Hard to believe we are already done with Week 3 of the NFL season, but here we are. By this time next week, the first quarter of the strangest, most uncertain season any of us have ever experienced will be in the books.
Sports radio in plenty of markets, whether they have a team or not, is dominated by NFL talk. I thought it might be interesting though to talk about how the NFL was discussed during the spring and summer in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The perennially underachieving Bengals had the first pick of the 2020 Draft and used it to take Joe Burrow, a can’t-miss quarterback prospect that happened to be a native Ohioan. There would be so much hype around him and this team locally, no-matter the situation. Throw in a pandemic and the challenges that come with it though, and now you’re talking about a preseason that is more about what we weren’t seeing than what we were.
To get a first-hand perspective of this, we turned to our friend Mo Egger, the host of the afternoon drive show on ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati.
In this guest column, Mo writes that the pandemic forced him to problem solve and get creative. He had to talk about a player that, for the most part, he didn’t get to see. He had to tap into the energy of his audience, some of whom let Burrow redefine the team for them without knowing what to say.
It turns out that mystery ended up being an ally in creating great radio. Enjoy!
The unknown is a blank canvas.
That statement reads like something really profound that came from some sort of really wise philosopher or literary figure, or maybe whoever it is that’s in charge of those motivational Successories posters that seemingly every radio sales manager used to have in their offices, right?
Actually, I came up with it, and until I was asked to write this free guest column, it’s not something I’d ever thought I’d be sharing with anyone or elaborating on, but here we are.
When it became abundantly clear that the Cincinnati Bengals were going to own the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft and that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the obvious choice for a franchise in desperate need of both a fresh start on the field and a figure for fans to rally around, I was more than ready to embrace months’ worth of unknowns for both me and my audience.
Talking about the Bengals in recent seasons hasn’t been fun. With the ashes from their most recent playoff collapse in January 2016 still smoldering, the last part of the decade were filled with boring, often non-competitive teams that played its games against the backdrop of growing fan discontent and the results seeming almost pointless to bigger-picture questions about who would be its next coach and quarterback.
Zac Taylor replaced Marvin Lewis, who left after 16 seasons, in February 2019, but with the same crummy roster in place for year one of his regime, a long, losing season was inevitable long before it began. Before most people around the country even knew who Joe Burrow was, it was obvious early in Taylor’s first year that he would be coaching a different quarterback in year two.
While it’s hard to argue that the Bengals’ franchise itself didn’t deserve a player like Burrow landing on its doorstep, its fans sure did. So did those of us who’ve spent a lot of airtime trying to say different things about the same old football team.
In the initial months of the offseason, the amount and variety of Burrow/Bengals storylines were a host’s dream, from national figures wondering whether or not Burrow would refuse to come to Cincinnati a la Eli Manning, to the debate about whether a team bereft of talent would be wise to trade the top pick in exchange for more draft capital. There were skeptics of Burrow’s lack of arm strength, and suggestions that his transcendent senior season was merely a product of the offense he was playing in. The fact that Burrow hails from Ohio, originally attended Ohio State, and briefly flirted with playing at the University of Cincinnati added unique layers to the story, as did the fact that the quarterback the Bengals had from 2011 through 2019 was still under contract to the team.
Mainly, the mere prospect of the staid, stale Bengals landing a player oozing Burrow’s confidence and charisma seemed to reinvigorate a fan base that’s been beaten down by years of losing and letdowns, to the point that I had listeners, who’ve made bashing the Bengals a habit in the past, rush to the team’s defense when the narratives like “Cincinnati is a place where quarterbacks go to rot” or “Burrow should pull an Eli” would enter the conversation.
I had a blast talking about Joe Burrow in January and February. And in the early weeks of the pandemic-induced sports shutdown in early March, the struggles of not having the NCAA Tournament nor the opening of the Reds’ season to talk about were eased by being able to tap into Burrow topics for weeks leading up to the draft.
The challenge though, was after the draft since it was clear even by then that the run-up to Burrow’s rookie season would be unlike any other. NFL teams would be forced to conduct offseason training virtually. Training camp would not begin on time, and when it finally did begin, access to practice was limited. Reporters would not be allowed in the locker room, which means not nearly as many quotes about Burrow’s progress from his teammates.
And perhaps worst of all, there would be no preseason games.
I spent the late spring wondering how we would continue to talk about Joe Burrow if there weren’t concrete things like preseason games to measure his progress. I thought about how we’d continue to make him a part of our show on a daily basis if there weren’t tangible ways of charting his first NFL season. Weirdly, although it would have been more ideal to actually watch Burrow prepare for his rookie campaign, I found that the lack of anything to actually visualize from Burrow actually made it more fun to talk about him.
The unknown added intrigue, which built right up until he played his first regular season game, which was easily the most highly-anticipated debut of any Cincinnati rookie athlete ever. It also kept alive the overwhelming sense that Joe Burrow is the heaven-sent savior of pro football in Cincinnati. He’s the one who is going to lift the city out of the malaise that becomes a part of every day life when the teams never win.
For those who haven’t been keeping score, it’s been 30 years since the Bengals have won a playoff game, and 25 seasons – as of this writing – since the Reds advanced at all in the postseason.
We didn’t have a shaky Burrow rookie performance in a preseason game to douse expectations, and with not as many people at training camp workouts as usual, there wasn’t much footage of poor practice throws or tough rookie moments.
As a host, I had fun playing off of the unknown and I found it easier than I’d believed to be able to talk about Burrow. The lack of anything tangible added layers of unknown that oddly expanded the range of ways we could talk about the player and the team. Even if there would have been tremendous interest in Burrow’s first real game regardless, the weeks leading up to the season opener were, I believe, easier to talk about because of how little we actually knew.
I know this seems odd. As hosts, we like having as much information as possible. Game results, statistics, replays and quotes are at the heart of what we need to formulate topics and engage our listeners, and for a million different reasons, I hope we never again have an NFL offseason like 2020’s, but I did enjoy the challenge of having to talk about a player and team that’s important to my audience while not having nearly as much info to go on.
It made me a more creative host. And frankly, as one who at times wrestles with the most effective and modern ways of incorporating my audience into our show, I enjoyed putting larger focus on listeners and their expectations for Burrow and the Bengals rather than the long list of experts we normally would have had on to break down preseason games or training camp practices. And it gave us an abundance of fresh things to discuss and react to that we hadn’t already beaten to death once Burrow and his teammates were finally able to take the field to play games that count.
Navigating unknowns has always been a major part of being live on air, every single day. While I spent a lot of time during the sports shutdown questioning whether or not I was up to the task of executing broadcasts amid the insanity that’s defined 2020, I’ve at least tried to use the summer of Joe Burrow’s first NFL season to learn how to effectively use uncertainty as an asset instead of a hinderance. While I’m still nowhere close to as good of an on-air performer as I’d like to be, I think I am a better radio host because of it.
Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”
After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.
That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio.
“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot. There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.”
Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.
After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.
With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.
“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”
After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.
In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In. In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.
And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.
“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”
Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.
“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard.
Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland. He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.
Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.
“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.”
So much for being just a basketball guy, right?
After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.
“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”
Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. Then came covering the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.
During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.
So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.
“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games. Ultimately that led to television.”
And the rest is history.
This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.
And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.
“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”
Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports.
From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.
“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”
He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Radio Row Is One of Sports Radio’s Worst Weeks
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.
From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.
Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.
It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.
It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.
It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!
It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.
But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.
Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™
And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.
Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?
“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”
Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.
How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts.
Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.
“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”
Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!
Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media.
She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.
“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”
Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.
“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”
Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.
TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.
I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.
“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”
That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.
Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.
“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.
“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”
What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content?
I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?
“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”
Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer.
Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.