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Mike Yam Doesn’t Like Things To Be Easy

“Bro, I had never even heard of grading on a curve, I walk into that class and we’re all working against each other.”

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Mike Yam doesn’t do complacency well.

In his 7th year as the face of the PAC-12 Network, he finds a bit of fun in self-imposed challenges. 

“This year,” he pauses, his signature grin audible through the phone, “it was no prompter.  From football through basketball.  The whole school year.”

A lot goes into a live sports broadcast.  More times than not it’s organized chaos leading right up until that red light comes on.  It’s in that moment that an anchor relies on experience, preparation, and – when available – the security of a prompter.  

That safety net is something the San Francisco transplant has always preferred working without. “It just feels more natural that way,” he shrugged.  

Those that know Yam are familiar with his quiet drive.  His unique career ascension has left him to feel uncomfortable when things are too easy.  
A prompter?  Far too easy.

On any road to success, there are always those mentors, parents or guiding lights that push you on your direction to success.  In the case of Mike Yam, one of those lights came his first semester at Fordham.  It just so happened to be a solid red light.

“Dr. Bray,” Yam uttered through a somewhat clenched jaw, the words ushered past his lips with the help of on uneasy chuckle.

Whether she realizes it or not, a chemistry professor by the name of Dr. Diane Bray (whom now is a Professor Emerita for Fordham) had about as much to do with Mike Yam’s career path to the face of the PAC-12 Network as anyone.  

We’ll get back to Dr. Bray in a bit.

As you can imagine, the majority of Yam’s guiding lights were positive.  It all started with his grandfather.

“As far as best friends go,” the Jersey native has stated time and time again, “he’s my first.”

Eugene Galletta installed a lifelong love of sports into his grandson at a young age – as well as a decent amount of pizza.  To this day, the upbeat sportscaster noticeably slows down when discussing his beloved Pop.  

Galletta would live to see his favorite little leaguer grow into the man that would make any grandfather swell with pride.  Regrettably, decades after trading baseball cards and pool lessons, Yam continues to deal with an eternally incomplete feeling when it comes to his best friend.

While the sports passion was undeniably in his DNA, that was not the career Mike had in mind during his high school days.

“It was always medicine.  I wanted to be a pediatrician.”

Yam mulled over a few schools while preparing to leave Bergen Catholic, ultimately landing on Fordham.  It’s a decision he can’t imagine his life without.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, and it’s hard to explain to people who don’t understand,” the proud Ram explained, the excitement rising in his voice.
“Fordham was special, man.  It was just special.  I understand a lot of colleges are great, but there really is something to the Jesuit College experience.  If you’ve lived it or seen it, you know.”

Yam makes that claim as a distinguished success in his field.  He’s not sure the 18 year old version of himself would share the opinion.

“Dude,” his voice lowered, as if there were other people on the line and he intended this information exclusively for me.  Yam has a knack for this.

“I was doing fine as a pre-med.  No problems with the core courses, I was great in biology.” He paused, “but chemistry.  I can’t begin to tell you,”

He didn’t skip a beat before doing just that.  Also a familiar Yam move.

“Bro, I had never even heard of grading on a curve, I walk into that class and we’re all working against each other.”

Flash forward to a late Saturday night early in Year 1 of the PAC-12 Network when Yam received a compliment for having so much energy for a promo read during a commercial break.  Uncomfortable with the praise, he offered up the following; “if you don’t do your job everyday knowing there’s 15 people lining up waiting to take it from you, they will.”

You might think it odd that a man with that kind of resolve could balk at the concept of grading on a curve.  It’s complicated.  Sports television is among the most competitive industries in the world – but Yam and so many others at his level understand that competition has to end at the door.  Everyone brings value to a quality production – and it’s the responsibility of leaders in the room not to exclude or alienate, but to lift.  To encourage.  It wouldn’t be until after college that Yam would learn that lesson from, of all things, an eagle.

“I didn’t get it,” he continued.  “It was like Dr. Bray wanted to grade kids out.  She took pride in it.  My path toward medicine kind of ended in her classroom.”

In retrospect, Yam owes a lot to the concept of grading on a curve. The decision to change his focus to sports journalism came as easily to him as the craft itself. 

Eugene Galleta’s grandson lived for pizza and baseball cards as a boy.  Now he lived in the Fordham radio station.  Dr Bray’s student once struggled to find his place in her lab of musical chairs. 

Now the only thing he struggled to do was find time for his internship offers.  His accomplishments as an undergrad include the Marty Glickman Award for Excellence in Play-by-Play. The rest are too lengthy to list.

Mike Yam entered Fordham as an out-of-place pre-med student.  He left as a broadcast professional on a mission, and the opportunities came quick out of college.

“I was really lucky,” he claims. Other accounts would suggest luck played a smaller part than the 37-year-old admits to now.

One of his opportunities came in the form of Sirius radio.  He worked as an update anchor one day a week.  Before long it was five days a week.  Then he was co-hosting Mike & Murray alongside Bruce Murray; a colleague nearly 20 years his elder.

“Dude it was awesome,” he exhaled in one breath.  “I was working with my friends fresh out of college. In Manhattan,” he pauses. The glory days always seem a bit shinier in the rear view mirror – but to hear Yam describe those early times makes you think – if anything – he’s underselling. “Then things got a little crazy.”

Mike’s referring to the now historical Sirius signing of Chris Russo.  It was tremendous for the company, not so much for the 26-year-old kid living his dream.

“They were shaking up a lot of things, naturally resources were going to the launch of Mad Dog Radio and I didn’t know where that was gonna leave me.”

Without a moment to spare, word came from Bristol for an audition.  Yam was elated, but he shuttered to think of what his options would be if he couldn’t lock up the job.

“I went up for the audition, met a few people, then I was back in New York going crazy.  I kept checking my phone.”

During one of those exacerbated phone checks, Mike noticed a voicemail from a Sirius mentor.  It was Ian Eagle.

“He left a message, and he must have been knowing exactly what I was thinking.  He assured me that whatever happens with Sirius – I had essentially outgrown my role there – which I can’t describe what that felt like to hear.”

In a time of uncertainty, when professionals were all preoccupied with their own job security, Eagle took a moment to reach out to Mike and it meant the world.

“I kept the voicemail for years.  Would listen to it whenever I’d get frustrated or short on patience.”

Shortly after Eagle’s kind gesture, Yam’s concerns were put to rest.  He got the call from ESPN – he was moving to Bristol.

“I wanted to scream into the phone, it was a moment I’ll never forget.  I remember I went straight to my grandparents apartment to tell them.”

Yam’s grandmother was thrilled.  Pop’s reaction was a bit more complicated.  Over the previous decade as his grandson was wading his way through freshman chemistry and ascending the ladder at Sirius, he was waging his own war with Alzheimer’s.

Yam doesn’t offer up information about himself unprovoked.  You would have to ask him to confirm whether or not he’s actually related to Joe DiMaggio.  When you do, he’ll smile, nod slightly and ask; “can’t you see the resemblance?”

Yam would never tell you of his weekly drives from Bristol to Jersey to spend time with his grandparents in the years to follow.  He’d never tell you about his membership with the Alzheimer’s Association or his recognition from Joe Girardi’s Catch 22 Foundation for all the work he’s done raising awareness for the disease.  He won’t tell you, but he’d be happy to if you asked. 

He doesn’t mind talking about Pop, but the cadence in Yam’s voice slows noticeably when the subject comes up.  Anyone with a family member afflicted with the disease is perfectly familiar with how hard it is to see a loved one all but disappear. It’s taxing, physically and emotionally.  Unlike reading highlights and conducting interviews, it’s real work.

Eugene Galleta was laid to rest in 2011, one year before Yam accepted the position to anchor the PAC-12 Networks alongside Ashley Adamson.

“Launch night – one of the most nervous moments of my career.  My chest was pounding.”

From August of 2012 through this month’s PAC-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Yam and the production staff have made no excuses while working through the daily issues of what is and remains a start-up company.  He’s perfectly aware of the unique position he holds in the sports media world, and he’ll never hesitate to respond to an aspiring broadcaster’s email or call. He doesn’t dispense career advise on a curve.  

As for his year long prompter-free challenge?

“Bro,” he offers in a tone that makes you think he’s about to disclose the details to an unsolved crime. “It was some weekday late February.  I was doing women’s basketball halftimes at the end of a day that started with radio at 7 am, then things lined up leading to this live toss to a sit down feature with a coach. I thought I might as while just write something real quick.  I was tired.”

Fatigue is a word that never comes to mind if you ever watch Yam on TV. Maybe it’s because he knows how many others are waiting for his job. Maybe it’s because he knows what real work is.

Whatever the reason, he quickly snapped out of his temptation. “I couldn’t do it,” another signature grin, “prompter stayed off.”

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 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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