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Joe Benigno Celebrates 25 Years With WFAN

“25 years ago, Joe Benigno made the unlikely jump from being a food salesman to a full-time sports radio host on WFAN, at the age of 41.”

Brandon Contes

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25 years ago, Joe Benigno made the unlikely jump from being a food salesman to a full-time sports radio host on WFAN, at the age of 41. A far cry from the typical route hosts take to make it in the industry.

In 1995, Benigno was still known to WFAN ‘Joe from Saddle River,’ until he grabbed the unlikely opportunity to become a full-time host on the station.

Earlier this week, the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro shared a screenshot of an article written by his colleague Phil Mushnick from ’95, which presented Benigno as WFAN’s new overnight host. Mushnick, who 25 years later rarely has anything kind to say about WFAN hosts or the modern sports media in general, noted Benigno’s ability to offer “a point of view that was generally honest, fresh and worthy of consideration” as a caller.

Then and now WFAN program director Mark Chernoff made the decision to hire the 41-year old Benigno in 1995, but even he didn’t sound totally sold on his staying power. “A good caller doesn’t necessarily translate into a good host,” Chernoff told Mushnick at the time. “But who knows? We might have lightning in a bottle,” he added.

In Dec. 1994, Chernoff gave four regular callers the opportunity to host a show during the quiet sports radio week between Christmas and New Years. After that show opportunity, Benigno attended broadcasting school twice a week and bought airtime on New Jersey’s WJDM 1530 following the advice of Chernoff. Not long after, Benigno won the audition and was named a full-time sports radio host at WFAN.

25 years later, it’s fair to say The FAN and Benigno’s unlikely marriage was indeed a strike of lightning in a bottle. Nearly a decade on the overnight, followed by more than 15 years in middays, Benigno helped bring much needed consistency to what was previously a timeslot known for having a revolving door of hosts. Set to turn 67 years old later this month, I have no idea if Benigno was a good food salesman, but his second career as a radio host has been pretty damn impressive.

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Would You Recommend Someone Pursue a Career in Radio Right Now?

If you are reading this and are thinking about a career in this business, don’t limit yourself.

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Photo of students in a broadcasting class

Before the school year let out, I had the opportunity to speak to a journalism class at a local high school about my career in radio. I did my usual spiel about how I got started in the business (interning my rear end off!), how I grew into management and eventually became part of an ownership group. I talked about working for independent stations and working for larger media companies and some of the differences between the two.

I also spent time on the new world where you are not just radio, you also have a bunch of digital products that a handful of people actually understand how to sell (I left that part out), and that today, the media business as a whole has completely changed and we are all learning a bit as we go.

Now, the funny part of this is that after I introduced myself and told a bit of my story, I asked the class of 20 or so students, ‘How many of you listened to radio on your way to school today?’ My expectation was that half the class would say yes. Two people raised their hands. Two.

Turns out they all listened either to a podcast or had their music playing from their own device through Apple or Spotify or something similar.

That caught me off guard a little bit, I’ll admit. I knew it would be low, but as I said, my expectation was 50%, not 10%.

One student, however, seemed to really like radio and the media business and asked a few questions. He said that he listened mostly to sports on national radio and local play-by-play when he wasn’t in front of his television. He also inquired about the various roles at a radio station, saying he wasn’t sure he was cut out to be on the air.

That student followed up with me recently and posed the question which titles this article. “Would you recommend pursuing a career in radio?” he asked in an email.

I hesitated. This is a business I have known for most of my life and has played such a huge role in who I am, it’s how I have provided for my family and the thing that I know most about. Well, I also have considerable knowledge about 80’s and 90’s rap music and the history of the St. Louis Steamers indoor soccer team, but professionally, I know the most about radio.

I was genuinely shocked by my hesitation. I have always been one of radio’s biggest supporters, so why was this answer so difficult for me?

Well, turns out after thinking about it for a day or two, I realized that it was just the way he phrased it. And like most things, it really requires breaking down exactly what he means by the question. Should he pursue a career as a radio DJ? No. Should he pursue a career as a radio salesperson? Maybe. Should he pursue a career in sports content? YES.

As I ended up telling him, our business from a content standpoint has become like the line from Field of Dreams, ‘if you build it, they will come.” Except in our case, it’s ‘if you create great content, it will be found.’ As several people have shown, it could be a few viral social posts and boom, your content career is born. You no longer have to take any sort of traditional path.

Now, it isn’t likely to hit it big on your own, but the point is, you can create content and get it out there by yourself. It is easier than ever to create videos, to create a podcast and all of the other ways you can get your message or thoughts out there. The question is, does anyone care? If they do, you might have something. In which case, you may have your own media company if you are also willing to go out there and sell your own product, promote it like crazy and eventually grow it.

The advice I gave was ultimately about versatility. It is what got me through my career. I tried to learn everything. And others that did found different things they might want to do in order to be in the business but not necessarily be a content creator. Learn to shoot video. Learn to edit. Learn as much about audio as you can. Learn social media and stay up on it. Be a master at YouTube and figure out all of the monetization strategies. That is what I would recommend. Be someone who can help a content creator with all of the things the content creator doesn’t want or doesn’t have time to do.

If you are reading this and are thinking about a career in this business, don’t limit yourself. Don’t say you want to do radio or television or just digital content. Learn about all of it, see what you like and figure out where you do your best work. Look at the business from the standpoint of what you and your friends like and how that content is being delivered to you.

You certainly do not want to limit yourself to just doing something that only 2 out of 20 of your classmates are even interested in.

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The Best Thing I Heard/Watched Recently

I really enjoyed listening to Sean McDonough talk to Adam Schein on SiriusXM about what he has been going through during the NHL Finals. If you don’t know, McDonough has been sick and has not sounded himself on a few of the broadcasts.

McDonough was a bit bothered by some of the online chatter about a perceived lack of energy he had during the games. He told Schein he was powering through and had been working with some of the Edmonton Oilers’ medical staff to be ready for the games.

McDonough is one of the top play-by-play broadcasters in the business and it was obvious he was disappointed to not be at his best, but he clearly wanted to explain the situation and talk about it rather than not addressing it.

If you are a SiriusXM subscriber, you can search for Schein on Sports on their app to hear the whole interview.

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In Case You Missed It

Earlier this week, Peter Schwartz caught up with former longtime New York Daily News NFL columnist Gary Myers. Football fans will remember Myers from his role on HBO’s Inside the NFL, which he was a part of from 1989 to 2001. As a young radio producer back in the mid-90’s I remember Myers as a great radio guest.

Myers is till covering the NFL but doing it in a very different way. He is writing books and consulting on a documentary about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

“I still have way too much energy to retire,” Myers told Schwartz.  “I’m taking advantage of what I call my institutional knowledge and put it to another way of using it.  If I knew I was going to be this happy writing books and working as a consultant on other projects, I would have gotten out of the newspaper business a long time before then.”

You can read the full story by clicking here.

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Bill Riley Exiting Host and PD Role at ESPN 700 to Become Utah’s Director of Broadcasting

“This opportunity is a dream job, and it would not have been possible for me without the great experience that I’ve had at ESPN 700 here in Salt Lake City over the past 20 years.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Graphic announcing Bill Riley as the new Director of Broadcasting for the University of Utah
Courtesy: Utah Utes Athletics

Bill Riley, the long-time radio voice of Utah Athletics, will be joining the athletic department in the role of Director of Broadcasting. Riley, a three-time Utah Sports Broadcaster of the Year is being brought in to oversee the launch of the school’s new endeavor where it will self-produce digital game for ESPN+ as a part of its move to the Big 12 Conference.
 
Utah Athletics says it will produce 50-plus live broadcasts of home athletics competition during the next school year via the conference’s Big 12 Now digital platform on ESPN+.

Riley has been the play-by-play voice for Utah’s football and men’s basketball radio broadcasts on ESPN 700 and 92.1 FM since 2010, and also hosted weekly coaches’ shows. He will continue those duties and will also continue to teach a sports media class at the school, which he started in 2022. He will not, however, continue in his role as program director or daily host for ESPN 700 as he moves to the athletic department full-time at the end of the month.
 
 “We are very excited to bring Bill Riley into our team and benefit from his extensive experience in broadcasting and his deep connections and familiarity with Utah Athletics spanning nearly three decades,” said Charmelle Green, Utah’s Deputy A.D. and Chief Operating Officer in a release.

“This is an important new endeavor for our department and the University of Utah, and this position is critical for us to have immediate success in the broadcasting space. We’re looking forward to working closely with our university partners to build a robust broadcasting department and establish a strong presence in this industry as we enter the Big 12 Conference later this summer.”

“I am thrilled to join the amazing team at the University of Utah in this exciting new position,” Riley said. “Not only do I look forward to continuing as the Voice of the Utes, but the opportunity to play a role in this significant expansion of the U’s broadcasting capabilities will enable me to become more deeply involved with all of the Utes’ teams as we grow their coverage and expand the broadcast curriculum for students.

“The talent, vision and commitment of the Utes’ athletics staff has built a tremendous foundation for the production and distribution of digital broadcasts, as well as elite storytelling and content creation, and I’m excited to come alongside that team as we take on this new endeavor.

“This opportunity is a dream job, and it would not have been possible for me without the great experience that I’ve had at ESPN 700 here in Salt Lake City over the past 20 years,” Riley added. “It is a first-class station with first-class people, and I’m grateful that I can continue to be part of Utah radio broadcasts on the ‘Home of the Utes’ in my new role at the U.” 

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RJ Choppy on NBA Finals Ratings: ‘This is the New Reality of TV Ratings in the NBA’

“We are now in the post-LeBron; post-Warrior dynasty era.”

Barrett Sports Media

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RJ Choppy
Courtesy: QC Kinetics DFW

ESPN announced yesterday that Game 5 of the NBA Finals on ABC between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks averaged 12.22 million viewers and attained a record-setting share of audience in the People 18-34 demographic. As a whole, the NBA Finals averaged 11.31 million viewers and a 5.8 rating, according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch, which represents a 3% decline in viewership compared to last year. Excluding the 2020 and 2021 NBA Finals, both of which were altered because of the global pandemic, the 2024 NBA Finals is the lowest-rated on record and the least-watched iteration of the championship round since 2007. RJ Choppy discussed the viewership metrics during the Shan & RJ morning show on 105.3 The Fan where he divulged the information to the listening audience.

Shan Sharriff, co-host of the program, acknowledged that the fact that Game 4 ratings were not released until several days after the contest was indicative that the game did not perform well. Game 4 ended up being the least-watched contest in the series, averaging 9.62 million viewers and a 4.7 rating on ABC. The 2020 and 2021 NBA Finals series notwithstanding, no NBA Finals game had a smaller audience than the game since Game 3 of the 2007 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers, which drew an average of 9.49 million viewers on ABC. Nielsen began tracking out-of-home viewing in 2016 and implementing the figures into its viewership estimates four years later.

“We started getting some really juiced numbers,” Shariff said. “Every single sport was setting records where, ‘Oh my gosh, look at viewership records and how high this is,’ so I feel like era-adjusted, Chop, that viewership may actually be higher for Suns-Bucks.”

Earlier in the week, Nielsen Media Research reported that streaming usage had been measured to encompass 38.8% of total day television viewing among Persons 2+ in May 2024. ESPN broadcasts of NBA games across ESPN, ABC and ESPN2 averaged 1.7 million during the regular season, some of which included simulcasts or alternate broadcasts. With the NBA reportedly nearing a new media rights contract with The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC), NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video worth a collective $76 billion, Choppy believes there has to be some concern with the performance on broadcast television.

“We are now in the post-LeBron; post-Warrior dynasty era,” Choppy said. “I think this is the new reality of TV ratings in the NBA. The Warriors-Cavs, which was a 4-0 sweep in 2018 – this series averaged a 5.8; that averaged a 10, and that was 2018. It was 4-zip, it was a sweep and it averaged almost 18 million viewers a night. This one averaged 11 million a night.”

Shariff expressed that he felt the NBA Finals matchup was compelling with storylines surrounding Kyrie Irving and involving big marketplaces. The series, he outlined, was lacking the presence of Los Angeles Lakers forward and four-time NBA champion LeBron James, along with potential interest from the West Coast. Choppy added that the Celtics did not have a transcendent superstar on the team whereas the Mavericks did and is not sure if it plays into the numbers. He then proceeded to draw a comparison to the 2023 World Series, which featured the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks. The five-game series averaged 9.11 million viewers with a 4.7 rating on FOX, according to data from Nielsen Media Research, marking the lowest-rated and least-watched World Series on record.

“MLB does better,” Choppy said. “Now this year they didn’t – this was a very lowly-rated World Series. The World Series this year was the fewest viewers for each game in the first four games in league history [that] the league had ever seen. They were getting 8 and 9 million viewers, so it wasn’t as bad as that, but it’s basically what every World Series or worse had done in recent memory.”

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