The business model for sports radio in Raleigh, NC is an interesting one. One company, Capitol Broadcasting, owns all three of the market’s sports brands. It also owns the local NBC and FOX affiliates. Combine that with the fact that the company owns the Durham Bulls and a major local sports site called WRALSportsFan.com, and it is obvious that the company is a juggernaut in the local sports scene.
I used to work for Capitol. So many different outlets meant you had a lot of exclusive audio and access to build content around. There was a lot of work involved, but there were plenty of perks too.
The man in charge of all of it is Brian Maloney. He is the focus of the latest Meet the Market Managers column.
In our conversation, Brian and I discuss why he still values play-by-play, his reasons for changing his expectations of a program director, and more. Plus, it ends with an invite to a tailgate party!
Demetri Ravanos: I want to go back to right before the pandemic set in, where 99.9 The Fan went through a major lineup change, splitting up the popular tandem of Adam Gold & Joe Ovies. They had been together over a decade, and you moved Adam to middays, which meant David Glenn would no longer be part of the station’s schedule. Then, just as things were starting to get rolling, the pandemic hit. I’m wondering if you can take me through some of those early moments and what went through your mind as you’re trying to navigate not only the new realities for the station, but across the cluster.
Brian Maloney: You really want me to relive this huh? Oh, my God, it was scary as hell. But I kept telling myself, “We’re going to be so much better on the other side of this.” And I think it’s true.
College basketball rules in this market, and it all came crashing down for us around March 12th or 13th. We were right in the middle of the biggest month of the year for us in ratings and revenue, and then the bottom fell out literally in a matter of a day.
It was really scary for the first six or so weeks because nobody had ever experienced what we were going through. It was like driving down a country road at night with no lights on. You had no idea where it was going to go.
DR: Right. And you’re doing all of that with two new shows, one in afternoon drive that includes a guy that hasn’t done radio before.
BM: Yeah, that was crazy. In hindsight, we either couldn’t have picked a worse time or maybe it was the best time to make changes. We brought in Joe Giglio from the News and Observer and I think he had been on for one week at that point. Here’s a guy with no radio experience doing a sports talk show host’s job from his bathroom, because it was the only quiet space in his house, with a new partner that couldn’t even see. But, man, if you can do that, you can do anything.
We just got really creative. We got really good. And like I said, we are better off than we were 14 months ago.
DR: So that leads into my next question. In terms of both the sound of the two shows and ratings performance, how would you grade that first year and few months of this new lineup?
BM: It was really hard to get a handle on things the first four months because the world was just going nuts. We started to, in July, feel it coming together, and now we’re seeing the performance in the ratings, streaming, and reactions on social media. The street buzz from clients is also good. It’s really starting to gain momentum.
Joe Giglio and Joe Ovies released our Russell Wilson podcast last week. It’s a six part series. We just released part four today, and we’re coming in on fifteen thousand downloads in a week. So we’re really happy about that. That’s an example of a way that we got better, because we really had to stop and think. And that’s something that those guys have been working on since back in the summertime when we were still in the throes of things.
DR: When you were dealing with the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, you guys started hosting these virtual town halls with local clients. I think you would open up at one point, correct me if I’m wrong, to just any business. If some of these clients had other friends that were business owners that wanted to be a part of those sessions, they were welcome as well, right?
BM: Yeah, we came out of the chute conducting online seminars, anything from H.R. people talking about how to handle employees going through challenges to attorneys talking about dealing with the business loans and such.
We just went after that right away. It was a way we could help. We were able to position ourselves as somebody there to help the community. As a matter of fact, that was branded as “Here to Help”. I think we built up a lot of credibility when we did that, and it had nothing to do with sports. It was just all about helping businesses in this community.
DR: How did that idea come together so quickly that you were able to act on it right away?
BM: Fortunately, we work for a private company that has a bunch of talented people and we just sprung into action and turned it on quick. We got up and running and it just snowballed from there.
DR: Let’s talk about working for a privately owned, local company. Capitol owns the entire sports radio landscape here in Raleigh. One of the things I look at all the time is certainly it does block out the ability for a competitor to come in and be strong. But is there value to all three of your sports brands? Certainly 99.9 The Fan is a property that any group in the market would want, but The Buzz is on an HD channel, albeit with translators. The Ticket is on an AM signal. How do you value those brands in 2021?
BM: Well, I think there’s no doubt we’ve seen growth in digital listening, but terrestrial still makes up the majority of listening in the United States and in our market as well. So it’s still important. You’ve got to have that real estate. But, you know, I no longer look at it as “The Ticket is on 620 AM. It’s not just on 620 AM. It’s still a brand of ours, and we distribute it. I mean, it is available in many places right now. We have our stations streaming under our TV stations’ webcams of the beach, of the lake, and of downtown Raleigh. We just push it out everywhere.
DR: And with that association with WRAL, the local NBC affiliate, certainly there are advantages to The Fan being branded as part of WRAL’s online sports empire. I wonder if there are any disadvantages of The Fan using that WRALSportsFan banner. The Buzz and The Ticket too for that matter. Do you see any disadvantages of radio brands not having their own distinct online location?
BM: No, I think it’s actually a huge advantage. I think seven years ago, 10, 12 years ago, you might have said, “wow, man, they don’t have their own identity”. But if you look at where our industry has gone and where it’s going, it’s not just about radio. It’s about radio, video, and articles online.
We’re doing what we’ve always done, and that’s the way of the world now. I mean, our radio stations are just a piece of the big machine and our on air talent write articles. They do videos. We video stream our shows. It’s almost like the radio shows themselves are just a small piece of what we do. Our sports website generates millions of page views every year, millions. The overall website gets billions.
DR: And that’s why I asked if there are disadvantages. Forget the website. Look at it from a mobile perspective. The WRALSportsFan app offers a user considerably more content than you might expect from an independently owned radio station’s app.
BM: Yeah, it’s 360. It’s a very robust platform of sports content. I know a lot of people aren’t using the R word anymore. You know, it’s audio this or whatever, but we’re in the sports content business, period. It’s just that simple. I think people try to complicate it, but we are in the business of producing sports content, whether it’s podcast, video, audio, on a radio station, Alexa or whatever.
DR: During the pandemic you made a change at PD. You and I talked about the job and you were very clear from the get go, you were rethinking what that position should be. You’ve had guys like Adam and Joe, who had been with you for over a decade and Alec Campbell, who has run their show for five years. Was that a big factor in being willing to experiment because you knew the sports side was full of people that had established successes, or did you simply feel it was time for the role of a program director to evolve and move building clocks and coaching talent to the backburner?
BM: Absolutely. Sammy Simpson is the brand manager for our cluster, which includes the mighty WRAL FM, Adult Contemporary, and then our sports stations.
You’re absolutely right. Sammy views this, the whole operation as a unit, including sales. There are many times that Sammy comes up with ideas and ways to market ourselves to clients and solve their problems, all the way down to how are we going to market this new podcast that we’re putting out. How are we going to brand anything we do?
So, yeah, I think the days of program directors fiddling with clocks and the less important stuff, that’s done in my mind.
DR: Raleigh is still a market where the ratings come out and advertisers pay attention. It helps them in setting up their buys. Given that so much of this is now about producing content that’s consumable on people’s own schedules, are we reaching a point where part of the reason PDs will have to offer more than just fiddling with clocks and coaching talent is it’s less about what that number is at the end of each quarter?
BM: I think for sports radio, it’s never really been about the ratings. That’s been one of the beauties and attractions of the sports format, is we all know how powerful it is, no matter what the ratings say, and now I think it’s even more powerful. To give you an example, last week we did a countdown to the NHL playoffs promotion, where we took a 500 pound block of ice and froze a puck in it. We asked listeners to guess when they thought the puck would drop. They won tickets to the playoffs and a chance at money and everything.
So we had this block of ice set up with a webcam on it 24/7 that got hit in our newscasts on our TV station, and it was talked about on the air, it was watched on social media. We had over 7000 people tune in to watch ice melt last week, okay? When they watched ice melt, they also saw the client’s logo, they heard the client mentioned on the air, and they saw the client on social media.
It just goes so far beyond the radio promo mention now. That’s what we bring. I don’t care if you’re a music station or a talk station. That’s what you should be doing right now.
DR: You guys have a history of doing some really cool podcasting projects. You mentioned the Russell Wilson podcast earlier. I’ve told clients to listen to Lauren Brownlow’s NC State Stuff podcast from 2017 too. I think it’s a great example of what radio stations should be doing in that realm. As successful as the creative side has been, looking at it from a business standpoint, do you feel like it’s been successful in terms of getting ad reps and clients to see the value of putting their messages on those products?
BM: It’s been a learning process. You really have to stop and think about what you’re doing. So just to walk you through briefly, the latest thinking with this Russell Wilson podcast is that we see so many, what is it at now? 1.6 million podcasts out there today? You see so many people who are just sitting down in front of a microphone and think they’re going to just talk sports. We tried that and it didn’t really work. So we started to be thoughtful about what we’re doing.
We know from the data that NC State and Russell Wilson move the needle. Credit Joe Giglio and Joe Ovies for coming up with that topic and for phoning in their contacts to get great content for that podcast. We knew that if we did something that went really deep and was really thoughtful about a topic we know moves the needle, maybe we can get something cranking here.
We got a sponsor involved. They were like “Oh, Russell Wilson? Big name! NC State? Big School! Yeah, sign me up!” So we were able to sell a title, exclusive sponsorship for it. And like I said in the first week, we’re coming up on fifteen thousand downloads.
So take it a step further. We thought let’s buy digital ads in Richmond, Wisconsin and Seattle. So now we’ve touched, our market, Raleigh/Durham, but we’ve also touched Richmond, Wisconsin and Seattle, where Russell’s footprints or fingerprints are. So now we believe securing a sponsor for our next podcast effort will be easier, because we know we have a nice track record of success with the Russell Wilson podcast and also with other ones we’ve done in the past, too.
You really have to be thoughtful about what you’re doing and strategic. It takes a lot of work. We do have an advantage of a great machine in Capitol broadcasting that can promote that podcast on the news and a massive website. But you’ve just got to be thoughtful about it. You can’t just crack the mike and talk about the football game.
DR: I remember when I was working for you how much you emphasized the value of live play-by-play and how every other liner I read was about carrying this game or that race. I wonder as we fast forward five years, is that value the same? There is an ACC Network now that replays every game multiple times during the week. ESPN+ and other sports streaming services have games and events available on demand. During the pandemic, it became clear that matters to people. So where does that leave live play-by-play on the radio? Has the value been diminished at all?
BM: I think there’s still a tremendous value there because not everybody can be in front of a screen to watch the game. Whether it’s hopping in your car and headed to the Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon and you’re catching the score or getting updated, I think there is – actually, it’s not that I think I know there is real value in live play-by-play because again, we can look at our screen numbers when the game comes on and you will see a spike. Right when the puck drops or the ball is kicked, you will see a spike in listening. Now Nielsen may not show it, but don’t get me started on that.
DR: Listen, I’ve done this series now for three months. You wouldn’t be the first I’ve heard complain about it.
BM: We have a lot of work to do there.
DR: I worked on a story back when Keyshawn, JWill, and Zubin were getting ready to launch, taking the lay of the land from market managers who ran local ESPN stations to see how they felt about the new lineup. You told me that you were really optimistic about the show, pointing out Jay Williams’ local connection from having won a title at Duke.
Things haven’t gone the way they were initially designed, so adjusting could be necessary again. I don’t think it’s fair to ask “is it great” less than a year into a new show’s life, but are you still optimistic about the show’s future?
BM: I really am. I believe in that show. It’s a new show that started in the middle of a messed up sports world and then some tragedies happened within the show, which were just horrible. But I believe that is a very entertaining show, and I can’t wait till the fall. I think you’re going to see, at least I believe for us, that’s really going to explode.
I don’t know that we can judge that show yet in such an unstable sports world that we’ve been in since it was launched. I think Keyshawn is one hell of an entertaining person to listen to. JWill’s role is well-defined. I really am optimistic about it.
DR: I moved to Durham 15 years ago and read a statistic that said in the time that I’ve been here, 35 percent of the people that were here then are now gone. The Triangle is growing. We’ve got Apple coming in real soon. That’s going to spark a whole new wave of population turnover. Does the nature of our market make national sports media, whether it is network radio or satellite radio a more formidable competitor here than it might be elsewhere?
BM: That’s a really good question. We were just talking about this today because we were doing our planning session for the upcoming football season and one of the topics we kept going back to was that you have just a melting pot of fans here. Do we address the Steeler fans, the Lions fans, the Tampa fans? And so we’re paying attention to it and trying to weave those teams into discussions and promotions. A few years ago, we found a unique way of addressing it by doing a thing called Transplant Tuesdays. We would, on any given Tuesday, focus on the city and the teams and the food and the beer from that city. If it was Pittsburgh, we would talk about the teams of Pittsburgh and it went over really well.
You have to address it. You have to acknowledge it. The other thing too is because of that influx of population into a market where there’s three major universities, not everybody in town is an NC State, Duke or Carolina fan anymore. I mean, as a matter of fact, half of them have no emotional ties to those schools anymore.
DR: I’ll give you an example of exactly what you are talking about. When I got here in 05, I was living in Durham. If I wanted to go watch a football game with other Alabama fans, my only option was 40 minutes away in Garner. Now I have my choice of three different fan groups.
BM: Yeah, like in our meeting today that we had, we were talking about throwing tailgate parties for teams that aren’t even in the Triangle. In fact, Alabama was number one on the list. So I’ll make sure we let you know when that is going to be.
DR: Please do!
BM: But you are right. It’s really something, and I think that’s probably true for any market in the Southeast right now. You have just such an influx of people coming from all over the country. You can’t just ride the coattails of your traditional school and market. You’ve got to think broader.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.
Sports Radio News2 days ago
Mike Golic, Dave Pasch Reunite On Westwood One Next Week
Sports Radio News3 days ago
107.5 The Fan’s JMV Missed A Chance To Break Hard Knocks News
News Television3 days ago
Bill Maher: I’m Glad I Found Out Norm MacDonald Died After He Died
Sports Radio News2 days ago
Joy Taylor Creates Scholarship At Barry University