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Mike Francesa Reflects on Thirty Years in Sports Radio

Jason Barrett

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Mike Francesa

Thirty years in any business is a long time. In radio, it’s an eternity. For Mike Francesa, it’s never been about surviving corporate changes, the loss of a radio partner, increased competition or the rise of technology. It’s been about competing and being the very best. Anything less than “numbah 1” wasn’t good enough.

But despite three decades of ratings and revenue success, Mike will find himself in unfamiliar territory on December 16, 2017. That Saturday morning, the king of New York sports talk will wake up for the first time since 1987 as a man without a microphone and radio station.

It’s no secret that Francesa and WFAN are going in separate directions. Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray have been tabbed by program director Mark Chernoff to lead the station forward in PM drive, a move which is under heavy scrutiny. Fans were hopeful after Craig Carton’s exit in September that WFAN executives and their longtime franchise player would find a way to extend their relationship but unfortunately nothing changed.

Whether you’ve been a Francesa fan or critic, his success and impact on the radio industry can’t be denied. His rise with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo to the top of the ratings in New York breathed life into the sports radio business during a very important time in the format’s infancy. Had Mike and the Mad Dog not produced results, who knows where the format would be today.

But it didn’t stop there. Russo left the show in August 2008, and rather than adding a partner, Francesa began performing as a solo act, delivering the same type of impact that he had for the prior 19 years. That success added to his legacy, and cemented his position on the Mount Rushmore of sports radio talk show hosts.

For most personalities, that would be enough, but Mike hasn’t reached the end of his broadcasting journey. In fact, he remains interested in continuing to work. Fans will have to live without hearing him during the upcoming winter months but come April, Francesa says he plans to sink his teeth into something new. What that will be and how often he’ll do it remains to be seen, but whatever he chooses, it’ll be on a different outlet than the one New York sports radio listeners have been accustomed to finding him on for the past three decades.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Mike in his office last week to reflect on his run with WFAN and examine a number of different areas of the radio business. As usual, he was candid and provided plenty to think about, two of the biggest reasons why he’s been one of the most successful sports radio personalities in our format’s history.

JB: How much have you allowed yourself to reflect and appreciate the process leading up to your final show?

MF: I’ve absolutely thought a lot about the show and the different moments that have happened throughout the years. Everywhere we’ve gone this year the crowd’s have been overwhelming. I thank the fans enormously. We’ve had the most loyal and consistent fans the past thirty years that you could ever even hope for and I’m very appreciative of that.

Leading up to the final show, in our business you spend a lot of time planning ahead. Right now I’d normally be looking to the Super Bowl, Spring Training and even April. You’re always trying to work 4-6 in advance but I haven’t done any of that so that’s very different from the normal course of business. There’s a finality to every part of it. As I’ve gone past each month, you check them off and realize there’s never going to be another September or October doing shows so from that standpoint I’ve tried to appreciate it and be a little more reflective.

JB: What are you going to miss most and least about the job?

MF: The least part of the job that I’ll miss is the traffic. It’s impossible getting around the city and it wears you down. It’s a couple of hours a day. Just brutal.

What I’ll miss most is the idea that there’s a big happening and I know the city is waiting for me at one o’clock. That’s been my life for thirty years. To know the city isn’t waiting for me anymore will be a big adjustment.

JB: Who would you put at the top of the list among your favorite guests from over the years?

MF: There were some guests who performed above the call of duty on the show. George Young was one. David Stern was another. They not only brought a great performance level but they brought this curmudgeonly playful attitude that made them great guests.

The one that got away was Joe DiMaggio. Dog and I tried very hard to get him on the show. We even got Ted Williams to ask for us. We just couldn’t get him.

JB: Which memorable moments from the show stand out the most?

MF: The day Dog left was an emotional one. Cherny fought me the whole day. I said I’m putting him on. He said no you’re not. I said he has a right to say goodbye. Mark said no he doesn’t. He’s out.

Back then they used to just take you off the air. They’ve learned their lesson and changed that stance thankfully. Look at me, right now I couldn’t be more of a lame duck. There’s a new company I’m not part of. There’s a new show already named. I feel like the President after election day. You have people just waiting to push you out of the office.

JB: When did you know the show was a success and had influence?

MF: I knew the show was a success when we got the first book. We were third after they had been eleventh. The second book we were first and life changed. They ripped up our contracts, we were the toast of the town, there were headline stories, and we were big stars.

The first time though that I knew it had impact was when the Giants called and asked me to MC a dinner they were doing. That was about six months into the show. I was like “Whoa, the Giants are calling me?”

JB: So with all of these great moments and tremendous success, why leave?

MF: They made me a bunch of offers and asked what it would take for me to stay for a year, but we never really even seriously negotiated. I told them I really wasn’t into it. I didn’t want to stay just for money. I always felt you don’t stay in things just for money.

It was very important to me to leave on top. I didn’t want to be one of these guys who used to be number 1 and now you’re number 28. I couldn’t live that way. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.

I’ve driven these guys exceedingly hard to finish 1st in the final book. With a few weeks to go we’re first but it looks like it’s going to be a dogfight with one of the music stations. That’s what’s important to me and that’s what we’ve been striving for. I wanted to go out the same way that I came in, on top.

JB: How much of this has to do with Entercom taking over and working for a new company and possibly facing different economic realities?

MF: Some of the reports that have been out there have been so wrong. I had dinner with David Field. He wasn’t able to talk about certain things because the merger was pending but this notion that the company was trying to cut my salary is not true. They offered me the same amount that I’m making right now.

This wasn’t about money. I just thought a few years ago that it was the right time and nothing made me think it wasn’t the right time to go. I still believe it’s the right time to move on.

It had nothing to do with Entercom. Whether I agree with what they’re going to do going forward or not doesn’t matter. I’m not even going to know what they’re like for six months. They were not an issue at all.

JB: How close did you come to reversing your stance following Craig’s exit?

MF: After the Carton thing happened I said “if you really need me to stay then we’ll discuss it.” We had one meeting about it and they said they did not think it was a big deal and didn’t think it would change things at all. I said OK and that was it.

JB: So if that is indeed the case and this is it for you with WFAN, what is next?

MF: I want to produce content and do some new things. I don’t want to not work at all. I will not do Monday thru Friday. I’ve been offered book deals and rejected them because I don’t think I’m an author. I still have a lot to say and there are many ways to do that and I’m looking at some of them.

The way it’s set up I can’t do local radio, network radio, satellite radio or podcasts until April 1st. TV’s not in there but I’m not sure how much of that I want to do, especially the conventional way. I’m much more into digital and the new wave of TV, the Amazon way, the Netflix way and the different ways they distribute video content.

JB: This radio station has endured losing high profile stars like Russo, Imus, Carton, Sid, etc. Your departure will soon be another major test for them. How has WFAN been able to continue thriving after losing such key people?

MF: We built something strong that had legs. It will endure past me. The Fan has been built on a strong enough foundation that it will be here fifty to a hundred years from now. It’s become part of this town and culture. It’s an iconic brand.

They still have to make the right decisions. If they don’t, it can lose its way. We’ve seen that happen in other cities. It’s not The Fan’s birthright to be on top and it is tough to replace a very successful show but it does happen. Imus got replaced.

Mark always has an idea of what he wants to do. This was not done without any thought process. How it’s going to do? We’ll see.

JB: The news of the new afternoon show hasn’t been well received so far, although they haven’t even done a show yet. Your former partner in particular was pretty upset. What’s your reaction to the station going in this direction?

MF: First, Dog can talk about the individuals all he wants. He’s earned that right. But from my position, the less said the better. I don’t have much to go on. None of these people have ever had any real radio presence on this station. I’ve never heard Maggie or Scott do a show and I haven’t even really heard Continent do a show so what they’ll be as a trio, nobody has any idea, and as individual performers, I don’t really know.

JB: Let’s be fair too, whoever goes in after you, is going to be under intense scrutiny the second they step into the studio. How long of a leash do you think a new show deserves?

MF: You have to give the new show at least six months. The first book will not be a great indicator of anything. Plus it’s a Winter ratings book. Take a look at the end of the Spring book and see where you are. That’d be a fair indicator.

JB: I recognize you’re not in the advice business, but having done this successfully for as long as you have, what advice can you pass along to the new show?

MF: They need to be themselves. You can’t manufacture something that’s not there. Chemistry is something they have to develop. They have to figure out their roles and ones that each of them are comfortable with and then play to their individual strengths. That’s their mission. What they have to realize is that it’s never going to be a case where each is responsible for a third of the show. That’s silly. It just has to have a feel.

JB: The competition in afternoons has been stronger too. How do you think that affects the patience with the new program?

MF: For the longest time, we were the only show the other station went head to head with locally. That was done by design because they knew they’d get destroyed if they put in a national show against me. Network shows only have a certain level they can reach.

There’s going to be some back and forth. The other station feels they’re in a different position now. They’ve never won. They’ve always lost. They’ve been beaten up for so many years that they think this is an opening but they felt the same way when Dog left and that door didn’t open for them. We’ll see this time if they are more vulnerable.

JB: Mark Chernoff is responsible for making the move. The two of you guys have had a lengthy working relationship. How would you describe it?

MF: We’ve had the typical talent to program director relationship. There are days he will try to push me to things I don’t want to do. He might be right or wrong. We’ve had our fights and arguments but we’ve also gotten along really well.

Mark’s greatest strength for me is that he’s a genius on understanding the ratings and how they work. There are certain things you can do and I’m sure he’ll teach the new show and they really need to listen and understand.

A lot of talent won’t take the time to learn this part of it. Some pay no attention to ratings. You can like it or not but if you don’t understand it you’re out of your mind and short selling yourself. That’s how you’re going to be paid.

JB: How surprised are you by the lack of interest from some personalities towards learning and understanding the ratings game to help their longevity and earning power?

MF: Our business is subjective. You’re not going to please everybody all the time. Your job though is to produce ratings and revenue. It’s the only thing that will sell the day. To not understand how they work and what tricks you can do in your show to have success is very important. There are some things that you don’t want to do in a half hour that’ll cost you. When you want to break and stuff like that. Some people think “all I have to do is promote ahead and I’m fine.” No No No. There’s a lot more to it than that.

I remember Mel Karmazin had this meeting years ago and turned to one guy and asked “what’s your job.” This executive went into this long ten minute answer full of a bunch of baloney and Mel turned to him and said “let me put it simple – you’re job is ratings and revenue – and don’t forget it on your next job.” He fired him.

JB: Sticking with the subject of ratings, you’ve said before that you feel the sports radio industry is going after the wrong demographic. You believe Men 35-64, not Men 25-54, should be the target. How come?

MF: Trying to get this business to change something, forget it. They are so slow it’s glacier speed. This is such a no-brainer. We are so much healthier and living longer. Our life expectancy is now into the mid 80’s. The people 55 to 70 have incredible earning power and more money than anybody in this country. They have the life to spend it and the time to spend it.

The way the world works with student debt and the economy, kids aren’t even leaving home until they’re 30 years old. They can’t afford anything at 25 years old. If they’re buying their first home it’s usually on a shoestring budget and they’re getting help from their parents. You think that’s your market? They’re not your market. Your market is the baby boomer and people 40-65 who have all the earning and spending power in this country. To turn away a good part of that audience is insane.

JB: How do we fix that?

MF: The entire ad buying community has to grow. Using GQ as an example, I read them and look at their ads for clothes and they’re all geared towards the twenty year old’s. I buy more clothes than they do. They don’t target guys like me and they’re out of their minds. We’re the ones who go out to fancy dinners, buy expensive suits and jewelry and drive a mercedes. The guy 20 or 30 isn’t doing that. He’s two hundred thousand dollars in debt and lucky if he even has a car.

If I was in the advertising business I’d be saying “gear everything towards the guys 40-65 or 70, they have all the money and time.”

JB: One of the biggest challenges for radio has been the emergence of digital. How do you think that’s impacted the industry?

MF: The radio business has got to find itself and decide what it wants to be. The audience has not gone anywhere. What our industry has done, is they think it’s gone somewhere because they’ve been scared off by technology and they’ve chased digital to the detriment of their regular radio audience.

I’ve fought everybody in the business over this. Radio is live and local and the business is still there. The digital money has never been there. No one knows how to monetize it and it’s so new that you’re not even sure what you’re selling as the business changes from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat.

What radio does know how to do, this commercial sells that car. This commercial sells that restaurant or store. That has never changed but they’ve gotten away from it and radio has to get back to its roots or they’re going to wish they did.

JB: But social media has become an important way for people to engage, find content and connect to brands. Podcasts are another platform gaining in popularity. Don’t those matter?

MF: I understand the draw of social media. The chasing of content is good. But the radio companies, and to a lesser extent, the television companies, still don’t have a handle on it.

I’ve railed against podcasts because nobody makes any money on them. When did we decide everybody gets a radio show? We didn’t. But everybody now has a podcast.

Radio has chased empty dollars. There’s nobody at the door saying you can’t enter. So everybody enters. Unless you go into a podcast with a radio brand and audience, you’re not going to make money or create a big enough audience to support what you’re doing.

JB: When you look at where the industry is today compared to where it was before, do you think it’s still an attractive profession?

MF: The job of talk show host has become a great job. When I started the talk show host was not a big deal. The columnist was the big guy and he looked down at the radio host. We turned it into a profession. Kids are now going to school to pursue becoming a talk show host. In most cities in this country, the talk show host is now the number one difference maker or tastemaker in that town. To me, that transition is one I’m most proud of. Mike and the Mad Dog gave the job enormous credibility and attention.

JB: You mentioned Mike and the Mad Dog, knowing that this was going to be the final run for you with WFAN, was that why you gave the green light on doing the 30 for 30 episode?

MF: The Mike and the Mad Dog 30 for 30 I did for two reasons. The first was my kids asked me, and the second was because Dog asked me. My first inclination was not to do it because I’ve had a bad relationship with ESPN.

When they did the twenty fifth anniversary piece, I was the only one who wouldn’t do it. Even Imus did it. Bill Simmons said “I can’t do this unless you do it” and I said “I’m not doing it for ESPN.” He still keeps busting my chops about it because I did the 30 for 30 but didn’t do his thing.

Plus the guys who did it I broke into the business with. Danny Forer and I worked together in 1983, and Ted Shaker was one of my first bosses at CBS. He ran the NFL Today. I’ve known those guys for thirty years so that also made it a lot easier.

JB: Watching that film reminded me of how important it is to create something unique. Now, the world is cluttered with content choices and cutting thru is harder than ever. What do you tell a young person who’s starting out today and contemplating a path as a talk show host?

MF: It’s easier to get on the air now than it ever was but it’s also harder to break thru because there’s so much noise and clutter. You have to have an opinion and a presence that cuts thru. It has to be real and yours. That’s the key to success.

JB: In following your career, maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall you ever being suspended for something you’ve said on the air. Some personalities today feel they’ve got to deliver opinions that generate headlines and rattle a few cages to stand out. By doing so though they can risk losing their job. What are your thoughts on the need to push the envelope to cut thru the noise?

MF: I’ve never been suspended or reprimanded and I’ve never had to apologize. I attack people from a sports standpoint. I don’t attack people personally. I never bring their families, girlfriends or wives into it. I don’t do T & A or guy talk. I don’t believe in that.

I’ve always looked at my show as being a sports argument. It can be fierce and take the paint off the walls, but it’s going to be based on something that happened on the field or something that has an impact on the team.

The guys who want to push it and get involved, stay out of a tragedy. A perfect example was the Roy Halladay situation and how it was discussed by the guys in Boston. That’s not your business. You weren’t there. You don’t know anything about it. He has a wife and kids and cities that love him. Maybe he was reckless with his plane, but where do you get off thinking that’s your business? That’s a winless situation. There are times you have to stay out of stuff. You don’t belong in other people’s pain.

JB: Another area of the business which has changed has been the increase of political commentary in sports radio programming. Do you believe we’re going to see more of this going forward?

MF: I think the political explosion in sports talk has more to do with this President. He’s so polarizing because he touches so many parts of culture. He’s a TV star first. Without his show he never becomes President. We knew him in New York but they got to know him in living rooms across the country because of The Apprentice.

People who voted for Trump saw him as success. He brands himself that way. He breaks across certain barriers because some people see him as having the life they wish they had. He has the pretty girl, the jet, the money, the fame.

We are so polarized now that everybody sticks to their own opinion and nobody wants to have a political conversation. That’s made things much more agitated and tougher to get any consensus. There’s no middle anymore. What we’ve seen leak into all of these shows is really the Trump factor more than a political factor.

JB: Let’s talk about your own methods to hosting a successful program. How do you know when you’ve had a good or bad show?

MF: Any good show is fast moving. Anything that drags is bad. There’s a big difference between the two. Show’s can change on a dime. You have to realize ahead of time and during the show when it’s time to reverse the topic. You have to have an instinctive feel for what is and isn’t working as a performer. If that is not inside you, you’re going to have a hard time being special at this.

You know when you’re giving your audience a reason to stray. You won’t hear my show go into seven topics in seven minutes. I focus my shows because I don’t think you can move your audience all over the place.

It’s even more of a challenge when I’m doing a live show. I don’t ever give the audience a chance to chat among themselves. You never want to give the audience dead time during a live performance. That’s deadly. They’ll start talking to each other and then you’ll never get them back. If you put an intermission in there, you’re out of your mind. The show should never stop moving.

JB: I’ve noticed over the years that you haven’t placed a strong emphasis on using production, sound or teasing. How come?

MF: The show is me. Some people need a lot of sound and bells and whistles. I don’t use any of it. I don’t even use music. You have to understand though what you have to do. That means handling all the transitions and segues. It’s harder to do a show this way because it’s a lot more work but it’s something I believe in.

JB: As we look to the future, what would an induction into the radio hall of fame mean to you?

MF: The radio hall of fame would mean a lot. They put us in a voting category and we thought we had a chance but we finished second to Michael Savage. Credit to him. He earned it fair and square. I think Mike and the Mad Dog deserve to be in there and if we go in together that would be just fine with me.

JB: Along those lines, 10-15 years from now when people look back on your run at WFAN, what do you want them to remember?

MF: I hope that they remember that during the time I was here I dominated. That’s what I set out to do and I did that.

JB: What do you have planned for the final show?

MF: The day before the final show I’ll be broadcasting live from the Museum of Broadcasting with a number of guests, family, WFAN people, a small audience of about 200 people. We’re not selling tickets to that. We’ll just be giving some away.

The final show will just be me. I’m not letting anybody in the studio. I’m not doing any media that day. I even told my family to stay home and listen to it. I’m coming in, doing a show, talking to the audience, no guests, and then I’m getting up at 6:30 and leaving.

The last 10-15 minutes will probably just be me. I’m not going to script it. I’ll have thought about it obviously but I’m just going to let it go and then that’ll be it.

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Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

The Media Business Must Reset Its Message and Market Its Stars in 2024

“The only way to change perception is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works.”

Jason Barrett

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The end of the year is upon us, and I hope you’re happy, healthy, and excited about what lies ahead in 2024. The older I get, and the more I work with different companies and people, I’m reminded that the relationships and results are what makes this all worthwhile. In my thirties, I wanted to stomp competitors into the ground, and own the space in the cities I worked in. I even did it a few times. But as happy as I was for my crew and seeing our strategy work, the more I learned it was about growing a business, and enjoying the ride with colleagues, not seeing others unemployed. If there’s only one game in town, the game itself becomes less fun. The professional benefits shrink too for those on the winning side.

It’s no secret that 2023 has been a roller coaster ride for the media industry. Take for instance this recent Forbes article. If their math is correct, more than 20,000 people lost media jobs in 2023. That can’t make you feel good about the state of our business. It doesn’t inspire confidence in advertisers to invest in us either. With 2024 approaching, there’s optimism, pessimism, and focus on what may change. The common belief is that revenues will rise due to a political year, but we can’t just look at dollars and cents when it comes to evaluating our industry. If we do, we’ll be back here in 2025 when political advertising shrinks.

I started covering sports media in 2015. News media coverage was added in 2020. During that time, radio and TV revenues haven’t risen like a Phoenix and headlines about both mediums have been mostly negative. Do a quick google search and look at how many stories focus on low stock prices, headwinds/layoffs, revenue projections missed, bankruptcy, executive’s on shaky ground, brands losing their identity and purpose, AM radio becoming extinct, etc.. This is what investors and advertisers see every day. It creates a negative perception of our business. You’d see it that way too if you were in their shoes.

Now combine that with the way media sells the next big thing. Meta told us virtual reality was the future but bailed on that idea in favor of artificial intelligence. Spotify dove into podcasting with its foot on the gas but is now driving under the speed limit. Elon Musk bought X to be the everything app yet can’t inspire confidence in the advertising community.

Radio’s issues are more self inflicted. Groups have been saddled with so much debt that even a good year in local markets gets ignored due to larger corporate problems. Judging from what gets printed you’d think no radio station grew revenue this year, which is false. TV isn’t immune either. All too often the focus is on viewers aging or watching less, and young people streaming yet the biggest point gets missed – people are still watching content, most of it produced by the TV industry. They just do it in different ways.

I’m sure there are exceptions but those I know who work in radio, TV, podcasting or social media do so for the access, content, creativity and fun. If you do the job well enough and long enough, the pay can be pretty good too. Most don’t enter the business to discuss plans to boost a stock, raise quarterly revenue or frame a press release to soften the blow when laying people off.

Our industry is attractive because we create programming that excites viewers/listeners and is led by people who are passionate about the content featured on their brands. When that content is supported by data that shows people enjoy it, it attracts advertisers. If those paying clients invest in a brand, and it increases sales, that creates a healthy business. This isn’t rocket science, folks.

My hope for 2024 is that the media industry puts greater focus on resetting its messaging and marketing its stars. Podcasting and streaming get discussed with high enthusiasm. Marketers are made to feel that they are growing spaces they have to be in. Radio and TV, which are both larger, and have delivered results for decades, are seen as less attractive. But they shouldn’t be. We’ve allowed that to happen. The only way to change it is to remind people what makes radio/TV special, and how well it works. It starts with marketing the right people and message. Otherwise perception becomes reality.

Too often I see narratives shaped for advertisers and investors instead of the public. If you want the business world’s money and attention, don’t bore them with business headlines. Create a party with your stars, attract a passionate audience, and generate results. Do that consistently and watch how fast the money follows. Given how our industry has been portrayed the past decade, we’re not inspiring many with hype about revenue projections, profitability, and staff reductions.

An Important Year For Barrett Media

We enter 2024 with a lot of promise. Dave Greene was recently announced as our new Chief Media Officer. I also revealed a few additions, and shared that I’d write a weekly column and host a podcast in April. But we’re not done. We’re adding two more columnists, who I’m very excited about.

Mark Kreidler joins BSM to write a weekly column on Wednesday’s. Mark is an award winning author who previously wrote for ESPN, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Sacramento Bee. He has also worked in radio for 95.7 The Game, Sactown Sports 1140, and ESPN 1320.

Dave Williams is also joining us to write a weekly column each Friday on BNM. Dave has spent over four decades in news/talk working for top brands such as WBAP/KLIF in Dallas, KNX in Los Angeles, and KFBK in Sacramento. He announced his retirement from radio in early November.

Cementing our position and value as a media outlet is a priority. We root for the industry, support it, and try to educate, celebrate, inform, and challenge those inside of it. But with that comes a responsibility to offer opinions and cover the news. We prioritize 4 key things on our websites: features on industry people, expert opinions from columnists, daily news about brands/people changes or performance, and industry reactions. The occasional 5th area of focus is original projects like the BSM Top 20.

Our editors and news writers watch, listen and read daily. If it’s said on the air or social, it may end up on our sites. You’ll agree with some, and disagree with others, but it’s no different than how athletes react to hosts talking about sports. The difference is we highlight discussions about media brands, people, and the industry not local teams.

If you see something you don’t like, Garrett and Dave manage our websites. Both are accessible – [email protected] or [email protected]. Just understand that if brands make decisions, results are bad or public comments are offered, we are going to cover it.

We’ve spent 8 years building two respected brands and working hard to attract industry professionals. With two websites, newsletters, social media brands, and conferences, I feel good about our progress. The web traffic, social media impressions, and newsletter data shows that we’re on the right track.

Consulting clients and executing top notch events remain my top priority but growing our marketing partnerships is vital too. Stephanie Eads has worked hard on this and we are excited to welcome Ramsey Solutions, JJ Surma Voiceovers, Harker Bos Group, Doug Stephan’s Good Day Networks, and the Motor Racing Network as 2024 partners. We’re also thrilled to extend relationships with our friends at Point to Point Marketing, Backbone, Steve Stone Voiceovers, Core Image Studio, Jim Cutler, and Premiere Networks. If you’d like to work with us too, contact Stephanie by email at [email protected].

To continue building BSM and BNM, we are launching two new newsletters next week. BSM will deliver the 8@8 weekdays at 8am, and the Press Pass at 5pm. BNM will distribute the Rundown weekday mornings at 9am, and the Wrap Up at 6pm. Our afternoon editions will feature a different content approach so I look forward to your feedback on it. To sign up for BSM’s newsletters, click here. For BNM, go here.

Sticking with BNM, we will have a special announcement on Tuesday January 2nd at 9am. I’ll be announcing the dates, host city, and venue that day for our 2024 BNM Summit. Our 2023 event in Nashville was excellent but I think this next one could be even bigger and better. The Rundown and BNM’s website and social media accounts will relay the details. Also, BNM is launching a special series the week of January 22-26. Public Radio Week will feature NPR folks all week long.

Before I wrap up the column, I want to address a few BSM items. First, the BSM Top 20 of 2023 drops February 5-9 and February 12. Voting opens next week (January 2nd) and emails will go out to all PDs and executives invited to participate in the process. We’ll also have two new original projects in January starting with Social Studies written by Alex Reynolds on Wednesday January 3rd. Peter Schwartz’s monthly feature Where Are They Now debuts Tuesday January 30th.

We have other things in motion for February including a cool project titled “A Day Spent With.” Derek Futterman will run point on that series. I’ll share more in my next column on January 8th.

Last but not least, the 2024 BSM Summit takes place March 13-14, 2024 in New York City. We’ve already announced a number of people and I’ll have another announcement next week. If you plan to attend, don’t wait until the last minute to buy a ticket and reserve your room. Go to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our holiday sale. It expires Sunday December 31st.

I want to thank you for continuing to read our work, following our brands, attending our events, and considering the different ideas and opinions offered by our writers. Covering this business is complex. It has its fair share of warts but it also provides a ton of value, massive creativity, incredible content, and a path full of untapped potential. More importantly, it’s full of quality people. I look forward to watching each of you build stronger businesses in 2024, and helping those who I’m fortunate to work with.

Cheers to 2024!

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