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Let’s Go To Sports Radio Minicamp

“Programmers from around the country weighed in with their ideas on what may make up a sports radio minicamp.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Teams across the NFL have broken from OTAs and are now either in or about to be in minicamp. This is the time to reinforce the basic good habits anyone in the business needs to master in order to thrive. It is the time to observe your talent and think about what new things you can do with them.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2021 rookie minicamp: So far so good
Courtesy: Photo Pool

We are hearing a lot about young quarterbacks across the league. Some look great. Some…well, don’t. There are plenty of reports about highly drafted rookies at other positions and how they are fitting into teams’ defensive schemes. Then of course, there’s Aaron Rodgers, the story that isn’t going to die until it does.

Minicamp is never short on storylines and objects of intrigue. Very rarely do you see reports about the nitty-gritty. There aren’t a lot of SportsCenter segments about exactly what Bruce Arians is doing in his golf cart or what Arthur Smith’s daily schedule is like for Kyle Pitts.

That is what I want to talk about today…kinda. I want to talk about how we would design a minicamp if we had them in the sports radio business.

What would be the best way to use the time? Do you focus on the basics and improve everyone from the ground up? Do you put the onus squarely on your stars and challenge them to get better? Are you looking at the “bottom of your roster” with a keen eye on who actually makes you better and how you can best use them?

This is all an exercise in imagination, so I asked the industry how they would do it. Programmers from around the country weighed in with their ideas on what may make up a sports radio minicamp. Enjoy.

KYLE BROWN – 710 ESPN IN SEATTLE

It’s minicamp so we’re sticking to the fundamentals, blocking and tackling type stuff. We’ll get deep into install when Training Camp rolls around.

For now, we’re focusing on our foundation: show prep, sticking to the clock, and executing teases. I’m expecting full participation with no veteran holdouts. We can’t have that on this team, too destructive to our culture. 

ADAM KLUG – 97.3 THE FAN IN SAN DIEGO

NFL teams use minicamp to re-instill the basics and fundamentals of football into their players: blocking, tackling, etc. If a sports radio PD ran a minicamp for talk show hosts, it should be used in the same way. Two of the biggest fundamentals that a radio host should have top of mind at all times, but are often taken for granted, are: knowing your audience and effective teasing.

A host should always know who they are broadcasting to, and actually broadcast to that audience. Too often a local host, or even a network host, is interested in a topic or a team or a sports league that their audience has no interest in, or for a network host, for a market their show is not cleared in. Your first job is to entertain your audience, so discuss topics they are interested in.

What Tennessee Titans coaches are saying on eve of mandatory minicamp
Courtesy: George Walker IV / Tennessean.com

Teasing is also extremely important, and can be done in various ways, yet is often taken for granted.  A tease at the end of a segment should not be telling the listener what is coming up after the break; it should be giving a reason why the listener should stick through the break! Teasing within a segment can also be effective, by giving the listener a reason to listen to the entire segment. Not broadcasting to your audience’s interests and lazy teases are issues many hosts have, because they believe their audience will listen no matter what, but in today’s world that offers so many choices, that just isn’t the case. 

JOHN MAMOLA – 95.3 WDAE IN TAMPA

The point of any football mini camp is to look at your roster, and see what traits or skills each player has and where they fit on your roster moving into the season.  Most radio stations know their starting lineup or have had it for a number of years, but refining or building up some skill sets of the younger and up and coming athletes/talent already have that your current roster can shape into their own is vital to the success and staying power of your roster and brand. 

So how well does each talent know how to reach a digital audience, and when’s the last time they tried anything specifically digital?  Does your talent have a grasp that their audience may be tuning in the same, more, less outside their daypart than when they’re actually live?  Are they using social media to enhance their on air and on demand content?  Are they thinking outside the box with content and interviews?   And more importantly than ever, how well do they network with your sales department on driving revenue utilizing the entire on air and digital picture? 

There’s no real playbook at this mini camp, but a ton of drills (questions) to work towards finding those answers moving into finding ways to be better each and every day.

SCOTT MASTELLER – WBAL NEWS RADIO IN BALTIMORE

I would focus on the “Blocking and Tackling” of Spoken Word Radio.  Always good to have a refresh on the fundamentals that help drive quarter-hours.

May 10: Texans rookie minicamp
Courtesy: Brett Coomer
  • Topic selection is everything. Much like the plays a football teams has in their playbook. It all comes down to execution. 
  • Do not waste time; get right to the core of the topic you are talking about. 
  • Never Assume the audience knows what you know.
  • Make sure you take care of the basics.
  • Tease-tease-tease. Tell the story to the consumer and make sure every segment delivers a payoff. 
  • Be specific and give the listener a reason to hang around for the next segment. 
  • Make sure you re-set the guest and/or conversation as the audience is constantly changing. 
  • Keep interviews interesting with short open-ended questions. 
  • Know how long to go with a caller and also know when to not take a call. 

Always ask yourself if the content you are presenting plays to the broadest set of the audience that is consuming your content!

MATT NAHIGIAN – 95.7 THE GAME IN SAN FRANCISCO

Our first day of training camp starts with the word passion.  If you don’t have a passion for what you do the blocking, tackling and fundamentals don’t matter.  Every day you crack that microphone, the listener should know right away what topic is touching you and means something to you.  It could be something local, but it might not be.  If it isn’t, it’s important to find a way to bring it back or tie it in to your local audience.  

After we establish how important the passion part is, we move on to the blocking and tackling.  It sounds cliche, but under the current system we are in, playing the hits and hitting the breaks are fundamentals that have to perfect each and every day if you want to win.  Passion first, fundamentals a close second.  We are ready for the Week 1!

RYAN PORTH – 102.5 THE GAME IN NASHVILLE

In a short amount of time, I’d want to focus on just a few things with hosts: quality over quantity, if you will.

One of the most important things in sports radio is topic development; a crash-course on improving topic development, what works and what doesn’t, would be at the top of the list for mini-camp. You can win or lose quarter hours based on topic selection, but proper development of those topics is a winning recipe.

Another item to discuss in mini-camp would be teasing; there’s value in a good tease to keep your audience hooked to the other side of a break. In today’s world where stations could still be playing catch up from financial losses due to the pandemic, it’d also be important to spend time on how hosts can interact with the sales team to benefit both the individual and the station.

JEFF RICKARD – 93.5 & 107.5 THE FAN IN INDIANAPOLIS

I would drill staying on the clock, working on great teases and having a plan. 

Giants Minicamp: Barkley continues knee out of sight. | AccessWDUN.com
Courtesy: Adam Hunger | Credit: AP

At the beginning of the day I would have everyone write down the three biggest, most interesting topics of the day; they should focus on those to the exclusion of almost anything else. Later in camp, we’ll introduce how to constantly spin those topics and keep them entertaining.  I already know they have great talent, now I want to show them how to get the most out of what they do best.

BSM Writers

Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?

“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career. 

Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff. 

Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.

Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.

Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country. 

Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.

Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.

Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance. 

Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!

A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.

FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan.  MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team.  I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”

JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions. 

“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).

“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”

MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”

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BSM Writers

Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.

Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.

But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.

The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.

As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.

Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.

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The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.

Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!

But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)

That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?

We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!

The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.

Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.

Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)

Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.

We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.

When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?

If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.

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BSM Writers

There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle

“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”

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Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.

The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.

Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark. 

It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.

Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.

Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.

One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.

It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.

It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.

One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.

Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”

There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.

We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.

The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.

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