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Q&A w/ Traug Keller of ESPN Audio

Jason Barrett

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I’ve been wanting to do an in-depth Q&A with a member of ESPN Audio management for some time (if you read this column, you are more than familiar with my likes and dislikes on that network). Last week I sat down with Traug Keller, who oversees all aspects of the ESPN’s audio business including talent, staffing, national programming content, scheduling and event production. After a couple of emails with ESPN PR, conditions were agreed upon: I agreed to ESPN’s request that an ESPN PR staffer (Diane Lamb) sit in on the interview. ESPN agreed that the interview would be on the record at the start and anything off the record would happen only after SI.com’s questions were concluded. We met at a midtown Manhattan pastry shop. Over the course of a 45-minute interview, Keller answered all the questions I asked, which I respect, even when I felt he was selling me The Bristol soap. Our conversation is below.

SI.com: Let me read you a quote from someone: “If you’re not getting in trouble once in awhile you’re not pushing things enough.” Who said that about sports talk radio?

Keller: Let’s see. I said that at a conference sponsored by Sports Business Journal. That’s what happens when they let me off script.

Why do you believe that?

Don’t take the literal translation of that, but what I do believe is you have to push your opinion out there, even if it makes people uncomfortable, including your own bosses. It doesn’t mean you need to be nasty or you need to be degrading. But it does it mean you need to kind of talk the talk in what I believe is a very authentic medium.

How would you define the line between pushing the envelope and going past that line? Is there a line you have in your mind that ESPN Audio on-air employers cannot cross?

This should be all our lines: Whatever you do, don’t make anything personal. We can’t preach that enough. Do we always succeed? No. Do we constantly have to remind ourselves that it is a privilege to have the microphone? Yes. You can be critical but you cannot be personal. I know it happens, but at least we strive not to do that.

How would you define the overall content philosophy of ESPN Audio?

I fall back on—and it is not a fallback, it is what I believe—that we take what we cover seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I do think it needs to be fun. If you look at the front page of today’s newspaper, whether it is ISIS or immigration or Homeland Security or gridlock, I do believe people come to sports talk radio as an escape. We need to keep the fun quotient. Not that today’s sports is not really helping us out, but we need to be relentless in trying to strive for that.

How many listeners does ESPN Audio have per week?

We are just over 20 million a week.

What is the male-female breakdown?

It is a pretty heavy male to female skew: 80-20 male.

How many stations is ESPN Audio affiliated with today?

More than 500 affiliates and there are three owned-and-operated stations.

Let me ask you about some specific ESPN Audio personalities. In New York City, the nation’s biggest media market, the WFAN’s morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton averaged a 7.9 share in for the last ratings period, nearly doubling the 4.0 for your national show featuring Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg.

In Philadelphia, Angelo Cataldi and his Morning Show have nearly double the local listeners of Mike and Mike among men 25-54. In Chicago, ESPN Radio gets beat in the morning. This is not to be pejorative about Greenberg and Golic who obviously have a national following, but why have you not been able to get traction in certain major cities with your morning programming?

Let’s take a step back. Sixty percent of the people who listen to sports radio in aggregate across the country listen to us. So we look at it in total. We also look at it in terms of our brand. We think Mike and Mike does a good job extending the brand of ESPN. We are not going to do what Boomer and Carton do on their show. It is just a different show.

How would you define the line between pushing the envelope and going past that line? Is there a line you have in your mind that ESPN Audio on-air employers cannot cross?

This should be all our lines: Whatever you do, don’t make anything personal. We can’t preach that enough. Do we always succeed? No. Do we constantly have to remind ourselves that it is a privilege to have the microphone? Yes. You can be critical but you cannot be personal. I know it happens, but at least we strive not to do that.

How would you define the overall content philosophy of ESPN Audio?

I fall back on—and it is not a fallback, it is what I believe—that we take what we cover seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I do think it needs to be fun. If you look at the front page of today’s newspaper, whether it is ISIS or immigration or Homeland Security or gridlock, I do believe people come to sports talk radio as an escape. We need to keep the fun quotient. Not that today’s sports is not really helping us out, but we need to be relentless in trying to strive for that.

How many listeners does ESPN Audio have per week?

We are just over 20 million a week.

What is the male-female breakdown?

It is a pretty heavy male to female skew: 80-20 male.

How many stations is ESPN Audio affiliated with today?

More than 500 affiliates and there are three owned-and-operated stations.

Let me ask you about some specific ESPN Audio personalities. In New York City, the nation’s biggest media market, the WFAN’s morning team of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton averaged a 7.9 share in for the last ratings period, nearly doubling the 4.0 for your national show featuring Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg.

In Philadelphia, Angelo Cataldi and his Morning Show have nearly double the local listeners of Mike and Mike among men 25-54. In Chicago, ESPN Radio gets beat in the morning. This is not to be pejorative about Greenberg and Golic who obviously have a national following, but why have you not been able to get traction in certain major cities with your morning programming?

Let’s take a step back. Sixty percent of the people who listen to sports radio in aggregate across the country listen to us. So we look at it in total. We also look at it in terms of our brand. We think Mike and Mike does a good job extending the brand of ESPN. We are not going to do what Boomer and Carton do on their show. It is just a different show.

Are you talking about doing local content or being more provocative?

Being more provocative. We can’t do that. I will tell you that a litmus test of mine for Mike and Mike and how it fits in with the brand is I wantMike and Mike to be able to be on with the moms driving the kids in the backseat to school. We get feedback on that, and it matters. It matters to our brand. Do we want to have the sports show of record where commissioners want to come to get their point of view across? Yes. All that stuff matters. It actually allows us to deliver an audience that advertisers feel very comfortable in and more and more today advertisers are trying to stay away from controversial talk.

We feel good about the brand we are putting forth. Now ratings are absolutely important. We added Cris Carter in the fall [to Mike and Mike] and it absolutely helped move the ratings. We’ve brought in [His and Hers co-hosts] Jemele Hill and Michael Smith from time to time and that has helped. We are doing things to constantly tweak the ratings. I’m not ceding it but I am telling you there is a larger picture.

How would you counter the perception that Mike and Mike is too vanilla for morning talk?

I think you can have that perception and in some ways we have had that perception. The changes you have seen in the fall are a reflection of that.

Mike and Mike’s content can sometimes come off as auxiliary PR or marketing for ESPN and a safe landing spot for guests as opposed to other sports shows where the hosts are more challenging of subjects. Fair or unfair statement?

I don’t agree with that. I think if you go back and listen to interviews, both Mike and Mike go about questioning differently, which is good, and you will see Golic get right in there. I would counter that tough questions are asked. Is it Outside The Lines? No. Is it meant to be an entertaining morning sports show? Yes. But I would say these guys are good questioners and astute there.

How personally disappointed were you with Bill Simmons that he took a public shot at Mike and Mike[Simmons was responding to Golic, who called him an attention-seeker.]​

Sometimes, like the sports we cover, we like to keep things in the locker room. That’s my answer.

What is a realistic timeframe for the full run of Mike and Mike? Fifteen years in an incredible run in sports talk radio on a national level. Is there a post Greenberg-Golic plan in place or is way too early to think about that?

I think it is too early. We have some exciting things that we are thinking about that will keep that show energized and dynamic for certain.

To read the rest of the article read Richard Deitsch’s column on SI by clicking here

Sports Radio News

Joy Taylor Says Aaron Rodgers Is More Likeable After Pardon My Take Appearance

“It makes him astronomically more likeable,” Taylor said.

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Joy Taylor

On Monday, the Pardon My Take podcast dropped their latest episode which featured an interview with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Big Cat, one of the show’s co-hosts, is a Chicago Bears fan and has spent a lot of time not liking Rodgers publicly.

Colin Cowherd saw one of the many clips that the show shared and brought up how much he thought that Rodgers took ribbing from Big Cat and the podcast in stride. That’s when Joy Taylor offered that the interview could help Rodgers in the long run.

“It makes him astronomically more likeable,” Taylor said. “When you can show that you don’t take yourself that seriously, all of the animosity that people have towards you just kind of starts to wither away.”

She added that the disarming quality helps if people don’t perceive Rodgers as thinking he has all the answers.

“When people feel like they are projecting ‘I know more than you’ and ‘I’ve got it all figured out’ energy, people are like: ‘you got to be the smartest guy on the room all time time? You’re not.’

This is so likeable,” Taylor said. “It’s really funny.”

Cowherd agreed and even said he is probably going to go listen to it after the show.

“Aaron is genuinely laughing as they make fun of him and that is an incredibly endearing quality.”

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Sports Radio News

WNSR Debuts ‘Power Hour’ with Sami Kincaid

Nashville’s WNSR debuted Power Hour with host Sami Kincaid.

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Power Hour with Sami Kincaid

Nashville has a brand new voice to listen to on WNSR and her name is Sami Kincaid. On Saturday, the station debuted Power Hour with host Sami Kincaid.

The debut show featured Associated Press writer Teresa Walker, Vanderbilt women’s basketball guard Jordyn Cambridge and North Georgia assistant softball coach Alea White. The show is focused on women that are operating inside sports.

The show airs Saturdays from 9-10a CT.

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Sports Radio News

Toucher and Rich: Dennis Eckersley’s Retirement a “Huge Loss”

“When Eckersley got in there (the booth),” Shertenlieb started, “he was great. It made all of them better when Dennis Eckersley was around. It’s going to be a huge loss.”

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Dennis Eckersley

On Monday, Dennis Eckersley announced that he was going to retire from the Boston Red Sox television booth at the end of this season. The current NESN analyst is leaving after twenty years on the air with the team.

The news broke during Toucher and Rich on 98.5 the Sports Hub and it gave show co-host Rich Shertenlieb a chance to mention the news and praise the departing personality.

“When Eckersley got in there (the booth),” Shertenlieb started, “he was great. It made all of them better when Dennis Eckersley was around. It’s going to be a huge loss.”

The show spent the rest of the segment talking about what Eckersley offered that made him so unique. That’s when Matt McCarthy, fill-in for Fred Toucher, said that Eckersley was exactly what you wanted in an analyst.

“You want someone that’s going to give you an opinion,” McCarthy said. “Eck gave you an opinion. He’ll be missed.”

McCarthy also pointed out that this is the latest major shakeup that has happened to the television broadcast in recent years.

“There’s no doubt this is a blow,” McCarthy added. “This is a tremendous loss to that Red Sox broadcast to which has taken a lot of hits over the years with the loss of Jerry Remy, the decision to move on from Don Orsillo and now Dennis Eckersley retiring… they are going to have to find an entertainer in there. Matt McCarthy

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