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WFAN-Mike Francesa Reunion Raises Many Questions

Jason Barrett

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There are times when sports radio news stories break and put me in a very awkward position. I believe strongly in transparency and honesty. No matter how much money is on the table, when all is said and done, the one thing that I’ll always own are my personal thoughts and opinions. I’ll sell those insights to help brands achieve success but what I won’t do is sell my soul to any person or group looking for a favorable spin, especially when the news doesn’t warrant it.

That can be a slippery slope when you operate as a consultant, strategist and trainer.

Fortunately, I have established a lot of relationships in this format, and I value those connections. I think those who know me or read this website understand that my intent is to raise the format’s profile, make people better, and offer a fair and objective opinion or analysis when its warranted, even if the news from time to time hits close to home.

On the other hand, I’m also a business man. I have partnerships with multiple companies. I respect and value those who work with me regularly and am proud of the fact that most of my clients have been loyal for multiple years. My partners know that I love this business and invest myself in their success and work hard to help them grow all areas of their business. When they find themselves in the news for a less than flattering reason though, they know I have to report it because after all, that’s a key focus for this website.

Despite working with many stations, I’m not unwilling to give credit where it’s due to competitors and I avoid taking personal slants against those who I don’t work with. I believe in being fair and keeping relationships strong with everyone because you never know when your paths may intersect down the line.

But just like each of you reading this column, I too have opinions, and when sports radio stories break, many expect me to offer my thoughts. Given the recent developments in New York at WFAN surrounding Mike Francesa’s expected return, it’s a news story which warrants a reaction, even if it might not please a few folks close to the situation.

When I first heard about the possibility of WFAN reversing its direction and bringing Mike back, I thought there was a lot of smoke but no fire. After all, the station went thru a two-year search to find his replacement(s) and the new show hosted by Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott had only received one full ratings quarter.

But in the radio business, as we’ve seen many times, patience can be thin, and changes happen quickly, especially in places where the stakes are incredibly high.

When The Michael Kay Show beat WFAN head to head in the winter book, I thought CMB would be on a short leash. Is that fair? No. But this is WFAN and the expectations are enormous. You’re looked upon to smother the competition so the radio station can continue generating high revenues while further elevating its profile as one of the best sports radio brands in America. You’re also expected to maintain the same standard of success that came before you regardless of the circumstances.

Expectations aside, don’t forget that The Fan was forced to change two dayparts this fall due to Francesa’s highly publicized exit and Craig Carton’s arrest. You can hire a bunch of talented people but usually when you ask an audience to form a connection with four new hosts at once, something doesn’t go according to plan. That’s why you don’t see brands overhaul their lineups on a regular basis. Radio success is largely dependent on consistency.

Also during the fall, Entercom purchased CBS Radio. It takes time for a new owner to wrap their arms around their new investment, and install new policies. What’s sure to gain their attention when they’re publicly traded and under the eyes of the entire industry is when one of their flagship brands hits a speed bump.

In the case of WFAN, the station has been a ratings and revenue winner for a long time. If the station is perceived as not being as formidable as it once was, sphincters get tight and adjustments get made in order to regain client and listener confidence before profitability takes a hit.

But what makes the issue complicated is when you consider the amount of time WFAN allowed for dealing with substantial changes, and Francesa’s difficulty of moving on from The Fan.

No matter how you slice it, the public narrative is that Mike Francesa overestimated his worth on the open market. He spoke about his understanding of the digital space and how he had a plan to excel at it, but since leaving the terrestrial space he hasn’t made a dent. He talked about having a number of irons in the fire, but so far those conversations have only led to guest appearances on multiple shows.

On the flip side, WFAN management shares blame due to their inability to deliver a strong post-Francesa plan.

It took less than six months for station executives to lose faith in CMB in afternoons and drink again from the cup of Francesa. According to reports, CMB were given two-year deals. That suggests that folks involved in assembling the show went into it by dipping their toe in the water instead of diving in. If you think I’m wrong about that, try signing Chris Russo, Max Kellerman or Adam Schein to a two-year deal and let me know how it turns out.

When you make a move of this magnitude, you’ve got to be firmly committed to it. You’re going to take some hits early on, especially in market #1 when you replace a legend like Francesa. It’s like a heavyweight title fight, you have to withstand the early attacks and take advantage in the later rounds.

In this particular case, Chris Carlin was well known by CBS/Entercom folks. He was working in Philadelphia at WIP and doing well with Ike Reese in afternoon drive before making his return to the big apple. Maggie Gray and Bart Scott on the other hand were newbies to full-time sports radio hosting. All three had to gamble and bet on themselves because after all, this is afternoon drive in New York City on WFAN. If they knocked it out of the park, they’d have the advantage in the next round of negotiations. If they didn’t, they’d be remembered as the show that couldn’t replace Francesa, and that puts them in the same company as many shows/hosts who’d fail in that spot.

But what can’t be denied is that Mark Chernoff and his inner circle had time to prepare for this situation. They had two years to scour the globe in search of talent. Guys like Mike Valenti, Chris Simms and Chris Christie earned auditions. Max Kellerman, Chris Russo, Adam Schein and Sid Rosenberg were mentioned as candidates. The company had access to all of CBS Radio and CBS Sports Radio’s personnel. Given the market location and resources, this was a sought after position, and anything less than a successful transition would raise questions about management’s ability to move WFAN forward after Francesa.

What’s perplexing about typing that last sentence is that over the years, few in this format have done a better job when their backs are against the wall than Mark Chernoff. When Imus was fired, he added Boomer and Carton. When Sid left, Evan Roberts was added alongside Joe Beningo. When Chris Russo left, he trusted Mike to win solo and it worked. I don’t forget those successes. But past success doesn’t promise future success and this problem is far from over for Mark and his team.

Making the issue even messier was the New York Post’s report that circulated Tuesday evening. Francesa apparently struck a deal directly with Entercom CEO David Field. The decision was made without Chernoff being on board. If that’s indeed the case, expect speculation to increase about the WFAN programming boss’ future, especially if Field gets further involved with future programming moves.

One also has to wonder which side Entercom VP of programming Chris Oliviero is on. Did he support Field’s decision to rehire Franecsa? Or did he side with his longtime colleague and trusted supporter Chernoff? If it’s the latter, that could create tension between Field and two of the company’s most important programming minds, Chernoff and Oliviero. If he backed Field though, how does that affect his longtime relationship with Chernoff?

Nobody is going to argue with Francesa’s talent or ability to make an impact on the radio, but don’t forget folks that Mike is 64. At some point in the future, they’re going to have to replace him again. Whether it’s next year, two-years from now or three-years later, the situation is unavoidable because Mike isn’t going to work forever.

There’s also no guarantee that Mike’s ratings will be what they’ve been in the past. During the fall book, The Michael Kay Show was tied for 3rd while Francesa was 2nd. This was a period of time where many folks were expected to listen even more to Mike since it was thought to be his farewell tour on The Fan. Francesa did win the head to head battle against Kay and exit without ever suffering defeat to his local rival and his track record in the ratings should inspire confidence that all will be right in the world once he reclaims his place behind a WFAN microphone. That said, even the best in the business eventually slow down. To expect Mike to stay on top for another 5-6 years is asking a lot.

So when that day does come and Francesa exits again, then what happens? If you’re David Field and you’re operating Entercom, would you feel optimistic that your group can identify the next superstar to carry The Fan forward for the next decade when the last time out they didn’t deliver and you needed to get involved? What if you’re a talent or an agent pursuing that opportunity? Are you going to sign a two-year deal with a station to replace Francesa when the last group to try had the rug pulled out from under them after one full book?

What I don’t understand is why this problem couldn’t be solved during the fall before the radio station set up three new personalities to fail. It was well documented that Carton’s arrest wasn’t a good look for The Fan. Entercom was taking over CBS and retaining their most high-profile star would’ve been a good PR move. It also would’ve provided a good PR rub for Mike because he’d be seen as the guy being loyal to his longtime radio home during a time of turmoil rather than needing to use the media to try and create a market for his services as a free agent.

Although it might have made sense for both parties to figure it out this past fall, it didn’t happen, and here we are five months later cleaning up a number of spills.

One thing I did find surprising when The Fan announced the hiring of CMB was that they’d turn afternoons into a three-person show. That wasn’t a dynamic the station had utilized in year’s past. If you look at WFAN’s history, most of their shows have been hosted solo or by a two-man team. Having managed three-person shows before, I know it takes time to find the right flow and chemistry, and sometimes it flat out doesn’t work.

I don’t want to excuse CMB in this process either. The show has had times on the air when it’s been solid and many other times where it’s shown that it’s going thru growing pains. If the program packed a powerful punch, won the first ratings book and generated a ton of buzz, maybe things would’ve been different. But looking back, the odds were stacked against them from the second they were hired and while that may not be the best situation to walk into, they can’t say they didn’t know what they signed up for.

So that brings us back to Francesa.

If being away from the spotlight for less than six months left him this anxious to regain his former platform, what is he going to do when it goes away for good? Can Mike function without WFAN? How will he handle not being a part of the daily New York sports conversation?

As stressful and complex as this situation has been, if Mike does indeed return to WFAN in afternoons, it could have a lasting impact on the brand in a positive way. For the short term, you’d expect the ratings to improve, but perhaps even more important is getting Mike to become more of a leader and use his platform to help the station avoid a similar mess when he leaves in the future.

It’s no secret that Mike hasn’t been a warm and fuzzy teammate. He’s feuded with other station personalities, focused on his brand, and offered little public support for Carlin, a host who spent nine years producing his show. Maybe Mike didn’t believe Chris was worthy of the afternoon show real estate, and if he didn’t, that’s certainly his prerogative. But what should be addressed is how to avoid being in this same exact position in the next few years.

In that sense, Mike could do a lot of good if he wanted to. Rather than being Brett Favre and rejecting the idea of helping Aaron Rodgers, imagine what type of impact he could have and how he could be remembered if he used the next few years to bring others along. It’s probably unlikely, but what if he teamed up with Maggie or Carlin? Think about the lift that would provide their career, not to mention how their addition could provide an infusion to Mike’s show.

It ultimately boils down to this. If listeners and clients are happy and the ratings wins return everyone at WFAN will be happy. But ratings, business, and image issues aside, it’d benefit the group to think about today with their eye on tomorrow. The short-term stability will be fine, but if they don’t use their remaining time together to make sure the future is in good hands, the next time around could be a lot more catastrophic.

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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