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How Des Moines Stepped Up For KXNO

“We have plenty of national shows and you can get those anywhere. But there’s just this connection with local sports, and those are the ones who care about it the most.”

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In the middle of such a dark week in sports radio, a silver lining emerged in an unlikely place. By now you know that many radio hosts across the country were laid off last week due to cutbacks from iHeartMedia. It was sudden, unfortunate and eye-opening, but also a stiff reminder of how brutal the business can be. 

KXNO in Des Moines was among the stations that were affected, as six on-air employees, Heather Burnside, Travis Justice and Sean Roberts of Morning Rush as well as Chris Williams and Ross Peterson of Sports Fanatics and program director Andrew Downs all lost their job. It looked as though a small city in a ‘flyover state’ was going to be one of the many to lose the local content it craves. But at that moment, the people of Des Moines made a decision. They weren’t going down without a fight. 

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Local sports radio, especially in Iowa, is one of the most genuine you’re going to find. Whereas most national radio shows would never talk Iowa, Iowa State, and certainly not the smaller colleges in the states such as Drake or Northern Iowa, KXNO is a pillar in the community that people rely on for information and entertainment on a daily basis. Iowans live and die by their local sports and crave the outlets that give it to them on a daily basis. In many ways, it’s a lifeblood for the natives. 

So when news spread that KXNO was among the major layoffs that were taking place, Iowans took to social media, almost in unison, and voiced their displeasure. 

“I wasn’t surprised at the outrage, because I know what KXNO means to Iowans,” said former KXNO host Matt Perrault, currently with SB Nation Radio. “It’s built its brand on talking directly to people on what’s happening in their lives. That station has been so ingrained in the community for so long, that I knew there would be massive outreach. I just didn’t know exactly how folks would go about voicing it. They took to social media, and if this happened 10 years ago, I don’t know if the same outcry would’ve happened, because it’s difficult to pick up the phone and do that. It’s a lot easier to send text messages, emails, tweets and Facebook posts about it. Social media played a major role in the overall outreach.”

Daily life for many Iowans was about to be seriously altered. That didn’t sit well with the locals. Angry reactions came quickly from every direction to those in charge. Des Moines wasn’t going to sit back and let a corporate company take away what meant so much to them. 

The backlash became so widespread that KXNO general manager Joel McCrea knew he had to do something. With the approval of iHeartMedia, all six on-air talents were re-hired and the station was restructured to be heard on an additional 25,000 watt signal, 106.3 FM. Not only had Iowans fought and won, but the product that was so essential to their daily lives, was now even better. 

“People spoke up and I think there were two reasons,” said Andy Fales, co-host of the Murph and Andy Show. “First, they were mad about the idea of losing this connection and that Iowa was just going to get passed over again. But also, and this makes us feel the best of all, we hear from people that we are appointment entertainment for them. Their day, in many ways, is scheduled around our show. That feels amazing. Social media is great and it’s terrible at the same time, but at a time like this it’s really a useful tool that you just can’t do without. There was such a reaction from our listeners that reached the higher ups at iHeartMedia and they noticed.”

What program director wouldn’t kill to have an audience like that? Des Moines may not be a Top 50 market but you’d be hard-pressed to find very many across the country that are as loyal as that. There’s a lot of awards that are given annually in sports radio, heck, we at Barrett Sports Media, give out a couple ourselves. But if there’s an award that’s given out to the best audience in any market across the country, I sure know where my vote is going. 

Fales and co-host Keith Murphy were the two on-air hosts the station, initially, decided to keep. But with six co-workers being laid off, the duo just didn’t feel it was right to carry on a show like nothing had happened. 

“I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Fales. “I think we all want to sound tough and cool and like we’re this tough negotiator that goes in and draws a line in the sand, but when we were doing what we did last week, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We really kind of figured that we would be fired.

“We’ve had a lot of people come up to us and congratulate us for taking this big stand. I don’t think I’ve ever heard back from more listeners, whether they organically came up to me or just reached out. They don’t understand that last week we were kind of taking a shot in the dark. It was on principle, we knew what we believed in and what we wanted to do. But we did not think we had some great upper hand that was going to ultimately work out.”

On Tuesday, KXNO was back on the air after its short hiatus. What’s welcomed them, has been more outpouring on social media from listeners, such as compliments on how good the new FM signal sounds. In an odd way, McCrea’s decision to terminate six employees, bring them back within a week and add an FM signal might be the best thing that could have happened for the station, ratings wise, especially now that football season for the local teams is over. Regardless, the on-air staff is thankful for the change of direction by McCrea. 

“I’ve known Joel McCrea for 25 years,” said Burnside via her personal Twitter page. “He’s a straight shooter who owns his mistakes, and he just turned a big one into a huge win for our company, our staff and listeners and the community we built our station on. I’m very thankful to have him as a boss, mentor and friend.”

Others echoed those comments. 

“Joel McCrea really did come through,” said Fales. “He did what needed to be done and worked to get this turned around. He’s owed a lot of the credit here. He’s fallen on the grenade for iHeartMedia and he wanted to keep us all along.”

Unfortunately, Burnside, Justice, Roberts and Peterson were unreachable for direct comments through email and social media. Williams declined comment via email saying, “It’s been such a hectic week. I’d really just like to stay out of the news for at least a couple of weeks until things settle down.”

I can’t say I blame any of them for not wanting to comment. With the emotional roller coaster each has been through in the past week, I may have done the same thing. 

Though McCrea and the listeners deserve a lot of credit for putting KXNO back to full strength, advertisers of the station played a major role, too. Local businesses streamed out in support of the station and even threatened to put their ad money elsewhere. 

By Wednesday of last week, that’s who Fales was thinking of when his show declined to go on the air. He felt he owed it to them, especially the ones who had been there since the beginning, to give the local businesses what they paid for. But after talking with Murphy, who unknowingly scheduled a vacation at an unfortunate time and was in Mexico during the whole process, the two decided to remain off the air. Instead, Fales found another way to reach out to his clients. 

“Instead of doing the show, I sat down and wrote to every single client that I could think of,” said Fales. “I got in the car and stopped by a number of businesses and told them everything that was going on. I apologized for not representing their business the way that we said we would when they signed on. I said that we would make it up to them and then I thanked them profusely for being with us. The reaction that I got from them was every bit as impressive as the reaction we got from the listeners. Nearly every one of them said if you go, we go. That felt great.

“They weren’t sold on some greater principle, they listen to our show and wanted to buy into it. It really felt great and even empowered us. I knew if things didn’t work out we could leave and take almost all of our advertisers with us immediately.”

So what’s the lessoned to be learned here? What should the takeaway be from a situation where an audience and advertisers willed its way to make a station change its entire course? 

“To me, the lesson is mid-size markets with established brands, folks yearn for people who understand what’s happening in their lives,” said Perrault. “They want to know what’s happening with their teams. They don’t want to know what’s going on Chicago, but what’s going on in Des Moines. I think KXNO has always built itself on being the voice of the fan and being a place where you can go and talk. I mean, it’s Iowa and we’ve been told for years it’s just flyover country. Well, that radio station has changed everything over the course of 15 years by saying we’re going to pay attention to you and we’re going to give you the news that no one else is going to give you.”

“If you have a show that you love listening to and you’re told it’s going to be replaced by some national programming, you know that national programming isn’t going to cover what’s in your community,” said Fales. “That’s going to be lost. That connection to the community is going to be separate. We have plenty of national shows and you can get those anywhere. But there’s just this connection with local sports, and those are the ones who care about it the most.”

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Stories such as this show why local sports radio in mid to lower size markets are special and will never die. Not enough praise can be given to the loyal listeners and adversities of KXNO, but the real winner is the station, itself. It’s likely the added attention and FM signal will give the station a boost in ratings it’s never seen before at this point in the calendar year. 

Amidst what was a dark week of layoffs for sports radio, KXNO still found a way to emerge a winner. 

BSM Writers

Kevin Burkhardt Is Broadcasting’s Most Unlikely Success Story

“To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins.”

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There is always something appealing about the 50-75% off rack in a clothing store. It is the hope against hope I can find a shirt in my size that doesn’t look like a 1980’s Bill Cosby sweater and a velour tracksuit had a baby. That is not where FOX went shopping for Tom Brady.

Nope, FOX paid top dollar for their newest NFL analyst. Though the actual number first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post (ten years, $375 million) hasn’t been confirmed by FOX, it is safe to say Brady will be the highest paid sports analyst in television history. “Will be” because he has that pesky little roadblock of finishing the greatest NFL career we’ve ever seen first.

I’m glad Brady could finally catch a break, looks like things are turning around for the poor guy.

The reason Brady is even being hired is that FOX is in the relatively unique position of having an entire booth opening for their top NFL game telecast with the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ABC/ESPN. The closest thing we’ve seen to this situation was the 2006 move from ABC to NBC of Al Michaels and John Madden. Of course, ABC was moving Monday Night Football to ESPN at that time and the break felt a little more natural.

As another side note, that was the Al Michaels/Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. Yes, one of the greatest play-by-play voices in television history was traded from ABC to NBC for some Ryder Cup rights, an Olympic highlights agreement and the rights to a cartoon rabbit. Oswald, of course, was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. That must be the cartoon equivalent of what it was like being the opener for The Rolling Stones. The house lights are up, the single guys are hitting on the single ladies and everyone is coming back from the concession stands ready for Oswald to shut up so Mickey can take the stage.

What this has created for FOX is the search for the play-by-play partner for Brady, the role 46-year-old Kevin Burkhardt has earned. You’ll notice I said “earned” instead of “was given”. No, Burkhardt has absolutely worked his way to the top of the FOX ladder, starting by covering local high school football in New Jersey. In fact, my favorite part of this story is Burkhardt, not Brady. 

Burkhardt is as good an example of perseverance paying off as you will find in sports broadcasting. As Richard Deitsch once profiled for Sports Illustrated, just 15 years ago, seemingly having given up on hitting it big, Burkhardt was selling cars for Pine Belt Chevrolet in New Jersey. His silky smooth voice has been one of the reasons Burkhardt has climbed the FOX ladder but can you imagine him describing what is under the hood of a 2005 Chevy Suburban? Or him saying, “We have cars for every price range starting as low as $10,000. From ten to 15 to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50…”

To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins. Maybe that is why this pair will work. Brady, himself, was fairly close to using that business degree from Michigan. If not for a fortuitous draft pick and a Drew Bledsoe injury, the car salesman-sixth round pick broadcast team may have never happened.

Burkhardt’s climb is a lesson for young people looking to break into the sports broadcasting field. I’d be writing this from my summer home in Santorini, Greece if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how to get on the air in sports radio or TV. My answer is the same every time: go to your local radio or TV station that carries high school sports and tell them you’ll volunteer to be part of the production. Trust me on this, local stations make good revenue on high school sports and are looking to produce it as cheaply as possible.

I did that when I was in college at Jacksonville State University and worked my first football season, 14 weeks, for a free game of bowling and a free meal for two at a local bar-b-que joint. I can’t calculate now how much that bowling and bar-b-que has been worth to me since. I was able to get on the air, learn the craft and make all my early mistakes in a very forgiving environment.

The local high school broadcast teaches you how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. You will, at some point, call a game from a booth shared with a member of the home team’s quarterback club, a man who lives for the free pizza and cookies in the Friday night press box. He’s certain the game officials are either blind or on the opposing team’s payroll and doesn’t care if your crowd mic hears him yelling it.

That’s if you are fortunate enough to have a spot in the actual press box. When I was in college, doing high school play-by-play on WHMA-FM in Anniston, Alabama, we once were told there was no room in the home team’s press box for a state playoffs semifinal game. We convinced the station’s sales team to go to the local equipment rental store and negotiate for us to use a scissor lift at the stadium. They delivered it for us and it became our perilous mobile broadcast booth for one Friday night. 

The lessons learned in those years shaped my career. Those same types of lessons were also the building blocks for the man who is now slated to call the biggest games on FOX, including the Super Bowl, for the foreseeable future.

It is crazy to think a man drafted 199th is now paired in one of the biggest jobs in sports TV with a man who once tried to convince people to add on things like the Platinum Level Pine Belt Chevy Service Agreement. Those are the stories we love in sports. Now, those two will tell us those types of stories for years to come.

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BSM Writers

Patrick Beverley Announced Himself As the Next Sports Broadcasting Star

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its studios without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over.

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Last week, Fox Sports announced the signing of what the network hopes is the next sports broadcasting star in Tom Brady. More dazzling headlines came from Brady’s mega-deal with Fox, though the network disputes the 10-year, $375 million figure reported by the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand.

This week, however, viewers may have seen the emergence of another future sports broadcasting star. And unlike Fox, ESPN didn’t tell us NBA player Patrick Beverley would be an impactful commentator based on name recognition and contract size. The network showed us Beverley’s talents and capabilities with sharp, biting opinions on its Monday daytime studio shows.

Beverley, who played this season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has long been known as one of the NBA’s most provocative and irritating defenders. Coaches regularly task him with checking the opposing team’s best player.

He obstructs opponents physically with quick footwork and hands that result in steals, blocks, and rebounds of missed shots. But he also throws players off their game verbally and mentally, getting in their heads and forcing them to think about matters other than the game at hand.

That talent for highlighting weaknesses and insecurities in opponents serves him well as an analyst, which Beverley demonstrated by skewering Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during appearances on Get Up and First Take. On the Monday morning after the Suns’ shocking 123-90 Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs, the NBA guard went beyond stating that Paul had played badly.

Appearing with JJ Redick, Beverley could’ve said something obvious and safe like the Suns needed their leader to score more than 10 points with their season on the line. Paul needed to elevate the rest of the team and make them better. But given a national platform, Beverley pushed harder than that.

“They benched the wrong person,” Beverley said, referring to center Deandre Ayton playing only 17 minutes (and less than four minutes during the second half) in what Suns coach Monty Williams called an “internal” matter.

“They should’ve benched Chris… Once you see they started attacking Chris early and that might become a problem later on, you need to see how my team works without Chris in the game.”

On First Take, Beverley continued his criticism of Paul, especially his defense.

“There ain’t nobody worried about Chris Paul when you play the Phoenix Suns, nobody in the NBA,” Beverley said to Stephen A. Smith. “He’s finessed the game to a point where he gets all the petty calls, all the swipe-throughs at the end.

“We wanna be really honest? He should’ve fouled out. The last game, too. You see the replay against [Jalen] Brunson, hit him on the shoulder, hit him on the mouth, ref don’t call anything. If that’s me, ‘Oh, review it! Flagrant 1!’ If that’s him, they don’t call it.”

Beverley went on to say Paul can’t guard anyone and called him “a cone” that stays still while opponents run around him. That is scathing commentary coming from a current NBA player, criticism not typically heard on a studio show.

Yet if Beverley sounded bitter and resentful toward Paul, it’s because he is. The 10-year veteran holds an intense grudge against the Suns guard going back to when they faced each other in high school and college, which he explained to Redick earlier this year on his podcast, Old Man and the Three (via Awful Announcing).

“Chris, he does slick s**t,” Beverley told Redick. “People don’t know, that’s a little dirty motherf***er, man. Chris know that too, man. I know you don’t want to say it, but I’ll say it for you, though. I know he was your teammate.”

Paul wasn’t the only Suns player targeted by the guest analyst, however. Besides saying the entire Phoenix team was “scared,” especially of Mavericks star guard Luka Dončić, Beverley had plenty of criticism for Ayton, saying he was “OK” after Redick called him “fantastic” on First Take.

“I’m all about greatness,” Beverley said (via the Arizona Republic‘s Duane Rankin). “What would Wilt Chamberlain do? What would Shaquille O’Neal do? Get it off the rim. Y’all don’t have him in the pick-and-roll, I’m going to get it off the rim. I’m going to go get it. I’m going to go get it.”

Ayton only scored five points in Phoenix’s Game 7 loss. By “get it off the rim,” Beverley meant that there were plenty of opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks with all of the shots that Paul and Devin Booker missed. (The two shot a combined 7-for-22.)

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its South Street Seaport studios in New York City without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over, as Fox did with Tom Brady. Actually, the network should make sure Beverley appears across its daytime schedule while he’s still an active player, as Turner Sports does with Draymond Green. And why not on NBA Countdown as well?

Fox drew the headlines last week for signing Tom Brady to its top NFL broadcast team without having any idea if he will be good at calling football games. He received a reportedly massive contract to prevent him from going anywhere else after he retires, and Fox is banking that casual fans will tune in out of familiarity and curiosity.

Patrick Beverley doesn’t have that kind of mainstream recognition. The NBA isn’t as nationally popular as the NFL. And studio analysts aren’t typically as well-known as game commentators. But maybe that’s more true of football. Who is the most famous basketball analyst? It’s Charles Barkley, by far.

Barkley is known for his candor and pointed opinions, which stand out in a studio setting far more than they would during a game broadcast as the action keeps moving. His jokes and jabs can be easily captured in video clips that play well on social media and have a shelf life on YouTube. ESPN has never had that kind of personality for its NBA coverage. No matter how hard it’s tried, the network has never produced anything close to Turner’s Inside the NBA.

But ESPN, whether realizing it or not, may have found its guy in Beverley. Put him on NBA Countdown and it instantly becomes a better program. Let PatBev argue with Stephen A., as he did on Monday’s First Take, and the pregame show is something that generates buzz and conversation.

Maybe Beverley, Redick, and Stephen A. would make for a good post-game show, something ESPN has never done while Inside the NBA shines in breaking down what just happened. Yes, there’s SportsCenter and Beverley could appear with Scott Van Pelt afterward. But a strong NBA postgame show could become a key part of the overall package. What if SVP played moderator as Ernie Johnson does with Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal?

Doesn’t that already sound better than what ESPN is doing now? Don’t let PatBev get away! He could be the network’s next big, must-watch star. Especially if he has grudges against more NBA players besides Chris Paul.

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BSM Writers

Mike Raffensperger Examines The Business of Sports Betting

“McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know.”

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Pat McAfee has built quite a following since the end of his playing days. Last December, the former Indianapolis Colts punter signed a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel to make it the exclusive sportsbook of The Pat McAfee Show, where he seamlessly blends gambling talk with football talk every weekday. 

Last Thursday, McAfee welcomed Mike Raffensperger to the show for a very insightful and informative segment. The Chief Marketing Officer for FanDuel touched on numerous topics during the interview, ranging from how likely it is that each state will eventually have online gambling, to which show member was having the worst gambling run per their account history.

While some questioned the decision to give McAfee such a high amount of money in the deal, it appears to have paid off handsomely for FanDuel. In a report put out last week by their parent company, Flutter Entertainment, the book signed up 1.3 million active new customers in the first quarter of 2022. In addition, their 1.5 million active customers on Super Bowl Sunday was the highest single-day total ever, and the 19 million bets they processed during the NCAA Tournament signaled the most popular betting period in the book’s history. 

Raffensperger discussed some of the challenges that have been overcome with getting the FanDuel online service up and running in states as they slowly begin to legalize it. He stated that 15 states currently offer online services, but that getting all 50 will never happen.

He cited Utah as an example, as their state constitution clearly outlaws gambling, but stated that many states have legalized it because it is “pretty common sense legalization.” He does believe we will see many more states, including California, legalize sports wagering in the coming years, however. “You will see a continued, steady pace for the next few years, and then you will get close to a critical mass, but you will never get to 50.” 

McAfee asked how much of a role COVID-19 played in the legalization of sports gambling, and Raffensperger said many states were forced to explore new ways to recoup tax revenues lost during shutdowns. “From a state, municipal budgets, they needed tax revenue,” he said, while also discussing how it went from being something done in the shadows to commonplace. “It is taking a black market that is unregulated and unsafe, into a safe and regulated environment, and creates tax revenue for the state. It’s very common sense.”

One of the more informative discussions came when McAfee asked what Raffensperger would say to listeners that complained they were unable to take advantage of odds boosts or promos that FanDuel offered through his show, yet were not available to listeners in every state. This is a common issue for radio stations throughout the country that have gambling ads in multi-state markets.

“It tends to be a little more restrictive,” Raffensperger said regarding how states tend to regulate what can be offered in the months following legalization. “Then over time, as states get comfortable, we build a good relationship with our regulating partners.” He added, “it does tend to open up a bit more over time” as they build that rapport within a state, but fully understands the frustration for customers and listeners. “At the end of the day, we gotta own what the customer experience is, and it’s FanDuel’s job to work through those regulatory challenges to make it as easy on customers as possible.”

When McAfee asked him about whether more brick-and-mortar book sites might be coming in the future at professional stadiums, Raffensperger was quick to point out it was also impacted by state regulations. Stating that 90% of all their bets were made online, he also questioned to what end a physical site would be a prudent investment.

“Beyond a physical teller and placing a bet, what is a super premium or luxury experience that would make being at a sportsbook different than what you have in your mind of a Vegas sportsbook,” he asked theoretically, “but being at a retail stadium?”

He also said that physical sites, like online apps, are tied to regulation on a state-by-state basis. “You’re either allowed to take a physical bet in a sports facility or not. Most of the time, and in most of the laws, you have to have already been a gambling establishment, either a race track or a casino, to have a physical book.” 

They also touched on the McAfee same game parlay for Super Bowl LVI, which Raffensperger confirmed was tailed by more than 200,000 of his listeners. Paying out nearly eight-to-one, the wager was for Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and to have more than 60 yards receiving, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr scoring a touchdown, and Joe Burrow rushing for 12 or more yards. Raffensperger said the parlay, which needed just nine rushing yards from Burrow to hit, may have been “the biggest parlay liability in the history of gambling,” and would have cost the book nearly $50 million had it come through. 

One final interesting fact was the rise of women in the sports gambling space. A report over the weekend from Global Wireless Solutions stated that the growth rate of women signing up with sportsbooks is 63% higher than the rate of men during the same time frame. They also reported that in 2021 FanDuel added almost 1.7 million new female customers, with DraftKings adding close to 900,000 in the same span. As sportsbooks look to bring in higher market share and look to find new ways to advertise their services, women are likely the next major demographic the books fight over. 

All in all, it was a terrific interview from all sides. Entertaining and enlightening, McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know. The partnership appears to be greatly beneficial for all parties involved, and hopefully the positive reception to the McAfee interview will lead to more transparency and open dialogue from sports book executives to their consumers.

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