There’s not a moment in history that’s more associated with the state of California than the Gold Rush of 1849. It’s such a well-known moment, that local sports teams within the state have adopted names that honor the event, such as the Golden State Warriors and San Franciso 49’ers.
But what you didn’t know is there was recently a second gold rush in California. No, this one had nothing to do with a pick-axe or mining pans, instead, it was all about the Warriors going to five-straight NBA Finals and re-inventing the game of basketball, the 49ers playing in two Super Bowls and the Giants winning three World Series in a five-year span. All of it created a sports radio gold rush the Bay Area had never seen before.
At the center of all of it, has been Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game, who just celebrated his 15-year anniversary of being host in The Bay. Even though he grew up in upstate New York and spent his college years in the Midwest, he’s engrained himself into the San Francisco community and has become one of the best sports talk hosts the market has ever seen.
“Being here for 15 years has been an absolute honor,” said Bruce. “I don’t work for a living, which makes me one of the wealthiest men in the world. I want to continue to avoid ever having to go to work.”
Bruce’s legacy in The Bay all begins with a man named Lee Hammer, who was the first program director to bring him to the West Coast. At the time, Hammer was the PD at KNBR and saw something in a young Bruce that he thought would translate well in the market.
“The one thing I remember about Damon was his passion and his desire to succeed,” said Hammer. “There was no doubt in my mind about his work ethic and his commitment to being a great sports talk show host. I had the opening at 1050 and he was the right guy at the right time. And looking back, I think things have worked out pretty well.”
Bruce is eternally grateful for Hammer bringing him to a place he’s called home for the past 15 years. In that time frame, he worked at KNBR for nine and one-half years, before moving to 95.7 The Game for the next six years. It was Jason Barrett that eventually convinced him to move across the street to The Game and host afternoon drive, where Bruce is still hosting today. Barrett truly changed the arc of Bruce’s career and brought him into a situation where he flourished.
“Damon used to say ‘I do the show, you guys do the business’, said Barrett. “I liked that because it told me he knew what he was good at and where he needed help. I also saw how he had improved as a professional. More importantly, he was an excellent talk show host with something to prove, and he offered a strong contrast to what was available in the market in afternoon drive. I thought he fit the identity of what The Game was striving to be, and the station had a platform and economic package that he valued too. That made it the right fit at the right time for both sides.”
15 years in the same market is truly an incredible accomplishment. Especially in a top market, where you’ve been one of the best local hosts for the entirety of that span. More than anything, what appeals to Bruce is the realization he’s what so many people listen to on their commute home. For him it’s flattering that so many people have made him a part of their daily lives.
“I’ve developed a wonderful relationship with an audience that’s really invested back in me,” said Bruce. “That means so much, for people to think I’m a big part of their sports life. Things like getting an email from a guy that listened to me in high school, and he says he’s now out of college by 10 years, married with kids, and he’s still listening to me on the radio, it’s just amazing to be a part of these lives. I guess I’ll call it ‘market equity’. I have a lot of market equity here and for many reasons; I’m not going anywhere. I love it here. I’m the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m not leaving.”
At just 45 years old, Bruce still has a lot of takes left on the air at 95.7 The Game. In fact, his best work as a host may still be ahead of him. One, because his fastball is still very much there. Two, because he has great talent surrounding him like Ray Ratto and Matt Kolsky. Bruce can hoist up strong takes like Steph Curry shoots 3’s, but he also has a Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to help carry the daily load.
A 15-year celebration is humbling, but in a lot of ways, this is only the start to a career that will span many more years in The Bay.
“The reason Damon has lasted for 15 years in the San Francisco market is because he lives and breathes being a talk show host and his style stands out,” said Barrett. “His voice and command are instantly noticeable, he’s unwavering with his opinions, and he’s always prepared. Whether you like him or not, he makes you think.
“Behind the scenes, he was also appreciative of his supporting staff. One of the first people who’d bust my chops for a producer or board op to earn a raise or praise was Damon. I remember when I added Gianna Franco as the afternoon update anchor and an on-air contributor, each of them were initially concerned. Would Damon be easy to work with, did he value a female point of view, would the move be seen as a station PR stunt, etc.? It was the first time I had a chance to evaluate if Damon would be open minded and trust me to help him make the show better. I told both of them I thought they’d hit it off and be great together and I believed that but where they took that relationship was far beyond even what I had envisioned. Damon would call Gianna his work wife, Gianna was a huge advocate of Damon’s too, and I saw a similar connection form between Damon and his producers Kyle Englehart, and Jon Goulet. To sum it up, Damon’s lasted because he’s fully invested in sports radio, he’s made adjustments, and he’s very good at his craft.”
As great as Bruce has been, a host is sometimes only as good as the PD he works with. For Bruce, the most envious part of his carrer is the programmers he’s had above him. From Hammer, to Barrett to Matt Nahigian, currently the PD at 95.7 The Game, he’s had the opportunity to be coached by the best.
“Matt Nahigian is the best program director I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, in terms of building a brand, setting a time for the station, I think he’s done a remarkable job establishing 95.7 The Game,” said Damon. “Jason Barrett gave birth to this station, but Matt raised it and put it into college. Barrett and Nahigian are the two-best program directors of my career,”
“His credibility and success in the marketplace have been incredible,” said Nahigian. “You have to have anchors of radio stations. You have to have signature names that people talk about in the market to be successful. That’s what Damon is. When you talk to people about 95.7 The Game, they talk about the local teams, but they also talk about Damon Bruce.”
Hopefully, Bruce has taken a moment to sit back and reflect on the great career he’s put together. He’s at least earned that. His sports radio experiences the past 15 years are more than most hosts could hope to have in five life times.
“The high point has been getting a ringside seat to one of the greatest NBA thoughts ever expressed,” Bruce. “Watching the Golden State Warriors go from not mattering to mattering more than everything assembled in this league, was just an amazing experience. I’ve been out here for the Bay Area gold rush. I’ve been to a whole bunch of NFC title games, A couple of Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup Finals, five straight NBA Finals, three World Series by the Giants, a whole bunch of come up short playoff games by the A’s. It’s just been great. I’ve been out here for a sports gold rush. I really can’t think of one moment that just stands out and I think I’m happy to say that.”
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.