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Insincerity Finally Caught Up To Stephen A. Smith and ESPN

“Essentially, ESPN has no problem inciting an angry social media mob, no matter who gets offended, as long as it offends a minority but increases viewership from the majority. “

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Mark Rebilas/USA Today

It’s a weird feeling to write about someone who I don’t watch or listen to. I do, however, know the reach that Stephen A. Smith has and after his comments about Angels All-Star Shohei Otani, I asked a longtime colleague and frequent critic of Smith whether his antics are good or bad for broadcasting.

Etan Thomas played 10 years in the NBA after a successful college career at Syracuse. Now he is an accomplished author, commentator, and activist on many social issues. We connected on this after having hosted many radio and twitch shows together.

Why Former NBA Player Etan Thomas Believes Athlete Activism Matters - The  Aspen Institute
Courtesy: Aspen Institute

“Disrespectful, inappropriate, I mean, I don’t know how many different adjectives I can use,” Thomas said exclusively to Barrett Sports Media when asked about Smith’s comments regarding Shohei Ohtani’s use of an interpreter. “It was uncalled for, but when people see him making comments like that, they always got to think about who backed him, who funds him. Who has made him the face of their network, who puts them on every single hour, every show, every commercial you see. They’re rewarding him for doing exactly what he’s doing. And that point can’t, can’t be lost at all because he wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Smith has questioned Ohtani’s star potential since he does not speak English. After social media backlash drew the attention of ESPN, Smith offered an apology.

“I am a Black man. I religiously go off on minorities being marginalized in this nation,” Smith said on ESPN. “The reality of the situation is that you have Asians and Asian Americans out there that obviously were very, very offended by what I had to say yesterday, and I just want to look into the camera and extend my sincere apologies.”

“So they apologized,” Thomas retorted. “Then they have the other writer (Max Kellerman) do a whole segment. Why was he doing more? He (Kellerman) went on and on saying it was offensive. ESPN just looked at their ratings.”

This is not a new phenomenon. My questions that stemmed from Etan’s comments were about Jemele Hill, who made inflammatory statements about politics that ESPN seemed to have issues with. How do they have issues with Hill but not Smith?  Why the double standard?

“I think that’s why they told him to apologize,” Thomas retorted. “But I think the thing was with Jemele is there’s a correlation to my playing days and NBA Commissioner David Stern. When he was the commissioner of the NBA, they wanted athletes to stay completely away from politics? Because in David Stern’s mind, if you voiced a different opinion, that’s going to make people stop viewing.”

Essentially, ESPN has no problem inciting an angry social media mob, no matter who gets offended, as long as it offends a minority but increases viewership from the majority.  

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman took to Twitter after Smith had apologized with a snarky shot at ESPN.

Brennaman is referring to his son Thom who was caught on a live mic saying homophobic epithets. Thom was dismissed both by FOX Sports and the Reds.  Brennaman is inferring that Smith gets away with saying such bad things that other employers would not stand for.

This is not to say Thom Brennaman should not have been punished. His words were just as hurtful. 

This is also not a biased reference to ESPN either. It’s just a request for people to make sure that if someone is suspended for something they said, then there should not be different rules for different announcers.

“I think that they market him to be like a train wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of,” Thomas said. “That’s the reason why they paid him what they paid him. He (Smith) gets paid more than 75% of the players in the NBA. They wouldn’t pay him all that money if it wasn’t successful.

“If it wasn’t providing dividends or things of that nature,” Thomas added.  “But they know it’s working. You can not watch ESPN for 15, 20 minutes without seeing him. Then you go on their page and he’s everywhere on it. You go on their Twitter, he’s everywhere. They made him the face of ESPN.”

Finally, a reference to the initial paragraph of this column. I have never seen a full broadcast that Stephen A. Smith (or Skip Bayless for that matter) was on.

Even when I was an ESPN employee (2009-2011), I never had any use for Smith. I instantly saw that he pushed people’s buttons, and while that moves a needle, I want opinions that are less forced and more genuine. There are plenty of TV and radio hosts that bring compelling content that feels honest and sincere. I could listen or watch that.

There is one exception. 

Once, in a dentist’s office, a technician turned on ESPN in the exam room.  My mouth was filled with “stuff” and I had to wait until they finished working on my tooth before I could ask her to shut it off or change it. That is literally the only time I saw three whole minutes of First Take.

As for Skip Bayless, I can attest that I only know what he looks like because of promos for him during NFL broadcasts.

I watch a lot of sports.  Games. Not pre-game shows. Not analysis. No highlights shows. And as a cord-cutter, it is SO easy that way.

BNM Writers

Possible Reversal of The 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision Dominates Network TV Coverage

“Surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2.”

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News of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft majority opinion that would have the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights — immediately spread like wildfire on the evening of May 2nd.

The development, first reported by the website Politico starting within the 9 p.m. ET hour, holds monumental implications for the nation if the Court officially does overturn the law.

Yet, surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2. Compared to the three prior Monday nights (averaging Apr. 11, 18 & 25), MSNBC’s flagship program “Rachel Maddow Show” slipped 4 percent to 1.94 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its lead-out “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (1.45 million) was down 7 percent. 826,000 then tuned in to “The 11th Hour” up 3 percent.

Over at CNN, the 9 p.m. hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” (660,000 viewers) ticked up one percent. “Don Lemon Tonight” grew ten percent in the 10 p.m. hour (689,000 viewers) but fell two percent in the 11 p.m. hour (517,000 viewers).

Fox News Channel’s coverage focused on how the leak from the Supreme Court occurred. “Hannity” (2.79 million) stayed even, while the subsequent two lead-out programs on the night jumped up the most (of all cable telecasts) in raw figures — each increased by two million viewers: “The Ingraham Angle” (2.4 million; +9 percent from the 2.2 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25) and “Gutfeld!” (2.15 million; +10 percent from the 1.95 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25).

Cable news averages for May 2-8, 2022:

Total Day (May 2-8 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.484 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.631 million viewers; 69,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.478 million viewers; 102,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.183 million viewers; 52,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.132 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.132 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.112 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.111 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (May 2-7 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 8 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.286 million viewers; 352,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.996 million viewers; 107,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.605 million viewers; 131,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.223 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.149 million viewers; 54,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.142 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.059 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.052 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.449 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.431 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.371 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.284 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.220 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.188 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.182 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/6/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.047 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.876 million viewers

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.941 million viewers

159. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.870 million viewers

161. Stanley Tucci “Piedmont” (CNN, Sun. 5/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.859 million viewers

290. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.567 million viewers

356. The Daily Show (CMDY, Wed. 5/4/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.434 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN, MSNBC, HBO and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.623 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.533 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.503 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.480 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.444 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.441 million adults 25-54

76. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54

81. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.228 million adults 25-54

96. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 5/2/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.211 million adults 25-54

129. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 5/3/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.167 million adults 25-54

152. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

What Would a Jeff Warshaw Consortium Takeover of Cumulus Mean?

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

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On April 14, 2022, reports became public that a consortium led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw made an unsolicited, $1.2 billion bid (including debt) to acquire Cumulus Media.

Reuters reported that Warshaw planned to take the company private with a bid of $15 to $17 per share. As a result, Cumulus shares which traded in the $10 – $11 range over the past year, jumped to $14.21, a 40% increase and a level not seen since July 2021.

Cumulus management responded to the reports by acknowledging the indication of interest and stated it was “reviewing the letter.”

During Cumulus’s Q1 22 earnings call on May 4, President/CEO Mary Berner announced a $50 million stock buyback program and rejected the Warshaw consortium acquisition bid.

Radio companies have lagged the overall financial markets for over a decade. I have participated in conversations with groups that already own radio stations and others currently outside the industry who have considered buying radio groups.

In 2013 music streaming service Pandora bought an FM station in Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon first hearing that news, some of us thought perhaps they realized how undervalued FM signals were and would invest in the medium. Alas, Pandora thought they had found a backdoor means to lower its music royalty costs but otherwise had little interest in broadcast radio.

As somebody who has been involved in every facet of the radio industry for nearly 40 years, I was interested in far more than just the investment implications of the proposed buyout.

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

To answer that question, I used reviews from the website Glassdoor. Reviewers can rate the company on a one to five bases, with five the best and one the worst.

These reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt as former employees may have an ax to grind, but this caveat holds equally true for all employers.

The company Jeff Warshaw currently runs, Connoisseur Media, receives an average of 2.9 stars (out of five) on Glassdoor. This rating is based on just 32 reviews, so the low sample size is a factor to consider.

Cumulus currently has an average of 3.2 stars on Glassdoor based on over 800 reviews.

These Glassdoor reviews suggest that a new Cumulus led by Warshaw wouldn’t be an improvement over the current management. If it takes a knight on a white horse to make Cumulus a better company to work for, it will have to wait for another day.

To be fair, I don’t know Jeff Warshaw. I have never spoken with him. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to him at the appropriate time (assuming that his attempted takeover remains ongoing). I also welcome employees of Connoisseur or Cumulus who feel the average reflected on Glassdoor is unfair to contact me (andy@andybloom.com). I will accept comments and input anonymously regardless of whether it is more positive or negative than Glassdoor poses for use in a future column.

While we’re looking at the reviews for Connoisseur and Cumulus, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see how the other major radio broadcast groups fare:

iHeart also rates a 3.2 with over 2,200 reviews.

Audacy receives a 3.5, which is misleading as it’s based on 23 reviews. Entercom had 691 reviews and rates a 3.1.

The best I can find in the industry among the majors is Cox with 4.1. Again, this may be deceiving. Apollo Global Management scores a more modest 3.1.

Hubbard has no reviews. I’m not sure why.

SiriusXM appears to have the highest current score at 3.6.

You’ll find common themes, positive and the negatives are dizzyingly familiar across the companies throughout these reviews.

The main reoccurring negative themes include:

· Low pay

· Long hours

· No chance for advancement

· Doing the work of too many people

· Management pays lip service to feedback but doesn’t do anything

The main reoccurring positive themes include:

· The people

· Fun place to work

· Perks – such as free tickets

· Glad to be working in the industry

I was curious about the differences between the companies employees rated higher and lower to work for. Listening to a couple of recent earnings calls revealed some of the variations. In next week’s column, we will examine some of the differences.

Are the pros and cons listed above familiar to you? I welcome your input and anonymous comments for next week’s follow-up column. Please reach out to me at andy@andybloom.com.

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BNM Writers

Dave LaBrozzi Knew What He Wanted From Day One

LaBrozzi has nearly four decades of experience in radio, most recently as Vice President of Programming for WABC Radio in New York City.

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Dave LaBrozzi was very high on my interview ‘wish list,’ second only to the guy who does the insurance commercials with the nasty emu. There seems to be little LaBrozzi has not accomplished in his career (with the exception of doing an insurance commercial with an obnoxious emu.)

He’s got that voice that hits you like a freight train. That radio voice, even if he doesn’t sit in front of the microphone these days. One of those booming set of pipes you’re just born with.

LaBrozzi is one of those guys who knew what he wanted from day one. Or at least when he was ten years old. Truth be told, he said he was one of those kids who sat at his mother’s kitchen table talking into a wooden spoon as though it were a microphone. 

“I wanted to be the next Pirates play-by-play voice,” LaBrozzi said. “Working as a disc jockey was right up there too. The spoken word has always been a passion for me.”

Future moves in his life were made with one eye focused on a career in radio. It’s the only career he’s ever been involved with. Today he’s with KDKA Radio News, the world’s first commercial broadcasting station. “It’s an honor to be here with these legendary call letters,” LaBrozzi said. “It’s become a second home and a thrill to be sitting in this office.”

LaBrozzi has nearly four decades of experience in radio, most recently as Vice President of Programming for WABC Radio in New York City. Prior to WABC, he was Program Director of WPLJ-FM. In addition to his work in New York, Dave spent 14 years as Vice President of Programming for Audacy’s Baltimore stations and has also spent time programming in Nashville, Austin, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh.

LaBrozzi was appointed brand manager for KDKA, overseeing the content strategy, talent, operations, and branding. 

KDKA was launched in 1920. It started as an opportunity to instantaneously provide news and information about the presidential election returns in the race between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox. 

LaBrozzi said he’s extremely proud of his current on-air lineup. “Larry Richert has been here for 25 years. Kevin Battle has come back. In all, we have a really solid staff that’s deeply entrenched in the community.”

When LaBrozzi drops into his chair behind his desk in the morning, he checks the stories to make sure they’re talking about what matters to people on any given day. “We’re working hard to get back with the community, checking in with people one-on-one.” 

LaBrozzi said they grade stories after they’ve aired, deciding whether they hit their mark and if they mattered. He said it’s important to talk with people and visit neighborhoods.

“I hope local papers hang on; they play such a vital role in the community.

I started in a small station in upstate Pennsylvania with 2,000 people. It was an oldie’s station. The first record I played was ‘Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again,’ by The Fortunes.” 

That song must be like a first love for LaBrozzi. If he’d played a Lawrence Welk song, he might not be where he is today.

His father was a high school administrator and was able to identify his son’s strengths and weaknesses from the get-go. 

“He knew my academic career wasn’t going to send me to Harvard,” LaBrozzi said. “He also knew I had the passion and drive to succeed.”

LaBrozzi tells his on-air folks to connect with listeners one-on-one. “It’s all about being authentic,” he said. “I want them to share their life experiences. Audiences can tell when a person is disingenuous. You can have a different sound on the air, but you have to be real.” He went on to say his staff is very passionate and believes in what they’re doing.

He was born in Emporium, Pennsylvania. Today the town boasts a population of close to 2,000 people. Compared to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, that’s a metropolis. He went to Mansfield State College, but the radio bug called, tugged, and pulled. “I tell people I got thrown out of college because of what I didn’t do,” LaBrozzi jokes. He said he’d intended to get a business degree, but the math requirements sent him running for the exit.

Why radio? “I think it’s a passion, drive, not that different from being an athlete. It’s something deeply within our souls. “My wife was in the business but gave it up to home-school the kids.”

When he’s not busy being a radio executive, LaBrozzi likes to indulge in books. “I’m reading Ernest Hemingway right now,” he said. “I’ve watched some of the Winning Time series on HBO. It’s entertaining if not factual.”

Then came the dreaded question. Where do you think radio is going?

“I think social media is doing so much to help our industry,” LaBrozzi said. “We need to embrace all it offers. There’s always a need for more information on a local level.”

With LaBrozzi ‘in the can,’ now I have to track down that Emu guy.

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