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.
Jim Boeheim Made a Career Out of Treating Media Poorly, But Now Wants In on the Action
You have now become what you once despised and loathed. Maybe you didn’t understand the impact or importance of the relationship when you played or coached, but now you’re one of us. It borders on hypocrisy.
For the first time in nearly half a century, former Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim is starting a new job. After 47 seasons with the Orange, Boeheim began his broadcasting career earlier this week, after agreeing to a deal with ESPN, ACC Network, and Westwood One.
On the surface, it’s great news for basketball fans, who now get to hear what a coach who won over 1,000 games has to say. For others, especially those in the media, welcoming in this new voice comes with a little trepidation. Why?
I’m not sure that Jim Boeheim has the same assessment about how he treated the media. He felt like defending himself was necessary, but it went past that on many occasions. It’s hard for some in the business to understand why companies bring in people that treated their own reporters like crap in the past.
I know that Boeheim isn’t the only former coach or player who didn’t treat the media with respect and now becomes a member himself. Now, he’ll debate, I’m sure as others have, that they aren’t the media just because they’re on television or radio now. Here’s the thing: You are. You have now become what you once despised and loathed. Maybe you didn’t understand the impact or importance of the relationship when you played or coached, but now you’re one of us. It borders on hypocrisy. It makes me wonder how he decided to join ESPN following a long coaching career.
Former NFL receiver Randy Moss joined the ranks back in 2013. Moss had a mercurial relationship with the Minnesota media over his career. Some of it was not on him, but nonetheless, he was quick to distance himself from the moniker of “media member”.
He told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t like that term. I am not part of the media. That’s not my label, and I don’t want it to start now. I love the game of football, and this is just a new way for me to be part of the game.”
I get it, but when your paycheck comes from a media company, well, you’re the media. Maybe not in the same respect that a reporter or anchor is, but still the media.
Jim Boeheim surely had his issues with the media through several memorable run-ins over the years. He called out journalists for their questions. He’s questioned their integrity and seemed to enjoy belittling reporters when he had the opportunity. That’s fine, it’s his prerogative, and perhaps some stories run deeper than the surface level with the reporters. I don’t claim to know that. Maybe the parties came to an understanding after the press conference was over. Great. But again, why does it have to come to what it did with Boeheim?
Of the many clashes with the press, one in particular came in 2013 when Andy Katz, then of ESPN, tried to ask a question following a Syracuse loss to Connecticut. Katz asked what the UConn series meant to him, and Jim Boeheim refused to answer the question saying, “I’ll answer anybody’s question but yours.” Instead, he went all in on his feelings about Katz. Calling Katz “an idiot and really being a disloyal person.”
Katz later said he believed Boeheim’s feelings stemmed from Katz’s reporting on Bernie Fine, the former coach at Syracuse who was accused of sexual abuse by two former ball boys on ESPN’s Outside the Lines and was terminated.
There were many other ‘dust-ups’ with veteran reporters, but Boeheim seemed to save his worst venom for student journalists who are learning the ropes. Young aspiring journalists seemed to be better than a postgame spread for a hungry coach.
Just last season, student reporter Sam Corcoran asked Boeheim for the status of Benny Williams after the sophomore was absent from the game against Virginia. Media members had been told that Boeheim would address Williams’ absence after the game. When Boeheim did not discuss Williams in his opening statement, Corcoran asked, “Coach, what’s the status on Benny Williams?”
Boeheim immediately lost his cool.
“Is that your question?” Boeheim said. “Is that the most important question you have?”
The coach followed it up by telling Corcoran his attitude, “isn’t really good either.”
Come on. Syracuse is a ‘media school.’ This is where students go to learn and Jim Boeheim knows that. It didn’t stop another run-in with a student came after the team lost by four points to North Carolina and student reporter John Eads asked the coach why he thought the team couldn’t close out tight games. Instead of answering the question, Boeheim responded with, “We’re done,” and exited the press conference.
Other things have shown Boeheim’s distaste for the media. It has been inferred, though not proven, that he had a hand in the firing of Syracuse radio personality Brent Axe in March. Axe worked for Galaxy Media, a company that Boeheim is a partner in station ownership. Axe was let go because the President and CEO Ed Levine did not like the way Axe covered the Orange.
I’ve been in enough press conference settings and around many coaches who have suffered through bad seasons or bad games. Every once in a while, there’s a tipping point and things go sideways. But at the same time, I watched Michael Jordan answer questions, night after night, that were much worse than those, with class and dignity. Not trying to embarrass the questioner, of course not knowing that individual’s story or experience level.
We have a job to do. So does he. Look, I’m not intending to just pick on Jim Boeheim here. He’s the focus because he’s the latest that has clashed with the media in a previous life, only to become a member of the club. There are hundreds of these cases.
The late Bobby Knight was a nightmare for reporters over his time at Indiana. He often told reporters he hated the media. Knight was once quoted as saying, “All of us learn to write in the second grade,” he said of the media. “Most of us go on to greater things.” Knight made a good analyst though due to his personality. You never knew what he might say, so it was always ‘tune-in worthy’. But still, a man who made it known how much he despised media, joined the ranks.
Deion Sanders was one of the few to play in both the NFL and MLB as a pro. When he was playing for the Braves and Falcons at the same time, it was football season, and this meant that it was also the postseason in the major leagues. The Falcons had a regular-season game scheduled on the same day as the Braves’ playoff game. Sanders opted to play in the football game and received criticism from broadcaster Tim McCarver. As a response, Sanders tossed cold ice water all over McCarver. Sanders was a high-profile media star that critiqued many a player. There are and were many others as well.
Media training as these players and coaches are coming up the ranks would help this situation. Understanding the role of the media in the success of the league’s each is playing/coaching in, would provide some good perspective. Everybody has a bad day, but many of these individuals were repeat offenders and now are trying to extend their careers in a field they loathed.
I’m not rooting against Jim Boeheim. I wish him the best in his new line of work. His insight and experience level could enhance the broadcasts he does. That’s not in debate. It just makes me a little weary and causes me to shake my head in derision, every time someone that showed such disrespect to the profession, becomes one of us.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].
Rod Lakin Sees the Power of 94WIP on Display Every Day
“It’s crazy. WIP, I’ve never in my career seen a station so ingrained with the community.”
Think about your biggest change in life. When did it occur and how big of a change was it? Was it relocating for school or work? Did it involve something more serious like death or divorce? We all experience major changes in life. How we respond to those changes reveals a lot about us as individuals. For 94WIP program director Rod Lakin, one of the biggest changes he’s ever experienced was moving from sunny Phoenix to the City of Brotherly Love. That’s like going from the chill vibes of a Phish concert, to being thrown straight into the mosh pit at a Lamb of God show.
Lakin didn’t just change addresses and get used to less sun. Immediately after beginning his new gig, Angelo Cataldi, an iconic host in Philly for 30 years, revealed his plans to retire. The major change box was officially checked for both Lakin and WIP.
Since that time, Rod Lakin and WIP have pivoted beautifully. The lineup is strong. The ratings are great. Life is good. We always talk about quarterbacks being cool under fire. Can you imagine if a program director like Lakin panicked during challenging times? WIP wouldn’t be where it is today if that were the case.
In the conversation below, Rod Lakin talks about the challenges he experienced while relocating across the country. He reveals the time he was most nervous as a PD. Lakin also shares excellent stories about Bryce Harper and a multitasking police officer. Only in Philly. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How long did it take for you to feel comfortable in a new market over there in Philly?
Rod Lakin: I was out here on my own for the first few months. My family was back in Phoenix. That gave me a good chance to get to know all the people here and get a good understanding of the market and the way it worked. I think probably by the end of the year. I felt pretty good, like I was in a good place in terms of just understanding the way the city worked and the station. It took me a few months.
BN: I would think going from Phoenix to Philly is a huge change. Would you say it was as great as you expected it to be?
RL: Oh, definitely as great. My timing was good just because in Phoenix, the last summer I was there, the Suns were in the NBA Finals against the Bucks. It was just crazy. You’ve got to remember too, that was coming out of the pandemic. People were in the stands for the first time. It was the first time there were large-scale crowds again. The energy for that series was just completely nuts.
I remember thinking at the time, “I just love this, and this is what you want to be doing every day”. And then you come out to Philadelphia, and it is every day. These fans just get into it whether it’s Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, or anything else, they live and die by their teams.
BN: You were in Phoenix when the Suns came so close against the Bucks. You were also in Philly when the Eagles came so close to beating the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. When you think about those two outcomes, which was the bigger disappointment?
RL: Oh, man, that’s tough. That’s tough because the Suns have never won a championship before. For people that grew up in Phoenix, it’s like their first love because that was really the first professional sports team in Phoenix. But the Eagles one, that was crushing. Just to come so close. I went to the game. It was fun for me just to be back in my hometown, and then see the Eagles in the Super Bowl. It was the first time I had been to a Super Bowl. It was soul-crushing. So I don’t know, I’m not going to pick. I’m just going to say they were both equally bad.
BN: How about the challenge of losing Angelo Cataldi and not missing a beat? How has that been for you and the station?
RL: I mean, it’s been great. The new morning show has done a great job and that’s a huge task. We talked about it when we made the change, I knew Angelo was an institution out here, but I don’t even think I could really grasp how big he was until we made the announcement. Then we had the final show. What he meant to the city over the last 30 years, it’s just incredible.
So, yeah, to have a morning show come in with those kind of expectations and filling those kind of shoes, and to have the success that we’ve had, I think has been great. I think it’s gone better than any of us had a right to expect. It’s been nice.
BN: When Angelo moved on from doing a daily show, did you think about him being a guest once a week or having some type of presence on the station?
RL: Yeah, sure. Yeah, you have to think about all of that. But, ultimately, it comes down to the person too. Angelo, when he retired, was writing a book, which is out now. LOUD, it’s a great book. It’s on AngeloCataldi.com, or on Amazon bookstores. It’s really good book. He wanted to dive headfirst into his book. That was really where he was at the time.
Then for us, we wanted to place all energy in the new show. So yeah, we had discussed a couple of different options, whether it’s calling in or just having a semi-regular role at the station. But at the end of the day, he wanted to do his book and we wanted to get started on the new chapter for WIP. We’ve had him on, he’s been back promoting his book for the last month or so. We’ve had him on all the shows. It’s been great to hear his voice again.
BN: What convinced you that the current lineup was the best for the brand moving forward?
RL: Well, with Joe [DeCamara] and Jon [Ritchie], I knew that they already had a really good existing show. I felt like the pieces were in place to make it go to the next level. They have a good sense of humor. It was really about getting that show to the next level, adding complementary pieces because that had been a big part of Angelo’s show as well with contributors. Just putting it all together and making sure that we’re supporting it fully.
For middays, to have an opportunity to bring someone like Hugh Douglas back to Philadelphia was great. Joe Giglio, who has been doing evenings at WIP for a number of years, was ready to take that next step. Then putting them together and seeing that instant chemistry, it really worked.
I didn’t tell them, but Hugh came into town because he was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame almost about a year ago, I had him come in studio with Joe when he was doing his evening show. It was a tryout for me. They didn’t know about it. I could tell they had really good chemistry from the beginning. And then [Jon] Marks & [Ike] Reese in the afternoon, have been doing great all along.
I just knew that the pieces seemed to fit the culture, too. Hugh being somebody that everybody knew and worked at WIP previously. That was a really like, turnkey option for me too. I think it’s been great.
BN: How would you describe what it’s like to hear chemistry? What does that sound like to you?
RL: Yeah, it’s hard to say. It’s not anything you can really describe fully, you just kind of have to have an instinct for it. I guess the best way I could put it is, if you put somebody on the show and it sounds like they’re just being interviewed, as opposed to you putting somebody on the show and it sounds like they’re having a conversation. That really is the big difference, I think. And with Hugh, like I was saying before when he came in last year, when he and Joe did that hour together, it was supposed to be an interview. But really, it turned into a conversation.
BN: How do you think working for Arizona Sports and Bonneville prepared you for WIP and Audacy?
RL: Well, first of all, my old job in Arizona, it was just great because on the partnership level, they had all the teams. That really taught me early on the importance of these partnerships. Coming out here to WIP, we have two great partners with the Eagles and the Phillies, I had a lot of muscle memory on situations I dealt with in Arizona. That taught me a lot. And just the great leaders that I had there. Scott Sutherland and Ryan Hatch were mentors and they helped prepare me for future success.
I often fall back on lessons that they taught me, especially getting out here in the beginning, they were really good resources to talk to and help me. It’s a big change. Until I moved out to Philadelphia about two and a half years ago, I lived in Arizona. [Laughs] I never lived anyplace else. So it was a big shock for me.
BN: Working with all of those professional franchises in Phoenix and Philadelphia, what’s the most nervous you’ve been as a programmer?
RL: The last example I can think of, and it was here, I came in to make the announcement for the new morning show, and I had to sit across from Angelo as he interviewed me about the change and all of that. I was just so intimidated. He’s just this larger-than-life guy. I wanted to make sure that I was conveying to the city of Philadelphia why I thought this is the right choice. He made me take a phone call from a fan. I had to actually act like a host, take this guy’s call, and ask him questions and all that. That’s probably the most nerve-wracking thing I can remember recently.
BN: I can just imagine Angelo. Did he try to make you nervous on purpose?
RL: It’s a whole story. At one point, he had a program director that he brought on the air to take calls, and it didn’t go very well. I think the program director told one of the callers to go to hell or something.
RL: So it was kind of like a bit, he wanted me to do it. Obviously, I wasn’t going to do that. But I remember when the guy called in, he introduced the caller, and I don’t even know what I said. I remember Angelo just like motioning to me like, “Alright, keep going, ask him another question, keep this thing moving”. I was like “Oh my God.” It was very purposeful on his part. For sure.
BN: Can you think of a funny bit or anything over the years that one of your hosts did that you thought was hilarious?
RL: Funny bit. I’m sure there are many. There are stories I could think of that are probably not appropriate to talk to you about.
BN: [Laughs] What is the most inappropriate yet still appropriate phone call you’ve heard over the years? Meaning the guy wasn’t cussing, you didn’t have to dump it, but you were like, wow, this is pretty wild right now?
RL: Well, recently, before the Dallas/Eagles game, we had a caller on the midday show. He was just going on this epic anti-Cowboys rant and how much this rivalry means and how much he hates the Cowboys. Then all of a sudden you hear this little sound. It’s like a police siren. It was a police officer who’s pulling somebody over as he was talking and making this big Cowboys rant.
BN: Oh, that’s great. Man, you know you’re in a hardcore sports town when that’s the case.
RL: Seriously. Yeah, and we had Jason Kelce on the morning show. He calls in on Wednesdays. He said that Nick Sirianni, the Eagles coach, played the clip of that on WIP to the team before the Dallas game just to get them fired up.
BN: Oh, wow. How big of a compliment is that to your station?
RL: Yeah, it’s awesome. We’ve had a few, like Bryce Harper. We have this great caller Chuck from Mt. Airy who calls in on some of the shows. He was talking about Bryce Harper. Then Bryce Harper hit a home run that night and then in the postgame talked about how he hit it for Chuck.
It’s crazy. WIP, I’ve never in my career seen a station so ingrained with the community. To have one of the biggest stars in baseball listen to WIP first of all, which he does, and then make a point in the postgame show to say that he hit a home run for one of our callers, I don’t think that happens anyplace else.
BN: How about for you personally, just future goals? Do you think long-term or the next day?
RL: Yeah, next day. You go through a situation like I went through where you move cross-country to the huge powerhouse, sports radio brand. Then, a week later, the guy that’s been doing morning drive for the last 30 years says he’s going to retire. That’s enough. Just the expectations of living up to my predecessors here and making sure we’re putting out a quality product for the audience. Especially right now with the Eagles and the Phillies having such great seasons.
We have these great market conditions. For me, every day is just how do you execute the opportunity? That’s what I focus on.
BN: When you started off your sports radio career, if someone would’ve told you, “Look, man, this is the way it’s going to go. You’re going to be in Phoenix programming a great station. Then you’re going to go to Philly and you’re going to be programming WIP.” If someone had told you that, what would have been your reaction?
RL: I would have been really surprised. [Laughs] I didn’t really know early on in my career whether or not I was going to pursue something on air or behind the scenes. Certainly, the idea of being a program director was not on my radar at that time. It was only until I became an executive producer in Phoenix, and I got to know a lot of the great program directors around the country that I really started thinking about that as being a viable career path for me.
So yeah, I would’ve been pretty stunned if you told me I’d be in Philadelphia right now talking Eagles and Phillies with you, and moving my family across the country. That would not have been something I would’ve expected, but I’m happy.
BN: I’m glad you’re happy. It’s funny, man, because if I were in your shoes, I would be like, man, how are they going to treat me? How are they going to react? Are they going to be like, this guy is from Phoenix? What are we doing? It sounds like you didn’t feel like that at all.
RL: I mean, I didn’t. I’m sure there were people that were thinking that. I know I would’ve if I were here. But everybody from the beginning was very receptive to what I had to say. It wasn’t like I was coming in saying, all right, here we go, let me show you how we did things in Arizona. I came in to listen and just to align and enhance the brand here. I think we’ve landed in a good place.
Does Mark Cuban See a Bubble That is About to Burst in Sports Media?
“The now-former Shark Tank star has a good track record of identifying the ideal time to bail.”
America’s top professional and college sports leagues have been living on easy street for the last ten years. Whenever their broadcast rights come up for negotiations, the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, the SEC and the Big Ten have been able to count on a line of bidders eager to get in on the action.
That party may be close to over though. Amin Elhassan of Meadowlark Media said last week that Mark Cuban may be the first to see it and that is why he is ready to sell off his majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks.
“That whole streaming money that everyone’s been talking about for years, like, ‘oh, when this next TV deal is up, it doesn’t even matter if Disney and Turner aren’t ponying up.’ ‘Oh, Amazon and Netflix are going to come in and just dump billions of dollars,’” he told co-host Charlotte Wilder on their Oddball podcast. “That’s not been the case. So I think Mark Cuban’s looking and he’s saying, ‘oh, this is the bubble and the bubble is about to burst.’”
He then pointed out that everyone in the NBA should be concerned if Cuban is the one with that vision. The now-former Shark Tank star has a good track record of identifying the ideal time to bail.
“He founded this thing called Broadcast.com,” Elhassan explained. “They pioneered the technology that allows people to stream video on the Internet. The reason why you’re able to watch anything on your phone, tablet or computer is because Mark Cuban and the company that he founded. He founded it and he sold it and within a few months, the dot com bubble crashed and that he made out like a bandit and everybody else was like Pets.com. ‘Ahhhh! We broke!’ So I definitely to me, it feels like the ship be sinking and ‘let me get off before everyone starts to figure it out and clamor.’”
Now, it should be noted that Cuban was recently asked about keeping the Mavericks a family business and passing control of the franchise down to his kids one day.
“I wouldn’t put them through it,” he said on a recent edition of All the Smoke. He then went on to explain that team owners need to court investments from real estate developers.
“That’s where the money is going be coming from potentially,” citing expensive real estate deals like the ones to get new areas for the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s very possible that Cuban doesn’t see the single majority shareholder model as a viable way to own and run a team anymore. It’s also possible he just wants to enjoy being rich and not have as many responsibilities. It was on that same episode of All the Smoke that the 65-year-old revealed his time on ABC’s reality show Shark Tank is coming to an end.
But this is a sports media site. We pour over rights deals and potential deals looking for justification or game changing strategy. Let’s dive into the idea that Cuban sees a bubble that is about to burst.
If Amin Elhassan is right, and that is indeed how Cuban feels, he is not alone. 97.1 The Ticket’s Mike Valenti said the same thing earlier this year, although his prediction was less about the demand diminishing and more about customer dissatisfaction with the product.
Valenti’s point is that leagues’ rights will not hold their value if the streamers and networks they sell to make it hard for fans to see the games. The NFL is putting playoff games behind a paywall. Regular season action in Major League Baseball, the NHL, and college sports are already there.
Puck News founder and former editor of The Hollywood Reporter Matthew Belloni disagrees. He told me that the willingness to allow some big games to be streaming exclusives actually makes a league’s rights more valuable to media companies in 2023.
“There’s a big push in the entire streaming industry right now to raise profits, even at the expense of growing subscriber numbers and usage,” he told me via email. “Using premium sports, the top driver of subscription and engagement, to increase profitability, makes perfect sense. All these games *should* be behind a paywall. Thats where they will benefit their broadcaster most, even if the leagues might want greater accessibility.”
Cuban and other owners are yet to settle on new broadcast deals for the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver may have been overly optimistic in insisting that the league could triple its current revenue in its next TV rights deals, but he and team owners have been willing and eager to look at new revenue streams and more modern broadcast deals in order to help them get there.
Still, it’s hard not to think about two outlets when it comes to the NBA on TV – ESPN and TNT. Maybe other networks will get involved in the bidding, but at this point, it is hard to picture a world where those outlets and ABC are not airing NBA games.
Do Disney’s plans for the future of ESPN inch us closer to a bubble bursting for media rights deals? If the network will be a streaming product by 2025, will Bob Iger and Jimmy Pitaro be more conservative with what they are willing to spend money on and how much they are willing to pay?
I asked Belloni if he expected the company’s projections for what ESPN can generate as a streaming product are more likely to make it less agressive with the NBA and other rights deals in the short term.
“It’s not a question of aggressive vs frugal, it’s what does Disney need to compete in sports,” he said. “Iger has said he wants ESPN to be available on streaming by 2025, which isn’t that far away.”
He added that it doesn’t mean that competition stops. Other networks and streamers want in on the NBA. There are major commitments to the NFL, the SEC and others that Disney has to honor as well. Iger and Pitaro are not going to let those get away. They have to sustain the brand’s value no matter what form the network takes.
“Renewing top tier rights like the NBA will be key to that push because ESPN will be an expensive product, but he also should expect less revenue in the short term because making ESPN available digitally will exacerbate cord cutting,” Belloni said. “Hence why he is looking for a deep-pocketed partner to invest in ESPN and help defray the costs of those rights packages.”
Amin Elhassan is an incredibly smart guy. He didn’t simply see Cuban’s sale announced and jumped to the conclusion that a rights bubble is about to burst and he did a great job of explaining that.
He did leave out the part about who is buying Cuban’s stake in the Mavericks and what she plans to do with it.
Miriam Adelson is a Republican mega donor and widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation built three resorts in Las Vegas and seven other properties across Asia.
Sports gambling has become a right versus left issue in Texas, with Republicans coming down on the side of “ain’t gonna happen.” Adelson’s investment in the Mavericks is said to include plans for an entertainment and casino complex near Dallas.
Mark Cuban may be “down to Earth for a billionaire,” but he is still a billionaire obsessed with his public image. Remember how furious he was with Draymond Green in 2017 when the Warriors’ star said that the term “team owner” invoked the unpleasant idea of one person owning another? Cuban is not completely abandoning the team. He will continue to run basketball operations in Dallas. If he really saw a rights bubble that was about to burst, it seems more likely that he would want to put as much distance as possible between himself and the perceived failure.
This deal is not about Cuban’s projections for sports media’s future. It is about Miriam Adelson recognizing an opportunity to wield political influence and add a few billion to her net worth.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
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