There’s an argument to be made that bits in sports radio are somewhat of a lost art. But if anyone is keeping the spirit alive it’s certainly The Ticket in Dallas, most notably, its morning drive show The Musers.
Whether it’s fake Jerry Jones, fake Stephen Jones or a fake Tiger Woods, the trio of Craig Miller, George Dunham and Gordon Keith have perfected the art in sports radio.
“I would say the great majority of sports radio talk shows don’t do bits,” said Miller. “The bits were done by the wacky FM music morning shows or the late night crazy talk shows. That was one thing unique about The Ticket as we were probably the first all sports station to be funny and focus on comedy, have bits and crazy characters. I know The Fan in New York wasn’t doing that and a few other all sports stations, as well. I think that helped make The Ticket unique. George and Gordon have much more voice talent than I do, in terms of impersonating people and changing their voices. You have to have guys like that on your staff.”
You would think the logistics behind creating a bit so funny and entertaining would be a difficult and time consuming process. But that’s really not the case with The Musers. Credit their ability to be naturally funny without a whole lot of prep, but most bits are done just a few minutes before the segment.
“Some of the characters are done on the mic in the studio,” said Miller. “Gordon does most of them, George does a few and I do a handful. They’re all pretty much, not completely on the fly, but I would say each morning around 8:10 in that commercial break we say, OK, what are we going to do for 8:40? Some mornings, like a Monday after a Cowboys game, we know we’re going to do fake Jerry Jones. We know the morning after The Masters we’re going to do fake Tiger Woods. But for the most part we have about 30 minutes where we decide what character it’s going to be and during the commercial break, we’re trying to write or help Gordo write it if he’s the one doing the character that day. It’s slapped together pretty quickly and that’s a strength of Gordo’s. He operates really well under a deadline. If you told him a day before ‘Hey, let’s do fake Nolan Ryan’, he would say, ‘OK’, but he wouldn’t start writing it till 8:15 that morning. He can’t work a day out but he works extremely well 20 minutes beforehand. It’s very much done in the spur of the moment.”
Funny character voices aren’t the extent of the bits done with The Musers. You’ll often hear them make fun of themselves, especially when it comes to the comparison of the show being the Susan Lucci of sports talk radio. The Musers have been nominated over a handful of times for Major Market Personality of The Year at the Marconi Awards but have never won it. But in their true ability to relate to the listener, they use that as content for the show.
“The Ticket has won three,” said Miller. “They were great and it meant a lot to all of us. Our show, the three of us specifically, have been nominated for Major Market Personality of the Year like six or seven times, but we’ve never won. We’ve almost embraced not winning, like we’re the Susan Lucci of sports talk radio. If we actually did win, which would be great, but if we did win it would kind of spoil that bit and I don’t think any of the three of us really care about winning that much, not to give you coach speak, but it’s almost funnier if we keep losing. I think it’s better for the show if we keep losing because it’s something to make fun of (laughs).”
Regardless if The Musers even win a Marconi it’s pretty well understood few morning shows across the country can compete with their success over the years. In an industry that’s routinely swapping shows and hosts to find the right combination, Miller, Dunham and Keith are the longest-running show in the Dallas market and have been a top rated show since 1995. That’s unheard of, especially with all the changes and trends that sports radio has seen during that time frame.
“I really think it starts with me, George, Gordon, we all genuinely love each other and love working with one other,” Miller said. “We get along really well. That’s kind of rare in radio, at least my experiences and stories I’ve heard. Not just from our market, but others as well. A lot of people have trouble checking their ego when it comes to radio, and I think that’s what’s been unique about not only our show, but also our station. I think when you have a good locker room and everyone gets along and enjoys spending time together, good things happen. I hope that comes across to the listener, because I think it’s been our secret at The Ticket.”
Miller is one of the originals at The Ticket, starting at the station all the way back in 1994. His story on finding a love for sports radio isn’t unique from most hosts across the country. But before sports, it was all about the weather. To this day it still fascinates him. At an early age he wanted to be a weatherman on television. His fascination with local radio and TV led him to watching and listening to numerous newscasts from his Oklahoma City home. But then in 8th grade, he figured out sports was the passion he wanted to pursue.
While at an Oklahoma City 89ers game, a minor league baseball team now called the Oklahoma City Dodgers, Miller and his dad arrived early at All Sports Stadium. He noticed a couple of TV reporters in the dugout talking to players. That’s when it struck him.
“I thought, what a great job,” Miller said. “You get to go out in the field, into the dugout, and I love sports anyways, so that’s kind of when I shifted from weather to sports. I’ve had that in my mind ever since.”
The Ticket has seen a ton of success and recognition since it took the airwaves in 1994. One of the biggest changes over that time is the growing number of competitors the station has seen since its inception. Miller has been in the middle of all of it and has seen just how different the station is today from the first time he sat behind the mic in Dalas.
“When we started in 1994 none of us had personal computers,” Miller said. “We were going to the studio every day and bringing the sports page as well as a NBA, NFL or Major-League Baseball almanac, if we needed to look something up. That has changed because of the computer age. The competitive landscape, obviously, is a lot different. Back then we had a couple of other stations but there were no other all sports stations. We had some stations that did a sports talk show, one in the morning and one in the evening, but by 2000, we had three all sports stations in Dallas.
“Now we have not just other sports stations to compete against, but podcasts and you can stream any other radio station around the country or the world if you want to. When we started, we didn’t have one specific competitor, now we have hundreds of them.”
The Musers aren’t going anywhere. That’s more of a fact, than an opinion, seeing as the show inked a long-term deal with The Ticket in November of 2019 to remain in morning drive. Miller loves working with his two co-hosts and sees exceptional talent in both.
In Keith, Miller sees an amazing comedic talent with a quick brain and incredible voice talent. With Dunham, he sees a great football mind with a unique voice and perspective. Plus, a rapport that’s irreplaceable and exists all the way back to their college days.
But what exactly are The Musers still chasing? They’ve been the best in Dallas for so long. They know they can probably be in morning drive at the a top station in the market for as long as they want. What’s going to keep the show at its best?
“I think we’re chasing the same thing we’ve been chasing forever now, which is to be a little different and a little better every single day,” Miller said. “Not to give you coach speak again, but we don’t want to fall into a rut. I’m trying to change it up so the listener hears something a little different. If you give them a different perspective, a different opinion, a different joke, or a different character and try to change it up a little each day, that’s the challenge we’re chasing.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
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.