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Meet The Market Managers: Ivy Savoy-Smith, Audacy Washington DC

“We’re just efficient and we can show you that. We can show you by the qualitative of our listeners. We can show you the research and I can show you who my listeners are, where they live, how much money they make, how smart they are, and what types of jobs they have.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Ivy Savoy-Smith has been leading Audacy’s Washington, DC cluster since December 2019. That doesn’t mean she is new to the seven-station cluster by any means. The Maryland native has spent virtually her whole life in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) and the majority of her entire career inside the same building. 

Being a local is important in the nation’s capitol. It means something different to the people that grew up there than it does to those who relocate there to work in government, defense or the lobbyist industry. If you’re a transplant, DC is built on politics. If you grew up inside the Beltway though, you know shutting out politics is important to maintaining your sanity. 

A big part of the success of 106.7 The Fan has been due to the station’s ability to do just that – shut out politics. Ivy told me that it’s a big part of what’s helped the station remain strong when competing for advertising dollars against powerhouse news/talkers like WTOP and WMAL. As strong as The Fan has been, it’s no longer the lone brand inside Audacy DC headquarters. 2020 ended with Audacy adding another weapon to its sports radio arsenal when the company struck a deal with Radio One to acquire Team 980. With two familiar local brands operating under one roof in a city that loves sports and isn’t afraid to spend to be associated with it, Ivy and her team like their chances, even if politics occasionally cause a little chaos.   

Demetri Ravanos: You were born and raised in the DMV-area, right outside of DC. I think for those of us from the outside, it’s hard to understand what that is like, because politics is what keeps the town ticking to a certain extent. And because of that, it becomes part of people’s everyday life and everyday conversation because everybody knows somebody that works in that field. With that being the case, how important is it that your sports stations be a pure escape from those conversations? I would imagine that is a real selling point, not only for listeners, but also talking to advertisers too.  

Ivy Savoy-Smith: Absolutely it is. Our sports stations are just that. They are an escape from everything. We’re here to engage our listeners with great conversation about what’s going on, to have unbiased content that we’re talking about in the sports world, and to give them an opportunity to then engage with our talent over their thoughts and opinions. Obviously, we dive in sometimes when sports transcends, into other things. You have some athletes that maybe doing something in the music world or in the political world, so we will touch on it a bit, but at the end of the day, we are an escape for people. We want you to come to 106.7 The Fan or The Team 980 to listen and hear great content about your favorite and even your not-so-favorite teams here in the in the DMV.  

DR: With it being such a transient area, I would imagine that there are plenty of the hometown teams that some of your listeners hate as well.  

ISS: Exactly! I mean that is the awesome thing about sports. We have fans all over for the Junkies. I can’t tell you how many listeners that we have for the Sports Junkies who may have left the DMV and don’t live here anymore, but they have that option of listening to the station and still feeling like they’re right here. It’s just a great opportunity. People can still listen to their favorite sports teams wherever they live with streaming and with so many options that we have that are available now for people that weren’t available years ago.  

DR: Whether it’s you or people at various levels on your sales staff, when you’re talking to potential clients, WTOP is the highest billing station in America. It’s right there in your backyard. WMAL is also a legendary news/talk station that is very strong. How do you approach local businesses spending money on those stations and hammer home the idea that it benefits them to buy sports on The Fan or Team 980 in addition to News Talk?  

ISS: We’re just efficient and we can show you that. We can show you by the qualitative of our listeners. We can show you the research and I can show you who my listeners are, where they live, how much money they make, how smart they are, and what types of jobs they have. Our time spent listening with our sports stations is high. So again, it’s the quality of the listener and you have them engaged. That also goes a long way with a client’s commercial messaging on our stations. We have affluent listeners. Obviously they’re male-dominant stations that we have right there at that median age of the 48 or 49 year old man, who has been working, who has a disposable income.                 

So we’re able to deliver that more well-rounded buy than, I would say our competitors can. When you think about a TOP or an MAL, and not to take anything away from those two stations. They’re two good stations for news content, but they’re older-skewing stations. Our median age of who were reaching has disposable income and are spending and are engaged, versus some of our competition. They’re on the older end.  

Let’s talk about “qualified.” When I’m talking to clients about that, it’s like, “I’m giving you qualified leads. Who’s going to come into your business? Who has more propensity to purchase than someone who isn’t? Who is set in their way and doesn’t need to purchase your product? Who is already comfortable? Who already has these things? Or do you want the person who is going to buy, is looking to buy, is thinking about buying, and has the money to purchase?” We make sure that we’re having that conversation with each and every client that we’re talking to. It’s a different conversation every time based on, obviously, the client in the category. But yes, we are a viable talk station that has listeners who engage, who listen longer, who have the income to come into your locations, and who are in our key demographics. We’re right here to compete with those other stations, and we do a pretty good job of it – and more efficiently I’ll say.  

DR: You used the phrase “different conversations” and that feels like a good way to dive into the city’s two biggest sports radio brands now being inside the same building. Your group added Team 980 and the reconfigured lineup at the moment very much has its own identity. It’s not treated like an afterthought. I do wonder what the long term play is for the station or if you even have thought that far ahead yet. The Fan is such a powerhouse in the sports format, at some point I wonder if it just makes more sense to quit splitting the focus and devote all the resources to the top bread winner.  

ISS: Absolutely not. We are committed to Team 980 and we feel like it is a great complement to The Fan. Yes, The Fan is our powerhouse and we take nothing away from that, but The Team is also a viable radio station that is a heritage brand  and it has a very loyal base of listeners. We’ve made some changes because we want it to evolve with the marketplace right now and with our listener’s demands. 

We want The Team to be a complement to The Fan as a sports station, not a one dimensional station. The demographics are similar, but yet they are different in some key ways. The team has a higher comp of African-Americans. The station does very well in Prince Georges County, an area that is very affluent with African-American males. The Fan does very well in Fairfax County with their key demographics. The station’s mirror each other in the right way. You’re getting all men with both stations as opposed to one brand reaching one type of man and the other station reaching another type of man. By having them both, we’re able to deliver the total demographic with 106.7 the Fan and Team 980.                

I believe they’re efficient together and it’s a well-rounded buy. All of the games we carry, they’re going to transcend. So even though one station may carry it, we’re still going to talk about it on the other station. That’s what we’re doing with The Team that hasn’t been done. We’re giving Washingtonians and the DMV options and opportunities to listen to both stations. They’re going to get something different from both stations that we believe they’re going to enjoy.  

DR: Is that something that you and Chris Kinard had to talk about with candidates, be it for the hosting roles or producing roles? Did you have to make it crystal clear that Team 980 is important to Audacy because it serves a purpose that The Fan can’t or accomplishes a certain goal that The Fan can’t in order to assuage any fears they may have because it’s an AM signal versus an FM signal and it’s not going to be treated the same way in the building? 

ISS: Chris and I’ve known each other for 20 years. He’s been with the company as long as I have. So immediately we knew that we were going to make a few tweaks with the station. Overall, 980 is a heritage radio station. It is a brand that has done very, very well in the marketplace. We just wanted to continue that and also enhance it. But immediately we made sure that it was one team, because when you’ve been on opposite sides and you’ve been competing for years, obviously it’s going to be different that day when you make the announcement that your number one competitor is now in the building. So we wanted to make sure, with both teams, to be as transparent as possible. It is one team now. You both bring valuable assets to the table. It does not have to be one or the other. If we do this right, we complement each other.              

So the same conversation that we had with them internally is the same conversation I had with the buying community externally, because it is the same conversation. They complement each other. Does it have to be one or the other? It’s worked really well. I will tell you that I am proud of them. They have worked well together and we do a lot together with them. If The Fan hears of one thing, we immediately let The Team know and vice versa. And that’s because everyone knows their strengths. And when everyone knows their strengths and their value and you’re transparent, I think it goes a long way. That’s the difference maker.  

DR: We did a story not too long ago at the site about the uniqueness of 980’s lineup with Travis Thomas and Reese Waters airing back to back. I looked this up to confirm. It is the only station in America where you have solo hosts, both African-American, neither are former athletes, airing back to back anywhere in the country. Was that a conscious choice in terms of the positioning? Like you said, 980 has historically performed better with the African-American community. Or was it just a matter of this is where these two sort of fit in the overall lineup and by happy accident, we stumbled on something unique to sports radio? 

ISS: I wish I could take credit for that, but that is not the case. I have to give all credit to Chris Kinard, because he was the one who spearheaded this lineup and was adamant about Travis. We worked with Travis before and thought that he was a great talent and when it made sense we we’re going to put him somewhere. When 980 came up, it was just the perfect time. Reese, the same thing. We’ve worked with Reese Waters for years on different things. Chris has wanted him for some time, even when Reese was at ESPN. So Chris knew a lot of their strengths and the different things that they bring to the table. And he liked that. So those were really the reasons it worked out this way. I mean, it took a little creativity to rework the slots. It just so happened with the timing that when everything came about with Team, it was like, “OK, now we know where we can put these guys and bring them into the Audacy family.” 

DR: Speaking of Chris Kinard, he has spent his entire career with the company. You mentioned the two of you have worked together for a long time. What have you seen change in him as he has ascended up the ladder from starting out as a producer to now being considered one of the format’s very best programmers anywhere in the country? 

ISS: Oh, he definitely is! As I have evolved at the station, we’ve kind of evolved together. He also handles operations for the entire cluster. Chris is a creative genius, but he will also will get in the trenches with you. His guys respect him because he will work with them and he is very transparent. He does the work and gets in front of things. 

I will say from a market manager’s standpoint, he is the best. If he comes to me with an issue, he already has an answer for it. He doesn’t walk into the office and say “we’ve got this problem. What are we going to do, Ivy?”. It’s, “hey, we have this problem, Ivy. And I think I have the answer to the problem,” and that’s something that you don’t get all the time. He’s a team player and he listens, and that’s critical. 

Chris is not afraid to listen to what other brand managers and PDs are doing across the country at their sports stations. When he sees that they’re doing something great, he’ll reach out and say, “Hey Ivy, I just saw in Philly, they’re doing this, maybe it’s something we can tweak for DC”. He’s always looking and thinking about what else can he do next.               

It goes back to Travis and the Reese. He’s always looking at that bench too and thinking, “who are tomorrow’s up and coming star talents? Who’s going to bring that fresh new energy to the team and the talent that we need?” So, for instance, when all of this happened with Team 980, some of the things that we needed to do were already in his head. To me, Chris is the best in the business.  

DR: You mentioned before that you’ve been in the building together for a long time. I would imagine that both of you sort of shared major life moments with one another. But now that you are his boss, was there any sort of difficulty in the transition of the relationship? You know, we have this deep familiarity, we’re friends and peers, but now it’s become technically a boss/employee situation. How does the relationship make it easier to navigate thru that?  

ISS:  I can’t speak for Chris, but it may be easier for me. There’s a confidence at this level of knowing that I have someone that I can trust. I know his work ethic. I know he cares about what he does. He cares about his work. More importantly, he cares about his staff and he will run through a wall for them. I love that he is that way. 

Coming into this role and knowing that I had him as my brand manager over The Fan at the time, and since then promoted him to operations manager. Then of course, we acquired The Team, and I knew it’d work because again, I trust him. I know that I don’t have to worry about anything with Chris. 

So the transition has worked fine for us. We sat down and went over how does this role look for me, what are my expectations over what he’s doing? There really wasn’t much to change, but obviously we had a conversation and our relationship changed a little bit. But that’s okay, because guess what, I told him “you’ve been doing a good job even before I sat in this seat. So nothing’s really changing for you. You’re going to continue to do what you’re doing. And if anything, I hope me being in this position just empowers you to do more because, I support you and I have your back.  

DR: Audacy has certainly done a very good job of making sure that women are in charge of buildings across the entire landscape. From the smallest markets to the biggest, the company seems to have a real focus on putting women in positions of leadership. Being a black woman in that position, unfortunately, still is kind of a rare thing though. I wonder if that makes you willing and eager to be a mentor for the next generation of black women that want to reach the same spot or if it feels more important to advocate for changing minds and addressing biases that may exist at the top.  

ISS: I think it’s both. I would love to have more black women with a seat at the table. I would love more opportunity for that. I mentor women whenever I get a chance. I’m in a couple of women in sales advisory groups and councils where I mentor women as a whole and from all backgrounds. So I’m always excited to mentor and elevate women in any capacity that they want to be in, especially in sales, because it has always been a male dominated industry, not just radio, but just sales in general as well. So that’s important.              

I also want to make sure that we are recruiting and networking at historically black colleges and universities. If we’re trying to reach women of color, we’ve got to go where they are, right? I think we have done that in the office with Audacy. We do have a fellowship program that we have partnered with Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta. Part of that is so that we are having conversations and we’re inviting people who are interested in sales into our program so that we can mentor them and to help bring them into the industry because we do want that.          

It is very critical and very important because we have to have different voices and different opinions that bring about different conversations. And you have to have an open mind and hear things differently. That’s how you help to create change. 

DR: I do want to ask you about the departure of Chad Dukes. I know that had to be a tough situation to manage. You were pretty early in your tenure as market manager. It’s a tough call to make and due to the nature of the offense, you had to show some discretion. You didn’t want to damage anything regarding The Fan as a brand. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the conversations that you had with advertisers after you made that call. I’m sure that some get used to being in business with a particular host and when he’s gone and you can’t give all the answers they’re looking for, it leaves questions.  

ISS: Well, that was a very tough decision early on in my career. I mean, I’ve known Chad for years. I’ve known Chad since he started. No decision like that is easy, okay? Not with anyone and especially not one like that, but it was necessary and it’s a part of what we have to do as managers. We have no tolerance with that. Our company doesn’t. 

Having that conversation with clients actually wasn’t as difficult because most understand our policy. They have it as well in their workplace. It was just unfortunate because of the climate and because it’s happened in most companies, and it’s happened one too many times. Unfortunately, the familiarity with it was something that they had. So it wasn’t as tough a conversation as you might think with most clients. If anything, I got quite a few clients who reached out to me to say sorry, which there was no need for a client to do that. But I had quite a few clients who actually did.  

DR:  What about inside the building? Your team had to be looking for answers about their colleague, someone who was with them for a long time. How did you handle it with them? 

ISS : This is very personal for a lot of people in our building. I’m very transparent. Chad worked with us for quite a while. Over 12 years. Chad had a lot of friends in the building and still does, and rightfully so. Those are his relationships, and when you work with someone every day, you form friendships and bonds.           

It wasn’t something that I looked forward to doing, but again, it was necessary to have those conversations. Anyone who felt that they needed a separate conversation about it, my door was open so that we could talk about it. I will say that did not happen. I do think conversation is the first step to moving forward if you’re feeling any kind of way. That was what I asked of the staff. If you have any issues, please feel free to reach out to me separately and we will have a separate conversation.  

DR: I think it’s really interesting with 980 in the building now, because you have The Fan, which is a really strong brand. 980 is a heritage station that you guys have inherited and are trying to reinvent, and it is now on strong footing. If those two stations stayed what they were from now until the end of our existence, nobody would say boo about it because they are both successful. But that’s not our business. Right? So how do you figure out what the next evolution is in terms of overall health of a station? I mean business, programming, branding, everything. And for each one, how do you get there?  

ISS: With the Fan, I think we continue to do what we’re doing. We provide the best sports content, the best interviews, the best relationships that we have for our listeners, the best engagement, the best talent that continues to give it 110 percent. I think we continue to do that. We continue to have both stations cross promote each other and to help each other out across the table and listen to what our listeners want. Give our listeners what they want.             

They want information. They want content. They want breaking news. They want it first with us because they know that we’re going to give it to them. Our personalities are going to talk about it without any bias. We’re going to say exactly what’s going on in the sports world and with whomever did what. And I think that’s what we’ll continue to do. We just have to stick to that and, continue being first with news and information from the sports world and staying connected to our listeners.  

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BSM Writers

Who is Next if Charles Barkley Leaves NBA Television?

“Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Charles Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games.”

Jason Barrett

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Say it ain’t so Charles! TNT’s shaky future with the NBA has pushed Charles Barkley to the brink of exiting television. Though it’s possible his remarks on Friday night were voiced to put pressure on the league to do business with TNT or to increase offers from other networks, if he is being truthful, next season will be the last hurrah for Sir Charles on Inside The NBA. With no Barkley on the show, it likely creates additional changes as well.

Should Barkley depart, many will be sad and disappointed. However, once time passes, the love and appreciation for what Inside The NBA delivered will be remembered forever. Simply put, it’s one of the best shows ever created on sports television.

The NBA’s move away from TNT opens the door for NBC and Amazon to build their own NBA programs. ESPN meanwhile will likely fine tune their roster and approach to try and seize the opening created by TNT’s best show going away.

But subtraction doesn’t always lead to addition for networks. There still needs to be something special to entice viewers to watch. A perfect example is this year’s NBA crew on ESPN. Mike Breen is still exceptional but the chemistry with Doris Burke and JJ Redick isn’t close to what existed with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. When people know each other, like each other, and understand what each brings to the table, chemistry is produced. That is the special ingredient that has made Inside The NBA a hit for decades.

Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games. Increased rights fees can be celebrated all day long, but being talked about before and after the games is vital. That’s what Inside The NBA delivers unlike any other NBA program.

So that raises an important question, if Chuck leaves, who’s next?

Draymond Green is an obvious choice, and the odds on favorite. TNT has been including him on shows for a while now so he can blend in with Shaq, Kenny, and Ernie. He’s a champion, well spoken, unafraid to speak his mind, and is an accomplished host at The Volume. His familiarity with younger viewers is another advantage. The only issues, he’s not as funny as Barkley, and he may wish to continue playing. If he does, that creates a problem. Should he choose to retire after the 2024-2025 season, and if the Warriors part ways with Steve Kerr, could Green’s coach join him on set? Kerr did work for TNT before heading to Golden State.

LeBron James will likely be pursued too, likely even more than Green given his star power. But are networks going to want to pay the game’s most popular player Tom Brady money to work on a pre/post game show? Is that really what LeBron wants to do? If the cast involved LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or a mixture of LeBron’s friends, maybe that gets his attention. But James can create his own content and make millions off of it. There’s also no guarantee he leaves after next year especially if his son doesn’t get drafted.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are two other talented stars with strong chemistry who could sit opposite Shaq and command the viewers attention. They’re not Barkley, but they’re stars with chemistry who alongside Shaq could speak the same language. Pierce especially has shown he’s unafraid to speak his mind. Plus networks do like personalities with ties to popular teams such as the Lakers and Celtics. I personally can’t see the network turning to Paul and Kevin to fill Barkley’s spot. If LeBron and Draymond are still playing though, and nobody can fill Chuck’s shoes, adding championship players with chemistry isn’t a bad Plan B.

Vince Carter, Jamaal Crawford and Steve Smith were mentioned by Barkley as guys he could potentially pass the baton to. I can’t see that happening. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, and Andre Iguodala may also be options if they desire to work in TV. Each offers insight, personality and an ability to speak and present themselves well on camera. Most are accomplished and familiar to NBA fans too. Steph Curry will also be courted by networks when he stops playing. I just can’t see him leaving in a year. He’s more reserved, though his dad has excelled as a television analyst in Charlotte.

Barring something out of the box being done such as a network luring Michael Jordan to television, Bill Simmons being hired or the next crew featuring coaches such as Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, and Doc Rivers or the Van Gundy Brothers and Mark Jackson, replacing Barkley is a tall order. His exit likely means Kenny and Ernie go too. Shaq is the one of the four who could transition to a new cast. He has more years ahead if he wishes to stay involved.

All good things do eventually come to an end but there’s plenty of gas left in the tank for Barkley and Inside The NBA. Holding on to the show for a few more years makes the most sense right now. The league is in even stronger financial shape following new rights deals with networks. As big as those wins are though, they’ll feel much less special if its flagship program and top television star are gone after next season.

Barrett Media Music Update:

Last week I revealed that Ron Harrell, Robby Bridges, and Kevin Robinson were joining our Music Radio writing team starting July 15th. Today, we have two more additions to announce. I’m thrilled to share that Bob Lawrence and Keith Berman will join Barrett Media as weekly columnists when we launch on July 15th.

Bob currently serves as Market Manager for Seven Mountains Media overseeing the company’s Parkersburg, WV/Marietta, OH markets. His radio resume includes previously serving as GM of the RAB’s National Radio Talent System, Corporate VP of Programming/Content at Saga Communications, CEO of Pinnacle Media Worldwide, and Market Manager for New South Radio in Jackson, MS. Adding Bob’s experience and perspective will help folks in management, programming, content, and sales.

Keith meanwhile has great history writing in this arena. He spent 7 years at Radio and Records working as a format editor, news reporter and features writer. After R&R shut down, he teamed with Kevin Carter to launch RAMP (Radio and Music Pros), spending 3 years co-writing daily issues until leaving the site in 2012. His passion, knowledge, and love for the industry remains high, and I’m excited to have him on board as we make our move into the music radio space.

In addition to adding Bob and Keith, I’ll have an announcement soon later this week regarding our editor. It’s been an extensive process, that’s involved a lot of phone conversations. I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone the past few weeks, but have made my decision. With the launch less than 30 days away, there’s plenty to do and the right leader is important.

Lastly, I’m hiring a few features reporters and have interviewed some excellent people. Our job post on the website and LinkedIn produced nearly 200 applications in one week. I’ve got a specific plan for how I want to lay this out, so I’m hoping to nail things down with interested writers this week, and have a final announcement next week. We’re almost there.

Thumbs Up:

Sports Radio 610: I loved the creativity from Sports Radio 610 in Houston last week. The station took June 10th and turned it into 610 Day. Shows welcomed back former hosts Nick Wright, Rich Lord, and Josh Innes for conversations, which included stories and behind the scenes details about specific issues. Innes in particular hadn’t been on the station in more than 10 years, so it was a very cool moment. The buzz even led to Houston’s Mayor John Whitmire declaring June 10th, Sports Radio 610 Day. Great work by Parker Hills and his team.

X: Social media platforms have their fair share of warts but X made an improvement this week. Elon Musk’s company made Likes private. After doing so, an increase of activity followed. I’ve never liked seeing high profile people torn to shreds based on what they clicked like on. Assumptions get made and they’re often overblown. Individuals deserve to use their accounts how they wish. The only ones hurt by this move are the media outlets looking to generate traffic over it. If you think losing an opportunity to play Peeping Tom on people’s activity is still an issue, remember, the thought still lives in their head, even if you saw it on X.

Steve Stone: Simplicity can make a big difference in branding when used right. This 30 second video promo from Steve Stone is a great example. I saw it on LinkedIn last week, and thought it was easy to follow, highlighted what’s provided, and the tag line at the end (More Than a Voice, An Advantage) was excellent. Steve’s attention to detail for marketing himself always stands out in a strong way. A great lesson for today and tomorrow’s leaders.

Pablo Torre’s ‘The Sporting Class’: The conversations between Pablo Torre, John Skipper and David Samson are always must-listen/watch if you enjoy sports media business content. The past week’s discussion on WNBA rights was smart, interesting, and the type of insight you look for if trying to learn and understand what’s going on in the industry. Just a fantastic show that should be on your radar each week if you work in the media business.

Thumbs Down:

Tim Cato: When coaches or athletes take the media to task, many like to rip them for it. But sometimes it’s justified. That was the case last week when Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Jason Kidd put The Athletic reporter under a heat lamp for a ‘long ass question’. Too often writers and hosts use questions to show how much they know or they’ll tiptoe around sensitive issues or combine 3-4 questions at once trying to get everything in. The problem with that, it rarely results in good answers. Less is always more. It may not feel as deep but better responses come from short questions built around Who, What, Where, Why, When and How.

KC Morning Sports Radio: Kansas City listeners have had the luxury of waking up, driving to work, knowing that Nate Bukaty would be alongside Steven St. John on WHB, and Josh Klingler would be mixing it up with Bob Fescoe in 610 Sports. Yet in the span of two weeks, Bukaty and Klinger each announced they’re stepping away from FT hosting. That leaves Fescoe and St. John either operating solo, utilizing contributors or working with new partners.

It’s strange to see both shows change at the same time. However, if there’s one advantage, it’s June, and football season is still nearly three months away. Hopefully each show gets stronger, but for today, KC radio listeners have lost something from the shows they’ve consistently depended on.

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Eavesdropping: Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

“To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno.”

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Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

Back in March, it was announced that two popular names in the sport of basketball would be coming together to produce a new basketball podcast. The co-hosts are LeBron James, considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, along with ESPN NBA analyst JJ Redick, who was the 2006 National college player of the year and played in over 900 NBA games mostly with the Orlando Magic, the LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The podcast is produced by James’ company Uninterrupted as well as Redick’s ThreeFourTwo Productions. Redick said back in March, “It’s meant to be a very free-flowing conversation about the sport and about the game. If you look at it in a very simplistic way, it’s just about basketball.” So as the NBA Finals are going on, I decided to eavesdrop in on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick.

Before I get to the episode, I should point out that since the podcast was first launched, the Los Angeles Lakers fired their head coach, Darvin Ham, and Redick’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement, especially now that Dan Hurley has turned down the job to remain at UConn. This adds another layer to the podcast and is something Stephen A. Smith has called an “an egregious thing to do. I am not talking about the podcast itself, I’m talking about the timing.”

Smith believes James wanted to showcase Redick’s knowledge of the game and that the podcast is somewhat of a ploy by James to get the Lakers to hire Redick. Smith thought with Ham on the coaching hot seat, the March debut of the show made it obvious to him there was more meaning behind it than just these two guys deciding to do a podcast together

Regardless of the reasons for it, there is really only one way to describe the podcast when you listen in, and that is that it’s a Masterclass on basketball. This is not two talking heads sitting around generally analyzing the two teams and then making predictions on the NBA Finals series between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks.

Interestingly, although the title of the episode is “NBA Finals” and it is billed as an NBA Finals preview, the Eastern Conference finals had not concluded yet. This led to a humorous line from Redick at the beginning when he said they were recording the episode with the Mavericks up 3-0 in their series with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “We are going to go a little bit on the assumption that Minnesota will not be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit,” he said. “Could happen. I’m not saying it couldn’t. In which case this whole episode is fu**ed.”

Fortunately for them, but not so much for the Timberwolves, they did not come back, and Dallas did move on to play Boston in the Finals. However, with Minnesota still involved at the time, it allowed for Redick to ask James about Anthony Edwards and the comparison between himself and Edwards as both made deep playoff runs at the age of 22.

“I didn’t even know what was going on,” James said. “I was 22 years old; I’m trying to take in as much information as I possibly could. But more importantly I just wanted to go out there and not overcomplicate myself with information and just go out and play free. As a 22-year-old I felt like that’s what I should be doing.”

James said it was a little bit like playing with house money. Nobody expected his team to be where they were, they were the clear underdogs in a series against the veteran San Antonio Spurs, and James felt complete freedom just to go play the game, which Edwards was experiencing as well.

From there, you really get to see why this is not just your regular old basketball podcast for fans. This is a high-level course and if you have not taken the prerequisite courses (meaning you really understand the game), you may not even understand what it is they are talking about.

One of the major features of the show is Redick working on his coaches’ white board and actually drawing up plays. In this case he started out with a set the Boston Celtics are known to initiate their offense from and goes through many of the various options they have out of this configuration.

Redick and James say the set is called a ‘Horns 2’ or a ‘V2’ set up. Redick explains. If you are watching the show on YouTube, you will see definitions put up on the screen which helps you follow along on what the two hosts are talking about.

For this particular setup, the definition explains a ‘Horns’ set as “a half court set in which two bigs set ball screens on both sides of the ball handler with one big rolling to the rim and the other popping above the three-point line.”

The next subject brought a great question from Redick to James about the difference between being an underdog in a series versus being the favorite.

“Going into a Finals when you’re the underdog, you definitely have a different demeanor you have a different feeling,” James said. “It’s a different weight that’s on your shoulders and in your mind and on your back and on your chest. You can feel less anticipation. I have been on both sides. I have been the favorite and lost and have been the underdog and won.”

There are some laughs between the two hosts who have really good chemistry together. But mostly it is just straight, high level, basketball talk. Almost like two coaches sitting in a room watching tape and talking to one another in a language only some can understand. The show, however, is filled with little nuggets you can learn to be a better basketball fan and to understand why teams do things in certain situations.

One discussion on the episode was about whether a team should foul late in a game when they are up three and the other team has the ball. The idea, of course, is that they can only score two points from the free-throw line. This is something that has been talked about by many analysts over the years. However, on Mind the Game, James and Redick go into a discussion about why you should consider fouling when you are up six points, and the other team has the ball. James said the idea here would be to keep things as a two-possession game and not allowing the other team to potentially hit a 3 and make it a one-possession game.

As the two got more into the Celtics-Mavericks matchup, Redick asked James what the absolute best thing was the Celtics did that the Mavericks would have to contend with. “Passing and dribble penetration,” James answered. This brought the white board back out and Redick and James broke down the Celtics offense. “The spacing is what starts everything for them offensively,” Redick said about Boston as he diagrammed on his board.

At this point, video clips are introduced and add to what James and Redick described. First, Redick would draw up a few things Boston may do offensively and then video would play showing exactly what they had talked about. This led into the discussion of how Dallas could stop Boston’s offense and James said, “You can’t give the other team too much of the same.” He described switching up the defensive looks and even talked about how pushing an offensive player slightly off their spot can change things in a big way.

The hosts will often refer back to things they have talked about or reviewed in previous episodes, but if you are not familiar with terms like the aforementioned ‘Horns’ or ‘V2’ set or what a flare is, or a thumb up/thumb down play or what it means for the defense to blitz an offensive player, you may have a tough time keeping up.

Fortunately, James and Redick do speak the same language and as long as you can follow along with their high-level basketball IQ’s, you will enjoy their uncanny recall of players, games and even certain plays. So far, the YouTube channel for the show has 653,000 subscribers and this particular episode had been viewed over 789,000 times at the time I tuned in, so obviously it is something basketball fans are enjoying.

As the show wrapped, both hosts threw out major flowers to James’ former teammate Kyrie Irving who has been playing well for Dallas. This is another great thing you hear during Mind the Game, which is what someone like James thinks about other players in the league. “I would call him The Wizard all the time,” James said about Irving. “There was nothing on the basketball floor that Kyrie couldn’t do. Sitting here watching him, I’m so fu**ing happy and so proud to watch him to continue his growth. At the same time, I’m so fu**ing mad that I’m not his running mate anymore.”

Redick said Irving can be an X-factor in the Finals and James replied, “To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno. …he’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen, he has the best gifts I’ve ever seen of any NBA player.”

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Chase Daniel Making YouTube Content as Unique as His NFL Career

Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

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Photo of Chase Daniel at NFL Broadcast Boot Camp
Photo Courtesy: Chase Daniel X Account

Chase Daniel had a well-documented, somewhat unparalleled NFL career. 13 years, five starts, 273 career passes and over $40 million in compensation. He has been called a ‘Backup QB Legend’ by some and the ‘Backup QB GOAT’ by others. A former Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Daniel went to Missouri after having been named the EA Sports National High School Player of the Year. He has always competed, always been one of the hardest working people on the team and generally succeeded beyond expectations.

As his NFL career was winding down, Daniel started doing work for the NFL Network. In 2022, he did 30 shows for the network while he was still playing for the Chargers. He did not play last season and did say that while he has not yet filed the paperwork, it was ok to “break the news” he has retired from playing.

As for the work he did with the NFL Network while still playing, Daniel said, “I think that just sort of scratched the itch a little bit as part of their Monday post-game show. It was really valuable reps, valuable from what I was able to learn.”

Daniel credits his on-air teammates, Omar Ruiz, Adam Rank and DeAngelo Hall for teaching him a lot about television. He said his first full year away from the game, he didn’t want to go all-in, rather dipping his toes in as he was acclimating to home life and being ‘Dad’ and ‘Coach’ to his kids.

“But I ended up loving doing that stuff. I did Total Access on Fridays, and I was on all their draft coverage and all their combine coverage which was awesome.”

Daniel was also doing two different podcasts, one with The Athletic and one with Trey Wingo. And while he still plans to be a part of a national television platform, it is something else that he started on his own and continues to do mostly on his own, that has been drawing a lot of attention his way.

Daniel, like many former athletes, started a YouTube show, The Chase Daniel Show. Initially it was going to be an interview-style presentation, but Daniel had an idea he thought could really hit if done the right way. “I knew in the back of mind, if I could somehow find a way to break down quarterbacks in a way that really hadn’t been done before, there would really be a market for it,” he said.

While he said it took him a while to figure out how to draw on video like an NFL analyst working on a telestrator, once he did it didn’t take him long to see he did have something many people were interested in. His first breakdown video of Justin Fields, then with the Chicago Bears, was viewed over 160,000 times and at the time Daniel had less than 1,500 subscribers on the YouTube page. He is now nearing 50,000 subscribers.

“Well, this is a hit, let’s start doing it,” Daniel said he remembered thinking. He said by October of last year he really had it the way he wanted it and continued to crush it with breakdown videos.

“I never want to come across as condescending or smug, I want to be a teacher,” Daniel said when asked why he chose to do this style of analyzing football. “I want to be able to further the game of football from a standpoint of your mother-in-law and the nerds of football can both understand what I’m talking about. It has been such a fun thing. It’s probably the thing I am most proud of, the YouTube channel.”

As for what is to come this season and how he plans to grow the channel and the content, Daniel said he is not quite ready to reveal all of what is to come but he has a lot of big plans in the works.

“We are just excited to continue to make this better,” he said. “It is a very big, strategic mission for me this year, to make it even better and to get it to 100,000 subscribers. I think you’re going to see even more in-depth breakdowns. I think you’re maybe going to see some live breakdowns.”

Daniel mentioned the possibility of airing live shows this season on YouTube and also on X. He also talked about the possibility of doing some alternate broadcast style shows where he brings others on to his platform to break things down with him.

Daniel also is very active on social media and says he tries to reply to as many of the comments he gets about his videos as possible. His whole goal is to really have a one-on-one relationship with those tuning in for this content.

“I tried to base my whole YouTube channel off of ‘you and me.’ I’m in one person’s computer screen or on one person’s phone, but I am talking to you. If you’re watching my video, you are inside an NFL QB room with me, and we are watching the game the day after we played it, and this is what my QB coach is going to say for 12 plays. And this is what is going to be said in a meeting room and I am going to teach ball.

“I know from being around two hall of fame coaches to being around a hall of fame quarterback, to being in seven different quarterback rooms. I know what is actually being coached. And I love breaking down film.”

As for what exactly he’ll be doing on the network television side this fall, those conversations are still ongoing as he and his representatives with Rubicon Talent work through the various options. In April, Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

“I wanted to go because I want more opportunities and I wanted more coaching on how to call games,” Daniel said. “I think that is one of the more difficult things to do. Because you may think you are going to call it one way, but the game may play out much differently. I feel like that’s where I am good. I feel like I can see something happening in real time and automatically understand from a strategic standpoint what is happening and why it is happening.”

Daniel said he got great feedback from a lot of high-level executives and that a lot of it now is just about timing and “getting in somewhere.”

In explaining what the boot camp was, he said, “It was two and a half full days. I am a note taker, and I took copious amounts of notes. We had Fred Gaudelli (Pete Rozelle Award winning NFL TV producer) teach a class for 90 minutes talking about what it’s like to call a game and telling us what is expected of us. He reminded us, “You serve an audience.”

“They did this for podcasts, talk radio, game calling on radio, game calling on TV,” he said. “They taught you everything for the first two days with panels and groups, then the last day is ‘Let’s see what you learned.'”

Daniel said that last day consisted of calling parts of a game, getting feedback and doing it again before getting more feedback. That continued throughout the time with the various sections of the industry they were working on. He said while calling a game, he was getting feedback from NBC Sunday Night Football coordinating producer Rob Hyland.

Daniel said, “I’m a football player at heart, I like to be coached. A lot of times you don’t get coached in TV. That was the best part of it was all the feedback and coaching that I got.”

As for which direction he’d prefer to go as it relates to working in the studio or calling games as a color analyst, Daniel said he would like to do both and can see himself excelling at both.

“I love to grind, I love to be in it,” he said. “I enjoy it and I see the value in it. There aren’t a lot of people who root themselves in pure facts and film. I can have my opinions, but I deal in what I see on film, and I say what I see. Thats what I try to base my opinions off of.

“I see the value that I can bring to networks where I will crush it in the studio and would be the most prepared guy out there if they put me in the booth. For me, there’s a fire that burns deep to be out there and wanting people to see what I see as I coach ball.”

Daniel says he tries to be his own style but does point to the way Tony Romo started talking “in front of the play” as a way to describe what he likes to do. He says he watches a lot of old games and will listen intently to the broadcasters and sometimes he will turn the sound down and call the game himself.

Daniel, now 37 years old, says he was raised “old-school,” and that he was taught from a very young age that he was to work hard at every single thing he does. While his media career is just getting started, in typical Chase Daniel fashion, his hard work is already putting him out ahead of the pack.

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