If any program director in the southeast had three wishes, they’d probably spend two of them to have an employee like Erik Ainge. He’s a former SEC and NFL quarterback, a talented show host that brings opinions and analysis that few others can match, and oh, most importantly, the guy even sells for his station. Imagine walking into a sales meeting alongside one of the best QB’s the local team has ever seen. You think you’d like your opportunity to make some money that day?
Ainge brings it all to 99.1 The Sports Animal in Knoxville, Tenn. Especially during his daily 9 a.m. to noon slot. But though he’s a major success story now and a huge influence across the state of Tennessee, it wasn’t until life after football when he decided that sports radio might be for him.
“I always thought, that, by being a starting SEC quarterback, you got a minor, or even a major, in broadcasting and communications, because of all the interviews you do,” said Ainge. “But you’re always on the other side so I never really thought about being in sports media. But as soon as I got done with football I had to decide what I was going to do.”
After a career with the New York Jets, the Oregon native moved back to Knoxville. Mostly, because he loved the people there. While doing some job shadowing and trying to figure out his next venture in life, he made his way on the radio to do various interviews. The natural talent was evident right away. So much so, that many people told him he needed to explore doing sports radio. Initially, Ainge loved the idea. He knew he was funny and entertaining, but there was one big problem: There’s no money in sports radio. Especially for someone with zero experience.
If you don’t believe in fate, Ainge’s story in sports radio might sway your mind. Just like other people took a chance on him, he took a chance on the business. The intricacies of doing a radio show were all new, but Ainge’s quick learning curve made for an easy and smooth transition. He was having a blast with his new job and it shined through over the airways in east Tennessee.
But then came the inevitable decision on who the ex-QB wanted to be on the air. Luckily for Ainge, he didn’t think about it too long. To him, it was obvious. He wanted to be honest. If that meant ruffling a few feathers and calling a spade a spade, so be it.
“It was harder for me during the Butch Jones era, because I knew that he tried hard and wanted to be here,” said Ainge. “I didn’t believe Derek Dooley did. It was actually easier for me to call the spade a spade, because I wasn’t necessarily rooting for Dooley. I’d never root against Tennessee or whoever the head coach is, but after the 2011 season he tried to get out of a job and the AD said no. When I knew he didn’t want to be here anymore, it made it really easy for me to be on the air requesting that he wasn’t.”
Covering a program, especially one that’s fallen on hard times, can be difficult for the ex-player. Half of the people, such as administrators, coaches and even some fans, want you to be a mouthpiece for the program that constantly pumps sunshine. The other half, which normally consists of the majority of your listeners, want you to be brutally honest and tell it how it is. It’s a fine line to walk. Especially for someone who wants to stay in good graces with the university.
Still, to this day, Ainge walks that line on a daily basis. But even more so now, because he’s identified what he wants his next step in the business to be.
“I want to be the next on-air color commentator for the Vol Radio Network,” said Ainge. “We always have a former player do the color commentary and I want that to be my job. I want to do daily radio covering Tennessee, the SEC, and sports in general, but I also want to be in the booth on Saturdays.”
It’s probably fair to assume Ainge has a real puncher’s chance when the job becomes available. Heck, not even mentioning his on-air success, who better than the last quarterback to lead Tennessee to an SEC Championship Game berth? But until that day comes, Ainge is taking the necessary steps to ensure he’s giving himself the best possible chance to land the position.
“I think a lot of its relationship based,” Ainge said. “Every day I’m on the air is an opportunity for me to be auditioning to be able to do it. My ability to break down the games, give good information and insight, you know, the feedback I probably get the most is people appreciating my ability to break down something as complex as football down to where a common fan or a hard-core fan can understand what’s going on. Every day is practice.”
Making mistakes on the air and learning from them is something every radio host has to go through early in their career. Ainge was no different. In fact, when he first started hosting a show, the program was named Morning Wood. The thought behind that decision? Hey, any PR is good PR.
“It was a different radio station than the one I’m at now,” said a chuckling Ainge. “Cumulus Media would have never gone for that PR stunt that we did. We wanted everyone to know that I had started doing sports radio in the market, so sure enough, the newspaper, local news and everyone else, put the name out. I know it wasn’t good PR, but we subscribed to the any PR is good PR at this, since we’re going to be a competitor in the market.”
Needless to say, even though it could have stood as the funniest show name in the country, Morning Wood lasted less than 24 hours.
The Erik Ainge Show subscribes to the three E’s, which are engage, enlighten and entertain. Every day the show hits the air, that’s what the mark is. In Ainge’s mind, if those three things are consistently given to the audience, no matter what the subject matter is, they’ll come back.
The ability to engage, enlighten and entertain have been an instrumental part in the success of the Erik Ainge Show, but most importantly, it’s the credibility that’s been upheld since its inception.
“One thing I’ve learned in radio is that your opinion can change, as long as you believe everything you say when you say it, then your credibility can be maintained,” Ainge said. “If you ever say stuff you don’t mean, I’m not smart enough and I’ve been hit in the head a lot, I would forget what I was saying. It’s easy for me to be honest on the radio, because I take the mindset of, if I’m not doing that, then I’ll put my foot in my mouth and contradict myself to the point of people not wanting to listen to me.”
The show is as healthy as it’s ever been. If the numbers aren’t enough proof, then a No. 17 ranking in the BSM Top 20 for Mid-Market Mid-Day Show of the Year might help. If that doesn’t even prove it, well, stay tuned for exciting news coming to the show in the near future.
Don’t expect The Erik Ainge Show to slow down anytime soon. Actually, you should probably expect the opposite. Whether it’s his versatility on the air, or his ability to get into doors for sales opportunities that most can’t get, Ainge will be able to accomplish whatever he wants in the Knoxville market. But whatever he earns, he’ll do so by sticking to one common principle: Being Erik Ainge.
“If you’re genuine, people know,” Ainge said. “If you’re not, they know. I don’t think people are attracted to those who aren’t genuine. As long as you just keep being yourself, you’re not going to make everyone happy, but I think you make more people happy than not if you’re just genuine and coming from a good place.”
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.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 75
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.
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.
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.
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.