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Mike Felger Can’t Ignore The Apocalypse

“If you do a sports show in a town with this type of success, a good signal and strong shows all day long on your network and you don’t have ratings? You f***ing suck.”

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If you’re building a Mount Rushmore of current sports radio hosts, Boston’s Mike Felger is on it. But don’t tell him, because that’s the type of generic conversation Felger & Mazz try to avoid on 98.5 The Sports Hub.  

Felger rubs it in that he was right about the Bruins | NBC Sports ...

After nearly two decades with The Boston Herald, Felger was tabbed by program director Mike Thomas to help launch The Sports Hub in 2009, partnering him with Tony Massarotti in afternoon drive. The show quickly made its mark, finding ratings success that is unheard of in sports radio.

Sure, it helps to have an equally unprecedented run of success from Boston’s sports teams, but that will only get you so far. When you’re able to generate numbers that approach a 20 share, the success is about more than just the market.

I spoke to four people in addition to Felger to get an understanding of how he operates as a radio host. Polarizing, opinionated, intelligent, genuine and hardworking were repeated in each of my conversations. His former boss Mike Thomas, current program director Rick Radzik, co-host Tony Massarotti and previous competitor from WEEI Michael Holley each offered insight.

Brandon Contes: Has being a sportswriter and reporter influenced how you create a radio show?

Mike Felger: Absolutely. Especially the kind of print I did which was tabloid journalism. When I worked at The Boston Herald it wasn’t just writing, it was digging up stories, headlines and drama. The way they approached sports writing was definitely conducive to sports radio.

BC: How much of your show is preplanned and organized?

MF: I’m kind of compulsive, but we pretty much program the entire show, all 16 blocks on an email in the morning. Obviously, there are times we need to change on the fly depending on the news, but generally speaking, every segment is on a rundown at the start of the day.

“He’s very smart and focused, he doesn’t miss a thing,” Mazz said. “His senses and awareness are acute and it allows him to pick up on things that not everyone will notice, but it’s invaluable in our business because it facilitates discussion.”

BC: For a journalist, everything goes through multiple filters before it gets to the public, so there’s time to course correct, but in radio, there’s no filter. Once you say it, it’s out there. Was that a difficult adjustment?

MF: Not for me. Sometimes it gets you in trouble, you can go too far and I’ve certainly had those days. You can have a bad take, a bad read on things that doesn’t get edited like you would at a newspaper and you get home at night, think back and say ‘well that wasn’t quite what I meant.’

“Mike’s way better at it than I am,” Mazz added. “He knows exactly how he wants to say something before he says it. Sometimes I don’t, so I’ll have to say it out loud, ‘that didn’t sound right, let me change it’ and that’s my backspace button. But the better way to do it is, say it right the first time and I haven’t perfected that art [Laughs].”

“If you write every day, you don’t necessarily need filters for your opinion,” Holley said. “Your opinion is refined. And if you’re not an idiot, you shouldn’t be concerned about going on the radio and sharing your opinion. Idiots should be afraid. If you go on the radio 20 hours a week, not everything will be perfect, but you can’t worry about being right.”

BC: Do you have a preference, print or radio?

MF: Radio is 10 times easier. It’s not even close. Every day I don’t have to write and report is like I’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s hard, and I really wasn’t good at it. The guys that do it now, developing sources, getting people to tell you something they don’t want to tell you, breaking news – those people are working. What we do on radio is easy compared to that.

BC: What about the need to have such conviction on radio, because again, when you’re writing, you can hide behind the curtain, but in radio the audience can tell if an opinion doesn’t sound genuine.

MF: Say something. Even if it’s wrong, just say something. There’s a lot of nuance with topics, but it’s a better discussion if you’re less nuanced and sports lends itself to that. There’s a scoreboard, you have a winner and a loser, someone makes the right play, someone makes the wrong play, someone makes the right trade or the wrong trade. There’s a reason they have that scoreboard and your commentary should reflect that.

BC: You were part-time with WEEI, then you went to 890 ESPN and it didn’t work. Now you have this opportunity in 2009 with another startup sports station at 98.5. If it didn’t work once, what made you think a new sports station would work the second time?

98.5 WBZ FM — The Sports Hub – H&H Builders Inc.

MF: The second one was far better positioned, but even if it wasn’t, even if it was another crappy AM signal with bad ownership, I probably would’ve taken the show. I have a habit of not turning down work. But this was a no-brainer, it was CBS Radio which was a huge radio company at the time with WFAN and other strong brands. It was an FM signal, they already had the Patriots and the Bruins. 890 didn’t have rights agreements, they had syndicated programming, a small signal and I sucked! It was my first hosting gig and I needed work. But hopefully, I became better in those few years.

“The best thing that happened to Mike was his stint with 890 ESPN,” Radzik said. “He went in there and learned how to do a radio show. He was a solo host, didn’t get a lot of calls, it was a weak signal, but it catapulted him from being a guest, to learning how to manage a show.”

BC: Even knowing how well The Sports Hub was set up, were you surprised how quickly it was able to not only make a dent, but pass an established brand like WEEI?

MF: Yes. I think everyone was. I certainly was. The goal when I took the job was to still have it three years later and get the show renewed. Beyond that, I would’ve said, hopefully within five years we have a real race, but it happened in 12-18 months.

“We captured lightning in a bottle,” Mike Thomas said. “We were the first to FM, the teams were doing really well. This city desperately needed a true second sports competitor, there’s a lot of things that came our way and we know we were very fortunate.”

“We thought our show could work, we wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” Mazz added. “I certainly didn’t expect it to grab hold as quickly and aggressively as it did, but there’s also a big aspect of being in the right place at the right time.”

BC: Does your mentality change at all when you pass EEI and now you’re the hunted, not the hunter?

MF: I think so. When we first started and EEI was so well-established there had to be a measure of counter programming. But I haven’t looked at it that way in a long time. I don’t know if that’s smart or stupid, but for quite awhile now, we do what we do, and it doesn’t matter what happens across the dial.

BC: Is there a risk of complacency? How do you avoid getting stale and letting the competition get bigger in the rearview mirror?

MF: One thing I’ve learned through all of this is, I just don’t think it matters what the other person does. And that’s not specific to EEI, it’s any radio station vs another. What matters is pumping out a good 12-minute segment, going to commercial and then doing another good segment. If the people listening stick through the break and stay for the full 12-minutes, that’s the only thing that matters to me. It’s about what you do to make your show better.

And with complacency, sure – you worry about everything. I certainly don’t think we have it all figured out, we’re going to evolve. So yes, I’m concerned with that. But I’m not concerned with what someone else is doing on the radio.

“Felger is a really hard worker and he’s also tough to copy because he’s authentic,” Holley said. “Some people play a character, but he doesn’t. This is who he is and that’s why he’s so effective. Early on, people thought he was going to get overexposed. But I told them no, because it’s not schtick. Schtick wears out. Predictability wears out. Felger is original and when he goes against the grain, you might not agree, but he can back it up and show his work.”

BC: Is your success more about the show, or more about the market? Because the ratings are unprecedented with shares in the mid-teens. Could Felger and Mazz be successful elsewhere?

Must see: Epic fight beween Michael Felger and Michael Hurley over ...

MF: I do think it’s a show that could be successful in other markets, but the level of success you’re talking about has to do with a lot of factors. It’s the quality of the station, our morning show, our midday show, our management – which even though we’ve changed ownership it’s remained very strong. And it’s the town we’re in. 12 championships since 2000, 19 championship appearances. If you do a sports show in a town with this type of success, a good signal and strong shows all day long on your network and you don’t have ratings? You f***ing suck. Our success is a confluence of factors and not the least of which is Tony, Jim Murray, our producer Jimmy Stewart and everyone on the show.

Holley: “I remember my wife asking how we did, and I would say ‘sweetheart, we finished with a 9 this book and that’s really good.’ I would ask friends in other markets and they would say their best book is a 4 or 5, so I would lead with my 9. But then I’d have to tell them the other guys got a 16! And big picture, 25% of the market is focused on sports which is great, but as a competitor, you say ‘I just wish I could get a win!’ They’re a monster to compete against. I enjoyed competing against 98.5, but it was also humbling.”

BC: Will the Brady-less Patriots impact the station and the Boston sports market?

MF: I’d like to think the fanbase wasn’t just there for Brady and the Super Bowls, that they’re hardcore sports fans through thick and thin. That’s the case with some of the sports in Boston. The Bruins audience is smaller, but those fans stay consistent through the ups and downs. We’re going to find out about the Patriots fan, but I’d like to think we’ve become a football town and they’ll continue to be a massive force.

BC: As a New York fan, I see the Patriots without Brady and who knows what happens to the Red Sox as Major League Baseball attempts suicide. I wouldn’t mind if it’s the beginning of the demise for Boston sports.

MF: [Laughs] The country’s rooting for it. I don’t know if baseball can ever overtake the Patriots again. If the Pats fall off like you hope, I would look for the Celtics and the NBA to step up. It’s a hot product, it caters to young people and I think it has the broad interest that hockey doesn’t. Hockey is more intense and loyal, but the NBA has a lot of casual fans, which is good for business. 

BC: Mike Thomas once called you the most polarizing person in Boston radio, do you agree?

MF: I feel like I’ve gotten wimpier as I’ve gotten older. I can’t rank it, I don’t know if I’m as polarizing as I used to be, but it’s not for me to say. But I think Felger & Mazz has a button pushing quality because my hate mail is still prodigious no matter what I say.

“I would much rather have somebody like Mike Felger where you occasionally need to say ‘we have to dial it back a bit’ than someone you need to push and challenge,” Thomas said. “Mike is self-motivated, he lives for sports radio and is clearly one of the best in the country at it. Maybe in his mind he thinks he’s getting softer, things happen when you turn 50, but I would never categorize Mike Felger as being soft.”

“The biggest thing that’s evolved for him is his reputation as just being a contrarian,” Radzik said. “I think he’s established himself as the number one sports talk show host in the country. You can disagree with him, you may not like his angle, but people have respect for his opinions because the audience has evolved with him.”

BC: Is it that you’ve gotten older or has society in general pushed you to get “wimpy.”

MF: I beat myself up over it, but I’m certainly a little gun shy. Two or three years ago, the Bruins got off to a really bad start. I went on this rant that they were ‘too young, they’re done, they can’t win.’ The team rebounded, made the playoffs and near the end of the season they ran a commercial replaying my rant to rub it in. Jimmy Stewart would say that crawled into my head and neutered me [Laughs]. I’m not really on Twitter or social media, but I feel it’s presence.

BC: What about the fact that social media is there, not just for you, but for everyone, waiting and even rooting for the chance to jump on any slip up.

MF: It’s dangerous. Dangerous times for sure. Maybe that’s another reason to not be polarizing. Maybe you just hit on one. Because there is someone out there trying to get you fired. For anyone writing, broadcasting or speaking in any way, shape or form, you make one mistake and that’s it. It gives you reason to just facilitate because you want to keep your job.

Political correctness: the UK v the US | Financial Times

BC: As society becomes more politically correct, do you think that will deter polarizing personalities from entering the business because of the risk?

MF: Yeah, for sure. That’s really more for news commentators than sports commentators though because you should be able to have a bad sports take and not get fired.

Having a wrong sports take will get you pushback, and people will say you’re stupid, but I’d like to think it’s not going to get you fired the way a bad take on society might.

BC: What about the Roy Halladay comments, did that have an impact?

(When former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay died in a 2017 plane crash, Felger controversially mocked the incident.)

MF: You asked why have I softened a bit? Maybe that day is part of the reason. That was a bad day for me, a big mistake and I would never blame PC culture for that.

I was wrong. I don’t think about it every day, but it’s certainly affected my approach. There’s a line between polarizing and being offensive, it’s a challenge to find that line. You have a day like that where you go over the line and you’ll spend some time making sure you don’t get close again. There’s not many hard parts to this job, but that’s one.

BC: Do you discuss social issues right now with everything going on in the country and complaints about Boston specifically?

MF: We are as sporty a show as you can get, we’re 95% sports. But during this time, it’s crept in a little more. If we did it 5% of the time previously, maybe we do it 10-15% now. And whether I’m pro-left or right, I still get people yelling ‘stick to sports!’ Thank God I don’t have to talk about those topics on a regular basis because people are so bitchy about it. But how can you not hit on some of it right now? You can’t ignore the apocalypse.

BC: As a show that’s 95% sports, how have you done building the full 16-blocks without sports?

MF: It’s been challenging recently, the first month or so was simple because of Brady. Even if the pandemic never hit, most of March and April was going to be 80% Brady’s free agency, Brady going to Tampa, the Patriots next quarterback, the draft and free agency. It turned into 95% of the show, but we had football content until mid-May. Since then, it’s how are leagues going to come back? I’ve found it really interesting, but I acknowledge there’s only so much of that you can do. We definitely need a ballgame.

Bucs' Tom Brady after defying NFLPA advice to end NFL group ...

“Not everyone that comes to the Felger & Mazz show comes for sports,” Radzik said. “They come to be entertained, to laugh and be challenged. There’s an energy level, the show is fast paced, and you have to keep up. But if you have good chemistry you can entertain in different ways.”

Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Dave Pasch

For Pasch, the preparation is there, the knowledge of the teams is there, and that’s why he’s a pro’s pro.

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Versatility is always a key in sports. General managers talk about it as a way to have more flexibility on their rosters all the time these days. Versatility is also a key in sports broadcasting. In this case, the ability to call multiple sports, sometimes in the same week, at a high level. No drop off between sports, and no indication of fatigue based on scheduling.

To me, that tells the story of Dave Pasch. He’s been in the game a long time and continues to be at the top of his game whether he’s broadcasting the NBA, college football, or the NFL. It’s a skill that only a very few own.

I might add, he gets the job done on both television and radio. The balancing act of going back and forth between the two media forms isn’t all that easy, either. Descriptive to the max on one and letting the pictures tell the story on the other. Mastering that craft is not something everyone can do.

THE ROAD TO ESPN/ARIZONA CARDINALS

Pasch went to Syracuse and got started at the student station WAER-FM, where he worked from 1990-94. A year later, he went to work for the West Virginia Radio Corporation from 1994-1995 as a news and sports anchor, and he called high school football play-by-play.

Pasch also worked for WMAQ-AM in Chicago, the signal that now is home to WSCR, one of the sports radio stations in the city. At ‘MAQ, he hosted a talk show (The Sports Huddle) and the Chicago Blackhawks’ pre-game show, as well as calling play-by-play on select Blackhawks broadcasts.

From Chicago, it was on to Detroit. Pasch worked for WDFN-AM there, serving as a sports anchor, talk show host, and play-by-play commentator for International Hockey League Detroit Vipers broadcasts.

He then went back to his alma mater, Syracuse, where from 1999-2002, he was the radio voice for Syracuse football and basketball. Pasch also called select NFL and NFL Europe games for Fox Sports in 2002 and 2003, and did the Buffalo Bills preseason telecasts in 2001.

In 2002, he became the radio voice of the Arizona Cardinals. He has been balancing that job with several others, mainly for ESPN, where he’s been since 2003. For the network he calls NBA games, college basketball games and college football as well. Pasch occasionally pops up on Westwood One radio to broadcast the NFL and the radio network’s coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. He just called the Rams-Buccaneers NFL playoff game on Westwood.

Pasch has worked with a who’s who of analysts in each sport he calls. Chris Spielman, Bob Griese, Urban Meyer and Andre Ware in college football. His partners on his NBA and college basketball telecasts include Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Hubie Brown, Doug Collins, Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, Doris Burke and, of course, Bill Walton. More on his relationship with Walton later.

Also at ESPN, he’s handled Major League Baseball broadcasts and women’s college hoops as well.

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

I already mentioned Pasch’s versatility, and his ability to handle the array of sports he does. As a play-by-play announcer, he is rock solid and always brings an energetic and informative broadcast to the viewer/listener. There’s no flash, but it’s not needed when you have what it takes to deliver games the way he does.

For broadcasters that do multiple sports in the same week, preparation can be an issue. Where do you find time to get ready for each team and each sport in a manner that they deserve? If a broadcaster isn’t sufficiently ready for that game, there’s no fooling the audience. It becomes pretty clear. For Pasch, the preparation is there, the knowledge of the teams is there, and that’s why he’s a pro’s pro.

I also appreciate his sense of humor. There is a way in which he can laugh at himself and his partner without making it too much. In other words, Pasch allows for a little fun when needed and called for within a telecast or broadcast. I’m good with that if it isn’t at the sacrifice of key moments in a game. He has that style down to an art form. This makes a game between two teams that maybe the viewer doesn’t have a rooting interest in fun to watch.

He has the ability to play the “straight man” in the context of his partner getting a little outside the broadcast. Pasch has had plenty of experience being a good partner, especially when it comes to working with Bill Walton.

BILL WALTON

Pasch was paired with Walton on college basketball for ESPN’s Pac-12 coverage starting in 2013. The two work together often and just did a game the other night between Oregon and UCLA. Pasch never knows what might happen during a broadcast.

For example, in this game, Walton went off the rails as usual and also as usual, Pasch played off it, questioned the big man’s thoughts, and offered some well-placed sarcasm. Pasch also kept the viewer up to date on the game while the nonsense was going on.

In the second half of the game, Walton casually mentioned how the “Tinder portal” has worked out very well for the Pac-12. After the UCLA legend kept talking for another few moments, Pasch had to jump in to point out that Walton referred to the NCAA’s transfer portal as the Tinder portal.

Pasch: “You mean the transfer portal? You called it the Tinder portal.”

Walton: “Tinder portal, yeah. That’s what it is.”

Pasch: “You’re saying the transfer portal is like Tinder? You swipe right or left to get a player?”

Walton: “Do you love me today?”

Six game minutes later, Walton again brought up the Tinder portal, and offered an explanation for “the way that works.”

Walton: “The way that works is that they put their name in there and then the coaches start pushing left and right.”

Pasch (sarcastically): “Exactly.”

This is television gold, showing exactly why Pasch is the perfect foil to Walton’s outlandish commentary.

Pasch though told The Oregonian that he appreciates working with Walton and that the former UCLA star wants to be good at what he does on television.

“I emailed Bill after the game this past weekend and his response was, ‘I’m sorry I let you down,’” Pasch told John Canzano. “He’s so hard on himself. I don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s Bill. He’s hard on himself. That’s what made him a great player.”

The broadcaster was also willing to point out that his broadcasts with Walton doesn’t serve all audiences.

“Not everybody finds what we’re doing entertaining. There are plenty of people, probably including several coaches in the conference who don’t enjoy it,” said Pasch.

“The biggest thing is to document the game. When your goal is to document the game and celebrate the players, you can still have fun and allow Bill to be Bill. I do think there’s a fine line there. I’m sure we’ve crossed it where you’re trying to be funny or you’re trying to have a gag work and it doesn’t work because you tried… there is a complete spontaneity to the broadcast.”

COMMUNITY/FAITH

Pasch is a man of faith and put that on display at the beginning of the pandemic. He and his family offered assistance to those struggling to pay their bills. He tweeted the following on March 14, 2020:

“If there is a family in the Phoenix area who will have lost income because of the Coronavirus, and cannot pay a bill, please DM me. The Pasch family would love to hear your story and try to help. Acts 20:35.”

Pasch expanded on his motivations that week to Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic.

“I just felt this is an opportunity for me as a Christian to live out my faith in a way that’s real and kind of where the rubber meets the road,” said Pasch. “Here’s an opportunity to step up when you’ve got a lot of people that are hurting and suffering and unsure of the future, scared, nervous, anxious.”

He asked those within sports to set the right example. Such a fine message shows how a sportscaster for a local team can become instantly involved in his/her community. It’s so important to have that relationship with the fans on a deeper level.

CONCLUSION

I’m a big fan of Pasch’s work and enjoy pretty much everything he calls on ESPN. Glad to see that solid, no-flash broadcasters are still prospering in the industry. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I appreciate when the announcer excels at making the game the star.

SUMMARY

Dave Pasch has risen through the ranks of top play-by-play announcers in the game. Hard work and a tremendous work ethic and style have helped him along the way. Pasch handles a busy schedule like a pro and excels at all the various sports for which he calls games.

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Rob Thompson Fell Backwards Into Sports Radio and Never Looked Back

Getting into sports radio was a stroke of luck, but Thompson has carved out an amazing career in San Antonio.

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San Antonio Sports Star

Before it was cool, Rob Thompson was doing it. Before it was a multi-billion dollar industry and something you can control with your fingertips, he was playing fantasy football the old-school way. 

But what was once just a hobby turned into one of the best opportunities of his life. In 1992, Thompson was playing fantasy football with different people from all over the country. He was looking for a specific stat to calculate scores from the weekend, but there was confusion with the numbers. 

“One of the guys had a Chicago paper and I had a San Antonio paper and our numbers were different,” Thompson said. “So I called the local paper and asked for the official NFL stat line. The guy I called asked why. I told him I was playing this weird game called fantasy football. We had lunch and he had heard about it and he asked me if I could write a column. So I started writing a Saturday column about fantasy football.”

A local radio guy named Charlie Parker started reading the column. Soon after, he asked Thompson and his brother to come on his show. They started showing up on Fridays and then eventually on Mondays. Looking back at it now, Thompson thinks it was because they were being used as a segment filler. But before they knew it, they were regular guests on the show. 

“Then on a random Friday he called in sick,” said Thompson. “The program director walked out and said, well, I guess it’s y’all. So we jumped on air and he ended up hiring us. He brought us on for a Saturday show, his name is Andrew Ashwood.

“I kind of fell backwards into it and then one thing led to another and I had a Saturday show in San Antonio with my brother. Because we are in San Antonio and on the iHeart station a couple of the vice presidents of the company started listening to us and liked us. And then they syndicated us. I got nationally syndicated before I had a local show. This was in 2000 working with WOAI, a legacy station here doing Saturdays and that turned into weekdays.”

Getting into sports radio was a stroke of luck, but he’s carved out an amazing career in San Antonio. Today, he’s the co-host of R&R in the Morning on ESPN San Antonio’s Sports Star. He’s also the PD of the station, which means his normal weekday begins before most people even think about getting out of bed. 

“I’ve been an afternoon guy my entire radio career, other than the Saturday shows,” Thompson said. “I moved to the mornings last year back in July. About a year ago during the Covid crisis, my station decided to invest in sports talk and felt like we had a pretty good product here and it allowed me to expand our lineup.

“We went from one three-hour show to now I’m running right at eight hours daily. I get in around 3:30 am. I do a lot of my grunt work for traffic and everything before anyone gets here in the morning and then I do my show that ends at 10:00. I’ll hang around for my mid-day guy and then see my PM drive but I’m out of the building around 2:00.”

If Thompson didn’t already have enough on his plate, his station is undergoing a rebranding that began last year. The station is still an ESPN affiliate, but changed its name to San Antonio Sports Star, a play on the Dallas Cowboys and the amount of coverage the station commits to the team. 

“We’re a pretty big Dallas Cowboys affiliate,” Thompson said. “We get Jerry Jones on pretty regularly. Mike McCarthy on weekly. We even go to their training camp. We’ve adopted the star logo while still hanging on to the ESPN letters. We rebranded last year, but I carry those ESPN letters pretty proudly because it gets me in a lot of doors.”

But sometimes a rebrand doesn’t come without challenges. A name change can cause confusion with some listeners. Yet overall, it’s something Thompson and The Sports Star knew they needed to make happen.

“I wouldn’t call it smooth,” Thompson said. “In the San Antonio market, there’s two competitors. For the most part, because we’ve cross pollinated so much… my co-host came from across the street and I worked across the street.

“It wasn’t a matter of confusion about ESPN. I’m trying to separate from that and become our own entity. I love the letters and I really love them for sales purposes, because it gets us in the door with so many advertisers. But quite frankly, most of our listeners, they get us confused. They always have, because I was across the street for 15 years and my co-host was there basically for the same amount of time.”

San Antonio is a one-sport town and the one team in the city has enjoyed an incredible run since the late 90s. Granted, the franchise isn’t having the same success as when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were on the floor, but it’s still a Spurs town at its core. However, Thompson and his staff are committed to Cowboys talk. Seeing as the Spurs have fallen off a bit, will they commit an entire show during the NBA season to the local team?

“Not an entire show,” Thompson said. “We’re not their flagship or an affiliate. They’re such a closed franchise and hardly anything comes out of there. There’s some benefit and there’s some negative to it. For us it allows us to open the canvas to paint whatever picture we want.

“We can talk about the Spurs daily, because they’re not going to give us anything, we can just project what we want. So it’s always been an easy fill. We still talk about them every day. I’ve always called it the holy trinity that we hit every single day: the Dallas Cowboys, either Texas or Texas A&M football, and the Spurs.”

Outsiders come into Houston all the time to do sports radio. It can even happen in Dallas, as well as other markets in the state of Texas. But San Antonio has a little bit of a different feel to it. It’s not easy for an outsider to come into the city and be beloved by the listeners. 

“That’s a good question, because I don’t know of anyone that’s come from the outside and been successful other than one guy across the street,” Thompson said. “He took my seat when I left back in 2008 and he’s done a great job.

“We’re a very insular community. The local CBS affiliate has been on the air since around 1959. They’ve had two sports broadcasters in their history. One has been on for the past 25 years and he’s retiring, so I brought him on to be a co-host on my PM drive show. There was never any consideration to look outside the market. They just don’t test well here. People need to know what high school you went to.”

Thompson’s co-host, who goes by Rudy Jay, is one of the locals doing sports radio that has endeared himself to the listeners. He and Thompson have developed an incredible rapport and take San Antonians to work every morning. 

“He’s a great guy and a man of the city,” Thompson said. “There’s very few people that, no matter what they say and how they say it, you walk away not being upset with them. He’s just a genuine and honest man, who has great opinions but never really inflicts them on you. He’s a well-versed and interesting guy that loves to talk about sports. I couldn’t be happier.”

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OutKick 360 Isn’t Just Talking To The South Anymore

“We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and then they email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”

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Outkick.com

When Jonathan Hutton, Paul Kuharsky and Chad Withrow announced they were leaving 104.5 The Zone in January of last year, no one doubted where they would end up. The show, formerly known as The Midday 180, was clearly bound for OutKick. After all, the three hosts had been friends with Clay Travis for years.

The only real question was how would it be delivered to the audience? OutKick wouldn’t be the first company to re-launch what was once a radio show on a digital platform. That wasn’t enough for the trio though.

At The Zone, Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow had built a loyal following. It showed in the podcast and streaming numbers, something they didn’t think was valued properly, and it showed in the ratings. This show had a future on terrestrial radio. It was just a matter of introducing it to other stations in the geographic footprint that made the most sense.

“The root of the tree for us is Nashville, Tennessee, the southeast, and it kind of spreads from there,” Kuharsky says. “Based on where we did the show for 10 years, where our initial expertise is, where we have the deepest roots and all of that, it just makes sense.”

OutKick isn’t a little mom-and-pop business. Even before FOX bought the site, it had significant backing behind it. It’s not like the crew, now re-branded as OutKick 360, was flying completely solo.

When you are trying to syndicate a sports radio show though, you may as well be on your own if you do not have the backing of ESPN, FOX Sports, or CBS Sports Radio. Hutton said he was going to rely on that regional expertise as the sales pitch. These are guys that know what sports fans in the Southeast want. He was going to make sure Southern programmers knew that.

“On a Monday morning in April, if you wake up, chances are, if you’re listening to the coast to coast radio, they’re leading off with something New York Knicks or Lakers or they’re going to talk Yankees or they’re going to be discussing the New York Giants or whatever it might be,” Hutton pointed out. “But you can talk now, SEC football, coast to coast and people will tune in as well. NFL sells. Ratings prove that. And that’s what we were going to bring. We’re going to play the hits and speak to an audience in the heartland of America that wants to talk football 365!”

Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow have adopted a tag line for their show that makes their priority clear: “bringing sports back to sports talk.” Sure, there may be distractions. FOX Sports suits really got a kick out of Kuharsky talking about how much he spends on Christmas decorations for instance. At their hearts though, these three are sports fans.

That is assumed of all sports radio hosts. When you put the OutKick brand on a show though, people make other kinds of assumptions. After all, the site’s founder Clay Travis has made a hard swerve into the political realm and has made it clear that when he sold the site to FOX, his vision was that it could be “a bridge between FOX Sports and FOX News.”

Hutton says he has a simple message for people that approach the show with preconceived notions: just listen first.

“I would hope they would listen to the show and judge us based on the product. We are the sports branch wherever we have been or will go. And, you know, being agenda-free can be what our show is about when it comes to sports. I don’t care what channel you turn on, there is an agenda there. So our goal is to be agenda-free, and to be authentic in what we’re doing instead of laying down a preconceived line of thinking one way or the other.”

OutKick 360 Reveals New Logo, The First of the OutKick OTT Expansion –  OutKick

It doesn’t mean that the show is nothing but Xs and Os. Withrow admits that sometimes, the conversation may make you uncomfortable, but just because it might go that direction doesn’t mean it is a political statement.

“If we were to come on and say, you know, ‘this race-baiting episode by ESPN is pathetic,’ well, 95% of sports fans feel that way, but 95% of sports media won’t say it. So when we say it, someone’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, they’re just being political, they’re falling in line’ and I don’t see it that way. I see it as no, this is how sports fans who want sports think.”

Withrow continued, “They think it in black and white, not race. They think in wins and losses, and who’s the better quarterback? So stop infesting everything with some political leaning or just whichever way the wind is blowing. To me, that’s what OutKick was founded on, being fearless and saying what you think, regardless, if it’s going to be popular or not. Certainly what Clay has done has gone into the world of politics, but what we’re doing, if you listen to our show, we really don’t get into politics at all.”

When FOX completed its purchase of OutKick, plenty in the industry wondered what it meant for Hutton, Kuharsky and Withrow. Would FOX want to be in the broadcast radio network business?

Not only was the answer yes, but Withrow says one of the first notes the company had for the OutKick 360 hosts was “think bigger”.

“As Hutton said, we started with a very localized plan with radio stations and we told FOX that’s what we’re going to do. They looked at us like, ‘why the hell not Ohio? Why not Joplin, Missouri? Why not everywhere? You guys are thinking too small’. We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and they’d email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”

So there was the growth plan. OutKick 360 was going to live and die with football, the country’s most popular sport, it was going to be agenda-free in how it talked about the storylines on and off the field, and the hosts were going to be authentic in how they presented themselves to the audience.

There was actually one more ingredient that Hutton wanted to stress. The show was going to sound good.

Back when Covid began and radio shows everywhere had to learn to broadcast from home, it stood out to Hutton just how bad everything on his station sounded. The three asked around and got recommendations for what the right microphone to have was. A friend told them it was the Blue Yeti microphone, so they each went out and got one.

Now, OutKick 360 is broadcast from a state of the art studio and the equipment is upgraded from a $75 podcast microphone. In fact, BSM President Jason Barrett paid a visit to the trio’s 6th & Peabody location during a November business trip, and raved about the setup. He said it was private enough to allow the crew to focus on what was needed for the airwaves, yet also accessible for the hosts to interact with fans and host client events on-site. 

Withrow says the location has been a hit and the upgraded technology is important, but in a time when even the biggest shows and networks are getting away with terrible audio quality, the real asset is the people dedicated to upholding a particular standard.

Playoff Styles Clash, NFL Coaching Search Update, Primary Complaint + OK's  Don't @Me's Dan Dakich - YouTube

“The advantage that we have is David Reed, our producer, who’s great with audio quality and is a stickler for it. Hutton and David Reed came up in the same school with Titans Radio on audio and quality of the broadcast being paramount to everything. He really carries that with this show.”

OutKick 360 is distributed by Skyview Networks. Just because FOX owns their platform doesn’t mean the show can only do business with FOX Sports Radio affiliates. In fact, Hutton says Skyview has helped “take the show to a completely different level and scope.”

“They provide the horsepower for the OutKick 360 engine, and that allows us to bring advertisers and listeners together with our sports brand. We had several partners and stations already on board, and they were thrilled to learn Skyview was handling the daily distribution for us.”

The trio may have a little more muscle behind them now and the bosses may want them thinking bigger, but Kuharsky says they still have the same attitude when it comes to growing their network.

“It’s certainly open to whatever may come our way or wherever we can get our foot in the door.”

Radio stations interested in adding OutKick 360 can learn more by reaching out to Skyview Networks by clicking here.

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