It’s no secret: Atlanta is a city on the rise thanks in large part to the success around its sports clubs.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted Super Bowl 53. Atlanta United won the 2018 MLS Cup, the first major sports championship since the Braves 1995 World Series win.
The Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs football team are championship contenders year in and year out. Meanwhile the Braves, Hawks and the Georgia Tech football team are all showing glimpses of promising futures.
Entercom’s 92.9 The Game has grown in a seemingly parallel timeline with its city. What was once an adult alternative station called The Dave FM has grown into the top station of one of the nation’s fastest rising markets.
Much of The Game’s success is rooted in its humble beginnings. When it made the jump to sports, the initial ratings were low and CBS was questioning if it was the right move. Every station has those struggles out of the gate. The station’s leadership was confident that once the market was down to two sports stations, The Game would thrive.
“Inside of the building there was confidence that we would get to where we are right now. I don’t think there was any panic,” said Carl Dukes, co-host of Dukes & Bell, the station’s number one show, who has been with The Game from the beginning. “The commitment was there from Chris Oliviero and CBS and the folks that wanted to start this thing.“
With that confidence beaming in the young station, The Game’s foundation came from having the rights to Atlanta Falcons play-by-play rights with Wes Durham on the call. Durham said that it wasn’t just having the Falcons games on the air, but rather the availability to such a large area due to the station’s signal, saying the signal could be heard as far south as Macon and reaching north into Greenville, South Carolina.
“Rick Caffey deserves a tremendous amount of credit for understanding it was not an overnight process,” Durham said of The Game’s rise. As station manager, Caffey pushed to have the Falcons play-by-play and made The Game his baby and built it into the powerhouse it is today.
“When you go from being basically an adult rock station and then in 30 days you’re an all sports talk station, in a market that at the time already had two sports talk stations, I think Rick went out to find people that had proven they could do it in other markets,” Durham said referring to guys like program director Terry Foxx and Carl Dukes.
Dukes & Bell is the lead program for The Game, but it was a patient build to have the team come together. Dukes came on quickly for The Game, but Mike Bell was working with David Pollack at 790 The Zone and Dukes already had a partner for his afternoon show.
Dukes and Bell were good friends before teaming up for The Game and felt they could put out a great product if they had the chance to work together, so much so that both of them worked to bring the other over to their radio stations. But once The Zone folded, Bell decided to take the leap. After some moving around, The Game had created its number one show.
“The irony is, a lot of people think that because you’re friends with guys sometimes that won’t work,” Dukes said. “But you have to know and trust yourself. Him and I, we just mesh well together.”
“I always thought that this would be the perfect fit, that we could make it work,” Bell said.
A new station in town creates intrigue and curiosity, but that only goes so far. Once the station had its top attraction and show it was time to reach into the city and connect. After The Game found its footing, the perception in Atlanta of the station was one of momentum and excitement.
“Anytime you launch, there’s obviously going to be some tweaks,” Bell said. “But our station, our format, and our version of sports talk, is much more reflective of what this city is.”
The Game hasn’t just grown on a parallel plane with its host city, it’s ingrained itself and become a part of Atlanta’s sports culture.
“This is, I think, the golden age of Atlanta sports because the way the city has grown, but also, I think for all those years that people talk about this being a bad sports town, which it certainly is not,” Dukes said. “Unlike New York, Boston or Chicago you don’t have people who necessarily grew up here, who have been here for 35 years or two or three generations of families. Instead you have people who have come to Atlanta and adopted the teams and grown with the teams, and now you really have this passion I don’t think Atlanta has seen before. It’s a unique situation and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”
Dukes and Bell even put out a beer that has helped them connect with their fans with something that, although tightly related to the enjoyment of sports, is separate from the subject the duo spend on-air time discussing.
But the national headlines are always prevalent and for a top market, those stories refuse to be ignored. That responsibility to report doesn’t trump The Game’s responsibility to consistently find a way to bring the story back home to Atlanta.
“The wonderful thing is that we’re a local radio station that can create that debate and spark that interest so people will respond and talk to us about it,” program director Terry Foxx added. “And that’s what’s crucial. Every radio station should always focus on their market and making sure the fans who are listening really do get a sense of what’s going on with their team.”
“The Game is good for Atlanta sports radio and the Atlanta sports fan, because I think a competition in sports is what we talk about all day long,” John Kincade said, coming from a rival’s perspective at 680 The Fan. “ It’s our lifeblood.”
The Game is at the top of Atlanta now, in less than a decade. That doesn’t mean the work has ended. The drive to continue to inform and entertain the now proud and excited fanbase of Atlanta is what powers the station moving forward.
“At the end of the day, I think for us, I hope that you’re entertained, but also maybe learn something and I hope that you’re informed,” Dukes said. “If I can do those things everyday then we feel good about the show and where it’s going. I think you have to be immersed in what’s going on. And I’m not telling you that that’s what every host has to do, but that’s what we’ve done and it’s really helped us connect with people who listen to us on a daily basis.”
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.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 75
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.
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.
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.
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.