In part two of my Q&A with Chicago Sports Radio veteran Dan McNeil, Dan talks about his second stint at The Score, dealing with mental health issues and his eight year run at ESPN 1000. You’ll read about the intriguing maneuvering it took to get his show at ESPN. Plus, you’ll hear inside details of the building of “Mac, Jurko, and Harry” and the show’s early growing pains. It’s all here in Part 2 of my three-part Q&A with Dan McNeil.
The Danny Mac Show on the Score (June 2009-June 2014)
Fishman: You return to the Score after more than eight years away at ESPN 1000…how did it feel?
McNeil: It was a very awkward return. I had decent relationships with some of the guys there, still, but I think they were very casual relationships. I think there was a mutual feeling with a few people that if we didn’t work together again that would be ok with everybody. There was a lot of tension already at the station.
Before Matt (Spiegel) and I jumped back in, there was a long period of dissention among the ranks. I can’t give an opinion on it because I wasn’t there to absorb all the toxicity, but the combination of North, Murphy, Mulligan and Boers made for a very volatile cocktail. As there always is, there’s some petty jealousies and we’re all insecure to varying degrees, but based on the descriptions of those who experienced it, I came back at a time when the morale was probably as low as it ever had been in station history.
Matt (Spiegel) was not warmly received. The fact that Mitch (Score Ops Manager/PD Mitch Rosen) gave me a voice in Spiegel’s hiring didn’t help the situation. Mitch also gave me a voice in one of the producers. That didn’t agree with several people. I get that. People who are in-house have every reason to expect that they will be examined, but I also had a track record of making some pretty good recommendations both for co-hosts and producers. I’d submit Jurko as one of those, and god damn, look at the guys who have produced my shows over the years who I’ve hand picked–there’s some pretty talented mother f**kers on that list. If the fact that I was given that freedom was disruptive for some people, I really don’t give a shit, Colonel Jessup. I earned that. I f**king earned that!
They just didn’t give me that. Had Terry Boers flopped in ‘92 and John Jurkovic flopped I wouldn’t have been given a voice, but I did get a voice. I was proven right with Matt (Spiegel) but he was not well received. So it was an awkward return.
Leaving the house at 7 o’clock in the morning to go to work didn’t agree with me. I felt we had a pretty good vibe on the show. Matt and I pretty much right out of the shoot I felt pretty comfortable with and after awhile as a unit we gelled. I told Matt at the beginning I typically look at these things as “let’s do five years together!” I think after five years is a lot of times a good time to reinvent yourself. And that’s what I decided to do.
The first two and half years were very good. The last (with Spiegel) was a struggle. I made it more of a struggle than I needed it to be, because I was not taking very good care of myself. I was not participating in a mental health program that somebody with as many issues as I have needs to.
Fish: I think you have to include the talent on the major decisions of co-host and producer when you’re putting that team together. Otherwise I think you’re asking for failure.
Mac: When I took some time off, Fish, I thought a lot about this– and I had a lot of time off in the last five or six years. I enjoyed civilian life way more than most of us would. It’s incredible how among any form of entertainment that you can imagine–the movies, music, whatever–radio people and sports talk radio performers have less control of their product than any motherf**ker trying to sell a f**kin’ act. I had shows blown up that none of us wanted blown up. Many others have had shows blown up.
Howard (Stern) is a hero to me because he’s the only motherf**ker who went out there and won. A lot of us have been paid well and it’s a rush and you do a lot of cool things. If you’re lucky you see a lot of the country and someone else pays for it–and that’s all great, but when you examine the absence of power for people who have achieved a high level of competency in their craft it’s remarkable how we’re all just f**king pawns on a chess board. Howard has been able to go out there and pick his own crew and say “f**k you!” to management for 25 years.
Fish: At what point did you realize that you weren’t taking care of your mental health? Was it while you were working with Spiegel? Was there a seminal moment?
Mac: It was very specific. It was in the summer of 2011. The two years of foolishly letting the behaviors and attitudes of others affect my disposition–which is absolutely hideous to let others rent that space for free. I went off my psych med, Lamictal, without consulting my doctor. I had a lot of success with that product. It’s not an antidepressant it’s kind of a mood stabilizer. It’s prescribed to people who are depressive, some people with anxiety–and I’m both of those.
I went off of it and within a month my world got black and white. I was playing free golf with three lifelong friends and I birdied the first hole. While walking back to the cart on a gorgeous summer day I remember saying to myself, “Thank God there are only 17 more of these f**king holes so I can go home, be alone, and watch Goodfellas.” I withdrew from even the things I enjoyed the most. Except for my sons and a few very close friends and my wife, I didn’t want to be around people. I was not feeling anything. There was a joylessness in almost everything.
The climate at the station I let get to me more than I should have. I should have focused on what was good and what was good was the vibe on the show–with Spiegs and Jay and Shep and Miska. Then Ben Finfer rejoined me which has always been some of the best radio I have done.
So that was a rough time. I grinded it out without going back on my med and continuing to eat pain meds which dulled me. I like to stay active and I have a lot of pain and I used those things as an excuse to keep eating Narco. It was a pretty dark last couple of years. I didn’t want to be there (at The Score). I wanted to try something different anyway but the climate there and how little I was respecting my conditions wasn’t a good time.
But we did some killer stuff. I remember a lot of it with fondness. I mean the stuff we did with the Blackhawks–Spiegs and I went to Philly and Boston.
In ‘13 when the Hawks were getting to the final against Boston I felt we were being a little too “hockey-ish” on the show. I learned from my mistakes in the 90s that hockey is not as center stage as other things in Chicago, but I said to myself I’m probably walking very soon. This is my way to thank the Hawks fans who loved me all the years. F**k the ratings. If I want to talk to Mike Emrick for an hour, I will and we did. We ended up out of the money (ratings bonuses) that book and I didn’t give a shit.
I ended up leaving in the summer of ‘14 after the Hawks got popped by the Kings in the Western Conference Finals. If they had made it to the Final, I was going to work without a contract and finish the Hawks run but I wasn’t gonna come back. I was pretty specific with Mitch (Rosen) about that. People remember it as my summer of discontent. Spiegel calls it “The Summer of Uncertainty.” I corrected him on that and said “remember when I walked in that June and gave anyone parting gifts?”
Mitch called me right before I crossed the border (into Canada) and lost cell service. He said, “We gotta work this out.” I said, “Mitch, it has been a month and I want to try something different. What’s there to work out?”
So when I got back from Canada in mid August I met with him and Rod (Zimmermann, CBS Radio Market Manager for Chicago at the time) as a courtesy. They offered me a lot of money–more than they had offered me in the middle of June. It was a fair-enough deal. There was no indecisiveness that summer. Without another job offer I said thank you, politely, but I’m going to try something different.
Mac, Jurko and Harry (May 2001-Jan 2009)
Fish: It seemed to me like an interesting mix–you, Jurko and Harry. Can you talk about the grouping, how it all came together, and the early days of the show?
Mac: Mitch and I started talking about it right before I resigned from The Score. Bob Snyder was the GM of ESPN 1000 at the time. He was pretty committed to Bill Simonson and Lou Canellis, but Mitch told me he would work him (Snyder) and I decided I would roll dice in October of ‘00. I resigned from The Score with a “maybe” that Mitch would have a spot for me once Simonson and Canellis continued to struggle against The Score.
So I leave The Score and finally Bob Snyder warms up. I had to use (Mike) Greenberg to get to Len Weiner (ESPN Network PD at the time) in Bristol to backdoor my way into Chicago. I needed an ally in Bristol. Greenberg set up a meeting with Len Weiner and me at Super Bowl 35 in Tampa. (Dan remembers the game like it was yesterday saying, “SB 35 Ravens over the Giants, Ray Lewis the Super Bowl MVP. Only Super Bowl with back to back kick returns for touchdowns–Dixon and Lewis. You can look it up!”)
I go down there on a recruiting trip and Len Weiner and I chew the fat for three hours talking radio after the “Mike and Mike Show” and fell in love. I started doing weekends out there to prove to the network that I’m not a crazy man for walking away from 200k at The Score with a rep for being a rabble rouser and that I’m worth hiring.
Eventually when (Ron) Gleason got fired by The Score I used that to pry my way in at ESPN. I said, “The guy who is taking over wants to hire me back.” I told Len that. There was some grains of truth of that because (Jeff) Schwartz was taking over. Schwartz might have taken me back. I saw it as an opportunity to play a card that I may not have had, and I played it and immediately Bristol put the pressure on Snyder to hire me.
So “Mac, Jurko, and Harry” is born and Snyder wants to keep some of the station’s DNA intact. He puts Harry (Teinowitz) on the show with me and Jurko and I had never considered a 3-man weave for a show in my life. Immediately I curled up and thought it was going to be uncomfortable, in particular because I knew Harry was going to be more of a shooting guard than he was hired to be. He was described to me by the suits as a “tip-in” guy. The funny guy. The occasional guy.
Well we know Harry. Harry grew into a role more like that, but initially, especially when Jurko started slow, Harry pounced on an opportunity to be more or a presence than I was comfortable with. So in those first few years we really suffered a LOT of growing pains as a show.
Fish: So when did it turn the corner from “growing pains” to when the show was really cooking?
Mac: It took Teinowitz several years to let this more of a desire to have a playground than a classroom sink in for me. I think Harry taught me after a number of months to lighten it up a little bit and I agreed that the easiest way to make people feel like they are welcomed warmly is to create a saloon atmosphere–so that’s what we started to call it. And while we had a lot of tension and fights, it was a place where people felt compelled to hang out.
They weren’t going to be lectured to. It wasn’t going to be “The Sermon on the Mount.” We weren’t going to tackle issues that were polarizing for half of a show like steroids or anything that got us too far away from an opportunity to laugh. We’ve decided to plant the flag in the ground that we were going to be the goofball show.
Fish: So you weren’t going to get into Race issues and you’re not getting into the Steroid issues..
Mac: (Jumping in) No, No, we’re not getting into politics and we’re also going to get into other forms of entertainment and make casual sports fans feel welcomed. And eventually, women even came around to that show.
Fish: So you get cooking on that show and you’re a few months away from the end of a contract and you get pulled off the air? Were you surprised by that move?
Mac: I wasn’t surprised. When we were told in December that we weren’t going to the Super Bowl I sort of sniffed it out. Advertising dollars were drying up because of the market. Everybody was taking hits. I mean it was a f**king depression in ‘08.
They decide they’re not sending us to the Super Bowl. I was not our literal union steward, that was Bruce (Levine), but when programming had issues, the one who took those issues to management, Jim Pastor(GM) and Justin Craig(PD), was me. That meant being a dick to Justin. None of it was personal because I truly like him as a guy but he came in replacing (Jeff) Schwartz, shoving ESPN programming down our throats. Mandating things. In essence telling us, “Forget everything you’ve been doing. This is how we’re gonna do it. I’m gonna mold you into another “Mike and Mike.”
Now Justin did a lot of good things, too. He had an interview coach come in and do a seminar with us. My jaw dropped at how much we needed that. I’ve told Mitch how much we need that at the Score. He came in and did a three hour presentation on interviewing and I wish I would have had that seminar in 1992.
Fish: What were the biggest things you took away from that interviewing seminar?
Mac: In key interviews, not regular contributors you talk to every week, but when you get a guy on you’ll only talk to 1-2 times a year, a key interview–ask short direct questions! People want to hear from him. I got the rest of the f**king show where I can give my opinion. I don’t need to give him my opinion. Get his opinion. Get him talking! It’s what he’s going to say. It’s not going to be some brilliant way I shape a question. It’s what I’m going to get him to talk about. So ask a short, direct question. The biggest offense that most of us make are the double barrel and triple barrel questions-where you give your guest complete control of the interview. He picks one of the questions to answer and talks for three minutes and you’ve lost the time for a good follow up question.
In part three of my Q&A with Dan McNeil, Mac talks about the start of The Score in 1992, his partnership with Terry Boers and his longtime friendship with the late Doug Buffone.
What Can Programmers Learn From A Social Media Following?
“A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure.”
I first began using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter at The Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the Seattle Seahawks coach and I had a smart phone made by Palm. The Twitter app was so wonky I posted live updates from Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a picture of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We’ve all come a long way since then.
I like Twitter. Over the past 12-plus years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translated better on Twitter than it ever did in print or later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I’ve made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other reporters and generally found it a good place to test out ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss anything important. I have more than 40,000 followers, which is not insignificant nor is it at all exceptional given the market I worked in. None of this gives you any idea about how well I’ve done my job in sports media, though.
Yet an individual’s Twitter following has become part of our industry scoreboard. It’s certainly not the final score and it definitely doesn’t decide the outcome, but it is the best way I know to gain a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or significance. It’s a data point that is readily accessible. It’s the thing I check first when I encounter someone who’s part of the sports-media industry.
But what does it really tell us? More specifically, how much does it tell us about that person’s ability to do their actual job whether it is reporting news, writing stories or being part of a show? Because as important as Twitter has become in sports-media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people who are really being paid to Tweet.
For most of us, Twitter is not a job, it is a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside the footprint and time slot of the show. It also is a powerful opportunity to deepen audience engagement through two-way, real-time communication. These things may help a host’s job performance, but they should not be mistaken for the actual job itself. A radio host is not valuable because he or she was right on Twitter or because they were first on Twitter or because they had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of the ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific slot of time. Twitter may help you prepare to do that, but it does not actually accomplish the task.
Programmers need to understand this, too. A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure. Just look at what book publishers have found.
An article last month in the New York Times showed how publishers have used social media followings as a weathervane of sorts for books sales. The number of followers an author has is influencing everything from what authors are paid to which books get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is pretty straightforward when you look under hood of that particular industry.
A publisher is the business that buys a certain book from the author, essentially making a bet that the sales of this book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author as well as the cost of publication and promotion of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell sufficient copies to not just make its money back, but insure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The follower count is being looked to as an indicator of just how many people can be expected to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is certainly a sign they’re interested in what that author has to say. Some percentage of those followers can reasonably be expected to buy a book by this person. Except social media followings turn out to be a fairly terrible tool of forecasting book sales.
Billie Eilish has 99 million Instagram followers. Her book — released last year — sold 64,000 copies. If I was being catty, I would point out that is one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.
“Even having one of the biggest social media followings in the world is not a guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.
So we should all just stop paying attention to Twitter followings, right? Hardly. First of all, it is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important probably thinks the Internet is just a fad. More importantly, having a following is certainly better than not having one as it does indicate the ability to attract an audience.
The issue isn’t whether it’s good to have a large following. Of course it is. The issue is how reliable that is in predicting an individual’s interest or appeal outside of that specific social platform.
What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:
- Why are people following this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond that. What sort of content is this person providing that none of his or her peers are? Will that type of content be valuable as part of my lineup whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or other format? Someone who’s funny on Twitter may be funny in other formats. They may also just be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this kind of content has worked in the past or reasons to think it will work in the future?
- How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my medium? This is one of the trickier ones. One of the reasons for acquiring a talent with a large social media following is the hope that some of their followers will become your customers. While this is always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.
Remember, that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of books is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was the publishing house didn’t expect a solid sales performance. It expected incredibly strong sales because it paid a significant amount of money to Eilish in the form of an advance.
It’s clear the publishing house made a bad bet, but the principal mistake was not about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She did produce one that was 336 pages long, loaded with family photos never seen before and while there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, the sales were solid. The mistake the publishing house made was overestimating how many of Eilish’s fans would become customers in an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson worth noting in this industry.
Unless you’re hiring someone to do social media for your company, Twitter is not going to be their job. It’s just a tool. An important tool, a useful one, but just a tool.
How Good Can iHeart’s AdBuilder Solution Be?
“It was slick, I admit.”
Do it yourself radio has come to a new client you will never meet. These clients are ready to do it themselves. All they want is to buy a radio campaign. And iHeart AdBuilder is all they need.
Let’s figure this out.
In 2019, iHeart started beta testing a do-it-yourself online platform for small businesses to battle Facebook and Google.
I went to the website to see how it worked. It was slick, I admit. It would be a great topic to add to the BSM Summit.
The first piece of info. the site wants to establish is your campaign goal. The four choices were “Get website traffic”, “Have listeners know my address”, “Get phone calls”, and “Announce an event”.
When was the last time you wrote a new business order with any of those four goals as the single reason for the campaign? Wouldn’t that be easier for the copywriter and the client to track results? TRY IT!
I inputted that I wanted to announce an event and proceeded to the following prompt. My business name, address, website, and industry were the following choices. So far, so good. The only tricky part were the industry choices.
I can see how specific business categories are not precisely represented, like counter service restaurants. They are not fast food because there is no drive-through, but they aren’t a full-service restaurant either due to no waiters being used and many other factors. It isn’t confusing for me, but you know how clients can be!
Selecting the market I wanted my customers to come from was easy, and it allowed iHeart to choose the closest radio stations. Identifying the ONE type of customer I wanted was fantastic. I can see how it focuses the client on a primary target. Parents with young kids or teens, foodies, married couples, single adults, or an option to select my demo all seemed easy enough.
The demos offered weren’t Men 18-34, but men, women or adults, young adults, seniors, adults, or the dreaded all ages. Next was selecting when I wanted to run and how much I wanted to spend. It wasn’t a challenge because you choose your dates, and then you’re given three choices for a weekly budget. In my case, it was $500, $750, or $1,000 per week. iHeart AdBuilder bills you less if the whole week isn’t used.
Impressions, frequency, and reach were highlighted, and they showed the logos of the two stations my $500 was going to be spent on. I noticed there was no information on when the ads would air, how many times per day, or any of that! “You give us $500, and we will spend it over the week on these two stations when and where we want! And it will work!”
The pages dedicated to creating copy are straight forward and, as salespeople, we have filled those types of forms out plenty of times. iHeart is highlighting that they are waiving the $100 production fee. Maybe, that will change in the future. After going to the checkout, your credit card is given a temporary authorization (which will be reversed), and you are told your ad will be emailed to you in a few days. You won’t be billed until your ads air.
What are the odds this $500 campaign over two stations in a few days will work? Who knows, but I bet the automated emails and follow-up calls will be relentless. I think it’s a great platform and can see a decent percentage of smaller new business deals go this direction. Some clients may even prefer to never “deal” with a salesperson again, kind of like most of our agency buyers. That leaves us with a whole lotta middle ground. For now.
Media Noise – Episode 58
Demetri welcomes Brandon Kravitz and Derek Futterman to the show this week. They talk about Hub Arkush, Aaron Rodgers, Michelle Tafoya, and Pete Thamel.
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