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Eavesdropping: Jon Marks & Ike Reese

“The afternoon duo works to build a community of listeners. It’s fast paced, with moving parts that keep the show busy.”

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January offered a fully loaded month of sports content in Philadelphia, filled with topics that were tough to dream about when the pandemic put all seasons on hold last spring.

Beginning with the Eagles “tanking” on Sunday Night Football, followed by their decision to retain Doug Pederson, only to part ways with him shortly after. Debates about the future of Carson Wentz and whether his short tenure as a starting quarterback is already over. Finding the next coach, then hearing Nick Sirianni’s opening press conference. Potentially dealing Ben Simmons for James Harden, and even the Phillies got in on the action when they signed J.T. Realmuto.

It’s a lazy radio host’s dream. Let the headlines do the work and feel good about calling it a day because there was no room for creativity.

But Jon Marks and Ike Reese are focused on more than just getting through each show for 94WIP. The afternoon duo works to build a community of listeners. It’s fast paced, with moving parts that keep the show busy. Producer Jack Fritz offers an energetic third voice on standby. And the fabric of sports radio in the northeast is on full display, lots and lots of callers.

There was room for more audio, drops and clips. Audio actualities fit the show’s pace and continue it on the path of having morning sound with afternoon content. Similar to the way color makes magazines more exciting than a newspaper, sound enhances the listening experience of a radio show.

The month started off with a local topic that went national when Doug Pederson and the Eagles seemingly tanked their final game of the regular season. There weren’t many people defending Pederson’s decision to play Nate Sudfeld during the second half of the Eagles Week 17 loss to Washington. There was an even smaller percentage of former players who were defending what appeared to be a tank job.

What the Eagles did in their final game of the season was sacrilegious, yet while Marks’ anger built on-air, Reese was more sympathetic to the decision by Pederson and the Eagles to prioritize jumping three spots in the draft.

For years, Reese has been yelling ‘let the bronco buck!’ But as soon as the WIP mainstay wanted the Ferrari tucked into the garage, it showed that after nearly 15 years away from the field, Reese might be more media than former player. A former player accepting the decision to tank, rationally recognizing the long-term benefit? The surprise was refreshing.

Marks and Reese do a good job of letting conversations build, they state their opinions at the start of a topic, but their best supporting points might not come until later in the segment. Pick a talk radio host and transcribe their monologue or segment. Then convert it into an essay and you might be able to cut it in half because of repeated points with changed verbiage. 

But WIP’s afternoon show stacks their points rather than repeating them. If Marks is passionate about a topic, his energy builds as the segment gets rolling. An eloquent voice of the fans, maintaining a naturally genuine sound as his frustrations snowball.

I would have liked them to dig deeper on James Harden being dealt to the Brooklyn Nets. The news broke shortly after an interview with Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer where the census was Harden would be heading to Philly. In the next segment, WIP dropped their ‘Breaking News’ sound effect, announcing the Rockets and Nets had a deal.  

Image result for james harden trade

Marks and Reese were on opposite ends of the spectrum with what was a potentially franchise altering move for the 76ers. When the situation had finality, I was expecting a solid discussion to come out of the news, but it was brief before the focus shifted to caller opinions. If hosts have drastically different opinions on a polarizing decision, I’d delay the calls and see how the conversation can cultivate.

I understand text lines and the purpose they serve. It gives your community of listeners another avenue to contribute and get in touch with the show. But while I believe callers have the ability to enhance a show when used correctly, a host monotonously reading off a list of texts does nothing for the listener.

The chosen texts are often self-serving, providing a pat on the back for the show or host.

‘Nice job, love listening to you guys!’

But turning the bland segment into a parody by having the texts voiced over was a great idea from Marks & Reese. It made a usually boring segment into a humorous bit, combining sound and listener interaction to unveil a reimagined text line.

If a listener misses any of the show, they have plenty of content available on-demand through the RADIO.COM app. The four-hour show is generally broken up into five podcasts. Entercom doesn’t have a blanket podcast policy, they let their stations govern themselves on how they want to offer on-demand content. I like having the option to hear the entire show, but realistically, I don’t frequently take advantage of it.

If I see a list of five podcasts, each about 35 minutes long, I’m more likely to say ‘I’ll listen to it later.’ Much of sports radio is time sensitive and I’m probably not fishing through 35-minute segments to find content that’s still relevant. But if the clips are cut down to less than 10 minutes, I’m willing to invest that time to check out a rant or debate, even if at the risk of it being old news.

The interviews on Marks & Reese were fine because they were generally a side note to the show. Brian Baldinger, Eliot Shorr-Parks, Merrill Reese, Kevin O’Connor, they were predictable guests that might not do much to further the conversation, but they didn’t derail the show either. You’re not going to be surprised by a guest and the Insider impact was minimal for the casual listener, but still offered something informative for the die-hard fan.

Marks and Reese take a lot of calls, just as most northeast sports radio shows do. And there are some brutal callers. But there are also callers that become part of the show and help create that community aspect. As a listener, I prefer bad callers over boring interviews. I will never stop listening to a bad call, because I know it will be over in seconds. But I will never continue listening to a bland interview because I know it won’t be over for another 10 minutes.

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Calls give listeners a chance to congratulate Marks on his minivan purchase. It’s also where you get listeners who are jealous of Chuck from Mount Airy, calling in to question his authenticity. Talking to people who are less concerned with the radio clock or speaking with inflection, and are instead only focused on an irrational point about the Eagles, makes radio relatable.

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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