The workforce is filled with people who have a job from following the footsteps of a parent, but those that find a career in radio rarely do it because they stumbled on the position. A career in radio is built on passion, and although Spike Eskin grew up in the business, it’s not his father’s legendary status in Philadelphia sports radio that sees Spike with the position he’s in now, but Spike’s own passion and love for the industry that has him programming the station he grew up listening to.
The current program director for WIP in Philadelphia has filled more jobs than you could find at one radio station. First, building a 15-year career in music radio, transitioning to sports talk, hosting afternoons on the same station that his father helped build and now he’s putting his stamp on Philly’s beloved WIP from the PD chair. Mix in website work, social media among other responsibilities and the 42-year old Spike Eskin is as well-rounded as anyone in radio.
Spike grew up in Philly, he understands what makes WIP tick, but also offers a modern perspective of how to maintain the station’s future success. Eskin began hosting podcasts before most people ever heard of the platform and uses his creative drive to program the station.
I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Spike in Philly to discuss his career and ideas on the industry as a programmer.
BC: We’ll skip when did you first become interested in radio since you grew up around it, but at what point did you decide to make a career in radio…and not sports radio, but radio in general.
SE: I think like a lot of radio people, once you discover you like it there are very few options besides doing this. I remember my freshman year, I went to Southern Cal and I took a communications class in my third trimester and realized I enjoyed journalism as a career so I transferred to Syracuse and started working at their college station, Z89 and it was really then.
Instead of having a fraternity or parties, I had the radio station and for us at the station, that was our obsession. Back then it was music radio that I became really passionate about, but once it clicked in college I don’t think I ever thought about doing anything else.
BC: When you were in music radio did you look at the talk format as a possibility?
SE: No, I worked in music radio until 2011 so that was 15 years and it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started to get a little bored because music radio went to a place where creativity wasn’t important anymore, so I started doing podcasts while I was at WYSP about 10 or 11 years ago.
BC: Which is pretty early on, not many people had a podcast 10 years ago.
SE: Yea, it’s funny. I found a bunch of the old pods on a drive I have…they’re not good (laughs) but they were reps. The talk aspect seemed fun and I started writing about sports for the WYSP website and my former boss, Andy Bloom, let me do a show on 610 WIP while I was still a music DJ. I realized how hard it was, but I would say my last few years in music radio, I started to find sports talk interesting, I don’t know that I thought it was something I expected to do forever, but I was interested.
BC: You were doing podcasts before probably 95% of the people that have a podcast today, how important are they to a radio station and to piggyback off that question…you’re offering podcasts as content to listeners, but you also don’t want to drive them away from listening terrestrially because that’s what generates ratings, so how do you balance that?
SE: I think of our podcasts as an extension of the brand. I don’t want another version of a show that’s on the air terrestrially to also be on as a podcast, I want it to deliver in a different way. For some of our younger hosts that don’t get a lot of air time, it’s a great opportunity to get reps, extend their brand and build a fan base.
Sports radio is a very specific type of content. I think podcasts should fill different desires. I don’t think you can be scared of driving people away from listening terrestrially because if that’s the case then you shouldn’t stream, don’t produce podcasts at all, don’t acknowledge that there’s television or music because everything can drive people away from listening on the radio. You have to think about the brand of your radio station in a bigger more holistic sense. The more I can get people to know about WIP the brand, ratings are great, but I want to reach everyone. If a person stops listening to the radio station because they’re listening to our podcasts so intently, I will find a way to measure and monetize that person.
BC: There are a lot of people that would like if you figured out how to monetize that person.
SE: The whole world is trying to figure it out, but I want to be in the business of having a brand that people care about and getting audience share, not just in the Nielsen sense, but in the overall headspace. When they think about sports in Philadelphia, I just want them to think about us and there are different approaches.
Our voice on Twitter cannot be like our voice on Facebook. They’re different audiences. Our voice on the air will not be like our voice on Twitter. Twitter is younger. They love the NBA all the time. Our radio listeners are a little bit older than the standard Twitter user. They like football more.
These are all extensions of our brand and I don’t think we can be scared of them. Thankfully, Entercom has the same view, they believe in live and local content, they believe in sports and radio, but they’re also the second biggest podcast creator in the country.
BC: I always loved talk radio because of its intimacy, it took me awhile to get into podcasts because I didn’t think you could connect with the host the same way, but they’re relaxed and allow the host to experiment and try different things and it does build that connection. How many podcasts do you have affiliated with WIP?
SE: We probably have 15 that are done regularly and we have a relationship with BGN Radio where they have their own podcast and they have a show on WIP which is really big, but we really believe in podcasting.
BC: How often do you do your podcast, Right’s to Ricky Sanchez?
SE: Twice a week, depending on the Sixers schedule we might do three or four if there’s a lot going on and we’ve been going for five years on July 10th.
BC: That’s a great name, (laughs) not as good as Me and Giglio Down by the Schoolyard. (WIP host Joe Giglio’s podcast)
SE: (laughs) It’s the greatest name ever, he couldn’t think of a name so I told him to ask on Twitter. He came back with the list and I said Joe…it’s not even close, it’s Me and Giglio Down by the Schoolyard…a lot of your Twitter followers might be too young to get it, but it’s so funny you have to go with it.
Joe is a great example, he’s our evening host, but half the year the Phillies are on so he’s doing pre and post, but the podcast was his idea because all these things are happening in sports that he doesn’t get to talk about and he’s losing out on reps. Now he’s getting reps and has a way to build more of a following and connect his social media fans with fans that would listen to him on-air.
BC: Was it ever frustrating when you were getting started in sports radio, especially since you already had a 15-year radio career that you built on your own, but I’m sure you still had people saying you were only on-air because of your father?
SE: (laughs) I’m almost 42 and I still get some of that. There was a point after I got the job in Chicago at a big station in a big market, that wasn’t at all attached to Philly, the Howard Eskin stuff stopped bothering me and I started to be proud of what he accomplished instead of being intimidated by it. I’ll never forget, a listener told me…if people are bringing that up then it means they can’t find anything else that you’re doing wrong. Right around then, maybe when I turned 30 it stopped bothering me.
When I started here, I started doing web and social media and a little bit on-air, one show a week. I had some relationships with people at WIP already and I think I was established just enough to where they knew how different I was from my dad. If you’re opinionated enough in sports radio, they’d rather fight about those opinions, I thought Michael Vick should start over Nick Foles, most people focused on that instead (laughs), if you’re doing it right they weren’t worried about who my father was.
BC: It’s similar to a professional athlete, you have Ike Reese and Jon Ritchie on-air, retired football players, I’m sure they had to deal with building credibility and listeners saying what do you know about the Phillies you’re a football player! As ridiculous as that sounds, I never played a professional sport yet I know more about the Phillies because you played professional football not baseball.
SE: (Laughs) Right, if anything he should know more just because he played a professional sport.
BC: Of course, but they still have to earn trust from the listeners, so being Howard Eskin’s son, did you ever feel pressured to be extra opinionated or throw out a crazy hot take to build credibility?
SE: No, I think one of the good things about starting when I did is that I was pretty comfortable with who I was. I started in sports radio when I was 34 or 35 and been on the radio for 15 years and even though it wasn’t sports, I was really comfortable in my own skin. I’m wildly different from my father in terms of personality type and views on things.
I actually think one of the things that made me not the best sports talk host was that I was probably a little too reasonable on the air. “Well you know the truth is really in the middle”…(laughs). That doesn’t really work for sports radio. So no, I never really felt pressure about it, I think we were so different and our differences were easily highlighted.
BC: Do you think it’s more important for a sports radio host to be passionate about sports or passionate about radio?
SE: I’ve always said that what we do is about radio and not sports. I think I learned that when I started music and it was Top 40. I didn’t like Top 40 music at the time, but I worked in it for a month and at the time it was Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and I loved it…then I went to active rock, then I went to alternative and then classic rock, I realized my job was to connect with who was listening and while the music was important to me personally, it wasn’t really important to my job.
I think our best hosts are the ones that are opinionated communicators and love radio. You can’t do this job without knowing sports, but give me a guy that is passionate about radio and knows sports and I can probably turn him into a sports talk host better than the other way around.
BC: Right, if Howard Stern had a casual interest in sports he could’ve been the best sports talk host ever, but the biggest sports fan that doesn’t know about radio might not be successful.
SE: Our listeners love us, which is awesome, but some of them will say “I think I’d be a great host on WIP” and I’ll ask them why? “Because I know everything about sports”…and in the back of my mind I know that’s just a base, this isn’t a quiz show. Everyone has a smartphone with every answer to every sports question ever, knowing the answer is not the most important thing.
BC: Which is also why many sports radio hosts can switch markets and be successful without knowing everything about the market they’re going into.
SE: I’m always amazed by that. I remember when Josh Innes started here from Houston and then with Chris Carlin where I got to see it up close, but I never thought about someone moving here and having to be on our radio station without having lived all of this.
I’m amazed by sports hosts that can do that, especially Philly which is a specific type of place, but that’s hard. I can take a local host and make them a national host a lot easier than I could take a national host and put them in a local market.
BC: Who were some radio guys you looked up to when you were younger other than your dad?
SE: I was an enormous Howard Stern fan, I would tape the show when I would go to school, I’d sit in the parking lot and listen, I’d buy the pay-per-views and had Crucified By The FCC at home. I was obsessed with Stern.
There was a jock on Power 99 in Philly called Golden Boy and I loved him, he was the first DJ that I really liked. When I was an intern at YSP there was a guy called Cousin Ed that I really liked, but Stern was really the guy for me.
I also listened to so much WIP when I was younger and I loved Mac and Mac, Glen Macnow and Jody McDonald who were on before my dad, Craig Carton was also great on IP.
BC: I’m always interested with people in radio, whether or not they’re Stern fans because I can’t see how someone in this industry doesn’t think he’s at the top. And I wasn’t even a listener before he went to Sirius, but even if you don’t like all of the jokes and different things he did, just from an interview standpoint he’s fascinating to listen to.
SE: The most important thing I took from Stern was…and podcasts do a great job of this. The thing about Stern is if you’re not a regular listener and you turn it on and everyone is laughing at something, you might not be able to figure out for 25 minutes what was funny, but they formed a community that made it if you did think it was funny you felt like you were part of a club joking around with your friends. Forming that community aspect of the show…was the best thing Howard did. I’ll even see it now if I’m listening to Howard and my wife is with me. I’m laughing and she’s just staring at me because she can’t figure out what’s funny.
BC: How was the transition of being on-air and then going into programming?
SE: I think it got to a point where I was doing web-work, on-air, KYW Newsradio, TV, social media…and I hit a crossroads where I had to pick what I really wanted to do. I honestly remember, when Innes got here at night and after 20 minutes of listening to him, I thought…this guy’s our night host? And I’m not even close to as good as he is…
I always loved programming, when I was on the air in music and got into music programming, the goal was to get off the air. I think the reason is, I love the process of creating it, but four or five hours a day, five days a week, I don’t know how they do it. It’s tedious to me. When Jeff Sottolano left and the opportunity as program director came up, I felt like I had put some time in here and really understood the radio station. Obviously my time in Philly, my history with the radio station made me a unique guy so it happened at the perfect time for me.
BC: It was a pretty different route to go from a large market on-air personality into management.
SE: Well I was an APD at WYSP and at Q101 in Chicago I was left in charge. The thing I love about programming is I love helping people to get better and it gives me the ability to be creative on a more macro level without the tediousness of having to do it for four hours a day.
BC: That’s interesting, I would think one of the things you loved about being on-air was the creative aspect because it’s a great outlet, and you would usually think of the program director as someone who doesn’t have that creative passion.
SE: What I love doing is sitting in with the shows and they’ll be trying to figure out what the topic is and I could come up with the take and they’ll get excited and say yea that’s it! I’ll say great…now you have to do it because I can’t do it for four hours (laughs).
It’s easy to come up with the take that the Eagles made a mistake not trading Nick Foles, but to execute it, make it compelling and make people want to argue and agree and feel passionately…that’s where the host’s talent comes in. I have just enough in the on-air and creation part of the show to fulfill that desire.
BC: Do you think you differ from most sports radio program directors in large markets? Are they as creative in developing topics for shows?
SE: I don’t know. I have never been much of an industry person. I respect that we have some great PD’s at Entercom right now, and I have had some good dialogue with them, but my dialogue has never been what’s your day like? So I don’t know how they do it. I do know that now as a PD you have to be more versatile than you ever had to be in the past, so I don’t know if I’m different, but it works for me here.
BC: What about in terms of developing topics, the balance of leaving the sports realm?
SE: I think WIP has always been a station that does that, but I don’t think we can ever forget what we are. I use the analogy of there being a road that you’re set on. There are cars and turns that get in your way, but you think of your show as that road and the road is Philadelphia sports. That doesn’t mean you don’t pull off the road and get gas.
I think that texture is really necessary, the listeners need to know who the hosts are as people and what TV shows and food they like, but I don’t think you can ever forget why we’re here in the first place.
BC: Andy Bloom was still here when you were hired as PD?
SE: Yea, he hired me as program director and then I took over as the sole programming guy for WIP in January 2016 when he left.
BC: So how did your role change from being program director while he was still here to program director without him here?
SE: It was all my responsibility. We were a radio station in flux. We had some challenges. There’s a big difference between having a bunch of ideas for how to get better and then actually being the one to say we’re making this change, or this is not the right host, this is not the right promo, this is not the right clock.
I was more like an APD even when I was hired as PD. The great thing about being an APD is you can say I think we should play this, I think we should hire that host, and it’s somebody else’s ass whether you do it or not. It’s their call. They’ll get the credit if it works, but they also get the blame if it doesn’t. When you’re that person, you need to be certain about everything. It was a lot more responsibility, but it was also a lot more exciting for me to make the station sound how I felt it should sound.
BC: Obviously the goal is to not have to make lineup changes often, but you’ve had to make quite a few changes in the relatively short amount of time that you’ve been in charge. Getting rid of someone might not be easy, but how about the excitement level of building a show and especially seeing it pay off with a show being successful.
SE: It’s great. It’s like being the general manager of a sports team. The challenges of putting players together who have never played together before is very scary, but also very exciting. If you’re putting a team together, most times they’ve never worked together before. You can do all the practice shows you want, but you don’t really know if they can work together until they’ve done it for six months.
When I was growing up listening to WIP, everyone had their favorite show, but you could put WIP on at any time and even if it wasn’t your favorite host, you’d still listen to the station. That’s the goal, to have different shows with different personalities, but have a cohesive feel within the station so even if it isn’t your favorite show, it’s still WIP.
BC: How helpful has it been to have Angelo Cataldi there throughout all the changes as the anchor of the station.
SE: It’s impossible to…impossible impossible impossible to state the importance of being able to have an anchor like Angelo.
THE BEST who has ever done it in morning sports radio. I don’t think there is anyone better than him and he’s still doing it at an amazing level. He’s the Peyton Manning of sports radio, he knows where everyone is going to be, knows the right lane and executes perfectly.
His presence both behind the scenes and on-air allowed the radio station to go through that change. I don’t know how we would’ve done it without him.
BC: Do you think about needing to replace him when he retires?
SE: Sure, you think about it. Who knows if it’s two years, five or seven years. Angelo’s passion for the show hasn’t decreased since I’ve been here so who knows when it will be. It makes it more difficult because you can’t plan for it specifically. You can keep your eyes and ears open, but that will be the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced at WIP, maybe even in radio.
BC: And you can look at WFAN who just tried to do that with Francesa.
SE: Yea…that was tough for Chris and them. It will be a challenge, but I’d like to think we’ve put ourselves in a position so that whenever Angelo leaves, we’ll be able to take it head on.
BC: Were you clued in the whole time when Carlin was a possibility to replace Mike?
SE: When Chris came here, WFAN was not in his plans. I know he’s said that, but having lived it, it really was not a thought. Chris was coming here to stay in Philly. When it was presented, I think it was an obvious decision for Chris to want to go to WFAN based on his history, but that being said I think he was really enjoying himself here and the show with Chris and Ike was really starting to hit its stride. I’m sure he was excited to be back at WFAN, but part of him still would’ve liked to see how things would’ve ended up with Ike here at WIP, but he wasn’t eyeballing that job when he came here.
It took a lot of guts for Chris to come down here. Coming to Philly as a perceived New Yorker, doing Mets pregame on TV, which you can’t hide from and the first thing people saw when googling Chris was Imus firing him. To walk into Philly and host with a former all-pro Eagle on afternoon drive in the middle of the football season…that takes guts! And he survived, he didn’t get to see what the next version was, but he weathered the storm and was a crucial part of us evolving. Even though he’s not here for it, he provided a bridge for us that I’m very thankful we had.
BC: I want to go back to when you said it takes at least six months to really be able to tell if a show can take off or not. You look at a situation like Carlin going to New York to host with Maggie and Bart when they’ve never done a show together, and you’ve had similar situations here at IP. Are there specific things you’re listening for when you first put hosts together knowing there’s a chance in six months the show might not build the way you wanted it to?
SE: Hearing hosts that give each other the space to be themselves is important. One thing we’re lucky enough to have with our shows is the hosts are different, but their differences fit. Our midday and afternoon shows, there are definite quarterbacks of the show, but the other host’s personality and presence is just as big, but they don’t get in each other’s way. There’s an unspoken chemistry that you can hear, but the most important thing I listen for at first is, are they listening to each other and giving each other space. If they’re doing those things and you can hear some spark, it’s a good sign.
BC: Did you ever talk to your dad about hosting on WIP full-time again with all of the changes you’ve had to make?
SE: I did not talk to him about it. It’s funny to say full-time, he is working full-time, just not doing four hours on-air each day. I don’t want to speak for him, but one thing I think that happened when he stopped doing his afternoon show is he loves the relationships. He loves being at Eagles practice, getting information and delivering the scoop. Sometimes the radio show nailed him to a chair for four hours when he could be out getting information and doing something else.
He loved being on-air, but I think this has been a great next career for him. He still does his Saturday morning show, he does sideline for the Eagles, he does an hour twice a week with Giglio who he loves, he does a weekly spot with the morning show, so he’s on five days a week, but without having to sit in a chair and call people nitwit for four hours a day.
BC: Exclude WIP, and not necessarily the best show, but who do you think is the most talented sports radio host.
SE: Man oh man, (long pause)…I’ll give you two that I love. I think Damon Amendolara on CBS Sports Radio is amazing. I remember when I started here I would get to work at 6:30am so I would wake up around 4 and get to hear him doing overnights and I could hear at that point how good he was and now that he has an even bigger opportunity with the network, it’s great. And then Dan Le Batard is fantastic, he does a lot of those things that Stern did with building a community.
BC: Do you ever see yourself doing five days a week again on-air in any format?
SE: I don’t plan to. The last time I did it was afternoon’s here with Josh and it was fun, but it was exhausting. Sports talk radio every day is exhausting. But here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to radio, I went from late night host to midday producer to late night host to midday host to music director back to late night host to APD to PD to middays in Philly to web and social media guy, to afternoon host and PD…(laughs) I don’t know what two years from now will be like. I will look at every opportunity when it is in front of me, but when I took this job, my hope was to make sure the next 25 years at WIP are as good as its first 25 years and I plan to do that.
Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix
“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”
For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.
Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.
I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?
Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?
Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.
I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.
I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled.
DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask.
RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.
The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.
I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense.
DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”?
RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.
He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.
I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona.
DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.
I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be?
RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.
There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.
Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.
I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance.
DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future?
RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.
Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.
If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both.
DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR?
RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products.
DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day?
RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.
Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell.
DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.
So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space?
RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.
I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.
We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.
There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community.
DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this?
RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.
What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?
Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of.
DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR.
RH: We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.
Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.
The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives.
Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.