When you listen to Chris Kroeger, you’re instantly drawn in by his passion, enthusiasm, and the high energy of James Brown’s “Living in America” which kicks off each hour of the show. The use of audio highlights gives you a sense of what’s topical each day, and once Kroeger’s voice penetrates the airwaves following the production open, it’s easy to detect how much he enjoys his job.
The program’s design comes from the brain of Program Director DJ Stout. It includes featuring rotating co-hosts to give the show an opportunity to feature different voices/specialists during different time periods that play to each individual’s strengths. On any given day a Charlotte sports radio listener who tunes in may be treated to the insights and opinions of former Panthers Wide Receiver Muhsin Muhammad, former NFL Linebacker and Charlotte native Omar Gaither, former Panthers and Hornets beat reporter Stan Olson, John Kilgo, and others.
I originally wrote about Chris this past October, where I identified him as one of 15 talents who people may not know but should. What I was impressed by then and now, is how much fun he has on the air, and how open he is about his fandom for his local market teams. He’s wise beyond his years and in a business where there’s debate constantly over whether you need to introduce lifestyle and entertainment subjects into a sports show to have success, Chris proves that a passion, love, and knowledge of sports, can be enough to win with.
The other aspect of his work that stands out is his activity and interaction with fans on social media. He takes the audience inside the show by letting them see the playlist of songs that will be used for bumper music each day. He takes a negative local story such as the Tar Heels losing the national championship game to Villanova, and has fun with it by switching his Twitter profile to the “Crying Jordan” photo.
That type of self-deprecation, and a willingness to provide an invitation to the audience into his program and life, is a big reason why he’s hitting all the rights notes with Charlotte sports radio fans.
I recently caught up with Chris to pick his brain on a number of subjects pertaining to the broadcasting business. I also wanted to get a better sense of his upbringing, and a deeper understanding of what fuels him as a sports talk radio performer. I think you’ll enjoy this conversation and I encourage you to check out 610 The Fan’s Audio On-Demand section and give his show a listen.
Q: Which broadcasters did you listen to growing up that influenced your decision to pursue a career in the sports radio business?
A: I was always a big fan of Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Kenny Mayne, Stu Scott and Steve Levy on ESPN growing up. Back then, it was appointment viewing to watch SportsCenter and either catch up on the highlights of the day or see how those guys would put a spin on something, even though you knew the result.
Q: Where did you get your start and how did you end up at 610 The Fan?
A: I actually started at another sports talk station in town (they shall remain nameless) and actually flipped formats from music to sports. I was 23, fresh out of college and willing to do anything and everything. I booked guests, produced the show, handled all production for the station, cut spots, handled co-hosting duties occasionally and worked a lot of 12-14 hour days for about 10 months while making next-to-nothing (thanks to mom and dad letting me crash at their place rent-free).
I also did some part-time work with IMG College which led to becoming a full-time producer, host and utility PxP guy. I did that for about 3 years in Winston-Salem, working with all the Pac-12 properties (Arizona, ASU, Cal, Oregon, UCLA, UW, WSU and Texas) on their radio broadcasts.
Being from Charlotte, once I saw the afternoon slot open up a few years ago, I sent in my resume and aircheck and got a phone call back, an opportunity to try out and as they say, the rest is history.
Q: What do you consider the toughest part of hosting a 4-hour afternoon show?
A: Since we rotate different co-hosts, the hardest part is bringing the energy every single day. While I know the personalities we have coming in, I have to be the consistent one. That also means bending my desires and interests in show topics to what fits their strengths and desires. I always have to be trying to pull the best out of them while handling myself too.
Q: How do prepare, and who else is involved in your program’s creative process?
A: It’s usually myself and Producer Tony. Tony has produced this format for years, so he’s got a great feel for what a co-host can offer every day and how to take advantage of it. We’ll bat ideas back and forth and often gauge other talent around the station on what they think will play that given day.
Q: What importance do you place on the show’s ratings, and how often do you and your Program Director (DJ Stout) work on the show together?
A: Honestly, and this might sound bad, I don’t put a ton of weight into that stuff. That’s not to say that I don’t care or am not interested in the ratings and what they say, but I’m more of a macro guy. Especially since I’m still young and learning in the industry.
I try to take care of a lot of the day-to-day things on and off the air that I think are important to putting on a great show, and I trust that everything else will fall in line because of it. My Program Director (DJ Stout) and I meet every few weeks to make tweaks and discuss what’s working and what’s not.
A: Have fun. I’m a high-energy guy in the first place so it comes naturally, but if we’re having fun, the listener most likely is too.
Q: On a daily basis, how many topics do you try to introduce to the audience?
A: It depends on the season. During the slower times of the year (post-NFL and summer months), I try to throw a lot the listener’s way to keep them engaged, and keep the show moving. Being caller-driven, once football season rolls around, we can roll with less topics, and allow the show to take off.
Q: Which subjects do you focus on most? Are there areas you try to stay away from, and if so, why?
A: I’ve grown up in an era where Charlotte has shifted from being a college sports town to a pro sports town, specifically a Panthers town. Panthers, Hornets, college football and college basketball drive the ship and approximately in that order.
I enjoy the larger issues in sports: contracts, feuds, coaching/player dynamics, team building, etc. Anyone can break down a box score, but I enjoy the deeper discussions that exist in the sports world. I don’t mind some controversial topics when they pop up, whether it’s race, cultural, crime, etc. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think the larger social topics that exist in sports are fascinating.
Q: How much value do you place on callers being a part of the show? Why do/don’t they matter to you?
A: We are a caller-driven show and station. Callers are a big part what we do for two reasons: 1) good, consistent callers build a community around the show 2) awful callers generate more show content and fodder, which can generate more calls.
Q: When it comes to guests, how many do you try to secure for each day’s program? How do you decide who gets booked? And what is it you’re looking to gain out of each conversation?
A: When it comes to guests, there’s no magic number. Mondays/Fridays during the NFL season are often pretty wide open, most times just one per show maximum. During the middle of the week, 2-3 is a normal number.
I think interviewing is my greatest strength, so I love having great guests, but they need to be just that, great. I want perspective from guests. They need to offer something to our audience that either I or my co-hosts can’t provide. Otherwise, what’s the point?
A sound bite isn’t what we’re after from a guest. We want stories, expertise, and a way to put into context the things we’re discussing on the show. For booking, my producer often comes to me with what he’s thinking and I’ll often shoot back with who I think would be great on a given topic. We work together.
Q: Looking at the world of sports radio today, what’s one area that you feel is getting worse and how can it be improved?
A: I think things are stale. I firmly believe Dan Le Batard has the best show going and it’s a perfect example of not being afraid to try things and fail miserably live on the air. And it’s that failure and embracing it that I think makes the show. If they screw up, don’t sweep it under the rug. Throw it into the massive stew that is the show.
They’ve found a way to take the intrinsic hate that exists around sports talk and media in general to become part of the show itself. They talk about music, TV, life, movies, things real people care about. At the end of the day, our demo is men. We all care about things outside of sports, so why not bring that stuff into the conversation every day?
I think this format is saturated with complacency and impatience. Try some things out, see if it takes root. I don’t think there are enough PD’s and talent out there willing to do that.
Q: For someone who’s considering this career path, what advice can you pass along to help them avoid mistakes and be successful?
A: The best advice I could give someone is be willing to say “yes” and then know when the time comes to say “no.” I did anything and everything I could to get my foot in the door, gain experience and build a resume. With today’s media landscape, being diversified is as important as ever. I think that was a huge part of getting to where I am and hopefully where I’m still going.
On the other side, you do have to know and trust when you’ve earned your shot. I reached that point a few years ago and was determined to not settle with my career. I think it’s vital for people in the industry to know when they are ready and to not listen to the doubters or the things holding them back. Taking a job or gig isn’t as important as taking the right one.
16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.