Josh Innes has been off the radio for nine months. This follows a career featuring stints in Afternoon Drive at WIP in Philadelphia and Morning Drive at Sports Talk 790 in Houston. He’s very active on Twitter and has his own podcast “The Josh Innes Show.” I caught up with him earlier this week to talk about what he’s learned from those experiences and what’s next for him. You can check out his podcast and latest information at: https://joshinnesshow.com/
Matt Fishman: You tweeted around Thanksgiving about how thankful you were this year to no longer be in a toxic work environment and you have added perspective. Can you elaborate on this?
Josh Innes: I was working at iHeart in Houston and I had been from October 2016 until March of this year. There were moments that were good, but ultimately it wasn’t an ideal situation for me. It wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. There were a lot of times I wondered why that particular station hired me because I didn’t know if they really wanted me to do what I do. There were always a lot of problems it that way. It wasn’t by a lack of effort of trying to see things their way. We just had a philosophical difference.
I like to create waves and bring attention to the medium. I think that’s good for everything. Whereas I think where it was kinda a lay low, don’t bother anybody, don’t upset the broadcast partners. Let me put it this way I would go to work sometimes and my boss would sit my down in his office and tell me, “By the way no one at the radio station likes you.”
It was just a really bad situation mentally. I wasn’t having very much fun. I worked my ass off and spent a lot of my own money trying to make the show successful. It was just a really catty kind of place. I think management, at times, tried to pit people against each other. They enjoyed that in a weird way. It was really just not a good situation.
While it’s unfortunate that I don’t have a job at the moment, I feel fortunate that now that I’ve had time to step back for the past 8-9 months, I can say it’s probably for the best because that wasn’t a good situation for me. It probably wasn’t a good situation for me mentally. There were just so many things about that situation that were toxic so now that I look back on it, I’m glad that time in my life is over.
MF: How does this new perspective change you going into the next conversation you have with a radio station?
JI: I can say this. There are things I’ve learned everywhere I’ve been and you take things you’ve learned at all these stops and you hope that it improves you as a person. While it was a toxic situation there, that station was really sales heavy and you learned how to focus on things that made the station more money.
Same as when I left WIP, sometimes they felt that I was so driven by ratings that I kind of ignored the sales part of it. When I came here (Houston) I focused on making things happen. I was down in sales everyday working on ideas to make the station more money.
How to handle certain intra-office situations. There was a guy there who worked for the Rockets–he was one of their broadcasters. One time I was wearing a t-shirt for another team and he took a picture of me in the shirt and said this is for the Rockets knowing that this would upset the Rockets and I would get a call from my boss about it. I just went out and tried to destroy that guy because I felt that he was completely out of line. By trying to destroy that guy it probably pissed off some of his sales buddies to me and they didn’t sell me as much. Did I need to do that, I didn’t. You learn from that and move forward.
When you are out of it for nine months and your phone doesn’t ring it changes your perspective as well. You get humbled when your phone doesn’t ring and you look back at things that you could’ve handled situations better.
MF: Do you feel like your phone hasn’t been ringing as much because you get let go by WIP and then in Houston and people think “this guy must be toxic” and the phone doesn’t ring?
JI: Recently the phone has started to ring more, but to answer your question, I do think if people don’t know you and if all they know is what they read about you from certain situations they can think that. It’s incumbent upon me to change that. I just have to have the opportunity to do it. Anytime I talk to anyone in management I tell them that my situation is different because you mature a little bit and being out nine months that the opportunities aren’t always going to be there. There were times hey maybe I’ll never have that big job again and I will be known as the guy who blew it. I was the guy who had these big gigs and I pissed it all away.
There is a certain element of being humbled that plays to my benefit because they’ll be getting a different guy in the sense that I think I know how to handle situations better than I used to. Going back to our initial point that when I got fired here or fired there my phone rings, you just assume what you are doing is 100% right because people are always looking to hire you. When it doesn’t happen that way anymore you kinda think, “maybe there’s something that I need to change, something I need to do differently.”
MF: I saw that you did a couple of shows last week at the ESPN station in Memphis. How did that go? How did it feel?
JI: I loved it. Memphis is one of my favorite places. My dad had worked there in the late 80s. It’s funny, I had just randomly texted the PD at that station, Brad Carson, and I told him how fortunate he is for that being such a great market. It’s a small enough town but not too small where it’s syndicated all day. I have always wanted to be on the air in Memphis at least for a day because my dad was on the radio there. When I was growing up I went to Memphis a lot, I like the Grizzlies and I felt like I kinda knew the town. It was cool. It’s weird not being in the city as I did the shows from Houston. It was fun! I had a really good time doing it. Brad is a really great guy and made it a great experience.
MF: Do you think that’s something you’ll be doing more of, especially with the holiday season right around the corner?
JI: I would hope so. I am available to do whatever. I know a lot of people on your site are program directors. I can be available anytime you need me and I can find the studio to do it from. It’s kinda neat. You never know what market you would do a fill in at. If people will have me on their stations. I think that’s good because I know that people have questions about me.
One thing I get from PDs is “I never question your talent we just question how things will work at this place and this situation.” My guess is that if you’d ask Brad Carson he would tell you that it was a very easy thing. Just to give him a compliment–he’s fantastic to work with. It was a great experience. I hope it leads to other opportunities.
MF: Speaking of other opportunities, the Fanatic in Philadelphia just fired their PD Eric Johnson. What does it mean potentially for you and what does it mean for Philadelphia sports radio?
JI: I don’t know. I can tell you that Eric is a very nice guy. I feel like they could find themselves in a position to get closer to WIP. My guess would be they want to get into a position where they could just be closer. I would certainly answer the phone if The Fanatic called. I certainly think I could add to what they do there. Now people will say “You had that big radio fight with the afternoon guy.” That’s a radio fight. When you’re a competitor you’re in a radio fight. If you’re on the same team you have a common goal to beat the competition–WIP. If the Fanatic were to call me I would say “What do you want me to do? Let’s make something happen and go beat WIP!”
People assume because you talk about this guy, this guy, this guy that you could never work with them. When I was in Houston we went after the (other stations) shows. They didn’t take it as a joke. It really upset them. After I got fired I reached out to them. I was trying to make radio interesting. We’re in Houston there are three sports stations that combine for a four-share.
If the Fanatic were to call me and ask me if I could reconcile with Mike Missanelli. Here’s what I would say. Mike has obviously accomplished a lot in that market. He basically launched that station. He’s the Angelo (Cataldi) of 97.5. If you look at it, the one constant there has been Mike. I can respect that. As a radio guy I can respect that. I beat him for awhile, he came back and beat me for awhile. We had a really good battle there. But if the Fanatic would pick up the phone and ask if I would have an issue working with Mike Missanelli. Hell no!! The guy has been there for a decade. The guy has done great things ratings-wise. He’s basically their bell cow financially and ratings-wise. I just want to go somewhere and be part of a team and kick some ass. I don’t know what they’re going to do at the Fanatic. I haven’t talked to them but I’d be all about it and I’d go in there and say, “Hey Mike give me a hug and let’s go figure this thing out.”
If Joe Bell from the Fanatic were to pick up the phone and call me and say, “Josh Innes come to Philadelphia we want to make something happen, but we need to make it work in the building.” I’d say “Get Missanelli on the phone or get me in person with him and I’ll tell him I admire the stuff he’s done it was just a stupid radio war and let’s go out there and beat the shit out of WIP.”
MF: When you were on the air in Houston was there a lot of pressure to be easy on the teams?
JI: I’m going to give credit to (Sportsradio) 610. I never felt that people at 610 went easy on the Texans, and they were the Texans’ station. Where I worked at 790 was more like romper room. There were times when I’d be critical of the Houston Rockets and I’d get a text from the Market Manager, not the PD, and this is one text I got in the middle of a show that pops into my mind saying “You’ve said enough. Let the callers handle it.” You paid me all this money to send me this text and let the callers “handle it?”
Here’s what I’d get all the time: my management would tell me all the time that the teams don’t like me. I get it would be nice if they did. Part of sports radio and appealing to a mass audience is saying what fans are thinking. You have to be able to be critical.
Here’s what our rule was: say whatever you want about the Texans but don’t do the same with the Rockets. One time I said the Rockets GM could get fired if they didn’t turn things around. Got a call from the boss who said “How do you know he’s going to get fired?” I said, “I don’t but it’s my opinion if they don’t turn it around after how they finished last year they’re probably in trouble.” The boss said, “Well we don’t want people on the air saying people could get fired because that’s a personal attack.”
By the way, it’s not wise to tell the talent that the teams hate them. How am I going to react to that? Am I going to get on the air and say these guys are great people. I never had this problem at 610/Houston or at WIP/Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, the PD Andy Bloom did such a good job of shielding me from anything the teams were complaining to him about. In Philly it’s expected that you get on the radio and dump on them after you lose to the two-win Dolphins. You can’t say enough bad shit about them when that happens. In Houston that’s not exactly the case.
MF: Given this experience, does this mean you would be more likely to go somewhere that allows you to be critical of the teams?
JI: I get that there are rules in certain cities and with certain teams. I’m not hell bent on being in this market or that market. I just want to be on the air, make a living and have fun doing it. Would I like to be in Chicago or back in Philly again or in Dallas? Sure I would. But if the station happens to be in Memphis, Kansas City or St. Louis and they dig what I do and want to pay me to do it, I’m interested.
MF:How do you like doing your podcast?
JI: I’m weird that I have to change things every month. The sponsors don’t seem to mind and it’s a little looser. Sometimes I’ll do it at night. Sometimes after consuming many beers on a Sunday. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll continue to do it when I get a job. You can do a lot of things in a podcast that if you did it on the radio they might tell you to pump the breaks.
MF: What do you think of the current state of sports radio and its future?
JI: It might not be what it was 7-8 years ago where you lost a lot of classic rock stations that became sports talk on FM. To me, sports talk radio is the best format for someone who wants to talk and entertain. It’s the closest to guy-talk you’re gonna get. It’s the closest to what Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony and Mancow were doing 20 years ago. Depending on the market and the daypart of course.
20 years ago everyone was looking for the next Jim Rome. Now everyone is trying to find the next Colin Cowherd. What I don’t like is when I can listen to a guy and he’s about to go into one of these “Cowherdian” comparisons and I can almost tell you before he says it what the comparison will be. The other issue is a lot of young guys not finding their own voice. The art of creating your own thing is taking a little bit from everyone, learning the market and making sure everyone doesn’t sound the same.
I think you need to have more visionary programmers out there. You’ve got Armen Williams in Houston, Gavin (Spittle) who is one of the best and Mike Thomas, who’s going to Chicago, who is brilliant and Andy Bloom-Brilliant. You’ve got a really good group of guys who came from rock or hot-talk who know entertainment. Those are the type of guys who will keep it going.
Plus you need to put me on the radio. Or it will die.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.