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The Talent Vote: Sports Radio Stations

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?

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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?

Boston and Pittsburgh are the big winners this year. Congratulations to the Sports Hub and 93.7 The Fan! PDs and executives voted them the top stations in major and mid markets respectively. Let’s see what the talent had to say though. What stations do the people that make stations special think are the most special?


TIM MONTEMAYOR – FORMERLY 1320 KFAN (SALT LAKE CITY), KNBR (SAN FRANCISCO), KTRS (ST. LOUIS), KHTK (SACRAMENTO)

There are a lot of great sports talk radio stations in this country, and I listen to many of them on a daily basis, but the job of naming the best one is difficult at best. For me it is about understanding who you are, where you are, who listens to you, and how they listen to you. 

Major markets are stocked with great sports talk stations, but there is nothing like two titans throwing haymakers at each other all day long. Chicago has ESPN 1000 pushing The Score, in New York, Craig Carton on FAN and Michael Kay on ESPN NY are going head to head, and in Boston 98.5 The Sports Hub recently pulled an 11 share, leaving long time GIANT WEEI in their wake …again. 

But when you want a local radio battle, that involves the single best sports talk radio station in the country, you go to San Francisco! The Bay Area had long been dominated by KNBR 680 – THE Sports Leader. Then came 95.7 The Game, and the new guy on the block stole the Warriors and built a strong local lineup, including a guy I think is the best PD in the business, Matt Nahigian. 

So KNBR gave up right? Just turned off the transmitter and went home? Nope, KNBR is the best sports talk radio station in the country for one reason, they are Bay Area Sports. Murph and Mac are must listen in the morning, especially when big things are happening. Tom Tolbert is Bay Area sports, and Larry Krueger is one of the most underappreciated hosts in the country. 

However, KNBR is the best sports talk station in the country because they know who they are, THE Sports Leader. When a story breaks, they are on it. They know where they are, so they deliver personality driven, local radio, that listeners can count on. Giants, Niners, NFL …it’s KNBR. Steph Curry and the Warriors? How about Tom Tolbert on KNBR. You want it on your phone? KNBR. Online? KNBR.com is easy to navigate and optimized for smartphones. Anywhere you want to get KNBR, it’s there.  

KNBR is the best on air, online, and on mobile …because they are live, local, and listeners know exactly what they are going to get when they turn it on! KNBR uses all of that to leverage their heritage, partnerships, and listeners to drive ratings and revenue, and a lot of both!

KNBR finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

SCOTT KAPLAN – ESPN 710 LA (LOS ANGELES), THE MIGHTIER 1090 (SAN DIEGO)

For me, the best sports station is ESPN 710 LA. Yes I am a homer, but I have loved this station for as long as I can remember. 

Here’s why I think it is a great station. 710 is owned and operated by ESPN, it has rights deals with the biggest brands in LA sports – the Lakers, Rams and LAFC. It has a heritage show in Mason and Ireland, with reputable, local and credible talent in Jorge Sedano and LZ Granderson.

Obviously with National ESPN programming, you have to figure a way to be local, PD Amanda Brown has found a nice balance with local coverage during the Keyshawn morning show, and the imaging of Chris Morales makes 710 sound totally unique all day.

ESPN LA 710 finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

ZACH MCRITE – FORMERLY 101 ESPN (ST. LOUIS), 107.7 THE FRANCHISE (OKLAHOMA CITY), KENTUCKY SPORTS RADIO

When this pandemic began and it dawned on many of us drivetime commutes would be, well, mostly commuted. Many thought that the mid-market radio industry–especially sports radio–would take one of the more severe hits. And, while that was true in some cases, the status quo also prevailed in some markets. 

But there were a select few that gained in a pandemic year. Kudos to all of them, but the one that kept getting my attention and gets my number one vote in this category for 2020 is 97.1 The Fan Columbus.

Never mind the surefire gains that the station will receive thanks to the college football Buckeyes’ CFB Playoff title game run, but right in the middle of the 2020 economic nightmare, when others were subtracting, The Fan added a local morning show once ESPN’s national morning show, Golic & Wingo, called it quits. That takes some major cojones.

Even so, and maybe even more impressively, The Fan beat out all other formats and led the way in the entire market in M25-54 during the “dog days of COVID-19,” with massive double-digit shares in their afternoon slots. That’s a pretty rare story in 2020 and worthy of major consideration at the top of the mid-market list.

97.1 The Fan finished #6 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

BRADY FARKAS – WDEV (VERMONT)

WGR in Buffalo does a great job at being engaging and active on social media and I think that’s hugely important to the current audience and current marketplace. The Twitter account alone is a great news source for Bills and Sabres content. I think the One Bills Drive from 12-3 is a great show that captures the Bills love of the city and continues to tie the station in with the Bills brand. And in 2020, I think the station did a great job in a unique situation regarding the Toronto Blue Jays. The hosts discussed the Blue Jays move to Buffalo for the season, had game stories online, had video of the first pitch at the stadium that Canadian outlets picked up and I think they made the most of the unique opportunity in a unique year.

I also think that WGR personalities do a good job of making themselves accessible on other stations. I know Sal Capaccio does weekly hits on other radio stations and I think that kind of brand recognition and brand awareness is great for the station, both in the area, and outside the area. Eric Wood, who also does color for the games, is a great analyst who appeared on “The Herd” and I think that altogether, this kind of exposure, and the recognition of how valuable that exposure is, is a big deal.

WGR 550 finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

We’re almost done, but I have been promising you all along that we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. There’s one left and it is original sports podcasts.

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 sports talk station in the country is? Feel free to add your comment below.

BSM Writers

Broadcast Partnerships Can’t Get In The Way Of Reporting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

truth-engraved-stone - Baptist & Reflector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s only the first full week.

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BSM Writers

Barrett Sports Media’s Next Big Thing Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 37

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

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