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Show Prep Only Works If It Works For You

“An old college professor of mine once told me being prepared is half the victory. I think he was conservative with that number.”

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How many times have you had the following exchange: 

Stranger: So what do you do for a living?

You: I do a sports radio show. I’m on every weekday from 2-6 p.m. 

Stranger: Wow! You only work four hours a day? That must be really nice!

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Oh, if they only knew, right? 

There’s nothing glamorous about spending three hours a day prepping for a show. Especially during this time of the year when content can be hard to come by. But how much or how well a person, or an entire show, preps can usually dictate how successful a show is going to be. If you don’t believe me, take it from someone like Ben Franklin who once said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Each host has their own unique of how they prep for a show. Jim Costa of 1130 AM WDFN The Fan in Detroit and ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids likes to start prepping in studio at least three hours before his show. In Houston, Sean Pendergast of Sports Radio 610 preps in his “Main Street office” which is a Dunkin Donuts near NRG Stadium, where he drinks coffee, eats breakfast and even chats with the staff, as well as the occasional listener since they know he preps there. Then, there’s Marc Ryan who’s the assistant PD and host at ESPNUpstate that prefers to prep inside his office at the station. 

To put it simply, prepping for a show is like most things in sports radio. There’s not necessarily a right or a wrong way to do it, you just have to find the method that works best for you. 

“Everything is prep, right?” said Costa. “If it’s watching games the night before, scanning news on Twitter, like I love to check Twitter during commercial breaks to see what people are saying. I like to look for interesting things said by reporters or even an interesting stat that’s shared to bookmark for the next day. But even the next morning I go to all the major newspapers and websites in Detroit just to make sure I didn’t miss an angle or a hook that we should be talking about on the show.

“In our pre-show, it’s not just, ‘okay, here’s the story.’ We want the hook. Where is the jumping off point that leads to a compelling conversation? I’ll look for anything that can give me that, even if the maintenance guy in the building makes a comment about the Detroit Tigers that I think I can do something with, I don’t care where the idea comes from, I think you have to be wired in the way that everything can be turned into content.”

Great show prep doesn’t start and end with the two hours you do before the opening intro. It means you’re scanning throughout the evening trying to find stories, clips, stats and quotes for the next day. I prefer to screenshot anything I find useful after the show, so that it’s there the next morning for reference. Another popular method is to copy links in the notes app on the iPhone, whereas others use the ‘like’ button on Twitter as bookmarks for tweets they find compelling enough to discuss on their next show. Whatever you do, great prep means you’re constantly searching. 

“Even as you’re calling right now, I’m kind of doing prep,” said Ryan. “I’m watching and listening to different shows, not so I can copy their topics but I’m watching and looking at what they’re doing, because a lot of what I hear spawns ideas about what would work in my own market.”

Where did Ryan learn to prep? Who shaped his attitudes about listening to other shows in a way that benefits his own?

“I was really fortunate to be mentored by the former executive producer of The Herd and the former executive producer of the Dan Patrick Show. Those guys helped me learn how to prep in a better and more effective way, as well as how to better develop topics. They taught me how to come up with clearer and more concise thoughts, rather than just being all over the place like I had been before that mentorship.”

Image result for marc ryan espn upstate

Costa added to that. 

“You do sports and you do non-sports. You kind of use an open-mind in your life and think, can I use that on the show? Bookmarking something, I put things in my notes on my phone or message our group. You can’t just prep three hours before the show, really, it’s constant. There’s nothing like going into a show knowing I have two or three really good jumping off points. When you get to the summer, we’ve all been there, you’re saying, ‘Oh boy! What are we going to find today?’ That’s why if you always keep yourself in prep mode you can come into each day with something so you’re not scrambling.”

Pen and paper is still as effective as ever. I even prefer a notebook to outline the show, just so I can quickly look back at a stat, quote or a note that I’m referring back to from a few days prior. However, more and more hosts are trending towards Google Docs as a way to prep and share their rundown with everyone on the show. Pendergast and Costa use it before every show, but it’s not always a hard script that has to be stuck to at all times. 

“I would liken it to a trip where you have an itinerary,” said Costa. “You’re not going to stick to it like its mandatory, if a topic hits, we’ll stay on it. But we definitely lay out and decide what we’re leading with and when we’re re-cycling it back. I put everything on a Google Doc and I put in teases, audio we have, sponsors reads and when I’m done I email it to everyone on the show.”

Anyone that’s ever had a co-host realizes the fine line you have to walk at times when prepping for the show. For instance, in Costa’s case, he may want to tell his partner that he’s going to bring up how he thinks this Detroit Tigers season can be a success, but he also doesn’t want to spoil the natural reaction he wants to get on the air. So naturally, there becomes a unique balance of keeping your co-host informed without revealing what your main points are going to be. 

“We always say we don’t want to do the show before the show,” said Costa “You build up trust, because if I had never done a show with Drew, I go, I want to do that. Here’s how the Tigers’ season can be a success. He may look at me and say there’s no way we can do 15 minutes on that. But if I tell him I have something really good and I’ll save it for the show, that trust kind of lets it be enough. But if there’s other topics where he goes, hey man, where you at on that? Don’t give me your whole opinion, but if it’s one of those either/or, don’t give me any more than that so I can act surprised on air and act in the moment.”

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The goal of this piece isn’t to try and change your pre-show routine, it’s to show and give a few ideas of how other successful show hosts around the country choose to prep for their shows.

Sometimes, logistics make it hard to sit in a conference room before the show and map everything out. Still, some hosts have that option and prefer not to do it. The key is to find what’s best for all parties and stick with it. If you can only make a 15-minute pre-show phone call happen, so be it. But make sure you and your co-host develop a habit of doing it every single day. 

An old college professor of mine once told me being prepared is half the victory. I think he was conservative with that number.

Being prepared is everything in this business. Show me a great host and I’ll show you one that knows what it takes to successfully prep each and every day. But as important as working hard is, it’s also important to be receptive to other ideas from members of the show. That includes your producers. Trust them, be honest with each other and value their input. 

“We’re kind of spoiled being syndicated, because I have a producer in Detroit,” said Costa. “He sends all of us a morning email of a number of stories to just look over and consider for the show. Our producer in Grand Rapids is wired a little bit different, he’ll see a story and immediately throw it in our group chat. Both styles really work and help. But I do ask my producer if a certain topic is going to work. They know what they’re doing and I value the opinion of everyone on the show.”

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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