Roughly 10 years and 1,500 miles.
That’s what separates Rod Lakin and Ryan Porth.
Lakin has called the Phoenix area home his entire life. Now, approaching 40, he’s raising his own kids in the Valley of the Sun.
Staring at 30, an engaged Porth is just starting to settle down in Nashville – his adopted city since the age of 12.
Two men in two different stages of their personal lives.
With that information, you’d think you’d be able to tell one apart from the other on a phone call. That’s not the case.
Lakin and Porth share a quiet sincerity in their tone. They listen intently and chose their words carefully. Effective communication is a skill both have come to value as Program Directors. They’re methodical. Calculated, but still personable and relatable. It’s no surprise that when asked the key to day to day success at a sports radio station – both of them point to the same thing.
Of course, both PDs arrived at their checklists in different ways.
Outside of a brief period of time when he considered pursuing a career as a firefighter roughly 15 years ago, Lakin has been in the Phoenix sports radio scene since his Sun Devil days in the early 2000s. After nearly two decades, he’s worn just about every hat one can wear on his ascension to Arizona Sports 98.7 PD – a title bestowed upon him this past summer.
Halfway across the country – Porth has had a similar trajectory – only accelerated.
“I’ve always been in the right place at the right time in my career,” declares the Cincinnati native.
Fresh out of high school, Ryan opted to launch his own website covering hockey rather than further his education.
“I honestly wasn’t ready go to college,” he freely admits today.
In 2012, after four years in the digital space, Porth was low on revenue and found himself at a crossroads. Like Lakin’s brush with firefighting, Ryan was close to enrolling at a nearby university before fate intervened with a part time board op position at 102.5 The Game.
Porth’s foot was in the door, but he credits one coworker in particular for helping him pry it open.
“I had a lot of heart to heart talks with Chase McCabe during those times. I needed to learn a lot about how to work in this industry and just overall organization,” Porth pauses.
“I needed a checklist.”
McCabe’s influence was the encouragement Porth needed. He was green, but mature enough to take constructive criticism and better himself. By November of 2013 he was brought on full time and has never looked back.
Several months later – Lakin hit a milestone of his own when he was named Arizona Sports APD in March of 2014. Working closely behind then-PD Ryan Hatch, Lakin had plenty of time to prepare for the day he would eventually take the next career step. Along the way – he developed what he calls the “Cs and Ps of Programming”.
- Content – The on-air product needs to reflective of the interests of the audience. Are you talking about the things people care about? Are you doing so in an impactful and entertaining way?
- Communication – Are you communicating a clear vision of the station and setting an organizational context so that everyone has clarity of purpose in achieving the mission?
- Coaching – Are you facilitating a high-performance culture by supporting the hosts, producers and support staff and putting them in the best possible position to succeed?
- Planful – A great programmer is someone who can anticipate situations and maximize the conditions of the market.
- Purposeful – A great programmer is completely committed to the cause and must be able to inspire others to follow that direction.
- Performer – A great programmer must consistently demonstrate measurable success.
“I use this as kind of my checklist,” explains Lakin. “Everyday I ask myself if I’m doing everything I can to support all the Cs and Ps.”
Ask Rod to go into depth on any particular checklist item and he’s not lost for words on the responsibilities that fall under that category.
Externally you have to be available to all of your play by play partners. In Lakin’s case it’s the Cardinals, Suns, Diamondbacks, Arizona State and Phoenix Rising.
Internally it’s your responsibility to coordinate between promotions, sales, and your talent to be sure everyone is aware of the bigger picture and their particular role.
Here Lakin can’t help but point directly to his predecessor.
“You have to get people excited and inspired to buy your vision, and no one was better at that than Ryan Hatch.”
Assigning credit is a theme for Rod. Scott Masteller taught him to plan and anticipate. Bruce Gilbert is the man he thinks of when he’s coaching and putting people in a position to succeed.
Just last July – Hatch, the master motivator himself, took the VP of Programming for Bonneville Phoenix leaving the PD position to his well-groomed protégé.
Unfortunately, management transitions aren’t always that smooth – particularly not in this industry.
Back in Nashville, Porth’s new approach to work afforded him several promotions in just a few years. On August 10, 2016 – Porth was named APD of The Game.
“I’m a big believer that hard work pays off – I just dedicated everything to the station,” he recalls.
Ryan’s recollection of the Summer of 2016 is bittersweet. He’s rightfully proud of his career development – but the celebration was short lived. Just two weeks after being named APD, Porth’s friend and boss Jeremy Bennefield was dismissed as PD – putting the interim responsibilities squarely on his shoulders.
“I would describe the first couple of months as Program Director as ‘turbulent.’”
On a human level, Ryan was forced to say goodbye to a mentor. On a professional level, he was tossed into the deep end without a life jacket.
One day at a time, The Game’s interim Program Director pushed through the adversity. A little over two months later – the “interim” qualifier was removed from his title.
“I walked through the door every day with a good attitude and just did what I could to make everything work,” remembers Porth.
The biggest lesson learned in the young PD’s “turbulent” start to his tenure? Lakin’s 2nd “C.”
“I had to learn to communicate with 20-30 people in the building differently. I figured out pretty quickly you can’t just deliver a message the same way 20-30 times – everyone is different,” exhales the young but battle tested Program Director.
Two Program Directors in two markets at two different points in life. Both earned their positions – one gradually, the other by fire.
On paper the differences are easy to spot between Lakin and Porth – but as programmers they’re remarkably similar. Each are quick to point to superiors who were instrumental in their growth. Neither underestimate the importance of proper communication within their building and beyond. As far as the future of terrestrial radio?
“Content sources are growing, attention spans are dropping,” explains Lakin – his tone casual and concise.
“That’s not a bad thing – it can be an opportunity.”
Jack Ferris writes feature stories for BSM and serves as an update anchor for iHeart Radio in San Francisco and as a freelance contributor for the PAC-12 Network. Previously he has worked as a sports anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane and as the co-host of the Don West Show on KPQ in Central Washington. You can find him on Twitter @JFerris714 or reach him by email at FerrisJack54@gmail.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.