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How ESPN Radio Has Evolved

Jason Barrett

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Summer is in full swing, but the season of #HotTakes is quickly cooling off.

Colin Cowherd — already with one foot in the Fox Sports life-raft — fell into steaming, shark-infested waters following the type of xenophobic, bigoted comments about Dominicans that were only a couple doors down from Trump-ian levels of boorishness.

Not surprisingly, ESPN brass ensured those words would be Cowherd’s unceremonious swan song at the network, relieving the lightning rod from storm duty in Bristol. The man who carried mid-mornings by himself on ESPN for a dozen years — no small task, it should be noted — vanished in a cumulonimbus of his own neoconservative foolishness.

While the 10–1 a.m. Eastern block will never be the same, and many would argue that’s a good thing, a rich arsenal of talent is waiting in the wings to pounce on the coveted time-slot. More importantly, however, Cowherd’s unceremonious departure is but another in a series a surprising shifts from sports talk’s blustery past to its brilliant future. In fact, the afternoon, evening and weekend cruise directors aboard the Dread Pirate ESPN Radio are more intelligent, nuanced and cultured than ever — a gradual movement that dates back over half a decade.

Which begs the question: Has any of this been by design?

When the Scott Van Pelt Show debuted in 2009, it represented a gentle breeze that stemmed the hot air bloviating from sports radio for over a generation. With silly segments like “Seven Seconds” and “Pulse of the Nation” interspersed between heartfelt interviews and always, always “One Big Thing,” Scott Van Pelt and — after cycling through a couple capable co-pilots before meeting his match — Ryen Russillo perfectly balanced an inclusive, enlightening dialogue with a snarky tone. It helped that in Scott and Ryen, ESPN had the two backward-hat jokesters shooting spitballs in the back of class who also just happened to be secret bookworms who aced every test.

As that show grew in popularity — particularly among the coveted 18–34 demographic that appreciated sabermetrics and Aqua Teen Hunger Force with equal fervor — SVP & Russillo (as the show was renamed) stood in stark contrast to the “rack ‘em” mongols that elevated Jim Rome into the Kublai Khan of the afternoon sports talk “Jungle.”

With the Duke rapping Wu-Tang and Stanford Steve asking “Who’s the Nerd?”, the two developed a din that was effortlessly brilliant and casually profound. Since SVP left the show earlier this year, the chocolate-baritone Russillo, a veteran late-night radio voice, College Gameday air-traffic controller and NBA salary cap-savant, has carried the torch with a deft touch and a workhorse mentality.

And Russillo isn’t the only friendly voice that cut his teeth soundtracking sleepless nights whose star is rapidly rising.

Freddie Coleman has graduated into quite the mainstay at the Four-Letter, a sturdy pundit with a yeoman’s soul and an everyman’s heart who has carved out a sub-genre somewhere approaching “Quiet Storm Sports Talk.” Coleman may be a warm, welcoming overnight host, but he’s no overnight success. He’s spent a dozen years at ESPN refining his hypnotic voice, understated opinions, subtle enthusiasm, and whip-smart takes.

It’s tough to imagine a polar opposite of Coleman being equally likable, but if anyone pulls off the trick, it’s Highly Questionable Dan Le Batard — the converted Miami columnist, DLHQ O.G., and part-time PTI carpet-bomber who is among the most creative, zany and intelligent minds in sports. Le Batard has never written a check with his hurricane-force loudmouth that his mind couldn’t cash or hasn’t been cosigned by damn near every respected mind in the industry. He combines Caddyshack-era Rodney Dangerfield with Moneyball-era Michael Lewis, hosting the wildest, smartest frat party on radio.

And yet, Le Batard’s Highly Questionable co-host and recent Miami transplant Bomani Jones may be the single most emblematic embodiment of the ESPN Radio paradigm shift. Jones, who’s “The Right Time” sizzles from 9–11 p.m. Eastern, famously admits he’s been fired from almost every job he’s ever had. It sure as hell wasn’t for a lack of talent or hard work.

The son of two college professors, with a degree from Clark-Atlanta and two Masters in economics from Claremont and UNC, Jones seems like an unlikely sports radio star … until you listen to him. He’s unflinchingly smart and you get the sense he’d be just as capable of winning a Nobel Prize as an Emmy. A new media savant who tweets with metronomic precision and frequency, Jones lights up the airways with some of the most reasoned, nuanced positions the sports world has to offer. His most profound segments — including some of the most electric commentary on race this side of Ta-Nehisi Coates — hum like an extended EDM buildup before he drops the beat and the mic and the hammer, often leading to viral notoriety for all the right reasons.

And for as bright as Jones’ evening star shines, the recently knighted beacons of ESPN’s Saturday and Sunday sports talk also radiate with Ivy League brilliance.

Alums (and recovering athletes) of Cornell and Duke, respectively, Sarah Spain and Prim Siripipat spit some of the most feverish game the industry. Spain & Prim made its maiden voyage this year and feels like the kind of polished, comfortable conversation that’s always existed and always will. It’s two women — yes, Fellas, women! — dominating the intersection of sports and pop culture with a wine-drinker’s sophistication and a beer-guzzler’s passion.

Following in the footsteps of the criminally under-appreciated Amy Lawrence, ESPN’s move to finally bring two strong female voices to radio together, where they can be judged by the caliber and charisma of their opinions, is a gift from the programming gods. It’s also a giant leap forward from the longstanding tradition of chauvinist executives typecasting women as sideline lawn ornaments. One can only expect (and cheer for) this show being the beginning of an unprecedented run.

Aside from the (perhaps intentionally) vanilla Mike and Mike morning monolith — which generates huge ratings and even larger profit margins — the ESPN Radio empire has been taken over seamlessly, smartly and soulfully by a new generation of on-air talent.

Someday, we might even look back and realize that the Golden Era of Sports Talk began auspiciously with a snarky Sportscenter anchor named Van Pelt, who kicked down the sports radio door and made it safe for smart people — particularly Millennials — without forcing them to turn the dial to NPR.

And with any luck, we will also look back at Colin Cowherd’s ousting as the final nail in the coffin of the who-wants-it-more “Embrace Debate” era — the end of predictable and lazy commentary tropes like “Count the Rings” and exhaustive explorations of the “Character Issues” that only African-American quarterbacks seem to develop.

With Russillo, Coleman, Le Batard, Jones, Spain and Siripipat, the voices of the Mothership’s next generation are reasoned, analytical, inclusive, hip, brilliant and diverse. (Indeed, only Russillo comes out of “White Male” radio host central casting, and even he comes across as atypical in the industry’s formulaic construct.) ESPN Radio is now stocked with fully-formed, eclectic, diverse people, with passions beyond X’s and O’s, and talents beyond seeing who can yell the loudest to prove their point.

Miraculously, what we may be hearing is a complete overhaul of over-the-air sports as we know it. The prophecies foretold may well have been right, after all. The revolution will not be televised. It’ll air on ESPN Radio.

Listen up.

Credit to The-Caludron.com who originally published this article

Sports Radio News

Ryan Edwards Moves to The Sports Zoo on KOA

“Edwards has been on the radio in Denver since 2009. He spent eight years with 104.3 The Fan. He also did a short stint at Mile High Sports Radio.”

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Ryan Edwards is staying with KOA, but his hours are about to change. The Denver sports radio staple is moving off of Broncos Country Tonight to join Alfred Williams and Dave Logan on The Sports Zoo in afternoon drive.

“I am thrilled to join radio and football legends Dave Logan and Alfred Williams on The KOA Sports Zoo,” Edwards said in a press release. “I look forward to bringing a fans’ perspective to the Denver Broncos and all things Denver sports.”

Edwards has been on the radio in Denver since 2009. He spent eight years with 104.3 The Fan. He also did a short stint at Mile High Sports Radio.

He joined iHeart Denver in 2017. He was on Orange & Blue 760 before the company replaced the station with a conservative talk format. He moved to KOA in 2019, where he has worked on Broncos Country Tonight with Benjamin Albright.

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Sports Radio News

Jason Fitz: Keyshawn Johnson Cannot Be Serious With Trevor Lawrence Take

“There is no way Trevor Lawrence is the eighth-best quarterback out of eight left in the playoffs after doing what he did after the first quarter of that last game.”

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Jason Fitz

When he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021, Trevor Lawrence was heralded as a once-in-a-lifetime type of prospect. While his career had a bit of a rocky start, he has shown a lot in year two, including leading one of the largest come-from-behind victories in playoff history Saturday night against the Chargers. Jason Fitz cannot believe that isn’t enough to impress Keyshawn Johnson.

The ESPN Radio morning man ranked the eight remaining starting quarterbacks in the NFL playoffs and put Lawrence dead last.

“Trevor Lawrence at eight? I know Keyshawn Johnson is out there in California, but I want to party with Key because obviously, he was doing a little partying before this show, Harry,” Jason Fitz told his partner on Tuesday’s edition of Fitz & Harry. “There is no way Trevor Lawrence is the eighth-best quarterback out of eight left in the playoffs after doing what he did after the first quarter of that last game.”

Fitz noted that during the season people started calling Lawrence “Trevor Tangerines” for the daringness he continued to show even after things looked bad for him and the Jaguars. He said that on Saturday night, he should have been called “Trevor Watermelons”.

Jason Fitz acknowledged that it would be hard to rank anyone ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Jalen Hurts, which made up Keyshawn Johnson’s top four. But Fitz doesn’t think this is a matter of Lawrence being disrespected for being number eight, behind Brock Purdy, who began the season as the 49ers’ third-string quarterback, instead of number seven.

“Considering the whole body of work and the way that Trevor Lawrence has played since week nine, you wouldn’t have to press hard to put Daniel Jones below Trevor Lawrence.”

He added that Keyshawn Johnson is also being influenced by the uniform Trevor Lawrence wears.

“I think there’s a little element that speaks to the fact that we have a perception on certain organizations. I’m just saying — four interceptions or not — this is the analogy I keep making this week: If Trevor Lawrence had the bounceback game with the star in his helmet as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, today the conversation would be like ‘Well, you can’t hold him down the whole game’.”

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Sports Radio News

Boomer Esiason: ManningCast Proves Peyton Manning Can Never Be a Coach

“He’s got no patience whatsoever.” 

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Don’t expect to see Peyton Manning on an NFL sideline. He may be one of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen, but Manning isn’t cut out to be a coach according to Boomer Esiason.

On Tuesday morning, Esiason and the rest of the Boomer & Gio cast listened to highlights of the previous night’s ManningCast. They enjoyed the audio of Peyton Manning losing his temper after Cowboys kicker Brent Maher missed his third extra-point attempt of the night.

The clip, which has since gone viral, includes Manning asking if a kicker can be cut at halftime of a playoff game.

“This is why Peyton can’t coach,” Esiason said in response to the audio. “He’s got no patience whatsoever.” 

The chemistry and authenticity of Peyton and Eli is often cited as the appeal of the ManningCast. Esiason noted that was what is on display in moments the brothers cannot control.

Boomer Esiason was a guest on the week eight ManningCast, which featured his former team, — the Cincinnati Bengals — playing Cleveland Browns. Esiason said at the time that while it was a distracting way to try and follow a game, being a part of the show is a lot of fun. He echoed that praise Tuesday morning.

“Those things are really unbelievably done. I mean, they are funny.”

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