If FALCon and the relationship Morning Men has with its listeners can be summed up in 3,000 words, this would be it.
Every weekday, from 6 – 10am ET on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio, Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik provide listeners with a sports talk radio show growing in popularity and an entertainment value that goes beyond sports. Morning Men is nothing like the show Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo creates in the afternoon, it’s probably nothing like a show Russo would have picked to listen to.
When Steve Phillips left the channel’s morning show for MLB Radio five years ago, the decision could have been made to fill the void with someone who can continue the classic sports talk model. Instead, producer, Mike Babchik went from being a third voice and sidekick, to the star of the show.
While many incumbent radio hosts wouldn’t be comfortable allowing a drastic change to the scope of their show, Evan Cohen became part of the transition and let Morning Men take on a life of its own. In doing so, the show also took on the personality of Babchik, even drawing out a side of Evan he didn’t know he had.
That’s what Morning Men is. It uses sports talk as an avenue for people to be open, to share vulnerabilities and laugh at the things maybe you’re not supposed to laugh at. The show will test limits, even during their live broadcast. Playing beer pong in a speedo, the “Babkini” and a beer chugging contest all while “Larry Long Balls” and “The Sheriff” are in town, isn’t something most radio stations push in the year 2019.
The fans and listeners embrace everything about Morning Men in a way that few national shows achieve. If you’re a first time listener, you want to learn the inside lingo and what it means to be a “FAL.” If you’re a longtime listener, you want to hear every minute so you don’t miss out on something that could be discussed at FALCon 5 next year.
So much emphasis in radio is put on ratings, subscribers and streaming numbers, but maybe witnessing a raucously supportive crowd travel the country to attend a party should also be considered a measurement of success.
FALCon 4 was my first Morning Men event, but it wasn’t my first time watching a radio show conduct a remote broadcast. My expectations were that of watching a normal two-hour live broadcast, but FALCon is less about seeing the show and more about the fans and listeners celebrating being part of the show.
At the end of their two-hour broadcast during FALCon, I was able to speak to Evan, Babchik and Steve Torre about the event. First up was Mad Dog Radio’s longest tenured morning host, Evan Cohen.
BC: It’s really amazing that you have this feeling that surrounds a national show, that you’ve built this community that wants to get together, travels to get here. Everyone knows the inside jokes and they gather to talk about it and create friendships over it.
Evan Cohen: Yeah and we appreciate it. Give credit to our bosses, Steve Cohen and Steve Torre for allowing us to do this because we knew we couldn’t be the regular sports show and really stand out. We had to be different and our way of being different is trying to be even more inclusive of the fans and making them the show. One of the sales people from Sirius came to this last year and said it feels like you’ve done national, local and I thought that was a great way of putting it.
BC: You were on this show doing more traditional sports talk when it was you and Steve Phillips. How has the transition been in getting to where the show is now?
Evan Cohen: This show is all of our shows, but it reflects Babchik’s personality more than anything and maybe a side of mine and Andrew’s personality that we didn’t know we had until Babchik brought it out of us.
BC: Was there any concern about Bachik going from producer to full-time co-host, knowing how different he was going to make the show?
Evan Cohen: No, this is what we wanted because he’s the kind of guy that will say and do anything that others won’t, but also will say the things you’re thinking and he actually says them out loud and it’s not a shtick, it’s who he really is. The internal support is amazing, the fact that everyone from SiriusXM is here is great.
BC: Having management here to play beer pong with Babchik and watch him dancing around in a speedo is definitely a different kind of support.
Evan Cohen: It’s something I didn’t initially expect, but winning over our own team was so important and understanding that this is different from what a national sports show is supposed to be, but that’s what we needed it to be. The best part about this, if I’m going to say one single thing about this event, is all of the people you just saw, come here to see each other. This show has created a family for our listeners to be together with each other which is a wonderful thing for us.
BC: Does this event fire you up and motivate you when you see the turnout and feel this energy?
Evan Cohen: It’s unbelievable, honestly. Every year I can confidently say we have more people and I think that will continue next year. Hopefully they give us another one, but we will have more people again. I also give Dog a lot of credit for this because we’ve discussed it and he doesn’t want to come here and steal our thunder. But we’ve been saying, number five he has to come. Our fans, FALs and us, we’ve made it and now we can bring him into it.
BC: How about the support the show gets from Chris Russo specifically? There’s a lot of back and forth between the shows – you guys make fun of him a lot – it’s something maybe not every super star radio host would be okay with.
Evan Cohen: Amazing. This morning, he calls me to wish me luck, sends me motivational texts and then records all the ins and outs for the show. We want him to be a part of our show. The biggest thing that ever happened to us was him realizing he actually enjoys us making fun of him. His wife, who is wonderful, she loves it too and she’s even given us material for it, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.
BC: Did Russo’s motivational texts inspire you to want to talk about baseball for two hours today?
Evan Cohen: No, they made me want to read them on-air and make fun of him, [Laughs] because that’s what he would want, but it means something when you have this person that I grew up idolizing and still do, cares as much as he does.
BC: And he cares about this show and event which is so far and away different from anything he’s done, but he recognizes it’s working and creating its own following and sees that as something beneficial to the channel.
Evan Cohen: Absolutely, and that’s important for us because without his support, I don’t know that we could do this. It’s also Steve Torre, Steve Cohen, Danny Kanell, the support is amazing and everyone in this room is friends with each other now, which is crazy because how could they even know each other? This show brings people together and they’re friends for life. It’s amazing.
It wasn’t hard for me to spot Babchik in the middle of the room, standing on a table, donning a speedo still 30 minutes after the show ended, but getting him away from the crowd to ask him a few questions was the more difficult task.
BC: You’re obviously a shy person, were you nervous in front of everyone today?
Mike Babchik: No, you get this strange calmness that takes over you. [Laughs] Maybe it’s being in a room full of people that love you. When you have all these people that fly in and love the show, they love Evan and Babs, you feel like you can do anything. I don’t know if I would get naked and wear a speedo in front of people that weren’t fans.
BC: You lost the beer chugging contest to Kanell today, but you did beat Joey Chestnut in a matzah eating contest not too long ago, which was more important to you?
Mike Babchik: The win! Forget the loss! I drank too much last night so it tainted this beer chugging thing, but Joey Chestnut legitimately lost to me. Without a doubt, I won. I crushed him! I picked the right thing and ate more matzah than he could. It’s one of the greatest achievements of my life.
BC: How awesome is it to have this crowd, as a national show to bring all these people together from all over the country into this bar and have them as fired up to be part of the show and talk about the show as they are?
Mike Babchik: That’s what it’s all about. It really is a community of fans and listeners, it’s more about their friendships. They want to get together and they do it through this show. Now people have friends all over the country, it’s crazy to think that someone from New York can now have a friend in Wyoming, but because of this show we’re able to bring a lot of people together.
BC: There are people that actually met here today for the first time, but they share inside jokes and their favorite segments and that’s the beauty of radio, that it can bring people together like this and fans become not only a consumer of the show, but they’re actually part of the show.
Mike Babchik: It’s incredible, the show just took over. It was organic and people felt comfortable enough with their own vulnerabilities to make it work. They get together and communicate with each other through the show and on social media and to have an event so they can all meet is just a great thing.
BC: You started out as a producer on a normal sports talk show, now, not only are you the co-host, but the show has taken on your personality and transitioned from a traditional sports talk show to what it is now.
Mike Babchik: The evolution is amazing. I got lucky, but give so much credit to Steve Cohen, to Steve Torre and to Evan who really had a vision for this. It’s a different type of show. Not a lot of people thought it would take off, but the bosses had faith, Evan had faith. That’s what it’s all about and here we are a couple years later, filling places up in New York City.
Lastly, the program director, midday host and Mad Dog Radio originator, Steve Torre gave a few thoughts on the channel’s morning show and FALCon 4
BC: For a national show to have this type of turnout at an event like this on a random Saturday, people have traveled from all over the country – Syracuse, Maryland, Texas, California even Canada – fans are flying in to turn this two hour broadcast into a vacation, it’s unprecedented.
Steve Torre: I’m 55 years old, I’ve been in radio for a long time, NY radio for 20 years and I attended various events for the station and the parent company and we would have big numbers, people would have a connection to the talent – but it’s mind-boggling to me that we have the amount of people that we do here, traveling on their own dime and flying in from various parts of the country.
I was talking to someone who flew in from Wyoming and took two flights to get here and it kind of hits home that we have that type of connection with the audience. That they’re putting in that much time and effort to get here for a two hour event – it blows my mind, but it’s a sense of satisfaction that we’ve achieved something that’s rare, where it’s a national show, but it has a local feel.
BC: Three hundred people at a bar in New York isn’t that crazy, but no one is here by accident, every single person here knows the inside jokes and can share their favorite segments with the person next to them and that’s what Stern was so great at building with a national show. Building a community of listeners that couldn’t afford to miss a show because they didn’t want to lose out on an inside joke. And if they didn’t know about something, it’s even more important to listen so they can figure out what they’re not in on.
Steve Torre: Sometimes from a national perspective for programming, if you’re listening to the show for the first time and you’re not really aware of the inside jokes, you’re wondering how you can draw in another audience.
If somebody is listening for the first time at 7:30 on a Thursday morning and they’re wondering, ‘what’s a FAL?’ you’re hoping through the strength of the content that they’ll stick around to learn. They’ve developed ‘Morning Men tell a friend’ which has grown the audience, but you worry that there are too many inside things for a new audience. But with the numbers today and the connections you see they have with people, it makes you realize that’s not the case because this event keeps growing.
BC: How about Babchik stepping in a few years ago from being the producer, and give Evan credit, because the show is totally different from when he started, but he allowed it to take on the personality of Babchik.
Steve Torre: When Chris Russo and I first started developing this channel, we had a blueprint of what works for talk radio and not that it was horrendous, but we had to make mistakes to really figure out what works. With this show particularly, it took us a longer time to find our groove and establish ourselves. When you’re doing something nationally, where your parent company already has ESPN, Fox Sports and several sports entities, you want to do something different to catch the listeners ear, and Evan had the wherewithal to understand how important Mike’s contribution was.
Just talking to Mike off the air, I could tell he had an ear for what was relatable to people. He’s the everyday guy and he follows sports, but why does he need to be an expert? He’s like your buddy you’re talking to at the bar or on the phone. We realized Mike’s just a regular guy, he might not be an expert X’s and O’s wise, but he knows sports and can relate to people.
BC: It’s more about entertainment than knowing baseball analytics.
Steve Torre: Entertainment, personality and there is room for X’s and O’s and following an important story. Not to bring anything negative into this, but we served a purpose during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and we were able to have some levity. I would describe this show as entertaining and being relatable to people. You can see the connection these people have with the show and it’s satisfying to see the type of impact it’s made.
BC: How about Russo supporting the show and his willingness to allow Mike and Evan to make fun of him as much as they do, but still seeing it as a benefit for the show and station?
Steve Torre: It’s a great point and it speaks to him about how comfortable he is that he can just sit back and take a beating because he does. Probably 50, 60 percent of what they play back for entertainment value is a result of what we call ‘Dog-isms’ – some of his faux pas, mispronunciations and botching of the English language. They’re exposing him and making him look like what some people would perceive as a complete fool, but he embraces it because he knows he’s Doggie.
He’s reached a certain status. I don’t know if he would’ve done this 20 years ago, but trust me when I tell you, on and off the air, he supports them. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t know that. They know he supports what they do and it makes them comfortable that he’s not going to get defensive or be offended. There are times that they come to me with a bit and ask if I think Russo’s going to be okay with it. We’ll run it by him and every time he says, ‘of course, what are you kidding?’ That’s a very important part of it.
BC: And it’s great to have that cross-promotion between shows on the channel.
Steve Torre: I’ve been trying to go around and talk to a lot of people here to show appreciation and most of them tell me what they love so much is the fact that we have a great connection and the shows all crossover. My partner Danny Kanell is here today, Dog isn’t here, but it’s because he doesn’t want to take away from their day. Even though Mike and Evan are immensely popular and people are here for them, if Dog walks in, it steers some attention away and he genuinely doesn’t want to do that to them.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!
Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.
For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.
If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
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