LaVar Arrington was once a self-described pissed off dude. He was an angry radio host in Washington DC. That is no longer the case. Arrington now has a different mindset as the driver of FOX Sports Radio’s brand new show Up On Game. He has a much more positive approach and looks for angles that are solution driven. Along with co-hosts Plaxico Burress and TJ Houshmandzadeh, the new show airs on Saturdays from 10am-noon PT.
Don’t mistake Arrington’s positivity for anything hokey or boring; the guy is flat-out interesting. The Pittsburgh native makes many compelling points in our conversation below. He offers opinions on cancel culture and the firing of his former radio partner Chad Dukes.
Arrington doesn’t bite his tongue when it comes to show babysitters in radio either. He also states which big name in the radio industry offered him a great piece of advice. As an added bonus, the former No. 2 overall pick uses the phrase “stretch him out”, which is now easily my favorite phrase of all time. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Tell me about Up On Game; what makes you so excited about doing the show with TJ and Plax?
LaVar Arrington: I’ve always had this idea that sports media in general has become too driven by controversy and debate. It’s just kind of taken on more of a Geraldo, drama type of feel when you’re talking about athletes and sports. I felt like there was a tremendous gap, a void so to speak, of kind of addressing the market of the youth and sports parents.
I went to Don Martin and Scott Shapiro and was like listen, I’ve got two guys that have stories to tell. They have experiences and these experiences are much like mine in the sense that we take pride in helping the next group of guys coming. We all mentor and teach and help younger guys. I just thought it would be an amazing opportunity to introduce a new way of looking at and approaching athletes in sports, which was solution-based and positive-based and not debating, just talking sports and giving real viewpoints. Just like the name of the show; putting people up on game as to why something happened from our perspective, how you could avoid it, or how you could do better moving forward. Just a breath of fresh air if I could use any type of way of describing it.
BN: How far back do you go with TJ and Plaxico?
LA: A funny story about TJ is I never met TJ as a player. When we retired, I came out here to do NFL Network. Me and Antonio Pierce are really close and so I ended up coaching at Long Beach Poly. TJ coached at Long Beach too so we met each other and have been tight ever since. That’s got to be going on five years ago now that we met and started being cool.
He’s the reason why I got back into media. I was out of media after I left the network. He told me, he was like man I do these spots over at FS1. He was like you need to come over to FS1 and see what’s going on. I did, man. Charlie Dixon and those guys, Jason Whitlock, they ended up giving me an opportunity, Colin, they were all bringing me on their shows.
BN: How about Plaxico? How long have you known him?
LA: I’ve known Plaxico since college. We go way back. We played against each other since college. He went to Michigan State and I went to Penn State. I’ve known Plex for a long time because we’re from the same class. I guess me and TJ are from the same class kinda sorta as well but Plaxico was always a higher-rated dude. I was always a higher-rated dude. So we met in high school, college-type stuff on the circuits.
BN: Were you able to hit either of those guys on the football field?
LA: I don’t even think I played against TJ. As far as Plex, I never got a chance to stretch him out. I would have loved to have had an opportunity to get him. I’ve played against him multiple times and we even ended up being teammates the year before the first Super Bowl in New York.
BN: I like that, stretch him out. [Laughs] Are you guys doing the show remotely right now?
LA: Me and TJ go into the studio and Plex is on the comrex.
BN: How would you describe the way your sports radio style has evolved over the years?
LA: I used to be pissed off and I’m more enlightened now. I always tell people it was rightful for me to be pissed off because I covered the Washington Football Team. After a while, I did five hours of radio and I did it with Chad Dukes. Chad Dukes was mad and like an upset dude. We were just two upset dudes doing radio.
I just got tired of talking about how bad our teams were. Everybody was like he hates his team, this and that, and in a way they were right. I didn’t hate the team; I just didn’t like the owner. But I think it came out in the way that I delivered my information. I know it did listening to myself, just taking inventory and studying my style. There definitely was more anger behind my energy. My evolution has just been really — even when I’m on Speak For Yourself on television — every angle that I take is pretty solution driven and pretty positive even if it was something negative that took place.
BN: What was your reaction to Chad getting fired last month?
LA: I hit him up and I just told him straight up I know you to be an a-hole. I don’t know you to be what they accused you of being. He has a weird sense of humor and a weird sense of how he entertains. That’s why he has such a very dialed in and focused audience. A lot of the things that come from him and the way he sounds at times, it tows the line. It definitely has towed the line and maybe has even stuck a toenail or a toe over the line, but what I’ve learned about radio is that radio is supposed to be a forum where you can communicate how you feel.
I just feel like if it doesn’t go too far, you’re still exercising the right to paint a picture that represents some part of the population that’s out there whether you like it or not. If you got in trouble for what Chad got in trouble for, from what I allegedly hear, there would be no Howard Stern. There would be no Rush Limbaugh. Eventually some of them got hit up, but you’re still talking about some of the most influential heavyweights of radio that would have never gotten an opportunity. They would have been fired because something they said would have offended somebody.
BN: Do you think it’s good that the standards are higher, or do you think it’s constricting to some artists who can’t get away with what they could have before?
LA: Well I don’t make the rules, I play by them. Whether I think it’s right or whether I think it’s wrong, I will say this, I really believe that people should understand the power of what they bring to the table and to put people in a place where they feel as though it’s right for them to look at a certain group of people a certain type of way. If that’s how you’re using your platform, I think it’s dangerous. And I think it’s dangerous more so now than it’s ever been because people have voices. I think it’s dangerous these days because people are more aware and there seems to be more awareness just towards these types of behaviors.
I never realized how chauvinistic the business can be. When Joe Namath said to Suzy Kolber I want to kiss you, could you imagine if he said that today? You know what I mean? Could you imagine in the social climate that we live in today, Joe Namath doing that? He’d be one of the biggest villains. He goes from being beloved to a villain.
I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of what people’s liberties should be in being able to talk about and discuss what they want to talk about and discuss. I just know there is the idea of presenting the different sides. I understand that. Will that get lost in cancel culture? It might.
I think cancel culture is kind of a product of just how connected the world has become through social media. We’ve always had a mob mentality. That just goes back into time. The mob mentality is now on 150,000 steroids. It’s an overkill of steroids with cancel culture and the mob mentality. One influencer says vote for this person, you’re going to vote for that person whether they can do it or whether they can’t. You’re going to vote for him because the cancel culture, the mob mentality, it’s there. An influencer can have you do what they want you to do. That can be great and that can be horrible all at the same time.
Why this show is so important, you just got to put things into the proper perspective and understand that we all have a voice and we all have some things that we have to get off our chests. At times you should be able to get those things off your chest without you always being labeled something. There are a lot of things that I have started to not say in media and in social form because you just don’t know.
BN: When did you initially break into sports radio and why did you want to do it?
LA: I wanted to do it because I didn’t feel like we, as the athletes, had enough voices representing us the right way. I wanted to get into media and provide a perspective and an angle that was unique to us, the player and the athlete, that really took the time to see what it was and understand it for what it was versus just talking crazy about what somebody is doing.
I’ve always kind of been a part of media even when I played, but I think I started working with Comcast SportsNet, man, I don’t remember, bro. It’s been a long time. It had to have been maybe ‘08 that I started doing stuff with them. Then I think ‘09 was when I went into radio. Whatever year it was that they launched The Fan in DC. They launched it with me as one of the anchor shows. I was the afternoon drive show with Chad.
BN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten, or something that you figured out on your own about doing good sports radio?
LA: When you create the identity of what your show is going to be, you need to live within the identity of what you’ve created. Don’t deviate from the values and just what you want the listener to understand about the identity and the values of the show when they’re listening. People will either agree or disagree but they will invest enough of an emotion to come up with some type of a conclusion.
BN: That’s good, man. Is that what you figured out?
LA: I was actually taught that.
BN: Who taught you that?
BN: Interesting. What other things has he said or anybody else said that you thought was impactful?
LA: I’ve learned a lot from a lot of guys. Mike Harmon has been super instrumental in my development as well in radio. I co-host with him. I’ve learned a ton from him in terms of just my approach of how to get in and out of segments, how to approach the topics that we’re going to talk about, and just how to prep. Knowing how to not talk over one another or understanding how to present your points.
There’s a very distinctive way of how I approach each topic. Answer the question first. Or if you’re presenting something and you’re the one driving it, make sure that you set the table before you begin to try to eat. Nobody can eat if you don’t set the table. You’ve got to just follow the process, a very strict process, of how to go through your segments depending on if you’re the driver or if you’re a passenger in the studio seat, it doesn’t matter. There’s still a process that you have to follow and I didn’t always know that.
BN: Is this the first time you’ve done a three-man show?
LA: Radio wise, yeah.
BN: What’s it like for you to get a feel for that setup?
LA: Well I’m the driver of the show so it’s a challenge. But I feel like I’ve done so much radio at this point, I’ve done so much media at this point that I’ve gotten so many reps doing shows with three or four or more guys. I’ve worked with The Junkies at times; I’ve done Speak For Yourself where it’s a panel of four on the set. That’s harder. It’s harder with four men on television than it is three guys on radio. I’ve gotten great reps in terms of understanding how to manage the flow of multiple guys.
I like the challenge of it and it excites me because you have three very strong personalities, three very pronounced personalities. As long as we can manage how we’re moving and directing traffic, it’s going to be amazing radio and I don’t ever see that being an issue.
BN: Besides the positive tone of the show, what are some other things that you think will appeal to listeners?
LA: I would love for people to really take the time to listen to the show. It’s only two hours. It goes by really quickly, but we prep. We do prep calls and everything. Some of the things that happened on the show we hadn’t even discussed. I think that’s the coolness of this show is that you’re going to hear some things — like I didn’t even know that a lot of people attribute the Bengals/Steelers rivalry to when TJ Houshmandzadeh cleaned his spikes off with the Terrible Towel. I didn’t even know that. Jerome Bettis says it on the show. That was the first time I’ve ever heard that. It was the first time I had ever heard how TJ even got ahold of a Terrible Towel.
For me it was like oh my gosh; that’s when I knew we had the potential to be one of the biggest shows in all of sports radio because of the organic approach and the open approach. The one part of it that people should know is that we are not taking a hands-off approach to the vulnerability of what we’ve gone through. It is very in your face. It’s okay to talk crazy about something that another athlete or another person is going through, but to be able to do it with yourself, to me that is the differentiator. You have to be comfortable enough to be in that forum and be able to talk about things that you’ve gone through that you aren’t necessarily proud of.
BN: That makes for good radio, man. How did TJ get the Terrible Towel?
LA: He purchased it off of a fan, man, that had just bought it. He randomly was on the elevator with a Steeler fan that had just bought a Terrible Towel.
BN: Wow, I would love to know who that fan is. That’s a huge offense to Steeler Nation.
LA: And if they didn’t listen to our show, they probably don’t even know that their purchase that day would fatefully lead to the starting of a rivalry between two franchises and two cities.
BN: As far as your future goals, what do you think would make you the happiest going forward?
LA: Well the happiest going forward is just having the opportunity. Don and Scott believing in the concept that I pitched to them, getting behind me, and continuing to teach me and school me up on how it all works has been a tremendous deal. I’m super happy with where we are. I’m definitely poised for us to create a new brand and usher in a new way and looking at former athletes or even current athletes and how we can handle ourselves in media.
It would really make me happy to pioneer. I always say — and no offense to the Mike Harmons and Steve Hartmans who I’ve worked with or even a Chad Dukes — I think there’s something to be said about not having a show babysitter. I’ve always felt like in the past, host or co-host is like a code word for babysit the athlete. There is a place for those types of media personalities. It’s not meant as an attack or a slight on them, everybody has a role to play, but what I’m saying is just maybe there should be some shows out there that don’t have to have a babysitter on the cast.
Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”
After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure. In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.
“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM. “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”
Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube. The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.
It all came together very quickly.
“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”
The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday. The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.
“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber. “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television. For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment. So far, I’m having a ball.”
And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.
A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels.
“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber. “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel. Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”
The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career. He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.
Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests. And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.
Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.
“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber. “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up. It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there. The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”
There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.
For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to.
“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber. “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation. I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that. I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”
Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing. A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio. For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.
The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber. “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about. I was doing a five-hour radio show. It’s too long. That’s crazy. Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.”
Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore. The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.
Kind of like Adam The Bull!
“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber. “But the game has changed.”
Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms. The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.
I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.
Bull can certainly relate to that.
“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle. “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device. It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.”
With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business. In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month. But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.
“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber. “I still love radio. I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation. I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”
The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve. Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.
I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday
“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”
Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.
- How many games will the home team win?
- What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
- Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?
Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?
I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.
Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.
Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.
I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.
Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.
I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.
Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.
Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.
And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.
Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content
“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”
It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.
TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.
TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!
This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours.
So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success.
Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video.
If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point.
Other simple tricks:
- Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video.
- 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time.
- Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video)
- Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.
- Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video.
- Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well.