Jared Stillman didn’t blink when he was asked to host solo in November. In fact, neither did anyone at ESPN 102.5 The Game in Nashville, even though the station knew it would have to undergo a search to find his next co-host. Floyd Reese, a former GM of the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, announced his intentions late last year to resign as the co-host of Jared & The GM. Stillman had hosted solo before and it was an incredible luxury for the station, because there wasn’t a mass panic to hurry and fill the spot. Instead, The Game took its time and carefully vetted each candidate to find the best partner for Stillman in afternoon drive.
“I’ve done solo shows before so doing them in November, December and at the beginning of the year wasn’t that hard for me,” said Stillman. “By being able to do a solo show it gave us the opportunity to take our time.”
102.5 The Game being able to take its time with the search, meant the station discovered Caroline Fenton, a social media producer at ESPN in Bristol. Amidst tons of other applicants, the fit seemed natural from the beginning.
“They interviewed a lot of people,” Stillman said. “A lot of people wanted to be on an afternoon drive show in Nashville. I was able to get on a Zoom with her and I thought she was great. She came to Nashville and we got to really know her.”
Things move fast in this industry. After spending a week behind the scenes learning all of the digital elements the station had to offer, she was soon making her debut as the new co-host on Stillman and Company. April 5th was her first full day on the show, just in time for the stretch run for the NFL Draft and smack dab in the middle of the Predators’ regular season.
“I thought it was really well played out,” Stillman said. “I definitely think it’s probably better right now since we’re in the middle of a hockey season and it looks like the Predators are going to make the playoffs. That’s a big deal around here, because we’re the flagship station for the Predators. We had a plan and because of that it’s made the first week a lot easier. What we were doing, it wasn’t like, hey, here’s the mic, go. It was like, hey, here’s the segment you’re going to be a little bit more active and here’s the segment where you’re going to be a little less active. Or even, here’s what we’re going to want digitally. Caroline is really smart and she’s really talented so those things weren’t very difficult at all.”
Stillman has every club in the bag you need as a sports radio host. He can host solo, he can host with the former player or coach and he can even host with someone who wants to share as many strong opinions as him. No matter the situation in the studio, not only can he handle it, but he has the confidence and the talent to turn it into really compelling radio. He’s done different types of shows but this one will signal a very important step for the development of his career.
“It’s kind of like different genres of movies,” Stillman said. “Some guys are comedy actors, some guys are drama guys and some guys are action guys. Then you have someone like Ryan Reynolds who can do all of them. For me, this is a really important step for my development as a host. I try not to make it about me, or think that it’s about me, but it’s a really important step in my development. Floyd was a management guy, but it’s all the same with the ex-coach, ex-GM, ex-player, it’s kind of the same concept. I’ve done those shows and this is a little different.. This is like a Colin Cowherd show or a Bobby Bones show. It’s not just one guy, there’s a crew.
“When we decided to make the show more of a company, I didn’t think we would get someone as talented as Caroline, but our producer Ian, he does a fantastic job on the air and off the air. For me it’s a different experience, because it’s a different kind of show, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think we’re not able to get listeners what they want every day and entertain them, which is really what the whole point is anyway.”
Nashville still has one of the newer franchises in the NHL, but it takes a backseat to nobody when it comes to passion within its fanbase. The state of Tennessee has long been labeled a football state, and that’s still probably true, but you better know hockey if you’re going to talk sports in the Nashville area. Fenton has quickly transitioned herself into daily hockey talk, but knowing exactly what’s happening on the ice can be intimidating for someone that didn’t grow up in a hockey market.
“Hockey is important because that’s what the people here care about,” said Stillman. “It’s like when I worked in Louisville and it was all about college sports. It was all about Louisville and Kentucky. I think Caroline is like any new host when they go into a different city, where they have to feel it out. It doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re not knowledgeable but even I had to learn some things when I got here and I grew up here. I do think Caroline has worked really hard off the air to master it.
“I think too much in radio, and I think this is a much larger issue than Caroline, but we just put a microphone in someone’s face and say go. There’s not an education process. I’ve been in situations where someone stuck a microphone in my face and said go. I just don’t think that’s the best way to do this. Ryan Porth has been our program director for five years and he has the experience on how to bring somebody up.”
Football always rates in every single market in the country, but when it comes to basketball, baseball, hockey or any other sport, it’s pretty much a case-by-case basis. Nashville loves hockey but is it an easy sport to talk about? Is it difficult to make the game sound interesting on radio with so many regular season games?
“You may wear jeans and khakis every day but if you work at Lululemon, you better figure out how to sell yoga pants,” Stillman said. “People care about the Predators, so, you’ve got to watch. Some of our strongest periods were when we did four hours on the Predators during their Stanley Cup run in 2017 and their Presidents Cup season in 2018. I would laugh because here’s Floyd Reese, a 36-year NFL veteran and here he is talking about the power play. And the people loved it. I don’t think it’s any different from any other sport. The one thing you cannot do in sports talk radio right now, no matter the sport, if your audience cares, you can’t look at the game and say, oh, today’s game doesn’t matter so forget about it. Every game matters. How much it matters is how much you think it matters.
“I use Felger and Mazz in Boston as an example. When I used their model, you listen to those guys and every Celtics game matters. Every time they lose they want to talk about blaming the coach. Those guys will go on rants about somebody’s three at bats in a May 13th game with the Red Sox and they will literally drive an hour on someone going 0-3 with a walk and it’s like ‘what are we paying this guy for!’. It moves the needle and I think everyone in sports talk radio needs to adopt that with their own team. Local sports talk radio is not going away, because it’s in live time. Podcasts aren’t. Hosts have to look at what matters to the audience and if it matters to the audience for them to invest three hours of their life watching that game, then it should matter enough to you to watch it and it should matter enough to you to find ways to make discussing that game interesting.”
Give a ton of kudos to 102.5 The Game and how they’ve made the transition as easy as possible for Fenton in the afternoons. Also, give the same amount of kudos to Fenton for buying into what she was being sold and working tirelessly to perfect it. Really, how the station handled this hiring should be a learning tool for others across the country.
But though Stillman and Company seems to have hit the ground running and are hitting their stride, has the identity of the show already been completely formed?
“I try not to predict things like that too far in advance,” Stillman said. “The show is pretty much what this show was built on way back in 2016, which was strong opinions with the Titans and the Predators and whatever else people in Nashville are talking about. I don’t think that’s going to change. We are an opinion show and I don’t ever foresee that changing. I think Caroline is ready to bring her opinions.”
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.
Sports Radio News2 days ago
Mike Golic, Dave Pasch Reunite On Westwood One Next Week
Sports Radio News3 days ago
107.5 The Fan’s JMV Missed A Chance To Break Hard Knocks News
News Television3 days ago
Bill Maher: I’m Glad I Found Out Norm MacDonald Died After He Died
Sports Radio News2 days ago
Joy Taylor Creates Scholarship At Barry University