When I choose a new show to eavesdrop on for a month, I start by reminding myself I’m not the target audience. I have to prepare to listen to the context of the content more than the content itself because let’s face it, I don’t care much about Ryan Saunders getting fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But every so often I stumble on a show in a local market that can attract listeners from anywhere. And KFAN’s The Power Trip does just that. They talk sports on a macro level, if at all. As much as this show serves their local audience in the Twin Cities, it also has the ability to break market lines.
Many sports radio executives preach the “topic tree,” but even when sports is the foundation of a segment for The Power Trip, prepare for unique turns. A conversation about frequent KFAN guest and former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway can seamlessly, and quickly transition to a detailed breakdown of where to eat your drive thru fast food and who can watch.
It’s not a show that fits the future mold of sports radio as the industry breeds hosts to follow format. The Power Trip prioritizes entertainment over sports, and creativity over construct. It’s not a style that can be taught or even built, this type of chemistry has to be organic.
It’s similar to the chemistry heard from The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan in D.C., but they’ve been friends since grade school! How do you build a mix of talent that can sound cohesive and organic without battling for mic time?
That’s the impossible part for hosts to figure out, but here’s the hardest part for listeners. KFAN’s morning show has so many moving parts, it took me a while as a newcomer to recognize who the guests were and who the core hosts are. One month might not be a long enough time to fully grasp The Power Trip.
Chris Hawkey is the quarterback, with Cory Cove and Paul “Meatsauce” Lambert as the full-time co-hosts. Producers Zach Halverson and Brianne Burdette keep open mics while A.J. Mansour, Mark Parrish, Carly Zucker, John Kriesel and many others are frequent contributors. Every day there’s another personality joining the show, which is not uncommon in sports radio where interviews are prevalent. But guests of The Power Trip are not there for traditional Q&A segments.
There is no room for interviews on this show. Unless it’s a blatant needle mover who can contribute to a unique conversation, squeezing in a 10-minute traditional sports talk Q&A only derails what KFAN’s morning show offers.
When I listen to The Power Trip, I envision myself as part of the show. If it were a sitcom, I would be sitting with them at a roundtable having breakfast every morning. And when regulars like Mark Rosen or Tommy Olson walk in, they’re friends of the group. But if Adam Schefter or Ian Rapoport unexpectedly show up, my first reaction will be ‘who invited this guy, and why wasn’t I asked about it first?’
The Power Trip makes their audience feel like contributors. Other hosts might be exceptionally talented sports talkers, and their listeners might be entertained, but there’s a difference between being made a spectator vs a contributor.
Power Trip listener’s know the hosts and guests, they’re in on the bits and play along with the games. And they did a great job hosting their in-show game shows, Hawkey with In The Box and Cove on Initials. It’s something Howard Stern would respect, after he recently ranted about the need for TV game shows to hire radio people as their hosts. The Power Trip doesn’t hide its love for Stern, and it shows in their ability to build a community.
I don’t want to say sports is a detriment to The Power Trip, but they’re certainly better off having the freedom of an open forum. Unlike most sports radio shows, February is when The Power Trip is at its best. It does pose the question, how important is the sports part of sports radio?
I grew up knowing sports played a minimal role in WFAN’s morning show when Don Imus was at the helm, but that didn’t stop him from anchoring the format’s first radio station. Much of sports radio struggled when leagues were on hold during the pandemic, but it was because of industry limitations, not a reluctance from the audience to hear something different.
I didn’t listen, but The Power Trip must have thrived during the pandemic peak. No need to invent a bracket as a way of digging deep for content, KFAN’s morning show was able to do what they always do, have a conversation and make people laugh. And I got a taste of how they would sound broadcasting from different locations when Cove was stuck in the KFAN building elevator to begin a Friday show.
This was also the second time I’ve listened to a sports radio show where one host was stuck in an elevator at the station. The previous being Joe Benigno on WFAN, who was stuck on his way back from a commercial break cigarette which may or may not be the reason you could later catch traces of smoke in the newsroom when Steve Somers was in the building for his overnight.
I wish they broke down their podcasts more. Deciding whether or not to dive into a 150-minute-long podcast can be daunting. But a 15-minute option is less of an initial commitment and it can be used as a jumping off point for the full show. One benefit to being less sports-focused, it creates more podcastable content. You can listen to an episode of The Power Trip from last week or month and forget the date it was recorded because it’s not sports reactionary. I’ll stare at the 150-minute-long podcast knowing 80% of it is timeless content, but I still need a better roadmap or highlights nudging me to listen.
I enjoyed the show’s literal sound, and the obvious emphasis on selecting their rejoin music is a reason why. Using audio to please a radio audience seems like an elementary tip, but plenty of shows choose cheesy synth that fell out of a ‘90s porno over good bumper music. Audioslave, Rage Against The Machine, anytime you come back from break with a Tom Morello riff it’s a wakeup call, the commercials are over and the tone is set for the incoming segment.
Similarly, kicking off the show by playing a couple of quick stand-up bits takes the role of a hype man. It’s also pretty bold to use successful comedians like Tom Green or Jim Gaffigan as your lead-in, not everyone can follow elite performers each morning.
And for a show that sets out to be funny, a laugh track is necessary. It’s the benefit of having so many people in studio every day. Three hosts, two producers and a cast of characters stopping by, mics are filled with laughter, led by Brianne Burdette to let the listener know you’re never laughing in the car alone.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
- Steve Levy (ESPN)
- Paul Finebaum (ESPN/SEC Network)
- Doug Gottlieb (FOX Sports)
- Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN)
- Gregg Giannotti (WFAN)
- Tim Brando (FOX Sports)
- Wes Durham (ACC Network)
- Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
- Gary Parrish (CBS Sports)
- Linda Cohn (ESPN)
- Stugotz (Meadowlark Media)
- Damon Bruce (95.7 The Game)
- Chris Broussard (FOX Sports)
- Freddie Coleman (ESPN Radio)
- Ric Bucher (FOX Sports)
- Petros Papadakis (FOX Sports)
- Michael Eaves (ESPN)
- Jason Smith (FOX Sports)
- John Kincade (97.5 The Fanatic)
- Rob Parker (FOX Sports)
- Adnan Virk (DAZN/Meadowlark Media)
- Damon Amendolara (CBS Sports Radio)
- Danny Parkins (670 The Score)
- Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk)
- Chris Carlin (ESPN New York)
- Carl Dukes (92.9 The Game)
- Jason Fitz (ESPN)
- Adam Schein (SiriusXM/CBS Sports)
- Dave Dameshek (Extra Points)
- 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.
Media Noise – Episode 37
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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