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No Signal Won’t Stop Darren Smith

“All I can control is the broadcast. It’s up to me to continue to behave professionally and make the most out of this situation — make the most out of the audience that’s tuning in on the streaming services.”

Brian Noe

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“You have to laugh in order not to cry in this situation.” These are some of the words from sports radio host Darren Smith that appear in the interview below. He’s describing his current situation at The Mighty 1090 in San Diego. Nearly two weeks ago on April 10, the station was taken off the air due to lease payments to the transmitting company not being satisfied.

Smith is originally from New Rochelle, New York. He moved from the East Coast to join 1090 back in April of 2003, and has been on the air with the company since March of 2004. The station getting pulled is a major shake-up, or more directly a “crisis” as Smith puts it. In the interview below, Smith does an excellent job of being candid while maintaining his professionalism. He has a positive outlook and talks about the silver lining in this crazy situation, but speaks openly without hiding his frustration.

“It’s radio.” Many people that work in the industry use this phrase to describe the unpredictable nature of the radio business. It basically means to expect the unexpected. What is currently happening to Smith at 1090 is very rare — even for radio standards. It’s easy to root for him to get back on the air. While you’re at it, you might want to root for Smith to achieve his one remaining career goal in radio as well.

Brian Noe: How are you holding up ever since the changes happened at 1090?

Darren Smith: It hasn’t been easy. This business is always a strange one and you think you’re prepared for all the twists and turns that it has to offer. But when you’re used to being on the radio for 15 years and then you’re suddenly off the radio and you didn’t plan that, it is without a doubt a huge shock to the system. So trying to get by using streaming platforms, social media, a lot of love from the listeners, and a lot of optimism. But it’s definitely been different. That’s for sure.

Noe: Is that a bit of a silver lining — there’s been a lot of support in light of the changes — has that help you cope and get your mind around the situation?

DS: Definitely been helpful. It’s been overwhelming to be honest because you hear from so many people. They remind you how big of a part you are of their lives. You know that people listen — we’re always gauging ratings and downloads and things of that nature, but when you hear somebody say — somebody you’ve never met say — “Wow, I miss you,” and you’ve never met that person, yeah it’s a reminder of just how special the connection is in radio.

Noe: What has the experience been like broadcasting on different platforms other than terrestrial radio?

DS: It’s been about the same. I think it’s different in that I’m trying to maintain the same level of energy and the same level of professionalism. You owe that to the people who are going out of their way to find you and listen to you on an app or listen to you on a stream. You owe that to them, not to just get in there and read out of the phone book. It’s been great to connect with those people. It’s really been great, and very flattering, when so many of them are experiencing us in a different way. They’re telling us, “Hey man, we’re out of our data plan because we’re streaming your show so much.” It just is much better when you’re actually on the radio.

Noe: Has your performance slipped in any way due to not feeling the same juice when you’re on the air?

DS: It’s radio so I don’t want to make it seem like it’s hard, physical labor, but mentally you know that there aren’t as many people listening to your show. You just know that. So it is a strict discipline to try to carry about your business the same way. I would tell you that the week that we’ve been streaming only, I have not been as tight with my clock. I’ve not reset interviews as much. I know I’ve done that.

I think it’s probably a bad habit to fall into because when you’re back on radio, you need to get back to the discipline, the blocking and tackling of doing radio. I’ve noticed that. You sort of allow yourself to say, “Well what difference does it make if I’m a couple of minutes late getting to this break?” You know? “It doesn’t matter. We’re not on the radio. This is just people who are streaming us.” Everything about it is different. I also feel like it’s probably a pretty crummy habit to get into.

Noe: What’s your mindset right now? Is the plan to keep doing it this way for the foreseeable future?

DS: The broadcasters can only control what they can control. I’m not part of any negotiation between our tower owner and our management company. All I can control is the broadcast. It’s up to me to continue to behave professionally and make the most out of this situation — make the most out of the audience that’s tuning in on the streaming services.

We’ve approached guests and been honest with them. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had great relationships with a lot of our guests over the years. We’ve had the manager of the Padres on. We’ve had the manager of the Rockies on while we’ve been streaming only. I’m sure that those PR staffs were reluctant to make them available because it is a diminished audience — for as happy as we are with the streaming numbers. It’s supposed to be business as usual. You still have an obligation to an audience even if the audience isn’t listening on an AM transmitter and it’s a bit smaller than what it would be under normal circumstances.

Noe: Has it been difficult to avoid the temptation of voicing your displeasure publicly or having bellyache sessions with co-workers?

DS: Yeah, well bellyaching off the air, that’s just radio. (laughs) That’s when things are good. That’s when things are bad. That’s just the business. I’ve never known the business to be any other way than at times dark humor, at times deprecation and all that, self-loathing if you will.

On the air, I think we’ve been honest, but we’ve tried to inject a little bit of humor. When the manager of the Padres came on we were like, “Hey, welcome to internet radio. It doesn’t mean you can bring your B-game. You’ve got to bring you’re A-game.”

Given the overall uncertainty during the period of time, we’ve not said anything about “tomorrow.” There is no tomorrow for us as far as we know. We’re just going day-to-day. Our approach to doing radio has always been to inject a little bit of humor into it. Whether that’s watching the Alliance of American Football go under a couple of weeks ago here in San Diego, or whether that’s our own current situation, just trying to be as consistent with that as possible. You have to laugh in order not to cry in this situation and other situations like it.

Noe: Is there any talk, or any possibility of things working out with 1090 being back on the air?

DS: I think so. I hope so. Our fingers are crossed that there’s going to be a resolution with 1090. There’s nothing that I would feel comfortable sharing publicly, but you certainly do hope so. There are a lot of people who have invested time into this radio station that’s going on 16 years. Whether it’s the people who currently work at The Mighty 1090 or people who have passed through The Mighty 1090 in yesteryear. A lot of people want to see this succeed because of what the radio station has meant.

The radio business is different than it was in 2003 when this sucker got going, but people across the board here, nobody — I don’t even think our competition wants to see us go under to be honest, because of what we’ve represented in the market and in Southern California. That’s been reassuring when you hear from competitors — people who stand to gain from your station’s failure — when they’re telling you that they’re rooting for you, maybe they’re being disingenuous, but I don’t think so.

Noe: If someone were to come up to you and ask why you’re doing non-terrestrial radio — what’s the point — how would you answer them?

DS: Well, personally I would tell you that I’m under contract, so I’m going to do what I’m told. (laughs) That’s number one. But number two, there’s no doubt in my mind that streaming is the present and certainly the future. I don’t know what the future is of AM radio, but I feel certain about the future of streaming. I don’t think that’s just on the television medium. I think that we’ve seen the success of Netflix. I saw that over 17 million people streamed Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 1. There’s no doubt that streaming is a part of our future.

We want to be a digital company. We don’t want to just be a radio station. Being a digital company is what everything’s going to have to become at some point. We weren’t prepared for it to happen when we got taken off the air. I’m firmly of the belief that digital companies might not include radio antennas. The connected car is a real thing. There are cars being made that don’t even have AM radios in them. That’s something we have to think about certainly as we get closer into the future. This is a good test run for us, but I don’t want to pretend like this is part of our plan because it wasn’t.

Noe: Do you view any of this as a blessing in disguise with the attention that it’s garnered?

DS: I do. I think it’s been a blessing in disguise in that we’re reminded of what we represent. We’re reminded of our status in this market. I think that this time away from being on the radio will rejuvenate all of us who are on the air. I don’t think we’ll take it for granted. I don’t think that when we get back, if we get back, I think that all of us will make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make sure something like this never happens again. We weren’t taken off because of ratings. The winter book tells the story of where we’re at ratings-wise. The phrase is a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This is a crisis. If this makes us a better company on the other side of it, then absolutely something good came from this.

Noe: As a radio guy, if your ratings stink and you get fired, at least you can make sense of it. Your situation is something totally different. Is that the toughest part of the whole thing?

DS: The toughest part of that is, you’re right, even though the ratings system is totally imperfect and I find it to be flawed and I also think that it is not favorable to sports talk radio — that’s neither here nor there — I think the toughest part is that our ratings were good and we had momentum. We were reminded when the Padres signed Manny Machado, even in a three sports station market like San Diego, when there was news, when something important happens, good and bad — and the signing of Machado was across the board a good thing — everybody came to our station.

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We were reminded that we were at the top of the totem pole in this market. We were flying high. Our morning show was doing well. My show was doing well. Afternoon drive was doing well. That’s a huge part of the frustration. What makes it exponentially more frustrating is that we had killer momentum. I think we’ll get it back. Hopefully we’ll be on the air sooner rather than later. But it stops you in your tracks. The tens of thousands of people can download this app and it’s not the same as being on the radio and cruising around in your car in Southern California.

Noe: I like your Twitter bio. It says the goal is high IQ radio with a splash of absurdity. How do you describe your own brand of absurdity?

DS: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t worry that you might get something wrong every once in a while. Don’t be afraid to say three simple words; I don’t know. I don’t know. Absurdity is reminding everybody that this is the toy department. This is not news.

We’re not analyzing the Mueller Report. We’re talking about sports. We’re talking about what people do to get away from the realities of their difficult lives. To get away from the stresses of work, of home, of finances, taxes, politics, whatever. That’s what we’re doing here.

I’m sure some people want their sports to be taken very, very seriously, but that’s not what we want to do. There’s a time to be serious when you’re dealing with serious subject matter. But a Tuesday night game, to fly off the handle because somebody struck out three times isn’t us. We’re there to make sure everybody’s laughing and to simply get you from 12 o’clock until 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Noe: Do you roll your eyes as a listener when shows get way too serious?

DS: I don’t. I just don’t listen. I think everybody has their own personal preferences, what they want out of sports radio. I’m okay with that. I laugh.

Stephen A. Smith is my lead-in every day. When I hear him at 10 o’clock in the morning, fly off the handle about the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, then Tuesday he flies off the handle about what’s happening with Kevin Durant, then Wednesday he’s so angry you just sort of laugh at that and you understand that he’s a performer. I don’t think he really takes it all that seriously.

I’m of the opinion that sports radio is sort of like a baseball lineup. Not everybody should be a left-handed power hitter. Everybody should be a little bit different. You should have an average guy. You should have a power guy. You should have a doubles hitter. You should have a base stealer. I think that good radio stations, the programming should be differing. It all compliments one another in a perfect setting.

Noe: Take it a step further — if sports radio is like a baseball lineup, what’s it missing? What does sports radio generally not have enough of?

DS: Honesty. I think that’s missing in a lot of places. I think too often people are more concerned with giving an audience what it is that they want to hear than just giving an honest opinion. I’ve always said I’ll never listen to a radio show where I feel like the host isn’t being sincere.

You might not like my opinion. You might think that I hate your favorite team, or I’m too much of a homer. We all get called that. All I can say is that this is my honest opinion. You can take it. You can leave it. But you’re never going to have to worry about me being compromised. This is the honest opinion here.

I don’t begrudge Stephen A., or Cowherd, or anybody else who puts on a great performance every day — they make a ton of money — but I believe that if your radio host isn’t being honest with you, I don’t know why you would listen to that person.

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Noe: Has it been challenging for you to remain honest with the audience while painting your employer in a good light?

DS: Absolutely. I might not always tell my audience the truth, but I’m never going to lie — if that makes sense. Clearly there are things that I cannot say during this time on social media or on streaming. Even in certain public settings there are things I cannot say about what’s happening.

There are certain things that you’re told off the record when it tracks back to sports that you can’t say. I can’t always tell the audience who’s told me something or where I may have heard something. That’s part of the agreement that you make with the people who you cover. They can fill you in and they can tell you certain things, not scoops, but they can just make you more knowledgeable, which in turn will help make your audience more knowledgeable. Whether it’s our situation or covering any of these teams, as I said I won’t lie, but I just might not always be able to tell the truth.

Noe: Can you take me through that day, Darren, when you found out right before your show that your station would be taken off the air? What did you do after the meeting? Take me through that whole day.

DS: Sure, so it was a Wednesday and Stephen A. Smith’s show was on. It was about 11:34am — not that I remember looking at the clock — and our station president walked into the studio and said, “I need to see everybody in the common area right now. We just got pulled off the air.” Myself, my producer, my associate producer and update guy — the three of us walked out. Some of the sales people who were there, they had already gathered. Imaging people, station employees, about 15 of us. Our station president, Mike Glickenhaus, says, “We’ve been pulled off the air. I’m sorry.”

Obviously this was an incredibly shocking moment, which you could see on his face and everybody else’s face. He started talking to us about the situation the station was in and gave us some background as to why this would have happened. From there everybody was free to go. I asked if we should stream. I was told no. Then a group of us on the programming side went back into the radio studio and started watching a baseball game and a soccer game.

As we sat there, my show — sense we were the one that was preempted — what we did was we decided to record something and post it through the website and allow people to hear in our words what was going on. We wanted them to hear not on a video, not on Facebook Live or anything like that. We put out about a 21-minute audio clip where the three of us just talked and told the audience what was happening.

We said that this situation was something that people had worried about, but it’s still shocking that we find ourselves in this situation and we don’t know what our future is. We wanted our audience to hear from us — hear being the key word — we wanted them to hear from us what it was that we knew. We put that out and it got like 12,000 downloads that day, which was pretty overwhelming. Then we went home.

A group of us went to a local brewery in San Diego. We weren’t sure — this could have been the last time that we were all together. We didn’t know that we would be called back in. Then a station-wide email came out about five o’clock in the afternoon and said we’re all working tomorrow. So we dispersed and went our separate ways and we’ve been in there business as usual since.

Noe: What a crazy day, man. Has there been a situation where you’re scrolling through Twitter and a co-worker posts something colorful where you say, “Ooo, Joe shouldn’t of posted that”?

DS: (laughs) No, not too bad. I haven’t seen anything along those lines — nothing in terms of proprietary information. You get trolled. We all get trolled, any of us on social media, especially those of us with any kind of public persona. People come out of the woodwork and they say, “Hey good, I’m glad you guys are off. You guys are terrible.” As if people are forced to listen to us, right? I’ve seen some of my colleagues clap back with some pretty harsh language, but that’s the closest thing that would even come to what would be described as anything inflammatory. But no, nobody’s crossed any lines. Some people have just pushed back a little bit on the trolls.

Noe: What gives you the most joy being a sports talk host and are you able to feel that joy with this current setup?

DS: The most joy has to be similar to a home run or a great golf shot; you just sort of know you got it. You just know that what you just did — whether it was an interview, or whether it’s a breakdown, it’s a bit — you just know that the segment crushed. You can feel it in your bones that you hit the sweet spot.

I don’t think we’ve been able to do that since we’ve been streaming just because we know that our audience it’s not what it was before we got taken off the air. I think that there’s been some good stuff done. I appreciated the banter and interaction with people who are listening to us on streams, but I don’t think we’re going to be made whole again until we actually get back on the radio.

Noe: If you could script out your next five years as a sports talk host what would it be like?

DS: I got to be honest, I don’t really think that way. I feel like I’m in the minority. I always hear people talking about what’s your one-year plan, what’s your three-year plan, what’s your five-year plan? I live so segment-to-segment, show-to-show that I always am envious of the people who have that kind of thought process. I just get so wrapped up in the moment.

I tend to think that the next five years are going to bring about even more change in terms of the digital capabilities. We’ll probably all have YouTube cameras in our offices. I don’t know that we’re going to be sitting around exclusively worrying about radio ratings as an industry. For me personally, I gave up on those kind of things when I moved to San Diego.

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When I moved to San Diego I was really only interested in staying here for two years. I moved from New York to San Diego and I remember telling my mother before I left that I would be out of there in two years. Two years of experience and go climb the ladder and try to go to bigger markets and keep climbing and get back to WFAN in New York at some point.

Your goals change. You come out to the city and everything that you thought was important turns out to be not as important as trying to stay here — meeting a future wife here and buying your first home here. I would love to continue to be successful in this business. I have no idea where this industry is going to take me. I would love to be able to adapt with the industry as the industry modernizes with technology. 

Ultimately my one career goal is to leave on my own terms. This isn’t a business that many people retire from. It’s a very cruel business especially as people start getting a little bit older. There is example after example after example of aging radio hosts who end up becoming the butt of a lot of mean jokes. I’m super aware of that and I’m super cautious to not be in that situation when this is over. I don’t want to hang around here just for the sake of hanging around. I want to at least come up with some plan so that I don’t end up being Willie Mays stumbling around in center field.

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Greg Hill is Turning the Tables in Morning Drive on WEEI

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen.”

Derek Futterman

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Greg Hill
Courtesy: Audacy

Earlier in the week, the Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA championship. Across a variety of sports radio stations, especially those in the Boston-Manchester designated market area, the triumph was a subject of discussion on Tuesday morning. Within morning drive on WEEI, host Greg Hill provided his thoughts on the team and its achievement.

Akin to the Celtics, Hill aims to position his weekday program to thrive and sustain success. After working in the industry for many years, some professionals can exhibit a sense of apathy, but for Hill, it is quite the opposite, exhibiting congeniality and authenticity to the audience as a whole amid this quest.

Although Hill broadcasts on a sports talk station, the morning show spans beyond comprehensive sports discussion while implementing a variety of other topics into its daily discussion. In fact, Hill defines the breadth of topics into two distinctive categories, one of which is sports while the other covers an assortment of miscellaneous subjects mentioned on the show.

“I think it’s more beneficial if you are a radio person and you know what you think works when it comes to doing radio,” Hill said. “If you can find a way to keep the audience entertained and engaged and try, if you can, to present content that’s different than [what] they might find somewhere else, then that’s more important than necessarily a vast X’s and O’s knowledge when it comes to sports from my perspective.”

Sports teams in the city of Boston have established a tradition of grandeur and excellence, making a habit of remaining in contention for championships every year. In fact, the Celtics championship ended the city’s title drought that spanned just over five years. During that time, the media ecosystem has changed with a prioritization on digital distribution in addition to more niche content offerings. As a long-tenured radio host, Hill has been able to successfully adapt by optimizing the idiosyncrasies of the medium while also being open to innovation.

“The old adage about, and I think it still remains a unique advantage when it comes to this medium, is that when you wake up in the morning, you want to know, ‘What happened? What happened last night?,’ and you want to hear people give you their slant on it,” Hill said. “My function, I think, is to give everybody the opportunity to share their opinions on stuff.”

While Hill has become a respected sports radio host, he initially started working in another sector of the industry. During his time as a middle school student, he worked a paper route and saved his money to buy two turntables and several 45-rpm records. Hill would then go to the garage of his parents’ house and host a radio show with no audience, working to master the craft in his nascence. As he grew older, he started to bring his records to his high school radio station and take the air.

The passion and verve he possessed for the medium, along with his talent in the craft, helped him land a job at WAAF as a promotion coordinator. As he began to showcase his abilities, he earned chances to go on the air over the weekends and overnight. Morning show host Drew Lane later asked Hill if he wanted to do sports on the program, and he continued to grow from there.

When Hill was named the host of the new Hill-Man Morning Show on WAAF a few years later, he needed to find a way to stand out in the marketplace. After all, he was facing competition from Charles Laquidara on WBCN and a variety of other media outlets, and it took time for the program to eventually break through. Hill took the opposite approach of other stations in the area to render the show distinct from those on other media outlets.

“WBCN at the time was an older-targeted station, so we targeted the station towards Men 18-34 and figured that we could grow as they grew,” Hill said. “So we were just going out attending every single possible event where somebody might be, going out before concerts and shaking hands, and doing all that stuff that I think you have to do in order to try to get people to try your show and try your station.”

Hill’s program catapulted to the top of the marketplace, and he signed a lifetime contract after 26 years on the air to stay at WAAF. In signing the deal, he never thought he would work anywhere else, but things changed three years later when Gerry Callahan hosted his last show in morning drive on WEEI. Then-Entercom announced that it was adding Hill to the daypart to host a new morning drive program and retained co-host Danielle Murr in the process, commencing a new era for the outlet. Shortly thereafter, WAAF was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and re-formatted with contemporary Christian programming.

“I never thought [W]AAF would go away,” Hill said. “It was a legendary rock station, and I still to this day will flip by that station and hear Christian rock music and sit there in silence for a couple of minutes for that great radio station, but being the same company and the same market manager at the time [in] Mark Hannon, when that opportunity came up [to] try something different and to make a change, I was really excited about it.”

In moving formats, Hill and his colleagues evaluated the program and determined how they could grow their audience on WEEI while staying true to the essence of the show. The program, however, was going up against Toucher & Rich, the hit morning show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and others.

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen,” Hill said. “To me, the most important thing is that we’re doing what we should do to get partners for the radio station on the business side of things and delivering results for them.”

Hill is cognizant of the success of 98.5 The Sports Hub but articulated that the ranking does not matter to those spending money on radio. Instead, he claims that it is about the level of engagement and patronization of the product that facilitates interest in the brand.

“From a differentiator point of view, we’re up against, on the sports side of things, an incredible radio station that has done an amazing job of being #1 in this market for a long time with really compelling personalities,” Hill said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to find ways to be different when it comes to our choice on content and the way in which we present it, and then outwork them when it comes to going out and meeting people who might listen to the show.”

Whereas Hill was originally a solo host during his early days on WAAF, he is now joined by Jermaine Wiggins and Courtney Cox, both of whom bring unique aspects that enhance the program. Wiggins, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, provides his knowledge of football and the perspective of a professional athlete. Cox is the youngest person on the program and has a unique approach from her time covering sports at NESN while embracing the humor and repartee on the show. Show producer Chris Curtis, who worked with Hill at WAAF, also contributes to the conversation as well and has helped maintain synergy.

“Whether it’s the co-hosts on the show or callers, I love when they are having fun at my expense, and I think that self-deprecating humor to me is the best,” shared Hill. “If we have a show in which I end up being the punchline or end up, whether it’s my age or lack of technological skill or my frugality – whatever it is – that to me is my favorite part of what we do and that personality coming through, I guess.”

Hill uses his platform to benefit the community through The Greg Hill Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded to provide families affected by tragedy with immediate needs. He created the foundation in 2010 to celebrate two decades on the air at WAAF before the advent of crowdfunding in a quest to give back. The foundation has donated over $20 million to more than 9,000 beneficiaries during its 14 years.

“We’re lucky in radio because we have this incredible tradition of public service, and I think everybody in radio feels this obligation – this great obligation to use the airwaves to help others,” Hill said. “We’re granted the incredible platform in which we can actually get people to respond when help is needed, and so I wanted to be able to use that microphone and the radio station on those days to be able to help the beneficiaries in our area who needed it.”

Hill recently signed a multiyear contract extension with Audacy-owned WEEI to continue hosting The Greg Hill Show. Part of what compelled him to remain at the station was working with Ken Laird, the brand manager of the outlet who used to be his producer at WAAF. Moreover, he has known Audacy Boston market manager Mike Thomas for over two decades as he leads the cluster of stations in an environment with many entities looking to garner shares of attention.

“To be able to have the opportunity to work with those guys, know what they are, what I need them to do to keep them happy and to have the opportunity for us to, from a team perspective, that we have one clear mission in mind, and that is to be No. 1,” Hill said. “No. 1 in revenue and No. 1 when it comes to ratings, so to be able to sit there and go, ‘Alright, since I came here five years ago, we definitely have some wins, but there’s still a lot that we have to do,’ and to be able to do it with them together was way more interesting to me than any other opportunity.”

Even though Hill has worked in the sports media business for many years, he remains energized by the prospect of achieving goals and having the privilege to host his radio program. In the past, he has stated that he would like to slow down in his career, yet he is unsure what he would do without working in radio.

“That being said, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn for 30-something years, and I’m definitely feeling it more than I used to,” Hill said. “But sometimes I think it would be fun to go and do one more radio show where I play seven great songs an hour, as long as I get to pick whatever I play and there’s no research and there’s no computer programming the music. I sometimes think about that, but I just love doing this.”

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If Jim Rome is Willing to Innovate, So Can You

Jim Rome is 59 years old and has been at this for 35 years. And if he finds value in embracing new platforms, you, your hosts, and your stations should be able to do it, too.

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Photo of Jim Rome and a logo for the X platform

Jim Rome is 59 years old. He’s been in the sports talk radio game since before I was born. And earlier this year, his show left CBS Sports Network to begin a live simulcast on the Elon Musk-owned X platform.

And it has exposed him and his show to a much wider, and frankly much younger, audience in the short time since the simulcast began.

If you search X, you’ll see either “I didn’t know Jim Rome was still around” or “I’ve never heard of Jim Rome, but I saw his show on here,” posts.

Now, that doesn’t mean he’s abandoning terrestrial radio. In fact, he recently chastised a caller for talking poorly about “scratchy AM radio”, which elicited a strong defense of the medium from the sports talk legend.

But I can’t help but think that if — at this stage in both his life and his career — Jim Rome is willing to try new things, so can you, your show, or your station.

To be frank, Rome has every reason to coast. Rest on his laurels. Simply collect a paycheck and call it a day until his contract is up. But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s innovating. He’s taking chances. I’m sure it’s a much safer feeling — especially for someone about to reach 60 (you look great by the way, Jim) — to stick to a familiar simulcast on cable TV. For damn near 40 years, that’s been the dominant player in the space. But it isn’t 1992 anymore.

Listening to Rome describe the new simulcast makes either one of two things true: Either he doesn’t truly understand what he’s doing, or he believes that his audience is potentially too old to understand streaming. Because he talks about the new venture like he’s trying to explain it to a five-year-old, but at least he’s out here attempting it.

Listening to many shows or stations around the country has at times led me to have a cynical view of the industry. Lipservice is often paid when you hear leaders say “We’re in the content business, not the radio business,” but then only put their content on the radio. Or in podcast form, in three-hour blocks with the live traffic reports still included in the audio to really cement home the fact that the producer couldn’t be bothered to even attempt to edit it before publishing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some stations that have fantastic radio, podcast, digital video, and social media strategies. Others excel at live events.

But many — you could argue too many — are resting on their laurels, taking a “this is good enough,” approach to the format and its content, and hoping that nothing ever changes.

The problem is the world changes every single day. And if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. If the biggest and best stations in the industry fall behind, the entire format falls behind. And I don’t want to see that happen.

If you don’t have a digital video strategy in 2024, I have one quick question: Why not? I was a Program Director in market #228, and we had a digital video strategy.

If you don’t have a podcast strategy in 2024 that’s better than “just put up the entire show from today”, I have one quick question: Why not?

“Why not?” is likely the question Jim Rome asked when he was presented with the opportunity to move his show from the safe haven that was CBS Sports Network and bring it to a wider, younger, and more accessible audience on social media. Now, was it a risk? Absolutely.

But that’s the point. Be willing to take the chance. Be willing to try something different. Experiment. Learn. I can empathize with those who are frozen by the fear of failing. It’s a completely valid worry. But not growing, not chasing every revenue and content avenue possible, and not learning something new is a bigger risk, in my book.

I’m not here to suggest you take an ax to everything you’ve done on your show, your station, or your cluster, but I will strongly advocate for expanding your horizons and attempting to meet your audience wherever they may be. And even if that audience might be in places you’re unfamiliar with, familiarize yourself. Do I get the impression Jim Rome was super familiar with live video streams on X before taking his show there? No. But he was willing to take a chance, knowing that it might benefit in the long run.

I hope you operate in the same spirit.

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Do HBO and Hard Knocks Determine Part of the NFL Schedule?

Is Hard Knocks the reason why the Steelers’ bizarrely back-loaded 2024 schedule looks the way it does?

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Graphics for NFL Films and HBO's Hard Knocks

We could debate the merits of HBO’s decision to feature the entire AFC North in its end-of-season version of Hard Knocks, but we won’t. Say this much: It hasn’t been done before.

That’s because HBO and the NFL never before decided to do it, nothing more. The network and the league set the parameters for Hard Knocks, after all, and you can tell by this year’s lineup (Hard Knocks: Offseason, Hard Knocks: Training Camp and Hard Knocks: In Season) that they’re running out of ways to keep things fresh.

Featuring an entire division, especially one that includes longtime rivals, does help accomplish that. It doesn’t hurt that the Ravens, Browns, Steelers and Bengals all finished with winning records in 2023.

But let’s skip the rest of the gloss and get to the nubs of it: Is Hard Knocks the reason why the Steelers’ bizarrely back-loaded 2024 schedule looks the way it does?

And should a network get to call that big of a shot?

The league hasn’t said anything about Pittsburgh’s schedule, and HBO certainly won’t. But Steelers fans – and anyone interested in the AFC playoff picture – immediately took notice when the NFL’s 2024 slate was announced on May 15.

The Steelers’ schedule was never going to be cake; six games within the AFC North takes care of that. But the NFL placed all six of those games within the final eight weeks of the season. Pittsburgh’s other two games in that stretch? At Philadelphia, and home to the Super Bowl champion Chiefs on Christmas Day.

A schedule like that could build some drama into a series about four teams trying to outlast each other and make it into the post-season, wouldn’t it? And while we can’t outright say the NFL planned this into the mix, we can think it.

The Steelers have never appeared on the HBO series, as you probably know. There’s been a bit too much made of head coach Mike Tomlin’s reluctance to open up either himself or the locker room to the network’s cameras and boom mikes, but it’s true that Pittsburgh dodged the bullet for more than two decades – until now.

Tomlin isn’t the only coach who’d rather skip the intrusion. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on The Adam Jones Podcast recently that he doesn’t watch the show, in part because it’s so obviously forced. “Everything’s put on,” Harbaugh said. “You got to put a microphone, and a camera in your face – people aren’t the same.” But he said he’ll tell his team to conduct business as usual, assuming that’s possible.

Tomlin and crew got a weird schedule in general, not only at the finish. The Steelers open with two straight on the road, which hasn’t happened to them in 25 years. I guess you could say they were due.

Week 2 happens to place them in Denver, the site of Steelers quarterback Russ Wilson’s bad breakup with Sean Peyton and the Broncos last offseason. They don’t get a divisional opponent until Week 11, two weeks beyond their bye. After that, it’s a broken-glass crawl to the finish.

“It’s probably not exactly how I would have drawn it up, but we’ve got to do the best we can,” team president Art Rooney II said. “A lot of the division games are at the end of the schedule, so it will be an interesting stretch there toward the end.”

That’s one way to put it. The Steelers went 5-1 versus the North last season, but they grabbed two of those wins within the season’s first five weeks. This year, not so much.

Tomlin hasn’t discussed any of this publicly, and nobody needs to feel sorry for either him or the franchise. They’ll get by. Close watchers of the Steelers noted that in the club’s announcement of the Hard Knocks news, not a single member of the organization was quoted, but beyond that it’s anybody’s guess other than the obvious, which is that –  like lots of teams – Pittsburgh probably views HBO as one of those things the NFL makes the franchise live with. Not everybody craves that stage.

The league always tries to build suspense into the season’s final several weeks, and TV ratings are the tail that wags the dog. No argument there. It’s common for divisional opponents to square off down the stretch, with a team often playing each of its division foes one more time over the final four or five weeks.

But that’s after they’ve already played their rivals once, usually much earlier in the year. Viewed in that light, meeting again toward the finish becomes a great way to gauge how much teams have changed through the season, and who’s left standing.

That is good drama, the kind we all want to see. This season’s Steelers schedule, on the other hand, smells like forced theater – weird, because it isn’t really necessary. But there we go again, overcomplicating things. It’s show business, kids.

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