For over 20 years Cumulus Media’s WJOX has served the Birmingham market with its favorite drug: SEC football. The past few years have seen changes externally and internally, but those changes have not caused Alabama’s top sports station to waiver. JOX continuously makes the moves to provide their audience with the content they crave, with a variety of options to keep JOX content in the ears of its audience.
“It’s about a lifestyle. It’s about the college football lifestyle, most notably the SEC,” said Ryan Haney, the operations manager and program director at WJOX in Birmingham, Alabama. “Alabama and Auburn, that’s what fuels us.”
The Alabama market may be perceived as limited to strictly Alabama and Auburn football, but JOX gives its listeners a buffet of sports content to enjoy. The station provides central Alabama with three stations that combine to broadcast 600-700 games a year across a plethora of sports and competition levels, from local high school games to pro ball. Each station presents different takes with different partnerships.
The idea behind JOX is similar to ESPN, Haney said, “Give everybody everything under the JOX umbrella so they won’t go other places.”
JOX 94.5 is the flagship station broadcasting live and local with the premiere shows: JOX Roundtable, 3 Man Front, The Paul Finebaum Show, and JOX Primetime, a live evening show, something that is rare for a market the size of Birmingham. JOX 2 on 100.5 serves Birmingham and Tuscaloosa with JOX content along with ESPN Radio content such as “The Stephen A. Smith Show” and “The Dan Le Batard Show.” JOX 3 690 AM hosts Fox Sports and “The Jim Rome Show,” among others. Between the three Stations, JOX holds rights affiliations with the likes of ESPN, the Tennessee Titans, the Atlanta Falcons and Braves, UAB and many others.
That is a lot of content. But it’s the passion of the fanbases, for better or worse, that drive the market.
Haney says while listeners want their teams to be successful, there is payoff in adversity, citing coach firings, athlete controversies and unexpected losses, such as the one Alabama suffered to Clemson in the national championship, as some of the most listened days.
“Coaching changes and championship losses fire people up more than anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Radio has fought off new media stepping on its turf for over a century, and sports radio has been no different. As impressive as radio’s longevity is, it is not always the battle with the many media outlets that define radio’s victories, but rather how they intertwine and work together.
“It’s different, you know?” Haney said. “The radio industry, when I first got in it, was you did radio, I mean, it was on the dial. That’s what you did. And then came this thing called the internet stream and then this thing called the mobile app, and then it was podcasting.”
An overwhelming variety of new media choices for audiences could have bred fear for radio stations, but embracing new media has been a strength of JOX so far.
“You have to leverage relationships in this business to help each other because at the end of the day, while you’re all fighting for the same consumer, there are strategic ways you can help each other,” Haney said.
Social media plays a big role as well, where talent can show a more human side of themselves to resonate with the audience. Haney said branding is everything, and the way you brand yourself off air is just as important as on.
Those risks don’t just involve working with new media, but new people as well.
Early 2018 brought about a huge change when JOX’s well-established morning show The Opening Drive was replaced by 3 Man Front.
“Change is difficult on everybody. It’s difficult on the listeners, the staff and especially the people that lose employment,” Haney said. “By nature people don’t like change, but like anything, once the decision is made and you’re moving forward, you have a plan and you work that plan every single day.”
3-Man Front is Cole Cubelic, Aaron Suttles and Landrum Roberts. The show airs weekdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CST. Haney elevated his previous mid-day show, The JOX Roundtable, to morning drive after The Opening Drive’s exit.
“It’s raw,” Haney said of his newest show. “You hear those guys, they’re going to tell you what they think, and you may not always agree with it, and it may come off abrasive, but that’s not the intent. But, they’re being real. It goes back to being authentic.”
Roberts worked for JOX early in his career, producing and co-hosting a handful of shows, and after a lengthy break from radio, found himself on one of JOX’s premiere lineups.
Suttles brings a decade’s worth of award-winning journalistic experience. He is also a beat reporter for The Athletic covering Bama football.
Cole Cubelic is the flash hire of the group, having a working relationship with JOX for over a decade while building an impressive run with ESPN that began in 2011. The former Auburn offensive lineman has built a reputation for his honest, straight-forward style.
“In my opinion, Cole is one of the brightest stars at ESPN, and with Cole, what you see is what you get,” Haney said. “I know the guy personally and he’s very kind and reasonable. He’s passionate about what he does.”
The Opening Drive, hosted by Jay Barker, Al Del Greco and Tony Kurre, was a flagship show for JOX. The show’s cancellation shook up the station’s schedule and surprised many listeners.
“Those guys are personal friends of mine that had a tremendous run and they’re as responsible for the success of this radio station right now as anybody,” Haney said.
While 3 Man Front is one of the station’s three local offerings, JOX looks to Paul Finebaum for regional coverage of the SEC. JOX views Finebaum as family despite his show being broadcast from Charlotte, North Carolina. Paul has made an appearance on Mondays regularly for The JOX Roundtable, and The Opening Drive before that for close to a decade, and has shown his faithfulness to JOX while remaining an ESPN employee.
“He’s somebody that, despite where he is now, he still remembers where he’s from and what got him there,” Haney said. “I think what’s really important is that he understands how important he is in the Birmingham market.”
Call-in shows, like Finebaum’s, are a staple in the sports radio business. Haney compares Paul’s show to one of America’s most famous bands.
“Paul is Bruce Springsteen and his callers are the E Street Band, meaning Springsteen could do it on his own, but if you ever saw Springsteen and the E Street Band perform, you see that there’s a lot of really good players involved and Bruce will let his players each have a turn at the spotlight. Well, that’s kind of how Paul does his show,” Haney said.
But in the busy culture of today, and with podcasting on the rise, many consumers miss out on live radio, or simply choose to download their entertainment for their convenience. Rather than fight the idea of a podcast-radio partnership, JOX has embraced the growing medium, using podcasts for a multitude of purposes.
JOX’s main use of podcasts is taking the best segments to create a daily recap that lasts anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, aptly naming this category of content JOX Extra. The idea being, if you miss a show, when you listen back, you get the best content all in one sitting. Haney said it is not realistic to expect listeners to sit and listen to a four hour show after they’ve missed it live.
Haney said JOX Extra is a platform for hosts and producers to flex their muscles with more niche content. “It gives people a chance to talk about stuff they’re passionate about outside of what they just have to talk about,” he said.
From golf to pro wrestling to movie reviews, the audience is there to consume these popular topics that are not necessarily strong enough to combat the lifestyle of SEC football in central Alabama.
“Podcasting gives a great avenue to be authentic. We should be authentic on the air because authenticity creates loyalty, creates equity, with our listeners,” Haney said.
Sports radio is on the upswing and stations like JOX are a big reason why, providing quality content to an important southeastern market. Haney said he sees great things on the horizon as long as JOX sticks to its gameplan.
“If we bring in the right attitude, a game plan where you don’t play scared, you come in everyday and you work to get better,” he said. “You take calculated risks and if they don’t work you change them. That’s how you win.”
As for the future of the sports radio, Haney said the industry could go in a number of different directions, but will only continue its success if it stays flexible and keeps the audience in mind.
“The media landscape will keep changing. It changes daily,” he said. ‘But, if we super-serve our audience with what they want: Alabama, Auburn, the SEC and more, control what we can control, embrace new media, learn from our mistakes and work at them … everything will be fine.”
Boomer & Gio Break Down Fight Between Tiki Barber & Joe Benigno
“Here’s Tiki, 0% body fat, all-time leading rusher for one of the great franchises in history, has run marathons in like seven different countries, and he’s got to deal with this wacko on Zoom.”
Even if WFAN is in the news for something a little less than flattering, the station does not run from it. That was evident on Tuesday morning as Boomer & Gio broke down the argument between Tiki Barber and Joe Benigno on Evan & Tiki from Monday afternoon.
Gregg Giannotti found it tremendously entertaining. Boomer Esiason says he had not seen the video, but had read about the argument.
“I was laughing,” Esiason said. “Then, of course, I started to think that, you know, you have, you know, obviously passionate fan. in Joe, who is just going to be screaming and yelling, and you have Tiki, who’s a very reserved, smart bright that is not going to want to put up with the frickin nonsense.”
Both hosts agreed that Tiki Barber and Joe Benign will not let this ruin their relationship. Giannotti said that there is no denying that Barber took Benigno questioning his work personally. He very clearly pointed to the screen Benigno appeared on and said “that’s bullshit.”
Giannotti added that the visual is even better than the audio.
“Joe, who I believe just turned 70, is wearing a jet sweatshirt, a Jets hat. He’s got a Joe Namath Jersey thumbtacked to the wall behind him, and he is screaming at Tiki Barber’s credibility in breaking down Zach Wilson,” Giannotti said. “Here’s Tiki, 0% body fat, all-time leading rusher for one of the great franchises in history, has run marathons in like seven different countries, and he’s got to deal with this wacko on Zoom.”
“Well, welcome to talk radio,” Esiason joked.
Greg Hill: Courtney Cox Controlled ‘Narrative of the Entire World Yesterday’
“You can’t get as wholesome and as basic and as, you know, cookie cutter as they come than Taylor Swift, and if she’s a fan of the NFL, then it is okay for anybody to be a fan of the NFL.”
One woman has proven that she knows how to get Bill Belichick talking and willing to have fun with the media. Media outlets of all types ran with the Patriots’ coach’s reaction to seeing Taylor Swift in concert last month with WEEI’s Courtney Cox asked him about it. Those same media outlets pounced again this week when Cox asked Belichick about his thoughts on Swift being romantically linked to Travis Kelce after she showed up in a luxury suite with Kelce’s mother in Kansas City on Sunday.
“Well, I would say that Travis Kelce has had a lot of big catches in his career. This would be the biggest,” Belichick quipped during his regular appearance on The Greg Hill Show Monday morning.
Hill opened his Tuesday show by acknowledging Cox once again using Swift to get attention for the show.
“Congratulations on directing the narrative of the entire world yesterday with your question for Bill,” he said.
The show debated if Kelce and Swift were really an item or if this was a publicity stunt. Cox said it doesn’t matter if it is real or not. The NFL is embracing it for a reason.
“Travis Kelce ended up being one of the top five selling NFL players’ jerseys on Sunday after the game. His jersey sales spiked 400%. That is the Taylor Swift effect,” she said. “Whether you like her or you don’t. That’s why the NFL is running with this. That’s why everybody’s talking about it.”
She added that the NFL has changed it handles on multiple social media platforms as well to take advantage of the moment. The league’s bio on its TikTok account reads “Taylor was here” while its name on X (formerly Twitter) is now The NFL – Taylor’s Version,” a reference to Swift’s album re-releases on Spotify.
Greg Hill believes the relationship is not real, or at least that it is not really romantic. Co-host Jermaine Wiggins said that there is too much upside for the NFL to completely dismiss the idea that this is not a set up.
“You can’t get as wholesome and as basic and as, you know, cookie-cutter as they come than Taylor Swift, and if she’s a fan of the NFL, then it is okay for anybody to be a fan of the NFL.”
SiriusXM Presenting Broadcast Coverage of 2023 Ryder Cup
“Our listeners will get comprehensive access to the tournament…”
SiriusXM will be the radio home of the Ryder Cup, delivering consumers more than 28 hours of live coverage from the bi-annual international golf competition from Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Guidonia just outside of Rome, Italy. The tournament will showcase various teams of skilled golfers from the United States and Europe that will face off with one another in match play, including head-to-head singles matches and four-ball matches over the three days.
Coverage begins on Friday, Sept. 29 at 1 a.m. EST/10 p.m. PST (Thursday, Sept. 28) and will continue through the final hole of play. The same structure will take place the next day and feature commentators Mark Carnevale, Brian Katrek, Colt Knost, John Maginnes, Drew Stoltz and Taylor Zarzour. The official Ryder Cup Radio channel, which is produced in partnership with IMG and Ryder Cup Europe, will include a score of additional voices such as Alberto Binaghi, Raymond Burns and Sophie Walker. All of the broadcasts will be available to consume on SiriusXM channel No. 92 and on the SiriusXM app.
“The Ryder Cup is one of the most exciting events in all of sports,” Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM, said in a statement. “Our listeners will get comprehensive access to the tournament, with live coverage of every match and a level of insight and analysis leading up to and throughout the event that you’ll only get from SiriusXM.”
As the competition approaches, listeners can tune into SiriusXM for golf programming previewing the festivities. Moreover, listeners can tune in for a special, Backstory: Ryder Cup, hosted by David Marr III that examines Europe’s success in the competitions played on their own continent. Marr III will decipher the phenomenon through the lens of the 1993 Ryder Cup in England, the last time the competition was won by the United States overseas, led by Jim Gallagher’s win over Seve Ballesteros.
Two special collaborative podcast episodes hosted by former American tour pro Smylie Kaufman and European Tour pro Andrew “Beef” Johnston will debut on Tuesday, Sept. 26 and Wednesday, Sept. 27. Both golfers currently host their own podcasts – The Smylie Show and Beef’s Golf Club, respectively – and will blend the American and European perspectives on the tournament. Kaufman will record episodes of her show each night in Italy reacting to the day’s events and looking ahead for what is to come.