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Haberman & Middlekauff Outgrew Terrestrial Radio

“The story of their partnership is almost hard to believe. It’s a testament to hard work, loyalty, and a little old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit.”

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Glorious.

That’s the adjective John Middlekauff doesn’t hesitate to use when describing Guy Haberman’s hair.  

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He makes the assertion unapologetically – how Middlekauff makes all of his points.  In his defense, he’s right on the money when it comes to Haberman’s salad.  His hair is objectively glorious.  

Catch Guy outside of work and he’s more than likely wearing a hat.  It almost feels like a merciful act – his attempt to keep those around him from feeling inferior about their own fading follicles.  

“It’s definitely one of the top insecurities a man faces,” declares Middlekauff.  John chose to lay down his arms in his own battle with his receding hairline nearly a decade ago – but that doesn’t keep him from admiring his best friend’s impressive mane.  In doing so, he showcases the best form of self-confidence.  

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It’s superficial – but in so many ways comparing hair is a perfect metaphor for Haberman and Middlekauff.  They’re different, almost opposite.  Guy – your classic polished broadcaster, able to call a game or drive a 3 hour talk show at the drop of a hat.  John – your opinionated take master, unafraid of sharing his opinions on any subject with little to no regard of how it might make you feel.  

The story of their partnership is almost hard to believe.  It’s a testament to hard work, loyalty, and a little old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. 

It’s also a case study of the industry’s not-so-slow evolution from terrestrial radio into the digital age.  

It started as Davis High School classmates in the early 2000s.  

For Guy, it was always sports broadcasting.  He made his television debut with Davis Community Television calling Friday night football games on a 5 day tape delay.  After graduating in 2003, Haberman made the trip down Highway 99 to attend Fresno State and continue pursuing a media career.

For John, the future was never that clear.  He knew he loved sports, but wasn’t sure exactly the capacity in which he wanted to carve out a spot for himself.  He wound up at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where he wrote a weekly article for the school paper.  That first experience on the media side of the sports world was put on hold after a brief summer internship with the Kansas City Chiefs.  The internship was on the business side of things, but it allowed Middlekauff to realize he wanted to work for a football team.  

With a plan in place, John’s next stop was Fresno State as a GA for the Bulldogs.  Fortunately, his High School buddy Guy was still in the Valley and had a spare bedroom.

By this time, Guy was making a name for himself on the Fresno sports scene.  In the summer of 2007, he started calling home games for the Fresno Grizzlies – the Giants’ AAA affiliate.  He was also the away voice of the Central Valley Coyotes, Fresno’s AF2 franchise.

Ask Haberman for a minor league Arena Football story in 2019 and he doesn’t know where to begin.  He looks overwhelmed with memories as he begins to sort “appropriate” from the rest of the tales in his mind.

“Lubbock,” he finally offers.

“I always use this as an example of the best press box I’ve ever been in too.  The arena was in a civic center – it looked like a library from the parking lot.  Then I walk in to see the field which was,” he pauses, always careful with his words.  

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“Let’s just say not ‘regulation.’  Then we find the press box which is literally, I’m not kidding you, a Tuff Shed – like my grandpa used to have.  There was a hole sawed into the side, and that’s where we went to work.”

When Guy wasn’t calling Coyotes games in midmarket cities across the western United States, he was contributing daily to 940 ESPN Fresno.  He began working for the station as an upperclassman doing updates and rolling the breaks during the syndicated shows.  With the trust of his superiors, he began filling in where he was needed before becoming an everyday personality.  He didn’t know it at the time, but his presence had caught the attention of some decision makers just up the road in San Francisco.  

“Guy had a natural likability on the air,” remembers Jason Barrett, Program Director for the newly launched 95.7 The Game.

“He was smart, informed, relatable and sounded like he loved doing what he was doing.”

It was October of 2012 when Haberman was invited up to the city to audition for the station’s 7-10 pm slot.  Fortunately for the Fresno Grizzlies expert, the Giants were in the middle of a World Series run.

“It worked out perfect for me, I was super dialed into the roster.  I had plenty to talk about,” Guy recalls.  

A couple months later, the job was his.  

By this time, Middlekauff was also in a major market – working as a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles.  John was able to land the position on Andy Reid’s staff after just two years in Fresno.  The jump from the Western Athletic Conference (at the time) to the National Football League is quite a career leap, but it’s one John admits didn’t exactly satisfy his ambition.

“I wasn’t one of those guys who grew up dreaming of having a job in the NFL,” he explains.

“I never set out to work on an NFL staff, but it worked out that way.  It was a great opportunity, but it just never hit me as being a big deal.”

John’s honesty is refreshing.  It sets him apart.  It’s also gotten him in trouble with his bosses a time or two.  One example came during a pre-draft meeting with brand new head coach Chip Kelly in early 2013.

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“We had a disagreement about a player,” describes Middlekauff, his smile almost audible through the phone.

“Pretty soon after that I was replaced as the Eagles’ West Coast Scout.”

Getting fired is common in professional sports – but John’s response to being dismissed was not.  He decided he didn’t want to chase another position with another team.  He didn’t want to uproot his life and move to another city for 3-4 years before doing it all again.  Rather, he wanted to put his experience in the NFL to work in the media.

As a West Coast Scout, John was operating out of San Francisco – and his transition to the media world began just as his high school friend and Fresno roommate was starting his nightly show on 95.7.

Naturally, Guy asked John for a little football analysis.  Once again, a Davis local caught the attention of the big boss.

“I remember being on my couch hearing John do a hit in studio on Guy’s night show,” details Barrett, roughly 6 years later.

“It was really good.  I sent Guy a text and asked ‘who is this guy and where’d he come from?’  Soon enough I signed him as a football season contributor.”

Several months later, Haberman & Middlekauff launched in the station’s 10 am to Noon slot.  Two high school friends in their late 20s in a top 5 market.  It was a challenge they were happy to take on.  

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Radio was a new venture for John, but that didn’t affect the show’s success.  Guy doesn’t remember the inexperience ever being an issue.

“John’s smart, and he’s a quick learner.  He picked up on everything we were trying to do in no time.”  

“Guy’s pragmatic, he’s level headed and he’s a high level broadcaster.  He was able to drive no problem.  I can just talk,” shrugs John in true Middlekauff fashion.

However it worked – there was no denying the popularity of the show. 

By the summer of 2014, Haberman & Middlekauff were quickly becoming recognizable Bay Area personalities outside of their midday window.  Among other gigs, Guy was hosting A’s pre/post game shows while John was making appearances on nearby Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area.  Opportunities for the young duo were presenting themselves and both were taking advantage.  Two careers on a traditional upward trajectory.

Unfortunately – turnover is also a far too common tradition in the sports media world.

Jason Barrett, the architect of Haberman & Middlekauff, left The Game in 2015.  In any industry, especially sports radio, new management can make incumbent employees uneasy.  A byproduct of new leadership oftentimes results in the loss of jobs.  The Game’s new Program Director had a different vision for the station – one that didn’t include Middlekauff.

It was late in the summer of 2016 when Guy was told his partner and the Best Man at his wedding would no longer be working for 95.7 – but that his job was safe.  With just a couple months left on his contract, Haberman opted to walk away from the station.  

It was an incredible act of loyalty by a man Middlekauff describes as, “maybe the most genuine human being on the planet.”  It also freed the two up to explore the digital space.

“The two times I’ve been fired in my life turned out to be the best things that could’ve happened to me,” proclaims John in a tone that makes it hard to disagree with.

By the Fall of 2016, both Guy and John could see the industry shifting.  Their fanbase wasn’t the 50+ crowd listening to AM radio on their way into work – their audience consumed sports talk through their phones.  Combine that with a well-established Haberman & Middlekauff following and the decision to launch a podcast was simple.  

Three years later, the show pushes 100K listens a week with aspirations to reach 200K in 2020.  Outside of the inherent creative freedom that comes with running their own show, podcasting has proved advantageous for both partners.

“In traditional radio, the clock is king – it dictates everything you do and how you do it, it takes discipline.  Time doesn’t exist on podcasts, you’re able to discuss anything,” points out Haberman.

For John, an entrepreneurial spirit has awoken.

He describes what a difference it makes to have direct relationships with sponsors.  Having the ability to handpick sponsors, partners that fit with himself and Guy.  After years of just focusing on day to day content, they’re finally able to see and run the big picture – and it’s hard to imagine them ever going back.

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A passion for sports isn’t what makes Haberman and Middlekauff appealing.  Listen to an episode and you’re quick to understand that sports is just one of a number of interests the two have.  Spend twenty minutes with Guy and he’ll start breaking down his all-time favorite Letterman interviews and the current state of late night television as it compares to the Carson days.  The same amount of time with John will result in a conversation about the future of streaming entertainment and what will become of brick and mortar theaters.  Is there a commercial real estate boom on the horizon?

The 10 to noon time slot on 95.7 was good to them, but like an encroaching hard network out, there was always an expiration date. Guy and John outgrew terrestrial radio.  Like anything in 2019, sports fans want their sports talk on demand – and the two Davis High Blue Devils have plenty to offer.  

BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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BSM Writers

Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks

“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”

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CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.

“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”

You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.

John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.

One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.

“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.

He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.

With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.

BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.

Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.

CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.

In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.

Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.

Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.

The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.

Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?

I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.

CBS aims to grow Sports HQ within its network of streaming channels -  Digiday
Courtesy: CBS

CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.

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BSM Writers

Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?

“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”

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A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!

Disney+ Day: Kareem Daniel Says “Momentum Building” At Streamer After 2  Years – Deadline

Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.

The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.

I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?

This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?

Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.

One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.

Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.

Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.

Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.

Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.

As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.

The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.

Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?

The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.

The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?

Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.

Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.

Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.

Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.

Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.

What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.

Valentine Day Digital Ads on Behance

Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.

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