Mike Stone has been a fixture in the Detroit radio scene for roughly 30 years. He’s learned a few tricks along the way. Stoney knows that carrying on about the sad state of local teams would just depress listeners even more. Who wants to feel worse during their morning commute by listening to a show that only bellyaches about how badly things suck? Stoney appreciates the value of not sticking to sports all the time; especially when sticking to Detroit sports might give the audience a splitting headache or sharp abdomen pain.
Stoney was born and bred in suburban Philadelphia and has lived in Detroit since May of 1986. He talks about the personal and professional pain of losing Jamie Samuelsen due to colon cancer. Stoney also discusses what he likes most and least about doing radio in Detroit, his obsession with Bruce Springsteen, and what he’d love to experience before his career ends. Although you obviously can’t hear Stoney, take it from me that he also does a really solid impression of his former radio partner Rob Parker. “Come ooooon, Brian.” Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How did your path unfold that led to you landing in Detroit?
Mike Stone: Very strange. I interned in college for the NBC television station. I worked in the newsroom. We hired a guy named George Michael. You probably know him from the Sports Machine. He was their local sportscaster.
I produced a sportscast on the weekends and worked in the newsroom during the week. Then I wanted to get on the air. That didn’t work at first. Another sportscaster in Washington happened to get a job in Detroit. He needed somebody with NBC ties. He moved here and I was his producer. Then one thing led to another and I became friends and roommates with two other guys, one being Mitch Albom, who besides working at the Free Press, did sports on the morning radio rock ‘n’ roll station. We did this show on Sunday nights starting in 1988. I did some talk radio with him. It was more of a guest heavy show with some trivia. Then WDFN started in 1994. I got the afternoon gig with Rob Parker. He left and then Wojo [Bob Wojnowski] came in and there we go.
BN: Was it surprising that George Michael blew up the way he did?
MS: Yeah, absolutely. It was weird because when I grew up as a kid in Philly, George was basically a Top 40 DJ. Then he moved to New York. He went from WFIL in Philly to WABC in New York. Then he did weekends on Channel 7 in New York for Warner Wolf. He did some Islander games. I knew he was really good. He had influence where he convinced the network — we were owned and operated by NBC — to do a half-hour Sunday show. Then it became the Sports Machine. Before the Sports Machine — this is back in the early ‘80s, right around when ESPN started — but most TV stations didn’t have satellite dishes. Like for instance last night there was an NBA playoff game. A lot of people didn’t have cable. We would get the games fed in, cut the highlights, and I would voice it among the three or four people who would do voiceover highlights. We would send it to every NBC station. The bigger stations would just take two or three highlights and do it themselves. The small markets and in Canada would just run me with my voice. I did that for a while.
BN: What was it like to work with Rob Parker?
MS: I just talked to him earlier today. It was great. Rob Parker is basically an old Jewish guy in a Black man’s body. We got along great. We actually were the first Odd Couple and he’s stolen that name and now has a successful show with Chris Broussard.
We’re very good friends. It was a lot of fun. We’d goof on a lot of things. We obviously did mostly sports but we talked about other stuff as well; his love for the Golden Girls, my love for Bruce Springsteen. Rob was a lot of fun. Looking back I think he made a poor decision by leaving and going to New York, but he always wanted to be a columnist in New York. That’s why he left. I love him but his Tom Brady take is so ridiculously wrong it’s incredible.
BN: [Laughs] And he’s just going to die on that hill, man. He’s dug in.
MS: I know. It’s like he sits there and goes if this didn’t happen, if the Tuck Rule. Okay fine, but give the side where luck went against him like Asante Samuel dropping an interception before the Eli Manning play. So he would have won another Super Bowl. I mean, whatever. He won’t give it up.
Wojo and I did a Sunday morning show. It was natural that he took Rob’s place. That show just completely took off. It was very successful. The only downfall was we were on a station that was AM, 50,000 watts sunrise to sundown. Then during the winter, nobody could really hear us outside of a certain area. We did very well all things considered, small budget, no advertising. I’m very proud of that show. We did it for about 14 years probably. DFN started in July of ‘94 so Wojo and I probably started April or May of ‘95. We were fired along with 2,000 other people from Clear Channel the day Obama got inaugurated in ‘09.
BN: I got caught in that myself. I was doing radio in Fresno. I went to work like normal and got chopped that day too.
MS: Yeah, it was weird. We heard all the rumors but we never thought our show would get cut because it was very successful; it was the only thing that made money on that station. But they didn’t care. It’s corporate radio, corporate America.
BN: Do you love Springsteen more or does Rob love the Golden Girls more?
MS: Oh, I love Springsteen more. I’ve seen him 126 times. I used to have it in my contract where if he was within 750 miles of Detroit, I could take the day off and go. I didn’t abuse it but I used it. [Laughs]
BN: What has it been like for you personally and professionally following the passing of your former partner Jamie Samuelsen?
MS: Personally it really sucks because Jamie worked with us on DFN when it started in ‘94. He was doing updates. Then he did the afternoon show, and then the morning show. Just a great, great guy. A great friend and just a wonderful human being. Professionally, we did probably about three or four years together. He was great because he was smart, he was witty, he took control because I wander. He pretty much held me in check so to speak.
We had a really good thing going. We went from a show with my other buddy Bill McAllister that was maybe 60 percent sports; they wanted more sports so that’s why they brought Jamie along. We loved it. I love Jamie.
That whole experience was just brutal. He told us early on but he never let on that it was really bad. We knew he went to chemo a lot. But other than that he never showed it. He played tennis basically a month before he passed away. It wasn’t until the end that it got bad and he passed away at such a young age.
It’s horrible. But every day I walk in that studio, you see the little sign Jamie Samuelson Studio, and I think of him all the time. We’ve kind of regrouped. It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.
BN: What’s your new radio partner Jon Jansen like?
My new partner is somebody completely different. He’s a hunter, a fisherman, more of a man’s man. Played in the NFL for 10 years. All-American at Michigan and he’s a great guy too. That’s been different. If we care about ratings, they’ve been really, really good — even through COVID.
We both have improved in trying not to step on each other. That’s usually my fault more than his. He’s improved where sometimes he’ll take a topic and he’ll lead the topic, which before I used to do 100 percent of the time. He used to do a show for Sirius college football, ESPNU, Big Ten Network, I believe all that stuff, so he was very comfortable doing that.
BN: What was it like to see The Fan lose more and more local shows and then eventually go away?
MS: Well it was weird. When we were there obviously it sucked. It was like a college radio station because we started it from scratch. We didn’t have the teams. We could pretty much do whatever we wanted for the most part. We had a lot of fun. We still have fun, not as much as we used to.
Seeing DFN fail, most of it was sad. The people who were still there locally were all friends of ours so you hated to see them lose jobs. It made no sense. You just wanted to shove it up Clear Channel’s ass. If they just would have left things the way they were.
We actually tried to convince them to go to FM years ago before even 97.1 went from 1270 to FM years ago. Corporate there just wouldn’t listen. Our market manager was a great guy named Dave Pugh, Dan Patrick’s brother by the way, and they would never listen to him. They would never listen to us. They basically got what they deserved. My friends always talk about how I’m still bitter at hedge fund takeovers. I just think it’s awful.
BN: The Ticket is dominant with a bunch of bad teams in the area. If the Lions or Pistons were just crushing it, would that have a big impact on the ratings?
MS: I would assume so, especially the cume. When the games are on, definitely. We have the Lions back this year so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays. Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you guys are lucky the Lions stink, you get to bitch about them all the time.’ It might make better radio for periods but I go back to when the Pistons made their run and even when the Wings were winning Stanley Cups, it might not have been compelling radio all the time because you have no issues.
You break down a regular season one of 82 games, oh the Wings play Dallas tonight, what are you going to say? It might not have been compelling to have great teams all the time, but you get a lot of fringe people that get on the bandwagon especially during the playoffs. So yeah, I think ratings would go up if we were any good.
We’re rebuild city. Every team blows. They’re all in the same boat for the most part. It’s unbelievable. Even colleges — Michigan football stinks. At least Michigan basketball and Michigan State basketball are pretty good but other than that, it is just depressing. It really is. That’s where the deal of doing non-sports things, especially on the morning show, is really important. A great example, we were talking about something sporty, and we weren’t getting up a lot of calls. Then Jon was talking about how he got into an argument with his daughter about how to cut grilled cheese. The phone’s lit up. Do you cut them square or triangle?
Those things people just relate to so much more than some sports topics. It’s incredible. That’s what we did at DFN a little bit and then at 97.1, they’ve been doing that for years and it has really paid off. The non-sports stuff really does well especially when it’s done in an entertaining fashion.
BN: It’s so funny, man. You could have a sports thought that is well laid out, it’s got depth, and there’s hardly any reaction. But if you talk about, I don’t know, what are the most comfortable shoes, the reaction is crazy. How do you take that?
MS: I used to get really pissed off about it but now I just realize that’s the way it is. People are more into reacting to something that they can relate to. They might not relate to the Pistons trading this guy for that guy especially when your teams are bad. People react to things they can relate to. It’s not just the quote-unquote cliché guy talk; it’s even just stupid stuff like food. That always goes well — any type of food topic. Yesterday there was a story I saw — I forget the guy’s name, he’s like the Gordon Ramsay of fast food — with tips on how to eat fast food while you’re driving. People like that stuff because everybody does it.
BN: What’s the sensitivity level like from the local pro teams?
MS: The Lions have historically been very difficult. They call sometimes even during shows to set you straight so to speak. Sometimes they are right. They’re like oh, we just want to give you the facts. Well you know what? It’s an opinion.
My answer to that — even going back to when the team was .500 and would make the playoffs every once in a while — just win games. As long as we’re not saying anything that is inflammatory, personal about someone as far as off the field or anything, who cares?
I’ve had a few little things over the years where I’ve tweeted something stupid where somebody says take it down. And I have because it was a personal thing. Other than that, they’ve been pretty good. But they know; what are we going to say about this? Every team is awful. Back in the DFN days, they’d try to pull credentials. We weren’t even rights-holders.
There have been stories when we lost the Lions whether or not it was because of our afternoon show. That might have something to do with it but I also think the other station paid more money.
BN: What is your favorite and also your least favorite part of doing radio in Detroit?
MS: My favorite part is just interacting with people, listeners, talking to people on the street. I know a lot of people don’t like that. If somebody goes up to a particular person in the media and asks a question about a team, they’ll say I’m not working right now. I love that these people are listening. I like that type of interaction.
On the air I don’t like the fact that I think we’re too knee-jerk. Maybe being older I’ve gotten a lot more patient. The fire this guy, fire that guy mentality I think has gotten out of hand a little bit. I think you should give guys especially colleges four or five years to have recruiting classes, things like that. I think we try to fire people way too often.
Off the air the only thing I don’t like — I can’t complain, I have a great job — but I’d much rather be doing afternoons. I’ve always been a nighttime person. I hate getting up at 4:45 in the morning.
BN: If you were able to handpick a pro team to win a championship either in Detroit or Philly, who would be the team you’d choose?
MS: Oh, it’s not even close, it’s the Lions. We had millions at the parades when the Red Wings won, the Pistons. The Tigers haven’t won since ‘84. In Philly when I was a kid I was like the biggest Flyer fan also; I’ve been to those parades. They haven’t won since ’75, which is hard to believe. It’s the Lions. People don’t realize — they’re starting to — they’ve won one playoff game since 1957. It is an incredible statistic. We all know they’ve never been to the Super Bowl. But in this area in the Midwest it’s football first.
If this team, that I believe is cursed, and has had so many awful things happen to it — one guy has died in the NFL on the field, it was a Lion. All sorts of things. The laundry list is incredible and yet people still love this team. If this team could ever, ever win a championship, it would be the celebration among all celebrations. This is like the Cubs, only not as glorious. We’re not the lovable Cubs. We’re the Lions.
BN: Do you have any fun Bruce Springsteen stories?
MS: I have met him a couple of times on vacation in the Bahamas. Word got out that he was there. We went to a restaurant and couldn’t get near his table. The next day I just happened to see him walk into the hotel. I was kind of shy so I didn’t do anything. My wife was with my kids who were five or six at the time, followed him into the jewelry store in the Atlantis. She told him, she goes, “Excuse me Mr. Springsteen, my husband is a big fan. He has this thing in his contract.” He was kind of impressed by that. He goes I’ve got to meet him. I was in a different store so she waves me in. I got to meet him. He was nice. I asked the first question of him at the Super Bowl press conference. I’ve just been to ridiculous amounts of shows although hopefully it works out next year and I can go to Europe and see him. I hear it’s absolutely nuts there.
BN: Any goals going forward that you would like to experience or accomplish?
MS: Wow, I would love to be able to do this for as long as they let me. I’m 62 now. I don’t want to retire. I don’t know if it makes sense healthwise to do mornings for a much longer period of time. But I love what I’m doing.
My one time goal, due to someone getting sick and somebody unavailable, I did play-by-play for two Pistons games. I went on the road with them in Miami and Charlotte when LeBron was on the Heat. That was great. I always thought I’d be better at play-by-play than anything. I would still somehow love to do that but I don’t see too many teams hiring guys my age to do play-by-play for a whole season or something.
BN: Has retirement ever crossed your mind when you’re waking up at the crack of dawn?
MS: No, because I think I’d be bored out of my mind. There’s only so much bad golf I can play. I think as I get older to do more shows from down in Florida where my parents have a place — they’re in their 90s — to go down there and do a week or two of shows would be nice.
My wife’s family has a place up in northern Michigan. Doing a few weeks up there during the summer, that would be good. But as far as absolutely retiring, no I don’t want to do that. I have a feeling those decisions will be made by other people than me. John Audacy; whoever he is.
Actually, I would love to be able to do a podcast whether it’s for our company or not, where I could basically say whatever I wanted. It’s not the company’s fault, it’s just the way terrestrial radio is — that you wish you could just do, but you can’t. Kind of like a Le Batard feel to it, where I’d kind of be like Stugotz, but I’d be old Gotz. I really enjoyed that show. Or because I really enjoy Barstool’s websites and stuff; something like Barstool for old guys. That would be pretty cool.
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.
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