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Wes Blankenship Is Taking Us All To Coffeetown

“I don’t know in the short term what that reality is but I do know I’m trying to bring a community together that rallies around this fictional team, this universe and one day, whatever shape or form that takes, whatever the medium is, I do have a bigger dream and bigger goal for the distribution that it’s not just me putting it on.”

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Each and every Friday night in the fall, radio magic happens on various AM and FM stations throughout small towns across the country. If you grew up in an area where high school football is king, you know exactly what that crackling magic sounds like. 

Wes Blankenship used to drive around rural Georgia on Friday nights and listen to the various play-by-play broadcasts of high school games in the area. At the time, he was covering high school football for WMAZ, a CBS affiliate in Macon, about 80 miles south of Atlanta. 

Courtesy: WMAZ

Blankenship couldn’t help but to be drawn to the unique characters that were behind the mic’s of each game he listened to. In an odd but humorous way, they all sounded the same with their quirky mannerisms and unique ability to make every three-yard gain sound like the biggest play of the game. Sure, he had grown up and played high school football in Georgia before, but the new exposure to programs such as Warner Robbins and others in the central part of the state was eye-opening and something he couldn’t get enough of.

The play-by-play voice of a high school football team is a central part of the culture that is Friday night football. Most of the time, the guy calling a game just did his normal 9-5 shift at the body shop or even selling cars at the local dealership. They’re almost always working class guys that wait all week for Friday night to have their fun behind the mic. 

While sitting in the parking lot of an LA Fitness, Blankenship had the idea to bring this character to life. Thus, Coffeetown was born. 

“I just worked out one night and I was in a parking lot of an LA fitness and I recorded the first Coffeetown,” Blankenship said, “I don’t know where the name Coffeetown came from, obviously there’s a Coffee County in Georgia, but it has nothing to do with that. I’m really not making fun of Coffee County, it was just a coincidence.”

One of the great things about the idea behind Coffeetown is the fact it came during the most difficult time of Blankenship’s professional life. In November of 2019, his contract with 11Alive News in Atlanta wasn’t renewed. Along with that, he and his wife had a baby on the way and the pandemic, unbeknownst to everyone, was right around the corner. Nobody was hiring a sports anchor in November, since it was so late in the football season, so Blakenship’s options were limited. 

But with that setback, came opportunity. Not many people usually see it that way, but Blankenship did. 

“Now that I was laid off I was like, well, I finally feel like I have some creative freedom to just let it rip,” Blankenship said. “I had nothing to lose at that point. I just worked out one night and I was in a parking lot of an LA fitness and I recorded the first Coffeetown.”

So in the driver’s seat of his car, Blakenship used the microphone on his Apple headset to record the first ever Coffeetown, having no idea what a sensation it would soon become. 

“I actually did it on TikTok and I knew nothing about it,” Blankenship said. “But I did discover I could edit videos on the fly. I could do a little one-liner, make a joke and if I didn’t like the delivery I could delete it and re-record it. I felt like it was a perfect sandbox to play with.”

One of the things that instantly made the video a success, was the tin can sound he was making as the play-by-play announcer. It sounded like he was using broadcasting equipment from the 70’s, which, fit perfectly with the caricature he was trying to create. It was an idea he had for a while and to finally cut, edit and produce it felt extremely rewarding, even if his professional life wasn’t going the way he wanted. 

It was a retweet by ESPN’s Ryan McGee that arguably got the entire thing kick started. Soon after, one of Blankenship’s Coffeetown videos even made it on Marty and McGee, which was met by incredible reviews by both hosts. 

“The next one I made I think it dropped the day before Marty and McGee were on SEC Nation and on campus for Georgia vs. Texas A&M in 2019,” Blankenship said. “Marty re-tweeted and said, man, we gotta get this guy on the show. I didn’t assume he was serious, I’m not saying he was making anything up, but I was like, OK, I’ll believe it when I get a real invite. Then we traded some DM’s and he said, hey, man, if you’re actually here, get your ass up here tomorrow morning.”

So Blankenship did. Even though he hadn’t received a formal invite to be on the show, he headed to the set on a rainy morning in Athens. 

“There was about five minutes left in the show and Johnny Jones of Fox Nation goes on and I think they’re going to wrap up,” Blakenship said. “And then Marty and Ryan, they’re like, here’s a guy that we have to have on too. Mind you, at this point I can do the Coffeytown voice in my sleep, but at that point I was still so surprised that I was actually on their show, I didn’t totally nail the voice. But I didn’t care.”

It was a huge moment. Mostly, because it was the realization that following an idea he had was now appealing to several people across the country. It wasn’t just a regional thing. Blakenship knew this was something people all over the country would enjoy. 

“It still doesn’t feel real to me,” Blakenship said. “The response still feels so big, because I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Coffeetown games are a sensation on Twitter. His latest video has over 700 retweets, over 2,500 likes and 135 thousand views. But how does Blankenship do it? How does he come up with such hilarious names like Reptile Henderson and fine funny fake sponsors to enter into the broadcast? 

“If you stare at high school football rosters for almost 10 years, while writing out highlight sheets, you’re going to be able to come up with some funny names on the spot,” Blankenship said. “People have even made up fake Twitter accounts based on the player’s names. It’s crazy.”

Coffeetown got off to a roaring start in 2019 but after the pandemic had set in, he was conflicted on how to handle the 2020 season. There were plenty of people that wanted the season to happen, but he wanted to be respectful of the people that had their season cancelled due to the virus. After a lot of thought, he decided to do the season with Coffeetown. It’s exactly what some people needed. 

“I think it really cemented itself as a unifying source of entertainment for people during Covid,” Blankenship said. “I had so many people reach out to me, who we’re out of jobs, we’re scared of the pandemic and said, man, thank you for making this. I’m tearing up because I heard someone, just the other day, on a radio show I was on, he was like, man, I was scared. I know you were scared too, because you didn’t have a job while you were doing this, but it helped carry me through. That’s all I can hope for is to use the skill that God gives me to help people feel peace and joy. I don’t want to take Coffeetown too seriously and make it a bigger deal than it is or make anyone feel I’m holier than thou, because of the stuff, but I do feel this gratitude and I’m thankful that some good has come out of it. Hopefully that continues.”

Blankenship’s heart has always been in the right place with Coffeetown. His ultimate goal is to use it as a tool to help unify a community and provide a few laughs. But it’s a time consuming project. Cutting each scene, editing video and audio and putting the final touches on things is not a short process. Now that people are so hooked on Coffeetown games, there’s an avenue to make money off it. 

“Someone recently said, hey, why don’t you put these on Patreon? You could charge people to watch them. I’m not shy about it, I don’t know in the short term what that reality is but I do know I’m trying to bring a community together that rallies around this fictional team, this universe and one day, whatever shape or form that takes, whatever the medium is, I do have a bigger dream and bigger goal for the distribution that it’s not just me putting it on.”

The future of Coffeetown is bright. It’s such a relatable bit, that, no matter how many times you hear it, you can’t help but laugh and relive those memories of listening to high school football games on the radio as a kid. 

“I have an idea of what’s going to happen and what the big picture storyline is going to be for the next few episodes,” Blankenship said. ‘I think about that stuff and I make notes and write down character names I think are going to be funny, as well as fake sponsors that are going to be funny and I write that stuff down during the summer and throughout the entire year. It’s finding a way to blend it all together. It’s a process that really takes time. I told you I don’t take it too seriously but I do respect my craft, whether I’m telling funny or serious stories. I don’t read from a paper, because that doesn’t sound authentic.”

BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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BSM Writers

Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks

“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”

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CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.

“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”

You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.

John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.

One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.

“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.

He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.

With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.

BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.

Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.

CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.

In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.

Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.

Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.

The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.

Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?

I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.

CBS aims to grow Sports HQ within its network of streaming channels -  Digiday
Courtesy: CBS

CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.

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BSM Writers

Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?

“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”

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A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!

Disney+ Day: Kareem Daniel Says “Momentum Building” At Streamer After 2  Years – Deadline

Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.

The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.

I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?

This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?

Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.

One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.

Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.

Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.

Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.

Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.

As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.

The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.

Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?

The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.

The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?

Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.

Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.

Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.

Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.

Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.

What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.

Valentine Day Digital Ads on Behance

Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.

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