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Everyone Appreciates Zach Gelb’s Grind

“I don’t like to look too far ahead, I have an incredible opportunity being 25 and doing a show Monday through Friday. If I try to think too much ahead, it will be a disservice to the audience.”

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You could say Zach Gelb was born into sports talk radio. Growing up the son of a longtime WFAN employee may have triggered Zach’s desire to work in sports radio, but it’s his own hard work that led him to where he is today.

When he was a kid, he’d go to work with his dad, Bob Gelb who produced Mike and the Mad Dog and later moved into sales and marketing for the station. Zach quickly grew an affinity for the industry and knew it was something he wanted to make a career out of.

Zach Gelb | CBS Sports Radio

From hopping on-air with Joe Benigno at eight-years old, to hosting internet radio shows in his parents’ basement, to building a professional sounding station at Temple University, Zach’s educational years always featured sports radio.

But his young career has never been without networking, taking chances and seeking opportunities to prove himself as a rising star in the industry. At the age of 25, Zach began the year 2020 as the new weeknight host for Entercom’s CBS Sports Radio, where you can hear him on their national network of stations Monday – Friday from 6 – 10pm ET.

Brandon Contes: The first time I heard something on-air from you was two years ago, when Boomer and Gio played your “I’m a professional broadcaster” rant [Laughs] with you yelling at your producer.

Zach Gelb: [Laughs] Of course. We were watching the NBA Draft lottery and they were taking forever, interviewing everyone associated with the top draft picks. It was obnoxious how they were dragging it out. My board-op told me to get to a read, which I already did. And then in the middle of the rant he was in my ear again reminding me about the read. I knew we still had a minute at the backend, so I was going to squeeze it in there, but again he says get to the read! That caused me to go off for a second, we were laughing about it afterwards, but it definitely got a lot of exposure when Boomer and Gio had fun with it the next day.

BC: It was a light-hearted, fun moment, but I still give credit to the producer and board-op that’s able to accept the on-air ribbing and realize the entertainment value in that moment. But people hear yelling at someone behind the glass and they go back to Mike and the Mad Dog – nicely produced, never hesitating to blame something on the producer. The funny part is – you’re in a unique spot because for years, their producer was your dad.

ZG: [Laughs] When I was talking about it the next day with Eddie Scozzare (Boomer and Gio’s board-op who held the same role for Mike and the Mad Dog) and Al Dukes (Boomer and Gio producer), they were getting a kick out of it. Eddie called it the cycle of abuse, but if we’re being honest I have a great relationship with everyone I work with behind the scenes, especially because it wasn’t that long ago when I was running my own board and producing my own show, while programming a station.

I have a great appreciation for the people behind the scenes and love their input. A successful show and what makes a great host is someone who comes in with ideas for guests and segments, but then I’ll ask how can we improve this? Because sometimes as a host, we might think we know everything, but it’s good to have people to bounce ideas off.

BC: Obviously you grew up around it, but did you always want to work in radio?

ZG: When I was eight years old all I wanted to do was skip school and go to work with my dad. One of my first on-air encounters, Ray Martel was producing the WFAN midday show. Martel is a big New England Patriots fan, and I grew up a Patriots fan too. I wore a Tom Brady jersey to the studios. Joe Benigno saw me, and they thought it would be a cute bit to have a kid on-air talking smack with Benigno. [Laughs]

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In the car ride home, I told my dad I wanted to do sports talk radio for a living. From there I started doing shows in my parents’ basement in high school and it developed into where I’m at today.

BC: Were those shows in your parents’ basement just for fun? Was it a podcast or broadcast anywhere?

ZG: It was on a network that’s no longer around called Shovio. Sid Rosenberg was on it, Leslie Gold The Radio Chick, Buc Wild, and they had an amateur channel which Sid suggested I try. I built some NFL connections, I went to the Super Bowl and got to interview Adam Sandler from Radio Row. I was doing that show when Rob Gronkowski was a rookie, I found him on Facebook, sent him a message and he came on for an interview. That’s also when I joined Twitter, I joined to send Kurt Warner a tweet and he came on the show after the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl the second time. I received necessary reps, even before I went to college.

BC: And then you went on to Temple, did you get to know Matt Rhule while you were there?

ZG: Yea I got to know Matt very well. I broke the story that he was leaving the Giants to become head coach at Temple. I would have him in studio, I would go to his office and Matt is still a guy that comes on with us to this day. We’re working on getting him on the new show soon.

BC: What station did you do your first professional show?

ZG: Right out of college, I did an afternoon drive show, producing a sports station and the irony is I was also running a Catholic station as a Jewish man which I get a kick out of. But it was Connoisseur Media and 920 The Jersey. Then I was hired to do Eagles postgame for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philly and soon after I spoke to Eric Spitz to start doing some shows with CBS Sports Radio. Last fall I moved to SiriusXM and now I’m back with CBS Sports Radio.

BC: Your dad has worked at WFAN throughout your whole life, but were you listening to Mike and the Mad Dog when he was producing or were you too young at that point?

ZG: I was younger, but for as long as I can remember I was listening. My birth was announced on-air!

Two early FAN encounters that stick with me, first when I met Don Imus. I remember my dad coming home and talking to my mom after work and even when he had a rough day, he would never curse in front of me or my sister. But with Imus, he would refer to him as the grouchy grandpa when talking in front of us. I was probably four or five the first time I met Imus, we were in an elevator and my dad said, ‘Zach this is Mr. Don Imus’ and I said ‘oh yea! the grouchy grandpa!’

Another time when I was with my dad, Mike and Chris were talking about famous Jewish baseball players, and I was in studio, as a kid, shouting names like Shawn Green in the background. Mark Chernoff quickly came in to tell the producer my shouting didn’t sound good off microphone so stop doing it. And now Mark is one of my bosses. [Laughs]

BC: You also interned at WIP in Philly, with another legendary radio host.

ZG: Yea, I interned with Angelo Cataldi which was great. What you get on-air with Angelo is what you get off-air. Angelo is so benevolent with his time. To this day, if you ever worked or interned on his show, you’re part of the family. Even as an intern I would sit in production meetings and offer suggestions of guests I had contacts for, Tom Glavine or Joe Theismann, and that helped us develop a relationship. Angelo gets to the studio around 3:30 in the morning and he was always helpful and great with his time in showing me how to think about things and present them on-air.

BC: So Mike Francesa, Chris Russo, Sid Rosenberg, Angelo Cataldi, that’s some incredible names and talent to grow up around, watch first hand and learn from. It doesn’t get much better for a kid that wants to work in radio.

ZG: I think I have some of the greatest education that anyone my age received in broadcasting because I grew up around it and I would talk to them and network at a young age. To be able to learn from Sid Rosenberg, Mike and Chris, Angelo and Howard Eskin, it really helped.

BC: I’m sure it’s also fun for them to see you come back as a host because you being a middle school kid, high school, college, those days probably don’t feel very long ago to them, so to see you hosting on a national stage now at 25, it’s gotta be cool to watch that growth.

ZG: Absolutely. A lot of hosts like to give back because they remember me, that goes with players and coaches too. Matt Rhule, I first interviewed him when I was in college and now I’m on a national stage. They respect that grind.

The first time I interviewed Jim Nantz, I was in college. A few weeks ago, when he was doing a game in Philly he still invites me up to the broadcast booth and I think he appreciates the craft, the grind and the hard work. Kevin Harlan once said I’m better than he was at my age and – my jaw hit the floor – pinch me, there’s no way he said that. But they enjoy seeing the progression and it helps me realize the hard work is paying off.

BC: Do you have a show prep method? Do you listen to a lot of other shows, take in a lot of opinions, load up on stats and information?

ZG: I know some hosts say they never listen. I don’t buy that because people in this business are a fan of this business. Are there times I’m in my car listening to music? Sure, but it’s important to listen because you can develop a relationship with other shows.

As far as preparation its 24/7, my philosophy is simple. Give a product that’s compelling and entertaining. You want to encourage fan interaction on-air and on social media and you need to get guests that are some of the biggest names in sports. Don’t put someone on for the sake of putting them on and we’ve done that exceptionally well.

In the last two years on weekend overnights, we made national news. Whether it was Hue Jackson talking about Baker Mayfield, Bob Wylie about Freddie Kitchens, Donovan McNabb saying Carson Wentz needs to get to an NFC title game or the Eagles need to look for a new quarterback in the next couple years.

Social media is so important, we need to get those clips out, send them to local writers because not everyone’s listening to the show for four hours so pushing that content out on social and getting others to share it is very important.

BC: How about hosting nationally vs locally. You grew up around local radio, but they’re not talking about Hue Jackson and Baker Mayfield much on WFAN, do you like having the freedom to create different topics?

ZG: I like the options, it keeps you on your toes. For example, in New York you can do four hours on Carlos Beltran and the Mets easily. On the national stage, you need to find a larger conversation. You need to mix in the Astros and bring in the discussion of should players be suspended for the sign-stealing scandal? Broaden the conversation and invite the listener into the discussion so they’re not getting into their car saying he’s just talking about the Mets again.

Taking a topic and branching into conversations that fit nationally can be challenging, but it’s also the fun part, as is interacting with fans from all over the country and having those diverse opinions join the discussion.

BC: You’re 25 years old, you have a full-time gig on a national platform, what are you chasing? Is it a different time slot? A bigger platform? Going back to local, staying national? Are you even able to look ahead?

Image result for zach gelb cbs sports radio

ZG: I want to grow the show, develop as a broadcaster and take advantage of the opportunity I have right now. I don’t like to look too far ahead, I have an incredible opportunity being 25 and doing a show Monday through Friday. If I try to think too much ahead, it will be a disservice to the audience. You’re only as good as your last show in this business and you don’t want to slip up.

BC: It’s happened quick, to get where you are at 25 is a testament to your hard work and talent, but going from being a kid shouting in the background of a Mike and the Mad Dog broadcast, to internet radio, college radio, 920 The Jersey, local radio, part-time radio, to where you are now as a national host, have you been able to enjoy the progression? Absorb the ride?

ZG: No question, I appreciate it greatly and it shows hard work pays off. I don’t get complacent, I’m hungry as ever, grinding and booking my own guests, continuing to network. If anyone gets upset in this business, I always find that comical. You can be frustrated, but if you get upset and start to resent the business – there are so many people that would love to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work everyday and do this for a living. I have fun with it and don’t take myself too seriously. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life just with what’s happened the last couple months.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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