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.”
Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works
“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”
Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.
It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.
So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?
The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.
Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.
Jerry Jones is a great marketer.
People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.
ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.
Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.
It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”
Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!
Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.
Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.
Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.
Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.
Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.
Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.
Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.
Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know
“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”
#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION
Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video. OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste.
#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA
Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services. More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions. Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns
#3 eSports is BOOMING
Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore. Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes. Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships. If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature. There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb.
OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years. Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content. Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.
Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack. Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers.
What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?
“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”
Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.
Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.
Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.
Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”
It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.
I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.
That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.
Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?
WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.
That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.
Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.
In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.
Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.
I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.