As a longtime listener to Joe & Evan, WFAN’s afternoon show immediately struck me as one that might struggle when sports were abruptly stopped in March. But behind some creativity from the 36-year old Evan Roberts and a willingness to buy in from 66-year old Joe Benigno, the show has produced strong content as of late.
Benigno and Roberts portray the sound of being sports fans first, radio hosts second. And for 14 years, it’s worked, especially when the Jets and Mets are in action. After the two officially partnered as WFAN’s new midday duo in Jan. 2007, they quickly became a must listen anytime the Mets or Jets made headlines. But without sports, hosts need to find other ways of entertaining listeners, as the ability to emotionally react to a game is erased.
I remember Sept. 14, 2018, (yes, I actually remember the date) Joe and Evan did a simulcast spot with Shan Shariff and RJ Choppy from their sister station in Dallas, 105.3 The Fan, to preview the upcoming Giants-Cowboys game. The two shows have very different styles, which caused some uncomfortable moments during the segment and had Benigno later asking, “is this what sports talk radio is not in New York…bells and whistles?”
Sports radio is different in other parts of the country, it’s even different right next door on 98.7 ESPN Radio where they include more of those “bells and whistles.” No longer does the sports radio format feature just turn the mic on, take calls, offer some opinion, and go home.
Benigno, specifically, is at his best when reacting to something that involves his teams. A bad Jets loss, Adam Gase, a blown save by the Mets, the Wilpons refusing to sign a high-priced free agent. That ability was mostly stripped away when sports stopped, so how do you keep the 66-year old engaged and fired up?
The term “bracket” in radio sounds repetitive because so many shows used it, especially to compensate for having no NCAA Tournament this spring. When Roberts announced the “Benigno Bracket of Pain,” I had a similar, ‘this is repetitive’ sentiment. But the bracket ended up being a fantastic idea for someone like Benigno, who can relive the moment and offer specific details. Credit Roberts for organizing 64 of the worst sports moments in his radio partner’s life, and credit Benigno for buying into the bit which became a popular 5 o’clock segment on the show.
Benigno offered his insight, memories and intricate details to 64 events including the Mets trading Tom Seaver, the ’82 AFC Title Mud Bowl in Miami and the ultimate bracket winner, Charles Smith missing four consecutive layups against the Chicago Bulls in the ’93 Eastern Conference Finals. These are moments that make Benigno cringe, they make him yell, but best of all, they promote passion. Hearing him react to the painful memories is exactly why he’s beloved by New York area sports fans and exactly why they tune to Joe & Evan when the Mets or Jets are in the news.
As much as they’re passionate about their teams, Joe and Evan have been criticized for sometimes tuning out the Yankees and Giants. Being a Mets fan, Benigno’s Bracket of Pain naturally didn’t include Yankees moments to discuss, except for a few Subway Series games. Introducing the “Sterling 5” was a fun way to create unique Yankees content, featuring radio play-by-play voice John Sterling, an icon, who’s unique style is unmatched.
Joe and Evan went through approximately five Sterling home run calls each day, totaling 112, most of which are very entertaining. The Yankees centric segment includes trivia, nostalgia and comedy thanks to Sterling’s charm and character.
Both the Benigno Bracket of Pain and the Sterling 5 provided strong direction for callers. There are varying opinions regarding the benefit of a sports radio show taking calls, but WFAN was built on that model and their afternoon show takes a lot of them. New York fans expect to be heard and listeners expect to hear callers on WFAN.
Still, their call segments are generally better when topics are limited. They’re easier to screen and organize, helping to avoid having a listener shout out three outfielders and mindlessly ask the hosts to rank ‘em.
One negative of Benigno and Roberts is despite their 30-year age difference, they have similar mindsets as fans. Their opinions rarely build separately and lead to passionate debates or arguments. And when they do fall on opposite sides of the spectrum, Benigno is unlikely to dive deeply into discussion even when pressed by Roberts for insight and examples.
Segments will feed off each other’s rooting misery, more than they will a disagreement, which is where taking calls benefits them. If Joe and Evan agree on a topic, callers can play the role of devil’s advocate. The following is an example of an annoying call, but they weren’t monotonous, they played devil’s advocate and also highlighted one of Roberts’ strengths as an opinionated sports encyclopedia.
Over the course of 14 years, Joe and Evan drew attention from a community of Mets and Jets fans who relate to “oh the pain,” more than they built their own community of listeners as a radio show. Continued efforts in creating unique segments, even when sports return, can help develop a communal feeling with listeners. Let the listener learn more about behind-the-scenes occurrences, opinions and interests outside of sports. Bring in additional voices, part-time producer Tommy Lugauer’s enthusiasm and energy sounded great when he chimed in recently.
Roberts has a background that includes the old Maxim Radio channel on SiriusXM and can revert to that style of show, but a lot of his inventive ideas have been featured off WFAN’s airwaves. Not that listeners want to hear Twitter baseball or a narration of Roberts playing H-O-R-S-E on WFAN, but he’s proven fully capable of creating unique content.
One relationship Joe and Evan are better at building than most shows, is with their weekly guests. Welcoming a reporter who just tweeted all the information they’re going to rehash on-air can be “filler radio.” But Joe and Evan are able to build strong connections with players and beat reporters. Guests seem to find their rooting passion amusing – Michael Irvin, Ty Montgomery and Terry Bradshaw are examples of paid weekly spots who genuinely sounded like they enjoy joining the show. MLB Insider Jon Heyman is a guest on many shows nationwide, but he has a tendency to discuss more non-baseball topics with Joe and Evan. When Heyman is on with Benigno and Roberts, he’s not rehashing his last hour of tweets, the trio are able to entertain on a variety of topics.
As a listener, I’ve enjoyed hearing hosts conduct long-form interviews. With COVID-19 leading to less commercials, it’s not uncommon for shows to take up two segments and offer a deeper conversation. Scott Boras, John Heyman, Ian Eagle, Xavier McDaniel all topped the 30-minute mark with Joe and Evan last month, with a multitude of others going longer than 25 minutes.
While I thought Benigno and Roberts would be hit hard without live sports, one area they’ve had no trouble adjusting to was hosting from separate locations. Benigno, having gone through two hip replacements in recent years, had the duo well-versed in hosting remotely. The 66-year old regularly talks about retiring to Florida, (probably too much), but based on how they sound apart, there’s little reason why they couldn’t continue the show from different states.
Joe and Evan went from being untouchable in middays, to underdogs in the afternoon with a tough hill to climb, challenging the timeslot’s incumbent No. 1 sports program, The Michael Kay Show. Normally when hosts come in as the underdog, you expect competition and a willingness to try new things. But for 14 years, we already knew what Joe and Evan were. Maybe the sports stoppage is what Benigno and Roberts needed to experiment, and once game action returns on a nightly basis, hopefully they’ll continue in the same direction.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.