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The Talent Vote: Sports Talk Morning Shows

Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

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The BSM Top 20s are generators. They generate clicks, comments, and conversation in our industry. Every year, JB reaches out to dozens of PDs and executives to generate those lists.

I thought it might be fun this year to add a new twist and let talent get in on the conversation. Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

This is day 2. BSM has unveiled the top 20 morning shows in the country with WFAN’s Boomer & Gio topping the major market list and the top spot in the mid markets going to Ken Carmen and Anthony Lima at The Fan in Cleveland.

That is the perspective of the executives though. What about the talent? I asked four hosts from mid-size and major markets to weigh in. Here are the morning shows they say deserve to be recognized as the best in America.


BOB FESCOE – 610 SPORTS (KANSAS CITY)

The best Mid Market Morning show is CLEARLY Fescoe in the Morning with myself, Josh Klingler and Ryan Witkowski!  How can I not nominate our show? 

However, if I am picking from all other shows other than ours, I go with my guys in Pittsburgh on The Fan Morning Show. Love me some Chris Mack. He is passionate, brings great takes and often makes you think. I think Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack have great chemistry, they entertain, and they are clearly knowledgeable about the Pittsburgh sports scene. Even though I am not in Pittsburgh, I still tune in…especially when the Chiefs and Steelers are getting ready to play!

The Fan Morning Show finished #3 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Morning Shows

SEAN SALISBURY – SPORTSTALK 790 (HOUSTON)

This category is loaded with great shows and fantastic hosts across the country. Choosing one is brutal considering there are quite a few I like for some different reasons. I first have to give love to the competition in my Houston market, two good shows with friends and good people. I also can’t vote for the shows I’m a guest of because well, that seems wrong but much respect to The Morning Roast at 95.7 The Game. I know I miss some really good shows due to the fact that my show is morning drive as well. Dallas has two shows I like! Shan and RJ at 105.3 The Fan do top shelf work and The Musers at The Ticket make me laugh and keep you interested with good sports talk daily too. Boomer and Gio is a hell of a listen and they are a must in New York or for anyone who wants hard core opinion with no let up.    

All that being said, I’m going to put Schlereth and Evans 104.3 The Fan in Denver as my favorite. I think they have the right mix of humor and sports talk. They don’t kiss the ass of the home team just to pander and they have a very good on air relationship. They are passionate but don’t take themselves too seriously, and always seem to find ways to do new things and get the listener involved. My boy Schlereth will battle the listener too. If a show makes me sit in my car and risk being late to a meeting then it’s good radio!

It’s the wow factor mixed with self deprecation and listener involvement and that equals a winner! There are more that are worthy of serious consideration who I really respect but I don’t get to hear enough. Keep doing your thing in the mornings. Great competition! 

Schlereth & Evans finished #8 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Morning Shows

TERRY FORD – 105.7 THE FAN (BALTIMORE)

Back in my early radio life I took a gig in Biloxi, Mississippi. While I was driving down to Biloxi, I was speeding illegally through Alabama and I was scanning the dial on my car stereo. I landed on WJOX in Birmingham. I loved it! I listened for as long as WJOX could survive between all of the static and crossover stations that were interfering with it. I not only enjoyed the content but the callers as well. It’s hard to find a more passionate sports fan than an SEC football sports fan.

To this day, I will still from time to time listen to WJOX on the digital platform during college football season. I always punch up the morning show, The Roundtable. When it comes to listening to a sports talk show, it has to give me opinions that make me think, entertain me and inform me. The Roundtable does all of those things.

One of the most important components that make a multi-person show listenable is the chemistry between the hosts. Lance, Ryan, Jim and Rockstar have excellent chemistry. There is a smooth chamaradie to the show. When listening, you can believe these guys would actually hang out together away from the show. 

The crew of The Roundtable are knowledgeable on sports outside of the SEC, they give solid takes about the sports world outside of Birmingham as well. Plus, the Trash on the Table segment always has something in it that makes me laugh. And of course, THOSE CALLERS ARE RADIO GOLD! 

To this day, WJOX is still a great sports radio station and The Roundtable one of my favorite morning sports talk shows. It’s a very compelling listen.

The JOX Roundtable finished #2 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Morning Shows

JOHN MICHAELS – 680 THE FAN (ATLANTA)

People always ask what do I listen for when picking out different sports radio to listen to when I’m not on the air. Fun, relatability, quick wit, funny, entertaining, informative and the ability to create a show that makes the listener feel a part of it. Many people across the country do a great job of this with story telling, unbelievable interviews and the ability to breakdown games like no other. Mornings have what I like to call a captive audience. We have people stuck on their morning commute in the car for sometimes an hour or more. We have the ability to make them forget about bumper to bumper traffic and just sit back and enjoy the conversation.

Some of my favorites are The Joe Rose Show in Miami. Joe is a great story teller and his side kick Zach Krantz does a great job playing off of Joe. Rose played for the Dolphins and has so many entertaining stories that you get stuck sitting in your car even after you’ve reached your destination. Their show is fun and more than anything makes you feel like you are part of the family.

Another easy listen is The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte. These guys are the epitome of morning radio with preshow Panthers dance videos. Crazy arguments about which QB is better and just a general entertainment value that can’t be understated. I had a chance to fill in after them a few times and listening to them made it easy to have the audience right there for the taking. Mornings on WFNZ are a lot of fun and these guys should be proud.

My #1 morning show though is Shan and RJ at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. We were lucky enough to sit next to them on radio row in Houston and let’s just say the laughs between the 2 shows lasted the entire week. From them making their producer Roy draw fake abs on his stomach and walk around radio row shirtless because he overslept to them pulling many stunts, everyone knew them by week’s end. We have had either of them on our show to talk Dallas sports, so their knowledge is second to none in their own market. The value of their show is complete entertainment. They hold no punches and even when interviewing guests like Jerry Jones they ask the questions that people want to hear.

My biggest compliment to any out of market host is to seek them out just to hear a sample of what they are doing daily. Shan and RJ are those guys and would be my number 1 morning show (outside of my own of course).

Shan & RJ finished #6 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Morning Shows

As the week rolls on, we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. That means next up is mid day shows. Stay tuned!

By the way, just because I didn’t reach out to you to contribute doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Who do you think the best nationally syndicated host on sports talk radio is? Feel free to add your comment below.

BSM Writers

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?”

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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.

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BSM Writers

What’s The Bright Side Of a Losing Team?

“What are you supposed to do if the teams you rely on to buoy your product aren’t holding up their end of the bargain?”

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We’ve always said that winning is the great deodorizer in sports. Winning can take a dysfunctional locker room and make them functional, it can take an average coach and make him look great, and in our world it can make a bad product seem decent and a good product seem spectacular.

But what if the local teams you cover aren’t winning at all? What are you supposed to do if the teams you rely on to buoy your product aren’t holding up their end of the bargain? 

It’s such a weird position for a host or programmer to be in because sometimes the success of your radio station or your show is so dependent on things that you have no control over whatsoever. The difference between a good radio station and the bad ones are the ones that are able to make chicken salad out of chicken scratch and also those that are able to capitalize when teams are good.

Just look at the growth of 95.3 WDAE in Tampa or the strength of the Boston sports talk stations like WEEI or 98.5 The Sports Hub after Boston owned basically every major pro sport for a 5 to 10 year period. 

I’m the “Orlando Magic guy” on 96.9 The Game, the flagship of the Magic. We broadcast the games and I work on many of those broadcasts. I’m also the afternoon show host, so if you find your way to the arena that night and you want Magic talk, I guess I’m your guy. But as you can imagine, it is exceedingly difficult to pull good juicy topics out of a team that barely wins. There are so many markets that deal with this year after year.

Whether you’re in a multi-sports market that’s suffering like Detroit or a single pro sports town like Orlando or Sacremento, it can be incredibly frustrating. It wears on you because you know how different the landscape can be, particularly if you’ve experienced some level of success.

When I got into the sports talk radio scene in Orlando, the Magic were off the heels of an NBA Finals run and casual fans were everywhere in the city. Everywhere you looked someone was wearing a Magic shirt, the lady at the counter at your local grocery store wants to talk to you about point guard play, but when your team has less than 10 wins in January, casual fans have a convenient way of disappearing. 

Local radio thrives off the positive production of the teams in their market. But when your team isn’t any good and fans lose interest, people aren’t gobbling up tickets or hanging on your every word about the team, how are you supposed to survive that drought?

First things first: honesty. As hard as it can be, especially if you are partnered with these teams, you have to be straight up with your audience. You can’t sugarcoat what they’re seeing. That doesn’t mean you stoop down to the level of the most agitated fan, but you can’t act like all is good either. That approach has been covered many times on this site, but honesty and authenticity are important no matter the record of the teams you cover. 

As I look for the silver lining, here’s one that jumps out at me, ticket giveaways. There’s no shortage of available tickets when your teams aren’t winning and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about a radio audience, they love free stuff. I try and use this time as an opportunity to give away as much as I can, create memorable experiences for a dad and his kids that can’t typically afford to go to a game. They won’t care the team is bad, but they’ll remember that you provided that for them for years to come. 

It’s also a great time to extend the positive relationship you have with the team (or teams) that are struggling. Everyone wants to cover a winner, everyone wants to interview the star player who’s a shoo-in for an All-Star Game. If you show love when the team is down, you can create a bond that will help you maintain your good standing when that product heats up again.

Everything is cyclical and I don’t want to find myself in a position where I can be left out from all the cool opportunities and great guests because I stuck my nose up at the team while the chips were down. I’ll take an interview with the backup center, I’ll do the day-long media day dance, all of that is an effort to curry favor when things are trending up again. 

Then there’s draft talk! Lucky for us in the great U.S.A, our sports structure rewards bad teams with great picks. Fans might be down in the dumps during the season, but you can perk them right back up in the off-season when your team can provide something in the draft. It’s that magic four-letter word that keeps people on the edge of their seat: Hope. It’s the one thing winning teams don’t get to experience. 

More than anything, I just try and stay the course. I figure that when things do turn around, eventually, I will have built up the branding and credibility needed so my audience knows where to go when they suddenly find themselves interested again. Simply put, lay the groundwork while the team is bad, reap the rewards when things turnaround. 

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BSM Writers

What Can Programmers Learn From A Social Media Following?

“A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure.”

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I first began using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter at The Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the Seattle Seahawks coach and I had a smart phone made by Palm. The Twitter app was so wonky I posted live updates from Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a picture of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We’ve all come a long way since then.

I like Twitter. Over the past 12-plus years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translated better on Twitter than it ever did in print or later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I’ve made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other reporters and generally found it a good place to test out ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss anything important. I have more than 40,000 followers, which is not insignificant nor is it at all exceptional given the market I worked in. None of this gives you any idea about how well I’ve done my job in sports media, though.

Yet an individual’s Twitter following has become part of our industry scoreboard. It’s certainly not the final score and it definitely doesn’t decide the outcome, but it is the best way I know to gain a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or significance. It’s a data point that is readily accessible. It’s the thing I check first when I encounter someone who’s part of the sports-media industry.

But what does it really tell us? More specifically, how much does it tell us about that person’s ability to do their actual job whether it is reporting news, writing stories or being part of a show? Because as important as Twitter has become in sports-media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people who are really being paid to Tweet.

For most of us, Twitter is not a job, it is a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside the footprint and time slot of the show. It also is a powerful opportunity to deepen audience engagement through two-way, real-time communication. These things may help a host’s job performance, but they should not be mistaken for the actual job itself. A radio host is not valuable because he or she was right on Twitter or because they were first on Twitter or because they had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of the ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific slot of time. Twitter may help you prepare to do that, but it does not actually accomplish the task.

Programmers need to understand this, too. A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure. Just look at what book publishers have found.

An article last month in the New York Times showed how publishers have used social media followings as a weathervane of sorts for books sales. The number of followers an author has is influencing everything from what authors are paid to which books get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is pretty straightforward when you look under hood of that particular industry.

A publisher is the business that buys a certain book from the author, essentially making a bet that the sales of this book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author as well as the cost of publication and promotion of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell sufficient copies to not just make its money back, but insure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The follower count is being looked to as an indicator of just how many people can be expected to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is certainly a sign they’re interested in what that author has to say. Some percentage of those followers can reasonably be expected to buy a book by this person. Except social media followings turn out to be a fairly terrible tool of forecasting book sales.

Billie Eilish has 99 million Instagram followers. Her book — released last year — sold 64,000 copies. If I was being catty, I would point out that is one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.

billie eilish on Twitter: "“Billie Eilish” - The photo book by Billie The  book and the audiobook companion (narrated by Billie) are available now.  https://t.co/PAYxvTW64A https://t.co/vWFmq3502D" / Twitter

“Even having one of the biggest social media followings in the world is not a guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.

So we should all just stop paying attention to Twitter followings, right? Hardly. First of all, it is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important probably thinks the Internet is just a fad. More importantly, having a following is certainly better than not having one as it does indicate the ability to attract an audience.

The issue isn’t whether it’s good to have a large following. Of course it is. The issue is how reliable that is in predicting an individual’s interest or appeal outside of that specific social platform.

What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:

  1. Why are people following this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond that. What sort of content is this person providing that none of his or her peers are? Will that type of content be valuable as part of my lineup whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or other format? Someone who’s funny on Twitter may be funny in other formats. They may also just be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this kind of content has worked in the past or reasons to think it will work in the future?
  2. How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my medium? This is one of the trickier ones. One of the reasons for acquiring a talent with a large social media following is the hope that some of their followers will become your customers. While this is always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.

Remember, that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of books is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was the publishing house didn’t expect a solid sales performance. It expected incredibly strong sales because it paid a significant amount of money to Eilish in the form of an advance.

It’s clear the publishing house made a bad bet, but the principal mistake was not about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She did produce one that was 336 pages long, loaded with family photos never seen before and while there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, the sales were solid. The mistake the publishing house made was overestimating how many of Eilish’s fans would become customers in an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson worth noting in this industry.

Unless you’re hiring someone to do social media for your company, Twitter is not going to be their job. It’s just a tool. An important tool, a useful one, but just a tool.

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