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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from the burner accounts of media people.

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Kenny Mayne, ESPN — In a deliciously off-the-wall final show, the man who wouldn’t take a 61-percent paycut at age 61 refused to let Aaron Rodgers make their interview about Mayne’s departure. Obeying his very function for hosting “SportsCenter” through the years — delivering the news — Mayne adroitly peppered the aggrieved quarterback with questions about his issues with Green Bay Packers management. Finally, Rodgers relented, saying his beef is less about the drafting of Jordan Love and more about the general chill he feels from the likes of general manager Brian Gutekunst. Said Rodgers, who clearly wants out, even as the Packers waffle: “Anything’s on the table at this point. … It’s just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting it’s about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way. A lot of this was put in motion last year, and the wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year. This is just kind of, I think, a spill-out of all that.” Yes, Mayne departed Bristol by breaking the biggest sports story in America, then telling his good friend in vintage smart-ass mode, “You told me to go heavy in the cryptocurrency game. I did, and we’re down 40 percent — then I lost my job. Gretchen just wants a new comforter. F— you, Aaron Rodgers.” A smart boss will hire him soon — tomorrow — and Mayne should look to an established brand such as Fox, not to a speculative future at startup Meadowlark Media. 

Greg Olsen, Fox Sports — The brave but daunting battle of the analyst’s 8-year-old son, TJ, warrants our prayers. The former NFL tight end, launching a new career as a promising football analyst, is using Twitter to update TJ’s condition this week as a congenital heart defect takes its toll. Wrote Olsen, whose son is on a pacemaker after three open heart surgeries: “Unfortunately, it seems his heart is reaching its end. We are currently working through the process to determine our next steps, which ultimately could lead to a heart transplant.” Olsen and his wife, Kara, have donated millions to a foundation that helps young heart patients in Charlotte, N.C. That’s where the family is spending days and nights. “We don’t know how long we will be within these hospital walls,” Olsen wrote. “We do know that we are in full control of our attitudes and our outlook. TJ has been a fighter since birth.” We talk about courage in a 2021 world. No one is more courageous than TJ Olsen.

Jim Nantz, CBS — The social media mobs — and I’m not sure why they’re routinely cited as authorities — praised Nantz for his not-exactly-original call after Old Phil Mickelson’s age-defiant victory: “Phil defeats Father Time!” I was more impressed when Nantz, known to overlook newsworthy matters in fear of disrupting sports fairy tales, sensed trouble as the chaotic crowds swallowed Mickelson and Brooks Koepka on the 18th fairway. “They’ve lost control of the scene,” he said of an unprepared security presence at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, wondering what might happen on the green when Mickelson secured a place in history. For the first time, I actually felt Nantz was prepared to cover a major news story, like Bob Costas or going way back to Jim McKay, father of CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. When Mickelson called the crush scene “unnerving” after pushing away a fan and an angry Koepka suggested fans were intentionally trying to “ding” his recently repaired knee — “no one really gave a shit,” he said — it confirmed that Nantz had read the danger properly.

Phil Mickelson, Man Of The People — One of his secrets for remaining young, at 50, is an eagerness to converse with the masses and embrace social media. Anyone who follows Mickelson’s feeds isn’t surprised he spent his long jet ride home, from South Carolina to southern California, conducting a Twitter chat with fans. When one asked if he was on a plane, he replied, “Yes. Sipping wine, half lit, tweeting. Life is good.” Another wondered if his hand was sore from so much thumbs-upping, his new way of acknowledging roars during tournaments. “Icing it now,” replied Mickelson, adding a thumbs-up emoji, natch. Always wildly popular among galleries, he is fully engaged to reach all demographics and extend his “cool” factor for who knows how long. Other athletes of a certain age should be taking notes, especially when Mickelson finally puts away his clubs — next year, five years, 10 years? — and becomes a national sensation as a network TV golf analyst. You don’t think broadcast executives are slobbering over the Sunday ratings, when Mickelson drew 13.1 million viewers in the 7 p.m. EDT hour? 

Kwame Brown, critic crusher — Tired of ex-NBA players and media people treating his lame career like a punchline, Brown went ballistic. The former No. 1 overall pick — what was Michael Jordan drinking in Washington in 2001? — posted retaliatory videos after he was belittled on the “All The Smoke” podcast, referring to Stephen Jackson as a “fake Black Lives Matter activist” and Matt Barnes as “Becky with the good hair,” whatever that means. He was just getting started, challenging ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to a fight: “Stephen A. you bald forehead. Thinking you tough talking about `Oh, they can come see me.’ … Well meet me in Seattle where you can have mutual combat. It’ll look like you had a toupee on the front of your head.” Then he ripped Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless: “I ain’t get no pass from your co-host when you was letting this punk motherf—-er talk about a teenager. … I had to endure you talking about my momma’s son like that, b—ch.” Rather than obey the golden rule of the criticism business — if you can dish it, you should take it — Barnes invited Brown to “All The Smoke” so he could “talk you shit face-to-face.” Brown rejected the offer, then responded with the winning blow: “I’ma let your show fizzle out, because I’m not gon’ help you get no rating.” Someone give Kwame his own podcast.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Doug Kezirian, ESPN — I will ask nicely, this one time, for Kezirian to take the $300,000 he won on a Las Vegas prop bet and donate it to charity. He has established a ghastly precedent at his company and in the media industry, whipping open the floodgates for on-air personalities to use inside information and expertise to win big money in legalized gambling. Kezirian, who hosts an ESPN show called “Daily Wager,” should be front and center in maintaining his professional integrity and showing he’s NOT betting on sports. Instead, he took advantage of his acumen during the NFL Draft, noticing how a sportsbook had listed Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell as a safety — something he likely wouldn’t have known if not in sports media. The mistake by BetMGM enabled Kezirian, as he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to hoof it to Bellagio’s self-serve kiosks, partner with a pro bettor and make a series of wagers — totaling $3,500 — at odds up to 100-1. When Campbell went 33rd to Jacksonville as the first “safety” taken, Kezirian hit the jackpot, and BetMGM was forced to admit its error and pay up. “We all have different strengths as bettors, and mine are instincts,” said Dougie Dice, proudly. “I can tell when it’s a situation to just bet as much as you can.” If I’m ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro or another media executive committed to gambling coverage and imbedded with sportsbook partnerships, I’m frightened about the number of employees who might read Kezirian’s story and use their own inside knowledge to bet, which will lead to multiple scandals in media and sports. Does Bristol even have a betting policy? Don’t cry to me when Congress is contacting Pitaro, Kezirian, Scott Van Pelt and the gambling crowd to testify.

Shannon Sharpe, Fox Sports 1 — I’ve given up on expecting sound ethics from All Things Fox. Still, how does sports boss Eric Shanks allow Sharpe, the co-host of “Undisputed,” to cold-call Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones — without identifying they were live and on the air — and ambush him with questions about his Atlanta Falcons future? Not until Jones made news and said, “Oh, I’m out of there, man,” did Sharpe quickly wrap up the interview by informing him, “We on the air, but I appreciate you calling me, dog.” It was Sharpe who called Jones, of course, but that’s the least of Fox’s problems. The studio show is based in California, where a wiretapping law makes it illegal to record a private phone call without the consent of all parties. That didn’t stop co-host Bayless, a long-ago journalist, from giddily remarking, “He’s out. He’s outta there. I told you.” If Jones wants to augment his $15.3 million base salary this season, wherever he is playing, he might have an easy financial settlement from a sports division that should know better.

Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — The easiest way to snag social media eyeballs is by uttering two words: White privilege. Once again, Smith is recklessly tapping a convenient well, and this time, he paints himself into a race-baiting corner. By arguing Tim Tebow has benefited from preferential treatment in landing a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars and his college coach, Urban Meyer, Smith reminds viewers that he made the same claim about NBA coach Steve Nash. “When you look at the totality of the situation, if I’m gonna bring up white privilege when I brought up Steve Nash getting the job in Brooklyn, is this not an example of white privilege?” Smith said. “What brother you know is getting this opportunity?” What he didn’t mention: Nash navigated a gnarly season of injuries and disarray to position the Nets as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to win the NBA title. Don’t drop lethal words, Stephen A., without at least crediting Nash’s success so far.

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — Not sure what’s going on with this elite sports columnist, but he is writing in homerish extremes. He apparently didn’t learn from his unrestrained, premature prediction about the Dodgers, claiming in March that they “will be the greatest team in baseball history” — already an impossibility amid injuries, the rival Padres and a flurry of early losses. Now he’s guilty of over-giddiness in writing, “As long as the Lakers have a healthy LeBron James, they are headed directly toward a second consecutive NBA championship.” He wrote those words after James made his lucky three-pointer to beat Golden State in a play-in game, and just days later, Plaschke was scolding Anthony Davis for inconsistency as the Lakers settled in for a daunting series against Phoenix. He’s the only one thinking repeat, whether James is healthy or not. What’s Sis Boom Bill going to write next, that the 2022 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium will feature the Rams and Chargers?

Cassidy Hubbarth, ESPN — I don’t care that she referred to Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone as “Mike,” which prompted him to fire back, “Michael. Michael Malone.” What bugs me is how the slip-up further cheapened the lost art of sideline interviewing, with Malone obviously upset that his team was trailing in a playoff game. What should remain an intimate component of a game broadcast — a between-quarters chat with a coach — is fading into a lot of nothing. Raise your hand if you’ve seen a recent in-game interview that enlightens you in the slightest. I see no hands. Just let these people do their jobs, which allows networks to, hey, sell another commercial.

BSM Writers

Landry Locker Takes Something From Everyone

“I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort.”

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Sports radio has always been a big part of Landry Locker’s life. When he was growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Grapevine, Texas to be exact — Landry’s dad used to have sports radio on in the house as background noise. How awesome is that? You’ll hear that an athlete like Steph Curry has basketball in his veins. It works the same way with Landry; sports radio has been in his blood from an early age.

Landry hosts In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 in Houston. His program director, Armen Williams, says that Landry digs into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s interesting to hear why audio is so important to Landry’s approach to sports radio.

He also describes the PDs he’s worked for, the lowly Texans, replacing the rush of doing radio, and tapping the brakes on self-criticism. Enjoy!

BN: From listening to sports radio in Dallas when you were a young kid, what have you taken from those years that you still apply to today?

LL: Pretty much everything. Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket started in the mid-90s. My dad was the kind of guy, before my parents got divorced, who would have sports radio on in the house as the background noise. When that started, The Ticket and all of that, that was a big influence just because it was 24/7. It’s always been something that I’ve gotten into whether it’s I want to hear what so-and-so has to say after the game, all of the reaction and all of that type of stuff. It’s always been a big part of my life, especially when The Ticket came around during the Cowboys’ second Super Bowl run.

BN: Is there anything in terms of a host’s style, not that you’re copying it, but you look and say I like what that guy does, and maybe subconsciously, that’s gone into your approach?

LL: I take something from everyone, even growing up, or the people that I’ve worked with in the business throughout my career. I think you take stuff from everybody. Different styles, there’s not really anyone that I try to be, but I think you can learn from certain people. I would say The Ticket, not to take yourself too serious. I think you could learn from guys who are real sports guys, old school, just how to do your research and be on top of your stuff.

I’ve worked with Randy Galloway when I was in Dallas and Ben and Skin. I kind of model myself after those guys kind of being loose; being sportsy and non-sportsy at the same time. Ken Carman and Anthony Lima in Cleveland, I was with them for like five months. I had a brief stop in Cleveland. I think the creativity of those guys I take in. I really just try to take in something from everybody, old school, new school, all that, and just incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.

BN: Why was the Cleveland stint so short?

LL: The Cleveland thing was just a good opportunity because it was a chance to branch out and I really like Andy Roth, their program director. I think he’s a really, really, really good PD. I like Ken and Anthony. It was when their show first started. When I got there it was more so — and Ken and I are still good buddies — but Cleveland wants you to be from Cleveland. It is 100 percent from Cleveland.

When some jackass from Texas comes in there and is talking about LeBron James or something like that — there are some cities where that works. There are a lot of transplants in Houston and there are a lot of transplants even in New York. Sometimes you can go do that; Cleveland’s not the city for that. No matter how well I worked with Ken and Anthony, the shelf life was kind of limited on how much you could climb up.

Nick Wright actually got his job to go national, so I became the producer of the morning show here. They gave me immediate reps on air. I just took that experience as much as I could, the six months in Cleveland, and brought it here. But you know how it is in Cleveland; you could say the smartest thing in the world, but if they check your ID and they see that you’re not from Ohio, you can basically go to hell. It doesn’t matter what you said. That’s not a knock on ‘em. That’s why it’s so popular there. That’s why it’s one of those cities where you go in the gas station, they’ve got The Fan on there. They’re ready to get it, but I could basically solve the cure for cancer and they don’t give a rat’s butt what I’m saying in Cleveland. I understood that from the jump.

BN: Is Dallas like that at all?

LL: I don’t think Dallas is like that because if you just look at the lineup, a lot of the guys from The Ticket, there’s a guy from Wisconsin in Bob Sturm. There’s a guy from Cleveland in Dan McDowell. There’s just guys from other places. RJ Choppy originally went to college at Tennessee, then he went to New Jersey. Shan Shariff was in Maryland, Kansas City and all that stuff. Houston has a lot of transplants. You do want to know what you’re talking about and you do want to have a grasp of history.

There’s a legendary tale about Nick Wright when he came to Houston from Kansas City that I just always admired, even when I didn’t even know anything about Nick Wright. When he had his job interview with Gavin Spittle, who’s the PD now in Dallas, Nick had like four pages, front and back, basically he’d written out the sports history of Houston. It went from the Oilers to the Rockets, all that, and it was handwritten. It wasn’t just printed out. When I came here, even when I went to Cleveland, I would try to follow that. They are open in Houston and Dallas, but you have to show that you respect the history and have a grasp of it. Then you just have to perform on the air.

BN: You’ve had a few different program directors from Jeff Catlin to Andy Roth and Armen Williams. What are the similarities and differences between those guys?

LL: Well, Jeff’s a hard-ass. Jeff Catlin is an ass-kicker. The one thing that I can take from Jeff is that he’s no nonsense. If you deserve to be cussed out, you’re going to get cussed out. If you screw up, he’s going to let you know. He is going to let your work speak for itself. He’s going to welcome feedback and he’s no nonsense. No nonsense Jeff Catlin. Being the ultimate professional, no nonsense, is something I took from Jeff.

Andy’s just a hard worker who is one hundred percent engaged in programming. Whether you’re on at 6am or 10pm; if you play a sound clip and you don’t credit FOX Sports or you don’t credit ESPN, Andy is going to let you know about it. He’s going to give you feedback and it’s going to be transparent. It can get a little bit intense with Andy, but it’s always going to be honest and he cares about the on-air product. And he’s going to work his ass off.

Barrett Sports names Roth top sports director | Briefs |  clevelandjewishnews.com

Armen is a guy who has a lot of the same qualities as both of those guys. It’s kind of like a mix of both. I think the thing that Armen has on those guys is he’s been in radio for life. He’s a guy who was working at radio stations when he was young. He’s a guy who was working in promotions. He’s a guy who was a producer. He’s a guy who went and became a PD. I think Armen is just about that radio life and he’s kind of a combination of all those guys.

Armen’s also very, very good at imaging and very, very good at creating the notion that the station is on the right topic. I think he has that grasp down very, very good to where what do we need to be talking about? Sometimes we’ll go in to commercial and imaging will be so new it’s like dang, how did he flip that so quick? I think Armen is kind of a combination of those two. There’s been a lot of guys I’ve worked with and I’ve picked all their brains and they all provide a little bit of something. 

BN: If there’s one thing a talent needs most from a PD, what is it?

LL: I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort. I think it kind of depends. I think some guys probably need airchecks a little bit more. I think some guys need to be coddled. I think some guys need to be kicked in the butt.

It’s like when someone asks you what’s the key to a good show, I don’t know because there are so many different styles. But I think different guys need different stuff. I think the most important thing is that you need a PD who’s able to treat people differently, almost like a coach. I think you need a PD that’s going to be able to have a grasp of what each guy needs. I’ve been fortunate to work with PDs who’ve been able to do that.

BN: Working with a highly respected talent like John Lopez, who has teamed with Nick Wright and a few others, what’s one of the main things that you’ve taken from him as a talent?

LL: I’ve been very fortunate to work with John because I think that when you’ve been doing it as long as he has — I call him the OG for a reason — there’s a better chance that guy is going to have a little bit of jerk in him, and he’s going to tell you it’s his way or the highway. John has allowed me to not take over, but put my creative spin on it, and he kind of plays off me. I know a lot of times it can be annoying for him. John is like a unique guy in that he’s been doing it as long as he has, but he’s pretty carefree and as long as you develop his trust, he’s going to play off of you.

There’s immediate credibility that comes with somebody who’s been around as long as Lopez has. The likability, the experience, and just the open-mindedness, I’ve been very fortunate with John Lopez. I’ve seen some guys in his situation who will just lay out. They’re not going to do anything. I could ask Lopez hey, give me a list of 10 blah, blah, blah, and he’ll do it. He’s just a lot more open-minded than a lot of people that have been doing it as long as him have been. He has that credibility. He has that likability.

BN: So the Texans stink as you know. And you’re the flagship station at 610. What’s that like to do a balancing act?

LL: Well, we don’t have to. It’s really actually kind of crazy; they are very, very fair to us. You wouldn’t know that we were the flagship with the way we talk. They understand the situation and they’ve let us criticize them as much as possible, which is rare. I know there are other teams in town that don’t allow that. I’ve seen some teams do it, but they really, really do let us be honest and transparent about it. I haven’t had to endure any walking the line or anything like that.

We’ve talked about anything and everything and they’re very fair. We’ve talked about how bad David Culley is at managing games. We’ve talked about the culture problems. We’ve talked about Nick Caserio not winning trades. I mean I can’t lie.

I want to say something good about them; it’s just there’s nothing. They don’t have any good young players. They’ve traded all their draft picks. They’re the worst team in the league. The coach is making brain fart after brain fart. There’s culture issues. There’s trust issues. I want something, they’re just not giving it to me. I haven’t gotten any calls for things that I’ve said or anything. It sucks to cover a team this bad, but they let us do our job for sure.

BN: Armen told me that you dig into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. He said you call it going into the lab. Why is it so important to you?

LL: I think that it’s part of the story. I think especially in NFL-centric cities where it’s a week-long buildup, if David Culley said that he trusts the culture after Week 1, and you can remember that and go back to after you lose eight straight games, I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the story and I think you’re not dependent on a team being good. Audio is a big part of what we do. When someone sends a cut sheet, I listen to every single clip and I’ll trim it. If there’s a Sunday press conference or something like that and they say yesterday, I’ll take out the word yesterday just so that it’s timely.

In Buffalo or wherever, like a good city, they can just depend on breaking down each game. But if you’re building up the story and you’re talking about David Culley said this, or David Johnson said that, or I can remember way back in the day when so and so said this, let’s compare it to that, I just think the build-up doesn’t get old and the story doesn’t die. I have a photographic memory where I’ll remember something that someone said like 15 years ago. I think it adds to the intrigue just what is being said and I’m not dependent on the team being good.

NFL: David Culley wishes he'd taken 3rd down over punt

BN: When you finish a show do you look back like, ahh man, I didn’t think about playing this one clip or I didn’t think about saying this one thing? Are you built like that, or are you just kind of like hey man, the show was pretty good, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow?

LL: Sometimes I’ll get done with the show and be like man, that sucked. I’ll be like that was terrible; I should have done this, this, this, this. I think you kind of have to stop doing that at a certain point. I don’t ever think you should do a show and just say it’s over, move on. But I used to beat myself up to where it was basically like you can’t sleep and you think you stink and all of that type of stuff.

I do sometimes wonder if we left some meat on the bone. Other times I’ll think it was good and I’ll listen back, and I’ll be like man, that sucked. That really wasn’t that good. That’s probably the most uncomfortable thing for me is listening to myself, but I have to do it. I’m still kind of my own worst critic, but you do have to kind of tap the brakes a little bit when it comes to criticizing yourself. Still be aware but you do have to tone it down a little bit because I would just beat myself up and not even be able to enjoy the rest of my day.

BN: Do you have any particular goals that you’re working toward?

LL: I think eventually I would like to get in drive time. I like having the midday, but I’d like to get into drive time, try to figure that type of thing out. I just want to continue to build credibility. I want to be the guy that people go to in Houston where if something happens, if Deshaun Watson gets traded, it’s hey we’ve got to hear what Landry Locker has to say about that. That’s really the goal.

As far as going national, stuff like that, I like local radio. I think local radio is the best. This is the second time I’ve quoted Nick Wright; Nick was asked about radio and he said local radio is not going anywhere because it’s really the place that you go to figure things out about your squad. It’s a service, it’s part of the community, so I really like the local thing. I just want to continue to get better, branch out, and be as good at this as possible and expand as the business continues to grow.

BN: When it comes to the most fun you’ve had in all your days of doing radio, where were you and what was it about that situation that was so fun?

LL: Man, I feel like I wish I could just point to one thing, but I get such a rush doing shows, even in different roles, that it’s like I can’t even really answer that question. I had a very fun time when I got my first on-air segment; that was with Ben and Skin back in Dallas. They called it the Locker Room. It was so exciting. The first time you get to host that show, that was fun. Cleveland when the Cavs won the championship and I was with Ken and Anthony. When the Astros won the World Series here. Reaction Mondays are just amazing to me because you’re reacting to the game, the fans are feeding off the energy. 

There’s really just not one time that I can point to and say — and I’m not trying to be corny or anything like that — but I just think the full rush of putting together a four-hour show, talking to sports fans which are the most passionate, there’s not really one thing I can point to. I wish I could, but there’s just so many good times. It’s hard to list what the one would be.

BN: I agree with you about local radio, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but let’s just say it did. Or there are cuts or whatever and you’re no longer in radio. It’s almost like an athlete who says what am I doing now that my career is over? What would you do after your radio career to try to get the same rush?

Mangled communications tower behind TxDOT Abilene being demolished,  replaced | KTXS

LL: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s one of those things where you just have to have the perspective. I have had that disappointment when ESPN 103.3 got bought out and Catlin said “I think you should try to branch out and figure something else out.” I have tasted it before. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I’m really good at. I have no idea what I would do without it. I try not to think about it too much but man, a lot of guys have had to answer that question. I’m just blessed to not have to answer that question right now at the very least. It’s a scary thought to think about not doing this.

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BSM Writers

Even Sports Talk Hosts Have To Make Halftime Adjustments

“Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.”

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USA Today Sports

Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated and the SEC Network didn’t play football beyond high school. Still, he really understands scheme and personnel packages. This past Sunday on his podcast, Split Zone Duo, Johnson said that he had listeners tell him that he could be a coach and he gave a great answer to that.

Articles by Richard Johnson - Sports Illustrated
Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

He said that if you study and if you played football at all, you can probably script an opening drive for a team. That isn’t hard. There aren’t a lot of people on Earth though that can make mid-game adjustments to respond to what the other team is doing. That is something that comes with experience and really, truly knowing football. He isn’t one of those people.

Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.

We have crossed the halfway point on the NFL season. I reached out to several broadcasters to see how they have adjusted what they do and how they talk about the home team.

The NFL is a league that always throws wrenches at us. Parity allows teams expected to hover around .500 to be in contention for a playoff bye with just a few borderline calls going their way. The violence of football means we are talking about injuries all the time and those injuries can derail even the most promising of seasons. Golden Boy rookies struggle to adjust to the speed of the pro game and fans start to panic. A great local host has to absorb and reflect all of that.

Four hosts in NFL markets told me how their coverage and conversations about the home team have changed from the preseason to now.

ANDREW FILLIPPONI – 93.7 THE FAN IN PITTSBURGH

Andrew Fillipponi | Audacy

Our Steelers conversation has focused on the present and future of the quarterback position in Pittsburgh. Initially, it was a referendum on the team’s decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for an 18th season. Then, when the Steelers fell to 1-3, it turned into a look at the external options for the position in 2022: the college draft class and Aaron Rodgers.

Now with the Steelers 5-3-1, there’s more interest in how this team will finish. Will it make the playoffs or not? Will there be another December/January collapse? So I anticipate there will be a lot of discussion about the current team’s performance in the weeks ahead.

JASON MARTIN – 104.5 THE ZONE IN NASHVILLE

Covering the Titans is always a ride, or it certainly has been during the time I’ve had a regular platform to talk about them. The fanbase has been battered and beaten down by mediocrity and disappointment, though under Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson, the hope and optimism is high. The beginning of the 2021 season was different because Tennessee won the AFC South last season, exorcised some of the old Colts demons, and had a legit MVP candidate in Derrick Henry. Add to it big name free agent moves like Julio Jones and Bud Dupree and it grows into an electric atmosphere in the audience and one where they look everywhere for applause for the team they love so much. 

That said, it’s also one that has a tendency to get overly defensive whenever any of the optimism is challenged. I’ve found myself on the outs with some people at times, like any local host would, because I’ve been a little more negative, not by design, but just because I don’t feel my own analysis is worth anything if it isn’t objective. If I don’t tell you exactly what I think, if I just go along to get along all the time, why would anything I say have any relevance or weight? It’s just my opinion, but I want it to matter when I say something’s going right, when I offer up praise, or when I say the Titans are one of the best teams in the league. The only way to make that happen is to also be direct when things aren’t going well and when criticism is warranted.

Once Henry was injured, I felt strongly that the chances of winning a Super Bowl dropped off a cliff. I predicted before the season this team would win the big game (I’d never done that before), but had to pivot and say a few weeks ago if 22 didn’t return this season, the playoffs would be the ceiling, not the Lombardi. But, the key is in always keeping a door open until it’s fully closed. I may have learned that a few weeks ago also, because of course, there’s still a chance until this team loses a playoff game. You have to be authentic, but also be willing to listen to a passionate fanbase that educates itself well on the team and cares deeply about the results every season. There’s no reason to be confrontational just for the sake of it. Objectivity with frank discussion and respectful debate is our goal and hopefully we achieve it in the audience’s eyes more often than not. I love our group in the studio and love the Fam (our audience) outside of it. Just like any family, sometimes we argue over dinner, or in our case, since it’s morning drive… over breakfast.

And often, they teach me as much or more than I could ever teach them. That’s why radio is great. The interaction is EVERYTHING. 

CODY STOOTS – ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 IN HOUSTON

Cody Stoots (@Cody_Stoots) / Twitter

The Texans are very bad and there are only so many ways to plainly say the Texans are bad. Game breakdowns are less and less useful as the losses pile up. It becomes a focus to critique players and coaches who will be on the team next year. We have to get creative in our approach to talking about the team. An example from last week is we took the temperature of the fanbase by asking for their “fandom injury report” during the show. There were plenty of funny responses and sometimes, with the Texans, you have to laugh to keep from crying. 

They don’t have a quarterback for next season and should be loaded with an expected Deshaun Watson trade this offseason. We find ourselves lusting after quarterback situations and also explaining how we would like the Texans to avoid replicating other teams’ mistakes at quarterback. It’s also worthwhile to examine how the Texans found themselves in this situation when something jars our memory and if they have cleaned up the process which led to their failures. 

NICK WILSON – WFNZ IN CHARLOTTE

Sports talk adjustments halfway through the NFL season depend entirely on the market and the path of the organization. When Cleveland was winning 4 or less games every year, I knew I had to have my scouting reports for the next quarterback crop ready by early November. 

In Carolina, draft talk doesn’t sustain an audience the way it does in Cleveland when teams are bad. You’re left with this moving target of national NFL stories, the start of the ACC basketball season and recently, LaMelo Ball and the Hornets to accentuate whatever day-to-day storylines are available.  

This year Carolina 3-0, proceed to lose 5 of their next 6 and then brought back the former face of the franchise, Cam Newton, to save the season. Today our topic was “which p-word are the Panthers closer to embracing: panic or playoffs.” I’m awaiting our Marconi. 

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BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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