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What We Can Learn From NBA Jerseys

There are appropriate times to focus on national stories in local radio, but it’s hard to lose when you set your sites not on being the perfect show, but on being the perfect show for your market.

Demetri Ravanos

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My son is 7-years-old and he absolutely loves the NBA. His favorite team is the Washington Wizards, because his favorite player is John Wall. That is awesome. John Wall is from Raleigh. My son is from Raleigh. It’s a perfect fit right now, but it’s going to be a real problem for his dad, who is a lifelong Celtics fan, if the Knicks pull off this trade they are rumored to want so badly. 

Because my son is 7 and because I am a sports aesthetics enthusiast, we started talking about the NBA’s City Edition Jerseys over the weekend. There are a lot of cool looks this year. I asked him which was his favorite. He said the Wizards, because…well, he is one of those fans that can’t recognize when his team is wearing pure trash. 

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He asked me what my favorite was. I told him I was torn. I love that the Timberwolves went with the Purple Rain motif…then of course, had to explain what Purple Rain was. My son loves Prince’s music but we may be a few years away from bathing ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.  

The Nets’ Notorious BIG-inspired threads look really cool as well. I’m also partial to Utah’s Red Rocks jerseys and New Orleans’s Mardi Gras theme.

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Notice the pattern?

All of the best City Edition jerseys this year make the biggest impact with the team’s local fanbase. They would only work for the team in the city they’re in. 

Take note as you prepare your rundown each day. There is nothing wrong with a host in Miami talking about the Rams and Bears on Monday morning. It was the most watched game of any sort this weekend.

What will have a bigger impact on that host’s listeners though is talking about the game between the Heat and Lakers on Monday night. It will be the last time D-Wade and LeBron share a court in the NBA, as Wade has announced this season is his “last dance.”

Think of the local angles he or she could take here. These guys brought a pair of championships and four trips to the NBA Finals to the city together. What are fans’ memories of that run? How did those four years together compare to the host’s expectations the day of that pep rally the Heat held to introduce the Big 3 for the first time in 2010?

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Surely you’ve heard the phrase “play the hits.” It’s the mantra of nearly every music format. Translated to sports talk it means you devote the most time to the biggest stories. I am never going to tell you that is wrong, but in sports radio, there is a specific way you go about deciding what the hits are.

What will ignite the most passion?

If you’re a host that relies on phone calls, texts, and tweets, you need to be looking for the topics that will drive the most listener interaction. If you’re a multi-person show that stays insulated, you should gravitate towards topics that trigger memories and strong opinions from every voice on the show. 

How do you do that? By finding the stories that the largest segment of your audience have the strongest connection to. More often than not, those stories will be the ones involving local teams and athletes.

Wrapping your station and your show in a local identity doesn’t mean ignoring major national stories. When Urban Meyer retires at age 54, that is something any market with any level of college football enthusiasm should pay attention to, but just because it is SportsCenter’s A-block that day, it doesn’t mean that story jumps ahead of talk about Ron Rivera’s job security on Charlotte sports stations.

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If we learn anything from the NBA’s City Edition jerseys, let it be this. It is tempting to follow a trend you see everywhere. That’s why the Pacers, 76ers, and Grizzlies have essentially the same “special” gray jersey. Look across the internet at articles reacting to these jerseys. The reaction to the gray ones are exactly the same. “These are boring and generic. There is nothing special about them.”

Now look at the reaction to something like the Warriors’ tribute to the most famous Chinatown in America or the Thunder’s jersey, which is perfect for a team in the state with the highest Native American population per capita in America. 

Those jerseys look good, but that is not why the positive reactions to them are so strong. It is because they so perfectly capture a design and a feeling that is only appropriate for a team from those cities. Let that be the goal for your show.

Pick the topics and put together the segments that give you the best chance to create memorable content. Anything that elicits emotion and reaction fits that bill. There are appropriate times to focus on national stories in local radio, but it’s hard to lose when you set your sites not on being the perfect show, but on being the perfect show for your market. 

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BSM Writers

Bruce Gilbert Sees Power in Numbers at the BSM Summit

“There is a feeling of comfort in knowing that you’re not on this road by yourself and that others are trying to accomplish the same thing you’re trying to accomplish.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Bruce Gilbert of Westwood One

The name Bruce Gilbert carries weight in the sports radio world. Great programmers and marquee talent alike credit him with molding their careers. Lucky for attendees of the BSM Summit, Jason Barrett is one of those people and Bruce is a regular at the event every year.

Maybe you heard them directly from Bruce. Maybe they have been relayed to you via any number of retellings or presentations. However you became aware of them, if you work in sports radio, you know Bruce Gilbert’s list of deadly sins. They are rules he developed during his time at ESPN for ensuring both the host and the listener got the most out of every segment.

At last year’s BSM Summit, Gilbert revisited and revised some of those rules. It ran a little long, because how could it not? A contemporary reframing of one of sports radio’s best known how-to manuals is the kind of thing people go to the BSM Summit to hear.

“It was fun to share those common traits of success, the ‘ass-kicking attributes,’ as we called them,” Gilbert says with his trademark modesty. “You know, every business has its best practices, and it was really fun for me to be able to collate those and aggregate all those together and present what you hope, if you do a long enough list, is 1 or 2 that actually can help somebody be a little more effective in their abilities moving forward. That, to me, is what it’s all about. So that’s why I just keep making the list longer and longer. Hopefully at least one of them will be good.”

For Gilbert, the BSM Summit was the ideal place for presenting the next chapter of something so engrained in the way talent and programmers think. The event is something he says sports media needs, particularly as audiences change and new mediums spring up.

“There is a feeling of comfort in knowing that you’re not on this road by yourself and that others are trying to accomplish the same thing you’re trying to accomplish,” he says. “Others are running into similar speed bumps that they need to understand and work through. So, there is this power in gathering that comes out of Jason’s conference that I find to be motivating and reassuring in many ways. There’s strength in numbers and there’s power in information and there’s an unbelievable benefit to sharing it.” 

If he wanted to, Gilbert knows he could be a little more guarded. He could be a little more stingy with his expertise. He works for Cumulus and Westwood One. People from his company will be in the room, but so will people from Audacy, ESPN Radio, iHeartMedia, and more. 

Gilbert echoes one of his most successful protégés, ESPN Radio’s Justin Craig, with how he views the state of the radio industry right now. If something is working, there isn’t much value in keeping the secret sauce a secret.

“I think we’re kidding ourselves if we put ourselves in this really small bubble with Cumulus and iHeart and Audacy and Townsquare and name all the other radio ownership groups, because we’re not just competing with those people at all. We’re competing with every digital property that does sports across the globe. To think we only compete with other radio stations is myopic and I think ignorant. And nothing makes competition better than talent and success. And it doesn’t matter if it’s coming on a radio or on any platform available for fans to consume. We need to learn from that because it’s what makes us all better.”

There are all kinds of things Bruce Gilbert wants to hear about when he goes to New York in March. It’s not just about how to compete with digital platforms for ever-shrinking ad dollars. 

He’ll want to know how radio can make the most of its own digital platforms. What trends are talent seeing from management that have shaped their opinions, both positive and negative, about the state of the business? Does social media bring the value to brands and individuals that it did a decade ago?

Some of those thoughts and insights will be shared by his old friends and people whose careers he has touched in some way. Some of it though will come from voices he hasn’t heard from before. That is what Bruce Gilbert comes to the Summit for.

“I usually find myself being most blown away by somebody I’ve never met before. I go into their session or I listen to their words with an open mind,” he says.

Modesty may be the name of Gilbert’s game, but he knows there will be plenty of people that want to bend his ear at the BSM Summit. He’s a good friend to have and all of the hosts, producers and programmers with upward aspirations know that. 

His advice for them is to come say hello, but don’t stop at “hello” and don’t stop after meeting him.

“Talk to everybody, meet everyone. Get phone numbers, get emails. That’s what this is all about, because relationships still matter tremendously,” he says. 

“The opportunity to learn from as many people as possible is valuable because what we do is quite subjective. What one person tells you you have to do someone else will tell you ‘you shouldn’t do that.’ In the end, you’re going to learn to form your own views, and you’re going to learn to find your own path. That’s where success comes from. It comes from listening to a lot of different voices, taking in all that information, but then still being true to yourself and formulating that information in a way that you’re comfortable with for your brand and for what you’re trying to achieve.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Kugler

“I wouldn’t trade the journey for anyone else’s path, but I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy!”

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Kevin Kugler, Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Everywhere a sports fan turns these days, you’re bound to see or hear Kevin Kugler on the call. The versatile broadcaster is knee deep into the college basketball season, which will culminate with him calling the National Championship Game on Westwood One. He’s come a long way from his days as a co-host on 1620 “The Zone” in Nebraska.

Kugler holds a number of high-profile jobs these days, not just with Westwood One where he also calls Sunday Night Football. Kugler calls basketball and football on the Big Ten Network and is a regular voice of the NFL on Fox. It’s a demanding schedule at times, but Kugler manages to handle it just fine.

“This time of year, isn’t really as crazy as the crossover season when I’ve got both football and basketball on my schedule.” Kugler told me.  “There’s a lot of hoops games to call, but when I’m not juggling football and basketball, it’s certainly a little more manageable.”

Kugler has certainly made a name for himself and become one of the best in the business.

Road to Today

Kugler’s career began at 1620, “The Zone” in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I was there for nearly 12 years.  We started the afternoon drive show “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” in September of 2000 and I left the station in July of 2012.” Kugler says.

From that job, he got to do some play-by-play at the College Baseball World Series, which is based in Omaha. It led to him being “discovered” if you will, on the national stage.

“So, the Westwood One opportunity came from the CWS.  Our station, 1620 The Zone, acquired the rights to produce the preliminary games.” Kugler explained. “As part of the deal, Westwood One agreed to use a 1620 The Zone person on the sidelines.  Thanks to my terrific boss, Neil Nelkin, that person was me.”  

That particular assignment helped beyond Kugler’s wildest expectations.

“As it turned out, Howard Deneroff (now the EVP, Executive Producer at WWO) was the producer of those games.” he told me. “So, I met him (Deneroff) through that.  Every year, he asked me to send him my tape.  I was doing Division II football and basketball for the University of Nebraska-Omaha at the time.  Sent him tapes each year after the CWS.” Kugler remembered. 

“Then, prior to the CWS in 2006, he asked to hear stuff again.  Then asked for more stuff.  By this point, I’m digging into some of the clunkiest cassette tapes that I had, but that didn’t seem to faze him.  He called in the summer of 2006, after the CWS, and offered me the chance to do college football and basketball for the network starting that fall.  It was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received!”

That is an understatement.

National Work, Big Ten, Westwood One, Fox

The Westwood One gig started to open doors for Kugler. But, one that previously opened to allow his success, closed.

“I only do the Championship series (of the CWS) these days for Westwood One.  My good friend John Bishop handles the preliminary games and does a tremendous job.” Kugler told me. “I had the opportunity a few years back to expand my role with Fox and do some MLB and spring football coverage, so I had to give those games up.” 

Kugler is happy to still be a part of the festivities, because that tournament means a lot to him. “The CWS is Omaha’s calling card!” Kugler proudly proclaimed.  “And as someone who still calls Omaha home, it’s always an amazing thrill to walk into the booth at the CWS.  I hope I get the chance to remain involved in that in some way for years to come.”

He now has three national jobs. At WWO, he’s been the voice of the Final Four and Championship Game since 2008. For a time Kugler was the voice of Sunday Night Football on the radio, but had to give that up for a bigger role too. More on that in a second.

In 2011, Kugler added the Big Ten Network to his portfolio, calling college football and basketball, among other sports. Since BTN was owned by Fox, Kugler also called some national games in both sports as well.

Kugler is also a play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports’ NFL broadcasts. He assumed that role in 2020. In addition to the NFL, he calls select college basketball and MLB telecasts.

What Makes Him Good?

Full disclosure, Kugler is one of my favorite people in the industry. I worked with him for a brief time at BTN doing baseball and softball broadcasts.

That being said, in all objectivity, he’s one of the best around right now for a number of reasons.

First off, he’s developed into one of the more versatile broadcasters in the industry. In a given week, he could be calling the NFL, College Football and College Basketball. That’s not as easy as it might sound. I mean how do you prep for a week like that?

“I’ve always been kind of a prep junkie.  I enjoy telling stories, and getting lost down those ridiculous little rabbit holes where you start following a thread and a half hour later, you realize you finally found what you were looking for.” Kugler says.  “To balance that with limited time takes a certain amount of discipline…I can’t chase those as much as I’d like sometimes, but I make sure I work ahead as much as I can, and I’m always grateful for a repeat team here and there!”

Yeah, I’ll bet.

But the amount of prep he does comes shining through in his broadcasts. There’s an ease about him that is a very comfortable listen. By that I don’t mean generic or vanilla. Kugler easily raises his energy to match the action and dials it down when needed as well. He creates anticipation in his voice in the way he builds up to the moment. I find this especially true when he’s calling basketball on the radio. The ability to use his voice to generate that hope for a listener is only something the best of the best can do. 

The more he’s able to call games on the biggest stage, the more Kugler is able to earn that “you know it’s a big game when you hear him” badge. Young broadcasters tend to get too hyped for a championship type game, but Kugler has mastered his pacing, bringing the moment to his viewers and listeners in a manner that is just right.

There is a humbleness about Kugler as well. When I asked him, “what was the ‘ride’ like early in your career to get to this point?” 

“My journey is probably no different than how it starts for so many of us in the business.  I went to a small market, called high school sports, made a ton of mistakes, and tried to find my voice.  I’ve been fortunate to have some terrific advice and opportunities along the way to where I am today.” Kugler said.  “I’ve struggled to make it as a freelance broadcaster.  I wrestled with the idea that it wasn’t going to happen for me, and what in the world would I do for a living if it didn’t?  (I have no real discernable skills beyond talking).”

As for his successes? “I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a path to doing play-by-play now at the highest level, whether it be the NFL for FOX Sports and Westwood One, college basketball for Fox, BTN and Westwood, the Final Four, etc.  I wouldn’t trade the journey for anyone else’s path, but I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy!” He said. “Ian Eagle told me one time that the more people that can take credit for your career, the better your career has gone.  I feel like a lot of people have played a role in this and I hope that they are happy that they were able to push me forward each step along the road.”

Did You Know?

Kugler hosted the Masters golf tournament for Westwood One in 2009 and 2010. He filed radio reports for the network from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Kugler has been accused, as have most broadcasters that do national games, of hating YOUR team. He’s steering into the skid, so to speak, by putting that in his “X” bio. It’s legendary enough that there has been a parody account created, @KuglerH8sUrTeam.

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Peter King Realized Attention Spans are Getting Shorter

The point is this; we in the media have a very limited time to reach an audience, we must make the most of it.

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Peter King

Peter King, I’m afraid, is among the last of a dying breed. For more than four decades King has been a trusted voice of all things NFL. His most recent effort, the Monday Morning Quarterback, was a must read for any NFL fan. Except, I never read all of it. That’s because my already short attention span has been shortened even more by the media world that is around me.

To be fair to King, I never had a long attention span before. This has nothing to do with his writing, it is superb. I also loved the way the MMQB was broken into segments, it helped me know where I could end my skimming and resume my reading. As I write this, I really hope Peter King isn’t reading it, this reads as a shot at his ability to write things that hold my attention. It isn’t intended as that, it is simply the acknowledgment that the media consumer has changed greatly during the time King has covered the NFL.

If we are to continue reaching younger audiences, we must realize their attention span is rapidly shrinking. In fact, the average attention span of a human is now less than a goldfish. That is not hyperbole, it has actually been tested. I am not certain how one calculates the attention span of a goldfish, I am sure there are articles written about it and I am equally sure I wouldn’t make it to the end of those articles.

Even more alarming is that studies have shown that the average adult attention span has decreased by more than 30% since the year 2000. The most alarming part is that study was conducted in 2015. We’ve had eight full years since that study was completed, at the rate shown in the study, we have lost almost half the adult attention span since the turn of the century.

I can go on and on; the average online video view is less than three minutes, the average website visit is less than a minute. While on webpages, readers consume less than 30% of the information contained in the page. The average radio listener consumes just over an hour per day but that doesn’t mean it is all on the same station. The average podcast listener gives you between 25-30 minutes in listening time.

The point is this; we in the media have a very limited time to reach an audience, we must make the most of it. Hosts can’t afford to throw away segments, writers can’t afford to “mail in” an article, commercial producers must get to the call to action quickly. Our society just isn’t paying close attention anymore. I applaud those of you who have fought through this to read the first 450 words of this column, I’m sure it has been life changing.

I fight this battle all the time. I am constantly skipping songs.  I’ll give a TikTok creator roughly five seconds to hook me. The first thing I do after starting any video is tap the screen to see how far along I am in the status bar. As someone who makes a living, and is part owner of a company that makes money off hooking and keeping an audience, this trend is more than alarming.

I am sure there are long form writers that will try to replace Peter King. Heck, he even suggested four of them (I read that part). I just don’t know that they will be able to build a long-term audience in that space. We all have a shelf life and I think that style of journalism is on life support. What will replace it for some is a podcast, for some it will be a video, for some a simple social media post will do. It is who we’ve become.

I’m sure there was a day when people bemoaned the decreased need for the guy that used to just shout out the news in the town square. He had an important job for a long time but that fancy new printing press put him under. You know why? It took less time to read it in the paper. Attention spans are shorter and options have never been greater. It is a recipe for disaster if you don’t embrace the fact that you have to change to appeal to them, they aren’t changing back for you.

By the way, well done Peter King. There should be some sort of spot for him in Canton. He’s been as much a voice of the NFL as anyone for quite a while. Whatever time I spent reading his work, or even skimming through it, was never time spent in vain. And that is not just something I think I think…if you know, you know.

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