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Justin Spears Started From The Bottom Now He’s Here

“They always told me I was the best intern they have had,” said Spears. “I always thought they were just blowing smoke up my shorts but they really meant it.”

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There’s few things more intimidating in the radio business than walking into a station as an intern on your first day. Its borderline terrifying and I’d be willing to bet just about everyone reading this has been in those shoes.

Most likely, you were a wide-eyed kid with no experience that prayed you didn’t screw something up on your first day in a studio. Then, as time went along, you grew more and more comfortable with your surroundings and began to adjust to life in sports radio. But during your time as an intern, between working all the long and odd hours that found you doing grunt work for no pay while balancing school or even a full-time job, there was a moment where you decided if this was really the profession you wanted to pursue. 

Justin Spears had that exact same moment in the summer of 2015. After finishing his sophomore year at the University of Arizona, he needed an internship for school. Though he was already the sports editor at the student newspaper, Spears’ passion had always been in sports radio. Plus, he loved listening to Zach Clark in the afternoons. So, in late May of that year, he began interning at ESPN Tucson. 

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Call him old-fashioned, but Spears made a decision when he started his internship. He was going to do everything in his power to make a great impression on everyone in the building. To accomplish this, he was going to make sure everyone came away impressed with his work ethic and hustle. 

“That was a goal of mine,” said Spears. “If you’re going to be an intern somewhere you want to leave a great impression. I would come in an hour earlier than my normal time and get some audio for the show, have it prepared and then tell the hosts it was ready to go if needed. I’d do anything. I was always doing something to help improve the show.”

Little did he know at the time, but that became one of the main reasons why Spears would find himself in the host seat at ESPN Tucson by the age of 23. After his three-month internship with the station, Spears returned to U of A where he would soon graduate. Upon doing so, he was hired at the Arizona Daily Republic in Tucson as a digital journalist. He did everything from writing, to video work to even having a major hand in starting a podcast that was centered on U of A sports, where he eventually became the main host. He would even occasionally fill in as a host on the competitor station in town, Wildcats Radio 1290. 

Though he didn’t have any working affiliation with ESPN Tucson at the time, Spears did something any young broadcaster should learn from. Yes, his job now was with the local newspaper, but he always made it a point to keep a great relationship with everyone he worked with at the radio station. You know, just in case. 

“Oh yeah, of course I always stayed in touch with Zach (Clark),” said Spears. “He was one of my mentors. Whenever I saw him, at a game or in public, or there were even times I drove by the studio and had time, so I went in and said hello. I always kept that good connection with them. Mainly Zach, but also Stacey Wampler, who’s the PD, he was the producer of a show and a really good friend of mine. But yeah, I always kept in touch with them.”

Maybe Spears was just being genuinely nice, regardless, it was such a smart move on his part. So much so, that when Zach Clark decided to leave ESPN Tucson last June, management quickly considered Spears as his potential replacement. 

Image result for zach clark espn tucson

“When the spot opened, they realized, there’s Justin, he’s in town and interned for us, he hosts a podcasts and he has live radio experience,” said Spears. “It just seemed like a fit so they reached out to me and I’m really glad that they did.”

Though ESPN Tucson was interested in adding Spears to the team, they didn’t personally contact him. Instead, Spears found out from another source that an opportunity in radio was available to him. 

“It’s funny, because it was third party,” said Spears. “It wasn’t them reaching out to me or me reaching out to them. It was a Saturday afternoon at the Arizona Daily Star. My editor, Ryan Finley, comes up to my desk and says ‘hey, I’m going to walk across the street to the Circle K and get a soda. You want to go?’ I kind of got the message that I really needed to walk with him because he has something he needs to say or tell me. At first I thought I was in trouble, but I couldn’t remember anything I did that was wrong.

“We started walking and he told me ESPN Tucson was looking for a temporary host and wanted to know if I was interested in the position. I thought about it and for a second, I thought, well, is he telling me I have to choose this job or the other? I asked him what this would do for my current job if I did accept it. Ryan and everyone at the Daily Star were cool enough to allow me to have both jobs. I’m literally living the dream as a kid from Tucson. I’m hosting a radio show and I get to write for the newspaper that I grew up reading. I’m just so thankful for the people I’m surrounded with.”

At the young age of 23, Spears is now in the host seat at ESPN Tucson. Sure, mostly because he’s talented, but also because he made a serious of excellent decisions, that involved working hard and successfully networking that kept him in mind for the position. 

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“They always told me I was the best intern they have had,” said Spears. “I always thought they were just blowing smoke up my shorts but they really meant it. They said, you always came in and did your job and you were always looking for something to do.”

Though Spears is happy where his work ethic has taken him, he’s still working as hard as ever as both a radio host and a writer for the Arizona Daily Republic. Though being a host at 23 years old is great, that doesn’t mean it comes without challenges. Most notably, you have to constantly fight with sounding young to an audience that’s almost always going to be older than you. 

“Since I grew up in Tucson I feel like I know what my audience is thinking,” said Spears. “I try not to sound young, I don’t want to seem like the young and arrogant kid who’s a know-it-all, because I’m not that. I’m not a guy that’s really going to scream or yell. I like to keep it fun and light. That’s been the biggest struggle for me, is not showing my age and showing how young I am. But I’m working on that.”

Working at a newspaper and doing a radio show can be a tough grind that makes for a time consuming schedule. But when it comes to on-air content, it can have its advantages. Writers and radio hosts are always looking for fresh content to give their readers and listeners. Seeing as Spears does both sides on a daily basis, it’s made for better ideas. 

“We’re always looking for creative content in the dog days of summer,” said Spears. “We have to be more creative in the ways we present our stories. You know engagement pieces, like away teams or who the Top 10 Arizona running backs of all-time are. Stuff like that, I think it really does help me with content for the radio show. We like to be as creative and as listener engaging as possible. I think being a writer really helps me be a radio host.”

Though it goes without saying, it can’t be stated enough that hard work is the main ingredient to excel in this industry. That will never change. Spears is living proof that you can accomplish big things at a young age by rolling up your sleeves and being the hardest working person in the building. And that’s exactly the advice he would give to any intern.

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“Be the first one in and the last one out,” said Spears. “Always ask questions and don’t be afraid to share your ideas. That’s something I had to overcome, like I said before, I didn’t want to seem like a know-it-all, because I don’t.  But if you have ideas that you think are great and can benefit, bring it up. You never know the response you’re going to get.

“You can enjoy the moment because you’re working in sports, but just be a hustler. In college, I was a part-time waiter at IHOP on the weekends. I balanced five classes, writing for the student paper and working at the student radio station and TV station, as well as being the student correspondent for Sports Illustrated. There were times when I left Arizona Stadium at 2 a.m. then had to get up the next morning, a few hours after, to wait tables. That was a weekly thing for me. It may suck at times, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I kept telling myself that. Trust me, people recognize that and appreciate it. Plus, you have a ton to put on your resume. Just work and it’s going to pay off.”

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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BSM Writers

Does Tom Brady’s Salary Make Sense For FOX In a Changing Media World?

“The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general.”

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FOX is playing it too safe when it comes to adding Tom Brady.

That’s going to sound weird given the size of Brady’s broadcasting contract. Even if that deal isn’t worth as much as initially reported, it’s a hell of a lot of loot, especially considering Brady has remained steadfastly uninteresting for a solid 20 years now.

Let’s not pretend that is a detriment in the eyes of a television network, however. There’s a long line of famous athletes companies like FOX have happily paid millions without ever requiring them to be much more than consistently inoffensive and occasionally insightful. Yes, Brady is getting more money than those previous guys, but he’s also the most successful quarterback in NFL history.

The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general. More specifically, the fact that the business of televising football games is changing, and while it may not be changing quite as rapidly as the rest of the sports-media industry, but it is changing. There’s an increasing number of choices available to viewers not only in the games that can be watched, but how they are consumed. Everything in the industry points to an increasingly fragmented audience and yet by signing Brady to be in the broadcast booth once he retires, FOX is paying a premium for a single component in a tried-and-true broadcasting formula will be more successful. 

Think of Brady’s hiring as a bet FOX made. A 10-year commitment in which it is doubling down on the status quo at a time of obvious change. FOX saw ESPN introduce the ManningCast last year, and instead of seeing the potential for a network to build different types of products, FOX decided, “Nah, we don’t want to do anything different or new.” Don’t let the price tag fool you. FOX went out and bought a really famous former player to put in a traditional broadcast booth to hope that the center holds..

Maybe it will. Maybe Brady is that interesting or he’s that famous and his presence is powerful enough to defy the trends within the industry. I’m not naive enough to think that value depends on the quality of someone’s content. The memoir of a former U.S. president will fetch a multi-million-dollar advance not because of the literary quality, but because of the size of the potential audience. It’s the same rationale behind FOX’s addition of Brady.

But don’t mistake an expensive addition from an innovative one. The ManningCast was an actual innovation. A totally different way of televising a football game, and while not everyone liked it, some people absolutely loved it. It’s not going to replace the regular Monday Night Football format, but it wasn’t supposed to. It’s an alternative or more likely a complement and ESPN was sufficiently encouraged to extend the ManningCast through 2024. It’s a different product. Another option it is offering its customers. You can choose to watch to the traditional broadcast format with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth or you can watch the Mannings or you can toggle between both. What’s FOX’s option for those audience members who prefer something like the ManningCast to the traditional broadcast?

It’s not just ESPN, either. Amazon offered viewers a choice of broadcasters, too, from a female announcing tandem of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kramer beginning in 2018 to the Scouts Feed with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks in 2020.

So now, not only do viewers have an increasingly wide array of choices on which NFL games they can watch — thanks to Sunday Ticket — they in some instances have a choice of the announcing crew for that given game. Amid this economic environment, FOX not only decided that it was best to invest in a single product, but it decided to make that investment in a guy who had never done this particular job before nor shown much in the way of an aptitude for it.

Again, maybe Brady is the guy to pull it off. He’s certainly famous enough. His seven Super Bowl victories are unmatched and span two franchises, and while he’s denied most attempts to be anything approaching interesting in public over the past 20 years, perhaps that is changing. His increasingly amusing Twitter posts over the past 2 years could be a hint of the humor he’s going to bring to the broadcast booth. That Tampa Tom is his true personality, which remained under a gag order from the Sith Lord Bill Belichick, and now Brady will suddenly become football’s equivalent of Charles Barkley.

But that’s a hell of a needle to thread for anyone, even someone as famous as Brady, and it’s a really high bar for someone with no broadcasting experience. The upside for FOX is that its traditional approach holds. The downside, however, is that it is not only spending more money on a product with a declining market, but it is ignoring obvious trends within the industry as it does so.

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