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.
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.”
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.