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Forget The Last 5 Years, Mike Valenti Is Focused On The Next 5

“I’ve made mistakes in my career, but I pride myself on how fast I go and how hard I attack.”

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It’s not easy to change when you’re already in first place, but it’s the best way to avoid complacency. If you’re not growing and evolving, the people behind you will until they reach the top.

The Mike Valenti Show is winning on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, but that didn’t stop the longtime afternoon host from vouching for his friend and colleague Rico Beard to join the show. Not only does Beard bring his sports talk prowess, but he adds perspective to a station that admits they’ve missed the mark in reflecting Detroit’s diversity.

Mike Valenti is not happy about 97.1 The Ticket breaking news early | News  Break

Valenti had a more than decade-long run The Ticket alongside Terry Foster and was equally successful as a solo host for the last four years. But even being in first place, Valenti believes the timing is right for change.

Brandon Contes: As successful as your show already is, why did you want to add a co-host?

Mike Valenti: It gets skipped in the headlines, but we lost an incredibly valuable part of the show in Mike Sullivan, because he’s not your regular producer. I’m a big believer in the Howard Stern model of using multiple voices. And when Terry [Foster] retired, we didn’t want to rush putting someone in that chair. It would be disrespectful to the 13-year run we had. We created characters, David Hull “Hatchet Man,” Roberto and Mike.

Mike is an unbelievable producer, he’s really good on-air, he also had several clients on annual deals. So I have to replace the position, the on-air aspect and the revenue. I’ve been interested in Rico for a long time. It’s no secret that I’m friends with him, I’ve tried to get him hired at the station for years, and now the timing is right.

“When Mike called me about joining him at 97.1, I thought it was the setup to a joke,” Beard said. “I was shocked, Mike doesn’t need help, he’s got the number one show. But the statement that sold me was when he said ‘we always talk about coaches that lose their edge because they won’t evolve.’ Mike wants to evolve, he hasn’t had a co-host in four years. He’s going to push me, I’m going to push him, we’re going to get the best out of each other and take this show to a new level.”

“I’ve had Rico on the radar for quite some time, but we didn’t have the right opportunity available,” Brand Manager of The Ticket Jimmy Powers added. “Mike Sullivan’s departure created an opening that allowed us to bring Rico on board.  Sullivan was a valuable contributor to the show who will be greatly missed, but I couldn’t be more excited to hear what Rico will bring. Rico is the perfect fit to step in and provide his bold opinions and perspective, which will be different than Mike’s.”

BC: Did you recognize the importance of creating more diversity on the radio station’s lineup so that when you look at the name and faces of each show it’s not just mostly white males across the board?

MV: That’s not lost on anybody, and to be fair, it’s an industry issue. I’m not going to put other stations on blast, but go over the roster on a lot of stations and it’s a problem. It’s great to be part of positive change, but bottom line, we’ve had our eye on Rico for a long time. Am I happy I’m the one to have Rico join my show? Of course, but now it’s about winning. We’re already number one, let’s win by more. Let’s not look at what we’ve done the last five years, let’s program for the next five.

“You want to see and hear from people who look like you,” Beard added. “Throughout the country, radio stations should reflect the community. Stations should open up to new experiences, hear different stories and ways. By doing that, radio can do what a lot of politicians can’t do and bridge the gap between cultures. When you listen to radio, you hear another person’s life and experience, maybe you can now sympathize and empathize with that person. The power of radio can be tremendous.”

BC: Is Detroit a passionate sports fanbase? From the outside looking in, I’ve never viewed the city like I do Boston, Philly or New York.

MV: Everybody knows I’m from back east and I’ve always had an affinity for New York City, those are my teams. But I’ve always said this is one of the five best sports cities in America. Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston and Philly. I’ve been blessed to have a long, great career here and people always ask, ‘how come you haven’t left to do something else?’ I already have one of the five jobs, I really believe that.

We have four pro teams, plus Michigan and Michigan State. We’re not New York, but we’re on par from a content standpoint. Even with our teams being awful, the passion is there. It’s a cold weather city and the winter means you’re watching TV. If you’re watching TV, you’re watching sports.

BC: How have you done without sports the last few months and more importantly, how would your audience say you’ve done? When sports shut down, there were a lot of hosts saying, ‘this is a chance to be creative’ and ‘this will separate the great hosts,’ but four months later, would your listeners say you delivered?

MV: I think you’re seeing a lot of the industry get exposed. Sports stations and talent got comfortable with being a ‘sports guy’ and operating in that box. But that’s not really where radio needs to go, it’s not where content needs to go. Our job was never to just beat the other sports station. Our expectation is to beat everybody.

I’ve enjoyed this. Are there days I pull my hair out and say this is a little harder? Sure, but most days, I’m proud of our content and the fact that we have a dozen different things on our show sheet. I’m also different, I’m not afraid to get into non-sports conversations. I say the things I feel and back it up with rational thought and facts.

I’ve never been prouder of a particular ratings book than the one we just had. 89 days, not a single game, we’re still number one. Obviously I want sports back, but it’s been awakening to show people I can do a lot more than what you think I can do.

“When I was his PD and hired him, he was raw,” said Kevin Graham, Valenti’s first program director at The Ticket. “He was a sports guy who grew up listening to the WFAN model which is X’s and O’s sports. But he’s evolved over the years as his comfort level increased and ratings went up and he’s been encouraged by other PD’s to go outside the sports bubble, so I’m not surprised he’s continued to be successful during the pandemic.”

BC: Does national radio appeal to you? There’s more freedom to build a show whereas local you’re obligated to talk Tigers all summer.

MV: Last summer I may have talked Tigers four or five times, they were irrelevant in my world. If your teams are that bad, you can’t talk about them every day, so I operate as a national show. The national platform used to appeal more, but I think you’re seeing a shift where the national platform doesn’t have the cache it used to have. All of my content is available to everyone everywhere through RADIO.COM and different platforms.

There’s no way to replace local. If you want to hear about your teams or a familiar voice, this is the place that does it and each city has that place. For national, I’d have to be presented with an opportunity I haven’t seen yet, I would never say never, but it doesn’t get the juices going like it used to.

BC: How strong was the WFAN appeal when you did test shows with Evan Roberts and Chris Simms in 2017 while they looked for Francesa’s replacement?

MV: As strong as it can be. It’s a dream job! That was my dream growing up and it doesn’t always work out. We started talking about what things would look like and it just wasn’t a fit. I’ve built a hell of a business, a hell of a career here in Detroit and I value my listeners and this station. It’s going to take a lot to pull you away from that. I’m not 25 anymore. You lose some of those dreams where you used to think you would walk on hot coals to get that job. It has to be right for me, for my wife and for my career. But with WFAN, I would never have gotten on the plane if it wasn’t serious.

“I couldn’t have been happier for Mike!” Powers said, “WFAN is a station he grew up listening to, so I know it’s been near and dear to him for a long time. I am a big fan of people pursuing their dreams and am an advocate for people going after life changing opportunities and fulfilling their professional goals.”

BC: What’s your mindset when with a new co-host? Do you tone down your intensity? Or are you yourself and if they can’t keep up that’s on them?

MV: A lot of conversations have to go into it before you hit the button to go on-air. Whether it was with Evan or Chris, there were a ton of phone calls between us. But you have to be a version of who you are, otherwise  you’re really not helping yourself or the person you’re doing the show with.

Part of the fun of building a new show is being able to bring different things out of your co-host. That’s what talent’s supposed to do, and I take pride in that. I’m excited to have that opportunity now with Rico. It’s like unwrapping a present, let’s go on this journey and see what we can come up with.

BC: I never listened to you before you did those shows on WFAN in 2017. I enjoy Evan Roberts as a host, but when he was with you, it sounded like he was trying to keep up. Your brand of radio is different and it was intense for July radio where the homerun derby is usually the biggest sporting event.

MV: [Laughs] Or whether the Yankees should trade for Lucas Duda.

I can’t speak for Evan and how he felt about it, but all eyes were on him when he had random pairings coming in there. What you heard is my general approach, when you look at the PPM world we live in, you only get so many minutes from a person in a week. If you’re not passionate, find something else to do, if you’re not going to bring energy, find something else to do. I take great pride in that and it also requires an ample amount of coffee.

BC: Do you ever listen back to your famous 2006 MSU rant?

MV: I’ve listened back a couple times in 15 years. But for me, I feel like I’ve done so much that is far superior to that. It makes you laugh that choking on applesauce is what you’re remembered for.

I think that rant resonated with people because whether you were a Lions fan, Spartans fan, Texas A&M, any team who just couldn’t get it done, you can relate. That rant was 20 years in the making. I came in the Monday after that game against Notre Dame and my producer attempted to talk to me about the show. I said I’ll handle it on-air. I didn’t even talk to Terry.

The funny part is people who think a rant like that is even possible to be scripted. I put bullet points on my show sheet, there are no index cards, binders or written out takes. It’s an asinine way to think guys can do this. Just go, just speak and the rest takes care of itself. 

BC: With that ‘just go, just speak’ approach, is there concern for crossing a line? I know you’re not on social media, but there are people listening that are on Twitter and they’re on Reddit waiting for someone to say something they can attack.

MV: ‘Just speak,’ but you have to have your career flash before your eyes when you’re doing this job. I pride myself on the uncomfortable conversations, but you must always be keenly aware. I’m not concerned with things that are considered unpopular or people disagreeing, but we have to be mindful as human beings not to be hurtful, not to cross the line.

It’s a challenge, no one’s perfect and when you color near the lines, you may go outside the edge. I’ve made mistakes in my career, but I pride myself on how fast I go and how hard I attack. I like to think, my listeners would say ‘hey, he’s pretty damn mindful.’

You mentioned social media. Part of the reason I got rid of it in 2013 is that it’s just noise. It takes away from the artform. We could do a whole separate interview on the damage social media has done to this country. If I ran a station, I swear I would just have producers on social media, I would forbid it for my hosts. Just lock in and do the job. Guys are too damn concerned with thumbs up, likes, hearts and getting something from total strangers who might not even listen to the show. One of the best things I ever did was getting rid of all that garbage.

BC: You mentioned the damage social media has done to this country. With your personality and intense brand of radio, if you were 18 years old today in 2020 and you’ve seen social media ruin careers, would it deter you from entering the business?

MV: Truthfully, I have the worst personality in the world for this job off-air and I’ve got the best personality for it on-air. Off-air, I’m laid back, I don’t need attention or want the spotlight. It’s tough for me to go back to 18 because nothing was going to stop me. I never wanted to write for a magazine, I had no desire to be on TV. This is the only job I wanted and it goes back to the summer driving around with my dad, listening to FAN through static in Albany. So I’d like to think the noise wouldn’t have deterred me.

BC: From a host’s perspective, how does the station having rights partnerships with a pro team impact your show?

MV: No one is ever going to deny that when a team is chasing a championship it’s going to help your numbers. But I don’t think rights are nearly as important as they used to be. You have entire networks whose purpose is to make that content available, dice it up, put it out, and get hits on social.

The most dishonest thing out there are teams with their own websites hiring their own writers. It’s propaganda, not journalism. Teams would be better served by not caring what people say about them. Just win games. Win games and your problems go away. Instead, these teams would rather call a program director or host and complain about a random segment from the middle of July. Do me a favor, don’t lose eight out of 10. Just win!

BC: When the Lions left 97.1, how did it feel to have the support of the radio station and know they weren’t going to let a team censor you?

MV: It was fine by me. I couldn’t stand the team. They had some really unprofessional people working there. They have no clue. You have one playoff win since 1957, but I’m your problem?

I tried to play the game. I tried to broker a relationship. I tried to do the things you’re “supposed to do” in this business. And the minute you say something they don’t like, everything else is washed down the toilet. They’d complain if I wasn’t at practice. Why? So I can see people stretch? Get the hell out of here.

I think the future model is the Barstool mentality. We don’t need access to give you the content you want. People don’t care about game stories anymore. People want to talk about what they watched and what their feelings are. It’s my job to translate what some of the numbers mean and maybe why you’re feeling that way is or isn’t correct. The industry needs to move on from that classic egomaniac radio guy who says ‘I was in the room last night.’ Nobody cares buddy, this isn’t 1985.

“Mike and I have always differed on this, he thinks I’m wasting my time, but I like going to games and hearing from coaches and players,” said Beard. “I was taught that by the late great Drew Sharp – if you say something about a player or coach, it’s your responsibility to show up at the next game or press conference. I like to hear what happened because sometimes there might be a reason, a player can pull you aside and off the record tell you something they’re going through that will explain their performance.”

BC: Do you feel added pressure with Rico joining the show? You have a top-rated show and you vouched for him, but if ratings drop, the finger gets pointed at him just because he’s the new addition.

MV: I disagree with that. I think the target will always be on me. I don’t make any secret about it, I advocated for this move. If you buy the groceries and dinner doesn’t turn out well, it’s your fault. I’m so conditioned to the pressure of it all, I’m used to it. My biggest concern is you have to have a very honest conversation with whoever you do radio with. But specifically, if you have a relationship with that person, playtime is over. This is a business and if it doesn’t work out, we have to be adults about it.

He’s someone I care about immensely. He’s tight with me and my family, we genuinely like each other. You don’t want to see that go south, but sometimes, that’s the risk of it all. There’s always a chance that it doesn’t end well. Everybody in this game is hired to be fired, at some point the music will stop and my goal is to get out before they stop the music on me. But I like to think I know something about radio after all these years. A lot of people are going to be surprised by us because they haven’t been exposed to Rico. I like to think I’m pretty damn good at bringing out the best in people and I have confidence this will work.

“There’s more pressure joining a show that’s already established,” said Beard. “On a new show, you’re allowed mistakes, but joining a show that’s already number one, there’s nowhere to go but down. I told Mike I want this to be like the Warriors adding Kevin Durant. They didn’t need Durant, but he took them to a new level where it was unfair for the rest of the NBA. I’m not coming to this show to be Mike’s sidekick and his cheerleader, I’m coming to this show because I have my own opinions, thoughts and life experiences. I’m from southwest Detroit, I know this city, I know the fans’ passion and frustrations.”

BSM Writers

The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing

“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”

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Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.

Charities of disgraced shock jock Craig Carton say he let them down; lawyer  calls it a 'gross misunderstanding' - New York Daily News
Courtesy: New York Daily News

There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.

Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.

If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?

I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.

Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.

Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.

Hello, My Name Is Craig
Courtesy: Audacy

You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.

Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.

“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.

We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.

If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?

You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.

Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?

It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.

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BSM Writers

Sports Radio America: The Starting Point When There Is No College Radio

“If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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It is a laboratory. A place to make mistakes. A spot to make friends. The hub of many communications schools. College radio stations are the pipeline by which young, aspiring broadcasters, engineers and producers carve their path to the pros. Broadcasters from around the United States credit college radio for helping them get to where they are today, and view it as a conduit for the next generation of talent.

“I can’t speak highly enough about my college experience doing radio,” said Evan Wilner, senior radio producer at ESPN and former member of WRHU-FM at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. “I realized in college that I am much better at fixing things rather than talking while other people tried doing something about it. Every place I’ve been, I feel like I’ve been ahead of the game because of the experience I got in college.”

Evan Wilner (@WilnerRadio) | Twitter

Wilner’s story is far from unique among professionals in broadcasting today, and proves valuable in ascertaining the role college radio plays in preparing broadcasters in their journey. Travis Demers, the radio play-by-play voice of the N.B.A.’s Portland Trail Blazers, shares a similar sentiment regarding the opportunities college radio afforded him, and how it helped him work in the industry he had a nascent passion for.

“In sixth grade, I was listening to WFAN, and when I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional baseball player, I started [radio] right away as a college freshman.”

Demers attended LIU Post in Brookville, N.Y. beginning in 1999, and eventually served as the sports director of WCWP-FM. In his time at the station, Demers was given numerous opportunities to broadcast football, basketball and lacrosse games on campus, eventually leading to an internship, and corresponding full-time job, at ABC Radio in New York City.

“Everything I could do specifically with sports is what I was trying to do right from the start,” reminisced Demers, “and I was fortunate enough to do that.”

Dan Zangrilli, who serves as a play-by-play announcer at West Virginia University and host of the M.L.B.’s Pittsburgh Pirates’ pre- and post-game shows on 93.7 The Fan, got his start in college radio at Clarion University in Clarion, P.A. The 4,000-watt WCUC 91.1 FM was Zangrilli’s place to get practice broadcasting live basketball games, and hosting a morning talk show.

Dan Zangrilli (@DanZangrilli) | Twitter

“I had free reign; it was basically like my easel,” elucidated Zangrilli. “I started out as a freshman and became the sports director, and ascended to the general manager position by my junior year. That’s just such invaluable experience to be immersed in every aspect of the radio industry, and I wouldn’t trade that place for anything.”

 In a media landscape full of changes accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lifespan of college radio as a subset of the industry is at greater risk of being classified as ephemeral than ever before, a harrowing realization that one former operations manager for a mortgage company had in Memphis, Tenn. had just over a decade ago.

Ayokunle Spencer, a graduate of the University of Memphis and former paralegal, was working for the Rawlings Company in Louisville, Ky., when he happened to overhear a conversation that forever changed his life. One of his co-workers was apprehensive about how his daughter, set to graduate from the University of Louisville, would leave as the school’s radio station would be shut down due to a lack of funding. At the onset of the 2008 economic recession, college radio stations were slashed from budgets around the country, stymying the development of prospective talent and rendering vagabonds heavily involved, and invested, students. Forsaken from the ability to develop the skill set and collect the air checks needed to land a job in the industry, Spencer decided it was time to make a concerted effort to resuscitate an ostensibly-dying concentration of the evolving medium.

“When the need presented itself… we [tried to] put something together [to give] people opportunities to sharpen the skills, and develop the next broadcast talent,” said Spencer. “We posted on the message boards at the colleges and, in about a year’s time, there was an influx of different students we were getting a chance to work with.”

Sports Radio America was founded by Ayokunle Spencer in 2008 as a digital broadcasting network intended to give college students attending universities without a campus radio station the chance to polish their on-air skills and perfect their craft. A member of the jazz-format WUMR while attending the University of Memphis, Spencer had previous experience in pitching up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B artists to local radio stations, including the likes of All-Star and Yo Gotti, through his promotional company and record label, Dynasty Digital Entertainment. Progressive in his thinking, Spencer was one of the first to stream radio broadcasts on the Internet, assisting Bishop G.E. Patterson in the dissemination of a small, A.M. religious station to the masses.

“Radio was always a passion for me as a kid,” said Spencer, “but I always took steps towards that passion before the University of Memphis. I felt, at that time, I was more at the forefront of what was going to come next. I wrote a paper that the Internet would be the place for media in thirty years, and twenty-five years later, I think I was dead on with that one.”

Conceived by means of necessity, Sports Radio America is a haven for young talent, broadcasting live games and talk radio shows on the Internet. The outlet, though, became more of a potpourri of commentators and journalists alike in order to help them evolve to the dynamic world of mediated communication.

“What it started out to be isn’t necessarily what it is now, although I want to get back to those roots of working with highly-talented students and getting them prepared for the next stage of their careers,” said Spencer. “Other journalists that were leaving FOX or ESPN, or older guys that had gotten kicked out of their radio stations because they didn’t know anything about digital, they ended up here. It kind of became a collage of different broadcasters and media personalities from around the U.S.”

As Sports Radio America celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Spencer remains focused on positioning the media venture ahead of the pack, cogently aware of industry changes and best practices to help its broadcasters land jobs and the company prosper after unforeseen circumstances over the previous year-and-a-half.

PsalmStream

“We just came through COVID, and in terms of advertising, all that stuff was crushed,” explained Spencer. “We are kind of almost in a rebuild mode now. We give people the opportunity to create something new, build up your audience and see if something works.”

Once Sports Radio America’s popularity began to grow around the country, the broadcasting outlet, to avoid being overwhelmed with participants, began interviewing and selecting talent to join them. Throughout his professional career, Spencer has had an innate ability to evaluate talent across all industries, something he calls “a God-given gift.” In his current role, which he compares to a professional football scout, one of Spencer’s jobs is to find the best people to join Sports Radio America, and help them get to where they want to go.

“The way my brain processes information, I can just tell certain people in certain things are creative enough to meet industry standards and excel,” said Spencer. “In sports radio, I evaluate voice, how interesting they are in being able to hold a conversation, the topics they pick out, etc. It’s really the only gift I think I actually have.”

Spencer has been successful in helping aspiring collegiate-level industry talent get the experience they need, with his organization serving as the pipeline many colleges have come to eliminate from their campuses. His method of evaluating talent aligns with principles employed by current hiring managers and industry professionals, such as Nick Cattles, host of The Nick Cattles Show on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Virginia Beach. Cattles highly values relatability and uniqueness in his evaluations of talent, along with if they are able to keep a listener actively engaged in their program.

“I think hosts around the country are better off when they allow themselves to be an open book,” said Cattles. “I always listen, probably more intently, to somebody who is willing to give the ‘secrets’ so to speak as opposed to somebody who is more guarded. The cool thing about radio is that there are so many talented people, and there is no one way to do it right. You try to find people who can do it their own way with the passion and the work-ethic that you can invest and believe in.”

Hardly esoteric in understanding, radio, and media altogether, is changing, and seismically in that matter. With today’s reliance on digital platforms for distribution, programs are, evidently, being adapted to fit the proclivities of the listening audience, including a shortening total attention span.

In a recent study by Microsoft, the average human being has an attention span of eight seconds, down a whopping four seconds over the last twenty years. This figure, which is shorter than that of a goldfish, is a direct byproduct of the principle of instant gratification, and the evolution of technology to enable its propagation. The inability to sustain focus has become an endemic in today’s society, and mediums of communication have had to adjust to fit this dynamic psychological paradigm.

Illegally introduced goldfish discovered in multiple Rock Springs–area  ponds - Casper, WY Oil City News
Courtesy: Shutterstock

Furthermore, consumers of mass media are more apt than ever before to selectively filter information; that is, specifically choosing what to concentrate on. As a result, media, in all of its forms, is less concentrated in scope, being narrowed to appeal to the target audience. The conflation of methodologies, simultaneously existing within a preponderance of content and a widening definition as to just who is considered to be a journalist, challenges the fundamental precept of what media is entirely. So how is radio adapting in this new landscape? By expanding its means of dissemination.

“It’s much more multi-faceted, social media-oriented and digital as opposed to [it being] siloed, [as it was] when I got into it,” said Brad Carson, operations and brand manager of 92.9 FM ESPN and Audacy Memphis Sports. “It used to be that you were a radio guy. Now in 2021, you are getting people that are entertainers. The latest joke is, ‘Hey, here’s our latest talent with one million TikTok followers.’ I think you can get people on a radio station or on our Audacy platforms from all walks of life. It’s a much more inexact science than [ever before].”

Spencer, whose progressive thoughts on the media landscape are openly conveyed in conversation, believes the introduction of streaming to be a considerable advancement that can play across multiple platforms. Unsurprisingly, he was ahead of the game at Sports Radio America, basing the online platform on this technology.

“The market for audio is always going to be there. The question is what medium we are going to use to deliver it,” said Spencer. “Everything will probably be streaming by 2030. I think that there will still be the public channels on the airwaves, but the majority of media will be consumed [via] streaming because [it is] a more accurate [platform] to measure who is listening. Whatever the next area of audio is, we will probably start it here first.”

Based on my conversations with these industry professionals, it is safe to say that Ayokunle Spencer, Brad Carson, Travis Demers, Evan Wilner, Dan Zangrilli and Nick Cattles attribute their college radio experience as one of the reasons they possess the skills to succed in their current jobs. Being able to have the flexibility to make mistakes, try new things and establish long-lasting professional relationships are invaluable to ambitious young broadcasters, and all evolving broadcasters for that matter. Belonging to a college media outlet is undoubtedly something many students savor, with many largely basing their choice of college on the quality of the media outlets if they are so fortunate. However, not all ambitious young broadcasters are equally privy to the same resources.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are able to provide sufficient previous experience when trying to secure an internship or a job.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are privy to changing industry trends, nor do they have the resources to render them an understanding as to how to achieve their goals.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters have a place to be mentored, and mentors willing to leverage valuable industry connections that could lead them to an internship or a job.

Experience needed: how to get a job with no previous experience -

For Ayokunle Spencer and his team at Sports Radio America, lessening the discrepancies between those with the ability to easily make connections and expend resources, and those looking to establish or collect them, has always been at the forefront of their mission — and they intend to keep shrinking the gap.

“I am surprised there aren’t more places like this where people can develop their skills before they reach the big-time,” expressed Spencer. “If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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BSM Writers

Covid Is A Convenient Excuse For Lowering Our Standards

“I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show.”

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I was probably four hours deep into my all-day football binge on Saturday when I started to think about the overall quality of what I was seeing. This isn’t a column about whether college football is secretly better than the NFL. This is about our industry.

While you may not notice a difference in the presentation on CBS’s top line SEC broadcast or on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday game, it is clear how few resources are being allocated to some of the games further down the networks’ priority list. ESPN doesn’t even send live broadcasters to its Thursday night college football game for instance.

Ohio State football broadcasts go remote amid COVID-19 restrictions
Courtesy: WBNS Radio

Covid-19 was the beginning of this. It forced every business in the broadcast industry to re-evaluate budgets and figure out how to do games when travel and the traditional set up of broadcast booths simply were not on the table.

This isn’t a problem limited to game coverage either. Plenty of hosts still are not back in their radio studio. Plenty of guests on ESPN’s and FS1’s mid day debate shows are still appearing via Skype and Zoom connections. It is as if we have started counting on our audience not expecting quality any more.

I want to be perfectly clear. I get that this pandemic isn’t over. I get that in many cases, networks and stations are trying to avoid overcrowding studios and in some cases, make accommodations for top-level talent that refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s survival mode,” is the answer from corporate.

Do we still need to be in survival mode though? We are 18 months into this pandemic. The majority of Americans are vaccinated. The ones who aren’t are actively making a choice not to do what they need to in order to put on the best possible show they can.

I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show. I am sick of seeing hosts on crystal clear HD cameras in a high tech studio talk to someone on a dirty webcam that can’t be bothered to even put in headphones so they don’t sound like they are shouting down a hallway.

A good example is the late Highly Questionable. I really liked that show when it was done in studio. I liked a lot of the ESPN talent that popped up on the show even after Dan Le Batard left. I couldn’t watch any more of the show than the two minute clips that would show up on Twitter. I didn’t want to see Bomani Jones behind a giant podcast mic. The low res camera that turned Mina Kimes’s house plant into a green blob gave me a headache. The complete disregard for quality made a decent show hard to watch.

Highly Questionable 4/12/21 - Changing History? - YouTube
Courtesy: ESPN

There was a time when the accommodations we made for Covid-19 were totally necessary. Bosses and broadcasters did whatever they had to to get a show or a game on the air. At this point, I am starting to wonder how much of the concessions are necessary and how much are the result of executives that “good enough” is the new standard.

It is totally reasonable to argue that in an age where microphones and editing software are cheap, slick production doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That is true for the podcasters and TikTokers that are creating content in spare bedrooms and home offices. If you’re ESPN or FOX or SirusXM, that slick production is what sells the idea that your content is better than what people can make at home on their own.

It’s soundproof studios, 4K cameras and futuristic graphics packages that make the standard setters in the industry special. Maybe your average Joe Six-Pack can’t put it into words. He just knows that a lot of home-produced content sounds and looks like play time compared to what he sees or hears on a network.

Sure, the anchors are the signature of SportsCenter’s heyday, but it was the stage managers, producers, and other behind-the-scenes staff doing their jobs that really made the show thrive. Those people cost money. The details they took care of may be something 90% of viewers will never notice. They will just know that they are watching a really good show. Those difference makers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if everyone is being piped in from a different FaceTime feed.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic we did whatever we had to. As broadcasters, we made compromises. As an audience, we accepted compromises. We were desperate for familiar entertainment and if Zoom is what it took to get it, that was just fine. There was no cure, no vaccine, things were scary and we were all anxious not knowing how long it would all last.

Anxiety and Depression From COVID-19 – San Diego – Sharp Health News
Courtesy: Nuthawut Somsuk

More than 18 months later, things may not be back to normal, but we are considerably less desperate. There are signs of normalcy in the world. Make the commitment to bring back the standard that won you so many fans in the first place.

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