income available from the middle age White man, so let’s hire middle age White men and they can sell to that same audience. Another reason is with the lack of minorities running radio stations there’s a relationship issue. Most people are likely to hire someone they know or someone that gets a referral from a person they know. I understand that’s just how things work but without the representation at the top, it’s tough for minorities to get the, “Hey I know the perfect person for the job” type of opportunity. 

Rob: Last, did you personally find any obstacles getting on air in your sports radio career because of your ethnicity? Or did it maybe help you get on air faster to increase diversity on the station?

Emmett: I feel like I was lucky. I got an opportunity to intern at ESPN Cleveland and after getting that opportunity I was able to show them my value. My ability to build relationships, my willingness to do ANYTHING that was asked of me, and my overall attitude is what separated me from others in my intern class. I got the opportunity and many minorities don’t get the chance. Where I am in my career now being Black (I’m biracial, Black and White, but I know the world sees me as a Black man and I embrace that) could benefit me as more people look to add diversity. The responsibility is on me to open as many doors for young Black men and women so they can get the opportunity that they deserve. I was a part of Good Karma Brands’ launch of 101.7 The Truth in Milwaukee and we need more stations/opportunities like those in the radio business.

Matt Fishman, Program Director, ESPN Cleveland

Matt Fishman Named Dir./Content At WKNR (850 ESPN Cleveland) | AllAccess.com

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Fishman: The great thing about sports is that it creates a place of connection across different races, genders, ages, backgrounds, etc. Ensuring your team is made up of talent from diverse backgrounds allows for unique perspective on various topics and subjects, helps to avoid “blind spots” and reaches and relates to the audience.

Rob: Matt, can you explain, as a program director, how you believe having hosts such as Emmett Golden and Je’rod Cherry impacts, maybe, the diversity of ESPN Cleveland and, maybe, the relatability factor of those hosts to Cleveland’s sizable African American audience?

Matt Fishman: Emmett and Je’rod are amazing. Their show The Next Level is very welcoming to fans of all backgrounds. When last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations were taking place in Cleveland and across the country, Emmett’s perspective as a life-long Clevelander and an African American allowed him to talk about the injustices in a way that only he could.

Jimmy Powers, Brand Manager, 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Jimmy: Absolutely. Radio as a whole, is a very competitive business and every listener in the DMA is important to the success of our radio stations. Sports radio is no different. Since we have a very niche audience because of the format, all of our listeners are extremely valuable.”

Rob: What do you think can be done to increase, improve Black listenership in sports radio?

Jimmy: Creating content that is relevant and reflective to the listening audience is key. This means discussing major news stories that has an impact on the entire city; regardless if it’s a big local story or a national story, it should resonate to all listener demographics and shouldn’t be avoided. In addition, we need to continue to do our part to find more talent that reflects the market listeners as a whole.”

Scott Shapiro, Vice President, Fox Sports Radio

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Scott: Every listener is important, no matter their demographic, race or identity. Representation plays a large role in showing the audience that they are valued. It’s no secret that the industry as a whole can do better to have more voices from people of color.  At FOX Sports Radio, it’s important to us and a priority to continue growing and fostering diversity on the network.  When looking across our seven-day-a-week lineup, we’re proud to have eight Black hosts making up 30 hours of weekly airtime. And we’re excited about our most recent launch, Up on Game, which airs Saturdays from 1-3pm ET, headlined by three former NFL players – LaVar Arrington, TJ Houshmandzadeh & Plaxico Burress.

Rob: Were there any reservations or concerns from yourself or anyone associated with FSR/Premiere about having two Black hosts (Rob Parker and Chris Broussard of The Odd Couple) host a daily three-hour program on a syndicated national network?

Scott: There were zero concerns or reservations. It was our idea to put Chris & Rob together, and they are a tremendous pairing that America loves! They host a wonderful show and we are extremely happy with it three years in as it continues to grow.

Rob: Last, how do you think sports radio could begin to cultivate more Black program directors?

Scott: It all starts from the bottom up. Bringing in more diverse voices in the hiring process is the place to start. That way a deeper pool of candidates learn the business from entry level to the managerial stages.

Matt Edgar, Program Director, 680 The Fan, Atlanta

90+ "Matt Edgar" profiles | LinkedIn

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Edgar: I don’t think the Black audience was always valued but I truly believe they are now.  Though I’ve mostly felt sports radio is color blind, more needed to be done to cater to the African American listener by way of hosts.      

Rob: Matt, is Atlanta a market that has a higher than usual Black listenership to The Fan? Or would people be surprised to know that it’s considerably smaller than the market’s percentage of African Americans?

Matt Edgar: The ratings don’t always show a higher than usual Black listenership for us and I honestly believe that’s a Nielson issue.  Whether it’s the make-up of the crowd at one of our events, our callers, feedback, etc., I feel very strong about our African American listener representation.    

Rob: You were the PD of the 2 Live Stews, when they were on the old 790 the Zone. Was the White audience, in general, a fan of the show? And what made it resonate so much with Black listeners?

Matt Edgar: The White audience was a fan of the show for the most part.  It had an originality that sports radio hadn’t heard much of yet…..two brothers, who disagreed & fought like brothers….they were African American, which was very unique to the sports radio landscape back then….they were pure fun! 

I thank those in the sports radio realm who opted to respond with comments for this important topic. If you would like to give your opinion, feel free to email me at rtaylor@newpittsburghcourier.com, and if you’re an African American in this world of sports radio who may have aspirations to become a PD or other commentary, let me know that as well.

Sports Radio leaders, take a look at the daytime programming on ESPN and Fox Sports 1. There’s more African American hosts/contributors on these two national networks from sunup to sundown, you’d think they were broadcasting from the Barber Shop. Mike Greenberg is surrounded by Black contributors, First Take is, well, engrained in African American culture, then Sage Steele anchors Sportscenter, followed by Jalen Rose’s platform, plenty of Black NBAers on The Jump, and you can’t miss Bomani Jones and Dominique Foxworth on Highly Questionable.

On the competition (FS1), there’s Brandon Marshall on First Things First, Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed, Joy Taylor on The Herd, and Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho on Speak For Yourself. It seems like the national TV sports conversation has a sizable percentage of African American hosts/contributors, unlike local sports radio.

Which brings me to national radio. As Scott Shapiro referenced earlier in this column, Chris Broussard and Rob Parker are making an impact in their daily Fox Sports Radio program as an African American tandem. Unfortunately, it’s very seldom to find two Black hosts with their own local sports radio show.  
And props go out to JR, of the JR Sport Brief Show on CBS Sports Radio, each weeknight from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET. For those who thought he was just filling in during the pandemic…no no…he showed the audience that he was the real deal, as he’s nearly a year and two months into the national program. I had a chance to speak with JR about this column’s topic. He gave me that “look” that I could even see through the email, and he then referred me to a Tweet he posted on Aug. 26, 2020:

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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