The looming presidential election sent my sports radio listening to Washington D.C. for the month of October.
Expectedly, The Sports Junkies on D.C.’s 106.7 The Fan stayed in their lane every morning. And while that lane for John “Cakes” Auville, Eric “E.B.” Bickel, Jason “Lurch” Bishop and John-Paul “J.P.” Flaim steered clear of politics, it encompassed life-talk, pop culture, comedy and sports on a macro level.
As an outsider, it’s daunting to jump into a new show featuring four hosts because it can take time to catch on. But I appreciated J.P.’s intro every morning, welcoming each host to the show to say hello and subsequently giving me a chance to learn their voices. There were multiple times early on when I was unsure who was speaking, but I could rewind to the open to match names and voices.
My initial reactions were J.P. quarterbacks the quartet, Cakes sounds like Wolfie from The Stern Show, Lurch’s nickname fits, and if you find yourself needing to turn the volume down a tick, it will likely come during a frequent burst of energy from Bickel. Beyond that, four hosts on one show? I expected it to be tough to grasp, but somehow this foursome is perfectly cohesive.
Program directors across the country tout their ear and ability to build a show pairing. But stations have a hard-enough time finding two hosts with the chemistry to become something great, let alone three or even four.
I wouldn’t categorize The Junkies as a modern sports radio show or even a program pointing in the direction of where the industry is headed. Because they aren’t a show built on creativity or well-constructed segments, their success is attributed to their uniquely natural chemistry.
The best way to find four hosts who can sound entertaining and cohesive by fully incorporating each voice, personality and opinion, is to let it happen organically. That’s what happened with The Junkies, who grew up together, went to school together and are seeing some of their friendships near the half-century mark.
Put four radio hosts in a room, each with the drive and ego to succeed, each fighting to make their voice heard and it’s going to sound sloppy. Contrarily, pick a random group of four friends and they’re unlikely to captivate an outside listener while lacking radio prowess.
The Junkies happen to be four lifelong friends and they also happen to have the ability to captivate a radio audience. That’s the most impressive part of what The Junkies do every morning.
J.P., Cakes, Lurch and E.B. didn’t talk much about the election in October, instead providing their audience with an escape, but they certainly didn’t stick to sports either. They’re entertainers first, not sports pundits, which is why their sports-talk content is best described as being on a macro-level. Conversations are more likely to surround whether the Washington Football Team made the right hire in Ron Rivera than it is breaking down advanced analytics for their secondary. You don’t have to be a diehard sports fan to enjoy The Junkies every morning.
Some of their best conversations spurred from mentions of their show sponsor, a heating and cooling company which also dabbles in pest control. Their chatter about E.B.’s smelly mic problem and Lurch’s tummy trouble exemplified natural chemistry and ability to offer unexpected banter. A quick mention of the sponsor could spark 10 minutes of unplanned show content. Hopefully Lurch is healthy, but breaking down his stomach as if it’s a local sports team to determine whether he has diverticulitis or just needs a daily probiotic, definitely was not on their pre-show sheet.
E.B.’s Entertainment Page, which is similar to Peter Rosenberg’s Evening Nightly News on The Michael Kay Show, spans multiple topics and categories. It can trigger discussion about Cardi B and her comparisons to pizza toppings, or leave us jointly disappointed after learning Matthew McConaughey is a bad kisser.
They take a reasonable amount of well-directed callers to include listener participation. But a show with four hosts doesn’t rely on caller segments for an interjection of unique passion and opinion. The Junkies move fast and don’t have many available voids to fill with other voices. Producers Matt Cahill and Matt Valdez are also on-hand, fitting in well with the hosts to provide additional commentary.
As great as the chemistry is with The Junkies, the quickest way to break harmony between four radio hosts is by adding a fifth voice from the outside. The Junkies have a lot of interviews and this is where a lot of their traditional sports talk comes from, but it’s not necessary. This is not a knock on John Feinstein, Kevin McCarthy, J.P. Finlay, Dave Richard, Chris Russell and the large cast of guests who join The Junkies regularly, but it’s too much. With four different hosts featuring four different ideas and opinions on many topics, there’s no room for filler.
Looking back at the interviews I heard last month, I can’t say for sure if each of The Junkies participated in all of them. That means the segments were mostly forgettable. It’s impossible to have a great, inciteful interview with four hosts taking turns asking questions because the back-and-forth gets lost. Interviews don’t need to be replaced completely, but they were largely a lull in what is a predominantly energy and entertainment filled show.
106.7 The Fan was hit by one of their biggest stories in years during the month of October, when afternoon host and former intern on The Junkies, Chad Dukes was fired by parent company Entercom.
The Junkies were most certainly told to make the announcement that Dukes was no longer with the company and move on. But Entercom probably doesn’t give E.B. the green light to make fun of their current stock price, yet he did it anyway. It’s easy for me to criticize The Junkies near silence on the issue as a listener, but I was left wanting more discussion on Dukes’ departure.
This is not limited to 106.7 The Fan, Entercom or even radio, it happens with many news outlets and platforms. They’re willing to discuss scandals involving other entities, but if it involves them, the blinders go up. Despite it being a national news story and despite your audience wanting information on the topic, it’s ignored.
Entercom fired Dukes for offensive language made on his personal podcast and were certainly within their right to do so. But in their statement announcing his exit, the company used the term “racist” for Dukes. A damning categorization, that if true, needs to be proclaimed, but it’s a condemning label that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly.
After the news broke about Dukes, The Junkies still took calls during their Friday show, but there was no mention of the former afternoon host. Callers remained well-directed and on topic as they did throughout the month.
D.C. and The Fan might be looking for a new afternoon show, but they’re lucky to have The Sports Junkies. It’s a friendship listeners want to be part of, thanks to a chemistry that can’t be taught or artificially unearthed.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future. Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years. Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.
“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.
The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million. ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.
The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers. Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.
“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use. With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”
My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN. Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts. Plus, he still believes in linear television.
“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”
Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word. We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.
“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”
The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.
The ESPN deal was signed in March. The Turner contract was made public in late April.
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before. We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”
Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance. Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.
We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league. Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city.
He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020. That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.
Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed. “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.
Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season. Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.
Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.
News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales
“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”
There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.
As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.
- Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money.
- We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”. Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency.
- We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.
- Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience. News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
- The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below.
- Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more!
A Happy Couple
- A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?
- If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him.
- It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives. Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other.
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