For more than three decades, Scott Paulsen was one of the most well-known radio voices in all of Pittsburgh. His show, Paulsen and Krenn, killed it in the ratings during morning drive on WDVE and became synonymous with early commutes in the Steel City. His talents, both comedically and musically, were off the charts, but one day at a family picnic, he proved he also possessed an eye for talent.
His nephew, Grant Paulsen, was a 9-year-old sports nut that seemingly knew every single stat that existed. Seeing as Scott was a huge public figure in Pittsburgh, he rooted for the Steelers. Grant, however, rooted for Washington. So during the picnic, the two were arguing about a scrimmage that had just taken place between the two teams. It wasn’t an actual preseason game, it was just a scrimmage during training camp, yet, somehow, Grant kept rattling off everything that happened that day. It blew Scott’s mind. It also gave him a brilliant idea.
“I was making fun of the Steelers because Washington won like 9 to 7,” said the younger Paulsen. ”I was rattling off some of the stats and he just thought it was crazy. I now get it as a person that does a radio show, but at that time in his life, he was always thinking about how he could play something up on the air. So he asked me to call in to do football picks on his radio show and called me his 10-year-old sports bookie. I would call in with the betting line and then give my picks.”
It was the late 90’s and the segment was getting very good feedback. A weekly newspaper in the tiny town of King George County, Virginia took notice and wrote a story on it. Once again, the feedback was positive and the King George Journal decided to ask Grant to write a short column every week on sports. Of course, the young sports nut was thrilled for the opportunity. Soon after, it was the local TV station that wanted to do a story on Grant Paulsen. Once again, the response was great and the station wanted him on every Friday at 5:40 to do football picks. It was a stroke of luck, but he was suddenly getting breaks most could only dream of. The thing was, he was getting all the breaks before he was even a teenager. But the biggest one was still yet to come.
The phone rang randomly at the Paulsen household. On the other end was an employee from the Late Show with David Letterman. They had taken notice of what the young sports whiz had been doing and wanted to feature it. Soon after, Grant was making a trip to the set to be on the show. In all, he went to the set in New York City seven times. Six times he actually was on the show. But the most memorable moment was easily the time he was asked by the Late Show to cover Super Bowl 36 in New Orleans. Along with his father and an entire team of joke writers, camera personnel, and others, Paulsen cruised around Media Day at the Super Bowl and delivered funny questions to both players and coaches. You can still find the video on YouTube.
“There were 7 or 8 of us, it was like an entourage,” Paulsen said. “There were some really funny skits. I think people just thought I was some jerk little kid but I was just executing the jokes. It was funny and really a neat thing.”
He had already been on a popular radio show. He was writing for a weekly newspaper and even doing television. Now, he was featured on one of the most popular late-night shows of all time. And it all happened because his uncle saw what an entertaining radio bit he could be.
It’s been a surprise to no one that Paulsen has risen to heights he has in sports media. With a start like that, he was well on his way to stardom at a young age. Today, he’s the co-host of Grant and Danny on 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C. Recently, the show moved into the afternoon drive spot at the station, one of the most coveted time slots in all of the city.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Paulsen said. “It’s pretty much the same show with a couple of new wrinkles. But it’s been exciting and a really cool thing because the history of our station in that time slot is pretty incredible. As someone who listened to the station growing up, there’s a really rich history with the station. It’s a really humbling experience.”
Seeing as he grew up listening to the station, it really means something to Grant Paulsen that he could be one of the voices that remind people of their own childhood.
“It’s something that I think about a lot, honestly,” Paulsen said. “I don’t take it lightly and it’s a really neat experience for me that means a ton. The station is an institution and if you’re from this area, you rode around and listened to it at some point. Everyone has. It’s a really cool thing going to work every day and knowing that. It’s obviously a different station now, being sports talk, which, works for me, because that’s always been, since I was a kid, my aspirations, but you have a great time slot at a legendary station that you’re trying to uphold. There’s pressure in that. You don’t overthink it, but it’s certainly important. It makes the opportunity that much more exciting.”
As much as he loves doing his daily radio show, there’s a passion for play-by-play that’s unmatched. He’s done it all, from high school state championships to collegiate games to Arena Football League, even an opportunity to be the voice of the DC Defenders of the XFL during the short existence of the league.
“Being the voice of the DC Defenders was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had, even though it only lasted a few games,” Paulsen said. “And then this year, I was actually in the booth for a couple of games for the Nationals. That was a fill-in opportunity that came at the last second and I was doing color commentary, which I’ve never done before and I’m probably pretty unqualified to do. I just tried to bring an analytical and a talk radio background to it. Play-by-play is my ultimate goal.”
Grant Paulsen wouldn’t mind the Michael Kay lifestyle. He’d love the ability to do his show in the afternoon and lead right into the baseball or football game he was doing that evening. Granted, that’s a heavy workload, but he’s still the kid that wants to be around the game as much as possible.
“I don’t want to get rid of the things that I have, but since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to call games,” Paulsen said. “I’ve loved all the roles I’ve had. I was on the beat for four years in the NFL. I enjoy writing and have done it many years, most recently with The Athletic. I’ve been a TV analyst for the Caps and Wizards, all those things are things I could see myself doing for a long time. If I never get to call games again and I’m doing my daily talk radio show, I’m going to be pretty happy. I enjoy my job. What I told people many years ago is that Mike Tirico had a radio show and he would do games at night on the weekend. That, to me, is a dream scenario.”
Seeing where Grant Paulsen has been, there’s no chance I’d bet against him being the voice of an MLB or NFL team in the future. That’s certainly in the cards. But for now, he’s not taking any opportunity for granted. He’s living his dream and he’s damn good at it.
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.