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CBS Sports Radio Wants Taz To Be Taz

“All Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.”

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Nineteen years ago, the wrestler known as Taz made a decision that would change the life of the man named Peter Senercia. If you didn’t know, Taz and Peter are the same guy. Also, if you didn’t know, the change had nothing to do with wrestling.

Taz was already a star during his run in Extreme Championship Wrestling. His defection to the WWF (remember, this was pre-rebrand) was big news in the industry, and the way the WWF chose to introduce him to their fans was even bigger news. 

He was the mystery opponent that would face Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2000. It was a perfect introduction. Taz made Angle submit, and ended the former Olympian’s undefeated streak at Madison Square Garden.

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So how did he go from that life to one that has him waking up well before dawn every morning to talk about Carson Wentz’s health or whether or not Anthony Davis will join LeBron in Laker Land? 

His journey to a nationally syndicated sports radio show began, naturally, in the professional wrestling world. Long before he and Marc Malusis were handling morning duties for CBS Sports Radio, Vince McMahon was tricking Taz into auditioning for a role at the broadcast table on Smackdown.

“I got a couple of injuries. I tore my bicep and I had this recurring neck injury,” Taz told me as we sat in an empty office at CBS Sports Radio’s Manhattan headquarters in September. 

It was the middle of 2001. The writers had put him in a feud with Smackdown color commentator Jerry “the King” Lawler. Vince had an idea to have Taz show how little he respected Lawler by doing his job for one match.

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“They wanted me to sit in for the opening match as a color commentator, mocking him and working with Michael Cole. Just one match, then Jerry was supposed to attack me from behind and take back his seat,” Taz said. 

“I was like ‘Cool. Yeah. No problem.’ And then I did the match and then I sat there. I was waiting for someone in my headset to tell me to leave, because Jerry Lawler never attacked me.”

Taz wasn’t the only one that was confused. As match after match started and ended he sat at the table with play-by-play man Michael Cole. 

“I didn’t get it. I looked at Michael Cole and he was like ‘I don’t know, man.'” You can sense some frustration in his voice as he tells the story. “Guys come out, they wrestle, and I’m like ‘What’s going on here? Why am I just calling all these matches?'”. 

Jerry Lawler eventually did attack him from behind, it just took longer than Taz was told it would. “I forgot he was coming. I mean, like, it really hurt.”

When he got back to the locker room, Vince McMahon told Taz that he liked the way Taz sounded. The only response Taz could come up with was “What do you mean?”

That is when Vince explained his vision for the next phase of Taz’s career. Injuries were mounting for him. Usually, wrestlers in that situation get released. They either retire or head back to the independent circuit working for a fraction of a fraction of what they got in the WWF. But that wasn’t what Vince wanted for Taz.

The travel schedule was taking its toll on Lawler, who was handling analyst duties on both Smackdown and Monday Night Raw. The WWF needed someone to take over those duties on Smackdown, and Taz made his home in the suburbs of New York City. It would be no problem at all for him to make the hour trip to the company’s Stamford, Connecticut headquarters to receive the training necessary to turn him into a star.

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Taz would hold various broadcasting roles for the company until 2009. That didn’t mean he was entirely done in the ring. He would win a tag team championship in 2002, and when his time at the WWE was over, he would join the TNA Wrestling brand. 

But something else happened while he was calling matches for the WWE that got us from there to here with Taz’s career.

Michael Cole, who had spent time working for CBS Radio as a reporter before finding his way to professional wrestling, had a connection at a radio station in Houston. This connection called Michael and said that Smackdown would be taping an episode at the Toyota Center while his morning show was on vacation for the holidays. Did Michael and Taz want to fill in on the show?

Cole pitched Taz on the idea. In his mind, it made total sense. The WWE was going to pay for their flight no matter when they got to Houston. Why not go a day or two early and have some fun on the radio?

Taz didn’t see it that way. “I didn’t want to do it, and he’s like ‘Taz, just do it. Come on. It’ll be fun.’ I said ‘Radio’s hard dude! I’m a TV guy and radio is very hard!’ I knew that much.”

Cole eventually won him over. They did the shows, and Taz was hooked. It wouldn’t be the last shows the duo would do together on radio either. They would go on to host a week of shows on Howard Stern’s Sirius channel and then periodically on New York’s Free FM.

Image result for michael cole tazz

Taz says the fact that radio was so hard is why it appealed to him and made him want to be on the air more. Michael Cole told me in an email that it wasn’t as hard for Taz as Taz thinks.

“Taz is a natural broadcaster. He has a very unique take on a wide variety of subjects and really connects with the audience.”

Mark Chernoff must have seen that natural talent too. The Format Captain for sports radio at Entercom isn’t putting just anyone in morning drive on any of his stations, let alone on the company’s nationally syndicated network. 

When I asked him if he could see skills from Taz’s WWE days translating into his radio career Chernoff said, “Well, he’s an entertainer and if you don’t know how to entertain then being in the media and being on a daily radio show probably isn’t for you.

“You can’t teach entertainment. You know, people can pick up knowledge as they go, but personality and entertainment? Either you have it or you don’t. He’s got it. If you just talk to him off the air, he’s entertaining. He’s got a big personality.”

That big personality is key to what Taz and Marc Malusis do every morning on CBS Sports Radio, because all Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.

Image result for taz and moose

See, Taz may not make a living in the ring anymore, but he is still wrapped up in the business. He’s never given up The Taz Show, his thrice-weekly podcast where he gives opinions and responds to listeners’ opinions on the most recent developments in professional wrestling. 

If you’ve ever looked at ESPN or Fox and noticed how much their websites devote to WWE coverage or how often WWE Superstars show up on those networks, you have seen the reach of Taz’s influence. Radio.com, which hosts The Taz Show, was the first outlet that wasn’t wrestling-specific to offer real time reaction to some of the sport’s biggest events. That turned into the show streaming live on Radio.com everyday.

“I’ve been at every agent meeting and every production meeting in my history with ECW, the WWE, and TNA. I’ve sat with Hulk Hogan and in conference rooms with Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo and Vince McMahon and on and on and on,” Taz says as if he needs to sell me that he knows what he is talking about.

When I ask what it is about his show though that created an opportunity for him that didn’t materialize for other popular wrestlers-turned-podcasters like Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Jim Ross, his answer comes quick and is unwavering.

“Not only were we taking listener phone calls, but I was proud that (The Taz Show) wasn’t guest driven. It was topic driven. Those two things are very different, as you know.”

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In that way, The Taz Show is structured way more like a sports radio show than any of iTunes’ other most popular wrestling podcasts. It also forced Taz to drive the bus and learn how to develop topics and opinions instead of being a good listener and reacting to someone else’s story.

Still though, a lot of what Taz & The Moose is is uncharted water for the pro wrestling icon. For one, he will admit that he is still learning to be a fan of everything. That’s not easy to do when you grew up a New York sports fan and are doing sports radio in New York City.

When I ask Taz how often he has to remind himself that the show can’t just be about the Yankees and Red Sox or what the Giants should do with Eli Manning in the offseason, he laughs. “Almost everyday,” he says. “And our bosses remind us.”

Chernoff says Taz doesn’t give himself enough credit. He thinks Taz focuses so much on what he isn’t supposed to do that he forgets how much he is doing right.

“Some of our meetings it’s just ‘remember that you’re doing a national sports show,’ and I give (Taz and Marc) lists of where they’re on. You have to remember where you’re on in national radio, and when you’re on. On the West Coast, stations that are taking the show live are airing it in overnight.”

Chernoff, who in addition to running CBS Sports Radio has run WFAN in New York since 1993, is very familiar with analyzing audiences and topics. He told me that what he wants Taz to remember is that it is okay to do local radio for the affiliates.

“On WXYT in Detroit or WJZ in Baltimore, if there’s things going on there, those are pretty big cities! Even in some of the smaller markets. You know, they’re on in a lot of Ohio. Ohio State football and all that is going on with Urban Meyer might be a local story for that audience, but there is huge national interest.”

Taz will always be able to connect with an audience regardless of what he is talking about. So what if he has to remind himself that maybe a listener in Kansas City might not care about how Manny Machado would fit in the Yankees’ lineup?

That listener probably isn’t counting on Taz to deliver a nuanced take on what Dedric Lawson allows Kansas’s offense to do when he is on the floor. They are coming to Taz to entertain them, because for so many guys in America, that is what Taz has been doing for nearly 20 years (25 if you’re an old school ECW fan).

Sitting across from him it is easy to see how he connects with people. We spent the better part of an hour together and I walked away feeling like we were buddies. Why? Because he tells great stories, has a big, infectious laugh, and just exudes charm.

I never asked Taz if he would give up his radio success to be able to get back in the ring and compete at the highest level of pro wrestling night-in-and-night-out again. I didn’t have to. It’s clear Taz is where he thinks he is supposed to be.

“There’s nothing like radio, and I am proud to say I’m a radio guy. I’ve become a radio guy, and that didn’t happen overnight. I feel like my career has evolved over the years. I’m blessed, and I am happy about that. 

“I can tell you it is my dream job, doing daily radio. It’s tough, and yeah, it is a grind. There are some days you don’t want to go on air, but once the mic goes on, you gotta bring the energy to get people awake. You gotta have fun.”

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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