If I say the word “luxury,” the average Joe may think of a yacht or a five-star hotel. If you’re in radio, the word “luxury” elicits thoughts of one thing – stability.
Stability is exactly what ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 enjoyed with its afternoon drive show. Fred Faour and AJ Hoffman hosted The Blitz for more than a decade. But that stability ended in July, when Hoffman left the Houston station for a new opportunity in Las Vegas.
“We could count on them to do great radio for us for over ten years,” station owner David Gow told me. “And so it was a bit of a surprise when AJ came in and said that he had this really exciting opportunity. It was right in his wheelhouse and he had the chance to move to Las Vegas and be part of the growth in gambling content. So, yes, it was a surprise.”
When change is required, some allow the pressure of the moment to cause them to panic. But that isn’t what Gow did. Sure, there’s always some trepidation when dealing with “what comes next,” but David chose to think big. He had a chance to take a brand with great history in its market and inject new life into it.
He started thinking about the next chapter of ESPN 97.5 and 92.5, and what it needed to look and sound like. It’s what convinced him the time was right to build an entirely new afternoon show.
To make the idea a reality, Gow started first by looking inside his building. He was fortunate to have a talented fast rising star in Jake Asman who he was able to move over from SportsMap Radio, which he also owns. The next part of the process included bringing in Texas native Brad Kellner, who had been part of the afternoon show on 104.9 The Horn in Austin, and adding Houston sports radio veteran Cody Stoots who had previously hosted for SportsRadio 610 and Gow Media’s sports brands. The new program would be built around three hosts, all with different backgrounds, each under the age of forty.
Though youth may be a great building block, Gow says that it was the individual talents, not just their ages that give him confidence in what they can create for the station moving forward.
“With those guys, we’re picking up three personalities who will be very strong in radio. They are formatically tight, and they are deeply knowledgeable about sports, especially the Houston teams,” Gow said. “In addition to being strong in radio, they are very digitally savvy. They do a great job of taking the content that they create and pushing it out over all the different platforms. Obviously that means Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but also YouTube. These guys are content creators who will reach audiences in many different ways.”
The new afternoon show has been titled ‘The Wheelhouse’. It’ll launch on Monday August 16 at 3pm. The program will be given four hours per day to make its mark on the local sports radio audience.
Giving an established brand new life doesn’t end though with changing just one day part. Gow also looked at his midday schedule and recognized an opportunity to strengthen the hour by hour programming, while creating a new sound for Joel Blank’s program, the former Rockets broadcaster who has been with the station for several years now.
To create a new identity, Gow and his team decided to bring in Jeremy Branham as Blank’s new partner. The move puts Blank in position to become an even stronger igniter with his opinions while putting the responsibilities of the ins and outs on Branham’s plate, something he’s very skilled at executing.
“Jeremy’s a real pro. He’s the voice of the University of Houston. He is very savvy about topic selection and understands how to run a show. We think pairing him with Joel will help us create a very strong show from Noon to 3, one that has the potential to be one of the best shows in Houston.”
Blank and Branham’s new show will be called ‘The Killer B’s’, playing off each of the host’s last name’s and a popular term among Houston Astros fans during the Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran years. Joel and Jeremy, just like ‘The Wheelhouse’, will also hit the air on the 16th.
The next chapter for ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 is all about connecting with the city’s most passionate sports fans. Gow insists that the station is “committed to local shows and local programing” and though most of the attention right now will land on the two new shows, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 still boasts some of the most familiar and successful talents in the market in Lance Zierlein, John Granato, and Charlie Pallilo. Former afternoon co-host Fred Faour will also continue with the station in a newly created position as the brand’s Sports Betting Analyst.
An important part of the station’s growth moving forward will depend on forming stronger relationships with city’s local teams, media members, and sports fans. Gow says that he and his staff are committed to continuing to build those connections in order to bring fans the content they want and expect.
Though local will still be the focus, Gow knows that there are also certain benefits that come along with being an ESPN affiliate. It’s a partnership he intends to take full advantage of.
“One of the great things about the ESPN brand is that we can bring high profile national voices and perspectives on our airwaves to talk about our local teams. We look forward to voicing our own local opinions, but we also want to include those national voices in local conversations when sports news warrants it.”
Change is never easy. But sometimes circumstances make it a necessity. In this case, a career opportunity for AJ Hoffman made David Gow rethink the present and future of ESPN 97.5 and 92.5. It led the brand to four new voices, and two new shows with a lot of talent and promise, which the Houston sports radio audience will have a chance to judge for themselves starting Monday August 16th.
But writing a new chapter isn’t always easy and long-term successes don’t get measured on Day 1 reactions. There was a time when Houston listeners wondered if The Blitz would work out. Over a decade later, those questions have been answered. Now it’s up to The Wheelhouse and The Killer B’s to make sure that the station’s next chapter is as exciting as the last.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.