This is no time for amnesia. It wasn’t long ago when the almighty power bases of American sports — the NFL and its broadcast partnerships — were burned out on Colin Kaepernick and his racial injustice movement. The sentiment was sweeping that sideline protests had run their course, that network cameras would avoid showing athletes in the act of kneeling. The evil seeds were planted, of course, by You Know Who, in an Alabama speech urging teams how to proceed if a player took a knee.
“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired. He’s fired,’’ said President Donald Trump, adding, “I guarantee things will stop’’ if fans immediately got up and left the stadium.
Before you knew it, by incremental design, the demonstrations were a non-story. Roger Goodell, working for billionaire owners, distanced himself from Kaepernick by embracing another league activist, Malcolm Jenkins, then enlisting rapper Jay-Z as his cultural minister and crisis fixer. The exit strategy was insensitive and awkward, as are many flashpoints of Goodell’s commissionership, but eventually, the spectacle of football and pressures of television money overwhelmed the protests, appeasing white-influenced advertisers who’d watched nervously. As for other top leagues, there were no such tensions; NBA players and commissioner Adam Silver have been in powerful lockstep about race since the 2014 Donald Sterling debacle, and Major League Baseball is disturbingly indifferent amid a grim racial imbalance, with African-American players comprising less than eight percent of Opening Day rosters last season.
Call it corporate suppression. Call it white supremacy. Certainly, call it a case of the football establishment getting what it wanted and quieting the angst of black America yet again.
But now, in all its grotesque horror, we have the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, the latest victim of police brutality in our twisted, hatred-gutted republic. Coming as it did after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, a truth has become self-evident: This time, sports cannot be allowed to strategically tip-toe out of inconvenience because a bunch of rich white men are uncomfortable in boardrooms. Like it or not, the NFL and all other institutions, professional to college to high school, must obey their social responsibilities and let athletes take a knee as they please. If and when live games resume, those who wish to kneel in protest of racial inequality should be permitted to do so without resistance for as long as they damn well please — years, if necessary.
The networks must air it. The commissioners and owners must honor it. The advertisers must deal with it. The fans must respect it. And Trump must put a sock in it — or, better, move aside and let someone else try to lead America through its violence-and-pandemic turbulence without daily provocation and cartoonish responses.
Otherwise, another atrocity awaits, another tragedy as unspeakable as a racist cop pressing his knee against the neck of an unarmed black man for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
What we’ve learned from the Floyd images, and the outbreaks of civil unrest, is that racial activism cannot afford to be intermittent. No one can shut up and dribble. Protests must be relentless, if also peaceful, so the world isn’t allowed to forget Minneapolis and slip into old, sick habits that enable killer cops such as Derek Chauvin. Black athletes have been vocal for generations — Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Jim Brown, LeBron James — but their robust voices ultimately fade amid the inevitable disruption of another racist act. That’s why the composed but persistent visual of Kaepernick, in a period when NBA players routinely wore “I Can’t Breathe’’ shirts in memory of Eric Garner, harbored hope for a long-term sea change.
“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s going on this country,’’ Kaepernick said of his mission. “There’s people being murdered unjustly and people not being held accountable.’’
Alas, the kneeling campaign sputtered and stopped. And here we are, right back where we started, outraged about another man who couldn’t breathe. Kaepernick no longer is playing in the NFL, but Trump is still the president, shaken enough by violent protests near the White House to lash out on Twitter and escape to his underground bunker, yet striking the pose of a strongman in threatening to summon the U.S. military. All Kaepernick ever did was peacefully kneel by the San Francisco 49ers bench until the national anthem ended. Trump, by comparison, is a self-caricature in free fall, using the Bible as a prop in a surreal photo-op outside a fire-damaged Washington church … but only after police swept away protesters with gas, rubber bullets and flash bang grenades. When calm and equilibrium are the urgently needed presidential tones, Trump is hapless to summon anything but bluster.
“I am your President of law and order,’’ he declared, vowing to rid the nation of “professional anarchists, violent mobs … arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, Antifa and others.’’
And as long as he’s in office, Trump will oppose what’s next in sports: Athletes again wanting to kneel, scribble messages on their shoes and uniforms and demonstrate on game days. He will resurrect his “son of a bitch’’ speech. He will contact Goodell and influential NFL friends, such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Trump will denounce athletes as unworthy of jobs and appeal to Americans to turn against them. This time, the NFL and the networks cannot budge.
Let them kneel. Let them speak.
Take a lead from Europe — hella Europe — where Premier League players can protest Floyd’s death without fear of reprimand. This is in contrast to Germany’s soccer chiefs, who investigated three Bundesliga players for displaying messages supporting Floyd. “A common sense approach,’’ said the Football Association, England’s governing soccer body. “The power of football can break down barriers across communities, and we remain deeply committed to removing all forms of discrimination from across the game we all love.”
It has been inspiring to watch athletes and entertainers speak out in recent days, including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter, all averse to enter past racial frays. Said Jordan, memorably: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry. I see and feel everyone’s pain. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.’’ In particular, young athletes such as Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon are rising up to lead peaceful protests. Among the words resonating most instructively are those of Gregg Popovich, a 71-year-old white male and military veteran who has evolved into an outspoken crusader against racism. Sometimes, his anti-Trump rants are out of place at, say, a pre-game media briefing, costing San Antonio Spurs fans the joy of a refreshing hoops conversation. But this is the real time and place to vent, as a thoughtful American, and in a conversation with The Nation site, the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach struck a chord that must resonate.
“The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes,’’ Popovich said. “That’s why these protests have been so explosive. But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change.”
But will it change? Ever? All the education and demonstration in the world can’t stop a rogue racist from becoming the next Derek Chauvin. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thought he had seen the abyss 28 years ago in Los Angeles, when an unarmed black man named Rodney King was savgely beaten by police officers who would be acquitted, prompting riots that feed the city’s anxieties today. “Think about this: nothing has changed since what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop of Rodney King,’’ said Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA great, author and social observer. “That was 30 years ago. And still nothing has changed. White cops still can act with impunity and kill people that they feel like they want to kill. It’s got to stop someplace.’’
Tell Bob Kroll. He’s the Minneapolis police union president who thinks Floyd’s 2009 conviction, for assault and robbery, begins to justify death-by-asphyxia. “What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd,’’ Kroll said in a letter to members. “The media will not air this.’’ Has he considered that the media, like most human beings, are consumed by viral visuals of Floyd. We see him telling witnesses, “They’re going to kill me, man,’’ which is exactly what happened as he became unresponsive, though Chauvin kept his knee on his neck for another two minutes and 53 seconds.
For reasonable people, it never was a question of whether Kaepernick was right or wrong in sideline protests that started four years ago. It was whether he ultimately would disrupt racism and force a American social metamorphosis. Obviously, he did not, and the recent string of killings give oxygen to theories that Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL. After Goodell released a statement, saying “the NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country” and that “protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel,’’ the commissioner was mocked on social media by everyone from director Ava DuVernay to Houston Texans receiver Kenny Stills.
“Save the bull(bleep),’’ said Stills, one of the few players still kneeling on sidelines last season.
“Your statement said nothing,’’ Minnesota Vikings linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr said in identical tweets. “Your league is built on black athletes. Vague answers do nothing. Let the players know what you’re ACTUALLY doing. And we know what silence means.’’
No doubt the league would benefit substantially, in the optics of social awareness and the interest of calming players, if a franchise swooped in now and signed Kaepernick. This was suggested by former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s primary spokesperson when the kneeling protests took hold in 2017. He is urging the Vikings to make an offer — the team that plays in a stadium not far from the Floyd death scene. Lockhart claims Goodell had no agenda, saying, “Kaepernick was not blocked because the league wanted to punish him for setting off the protests.’’ Rather, Lockhart says franchises ignored the league’s “prodding and pushing’’ to sign him, adding that teams “thought he was bad for business’’ and “an executive from a team that considered signing Kaepernick told me the team projected losing 20 percent of season ticket holders if they did.”
Is Kaepernick still too hot to handle? Of course, he is, now more than ever. Given the magnitude and breadth of violence nationwide, his arrival in any city would be akin to a tsunami as people try to stay safe from the unrest, ward off COVID-19 and deal with rampant unemployment. Consider two key points: (1) The NFL season is in limbo because of the pandemic; and (2) Kaepernick has not been a difference-making quarterback since 2013 and at times has been a bad quarterback, such as when I covered him in San Francisco. He hasn’t played an NFL down in almost four years, and when the league arranged for a mass tryout last fall, he complained, moved the workout site and pissed everyone off. So, stop the politicking, Joe, and let Kaepernick get back to work on America’s social conscience.
Besides, his cultural influence remains dynamic. In West Hollywood, an LAPD officer made an offer to protesters: If they were peaceful, he would take a knee. They complied. So he dropped into the Kaepernick stance.
And the protesters took a knee with him.
Don’t stop kneeling. Don’t stop believing.
Landry Locker Takes Something From Everyone
“I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort.”
Sports radio has always been a big part of Landry Locker’s life. When he was growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Grapevine, Texas to be exact — Landry’s dad used to have sports radio on in the house as background noise. How awesome is that? You’ll hear that an athlete like Steph Curry has basketball in his veins. It works the same way with Landry; sports radio has been in his blood from an early age.
Landry hosts In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 in Houston. His program director, Armen Williams, says that Landry digs into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s interesting to hear why audio is so important to Landry’s approach to sports radio.
He also describes the PDs he’s worked for, the lowly Texans, replacing the rush of doing radio, and tapping the brakes on self-criticism. Enjoy!
BN: From listening to sports radio in Dallas when you were a young kid, what have you taken from those years that you still apply to today?
LL: Pretty much everything. Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket started in the mid-90s. My dad was the kind of guy, before my parents got divorced, who would have sports radio on in the house as the background noise. When that started, The Ticket and all of that, that was a big influence just because it was 24/7. It’s always been something that I’ve gotten into whether it’s I want to hear what so-and-so has to say after the game, all of the reaction and all of that type of stuff. It’s always been a big part of my life, especially when The Ticket came around during the Cowboys’ second Super Bowl run.
BN: Is there anything in terms of a host’s style, not that you’re copying it, but you look and say I like what that guy does, and maybe subconsciously, that’s gone into your approach?
LL: I take something from everyone, even growing up, or the people that I’ve worked with in the business throughout my career. I think you take stuff from everybody. Different styles, there’s not really anyone that I try to be, but I think you can learn from certain people. I would say The Ticket, not to take yourself too serious. I think you could learn from guys who are real sports guys, old school, just how to do your research and be on top of your stuff.
I’ve worked with Randy Galloway when I was in Dallas and Ben and Skin. I kind of model myself after those guys kind of being loose; being sportsy and non-sportsy at the same time. Ken Carman and Anthony Lima in Cleveland, I was with them for like five months. I had a brief stop in Cleveland. I think the creativity of those guys I take in. I really just try to take in something from everybody, old school, new school, all that, and just incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.
BN: Why was the Cleveland stint so short?
LL: The Cleveland thing was just a good opportunity because it was a chance to branch out and I really like Andy Roth, their program director. I think he’s a really, really, really good PD. I like Ken and Anthony. It was when their show first started. When I got there it was more so — and Ken and I are still good buddies — but Cleveland wants you to be from Cleveland. It is 100 percent from Cleveland.
When some jackass from Texas comes in there and is talking about LeBron James or something like that — there are some cities where that works. There are a lot of transplants in Houston and there are a lot of transplants even in New York. Sometimes you can go do that; Cleveland’s not the city for that. No matter how well I worked with Ken and Anthony, the shelf life was kind of limited on how much you could climb up.
Nick Wright actually got his job to go national, so I became the producer of the morning show here. They gave me immediate reps on air. I just took that experience as much as I could, the six months in Cleveland, and brought it here. But you know how it is in Cleveland; you could say the smartest thing in the world, but if they check your ID and they see that you’re not from Ohio, you can basically go to hell. It doesn’t matter what you said. That’s not a knock on ‘em. That’s why it’s so popular there. That’s why it’s one of those cities where you go in the gas station, they’ve got The Fan on there. They’re ready to get it, but I could basically solve the cure for cancer and they don’t give a rat’s butt what I’m saying in Cleveland. I understood that from the jump.
BN: Is Dallas like that at all?
LL: I don’t think Dallas is like that because if you just look at the lineup, a lot of the guys from The Ticket, there’s a guy from Wisconsin in Bob Sturm. There’s a guy from Cleveland in Dan McDowell. There’s just guys from other places. RJ Choppy originally went to college at Tennessee, then he went to New Jersey. Shan Shariff was in Maryland, Kansas City and all that stuff. Houston has a lot of transplants. You do want to know what you’re talking about and you do want to have a grasp of history.
There’s a legendary tale about Nick Wright when he came to Houston from Kansas City that I just always admired, even when I didn’t even know anything about Nick Wright. When he had his job interview with Gavin Spittle, who’s the PD now in Dallas, Nick had like four pages, front and back, basically he’d written out the sports history of Houston. It went from the Oilers to the Rockets, all that, and it was handwritten. It wasn’t just printed out. When I came here, even when I went to Cleveland, I would try to follow that. They are open in Houston and Dallas, but you have to show that you respect the history and have a grasp of it. Then you just have to perform on the air.
BN: You’ve had a few different program directors from Jeff Catlin to Andy Roth and Armen Williams. What are the similarities and differences between those guys?
LL: Well, Jeff’s a hard-ass. Jeff Catlin is an ass-kicker. The one thing that I can take from Jeff is that he’s no nonsense. If you deserve to be cussed out, you’re going to get cussed out. If you screw up, he’s going to let you know. He is going to let your work speak for itself. He’s going to welcome feedback and he’s no nonsense. No nonsense Jeff Catlin. Being the ultimate professional, no nonsense, is something I took from Jeff.
Andy’s just a hard worker who is one hundred percent engaged in programming. Whether you’re on at 6am or 10pm; if you play a sound clip and you don’t credit FOX Sports or you don’t credit ESPN, Andy is going to let you know about it. He’s going to give you feedback and it’s going to be transparent. It can get a little bit intense with Andy, but it’s always going to be honest and he cares about the on-air product. And he’s going to work his ass off.
Armen is a guy who has a lot of the same qualities as both of those guys. It’s kind of like a mix of both. I think the thing that Armen has on those guys is he’s been in radio for life. He’s a guy who was working at radio stations when he was young. He’s a guy who was working in promotions. He’s a guy who was a producer. He’s a guy who went and became a PD. I think Armen is just about that radio life and he’s kind of a combination of all those guys.
Armen’s also very, very good at imaging and very, very good at creating the notion that the station is on the right topic. I think he has that grasp down very, very good to where what do we need to be talking about? Sometimes we’ll go in to commercial and imaging will be so new it’s like dang, how did he flip that so quick? I think Armen is kind of a combination of those two. There’s been a lot of guys I’ve worked with and I’ve picked all their brains and they all provide a little bit of something.
BN: If there’s one thing a talent needs most from a PD, what is it?
LL: I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort. I think it kind of depends. I think some guys probably need airchecks a little bit more. I think some guys need to be coddled. I think some guys need to be kicked in the butt.
It’s like when someone asks you what’s the key to a good show, I don’t know because there are so many different styles. But I think different guys need different stuff. I think the most important thing is that you need a PD who’s able to treat people differently, almost like a coach. I think you need a PD that’s going to be able to have a grasp of what each guy needs. I’ve been fortunate to work with PDs who’ve been able to do that.
BN: Working with a highly respected talent like John Lopez, who has teamed with Nick Wright and a few others, what’s one of the main things that you’ve taken from him as a talent?
LL: I’ve been very fortunate to work with John because I think that when you’ve been doing it as long as he has — I call him the OG for a reason — there’s a better chance that guy is going to have a little bit of jerk in him, and he’s going to tell you it’s his way or the highway. John has allowed me to not take over, but put my creative spin on it, and he kind of plays off me. I know a lot of times it can be annoying for him. John is like a unique guy in that he’s been doing it as long as he has, but he’s pretty carefree and as long as you develop his trust, he’s going to play off of you.
There’s immediate credibility that comes with somebody who’s been around as long as Lopez has. The likability, the experience, and just the open-mindedness, I’ve been very fortunate with John Lopez. I’ve seen some guys in his situation who will just lay out. They’re not going to do anything. I could ask Lopez hey, give me a list of 10 blah, blah, blah, and he’ll do it. He’s just a lot more open-minded than a lot of people that have been doing it as long as him have been. He has that credibility. He has that likability.
BN: So the Texans stink as you know. And you’re the flagship station at 610. What’s that like to do a balancing act?
LL: Well, we don’t have to. It’s really actually kind of crazy; they are very, very fair to us. You wouldn’t know that we were the flagship with the way we talk. They understand the situation and they’ve let us criticize them as much as possible, which is rare. I know there are other teams in town that don’t allow that. I’ve seen some teams do it, but they really, really do let us be honest and transparent about it. I haven’t had to endure any walking the line or anything like that.
We’ve talked about anything and everything and they’re very fair. We’ve talked about how bad David Culley is at managing games. We’ve talked about the culture problems. We’ve talked about Nick Caserio not winning trades. I mean I can’t lie.
I want to say something good about them; it’s just there’s nothing. They don’t have any good young players. They’ve traded all their draft picks. They’re the worst team in the league. The coach is making brain fart after brain fart. There’s culture issues. There’s trust issues. I want something, they’re just not giving it to me. I haven’t gotten any calls for things that I’ve said or anything. It sucks to cover a team this bad, but they let us do our job for sure.
BN: Armen told me that you dig into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. He said you call it going into the lab. Why is it so important to you?
LL: I think that it’s part of the story. I think especially in NFL-centric cities where it’s a week-long buildup, if David Culley said that he trusts the culture after Week 1, and you can remember that and go back to after you lose eight straight games, I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the story and I think you’re not dependent on a team being good. Audio is a big part of what we do. When someone sends a cut sheet, I listen to every single clip and I’ll trim it. If there’s a Sunday press conference or something like that and they say yesterday, I’ll take out the word yesterday just so that it’s timely.
In Buffalo or wherever, like a good city, they can just depend on breaking down each game. But if you’re building up the story and you’re talking about David Culley said this, or David Johnson said that, or I can remember way back in the day when so and so said this, let’s compare it to that, I just think the build-up doesn’t get old and the story doesn’t die. I have a photographic memory where I’ll remember something that someone said like 15 years ago. I think it adds to the intrigue just what is being said and I’m not dependent on the team being good.
BN: When you finish a show do you look back like, ahh man, I didn’t think about playing this one clip or I didn’t think about saying this one thing? Are you built like that, or are you just kind of like hey man, the show was pretty good, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow?
LL: Sometimes I’ll get done with the show and be like man, that sucked. I’ll be like that was terrible; I should have done this, this, this, this. I think you kind of have to stop doing that at a certain point. I don’t ever think you should do a show and just say it’s over, move on. But I used to beat myself up to where it was basically like you can’t sleep and you think you stink and all of that type of stuff.
I do sometimes wonder if we left some meat on the bone. Other times I’ll think it was good and I’ll listen back, and I’ll be like man, that sucked. That really wasn’t that good. That’s probably the most uncomfortable thing for me is listening to myself, but I have to do it. I’m still kind of my own worst critic, but you do have to kind of tap the brakes a little bit when it comes to criticizing yourself. Still be aware but you do have to tone it down a little bit because I would just beat myself up and not even be able to enjoy the rest of my day.
BN: Do you have any particular goals that you’re working toward?
LL: I think eventually I would like to get in drive time. I like having the midday, but I’d like to get into drive time, try to figure that type of thing out. I just want to continue to build credibility. I want to be the guy that people go to in Houston where if something happens, if Deshaun Watson gets traded, it’s hey we’ve got to hear what Landry Locker has to say about that. That’s really the goal.
As far as going national, stuff like that, I like local radio. I think local radio is the best. This is the second time I’ve quoted Nick Wright; Nick was asked about radio and he said local radio is not going anywhere because it’s really the place that you go to figure things out about your squad. It’s a service, it’s part of the community, so I really like the local thing. I just want to continue to get better, branch out, and be as good at this as possible and expand as the business continues to grow.
BN: When it comes to the most fun you’ve had in all your days of doing radio, where were you and what was it about that situation that was so fun?
LL: Man, I feel like I wish I could just point to one thing, but I get such a rush doing shows, even in different roles, that it’s like I can’t even really answer that question. I had a very fun time when I got my first on-air segment; that was with Ben and Skin back in Dallas. They called it the Locker Room. It was so exciting. The first time you get to host that show, that was fun. Cleveland when the Cavs won the championship and I was with Ken and Anthony. When the Astros won the World Series here. Reaction Mondays are just amazing to me because you’re reacting to the game, the fans are feeding off the energy.
There’s really just not one time that I can point to and say — and I’m not trying to be corny or anything like that — but I just think the full rush of putting together a four-hour show, talking to sports fans which are the most passionate, there’s not really one thing I can point to. I wish I could, but there’s just so many good times. It’s hard to list what the one would be.
BN: I agree with you about local radio, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but let’s just say it did. Or there are cuts or whatever and you’re no longer in radio. It’s almost like an athlete who says what am I doing now that my career is over? What would you do after your radio career to try to get the same rush?
LL: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s one of those things where you just have to have the perspective. I have had that disappointment when ESPN 103.3 got bought out and Catlin said “I think you should try to branch out and figure something else out.” I have tasted it before. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I’m really good at. I have no idea what I would do without it. I try not to think about it too much but man, a lot of guys have had to answer that question. I’m just blessed to not have to answer that question right now at the very least. It’s a scary thought to think about not doing this.
Even Sports Talk Hosts Have To Make Halftime Adjustments
“Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.”
Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated and the SEC Network didn’t play football beyond high school. Still, he really understands scheme and personnel packages. This past Sunday on his podcast, Split Zone Duo, Johnson said that he had listeners tell him that he could be a coach and he gave a great answer to that.
He said that if you study and if you played football at all, you can probably script an opening drive for a team. That isn’t hard. There aren’t a lot of people on Earth though that can make mid-game adjustments to respond to what the other team is doing. That is something that comes with experience and really, truly knowing football. He isn’t one of those people.
Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.
We have crossed the halfway point on the NFL season. I reached out to several broadcasters to see how they have adjusted what they do and how they talk about the home team.
The NFL is a league that always throws wrenches at us. Parity allows teams expected to hover around .500 to be in contention for a playoff bye with just a few borderline calls going their way. The violence of football means we are talking about injuries all the time and those injuries can derail even the most promising of seasons. Golden Boy rookies struggle to adjust to the speed of the pro game and fans start to panic. A great local host has to absorb and reflect all of that.
Four hosts in NFL markets told me how their coverage and conversations about the home team have changed from the preseason to now.
ANDREW FILLIPPONI – 93.7 THE FAN IN PITTSBURGH
Our Steelers conversation has focused on the present and future of the quarterback position in Pittsburgh. Initially, it was a referendum on the team’s decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for an 18th season. Then, when the Steelers fell to 1-3, it turned into a look at the external options for the position in 2022: the college draft class and Aaron Rodgers.
Now with the Steelers 5-3-1, there’s more interest in how this team will finish. Will it make the playoffs or not? Will there be another December/January collapse? So I anticipate there will be a lot of discussion about the current team’s performance in the weeks ahead.
JASON MARTIN – 104.5 THE ZONE IN NASHVILLE
Covering the Titans is always a ride, or it certainly has been during the time I’ve had a regular platform to talk about them. The fanbase has been battered and beaten down by mediocrity and disappointment, though under Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson, the hope and optimism is high. The beginning of the 2021 season was different because Tennessee won the AFC South last season, exorcised some of the old Colts demons, and had a legit MVP candidate in Derrick Henry. Add to it big name free agent moves like Julio Jones and Bud Dupree and it grows into an electric atmosphere in the audience and one where they look everywhere for applause for the team they love so much.
That said, it’s also one that has a tendency to get overly defensive whenever any of the optimism is challenged. I’ve found myself on the outs with some people at times, like any local host would, because I’ve been a little more negative, not by design, but just because I don’t feel my own analysis is worth anything if it isn’t objective. If I don’t tell you exactly what I think, if I just go along to get along all the time, why would anything I say have any relevance or weight? It’s just my opinion, but I want it to matter when I say something’s going right, when I offer up praise, or when I say the Titans are one of the best teams in the league. The only way to make that happen is to also be direct when things aren’t going well and when criticism is warranted.
Once Henry was injured, I felt strongly that the chances of winning a Super Bowl dropped off a cliff. I predicted before the season this team would win the big game (I’d never done that before), but had to pivot and say a few weeks ago if 22 didn’t return this season, the playoffs would be the ceiling, not the Lombardi. But, the key is in always keeping a door open until it’s fully closed. I may have learned that a few weeks ago also, because of course, there’s still a chance until this team loses a playoff game. You have to be authentic, but also be willing to listen to a passionate fanbase that educates itself well on the team and cares deeply about the results every season. There’s no reason to be confrontational just for the sake of it. Objectivity with frank discussion and respectful debate is our goal and hopefully we achieve it in the audience’s eyes more often than not. I love our group in the studio and love the Fam (our audience) outside of it. Just like any family, sometimes we argue over dinner, or in our case, since it’s morning drive… over breakfast.
And often, they teach me as much or more than I could ever teach them. That’s why radio is great. The interaction is EVERYTHING.
CODY STOOTS – ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 IN HOUSTON
The Texans are very bad and there are only so many ways to plainly say the Texans are bad. Game breakdowns are less and less useful as the losses pile up. It becomes a focus to critique players and coaches who will be on the team next year. We have to get creative in our approach to talking about the team. An example from last week is we took the temperature of the fanbase by asking for their “fandom injury report” during the show. There were plenty of funny responses and sometimes, with the Texans, you have to laugh to keep from crying.
They don’t have a quarterback for next season and should be loaded with an expected Deshaun Watson trade this offseason. We find ourselves lusting after quarterback situations and also explaining how we would like the Texans to avoid replicating other teams’ mistakes at quarterback. It’s also worthwhile to examine how the Texans found themselves in this situation when something jars our memory and if they have cleaned up the process which led to their failures.
NICK WILSON – WFNZ IN CHARLOTTE
Sports talk adjustments halfway through the NFL season depend entirely on the market and the path of the organization. When Cleveland was winning 4 or less games every year, I knew I had to have my scouting reports for the next quarterback crop ready by early November.
In Carolina, draft talk doesn’t sustain an audience the way it does in Cleveland when teams are bad. You’re left with this moving target of national NFL stories, the start of the ACC basketball season and recently, LaMelo Ball and the Hornets to accentuate whatever day-to-day storylines are available.
This year Carolina 3-0, proceed to lose 5 of their next 6 and then brought back the former face of the franchise, Cam Newton, to save the season. Today our topic was “which p-word are the Panthers closer to embracing: panic or playoffs.” I’m awaiting our Marconi.
Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench
“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”
As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.
Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.
Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.
Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.
Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media.
Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???
One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.
My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”
Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.
Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country.
Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format.
There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.
If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.
I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort.
Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.
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