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Q & A with Taylor Zarzour

Demetri Ravanos

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Overt the course of the last decade I have watched Taylor Zarzour grow from someone who was trying to get back on the air to one of the most in demand names in our industry. We first met when he became the sports director at the Curtis Media Group in Raleigh, and as a result he became the third mic on my show on 96 Rock.

During that time, we discovered that we grew up just nine miles away from one another in Mobile, Alabama. Small world, right?

Today, Taylor has become one of the most valuable sports voices at SiriusXM. He and Greg McElroy co-host The First Team on ESPNU Radio. He also contributes to the network’s PGA Tour Radio, anchoring the coverage of major tournaments and hosts a show called The Starter.

On television you’ll find Taylor on the SEC Network handling play-by-play for both football and baseball. He previously hosted Dale Earnhardt Jr’s official weekly podcast, but with all that he has going on, something had to give, right?

Taylor’s modesty is the kind of thing that might make you want to punch someone. I mean, nobody that has accomplished what he has can really be that modest and “aw shucks” about it, can they? But having spent every morning with Taylor for the better part of four years, I can tell you that it’s genuine. I’ve never thought of him as arrogant, just supremely confident. What may seem like Taylor being unfriendly is his hyper-focus.

Our conversation for this column centers on his career history, his motivation for doing what he does and how he does it, and the message he hopes colleagues and fans will take away from his work.

Q: When someone tells you they think you’re a good broadcaster, do you think it’s because you get to cover the sports you love (college football, golf, NASCAR) or is it because you’ve built a great career by being a good broadcaster?

TZ: It’s probably a little bit of both, but I’d like to think that, hopefully in a non-arrogant way, that being hard-working, passionate, and knowledgeable about the things I’ve always loved have served me well and led me to this place. I count my blessings everyday because not everybody gets to do something as professionally fulfilling as what I’m doing. Hopefully I’m giving off that kind of vibe whether it’s on radio or television. Some of the responses I’ve received from people that I work for have been exactly that and that’s what I think my biggest strength is. It’s the passion and enjoyment in my work, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. There are countless things I need to improve on. I’ll always be my toughest critic, but I think the thing that has served me best is how much I love what I do.

Q: I’m often asked, “how has Taylor Zarzour created these opportunities for himself?”. When we started working together, your previous position didn’t exist until you became available. The podcast with Dale Jr. didn’t exist until you were on it. How do you manage to get yourself on the radar of people? Is it simply reputation or are you active in promoting yourself?

TZ: I don’t know, Demetri. I’ve never tried to lobby for anything. David Stuckey (Senior Vice President of Curtis Media Group) approached me. Mike Davis with Dale Jr. approached me, and I’m grateful and honored that both of them did. When Mark Packer left to join SiriusXM, DJ Stout in Charlotte asked if I’d be interested in taking that job and joining WFNZ. Steve Cohen reached out through a mutual friend and asked if I’d be interested in working for SiriusXM. All of these relationships began when those guys contacted me. Without them reaching out, I don’t have these opportunities. Maybe I’m just incredibly fortunate, but I’d like to think that through hard work and hopefully what they would consider good performance, that I earned the benefit of their phone calls.

Q: What lessons did you learn from working on a rock show and news show that you carry with you to your current show with Greg McElroy?

TZ: I learned not to be too close-minded and only service the most diehard fans that are going to be interested and watching you no matter what. David Glenn, for example, had a huge impact on me, because David at some point in every broadcast will refer to Coach K as “Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski” or “North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams.” By doing that he brings every person that’s listening into the broadcast no matter how much or little they know. So that’s an example of something that had a huge impact on me, but those experiences made me more open-minded to who is listening and how much knowledge they have. I try to be really careful when talking about an offensive line’s ability to block or certain schemes and the zone read compared to a triple option, because the over-whelming majority of our audience only casually follows a sport. They have so many other responsibilities that they aren’t going to be able to be locked in all the time.

Q: So what about the time that you spent out of broadcasting entirely? What did you learn from it that sticks with you now?

TZ: That this is where I belong. I was working in real estate and realized my passion was broadcasting. I put pressure on myself to be something else because we had just had a family. I wanted to make a certain income and I thought it was a good opportunity, and I’ll never forget my wife saying “(Broadcasting) is what you’ve always wanted to do. You’ve always believed in yourself. Why would you stop now?”. I made the decision that I was going to go back into the broadcasting business, but I don’t know what I would have done to pursue it if David Stuckey hadn’t called.

Q: How old are your daughters now?

TZ: 11 and 12.

Q: I ask because this is a time period where they are involved in so much more. I know your goal is to provide them and Betsy (Taylor’s wife who likes me even though she shouldn’t because I cussed too much in front of their children) with the best life possible, but is there a point where you’d pass something up and say “I’m doing too much and I’m missing too much?”

TZ: I think about that everyday. I’ve seen some of the personal sacrifices that so many of my contemporaries have made and some of the regrets that they’ve had through the years. By taking more professional assignments, they’ve made sacrifices in terms of how much time they spend with their families. I would have so much regret about that if I put myself in that position, so I’ll probably continue to feel that way. There’s nothing I cherish more than my wife and two daughters, and there are other things that I’ve been considered for and turned down because of that.

Q: What are the benefits and struggles of doing a show, particularly a morning show, out of your home?

TZ: There are a lot of benefits to being home. We can live anywhere we want. I can broadcast from almost anywhere because of my job with SiriusXM, so there are few restrictions which is a huge benefit. The downside to it is cabin fever. I have a room in my house that is my work room. When I’m in there it’s like I’m at work. When I get done, I am literally leaving the office and trying to mentally power down which is a huge challenge compared to getting in your car, driving home, and having enough time to mentally escape to a different place.

Q: There has been a lot of talk lately about the way people consume media. Whether it’s cord cutting or the ESPN cutbacks, there are many in our industry who are skeptical. One area which is included in that conversation is the future of satellite radio. How much do you concern yourself with these topics?

TZ: I actually worry less about that kind of stuff today than I used to. I used to worry a lot about the terrestrial radio ratings game and competing against other radio stations and how much money the station could make off of my show. SiriusXM is in a tremendous place and growing day by day. I am ecstatic. I don’t have any concerns about the company’s future. As far as ESPN goes, there will always be tremendous demand for live play-by-play programming. I can’t envision a day where that goes away. To be connected to ESPN and the SEC calling games every weekend is something that is the chance of a lifetime, and the only concern I have is my performance.

Q: You grew up playing golf, so certainly you’re a fan of the sport. When it comes to NASCAR, if there was one thing I learned about you from working with you, it’s that you were a fan of Dale Jr. But you’re also an SEC guy through and through. So when you cover these sports, how do you balance your fandom with remaining professional? Particularly when you’re hosting a show with Greg McElroy who won an national championship at Alabama, a school you grew up rooting for. It’d be very easy for someone with less skill and experience to turn that program into a daily Crimson Tide report.

TZ: I’ve never thought it was any different than any other business where someone is considering what is best for their family and financial future. If they went to a certain school and are a banker, they aren’t going to take their business from only UNC fans or the side of the community that they can most relate to. That would be foolish.

Q: Right, but none of us got into this field without being a passionate sports fan. When you’re younger and developing your interests as a fan, it’s hard to love the sport as much as you love the team you’ve invested most of your time and energy into. That has a lasting impact on a lot of people.

TZ: I’m sure that’s the case for some, and maybe it is for you, but honestly, that’s never been the case for me. I’ve always cared much more about the sport than I ever did a particular team. My objectivity and professionalism is far more important to me than any team I’ve ever cheered for or who wins or loses a game. I didn’t go to Alabama, and while I do have four siblings that went to school there, I also had a brother that went to Georgia. I have a father that went to Florida. I have all kinds of relatives that went to Auburn and that’s always kept me much more open-minded to those schools and how great they are. Getting into this business and developing relationships at all of those places, has made me pull more for people. Roy Williams told me years ago that the longer you’re in this business, you will start to pull for people over teams because of the relationships you build, and that’s where I am now. The only exception to that is when I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was a Carolina Hurricanes fan because I wanted the team and the city to be successful. That didn’t in any way shape or form mean I was an NHL fan which is probably the way most people look at their teams. But I love college football. I love college basketball. I love the sport far more than any one team and I try to be as objective as I can because this is a lifelong passion for me.

Q: Who have you looked at in the broadcasting industry and said, “If I can be a tenth of the broadcaster that guy is, I’ll be okay”?

TZ: Vin Scully had the biggest impact on me. I used to watch the Saturday NBC baseball game of the week and Vin’s ability to paint a picture and provide perspective on what I was watching – I still think he is the best that has ever lived. Even until the end of last season when he called his final game, I just marveled at his preparation, his passion and his perspective for what he was seeing in front of him. In my opinion, he is above all the others. I can never sound like Vin Scully, and I’ll never have his vocal chords, but I can try to emulate his ability to be prepared and be passionate about what I am talking about.

Q: Your tag line at the end of every show is “Whether you agree or disagree it’s all for him,” right?

TZ: Correct.

Q: How much when people talk to you about your show does that come up? Do they notice or appreciate the message?

TZ: It happens from time to time. I decided to say that back when I first had a sports radio show in Mobile (on WNSP-FM). My point in saying it was no matter how animated we get when we discuss certain topics, let’s try to keep things in perspective of what really matters. “Him” to me is God. “Him” to someone else listening may be someone else or something else, but I think that keeping things in proper perspective whether we’re calling for guys to be fired or sharing our predictions for who will win a game, let’s realize this is for fun. We’re supposed to be enjoying what we’re discussing. I always appreciate it when someone notices or has something to say about that.

Taylor Zarzour hosts The First Team with Greg McElroy, weekday mornings from 7a-10a ET on SiriusXM. He also calls college football and college baseball games for ESPN’s SEC Network, and hosts golf coverage for SiriusXM’s PGA Tour Radio. He can be found on Twitter @TaylorZarzour.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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