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Landry Locker Takes Something From Everyone

“I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort.”

Brian Noe

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Sports radio has always been a big part of Landry Locker’s life. When he was growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Grapevine, Texas to be exact — Landry’s dad used to have sports radio on in the house as background noise. How awesome is that? You’ll hear that an athlete like Steph Curry has basketball in his veins. It works the same way with Landry; sports radio has been in his blood from an early age.

Landry hosts In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 in Houston. His program director, Armen Williams, says that Landry digs into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s interesting to hear why audio is so important to Landry’s approach to sports radio.

He also describes the PDs he’s worked for, the lowly Texans, replacing the rush of doing radio, and tapping the brakes on self-criticism. Enjoy!

BN: From listening to sports radio in Dallas when you were a young kid, what have you taken from those years that you still apply to today?

LL: Pretty much everything. Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket started in the mid-90s. My dad was the kind of guy, before my parents got divorced, who would have sports radio on in the house as the background noise. When that started, The Ticket and all of that, that was a big influence just because it was 24/7. It’s always been something that I’ve gotten into whether it’s I want to hear what so-and-so has to say after the game, all of the reaction and all of that type of stuff. It’s always been a big part of my life, especially when The Ticket came around during the Cowboys’ second Super Bowl run.

BN: Is there anything in terms of a host’s style, not that you’re copying it, but you look and say I like what that guy does, and maybe subconsciously, that’s gone into your approach?

LL: I take something from everyone, even growing up, or the people that I’ve worked with in the business throughout my career. I think you take stuff from everybody. Different styles, there’s not really anyone that I try to be, but I think you can learn from certain people. I would say The Ticket, not to take yourself too serious. I think you could learn from guys who are real sports guys, old school, just how to do your research and be on top of your stuff.

I’ve worked with Randy Galloway when I was in Dallas and Ben and Skin. I kind of model myself after those guys kind of being loose; being sportsy and non-sportsy at the same time. Ken Carman and Anthony Lima in Cleveland, I was with them for like five months. I had a brief stop in Cleveland. I think the creativity of those guys I take in. I really just try to take in something from everybody, old school, new school, all that, and just incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.

BN: Why was the Cleveland stint so short?

LL: The Cleveland thing was just a good opportunity because it was a chance to branch out and I really like Andy Roth, their program director. I think he’s a really, really, really good PD. I like Ken and Anthony. It was when their show first started. When I got there it was more so — and Ken and I are still good buddies — but Cleveland wants you to be from Cleveland. It is 100 percent from Cleveland.

When some jackass from Texas comes in there and is talking about LeBron James or something like that — there are some cities where that works. There are a lot of transplants in Houston and there are a lot of transplants even in New York. Sometimes you can go do that; Cleveland’s not the city for that. No matter how well I worked with Ken and Anthony, the shelf life was kind of limited on how much you could climb up.

Nick Wright actually got his job to go national, so I became the producer of the morning show here. They gave me immediate reps on air. I just took that experience as much as I could, the six months in Cleveland, and brought it here. But you know how it is in Cleveland; you could say the smartest thing in the world, but if they check your ID and they see that you’re not from Ohio, you can basically go to hell. It doesn’t matter what you said. That’s not a knock on ‘em. That’s why it’s so popular there. That’s why it’s one of those cities where you go in the gas station, they’ve got The Fan on there. They’re ready to get it, but I could basically solve the cure for cancer and they don’t give a rat’s butt what I’m saying in Cleveland. I understood that from the jump.

BN: Is Dallas like that at all?

LL: I don’t think Dallas is like that because if you just look at the lineup, a lot of the guys from The Ticket, there’s a guy from Wisconsin in Bob Sturm. There’s a guy from Cleveland in Dan McDowell. There’s just guys from other places. RJ Choppy originally went to college at Tennessee, then he went to New Jersey. Shan Shariff was in Maryland, Kansas City and all that stuff. Houston has a lot of transplants. You do want to know what you’re talking about and you do want to have a grasp of history.

There’s a legendary tale about Nick Wright when he came to Houston from Kansas City that I just always admired, even when I didn’t even know anything about Nick Wright. When he had his job interview with Gavin Spittle, who’s the PD now in Dallas, Nick had like four pages, front and back, basically he’d written out the sports history of Houston. It went from the Oilers to the Rockets, all that, and it was handwritten. It wasn’t just printed out. When I came here, even when I went to Cleveland, I would try to follow that. They are open in Houston and Dallas, but you have to show that you respect the history and have a grasp of it. Then you just have to perform on the air.

BN: You’ve had a few different program directors from Jeff Catlin to Andy Roth and Armen Williams. What are the similarities and differences between those guys?

LL: Well, Jeff’s a hard-ass. Jeff Catlin is an ass-kicker. The one thing that I can take from Jeff is that he’s no nonsense. If you deserve to be cussed out, you’re going to get cussed out. If you screw up, he’s going to let you know. He is going to let your work speak for itself. He’s going to welcome feedback and he’s no nonsense. No nonsense Jeff Catlin. Being the ultimate professional, no nonsense, is something I took from Jeff.

Andy’s just a hard worker who is one hundred percent engaged in programming. Whether you’re on at 6am or 10pm; if you play a sound clip and you don’t credit FOX Sports or you don’t credit ESPN, Andy is going to let you know about it. He’s going to give you feedback and it’s going to be transparent. It can get a little bit intense with Andy, but it’s always going to be honest and he cares about the on-air product. And he’s going to work his ass off.

Barrett Sports names Roth top sports director | Briefs |  clevelandjewishnews.com

Armen is a guy who has a lot of the same qualities as both of those guys. It’s kind of like a mix of both. I think the thing that Armen has on those guys is he’s been in radio for life. He’s a guy who was working at radio stations when he was young. He’s a guy who was working in promotions. He’s a guy who was a producer. He’s a guy who went and became a PD. I think Armen is just about that radio life and he’s kind of a combination of all those guys.

Armen’s also very, very good at imaging and very, very good at creating the notion that the station is on the right topic. I think he has that grasp down very, very good to where what do we need to be talking about? Sometimes we’ll go in to commercial and imaging will be so new it’s like dang, how did he flip that so quick? I think Armen is kind of a combination of those two. There’s been a lot of guys I’ve worked with and I’ve picked all their brains and they all provide a little bit of something. 

BN: If there’s one thing a talent needs most from a PD, what is it?

LL: I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort. I think it kind of depends. I think some guys probably need airchecks a little bit more. I think some guys need to be coddled. I think some guys need to be kicked in the butt.

It’s like when someone asks you what’s the key to a good show, I don’t know because there are so many different styles. But I think different guys need different stuff. I think the most important thing is that you need a PD who’s able to treat people differently, almost like a coach. I think you need a PD that’s going to be able to have a grasp of what each guy needs. I’ve been fortunate to work with PDs who’ve been able to do that.

BN: Working with a highly respected talent like John Lopez, who has teamed with Nick Wright and a few others, what’s one of the main things that you’ve taken from him as a talent?

LL: I’ve been very fortunate to work with John because I think that when you’ve been doing it as long as he has — I call him the OG for a reason — there’s a better chance that guy is going to have a little bit of jerk in him, and he’s going to tell you it’s his way or the highway. John has allowed me to not take over, but put my creative spin on it, and he kind of plays off me. I know a lot of times it can be annoying for him. John is like a unique guy in that he’s been doing it as long as he has, but he’s pretty carefree and as long as you develop his trust, he’s going to play off of you.

There’s immediate credibility that comes with somebody who’s been around as long as Lopez has. The likability, the experience, and just the open-mindedness, I’ve been very fortunate with John Lopez. I’ve seen some guys in his situation who will just lay out. They’re not going to do anything. I could ask Lopez hey, give me a list of 10 blah, blah, blah, and he’ll do it. He’s just a lot more open-minded than a lot of people that have been doing it as long as him have been. He has that credibility. He has that likability.

BN: So the Texans stink as you know. And you’re the flagship station at 610. What’s that like to do a balancing act?

LL: Well, we don’t have to. It’s really actually kind of crazy; they are very, very fair to us. You wouldn’t know that we were the flagship with the way we talk. They understand the situation and they’ve let us criticize them as much as possible, which is rare. I know there are other teams in town that don’t allow that. I’ve seen some teams do it, but they really, really do let us be honest and transparent about it. I haven’t had to endure any walking the line or anything like that.

We’ve talked about anything and everything and they’re very fair. We’ve talked about how bad David Culley is at managing games. We’ve talked about the culture problems. We’ve talked about Nick Caserio not winning trades. I mean I can’t lie.

I want to say something good about them; it’s just there’s nothing. They don’t have any good young players. They’ve traded all their draft picks. They’re the worst team in the league. The coach is making brain fart after brain fart. There’s culture issues. There’s trust issues. I want something, they’re just not giving it to me. I haven’t gotten any calls for things that I’ve said or anything. It sucks to cover a team this bad, but they let us do our job for sure.

BN: Armen told me that you dig into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. He said you call it going into the lab. Why is it so important to you?

LL: I think that it’s part of the story. I think especially in NFL-centric cities where it’s a week-long buildup, if David Culley said that he trusts the culture after Week 1, and you can remember that and go back to after you lose eight straight games, I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the story and I think you’re not dependent on a team being good. Audio is a big part of what we do. When someone sends a cut sheet, I listen to every single clip and I’ll trim it. If there’s a Sunday press conference or something like that and they say yesterday, I’ll take out the word yesterday just so that it’s timely.

In Buffalo or wherever, like a good city, they can just depend on breaking down each game. But if you’re building up the story and you’re talking about David Culley said this, or David Johnson said that, or I can remember way back in the day when so and so said this, let’s compare it to that, I just think the build-up doesn’t get old and the story doesn’t die. I have a photographic memory where I’ll remember something that someone said like 15 years ago. I think it adds to the intrigue just what is being said and I’m not dependent on the team being good.

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BN: When you finish a show do you look back like, ahh man, I didn’t think about playing this one clip or I didn’t think about saying this one thing? Are you built like that, or are you just kind of like hey man, the show was pretty good, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow?

LL: Sometimes I’ll get done with the show and be like man, that sucked. I’ll be like that was terrible; I should have done this, this, this, this. I think you kind of have to stop doing that at a certain point. I don’t ever think you should do a show and just say it’s over, move on. But I used to beat myself up to where it was basically like you can’t sleep and you think you stink and all of that type of stuff.

I do sometimes wonder if we left some meat on the bone. Other times I’ll think it was good and I’ll listen back, and I’ll be like man, that sucked. That really wasn’t that good. That’s probably the most uncomfortable thing for me is listening to myself, but I have to do it. I’m still kind of my own worst critic, but you do have to kind of tap the brakes a little bit when it comes to criticizing yourself. Still be aware but you do have to tone it down a little bit because I would just beat myself up and not even be able to enjoy the rest of my day.

BN: Do you have any particular goals that you’re working toward?

LL: I think eventually I would like to get in drive time. I like having the midday, but I’d like to get into drive time, try to figure that type of thing out. I just want to continue to build credibility. I want to be the guy that people go to in Houston where if something happens, if Deshaun Watson gets traded, it’s hey we’ve got to hear what Landry Locker has to say about that. That’s really the goal.

As far as going national, stuff like that, I like local radio. I think local radio is the best. This is the second time I’ve quoted Nick Wright; Nick was asked about radio and he said local radio is not going anywhere because it’s really the place that you go to figure things out about your squad. It’s a service, it’s part of the community, so I really like the local thing. I just want to continue to get better, branch out, and be as good at this as possible and expand as the business continues to grow.

BN: When it comes to the most fun you’ve had in all your days of doing radio, where were you and what was it about that situation that was so fun?

LL: Man, I feel like I wish I could just point to one thing, but I get such a rush doing shows, even in different roles, that it’s like I can’t even really answer that question. I had a very fun time when I got my first on-air segment; that was with Ben and Skin back in Dallas. They called it the Locker Room. It was so exciting. The first time you get to host that show, that was fun. Cleveland when the Cavs won the championship and I was with Ken and Anthony. When the Astros won the World Series here. Reaction Mondays are just amazing to me because you’re reacting to the game, the fans are feeding off the energy. 

There’s really just not one time that I can point to and say — and I’m not trying to be corny or anything like that — but I just think the full rush of putting together a four-hour show, talking to sports fans which are the most passionate, there’s not really one thing I can point to. I wish I could, but there’s just so many good times. It’s hard to list what the one would be.

BN: I agree with you about local radio, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but let’s just say it did. Or there are cuts or whatever and you’re no longer in radio. It’s almost like an athlete who says what am I doing now that my career is over? What would you do after your radio career to try to get the same rush?

Mangled communications tower behind TxDOT Abilene being demolished,  replaced | KTXS

LL: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s one of those things where you just have to have the perspective. I have had that disappointment when ESPN 103.3 got bought out and Catlin said “I think you should try to branch out and figure something else out.” I have tasted it before. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I’m really good at. I have no idea what I would do without it. I try not to think about it too much but man, a lot of guys have had to answer that question. I’m just blessed to not have to answer that question right now at the very least. It’s a scary thought to think about not doing this.

BSM Writers

Denver Post’s Mike Chambers Hurts Credibility By Hoisting Stanley Cup

Chambers isn’t a member of the Colorado Avalanche. He’s not on the player roster or coaching staff. He doesn’t work in the front office.

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@MikeChambers on Twitter

Maybe Mike Chambers got caught up in the moment. After covering the Colorado Avalanche for more than nine months (and probably more, including the offseason), six preseason games, 82 regular-season match-ups, and 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games, having some fun during a championship celebration may have seemed like the right setting in which to be less than serious.

But for the Denver Post reporter, lighting up a cigar and hoisting the NHL’s championship trophy amid the locker room festivities following the Avalanche’s 2-1 win and series victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, acting as if he’s part of the team and celebrating with the organization looks less than professional.

OK, this is sports. It’s all meant to be fun. This isn’t covering the House Select Committee’s Jan. 6 hearings or another mass shooting, during which showing any kind of favoritism or bias would call a journalist’s objectivity into question. This isn’t even a serious sports story, such as the Washington Commanders’ workplace misconduct or the death of a young athlete.

Besides, many sports fans (and sports figures) expect reporters covering the team to be fans of the teams and athletes they cover. How could somebody not root for an organization with which they spend 12-15 hours a day and nearly an entire year? Wouldn’t that be natural? Aren’t sportswriters also sports fans? That’s often the perception, as wrong as it might be about the sports media profession.

As a result, most sportswriters and broadcasters take their objectivity seriously. Maybe there’s less of an expectation among a team’s home broadcast crew or even the local market’s TV sportscasters. When the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, WXYZ-TV sports anchor Don Shane drank champagne from the trophy and was ridiculed for it. He wasn’t a player or coach. He didn’t win that championship.

But those who cover a sports team every day don’t want to be perceived as a public relations arm of the organization. They often work to fight that notion because a tough, unflattering story may have to be written. There will likely be criticism of players, coaches, and executives during a long season. It’s part of the job.

At least it should be. Some might not be too critical or scrutinizing for fear of jeopardizing access or favorability. Others might like being around a team and taking part in its daily routine, even if indirectly. But those reporters risk their credibility by becoming more friendly with the people they cover than they should be.

That’s the position Chambers put himself in by hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head, enjoying one of the celebratory cigars, and posing with members of the team. He’s not a member of the Colorado Avalanche. He’s not on the player roster or coaching staff. He doesn’t work in the front office. Yet he appeared to conduct himself as if that was the case.

It’s entirely possible Chambers knew how this would look and the scorn it might invite from his colleagues and some fans. Maybe he was having some fun. It was the end of a long season for him as well. And covering a championship team is a reward for all the months of grinding with multiple stories, deadlines, and travel.

Or maybe he just doesn’t care what other people think. He got to be in that locker room with one of the coolest trophies in professional sports and you didn’t.

To be fair, we don’t know what exactly Chambers was thinking. He hasn’t commented on those photos on social media, nor did he write about the situation for the Post. In writing this column, I preferred to focus on how several in sports media reacted to Chambers’ tweet rather than attempt to reach out to Chambers for his view. I will try to do so, and if he happens to read this, I hope he feels compelled to respond.

But I also didn’t contact any beat reporters I know from my years of covering sports myself. I know what the answers would have been. I’m willing to bet the replies would have been unanimous. Reporters don’t do this. Not if they want to be taken seriously.

Perhaps we’ll soon find out what Chambers’ bosses at the Post think about this behavior as well.

Is this taking a fun moment far too seriously? Possibly. Do most fans care about what Chambers did? Probably not. But this is about how a reporter is viewed by his peers. How his professional colleagues perceive behavior that many would consider unbecoming, even embarrassing.

Months from now, maybe this will be forgotten. Maybe it’ll be viewed as a celebratory gesture. But if Chambers is in a position next season in which criticizing a player, coach, or executive is necessary, can he credibly face those people and answer for what he’s written? That’s how reporters and columnists earn respect among their peers and the people they cover.

Is that still possible after acting as if you’re one of the guys and holding a trophy with them? Most in this profession would say it’s not.

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BSM Writers

Danny Zederman Is Poised To Lead ESPN 1000 in Chicago

“You need to be a good listener to be in radio,” expressed Zederman. “It’s not always about talking – a lot of radio has to do with listening; listening to what’s going on with the fans; listening to what’s going on with the talent.”

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Certain memories from childhood find a way to stick with you. For Danny Zederman, one of those memories is being seated in his mother’s car in Chicago listening to a surfeit of talk radio and being captivated by the power of the aural medium. Whether it was Howard Stern, Jonathan Brandmeier or Steve Dahl, there was always the sound of a familiar voice permeating through the car speakers, cultivating a perdurable appeal to what was being said. Throughout his youth, Zederman was infatuated with radio and thought about potentially pursuing a career in it.

Zederman attended college at The University of Kansas and studied journalism; however, he was relatively uncertain about what he wanted to do upon his graduation. Seeking advice, he conferred with a school counselor who posed a question to him that he remembers to this day.

“‘Danny, what can you do for eight or more hours a day and get paid for it, or not get paid for it; what’s something you’re passionate about?,’” Zederman recalled the counselor asking him. “I said, ‘I’m passionate about sports, and I’m passionate about the radio.’”

The sports radio format was still in its growth phase at the time Zederman attended college in the late 1990s, and the ways to begin working in it were not as widely known. As a result, Zederman had to perform much of his own research to learn the available roles and unearth the path to a successful career. Once this research was complete, he knew that the sports radio industry was for him and started trying to position himself for success in this competitive industry. After all, Zederman grew up in the city of Chicago as an avid sports fan and a steadfast radio listener by osmosis wherefore he sought to merge his two passions into a career.

Over two decades later, Zederman has experienced his journey in radio at home in “The Windy City,” starting his career in 2002 as the operations manager of Newsweb’s conglomerate of Chicago-based stations: WSBC, WCSN, WNDZ and WCFJ. He began working as a producer at The Score in late 2003 and stayed there for just over two years before making the move to ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago in 2006. In this role, Zederman proved to be an integral part to the station’s development, producing notorious radio programs including Mac, Jurko & Harry, Kap & J. Hood and Silvy & Carmen. One of Zederman’s favorite memories from his time at the station came in 2016 when his beloved Chicago Cubs won Game 7 of the World Series, breaking their infamous 108-year-long championship drought.

“I got to be [at] Game 7 of the World Series, [and] that was incredible,” Zederman said. “The next day we went on the air; my favorite baseball team of all-time just won the World Series… and I’m producing a sports talk radio show celebrating a game that I was at in which the Cubs won the World Series – that was incredible.”

Good Karma Brands purchased ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago as part of a $15 million long-term affiliation agreement with The Walt Disney Company that also included ESPN 710 KSPN Los Angeles and ESPN 1050 WEPN New York. While ESPN 1000 was being operated by Good Karma Brands since October 2019 under a local marketing agreement, Zederman remained in his role as a show producer.

Yet shortly after the official purchase of the station at the start of the new year, Zederman was promoted to director of content, a role he has since been working in for just under seven months. While he has a new title, Zederman knows working as a producer for over fifteen years effectively prepared him for this new responsibility in radio management.

“I’ve got to think about things further down the line than just the next day’s show like you do when you’re a producer, but you’re still wearing the same hat,” expressed Zederman. “The goal is to find out what the fan wants to hear; what the fan wants to consume; and how to best serve the fan. Although the role’s different, I think being a producer is the best minor-league system for somebody who wants to go into programming because you have a great touch [and] a great feel for what the fans want.”

From an outsider’s perspective, making the shift from being a producer to being director of content could seem daunting because of potential animosity from new subordinates. For Zederman though, garnering their respect was not a difficult task because of his longevity at the station, familiarity with the staff and enduring desire to position the station for sustained success.

“I’ve been here for almost seventeen years. I’ve worked for most of these guys and gals that work in this building,” said Zederman. “They’ve seen my work ethic; they’ve seen how much I care; they’ve seen how much I want this place to succeed, and they respect that.”

In his previous role as a producer, Zederman worked closely with various program directors at ESPN Chicago, including Mitch Rosen, Adam Delevitt and Justin Craig. Over the years, he picked up on various proclivities and other skills they had in an effort to excel in his new role and be the best manager possible, one of which is to value the opinions of colleagues and let them be expressed.

“Justin Craig… was a tremendous listener,” said Zederman. “As a leader, he would listen to us; he would let us talk; he would let us vent; he would let us express ourselves; he would hear everything. I think that’s one thing I learned from him is to manage people, it’s important for them to be heard and to feel heard.”

While the quotidian operations of the station did not significantly change following the ownership shift, Zederman began working with senior vice president and market manager Keith Williams, who has been with Good Karma Brands since 1999. Williams started in his role as a market manager for ESPN Digital in Baltimore, M.D. and Washington, D.C. in 2018, and following a three-year stint in Madison, Wisconsin, joined ESPN 1000 in Chicago last October. His leadership skills and ability to relate to people has helped Zederman assimilate into his new role at the station and gives him another dependable colleague on the team.

“Keith is absolutely incredible – he is probably the best leader that I’ve ever worked with,” said Zederman. “He understands people; he understands situations; he’s a great listener, a great communicator and he’s all about teamwork. We’ve always had a great culture here at ESPN Chicago, but he’s taken that to another level with his ability to understand everybody’s role.”

The market manager for ESPN Chicago before Williams was Mike Thomas, who is now the senior vice president and marketing manager for Audacy in Boston. Thomas, a Chicago-area native, left his job as program director for 98.5 The Sports Hub in October 2019 to join ESPN 1000 in Chicago, and was with the station for two years. In that time, he proved to be instrumental in the creation of the morning drive show Kap and J. Hood, along with overseeing the station’s move on FM via digital HD2 transmission. The change in market manager was prompted by Thomas’ resignation from the position in October 2021 to return to Boston.

“Mike Thomas is a wizard when it comes to programming,” said Zederman. “He was innovative; he had a great sense for what good content was [and] he had a great sense for what the fans wanted. I learned from him how content is created for the fan and how to stay ahead of the curb and always be innovating… changing direction… and finding what’s next.”

As director of content for ESPN 1000, part of Zederman’s job is to ensure the station is generating favorable ratings and revenue. Despite Nielsen being the standard for ratings in radio though, Zederman relies on other metrics to genuinely delineate the performance of his station against more than just its radio counterparts.

“I never get too high when the ratings are good. I never get too low when the ratings are bad,” said Zederman. “I understand how Nielsen measures ratings, so I kind of take it with a grain of salt. It’s not an exact science.”

Accurately instantiating radio performance in the 21st-century extends beyond the scope of simply reviewing the Nielsen ratings on a regular basis. Managers today intricately monitor an assortment of other statistics representative of a multiplatform media environment with an excess of voices and audiovisual content.

“I look at the stream numbers; that’s far more accurate,” said Zederman when discussing his dependance on radio ratings. “I look at our podcast downloads – we have over a million podcast downloads a month; that’s a huge number…. So I look at that to know, ‘Hey, we are resonating with our fans no matter what the Nielsen numbers say – positive or negative.’ There are metrics that we have that are far more accurate.”

Shortly before the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the United States in March 2020, ESPN 1000 released its mobile app where users can stream ESPN 1000 programming live wherever they may be. The app also gives users the ability to listen to past programming, along with other original content including podcast-exclusive shows. Additionally, the station live streams all of it’s original shows on Twitch, creating a visual experience and the chance for listeners to join the conversation without even calling in to the show via the platform’s chat function.

Even before March 2020, sports media was in the midst of a rapid shift towards digital content accessible to listeners on their own schedule, and the change remains ongoing. Staying ahead of the curb by continuing to innovate and monitor changes in the industry are parts of the job Zederman seeks to master to ensure the station remains prudent and able to compete with other sources of content creation. Those sources of content creation extend far beyond the other prominent sports radio station in town: 670 The Score.

“I don’t really worry about competing with The Score,” affirmed Zederman. “The truth is I’m competing with iTunes; I’m competing with Spotify; I’m competing with The Ringer. Nowadays, you can get audio in so many different places that if I think I’m just competing with the other sports talk station in town, I’m in big trouble.”

Part of the shift in content distribution is resultant upon a profusion of new research suggesting that while younger demographics enjoy listening to aural content, they do so less through the traditional radio medium. Rather, audio is being consumed in a variety of different ways, whether it be through digital streams, podcasts, on-demand shows or visual simulcasts, and is only continuing to expand. That is why while ESPN 1000 is on the FM dial, albeit through an HD2 stream, it does not make a significant impact in terms of the reach of the station, nor does it serve as a primary driver of future content.

“You ask somebody between the ages of 15 and 24 the last time they turned on a radio; they probably haven’t done it in months,” Zederman surmised. “If we want to reach our fans, there are so many different platforms to reach them – that’s what they focus on.”

ESPN 1000 has a variety of local and national content varying from live radio shows to original podcasts. While podcasting has incontrovertibly made its assimilation into sports radio, Zederman believes the two aural mediums can effectively coexist despite marketplace saturation because of each one’s innate components that appeal to audio’s consumption base.

“There are times when it is more convenient to listen to a podcast, and that’s obviously why we make our shows available on podcasts, [and] why we have original content podcasts,” Zederman explained. “…I also think there’s an aspect to live radio that will never go away. The day after a Bears game when they lose ugly to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers says ‘I own you,’ there’s nothing like live radio with these hosts pissed off pounding the table and the callers from all over the Chicagoland area calling in to vent their frustration.”

Every source of content distribution seeks to differentiate themselves from others through what materials they release to consumers, yet that also comes with attracting and retaining the most optimal talent. As a director of content, Zederman knows that what the station is able to do is guided by the characteristics of the talent, making the managerial tasks of recruitment and retention essential for future development.

“The number one most important thing in what I do is the fan,” said Zederman. “The fan’s the most important thing because they’re consuming the product. The next most important thing is the talent. You have good talent; you have talent that can tell a story. Talent can make any content interesting.”

Talent are also now able to keep in touch with their listeners for more than just their allotted time slot on the air, truly affording radio personalities the chance to better know their consumers and understand their needs and wants. The intimate relationship long-heralded as the crux of the argument for live radio’s perpetuity and eminence indeed extends outside of the reach of the AM/FM frequency.

“Social media is a great way for the talent to become brands and to get a following,” Zederman said, “and hopefully that following tune into the show the next day… Social media is a great way for the talent to engage with the fan, and I think we just have to continue to go that way and embrace it. It’s a great tool for what we do.”

Sports media is unequivocally different than it was when it initially launched, yet the guiding principle of the industry – that is, to serve the fan – remains the same. Just how effectively the fan is being served is representative of the independent variable, and determines the concurrent ratings and revenue, or dependent variable.

“I think the important thing is to just keep giving people content on multiple different platforms,” said Zederman. “We don’t know what’s next, [but] whatever the next platform is, we’re going to be there.”

For aspiring professionals looking to work in radio management, along with those currently holding management roles at radio stations, Zederman knows that being versatile in one’s ability to understand and perform various roles at the station makes you more relatable to colleagues and able to adapt to sudden changes. But there is one truly unspoken rule of being in management that has been imperative in keeping Zederman in Chicago. It’s a piece of advice that does not require power to be supplied to a microphone in a studio. In fact, it does not require any electricity.

“You need to be a good listener to be in radio,” expressed Zederman. “It’s not always about talking – a lot of radio has to do with listening; listening to what’s going on with the fans; listening to what’s going on with the talent.”

As Zederman continues to work in his first year as director of content for Good Karma Brands’ ESPN 1000 WMVP Chicago, he seeks to continue the station’s ongoing innovation and work to create compelling, informative and entertaining sports content. His thinking centers around satisfying three groups of people he is cognizant of every day on the job, imperative to the present standing and rise to an acclivity where the station seeks to soar.

“I want to serve our fans; I want to serve our partners; and I want to serve our teammates,” Zederman said, “and if every day we are doing those three things, then it’s successful.”

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ESPN’s Daily Wager Has Found Its Sweet Spot

Rather than catering to a specific audience, it targets the broad sports fan in general who may be an absolute novice, a knowledgeable bettor, and all those in-between.

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Daily Wager

When it debuted in March of 2019, ESPN’s betting show Daily Wager was a vast improvement on a similar product Fox Sports provided. Despite fewer than ten states having legalized sports wagering at that time, it provided the network with an early foothold in the sports gambling media space. Since then, legalized markets have nearly quadrupled. The industry has taken off and is now filled with podcasts, television shows, and radio shows.

Airing every weekday at 6pm ET on ESPN2, the one-hour show is aimed at the casual gambler. There are multiple segments in which the crew breaks down upcoming sporting events, discusses the betting lines for them, and analyzes news and statistical trends from a betting standpoint. The sidebar displays line information for games that night. The bottom section often gives information such as future wagers for the major sports. The show also features discussions pertaining to games and events from the day or weekend before, including line movements. For example, last Friday they broke down the see-saw movement of lines for who would be taken first overall in the previous night’s NBA Draft. 

Doug Kezirian hosts the show, which went on hiatus for part of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. He is based out of Las Vegas and is joined every day by a rotating cast of analysts and contributors. ESPN’s top betting expert, Kezirian studied economics at Brown and possesses a strong knowledge of data. He does a good job of breaking down information while being entertaining. In addition, Kezirian hosts a short companion podcast that builds on the show discussions, and provides some additional betting picks from the crew.

Joining Kezirian are some familiar names to long-time fans of the network. “Stanford Steve” Coughlin, who made his breakthrough with Scott Van Pelt on his daily radio show way back in the day, is a regular guest. Chris “The Bear” Fallica. Fallica, who co-hosts a podcast with Coughlin, rose to prominence with his segments on College Gameday long before sports wagering was readily available. Additional contributors to the show include Erin Dolan, Joe Fortenbaugh, and Tyler Fulghum.

As an experienced gambler who looks very hard at in-depth analytics and is familiar with modeling, the show is a bit underwhelming to me. I’ve spoken with multiple individuals who offer gambling advice services, and not one of them views it as a valuable product. That’s due to the lack of statistical breakdown beyond basic averages, rankings, and recent trends.

From what I’ve watched of the show, there are no deep dives into anything dealing with regressions. There is no discussion of value versus odds, or matchup metrics. Furthermore, the time slot for the show prevents any real ability to advise bettors on line mistakes, or the ability to beat the closing line on most games. It also doesn’t allow for news of weekend events, especially NFL games where player availability might not become finalized until Sunday morning.

And you know what? That’s perfectly ok.

Daily Wager is not designed to target me, or professional bettors. It’s not designed to be a tool for people to become so adept at winning that they can quit their jobs and live the dream life. The program is targeted for the casual gamer, the man or woman who comes home from work, relaxes on the couch, and wants to bet a shekel or two on a sporting event that night. The show helps give them insight on information they didn’t have time to dig through while they were working in the office. It gives them some plays they can tail or allows them to formulate a wager of their own.

Rather than catering to a specific audience, it targets the broad sports fan in general who may be an absolute novice. It grabs a knowledgeable bettor too and all those in-between. They cover a wide variety of sports. They bounce between the most popular events down to more niche sports like tennis. Sometimes they move a bit too fast due to time constraints and wanting to keep the content fresh in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm their audience.

While it’s a bit too driven by base statistics and trends for someone like myself, it doesn’t come across to the more casual player as an overly-pretentious product dripping with hardcore analytic data that could induce a glaze-eyed effect on a tired viewer. While the production holds little value for fans with zero gambling interest, it’s an alternative in its time slot to SportsCenter for those who want more news about the games and fewer highlights.

Additionally, the chemistry between the talent on the show is evident with just one viewing, and the rotating cast prevents the voices from becoming too stale to their regular audience. Kezirian and company have done a solid job of carving out their own niche, although I’m not sure there’s a way to really expand it given their time slot being perfect for their intended audience. 

But maybe they don’t need to. In a space that is becoming flooded with nerdy discussions–which I love–and lots of voices giving in-depth breakdowns, Daily Wager provides a solid, entertaining product for the more casual viewer. As more states open to sports betting, especially with the NFL season right around the corner, ESPN and Kezirian may have found the perfect recipe for success.

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