Nashville hates you right now.
That was the sentiment Jason Martin heard from some listeners on what was supposed to be the most exciting week of his radio career. For eight, long years he worked tirelessly for the opportunity to host a daily show. Finally, Martin was given one of the most sought after shows in all of Nashville – mornings at 104.5 The Zone.
Sports radio listeners seldom like change, especially if a show has been around for a long period of time. That was certainly the case in Nashville, after The Zone let Kevin Ingram and Mark Howard go after 16 years in morning drive. The duo had been a staple of the city’s morning commute for several years and the move was met, as it always is, with some resistance from the locals. Instead of being instantly accepted, Martin became the embodiment of change that nobody ever wants.
“We’re replacing a show that was on the air for 16 years,” said Martin. “Very few shows get that kind of run and they were very beloved guys. They just became a part of people’s routine and both of them were great to me. It was bittersweet for me when I found out exactly what was happening. I knew they were going to be doing more with me but I didn’t know specifically what that was going to look like until the last second. It was kind of tough to deal with, because, those guys had become a routine for people… nobody likes change at the time and I was the embodiment of that change.”
Martin found the transition to be incredibly difficult in the infancy of the new show. He saw what people were saying, including a couple of fan articles that he didn’t read, but he was told expressed disappointment or anger. There was never a second to celebrate the moment he had worked so hard for. Instead, the position he had waited so long for, was sucking the life out of him.
“Criticism always lasts in our minds. Affirmation doesn’t. Even if it’s a small amount of the former and a ton of the latter. It’s how humans are built unfortunately,” said Martin. “Sure, there’s always someone who’s not going to like your opinion, but not like this. It was just kind of like Nashville hates you. I’ve never thought that stuff bothered me until the last four weeks. It’s been a tough transition, especially, considering the first few weeks were just me doing solo radio for three hours. I’ve done solo radio for Fox and others, have my own show now for them… but it’s not where I think I’m best. I’ve always wanted a partner in crime. I was in a role where people already didn’t want to like me, and even if I was good, which I’m not saying I was, it really wasn’t going to matter.”
The old saying is ‘tough times don’t last, but tough people do.’ Granted, hosting a morning radio show isn’t exactly suffering, but the negative attention was really starting to get to Martin, even to the point where he thought the industry might not be for him anymore. He was second guessing himself. But everything turned around once he started searching for his new co-host.
Martin knew he wouldn’t have the final say on who his partner was going to be, but he confided in people he trusted in the market, hoping to at least point management in the direction of people he thought he’d work really well with. That’s when someone he trusted told him the name Ramon Foster.
“Ramon’s name is the first one that came out from, probably, the guy I trust the most,” Martin said. “So I looked online and watched the 20 questions video (A Pittsburgh Steelers production) on him with my wife and as soon as it was over, she just looked at me and was like, you got to get him. It was so patently obvious so I went to our new program director the day after and said, hey, have you heard this guy? He had, because another person (the same one that had put him on Jason’s radar as a matter of fact) had mentioned it to him a few months before, but once I mentioned it, it really kind of made him say, ‘we really need to make this happen.’ He talked to him like a day later and revealed that he fell in love with him 30 seconds after they first started talking. That’s apparently the effect this guy has.”
Normally, it takes two hosts weeks or even months to find their groove with one another, But with Martin and Foster, it was found almost instantaneously. So much so, that Martin and his producer, Jonathan Shaffer, looked at each other after one of the first shows with Foster and said, wow, that’s one of the easiest shows we’ve ever done.
“There’s just something about our flow,” Martin said. “Something about us in that room, where, today we sounded like we’ve been doing the show for months, not like we just started. I know when he’s going to stop talking, I know what his gesturing is and it’s just all about letting him be him and creating space to allow him to become a star. Him coming now, I mean, good Lord. Just in the last two days, yesterday, he was able to talk about his memories of playing against Von Miller and what Mike Tomlin said about him in the locker room. Then, Ryan Shazier retires. He played with him, so to open the third hour, I was like, hey, I don’t want to go into an emotional spot you don’t want to get into, but what do you wanna say about your teammate? He just let it all out over the microphone and I just sat back for about five minutes because I knew nobody was turning that off.”
To say Martin has a totally different feeling about the new show since Foster joined, is probably the understatement of the century. In fact, the talk now is more about the realization the show can turn into something truly special.
“I just look at this and say, we have an opportunity,” Martin said. “Maybe the only opportunity that we may ever have, my producer said it this way, he goes, ‘this might be the only shot you and I ever have to do something special.’ During his 20+ years he said we have a chance to do something special. Ramon is a superstar in every way when it comes to preparation, caring about this job, being active and committed. He’s just awesome. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone more instantly likable. Guys and gals sometimes never find that magic partner. I think I hit a home run on our first swing. He’s a blessing.
“The Covid era means you’re getting 35-40% of the audience that you’re used to. People are just now starting to get back in their cars and the numbers might be starting to rise. We’re starting a show where the engagement level was down. That’s just how it’s been in a lot of local radio markets. We were able to get reps in without a full house. By the time people are really engaged and starting to come back, which, I’m starting to imagine is very near, we should be more polished. In our first two days together I felt more chemistry that I even thought possible, and we don’t even know each other yet.”
Tyler McComas – You worked for Clay Travis at Outkick the Coverage for a while. What’s one thing you learned from him and implemented in your career?
Jason Martin: One thing Clay does really well is there’s a lot of shows, especially on a national level, that feel they need 20 topics throughout the show. They’re going to run them down like it’s television and not going to let anything breathe. The beauty of radio is that you can let something breathe until it dies its own natural death. You can sense when it’s time to move on, but if people are reacting, whether it’s on social media, phone call or you just know that story matters, then you don’t get off of it.
What Clay will do is he would call me in the morning before each show and say, what’s important today? He would go over those two or three things and that would be our show. We would throw out a couple little things here and there, but instead of going 20 topics, we went three topics. One thing Clay does great, and always has, is he has a sense for what people want to hear. He knows what his audience wants and he feeds it to them and he’s articulate and unique in the way he presents it. He has a fearless nature to it, as well. That’s happened to me, in some regards, to just, I can’t try to please everybody, because if I start to do that, I’ll lose the people that do like me.
TM: You’ve done a lot of pop culture content in the past. Do you think you’ll do more of that on the radio show?
JM: In terms of giving up on the movies, television and all of that pro wrestling, which I worked in for 10 years, not going to happen. The reason I got the job It’s because I offered something unique. It’s like putting out a podcast, I’ve had people close to me say, how can I make my podcast work? I tell them that you just have to keep doing it. You have to outlast the other guys, because even if yours is the greatest television podcast anyone’s ever heard, there’s 7,000 other ones. How are they going to know who you are and how are they going to find you? It ends up being attrition. If I get away from pop-culture entirely, if I go away from something that gave me a different sounding voice, then why do they hire me? It’s like they drafted a running quarterback and told him not to run. But there has to be some balance.
TM: Was there a lightbulb that went off when you realized what the identity of the show was going to be?
JM: Jason Romano came on the show a couple of weeks ago with me, he’s got a new book, and one of the chapters talked about Pete Carroll coming in for the Bristol car wash. That day George Steinbrenner died. Everyone is having to change everything on the fly, there’s breaking news, and Romano is having to apologize to Carroll over and over again for getting bumped. Carroll just said, ‘Hey, hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it at all. I understand This is more important and if I don’t end up on the air today, it’s fine.’
The lesson Romano took away from that is the way to be a leader, and the way to be successful, is to realize you don’t have to be a thermometer, you can be the thermostat. Meaning you can set the temperature in the room. When we heard him say that on there, my producer comes in my ear, and I have the exact same thought, he said I think we just found the vision for the show.
TM: I’ve heard you talk about your producer a lot on this call. He sounds like he really knows what he’s doing.
JM: It’s interesting, because I didn’t know him particularly well, his name is Jonathan Shaffer. He’s been a program director, I think four times and been in radio for over two decades. Throughout my radio career I’ve mostly worked with people, who have become, or been at the time, a close friend of mine. Two groomsman in my wedding were guys I worked in radio with. One of the things that presented was too much agreement on the radio. We got along and everything. We rarely disagreed and never really had any arguments, things like that.
One of the things Shaffer told me very early was my job always is going to be to make you as comfortable as possible doing your job. Whatever that means, having audio ready, booking guests, keeping me aware of time, just taking as much off of my plate so I can focus on hosting the show. From there and I think the challenges of last month, dealing with audience, that either bailed and is coming back or had something to say that was mean behind their five Twitter followers, whatever it was that was bothersome, I’d go to him and say, hey man, I really hate Twitter. He’d say, don’t let them bother you.
During the process of all this, as imperfect as it was, we discovered we can rely on each other. I realized I can trust this guy to know that he’s going to know exactly what I need and what the show needs to have success. Now we’re in a situation where, here comes the third piece, but the other two of us are already working in the right kind of tandem. He can play a piece of audio without telling me about it and I’ll know why he played it. Or why he’s coming back with this bumper music, or why he makes a certain suggestion, or why he puts out a certain poll on Twitter, and he’s like that. He’s just a guy that understands what radio is supposed to sound like, as well as how it supposed to be put together. I certainly feel incredibly blessed that he’s the guy that ends up producing the show, because Ramon will tell you the same thing, you can just tell this dude knows what he’s doing and he’s 1000% committed to making the show successful
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’.”
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.”
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.
“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.
Is There A Right Answer To The Olympic PR Problem At NBC?
“NBC is in a no win situation right now.”
Some businesses allow you to operate with a moral compass. You can look at people, companies, or situations and do some quick math on what the blowback would be if you are associated with them and steer clear. Sports media, particularly when it comes to live game rights, isn’t one of those businesses.
NBC is in a no win situation right now. They have to get as many eyeballs as possible on the Beijing Olympics. The network is asking advertisers to spend upwards of $600,000 on a thirty second ad and have made promises about the size of the audience that will see those advertisers’ messages.
At the same time, the network is the focus of public scrutiny for even being in China to begin with. That criticism will be amplified if there is no mention of the many human rights violations the Chinese government has been accused of for decades.
What do you do? You don’t want to give people a reason not to watch. At the same time, you don’t want to give critics ammunition to discredit you as a news organization.
This isn’t just an NBC problem by the way. FOX faced similar scrutiny when it carried the 2018 World Cup, which was played in Russia. It will likely face a lot of the same scrutiny this fall when it carries the 2022 World Cup, which is being played in Qatar. That event in particular has been the subject of some truly horrific stories about the way the people building the new stadiums have been treated.
So what is the path forward? Fans always do some moral calculus when it comes to the ugly side of sports. How much are we willing to tolerate the exploitation of unpaid college athletes? At what point can we no longer tolerate the NFL looking the other way on head injuries?
International sports is a conundrum all its own because you are dealing with laws and customs that may not jive with our culture. Add truly deplorable organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to the mix and NBC, FOX, and other networks don’t have time for moral calculus. They are checking any concept of right and wrong at the door.
NBC dropped $7.75 billion in 2014 on broadcast rights to every Olympics, both summer and winter, until 2032. The financial terms between FOX and FIFA remain a mystery, but the network will carry both the men’s and women’s World Cup through 2026. The price tag may be very similar to what NBC paid the IOC.
Organizations like FIFA and the IOC want that big pay day. That is why long-term deals are negotiated. Between contractual obligations and the need to turn a profit on a huge investment, networks’ hands are tied.
Given all of the backlash, whether it is because the games are in China, skepticism over how necessary it is we do this in a pandemic (remember, NBC isn’t even sending live broadcast teams to the games), or just a general sense of fatigue given this once-every-two-years event just happened eight months go, NBC might like the option to tag out of the 2022 games. And honestly, who could blame the network for feeling that way?
But NBC and the IOC have a deal. FIFA and FOX have a deal. These American networks are pinned in a corner by having to lock in a significant financial commitment to an organization that has no qualms about doing business with international bad actors.
Truthfully, I don’t know what the right answer is for these networks. It is easy to say “Well, China is bad and Russia is bad and Qatar is bad, so don’t do business with FIFA or the IOC as long as they keep going to those places.”
Reality dictates that isn’t going to be the path NBC, FOX, or any other network takes going forward. These multi-week sporting events provide a lot of inventory and bring with them the chance to rack up huge ad buys.
Events like the World Cup and the Olympics also are more than just sporting events to these networks. They are a chance to generate content for news divisions and a free commercial for their upcoming slate of shows. There is a reason networks see the billions of dollars of value in them that they do.
No one wants to take a PR black eye. Right now, for the most part, at least as far as the American public is concerned, those have been reserved for the governing bodies.
How long does that remain true?
NBC is a major partner of the Olympics that brings a lot of attention and revenue to the table. Forget objectionable host countries. What happens in 2028 when the Games are in LA and then suddenly NBC is the face of silencing Americans raising legitimate concerns about what hosting the Olympics can do to a city?
At some point, every company and private citizen has to do moral calculus. The scariest part for these networks is dealing with broadcast partners like the IOC and FIFA requires having to give an answer before all variables can be revealed to you.
Not every big score requires that kind of risk, but not many events offer what the Olympics and World Cup do. Any network that wants to do business with the IOC and FIFA has to decide if it is willing to swim in the swamp with gators. That usually comes with a few bites.
The moral calculus is pretty simple. How many bites can you take from a gator before the ad buys start to take a hit?
Don’t Let Good Content Disappear, Never To Be Heard Again
There were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air.
Good content comes out of the speaker daily from the many talented hosts that work in our industry. Unfortunately, the life span of this content is far too short. It happens and then disappears into the ether.
When something good happens on a show, you need to do more than turn it into a promo. You need to repurpose it.
If you work on the content side of the building, here are some key things I feel you should keep in mind to help give your material more staying power.
SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS EVERY DAY, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
When I was working as a content director, there were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air, never to be heard or referenced ever again.
When a host or guest says something that stands out, blast it to EVERY social media channel that you’re on. Do this consistently, not just on the days following a big story. Get everyone in the habit of believing and understanding that good content is put out there EVERY show and they need to keep their ears open for it.
Don’t use audio clips; remember that social media is a VISUAL experience. If you’re videocasting your shows (and you should), put the video up online. If you’re not, create a cool-looking graphic with the quote (or quotes) of what was said. Create a template for every show, so it’s “plug and play” for producers to upload before they leave for the day.
You’ll be surprised how often you can go viral.
MAKE YOUR CONTENT SNACKABLE
People consume content in small portions. No one has the time or the attention span to listen to an entire show or even an entire segment. Yet we deliver content to them in a primarily longform way.
The solution? Make your content snackable.
Take a page out of what every professional sports league does. They realize that few people actually sit and watch an entire game. So they make a point to run well-produced highlight compilations and even condensed games, and upload them to all of their digital platforms.
Radio stations should do the same.
For on-demand consumption, don’t just load your show audio hour-by-hour. Make sure you’re uploading what you felt were the best parts of the program.
Take it a step further and do the same for ALL of your shows. Create a daily “greatest hits” compilation that consists of the best moments from each show, every day. This can not only be loaded onto apps and digital channels, but can also reside comfortably in the smart speaker space. Imagine a consumer coming home from work after a long day and simply saying “Alexa, play today’s greatest hits from 101 The Fan!” They’d get a highlight real of all the good things that they missed.
Naturally, these can be sponsored, which is certainly another plus and always justifies the extra work that goes into making this happen.
OFFER IT AS MATERIAL FOR OTHER SHOWS
I’ve said this before, some of the best content that I’ve heard was hosts talking about what other hosts said on their shows.
It doesn’t happen often enough, and the biggest reason continues to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for virtually every industry: lack of communication.
Every show should have a written recap of what was discussed and when it was discussed, and that should be sent out to everyone who has a hand in content. (Hosts, producers, board ops, production staff, marketing, etc.)
Go the extra mile and have the actual audio of the good content sent out to the other shows so they don’t have to hunt for it on their own. This was something, even during my days managing stations, I would do on the regular. If I heard something great on the morning show, I would find the audio and send a clip of it to the midday and afternoon shows. Even if they didn’t use it, it would get hosts and producers in the habit of paying attention to what was said on our other programs.
If you have a sister spoken-word station in your cluster, get in the habit of sharing material with them when and where it fits.
Sometimes, the back-and-forth that can go on between shows ends up being legendary. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste.
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