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Q&A With First Take’s Top Exec

Jason Barrett

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Richard Deitsch of SI.com recently conducted an interview with Marcia Keegan, the ESPN vice president of production who oversees First Take as well as other shows including SportsNation, Numbers Never Lie and Outside The Lines (OTL). The conversation reads below as a straight Q&A.

SI.com: As the top executive regarding stewardship of some of ESPN’s highest profile studio shows, how do you view your role regarding First Take?

Keegan: First Take is one of the shows I oversee and I am involved with it similarly in the way I am with other shows, which is to make sure things keep going the way they should be going and that people are generally happy. If there are going to be any drastic changes of direction, I am spearheading that. Day to day, I am hands off.

SI.com: Are you proud of the show?

Keegan: I am proud of the show.

SI.com: Why?

Keegan: Because it appeals to an audience that some of the other shows I have responsibility for don’t. We’re a big tent at ESPN. I am very proud of OTL and their journalistic efforts. It is journalism at its best and this [First Take] to me is a different way of reaching different fans.

SI.com: How fair is it for me to describe First Take as a program built around disagreement-as-entertainment?

Keegan: That’s not unfair.

SI.com: Given that, one could suggest that the concept of disagreement as entertainment is highly flawed because you ultimately need to manufacture disagreement to maintain what the program is.

Keegan: No, we never manufacture disagreement. What we do is find topics where there is disagreement and there are times when they have agreed on things. But mostly it is a debate show. So if there is a topic they are in vehement agreement about, it might be one we choose to go with that day.

SI.com: What journalistic purpose does First Take serve, if any?

Keegan: It depends on how you define journalistic. I’d say journalism like OTL, if you are looking for that, it’s not. But neither are Top 10 highlights on SportsCenter. A lot of what we do is not journalism per se. It all depends on the show and the topic and so forth.

SI.com: Let me ask you some questions I received from readers if I could. From Andrew Bucholtz [who runs Yahoo! Canada’s CFL blog]: What does ESPN want to see from First Take? Audience numbers? Sports points of view that aren’t expressed elsewhere? Something that inspires conversations elsewhere? What is the actual goal from the show?

Keegan: The answer to that is yes. We want to offer something different and talk about things people are talking about. We try to do it in a way our SportsCenters can’t and don’t have the freedom to, and may not want to. He’s highlighted three things I do want to do with that show.

SI.com: From Matt Yoder [who is also the managing editor of Awful Announcing]: How has “Embrace Debate” positively and negatively affected the ESPN brand?

Keegan: I think it has positively affected it in almost every way you can think of.

SI.com Why?

Keegan: It has been great for ratings. If you told me five years ago when I first had responsibility for this that we could regularly do a 0.4 [350,000-450,000 or so viewers.] at 10:00 a.m. on ESPN2, I’d say what are you smoking? It is a great for ratings. I will not share with you the financials but it is good for financials. And I think it is good for the brand.

SI.com: From reader Ken Weide: Why is the show is so focused on topics that are looking to “blame” someone?

Keegan: I would disagree with that characterization.

SI.com: Why would you disagree with that characterization?

Keegan: I think we talk about everything. Not just a blame game but an opinion game. One thing I don’t know if you looked into or talked to people about is we do race very well.

SI.com: We’ll get to that later, for sure. From reader John Kollm: How do they target certain demographics and how does that shape the show?

Keegan: We never set out to target a demographic. When I was given First Take [Keegan took over in fall of 2009] I looked at it and said, “What is its identity?” I don’t know what this show is. It often appeared to be ‘Not SportsCenter.’ We were just giving the viewer something that was not SportsCenter at that time of day. Then I asked Jamie Horowitz to come in and look at the show and debate always rated well on the show. He is the one who suggested all debate. I was a little leery at first but I said give it a shot. And it has done very well. So that is how it evolved.

SI.com: People on Twitter often ask me about Bayless’s Twitter feed and I will be the first to admit that I also solicit people’s opinion on what he has said. He tweeted at the end of the NBA Finals, “I cannot express how much fun I’m having watching LeBron cry at the end of the bench,” He’s called LeBron James, “LeCramp” and “Prince James” among other names. One my readers sent a graphic of Bayless sending nearly 30 tweets on LeBron over a short time span. How would you characterize Bayless’s comments on LeBron James?

Keegan: Expressing his strong opinions about LeBron James.

SI.com: How would you counter my assertion that his attacks on LeBron James are unprofessional, unbecoming of ESPN, and done merely to call attention to Bayless?

Keegan: I’d certainly argue that are done solely to call attention to Skip. Skip believes everything he says. He has strong opinions and wants them out there. Different people have different ways of communicating their thoughts. Skip has 1.4 million Twitter followers so there are a lot of people who want to hear what he has to say.

SI.com: So in terms of the content of his tweets and specifically on his tweets about LeBron James, you are comfortable with what he is putting out there?

Keegan: I would not tweet that, okay? But I also allow for the fact that some people want to hear that and that is how some people communicate. The line between acceptable and unacceptable — and we deal with this all the time with our tweets — is not clear. I don’t think Skip has ever crossed that line.

SI.com: A couple of years ago Bayless said that Dwight Howard looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane. He’s called Chris Bosh by the nickname of Bosh Spice. Do you see any sexism or misogyny with those comments?

Keegan: I don’t recall those comments but I can’t separate them from the Skip Bayless I know and he is anything but sexist or racist.

SI.com: Outside The Lines is also under your purview. The show has moved previously in July or August from ESPN to ESPN2 before the start of the NFL season. Will that happen again?

KeeganYes. The daily show for certain. I’ll have to check on the Sunday show.

SI.com: When will that change happen?

Keegan: I believe it is mid-July.

SI.com: You and your colleagues know my point of view when it comes to OTL. Is that a fair move for a show that just won a Peabody Award?

Keegan: Programming is the department that makes those decisions and a lot of things go into it: contractual obligations, ratings, sales. I can’t really address why it is done.

SI.com: As the person who oversees the show, how concerned are you that the audience will hemorrhage with switch as the metrics showed it did last year?

Keegan: Hemorrhage is a strong word. If the viewers want to see it, we try everywhere possible to tell them where to find it. People get OTL segments on SportsCenter. They go to the dot-com for portions of the show. There are all sorts of ways to get the content of the show and the ratings only is not a fair assessment of that.

SI.com: Do you consider Bayless and Stephen A. Smith to be journalists?

Keegan: Yes.

SI.com: Why?

Keegan: I think that their background is clear that they are journalists. But to go back to what you asked me earlier: Is First Take itself a journalistic show? No, not in that sense.

SI.com: Let me read you something from Richard Sherman who said the following to Skip Bayless on your airwaves: “I am intelligent enough and capable enough to understand that you are ignorant, pompous, egotistical cretin, and that’s what it comes down to. And I’m going to crush you on here in front of everybody because I’m tired of hearing about it.” Do you consider that a good or bad moment for First Take and why?

Keegan: I consider it a moment. I don’t characterize it. It certainly was not what we were looking for and not what we were expecting.

SI.com: How much of the show’s content will revolve around Johnny Manziel heading forward?

Keegan: If he remains a hot topic, it will remain a topic.

SI.com: In hindsight, how do you feel about the show’s coverage of Tim Tebow?

Keegan: At the time Tim Tebow was in the news every day and we talked about him a lot. Other shows followed suit at ESPN so it wasn’t as if everyone was saying that is a terrible idea. He was a hot topic.

SI.com: You are not in the day to day production meetings at First Take but when it comes to First Take’s topics, who decides the topics chosen?

Keegan: Stephen A., Skip, Antoine Lewis (the show’s coordinating producer) and our producers all talk about it. But we do want Skip and Stephen A. to feel strongly about the topic. They are two stars.

To read the entire interview visit SI which is where this story was first published

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The Blitz 1170 in Tulsa to Cease Operations

“The company decided the sports format wasn’t working and they’re going to take the signal in another direction.”

Barrett Sports Media

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the blitz logo

After just under three years in the format, Griffin Media is pulling the plug on The Blitz 1170 in Tulsa.

Social media posts from the station’s local hosts reveal that The Blitz will be moving away from its sports format on Wednesday, June 26th.

“There’s some news from our part of the world. Griffin Media has made the decision to eliminate The Blitz 1170 and those of us working there after June 26,” wrote morning host Rick Couri. “The company decided the sports format wasn’t working and they’re going to take the signal in another direction.

“This will likely bring my 42 year career of being on the air in Tulsa to an end, I don’t see a lot of other options for several reasons. I will still be broadcasting Tulsa University and Union football and who knows what else might come along. Until then I want to say thank you to everyone who has listened along the way and those incredible people I’ve worked with. It’s been quite an adventure with many amazing opportunities and experiences to be forever grateful for.”

The station featured Couri in mornings, followed by The Dan Patrick Show and The Rich Eisen Show. Afternoon drive was helmed by Colby Daniels and Program Director Jeremie “Pop” Polin from 3-6 PM. Daniels shared a similar post on social media as Couri.

The Blitz 1170 will be changing formats in a couple weeks. While I’m very sad about this news, I’m more thankful for having this opportunity and establishing friendships that will continue beyond the airwaves. I’m proud of this entire team and can’t say enough positive things about everyone I had the privilege to work with. I appreciate all the listeners supporting the Blitz every day,” Daniels wrote. “Some followed me to this signal and others welcomed me to Tulsa radio with open arms. You all have a special place in my heart.

“I feel like I’m at a major crossroads in my broadcasting career and I don’t know what my next step will be. I know I have so much more to offer but will have to carefully weigh whatever options emerge. It’s rare in this business to be given the opportunity to finish out the last 2 weeks. Our final show will be June 26th so let’s have fun doing what we love until then.”

According to a report from RadioInsight, the station recently changed its call letters to KOTV-AM, to replicate the same branding used by the company’s TV outlet in the market.

Griffin Media has yet to announce plans for the station after flipping away from the sports format on June 26th.

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ESPN LA 710 to Broadcast USC Athletics

“We’re excited to collaborate with ESPN LA 710 AM to advance the USC Athletics brand and connect with fans across the Greater Los Angeles media market.”

Barrett Sports Media

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ESPN LA 710

The University of Southern California and ESPN LA 710 have agreed to a deal that will expand their broadcast partnership starting in the 2024 season. ESPN LA 710 will be the flagship station for USC Trojans football and men’s basketball games throughout the season in addition to adding women’s basketball games on the airwaves as well. Beginning in the fall, listeners will be able to hear all of the games on 710 AM, the ESPN LA Trojans Radio Network, in addition to within the USC Trojans Game Day app, the USC Trojans website and the ESPN LA app.

As USC prepares to move to the Big Ten Conference for the season, games will continue to air on the USC Trojans Media Network, which includes affiliates KSZL Barstow 1230 AM, KJJZ-HD3 102.7 Thousand Palms, KSHP Las Vegas 1400 AM and 107.1 FM and the Hawaiian Sports Radio Network on KGU 95.1 FM and 760 AM. Spanish language broadcasts of USC Football will be available on the ESPN LA app and USC Trojans app as well. The USC Trojans Media Network will also air basketball games as new men’s head coach Eric Musselman starts his tenure at the university and the women’s team welcomes transfer forward Kiki Iriafen from Stanford.

“We’re excited to collaborate with ESPN LA 710 AM to advance the USC Athletics brand and connect with fans across the Greater Los Angeles media market,” Jen Cohen, director of athletics at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “As we move into a new era of Trojan Athletics, identifying partners who can help us provide our student-athletes with the platform to make their mark on collegiate athletics and reach new generations of supporters is critical. From the addition of play-by-play coverage for our women’s basketball program and Spanish-language coverage for football, to the reach and brand equity established by ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, we’re confident this partnership will help us achieve our goals.”

Outside of live game broadcasts for USC football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, ESPN LA 710 will also air a new weekly program titled Trojans Live. The show will be broadcast on ESPN LA 710 AM from 6 to 7 p.m. EST starting on Monday, Aug. 26 and running through Monday, Dec. 9. ESPN LA 710 previously broadcast USC Trojans Athletics from 2006 to 2019 and is also the flagship home of the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles FC.

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Bob Fescoe: Charles Barkley is Irreplaceable

“How many people want to do that as well, just kind of walk away and say, ‘You know what? I put in my time and I am done here, and now I have the ability to walk away…'”

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Bob Fescoe
Courtesy: 610 Sports Radio

Charles Barkley announced that he would be retiring from television following the 2024-25 season on Saturday night. The TNT Sports analyst revealed the news during a postgame show on NBA TV after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, in which the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Boston Celtics to remain standing in the best-of-seven series. Within his discourse, Barkley emphasized that he made the decision himself and that next year would be his last no matter what happens.

Moreover, he stated that he has talked with other networks who have approached him as reports indicate that Warner Bros. Discovery could be losing broadcasting rights for the NBA following next season. Bob Fescoe and Josh Klingler played the audio of Barkley’s retirement announcement on 610 Sports Radio during the Fescoe in the Morning program on Monday.

Barkley emphasized that he would pass the baton to either Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter or Steve Smith when he retires from television next year. For the last 24 years, Barkley has been a member of Inside the NBA, the award-winning studio program hosted by Ernie Johnson with analysts Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Shaquille O’Neal. There were rumors about Barkley leaving Warner Bros. Discovery to take a role with the LIV Golf Tour; however, he decided to cut off those talks and stated that he would finish his television career with the Turner Sports division.

The NBA is now reportedly in the process of formalizing new media rights contracts with The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC), NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video said to be worth a collective $7.6 billion. Throughout the process, Barkley has been interviewed several times across different media platforms and expressed his feelings on the matter, including questioning the rationale of Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive officer and president David Zaslav.

“I feel like he’s just tired of being asked about it,’” Klingler said. “He’s like, ‘You know what? I don’t care where it goes – I’m done.’”

Fescoe questioned if anyone could blame Barkley for what he has decided to do, especially receiving firsthand knowledge on how everything is playing out. Over the last several months, Inside the NBA has been a topic of discussion, part of which has presumably been about its future on television. If Barkley follows through with his decision, it would mark the end of the studio program as currently constructed, and Fescoe believes that Barkley has ultimately had enough of dealing with the speculation and ambiguity.

“How many people want to do that as well, just kind of walk away and say, ‘You know what? I put in my time and I am done here, and now I have the ability to walk away,’” Fescoe questioned, “and not many people work for the love of the job anymore, right, and it seems like what they’ve gone through and what they’ve been drug through with all of this rights fee stuff is management getting in the way of them doing what they love doing.”

Part of Fescoe’s logic pertaining to why Barkley has decided to move on from television after next year is that he could be reading the writing on the wall. In mentioning that he has spoken with other networks, Fescoe presumed that ESPN would have Barkley work more hours and that he would not be interested in doing that. Barkley is a sports media professional Fescoe considers to be irreplaceable, much like his co-host Josh Klingler, who is leaving the show on 610 Sports Radio next month.

“Greg Olsen, I guess, is considered replaceable at FOX by Tom Brady, and they just move analysts out and bring guys in all the time, but there are some people that are not replaceable,” Fescoe said, “and if you’re going to keep that Inside the NBA show, you can keep it in name, but if you don’t have Charles Barkley, no offense to anybody else up there, it’s just not the same type of show and it’s just not going to be as good as if Charles Barkley is there.”

Klingler is not sure that Barkley will end up retiring and believes that he will be back in some capacity. Additionally, he mentioned that it could be a means of putting TNT on the hot seat by putting pressure on the company to retain broadcast rights to the league. Fescoe replied by articulating that it could be Barkley putting ESPN on the hot seat to make him a lucrative contract offer and consider signing with the network.

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