A select group of people have been with WFAN since the beginning, witnessing the birth of sports talk radio and all that it’s become. Update anchor John Minko was part of that group from 1987 until earlier this month.
No one would draw it up this way, leaving unceremoniously as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the industry, but Minko departed honorably. Knowing he was planning to retire within the next 12 months, he accepted a buyout from Entercom, hoping to save at least one job for a younger broadcaster.
Considering the buyout “the right thing to do,” is just part of why Minko is so respected by his peers and loved by New York’s sports radio audience. Not many update anchors can generate the fanbase Minko did, and I’m not sure he even realized just how popular he is.
He never used the microphone to broaden his own stature, he just reported the news. But Minko is kind, genuine, a sports radio original and he’s continued to build an impressive broadcasting career.
Brandon Contes: Before the coronavirus pandemic started, did you have a date in mind that was going to be your last at WFAN?
John Minko: Not a specific date, but I knew it was likely within a year. April of 2021 at the very latest – depending on what side of the bed I woke up on.
BC: And the company came to you with the buyout offer?
BC: Were you surprised?
JM: [Pause] I was surprised, but I could sense with the way media companies are making cutbacks, that I could be one of those.
BC: Was there a discussion? Could you have declined the buyout?
JM: I had the choice to stay. If I wanted to stay, that would have been fine with them, but on the other hand, I knew I was likely going to be there for less than a year and if I stayed, somebody else would have lost a job. Having only 48 hours was not the greatest timing in the world, but it was the right thing to do.
BC: It’s surreal how quickly everything transpired, from the coronavirus starting to become a concern in the United States, to sports shutting down March 11, and then three weeks later Entercom is making cuts. It only took three weeks for sports media companies all around the country to make significant changes. Were you surprised they couldn’t withstand more than that?
JM: Yeah, and it’s amazing, I only did updates in my basement for two weeks and I also do St. John’s basketball play by play. I did the last half of the St. John’s Big East tournament game at the Garden with barely anyone in the building. It was basically the last college basketball game in the country. That was an eerie experience.
BC: Were you surprised that game even started? Other conferences canceled their tournaments and it was inevitable the Big East was going to do the same, but here you and Brandon Tierney are at MSG getting set to call that game with no fans.
JM: The coaches found out with five or six minutes to go in the first half that they were going to call the game at halftime. I found that out after the fact, but during the game I noticed coaches weren’t going after the officials. There weren’t many whistles and with about five minutes left in the first half, both teams emptied their benches. For Creighton, there were players I had little to no information about, one player logged two or three minutes the entire Big East regular season. I think the coaches did that because they knew the game wasn’t going to count.
BC: And you’ll still be calling St. John’s games next year as well?
JM: They’ll have to cart me out of Carnesecca Arena. To me, that’s a lifetime job, as long as they want me and I can continue to do it, I’ll be there. Next year will be my 50th year in broadcasting and the 12th game of the season will be number 400 for me with St. John’s.
BC: Is there any concern about being back in a crowded arena?
JM: That’s a long way off. When the day comes, I’m confident they’re not going to rush into anything and will take the proper precautions.
BC: As an update anchor, you became an icon in New York sports radio, are you surprised you were able to do that just by giving sports scores a few times an hour?
JM: The only icon is (WFAN Executive Producer) Dov Kramer [Laughs]. One thing you have to remember, I started at the beginning of FAN, so I’m one of the originals. And the premise of FAN in 1987 was to put Sports Phone out of business. The talk show hosts – Jim Lampley, Greg Gumbel, Pete Franklin and Bill Mazer – the hosts were there to complement the update people because we did updates every 15 minutes. Four times an hour, at least two minutes each, add commercials, and the talk show hosts didn’t do a heck of a lot. It’s amazing.
BC: Do you think updates are still an important part of sports radio? Because now sports radio is more about opinion and unique content than it is giving scores.
JM: And that’s what it should be. But radio is still about immediacy, so I do think it’s important to have those updates. Back in 1987, scores were often two innings late, for a football game, you wouldn’t get a final score until maybe a half hour after the game was over.
BC: What does it tell you about the industry, that you had such an impact without much ad-libbing, you weren’t yelling or saying anything outrageous to get a reaction.
JM: It’s like being a utility player on a real good baseball team. You can’t lose the fact that I was on with Imus, I was on with Mike and the Mad Dog and then just Mike all those years. I worked for the greatest sports radio station in the country and that’s where whatever notoriety I have comes from. It doesn’t come from me, it comes from me being associated with that building – 23 years in Astoria and the last 10 on Hudson Street.
BC: I remember on the old WFAN website, Evan Roberts was trying to create some new content; he posted video from road trips, took pictures of Dov’s lunch and created the Minko Minute!
JM: [Laughs] I vaguely remember that.
BC: You were fielding questions from listeners and giving love advice!
JM: We always had fun in the newsroom, that’s the way it was for 32 and a half years. You know this, we joked and teased each other, that’s the relationship that we all had.
BC: How much are you going to miss that comradery?
BC: Do you have a best friend you made over the years at WFAN?
JM: They were all my best friends. I know that that’s the political thing to say, but it’s true. I love every single one of them.
BC: You’ll stay in touch with many of them?
JM: Absolutely. Since I have plenty of time on my hands, I’ll be working to get phone numbers together because I’m not the most organized person in creation. Especially with this new media, you’ve seen me, I’m technologically challenged. But I was brought up in the old days – when tape editing was actually splicing and reeling tape with a razor blade. Back in the day, it would take the producer 20 minutes to make one of the wraps that we’d run for the top of the hour. Now someone like Eddie Scozzare can do it in 20 seconds. Those were the days and I’ll never forget them.
BC: Did you go to school for communications? What was your goal when you were younger?
JM: The goal was to be a play by play announcer.
My father was a television technician back when there was a need for such a thing. He went to fix one in Norwood, NJ for an NBC executive. I wanted to do this for a long time and thought about Syracuse because it’s what I knew. The person from NBC said don’t go to Syracuse, go to Butler. Butler had a radio and television department, so you didn’t major in communications, you majored in radio and television.
The Butler student station, which they sold several years ago, was 37,000 watts on the FM dial, all run by students. There was no NPR, we didn’t sell commercials, but we were actually on the commercial band. The general manager and assistant general manager were our teachers, but the program and sports directors were students. It was like working at a regular radio station.
BC: And years later, it brought you to the first sports radio station in the country. I know you were never with him full-time, but how was working with Imus?
JM: I got along with him because I recognized that he was Imus. Imus is the smartest person in radio that I’ve ever met. The first day Imus was going to be on WFAN, I got a phone call from our program director Mark Mason at 3am. He says, ‘Sue Guzman is sick, can you come in and write the news for Charles McCord?’
I said, ‘You want me to come in and just write the news?’
I drove into Astoria and went to Charles, a legend and a professional newsman. I said, ‘You don’t know me, I’m in for Sue Guzman, I’ve never done this before, but I’ll do the best I can.’ [Laughs] He was very understanding.
But I would fill in and do updates for Imus and one time I went a little long. After the show, Imus goes over to me by the water cooler. He would never say ‘we need to talk,’ but I knew he wasn’t happy with me. All he said was, ‘Tell. The People. What they need to know. And shut up.’
I built a career on those words. That’s why I’m brief, I tell you what you need to know and that’s it. If the story is big enough, the host will take care of it. Why do they need to hear me do it again?
BC: Did you miss going to the old studios in Astoria?
JM: We loved Astoria and words cannot describe it. The only phrase I have about Astoria is that we worked at the only place where you had to walk upstairs to go to the basement. The basement was upstairs! In the early ‘90s, we had a gigantic storm with a lot of flooding. And how did our studios in Astoria come out of it? Upstairs was flooded, we were fine.
The last week we were there, I brought a camera in and took a bunch of pictures. And every July 1st, I would bring them back into work. There are no people in any of them, they’re all pictures of the facility, the studio, the newsroom, the ceiling where the sewage leaked. I actually needed an umbrella in the newsroom to type my update that day! But I have these so when people ask me about it and say, ‘you’re exaggerating,’ I show them the pictures and say, no I’m not!
BC: Did you have a favorite day at WFAN?
JM: Any day they kept putting me on-air was a good day. Remember, I went through the days when we weren’t doing well. The first year of the radio station was a mess. Everybody was wondering if we’d be there the next day and luckily, I made it quite a few days. But if you wanted to look at one day that I think is significant in FAN history, it’s our first anniversary. Because there are a lot of people who never thought we would make it through that year.
BC: Did you think you were going to make it the first year?
JM: I didn’t know what to think, I was in a fog the first year. I knew we weren’t doing well. We had a lot of commercials, but I don’t know if they paid much money. I had no idea whether it was going to make it or not, but it did. And it did because of Imus. He gave us ratings and revenue and that revenue gave us the ability to let others develop and that’s when Mike and the Mad Dog emerged.
BC: Was it a stranger day at WFAN when Imus was fired, when Russo or Francesa left? Or the day Carton was arrested?
JM: Imus. And remember, I was just a fill in guy for him. The last day, I went in his office and he had his head down and I said, ‘is it okay if I tell you I’m going to miss you?’ He didn’t move his head at first, then it slowly came up and he actually shook hands with me. The only time he ever shook hands with me. And that was the last time I saw him in person.
BC: How was your relationship working with Mike and Chris?
JM: I worked the entire time with Mike. And I think Mike and Dog were 19 years, but we always got along. I recognized, unlike the beginning of the radio station, that it was now about the show, it was not about the update person. I stayed in the background, I never tried to interfere. Who the heck am I? I’m just an accessory and that’s the way I went about it all those years.
BC: I think you sell yourself a little short by saying you were an accessory. I’m sure in the past few weeks you’ve seen how beloved you are and you became such a popular personality even though you weren’t a host. It’s a testament to you, that you could generate a connection with listeners to become more than an accessory.
JM: Thank you. You grow up and you see people leave and retire, but you never imagine that someday it’ll be you.
BC: So what are your plans now that you have more free time once we’re all able to leave our homes again?
JM: First of all, I love doing St. John’s games and all of these years, I needed to use vacation days for those. Now St. John’s becomes the primary focus and I’m extremely happy about that. I would love to do play-by-play for some major college football games, for Westwood One, ESPN Radio or Sports USA. The hard part is I’ve never had an agent. Whether it be play-by-play for St. Johns, when I called Army football, I did some Knicks and Nets – I got all of those jobs on my own.
BC: When things eventually settle and brands begin to hire again, could you see yourself doing updates part-time for WFAN?
JM: I have no idea. You can’t predict what the business will look like. I was very fortunate and I also did afternoons at 1010 WINS. I not only worked for one Marconi station, I worked for two at the same time! You can’t mention FAN without 1010 WINS, they come together. To work with them, professional news people, it was a big thrill.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.