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Jared Stillman Was Ready For Company In Afternoon Drive

“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.”

Tyler McComas

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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.”

Stillman & Company | The Game Nashville

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.”

ESPN 102.5 The Game 😷 on Twitter: "ESPN 102.5 The Game is proud to  announce the addition of Caroline Fenton to their afternoon show “Stillman  & Company” with host Jared Stillman, which

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. 

Caroline Fenton (@carolinefenton1) | Twitter

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.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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