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A Conversation With Justin Acri

Demetri Ravanos

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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. 

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Jen Lada Has Built a Multiplatform Presence at ESPN

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about.”

Derek Futterman

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Jen Lada
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

When Jen Lada appeared on Around the Horn earlier in the month, she became the 58th panelist to be part of the program since its launch in 2002. Facing off against three other panelists from around the country, she garnered a victory in her on-air debut and elicited plaudits from her colleagues. Throughout the program, Lada demonstrated her deft sports knowledge and nuanced opinions that have crafted her into a venerated, skilled reporter at the network.

Although she had appeared on many ESPN programs previously, Around the Horn represented a show to which she wanted to contribute for many years. In fact, she has memories of watching the show just out of Marquette University and remarking about its brilliance and ingenuity.

Utilizing reporters with comprehensive knowledge of various sports who have chronicled several events, the show provides them an opportunity to give their opinions on issues and engage in debate with their contemporaries. Lada earned a spot on the show by being persistent, continuing to express her proficiency in commentary and sports discussion. The journey to arrive at this stage of her career, through which she has realized high-level assignments and a presence both at the local and national level, required adaptability and fortitude, and she continues to never take opportunities for granted.

“It’s great that I won, but it just sets the bar really high for the next time I go out there, which is not something I’m afraid of,” Lada said. “I love a challenge, and I love proving to myself that I can keep trying new things and doing new things well, and I hope that if people see me as some sort of example in the industry, that that’s what they walk away with.”

The approach adopted by Lada within her multifarious career ventures is to develop and maintain versatility, always innovating within her approach to content. As she looks to build off her initial victory on Around the Horn, she aims to be more compendious in her discourse and applying a more succinct approach. Making the adjustment in order to deliver compelling, distinctive points quickly differs from her other work, but it is all ultimately centered on sports.

While studying at Marquette University, she observed her classmates having a conversation about the men’s basketball team and what had happened in a recent game. Lada, who at the time was dating a player on the team and cheerleading at games, began to give her thoughts and was subsequently asked if she had ever considered sportscasting.

“I didn’t know that women could be sportscasters,” Lada said. “It wasn’t on my radar as a real career that women held because there were so few of them at the time doing it, and so once I realized that that was something I could do, then I kind of turned all my attention to, ‘Well, how do I make this happen?’”

As Lada began to complete internships and navigate through the media industry, she learned to develop a thick skin and refined her conduct. Out of school, she had completed a year of a non-paid sports internship and was waitressing on the side to pay the bills. The first interview she took for a job at a television station in a top-10 market ended with her being sexually harassed. It was a jarring experience that disappointed Lada because of her propensity to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it also forced her to evaluate her own disposition.

“I think it’s only natural that you wonder how you contributed to the circumstance or what you could have done differently to maybe not put yourself in that space,” Lada said, “but I was very lucky that when I told my family about what had occurred, they very quickly knocked any notion of that out of my head.”

In navigating the industry with good intentions, Lada recognized that it is not her fault if other people fail at treating others professionally and create a misogynistic work environment. Receiving the lesson early in her career has made her more aware of the people to avoid, and she remains wary of advice given to women in the industry that they should just be nice. Lada was recently on a panel where someone advised a broadcast class that being nice would result in things working out for them in the future.

“I felt myself cringing internally because I don’t think that that is a luxury women are afforded,” Lada said. “I don’t think – maybe now is different, but when I was coming up, and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there were people who preyed on niceness. And so the way that I would tweak that is to be professional; to carry yourself in a professional manner and recognize that sometimes being ‘traditionally nice’ puts a target on your back to be mistreated, and the best thing you can do is alert those people who would see you as a target that you’re not going to fall victim to that or you refuse to be victim to that.”

Lada joined ESPN in 2015 where she was hired to contribute to Colin Cowherd’s radio program. When Cowherd left the network and joined FOX Sports on a full-time basis, she started co-hosting a new, national program alongside Jorge Sedano. The show, however, had an evanescent run and left her feeling as if she had failed.

It took her a full year to recognize that she had been involved in a series of circumstances and decided to enact the necessary change, asking producers for advice and attending seminars. One of these was an interviewing course hosted by journalist John Sawatsky where he synthesized the art of the craft. Akin to when she was in college, she overheard in passing that the network needed more women in the features space.

“I was fortunate enough to have done a lot of features during my time in Milwaukee because we had a 9 p.m. newscast that required a local sports feature every night of the week, so between our three-person department, we had to fill that timeslot,” Lada said. “I had done a lot of lengthy sports features in Milwaukee [and] had a good foundation of what that job required.”

The meeting led to Lada doing features on an interim basis at the network and later granted her a spot on College GameDay, where she works as its features reporter. Lada presents stories every week to the audience that go beyond the gameplay and divulge a bigger picture.

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about,” Lada said. “One of the things that has occurred to me over the last few years is just what a skill is required to do that job well because not only are you preparing questions to ensure that you have all of the details and information, you’re also gathering perspective on what they’ve been through – the adversity and the situation that has led them to where they are now.”

Lada recently found herself in a high school classroom at 8 a.m. sitting with other students taking the ACT standardized test. She had to complete the exam as punishment for finishing last in fantasy football at ESPN Milwaukee this past season. After four hours, Lada emerged from the school and revealed her score this past week on the Jen, Gabe, and Chewy morning show. Hosting the local program alongside Gabe Neitzel and Mark Chmura, she has established chemistry over almost four years in the three-person format discussing hyperlocal topics.

“I try to be conversational,” Lada said. “We don’t lean on stats – obviously, we want to be accurate, and we want to be, again, fair to the subjects we’re talking about, but we try to also just be friends who are talking about what’s going on on any given day on the Milwaukee [and] Wisconsin sports scene.”

In balancing a variety of different roles, Lada has tried to master everything that she is doing, refraining from being content with her abilities. Although working in local radio regularly has been a newer role for her, she has grown into the job and has co-hosts who understand the subject matter and allow her to utilize her strengths.

“I just want to keep learning,” Lada said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done, [and] I’m not complacent about the skills I have. I’m always interested in adding more jobs to the résumé, and I think that in this industry, you’re rewarded for versatility.”

Once College GameDay commences, Lada adds the responsibility of feature reporting on that program to her schedule and continues making appearances across additional ESPN programming. Lada hosted the Friday edition of College Football Live last season and has also filled in as a host on shows such as First Take and SportsCenter. Moreover, she continues to complete projects for SC Featured and is working on a documentary for E:60 scheduled to premiere later in the summer. 

Lada aims to keep showcasing her indefatigable work ethic and passion for the craft without slowing down. Whether it is hosting a podcast, taking part in more panels or writing essays, she is open to exploring new forms of disseminating stories.

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience rattling around my brain, [and] I think the next iteration is figuring out a way to continue passing those experiences on to the next generation.” Lada said. “I don’t ever want to gatekeep the secrets of success – I think that’s selfish – so as I continue to do the media work, I think the next phase for me is figuring out how to pass a lot of these lessons on to future broadcasting generations.”

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Local Radio Advertisers Can Become Experts with Hosted Shows and Interviews

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of people talking on the radio

When looking for that extra edge for local radio advertisers, packaging radio commercials with an “expert” client-hosted talk show or interviews on your local shows or newscasts can be a game-changer. This strategy can build long-term business relationships with suitable clients, such as lawyers, business accountants, agents, psychologists, or sports handicappers. These professionals can provide valuable editorial contributions to sports and news stations. Of course, the expert must have good communication skills, be comfortable speaking their mind, and be ready to be the face of the business.

The radio commercials can tout the expertise the person has and give a call to action for listeners to move on. You can often find these experts on social media writing blogs or doing a series of vignettes about their business. For these types of clients, engaging in local radio news interviews or hosting a 1-2 hour talk show can enjoy several advantages:

Visibility and Brand Recognition

Visibility and Brand Recognition: Regular appearances on local radio help the expert become a well-known figure in the community. This visibility can lead to increased recognition and brand awareness and is a much faster track than just blogging on social media. Attorney Bill Handel and his ” Handel on the Law” show have created a directory business for Handel.

Public Trust and Credibility

By sharing their expertise and providing timely insights, the expert can build trust and establish credibility with the audience. Being perceived as an expert can enhance any client’s reputation and create top-of-mind awareness needed to lead business categories.

Client Acquisition

Listeners impressed by the expert’s knowledge and demeanor may seek their services. This exposure can lead to new clients who might not have been reached through other forms of advertising and give credibility to the expert who uses social media.

Community Engagement

Engaging with the local community through radio shows helps experts connect with potential clients more personally. This can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Question and answer segments can lead to deeper connections.

Educational Outreach

The expert can educate the audience on various issues, which can empower the audience. An informed audience is more likely to recognize when they need the expert’s assistance and whom to contact.

Stand Out in a Crowd

Stand out in a crowd: Being active on local radio can set the expert apart from competitors who may not use local radio. Often, the local shows or interview segments are exclusive to the expert.

Immediate Audience Feedback

Interacting with the audience through call-ins or live questions provides immediate feedback and allows the expert to address common concerns directly in real-time. The expert can be of service NOW.

Professional Development

Regularly discussing current topics can keep the expert sharp on trends and issues, contributing to their ongoing professional development.

Networking

Local radio stations often have a vast network of listeners and other professionals. This can open doors to new professional relationships and opportunities for collaboration. The station also provides a loyal audience who typically don’t follow the expert on social media. But they may start to after hearing the expert.

Overall, local radio interviews and talk shows can be a strategic and effective way for a local expert to enhance their business, build their reputation, and connect with the community.

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‘We Need To Talk’ is Insightful, Intelligent Conversation on CBS Sports Network

The show is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

John Molori

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A photo of the women who host We Need to Talk on CBS Sports Network
Photo Courtesy: CBS Sports Network

CBS Sports Network’s ‘We Need To Talk‘ features a rotating roundtable of female sportscasters offering their views on a variety of topics in sports. The premise is important. Female voices in sports need to be heard. They bring perspective, weighty conversation, and thoughtfulness to each discussion.

Over the past few years, women have made major strides in being heard and seen in sports media whether it is hosting, commentary, reporting or play-by-play. This is a good trend, but We Need To Talk is about more than just female talking heads. It’s about insight, depth, and needed attention to athletes and sports that do not bask in the mainstream limelight.

This particular episode featured host AJ Ross joined by Summer Sanders, Katrina Adams, and Renee Montgomery. It was an eclectic and accomplished group with Ross, an experienced and versatile reporter, Sanders, the erstwhile U.S. Swimming star and a broadcast veteran, Montgomery, the former WNBA star, activist, and co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and Adams, former tennis player, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, and chair of the US Open.

Montgomery got the conversation going looking back on the Celtics winning the NBA Championship. She also made a telling comparison between the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, renewed in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and compared it to the current WNBA rivalry between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. It’s a valid comparison, and Montgomery brought it to life effectively.

The WNBA was up next with Montgomery talking about Cameron Brink, the LA Sparks’ rookie who is making a splash not only on the court, but on the social media and fashion scenes as well.

It should be noted that this episode of We Need To Talk was taped before Brink suffered a season ending torn ACL, but Montgomery’s point was clear. It is not only important to be a great player. Today’s athletes also need to use multimedia platforms to raise their profiles.

Adams segued into a discussion on Wimbledon and No. 2 ranked Coco Gauff. It was good to hear some tennis talk on the airwaves, but this is a hallmark of We Need To Talk. The show makes it a point to move beyond the front-page stories and hit angles and areas that do not get much coverage.

These ladies are not afraid to get in each other’s grills as well. Sanders actually interrupted Adams to start a discussion about the upcoming Paris Olympics, but Adams would not relent and moved forward to an analysis of 2023 Wimbledon men’s singles winner Carlos Alcaraz.

The variety of sports continued with Ross starting a discussion about US track star Sha’Carri Richardson. I’ve been a fan of Ross for a long time. She does an expert job of mixing in her own commentary, while making sure all of the panelists on We Need To Talk get their due time. She’s also multitalented, seamlessly moving from reporter to host to debater.

We Need To Talk takes its roots in diversity with an all-female cast, but there is a deeper variety within the makeup of the cast. Sanders is a longtime veteran of sports, sports broadcasting, and entertainment. Ross is in the prime of her journalistic career. Adams brings perspective as an athlete, administrator, and leader, and Montgomery offers a fresh and contemporary style with her commentary.

Block 2 of the show featured Montgomery and Ross interviewing Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave women’s professional soccer team. Girma was named 2023 US Soccer Women’s Player of the Year, the first defender to ever win that award. This is what We Need To Talk offers those who watch the show. It is almost like a smaller scale, studio version of the classic Wide World of Sports on ABC, “spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport.”

The interview was managed well with Ross asking meaningful questions and Montgomery enthusiastically following up with her thoughts and input. This edition of the program also featured a wonderfully produced feature story on USC basketball player Aaliyah Gayles.

The talented Trojan hoopster was on the fast track to basketball stardom when, in April 2022, she was shot at a house party in Las Vegas. Gayles required two emergency surgeries to save her life.

The pace, video, and sound bites in the package were equal parts frightening, sobering, and uplifting. Gayles literally had to learn how to walk again as the feature focused on her rehabilitation and eventual return to the USC lineup.

Coming back from a break, the panel engaged in a great discussion on the talent link between collegiate and US Olympic athletes. A graphic showed that 75% of Team USA athletes and 82% of United States medalists played an NCAA sport.

As the discussion expanded, Montgomery talked about the fact that in order to enter the WNBA, players have to complete four years of college or be of the age of someone who has completed four years of college. I actually did not know that. We Need To Talk passes my personal litmus test for important sports television, namely, it tells me something I don’t already know.

Bringing still another sport and recognizable female athlete into the fold, Dara Torres joined the show next for an interview. The 12-time Olympic swimming medalist talked about her new role as head coach of the Boston College men’s and women’s swim and dive teams. Sanders asked a solid question about how, as a world-class athlete, Torres will manage her expectations of the BC athletes.

 As sports continues to meld with social issues, so too does the subject matter on We Need To Talk. Ross introduced a segment on the National Gay Flag Football League. Again, kudos go to the show’s production team for a slick and enlightening feature story. Praise should also go to the program itself for expanding the boundaries of sports and opening up a whole new world of knowledge for viewers.

Following the feature story, Montgomery and Adams made a point that sports unite people and bring diverse groups and personalities together as one. Montgomery is a fast-developing on-air talent. Her wit, energy, and knowledge go far beyond the basketball court making her a rising star in sports media.

The program continued to bring sports and life together by connecting the June celebrations of Pride Month and Father’s Day with an emotional poem written by renowned DJ Zeke Thomas, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. This was part of the We Need to Listen segment of the program.

Let’s keep it real. We Need To Talk is not going to be a ratings giant like ESPN’s First Take or offer the decibel level of commentary on FS1’s First Things First, but it is a necessary and unique slice of sports television.

The show consistently provides uncommon subject matter with an inimitable approach and tenor. Check it out when you get a chance and bring an open mind and a joy of sports. They need to talk, and we all need to hear them talk.

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