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What Did The Last Dance Teach The Sports Media?

“There will never be a player, players or a team like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s. We are fortunate to have the job we have, don’t let the special moments pass by without enjoying them for a moment.”

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The hours of raw footage, gamefilm, interviews cut up and packaged to air during the second full sports-free month was full of incredible plays, music and behind the scenes looks at the Bulls’ dynasty. The story is valuable and inspiring alone, but the wisdom that is captured and offered throughout the ten-episode series is perhaps the most underrated element of the series.

Last Dance': Michael Jordan Series Finishes as Most-Viewed ESPN ...

While the lessons from The Last Dance are countless, the most important however being the most intrinsic and genuine:

Do What You Love (And love what you do) – It’s common for many in the sports broadcasting world to say that they enjoy going to work everyday. The opportunity to work in a field that’s an intersection of two competitive, fast-paced industries is incredibly difficult to attain. As outlined in The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman shared a genuine respect and love for the game of basketball. While they found different styles in navigating through the competitive, humbling and challenging career path, the trio was united in sharing genuine passion for their work. 

Embracing Change & Ability To Adapt – These skills are demonstrated throughout the series, but most consistently utilized by Phil Jackson. The sports media world is ever changing. In the wake of the global pandemic, many difficult decisions had to be made and changes had to be implemented. The opportunities that arise in the wake of change are oftentimes, the most important. The ability to adapt in times of uncertainty is valuable in broadcasting; the greater the risk the greater the reward. The Last Dance brilliantly highlights the high pressure moments in which Phil Jackson shines bright. 

Don’t Let Ego Eclipse Talent & Hardwork – Jerry Krause was seen as one of the ‘villains’ of this series because of his quest for credit and control. The moments where Scottie Pippen’s ego prevails: most notably, the contract negotiations and the Tony Kukoc buzzer beater. The sports media world is familiar with the presence of ego and jealousy. There is a big difference between the healthy presence of these human qualities and the unhealthy overwhelming self-destructiveness. Don’t go searching for validation, applause and acclaim; that way lies madness. 

Position Yourself For Success – The Phil Jackson quote that sums it up for all industries: “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.” 

Legends Never Die – There’s tremendous value in the iconic story told by The Last Dance. The series was undoubtedly eye opening, for some audiences more than others. One of the sports broadcasting legends featured in the series, Linda Cohn provided some analysis as to why The Last Dance was able to resonate with so many.

The Last Dance does an incredible job of taking us where we never thought we could be. Seeing and hearing the events and behind the scenes conversations of that season. We also get an up close look of Michael Jordan thanks to MJ himself. What was he thinking at the time of each game, moment and of course controversy.”

Cohn points out how the Bulls’ dynasty was being introduced to a portion of the audience, for the first time.

“Plus, the documentary gives the younger audience a chance they never thought they would have. To know Michael Jordan, to see him play and understand what made him tick and why he’s the greatest of all time.”

When discussing the role of nostalgia and whether the series effectively captured the same emotions as when she was covering the iconic championship series in 1998, Cohn said.

State Farm Wraps Up Its MVP Performance in The Last Dance Doc With ...

“The nostalgia involving me, as well as my talented ESPN SportsCenter colleagues of the past, is an added bonus while watching The Last Dance. It gives the viewer another opportunity to go back in time and really be immersed in the impact Sportscenter had especially with its coverage of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. My kids are getting a kick out of seeing their mom rock those big shoulder pads!”


The sports media plays a pivotal role in determining whether sports stories are the stuff of legends. The amount of coverage devoted to The Last Dance on sports radio will vary across most markets, however with two exceptions: Chicago and Charlotte. The markets that Michael Jordan calls home have both been strategic and deliberate in the selection of The Last Dance content. 

Chicago and Charlotte radio markets saw a significant ratings shift in the wake of the docuseries airing. WGN Sports Operations Manager Dave Zaslowsky weighed in on the strategy in navigating the airing of the series.

Zaslowsky Promoted At WGN - Radio Ink

WGN has been a hallmark of the sports media scene in Chicago for decades, the WGN Sports branded mic shields proudly displayed throughout the doc’s various interviews with iconic Bulls’ players. The contribution of The Last Dance struck a chord across the spectrum in Chicago. Zaslowsky weighed in on the way Chicago sports radio fans and listeners alike received The Last Dance.

“I feel across the board fans/listeners of Chicago sports loved this doc. The run that the 90’s Bulls had has been a long time and was nice to relive that.  Also, some things were learned for the first time. Sports talk radio was flooded with calls for days after each episode, granted there are no sports going on, but it still would have dominated sports talk radio.”

When asked which lesson from The Last Dance he felt was the most valuable to the sports media world, Zaslowsky replied:

“I think the lesson for the sports media world is that back in TLD days the media was witnessing something that today’s media will never have the pleasure of covering. There will never be a player, players or a team like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s. We are fortunate to have the job we have, don’t let the special moments pass by without enjoying them for a moment. 


The Charlotte Hornets’ flagship station, WFNZ saw a significant ratings boost, as well. WFNZ’s ratings are double from last month with the station ranked third in the demographic. Assistant Program Director Mark Seidel shared the process behind covering The Last Dance, given Jordan’s personal and professional investments across his homestate. When asked what WFNZ’s approach was to correctly, respectfully and accurately covering the series.

“I think the series resonated with so many people because A) it’s Michael Jordan and B) it was sports in this sports-free world. Sure, we all knew the final outcome, but a lot of people didn’t know the story of getting to the final outcome.”

The dichotomy of Michael Jordan as a North Carolinian, UNC legend, NBA great and Charlotte Hornets’ owner, seamlessly and organically laid the groundwork to encompass a wide range of topics, Seidel explained.

“So being in the heart of Michael Jordan-land, we had unique opportunities to cover it from a Tar Heel perspective with guests like James Worthy and Roy Williams, as well as from a current MJ perspective, owning The Hornets.”

Nostalgia is key, he said.

“I believe the sports media world learned the true value of nostalgia. People that were old enough to truly remember those Bulls teams were taken back in time to a different era in the NBA. Younger people, including myself, who weren’t lucky enough to truly enjoy and understand what we were watching at the time were given a second chance to relive it. The power of nostalgia is very real.”

BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.

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BSM Writers

Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio

“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”

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Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon.  Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight. 

Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.

A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show.  Especially in sports.

Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.

On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.

First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.

On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly.  Never interrupt the guest with an ID.

Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.

“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”

In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.

We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up.  He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.

Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard.  It was a really inciteful chat.  Never was on the podcast.

Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.

“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”

“Have you seen a life for you after football?”

“How much do you hate a certain player?”

All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.

Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway.  The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.

I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.

Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.

Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.

Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.

(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)

The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming. 

Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks. 

They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.

Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.  

Quality shines through the speakers.  The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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BSM Writers

National Voices Can Work For Local Clients

“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”

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Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.

I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.

In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.

Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area.  The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen. 

Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!

If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.  

Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it. 

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