Justin Acri came to sports radio from TV. That isn’t odd in itself. A lot of guys make their name on TV and then either add a radio show to their portfolio or transition into radio. Look at Jim Dunaway in Birmingham or the late CS Keys in San Diego.
It is hard to name a lot of guys though that came up in TV, gave it up for radio, and then went on to become their station’s program director. That is the path that Acri has taken since arriving in Little Rock, Arkansas from Duluth, MN where he was working as a reporter.
Acri is a busy guy in Little Rock too. Not only is he the the boss at 103.7 the Buzz, but he also hosts his own midday show each weekday starting at 10 am and makes time to serve as the radio voice of the University of Central Arkansas.
I called Justin Acri the morning after the Arkansas Razorbacks let the College World Series slip through their fingers as a foul ball was lost in the lights by three fielders. His listeners may have been down, but Justin was in good spirits, having just come from a live broadcast where he was set up next to a grill at a meat packing plant.
We talked about his station’s relationship with the Razorbacks, why he wants cup stacking champions on his show, and the controversial Bracket With No Name, a yearly tradition around the NCAA Tournament that some in the media called sexist.
D: How did what happened last night in the College World Series change show prep for today for you?
J: The Razorbacks move the needle more than anything else in this state. So, we were going to talk about the game regardless of the outcome. I think everyone in the sports media in this state has a little bit of a fandom that they wear on their sleeve, probably to a little bit of the chagrin of the old head print guys, but there’s definitely an element of fandom to the broadcast here.
We carry Razorback football, basketball, and baseball so we’re very Razorback-centric here at The Buzz, but our hosts are also critical. So again, it’s disappointing and we’ll point out what went wrong. The role we kinda played today on our show was to pick everybody up and say “hey, you’ve got another game”. We pep-talked our way through three hours today.
D: How critical can you be before you’re going to hear about it? I know you’re not going out of your way to bash the Razorbacks, but they’ve had some lean years in football and basketball, so how critical can you be before you hear from the network or advertisers?
J: What’s good is unless we are infringing on their sales side and sponsorships at the University, they never talk to us about what was said on the air. There is a perception from our listenership, I think, that we are beholden to the Razorbacks because they are going to pull our credentials. They aren’t going to pull our credentials, so we don’t care about that.
Different hosts are more critical than others. During the (football coach Bret) Beilema years, you’re right. There were a number of our hosts that were very harsh and critical. I wouldn’t say calling for his head, but it was just shy of that. I try to be a little more level-headed and take an even-keel approach. I’m certainly invested in games and I will be pulling for the Razorbacks tonight, but I’ll do my best to keep it even keel.
There were certainly a lot of things wrong with the program the last few years and you point those things out. You hang your hat on offensive line play, and the offensive line isn’t good. The running game isn’t very good, and that is what your bread and butter is. Defense hasn’t been good for a whbile, so as long as you aren’t reveling in it, I think it’s fine. We don’t get any pushback for the most part.
D: I have always heard from people that cover Arkansas that Bret Beilema was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around. What are the mental exercises you go through to turn off your feelings about the guy you enjoy having in for an interview and be critical when you have to be critical?
J: Oh, I did. I liked him a lot. I look at that a different way. I like (Arkansas baseball coach) Dave van Horn a lot. He’s not the most gregarious guy to have on the air. Now, I’m sure if they win tonight he will be tomorrow.
I loved being around Bret Beilema. He’s the kind of guy you would want to go grab a beer with. I love (Arkansas men’s basketball coach) Mike Anderson. He’s just so full of joy and a great guy to be around. Dave’s just really serious.
All the coaches have their own personality and you just have to separate that out when you talk about them. But yeah, Beilema was a great, great guy.
D: So when you are doing your show, do you try to turn off your program director brain, or is that something you know will just never turn off?
J: Oh, I don’t ever turn it off. I’ve always got…I don’t want to call it an ulterior motive…I’ve always got a plan, let’s say, for what I want to say. Some of it you script out, but usually those are just some bullet points so I know what I want to get in, like if a particular guy is playing great. I think you have to be real pointed on that when fans aren’t going to take it that far.
Again, we’re all disappointed when they lose. I want to see all the Arkansas teams do well, especially Central Arkansas since I am connected there. Arkansas State has had some good years in football too. We’re very much a cheerleader for the state. I want us to take a positive approach.
I know some bigger markets in the Northeast, their whole thing is to be critical and cranky. That’s just not our way. I want us to be positive.
That’s why I got into sports in the first place. There are so many positive stories to tell. I don’t care if it is a cup stacking championship. If it is an Arkansan doing well nationally we’re going to praise him. We had a guy on not too long ago that is trying to break into the WWE. He lives up in the Northeast now, but he is from Arkansas. We had him on and he talked about the road there. He is doing great on the smaller circuits. We just try to celebrate success regardless of whether it is high school all the way up to the pros. As long as there’s an Arkansas connection.
D: So you’ll always give time on air to local stories over national stories no matter how big the national story might be?
J: Yeah. We have a very local approach. I think you’d be hard pressed, and you would know better than I do, but we’re a small market, a reasonably mid-sized market, doing live 6a to 7p. Most markets and stations our size are going to have at least one national show on during the day.
Our philosophy has been to be ultra-hyper-local. The Razorbacks are obviously a big part of that. It’s a Cowboys state. It’s a Cardinals state. But we do try to talk about everything.
I think our listeners have come to understand that we don’t have an agenda. We just want to talk about positive stories. I think that is more pleasant to listen to than a guy that is grousing about something all the time.
D: So when you say that it is a Cardinals state, let’s say the team goes to the World Series, on a Monday morning in mid-October is the Razorback age from the weekend still the A-block for all your shows?
J: It would be, but we would still talk about the World Series, and we would probably talk about it regardless of who’s in it. I think most guys in our industry wear their fandom on their sleevses. So, I am a Cubs guy. I am an Iowa State grad. I realize I can get away with talking about the Cubs, if only to pick at the Cardinal fans. I’m a Packers fan. I know I can talk about Aaron Rodgers, because he is a star. People will tolerate that.
I know that nobody in our listening area cares about Iowa State. It is very very rare, unless they do something like upset Oklahoma, that I can talk about that.
D: I would imagine fans were paying attention last year after the Beilema firing. Some of them had to think that (Iowa State coach) Matt Campbell would be a candidate for the Arkansas job, right?
J: Yeah, but that would be the only reason for sure.
D: With how local you and your staff focus on content being, could you hear tape of someone who is really good but from…say Des Moines and think “that guy would be great on The Buzz” or do they have to have an Arkansas connection in your mind?
J: No, last time we did a search to build a show, we brought in a kid from Seattle that I liked a lot. He was really really good and was right there at the end, but we had two guys that were probably overqualified. One had done TV in the market before. The other had done radio here for a long time.
All things being equal, sure you want a guy that is familiar with the market or at least the Southeast and the way things are here. If you’re a good broadcaster, you’re a good broadcaster. I’d be open to anyone from anywhere as long as it is the right fit.
D: During your day how do you balance show prep versus time you have to spend as the program director?
J: I try to be up everyday by 4:30 or 5, read the paper, and go to the gym. That way I can head into the office around 6:30 and knock out the administrative stuff early. Then I’ll prep for a coupe of hours. Sometimes though, like today, I was gathering all the info from last night’s game. Of course, too, you have the stuff from the night before you were already planning on talking about.
Then it just depends. Sometimes I am out pretty quickly after my show ends at 1. Sometimes I am there until 6pm.
I try to get most of it done early in the morning. Plus, that way I’m there if my morning guys need me. That’s the real battleground time slot for us. I assume it is that way in most markets. Other stations, that’s where most of their resources are poured into. Our afternoon show doesn’t have a whole lot of competition.
In the middle of the day you’re somewhat hamstrung, because it is an active listening format. People are either going to make it a point to listen at work if they can or wherever they are. But we’re always going to put most of our resources into the morning, because that is where the hardest fight has been.
D: I would guess your next big event broadcast is SEC Media Days, right?
J: That’s exactly right.
D: So as a programmer and then also as a show host, what needs to happen there for you to say “That was a win for us! Going there was a good use of time for The Buzz.”?
J: There’s really two functions there. You’re getting stories and sounds for the day, but you’re also making relationships with other reporters and coaches and ADs and of course sports information guys. Most of our guys have good experience, the ones that go. They don’t really need to do it, but it is always good to have it, you know?
There’s typically a live show going on from there while another guy is off gathering sound. There are always stories to find too. We’ll send three guys: 2 hosts and a reporter. So, it’s a guy from the morning show, a guy from the afternoon show, and then a reporter goes along to fill in the gaps.
From a programmer’s side, you want to make sure we are getting everything and benefitting from those face-to-face meetings and touching all opportunities with people we are going to be covering or people we need to pick their brains for content for later.
From a host’s standpoint, I want the headlines. Does a coach answer a question in a funny way? Does a coach answer a question in an irritated way as Saban has a tendency to do? Obviously Beilema was gold for SEC Media Days. I am typically looking for what is entertaining, because there typically isn’t a lot of substance coming out of there.
D: What is the overall reaction to (Arkansas’ new football coach) Chad Morris from a fan standpoint?
J: I would call it cautious optimism. At least, that’s how I feel. I don’t think I have any reason to doubt the guy per se, but I don’t have any reason to be over the moon right now.
Look, he says the right things. He’s very energetic. He’s obviously great at engaging with high school coaches and players, so it’s exciting. He’s got a great background being a part of championship programs and building from scratch where he was (SMU) before coming to Arkansas. I’m just trying not to be too over-the-moon about it.
I was really excited about Beilema when he came, because I like his sort of chip-on-the shoulder approach. It worked briefly. They couldn’t keep it trending in the right direction. I grew up watching him play in Iowa, so I have a different connection. Then when Paul Rhodes came down to join the staff, as an Iowa State grad, that was great.
As far as Morris goes, I think he has been really well received. The bottom line is, man, everybody in this fanbase was starving for something different. Something new. And it wasn’t just Beilema. I’ve never seen the kind of outcry or groundswell for a change at the athletic director position. It’s not like Jeff Long didn’t do a lot of good things. He did, but he was just never embraced by the fanbase. He was looked at very much as a CEO guy.
Hunter Yurachek has been fantastic. For us, it gives fans something to be positive about. Being negative pretty quick. That was all the time with Long and Beilema, but it really picked up during the last 18 months of his time there.
D: The University of Arkansas was in a weird situation where the SEC sort of legislated that the University of Missouri would be your new hated rival. What is coverage of that game like for you guys? Has the fanbase taken to the rivalry?
J: I don’t mind it as much, because it is a regional game and that is good. Making it a rivalry and a trophy game right out of the gate I thought was a little silly, but it is a natural rival. The LSU game is still big. Playing them every year and beating them is a big deal.
It did feel a little forced, and I am sure the (Texas) A&M rivalry feels forced to LSU. I don’t think it is a negative though, because it will grow. And by the way, Arkansas hasn’t faired to well in that game. It’s funny too, because when Missouri was coming in, and A&M was coming in, there was a lot of disregard for Missouri in this fanbase.
I don’t know if anyone was paying attention to what they did in football or men’s basketball, and look at them now. They have won their division a couple of times and I am over here saying “yeah, I tried to tell ya” and now Mizzou basketball looks like it is going to be really good this year.
D: I know that when Arkansas came into the conference, what? Like 25 years ago? Anyway, they were forced into this rivalry with South Carolina that only made sense because they were the two new teams, but Arkansas developed this rivalry with LSU that was really fun and always seemed to have a really wacky ending. Losing that from the Thanksgiving weekend has to be weird for the listeners.
J: Yeah, it was. The other thing too is when the game is in Little Rock, the tailgating here is so exponentially better than what it is in Fayetteville. So that was a really fun way to spend Thanksgiving weekend and of course the LSU fans come up.
Look, it was a really fun rivalry, but it is good natured. LSU fans love to party. Razorback fans like to party. It was this great, fun thing. Every other year it was in Little Rock and then that changed, so it kinda lost its luster despite the fact that it wasn’t the last game of the year.
D: Baton Rouge is the only place I’ve ever been as an opposing fan where I feared for my life.
J: That’s what I’ve heard. I have never had the pleasure.
D: Can you give me the history of how the Bracket With No Name thing unfolded? Not the start of the promotion, but how did the controversy surrounding it unfold?
J: It’s funny, because every couple of years someone would raise a stink about it in a local magazine or in the newspaper. They would write something about it and then it would go away. The difference this time is the news director at a TV station said something that took hold. His reporters started following along and then other reporters started following along. You know how things go viral?
We were talking about changing it long before the guy ever said anything about it. The host, Tommy Smith, that had done it every year was getting tired of it anyway.
D: It was called “The Babe Bracket” initially, right?
J: Right. That ran its course. We just sort of tweaked it this year and made it into sort of an all star thing.
For a lot of guys 35-55, they don’t pay real close attention to Hollywood, particularly if they are real, giant sports fans like most of our listeners. So it served two purposes. There was a national side and a local side. It exposed some of these listeners to attractive actresses they had never heard of and the other side had us plugged in with local female anchors. It took off and it continued on for years.
Look, I’m very sensitive to that kind of thing. I used to work in TV, so I try to be very respectful and sensitive to the women that work in local media. I want to put a spotlight on them for their work and professional integrity, but let’s be honest. Men and women, if they work in TV they are typically very attractive.
I never thought it was done in a demeaning way. I can’t tell you that a caller never said something in appropriate or called in to talk about a physical trait of a woman that we didn’t want to become part of the conversation, but you can’t really control it. It’s live radio.
I thought the hosts always handled it in an appropriate way. It was always fun. The local women came on air and played along. We’ve had past winners that were overjoyed to win just like, a sash and a crown.
It was a fun thing. It really was. We’re in such a hyper-sensitive environment right now. If it was done in a mean way or in a way that was misogynistic, which I guess you can say it inherently is. Some people feel that way and won’t hear any different, but truly if I thought it was done in a disrespectful way I would have shut it down before it got to that point.
D: Is there a lesson in this for you or for other sports stations about the way the culture moves? Is this a situation of these controversial promotions are not worth it anymore because the downside is always worse than the upside is good?
J: Well, you gotta look at it this way and this is how I look at everything. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right and just because it is unpopular doesn’t mean it’s wrong. So, the popular thing to do and the easy thing to do would have been to walk away from it and just shut it down, but again, I don’t think anyone was doing anything wrong. The participants never felt like it was a negative thing, at least the ones that came back and participated over and over again. So, we continued it.
D: When you have conversations with your other hosts about where they can make improvements or things you need them to do, is that ever uncomfortable or do you ever feel added pressure because you are on air?
J: You know, there is the element of trying to practice what I preach. I wouldn’t ask the guys to do anything or try anything I wouldn’t do myself, but at the end of the day that’s what I get paid to do.
I make suggestions. I make recommendations, and it may just be little things. Be sure to reintroduce your guest. Don’t eat on the air. My guys have been doing this a long time. I’m lucky. I have a lot of experienced guys. There aren’t a lot of young guys here that need coaching on a daily basis.
We still talk. We still strategize to some degree. I think the guys respect me enough that we can talk and they don’t take it personally, like I think I am better than them or that I think I am doing it right and they are wrong. Look, there are certain things that guys on my own show do that I do not like, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I would never tell them to stop because it’s just a taste thing.
The other thing too is doing four local shows in a market this size with no local teams, you have to find a way to differentiate and stand out from the other shows. We all have to be different. Everyone needs to come to work with a different approach.
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].
Brian Murphy is Preparing to Write His Next Chapter at KNBR After Layoffs Ended ‘Murph and Mac’
“I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”
After the morning show signed off at KNBR last Wednesday, co-host Brian Murphy was called into a meeting with Cumulus Media market manager Larry Blumhagen. Although there had been signs of potential changes, Murphy had partnered with Paul McCaffrey for nearly 18 years and survived all of the turmoil.
A simple look around the building represented proof of an alteration, evinced by reductions in the number of stations under its roof. A once powerful news station, KGO-AM, underwent a sudden format flip last year after nearly a century on the air. A few years earlier, alternative rock station KFOG was eliminated from the company’s portfolio as well. KNBR has weathered the storms, but not without alterations to the station’s programming department.
“I would say everything has shrunk,” Murphy expressed, “and that includes sending us on road trips or to Super Bowls, etc.”
Layoffs have reemphasized the importance of the quantitative bottom line, sometimes overshadowing the qualitative utility and widespread impact derived from talent and popular shows. It is partially why the deluge of palpable support after Murphy learned in a short meeting that McCaffrey was being laid off was surprising and reinvigorating. But first came an immediate, jarring feeling surrounding the decision.
“Truthfully numb,” Murphy said regarding his sentiment after learning what happened. “I guess it’s a cliché to say that people go into shock, but to know that Paulie and I wouldn’t be together was something that didn’t register. I mean, it registered, but it didn’t register until fully; the next 48 hours is when it really started to really hit.”
McCaffrey was one of seven laid off at KNBR that day. Morning show producer Erik Engle, former programmer Lee Hammer, host F.P. Santangelo and members of the outlet’s digital department lost their jobs as well. Even the long-running KNBR Tonight evening show, which aired for decades was canceled, and replaced with CBS Sports Radio programming. While Murphy always hoped that the morning show would continue in the iteration before the end of his contract, he is now facing a new reality without his longtime colleagues.
“I think what we were disappointed by was sort of an abrupt and premature end, particularly to our partnership, which I think we’ve learned from an incredible outpouring of social media is way more than we knew,” Murphy said. “We learned our partnership for whatever reason connected to a lot of people for a long time. It’s funny they say radio is dying, but radio sure is personal and effective in many ways baked on what we’re hearing from our listeners.”
During the next two days, Murphy was off the air and contemplating his future. There were moments where he thought about leaving KNBR. However, he knew that he had a contract to fulfill and a family to support. Additionally, the person that he was set to work with on Monday and beyond – Markus Boucher – had contributed to the morning show for nearly four years, rendering familiarity and comfortability.
“There’s a chance that Markus and I could do this for a long time; we’ll see how it goes,” Murphy said. “Maybe things go great and that would be awesome, and I’m definitely leaving that door open. For whatever reason, we recover from the pain of losing my partner for almost two decades and the next chapter works out.”
In 2023, KNBR has experienced two subpar quarterly ratings books. The decrease in performance has affected all dayparts on the outlet. Murphy knows that when the San Francisco Giants do well, it generally leads to KNBR succeeding. The station did improve in its summer and fall books for 2023, but there already were repercussions being felt.
“I just know that that happened and it damaged people’s perception of the station, but I don’t think it was an accurate reflection of all of our listenership at all; I just don’t,” Murphy said. “I know for a fact that we still had a huge audience, and it’s evident by what happened after the news; just so many people reacted and people in the demo too.”
Even though he knows it does not directly relate to his role as an on-air host, Murphy believes that the local advertising market was damaged because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the city. San Francisco was one of several major metroplexes that instituted strict health and safety protocols in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which had an effect on sports talk radio consumption. With more people working remotely and fewer people commuting to the office, the transition to digital content and audio on-demand offerings has hastened in order to realize previous levels of engagement and keep the format alive.
“KNBR is going to have to weather this storm,” Murphy said, “and there’s this feeling of, I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”
The station recently held an all-staff meeting to discuss its direction, which has been somewhat complicated by three program directors at the outlet over the last five years. Following the departures of Jeremiah Crowe and Kevin Graham, Adam Copeland took over the responsibilities last month. The layoffs took place two weeks into his tenure, causing some people to question how involved he was in the decisions and whether or not he advocated for the morning show.
“I think these things come from beyond San Francisco,” Murphy said. “Our headquarters are in Atlanta, and I think something this big – like I said, it wasn’t just Paulie Mac; it was seven people. Paulie Mac is personal for me, but that to me says, ‘Well, that’s obviously a big budget decision that’s being made at a level far above the San Francisco program director.’”
Although Copeland has minimal previous experience as a program director, Murphy is confident that he will be able to effectively lead the station through his energy, youth and passion for the medium. Copeland grew up listening to KNBR and worked at the station over the last several years as a producer and host, eventually earning a spot in afternoons alongside Tom Tolbert. Copeland remains in that time slot, pulling double duty for the radio station. His relatability and familiarity with the craft is something that Murphy views as an advantage.
“I think people are pretty excited that we have somebody who cares as much as Adam Copeland does about KNBR,” Murphy said, “I think if there’s anything to be optimistic about in 2024 that despite this ending to 2023, it’s that we have a program director who’s all-in on the station.”
Thinking about what comes beyond the immediate future though is not within Murphy’s mindset. At the moment, he feels it is too soon to determine if there will be a potential Murph & Mac reunion on a digital platform. Instead, he is focused on being able to continue to serve San Francisco sports fans without his longtime on-air partner. Murphy realizes how fortunate he was to have someone like McCaffrey by his side and valued both his consistency and dependability on a daily basis.
“Every single segment he was the same energetic, relentless, hilarious partner who only wanted what was good for the show – not what was good for him; not what was good for me – he only wanted what was good for the show,” Murphy said, “and it was such a lesson for this newspaper guy to learn, for lack of a better word, showbusiness.”
When Murphy entered the studio Monday to host his first show without McCaffrey, everything felt surreal to him on the air. There was ostensible tension in the room and from listeners about how he would address the news, and share his feelings with the audience. The program ended with a monologue from Murphy regarding McCaffrey, something that he is grateful Boucher did not raise objection to and that he was able to make his statement on the air.
“The 49ers had just destroyed the Philadelphia Eagles, which actually was a huge positive break for us because it allowed everything to happen Monday with the backdrop of great positivity because that was a huge game for the Niners and people were pretty jacked up about that game,” Murphy said. “So I opened the show by saying, ‘I know it’s corny, but that one was for Paulie.’”
The shock and surprise from McCaffrey being laid off is hardly evanescent, but Murphy is now thinking about how to optimize the morning program with Boucher. Predicting what may come next is an arduous task. Murphy considers himself fortunate to have had nearly 18 years hosting with McCaffrey, and he is now thinking about the next chapter of his time at KNBR while having reference for the enduring legacy of Murph & Mac.
“For whatever reason, I’ve never lost my absolute joy and passion for the sports world – sports content; sports stories; sports history; sports media – everything about it,” Murphy said. “And so every morning when my alarm goes off and my feet hit the floor, I’m like, ‘Let’s go! I’m stealing money. This isn’t work.’”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Big Noon Kickoff Turned Into a Legitimate College GameDay Challenger
Big Noon Kickoff is like a college football tailgate on TV. Panelists good-naturedly rip each other, toss the football around on a makeshift field, and talk smack whenever possible.
The best college football pregame show on television emanates every Saturday from a different college campus. It features close-up shots of a boisterous crowd flashing banners and signs and is hosted by an excellent mix of TV pros, former players, and coaches, but it’s not the show you might think. To use college football vernacular, ESPN’s College GameDay is the Granddaddy of them all in collegiate gridiron pregame fare, but FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff is College GameDay on amphetamines.
It has taken the genre to new heights of volume, vigor, and vivacity. The camera shots are more intense, smoke and flashing lights are the order of the day, and the panelists are vociferous, rowdy, and sky-high-pumped.
Veteran host and reporter Rob Stone is the ringleader of this pigskin circus. Brady Quinn, Mark Ingram II, Matt Leinart, and Urban Meyer fill out a crowded anchor desk. In Week 13 of the college football season, both Big Noon Kickoff and College GameDay were live at the University of Michigan in anticipation of the gargantuan matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Wolverines.
FOX’s coverage was on point. Unlike on ESPN, where the mad throng of students and fans are set off a bit by the talents, the crowd on Big Noon Kickoff was right on top of the FOX panelists, and they certainly let Meyer, the former Buckeye head coach, know how they felt about him. He was booed roundly and consistently. Every time he spoke, the jeers would rise to new decibels. It was fun to watch.
On the flip side, Big Noon Kickoff analyst and ex-Wolverine Charles Woodson was greeted by a thunderous ovation. Woodson actually got up close with the crowd and high-fived the fans.
On ESPN, only Pat McAfee elicits such closeness and raucousness from the faithful in attendance. In fact, in my opinion, the emergence of Big Noon Kickoff as real competition is the reason why McAfee was added to the College GameDay roster.
This edition of Big Noon Kickoff featured an electrifying feature story on the fabled Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Also helping the broadcast is the presence of that eminent reporter Tom Rinaldi.
Rinaldi, a former ESPN’er, talked about Ohio State’s preparation for the big game and revealed that Buckeye players were inspired by constantly viewing social media posts proclaiming Michigan’s dominance.
Reporter Jenny Taft chimed in as well, providing important Michigan injury updates. I really like the diversity of the Big Noon Kickoff team. You have a solid host in Stone, a coach’s perspective from Meyer, offensive insight from Leinart, Ingram II, and Quinn, and a defensive standpoint from Woodson.
Leinart stood out from the pack making the point that the game was about more than just a rivalry. It was really about winning a Big 10 title and gaining positioning for the college football playoff and a shot at a National Championship.
Ingram II added that the most physical team would win the game, while Quinn, a Columbus, Ohio native, gave some insight on what this game means to both states and fan bases. It’s a challenge to pass around the airtime when you have six bodies at the desk, but Stone does a good job of laying back in the weeds and letting the analysts analyze.
Perhaps the brightest light on Big Noon Kickoff is the presence of Chris “The Bear” Fallica. Plucked from ESPN, Fallica has been a tremendous addition. He brings serious college football chops and really puts things in perspective.
I always felt that this guy was underutilized on College GameDay. The dude does more than just pick game results. In this episode, he provided a lucid explanation of how 2023 is a watershed year for college football with realignment coming. In addition, he wrote an excellent script for the Leinart feature on the demise of the Pac-12 conference.
Big Noon Kickoff moves at a furious and frenzied pace, and viewers are enthralled to be along for the ride. I actually found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what feature or analysis would come next.
Coming back from a break, the show does not cut right back to the panelists. Cameras pan the crowd and audio goes up so viewers can hear the crowd cheer and sing team songs. This style really brings home the atmosphere of a major college football game.
While the show is mostly about the game being played at the broadcast site, Big Noon Kickoff offers a deep dive into highlights, previews, and analysis of games around the country.
One of the best parts of Big Noon Kickoff is the contribution of FOX’s Joel Klatt a model of excellence and versatility. Klatt excels in numerous venues: live game coverage, interviews, studio shows, guest shots on other programs, and more. His knowledge is unmatched and he always asks the right questions.
This was evident on the December 6 edition of The Joel Klatt Show: Big Noon Conversations where Klatt presented a terrific one-on-one interview with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark. Klatt is always prepared and even-tempered. He listens to his subject and offers pinpoint follow-up questions.
Big Noon Kickoff is like a college football tailgate on TV. Panelists good-naturedly rip each other, toss the football around on a makeshift field, and talk smack whenever possible – pretty much everything short of beer pong.
Stone further added to the fury by encouraging Meyer to flash his Ohio State National Championship ring to the Michigan crowd. And Meyer did it, risking a damn near riot.
Having two former quarterbacks on set is a plus, especially when it comes to analyzing the game’s most important position. You can make the point that both Quinn and Leinart fizzled out in the NFL, but you cannot deny their fine college quarterbacking pedigree. They offered real talk on QB’s Kyle McCord and J.J. McCarthy.
Fallica once again showed his singular insight and was absolutely prophetic stating that without quarterback Travis Jordan, Florida State would not be looked upon as a top 4 team even if they finished undefeated.
In true FOX style, there is never a lack of star power on Big Noon Kickoff. The panel welcomed none other than Michigan native and Wolverines fan Derek Jeter as a guest. Jeter revealed that he actually signed to play baseball at Michigan and took some classes there before joining the Yankees organization.
He also added some humor saying that all ballplayers want to get out of the minors as soon as possible, but he did even more so because he was playing for the Yankees Triple-A team in Columbus, home of the Buckeyes.
Amid all the fanfare, you know if Tom Rinaldi is around, there is going to be a heart-wrenching feature story. His piece on McCarthy and boyhood teammate Ryan Keeler was top-notch.
Keeler would go on to play at UNLV and was scheduled to play at Michigan against McCarthy this past September. Tragically, Keeler passed away from a heart condition in February 2023.
Big Noon Kickoff is always moving, literally. Later in this show, the anchor desk moved from outside the stadium to down on the field in the Big House. The different settings bring variety and an intimate feel to the production.
Former Wolverine and current Detroit Lion Aidan Hutchinson joined the panelists on the field for some commentary. Keep your eyes on Hutchinson. His NFL career has just begun, but this young man has a future and broadcasting. He was at ease, personable, and insightful.
As for the ratings on this November 25 day in Michigan, well as they say, it depends on whom you ask. FOX public relations tweeted that Big Noon Kickoff averaged 2.34 million viewers adding that it was “Saturday’s most-watched college football pregame show on any network.”
Meanwhile, ESPN PR tweeted that College GameDay averaged 2.4 million viewers and was “the top CFB pregame program of the week.” Beyond the numbers, it is the overall feel of the broadcast that sets Big Noon Kickoff apart.
Whether it is the dramatic shots during pre-produced interviews and feature stories, the rapid-fire edits and cuts to of the crowd and players, or the majestic overhead images of both teams taking a pregame knee in prayer, Big Noon Kickoff brings viewers to the campus, on the field, and into the action in a manner that is fast-paced, frenetic, and just plain fun.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
How Radio Sellers Can Be the Solution For Small Business Owners
In the face of these challenges, putting on a positive perspective can become a guiding light for SMBs.
The landscape for small business owners is rife with challenges, often leading to a cloud of negativity about their future. Radio sellers can be a ray of light.
The September NFIB Small Business Optimism Index reveals that 57% of these entrepreneurs do not expect improved business conditions in the next six months.
Despite improvement in their outlook from last year, this pessimism is still at recession levels. The majority of small-to-medium businesses are concerned with Top of Form inflation and labor shortages. We must get on The Energy Bus and help turn these negatives into positives.
The survey conducted among small business owners laid down the reasons for their negs:
Economic Uncertainty: A significant percentage expressed concerns about the unpredictable economic landscape, making strategic planning and decision-making difficult.
Inflationary Pressures: The rising costs and inflationary trends have worried them about maintaining profit margins and sustaining operations.
Labor Shortages or Quality of Labor: Finding and retaining quality employees amidst the ongoing labor shortage has emerged as a considerable challenge, affecting business operations and growth prospects.
In the face of these challenges, putting on a positive perspective can become a guiding light for SMBs.
See the Concerns and Offer Support
Address Their Worries: Acknowledge their concerns about the uncertain economic climate, rising costs, and labor challenges. Don’t let them drag on and on about it. But make sure to show some empathy and understanding towards their situation. If appropriate, share experiences of other station clients’ challenges and how your solutions or products have helped them navigate similar situations. Watch their ears perk up when they realize they are not the only business having issues.
Be a Partner: Position yourself as a partner rather than just a salesperson. Offer insights and strategies you have heard or read about that can help them navigate through these challenges. Be well-read and a resource for change.
Highlighting the Power of Radio Advertising: Showcase how your proposal can boost visibility, reach target audiences cost-effectively, and drive sales. Ensure you have a few different price point proposals that fit their budget. Don’t tell them to spend their way to success, especially on credit cards.
Success Stories: Share success stories of businesses similar to theirs that overcame challenges through effective radio marketing. Demonstrate how strategic advertising helped these businesses thrive despite economic uncertainties. This is your most powerful ally, and you must ask all the salespeople to share any success you can pass along.
Instilling Hope and Encouragement
Inspire Positive Vibes: Share uplifting anecdotes and stories of resilience to inspire hope and instill optimism in small business owners. Emphasize that challenges are temporary and can be overcome with the right strategies and a positive mindset. Recall how you watched businesses go through the same thing 2007-09. Please read up on those stories and pass them along.
Continued Support and Engagement: Maintain regular communication and send them stories you find. Stay engaged and offer hope by consistently being there for them.
The concerns SMBs have are valid. There is no argument there. However, amidst this negativity, we can play a transformative role. Before you go down this road, make sure you find the things to believe about why this business will succeed.
Focus on those positives. You are the person who is on the street dealing with dozens of local SMBs just like them. You are the voice of reason. Your positivity and support can drive their renewed optimism, and you will forever be seen as part of the Solution, not the problem.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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