Ben Maller has mastered two very important things as a sports radio host. He has established ways of making his audience feel like they are truly a part of his show, and he has found the tricky middle ground of working hard without taking himself too seriously.
The Nocturnal Colonel doesn’t just show up at the FOX Sports Radio studios and goof around from 11pm to 3am PT. Ben puts a lot of hard work into his prep without losing sight that sports radio is supposed to be fun.
There is something disarming about a host that can make you laugh. Ben certainly has the ability to amuse listeners with his unique blend of sarcasm, wit, hyperbole, and rambunctious views. He can rile you up one minute and then make you laugh out loud the next. The Beethoven of BS has fiery debates at times, but makes you envision a mischievious smile on his face throughout. Ben makes you feel like he’d happily buy you a drink at any point. It isn’t personal. It’s a radio show.
Ben is passionate about the industry and considers radio to be an art form. He just launched a new weekly podcast with iHeart called The Fifth Hour with Ben Maller.
Ben hits on many interesting points in this piece. We’ve got the origin of his most popular caller Jeannie in Medford, the old man feeding ducks at the park, and one of Ben’s favorite nights in radio. We’ll combine all of these things and make one delicious lemon meringue cheesecake. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Where did your sports radio career begin?
Ben Maller: I started in college radio at Saddleback College. Then I got an internship in the early ‘90s at XTRA Sports 690, which was this huge radio station in San Diego that had 77,000 watts of power. I was an intern for Lee Hacksaw Hamilton, this big star, afternoon drive guy. I started there and then I got a job as a board op at the station. Then they hired me as a reporter. I did that for several years. After that the company purchased a radio station in Los Angeles. They were launching a station in L.A. so they hired me. I was one of the first people they hired at that new station. It took off from there. I’ve been at FOX for almost 20 years so it’s been good.
Noe: When you started out, sports radio wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. Did you intend to be a sports radio host or was it something you fell into?
Ben: When I was growing up I loved sports. I come from a family that doesn’t really love sports, but I’ve always been a big sports fan. My original goal, I was going to replace Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers. Then I realized Vin was never going to retire. Then I had this idea; well, maybe I’ll go work for another team. I looked around and at that time in the early ‘90s — even before that — these baseball play-by-play guys it’s like a Supreme Court justice type of job. The jobs didn’t turn over.
I did the math on that and I’m like ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to have an opportunity if I go down that path to end up doing play-by-play at the major league level.’ I know it’s changed a lot since then. There are teams that have changed broadcasters a lot, but at that time if you got a play-by-play job you were in it forever. That was my original goal.
I just kind of fell into the sports radio thing. It was not my intention when I first started. I always loved sports radio. I listened to it when I was younger, but I didn’t know that I would be good at it. I’m pretty much an introvert. It’s odd when an introvert does this. I guess being in the business now there are a lot of introverts in radio.
Noe: If you’re an introvert, how challenging were your early days of being on the air?
Ben: I remember the first show I did in L.A., the first talk show, it was a Saturday. I spent all week preparing. I was so paranoid. I was like I’ve got to be perfect. This is going to be very important. I’ll never forget; I did my opening monologue at the start of the show. It was like a Saturday morning at like 10 in the morning or something like that. I nailed it, right? And the program director, Beau Bennett, came in and he said great job by you.
I hadn’t planned it out, so I didn’t have any material the rest of the show. Everything was in the monologue. I had this flop sweat going. It was a nightmare, man. It’s tough for people starting out. You’ve got to really get your reps in and go through those growing pains. It obviously worked out in the end, but those first couple of times that I was on the air by myself I was panicked. You think, oh man no one’s listening. No one’s going to call and help you out and bail you out. It’s nerve-racking.
Noe: You’re so great at interacting with your callers. Did that take you a while to get that good and that comfortable with it?
Ben: Doing overnights, as you know, Brian — because you’ve worked some shifts at FOX doing the overnight show over the years — it’s a different animal overnight than it is during the day. During the day it’s more interview based. They don’t take a lot of calls. But overnight, it’s like a parallel universe where you take calls.
As far as my relationship with the callers, it just kind of happened organically. I was a fan of Howard Stern back in his prime. I liked what he did with the callers and it just kind of fell into that. I’ve got several guys that I consider them professional radio callers because these are guys I heard before I was in the business. I heard these guys calling the radio shows like Dick in Dayton and Cowboy in Windsor. These guys became part of the show. They became characters on the show. The odd thing is that some of these people I actually know about their lives and correspond and we have emails. It’s an odd relationship but it’s been fun.
Noe: Would you miss that whole dynamic if you ever moved to a different daypart?
Ben: Yeah, it’s a give and take. I think I can do pretty well. Radio is very important 6am to 6pm and I think I could hold ratings and bring an audience there. I think a lot of these guys that are my big fans, the Maller Militia guys, who will come with me wherever I go, that’s encouraging.
I really love doing the overnights. It’s been great for me. I used to listen to Art Bell back in the day on Coast to Coast. My parents would listen to him. Now George Noory does a great job on that show.
There are a lot of people listening overnight. I’m obviously biased but it’s a special crowd. You’ve got a group of people, a hodgepodge of people, an insomnia of people that work third shift. People that are doing different odd jobs — truck drivers, security guards, all those kind of people — so it’s good. They really appreciate it because I don’t know that you get the same feedback during the day. I think it’s more of the less personal relationship with the audience during the day than it is at night.
Noe: The Maller Militia is the perfect name because your fan base, they are diehards. What do you think it is that you’ve been able to do to make that connection with your audience?
Ben: I don’t know exactly what is resonating. As far as my philosophy on doing the show, I just try to keep it real. I don’t take myself too seriously. Even though I’m very critical — obviously I poked fun at athletes all the time. That goes with the job. It’s part of the territory to be a critic, but I have fun. I don’t look down upon these guys that call the show. To me they’re not equals as far as I’m on the microphone, they’re not on the microphone, but we’re just having a conversation. They seem to really enjoy that part of it. They’re part of the show.
I think that’s the biggest thing about this, Brian, is the fact that we’re so interactive as far as reading comments from people on Twitter, and taking phone calls, and all the other social media stuff, that people really feel that they’ve got an ownership in the show. Literally I have a plan coming in every night of what I think I’m going to talk about and a lot of it takes twists and turns based on the feedback I get in real time from the audience.
It’s really the great thing about live radio; I really appreciate the feedback in real time. I know right away what’s working and what people cannot stand. The people that follow me are not afraid to tell me I suck and that was terrible radio. I like that. I want to know what people like. I want to give people what they like. That’s kind of how that goes.
Noe: When a great caller, Jeannie in Medford, passed away, were you surprised how huge the response was from listeners that had a connection with her through your show?
Ben: Yeah, Jeannie is one of the great characters in sports radio. I miss her. She was my most popular caller. It’s just a crazy story that you only get in overnight radio. The legend of Jeannie in Medford was born by her calling 911. She just wanted somebody to talk to. She was lonely. She got arrested for it because you’re not supposed to call 911 when you’re lonely. You’re supposed to call 911 when you have an emergency. So the police called her and said ‘listen, turn on the radio and call a radio show. Don’t call the police.’
Somehow she found my show late at night and she would call every night. We didn’t put her on the air every night, but it was great. She was quite the character. She had great stories. She had an interesting life. I don’t know how much of it was true and how much if it was embellished, but it made for good talk radio.
You’re absolutely right; I remember talking to Justin Cooper the producer and we knew she had been sick. I wasn’t blindsided. She had been in poor health unfortunately. She had a hard life with drugs and booze and that kind of stuff. I was talking to Coop and we started a GoFundMe page because she had no family when she passed away.
One of our other listeners had kept in contact with her. So we tried to raise some money. We raised way more, I forget exactly the dollar amount, but it was like thousands of dollars more than we anticipated to cover the funeral cost for Jeannie. It was people that never call the show, never text the show, none of that stuff. These are just people that aren’t ever interactive that reached out and donated money on this GoFundMe thing. It was amazing.
It’s one of these things when you die you don’t really know. I wish we could get that message to Jeannie how much she was loved because I don’t think any of us imagined that kind of reaction would happen to just a person calling a radio show at 1 in the morning.
Noe: When you think back on your career, what’s something that stands out as one of your favorite bits or moments in radio?
Ben: This is going to sound odd but one of my favorite nights in radio was right after the Malice at the Palace. We did four hours when Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal and those guys went in the crowd and started fighting with the Pistons fans. It was crazy. The show was carried by the Pistons flagship station and the Pacers radio station at the time. It was wild. It was one of the funnest nights we had for anything to talk about because it had just happened right before we got on the air. It was a crazy, wild night.
As far as some of the bits that we’ve done; we do these radio roasts every once in a while where listeners send jokes in and everyone thinks they’re funny. Those have been pretty good. We did one about Tim Tebow back when Tebowmania was a big thing. I think it’s one of the funniest things that has ever been broadcast on FOX. I know I’m biased on that one as well, but that was really fun. We were all dying at these jokes. It was a lot of fun.
Noe: What’s something that a lot of your listeners wouldn’t know about you?
Ben: When I’m at home I don’t talk about sports with my wife. She’s not a big sports fan. It’s not like when I come home the job is always with me. I’m watching games every night before I do the overnight show, but as far as my time with my wife and my family, we talk about other day-to-day stuff going on, but not hardo sports conversation at the house.
Noe: What’s a favorite hobby of yours that has nothing to do with sports radio?
Ben: I’m pretty much dedicated to the job. It’s funny that you bring that up because I remember one of my bosses back in the day, Bruce Gilbert, told me you gotta have balance. You’ve got to have balance in your life. You can’t be all about the radio. It was really good advice. I don’t know that I do anything in particular as far as a hobby. I do like to sometimes kind of Zen out. There’s a park with a lake right near my house. I’ll go out there sometimes and just kind of sit out in nature. I’m like an old man feeding ducks at the park.
It does kind of clear my mind a little bit. I feel refreshed and then I can move on and do some other stuff. It’s not really a hobby but it’s something I do from time to time just to kind of reset.
Noe: How many Ben Maller nicknames are there now?
Ben: (Laughs.) I think the last count we were at 44 nicknames. These are all sent in by listeners. That’s pretty funny. I do the nickname rundown every so often. People seem to enjoy that. They’re pretty funny and ridiculous and absurd nicknames.
Noe: Do you have a favorite nickname?
Ben: There are a couple of them that stand out that I think are pretty good. I think the thing that sums up the show; they call me the Nocturnal Colonel of the Maller Militia. The Beethoven of BS is also pretty amusing to me. I think that sums up a lot of what all of us do in sports radio. I think that’s pretty good.
Noe: In terms of sports radio in general, where do you think the business is right now? Do you like where it is overall, or do you think things could be noticeably better in ways?
Ben: I love working in the business. I feel like it’s really in a good place right now as far as what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years. It is going to be a gold rush for sports talk radio and I’m so happy I’m still in the business. I hope to stay in the business for a long time. The gambling thing is going to be so big now that it’s getting legal state to state. It’s going to bring in so much money to local sports radio stations. It’s going to be great.
I remember when I first started, Brian, and I don’t even know if this is true, but I was told this by an old guy in the radio business. I’ve always kept this close to my vest. When sports radio started, the first 24/7 sports radio station in New York, WFAN, a big part of their plan was to just give scores out because at that time there was no internet. You couldn’t click on to your favorite sports site and get the scores. People were calling like sports phones. There were guys gambling on games illegally and they needed to get the score of the Dodgers game or the Mariners game and they’re sitting in New Jersey or New York, so WFAN catered to that audience of gamblers.
This is what I was told and it seems to make sense. That leads into what we’re going through right now. I think the next couple of years are going to be amazing financially for the sales people. Hopefully it trickles down to the people on the air as well, and the programmers, and everyone can benefit from what I think is going to be perfect for our format. If you are running a sports gambling outfit and you want to bring people in, there’s no better place to advertise than sports talk radio.
Noe: Overnight radio is such an anything-goes type deal. Have you ever done a segment that you thought sucked but then it gets a great reaction?
Ben: Oh I’ve done plenty of bad radio. I should have been fired probably for some of the segments of radio I’ve done over the years, but you live and learn. You’re right; the thing about this — I get a kick out of it — I’ll do a monologue and I’ll think I’m the god of sports and all this stuff. I have this big head when I do these monologues. I have all the answers when I do a 10-minute monologue on the radio.
Then I’ll spend like a minute talking to Eddie Garcia, and Roberto my engineer, and Coop, and we’ll just talk about something that happened during the day — whether I had an odd experience at Costco. I look at the reaction and no one cares about my monologue. They all want to talk about what happened in my personal life. It’s like well why did I just spend 10 minutes talking about that when all you care about is me going to Costco and taking as many samples as I could possibly take?
Noe: Ahh, man. It’s so true. Do you keep a similar sleep schedule over the weekend when you’re not doing the show?
Ben: The way I’ll answer that is that it really depends on my wife’s schedule. My wife works for a police department so she switches her shift. Most of the year she works during the day and then sometimes she’ll actually work third shift — the same hours that I have. She works a little longer than I do as a 911 operator.
It depends on her schedule. Typically if we want to do anything on the weekends you’ve got to flip your schedule around. You want to see family and all that stuff. Just to go shopping you’ve got to change your schedule around. I do change it. I have a schedule; the show is Sunday night for us until Thursday. Then Friday night and Saturday night I have more of a normal schedule.
Noe: Some of my friends are in news radio. It gets contentious and some of the listeners are nuts. What have been your experiences with crazy sports talk listeners lashing out or doing wild things?
Ben: Well, I’ve had some listeners threaten to kill me. That’s been interesting. I don’t think they were kidding. That’s odd, but I have some real cartoon characters. Working the overnights you get some people that have just amazing personalities that want to be on the radio. I did an appearance — I was working at WEEI for a couple of years and they brought me back there — and I did an appearance at a bar across from Fenway Park. It was crazy. It was wild.
We had a bunch of the East Coast listeners, the Northeast listeners that showed up. One guy who I will never forget — down the line if I write a book – one of my callers, this guy David, drove all the way from Winter Park, Florida just to hang out for like two hours at a bar, the Cask ‘n Flagon, in Boston. It was crazy.
The funny thing about it is he had called the show and he said he had a parrot named Roscoe. Roscoe the Parrot, right? So I’m like okay. I said to him where is Roscoe the Parrot? And David leaves the bar. He goes out to his car. He comes back. Now I didn’t know where he went because I was doing some other stuff with some of the other guys that were there. He comes back and he’s holding this stuffed animal parrot. And then he started talking — he pretended like the parrot could talk. It was unbelievable. I’m like what am I doing here? It was crazy. It was pretty amusing. He’s quite the character and that really stands out right off the top of my head.
Noe: (Laughs.) What would you say is the proudest achievement of your broadcasting career?
Ben: I think that it’s still yet to happen. I’m very happy that I got the overnight show at FOX. I’m very proud of that. It’s something I wanted when I started at FOX Sports Radio. That was something I had my eye on for a while. I was hoping I could get, not just that shift, any shift at FOX Sports Radio. I’m very proud of that.
I don’t really spend a lot of time looking back at stuff that I’ve done per se. I think you do that once you’re retired from the business and all that. I just march along every day and then eventually look back and reminisce about the good ol’ days.
Noe: A lot of the business nowadays is they want names. Programmers want someone with a big name. Was it hard for you to get to where you are without being a former big name athlete or having a big name in another capacity beforehand?
Ben: Yeah, Brian, that’s a great point. You’ve had the same battles I’ve had. I went to a community college. I didn’t play sports. I started in the business as an intern. I completely understand why program directors want to hire people who are ex-athletes, or comedians, or actors and people like that because you can sell it to advertisers. But I think we’re missing out on some really good radio people.
To me radio is an art form. Those that can do it well, it’s really wonderful — it’s audio art to listen to. Unfortunately it’s disposable. It doesn’t last. I guess with podcasts now it lasts, but I do think program directors are missing out. You can get great radio people. The people listening — I believe this to be true — the bulk of the people that listen they might start to listen because of a big name, but if that person doesn’t know the formatics of radio and doesn’t do an entertaining show, they’re not going to listen. The audience isn’t going to be there whereas if you hire somebody that maybe doesn’t have the name and ends up working his craft or her craft and becomes really good at it, then I’d rather have that person. Obviously I come from a position where if I was an athlete or an entertainer I would feel the other way. But I do think the people that run radio stations should look more at these people because they’re also cheaper. I’m pretty affordable compared to some of these big name guys.
Noe: (Laughs.) Absolutely. What’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience in your broadcasting career before it’s over?
Ben: I did television for about a year and I would like to try that again. I was not good at it per se. I was on a show that got cancelled on the NBC Sports Network. But I want to give it another go.
I’m a little older now. I’m probably less camera friendly than I was back then, not that I’ve ever been camera friendly and all that. I’d like to give that a shot and mix that in a little bit. I’ve also kicked around the idea eventually of getting back on the website. I think if I get out of the radio side of things, which I don’t intend on doing, I could bring back a website that I had about 10-15 years ago. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing right now. I would like to give TV, as I said, a shot again.
Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”
It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.
Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.
Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.
“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”
From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.
“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”
Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.
Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.
“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”
Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.
Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.
During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.
Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.
With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.
“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”
Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.
“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”
After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.
“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”
An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.
Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.
“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”
Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.
“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”
Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”
Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.
“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”
John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.
“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”
The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.
“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”
Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.
“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”
As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.
“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”
Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.
“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”
Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.
“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio
All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.
The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.
Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.
McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.
As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.
A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.
Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.
At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.
It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Ideas For December Sales Success
How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?
Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.
So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.
Cutting a year-end deal
Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.
Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.
Beat the bushes
Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.
From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.
Practice a new pitch
December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.