The Bleck and Abdalla show on ESPN 1000 was destined from the start.
Co-hosts Chris Bleck and Adam Abdalla both attended Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Ill., a town approximately 40 miles north of ESPN’s State Street studio in Chicago.
With last names close to each other in the alphabet, Bleck and Abdalla often found themselves sitting next to each other in class or hearing their names called close together when read by a teacher in alphabetical order.
They weren’t friends at the time, but rather friendly acquaintances.
Upon graduating high school, both Bleck and Abdalla stayed in-state for college. Bleck went to Colombia College to study broadcast journalism with a focus on radio, while Abdalla went to business school at DePaul with the goal of starting his own record company.
Abdalla quickly realized that business classes required quite a bit of math, something he didn’t particularly care for. Couple that with a required class on Joan of Arc and Abdalla was looking to transfer schools.
He decided on Columbia College where he planned to study music production but, like most college kids, switched his major for the second time when he learned about the radio department that was just one floor up from the music department.
“I walked in the first day and Chris is sitting there in one of the production booths during this thing called ‘studio time’ where you’d rent studio time to students so they can work on projects,” said Abdalla.
With shared interests in radio, sports, drinking beer and doing the stupid stuff 20-year-old college students do, the two began hanging out.
“We immediately became friends and it was like we had been friends our entire lives even though we weren’t really friends back in Libertyville,” said Bleck.
The two started doing radio shows together at Columbia’s student radio station WCRX and upon graduating in 2007, both began interning at ESPN Chicago.
When the internship ended, Abdalla was hired full-time while Bleck took a quick detour up Highway 94 to Kenosha, Wis., where he worked at 95 WIIL Rock before being called back to ESPN Chicago full-time in February of 2008.
At that time, Bleck and Abdalla were not only co-workers again, but they were also roommates, living in Wrigleyville, working the worst weekend shifts possible as board ops and as producers, yet having the time of their lives as young adults in a big city.
Having plenty of time to talk and bounce ideas off each other in the late-night hours, the two made a decision that would map out their next 15 years at the station – work hard to get better, get noticed and get on the air.
“We decided at that time, like, ‘hey, if we want to be on the air, we needed to actually do it,’” said Bleck. “Because what I think happens in our industry, is people just want to be on air, but they don’t want to actually practice being on the air.”
So Bleck and Abdalla practiced.
“We immediately started recording podcasts even though we had no one listening to us and like podcasts at that time were still kind of new, but we made a point to hold ourselves accountable to do a show,” said Bleck.
They pitched an idea to Justin Craig, the program director at the time, and Adam Delevitt, the assistant program director.
“We went to them and we said, ‘hey, we want to do shows, but you’re not going to allow us to do shows, so what if we clip together the best segments throughout the week and it’ll be an hour-long podcast. We’ll introduce in and out of segments and we’ll keep it short, we’ll keep it really short,’” said Bleck.
They were given the green light and from there, “The Best of 1000” was born.
The two would intro clips from “Waddle and Silvy,” “Carmen and Jurko,” “Mike and Mike” – which ran on the station at the time – and any other shows they deemed worthy of being part of that week’s podcast.
For fear of doing or saying something that might jeopardize their opportunity, they kept each intro and outro simple and safe.
“This week, Mike and Mike talked to…”
“…alright, that was Mike and Mike, and this is “The Best of 1000,” and coming up, Waddle and Silvy talk to Charles Barkley.”
As the two got more comfortable over time, the clips got shorter, and their banter got longer. They began to move from what they thought sports radio was supposed to sound like to just doing radio. Eventually, the show earned its own timeslot in the station’s lineup, Saturday at 5 a.m.
While continuing to produce “The Best of 1000” and other podcasts on their own, Bleck and Abdalla also began getting on-air fill-in opportunities for various hosts.
“They were thrown a bone every now and then, you know, to do a weekend show or late-night show or whatever and that was about the extent of it,” said market manager Mike Thomas. “And then they took that, and they parlayed it into a regular weekend show.”
Thomas joined the station in January of 2020, and eight months later, after years of waiting their turn, “Bleck and Abdalla” became its own branded show, airing weekdays from 6-8 p.m. local time.
“We started like in like ’08, ’09 recording stuff and doing ‘The Best of 1000,’ but really, to fill in for people for so long and then to have someone come in and support you means all the world to us,” said Bleck regarding Thomas’ vision for the show.
“They deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and for always kind of trying to get the attention of management and not giving up and going, ‘you know what, I’m a producer in market No. 3 and I should just be happy with that and maybe someday I’ll be able to be on the air when Marc Silverman retires,’” said Thomas. “They didn’t do that.”
It’s important to know that throughout all the years they spent recording their own podcasts, filling in for people and working to carve out opportunities for themselves, they were, and still are, full-time producers at the station, currently producing for “Waddle and Silvy.”
“When I’m in the studio it’s really dedicated to “Waddle and Silvy” and then, you know, we have a quick commercial break in between the two shows and it’s like you just jump out of the plane and then you hope you land every night,” said Bleck.
Being able to balance producing a 4-hour show and then immediately jumping into hosting a 2-hour show goes back to the longevity of their friendship and the chemistry between the two.
“We know each other so well that when the conversation is happening or we’re doing something spontaneous, we just kind of know what the other person is thinking almost before we even say it,” said Abdalla. “Like we’ve known each other longer than we’ve known our wives.”
“I feel like the give and take between the two of us and the ability to kind of take any topic, and like if I said I need you to talk about this for 10 minutes, I feel like the two of us are pretty confident that we could talk about any topic for at least 10 minutes, so with that comfort, I don’t worry about what we’re going to do on the night show,” said Bleck without discrediting the fact that there is definite preparation that still goes into each show.
Part of what industry members have said makes “Bleck and Abdalla” so great, is that they offer fresh, creative ways of talking about things that separate them from other shows, both at ESPN Chicago and other sports stations in general.
“They look at things differently,” said Thomas. “It’s a lot more just guy talk than it is sports talk, and they have a ton of fun every time they do a show. And they’re naturally funny, which is a huge benefit because you can’t teach funny.”
From comparing Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields and head coach Matt Nagy to taking a date to prom, to an ongoing bit about who’s using Abdalla’s hot sauce from the station fridge, it’s not just all sports all the time for the longtime duo.
“Mike has done a really good job of kind of instilling in us that you don’t have to be sports for two hours or four hours or three hours, however long your show is, like people don’t only talk about sports, people talk about what they do in life,” said Abdalla.
What Thomas saw in Bleck and Abdalla when he first started at the station is what earned them their spot on-air. What Thomas has seen from them since is what has earned them his praise.
“I’ll give them the highest praise that I could probably give any show, and that is, I had the huge benefit of working with two of the guys that I think are the most creative guys in this industry and that’s [Fred] Toucher & Rich [Shertenlieb] in Boston,” said Thomas. “And when I listen to Bleck and Abdalla, I can hear some of the same types of creativity that we heard early on from Toucher & Rich.
“That’s extremely flattering because that show is the marquee of his old station,” said Bleck.
One of the commonalities between the two shows is their willingness to talk outside of sports. To talk about life. To talk about experiences. All of which makes for good radio, which Bleck said has been the duo’s goal from the beginning.
“I feel like that’s kind of the mold of what we want to be because that’s what we all listened to when we were growing up is that kind of creative just talk radio that’s not necessarily set on one segment and isn’t afraid to try things,” said Abdalla. “And when they do try things and if they do fail, they make fun of themselves and that’s funny too.”
To be able to do that, co-hosts need to have chemistry and a genuine friendship, all of which goes back to the halls of Libertyville High School, before they were friends and before they knew they were destined for radio together.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.