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Garrett Searight Wants 93.1 The Fan To Thrive Right Now

“Part of the good of being a small company and part of the bad of being a small company, is that you are frugal. You’re used to finding corners to cut and save where you can.”

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The last six weeks haven’t been easy for sports media brands throughout the country, whether they’re a small business or publicly traded company.

For 93.1 The Fan in Lima, Ohio they weren’t far removed from challenges of their own when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented shutdown of sports and the economy. Last October, The Fan’s longtime weekday host and play-by-play voice Vince Koza was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to step away from his role with the station. In January, Koza succumbed to the disease.

As a member of the Associated Press Ohio Broadcasters Hall of Fame and a prominent voice on The Fan for over a decade, the station was tasked with replacing a local icon. Launching a new show presented its own challenge for the station and new afternoon host Marty Bannister, but they soon had to deal with the sports shutdown and vast economic impacts of a global pandemic.  

Salary reductions, layoffs and furloughs for national sports media brands made mainstream news, but smaller market companies are equally impacted. Privately owned radio stations might not be dealt the hand of reducing a seven-figure salary, but those mom and pop media companies still represent a chunk of the broadcast industry.

I spoke with Garrett Searight, 93.1 The Fan program director and producer of The Drive With Marty Bannister to see how The Fan is dealing with the negative impacts of COVID-19.

Brandon Contes: How has the business side of 93.1 The Fan been during the last couple of months? Have you seen a significant impact in your number of advertisers, sponsors and clients?

Garrett Searight: We saw a big drop off right at the start. Those weren’t a fun couple of days for our sales team. I understood the apprehension and concern from our clients, but it was difficult. The vast majority of anyone who wasn’t a restaurant, either cancelled or cut back by 50%. This week, though, we’ve started to see a shift and sales pick up a bit. There’s some hope because the governor of Ohio has been talking about reopening part of the state a little at a time beginning May 1st.

Garrett Searight - Program Director - Woof Boom Radio

BC: Are most of your clients locally owned businesses?

GS: Yeah, which is something we’ve talked about, because some other stations in town are iHeart owned. They get national spots that companies are buying on thousands of iHeart stations, while we’re hitting up mom and pop shops that are working from home or offer a non-contact service. It’s an extra challenge for our sales team and you need really strong relationships with these folks. But I would say about 80% of our advertising comes from small, locally owned businesses.

BC: With the clients you have lost, are there ways you look to maintain a relationship with them so if Ohio does start opening back up May 1st, those clients are looking to you with their advertising budget?

GS: A lot of our sellers are really good about that because we can’t just say ‘hey! this station is the top-rated rock station in the market!’ We build relationships where our clients trust our salespeople and know there’s no BS. Our sales team stays in contact with those clients, so they know we’re still here for them.

BC: What about having less commercials, how are you filling those spots? Has it increased the amount of content you need to create in an hour for your local show?

GS: It’s changed, we were doing a SportsCenter update every 20 minutes during our local show and we stopped it recently because the volume of topics to talk about and update listeners on just isn’t there. That creates six more minutes of content you have to fill each hour and then your spot blocks go from four minutes to 90 seconds, so we’ve had to rearrange the format of the show a little bit. Instead of 44 minutes of talking in an hour, it’s now more than 50 minutes and that’s during a time when everyone’s looking for things to talk about. It presents a challenge, but it’s also not a bad thing to have more time for longer form interviews, or delve deeper into different topics.

BC: You have one local weekday show?

GS: Yeah, 4 – 6p with Marty Bannister and then we had a Saturday morning show from 8 – 10a that we put on hiatus for now because those hosts, one is a financial planner and the other works with the Chamber of Commerce. They’re sports hosts, but when it’s not your full-time job, it’s difficult to find two hours of content without sports.

BC: And what about evening programming, did you carry local play-by-play, and was that impacted?

GS: We carry girls high school basketball, there’s also a local college that we did 10 of their 25 games. But the majority of it was finished by the time everything shutdown. In Ohio, they cancelled seasons about 20 minutes before the first girl’s state semifinal.

BC: For those local broadcasts, are the announcers hired by the station?

GS: Yeah, we’ve got a rotating group of announcers. And if you go back a bit, station programming was largely built around Vince Coza who hosted our daily show and did a lot of play-by-play. In October, he found out he had stage IV cancer and passed away in early January. So from late September through now, there’s been a lot of upheaval, change and challenges.

BC: I do think there’s something to be said for small market radio stations being used to dealing with abnormalities. Not to say that anyone could have prepared for this pandemic, but running a small business, you’ve had unexpected issues pop up before.

GS: When everything started getting cancelled, our boss asked what are we going to do with the show? My initial reaction was to shut it down and turn on The Will Cain Show. But then I thought, well that’s kind of a crappy, take the easy way out approach – so we stayed with our local show.

Time for The Drive with Marty Bannister! - 93.1 The Fan - Lima's ...

Our market manager Allen Willis would send me articles from Barrett Sports Media about what other stations are doing. But a station like 101 ESPN in St. Louis, might have more people working on one show than we have in our entire building! It’s different, we’re not apples to apples here, but we’re experienced in problem solving and going through challenges. 

BC: And now looking back, how do you feel about the decision to keep the show going?

GS: I’m really happy we didn’t just take the easy way out. People are going to remember who was there for them, who put in the effort and who tried when everything turned. We’re in the same boat as our listeners. All of our lives have been disrupted and it’s been a good way to connect with our audience and say, ‘we’re in this, just the same way you are.’ It brings an authenticity to the show that I don’t know if a syndicated simulcast from New York City could’ve had. 

BC: Because you’re going through this together with the audience, has it helped listeners connect with Marty as the new afternoon host?

GS: For Marty, it’s definitely not easy to step in and replace someone who was a prominent voice in this market for years. But when two months into your full-time stint replacing that person, everybody has to go home and stay there for who knows how long, it’s pretty endearing to be a steady voice for everyone, every day. Now you also have more time to talk and build those connections because it’s not as fast paced of a show that we’re used to. It’s a slower speed and you do get to know somebody that much more because of the situation we’re in. 

BC: Are there things you’ve implemented into the show as a way of trying something new since you don’t have games to react to everyday?

GS: Actually, on Monday we’re starting a segment called ‘Football 4:15’ because no matter what, it’s always football season on sports radio here. Even without sports, no matter what day it is, we can still talk Ohio State football, high school football, Bengals, Browns, it doesn’t matter. So every day at 4:15 we’re talking football. We’ve had segments where we talk to local golf course owners or the city Parks and Rec Department about how they’ve been impacted, while also getting information out there regarding new schedules for local baseball, tee ball and other youth sports. It’s been nice to offer more community-based content that we may not have time for in a two hour show when the world is normal. 

BC: How about when sports do return, will some of these changes carry into the future? Maybe you keep commercial time down or continue with some local spotlights?

GS: The longer we’ve gone without doing SportsCenters, I’ve thought about if it’s better to have more time to talk instead of me just regurgitating that Francisco Lindor hit a homerun last night. There are things to reevaluate. And I’ve told my bosses this, I don’t think we’re just doing good shows considering the circumstances, I think we’ve been creating really good shows even if everything in the sports world was normal. And since we’re all working from home, now we know we can take the show on the road more if we need to for our clients. We can do remotes more easily than I ever thought we could. So we’ll look back at what we liked from this time frame and see what changes to implement going forward.

BC: Have you seen more website or social media traffic in recent weeks?

GS: Social media is up, our Facebook numbers have been up and Facebook isn’t typically the ideal social media platform for a sports station. But now we’ve started producing more content for Facebook and Twitter and our audience has reacted pretty positively to those videos and engagements. That’s something we’ll certainly look at continuing in the future.

BC: Do you know if the company applied for or received small business loans?

GS: Yeah, we did, and we did get approved which is certainly reassuring. We see other markets and how it’s not going great for people even in larger markets and big media companies. So it’s good to have that reassurance and know we have some financial help.

BC: How long could the station operate without that assistance?

GS: That’s a good question. Part of the good of being a small company and part of the bad of being a small company, is that you are frugal. You’re used to finding corners to cut and save where you can. It’s something we’ve been cognizant of for years and maybe helped prepare us for this.

BC: Did the station have to make any personnel cuts?

One-Employee 'Furlough' Evidence of FMLA Retaliation - HR Daily ...

GS: No, we’ve been lucky that everybody is still on. There was discussion of having five furlough days before the end of May, but even that was deemed not necessary for now.

BC: Is the unknown exciting in a way? The priority is to survive into next week and next month, but you’re also balancing finding ways to grow and build a better radio station.

GS: I’ve looked at it as, if we shoot for thriving and miss – at least we’re surviving. If I shoot for surviving and miss, then we’re in trouble. Let’s not think about whether or not we’re going to make it through the month, let’s try to win a Marconi this month and if we miss? We’ll still be doing alright. 

BSM Writers

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.

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grant cohn

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

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.

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