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Eavesdropping: The Sports Junkies

“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.”

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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.

106.7 The Fan and WPGC go to war over chicken

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.

The Sports Junkies | Richmond Sports Radio 910 The Fan

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.

BSM Writers

Broadcast Partnerships Can’t Get In The Way Of Reporting

“The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years.”

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Morning sports anchors count on alarm clocks and, 99 times out of 100, that no sports news actually happens during a typical shift.  Recap yesterday’s action, find 3 or 4 ways to say that Team X edged Team Y in overtime or some facsimile of that.

The two and a half weeks of Olympics every couple of years could change things for morning sports anchors.  Tuesday morning’s bombshell with US Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles was just the exception that proves many broadcasting rules.  Rightsholders have been beholden to the teams they are in business with, so the narrative is dictated by the team and not the network.

Simone Biles pulls out of team final citing mental stress | Financial Times
Courtesy: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

At 7 am eastern time on Tuesday, July 27th, I was anchoring morning sports when I saw on Twitter that Biles was pulling out of the overall team event.  Immediately, I went to NBC, the rightsholder for the Games, to see what the story was.  The Today Show was just starting.  Meanwhile, Peacock was airing the event live.

USA gymnastics immediately issued a statement that NBC followed diligently.  They said that Biles “has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue.”  Meanwhile, Peacock was interviewing Biles’ coach who said accurately that Biles had withdrawn due to a mental health situation.

Twitter jumped on the report that it was a mental health issue. Still, NBC was sticking to the medical issue. And they did what any rightsholder would do.

Could NBC have paid closer attention to their sister broadcast on Peacock?  Perhaps, but anyone who has worked on a high-stakes broadcast knows that control rooms and anchors focus on their own product. Also, if any official outlet of the Olympics gives them data, why wouldn’t they believe it.

I spoke off the record to two members of NFL broadcast crews. Both said, that if a star on a team left the game and the team gave the announcers an official statement, even if that statement is false, they wouldn’t contradict it on air. “Team X has just given us this information,” is how they would often phrase it.

Before NBC was corrected, they covered the story as if Biles had suffered some physical injury. They even spoke to Biles’ former teammates Laurie Hernandez, who was commentating for NBC, and Aly Raisman, who joined via Zoom.

My role for iHeartMedia that morning was to do sports reports in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, and a national report.  I usually feed my casts in the morning and head on my way. When the Biles news broke, I needed to get the facts right.  Many news outlets were reporting (accurately) what Peacock had revealed.  Good Morning America accurately reported on the story.

The difference between ABC and NBC is the billions that NBC pays for the rights.  The real question is, what is NBC paying for?

The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years. It is probably why there are so many attempts at hiding information.

Over my 27 year career, there have been plenty of occasions where an athlete couldn’t play for a personal reason. In one instance I saw a player find out his wife was cheating on him. Another situation was a player was dealing with a sick parent.  In both cases, the team issued statements with some vague injury.  The team statement has a lot of weight with the media, but to the rightsholder, it might as well be etched in stone.

truth-engraved-stone - Baptist & Reflector

That instinct to cover up is particularly disturbing. The coach had told the live Peacock broadcast the simple truth – that Biles was not mentally up to competing after she faulted on her previous attempt. 

Perhaps the initial statement was not a cover-up, but rather a miscommunication.  That simply cannot happen at this level.

The idea of a media cover-up has been used too often because institutions believe that they cannot sully the brand with less than positive information.  Memories of Penn State University and THE Ohio State University, come to mind. What is the mindset to cover up anything negative, whether it’s as big as an assault or as small as skipping a game or match?  The truth always comes out.

This brings up Simone Biles. She does not owe the public an explanation, and her mental health is more important than any competition. 

However, if the media scrutiny bothers her, it helps me understand those other players in wanting their truths to be hidden. Her withdrawal is a complicated issue, and while some of the takes I’ve heard this week have been outright disgusting, others have been rather profound.

The toxicity that surrounds social media in 2021 is perhaps unavoidable.  It’s just sad that this debate got so ugly when the Olympics are designed to unite.

The Tokyo Olympics have been tough to watch already, because of the time zone issues.  Losing star power like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka has made it even harder.

It’s only the first full week.

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BSM Writers

Barrett Sports Media’s Next Big Thing Draft

“I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next.”

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There was a time when draft night, no matter the sport, meant that we were gathering the sports media for a similar exercise here at Barrett Sports Media. Between the pandemic, a changing focus, and more work than we could have anticipated when this business was launched, that tradition fell unfortunately by the wayside.

Today though, I am bringing it back. I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next. This is the Barrett Sports Media Next Big Thing Draft. Just like the NBA, we have an age limit. The difference is theirs is at the low end and ours is at the high end.

We have long discussed the 40s being the decade where most people in this business are established and make the bulk of their money. So, I set 40 as the top end.

Now, sure, there are plenty of names under 40 that are already established stars. They are fair game. They are already their networks’ franchise players. They can be the same for the theoretical teams we are forming.

So, in order of their picks (which were drawn at random), here are the TV, radio, and digital stars that agreed to be a part of the draft.

  1. Steve Levy (ESPN)
  2. Paul Finebaum (ESPN/SEC Network)
  3. Doug Gottlieb (FOX Sports)
  4. Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN)
  5. Gregg Giannotti (WFAN)
  6. Tim Brando (FOX Sports)
  7. Wes Durham (ACC Network)
  8. Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
  9. Gary Parrish (CBS Sports)
  10. Linda Cohn (ESPN)
  11. Stugotz (Meadowlark Media)
  12. Damon Bruce (95.7 The Game)
  13. Chris Broussard (FOX Sports)
  14. Freddie Coleman (ESPN Radio)
  15. Ric Bucher (FOX Sports)
  16. Petros Papadakis (FOX Sports)
  17. Michael Eaves (ESPN)
  18. Jason Smith (FOX Sports)
  19. John Kincade (97.5 The Fanatic)
  20. Rob Parker (FOX Sports)
  21. Adnan Virk (DAZN/Meadowlark Media)
  22. Damon Amendolara (CBS Sports Radio)
  23. Danny Parkins (670 The Score)
  24. Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk)
  25. Chris Carlin (ESPN New York)
  26. Carl Dukes (92.9 The Game)
  27. Jason Fitz (ESPN)
  28. Adam Schein (SiriusXM/CBS Sports)
  29. Dave Dameshek (Extra Points)
  30. Arash Markazi (WWENXT)

This took a lot of time and effort to put together, but we got it done. Here is how the draft went.

Here are a few observations from the 2021 Next Big Thing Draft.

THE FUTURE IS FEMALE – The first three picks were all women. Half of the top ten were women. Whether it is TV or podcasting, some of the brightest up and coming stars in our industry are women and that is a good thing.

BRAND LOYALTY – It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but look at how many people chose up-and-coming stars at their own networks. Is that about job security and being a company man? Maybe, but look at Paul Finebaum choosing Laura Rutledge or Kirk Herbstreit choosing Pat McAfee or even Stugotz choosing Billy Gill. These people get to see their choices face to face with some regularity. I think it speaks to being able to recognize talent when you see it.

DAMON BRUCE KNOWS THE GAME – Bruce asked me to call him so he could make his pick over the phone. He wanted it to be clear. It was a crime that Shams Charania and his 1.2 million social media followers were still on the board at number eleven. “I want everyone to know how much they f***ed things up,” he told me.

A BIG IMPRESSION – I loved the story Jason Smith told me about why he took the versatile Morosi with the 18th pick. “When he comes on my show he likes to use Italian phrases (you know, him being Italian and all), so one time I challenged him that some time in the next week he had to do a media interview entirely in Italian and not explain why he was speaking Italian to the hosts. And he had to post it. Three days later he puts the interview on Twitter, and @’s me on it: It was a baseball interview he did with a TV station…wait for it…wait for it…in Italy. 3,000 miles and an early call time to win a dare. Well played, Jon-Paul.”

THE FREE AGENT MARKET – These people all went undrafted: Jason Bennetti, Big Cat, Domonique Foxworth, Mike Golic Jr, Cassidy Hubbarth, Mina Kimes, Joel Klatt, Katie Nolan, Danny Parkins, PFT Commenter, Brady Quinn, Taylor Rooks, Marcus Spears, and Joy Taylor. Some network or digital platform could build a hell of a roster with this draft’s leftovers. You could really see this playing out with the final picks. “I had 4 or 5 can’t miss picks that are already off the board,” Jason Fitz told me before he proceeded to waffle between three potential candidates for the 27th pick.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 37

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Demetri Ravanos is back to look at an interesting week in the sports media. He welcomes Seth Everett and Brian Noe to a show that touches on women in sports media, the Big 12’s impending demise, the way NBC covered Simone Biles, and where tape delay stands in 2021.

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