Some people say that sports talk radio is like hanging out with others at a bar. There aren’t many hosts around the country that I’d prefer to spend time with in a bar setting more than Chris “Mac” McClain and Travis “T-Bone” Hancock. They both have a great blend. They’re opinionated without being know-it-alls. They make you laugh but also point out things that make you think. Neither carries himself like, “Don’t you know who I am?” They present themselves as if to say, “Next round’s on us.”
Their friendship and radio partnership began way back in 2005. They’ve been the morning show on WNFZ in Charlotte for 13 years now. It’s interesting how two very different radio paths still led to their successful stint that has lasted nearly two decades. The duo talks about being the constant among so much change within the building. Mac and Bone also describe how the national media drives them crazy at times, how they aren’t hillbillies from Mayberry, and the art of bagging groceries. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you guys originally from?
Chris McClain: I’m from York, Pennsylvania originally. Went to college at Towson in the Baltimore area. Bounced around in radio until I got here. I’ve been here now for, shoot, coming up on 18 years. Before that it was the normal radio thing, bouncing around. I got here in 2004, started off on the midday show and T-Bone came in as an intern a year or so after.
Travis Hancock: I’m from a small town in Connecticut called Brooklyn, Connecticut. I grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog with my dad. I certainly wanted to do it growing up. Then I ended up moving down here. I came to broadcasting school in May of 2004. In 2005, I was his intern and then two months later I was his producer and have been with him ever since. Now as a host. We’ve been in the city the same amount of years, he just got a year head start on me.
BN: Would you have ever thought you’d be together as long as you have in the same city?
CM: Hell no. I definitely wouldn’t have thought any place would have me this long. The radio business began for me in Jacksonville, Florida when the whole staff got fired one day because they switched from an all sports station. Somebody that I knew that I’d worked with in radio for years said welcome to radio. You now have officially started, you’ve been fired.
Since then I’ve been lucky to bounce a couple of times on my own but there’s no way, you know how the business is, there’s no way when you go somewhere you’re thinking oh man, I’m going to be blessed to be here for close to 20 years. Then T-Bone, I try to think about how many interns we’ve had. Some of them have actually gone on to do their own shows and really good stuff.
TH: Made a lot of money.
CM: [Laughs] And somehow Bone’s still dealing with me. We went through so many interns. He’s one of my best friends, to think we spend all this time together, to think that he ends up elevating to being the co-host of the show. He’s improved so much, grown up so much — this is kinda awkward — since we started.
TH: I wake up every day and feel more blessed by the day, as cliché as that sounds, because you get older and life happens. He moved around, he bounced around. I’ve had two jobs my whole life. I bagged groceries, went to broadcasting school, and I’ve been here ever since.
To go from intern in May to producer July 1 and to be around ever since, I skipped over so many things. I just got lucky. I’ve been blessed. The more we go along, the more grateful I am that this is not normal to have this bond for this long in one city. I never take it for granted. As I get older I really cherish it a lot more than I used to.
CM: Man, this shit is getting too sappy.
TH: It’s like a Bravo show.
BN: [Laughs] What would you say is your biggest flaw as a radio host?
CM: Probably just getting distracted in a segment. Terry Foxx, our boss, tells us about it all the time, that he can hear when he listens to me that there are eight thoughts popping into my head all at once and try to just stay on one topic. There might be another branch of this topic but don’t just all of a sudden end up back over here. That’s probably the thing because I’ve got just so many things I’m fired up about and I just want to get them all out.
I think in the past, Bone will probably admit this, like just caring too much about phone calls was an early thing for me. But Terry came in and he wanted to make it about us and our relationship on the air. I think that’s helped me as a host because I don’t think I’m so worried about I’m going to get this person mad, or I’ve got to get this person on my side. I think that’s helped me with that. Those are two things that I can admit about myself.
TH: I would say probably for me at times being too concise. I’m not long-winded naturally because my role for so long was that of a producer so I was in and out. I trained myself almost, hey one comment, you’re gone. He’s been talking to himself in a way for years. For me, I’m so used to giving the ball right back. I’m trying to learn how to wrap my mind around making the point longer. It’s not a bad thing to share it, but sometimes they want me to put a little bit more meat on the bone.
Also trying to balance out that I’ve certainly been viewed as a comedic character for a long time, a guy that chimes in with jokes. I sort of have to be more serious now in this role and not as antagonistic and just be down the middle on certain things. Adjusting from my role for 15 years as that other guy to this, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.
BN: Where are you guys with a PD because Terry Foxx is in Texas now, right?
CM: Yeah, I mean he’s still technically in charge. We’ll talk to him throughout the week, but we are in the process of hiring someone else. We’re in that transition. We’ve been dealing with a lot of transitions at FNZ.
TH: We didn’t have a PD from March of 2020 — we went through the whole pandemic without a PD.
CM: Right in the middle of the pandemic and no program director at that point.
TH: Highest ratings ever. [Laughs]
CM: Which is crazy about it. Then we get Terry in here and we’ve gone through an ownership change from Entercom to Radio One. It’s been a lot of uncertainty at the station and that’s one of the things, this team that we’ve got here, man, everybody’s done a great job. All of the shows, guys behind the scenes working their butts off despite the uncertainty.
You know how it is, Brian, in radio anything uncertain like that, we’re paranoid as radio folks anyway. Oh no, what’s going to happen? What did you hear? Then all of these different things, what’s this new boss going to think? And what about this new company? We’ve been through a lot of that stuff and I feel like everybody’s still been putting on good shows, staying focused, but it’s just been a challenge. I’ve realized everybody’s got similar stories in radio. It’s definitely a challenge.
BN: A lot has changed during your time in Charlotte [the station has been owned by CBS, Beasley, Entercom and now Radio One]. What’s it like for you guys to be the constant among so much change?
TH: You want to embrace it. I think also when there’s change whether it’s the ownership or GMs or PDs, because of our longevity and the fact that we don’t cause a lot of drama, the last person is going to tell the next guy hey, these are your guys that are the voices, your leaders, the guys who have been there through everything the last almost 20 years. The word trickles down that hey, these guys are going to do the right thing.
You embrace the fact that when there’s change, we’re going to be at the forefront of it. We’re going to do the best that we can and knowing that we’re respected by the new people most of the time, we’ll see if the next guy does or not, but you know what I mean. They went to us right away because of our longevity and as the guys who know what to do. You just learn to embrace it and adapt and keep rolling.
CM: I definitely feel lucky seeing how much has changed here, being able to be a part of all these different phases of WFNZ. I feel lucky because nothing is guaranteed in this business at all, much like life. I don’t want to do radio anywhere else either, man. That’s why if they don’t have me, it’s going to be an adjustment for me. I just love the city. It’s just perfect. I love the growth of the sports city, but it’s not the big, huge city that’s a little too crazy. It’s perfect for my family. I’m so glad it’s worked out this way for us, but it’s definitely been an entertaining ride as a station without a doubt.
TH: I wouldn’t know how to leave if I tried to leave. I wouldn’t even know what to do. I’d be like, we can leave here? I didn’t know that. I’ve been here the whole time.
CM: Go back to bagging groceries.
TH: That’s a possibility at some point though. For this article, I was the three-time employee of the month for that grocery store. So I did have success before radio.
CM: That’s big.
BN: [Laughs] That’s good, man. I caught your rant about LaMelo Ball, Mac. Building off of that, what else annoys you about the national media and how they cover Charlotte sports?
CM: Man, we very rarely matter. I hate to sound like the small-town local yokel, but Charlotte just doesn’t bring eyeballs to those talking head shows. I understand what they’re doing. Just like we have to talk about the stuff that people here are going to care about, I understand that they have to play the hits: Lakers, the Cowboys, the Yankees and all that stuff. But yeah, you heard me on that one, just trying to take something.
We finally have a nice thing. We finally have a nice thing happening with the Hornets and we finally have this kid who looks like he’s going to be a superstar in two years and they want to snatch him away. That drives me crazy.
What else gets me? I get angry about the small-town thing a lot, don’t I? The lack of airtime even when we’re good. Only Cam Newton got us airtime. I felt even when we had good teams, except in 2015 when the team was just ridiculously good, but I feel like, Bone, there was a while there where we could be good and it didn’t matter. They only wanted to talk about Cam.
TH: It feels like a lot of the national narratives don’t seem to be accurate to what we know here. We’ll hear things that don’t make sense. Shannon Sharpe and Skip going in on Michael Jordan as the GM of the Hornets. He’s never been the GM of the team, he’s been the owner. Yes, he was a guy who was hands-on for a while, but he’s not anymore for the last four or five years. I know that Michael Jordan the name for those shows is of course the marquee. I get it. But you guys are talking about the Hornets with absolutely no knowledge of anything going on.
CM: You know what else gets me too? Now he’s got me. Now we’ve opened it up.
TH: You think we’re on the air here.
CM: The whole freaking thing like we’re hillbillies. Small-town hillbillies. I get it when you’re based up in New York or in Boston, I understand that you look at Charlotte a certain way. This has been one of the fastest-growing cities around in the country for years now in terms of people migrating here. A lot of people coming from the North, by the way, Brian. They want to live down here.
It’s now a media market. The media market size is 22nd so I feel like this thing is growing and it’s no longer Mayberry. We’ve been called Mayberry by so many national media personalities. I’m not insulted by it, there’s a lot of country around here. I grew up in the country actually, but it’s like come on, this is more than that.
TH: Mayberry is actually an hour away to be real about it. So we’re not Mayberry. We’re almost ready for Major League Baseball. NBA, NFL, and soccer is doing tremendous attendance-wise. If you give us one more year, we’re getting there. When you have baseball, basketball, soccer, all that we’re going to have, that’s a real sports city. I think sometimes we don’t feel respected as one of those cities yet. We’re coming, though.
BN: As far as the future goes, what ideally would you like your future to look like over the next five, 10 years? What would make you the happiest?
CM: Getting on FM was huge for us. That had been a goal for as long as we have been at the station. Every boss that has been in charge, everybody we’ve worked with, it’s always been a mission to get that FM signal. We’ve got to tip our cap to Terry Foxx, Marsha Landess, and everybody in charge here at Radio One.
None of the other companies we worked for, and it’s been many, have ever given us that stick. So to be on 92.7 now, that was always one of my goals is I want to be a part of it when we get it. I know it might sound crazy to a lot of people in sports radio, like y’all just got on FM in a city like Charlotte? We had an FM transmitter at one point but never had a full-blown FM. Now that that one’s off the list, I just want to keep getting better at doing what we’re doing.
TH: Yeah, just keep building on what we’ve established already. I think it’s important that when a TV show or radio show goes on for a long time, you’ve got to make sure it never gets stale. It’s why TV shows don’t last unless it’s The Simpsons or something. Sitcoms and all of that, they don’t last usually past 10 years or so. It’s important for us to never get stale, always be creating new things, new characters or new forms of who we are.
We’ve never gotten stale. I think it’s important that we always will be creative and knowing we can’t do the same stuff for 20 years and keep the same people. Always be moving, always be crafty. I think that’s important for us the next couple of years.
BN: With so many ownership changes and PD changes, have you guys gotten to a point now where you feel like hey, we’re established, we feel safe, or is it still like I don’t know, man, you never know?
CM: Yeah, I mean being in radio, man, I never feel totally safe. I think you feel like you should be maybe. [Laughs] You know what I mean?
TH: He’s got a different perspective because he’s been through that before. I don’t. I just keep going about my regular day. I’m not naive to that, but I also know that we’ve established something really great here and if they end it, they end it, but it takes away nothing we’ve already done and will continue to do.
CM: You know what it is, Brian, I’ve just seen, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same sort of things personally and you’ve seen other people, I’ve seen so many rough days in buildings that I’ve worked in. I’ve seen 40 co-workers let go back at CBS SportsLine all at once. Luckily, I survived there. I saw the one I told you about earlier when it was AM 600 The Ball in Jacksonville. Man, we’ve got guys who are now all over the country. We had a really good team.
It was fun living in that city when I was young, but we had a change in ownership. Cox Broadcasting bought us out. Literally put Mickey Mouse, Disney on the air and fired the whole sports station in one day. I’ve experienced that. Then I was at XM Satellite Radio before the merger with Sirius. It was difficult trying to raise capital. I saw 100 people fired in one day and luckily I survived that one.
You see all that stuff so it’s hard to feel – you just know how the business is – it’s hard to ever feel like man, I can’t be that one day. But I know this, man, I try hard to not have that happen because this is where I want to be. This is the city I love. This is the sports town I love. So every day I’m motivated because I don’t want that to happen here.
TH: I don’t worry too much about it because I’m surprised we’re here at this point.
CM: It’s all gravy now?
TH: It’s like soccer extra time. We’re fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m just grateful to still be here and I know what we have and what’s been established. If someone doesn’t think that’s good enough, that’s on them. It doesn’t take away from the last 17 years of what we’ve done.
Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best
“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”
Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.
“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”
Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.
“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”
And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.
“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.
Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.
Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.
“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”
Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.
“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything. Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”
Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.
“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”
The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman.
“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth.
From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.
“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.
And the rest is history.
An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.
And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft.
“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.”
An incredibly big moment for Jac would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.
But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.
“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.
Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.
But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.
“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.”
While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.
But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth. “He just works at this stuff.”
Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.
Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.
“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years. I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.
“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”
Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.
Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments. In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.
“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.”
Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.
But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.
“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success
“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.
Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.
From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.
“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”
At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.
Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.
“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.
Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.
“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”
Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.
“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”
By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.
“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”
During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.
“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”
All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.
Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.
“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”
Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.
“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”
Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.
“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”
A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.
“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”
Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.
Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.
“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”
As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.
“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”
Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.
As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.
“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link
His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.
ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.
When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.
Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.
In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.
Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.
One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.
He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.
And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.
But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.