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Jeff Cavanaugh Is Winning His Own Way

“I record whenever I want and sometimes I do one thing a day, sometimes two or three a day, sometimes nothing. I have no structure to it and I like that.”

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Show prep looks a lot different for Jeff Cavanaugh than it did six months ago. Last year, while hosting at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, he spent more time dreading preparing and filling his five-hour show than he spent enjoying it. It wasn’t a fun realization, but Cavanaugh knew feeling that way about his job was a huge problem. So instead of just pressing along and being unhappy, he did something about it. 

On February 16th, Cavanaugh sent out a tweet that shocked many of his listeners. He announced he was leaving GBag Nation on The Fan in Dallas after 11 years. He explained his decision by admitting he didn’t have the same love for doing the show each day. It was a statement that revealed just how much he was struggling with the day-to-day grind of doing a five-hour radio show. 

The official announcement came in mid-February, but the decision had been brewing for several months. Cavanaugh left without having another radio station or gig to fall back on. 

“I would say it had been building for at least a year,” said Cavanaugh. “It’s a combination of things, the way that I left, I was friends with everybody. I don’t know how common it is to put in a two weeks notice and work the two weeks. I feel like normally in radio they just kick you off. But I knew it had just ground me down.

“Five hours a day and we were allowed to go off the sports page, but like anybody else, it needs to be mostly about sports. I just got to the point where I was trying to fill segments. Instead of doing something good, energizing, interesting, it just felt like work. And we’re lucky enough in our line of business that it doesn’t feel like work. For a long time, it didn’t. But it became a thing where I didn’t look forward to work and I knew I had built enough to do it another way if I wanted to.

“Like anybody I think there was an element of, when you get an offer from your company for your next contract, and you see what it’s going to look like, I did not think it reflected the value that I had and I let that be known. But I didn’t make that an issue on the way out, because money wasn’t going to fix it. Was there an element of disagreement on value? Yeah. I felt I was more valuable than they were showing me. That was probably the final little tipping point, where it was like, ‘ok, I’ll prove it. I’ll do it myself. I’ll build it.”

So Cavanaugh set out to bet on himself. He still writes about the Dallas Cowboys for The Athletic, Cowboys.com and D Magazine, but now he’s talking about sports on YouTube.

Looking back now it’s almost fate he decided to take his career in the direction he did. That’s because his introduction to talking about sports in the digital space happened by accident. 

“It was accidental,” Cavanaugh said. “Like a lot of companies in radio, they came to the realization how important digital was and they wanted their on-air hosts to contribute with video. And it was like, ok, the file that I’m going to send is too big to email, so how am I going to do this? The answer for me was, I’ll upload it to a YouTube page and then send it. So they would post it on their own and get views for the website and all of a sudden I keep seeing subscriber numbers go up, and it said, ‘hey, do you want to turn on monetization? You’ve reached the level for that. It ended up being something that was good for them and for me.”

It’s easier said than done to leave a radio station, bet on yourself and become your own boss. Amongst many other things, you have to build an audience and know how to monetize your content. But if you can do those things, this may be the best time ever to try. Cavanaugh is a great example of that. 

“I won’t close the door on radio if somebody agrees with what I think that job looks like for me,” Cavanaugh said. “I wouldn’t close the door on that, but I think the digital world, there’s so many ways to monetize it. You have to build a following first, but once you do, you can do that. You can do this without going into work. You can do this without a boss, between YouTube and Twitch and then you upload the audio to podcast formats and then you sell sponsorships. There’s a lot out there that can be done without working for somebody else.”

Cavanaugh’s new journey is only a few months old, but has he found the happiness he was looking for? He thinks he’s getting there.

Prep work isn’t dreaded anymore. In fact, prep work sometimes means asking his followers on Twitter what they care to hear about. He’ll comb through his responses and decide what would suit the audience best. It’s a brilliant way to go about selecting content. 

“I don’t spend more than 20-30 minutes prepping anymore. It’s just the way my brain works too, because that’s the way I believe in doing it. I don’t script anything. I never have. Even with bits or a Jerry Jones impersonation. I don’t edit the stuff I do on YouTube either. I am very much a, what’s going on in your brain right now? Just say it. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be that I’m trying to prove something to you about this topic or that I have a strong opinion on this topic. It’s almost a podcast form. That’s more for me.”

There was a realization that struck Cavanaugh shortly after he left the station. Initially, he thought he’d be live on YouTube from 7-8 pm every night. Why? That’s when his old competitor, The Ticket in Dallas, was off the air. That way, he could more easily get guests from the station without competing with their local programming. 

But then it hit him. His initial plan ran counter to why he left The Fan. He was leaving one structured format and creating his own. 

“Within a week I said, no, that’s not what I quit for,” Cavanaugh said. “So no schedule, I record whenever I want and sometimes I do one thing a day, sometimes two or three a day, sometimes nothing. I have no structure to it and I like that.”

To be able to say what you want, when you want, however many times a day you want, is a dream scenario for any broadcaster. Also, it allows him to do a show with whoever he wants. Before, that wasn’t possible. Now, Cavanaugh dictates everything. 

“Bob Sturm is a guy who, for my money, is one of the three best Cowboys resources on the planet,” Cavanaugh said. “I include myself in that category and I include my former co-worker Bryan Broaddus. But I want to be able to broadcast with them. I think that’s cool for the listeners. You can’t do that when you work in the same town for other stations. It’s not allowed. I want to do a show with my buddy Dane Brugler at The Athletic, because I think he’s the best NFL Draft resource on the planet. The Athletic and our former parent company Audacy don’t have an agreement and therefore we can’t have The Athletic people on. I want to be able to talk to who I want, when I want.”

I logged on to one of Cavanaugh’s YouTube shows earlier this week. Before he could even recount what Jerry Jones said earlier in the day, comments were pouring in on the live chat. I was incredibly impressed and took notice of how he interacted with all the comments. Instantly I thought, yeah, this is what he’s made for. And judging by the number of subscribers, I’m not the only one. As of last check, Cavanaugh has built a following to the tune of 29,700.

But what has Cavanaugh learned about developing a personal relationship with his viewers? 

“It’s less about the sports content than it is about real life,” Cavanaugh said. “I forgot what the story was in sports, but it was something I decided to talk about on the air. It became emotional and it was where I almost involuntarily became a spokesman for all mental health topics, which is kind of weird but I’m totally down for it, because being an open book is way easier than playing a character. That’s where I learned the connection. People connected to me the last few years way more than the guy who started in radio eleven and a half years ago and hadn’t really figured himself out yet. It happened by accident and being a real person. Not by sports.”

So what’s Cavanaugh going to do today? Well, whatever he feels like. Same thing for tomorrow and the day after that. He left a world with complete structure and now has none. And that’s how he likes it. 

But there’s no hard feelings towards The Fan. In fact, he says he’s close friends with a lot of the people in the building. But it is important to note that he was a talent doing five hours of radio a day and left because he lost the energy and passion. What can the industry do to make sure more instances of this don’t continue to happen? 

“Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible,” Cavanaugh said. “Gavin (Spittle, the station’s program director) is a friend of mine and I left with no hard feelings toward him, the station or the team. It’s hard because it’s a company. It’s not like Gavin can unilaterally say, ‘You know what? You’re right. Here’s what you deserve and here’s what we’re going to do.’

“For instance, our parent company was in Philadelphia and they don’t know how I am.  So I can say I’m worth this and my boss can agree with me, but if you want to really make something happen, you would be willing to have to go to war with someone that doesn’t even know who you are. It’s a hard part of the industry. Honestly, they might have viewed it as a positive when I left, because whoever replaces me, will do it for less.

“The goal is to win, not to save money. If I were a PD, my thing would be to hire creative, talented people and do the best you can to ensure they enjoy the structure they’re working in. And then get out of the way. That’s how you win.”

BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

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.

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