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Who Wins The Sports Radio Heisman?

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The Heisman Trophy will be handed out on Saturday night. Three quarterbacks will be on stage at the Downtown Athletic Club. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray could walk away with the hardware. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins…well, at least he gets a free trip to New York.

As the college football season winds down and award after award is handed out, we thought it might be fun to hand out some college football accolades of our own. Who has made the greatest impact going from the college football field to a radio studio? Each of Barrett Sports Media’s contributors have an opinion and are ready to hand out their Sports Radio Heisman Trophy.

JASON BARRETT – Boomer Esiason (Maryland Terrapins QB, WFAN morning host)

When you think of former football players who’ve transitioned into sports radio and made a permanent impact there’s no better example than Boomer Esiason. He’s performed like a hall of fame talent for two decades, and is my choice for the Sports Radio Heisman.

I could begin by highlighting his TV work on CBS, ABC, and Showtime but since this is a radio piece, I’ll start by pointing out that Boomer spent 19 years on Westwood One calling Monday Night Football games, a broadcasting record.

Next, it’s well documented that without Don Imus, WFAN doesn’t become a dominant force in New York. When Imus was let go by The Fan after his Rutgers remarks in 2007, the hole in mornings on the radio station was enormous. Esiason wanted the challenge of replacing Imus, teamed up with Craig Carton, and proceeded to own morning drive in the nation’s #1 market for the next decade.

Then, just as everything was going perfectly, Carton was arrested in September 2017 for his involvement in a ponzi scheme. The Fan could’ve easily lost its way in mornings, but Boomer wouldn’t let that happen. The morning show finished 1st for the 2017 fall book, the first following Carton’s exit. Fast forward to 2018 where Gregg Giannotti has since replaced Carton as Boomer’s partner, and The Fan’s morning show is once again high atop the ratings.

Keep in mind, Boomer was a football star. He earned a good living on the gridiron. Most athletes in his position wouldn’t wake up and host a radio show at 6am for 11 years, work Sunday’s each football season on CBS, and spend 19 years with Westwood One working Monday Night football games. Nor would they want the pressure of replacing a New York radio legend like Imus or take on the challenge a second time when losing a partner who they just spent a decade having incredible success with.

From a hosting standpoint, what impresses me most about Boomer is that he does his homework on all sports, speaks with authority, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He also uses his profile to lift up his teammates. Those qualities have helped him become just as elite of a host as he was a football player, and that’s saying something because he won an MVP award, led the NFL in passing 2x and played in 4 pro bowls during a 14-year career.

DEMETRI RAVANOS – Petros Papadakis (USC Trojans RB, KLAC Afternoons)

There are plenty of guys that go from the gridiron to the broadcast booth. A good portion of them come into their new job willing to have fun and make fun of themselves. No one does it with more enthusiasm than Petros Papadakis.

The former USC fullback and his partner, Matt “Money” Smith, were a revelation for so many of us that lived outside of LA when the duo began filling the night time slot on Fox Sports Radio. Those guys know sports. Petros himself is the national radio personality that I trusted the most to talk college football. It was clear his opinions were backed up by observation and facts.

But it wasn’t his knowledge that made me a Petros loyalist to the point that I continued listening to the show on the iHeartRadio app even after it went back to being an LA-only entity. No one on radio has more fun than Petros Papadakis. His Lance Romance bit, the nonsensical show themes like “walk your bike Wednesday,” hell even his voice all point to the fact that this is a guy that isn’t concerned whether or not you think he’s a genius. He just wants to make sure you think he is worth coming back to listen to over and over again.

TYLER MCCOMAS – Mark Schlereth (Idaho Vandals G, 104.3 the Fan Mornings)

“Cleats on the grass!”

When I hear that, I instantly think of Mark Schlereth and his famous tagline heard on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. To me, “Stink” is the most polished show host out of any former football player on the airwaves. That carries over in the booth, where he excels at in-game analysis as a color commentator.

Along with co-host Mike Evans, ‘Schlereth and Evans’ has been at the top of Denver sports radio for a very long time, which doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon. Schlereth can Talk Rockies or Nuggets, but he sticks with what’s he knows best – the Broncos and the NFL. Having Stink on the airwaves gives 104.3 The Fan a perspective from both the former player and the national expert with a voice that several people across of the country recognize.

BRIAN NOE – Mike Golic (Notre Dame Fighting Irish DT, ESPN Radio Mornings)

When it comes to a debate of who should win the Sports Radio Heisman of former college football players turned talk show hosts, it’s a no-contest. The only part to figure out is who will finish in second place behind Mike Golic.

One of the most popular shows in sports radio history was ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike. It was a 17-year run for Mike Golic on the show. Since that time, he is still in the national spotlight while hosting Golic and Wingo. The show is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week.

What other former college football player has those credentials? That would be no one from the University of Non-Existent. Better yet, not only has Golic been highly successful in sports radio for nearly two decades, he’s routinely repping his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, which further heightens his association with college football.

Put it all together and it’s a no-brainer. Mike Golic wins this contest by a mile.

DAVE GREENE  – Cole Cubelic (Auburn Tigers C, Jox 94.5 Middays)

Since Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner, when you’re talking about a Heisman candidate it should be someone making a big impact that’s fairly new on the scene.  This is a good description for Cole Cubelic.  A former Auburn offensive lineman (1997-2000) and team captain, Cubelic has risen quickly over the last few years and is becoming one of the top college football analysts in the country. 

On radio, Cole teams with Aaron Suttles and Landrum Roberts in middays on JOX 94.5, a powerhouse station in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.  On television he teams with Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers during SEC Saturday Night on SEC Network.  

An 18-game starter at center during his days with the Tigers, Cubelic has a knack for making X’s and O’s football discussion incredibly compelling. Cubelic’s passion for college football comes bursting out of the microphone whether he’s in the studio at JOX, on camera while down on the sidelines for television or during one of his many guest appearances on shows across the country including The Paul Finebaum Show.  Whether you’re listening, watching or reading Cole’s takes on the SEC and college football, you can expect to be highly entertained while being well informed, an award winning combination in my book.

MATT FISHMAN – Rick Neuheisel (UCLA Bruins QB, SiriusXM ESPNU Radio Middays)

For those not young enough to remember Rick Neuheisel as a player, he was a quarterback at UCLA and won the Rose Bowl MVP in 1984 as UCLA upset #4 Illinois. Following his playing days, primarily in the USFL, he went on to be the head coach at Colorado, Washington, and UCLA. 

Since 2012, Rick has been a host on SiriusXM. He currently co-hosts “Full Ride” with Chris Childers weekdays from 10am to 1pm Eastern on ESPNU Radio, SiriusXM Channel 84. Steve Cohen, SiriusXM’s SVP of Sports Programming says of Neuheisel, “The knowledge and passion he possesses for college sports is infectious. He’s never boring and fans love the entertaining way he presents his brand of college sports talk. “

I really like that Neuheisel has fully embraced the medium. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he has written and performed numerous college sports related parody songs including “Born in the SEC,” “We Love This Game” and “Johnny Football.” 

I chose Rick for the sports radio Heisman for his knowledge, personality and preparation. Additionally, Rick was a quarterback and since 2000, only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman. 

BRANDON CONTES – Brian Jones (Texas Longhorns LB, currently off air)

I can listen to anyone talk about the NFL, NBA or baseball, but as a native Long Islander and St. John’s alum, my college football fandom was never strong which is exactly how I know Brian Jones is great.

The first time I heard the college football analyst and former NFL linebacker was on CBS Sports Radio.  Jones was hosting weeknights with Chris Moore and I followed him through his years as a morning host with Gregg Giannotti.

I didn’t find Jones entertaining because of his college or NFL affiliations, but because of his infectious personality.  Sure the insight is intelligent and the analysis is well-thought, but its Jones’s genuine energy that makes whatever topic he’s talking about a must listen.

Networks are filled with talented college football talkers, but in a sport where it’s difficult to keep my full-attention, I seek commentary from Jones.  Through his ability to entertain, when you hear Jones on the radio you forget he’s a “football guy” and understand his talent as a “radio guy.”

Jones hasn’t had a regular radio show since CBS Sports shuffled their lineup after Giannotti joined Boomer Esiason on WFAN.  He keeps busy with multiple TV shows along with contributing as a radio guest, but I hold out hope that at least a podcast is in Brian’s future.

 

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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