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Jason Dixon Has Learned To Think Like A Listener

“We’re trained to do radio a certain way because it’s been effective and how we’ve been taught. Step back and let’s make sure.”

Matt Fishman

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Jason Dixon is approaching three years at SiriusXM as the Director of Sports Programming and on Thursday in Northwest DC we sat down to discuss sports radio, working with talent, and his upcoming panel at the BSM Summit: 

Matt Fishman: It has been almost three years at SiriusXM Sports for you, can you talk about your time there and the role you’ve played?

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Jason Dixon: I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew the guy at the top (Steve Cohen) was a smart radio guy. I knew about what the company did. I showed up and said “how can help?” Luckily that’s exactly the freedom they’ve given me during my time there…I’ve really settled into a few roles–sort of a talent coach. We hire a lot of talent that aren’t radio people. While the PDs work with them, I’m the guy that teaches them “Radio 101.”

I’m also a mentor for some of the younger PDs, some of whom don’t know anything but SiriusXM. They haven’t seen the outside or terrestrial world. Developing training programs like I was just in New York for a guest booking workshop. We got all these producers in a room–sometimes we expect producers to learn by osmosis. We get them in a room with not only management types but our Executive Producer of MLB Network Radio and talk through scenarios. Frankly I think it’s something that should be done more. 

Eric Spitz, Vice President of SiriusXM Sports and I are about to go and fly around the country to meet with a big group of our talent and talk to them about radio. I’m also working on the SiriusXM app. We launched a new app and I’m working on trying to make the experience better for our subscribers. 

MF: A guy who raves about you is Chris Childers (Co-host of Full Ride on ESPNU Radio.) Describe where he was when you first started working with him and how he has developed since then.

JD: He was trying to pretend to be a radio guy when we first started. He was trying to mimic or what he heard. The way he thought things were supposed to be. Credit to Chris for soaking it in and taking it and running with it. He was a guy that was never sat down and told “Here’s how you do a radio show.” We taught him some fundamentals and some basics. We tried to take the positive energy and passion he has and channel it for good, not evil. 

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It’s my belief that we have some fundamentals but you gotta see what the talent brings to the table and say “hey, this is a rule we’re supposed to be teaching but it’s not going to work for this talent!”

Chris and I have an honest relationship. I can call him and tell him that something “wasn’t very good.” He busts my chops because we don’t talk as much anymore but I tell him he’s a graduate student now. Chris is the classic example of a guy who understood the work that it takes and was able to listen to the input and apply it and do a great job with it.

MF: The flipside is people coming in from outside of radio–former coaches, players, front office guys–how do you go about coaching them? 

JD: A lot of people think they should sound like what they’ve heard on the radio. I always start out by letting them understand how people consume our product. For example, Greg Norman, the golfer, was as big as they come in his field. He took a one hour meeting with PGA Tour Network PD Jeremy Davis and me. We went through the basic principles and how people listen to radio. I said to him, “I want you to be Greg Norman. I don’t want you to be a radio guy. I want you to do all the things you want to do, but I want you to understand how people listen.”

MF: That ties in with your panel coming up at the BSM Summit in Los Angeles–Inside vs. Outside radio thinking. 

JD: Holy smokes did I get lucky. I could just stand up on stage and introduce this group of guys–they know sports radio (Chris Kinard fro The Fan in DC, Ryan Hatch from Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, Scott Shapiro from Fox Sports Radio, and Justin Craig from ESPN Radio.) That being said–with this group of divas you would not believe their rider (laugh). 

These conferences are great for networking and learning about other sides of the business, but the reality is that you want to take away one or two things. I went to the Worldwide Radio summit and saw this presentation on Inside vs. Outside thinking by Coleman Insights. I saw that and their presentation just resonated with me. We live and breathe radio. We think radio is a very important decision in people’s lives that they make on a daily basis. That’s what the inside thinker is.

The reality is that it’s a split-second decision that doesn’t have much passion behind it. The thinking is just so different. Like promos–we love making a great promo. You know what a promo is to a listener? A commercial, an interruption of the content they want. 

We’re trained to do radio a certain way because it’s been effective and how we’ve been taught. Step back and let’s make sure. Take a scenario like a remote at a car dealership. I would love to see some sort of data of how many people come into the dealership during the show to buy a car? The challenge would be “what does the listener want?” I think that group of smart people that we have on this panel, it would be interesting to pick their brain on scenarios on which they’ve taken that extra step back. From content of shows to imaging to sales stuff and promotions and see how that smart group has reacted. I’m excited!

I’m just trying to make sure there’s no rumble between ESPN and Fox (laugh). And I want there to be plenty of time for questions. Not often do you get a group of programmers like that all together in one place. 

MF: You talked about how people consume radio, how hard is it to get that message to programmers and hosts? 

JD: I have changed the way I aircheck. I don’t listen to a full hour of shows anymore. It’s not how it’s being consumed. I’ll punch it up at a random time and listen for 15 minutes. Your report card is that swath of time that people listened that day.

It goes back to the guest booking workshop we were talking about earlier. The exclamation point at the end was that we’ve explained all the hard work that goes into guest booking and now the interview happens and you’re just going to let that audio disappear into the ether? No–find the good stuff. Find ways to integrate it into the rest of your show. You did all this work to satisfy people who were listening during one little wedge of time. Make something of it. 

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MF: You talked about making that tour around the country to see the talent. Can you discuss the challenge that having hosts all over the country presents?

JD: It’s a double-edged sword. One of the attractive things that we can offer is that you can do the show from your living room. That’s awesome when you’re trying to attract talent. The tough part is that the producers and the program director don’t always get that face time or one to one contact. 

These “talent workshops” as we are calling them–we did the first one two years ago. The benefit was that we got to spend some time talking radio with them, but it also showed them that we cared about them and cared about their growth. It created relationships for me with hosts that I hadn’t interacted with on a regular basis. There’s probably 20 hosts that I have a relationship with now because of that. The beauty of the relationship is that I’m not the program director. I don’t hIre or fire people or decide who gets good or bad shifts. Hosts can now call or text or email me as a sounding board. 

MF: Now that you have been at SiriusXM for nearly three years, can you compare working at SiriusXM with your stops in terrestrial radio.

JD: I’ve loved them all. There’s not a job that I went to that I said, “Boy I’m not sure about this!” Now they didn’t all end well but that’s the nature of our business. The terrestrial radio Program Director job is hard and getting harder by the minute. I mean I never got trained in digital content or how to read digital analytics, but that’s what radio guys are being asked to do. So it’s a difficult job. Plus having Nielsen ratings hanging over your head every week, day, month. 

What I really love about working at SiriusXM is the freedom to do what we think is good radio. If we want to do a one hour special on something, we’re going to do a one hour special. SiriusXM is Netflix. We’ve got something for everybody. If you like Howard, we’ve got plenty of Howard. If you’re a hypochondriac we have a channel for you–Doctor Radio! 

I tell the Program Directors–all you have to worry about is doing the best programming of your particular sport. You’re there for a reason. You make a segment of the 34 million subscribers happy. That part of retraining the brain took me awhile to get there. On a personal level, I’m energized by the young people. It’s very weird that I’m kind of the old man in the office. I definitely have the most gray hair in the office. 

Some of the things that are seen as extravagances or too costly to do in terrestrial radio, SiriusXM doesn’t blink an eye. The Daytona 500, The Super Bowl–nobody does the Super Bowl better than SiriusXM. The World Series, The College Football Playoff. The listeners want to be there. We take them there. I think it sounds big coming out of the speakers. 

MF: How much more room is there to grow at SiriusXM Sports? 

JD: I think it’s endless. The gambling thing, VSIN is way ahead of the curve. You’ll see the in-game part of gambling soon. There will be shows breaking down games from a gambling standpoint as they happen. E-sports we were ahead of the curve on. I don’t know what the Pandora partnership is going to be, but will sports content be created and put on Pandora eventually? It wouldn’t shock me. 

The other advantage we have is the availability of “Pop-up” channels which is kind of the world I live in. We did a week of Super Bowl radio and when the Olympics come along we’ll do a “pop-up” channel for that. 

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MF: Is there something that worries you or keeps you up at night?

JD: I’m not going to say things don’t keep me up at night, but they’re usually things I need to do the next day. I think I always worry about our industry.

I’m a radio guy. I’ve been a radio guy since I was 18 years old. I have a passion for what we do. I’m doing a different kind of radio now. I think as an industry we have to figure out a way to balance the financial part of things between the financial part of things and do what our listeners want and create good content. It’s not right right now. 18 spots an hour. I don’t begrudge them. Doing that and staying in business is better than my radio brothers and sisters being out of a job. There are a lot of people who are very passionate about radio who I feel could be doing a better job without the financial restraints. 

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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