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What I Learned From The Best In Sports Radio Series

Jason Barrett

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After six days, List-A-Mania has officially stopped running wild. It was fun putting together Barrett Sports Media’s “Best in Sports Radio of 2015” but now that all of the categories and winners have been announced, I thought I’d take some time to share some of the things I learned from overseeing this project.

I couldn’t have put this together properly without the full support of the industry. For those of you who read the columns, shared them on Facebook and Twitter, discussed them on-air, and personally sought me out to share your input, I simply say thank you! These things only work if the individuals and groups involved get behind them, and I was pleased to see many professionals take pride in the way the format and its top performers were presented.

As I stated from the start, these results are very subjective. Unfortunately in our line of work there is no head to head competition to determine which show, host and station is the best in the format, and there are so many factors to consider that it’s not possible to put together a perfect criteria. But by involving 35 executives from 23 U.S cities and 15 broadcast companies, I think we did as thorough of a job as we could.

That said, there are always lessons to be learned, and areas to be improved upon. The past few weeks taught me a lot about research, talent, perceptions, misinformation, competition, pride, and why projects like this are important for people in the sports radio industry.

When I decided to take the plunge and start working on this project, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. I knew there’d be tons of feedback, some of it very negative, and with an imperfect criteria and the identity of the executives being kept private, I felt it would leave open too many holes and put me in the line of fire.

I was also concerned about company bias and geographical influence playing a big role in the final decisions. Luckily, I was able to assemble a strong group spread out across the nation, and the members of the executive committee did a nice job of trying to be fair and balanced with their votes.

Was it perfect? No. But a number of shows/hosts who have been overlooked or discredited in the past, received their due, and I was personally comfortable with the finished product.

So what could we have done better, that we may want to adjust if we decide to do this again?

Well, I came up with a few things.

Voting:

As I mentioned repeatedly, I did not vote on any category. I had to remind folks of that because there was this belief that I either recognized or excluded a show, station or programmer from the list but nothing could be further from the truth. I stayed out of the voting process on purpose because I was creating the content and I thought it was important to remain neutral and let the votes of industry executives determine the final selections.

Should I be involved? Should my ballot be available for everyone to see? That’s something to consider next time around.

East Coast Bias:

If you look at the results from the outside looking in, you’re likely to come away with the opinion that the voters favored the East Coast brands. Six categories were decided, and 5 included winners from New York, Boston, and Washington DC.

So that must mean that the East Coast voters helped shape the outcome right?

Not exactly.

17 of the 35 voters were located in the Midwest, Southwest and West Coast, and twelve of those executives listed WFAN in the Top 5, including 7 who ranked the station #1 overall. The Sports Hub meanwhile was in the Top 5 on 10 of those ballots, and earned three 1st place votes. Only two of the 17 listed WFAN or The Sports Hub outside of the Top 10.

It’s easy to criticize the voters for giving a lot of respect to WFAN, The Sports Hub and other top East Coast brands, but the fact of the matter is that each of those radio stations registered high because they’ve earned that respect by being consistent performers.

The Sports Hub’s ratings have been among the industry’s best, WFAN delivers big numbers in the nation’s #1 media market, and the same holds true for brands like WIP, WEEI, 97.1 The Ticket and 97.5 The Fanatic. To suggest they’re not worthy of top billing is to carry bias towards those brands or markets, because there’s no doubt that they’re some of the best our format has to offer.

Small Market Rejections:

A number of folks reached out to voice their displeasure with the way the smaller markets were left out of the Top 20 in multiple categories. They have a valid point. If you’re a small market show or station, I understand how frustrating it must be to do good work and have it overlooked because a larger market station with a similar performance took your spot. There is no perfect solution when you include brands from all locations in the same categories.

Although it may not sit well with you, this exact situation happens in professional sports all the time. How many times do we hear people complain about seeing the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs on national television? Those same complaints are heard when big market teams spend big on free agents, making it harder for smaller market teams to compete.

Is it fair? Of course not. But it’s within the rules, and if you want to play in the big leagues, you have to do what the Kansas City Royals did last year, and overcome the odds and force the world to take notice.

I can make a strong case for 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, 101 ESPN in St. Louis, WJOX in Birmingham, and 97.1 The Fan in Columbus earning more respect. Each of those stations deliver big in their respective markets, and shows like “The Fast Lane” in St. Louis, and “3HL in Nashville” are top rated and very enjoyable to listen to. They are absolutely worthy of being in a conversation with the best 20 afternoon programs in the country.

But what I discovered is that if those brands/shows and other smaller markets with strong sports stations/shows don’t promote their performance and make sure the industry is aware of what they’re doing, then it’s going to be extremely difficult to overcome a top tier station from a Top 10 market.

We’d all like to believe that everything is created equal and it’s an apples to apples comparison, but the reality is that an 8 share in Missouri or Alabama isn’t going to lure as many votes as an 8 share in Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. Not because the talent and performance isn’t special or equal, but because those larger markets reach more people, and they perform under higher company expectations.

The reason broadcasters in this business chase bigger market opportunities is because they want to be seen as the best in the industry, make more money, and perform under the brightest lights. When you succeed in these locations, you earn more respect. That certainly was a factor in the voting process.

You can knock the larger market stations/shows for being ranked above some others that are equally as deserving in smaller regions, but if you expect to change perceptions in the future, you’re going to have to perform higher than those brands, and make sure that everyone is aware of your story.

Perception Trumps Performance:

If there was an area that I felt was inconsistent it was this one. To be fair, it’s difficult to expect every voter to have intimate knowledge of every single brand, when they themselves are running companies and/or radio stations. Even those who aren’t running operations don’t have the hours available to listen to every single station and show on a daily basis.

This is why gaining information about the performance of brands is important. Call me old-school but I do believe that delivering ratings should matter in a process like this.

For example, I am a big Tony Kornheiser fan. Many who voted on this panel are as well, which is why he earned the honor of being named “Midday Show of the Year“. However, while I’m well aware of his track record in the format and the digital impact he’s made for ESPN 980, I also know that his ratings are 3-4 points lower than his competitor. I’m not sure if every member of the executive committee was aware of that fact or considered it when deciding where Tony deserved to be placed.

This doesn’t mean that Tony doesn’t deliver the better show in the market or that he’s not worthy of being rated at the top, because if you’ve listened to him you know he’s unique, interesting and very entertaining. The reason I point it out is to show how perception and a lack of awareness of some facts can play into the process.

I saw this same situation pop up in Seattle, where KJR’s afternoon show made the cut but their competitor 710 ESPN did not, even though they won the Men 25-54 ratings battle for the majority of 2015. I also felt KFAN in Minneapolis and SiriusXM deserved higher placement in a few areas but I’m not sure if everyone involved was as familiar with their content offerings or what they had accomplished during the past year. In KFAN’s case, their ratings story is one of the best in the country.

One other surprise was Jim Rome’s showing in the national voting. He didn’t receive one 1st place vote from the executive committee, and despite ranking 5th, was separated from 4th by over 100 points. Rome gained support thanks to his reputation and previous track record but not many were subscribing to him as a difference maker on the national scene.

Now before you blame the executive committee for these things, I want to ask one question of those brands and personalities who finished ranked lower than their competitor or not on the list at all — “What did you do during the past year to promote your success and make sure the industry knew you were ahead of your competition?”

I’ve touched on this issue before and I won’t let up until it sinks in – if you want people to take notice of the great work you do, you’ve got to let them know! It really is that simple.

One of radio’s biggest issues is its inability to promote its own success. If brands chose to operate behind a wall of secrecy rather than inform the public of the way they’re performing, then they’ve got nobody to blame when they fail to receive the credit they deserve. The reason why New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Chicago stations appear on the radar is because their ratings performances are reported frequently. Why other markets don’t follow suit I’m not sure, but they’re missing out on an opportunity.

If there’s one last thing to remember about perception, it’s that regardless of the way we see things, it doesn’t make us right. I heard from multiple people in the format who were critical of Mike Francesa being ranked #1 as the top afternoon show. They’re entitled to their opinion and I understand where they’re coming from, but that doesn’t make them right.

You can argue whether or not his content is as stellar as the other shows he’s measured against, but you can’t dispute his ratings success in the nation’s top market. Judging by the way the voters voted, being a top dog in New York seems to be important. That doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t make it wrong.

Where Is The Diversity?

As I browsed through the shows that made our Top 20 lists, I couldn’t help but be reminded and disappointed by the format’s lack of women and minorities. The morning show category featured only one female, and one minority talent. Three of the twenty midday programs contained a minority host and no women, and four afternoon shows included a minority host and no women. There were also zero minorities or females on the program director list.

The national picture was better, but only slightly. In that case, five of the twenty programs included minority talent, but once again no women! Two of those shows (Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones) were built around a minority personality, something none of the local programs offered.

I’ve written before about sports radio’s challenges with diversity and the need for more women in key roles and if these results didn’t open your eyes to the balance issues that exist in the format, I’m not sure what will.

How can we improve it? Should it even be changed?

Those are questions each station will need to answer on their own. I only hope that as we look at these lists in the future they include more people from different backgrounds because it’s an area that will help the format grow and enjoy larger success.

The Voting Totals:

I thought it’d be beneficial to share an example of what one of the scoring charts looked like. For this particular exercise I included the Program Directors chart and listed the candidates who were 1-25 in scoring. This allows you to see which 5 programmers were on the outside looking in, but not far away from reaching the Top 20. These types of grids were used for scoring each category.

PD

I was also asked by a couple of people which shows were within striking distance of reaching the Top 20 and I’ve listed below the different categories and who was slotted between 20-25. You’ll see a number next to each show which is the amount of points they needed to reach 20th place.

Morning Shows:                                             

20. Bob Fescoe – 610 Sports Kansas City = 136

21. In The Loop – KILT Houston = 135 (-1)

22. Norris & Davis – 105.7 The Fan Baltimore = 111 (-25)

23. Joy & Zaslow – 790 The Ticket Miami = 100 (-36)

24. The Wake Up Zone – 104.5 The Zone Nashville = 92 (-44)

25. The Morning Animals – WWLS Oklahoma City = 87 (-49)

Midday Shows:

20. Mad Radio – 610 KILT Houston = 118

21. Soren Petro – 810 WHB Kansas City = 115 (-3)

22. Bickley & Marotta – Arizona Sports 98.7FM Phoenix = 115 (-3)

23. Big O – WQAM Miami = 107 (-11)

24. Darren Smith = Mighty 1090 San Diego = 94 (-24)

25. Vinny & Rob – 105.7 The Fan Baltimore = 93 (-25)

Afternoon Shows:                                                  

20. DMac & Alfred – 104.3 The Fan Denver = 113

21. Burns & Gambo – Arizona Sports 98.7FM Phoenix = 110 (-3)

22. Chuck & Chernoff – 680 The Fan Atlanta = 110 (-3)

23. Starkey & Mueller – 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh = 98 (-15)

24. Kevin Keitzman – 810 WHB Kansas City = 94 (-19)

25. The Fast Lane = 101 ESPN St. Louis = 74 (-39)

National Shows:

20. Damon Amendolara – CBS Sports Radio = 159

21. Jason Smith – Fox Sports Radio = 146 (-13)

22. Freddie Coleman – ESPN Radio = 97 (-62)

23. Gio & Jones – CBS Sports Radio = 92 (-67)

24. The Morning Men – Sirius XM Mad Dog Radio = 84 (-75)

25. Ferrall On The Bench – CBS Sports Radio = 79 (-80)

Conclusion:

Although I felt the finished product was reflective of the industry’s viewpoints and showcased the shows and stations in a positive light, I’m always contemplating what I can do to make it better. The response was strong, and many personalities, programmers and radio station executives felt good about the way they were presented, so that gives me confidence to explore doing it again.

However, if we do so, I’ll have a number of things to consider. Are 35 executives too many or not enough? Should there be a major market and smaller market category? Do we create a category for the Top 20 sports anchors? Does podcasting enter the picture as a future category? What other suggestions will pop up between now and then?

There’s a lot to think about and fortunately I’ve got a lot of time to mull things over before diving back into it.

If I do this again in 2017, there’s one thing I know for certain, it will once again be presented during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. I have had my fair share of misses in this business but if there’s one thing I know made sense, it was the decision to present these awards during a time when 75-100 media brands were at radio row for a full week. What can I say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

To close this out, I want to congratulate everyone who received recognition from our executive committee and thank the members of the panel for taking part in it. If you have an opinion you’d like to share about this year’s awards, please email me at [email protected]. It’s been a fun process, one that drew a lot of attention to many great performers and brands in our industry, but for now it’s time to give the lists a rest! At least until next year’s Super Bowl!

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Barrett Blogs

Is Sports Journalism Still Worth Paying For?

“I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading.”

Jason Barrett

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Courtesy: Don Nguyen

I’ve been thinking about this column all week because it’s a topic I’m passionate about and curious to hear the responses to. For starters, let me pose a few questions to you. Does quality journalism still matter? Is it worth paying for? Do advertisers see enough return on their investments with print outlets through associations with influential writers, publications and branded content? Are consumers hungry to read the full details of a story or are they satisfied with the cliff notes version and absorbing messages that fit inside of 140-280 characters?

The world we’re in is saturated with content. Attention spans are rapidly shrinking. Social media is both to blame and bless for that. The positive is that we’re exposed to more content than ever before. This means more opportunity to reach people and grow businesses. The challenge of course is standing out.

People listen, read and watch less of one thing now, opting for variety during the time they have available. The issue with that is that it often leads to being less informed. I know many like to declare print being dead. I’m sorry I’m not one of them. Adults still enjoy reading. I see nearly three million people do it on this website alone and we’re small potatoes compared to mainstream brands. Clearly people like to learn.

I raise this topic because last week, Peter King announced his retirement although he left open the door for side projects. After forty plus years of writing the gold standard of NFL columns, King revealed he wanted to slow down and invest his time in other areas of life. Among his considerations for the future after taking a breather are teaching.

In a podcast interview with Richard Deitsch, King said “We may love this column but I doubt that it made enough money for NBC to pay what they were paying me. I don’t think words are very profitable anymore. It’s a sad thing but it’s what’s happened to our business.”

Later in the conversation, King discussed the difficulty he might face if speaking to students about whether or not to pursue working in the media industry. He acknowledged that the business is bad right now. However, he pointed out that if you can write and read, and be an intelligent thinking contributing member of society, there are a lot of jobs you can do beyond being a writer for a paper covering the NFL. You can teach English, work in PR or for a team or league website. But journalism is different now, and though it’s not impossible to do, having flexibility is important.

I agreed with most of King’s remarks and thought about the two different ways people might respond to them.

If you’re in agreement with Peter, you’ll point to the reduction in industry jobs, the changes in salaries, the lack of trust in media outlets, the economic uncertainty facing traditional operators, the shrinking ability to uncover truth, and the data that frequently supports video being hot, and print not so much.

Those who disagree will list the New York Times and The Athletic as examples of print brands that still matter. They’ll also mention the surge in newsletters, the arrival of new online outlets, and the daily communication between millions of people each day on social media, much of it revolving around conversations created or supported by text.

Where I sit is somewhere in between.

First, the notion that it’s harder now than before is one I’ll challenge. When I entered the business, I had to mail letters, send cassette tapes, and wait months for a response. There was no internet or opportunity to create a podcast, Substack, website or video to build an audience. I had to be selected by someone to have a chance to work. There were thousands like me who wanted a way in and were at the mercy of decision makers preferring my resume over someone else’s. I did exactly what King said on the podcast when he mentioned having to do other jobs to support yourself while pursing a dream.

Where I agree with King is when he mentioned words not being as profitable anymore. Are print reporters and columnists going to make what they once did? Probably not. There will always be exceptions just as there are in television and radio, but if you think you’re going to do one specific job and making a financial killing on it, prepare to be disappointed. Today, you better be able to wear different hats and create a lot of content in multiple places. Earning a lot for doing a little is a way of the past.

The one area where I’ll differ is when it comes to advertising. I believe there’s untapped value for brands in print. Recall with the written word remains strong. There’s also less advertising clutter in written stories than audio and video programming blocks. Advertisers may not seek out traditional print advertising anymore but branded content, newsletter associations, and social media placements remain valued.

What I admire greatly about King is that he evolved over the years. His written work on SI was must-read but that didn’t stop him from leaping into the online space and launching MMQB. The arrival of that microsite was done at the right point in time, and when SI began to change, King didn’t hang on, choosing to make the bold move and jump to NBC. Upon his arrival, he started contributing on television, podcasts, and expanding his profile on social media.

What you should take away from Peter is that you’ve got to constantly examine the business, and understand when it’s time to pivot, even if it means leaving your comfort zone. You also have to recognize that things are going to change and your job description will likely be one of them. If you stay married to what you once did, you’ll be in a tough spot. If you roll with the punches and embrace what’s new, you’ll survive and thrive.

You also have to understand that you’re going to be tied further to what you produce. Does your presence and performance grow advertising revenue? Are you speaking on behalf of brands and helping them move product? Do you grow subscriptions or readership to levels that make it easy for a company to invest significantly in you? Talent is subjective. Results aren’t. Those who create quality while boosting the bottom line will remain in demand.

Remember this in a few years when artificial intelligence becomes a bigger part of content creation and discovery. Those who adapt to it and work with it will be just fine. Those who reject it will be searching for new career paths. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s better stability in other industries. But there’s nothing like creating content around the world of sports and media. It just requires adaptability and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

BSM Summit Update:

In ten days we unite the sports media business in New York City for the 2024 BSM Summit. All of the sessions are now complete. I’m excited to add Natalie Marsh, General Manager of Lotus Communications in Las Vegas, Cody Welling, Station Manager of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, and Stephanie Prince, Vice President and Market Manager of Good Karma Brands West Palm Beach to our schedule. The full agenda for both days is posted on BSMSummit.com.

In addition, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have a few special appearances at the ESPN Radio After Party on Wednesday March 13th. Joining us on-site will be Evan Cohen, Chris Canty and Michelle Smallmon of UnSportsmanLike, Freddie Coleman and Harry Douglas of Freddie & Harry, and Chris Carlin from Carlin vs. Joe.

Thumbs Up:

Chris Mortensen: Rarely does the sports media industry collectively agree on anything but you won’t find much disagreement on Chris Mortensen. He was a special talent and human being. I was fortunate to see it firsthand as a producer at ESPN Radio. I then enjoyed many interactions with Mort as a program director lining up calls on the radio stations I ran. It didn’t matter what job you did or where you worked, Chris treated you well. His work was hall of fame worthy but it was the manner in which he interacted with people that truly made him a legend. Rest in peace, Mort. I’m sure the next wave of conversations with John Clayton are going to be amazing.

Mike Felger: It would’ve been easy to pile on and publicly root for a competitor to fail and fold. Instead, Felger took the high road, acknowledging that he’s rooting for WEEI to come out of bankruptcy in good shape. That’s what smart business people. Mike is comfortable in his own skin. He has the highest rated show in Boston and having a competitor to compete against as well as a potential landing spot when contracts come up is never a bad thing. Besides, why would anyone want to see friends and respected professionals lose an opportunity to work or listeners given less choice for sports talk entertainment? Nice job, Mike.

iHeartmedia: The company’s fourth quarter results were down year-to-year but they were above prior projections. iHeart also gained 16.6% growth in podcasting revenues during Q4, and just got stronger by luring Stephen A. Smith’s podcast away from Audacy. A pretty good week for Bob Pittman and his lieutenants.

Sportico: Jason Clinkscales is an easy guy to root for. He’s written quality content for Awful Announcing, is a sharp guy who enjoys the industry, and after a year full of personal tragedies, he deserved a break. That came last week when Sportico hired him as a reporter and editor on their breaking news team. Well done Sportico. Looking forward to reading the first piece.

National Association of Broadcasters: Creating buzz for conferences isn’t easy but the NAB’s recent announcement of having Daniel Anstandig of Futuri Media present a first-of-its-kind presentation at its April show alongside Ameca, an autonomously AI-powered humanoid robot has certainly increased conversation and intrigue. I’ll be in attendance for the event and am curious like many. I’m just hoping Joe Rogan isn’t right when he suggested this week that robots will jump out of an aircraft carrier with machine guns and do damage.

Thumbs Down:

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment: This isn’t a shot at the company. It’s more about losing a talented media executive. Matt Hutchings, the company’s former COO and EVP was a key part of developing Altitude Sports. Under his watch, the Nuggets and Avalanche won titles, and the company cemented its position in the local sports radio space.

The dispute with Comcast over airing Nuggets and Avs games is well documented, and Hutchings will get some of the blame for the teams not being broadcast on local TV but I tend to believe decisions of that magnitude land at ownership’s doorstep. Regardless, KSE is weaker today than yesterday due to losing Hutchings.

New York Jets: I get it. 98.7 ESPN New York moving away from the FM dial provides a concern for the franchise, and in other cities, football does perform well on classic rock stations. I just see the fit with Q104.3 as an odd one. If Aaron Rodgers returns and the Jets finally take off the way their fans hoped they would last year, it’s going to feel strange hearing their games locally on a channel that has little content time dedicated to the team beyond game days.

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Erika Ayers and Spike Eskin Led Barstool Sports and WFAN to Success But Their Exits Raise Questions

“Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions.”

Jason Barrett

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There were two big management moves last week that have sports media folks talking. First was Erika Ayers Badan announcing her exit from Barstool Sports as the brand’s CEO. Second was the news of Spike Eskin returning to Sportsradio WIP and exiting his role as the VP of Programming for WFAN and CBS Sports Radio.

Let’s start with Erika. What she did for Barstool was spectacular. In 2016, I thought Barstool had a strong understanding of social media, unique talent and voices, podcasts that were cutting through, and a connection with younger fans that traditional outlets couldn’t deliver. They also produced events that drew a lot of public attention. But I didn’t view Barstool as a buttoned up business capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars. Erika Nardini aka Erika Ayers Badan and Dave Portnoy deserve credit for making it one.

Erika told me at our 2020 BSM Summit that Barstool didn’t have a P&L sheet when she joined. She had to build systems, hire staff, grow the sales arm of Barstool, and help Dave Portnoy find investors. What followed were marketing deals with major brands, content partnerships with different media outlets, a massive investment from Penn National, and a changed perception of Barstool as a mainstream player. They were no longer just the cool, rebellious brand on social media and the internet that gave no f’s and generated attention. They became game changers in the sports content space.

So why leave?

If Barstool is now clear of restrictions and able to operate without investor influence, that should be enticing, right? In her farewell video Erika said that she felt she accomplished what she set out to do. I understand and appreciate that. But I can’t help but wonder if less structure and investor involvement made it less appealing to stay. She did join the brand after The Chernin Group got involved not before it.

I have no inside knowledge on this, and I’m not suggesting Barstool won’t continue growing and dominating. They likely will. It just raises questions about how the brand will manage sales, PR, critical internal and external issues, and battles with suitors when they try to lure away Barstool’s on-air and sales talent.

The business end of Barstool appears weaker today than it did a week ago. That’s more of a testament to what Erika did than a knock on anyone still there. To grow revenue the way she did the past 8 years speaks volumes about her skill as an executive. Wherever she lands next, it’s likely she’ll make a difference.

Will it be easier to do business with Barstool moving forward? Time will tell. I don’t expect they’ll make it easier for media outlets like ours to cover them. But if I’ve learned anything in eight years of following them it’s don’t ever bet against Dave Portnoy. Too often people have. Each time he’s proven them wrong. Portnoy has built a powerhouse brand, and grown the business by zigging when others zagged. But how Barstool moves forward without Erika will be of great interest to many in 2024.

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Spike Eskin will be leaving WFAN and his position as the VP of Programming for Audacy to return to WIP and co-host the afternoon show. On paper this is a great move for WIP. Spike understands Philadelphia and WIP’s audience, he lives and breathes Philly sports, and has a great rapport with the entire lineup. He’s maintained an on-air presence through his Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, and I believe that moving into a host role alongside Ike Reese and Jack Fritz will be a seamless transition for all involved. Being in his mid to late 40’s, he’s also got plenty years ahead of him to cement his spot as an on-air talent. I expect Spike, Ike and Jack to do well together.

But to exit WFAN and the top programming role at Audacy in less than three years, raises a few questions. Why is this opportunity better for Spike than the programming role he just held? Was he happy at WFAN? Were folks happy with him at WFAN? Many have opinions about WFAN’s changes the past few years. Some love the fresher approach. Others don’t. That’s what makes sports radio in New York fun, people care.

As a follower of WFAN for over thirty years, it’s a different brand than the one I grew up on. That’s not a bad thing by the way. I’m almost 50. If Spike and Chris Oliviero programmed to please the Mike and the Mad Dog crowd that’d be a mistake. Attention spans are shorter, content options are larger, digital is more important and the days of a city flocking to the radio at 1pm to hear a host’s first words are gone. Judging from the ratings, revenue, and turnout for Boomer and Gio’s last live event, the station is doing well. They’ve got a lot of talent, a stronger digital game, and they’ll continue thriving. Spike deserves credit for the brand’s progress.

But why is a hosting role and less influence over a brand better for Eskin? Spike has been a part of WIP’s afternoon show before. Though leading the show vs. being the third mic is a different animal. He also programmed the station really well. In fact, Spike did such a good job at WIP that it landed him the top programming position in sports radio. Is there a personal part to this given that his father made afternoons in Philly must-listen for 25 years? Or is it about the personal relationship he has with Ike and Jack?

And how does this work from a financial standpoint? It’s likely that Spike was paid more to lead Audacy New York than Jon Marks was to host WIP’s afternoon show. If that’s the case, and nothing changes for Eskin, and WIP just adds payroll, does it affect what Chris Oliviero can spend on Audacy New York’s next brand leader? I can’t see that happening at all. Chris is going to make sure he has what he needs to land the right leader in New York.

Finances only come up because it’s known that Audacy is going through a bankruptcy process. Adding expenses right now seems unlikely. However, to add someone with Eskin’s skill and track record at a station where he previously shined is smart business, especially when you consider that he can win as a host and programmer if needed. That’s going to naturally lead to folks asking ‘will Spike eventually host PM drive and program WIP? If so, what does that mean for current PD Rod Lakin?’ ‘What happens when talent at WIP that Spike had a hand in hiring don’t like what Lakin suggests or if WIP’s ratings decline?’

Spike told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie that’s not on his radar and the idea of joining the afternoon show was raised by PD Rod Lakin. Some of you may read that and be surprised that Lakin would suggest it. But Rod stepped into the role that Eskin previously held. I’m sure they’ve talked plenty the past few years. If their relationship is strong that should help. I don’t know it well enough to say if it is or isn’t. This move suggests Lakin’s more concerned with strengthening WIP than worrying about himself or industry chatter.

If anyone can navigate the situation and make it work, it’s Rod Lakin. He’s calm, cool, collected, smart and doesn’t get flustered by noise and pressure. I know this because we’ve known each other for over a decade, and I introduced him to folks years ago, which led to him landing the Philly role. If you read Derek Futterman’s piece on Angelo Cataldi last month, the Philly icon shared a small example of what makes Rod a great leader.

But Rod and Spike understand the business. They know people are going to ask these questions. The flurry of texts and emails I received about this last week was insane. I’m sure it was even louder on the local level. Many will suggest that Audacy will use this as an opportunity to eventually reduce expenses and stay strong by having Eskin handle two roles. Only those involved know the answers but one thing I know is that Rod Lakin knows how to program. If he’s not supported there, he’ll have plenty of interest elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Spike excels in afternoons, Rod leads WIP to greater success, and WFAN finds a great leader to move the brand forward. But until the smoke clears, noise will fill the air in the big apple and city of brotherly love.

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Thumbs Up:

Colin Dunlap, 93.7 The Fan: While on the air last week, Dunlap received a call from a 65-year old woman named Colette. She told the Pittsburgh host that she and her husband were disabled and after undergoing 28 surgeries, she was physically struggling to clear her walkway of snow. Hearing her story moved Dunlap to react. He then called on the audience to step up and help. Shortly thereafter, one of 93.7 The Fan’s listeners, a gentleman named Tom, phoned in, and made the drive over to help out a fellow listener. That’s the power of live radio at its best, all possible by Dunlap reading and reacting to the situation perfectly.

Clay Travis, Outkick: Whether you love him or hate him, Clay delivers strong opinions and commands your attention. A perfect example was his Friday night reaction video to the demise of Sports Illustrated. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth checking out. It’s nearing one million views at the time of my writing this.

VSiN: The sports betting network based out of Las Vegas recently redesigned its website and the new look and feel of it is excellent. Clean throughout, easy to navigate, and rich of content. Nice work by Bill Adee all involved.

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Thumbs Down:

Sports Illustrated: Laying off the majority of its staff was bad enough, but to notify people by email or have them find out on social media shows a lack of class and a disgusting approach to running a business. All of those traits by the way are the exact opposite of what SI once stood for – RESPECT.

During SI’s glory days, the content was must read. But in recent years, the outlet landed in the hands of operators who valued clicks over quality. Many predicted and expected this once storied brand to crumble. Unfortunately, the naysayers were proven right.

To those affected, I’m sorry for the crummy news. Some will rebound and help other established brands. Some will launch their own platforms or exit the industry. Anyone looking to do future freelancing work is invited to email [email protected].

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BSM Summit Update:

I’m happy to share that Good Karma Brands president Steve Politziner, Edison Research co-founder and president Larry Rosin and ESPN Chicago program director Danny Zederman have been added to our lineup. We’ve also finalized two of our four awards recipients and are working on a third. I’m hoping to share those details soon along with a few other high profile additions to this year’s show. I’ll be heading to Las Vegas during Super Bowl week, which is when we reveal our BSM Top 20 of 2023, and after that I’m hoping to finalize our schedule so it can be released by the end of February.

I know everyone likes waiting until the last minute to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. If you want to avoid being left out though, the time to act is now. Everything you need is posted on BSMSummit.com. Our deadline for hotel room reservations is February 13th. We’ve also sent out free ticket contests by email to the advertising community and tri-state area colleges. We’ll have two more this week for executives and programmers. Be sure to check your spam folder just in case it doesn’t arrive in your inbox.

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2-Seconds to Vent:

Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, John Skipper, Nick Khan, Colin Cowherd, Paul Finebaum, Clay Travis, Craig Carton, Adam Schein, Michael Kay, and Fred Toucher all have something in common with many others across the industry. They’re accomplished professionals with plenty on their plate yet when contacted, they always respond. Most of the time, they do so quickly. That’s greatly appreciated.

If those tasked with running the largest media companies in America, and hosting shows with content, advertising, and audience commitments can find time to respond, why is it so hard for other professionals to do the same? If you don’t want to be featured on BSM, speak at a Summit, market with us or answer a question, just say ‘not interested‘. It takes two seconds. The best in the business understand the value of relationships and promotion. Unfortunately, many do not. I don’t use this platform to draw attention to these issues but sometimes I wonder, should I?

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Original Projects:

On BNM this week we’re doing five days of features on NPR professionals as part of ‘Public Radio Week‘. It’s not easy pulling it off but we’re trying some different stuff. Next week we launch ‘Where Are They Now‘ on BSM. Peter Schwartz will have the first feature next Tuesday. Coming up in February, we drop the BSM Top 20, Derek Futterman’s ‘Day Spent With‘ series which includes spending a day with professionals across different areas of the industry, and we’ll profile a number of black voices on BNM as part of the brand’s focus on Black History month. I hope you’ll check them out whenever time allows.

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Recommended Viewing:

If you’re looking for a movie to watch during the week, check out Blackberry if you haven’t already done so. The film is about the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone, and I thought it was excellent. It had a similar feel to the movie Jobs, and the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Worth your time if you’ve got two hours available to watch something different than live games or sports programming.

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If you have a question or comment you’d like addressed in a future column, please send it to [email protected]. That same email address can be used to pass along press releases, interview requests or news tips. Thanks for reading!

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Justin Craig, Chris Kinard, Mary Menna Added to 2024 BSM Summit Lineup

“What I’ve always enjoyed about the BSM Summit is that it showcases speakers from many different areas of the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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To kick off 2024, we’re announcing the additions of three more talented broadcasters to our 2024 BSM Summit. More on that shortly. The Summit takes place March 13-14 at the Ailey Theater in New York City. For tickets, hotel rooms, and additional details, visit BSMSummit.com. Those interested in sponsorship opportunities, contact Stephanie Eads. A number of items are already claimed but she can tell you what’s left. Reach her by email at [email protected] or by phone at 415-312-5553.

What I’ve always enjoyed about the Summit is that it showcases speakers from different areas of the industry. We’ve featured top talent, researchers, agents, digital leaders, podcasting experts, ratings analysts, tech builders, play by play voices, and of course, program directors and market managers. There’s many ways to succeed, and no better way to learn than to hear from folks who consistently win.

In the sports audio world, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 106.7 The Fan, and ESPN Radio are highly respected brands. The Hub and The Fan are dominant in Boston and Washington D.C.. ESPN Radio meanwhile maintains a strong position as one of the top national audio brands. All feature strong leaders, and we’re fortunate to have all of them represented in NYC.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Beasley Boston Market Manager Mary Menna to the Summit. This is her first appearance at the conference. Mary is responsible for managing The Hub’s business, currently the top revenue generating brand in all of sports radio. I’m excited to have her offer her insights on a panel with Chris Oliviero and Scott Sutherland. More details on the session, date/time closer to the show.

On the programming side, it’s great to welcome back Chris Kinard of 106.7 The Fan, and Justin Craig of ESPN Radio. Both will be involved in programming panels at the show.

CK has helped lead The Fan and Team 980 to consistent growth in the nation’s capital. He’s a forward thinking type of leader with a great feel for the current and future challenges facing the business. I’m looking forward to having him share a few lessons he’s learned with the rest of the room.

For my friend JC, he’s seen ESPN Radio evolve for the better part of two decades. Liked and respected by most, he’s valued and trusted to guide ESPN Radio’s day-to-day operations. Given the network’s change in focus, talent, and structure, he’ll have great insights to share on where national sports audio is moving.

Our speaker list now sits at twenty. It will grow much more over the next two months as we reveal other additions to the show. We’ll also be announcing our award winners, and a few other surprises. This is a fun and informative two-day event for sports media professionals. If you haven’t joined us before, I hope you’ll do so this time. Everything you need to know prior to the event will be available at BSMSummit.com.

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