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John Kincade Only Wants To Do His Show His Way

” I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches.”

Brian Noe

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Philly is in John Kincade’s blood. The sports radio host grew up in Broomall, Pennsylvania, which is around 12 miles from Philadelphia City Hall. As he puts it, the only team John ever allowed himself to just be a stupid fan for is the Eagles. He once told his daughter, “You can root for whoever you wish in sports, but you will be an Eagles fan.” Gotta love that. It was an unforeseen path back to Philly for John after a quarter-century in Atlanta, but home never felt so good.

John Kincade (@JohnKincade) | Twitter

It’s always interesting to hear about the events that lead a big-time host to their current gig. John’s path, which includes cancer and coaching hockey, stands out especially. John talks about his deep respect for Angelo Cataldi, the radio term that he despises the most, and how Philly has drastically changed since the mid-‘90s. We also touch on his first 100 days back in Philly and John’s greatest feeling in radio. Oh, and hair. We can’t forget about that. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s your sports radio path that has led to where you are now? 

John Kincade: While I was in college and after college I worked for the Philadelphia Flyers doing video and statistics with their coaching staff under Mike Keenan. I also was coaching ice hockey at the time and thought maybe I wanted to be a hockey coach. That’s craziness. But I was working in the business world. When I stopped working for the Flyers, I continued my coaching career but was working in sales and marketing.

Then when sports radio took off, I got involved with Tony Bruno. He was kind enough to have me as his Flyers correspondent when he was at WCAU. That took me to an internship with WIP. My first air shift was awarded to me by Tom Bigby, God rest his soul. The man was just an absolute legend. I was going down to Atlanta with my business, but I wanted to work in sports radio on the weekends. Tom Bigby was kind enough, Tony Bruno, Angelo Cataldi — I did bits on Angelo Cataldi’s show for over three years before I moved to Atlanta. They all spoke on my behalf with Mike Thompson who was at The Fan in Atlanta. They said put this guy on weekends. Mike Thompson put me on weekends because I had a full-time job during the week. I had my foot in both pools.

Eventually I ended up getting cancer twice. I got cancer in ‘95 and then I got cancer again in ‘97. I said in ‘97 when I got sick again, I told my mom, I said if I survive this, I’m going to go work in radio because I was convinced I was going to die. I was like enough of this part-time crap. I’m going to die. I’m not going to see 40. I’m not going to see 45, 50. So why not do what I want to do? I left and I did radio and TV with the Atlanta Thrashers their first year in ‘99. I worked with Steak Shapiro and their crew at 790 The Zone. Then when they relaunched The Fan in 2000, we started Buck and Kincade and I did that for 20 years.

BN: How would you judge your first 100 days in Philly now that you’re back?

JK: I’m extremely happy the way the show has premiered and the way the show has been received. You’re launching something new and we are doing something that is completely foreign to the market as far as the kind of show we do. Thankfully it appears the younger sports radio listeners are flocking to it and loving it. That’s what I love to hear. I’ve been in the business long enough to know what works.

It’s an intimidating thing to come home because you want to do your best. The difference is, instead of an audience listening to me every day, I’ve got at least 150 people that actually know my cell phone number that are listening to the show every day. I have a huge extended family. Within a 10-mile radius I probably have 15 to 20 cousins. I’m constantly getting that immediate feedback. Sort of like you guys at Barrett Sports Media, you have your little focus groups, well guess what, I’ve got a focus group every day on my cell phone.

I came in the door and I told Beasley Media we’re going to create this show and I said we’re going to break some eggs. We’re going to do things differently and we’re going to resist the urge to do exactly what has been done in Philly sports radio forever. And hopefully the audience will be attracted to it, stick with us, spend more time with us. We are very, very pleased with how we’ve premiered.

BN: What’s the biggest difference with your show compared to other shows in Philly?

JK: We probably take around 15 percent of the calls that any other show in the market takes. I’m going to say 15 percent, maybe 20. There are great, successful hosts in this market, some people who are really legends of the game. Guys I compete with like Angelo Cataldi, Mike Missanelli doing afternoon drive on our station, Anthony Gargano who I follow. These are guys who have been here forever and they do their thing. They do what has worked for them and what this community has fallen in love with them for.

I felt I had an opportunity to come in and do something that I had done on the national level for years where I did not take many calls. I did seven years at ESPN Radio with The John Kincade Show and then eight years on CBS Sports Radio. For 15 years I did it and I said okay, I know this works. I didn’t have to be caller driven. I hate the term caller-driven radio. It is the number one pet peeve to me.

When I talk to young people about getting into the business I say look, the world is going toward podcasting. What do we all want to do? We all want to binge watch. We all want to watch a show on our schedule. My wife wants to watch three episodes of one show in one night. I do not. That’s not how I consume media. My wife loves that. I said, well radio is moving in that direction. And guess what you’re not going to have?

What you need to do is you need to entertain. You need to catch people’s attention and entertain. I think relying on caller-driven radio to me is an idea of saying, well I’ve got a show, and I’m asking people to come and listen to my show, but I have no idea what the content is going to be. It’s going to be provided by random people who pick up the phone and call. To me, and just for me, it’s sort of what sports radio was 20 years ago. I don’t believe it’s what young listeners want and I think the numbers are bearing that out.

BN: What’s it like for you to compete against your mentor, Angelo Cataldi?

JK: The respect, admiration, and flat-out love that I have for Angelo Cataldi will never change, has never changed. He was involved every step of the way when I left Atlanta unceremoniously, and was looking for a job. He flat out told me and I’ll quote, he goes, ‘If these people are dumb enough not to hire you, you go and do whatever you gotta do.’ I had other opportunities including satellite radio. Angelo flat out said it to me, he said whatever you got to do, you take care of your family in the way I took care of mine. You worry about your family. You worry about finding a job that works for you.

What I didn’t expect and I’ll be very honest with you, I did not expect that if you had told me the day I found out I was leaving Atlanta, that I was going to be on 97.5 The Fanatic, I wouldn’t have expected it. But I was blown away by their absolute commitment to wanting to shake things up and do some things differently. To feel wanted? Especially when anyone gets told you make too much money, we can’t afford you, so your contract is not being renewed. That was painful to me because I didn’t understand the concept. Buck and Kincade in the South, we had just celebrated our 20-year anniversary on the air in Atlanta. When you get told well we’re going to move on, we’re just going to put an unceremonious end to it, it’s a hit to the ego. It was like I can’t believe this is happening to me.

But to have people with Beasley Media, and Joe Bell who’s the market manager, and Chuck Damico who is the program director, they literally had the most low-key, highly effective sales pitch I’ve ever heard. What do you want to do? What do you want to create here? How do you see this happening? Everything was directed at me. And honestly every single other place I talked to was saying more along the lines of well here’s what we do, and we think you’d be a good fit for what we do. The blank slate is what drew me to The Fanatic. I give them a lot of credit for taking that chance of wanting to do things differently.

BN: Now that you ended up in Philly at a rival station, what impact has that had on your relationship with Angelo?

WIP's Angelo Cataldi was ready to retire. Then Marc Farzetta became a  competitor.
Philadelphia Inquirer

JK: It has not had any impact on it at all. From the moment that I began the job search, three different times during the process of deciding what I was going to do, he was one of my first calls. He counseled me along the way. I bounced some ideas off of him about who was talking to me. He was extremely supportive. The day that I decided to take the job with The Fanatic, my first call was to Angelo Cataldi. I picked up the phone and called him because I owed him that respect.

This is a man who helped me launch my career. He’s a guy who taught me and let me see the bag of tricks. David Copperfield let me backstage and I watched this man. I got to see how he performed some of his magic. I do things a lot differently than Angelo, but one thing I learned from him is that you have to have your vision, create loyalty, create connections with your audience, and nobody’s done that better in this market than Angelo Cataldi, period. Ang and I still talk at times in the five months I’ve been home. We were going to make plans to try to have lunch soon. Hopefully that’s going to happen now that all the COVID stuff has lifted.

I couldn’t be more proud to call him a mentor. I’ve had a few. Howard Eskin was a guy I interned under. Tony Bruno was a huge influencer on me, all these guys. I’m so honored that I ever just got to see them do their craft. But in a weird way, I don’t want to be any of them. I want to be my own way, my own image, my own portrayal of what I want to do and it’s because of seeing guys like that do it their way for so long that I have the ability to say, hey here’s what I want to do. Let’s go do it.

Ang couldn’t be any more gracious, any more of a class act. It’s a mutual admiration. I know he continues to kick ass. He knows I’m coming for him and he’s like okay bring it on, dude. [Laughs] I’m ready for it. It’s great because we refuse to play — Philly loves to play up a thing called radio wars. It’s because there have been personalities who’ve worked in this town who tried to create the radio war. It’s not the ‘90s. It’s not the era of Howard Stern. That’s trite. And more importantly, I don’t believe the audience cares if you like a host at another station or anything like that. That’s like high school lunch table crap to me. It’s something that never attracted me as a listener.

BN: What’s your reaction to Spike Eskin going to WFAN?

JK: Well Spike’s taking over a very prominent office; I’ll tell you that much. I had the pleasure with my network show to get to know Mark Chernoff a bit. Over the past two years, to have Mark Chernoff in my cell phone, and a few times to just be able to say, can I talk to you about something? He’d say, 2 o’clock work? 2:30 work? He always had time for me. Great kindness, great insight into the industry. He’s a freakin’ legend. To have the opportunity to have worked under him for a few years was my honor. He helped me also during the whole job search. ‘That situation might not be the best one for you. You want to work under this kind of management.’ I picked his brain. The guy is a treasure trove of information.

I’ve known Spike a long time. What I know about Spike Eskin is he’s a competitor. I think he’s going to bring a new juice to the network. He’s a guy that I think understands there’s different ways for different guys to approach things and to do their job. I think that CBS Sports Radio will be lucky to have him.

BN: Has Philly changed at all since the first time you did radio there?

JK: I know this town like the back of my hand, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s changed. That’s something that has been one of those fun parts of the first 100 days of the show, is learning that this fan base has changed since I left. It’s different than when I left in the ‘90s. I believe it’s a kinder, gentler fan base. I know anybody hearing that about Philadelphia; they’ll laugh at me. But I would completely disagree having grown up here, and having been a part of these fan bases my entire life. It’s a kinder, gentler fan base.

It’s a fan base where people really get up in their feelings about defending the athlete they love, defending the athlete from criticism. It’s interesting. I think it’s a more introspective fan base than when I left.

Conversations are different. The visceral reaction to things seems more civilized from what I remember in my youth. That has been the wildest part of the journey of getting back home here, has been getting to know my fellow fans again, and getting to know what they think, and how they feel, and how they react. I think it’s a much more relaxed fan base than it was when I left. And I never would have said anything about Philly sports was relaxed when I was growing up. It’s completely different.

BN: What do you think is the best and the worst part of Philly sports radio?

JK: The best part is I believe this market has had some of the greatest long-tenured figures sit behind microphones that have helped to shape narratives, discussions, and fan bases for generations. When you’re talking a Mike Missanelli, and a Howard Eskin, and an Angelo Cataldi; these are icons of the industry that are known countrywide. These are guys that have had major, major success. This is a hotbed of sports radio.

What I think is the worst part about it, I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches. I think that’s what I would tend to say.

BN: What do you think is the best and worst part of Atlanta sports radio?

JK: [Laughs] Boy, I have a perfect chance there. I think the worst part of it is, in Philadelphia almost every single person turning on their radio is an Eagles fan, Sixers fan, a Phillies fan. I tell the story when I moved to Atlanta in 1995, there were 2.7 million people. When I packed up to come up to Philadelphia, Christmas vacation of this year, there were 6.8 million people in Atlanta; 4.1 million people over a quarter of a century. That’s huge. But what happened is, they didn’t just give birth to four million Falcon fans. It’s Bears fans. It’s Eagles fans. It’s Giants fans. It’s Dolphin fans that come to Atlanta.

Atlanta is a melting pot. It’s a much more difficult place to do a radio show in sports. I can tell you that. People love college football in the South. That’s great. Unfortunately the audience has six or seven different teams that have fan bases in your market. So if you go too specific, it’s a tune out for the other fan bases. And if you go too broad, people don’t hear enough about their team or enough detail, they’re not into it. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk with the fan bases. Whereas in Philly, a Monday after an Eagles game, the show programs itself.

BN: Are you a guy where scripting teases or parts of the show helps you relax and have fun?

JK: No question. Preparation is what makes me relax and have fun. My wife and daughter call me Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. They call me Sheldon. And they say it lovingly. But those who have ever worked with me know that there’s a hell of a lot of Sheldon Cooper in me.

I speak my mind. I don’t have a filter. I tell you exactly what I thought about a call, a segment, preparation, whatever; I’m not very good at political correctness or mincing words. It’s probably what has helped me have a good career, but it also makes it hard because everybody that I work with has to work the way I want to work. Because it’s the only way it’s going to work. If I’m going to do the show, we have to prepare the same and we have to have a routine and a regimented approach to things.

BN: What has been one of your favorite all-time memories in your sports radio career?

JK: Oh gosh. I would tell you that I don’t believe anybody in the business has my resume of fill-in hosting. I filled in for Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, Mike Tirico; I filled in four and a half years for Colin Cowherd. I don’t do Mount Rushmore shows, but if you were doing one on national sports radio, you’ve got it right there. And I filled in for all of them.

To sit in their chairs, in front of their mics, do their shows, that will forever be to me the greatest ‘oh my gosh’ feeling of the entire thing. I didn’t start full time in a media career until I was 33. To have accomplished that is truly incredible and absolutely a blessing. Just to think of all those people, and I didn’t mention a bunch of others, I’ve been very, very fortunate to do that.

BN: With as much as you’ve accomplished, is there anything else you’d like to experience?

JK: I want to have just a share of the great success that my mentors have had. Honestly I have missed my national radio audience. For 15 years doing my own show, getting to fill in for all those other great hosts over the years, I’ve missed it. It’s only been five months but I’ve missed it. I think at some point I will venture back into doing a national radio show. That is something I would like to do. But I’ve got a job to do right now. Beasley Media and The Fanatic gave me the keys to a great vehicle and they expect me to drive. They expect me to drive ratings, they expect me to drive revenue, and they expect me to make the entire radio station better. That has to be my focus and that’s my desire. I’m going to teach too. Now that I’m back in Philadelphia, I would love to teach a radio broadcasting class to college kids at my alma mater Temple University. That’s something on my list of things that I want to do.

Students walk past Samuel Paley Library on the Temple University campus, where a student died of a drug overdose on Dec. 1.
Emma Lee/WHYY

BN: Before you go, you’ve got great hair, John. I need any hair advice you have to share.

JK: Redken products. I like the Redken products. When you use a moisturizer, what you’ve got to do, guys, you don’t wash your hair that day. Don’t use shampoo and then use conditioner. Just rinse your hair and use conditioner. You don’t need to shampoo your hair every day. And I would tell guys, embrace your hair color. One thing I will never do is have my fingernails fall off from clinging to my youth.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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