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If Only All Sports Drama Matched Dodgers-Padres

As a disjointed NBA and other entities suffer ratings crashes, a thrilling first series in baseball’s new rivalry issued the industry a reminder: Games must entertain to guarantee audiences in an evolving America.

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After midnight in L.A., when even the Jenners and Machine Gun Kelly are asleep, I realized why a ballgame had hijacked me as it cannonballed toward a sixth hour. It wasn’t about rivalry hype, a hopeful premise that the Dodgers — baseball’s corporate goliaths — suddenly are being challenged by a revived bottom-feeder in San Diego. It wasn’t the assembled starpower and affluence — the $365 million of Mookie Betts, the $300-million-plus deals of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, Trevor Bauer’s $40 million a year, the batboys making six figures with comped hotel suites (kidding, I think).

Betts Makes Diving Grab As Dodgers Beat Padres 2-0 | San Diego, CA Patch

It wasn’t even the startling element of raucous crowd noise, louder than 15,250 humans seem capable of generating in what surely was the decibels leader of sport’s pandemic era, Super Bowl and Wrestlemania included.

No, I was excited enough to keep watching because: (1) the players showed up for the weekend series, in uniform, even as Tatis, Machado and Betts have battled injuries; (2) they were excited to be at Petco Park, engaged in mid-April fury with the urgency of “a playoff game,” as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward; (3) not a soul was taking the evening off due to  “rest” or a “minutes restriction” or “load management” or while tending to a “personal matter” or a “mental day;” and (4) the Friday night game was friggin’ great — all four hours and 57 minutes of it, including an incident that emptied dugouts and bullpens — proving that the length of an extra-innings classic doesn’t matter when intensity and quality are next-level and both teams actually are trying to win a championship.

And what happened the next night? Another thriller, crisp and low-scoring, featuring more animosity — a God-fearing Clayton Kershaw, firing f-bombs at Jurickson Profar, who fired them back — and ending with Betts racing 60 feet, laying out his delicate body and saving the 2-0 victory by slamming into the grass and securing a liner in the heel of his glove, an inch or two from a trap. Imagine, a player of that pay grade risking his health so early in a season.

“I just kind of blacked out,” said Betts, who celebrated by pounding his chest four times and shouting into the night. “I was kind of in the moment. I just knew when the ball went up, I had to catch it, and that’s what I did.”

If this is an indirect way of upbraiding the NBA for its disjointed regular season, so be it. Certainly, Major League Baseball is overloaded with its own problems — COVID-19 outbreaks, tanking teams, sexual harassment probes in front offices, ball-doctoring by pitchers such as Bauer, an abysmal percentage of Black players on rosters (7.6 percent) and the darkening clouds of a labor impasse at season’s end. The Minnesota Twins are the latest team to require game cancellations after multiple positive virus tests, making fans think twice about attending games while reminding the sports world that a pandemic still rages. “This is the unfortunate reality that we live in,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. But at least MLB, after weeks of promising special drama in these Dodgers-Padres tussles — “We’re going to get 19 World Series games this year,” the Dodgers’ Justin Turner said — delivered in the first of six series between teams separated by 120 miles of interstate highway.

I have no reason to trust the NBA and its careless competitive breaches. Unspoken tension between the players and commissioner Adam Silver, who insisted on starting a 72-game regular season only 71 days after last season ended, has resulted in an unwatchable mish-mash of athlete and franchise indifference, DNPs and suspicions that some stars aren’t injured as much as they’re being stashed away protectively for the playoffs. And those who are legitimately crippled — Denver’s Jamal Murray is out until next season with a torn ACL, ruining the Nuggets’ hopes — have every right to wonder if a short offseason increased the risk of serious injuries. After losing an estimated $2 billion in the Disney Bubble experiment, Silver saw financial advantages in a Christmas Week start, as encouraged by broadcast partners ESPN and Turner, while ending the postseason just before the Tokyo Olympics in late July.

The players aren’t happy, blaming the league for a spate of injuries both real and imagined. The Toronto Raptors, champions two years ago, are among those deeming “rest” more important than a playoff berth — even in a season when there are 10 qualifiers in each conference. “There’s certainly ups and downs to this thing more than I’ve ever experienced in my life. To be honest, this is probably the most un-pure year of basketball I’ve ever been a part of, just from the whole league and rushing the season back,” the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet said. “It’s pretty much all about business this year on every level and it’s hard to hide it, you know what I’m saying? … I think this year, the industry side has taken precedence over some of the love and joy.”

What Silver didn’t anticipate was an aesthetic disaster, the antithesis of the Dodgers-Padres masterpieces. If you doubt this, consider NBA ratings have dropped again, to the point a TNT doubleheader last week drew only 724,000 viewers, or less than we used to attract on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” during our peak years. The best potential story in Silver’s kingdom is across the bridge, in Brooklyn, where the Nets might be the most potent offensive team ever. Too bad we’ve yet to see the starting core — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Joe Harris — play more than a handful of minutes together. Durant, of course, is returning from a career-threatening right Achilles’ tendon rupture. But it happened almost two years ago. Two months after an unrelated hamstring injury in his left leg, the Nets routinely keep him out of games as a precaution more than a necessity. Harden is out with a hamstring strain, but he’d surely be playing on it in the postseason. Irving? He comes and goes as he pleases, the most maddening free bird in sports, capable of calling in sick or wigging out on a whim. Somehow, Nets general manager Sean Marks is fine with the flim-flamness, which prioritizes playoff health over all else, continuity and chemistry be damned.

Injuries and pandemic give Nets a healthy dose of lineup changes | Newsday

Anyone thinking about the fans in this equation? Last week, the NBA was poised for its potential version of a hot new rivalry: Nets vs. 76ers. ESPN was so juiced, it broadcast the game on its blowtorch feed and two other platforms, ESPN2 and ESPN+, which featured an all-gambling analytical focus for the first time. Hours before tipoff, the Nets announced Durant wouldn’t play, choosing to use him 27 minutes the previous night against the dismal Timberwolves to ensure at least one win in a back-to-back sequence. Across America, viewers flipped channels. The showcase game was a bust, producing numbers lower than AEW, pro wrestling’s junior-varsity brand.

“We want to get everyone healthy, and that’s just as important as circling the calendar for Philly,” Durant said.

“We’ve got to protect him,” coach Steve Nash said.

Ah, Nash. He was leading a comfortable life in Manhattan Beach as a soccer aficionado, an advisor to the Golden State Warriors and Canada’s Olympic team and a philanthropist who once was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Why did he take the Nets’ gig again? He has used 30 different starting units and is accustomed to games with 10 or fewer active players. Just when he was excited about acclimating big man LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting unit, the seven-time All-Star abruptly retired due to an irregular heartbeat. If that’s not random, how many times has Blake Griffin suited up compared to his frequent flannel-shirt sightings as a cheerleader?

“We may not get any games with our whole roster. Nothing is promised tomorrow,” Nash said. “I don’t want to worry about or be concerned about things that are out of our control. I also don’t want any excuses. You start playing that game where it’s like, well we haven’t had any games with our full roster. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. We don’t control that.”

Irrelevant? The Nets are a title contender, not a playoff aspirant. “We just keep moving forward, keep trying to get better, and if we get a full roster that would be great and if we don’t we keep plugging away every day,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about when we’ll have the full roster. We’ll just chip away every day with whoever is available. Continue to build this thing and if we’re fortunate to have everyone back, that will be a blessing.”

Nash won’t say it. I will: The Nets are exploiting their fans, and Marks is on board to avoid a player mutiny. Sunday, Durant was in the starting lineup for an ESPN game against the Heat, who didn’t have star Jimmy Butler, out with what was called a sore ankle. Durant launched an immediate scoring burst — eight points in the first 93 seconds — then was lightly fouled by Trevor Ariza in the hip area. What happened next? Durant walked to the locker room with a “left thigh contusion” and didn’t return. Yet another hyped game was diluted, while NBA insiders asked: If Durant is this brittle, how are the Nets supposed to compete for a title? Or, is he simply a very good actor who’s distracted by his well-chronicled (and foolish) social-media wars?

“He’s sore,” said Nash, “but we don’t know how severe.”

Don’t mistake this as a claim that LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Donovan Mitchell haven’t been dealing with daunting setbacks. But I do wonder how many of these cases are being slow-played by teams focused entirely on the postseason, which means the final weeks of the regular season are being tanked by contenders. How can Silver, a self-described integrity enforcer, ignore rampant surrender throughout the league? He’s fortunate ticket-buyers still are kept at a minimum number, or he’d be sued for consumer fraud. He still might be.

This is no way to keep fans watching on TV or luring them to arenas as COVID restrictions ease. The pandemic has jarred many Americans into a pragmatic perspective: Who has time, money or energy for sports when the bigger objective is survival in a swirling, evolving world? As the industry is painfully aware, the ratings continue to crater for the biggest events — the Masters sunk to its lowest spring viewership numbers since 1993. This follows all-time lows for the NBA Finals and World Series and the lowest Super Bowl ratings since 2007. The NCAA tournament title game, which saw Baylor upend Gonzaga’s unbeaten season, was the least-watched since 1982. Don’t accept the easy explanation and assume it’s about cable cord-cutting. Or the premise that politics and anthem-kneeling have killed ratings.

Sports is entertainment.

And if the entertainment sucks, or is unreliable, people won’t watch. That goes for Netflix, the Oscars or the Brooklyn Nets. The NFL is the only league that has stood the test of COVID and continues to expect substantial traffic, which explains why CBS, NBC, ESPN/ABC, Fox and Amazon plunged $113 billion into 11-year deals. When the NBA leaks that it wants $75 billion in the next rights rush, when its current deal doesn’t expire for four more years, I would point to the Nets and other teams in the pattern of sitting players and ask if fans have lost measures of interest. The Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz, already missing Mitchell, rested Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley Jr. and Derrick Favors for “injury recovery” purposes Saturday. Who wants to watch second-rate events? When fans return to games en masse, shouldn’t ticket and concession prices be slashed if roster dilution becomes business as usual?

Utah Jazz: When might Donovan Mitchell return from injury?

The NBA playoffs, starting a month later than usual on May 22, could be a ratings bust if watchability standards don’t improve markedly. This is the summer Americans have awaited for a very long time — free of isolation, who wants to sit at home watching basketball when no one knows who’s injured or not? The play-in format, meanwhile, already has been torched by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and star Luka Doncic, who suddenly realize Dallas’ No. 7 seeding would require an additional three-game series against Steph Curry, Gregg Popovich or Zion Williamson. Said Doncic: “You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs. I don’t see the point.” Now that he mentions it, the fans might not see the point of tuning in.

I didn’t plan on watching more than an inning or two of Dodgers-Padres, Night One. The series seemed like a media creation that annoyed the World Series champions. “It’s just another division series,”  Corey Seager said.

“Obviously, we know they’re good,” Betts said of the Padres. “But everyone is good in the big leagues.”

Was this a case of the inferior neighbor to the south, envious of all things L.A. and Hollywood, trying to manufacture a challenge? The Petco DJ played “Dust in the Wind” and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as the Dodgers took batting practice. Really? Hours later, after four late lead changes and 17 total pitchers, Seager finally reminded us of the Dodgers’ supremacy with a modern novelty — a leadoff, two-run homer. Yes, the new extra-inning rules were in play, with a runner starting the half-inning on second base, and wasn’t it a treat watching the Padres finally succumb by using second baseman Jake Cronenworth in emergency relief? He allowed an RBI sacrifice fly to weak-hitting pitcher David Price, who flew out to … Joe Musgrove, last week’s no-hit wonder, who’d been inserted in left field. Later, Cronenworth struck out Betts, who went down swinging on an 89-mph fastball.

“I wanted to maybe throw a little harder,” he told reporters, “but they told me not to.”

All we wanted was more. It was the best baseball game I’ve seen since March 11, 2020 — the start of the COVID calendar — and probably the best wire-to-wire sports event. Night Two came close, with Kershaw and Yu Darvish dueling as a ripple of the sport’s best two pitching staffs. Kershaw smelled a farce when Profar let strike three whiz by him, then intentionally swung late, wanting home-plate umpire Tom Hallion to think he was checking his swing. When his bat grazed the glove of catcher Austin Barnes, Profar remained at home plate.

“That’s a (expletive) swing!” Kershaw shouted. 

“Shut the (expletive) up!” Profar replied.

Padres announcer has hilarious interpretation of Clayton Kershaw-Jurickson  Profar beef (Video)

Hallion, whose performance was wretched all night, somehow let the New York replay crew decide if Barnes committed catcher’s interference, as the Padres were claiming. Meanwhile, Kershaw was yelling and pointing his finger at Profar, who was standing on first base and had to be restrained by coach Wayne Kirby from attacking the regal pitcher. “That’s a little scary,” Kershaw said later. “Barnes could have been seriously injured on that play. He basically swung down and backwards. I’m not saying it was intentional, but that was not a big-league swing.”

Profar was allowed to stay on first — the replay crew, oddly, agreed the catcher had interfered. But Kershaw, as usual, won in the end. With Darvish starting to wobble after retiring the first 14 batters, Kershaw came to bat with the bases loaded … and coaxed an eight-pitch walk that drove in the only run the Dodgers needed. “I was just trying to be annoying, really,” Kershaw said. “I wasn’t going to get a hit off him. He has too good of stuff. I was just trying to be a nuisance to him, fouling off pitches.”

The Padres avoided the sweep Sunday against Bauer, who allowed only a solo home run and two singles with seven strikeouts in six innings. The bullpen let him down, giving the Padres oxygen … until the rivalry resumes Thursday night in L.A. The Dodgers are 13-3, best start ever by a defending World Series champion. Playing in a division with three stragglers and a league with only a smattering of real contenders, why can’t they surpass the 116-win regular seasons of the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs — and the 125 total wins of the 1998 Yankees? That team was the last to repeat as champs, part of a trifecta ending in 2000, and you sense the Dodgers, after years of falling short, are prepared to make the competition pay with a dynastic run.

“When it’s time to make a play or a pitch, we do it,” said Betts, whose 12-year contract extends through the 2032 season. “If we keep doing it, we’re going to be successful for a long time.”

That they rose to match the passion of the moment, with autumn so far off, is a tribute to the organization. The Dodgers are the gold standard in American sports, having mastered modern business practices and analytics and meshing them with MLB financial might matched only by the Yankees. Jerry Jones has the most valuable sports franchise on Planet Earth, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t reached a Super Bowl this century. The Yankees are second on the list, but they haven’t won the Series since 2009. This season, they are a toxic spill onto themselves, still struggling to beat the team they’ve subsidized in revenue sharing, the Tampa Bay Rays, as fans pelt the field with baseballs and turn the Stadium into a danger zone. The Dodgers are a colossus, the bluebloods who got it right, from the on-field product to a Chavez Ravine experience improved by a $100 million renovation of the outfield pavilion and beyond, including what team president Stan Kasten calls “an open-air baseball history museum.”

Every beast needs an adversary. In a pop-culture context, the Dodgers are the triumphant Godzilla and the Padres are the quashed Kong. Neither the movie nor the first three World Series games, as Turner put it, let us down. “Neither team wanted to lose,” Price said after Night One. “Everybody was playing extremely hard. This is a good rivalry, a fun rivalry to be a part of. Just a ton of really good players.”

“We knew it was going to be emotional and intense coming here,” Roberts said after Night Two. “It’s certainly lived up to the billing.”

Dodgers' Dave Roberts talks racism and George Floyd's death - Los Angeles  Times

“Really fun to watch,” Kershaw said.

By comparison, the NBA tankers remind me of Shaquille O’Neal in his TNT office chair last week, asleep as Dwyane Wade and Candace Parker lobbed grapes at him. They have five weeks to wake up.

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BSM Writers

Meet The Market Managers: Dan Bennett, Cumulus Dallas

“If you want a big job, you better be able to handle the big responsibility. And it’s not just me. It’s all of my department heads. A ton is expected of us. That’s just the way it is.”

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I think most people in radio wish their career could look at least a little bit like Dan Bennett’s. The man has worked in the same city and same cluster, working his way up for the past 37 years.

Since 1999, he has served as the vice president and market manager for Cumulus Dallas. His cluster includes some of the company’s most valuable brands including three music stations, two news talkers, and the well known Sports Radio 1310/96.7 The Ticket, a sports radio station every bit as important to the history of the sports talk format as WFAN, WIP or any other station in the Northeast.

The well respected Dallas leader cleared some time from his schedule to connect with me to discuss the challenges of building a bench behind legendary talent, the pressures that come with being a company’s top revenue generator, and why you’ll never hear a host on The Ticket talk about a third string running back at SMU. With nearly four decades of success under his belt, when this man speaks, industry people are wise to listen.


Demetri Ravanos: You’ve been involved with The Ticket for a long time and I’ll get into the specifics of that brand, your talent, and lineup later, but I want to start by focusing on program directors. Not just at The Ticket, but all of your stations. You have six brands to look after. When it comes to filling a key role and determining who to place your faith in to lead a brand forward, what do you look for? Does the desire to be in Dallas for the long haul factor into your decision making? 

Dan Bennett: I think that’s really important, and I realize sometimes that people have other opportunities they may want to go and pursue. I think one of the advantages we have is that this is a top five market. Just the other day, they released new market sizes. We’re now number four. Once you get to a top 10 market, you don’t run into the same issues with people wanting to move up and up the way you might in some other places.           

I originally came from the programing side. So I tell all of our PDs up front that I listen to all of our stations a lot. I talk to the PDs all the time about product and content and everything else, because it’s real simple, we’re the company’s biggest market for revenue and the only way we’re going to get there is if we get ratings. You can only do so much with mediocre ratings.          

I meet with our PD’s every week. I also oversee Houston, KRBE there. I mean, I’m really in tune. When I hear outdated promos or outdated commercials or whatever, I’m texting them. When PD’s come here they know and understand that they’re working for a guy who came from the programing side. And you know, I’m really lucky because my team embraces it. I’d imagine that maybe some people out there wouldn’t like that situation, because most market managers come from sales. I’m fortunate in my career that I’ve been involved in both.

We’re here to win and I’m here to help them do that. I always tell them that I just have one rule. That is when I hear a mistake or something that isn’t right, I’ll let you know about it and don’t ever say it came from me. I don’t want the PD to call somebody and say, “Hey, Dan heard you mispronounce this guy’s name” or “Dan heard you with the date of the promotion being wrong”. What I try to do with the PD’s is I try to empower them. 

DR: So is that the way you feel you need to run the building so that you’re comfortable doing the best job that you can? Or if you had a talented programmer at any station who said, “Dan, this is one of the reasons I’m looking for something different is I need to be able to do this on my own”. Is that something you’re open to pulling back on at all? 

DB: Look, every department head, including me, has to be accountable to somebody. What you’re describing is “I don’t want to be accountable to anybody”. And that wouldn’t work. 

DR: That’s fair. 

DB: Even the best PD’s in the country cannot listen to their station 24/7. What I’m here to do is maybe catch something that you didn’t know about and then you can pick up the phone and deal with it. Again, I’m here to be your wingman, not to play a game of gotcha. 

DR: So going back to the idea that people stay with your stations for a long time, let’s talk specifically about The Ticket. I’m sure you saw not just in your city, but across the sports broadcasting landscape the emotional reaction towards Mike Rhyner deciding to call it a career. I believe we’re coming up on two years, right? 

DB: Yeah. You know, when Mike told me he wanted to hang it up, it was right around Christmas. I told him to take two weeks and think about it because I didn’t want him to have a knee jerk reaction. Rhyner is such character that he came into my office, and in that gruff voice of his, he started out by saying “Dan, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve lost my fastball.” That was his way of telling me it’s time to hang it up.              

Mike Rhyner, co-founder of 'The Ticket' and a Dallas radio fixture since  the 1970s, is off the air

I believe we’re fair to the air talent. We’ll pay you a good salary, but you’ve got to show up and put points on the board. You know, there’s a lot of people out there that want to go to a big station and make big money. And that’s fine. But you have to do your part and deliver ratings. 

DR: Some of those guys that have delivered ratings for you, The Musers, Norm Hitzges, are going to reach a point sometime down the road where they too knock on your office door and say, “Dan, I think it’s time”. You’ve grown with these guys for so long at the radio station, does that make it harder to think about that day or do you sort of fall back on the old college athletic director stereotype of always having a list of five names available because you never know when you’re going to need to pull it out? 

DB: This is why we’re always developing people, whether that be a producer that gets to pop on the air every once in a while and next thing you know, they’re on the air or more and more and more. I mean, Corby Davidson came up that way. Danny Balis came up that way. 

Shoot, Donovan Lewis, who does the noon show with Norm, he was a board operator who worked for me on KLIF. I’ll tell you how that happened, how we put him on the air. Donovan is one of the best guys in the world and he’s funny. One day I was in the kitchen in the break room and he had about five people around him. He was telling stories and had everybody laughing hysterically. I just sat there and watched this guy who’s a board op, and I remember going to Bruce Gilbert, who didn’t want to do it at the time, and when Bruce left and Jeff Catlin came in as PD, I said “We ought to try this guy, because I think he’s got something. He does stand up in the company kitchen. Plus, he really knows and loves sports. We ought to start just putting him in”. He’s the greatest guy in the world. Everybody loves him. He’s funny and he’s smart about sports.

So we’re constantly looking, whether it is in the break room or in a producer booth or a part time guy on the weekend. Who are we developing for that day when these long term guys decide they don’t want to do it anymore? 

DR: I want to circle back on something you said earlier about being the primary market for revenue generation within the company. Last year, every company, every business went through the challenges of the pandemic. When you have the company’s spotlight on your performance, is there added pressure when the whole industry is facing challenges and everyone is trying to figure this thing out on the fly? 

DB: Well, I mean we’re the company’s number one market for revenue and cash flow. Yeah, it becomes a lot of responsibility. I’ve been the market manager since 1999. I have been here since 1984. That’s 37 years. I mean, I’m used to the pressure. If you want a big job, then you better be able to handle the big responsibility. And it’s not just me. It’s all of my department heads. A ton is expected of us. That’s just the way it is.

I think this is a really good recent example. I needed another sales manager and felt that I needed to make a change on the music side for reasons I won’t go into. I hired Dawn Girocco, she was our market manager in Los Angeles. When we sold KLOS to the Meruelo group, they didn’t keep her. My belief is when you hire department heads, do not hire beneath you. Hire at your level or somebody who is good at something that you’re not.

Dawn had been a market manager in Los Angeles and I hired her to be the director of music sales. I think that that’s how you deal with the pressure, by having really incredible department heads all around you. People fail at this when they hire beneath themselves. That’s absolutely a fact. 

DR: Do you have a vision or blueprint in your mind of what works for an advertising partner in 2021? Do you have a set of trends you can point to, whether it’s Ticket clients or clients at any of your other stations, that you can say “This is what our most successful advertisers are doing. So I know it works across the board”? 

DB: Yeah, I do. It’s the association with our talent who have been there many, many years. I mean,  the average person on The Ticket has been there for like 22, 23 years.

Getting an endorsement now is way more than a live spot on the air. Now it’s social media and many times it’s a video. It’s a pre-roll video. It’s all these other things that your business can align itself to thru a personality. It isn’t any different than a GEICO ad. Look at all the different famous people that do GEICO ads. We have really well known local people. I will tell you, our music stations have more endorsements by the talent than any music station in town.

Geico commerical is play on 1993 hit song Whoomp There It Is - Learn more  about the ad

I think our talent is the number one asset that we can offer our clients, whether it be through an endorsement, an appearance, or due to the ratings they generate on the radio station. Even if you don’t have a Norm or Donovan doing your endorsement, the fact that your spot is on during our show gives you a better shot at making sure that the commercial works. I just think our best asset is our on-air talent. I really do. 

DR: So you talked in there about the idea of an endorsement not just being the live read anymore. And that sort of dovetails into something that I’ve been thinking about a lot across the board, not just with The Ticket or your cluster. Is there any sort of consistency that has developed in terms of trying to get a new client on air? Before it was very much about the personal approach. But now I wonder how much of it is just selling the idea of radio as opposed to all digital or any sort of other new media that there are always deals and plenty of options to get in on? 

DB: Well, we sell the concept of radio, your base buy and why. It really is involved in selling it in combination with digital. We try every time we go out to combine the two. Some people buy it on that. Some people don’t. When you can take two different mediums like digital and radio and even some of the podcasts that our guys do and combine them all together, then you have a consistent message, which is important. Then you can make it all work in concert with one another, and have a better chance of being successful. I think radio is doing a better job of embracing this thing called digital, but not by selling it and abandoning radio, but by making them run in concert with one another. 

DR: Let me ask you about the social side for a minute, because part of my job with Barrett Sports Media is studying brands all over the country. I would say, looking at social, The Ticket is a little less active than most major market stations. I wonder, is that something you want to see improve or is that a strategic choice on your part? 

DB: Do you mean in terms of the advertiser and being incorporated into our social media? 

DR: Not just that. I mean just the amount of content you guys put out on social. 

DB: Well, yeah. Quite frankly, Jeff Catlin and I have talked a lot about this. I think we need to do more of it. 

We’ve got a guy that we hired on The Wolf, Jason Pulman, to do afternoon drive. It’s a heavy personality show. The guy is just entrenched in social and the amount of ratings he’s been able to generate in four months has been unbelievable. So I think that’s probably an area that we can improve and do more of. I think you’re going to see that elevated over the next three to six months.

We’re always looking at ourselves and asking, “if you were a competitor to us, how would you come at us?”. You know, we can’t get so full of ourselves that we think we can’t get beat. Everybody can get beat somehow.

DR: Honestly, that’s why the question was, is it a strategic choice? Because I’m not even sure that it is incorrect necessarily, because one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year is that not everybody in the industry has had success selling digital products. Maybe they’ve had success selling it as part of a package with on air. But I’ve often found myself wondering if, as an industry radio has put more focus on digital than it is ready to at this point. 

DB: You’ve got to be careful. I’ll give you a perfect start. Believe me, we are focused on digital. We’re focused on selling it. However, in the last Miller Kaplan in the market, this is the whole market, 83 percent of all the revenue was still spot revenue. So, the careful thing there is don’t take your eye off 83 percent chasing some other shiny object.

That’s why any sales presentation really needs to incorporate both. Look, social and all that, that’s great. Whatever the air talent do, that’s great, but if the content that comes through the speakers isn’t good, I mean, you can promote on social media crappy content and they’re not going to listen to it. That’s why you’ve got to watch all of it, because it’s not just one thing. It never is.

DR: I’d love your insights on the growth of Dallas as a sports radio market. You guys have remained this behemoth even as challengers have arisen. 105.3 The Fan has tightened the race, but you’re no stranger to local sports radio competition. There’s never been a moment where another sports/talk station could say ‘we’ve firmly put The Ticket in the rearview mirror’. What do you attribute that to? 

DB: One of the most important things is to always keep your feet firmly on the ground and not get full of yourself. We’ve all had bad books or books where there was a hiccup or whatever.

I do think one of the things that is dramatically changing, and I think Covid had a big effect on this, is the way people consume radio and sports radio. Many times you are listening through your phone. Most guys nowadays don’t have a clock radio on their nightstand. They get up in the morning and they stream The Ticket. The last book, 50 percent of The Ticket’s ratings were coming from streaming. A contact of mine at Nielsen said that there is no radio station in America that comes close to that.

So many of these men that listen to us had to work from home. And here we are a year later and still 50 percent is being consumed on stream. I mean, that’s changed dramatically. That’s why a station like The Ticket is total line reporting. We did that in October and it’s been a big help. 

DR: What’s funny is you talked about most guys not having a clock radio in their house anymore. I’ve got an 11 year old daughter and we have just sort of gone through the fight of you cannot sleep with your iPad and phone in your room anymore. We went out to buy her a clock radio and found very few clocks include a radio anymore. I mean, it’s so crazy that alarm clocks, it seems, are very much embracing the idea that this is not where people listen anymore. 

DB: You’re right. That’s why we’ve got to be accessible. Any of the platforms like Alexa that we’re available on, we have to be sure that we’re able to count those ratings. Before we went to total line reporting, we weren’t able to do that.             

How to Add Skills to Alexa in 3 Different Ways

Here we had a whole bunch of listening sitting over on our stream, but we weren’t able to count any of it. Of course, when you go to do that, you know Nielsen is going to charge more money. But we made that decision and it was the right one for us. 

DR: We recently ran this piece on the strategy of selling news stations and sports stations as a combo, and received a lot of feedback from all over the country that it’s now harder than ever before because there are so many advertisers that view news talk radio as the the shining example of the divide in this country. Some feel being associated with it, whether you mean to or not, means that you’re choosing sides. Are you seeing that in Dallas? 

DB: Yeah. The thing is when we had Rush Limbaugh, we would have certain, mainly national advertisers that wouldn’t want to run on his show. We have two teams. We have a news, talk and sports team, and we have a music team on our sales staff. However, if a music seller has somebody that wants The Ticket and there’s nobody calling on that account on the news/talk/sports side, they can go over and sell it.

There is a bit of that with conservative talk radio. There’s always going to be, but I think it was more of a national issue and more about Rush Limbaugh than anybody else. 

DR: Really? I’ve been critical of of news talk because I think one of the format’s failings is that for so long, programmers were just looking for the next Rush. Even though he’s no longer with us, there are still plenty of clones doing a similar show. It’s interesting to hear that for the most part, what you saw was specifically with Limbaugh. 

DB: Most of the pushback that we have gotten is from national accounts. Now, I am not going to tell you who, but we have a car dealer in this town. It’s a big one. They won’t advertise on The Ticket because of the content. 

DR: Interesting. 

DB: Yeah, they think there’s too much innuendo and guy talk and discussion about the sophomoric things that oftentimes get brought up on a sports station. They just won’t do it, and they’re a big advertiser. So, it can happen on the sports side, too, when somebody doesn’t want to be associated with something that they deem not appropriate.

I think on the news talk side, and boy, we’ve really worked at this, the biggest problem is that so many of the talent want to get on the air and jam their agenda down your throat rather than playing the hits. We had to have some pretty intense meetings with a couple of people on the air on our news talk stations. I said, “you’re jamming your agenda down people’s throats and you’re trying to change their minds”. When people are 40 or 45 or 50 or 55 years old, you’re not going to change their political sway in one way or the other. The best thing you can do to attract a bigger audience is play the hits.

Just like in sports radio, when Dak Prescott blew out his leg, that was the story. If you’re on the air in this town and you aren’t talking about what happened in yesterday’s game to Dak, you’re not playing the hits. I think a lot of these news talk shows just totally quit playing the hits, and they wanted every day to jam a political agenda, that’s part of why I think news talk struggled.

We had to make some real fundamental changes with a few of our talent to start playing the hits or this wasn’t going to work anymore. Fortunately, we’ve made a lot of progress.  

DR: You brought up the advertiser that objects to what you called the sophomore nature of The Ticket. I do feel like I need to ask you, you’ve got this great bit on The Musers of the Fake Jerry Jones that sometimes performs better than the real Jerry Jones calling into the competition. You have been with the station through its whole run. There has to be a moment that you can point to and say “that is when I knew our approach to sports radio was perfect for this market”. 

DB: I was at Susquehanna. We bought The Ticket in 1996. I’ll just say somebody in the company said, “well, we need to change those guys and talk about real sports”. And I said, “no, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand. They’re on to something, and what we’ve got to do is we have to champion it, encourage it, support it”.

Look, if you’ve ever gone to a game with a group of guys, just think back in your life. One time we took a group of clients to a Mavericks game in San Antonio. And at the time, I was probably in my mid 40s. You know, it’s a bunch of guys and everybody’s married and we’re on this trip and it was just clients. It was everything from a discussion about the game, to who’s going to go get the next beer, to “Oh my God, look at what just walked right outside of the arena!” and they’re pointing at some attractive woman.

Guys don’t sit around and just talk about sports statistics all day. They talk about every aspect of sports, which includes the camaraderie, the game, the crazy people in the stands, the next beer. I think what The Ticket tapped into is the mindset of the ideal listener. They’re not so myopic in their view about sports. The people who fail at this or the people that, get on the air and want to talk about the third team running back for SMU. Well, I’m sorry, but nobody cares. I think what our guys have done is they’ve tapped into what men really talk about.

Kind of an interesting example is my wife. She grew up with four brothers. She was the only girl. She loves The Ticket, is a P1, listens every morning. Okay, so why is that? Well, because she grew up with four brothers and understands brother humor and gets it. You know what’s interesting? When I run into women who don’t like it, many times they are women didn’t grow up with brothers.

Hosts from The Ticket's start reflect on its origins 20 years later

The Ticket tapped into how guys think, how guys act, what guys want to talk about, and they’re just really in tune with the demo. That’s why The Ticket has been a success. We aren’t so myopic that all we do is talk about serious sports, but a lot of these sports stations, that’s what they do. They don’t get it. 

What they do is they go out and hire a sports writer. Well, I can tell you, I’ve tried that. I’ll tell you, most of the time it doesn’t work. You’d be better off hiring a guy at the end of the bar who holds court every night and and talks sports. Hire somebody like that. 

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5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don't

5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives tweets from burner accounts belonging to media people.

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THEY GET IT

Kenny Mayne, layoff victim — Unlike Albert Pujols, Mayne still maintained an effective slash line when ESPN designated him for assignment. Rather than take a significant pay cut partly necessitated by Disney’s new rights deals — including the NFL at $2.7 billion a year — Mayne politely told Bristol to take the job and shove it. I’ll say what everyone else is thinking: Just because one is white, male and of a certain age doesn’t mean an all-time character should be insulted and sacrificed. Couldn’t this popular personality have been eased out with, say, a three-year victory tour? Mayne refused to stoop as low as his employer of 27 years, maintaining a deliciously dry wit to the cruel end. “I am leaving ESPN. Salary cap casualty,’’ he tweeted, thanking retired executives who originally gambled on him. “I will miss the people. I will miss the vending machine set up over by the old Van Pelt joint. We had everything.’’ He pulled off the impossible as a “SportsCenter’’ anchor, planting his tongue into his cheek without impeding the daily digest of news. Some younger on-air colleagues look goofy when they wear sneakers with suits, but at 61, “the Mayne Event’’ wore the kicks well. I just wonder who’ll be the next “salary cap casualties.’’

Wayne Gretzky, lucky man — Known as The Great One on the ice, Gretzky is closer to The Grate One behind a microphone. That didn’t stop TNT and ESPN from waging a spirited bidding battle for the hockey legend, who was dangled between the NHL’s newly anointed broadcast partners by his savvy Hollywood reps at Endeavor. TNT is expected to win (lose) his services at a reported $5 million annually, which was too much for ESPN. Isn’t that a steep price for a nice gentleman who never has uttered a cross word about anyone? As Cathal Kelly wrote up North in the Globe and Mail: “As Canadians, we know better. Everybody loves Wayne Gretzky. There’s a very specific clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that addresses this point. But we know that Gretzky is no great talker or raconteur. Whether he is capable of telling an even mildly amusing anecdote is still up for grabs because despite being the most beloved figure in the country for more than 40 years, he has yet to do so. If hockey players are dull … it’s because Gretzky taught them to be that way. Smile and nod. Smile and nod. It’s nearly impossible to criticize someone when they’re smiling and nodding.’’ Analyst Eddie Olczyk will join play-by-play man Kenny Albert in TNT’s booth, while ESPN counters with analysts Ray Ferraro and Brian Boucher. None is remotely in Gretzky’s starpower range, but once the puck is dropped, sharp analysis is vital. The Great/Grate One gets the riches anyway. Maybe the networks should be talking to Paulina Gretzky, his social-media-soaked daughter.

Greg Gumbel, CBS — I remember being asked to do stupid stuff on TV, such as dressing up like Steve Bartman, Ozzie Guillen and Kate Hudson (don’t ask) for Halloween shows. To his everlasting credit, Gumbel refused to jump into the silly fray when asked by network producers during March Madness. While studio mates Clark Kellogg, Seth Davis and Wally Szczerbiak lost all dignity while dancing with six animated characters, Gumbel just stared in shock and embarrassment. Appearing on a WCKG podcast in his native Chicago, a city made proud by Greg and brother Bryant, he said of his mortified reaction that day, “I have tried really hard throughout my career not to look like an idiot on TV. I have tried very hard not to embarrass my loved ones, my friends and myself. And I’m not going to (dance). But at the same time, I wasn’t going to let them get away without being poked about it. So that’s why I did what I did. … It was fun. I will only go so far.” Not enough is made in the sports world of the Gumbel dynasty. Outlasting critics who’ve chided Bryant as bombastic and Greg as rigid, they’ll be remembered as the most successful set of brothers in sportscasting history.

Todd Frazier, social media retaliator — If his major-league career is over, at least the baseball vagabond reminded a media member of his amateur-hour lot in life. When Frazier was cut by the Pittsburgh Pirates, a glorified Triple-A club these days, local radio host Mark Madden harpooned him directly on social media, which defies every rule of professionalism. “Hey, @FlavaFraz21 …happy f—ing trails, you scrub. DFA’d. Now GFY,” tweeted Madden, telling Frazier to go f— himself. He can tend to the rest of his life later, but first, Frazier had a retort for Madden: “Funny that this slob, I mean absolute slob is talking shit. Go grab another hot dog. Please look yourself in the mirror my goodness. You wouldn’t dare say this to my face FLOUNDER. This picture tells it all. And to think people take you serious. GTFOH.’’ Which is short for get the f— outta here, which I’m going to do before giving these two people any more attention.

Barry Svrluga, Washington Post — It can be painful reading tributes to retiring sportswriters from other sportswriters, but Svrluga’s admiration for Thomas Boswell came through in a masterpiece testimonial. “If my 14-year-old self believed he could share one press box for one night with Boz, that would have been enough, a dream fulfilled,’’ he wrote. “To have shared … how many, Boz? Hundreds, right? RFK and Nationals Park, Congressional Country Club and Augusta National, FedEx Field and Capital One Arena, the Stanley Cup and the World Series. Shoot, we even climbed the Great Wall of China together. Tell my 14-year-old self that was the career ahead — riding shotgun to Boz for close to 18 years, watching how the best to ever do it got it done — and he wouldn’t have made it to 15, what with the ensuing heart attack and all. It is the great honor and privilege of my career to have shared those spaces and had those conversations with Boz. He was and is who I want to be when I grow up.’’ Boswell, the consummate baseball wordsmith of his generation, is leaving his hometown paper after 52 years. What I liked about him: While Post mates Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser became TV stars, Boswell stayed true to the press box, once telling Svrluga to buy a 300-foot tape measure when they suspected incorrect outfield measurements at old RFK Stadium. “I ran past (Boswell) to measure the distance to the wall, the quickest way to work before we got caught and kicked out. Which we did — but not before we had enough data for a front-page story,’’ he wrote. Much as Svrluga will try, there never will be another Thomas Boswell.

Ben Strauss, Washington Post — In a recent column, I asked why major publications hadn’t profiled the oddball coupling of John Skipper and Dan Le Batard, the deposed ESPN power losers. Strauss delivered, pointing out how the ex-journalists have sold out to the legal gambling craze — their company, Meadowlark Media, is receiving $50 million from DraftKings for Le Batard’s podcast — while portraying Skipper as an eccentric. Wrote Strauss: “Skipper was wearing a maroon sweater, circle-rimmed glasses and khakis rolled up to reveal blue suede shoes, his apartment’s floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the Hudson River. He was sprawled in front of a coffee table designed, Skipper pointed out, by French painter Yves Klein. The tabletop was a clear acrylic box filled with mounds of raw pigment.’’ Skipper almost went off the rails when speaking of his competition with Barstool Sports and its raunchy front man, Dave Portnoy. “Barstool is driving value. I don’t think it means you have to do reprehensible, misogynist content,’’ Skipper said. “If somebody came to me and said: `I’ll give you a really high margin; you’ve got to do a show on the sexiest pictures of cheerleaders you can find. Can you find pictures of cheerleaders where they jump up and down and their panties are up in their butts? Can you find that for me? I’ll pay you a bunch of money.’ The answer’s no, I won’t do that.” Um, their panties are up in their butts? Sounds like Skipper was channeling Portnoy. I know, Strauss is the sixth who gets it. A friend said I should change the title to “Those Who Get It.’’ I’m considering it.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Tim Tebow, ESPN — Who doesn’t love his heart and propensity to dream? But at some point, going on 34, Tebow risks becoming a multi-sport freak show. After failing as an NFL quarterback and crashing as a baseball minor-leaguer, he wants to sign a one-year deal with his college coach, Urban Meyer, and his hometown NFL team, the DUVVALLL!!! (Jacksonville) Jaguars. It’s a whim opposed by many in the front office, which is understandable. Tebow would give tight end a try as a way of generating more interest in the Jags, but he never has played the position and hasn’t been in football pads in six years. ESPN has been patient with his whims, yet at some point, Tebow must decide if he wants to work full-time as an SEC Network analyst or move on to politics or even Sunday morning evangelism. Meyer may have purchased a house on Tebow’s street, but knowing the coach’s thirst for the competitive jugular, he’ll cut Tebow quicker than a Florida Gator chomp. Why must I be the one to tell him that this is another publicity stunt?

Alex Rodriguez, loser — As ex-squeeze Jennifer Lopez frolics in Montana with Ben Affleck, A-Rod and partner Marc Lore have let a deadline pass to purchase the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Seems team owner Glen Taylor doesn’t trust Rodriguez’s possible motives — would you? — in possibly moving the Wolves to Seattle, where A-Rod once played as a young shortstop before his steroids days. With his life is disarray, he might want to laser-focus on his broadcast duties on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,’’ where, if you close your eyes, you might wonder about the thin, Captain Obvious insight if the analyst wasn’t a famous ex-player.

Adam Schefter, ESPN — Look, his bosses admitted before the NFL Draft that they wanted bigger ratings than the NFL Network, even if the league controls the multi-platform broadcast under one Goodellian umbrella. So when Schefter claims it’s pure coincidence that he waited until Draft day to break the Aaron Rodgers-wants-out-of-Green Bay story, he’s insulting our intelligence. He said the timing of his scoop resulted from “an accumulation’’ of whispers he’d been hearing for weeks. “There was nothing that morning that came in.’’ he told Dan Patrick. “No one said to me, `Yeah, he wants out; you should report this.’ It’s like, it was going on all offseason. You just keep hearing and there’s more and more talk, and now there’s starting to be Aaron Rodgers talk, and I said, ‘You know what? This isn’t gonna wait much longer.’ It just happened to be Draft day.’’ Yeah, he just happened to wait until millions were watching him lead the Draft broadcast with a story that dominated the night, which helped ESPN beat the NFL Network (and sister network ABC). I want to trust Schefter. He and his network keep giving me reasons not to.

Hulu — The danger of docuseries fever is that every subject wants to control the narrative, as Michael Jordan did in “The Last Dance.’’ Which explains why Jeanie Buss, controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has appointed her own director, esteemed Antoine Fuqua, to spin out a nine-part series that will glorify the banners and legends and ignore, say, the Buss family dramas that derailed the franchise before LeBron James arrived. She could make that request of Hulu, a derivative of Disney, which is in business bed with the NBA. I will be more interested in HBO’s competing series — based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Three-Ring Circus’’ — that peels open the Hollywood and sex-romp secrets that were undeniably part of the team’s “Showtime’’ past, much of it involving the late owner Jerry Buss, Jeanie’s father. She says her production will tell “the true story of the Lakers,’’ adding during an “All The Smoke’’ video podcast, “There is a series being developed at HBO — a scripted series we are not involved in — and I really don’t know how they’re going to tell our story if we’re not involved in it.” Simple. HBO will tell the unauthorized version, while Buss and Fuqua craft the scrubbed, Disney-fied version that we already know about. The HBO show, developed by Adam McKay, will draw more attention and bigger ratings.

Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corporation CEO — Just because a C-Suite honcho says something in an investors’ call doesn’t mean it’s true. In announcing Fox’s acquisition of Outkick, Murdoch described the site as a leader “in sports news, and more critically, sports opinion.’’ As one who has been immersed in sports multimedia for decades, I can state definitively that Outkick is not a leader in sports news or sports opinion — not even close — and that it appeals only to a conservative, woke-averse crowd that fits the leaning agenda of Fox News. It’s a mistake to think the Clay Travis cult mobs know or care about quality sports journalism. Case in point: When veteran football writer Peter King pointed out the number of COVID-related deaths on Twitter, he was mocked by an Outkick blogger, while site founder Travis was delighting in a full house at an Atlanta Braves game. Trumpers can unite on Murdoch’s new site. The rest of America will be looking for credible sports news and commentary elsewhere.

Spectrum SportsNet LA — The Los Angeles Dodgers are worth $3.6 billion. The least they can do is serve their television viewers, the ones they largely blacked out for years, by not scheduling events in Dodger Stadium while the team broadcasters are calling away games remotely from the press box. As the Dodgers — “the greatest team in baseball history,’’ according to the since-backpedaling L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke — were struggling in Chicago, viewers and radio listeners could hear Mayor Eric Garcetti’s speech during the local Fire Department awards banquet. With all due gratitude for fire fighters everywhere, let’s figure out a better way for fans who devote time and money — Spectrum SportsNet isn’t cheap — to follow their team.

Chris Webber, Dead Analyst Walking — Here we thought Webber never would do anything dumber than his fatal time-out signal in 1993, when Michigan had no timeouts remaining late in a national title game. Little did we know. Taking the opposite path of Fab Five teammate Jalen Rose, whose career as an ESPN analyst is thriving, Webber is costing himself a prized gig that could have taken him into old age. He upset his TNT bosses when he left them hanging before opting out of an NCAA tournament assignment, saying he didn’t want to work in the Indianapolis Bubble, according to the New York Post. Not enamored of him as it is, the network is expected to oust Webber from its leading NBA broadcast team and not renew his contact. With play-by-play man Marv Albert officially an octogenarian, TNT must remake a crew that already has fallen far behind the impact and chemistry of ESPN’s Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Oh, was this a seventh entry in They Don’t Get It?

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BSM Writers

The Audience Likes And Believes In Mike Bell

“I’m never going to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I just think I communicate and connect with people in our city.”

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An old line from the movie Bull Durham sums up a lot of sports radio hosts these days; “I want to announce my presence with authority.” Many hosts try to stand out by being the loudest, or the smartest, or the most daring. They start to resemble peacocks strutting around while trying to grab the audience’s attention. A huge ingredient of enjoying sports radio success is being able to connect with the audience. Some hosts simply forget to ask themselves, am I someone people want to be around?

Mike Bell is an afternoon drive host on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. He’s also a master at connecting with people. Mike doesn’t want to sit atop his press box perch while looking down upon the unwashed peasants in attendance. The native of Long Island, New York has had Falcons season tickets since 1998. He wants to slap high fives, yell at the top of his lungs, and have enough room to frolic around if Matt Ryan and company have it rolling. In essence, he is his audience.

Radio host Mike Bell suspended three days after sexist 'Anchorman' insult  on Twitter

Mike talks about his relationship on and off the air with tag team partner Carl Dukes. Although Nielsen has a gleam in its eye for Dukes & Bell, Mike mentions having bigger goals than reigning supreme in sports radio. Hey Man beer, being vulnerable on the air, a past mistake with Jessica Mendoza, and his side of a head-scratching radio beef are a few of the other subjects we dive into as well. Enjoy!

BN: When and why did you make your way to the Atlanta area?

MB: I was in Fort Myers, Florida. I was doing morning drive in a top 40 format. I was kind of on hold with my career because of my grandmother; I was taking care of my nana. My dad had passed away and I was kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had her in assisted living. Her money ran out and I had her living with me. It was like a sitcom; a guy in his mid-20s with an 80-year-old lady in his house. [Laughs]

I think you’ll get a kick out of this, it’s very analog, in the old days obviously as the internet was just getting traction, you had Radio & Records. They had like the old blind box ad that said top 10 market seeks comedian with sports knowledge. I was recruited unbeknownst to me by 790 The Zone. I think they had something like 500 tapes and they narrowed it down to five finalists. I was the leader in the clubhouse. They liked me and they brought me in on a Friday. I did my morning show in Fort Myers and flew up and did the interview. I was on afternoon drive as a live audition back in 1998. And it stuck.

It was really like the last of the mom-and-pop stations. I remember we went to the Palm. Everybody was there. We were doing shots. I remember going out with my boss at the time till like five in the morning at a local bar. I finally turned to him and go hey, by the way did I get the job? [Laughs] And he’s like oh yeah, we need you to give them two weeks notice as soon as you can. It was old school when Atlanta was like the Wild Wild West.

BN: Who were your favorite teams when you were growing up?

MB: Being a New Yorker, a big Mets fan. When I was a kid, the Yankees were winning back-to-back World Series and Shea Stadium was falling apart. It was another typical rainy night. If you were at Shea in the old days, you look out, you’d see the World’s Fair, you could see over the Manhattan skyline. It’s a rain delay and I asked my dad the existential question, why are we Mets fans? Let’s go over by these Yankees fans. Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, and the Mets are terrible. 

My old man takes a drag off his Marlboro, and he’s literally like, I’ll tell you why buddy boy, anybody can root for the Yankees. It takes character to be a Mets fan. He said being a Yankee fan was like rooting for the IRS; it was like rooting for the sun to come up. He said yes, we’re like the red-haired stepchildren in New York, but we’re the real New York. We’re the minorities. It was kind of fun. He said by the way if we ever win the World Series, it’ll be ten times sweeter for us as it is for a Yankee fan. That kind of mindset always stuck with me about always sticking with your team or your underdog.

BN: How have your team preferences changed over the years with you being in Atlanta for so long?

MB: I lived in South Florida, so I had Dolphin tickets. I love going to live events. I love live music. I love live sports. So I’ve always tried to support the team wherever I lived. When I moved to Atlanta, I got season tickets for the Falcons. And I’ve had season tickets since 1998. Then it’s kind of cool; you’re invested.

It’s funny when we talk to the players or we have a general manager on, it’s like hey I’m paying for this. Carl too, he also has season tickets, so we don’t sit in the press box. The idea is that we’re invested. We’re speaking for the fan. And not to get all high and mighty, but we put our money where our mouth is. We pay for the tickets. But I’m a big Falcons fan.

The Hawks obviously over the years I’ve gone to a lot of Hawks games. I loved the Thrashers when we had hockey. [Laughs] That ship has sailed. It’s difficult when you do afternoons to go to Braves games because you miss the start, but we try to catch at least maybe 10 during the season on the weekends.

BN: What’s the story about you wanting to work with Carl, but him not wanting to leave Houston initially?

MB: I wouldn’t want to leave Houston if they were going to pay me more money either. [Laughs] I’ve known Carl — we traced it back to the Super Bowl in 2002, the one in New Orleans after 9/11. He was doing middays in Houston and I was doing morning drive in Atlanta. We were like the table across from each other. We just kind of hit it off. We were friends and we’d see each other at Final Fours and Super Bowls, boxing matches in Vegas. Then in 2010 or something like that, we hooked up in Vegas and I said man I’d love to get you to Atlanta. My partner at the time was David Pollack. He was about to head to ESPN full-time.

I had reached out to my management and they at least had a conversation, but I don’t think they ever got close with the money. Then ironically when 92.9 The Game launches, my boss is like, who’s this Carl Dukes working opposite you? I’m like that’s the guy I wanted you to hire. We just got along. We always felt the dynamic of our personalities would be great. And our old agent, rest his soul, Norm Schrutt — Carl and I had the same agent — he used to joke around like, ‘just ‘cause you laugh at the same jokes, who knows if the show will be any good?’ But we always knew it would be a hit if we had the opportunity.

BN: How did Hey Man beer originate?

MB: A couple of years ago, our former program director, Terry Foxx, came to us and said hey there’s this local brewery. They’ve got some marketing people and they’ve reached out to us. They’re interested in doing a beer with you guys. To be quite honest we didn’t really think much of it at the time. But it’s a great local brewery called Oconee, which is halfway to Augusta from Atlanta off I-20. It’s a mom-and-pop brewery. If you’re familiar with SweetWater, it kind of reminds you of the early days of SweetWater here in Atlanta.

We had a meeting, hit it off, then we agreed we’d come up with some different flavors, and do a taste test to see what we liked. Then we would start off on draft. We started off on draft and the next thing you know they want to put it in cans. I’ve been in radio since ‘87; it’s arguably the best guerrilla marketing. It’s better than billboards. The listeners will buy the beer. They’ll take photos of them drinking the beer. They’ll take pictures of them at the store buying the beer. It’s a great way to connect and most importantly it’s not a money grab. The product is really good. It’s a great tasting beer so we did a blonde ale with 5% alcohol by volume. We’ve had it in restaurants and we’ve had it in bars all around Georgia

6 Georgia Beers You Need to Try this Year | Official Georgia Tourism &  Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org

Before COVID, we were going to do the watermelon lime. We did a small batch of that and we had it at a pregame party for the Braves. We’re not a rights holder so we were at a distant parking lot, but we had our tailgate going. Everybody went bananas. We went through however many gallons of beer we had in like minutes. We knew it’d be a big hit. We just obviously couldn’t launch it last year when COVID hit. It just dropped on April 1. It’s been a huge hit.

BN: What are your thoughts on the All-Star Game moving out of Atlanta?

MB: That’s a hot potato. In Carl and I, because you have an African-American host and you have a white guy, you can tackle some of these issues that maybe other shows might want to shy away from. It’s a difficult discussion because the demographics here in our city, it’s kind of like a blue center of a red donut when you’re speaking to the audience, so you’ve got everything from folks out of the rural parts of our listening audience, to folks right in the heart of the city. The All-Star Game, it came so quickly. There was some talk that the players union was discussing it and then boom, the decision was made. 

The problem is like everything else in 2021, people immediately look at the headline but they don’t read the story. People went to their corner and started shouting about it. It’s frustrating because the people who ultimately suffer are the folks who need it the most. The folks that are going to be selling the beer, the folks working at the hotels, working at the restaurants. While I understand the logic behind Major League Baseball doing it, I didn’t think the execution made sense. Especially to pull it out of a city like Atlanta and take it to a city like Denver. Those demographics are completely different.

BN: When topics dip into politics, how do you guys like to handle it on the show?

MB: I think in this day and age people turn to sports as a release. It’s my escape from the real world. It’s my escape from everything else that I’m bombarded with. But there are some stories you just can’t ignore. Carl and I have always made it a point to say we’re not going to ignore it. When we had the social justice protests, we weren’t going to not talk about that. We got very emotional talking about that. 

We talked about Kaepernick. I said look, I grew up hand over my heart singing the national anthem. I think my phrase was my American journey is a lot different than other people. We use phrases like empathy and try to put yourself in another person’s shoes and then have a discussion about it. Now of course there are people out there, the moment you talk about Kaepernick and you try to rationalize something like that, boom they’re gone. They’re not going to listen to that. I think the ratings reflect that when we do get into these issues, it doesn’t hurt us. It’s definitely something that is too big to ignore.

BN: Why do you think the 2 Live Stews aren’t back on the air in Atlanta right now?

MB: I couldn’t speak to that. I’m out of my depth. I know that they did a fantastic job when we were together at 790. But I can’t speak to that. I know they had the same representation that I had back in the day with Norm, my old agent. But I don’t know what’s going on with those guys.

BN: What’s something you’ve shared about yourself on the air or been vulnerable about over the years?

MB: That’s a good question. It’s kind of what you just talked about; we talk about sports and things that are lifestyle. We just talked about it last week with Mother’s Day. I’m adopted and at times in my life it was difficult. We connected with my biological mom. We talked about that, not that there was a stigma to it, but how you go through your life’s journey and eventually you get closure. That’s probably the most intimate detail I’ve shared.

BN: How difficult was that for you to do?

MB: Once you get rolling it’s pretty easy. It’s conversations I’ve had with Carl in private so we just kind of extended it to on air.

BN: What do you think is the key to connecting with listeners?

MB: I’m never going to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I just think I communicate and connect with people in our city. And being straight with them. When we talk about something, people know we’re not manufacturing a topic. It’s not you take this side and I’ll take that side. Sometimes when Carl and I get into a real raging argument, it’s almost like the kids are listening to mom and dad, like please guys, don’t fight. We don’t manufacture fake, phony arguments. It’s all coming from the heart. It’s legit.

BN: What was your reaction to what Mark Zinno had to say about you recently?

MB: [Laughs] You know what, I don’t really know where he’s coming from. If he felt that there was a text message back four years ago when we were talking about the show and I used a take of his — I would say this, it’d be the first time I’ve ever agreed with him. No good deed goes unpunished with Zinno. I tried to give him advice about the market when I first met him and he first came to the station. I tried to help him get representation. We look at the world through two different lenses. Honestly I have no idea what he was talking about, but apparently it was a red-letter day for him I guess.

BN: Any regrets about calling Jessica Mendoza “Tits McGhee”?

MB: Yeah, that was dumb. Again it’s a changing landscape of pop culture and radio. Luckily my bosses allowed me to speak from the heart when I made my apology. But more importantly, learning about it. There’s things you just can’t do. Carl and I were having this discussion, I forget how it came up, not specifically about Jessica Mendoza but it was a politician or an athlete who got in trouble. We talked about it; there are things you cannot do in the workplace anymore. It’s a lesson learned.

BN: Dan McNeil in Chicago got fired for tweeting something critical about Maria Taylor. Do you ever see stories like that and think you’re lucky to still have your gig?

MB: It’s definitely when you think of the timing of things. There’s right and wrong in the world and what I did was clearly wrong. I was suspended for it and came back. If the audience likes you or believes in you, and they realize where you’re coming from, and realize you made a mistake — on the flip side, there’s also cancel culture. Would I have survived something like that today? I don’t know.
 
BN: What’s your favorite sports radio moment that you might flash back to from time to time?

MB: Wow, that’s a great one. The Falcons going to the Super Bowl was surreal. It’s kind of like it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The week in Houston was so awesome. The funny part of it was nobody liked the Patriots. All the Texans fans we met, everywhere we went, people were pulling for Atlanta. We had a big pep rally. CeeLo played the thing. The place was off the chain. It was a perfect buildup just to have your heart broken.

That week we did a bus trip. One of our sponsors Wade Ford — we took a bus with all of our personalities. We drove down to Houston in this bus with a wrap of our logo. It was freaking great. The whole week, the best building up to a moment, you’ve got this big lead and then only to have the rug pulled out from under your feet. It was obviously heartbreaking. Matter of fact, it was so heartbreaking, I think the only time we’ve had a period where there was a dip in the ratings, were people literally so heartbroken that they didn’t even want to talk about it in February that year.

BN: What has it been like to see anything related to 28-3 after that loss?

MB: There are so many angles to it. The Saints are our mortal enemy. I think it’s the greatest rivalry in the NFL. I don’t think people appreciate just how passionate the fan bases are. Two primarily African American fan bases in the South. The trash talking.

We had Saints fans flying banners over us “28-3 never forget”. It’s got so much more juice and so much more heat than something like what the Packers and Bears are supposed to be. Even when we’re bad, it’s the greatest rivalry. Just the fact that they’ve got the ring, and obviously the ring is the thing, it validates you. Unfortunately for Atlanta, we call it Atlanta-itis on the radio, where sometimes you feel like whether it’s Georgia football or the Braves, you just have a sense of fatalism that something’s not going to turn out, which I hate it. I don’t think anything is interconnected, but it’s just part of the psyche now.

BN: When you look to the future, do you have any goals or things in mind you’d like to experience over the next five to 10 years?

MB: Well I’m 52, so I probably missed my window to get syndicated. [Laughs] I’m very happy. I’m truly happy and just blessed. I hope that Carl and I can at least — I don’t know if we can make it to retirement because we might get retired in this business. I would love to be number one overall in the city. That’s big to us. The political world just keeps on churning, so that news cycle doesn’t end. To be number one in the city for us would truly be my goal at this stage.

Dukes & Bell | 92.9 The Game

BN: Interesting. So you look at it not just as number one in sports radio, but you want to be number one in any radio format?

MB: Correct. That’s just it. We’re consistently, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a breakdown of our demographics, but we’re always consistently top three, or top two. In 18-49 we’ve been consistently number one in a number of books over the last couple of years. There are heritage stations in town and we’re still a relative newbie by radio standards, but we have the best station in town. We just have to keep plugging away.

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