It’s a unique and challenging time for sports radio hosts. Conducting entertaining sports radio while sporting events are paused indefinitely isn’t something many hosts or stations have experience with. But the average listener is equally impacted by COVID-19 in their own life, so the show must go on.
Many hosts are having to adjust, without being able to depend on last night’s game to drum up passion and create entertaining radio. But if we look at Howard Stern’s interview with Tom Brady as an example, sports fans don’t need an expert of last night’s game to be entertained.
Chad Dukes Vs. The World airs weekdays from 2 – 6:30pm in Washington, D.C. for Entercom’s 106.7 The Fan. Entercom hit a rough patch in recent weeks with two rounds of employee cuts, but Dukes remains focused on what he can control, creating great radio.
Chad has a background hosting on music stations, even working locally on Free FM affiliates in the post-Howard Stern era of terrestrial radio. He hosts afternoon drive for the top sports station in D.C., but Chad Dukes Vs. The World is rarely 100% sports focused. That’s made it easier to transition when forced to create content without last night’s game to discuss.
Brandon Contes: We’ll start with the idea of hosting a sports radio show without live sports. You have a radio background working for stations that weren’t sports focused. Does that give you an advantage when creating content right now?
Chad Dukes: Yes, guy talk or whatever you want to call it, is the format I came from and I feel like I’m adept at it. I try to keep the format as much as possible just because there’s so much content about coronavirus and I want to keep a sense of normalcy on my show. It’s about 50/50 or even 60/40 sports content to non-sports content on my show anyway.
BC: Has that percentage changed at all since live sports stopped?
CD: Because the NFL is so active and free agency has been so salacious with Tom Brady moving to the Buccaneers, we’ve been lucky. Even here in Washington, the Redskins have been doing all sorts of crazy stuff, so I’ve been able to talk about the NFL because it’s busy.
There’s a lot of lame sports talk content right now, where the uptight sports guys are like, ‘give me your Top 10 sports DVDs!’ and it just – [deep sigh] it feels childish to me. I’m trying to operate my show as I normally would, because I just think everyone else is being completely oversaturated with content.
BC: So are you saying you didn’t do a bracket?
CD: No. There’s 10 billion brackets out there. So, no [Laughs]. No brackets for us.
BC: I thought it was interesting once sports came to a stop, there was an adrenaline rush for a lot of hosts. It seemed like they needed a boost, I saw a lot of tweets, ‘this is what separates the great hosts, I’m always creative, I never just fill time, I always entertain.’ Did you get any sense of that mentality?
CD: No, a lot of that’s virtue signaling, especially on social media. I used to do radio with Chris Cooley and he would say “there’s guys who need to have their facemask grabbed or screamed at by linebackers and I’m not one of those guys.” Well I’m not one of those guys either.
I realize with broadcasting, it’s going to be more important because people are listening for different reasons and at different times. My policy is, this is a difficult time for everybody and people are losing their jobs. I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel. I’m trying to do this with as little bombast and virtue signaling as I possibly can throughout this process.
BC: What are some things you look at as filler radio? Some hosts will say call segments are filler or just saying the word ‘steroids’ is filler. Is there anything you try to avoid?
CD: Yea, who’s better, LeBron James or Michael Jordan? There’s too much of that in our business. It’s lazy. You can get people screaming about it any time.
I try to do stuff that everyone can contribute to. I don’t want to say it’s a low brow show, but I try to keep in mind not everyone’s an expert. A lot of people have families and other things going on in their lives. I try to do topics where if I’m going to involve the listeners, it’s something a majority of them can contribute to.
BC: I love radio, but it’s more formatted than the podcast space, which is one of the reasons podcasts grew on me. In radio, there’s a way a show needs to sound to make sure you get your commercials, get your sports updates and sports minutes in. Can the strict formatics and regimen take away from creativity?
CD: I have a lot of live reads during my show and I’m lucky to have those sponsors. But some of that stuff gets repetitive from time to time with commercials and updates and traffic – there’s a lot of crap that’s around. But I gotta be honest, I think it gives radio a leg up on podcasts and it’s why you see so many people still listening to radio, because it’s happening now.
I have a friend, JP Finlay who works for NBC Sports Washington and you’ll see him, ‘We’re going to drop an emergency podcast tonight about Kyle Allen being traded!’ Well I’m talking about it right now on the radio, taking callers, having reporters on that are covering it.
Radio will always be better than podcasts because it’s live as it’s happening, there’s interaction between the listeners and people. A podcast is a static thing that already happened, it’s a rerun. I like them, I do podcasts, but there’s not that interpersonal relationship that you get with live radio because it’s current.
BC: With that interpersonal relationship and without sports, you have an open slate of topics that you can discuss because you don’t need to be focused on what the Nationals did last night. So can bypassing sports make the show even more personal and build a stronger connection with listeners?
CD: I think so. The other day we had someone call in and say you’re not supposed to refrigerate butter. It turned into a 45-minute conversation about condiments and whether or not they should go in the fridge.
The biggest compliments I’m getting right now are people saying “I feel normal listening to your show, you’re not all doom and gloom, I feel like my life is a little bit normal because I turn on WJFK 106.7 The Fan and I’m hearing all my favorite shows do their shows.” I take a lot of pride in that.
BC: Does being in D.C. lead to political conversations on-air? Since you’re in the thick of it?
CD: Not for me. If you talk about politics on sports talk radio, you’re committing career suicide. People on either side don’t want it, I think they want sports. I didn’t do Colin Kaepernick, I didn’t do the take a knee stuff, I didn’t do any of it. Because I don’t want 49% of my listeners to be pissed off about my opinion on it, no matter what it may be. If you want to come find me in a bar, I’ll tell you how I feel about that stuff. I’ve always thought ratings are about getting as many people under your big top as you possibly can and that’s how I look at it, even though we’re right here in the belly of the beast.
BC: Has your segment time and amount of content you produce in an hour changed in recent weeks? Obviously it varies around the country, there are shows that do 33-minute hours and shows that do 50-minute hours, but as advertisers become harder to find, I imagine it will adjust, even in big markets.
CD: My live spot load has diminished slightly. But no, whatever it is they’re doing, PSAs or regular commercials, we’re still pretty lucky that a lot of our people stick with us. A lot of the people I work with are essential, so thus far it’s been a fairly traditional way of doing it.
We did something cool over the weekend. All the part-timers unfortunately aren’t able to get hours, but the salaried hosts joined together for mashup shows. I did a three-hour shift Saturday with Cakes from The Sports Junkies. It’s kind of fun to mix and match midday guys with morning guys.
BC: How do you like working with a PD like Chris Kinard?
CD: He’s the best, man. I’m lucky, I’ve known him since high school. My career took me away from here for a couple years and we figured out a way to get back. He really cares about people and is a tremendous radio mind. He listened and was influenced by a lot of the same shows I was, so he gets where I come from.
He puts up with me being unconventional because I couldn’t do my show in Detroit or Chicago, they wouldn’t put up with my show. He gets it, he gives me a lot of creative freedom and we don’t have many fights. He’s one of the best minds in radio and he just got a big promotion that is well deserved in the company. I think he’s going to be a general manager before he knows it and feel very lucky to have him be my boss for the last 12, 13 years or so.
BC: Do you know if you’re going to keep hosting with someone different on Saturday?
CD: I’m up for anything. I want to be pulling on the rope in the right direction and like I said, don’t want to be the squeaky wheel. So if I need to put some hours in for free, I don’t mind doing that.
I loved working with Cakes and The Junkies. They’re an institution here. They’ve been around for 23 years. They took over for Howard when he went to Sirius and never looked back. I interned for their radio show at 21 and I didn’t believe I could be on radio before that. I used to listen to Stern, I listened to Greaseman and Don and Mike and all these shows and said, well I can’t do that. But when I listened to The Junkies, they make it sound so effortless and I thought I could do it. Luckily, I was correct. Being able to do a show with a guy from the program that meant so much to me in my career, it’s really cool for me. It’s an honor and a lot of fun, I hope we’ll do more shows together.
BC: I want to check out The Junkies right now to hear them do it from home. You’re solo, even if you bring your producer in, you control when that happens. I would imagine having four or more people on one show would be really tough to do that from different locations.
CD: Sure, and they’re on TV. They’re simulcast on NBC Sports Washington and they’re from home and there’s four of them. I can’t imagine what it’s like to put all that together. Their producer, Drab, used to be my producer. He’s now the APD and really coming into his own doing all this in such an arduous process under all these constraints, but they’re pulling it off without a hitch. They’ve really stepped up. It’s been a learning experience for all of us.
BC: Is there concern because there’s already been a lot of changes? You’re working from home, you’re working on weekends because part-timers were cut. It’s only been two weeks since sports stopped and it could be two, three or even six months more. It’s going to continue to impact advertising dollars and such. Are you worried about the industry?
[This question was asked prior to Entercom laying off a significant number of full-time employees Apr. 2]
CD: Entercom wants to make this work. They’re a radio company, they understand radio and we’re lucky that they’ve been very communicative with us. We need advertisers, we need to sell commercials, I understand that, but I also can’t predict that.
I have a tendency – my brain works a lot when I don’t want it to and I found it helps to focus on what you can control. I can’t control any of this right now. What I can control is doing the best radio show I can. Showing up, being available for whatever they ask me to do and that’s all I’m trying to focus on right now.
BC: Are you someone that does a lot of show prep and planning?
CD: No, we have guests, I have four or five guys that I like to talk to and rotate. If there’s an A-topic, we’ll figure out how to revisit it two or three times during the show because the listeners turnover. I might be tired of talking about it, but Ronnie Rockville’s getting into his car to start his commute and wants to hear about Dwayne Haskins taking a selfie, even though I’ve been talking about it for the last 3.5 hours. I’d say the most prep I do goes into taking the biggest topic of the day and trying to address it in different ways throughout the course of the afternoon.
BC: You mentioned you’re a Stern fan, how was the Ian Rapoport scuffle when Howard played that a couple years ago?
CD: Oh man. It’s just unbelievable. I’ve been very lucky. Opie and Anthony, The Junkies, Ron and Fez, and all these iconic shows, I have good relationships with them. Mike O’Meara, I consider a close friend, he did 15-20 years with the Don and Mike Show, the biggest show in D.C. Stern’s been there my whole life and seemed bigger than life, like I’d never be able to interact with him. He’s generally not all that positive about other radio guys.
BC: Especially sports radio!
CD: And he literally said, ‘this is the type of sports talk radio I would listen to.’ And he said that about my show. I can’t think of a greater endorsement.
BC: Is there a specific bit you did on-air that stands out?
CD: The one I’m known for is the Redskins rant after the Monday Night Massacre, where I believe Mike Vick hung five touchdowns on the Redskins. I came in the next day, as a lifelong Redskins fan with only one year or so in sports talk here at that point. I lost it. I was screaming like a crazy person. Now I’m embarrassed by it, but not a week goes by that I don’t have a Redskins fan tell me they go back and listen to it on YouTube and say it’s the greatest rant of all time. I got booked everywhere, [Laughs] Questlove followed me on Twitter after he listened to it. It was my 15 minutes, even though it’s a little embarrassing.
BC: Radio’s been impacted right now, but you’re also a small business owner, which isn’t easy, how’s Commonwealth Dry Goods doing?
CD: It’s tough because they just locked Virginia down. My wife runs the day to day, she does a great job of that and we’re able to do online orders. The great thing is, I’m in D.C. doing radio and I’m from here, so I’ve built a following. People are being very generous and want to support the store. So far, we haven’t been impacted too much. We had to change the way we do business, but sales are fine. I appreciate you asking because owning a small business is a very unique thing to do.
BC: It’s also cool to be a small business owner because it’s something that resonates with listeners, especially now. Everyone that owns a small business is struggling and depending on each other for support. I think the fact that you’re involved with that helps further your connection with listeners.
CD: It does, it gives you a perspective when you’re supporting small businesses, just how much it really means to them. There’s a taco place called Tippy’s that I’d go to back when I was three years old, my dad used to take me. They messaged me the other day that they’re hurting and need customers and I was able to rally people to get there. I’m not getting paid for that, but it makes you feel good to have an impact on a struggling local business that’s been around forever.
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.