Scott Masteller has over 40 years of experience in the radio/audio industry. We aren’t talking about a guy that has worked in a tiny market and once covered the line dancing competition at the local fair six years ago. Scott was one of the biggest of the big wigs at ESPN Radio in Bristol. His title was Senior Director II – Radio/Audio Content. That just sounds fancy — as if the person with that gig either sips lattes with a pinky in the air, or drives something that goes 0 to 60 before you can blink.
In addition to being a program director in Dallas, Portland, and currently at WBAL in Baltimore, Scott has a ton of on-air experience. He was an afternoon drive host in numerous markets including Portland and Salt Lake City, as well as a play-by-play announcer. He not only has overseen transcendent talent like Colin Cowherd, Scott fully understands the challenges that hosts face in order to create great radio.
The Pennsylvania native has experienced so much in the industry as a sports, news, oldies, and adult contemporary programmer. Scott has worn a suit as an executive and rolled up his sleeves behind a mic as a host. Practically the only thing he hasn’t done is save a whale, which come to think of it, I didn’t ask him about so don’t quote me on that. As you will see in the interview below, Scott has a lot of wisdom. It would be wise for you to tap into it. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What are you looking to gain by attending the BSM Summit later this month?
Scott Masteller: I think it’s always good to get out and see different events and see what is going on. I don’t work in sports the way I used to. I have some involvement, but it’s spoken word. A good programmer is what I’m looking to hear from. There are some really good programmers who will be participating in this event. Anytime you can learn — part of that to me is really important so I can help other folks.
I’ve been very blessed with a really good career experience. I’ve done a lot of cool things and I’ve always tried to give back whether it was when I was at ESPN or other sports stations, or where I am now, I’m just trying to help that next young talent get an understanding of what it’s like. Obviously it’s changed a great deal in the last several years — multiple platforms, different ways to hear content. So it’s two-fold; wanting to understand what’s happening so I can be as competitive as I can be in the current business that I’m in, and then also allowing me to teach and coach talent that either work for me or talent that I know and I want to try to help.
BN: What are a couple of the best nuggets of advice you can apply to the rapidly changing world of radio right now?
SM: I would say be open to doing things differently. Everywhere I’ve gone, you go into a building and you’ll hear the phrase, “We’ve always done it that way.” I think we’re in a world where we have to be creative and different and understand that there are different ways to consume content. Most of the radio listening is done in the car. But so many people are streaming and they’re also listening to podcasts. They’re listening to content in different ways. I think that’s important.
They also have to be able to understand what plays best with the consumer. What does the consumer want? I did this when I was on the air; I would want to talk about a certain topic, but was it really the right topic to play to what I call the broadest set of the audience? I think it’s important to understand your audience and what they’re looking for. If you can get that part of it right, that opens up a lot of other avenues.
BN: If you look at the world of sports radio versus news radio, what would you say is the biggest striking similarity and the biggest difference between the two?
SM: I’ve always subscribed to the theory that when I worked in the sports arena, the NFL was the world’s greatest soap opera. That’s what I talked to my talent about is understand that that’s part of what you’re trying to convey to the audience. Well it’s very similar in the world of politics. You’ve got a president who is not afraid to speak his mind. There are all the elements at times of a soap opera and you have to be able to kind of roll with that flow.
The biggest difference that I see, in sports if you’re in a local market, if you’re in Philadelphia you’re going to talk about the Eagles. You’re going to talk about the Phillies. Those things play into it all the time. In news talk you’re going to try to play to whatever the biggest story of the day is and it depends whether you’re local or national where you go with that. My station is local all day from 5am to 11 o’clock at night. We’re looking for both great local stories but also the big national stories. There are similarities but there are also differences.
BN: You’re going to be on a panel at the Summit. What is your on-air background?
SM: I started at a small radio station in my hometown of Williamsport, PA. I was a jock playing music. Then I started covering sports — high school games. I actually did some minor league baseball; I did five years of Double-A. From there I got into sports radio and went to Lexington, Kentucky. I was also a program director. I was on in that market, then Salt Lake City. Spent time in Portland, Oregon for about five years. Then when I went to Dallas and went to work for ESPN, I became primarily an off-air program director.
I always felt being on air helps me coach talent because I can point out and say, “See how you made that mistake there? I made that mistake many times.” I liken it to a manager in baseball that played the game; there’s just an ability to connect with the talent in that way. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a great program director if you were not on the air, but I do feel it’s helped me in what I try to do.
BN: With you being in news talk now, I think of it a little bit like a football player who retires. He might say, “Man, I miss those guys looking at me in the huddle, but I don’t miss the practices at all.” What do you miss the most about sports radio and what do you not miss whatsoever?
SM: That’s a good question. I get to cheat a little bit because I’m in charge of the production of the Baltimore Ravens. That’s the fun part of my job. What I miss is the excitement around a winning team — when things are going really, really well and everybody is fired up. I remember when I was working in Dallas and the Mavericks made it to the NBA finals; the whole city was just abuzz and just excited to no end about everything that was going on. I look for those goosebump moments that as a fan you get really excited about. I had a great experience in sports radio. People ask me do I miss it; sure I miss the friendships and the colleagues, but I’m still doing spoken word radio.
What’s been kind of interesting to see is that there are several sports programmers like myself who have gravitated over to general talk and have done really well with it. Kevin Graham is someone that I worked with at ESPN, now is in Dallas overseeing WBAP. I worked with Brian Long at ESPN. He’s still got a FOX Sports station, but he’s also got a great news talk station. I’ve learned different things being in news that maybe I couldn’t have learned while I was in sports. It’s kind of an evolution of the process.
BN: Which talent do you think improved the most that you were able to work with?
SM: Oh, that’s easy. That was Colin Cowherd. I was fortunate to be Colin’s program director in Portland, Oregon. He came in and he was very raw, but he was really, really talented. He just worked really hard. Now he’s arguably, in my book, the best spoken word talent that is out there. I’ve got other talent that I’ve worked with — when I was in Dallas, Randy Galloway, who has since retired was doing sports one way and we adjusted it and put him in an ensemble and he really took off. He was one of the best talents that I ever worked with.
Then on the news talk side I’ve got some great talent as well that I’m working with that are as good as any in the country. It’s all about being able to adjust to the format, being able to adjust to the talent, and helping the talent understand I’m not there to tell them what to do, I’m just there to be a resource to them to help them look at things from a different perspective and hopefully take that and improve upon it. I’ve been very blessed with that.
BN: When you say Colin was raw, which areas specifically did you see improvement in?
SM: I saw him be better able to close out the payoff. I’ve always talked about that if you’re an on-air talent, you’ve got to deliver the payoff. He does that I think as well as anybody right now. He’s got great people he’s working with including Scott Shapiro — who we worked together at our time at ESPN — he’s really helped him. He’s able to also look at things — he always did this — and use analogies and different perspectives to make it easy for the common person who’s driving around in their car to grasp what he’s talking about. It’s like anything, the more he did what he was doing, the better he got. That’s why at one point ESPN found that they had to hire that guy. Of course he did great there and then he’s gone on to FOX. He’s just truly a magnificent talent.
BN: With Cowherd or any great talent in mind, I think it’s fascinating that although they’re raw at one point, you can still see that it’s going to click. What is the it factor that lets you know once it does get sorted out, the host is going to be really legit?
SM: I’ve always been one to look at how you’re able to get the audience to stay engaged. Knowing that there’s a lot of discussion about ratings and you have to get the five minutes to get the quarter hour; when I heard him initially it’s like you could just tell he’s got something. He’s able to keep the audience engaged for extended periods of time.
Now that being said, it’s hard to do that. I was at enough sessions with him and other talent where they’re being tested by panels of people listening. They might really engage them for three or four minutes, but then they kind of run out of steam. Colin got to the point where he can go on and keep going and keep it interesting. I knew he had that in him as soon as I heard him the first time. That was a long time ago in the ‘90s in Portland, Oregon.
BN: What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a radio host to possess?
SM: It’s simple things. A great talent is always curious. I believe self-deprecation is one of the greatest traits of a talent; that you can poke fun at yourself. I think the instincts are there to know what to do in an interview; ask short succinct open-ended questions to get the most out of the talent. What I find is not every talent can do everything. I like on a radio station to have all the talent be kind of different. If you had the same traits in every talent it could get boring all day.
Every talent is like a quarterback and has certain skill sets that are better than others. What does Colin really do well, better than a lot of people? He tells a story. Every talent is so different in what they can do. I believe energy is really important. You’ve got passion. You give strong opinions and it comes across to the audience. “I’m really happy to be here today.” Likability is a really strong talent. I know if I have a talent that’s got a half dozen of those traits, then I feel that’s a talent that’s got real potential and I can work with.
BN: If one of your hosts has a view that the audience just doesn’t want to hear — maybe it’s critical in nature — what advice would you give to your talent on how to approach those situations?
SM: What I tell my talent is do it from a foundation of fact. You have some kind of fact to back up what you want to say. On my station we’ll say do it from a foundation of news because that’s basically what we are. We’re always talking about the news events of the day. The second thing — and I was very consistent about this everywhere I worked — never make it personal. If you make it personal that’s where problems happen. Whether it’s sports, news, a morning show; that’s not going to help you. My midday host, Clarence Mitchell IV, is a former Maryland politician. He’s well known by everybody in the market. He’s a really passionate guy. He’s not afraid to go after anybody. But he never, ever gets personal. That to me is the big difference.
When you’re a flagship for a professional sports team such as my station is for the Ravens, if the team is losing and having real problems, you still have to talk about it. But you’ve got to be smart in how you do that because you’ve got that partnership and you want to make sure that it moves forward in a positive direction. We had a case like that a year ago when the Ravens were struggling before they decided to put Lamar Jackson in. People on the talk shows were very upset that the team wasn’t doing what they should be doing to win football games. We were involved in that, but we made sure we communicated to the talent about how to approach it and not get to a point where it becomes personal. When it gets personal you’ve got problems.
BN: I’m curious about your personal background, have you always been big into politics?
SM: Not really. I really wasn’t even big into sports. But I got big into radio. I loved being an on-air jock playing bad disco records in the late ‘70s. I played a lot of those, but I was on the air and it was just engaging to me.
The best program directors are ones that can do multiple formats. I did sports for a long time. I also did adult contemporary. I did oldies. Now I’m doing news and spoken word. The medium is still very engaging to me. It’s changing and we have to be smart and adapt to that. To me it was always about wanting to be a broadcaster.
BN: What do you think about Jason Barrett putting on the Summit and the work he’s doing with BSM?
SM: The biggest thing is, I think it’s important to understand the amount of work that goes into putting a conference together. My last year at ESPN I had to put together a conference for a bunch of affiliates from across the country and get them to come to Bristol. When you work on a project like this, it takes up almost a year.
I noticed Jason was reacting as soon as he was done with the last one. Where is he going to have it? He’s got to find a venue. He’s got to then set up who he’s going to have involved in the conference. He’s got to put the agenda together. There’s so much behind the scenes work that goes on. By the way that’s while he’s doing all of the other stuff he has to do in his business. That to me is what it’s all about and understanding how to prioritize. You can’t do it all by yourself. He’s got to have people he respects and counts on to help him put that whole process together. I’m looking forward to the event and checking it out because this will be my first time attending.
Meet The Market Managers: Debbie Kenyon, Audacy Detroit
“We’ve never been judged on Men 25-54. We’ve always been judged on adults, and we’re top one, two, or three consistently for probably ten, 12 years, 14 years running.”
A lot of people would kill to be Debbie Kenyon. There aren’t a lot of stations in America that have a reliable performance that is as strong as 97.1 The Ticket’s in Detroit.
Her team is formidable. From her brand manager to the talent to the support staff, everyone in Audacy’s building in the Motor City are pushing in the same direction, and it pays off ratings book after ratings book.
This kind of success comes from really knowing what you’re dealing with. It’s about understanding both your product and your audience. Debbie Kenyon is from a media family. Her dad led a TV station. Her brother led a radio station.
Add into that background the experience of being with CBS as it grew, changed names, changed owners and then changed names again, and she has more institutional knowledge to work with than most GMs in major markets.
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Debbie and I talk about relationships with play-by-play partners, managing through tragedy, why America has the wrong idea about her city and so much more.
Demetri Ravanos: As you look at all of the brands that you oversee, is there any particular adaptation or change with the times that you are particularly proud that you were able to help pull off?
Debbie Kenyon: I guess we can look back two years, not that that’s a happy moment in everyone’s life, but clearly, in a couple of days’ time, to get two spoken word stations running remotely. We were able to keep everyone safe, not one COVID case. And technically, we sounded great during that entire two years.
We brought talent back much more quickly, but there were two months of literally a couple of people in the building and that was it. So from a technology standpoint, it’s not me. It’s my phenomenal engineers that gave us and our listeners some sense of peace during a very hard time.
I think from an innovation standpoint, on a more positive note, just some of the things that we’ve done with the sports teams and how we used to broadcast with phone lines. It was just somewhat antiquated compared to now. My engineering team is pretty cutting edge. The amount of cost reduction that we’ve been able to have over the past five or six years is great, and I think the sound quality is so much better and the likelihood of dropping out has really disappeared.
DR: I want to talk about the history of the frequency of 97.1, because it has evolved in an interesting way. Think back to those free FM days. Howard Stern leaves CBS and the company starts putting this hot talk format on a lot of the stations that he used to be on. You guys were already doing the FM talk that wasn’t politically centric even before the Free FM branding came about. I wonder how much of a model was CBS pointing to you guys to set the example for the rest of the country?
DK: At that point, I was a DOS and might have been the GM too, but not of that station. It was such an expensive format. Unfortunately, it never really got a ton of rating traction. There were a lot of passionate listeners, but from a financial stability standpoint, it couldn’t hold.
The company looked at us to move to FM for sports. We were fortunate because it was driven 100%. by one of my favorite mentors, Dan Mason, to bring in the very best program director at the time, Tom Bigby.
We had kind of a rough launch for The Ticket. It was really just a hardcore X’s and O’s sports format. Sales really wasn’t doing anything. I asked Dan for the opportunity to take the station over from a general manager standpoint. It gave me the opportunity to simultaneously hire Tom Bigby. That’s when the real phenomenon of The Ticket was created.
DR: So it’s interesting to hear that. The Ticket does so well beyond just the target demo, right? This is a station that performs well with not just men, but all people in the market. I was wondering if that might have come from the hot talk base of the FM station, but it sounds like that wasn’t really the case.
DK: Yeah, I think philosophically we’re a little bit different than most sports stations. Tom started this and then you’ve probably talked to Jimmy Powers over the years, our current brand manager has been here for quite a while. Our theory has always been a little different. Even though sitting in Detroit, Michigan, we are one of the best sports markets obviously with Michigan, Michigan State and then all four professional teams, we’ve kind of built this brand on, of course we’re talking sports all day long, but per show, we’ll have one mass appeal topic per day. The only thing which we stay away from is politics. We’ve gone through the years and some will dabble too much and it’s just a ratings killer.
We’ve never been judged on Men 25-54. We’ve always been judged on adults, and we’re top one, two, or three consistently for probably ten, 12 years, 14 years running. A nice long run. But you know, you can never get satisfied because when you’re at the top, everyone’s gunning for you. So we always have to think about new talent, new platforms, and how we communicate with our listeners.
This is a phone-based interactive format. Well, phones have changed. We certainly still take phone calls, but each show now will have thousands and thousands of texts. People communicate through text or Twitch or Twitter or on any of our social accounts and then by phone too. So that’s drastically changed over the past 14 years.
DR: What is the formula that keeps you in the top three? I mean, it’s got to be more than just topic selection. There has to be something about finding the right talent that you and Jimmy have done to make The Ticket the sort of institution that it became relatively quickly in Detroit.
DK: It’s not just one talent. We just have great, great talent. Between the talent and I believe we’re the only sports station in the country that has all four professional teams. I think the combination of that and I mean, Jimmy grew up as a programmer under Tom. So that same philosophy has carried through even to our newer and younger guys.
You know, we’re never afraid to make a change. We’ve had top-five, winning shows in the past where we just felt like something might be getting a little bit stale, and we’ve made changes. I know on some of my other stations, I’d be thrilled if it’s top five. Don’t mess with it! But for this station, the bar is so high and we all hold each other, whether it’s the talent on the air, a producer, the screeners, it’s myself, it’s my brand manager, it’s my APD. We all have that same expectation of excellence. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it actually is true.
DR: So let’s talk about that expectation of excellence. You mentioned that you can never be satisfied, but you guys have the ratings that you do. You mentioned all four franchises, plus, correct me if I’m wrong. You’ve got the Wolverines as well, right?
DK: We do.
DR: So certainly you don’t feel invincible, but you have to recognize it would be very tough for someone to come in and unseat you, at least in the sports format in the market.
DK: Sure. I mean, listen, you’re always on guard, but, you know, sports is just an expensive format to run. There’s no team or talent that is bigger than what the brand of The Ticket is. We’ve had competitors over the years that have tried to come in and it hasn’t worked out.
I think we owe it to our listeners and the community to make sure that we are constantly pushing to make sure that we are the best, whether it’s reviewing our social and making sure that we’re cutting edge. We were five years ago. Are we still cutting edge today? I think there are some changes that we could do to help freshen things up. There are all these basics, but they’re basics that over the years I think people have forgotten about.
Everyone kind of has to drink the Kool-Aid and they do. People love working at this radio station. It’s fun. Like, come on, you can appear at events and you get to work a Tigers game. But it’s just maintaining the same level of excitement. You know, no matter what the job or event is, we all want the same thing.
DR: Mike Valenti has not been shy about the fact that the Lions wanted him off the station back in 2015. When that happened, the station dropped the Lions. You said at the time that this was not about Mike individually. This was about not letting a partner censor what was happening on the station. Was that an easy decision to make? I mean, standing by your talent is one thing, but it certainly takes the next level of bravery and trust in your talent to do that at the expense of an NFL flagship deal.
DK: I never wanted to lose the Lions, but it just, at that time, made sense. What I’m very proud of is, that although it took me five years, I was so happy to get the team back because there’s a lot of time invested in relationships.
It’s challenging. If they’re not having a good season, you know what the guys are doing on air. You know, to manage relationships through that is a big deal.
I have nothing but great things to say. For the most part, the group of people are much different than who I was dealing with back then. But they’re a great, great partner and I’m so excited, as are all of our talent, to have them back. It’s just the perfect scenario for us.
DR: So if it’s different people that you’re dealing with there, I am going to guess there was not some sort of big clearing of the air that had to be done to start negotiations to bring them back.
DK: We’re really good at doing sports here, and I think the teams know that and appreciate it and respect it. Certainly, there can be frustrations at times with some things that are said on the air, but I think I think they all realize that there’s so much value that 97.1 The Ticket brings by having their team on the air with us. I think it really outweighs a lot of things.
DR: I don’t even know if you would call it a joke, an old talking point or whatever, but it’s very easy for people that have never spent time in Detroit to make the joke about it being a dying city. I guess I wonder, what is it that people don’t get about the market? Certainly, if it were dying, The Ticket couldn’t have the kind of success that it does book after book.
DK: I think it was an NBC Dateline. There was some show that was on like eight years ago and it showed someone was up in a tree and they were eating like a raccoon or a possum. And it was like, “this is Detroit”. I remember Chris Oliviero had called and he’s like “I saw Detroit on the news!” And I’m like, really?
I just feel like we’re a city where a lot of times the negative is portrayed in the media and there are so many great things here. The birth of auto sits in our marketplace and everything that we’re doing with electric vehicles. You should see what our auto show, which has certainly suffered a loss in the last couple of years, but what they have planned for September of this year will make everyone in the city so proud.
There are so many national events that we have here that we don’t always get recognition for. The Grand Prix in 2023 is coming back and will be in downtown Detroit versus Belle Isle, where it is right now. We have national golf tournaments.
You know, if you go downtown, and I’ve been to quite a few Tigers games, the city is alive right now. You’ve got Ford Field, Comerica Park, and LCA all within walking distance. There are all these great entertainment venues and concert halls. We launched something called Music Town just three and a half, four years ago now. It’s a downtown performance space. We wanted to be part of the revitalization.
DR: So I want to end by asking you a little bit about the loss of Jamie Samuelson. Certainly, that was a tough time for the station. The studio has since been renamed for him. There’s been a lot of great charity work done in his name, and I wonder if there is ever enough that the station could do to honor not just what he meant to the station, but to Detroit sports fans, period.
DK: That was a tough time. I don’t know if you realize this, but we had talent from a few stations around the same time frame that passed away. How do you manage through that?
You’re right. His name is on the studio now and we have no intention of changing that. We do a lot of charity work. The Tigers have actually been great and have helped us raise quite a bit of money for him.
The next challenge from that was we had this top-rated show. Jamie worked almost the entire way through it, which he didn’t have to do. No one knew until the very end, our listeners didn’t know. Even the majority of our staff did not know at that point.
When he did pass away, then it was trying to figure out what are we doing and what’s that respectful time period that would be accepted by our staff, most importantly, and by the community and the listeners. We ended up going in a pretty different direction because we didn’t just want to do the same show. That was Jamie’s show. I think he’d be proud of what we’ve created with Jon Jansen and Stony.
I don’t know if you know him, but he’s just a great guy. Jon has been a professional football player and it’s just a different dynamic. So we weren’t just trying to find Jamie’s replacement.
DR: I hate to end here, but I don’t know many GMs that can go into a situation like that with some similar experience. That is really hard to comprehend what it must be like to be you in those moments.
DK: Yeah, it’s not fun. You have your own emotions, but it’s not about your emotions. It’s more about everyone else.
We really have had three significant losses in our market over about a three-year period. It’s being supportive to your staff and then taking your time. With Jon, he was already someone that was in our talent bank essentially. Still, we needed to make sure that we gave it enough time. We needed our staff to grieve and, of course, his family. His family became part of this and I think we did it the right way.
The NFL Is Maximizing The Value of Everything It Produces
“What’s important is that the NFL doesn’t think, “Hey, this is great for us,” and leave it at that. The league thinks, “How can we get even more value out it?”
You’ve got to hand it to the NFL; the league rings every last droplet of value out of its product. It was announced on Tuesday that the defending champion Los Angeles Rams will host the Denver Broncos on Christmas Day. The NFL has released the dates and times of nine games for the upcoming season so far. (Give it five minutes and two more games might be unveiled.) The gradual striptease is leading up to the full schedule release on Thursday, May 12.
Think about this for a second. Let’s start with the fact that the full NFL schedule reveal is an event. It partially makes sense (because the NFL is so popular). At the same time, it makes no sense whatsoever (because it’s a freakin’ schedule release for crying out loud). What’s important is that the NFL doesn’t think, “Hey, this is great for us,” and leave it at that. The league thinks, “How can we get even more value out it?”
That’s winning thinking.
It reminds me of something sports radio veteran Rick Scott once told me. He said, “You know, Brian, you make a little tweak here, a little change there, and pretty soon you’ve got a great radio station.” It works the same way with the NFL. The league certainly doesn’t get everything right, but it doesn’t leave any meat on the bone when it comes to maximizing value.
The NFL will offer five international games this season, including the first regular-season NFL game ever played in Germany. Not only has the league committed to playing more games in new places, but it also released the dates of those games prior to the full schedule reveal. That’s a double dose of maximizing value.
|2022 NFL International Games|
|Week 4||Oct. 2||Vikings-Saints||London||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium|
|Week 5||Oct. 9||Giants-Packers||London||Tottenham Hotspur Stadium|
|Week 8||Oct. 30||Broncos-Jaguars||London||Wembley Stadium|
|Week 10||Nov. 13||Seahawks-Buccaneers||Germany||Allianz Arena|
|Week 11||Nov. 21||49ers-Cardinals||Mexico City||Estadio Azteca|
We also know that the Chiefs will host the Chargers on Sept. 15 to begin the new era of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. In Week 2, there will be a Monday Night Football doubleheader featuring Titans-Bills followed by Vikings-Eagles on Sept. 19. No word on the date of that monstrous Jags-Lions tilt yet. We’ll have to wait until Thursday.
What the NFL is doing with its gradual schedule release is actually work and life advice. It’s a PSA on the importance of maximizing value. We should always look for creative ways to connect with people in our work and personal lives.
I sat down with the guys from The Mac Attack in Charlotte for a Q&A last week. Morning host Chris McClain told me something interesting about widening your reach as a host.
“You’ve got to have content out there all the time,” McClain said. “We grew up in an era where you’re doing a four-hour show. They call it your shift in radio. ‘Hey, how did your shift go?’ I’ve got to get out of that mindset. We’ve got to have stuff that is recycled throughout the day on social media. Anything extra you can do. We like doing a lot of videos that let people laugh at us a little bit. That’s the one thing we’ve got to keep getting better at. You can be in people’s lives and minds all the time. It doesn’t just have to be that four hours.”
Amen to that. Some hosts work really hard to deliver a good show. It blows my mind that a lot of that hard work can be completely wasted if a portion of the audience isn’t listening in real time. If you cooked a great meal, but many people couldn’t make it for dinner, how would they know if it was a good meal or not? They would have no idea.
That’s how it works in radio. If some of the audience can’t make it for the meal, you have to take the meal to them. Post stuff. Be where they are. Deliver your highlights to them. You can either throw away the uneaten meal you worked so hard on, or you can package it up and place it on the doorstep of your audience.
The gradual NFL schedule release also shows us the importance of staying in front of people. The league could unveil the entire schedule in one day and leave it at that. Instead, releasing it gradually keeps the league in the headlines. It’s content that leads to discussions and staying on people’s minds.
That’s how digital should work for radio hosts. Like Mac in Charlotte said, it’s important to get out of the radio shift mindset. We can’t operate in four-hour radio chunks anymore. We have access to our audience 24 hours a day through digital. It would be crazy not to take advantage of that. The NFL definitely doesn’t waste any opportunities to stay top of mind. Why should we?
Another thing the NFL does well; the league finds out what their audience likes and gives them more of it. The NFL is like, “Oh, you like this schedule release thing? Well, let’s give you more of it spaced out over multiple days. Oh, you enjoy the NFL Draft? Let’s spread that out over three days. Oh, you love Christmas Day football? Well, let’s give you a tripleheader this year.”
The Browns-Packers game on Christmas Day last year averaged 28.6 million viewers on FOX. Twenty freakin’ eight point six million freakin’ viewers. Good Lord. The Colts-Cardinals nightcap averaged 12.6 million viewers on NFL Network. That was the second-highest viewed game in network history. NBA commissioner Adam Silver just fainted.
The NBA has played games on Christmas Day since 1947. The NFL doesn’t care. The NFL pulled a gangster move in 2021 and is doubling down this year. I’m sorry, tripling down. Roger Goodell and the team owners are kingpins that went to their rival’s turf, started selling their own product and said deal with it. The takeaway for radio people is to find out what’s working with the audience, and hammer it even further. Sell more of what your audience is buying.
The NFL’s approach is a great lesson; don’t let anything go to waste. That’s a great philosophy in radio too. How can this segment be better? Where can we distribute the best parts of the show? How can I connect with my audience on social media? The NFL is constantly thinking that way. If the NFL hosted a radio show, it wouldn’t just crack the mic during the show and call it a day. It would be hustling to promote and stay top of mind. The most popular league in the country sees the importance of staying in front of its audience and maximizing value. It’s a pretty good idea for you to take the same approach.
On Sunday Night, Everyone Is Watching Karl Ravech
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving.”
Karl Ravech injured his knee while playing soccer at Needham High School and needed to make a decision on what he wanted to pursue as a career. Always having an interest in both sports and writing, Ravech made the decision to attend Ithaca College as a communications major. Throughout his time in upstate New York, he worked hard to take the next step in his career by quickly immersing himself in the professional world, serving as the sports director at NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. and a freelance producer for WCVB-TV in Boston, Mass. – all while attending classes.
Upon his graduation, Ravech attended SUNY Binghamton to earn his master’s degree in management and leadership. Just as he had done previously, Ravech worked in the professional world as he pursued this degree, now as a sports anchor and reporter at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.. In 1990, Ravech earned his degree and relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. and was nominated for two local Sports Emmy awards for his reporting on baseball and golf.
Ravech was hired as an anchor by ESPN in May 1993 and has been a fixture at the network since, working in a variety of different on-air roles. He is now the primary play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball, occupying the seat behind the microphone for Major League Baseball’s biggest matchups every week. Getting to this point in his career has been a journey that has required Ravech to consistently adapt and develop, and, in turn, has augmented his versatility.
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” said Ravech. “I think the fact that it hasn’t stayed stagnant is what’s wonderful, and the Sunday Night Baseball booth is sort of the next iteration in [my] career.”
Ravech began hosting the overnight edition of SportsCenter with Mike Tirico and Craig Kilborn upon his being hired, and became the primary host of Baseball Tonight and postseason baseball studio coverage starting in 1995. After recovering from a heart attack he suffered while playing pickup basketball with colleagues in 1998, Ravech hosted golf coverage for the network as Tiger Woods became the youngest golf pro to ever win a Grand Slam, and also continued his baseball duties.
Starting in 2006, Ravech began his immersion into the broadcast booth when he became a commentator for Little League World Series broadcasts. Each year, he makes the trip to Williamsport, Pa. to call the action on ESPN and ABC showcasing young, talented baseball players while also telling their stories off the field. Additionally, Ravech has served as the voice of the College World Series on ESPN since 2011, calling the championship action each year from the Charles Schwab Field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
The style of both of these broadcasts differ from calling a Major League game in that there is more time to delve into the backgrounds of each of the players and tell the unique stories they bring – especially for those participating in the Little League World Series.
“I’d love to be able to bring that same level of joy to a college game or a Major League game, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a little more serious,” said Ravech. “You’re talking about, in the professional ranks, people that are getting paid; and there’s a lot of pressure on the college kids and their fan bases are very passionate.”
Much like a performer, one of the roles of a broadcaster is understanding and catering to their audience; that is, to understand exactly why a person may be watching or listening to a game and what they seek to gain from it. When a broadcaster is able to pull back the curtain and see the game from the perspective of an audience member, it allows them to foster a deeper connection with the audience as a whole and modify the broadcast accordingly.
“The little league crowd that’s on TV is very different than the one that you get for a College World Series game and certainly for a Major League Baseball game,” explained Ravech. “They have baseball in common, but I don’t think that the expectation when you watch the Little League World Series is to dive too deep into Xs and Os… It’s really about why most people came to the game, which is to enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Being aware of the viewing audience has been central to Ravech’s early success as the new primary voice of Sunday Night Baseball, as it differs from the viewers he had previously been communicating with on Monday Night Baseball, a role he took on in 2016. Yes, calling games on Mondays and Wednesdays undoubtedly required ample preparation; however, Ravech’s new gig has required a shift into how he applies his preparation to the broadcast.
“On Sunday night, [everyone is] watching, which means you have got to be as prepared by talking to the players and coaches as you possibly can be because the people who are consuming it know as much about the team as you do,” said Ravech. “It’s not as if we are preparing any differently, but you’re certainly paying a great deal of attention to just the two teams.”
Throughout his time at ESPN, Ravech had worked extensively with Eduardo Pérez: a former Major League player and experienced analyst. Whether it was in the booth at the College World Series or calling Korean Baseball Organization games remotely in the middle of the night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo has developed a synergy on the broadcast.
Pérez is able to extrapolate unique storylines during the game because of his profound ability to communicate with those around him.
“As we walk through the stadiums, he is talking to people who are doing everything in the building – whether they are operating an elevator; whether they are the general manager; whether they are a player; whether they are welcoming people into a clubhouse,” Ravech said of Pérez. “He knows everyone, and those connections make him so valuable.”
Someone Ravech has been familiar with over his years living in New England is former all-star pitcher and YES Network analyst David Cone, albeit from covering him as a player and watching him on television. Ravech called ESPN being able to land Cone this offseason “the last piece” to assembling the new booth, all while Cone is still slated to call 50 Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Prior to the 2022 campaign, Ravech and Cone had not worked together; yet just a few games into his new job, Ravech has been impressed with his colleague.
“He recognizes that in order to communicate properly we, collectively, have to understand what it is that we’re talking about – so you’re not just throwing terms out there that may sound good but you don’t know what they are – and he’s very aware of that,” Ravech said of Cone. “He’s the complete package when it comes to an analyst in 2022.”
Along with being the voice of Sunday Night Baseball, the College World Series and the Little League World Series on ESPN, Ravech has also served as the voice of the SEC basketball tournament since 2017. Being on the call for high-stakes matchups, such as the Kentucky Wildcats against the Tennessee Volunteers, or on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, is an exciting part of Ravech’s job throughout the calendar year. But no matter the sport; no matter the league; no matter the game – there is a consistent aspect of Ravech’s vernacular he is cognizant of every time he steps behind the microphone.
“I think my style, whether it’s in the studio or in the booth, is to really engage with the analyst,” said Ravech. “That part of it is, I think, a common trait through all of my broadcasts and I want to continue to do that.”
Having the ability to engage in genuine conversation with his analyst comes in actively listening and molding the conversation to fit most optimally with what is being discussed, even if it means departing from what he had originally planned. In this sense, he sets his partners up for success during the broadcast, part of the reason why he has been adept in working with different personalities in varying atmospheres across different sports.
“If you listen, then your follow-up questions will not necessarily be ones that you have written down already,” explained Ravech. “[Your analyst] has opened up this door, and you better be able to be willing to walk through it with them because they’re trying to say something and you’ve got to get it out of them.”
While Ravech, Cone and Pérez call Sunday Night Baseball games in the style of a traditional broadcast, there are several elements of the entire viewing presentation that demonstrate ESPN’s willingness to adapt to changing media consumption trends. One of these elements includes the addition of the new KayRod Cast, which became the most viewed alternate broadcast during a Major League Baseball game during the season debut of Sunday Night Baseball. The broadcast, featuring New York Yankees play-by-play announcer and 98.7 ESPN New York host Michael Kay, along with all-star third baseman Álex Rodríguez, diverts from the traditional style of broadcast through longform conversation, special guests and commodifying the act of watching a live baseball game.
“Baseball to me is an ideal platform for things like the KayRod Cast,” Ravech opined. “I think David, Eduardo and I spend a great deal of time focused on the game, but I think there are times where you can veer off and get into some entertaining conversations, and I certainly know that the guests that are on the KayRod Cast offer opportunities like that as well. Baseball lends itself to things like ESPN is doing right now, and I’m grateful to be in one of those booths.”
One of the elements within the traditional Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that lends to the commodification of the sport is putting mics on players. It’s a new element in Sunday Night Baseball this year. Fans have been given a firsthand perspective, essentially divulging the in-game mindset of a Major League player. Occasionally though, the action finds the interviewee mid-sentence during a game, as it did Francisco Lindor recently – and those are moments where all the broadcasters can do is watch and hope for the best.
“You’re kind of holding your breath that he makes the play instead of his being, in some way, distracted by the conversation,” said Ravech. “We’re incredibly sensitive to that. We try to, for the most part, stay out of when they are at the plate; there’s no talking to them. But in the field, they understand that this is an opportunity for them to share with the consumer at home a real on-the-field view that people would not otherwise get.”
Appearing as the featured player on Sunday Night Baseball garners plenty of significance and gives players the opportunity to connect with their fans and the larger viewing public. Having the chance to share your perspectives on national television during a game has become a badge of honor, and players from each week’s matchup have nominated a player for the next week’s game to wear the microphone. So far, ESPN is batting 1.000 in that department, as everyone who has been nominated has appeared on the following week’s broadcast.
“Joey Votto was very different than Ozzie Albies [who] was very different than Kike Hernandez and Francisco Lindor,” explained Ravech. “The list is great, and every one of them has provided unique looks into the game and their positions and their communication styles and skills while they’re on the field and in the dugout.”
Occasionally, a player will opt to stay on the microphone for an extended period of time as Phillies outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player award-winner Bryce Harper did a few weeks ago. Harper was the designated hitter for that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and stayed on the microphone for four innings of the contest.
“It was incredible,” recalled Ravech. “We got a chance to talk to one of the biggest names in the game for four innings; he almost became a quasi-analyst with us. It was really neat, and I think the viewer benefits from it.”
As Ravech’s career continues, he seeks to improve in all areas of his work and try new things if the opportunities arise within ESPN’s broadcast portfolio. While there is always the chance of opportunities presenting themselves at different media outlets, Ravech affirms that since the network continues to innovate and remains the leader in coverage, he wishes to continue working with them.
“I think [ESPN] is going to continue to evolve for sure,” said Ravech, “and I feel very comfortable about the direction they’re going to go in and continue to ride along with them.”
Any additional career endeavors that Ravech desires to pursue will be because he had actively pursued them, and he is excited to discover what lies ahead in his career.
“I’m not one of those who looks at it and says, ‘I want to call a World Series. I want to call a Final Four,’” said Ravech. “If that all happens, then there will be a reason. I’ll have sought those out, as opposed to the way this has happened – which is you kind of just keep moving around and finding your lane like water does down the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of it; it’s organic – there’s nothing linear about it.”
Ravech has worked with a wide array of broadcasters throughout his career at ESPN, including Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Fowler, and has spoken to aspiring broadcasters on numerous occasions as well. One broadcaster he has had the opportunity to mentor firsthand is his son Sam, who has grown to become a play-by-play announcer on the SEC Network, ACC Network and ESPN, making his debut for the latter at 22 years of age.
Through mentoring his son and other young broadcasters, Ravech has learned that having authenticity in the on-air work that you do allows for one’s true personality to shine through no matter the sport being played or medium on which the broadcast is being disseminated.
“I always encourage Sam to be himself. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t use somebody else’s voice; don’t try to speak the way they do,” said Ravech. “Be you, and hopefully over the course of a long time, people will come to respect you [and] your work.”
Sometimes, getting opportunities in sports media comes in being uncomfortable; that is, broadcasting or talking about a sport with which you may be unfamiliar or having to relocate outside your home market to accept a job. By working to transform feelings of discomfort into those evoking contentment, sports media professionals can successfully learn to grapple with change, and be prepared for it the next time it happens.
ESPN saw potential in Karl Ravech in his early years at the network and has been open and receptive to giving him opportunities both inside and outside of baseball as time goes on. In order for Ravech to grow as a broadcaster though, he had to work to enhance his craft – but none of that would have been possible had it not been for Ravech being open to and embracing change.
“Be malleable. Be flexible,” said Ravech. “That’s what I would tell anyone, whether it’s my son Sam who I’m incredibly proud of, or anybody getting into it. You just never know which way this career is going to go and the things it’s going to expose you to. You just don’t.”