Every morning starts the same. At precisely 4:30 a.m. an alarm goes off and Joe Rexrode is up and at it. Within the next hour, he’ll have made the 25-minute drive from his home to the ESPN 102.5 The Game studios in Nashville to host his morning show alongside Robby Stanley.
For the next four hours, Robby and Rexrode will offer a fun and light-hearted look at the local sports scene. It’s not too serious and they rarely ever fight, in fact, they agree quite a bit, but it’s a method that shows you don’t have to scream at each other during every segment to be successful.
“I think our show, even though sometimes we get goofy and stuff, I think it’s a level-headed approach,” Rexrode said. “I know some shows that aren’t that, do very well, or some shows that have a lot of friction, that do very well, and you think, is that what it’s supposed to be? But you can’t be inauthentic.”
The show is over at 10:00 a.m. but Rexrode’s day is just beginning. From there, he’s likely headed to a press conference with one of the various teams in the city. Then, he’s spending the afternoon hours writing for his job at The Athletic. And if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he’s also a husband with three kids at home.
“It’s chaotic and crazy but it’s also like, you get so used to that, what would life be like if it wasn’t like that,” laughed Rexrode. “It takes a wife who is very flexible and incredibly understanding of my ridiculous schedule, because even just the travel schedule alone sometimes, there’s been a lot of stuff I’ve missed and a lot of times she had to carry the load. I’m so grateful for her.”
Yes, Rexrode wears a lot of hats. He’s a morning drive radio host, a well-respected writer and a husband, as well as a dad of three. Sometimes, that requires early morning and late-night writing. Or even no sleep at all.
“There have been days where I’ve pulled a couple of all-nighters when I was writing something big and it was my deadline day,” Rexrode said.
Being in the sports media business can send you to various cities across the country you never thought you’d live in. Living in Nashville was probably never a thought for Rexrode during his 20 years of covering Michigan State athletics for the Detriot Free Press and the Lansing State Journal. As a student at MSU, his sights were set on being a journalist and the first two decades of his career were built on his exceptional talents as a writer. Sure, he did student radio in college and a few fill-in stints with local radio, but bylines in the daily newspaper are how Rexrode built his name.
Meanwhile, Tim Staudt, known as the “Dean of Sports” was doing sports radio on The Game 730 AM in Lansing. He’s hosted “Staudt on Sports” each weekday since 1993 and has been on the Michgan sports scene for over 40 years. Rexrode would frequently be a guest while covering the Spartans. Some days, Rexrode would even come in for an entire hour.
“I had a lot of fun with that,” said Rexrode.
Jack Ebling has an online show in Michigan but used to be on terrestrial radio. On Mondays, Rexrode would host the show with Ebling, as well as a TV show. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but it was these experiences that were grooming him to be a full-time radio host.
Fast forward a few years and Rexrode got his opportunity to be a columnist at The Tennessean in 2016, a goal he had set for himself for quite some time. Almost immediately, he was doing fill-in work at ESPN 102.5 The Game.
“They had this thing where you were not allowed to go talk on 104.5 because of some personal beef with Paul Kuharsky and some writers. I always thought that was weird. I did a lot of stuff only at 102.5 because of that rule.”
After The Tennessean, Rexrode took an opportunity with The Athletic and stayed in the Nashville market. Meanwhile, The Game was looking for a new morning show, after Braden Gall and Derek Mason were let go by the station. On an interim basis, The Game put Rexrode and Stanley in morning drive. The process lasted weeks, but after an extensive search, the station removed the interim tag and made the show Robby and Rexrode the permanent moring drive show. The writer and dad of three was about to get a lot busier.
“At first, it was like, oh my God how do people do this every day?” laughed Rexrode. “Then you get into it and say, ok, it’s not complete hell. But it’s funny, you think about your grandparents and say, why do you get up at 5 a.m.? But as you get older it gets more appealing to go to bed early and wake up early. I actually started to like that, which, I never would have guessed.
“There were no expectations it was just like, hey, they needed something interim so there were no expectations or, oh, we have to prove ourselves, or anything like that. We were having fun and getting more comfortable with the job and we started to hit our stride. By the time September rolled around, we were told and hashed out everything. It was really exciting to think about it as a thing that could have some staying power. It’s been a blast.”
Radio has become something Rexrode really enjoys, but for more reasons than just the added exposure and the challenge of doing something relatively new. It’s more about the personal connections and experiences it’s given him.
“I have enjoyed having a place to go and see people,” said Rexrode. “Going through Covid probably even adds to that appreciation, when you come back and say, hey, we’re not on Zoom anymore and we can do this in person. And then sit in a room and BS and laugh and stuff. That’s the one thing that comes to mind is the camaraderie of being close to people. Also, being involved and being able to do things that are charitable. It’s cool to have that and those opportunities. I came to Tennessee to be a columnist, but you cant write a column on every single thing, you have to pick your spots. With radio, this satisfies the need to comment on everything. When something happens I’m like, wow. I can’t wait to talk about this tomorrow.”
Rexrode admits it would be tough to suddenly not have the outlet to express all of his thoughts, especially on national storylines he would never find himself writing about. He’ll also be quick to tell you how much he loves his current editor at The Athletic and program director at 102.5 The Game. Mitch Light, who’s in the Nashville area as his editor, and Ryan Porth his PD, are two people he loves working with. In the case of Porth, it would seem as if dad jokes are at the center of the relationship.
“I compare things to the writing world,” said Rexrode. “Sports editors are kind of like PDs, where you’ve got writers or talent on the air and then you’ve got management and that can be a really tough spot. That is naturally going to be difficult because you have demands on both sides that sometimes conflict with each other. I think the people that are best at it are, one, people that are easygoing to a point, but also who really listen and know when to pick their spots. Sometimes you have to fight for your writers or your talent and sometimes you have to say, look, things have to be done this way.
“Everyone who has an appreciation for this should respect that and I think Porth is really good with dealing with people and he’s a really easy guy to get along with. Also, he’s hilarious and he thinks we’re funny. He has dad jokes, we have dad jokes, it’s like a big dad joke festival.”
It’s early wake-up calls, late-night writing, and dad-life in between, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Here and there I’ve done the show from home and on commercial breaks you’re running saying, ok, come on! Let’s go! I have to get back to the show! Stop fighting! Eat your breakfast!” Rexrode laughed.
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.