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Q&A with Scott Anez

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Scott Anez is a really lucky guy. He has managed to stay on the air in the same town with the same company for nearly three decades. He was one of the most well known voices in the Orlando sports scene long before his show Anez Says helped launch the new ESPN 580 on WDBO-AM back in 2012.

I first met Scott around that time through a mutual friend, who introduced him to me as “one of the good ones.” That’s saying a lot, because that friend of mine doesn’t like anyone. It’s easy to see why Orlando sports fans and co-workers like Scott. No one knows more about the Magic, than the man that has served as the team’s pre and postgame host for the last 17 years. He has a passion for the University of Central Florida, and fans trust him because they see themselves in him. He wants the local teams to succeed, but isn’t afraid to say when things aren’t going well.

I conducted this interview with Scott during the week when Donald Trump called out NFL players for protesting at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. It also happened to be recorded just after Florida snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Kentucky. Those two things will come up multiple times during our conversation.

DR: I know you grew up in Orlando, but let’s start from the time that you started covering sports professionally. How have you seen Orlando change as a sports market in that time?

SA: Orlando has changed as a market period. I moved here 37 years ago as a kid and at that time, Orlando was an apathetic, quiet, one-horse, Southern outpost. I think the biggest Orlando sporting event at that time was the UCF/Rollins basketball game twice a year. That’s all we got.

I think the biggest sport back then was certainly college football. We’re a Florida/FSU kind of town. Then along comes Pat Williams in the mid-to-late 80s and said this was a major league sports town. I don’t think there is anyone in history at that time that could have made Orlando believe that it could be a major league town, and nothing has been the same since.

DR: I want to talk more about the Magic in a second, because I see some similarities between them and the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh (where I live). The difference being the Canes have had like two really good years, where the Magic tend to go on these runs and when they are good they sustain it for three or four years in a row. So the guy that has retired to Orlando from the Northeast or moved there to start a business is still loyal to his teams, but they have something exciting to latch on to, so how do you prioritize that guy’s loyalty to his teams when you’re putting together a local show in Orlando?

SA: You must be sitting in on our afternoon meetings, because this is a question that we struggle with everyday. I mentioned this was a Gators and Seminoles town, and back in the day, you’d come in on Monday, open up the phones and you could talk Gators and Seminoles for three hours.

Orlando is a tough sports radio town now, because of what you just said: everyone is from somewhere else and they bring their own allegiances here. We have a lot of Northeasterners here. There are a lot of transplanted Midwesterners here. So you combine that with the fans that have been here for years and it can be hard to figure out the combined allegiances.

So what we try to do is focus on the hot button issues of the day. Like yesterday, everyone is talking about the National Anthem controversy. Even though it can be a controversial topic and a difficult thing to do on sports radio, we have to sometimes try to do a national show on a local level, so we have to dip our toes into those waters. That can be frustrating at times because the market is always like a moving target, but I can assure you there is never a dull day trying to do sports radio in Orlando. That is for sure.

DR: Interesting, but it also has to be a little frustrating, because in the old Orlando, yesterday (September 25th) should have been the kind of day you could crack the mic and say “what the hell is Jim McElwain doing?” and you’ve got yourself a three hour show.

SA: [laughing] Exactly. Those kind of days are really frustrating because yesterday was a great sports day. You had some great NFL games. You have the Gators pulling out that win at Kentucky but they still have so many problems with their offense. You’ve got FSU at 0-2 for the first time since 1989. Heck, you’ve even got UCF pulling off a dominant victory at Maryland, and yet our PD comes into our afternoon meeting and tells us that our TV partner is coming over to grab sound from callers on the National Anthem protests and that is what we’re going to have to do for three hours.

So can that be frustrating? I guess so. Sometimes it feels like I am back in college everyday and I am taking a final exam and I have no idea what is going to be on the exam every single day.

DR: I’m glad you brought up your PD, because it leads into my next question. This isn’t me claiming to know what happens at ESPN 580 in Orlando. I have just talked to a lot of guys in your situation. They are the only local show in a prime daypart on their station, and they all talk about it as one extreme or the other. They either feel like the station as a whole is forgotten about or they feel like they have all the support they could ask for because they are their PD’s only concern. Are you one of those or do you fall somewhere in the middle?

SA: Oh, I get what I need. Cox Media Group is a great company to work for, and even though they’re dipping their toe into these waters for the first time with a sports station, I have worked for Cox for 28 or 29 years and I have always been supported. Sports radio is never going to be high on the company’s totem pole, but I have terrific support and quite frankly, they’ve kinda let us have free reign.

I went up to Bristol a few weeks ago for a sports talk bootcamp and they taught us two things. First, always be who you are because listeners can spot a phony, and also if you’re not talking NFL, you’re losing. Cox Media’s thing is that you better be talking on air about what people are talking about, so you see, they are on the same track. Yesterday that was the protests and talking about it is a bridge for fringe sports fans to find the show.

DR: Do you like talking about stuff like that? The National Anthem protests and topics like the North Carolina bathroom bill that had the NCAA and the NBA pulling events out of the state, those things mix it up and make sports radio fun and interesting in my opinion. Do you feel the same or do you have #StickToSports guy in the back of your head?

SA: I come from a news background. I wouldn’t say topics like that, for me, are easy by any means, but they’re kinda right in my wheelhouse. Even though one slip of the tongue can have protesters showing up at your radio station, that kind of adrenaline drives me. Now, I certainly take copious notes before that show starts, so I’m not talking off the cuff the whole time. Shows like that are difficult to do and that’s what really drives me.

We just had Hurricane Irma come through Central Florida, and on ESPN 580 we shunned our local programming for a week and did nothing but talk Irma day after day after day. I love sports, but I think I love broadcasting even more, and if you can have an impact on someone day to day, that is success to me. So talking about those big issues that invite everyone to listen but don’t drive off the P1s is fun for me and that is how you get the biggest piece of the pie, at least in Orlando.

DR: I’m going to use LeBatard as an example because he is national, but I’m sure it happens a lot at the local level too. He’s a guy that has never been afraid to delve into sports’ big social issues but he also isn’t afraid to acknowledge the internet theory that it was Florida football coach Jim McElwain in that photo with a shark. It’s absurd to think that may have been the case, but it is even more absurd that there are people that actually thought it might be possible. It seems like sports radio as a format is more willing to have fun and go to interesting and maybe even uncomfortable places more often than it used to.

SA: Sure. If you want sports, LeBatard’s show may be the worst place to go to for that, but look, I think he is a great journalist. He’s a great writer. Above all, what you hear on the radio is that he is a great entertainer. So do you risk running off those P1s when you do that and risk that guy calling to tell you to stick to sports or stay in your lane? Yeah, but we know our format and that includes the listeners. If you can get those casual fans to stick with you with a topic like protesting or something more frivolous, you’ll bring those P1s along.

DR: You talked about the week leading up to Hurricane Irma abandoning sports talk to focus on hurricane preparedness. Certainly weather like that is nothing new for you guys. Tell me about your philosophy as a broadcaster the day after that hurricane comes through.

SA: We actually slept at the radio station. I stayed there a couple of nights. With Cox, when an event happens like this in your community, you’re expected to be there. I grew up here. I raised a family here. I am here for the community. So, when that community is in need, that drives your adrenaline.

The afternoon before the hurricane I was on the air for about six hours, then as the hurricane was moving through, I was on all of our six stations from about 9 o’clock until 3 the next morning just talking to listeners. It was amazing. People called in and what we wanted to do was stay connected with the Central Florida community. A lot of people had power out so for some we were the only game in town, but what we learned is no matter how much we warned and begged beforehand, so many people still don’t have battery powered radios in their house.

It was an amazing night talking to people who had just seen trees fall on their houses. I talked to a woman that was talking to me from her couch, because it was the only way to stay dry in her flooded house. Another man called when a tool shed had blown through his front window.

I love sports, but first I am a Central Floridian. I am a part of this community. I love this community and for me what it is all about is supporting and preparing people and afterwards you have to be positive and let people know we are going to get through it – especially the people that are alone. It was a really unforgettable night.

DR: Okay, so now it’s time to make you uncomfortable a little bit and mess with your money. What is your motto when it comes to covering the Orlando Magic? You kinda have to walk that tightrope of cheerleader vs. truth-teller.

SA: Absolutely. It can definitely be a balancing act, but I would hope that I have built up enough in the bank that Magic fans will tell you that I tell it like it is. I will say that in all the years of covering the organization or now working for the organization, they have never once told me to lighten up on them or come to me and said ‘you need to spin this this way.’ I respect the heck out of them for that. I have been covering them for 29 years and have been working for the organization since 2000, and I think the Magic know that if they ever came to me and told me what to say it would come through on the air. And it helps them to keep my credibility intact. It can definitely be a balancing act, but the Magic make it very very easy to do my job.

DR: Right after the NBA season ended, Dan Patrick said he talked to a number of different people around the league and there is a consensus that the Magic are the team furthest away from being competitive. Tell me why he is wrong.

SA: (Laughing) I don’t know if I can argue with that. There may be a couple of teams that might be behind us, but that is a really good point. I think a lot of that goes back to the last five year under a general manager that came in with what looked like a sound plan. Let’s go ahead and dump Dwight Howard if he doesn’t want to be here and let’s try to get a lot of pieces for him and then we’ll rebuild through the draft.

Well, that’s easier said than done when you’re always a pick or two after the best players in the draft are gone. You have to make your own luck as well and Rob Hannigan never made his own luck here in Orlando. So now we restart rebuild 2.0 with a couple of guys that have great experience in the league with our new GM and president of basketball operations. It’s gonna take time though to dig out of where this team is.

Dan Patrick is probably right. Even Philadelphia looks like they are moving forward. Hmmm…maybe Brooklyn. There are some people excited about Brooklyn’s future I’m not sure why, but it is a close argument.

BSM Writers

What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?

“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”

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Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.

Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.

Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.

Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”

It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.

I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.

That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?

WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.

That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.

Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.

In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.

Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.

I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.

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BSM Writers

What’s The Bright Side Of a Losing Team?

“What are you supposed to do if the teams you rely on to buoy your product aren’t holding up their end of the bargain?”

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We’ve always said that winning is the great deodorizer in sports. Winning can take a dysfunctional locker room and make them functional, it can take an average coach and make him look great, and in our world it can make a bad product seem decent and a good product seem spectacular.

But what if the local teams you cover aren’t winning at all? What are you supposed to do if the teams you rely on to buoy your product aren’t holding up their end of the bargain? 

It’s such a weird position for a host or programmer to be in because sometimes the success of your radio station or your show is so dependent on things that you have no control over whatsoever. The difference between a good radio station and the bad ones are the ones that are able to make chicken salad out of chicken scratch and also those that are able to capitalize when teams are good.

Just look at the growth of 95.3 WDAE in Tampa or the strength of the Boston sports talk stations like WEEI or 98.5 The Sports Hub after Boston owned basically every major pro sport for a 5 to 10 year period. 

I’m the “Orlando Magic guy” on 96.9 The Game, the flagship of the Magic. We broadcast the games and I work on many of those broadcasts. I’m also the afternoon show host, so if you find your way to the arena that night and you want Magic talk, I guess I’m your guy. But as you can imagine, it is exceedingly difficult to pull good juicy topics out of a team that barely wins. There are so many markets that deal with this year after year.

Whether you’re in a multi-sports market that’s suffering like Detroit or a single pro sports town like Orlando or Sacremento, it can be incredibly frustrating. It wears on you because you know how different the landscape can be, particularly if you’ve experienced some level of success.

When I got into the sports talk radio scene in Orlando, the Magic were off the heels of an NBA Finals run and casual fans were everywhere in the city. Everywhere you looked someone was wearing a Magic shirt, the lady at the counter at your local grocery store wants to talk to you about point guard play, but when your team has less than 10 wins in January, casual fans have a convenient way of disappearing. 

Local radio thrives off the positive production of the teams in their market. But when your team isn’t any good and fans lose interest, people aren’t gobbling up tickets or hanging on your every word about the team, how are you supposed to survive that drought?

First things first: honesty. As hard as it can be, especially if you are partnered with these teams, you have to be straight up with your audience. You can’t sugarcoat what they’re seeing. That doesn’t mean you stoop down to the level of the most agitated fan, but you can’t act like all is good either. That approach has been covered many times on this site, but honesty and authenticity are important no matter the record of the teams you cover. 

As I look for the silver lining, here’s one that jumps out at me, ticket giveaways. There’s no shortage of available tickets when your teams aren’t winning and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about a radio audience, they love free stuff. I try and use this time as an opportunity to give away as much as I can, create memorable experiences for a dad and his kids that can’t typically afford to go to a game. They won’t care the team is bad, but they’ll remember that you provided that for them for years to come. 

It’s also a great time to extend the positive relationship you have with the team (or teams) that are struggling. Everyone wants to cover a winner, everyone wants to interview the star player who’s a shoo-in for an All-Star Game. If you show love when the team is down, you can create a bond that will help you maintain your good standing when that product heats up again.

Everything is cyclical and I don’t want to find myself in a position where I can be left out from all the cool opportunities and great guests because I stuck my nose up at the team while the chips were down. I’ll take an interview with the backup center, I’ll do the day-long media day dance, all of that is an effort to curry favor when things are trending up again. 

Then there’s draft talk! Lucky for us in the great U.S.A, our sports structure rewards bad teams with great picks. Fans might be down in the dumps during the season, but you can perk them right back up in the off-season when your team can provide something in the draft. It’s that magic four-letter word that keeps people on the edge of their seat: Hope. It’s the one thing winning teams don’t get to experience. 

More than anything, I just try and stay the course. I figure that when things do turn around, eventually, I will have built up the branding and credibility needed so my audience knows where to go when they suddenly find themselves interested again. Simply put, lay the groundwork while the team is bad, reap the rewards when things turnaround. 

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BSM Writers

What Can Programmers Learn From A Social Media Following?

“A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure.”

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I first began using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter at The Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the Seattle Seahawks coach and I had a smart phone made by Palm. The Twitter app was so wonky I posted live updates from Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a picture of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We’ve all come a long way since then.

I like Twitter. Over the past 12-plus years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translated better on Twitter than it ever did in print or later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I’ve made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other reporters and generally found it a good place to test out ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss anything important. I have more than 40,000 followers, which is not insignificant nor is it at all exceptional given the market I worked in. None of this gives you any idea about how well I’ve done my job in sports media, though.

Yet an individual’s Twitter following has become part of our industry scoreboard. It’s certainly not the final score and it definitely doesn’t decide the outcome, but it is the best way I know to gain a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or significance. It’s a data point that is readily accessible. It’s the thing I check first when I encounter someone who’s part of the sports-media industry.

But what does it really tell us? More specifically, how much does it tell us about that person’s ability to do their actual job whether it is reporting news, writing stories or being part of a show? Because as important as Twitter has become in sports-media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people who are really being paid to Tweet.

For most of us, Twitter is not a job, it is a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside the footprint and time slot of the show. It also is a powerful opportunity to deepen audience engagement through two-way, real-time communication. These things may help a host’s job performance, but they should not be mistaken for the actual job itself. A radio host is not valuable because he or she was right on Twitter or because they were first on Twitter or because they had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of the ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific slot of time. Twitter may help you prepare to do that, but it does not actually accomplish the task.

Programmers need to understand this, too. A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure. Just look at what book publishers have found.

An article last month in the New York Times showed how publishers have used social media followings as a weathervane of sorts for books sales. The number of followers an author has is influencing everything from what authors are paid to which books get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is pretty straightforward when you look under hood of that particular industry.

A publisher is the business that buys a certain book from the author, essentially making a bet that the sales of this book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author as well as the cost of publication and promotion of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell sufficient copies to not just make its money back, but insure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The follower count is being looked to as an indicator of just how many people can be expected to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is certainly a sign they’re interested in what that author has to say. Some percentage of those followers can reasonably be expected to buy a book by this person. Except social media followings turn out to be a fairly terrible tool of forecasting book sales.

Billie Eilish has 99 million Instagram followers. Her book — released last year — sold 64,000 copies. If I was being catty, I would point out that is one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.

billie eilish on Twitter: "“Billie Eilish” - The photo book by Billie The  book and the audiobook companion (narrated by Billie) are available now.  https://t.co/PAYxvTW64A https://t.co/vWFmq3502D" / Twitter

“Even having one of the biggest social media followings in the world is not a guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.

So we should all just stop paying attention to Twitter followings, right? Hardly. First of all, it is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important probably thinks the Internet is just a fad. More importantly, having a following is certainly better than not having one as it does indicate the ability to attract an audience.

The issue isn’t whether it’s good to have a large following. Of course it is. The issue is how reliable that is in predicting an individual’s interest or appeal outside of that specific social platform.

What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:

  1. Why are people following this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond that. What sort of content is this person providing that none of his or her peers are? Will that type of content be valuable as part of my lineup whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or other format? Someone who’s funny on Twitter may be funny in other formats. They may also just be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this kind of content has worked in the past or reasons to think it will work in the future?
  2. How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my medium? This is one of the trickier ones. One of the reasons for acquiring a talent with a large social media following is the hope that some of their followers will become your customers. While this is always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.

Remember, that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of books is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was the publishing house didn’t expect a solid sales performance. It expected incredibly strong sales because it paid a significant amount of money to Eilish in the form of an advance.

It’s clear the publishing house made a bad bet, but the principal mistake was not about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She did produce one that was 336 pages long, loaded with family photos never seen before and while there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, the sales were solid. The mistake the publishing house made was overestimating how many of Eilish’s fans would become customers in an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson worth noting in this industry.

Unless you’re hiring someone to do social media for your company, Twitter is not going to be their job. It’s just a tool. An important tool, a useful one, but just a tool.

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