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Rob Parker Used To Not Be This Much Fun

“I give the bosses at FOX Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, a lot of credit from this standpoint; this is not your traditional way of doing things. Normally Chris and I, and this is the way we started, would have been paired up with guys who are radio guys.”

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Coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later. This was the philosophy of legendary Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It’s a style that is imitated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and also executed by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. They have the ability to aggressively demand the best of their players, while at the same time showing them great respect and care.

Switching gears and having a healthy mixture of both is challenging. The same holds true in sports radio. It can be difficult for hosts to convey strong stances while still remaining likable. It’s challenging to be intense and also amusing. Not every host can do both. It’s an approach that Rob Parker of FOX Sports Radio and FS1 has mastered. He has a unique blend of delivering strong opinions while keeping things fun with his lighthearted humor.

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Rob is truly one of the great dudes in the industry. He’s also is a busy man. Rob hosts The Odd Couple with Chris Broussard on FOX Sports Radio weeknights from 4-7pm PT. He also teaches at USC, hosts the Inside the Parker podcast, and appears regularly on FS1’s Undisputed and The Herd. Rob made time to touch on many key points in this interview including the importance of incorporating old school and new school and a willingness to be the lone wolf. Rob also talks about the most rewarding experience he’s ever had, the worst brand of radio anybody can do, and faxes.

Yes, faxes. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What year was it when you hosted your first sports radio show?

Rob Parker: I always had an interest in sports radio when I was a kid. I can remember growing up in New York — John Sterling, who’s now the Yankees radio voice, he had a show on WMCA. I used to be glued to it and listen to him like crazy. The other guy was Art Rush Jr. who had a sports show at WABC in New York. I remember those two guys very vividly. I’m talking about I was a young guy at 8, 9, 10 listening to sports talk radio, which normally that’s not what kids that age are doing. But I used to be mad when the show went off because I couldn’t get enough.

I always had an interest in radio from that standpoint. I never thought about doing or having my own show. But I go to Detroit and I’m a columnist at the Free Press. In 1994 they’re starting Detroit’s first all sports station WDFN AM 1130. I hear about it. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who’s the boss. I don’t know anything. I just heard they’re going to start this all sports station in Detroit.

I’m up in Fenway Park for Opening Day. This is pre cell phones and all that. There’s a phone call in the press box and they say hey, is Rob Parker in the press box? I’m like who’s calling me at Fenway Park on Opening Day? I’m like did something bad happen? Who would be calling me?

It’s Lorna Gladstone who was the PD for this new station that she was starting up. She calls me and she says hey, I talked to a lot of people around town. Your name came up often. They think you’re very opinionated and would be good to do a talk show. So I’m like oh, okay. Wow, okay. She said I know you’re obviously at Opening Day. When you come back from Boston would you meet with me? I’m like great.

Literally, I get back and we have this meeting. Five minutes in — I had never hosted a show, I had been on a couple of shows but I had never hosted a show — she says I know this isn’t good for negotiations but I want to hire you. I was just like what? Literally. She said yep. Not only that, this was the other part that just blew me away, so I’m thinking I’m going to get a weekend show or midday. She said you’re going to do afternoon drive and you’re going to pick your partner. I was the first person ever hired at WDFN the all sports station. Then I got to pick my partner, which was incredible.

Noe: How did you go about picking your partner?

Rob: I did the show called The Odd Couple. It was me and a guy named Mike Stone, who at the time was a producer at the local News Channel 4 in Detroit. I had known Stoney a little bit just from covering stuff, but I didn’t know him, know him. When we did talk, we used to always disagree on everything. He’d come with his side. I had my side. I remembered that.

Lorna brought in a couple of other guys for me to go out to lunch with and to meet. They were from all over the country. In those days they did a search for people. None of them really clicked with me. At that point she was going to hire Stoney to do evenings on a show called Mike and Ike. I said well, what about Stoney? I think we would be a good pair. She said really? I said yeah, we kind of clash a lot when we talk about sports. The show was billed, “Can this sports writer and this sports fan share a radio show without driving each other crazy?” That was my first show.

It was — right out of the box — wildly successful. So much so, Brian, this is the crazy part, I was only on the show for less than a year because I wound up leaving to go to New York to be a columnist. Five or six months into the show, we go to a Red Wings game. What I used to say to Stoney all the time when he’d say something crazy, I used to always say, “Come on, Stoney. What are you talking about?” It became a thing. We’re at a Red Wings game and no lie, somebody holds up a sign in the crowd that said, “Come on, Stoney.” I just could not believe it.

Noe: Do you think you would get bored if you were doing radio with a partner that viewed things very similarly as yourself?

Rob: I think so. I think it would be boring. To me it’s not personal. It’s just a sports opinion. That’s all it is. I say the only thing you can’t argue about is math. Two and two is four no matter who’s doing the math. Everything else is debatable.

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I don’t look at it as a bad thing if we disagree. I don’t think you can force it or try to pretend, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I’m always trying to get my partner to change his mind or at least take a look at what I’m saying and where I’m coming from.

Noe: When you go back to the early days, what was an important lesson you needed to learn about sports radio that you didn’t know initially?

Rob: I think early on maybe I wasn’t as much fun as I am now. Where you laugh at yourself. Remember I was coming from a newspaper columnist job. There wasn’t a lot of comedy in that. I think I just learned that everything is not that serious. People are driving in their cars, going to wherever they are. They’re looking for something to kill the time and make it enjoyable. Everything is not life and death. Everything is not the end of the world. I can laugh at myself. I can laugh at other people. Once I understood that, I got even better at it.

Noe: What was it that made you realize that?

Rob: A couple of things. People would respond. I could just see the response. Back then, I know I’m dating myself, but there were no emails or anything. People used to fax in because they couldn’t call from work. (Laughs.) What a novel idea. Isn’t that great? They used to fax in. We would get faxes if we did something funny or silly and people would just go crazy about it. They would love it.

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Noe: How many years had you been covering sports as a writer before you got into sports radio?

Rob: I started in 1986 and got my first show in ‘94. So what is that eight years? Yeah, and it was good from the standpoint that I came in with a little something extra than maybe most guys on the radio who hadn’t covered teams and haven’t been around. I always felt like I spoke from authority. I think that really helped, ‘cause I’m at the games. We’re talking about a player, I talked to him one-on-one earlier today, or yesterday, or last week. I always felt like my voice was more authoritative from the access and the people that I knew.

Noe: What’s something about writing that sports radio doesn’t provide, or something about sports radio that writing never provided you?

Rob: The immediacy of sports radio and actually connecting with the fan. I think that’s neat. I love to talk to callers. I love to see what the average Joe is thinking. Most people are calling in listening to hear my opinion, which I get, but sometimes I think you’ve got to have a little voice of the fan as well because they see things a little differently than we do.

Noe: What’s the most nervous you’ve been in your entire career?

Rob: It might have been — and only for a brief moment — but I think the first time me and my partner got to fill in on Sporting News Radio nationally. At first I was just thinking wow, this is going to be on all over the country. Maybe for a minute I thought about it and it was like daunting. Then we started the show and we just did what we normally did. Leading up to it, I was just like this is a big break. Maybe they might like us. So I was a little nervous.

Noe: What would you say is your proudest achievement so far? 

Rob: I think the show that I’m on now with Chris — The Odd Couple. From this standpoint, I don’t know and I’m not positive, but I think it’s the first nationally syndicated show with two African-American hosts. For a long time, most national shows didn’t have any African Americans hosting. I think it’s a fun, informative show. I really think people like it. I really think it struck a nerve from being mad at me or Chris, or laughing with me and Chris, and just feeling like it’s a part of your day. I really believe that for some people it’s a part of their day.

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We’ve been on for 10 months and we still get calls every day when people say they’re so compelled to tell us how much they like the show. I thought that would wear off after two or three months, you know when something’s new. They all say the same thing; man, you make my commute so much better for my 30- 40-minute drive home from work. I listen every day. You can’t ask for anything better than for people to say that.

Noe: Some people that agree with you will preface their call by stating how rarely it happens. It’s like, “Rob, man, I hardly ever agree with you, but I agree with you on this.” Does that make you laugh?

Rob: It makes me laugh all the time. It’s like am I from Mars? You never agree with me ever? Wow, I don’t think I’m that radical. You know what I mean?

Noe: Yeah, it’s funny like that. What are some of the emotions you feel about being successful in this business, and you happen to be black, in an industry that lacks diversity?

Rob: I think it’s positive not only for me but for guys that come after. That’s what I’m always looking at. I give the bosses at FOX Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, a lot of credit from this standpoint; this is not your traditional way of doing things. Normally Chris and I, and this is the way we started, would have been paired up with guys who are radio guys. We come from the writing side.

They just decided that they didn’t have to do that. They thought our opinions and our approach were strong enough that we could just do it with two writers without having to have a quote unquote radio guy. Granted, I’ve had a radio show for a long time, but you know what I mean, people who are trained to be radio guys. I give them credit for that. Years from now when other guys get their chances, that’s what I’m most proud of.

Noe: Is there pressure? Do you feel like you better come correct or you could be costing somebody else an opportunity down the road?

Rob: I don’t look at it that way, but I could see where some people would. I approach it as my job, which I take very seriously and work hard at. But I always feel like I’m going to be successful no matter what. I do believe in that. If Chris and I are really successful and have a show that people like and there’s a buzz about it and we’re doing well, that’s going to open the door. Other stations and PDs are going to look and say, that FOX Sports Radio, they had these two brothas on and it did really well. I think it opens up the idea.

I sit here right now and tell you the most disappointed I am in sports talk radio is in the city of Detroit, which you know Detroit is 85 percent black. They have no full-time black hosts on talk radio in Detroit, which is mind-boggling. Especially since in 1994, when they started The Fan in Detroit I was doing afternoon drive. The guy after me from 6 to 10, Ike Griffin, is black and he did the nighttime show. Our sports update anchor on the morning show was black. This is 1994. They start a station. Two of the hosts are black and the main update guy in the morning is black. Now here we are in 2019 and there are no black guys on the radio. I don’t know how they live with themselves as a city that’s mostly black. I find it to be disheartening and disappointing.

Noe: When your strong opinions fire up some of the moron listeners that respond with racist comments, does it bother you?

Rob: What bothers me is that do they really believe that I’m talking about Tom Brady because he’s white? I just find that to be comical because I rip on LeBron James. Is he white? LeBron is one of the greatest players who ever played. So it obviously has nothing to do with race. That’s the thing that I just can’t get over. Or my comparison — I’m saying Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback I ever saw. Joe Montana is white. How in the world can it be a race thing? I’m not saying Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played. If I said Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played, then you have a case.

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Noe: You like to crack jokes and have fun. When you get crazy stuff like that thrown at you, does it ever impact your mood or approach to the show?

Rob: Nah, I brush it to the side. I’ve been in the business way too long. I’ve seen a lot. Along with the negative stuff, I get so much positive stuff. It rejuvenates me from the standpoint of — I get, “Man, you keep it 100 all the time. Man, I love what you do. Don’t let anybody change you. Don’t follow suit with all the other guys.” They know I’m willing to stand out there and be the lone wolf. People appreciate it.

When I hear that stuff, I know I’m on the right track. I’m touching people out there every day and they appreciate the work I’m doing. I always say I work for the fans. That’s who I work for.

Noe: What’s something you’ve learned about Chris that you didn’t know before you were doing the show with him?

Rob: That’s a good question because Chris and I have known each other for 25 years, but obviously not in this capacity, as writers in the night covering games and stuff like that. He’s smart, he’s well prepared, and he has a great sense of humor, which I did know he had. He can laugh at himself. But his preparation is impressive to me. You expect him to know the NBA, but football and even when we talk baseball, he’s prepared and he’s ready to go. I like that.

Noe: Do you think some of that preparation comes from wanting to prove people wrong? He covered the NBA for so many years, it’s similar to a basketball player breaking into the industry who’s looked at as, “Well, you’re just a basketball guy. What you know about football?” Do you think that drives Chris?

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Rob: I do. I do. I think he knows that he has to shake a tag. The tag is not negative that you’re an expert in one sport, but to get people to listen to you about other things, it’s not easy. Like a Shannon Sharpe who had to convince people that he knew more. Okay we’ll give you the NFL. You played in it. You’re a Hall of Famer. But to be able to have me listen to you for 20 minutes on an NBA topic and know that you know what you’re talking about. That’s not easy to do.

Noe: What are the classes that you teach at USC and how has that been going for you?

Rob: It is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I just cannot get over how much I enjoy it. How great the kids are. How into it they are. They get my juices flowing because I see they’re ambitious and want to achieve or want to do big things in journalism. I just love it. I taught Sports Commentary. This coming semester in September I’m teaching Introduction Into Sports Media. So it’ll be about radio, digital and print, and television. It’ll be awesome.

Noe: There’s so much to tell someone about being in sports radio. What are two of the top things that you think are the most important to tell someone that is new to the industry?

Rob: I would say A) Don’t guess. Be prepared. If you’re talking about a topic, you should be prepared on it. You shouldn’t ask questions or say well, I’m not sure. I don’t know. You should prep for it. But number one, you’ve got to have an opinion. You just have to. This whole we’ll wait and see and all that, that’s the worst radio you can do. Obviously we could do that, but as I tell people on the radio all the time, we have three hours to kill today. I can’t wait ‘till his career is over to evaluate him. You know? It doesn’t work like that.

Noe: How much have you learned from the kids based on what they’ll say to you, what they’ll ask, what they’re interested in? How much has helped you?

Rob: Oh, it has helped me a lot. The millennials and these young kids — where their head is. What it is that they like. What they want to hear. I do take some from them and try to incorporate it. I never want to get too bogged down on numbers and analytics and all that. It’s important to include some, but it’s not the end-all be-all. I think you kind of have to incorporate old school and new school.

The one thing that I found interesting when talking about stuff that I’ve done or whatever, they love the old stories. They love when I talk about being there, or being at Michael Jordan’s game when he hit that shot against Craig Ehlo, or being at the 1986 World Series when the ball goes through Bill Buckner’s legs. They love those old stories, which you wouldn’t think, but it kind of puts context to everything. It also tells them who they’re listening to. Their professor is somebody who’s been there and done that and been around.

I think that’s what gets them going. It’s like man, this guy covered that. This guy was at that. It’s one thing to have a professor — and I’m not knocking any teachers or anything — but it’s another thing to have a guy who you just watched in the morning before you came to school. You watched me on Undisputed on FS1. Then you came to school and I’m teaching you. I think that’s powerful.

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Noe: At USC you get to reach some younger kids. You do your thing on The Odd Couple and reach a big audience. You also have your baseball podcast and reach another audience. Is that the coolest thing right now that you have a wide reach of different ages and backgrounds?

Rob: Absolutely. It’s incredible. Here’s the other thing; being in New York this week on vacation and just kind of bopping around, because I’ve been on TV for a long time, I expect people every once in awhile to say hey, it’s Rob. Or, Rob, what’s up? But what’s changed is when people say oh, I love the show.

I say oh, that’s cool. Undisputed? You know what they say? No, The Odd Couple. I listen all the time. It’s just a change. It used to only be the TV and now the radio has kicked in to where people always bring up the radio show.

Noe: As far as the [Inside the Parker] podcast, how much have you been enjoying that?

Rob: Absolutely love it. Oh my God. Love it so much that this is my vacation week and I refused to not do it. I did it on my vacation. That’s the only thing I did this week was my podcast. I cannot believe when I look at the downloads how many people are downloading it. It’s incredible.

Noe: I know you’re such a baseball fan, but you know the deal. You’re not going to be doing three hours of baseball on a national radio show. What’s it like for you to be really interested in a sport that’s lower in the pecking order?

Rob: I get it. I don’t always agree with it. I think in sports talk radio there’s a lot of lazy radio going on. That’s what I call it. We talked about the same four or five people and subjects in the NBA, the same four or five in the NFL. That’s what we do, which means we don’t have to watch as much stuff or care about everything going on. I think that’s the one thing I wish we wouldn’t do.

I get it. Play the hits. I’m not a fool. But there are some other stories and as long as you can make stuff compelling, that’s all you have to do. I don’t expect to break down a Twins game on a Tuesday night for three hours. Do you know what I mean? If something compelling happens in baseball, we should talk about it. It should be no doubt about it. Just talk about it.

Noe: When you’re listening to other hosts — just stylistically — what’s a style that makes you roll your eyes like, “Is this guy serious right now?”

Rob: That is the read the internet and regurgitate what you read from other people. Horrible. Like you offer nothing. You’re not giving people anything. You have to offer up something. Own a story. Make a phone call. Talk to somebody. Do a little more research. Be able to deliver something more than just, okay today LeBron couldn’t give his number to Anthony Davis. Oh, ain’t that a shame.

Whereas more might be taking a look at it and just making it like LeBron should have known better. Or he has a pattern of jumping the gun. Or my story that day was Nike nixed the deal because LeBron’s jerseys don’t sell like they used to. That’s a knock on LeBron that they wouldn’t do it. Why are there boxes and boxes of Laker LeBron jerseys laying around that they don’t want to take a hit on? That’s the way I would look at it. To me that’s the story. Nike wasn’t willing to eat the LeBron jerseys, and they don’t think that Anthony Davis is going to sell enough jerseys to offset that.

Noe: It just dawned on me and I don’t know why — when are you going to get those Jordans and when am I going to get my chicken wings from Chris [Broussard] after our winning bets?

Rob: You still haven’t gotten your — I’m gonna get on Chris when we get back together. I’ll get on Chris because you know I pay my bets off.

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Noe: Yes. Every time.

Rob: I’m never getting those Jordans because Chris is a cheapskate.

Noe: (Laughs.) What was the bet for the Jordans?

Rob: I said that the Lakers wouldn’t make the playoffs last season. That’s a pretty big bet, right? His out clause was, well, if LeBron is hurt the bet’s off. I’m like that’s not how it goes. “Oh, but if LeBron’s out there’s no way you can” — I said no, that’s not how you make a bet. So you’re telling me if he pulls a hammy and he’s out for five days that’s going to negate the bet? That’s basically giving himself an out. I don’t believe in that. That’s a big bet for me to say that a LeBron James team isn’t making the playoffs.

Noe: Sure it is. He owes you some Jordans, man. When you look at your career, is there anything you would change if you were able to?

Rob: Yeah, I think I would. If I could have done it all over again, I would have covered a hockey team for a couple of years as a beat guy. I did everything else and I think that would have made me a little more well rounded. That’s the only thing I didn’t do. Even though I covered a lot of hockey. I covered hockey in New York. I covered hockey in Detroit. I obviously covered Stanley Cups, playoffs, all that. 

Actually one of the funniest lines I ever wrote was about a hockey game. You’re too young but there was a goalie named Tim Cheveldae who was with the Red Wings. It’s the playoffs and Tim Cheveldae gave up a couple of soft goals in the game and they lost. I wrote that it was the worst performance by a man in a mask since Adam West played Batman on the old TV sitcom.

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So here’s the bad part about it; you ready? The writer from Sports Illustrated — I can’t remember his name — loved the line so much that he used it in his article. He used that line, but didn’t give me credit. He wrote, “One Detroit columnist wrote,” and I just thought to myself, somebody with that kind of line that you’re going to use and [no credit] — so everybody in the business thought, at that time Mitch Albom was the big columnist in Detroit — everybody had to believe that Mitch wrote that. He didn’t give me credit.

Noe: That’s messed up, man.

Rob: Come on. A black guy writes a line like that about a hockey player? And don’t get credit?

Noe: Is there anything that you’d still like to accomplish that you haven’t been able to yet?

Rob: Yeah, I mean a TV show. A national TV show. I love being on Undisputed. I love being on The Herd. But I would love a shot at doing a show with Chris maybe on television.

Noe: Would you say that’s your main goal going forward?

Rob: Yeah, because once I made my debut on the baseball Whiparound show on FS1, that was a big step. That was a proud moment because I do believe, and I’m not 100 percent positive, but I do believe it’s the first time that a national black baseball analyst was not a former player. I don’t think they’ve ever had a guy, a black guy, who wasn’t a former Major League player talk about baseball.

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Noe: Wow, that’s crazy. How do you view it when you hear that you’re the first? It’s 2019, man.

Rob: I know. I still shake my head at it sometimes because I can’t believe it. I think I told you when I first got hired at the Detroit Free Press as a sports columnist the year was 1993. When they hired me, I was the first black sports columnist in the paper’s history. Brian, the paper was 161 years old. In Detroit. Do you hear me? How about that? Not Iowa City. In Detroit.

BSM Writers

Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix

“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”

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For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.

Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.

I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?

In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?


Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?

Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.              

I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.                    

I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled. 

DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask. 

RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.              

The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.           

I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense. 

DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”? 

RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.                   

He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.                       

I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona. 

DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.             

I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be? 

RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.              

There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.                 

Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.                          

I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance. 

DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future? 

RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.                

Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.                         

If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both. 

DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR? 

RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products. 

DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day? 

RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.                      

Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell. 

DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.            

So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space? 

RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.             

I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.                        

We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.                 

There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community. 

DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this? 

RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.                 

What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?           

Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of. 

DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR. 

RH:  We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.                  

Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.  

The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives. 

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BSM Writers

Broadcasting Fills The Baseball Void For Keith Moreland

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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