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Does Sports Radio Value Its Black Audience?

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

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Congratulations, sports radio! (not really)

You’re so unique! You’re in a lane by yourself! You just so happen to be one of the only mediums in life where the dominating topics involve African Americans, but its hosts and audience are dominated by Whites.

Black folk are NFL fans too'

Seriously….how did this happen?

In urban radio, the format is dominated by Black hip-hop artists and Black on-air personalities like Funkmaster Flex of HOT 97 (New York City) and Big Boy of Real 92.3 (Los Angeles). And a majority of its listening audience is also Black. The same goes with urban adult contemporary radio.

Cable network VH1 got rid of all that “Behind the Music” stuff and went all “Love and Hip Hop,” “Flavor of Love,” “For the Love of Ray J,” and “Basketball Wives,” and not surprisingly, VH1’s audience also went majority-Black.

Place Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take, add rapper Wale to do the show intro, bring Black celebrities onto the show regularly, and whaddya know? The viewership of the two-hour daily First Take was at 53 percent Black, according to 2017 ESPN data, by far the largest Black viewership on ESPN during any part of the day.

One can understand The Golf Channel having a majority-White audience. Same with the NHL Network. But…from LeBron, to Zeke, to Deshaun Watson, to Kevin Durant, how in the world did the sports radio format, which endlessly discusses the actions of athletes that are mainly Black, sustain such a large percentage of White on-air hosts and listeners? African Americans are very engaged in radio; and surely we love sports, so what’s the issue here? And don’t you dare say, “Well, the NFL and NBA are majority-Black but the people who attend the games are majority-White…” That is an economic issue, a lesson in generational wealth, so we won’t even go there in this column…

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

I believe that the sports radio format, in general, cannot attract an increasingly Black audience because there are not enough sports radio program directors who “have been” Black. Notice I said, “have been.” As in, sports radio PDs “have always” been White for decades, and just like hockey, NASCAR and golf (with the exception of Tiger Woods), if young African Americans never see people that look like them in certain positions, a lot of them will believe it’s not a viable career choice. So, this goes back decades. 

More African American PDs would eventually equal more Black on-air hosts. More Black PDs would eventually equal more Black producers, executive producers and assistant PDs. The way people snap photos at work with their phones today, word would spread visually on social media and word-of-mouth to other Black individuals that this is a career for you. But you don’t see it, so you just move on to something else.

Terry Foxx is the program director at WFNZ in Charlotte. As outstanding as he is, shouldn’t have to carry the mantle as the only Black sports radio PD in the nation’s top 60 markets. He can’t move these mountains by himself.

I’m not the only one giving an opinion here. Some people in the sports radio format also wanted to weigh in on this column’s polarizing topic: “Does Sports Radio value its Black audience?” Below are the conversations I had with a few of them.

Emmett Golden, on-air host, ESPN Cleveland

Golden, Emmett | Good Karma Brands

Rob: Emmett, do you believe that in general, sports radio is specifically tailored for White men? Or do you think that the Black male audience is also thought about when making programming decisions on hosts, music selections, producer selections, etc?

Emmett: Generally speaking, I would say sports talk radio is tailored to White men because most of the people running radio stations are White men. I believe there are exceptions, but if you look at the lack of Black hosts, especially those that weren’t former pro/college athletes, you can’t help but feel like African Americans aren’t top of mind when people are programming radio stations. Now, over the past year with all of the social unrest going on in our country, I do believe there is a shift happening. I think there is more thought put behind having a diverse line up now than there has ever been before. 

Rob: Why do you believe there aren’t more Black sports radio hosts on the air these days?

Emmett: There are a variety of reasons. One of them is that I don’t think the decision-makers understand the spending power of the African American community. We know that “Cash Rules” and I believe that some people think that there’s more disposable income available from the middle age White man, so let’s hire middle age White men and they can sell to that same audience. Another reason is with the lack of minorities running radio stations there’s a relationship issue. Most people are likely to hire someone they know or someone that gets a referral from a person they know. I understand that’s just how things work but without the representation at the top, it’s tough for minorities to get the, “Hey I know the perfect person for the job” type of opportunity. 

Rob: Last, did you personally find any obstacles getting on air in your sports radio career because of your ethnicity? Or did it maybe help you get on air faster to increase diversity on the station?

Emmett: I feel like I was lucky. I got an opportunity to intern at ESPN Cleveland and after getting that opportunity I was able to show them my value. My ability to build relationships, my willingness to do ANYTHING that was asked of me, and my overall attitude is what separated me from others in my intern class. I got the opportunity and many minorities don’t get the chance. Where I am in my career now being Black (I’m biracial, Black and White, but I know the world sees me as a Black man and I embrace that) could benefit me as more people look to add diversity. The responsibility is on me to open as many doors for young Black men and women so they can get the opportunity that they deserve. I was a part of Good Karma Brands’ launch of 101.7 The Truth in Milwaukee and we need more stations/opportunities like those in the radio business.

Matt Fishman, Program Director, ESPN Cleveland

Matt Fishman Named Dir./Content At WKNR (850 ESPN Cleveland) | AllAccess.com

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Fishman: The great thing about sports is that it creates a place of connection across different races, genders, ages, backgrounds, etc. Ensuring your team is made up of talent from diverse backgrounds allows for unique perspective on various topics and subjects, helps to avoid “blind spots” and reaches and relates to the audience.

Rob: Matt, can you explain, as a program director, how you believe having hosts such as Emmett Golden and Je’rod Cherry impacts, maybe, the diversity of ESPN Cleveland and, maybe, the relatability factor of those hosts to Cleveland’s sizable African American audience?

Matt Fishman: Emmett and Je’rod are amazing. Their show The Next Level is very welcoming to fans of all backgrounds. When last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations were taking place in Cleveland and across the country, Emmett’s perspective as a life-long Clevelander and an African American allowed him to talk about the injustices in a way that only he could.

Jimmy Powers, Brand Manager, 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Jimmy: Absolutely. Radio as a whole, is a very competitive business and every listener in the DMA is important to the success of our radio stations. Sports radio is no different. Since we have a very niche audience because of the format, all of our listeners are extremely valuable.”

Rob: What do you think can be done to increase, improve Black listenership in sports radio?

Jimmy: Creating content that is relevant and reflective to the listening audience is key. This means discussing major news stories that has an impact on the entire city; regardless if it’s a big local story or a national story, it should resonate to all listener demographics and shouldn’t be avoided. In addition, we need to continue to do our part to find more talent that reflects the market listeners as a whole.”

Scott Shapiro, Vice President, Fox Sports Radio

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Scott: Every listener is important, no matter their demographic, race or identity. Representation plays a large role in showing the audience that they are valued. It’s no secret that the industry as a whole can do better to have more voices from people of color.  At FOX Sports Radio, it’s important to us and a priority to continue growing and fostering diversity on the network.  When looking across our seven-day-a-week lineup, we’re proud to have eight Black hosts making up 30 hours of weekly airtime. And we’re excited about our most recent launch, Up on Game, which airs Saturdays from 1-3pm ET, headlined by three former NFL players – LaVar Arrington, TJ Houshmandzadeh & Plaxico Burress.

Rob: Were there any reservations or concerns from yourself or anyone associated with FSR/Premiere about having two Black hosts (Rob Parker and Chris Broussard of The Odd Couple) host a daily three-hour program on a syndicated national network?

Scott: There were zero concerns or reservations. It was our idea to put Chris & Rob together, and they are a tremendous pairing that America loves! They host a wonderful show and we are extremely happy with it three years in as it continues to grow.

Rob: Last, how do you think sports radio could begin to cultivate more Black program directors?

Scott: It all starts from the bottom up. Bringing in more diverse voices in the hiring process is the place to start. That way a deeper pool of candidates learn the business from entry level to the managerial stages.

Matt Edgar, Program Director, 680 The Fan, Atlanta

90+ "Matt Edgar" profiles | LinkedIn

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Edgar: I don’t think the Black audience was always valued but I truly believe they are now.  Though I’ve mostly felt sports radio is color blind, more needed to be done to cater to the African American listener by way of hosts.      

Rob: Matt, is Atlanta a market that has a higher than usual Black listenership to The Fan? Or would people be surprised to know that it’s considerably smaller than the market’s percentage of African Americans?

Matt Edgar: The ratings don’t always show a higher than usual Black listenership for us and I honestly believe that’s a Nielson issue.  Whether it’s the make-up of the crowd at one of our events, our callers, feedback, etc., I feel very strong about our African American listener representation.    

Rob: You were the PD of the 2 Live Stews, when they were on the old 790 the Zone. Was the White audience, in general, a fan of the show? And what made it resonate so much with Black listeners?

Matt Edgar: The White audience was a fan of the show for the most part.  It had an originality that sports radio hadn’t heard much of yet…..two brothers, who disagreed & fought like brothers….they were African American, which was very unique to the sports radio landscape back then….they were pure fun! 

I thank those in the sports radio realm who opted to respond with comments for this important topic. If you would like to give your opinion, feel free to email me at rtaylor@newpittsburghcourier.com, and if you’re an African American in this world of sports radio who may have aspirations to become a PD or other commentary, let me know that as well.

Sports Radio leaders, take a look at the daytime programming on ESPN and Fox Sports 1. There’s more African American hosts/contributors on these two national networks from sunup to sundown, you’d think they were broadcasting from the Barber Shop. Mike Greenberg is surrounded by Black contributors, First Take is, well, engrained in African American culture, then Sage Steele anchors Sportscenter, followed by Jalen Rose’s platform, plenty of Black NBAers on The Jump, and you can’t miss Bomani Jones and Dominique Foxworth on Highly Questionable.

On the competition (FS1), there’s Brandon Marshall on First Things First, Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed, Joy Taylor on The Herd, and Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho on Speak For Yourself. It seems like the national TV sports conversation has a sizable percentage of African American hosts/contributors, unlike local sports radio.

Which brings me to national radio. As Scott Shapiro referenced earlier in this column, Chris Broussard and Rob Parker are making an impact in their daily Fox Sports Radio program as an African American tandem. Unfortunately, it’s very seldom to find two Black hosts with their own local sports radio show.  
And props go out to JR, of the JR Sport Brief Show on CBS Sports Radio, each weeknight from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET. For those who thought he was just filling in during the pandemic…no no…he showed the audience that he was the real deal, as he’s nearly a year and two months into the national program. I had a chance to speak with JR about this column’s topic. He gave me that “look” that I could even see through the email, and he then referred me to a Tweet he posted on Aug. 26, 2020:

BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

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.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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BSM Writers

National Voices Can Work For Local Clients

“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”

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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. 

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