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Mike Stone is the King Of Rebuild City

“It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.”

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George Fox/97.1 the Ticket

Mike Stone has been a fixture in the Detroit radio scene for roughly 30 years. He’s learned a few tricks along the way. Stoney knows that carrying on about the sad state of local teams would just depress listeners even more. Who wants to feel worse during their morning commute by listening to a show that only bellyaches about how badly things suck? Stoney appreciates the value of not sticking to sports all the time; especially when sticking to Detroit sports might give the audience a splitting headache or sharp abdomen pain.

Mike Stoney – CBS Detroit

Stoney was born and bred in suburban Philadelphia and has lived in Detroit since May of 1986. He talks about the personal and professional pain of losing Jamie Samuelsen due to colon cancer. Stoney also discusses what he likes most and least about doing radio in Detroit, his obsession with Bruce Springsteen, and what he’d love to experience before his career ends. Although you obviously can’t hear Stoney, take it from me that he also does a really solid impression of his former radio partner Rob Parker. “Come ooooon, Brian.” Enjoy.

Brian Noe: How did your path unfold that led to you landing in Detroit?

Mike Stone: Very strange. I interned in college for the NBC television station. I worked in the newsroom. We hired a guy named George Michael. You probably know him from the Sports Machine. He was their local sportscaster.

I produced a sportscast on the weekends and worked in the newsroom during the week. Then I wanted to get on the air. That didn’t work at first. Another sportscaster in Washington happened to get a job in Detroit. He needed somebody with NBC ties. He moved here and I was his producer. Then one thing led to another and I became friends and roommates with two other guys, one being Mitch Albom, who besides working at the Free Press, did sports on the morning radio rock ‘n’ roll station. We did this show on Sunday nights starting in 1988. I did some talk radio with him. It was more of a guest heavy show with some trivia. Then WDFN started in 1994. I got the afternoon gig with Rob Parker. He left and then Wojo [Bob Wojnowski] came in and there we go.

BN: Was it surprising that George Michael blew up the way he did?

MS: Yeah, absolutely. It was weird because when I grew up as a kid in Philly, George was basically a Top 40 DJ. Then he moved to New York. He went from WFIL in Philly to WABC in New York. Then he did weekends on Channel 7 in New York for Warner Wolf. He did some Islander games. I knew he was really good. He had influence where he convinced the network — we were owned and operated by NBC — to do a half-hour Sunday show. Then it became the Sports Machine. Before the Sports Machine — this is back in the early ‘80s, right around when ESPN started — but most TV stations didn’t have satellite dishes. Like for instance last night there was an NBA playoff game. A lot of people didn’t have cable. We would get the games fed in, cut the highlights, and I would voice it among the three or four people who would do voiceover highlights. We would send it to every NBC station. The bigger stations would just take two or three highlights and do it themselves. The small markets and in Canada would just run me with my voice. I did that for a while.

BN: What was it like to work with Rob Parker?

MS: I just talked to him earlier today. It was great. Rob Parker is basically an old Jewish guy in a Black man’s body. We got along great. We actually were the first Odd Couple and he’s stolen that name and now has a successful show with Chris Broussard.

We’re very good friends. It was a lot of fun. We’d goof on a lot of things. We obviously did mostly sports but we talked about other stuff as well; his love for the Golden Girls, my love for Bruce Springsteen. Rob was a lot of fun. Looking back I think he made a poor decision by leaving and going to New York, but he always wanted to be a columnist in New York. That’s why he left. I love him but his Tom Brady take is so ridiculously wrong it’s incredible.

BN: [Laughs] And he’s just going to die on that hill, man. He’s dug in.

MS: I know. It’s like he sits there and goes if this didn’t happen, if the Tuck Rule. Okay fine, but give the side where luck went against him like Asante Samuel dropping an interception before the Eli Manning play. So he would have won another Super Bowl. I mean, whatever. He won’t give it up.

Wojo and I did a Sunday morning show. It was natural that he took Rob’s place. That show just completely took off. It was very successful. The only downfall was we were on a station that was AM, 50,000 watts sunrise to sundown. Then during the winter, nobody could really hear us outside of a certain area. We did very well all things considered, small budget, no advertising. I’m very proud of that show. We did it for about 14 years probably. DFN started in July of ‘94 so Wojo and I probably started April or May of ‘95. We were fired along with 2,000 other people from Clear Channel the day Obama got inaugurated in ‘09.

BN: I got caught in that myself. I was doing radio in Fresno. I went to work like normal and got chopped that day too.

MS: Yeah, it was weird. We heard all the rumors but we never thought our show would get cut because it was very successful; it was the only thing that made money on that station. But they didn’t care. It’s corporate radio, corporate America.

BN: Do you love Springsteen more or does Rob love the Golden Girls more?

MS: Oh, I love Springsteen more. I’ve seen him 126 times. I used to have it in my contract where if he was within 750 miles of Detroit, I could take the day off and go. I didn’t abuse it but I used it. [Laughs]

BN: What has it been like for you personally and professionally following the passing of your former partner Jamie Samuelsen?

MS: Personally it really sucks because Jamie worked with us on DFN when it started in ‘94. He was doing updates. Then he did the afternoon show, and then the morning show. Just a great, great guy. A great friend and just a wonderful human being. Professionally, we did probably about three or four years together. He was great because he was smart, he was witty, he took control because I wander. He pretty much held me in check so to speak.

Stoney's Tearful Tribute To Jamie: 'I Loved You'
Courtesy: Audacy

We had a really good thing going. We went from a show with my other buddy Bill McAllister that was maybe 60 percent sports; they wanted more sports so that’s why they brought Jamie along. We loved it. I love Jamie.

That whole experience was just brutal. He told us early on but he never let on that it was really bad. We knew he went to chemo a lot. But other than that he never showed it. He played tennis basically a month before he passed away. It wasn’t until the end that it got bad and he passed away at such a young age.

It’s horrible. But every day I walk in that studio, you see the little sign Jamie Samuelson Studio, and I think of him all the time. We’ve kind of regrouped. It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.

BN: What’s your new radio partner Jon Jansen like?

My new partner is somebody completely different. He’s a hunter, a fisherman, more of a man’s man. Played in the NFL for 10 years. All-American at Michigan and he’s a great guy too. That’s been different. If we care about ratings, they’ve been really, really good — even through COVID.

We both have improved in trying not to step on each other. That’s usually my fault more than his. He’s improved where sometimes he’ll take a topic and he’ll lead the topic, which before I used to do 100 percent of the time. He used to do a show for Sirius college football, ESPNU, Big Ten Network, I believe all that stuff, so he was very comfortable doing that.

BN: What was it like to see The Fan lose more and more local shows and then eventually go away?

MS: Well it was weird. When we were there obviously it sucked. It was like a college radio station because we started it from scratch. We didn’t have the teams. We could pretty much do whatever we wanted for the most part. We had a lot of fun. We still have fun, not as much as we used to.

Seeing DFN fail, most of it was sad. The people who were still there locally were all friends of ours so you hated to see them lose jobs. It made no sense. You just wanted to shove it up Clear Channel’s ass. If they just would have left things the way they were.

We actually tried to convince them to go to FM years ago before even 97.1 went from 1270 to FM years ago. Corporate there just wouldn’t listen. Our market manager was a great guy named Dave Pugh, Dan Patrick’s brother by the way, and they would never listen to him. They would never listen to us. They basically got what they deserved. My friends always talk about how I’m still bitter at hedge fund takeovers. I just think it’s awful.

BN: The Ticket is dominant with a bunch of bad teams in the area. If the Lions or Pistons were just crushing it, would that have a big impact on the ratings?

MS: I would assume so, especially the cume. When the games are on, definitely. We have the Lions back this year so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays. Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you guys are lucky the Lions stink, you get to bitch about them all the time.’ It might make better radio for periods but I go back to when the Pistons made their run and even when the Wings were winning Stanley Cups, it might not have been compelling radio all the time because you have no issues.

You break down a regular season one of 82 games, oh the Wings play Dallas tonight, what are you going to say? It might not have been compelling to have great teams all the time, but you get a lot of fringe people that get on the bandwagon especially during the playoffs. So yeah, I think ratings would go up if we were any good. 

We’re rebuild city. Every team blows. They’re all in the same boat for the most part. It’s unbelievable. Even colleges — Michigan football stinks. At least Michigan basketball and Michigan State basketball are pretty good but other than that, it is just depressing. It really is. That’s where the deal of doing non-sports things, especially on the morning show, is really important. A great example, we were talking about something sporty, and we weren’t getting up a lot of calls. Then Jon was talking about how he got into an argument with his daughter about how to cut grilled cheese. The phone’s lit up. Do you cut them square or triangle?

Air Fryer Grilled Cheese - Julie's Eats & Treats ®
Courtesy: Julie’s Eats & Treats

Those things people just relate to so much more than some sports topics. It’s incredible. That’s what we did at DFN a little bit and then at 97.1, they’ve been doing that for years and it has really paid off. The non-sports stuff really does well especially when it’s done in an entertaining fashion.

BN: It’s so funny, man. You could have a sports thought that is well laid out, it’s got depth, and there’s hardly any reaction. But if you talk about, I don’t know, what are the most comfortable shoes, the reaction is crazy. How do you take that?

MS: I used to get really pissed off about it but now I just realize that’s the way it is. People are more into reacting to something that they can relate to. They might not relate to the Pistons trading this guy for that guy especially when your teams are bad. People react to things they can relate to. It’s not just the quote-unquote cliché guy talk; it’s even just stupid stuff like food. That always goes well — any type of food topic. Yesterday there was a story I saw — I forget the guy’s name, he’s like the Gordon Ramsay of fast food — with tips on how to eat fast food while you’re driving. People like that stuff because everybody does it.

BN: What’s the sensitivity level like from the local pro teams?

MS: The Lions have historically been very difficult. They call sometimes even during shows to set you straight so to speak. Sometimes they are right. They’re like oh, we just want to give you the facts. Well you know what? It’s an opinion.

My answer to that — even going back to when the team was .500 and would make the playoffs every once in a while — just win games. As long as we’re not saying anything that is inflammatory, personal about someone as far as off the field or anything, who cares?

I’ve had a few little things over the years where I’ve tweeted something stupid where somebody says take it down. And I have because it was a personal thing. Other than that, they’ve been pretty good. But they know; what are we going to say about this? Every team is awful. Back in the DFN days, they’d try to pull credentials. We weren’t even rights-holders.

There have been stories when we lost the Lions whether or not it was because of our afternoon show. That might have something to do with it but I also think the other station paid more money.

BN: What is your favorite and also your least favorite part of doing radio in Detroit?

MS: My favorite part is just interacting with people, listeners, talking to people on the street. I know a lot of people don’t like that. If somebody goes up to a particular person in the media and asks a question about a team, they’ll say I’m not working right now. I love that these people are listening. I like that type of interaction.

On the air I don’t like the fact that I think we’re too knee-jerk. Maybe being older I’ve gotten a lot more patient. The fire this guy, fire that guy mentality I think has gotten out of hand a little bit. I think you should give guys especially colleges four or five years to have recruiting classes, things like that. I think we try to fire people way too often.

Off the air the only thing I don’t like — I can’t complain, I have a great job — but I’d much rather be doing afternoons. I’ve always been a nighttime person. I hate getting up at 4:45 in the morning.

BN: If you were able to handpick a pro team to win a championship either in Detroit or Philly, who would be the team you’d choose?

MS: Oh, it’s not even close, it’s the Lions. We had millions at the parades when the Red Wings won, the Pistons. The Tigers haven’t won since ‘84. In Philly when I was a kid I was like the biggest Flyer fan also; I’ve been to those parades. They haven’t won since ’75, which is hard to believe. It’s the Lions. People don’t realize — they’re starting to — they’ve won one playoff game since 1957. It is an incredible statistic. We all know they’ve never been to the Super Bowl. But in this area in the Midwest it’s football first.

If this team, that I believe is cursed, and has had so many awful things happen to it — one guy has died in the NFL on the field, it was a Lion. All sorts of things. The laundry list is incredible and yet people still love this team. If this team could ever, ever win a championship, it would be the celebration among all celebrations. This is like the Cubs, only not as glorious. We’re not the lovable Cubs. We’re the Lions.

BN: Do you have any fun Bruce Springsteen stories?

MS: I have met him a couple of times on vacation in the Bahamas. Word got out that he was there. We went to a restaurant and couldn’t get near his table. The next day I just happened to see him walk into the hotel. I was kind of shy so I didn’t do anything. My wife was with my kids who were five or six at the time, followed him into the jewelry store in the Atlantis. She told him, she goes, “Excuse me Mr. Springsteen, my husband is a big fan. He has this thing in his contract.” He was kind of impressed by that. He goes I’ve got to meet him. I was in a different store so she waves me in. I got to meet him. He was nice. I asked the first question of him at the Super Bowl press conference. I’ve just been to ridiculous amounts of shows although hopefully it works out next year and I can go to Europe and see him. I hear it’s absolutely nuts there.

BN: Any goals going forward that you would like to experience or accomplish?

MS: Wow, I would love to be able to do this for as long as they let me. I’m 62 now. I don’t want to retire. I don’t know if it makes sense healthwise to do mornings for a much longer period of time. But I love what I’m doing.

My one time goal, due to someone getting sick and somebody unavailable, I did play-by-play for two Pistons games. I went on the road with them in Miami and Charlotte when LeBron was on the Heat. That was great. I always thought I’d be better at play-by-play than anything. I would still somehow love to do that but I don’t see too many teams hiring guys my age to do play-by-play for a whole season or something.

BN: Has retirement ever crossed your mind when you’re waking up at the crack of dawn?

MS: No, because I think I’d be bored out of my mind. There’s only so much bad golf I can play. I think as I get older to do more shows from down in Florida where my parents have a place — they’re in their 90s — to go down there and do a week or two of shows would be nice.

My wife’s family has a place up in northern Michigan. Doing a few weeks up there during the summer, that would be good. But as far as absolutely retiring, no I don’t want to do that. I have a feeling those decisions will be made by other people than me. John Audacy; whoever he is.

Actually, I would love to be able to do a podcast whether it’s for our company or not, where I could basically say whatever I wanted. It’s not the company’s fault, it’s just the way terrestrial radio is — that you wish you could just do, but you can’t. Kind of like a Le Batard feel to it, where I’d kind of be like Stugotz, but I’d be old Gotz. I really enjoyed that show. Or because I really enjoy Barstool’s websites and stuff; something like Barstool for old guys. That would be pretty cool.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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