Do you remember Ben Zobrist? The utility baseball player was a Swiss Army knife — second baseman, outfielder, switch-hitter — most notably for the Royals and Cubs during his career. The guy practically sold hot dogs and handed out cotton candy as well.
In many ways, Chris Plank is the Zobrist of sports radio. Plank hosts multiple national shows, a local show in Oklahoma, broadcasts OU softball and volleyball games, and was also a program director. The only thing missing from his credentials is International Man of Mystery or 007.
Plank’s versatility has made him valuable to numerous companies throughout his career. Broadcasters that accumulate so much time behind the mic usually have interesting observations and great stories. Plank is no exception. He talks about Oklahoma’s shift to the SEC, his most challenging role, the point when he thought he made it in the industry, and the partner that makes him want to quit radio. It’s easy to feel Plank’s passion for broadcasting when you hear him. Reading the conversation below is no different. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What has local sports radio been like ever since Oklahoma announced that it’s heading to the SEC?
Chris Plank: Oh, it’s been wild. I know you work with Tyler McComas. We were putting together a piece on SEC expansion for a magazine we write for. He gave me a quote where it was one of the most exhilarating feelings whenever you realized this was really happening. We have probably spent the better part of like 15 years talking about conference realignment. Is the Big 12 going to expand? Is the Big 12 going to survive? Where is Texas A&M going? What’s up with Nebraska? This has been a regular topic of conversation forever.
When you realize that this is legit, that this is really happening, it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s been exciting. In my state in Oklahoma, it’s been very combative. Oklahoma State fans are pissed and understandably so. Oklahoma State has a lot to provide and always wants to talk about hey, we don’t need Oklahoma. But then when push came to shove they realized wait, you did this without us. So their fan base is mad. That brings in a whole different kind of angle to all of this. To see those two sides come together on social media and just clash, it has been a wild couple of weeks. We’ve spent a long time thinking we had things figured out and then boom, something hits and it’s been one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.
BN: Is it better for your local sports talk show if Oklahoma stayed on top in the Big 12, or shifts over to the SEC where who knows what happens?
CP: The complaining about not having a good conference home has always been fascinating from my seat focusing on Oklahoma a lot. And as someone who works regularly on Big 12 Radio, yeah I’m okay if they wanted to stick around for a little bit. But Joe Castiglione is the best athletic director in the game. In my role that I have with the University of Oklahoma, he has always challenged us to have a broad vision. I’m all about what’s best for the greater good. And for the greater good in this instance is the health of the University of Oklahoma.
Do I love the conference debating and things that have taken place for so long? Yeah, sure. It’s fun. But at some point the rubber has got to meet the road. I’m absolutely positively juiced about this for the future of Oklahoma. And I don’t know what it holds. You think about people that work for the Longhorn Network at Texas. What does that truly hold for them? We don’t know. What does it hold for those of us at Sooner Sports TV? You don’t know. But you’re excited for the potential of what it could mean and where it could go with the SEC. So I’m pretty juiced about it.
BN: You’ve got your local show, your national commitments, the Oklahoma stuff; what does your schedule look like during the workweek?
CP: Every day is different. I have my local show which is on at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. Outside of that I’m just picking up whatever I can get. My number one priority is the University of Oklahoma. If it’s the podcast that we put together, a TV deal that they need me to sit in on, a volleyball match that needs a play-by-play guy, that’s number one on the depth chart. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I live in Goldsby, Oklahoma, just outside of Norman, because I wanted the opportunity to do more. If you ask what the daily schedule looks like, it varies. But if you’re looking at the depth chart, that’s number one.
It’s like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes when you look down and you feel like you have too many pieces to fit in one place. It’s like jeez, there’s a SiriusXM responsibility, there’s FOX Sports Radio, you’ve got two games, your local show’s got a remote here, oh by the way there’s another game you need to add, you’ve got a TV show, and then there’s a Coach’s Corner and a practice report. How are you going to fit all of these together? It always works out. Then there’s some weeks where it’s like oh look, you’ve got your local show. [Laughs] It’s wild to think about.
I think we all want to be in that situation where we’re doing a three to four-hour show Monday through Friday and that’s it. We don’t have to worry about filling in the voids anywhere else. But I’ve got three kids; all of them are going to want to go to college at some point. I’ve got a wife that’s a stay-at-home mom whom I love very much and I want to provide for her. I can do all of my stuff from here at home for the most part. It’s a walk from my house to my garage. The easiest answer is I don’t know what my daily schedule is because it changes seemingly every single day and I love it.
BN: If you go back to the beginning of your career, how did you get into sports talk?
CP: I got out of college and I had decided that I wanted to get into TV. I couldn’t get a job. I had been an intern at a couple of places. I got a part-time job at 1430 in Tulsa. I worked at this media services place, Orca Incorporated. My boss was Harry Willis. He was a big sports fan. They had a spot open up for a producer on a morning show. I was like hey I’ll jump on and help. It was kind of non-stop from there.
We had a few issues where personnel changed, so I ended up just basically starting as a part-time board op, Brian. It led to an 18-year career at one station, which is an anomaly in this business. I’m very proud of that. I’m not saying it was always the most lucrative thing on the planet and I have an ex-wife to prove that, but it was a unique route because I went from part-time board op, to full-time co-host, to afternoon host and program director in about the span of three years. I’m 23 years old and I’m running two stations. I don’t have a clue of what I’m doing. That’s how I got in.
I was very lucky when I was in college. I went to the University of Tulsa and I worked in the sports information department. I got to know a lot of the media guys. That helped a lot. The play-by-play guy at Tulsa had just started, Bruce Howard, and he’s been a lifelong friend and mentor to me. It’s been wild to think about that time — we’re talking ‘97 here — the thing was you’re going to go to Bozeman, Montana and then you’re going to go maybe Sacramento, and then if you’re lucky you could end up in St. Louis. I was prepared for that path, but it just never really materialized. I fell in love with radio and thankfully it got me to where I am today, which is finally making enough money at 46 to keep my head above water. Barely.
BN: When did you feel like you had made it in radio?
CP: In ’07 I got a divorce. I realized, all right I’m going to have to do something more than being the afternoon host on 1430. There was a guy named Andrew Ashwood who worked at FOX Sports Radio. He had helped me out with a few things because I needed some advice on a guest or something. I said listen, I’m thinking about sending out these CDs, will you listen to it and tell me what you think? He called me back and he was like do you want to fill in on Saturday night? I don’t even know what that means but okay. I have no idea.
I ended up filling in in like ‘07. It took off from there. I ended up doing what was The Third Shift, which was 1-5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. Ben Maller was doing the weekends. I think Jorge Sedano had just taken off for ESPN. They moved Ben to the weeks and I did the weekends. Somewhere in there they had a massive bottom fallout in radio. I want to say it was like ’08, somewhere around there. And everyone was gone. The whole thing changed. At that point I felt like I had made it. I’m doing national shows. I’m making good money. It’s on top of what I’m doing locally. Everyone locally is happy. That was a moment I thought I had made it.
BN: What led to you doing sidelines during Oklahoma football games?
CP: It was perfect because in 2011 the play-by-play voice for Oklahoma retired. Bob Barry was a longtime, legendary play-by-play voice. I had done some fill-ins. I did a basketball game on New Year’s Eve in like 2009 when Tiny Gallon broke a backboard. When he retired they moved Toby Rowland, who was the sideline guy, up to the booth. I happened to mention hey, if you need someone to fill in for the spring game, I’d love to do it. The station I was at in Tulsa was an affiliate with Oklahoma. So they’re like yeah, go for it. Let’s do it.
It’s still one of the wildest things because I hadn’t met Toby once. We did that one game together and you knew it clicked. You just knew that this can work. If you guys will have me and if I can do what you want, I have no problem driving back and forth. So my station was all about it, thankfully. I would just get in our station van and I would drive back and forth every Saturday from Tulsa to Norman. If we had a road trip, I’d catch a flight in Oklahoma City and go to wherever they were. That’s how that relationship started.
BN: When you think of your entire career, what would you say was initially the most challenging role you’ve had?
CP: Husband, dad. The balance of it. I don’t have a good balance, bro. I don’t. I struggle with it till today. I was thinking about this a lot the other day because my wife and I have been in a fight about me wanting to add stuff to my local show. My point is you don’t ever want to be typecast. You don’t just want to be the fill-in guy. You want to do enough in those moments to where you wow. It’s like damn man, I heard Chris Plank on the other night with Brian Noe, they’re freakin’ awesome. They can do our drive-time or our morning show. That was great stuff. For me you never know when that moment is going to come and they might hear you. So you have to take everything you possibly can and show that you can be versatile. I don’t want to be typecast as just a college football guy. There’s so much more to me and to sports. That’s been my challenge.
I’m very lucky that I have a very understanding wife. I have two kids that get it. We’re sitting here in my home studio and my seven-year-old will come out here every now and then and sit and wait for me to go to a commercial break to talk. That’s been the hardest thing for me in the real world is just that balance. I then stop and I pause and I’m like damn, what a great problem to have to where you’re trying to balance when can I do a fill-in, when should I do a fill-in. Ninety-nine percent of the time you ask me, I’m in. The only time I’m not is if there’s an OU event in the way.
I’ve got a son that’s a senior in high school this year. He’s going into his senior year in high school and I’m like what? I know that I just blinked and he went from being a little kid that was running around the studio breaking my partner’s bobblehead doll that I couldn’t replace, to being a senior in high school. I don’t want that same thing to happen with my two girls. It’s tough. There are no guarantees in this. Even if you have a contract, that thing can blow up in a heartbeat. That’s been one of the hardest things for me; that balance has been the biggest thing for me, man. It’s tough.
BN: What other job could you see yourself having the same passion for if not the radio stuff?
CP: It’s funny, I was thinking a lot about how I compartmentalize things. I can remember being so broke early in the days having to go to a remote and stop in my truck and having to scrounge in the seat cushions to see if there was enough change to get gas. I remember seeing those little signs on the side of the road that were like earn $50,000 by calling this number. I’d call that number and the next thing you know I’m an hour into a pyramid scheme pitch. All these things that if I didn’t love sports and I didn’t love radio so much, I probably could’ve put myself in a position with a media services place that I started with, or a marketing department somewhere.
My first father-in-law, which sounds so weird to say, he was the Executive Vice President at Merrill Lynch. I probably could have said hey Bill, I want to follow in your footsteps. I could’ve done that. But I like the pain of not knowing if I was going to be able to work the next day because I was going to get fired. I got really lucky that I got some of the breaks that I did and I hope that I’ve taken advantage of them. It’s been fun, but you’re right, I’m 46 now, nothing is guaranteed, but if all of this is to fall apart I’m like gosh, am I going to be a farmer? What am I going to do? I have no idea what I would do if everyone just says all right, we’re done with sports, we’re not doing this anymore. No clue.
BN: What it’s like to work with Arnie Spanier?
CP: There are a lot of different layers to that. There are moments when it’s really awesome because Arnie is not afraid to be the bad guy. I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but there are also times where working with Arnie makes me want to quit radio. And I’m not even kidding. I fought with him for three years about Tom Brady. I’m like, Arnie, Tom Brady’s not done. He’s a good quarterback. Every year, ‘Tom Brady’s old. He should move on. The Patriots stink. They’re done. They’re finished.’ Every Sunday it was a fight. Then all of a sudden last year after the midpoint of the season, suddenly Arnie’s like well they have Tom Brady so they’re the best team. I’m like we spent years fighting about this and all of a sudden you do a 180 and it’s his brilliant idea that he came up with. Never acknowledging anything, anything, that had taken place before. It’s funny because there are enough people that catch on and are like did that just happened?
Arnie likes to take the team that everyone is saying great things about and find something wrong with them. That’s fine because I’m the complete opposite. It’s great and it’s enraging sometimes because he wants to act like he takes himself so seriously when he really doesn’t. I think that’s one of the best parts of him. He’ll be the first guy to text you when your team loses and the last guy to text you when they win. That’s Arnie for me but I love working with the guy. It’s been really fun. It’s been really eye-opening. I grew up listening to Arnie Spanier. When I started in radio he was the evening host on One on One Sports with Papa Joe Chevalier and you, at 800-777-2-907. So it’s been fun for me. He’s a blast. He’s become a true friend.
BN: When you look at the next 5-10 years, do you have any specific goals that you want to accomplish?
CP: Sure, yeah. I would like to get to the point where I can take a couple of weekends off and not be worried about it. I want to get to the point, and my wife always jokes with me about it, to where I could say hey Scott, listen man, I got my kids this weekend and I just want to spend a Sunday night with them. But I can’t allow myself to do that. Am I worried I’m going to get fired? I don’t know, maybe. But that’s more of a me issue. I have FOMO bad, a fear of missing out. I would like to keep all the jobs that I have. [Laughs] I would like to still be the Oklahoma Sooner utility guy to where if I’m not doing sidelines for football, I’m doing play-by-play for softball. I would like to see that roll continue to grow and expand. I would love to have my local show get to a point to where it’s grown. If that’s through affiliates, if that’s through ratings, sponsorships, whatever.
But more than anything else, Brian, I know this is going to sound so corny, first I want to lose 20 pounds, and then I want to keep loving what I do. I don’t ever want there to be a point to where I’m on the air and I’m like is this thing almost over? And we’re all going to have those. There can be some times when you’re filling in for Ben Maller, and it’s 4:30 in the morning, and you’re like oh gosh, I’ve got two more segments. I never want to have that to where it’s 11:30 a.m., and I’ve got another 30 minutes left in my show, and I’m saying I want to go home or I want to be somewhere else. I want that passion to continue to burn bright because it is right now. That’s the most important thing to me.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.