THEY GET IT
Jimmy Kimmel, ABC — Rather than light the cauldron at the virus-infested Tokyo Games, I have an idea: Let’s have Kimmel repeat his definitive words about an ill-advised Olympiad that is proceeding recklessly. “NBC is planning to move forward with the Olympics this summer, even if they have to kill every last person in Japan to do it,’’ said the comedian, darkly. Of course, his Disney employers would make the same mega-billions money grab if they had rights to these Games, but at least Kimmel is calling out a rival for its shameful embrace of an event when Japan’s vaccination rate is only 10 percent. It’s more than we’re seeing and hearing from the mainstream U.S. sports media, where cancel-the-Games outcry has been minimal because, oh, many of the journalists assigned to Tokyo don’t want to rankle U.S. and international Olympic officials — or the bosses spending money to send them. I’ve covered 14 Olympiads. There is a media blacklist, and at some point, I’m sure I was on it. And proud of it. Let The Games Die! — so the Japanese people don’t.
Scottie Pippen, author — A bitter, seething man is writing a tell-all. And he is promoting it by firing poisonous missiles at everyone in sight, referring to Phil Jackson as a racist for granting Toni Kukoc the final shot over a jilted Pippen in an infamous 1994 playoff moment. You don’t have to agree with what he says — Pippen, I might argue, is a racist himself — but last I looked, Jackson has written plenty of material about the long-ago Bulls dynasty after setting up reporting buddy Sam Smith for a book. Michael Jordan has lorded over a self-inflated documentary, as well. Even Dennis Rodman wrote a book. So why can’t Pippen finally air his views? It’s sad that basketball’s greatest dynasty continues to deteriorate into open hostility, including Pippen’s claim that Jordan was disingenous in 1997 when he said in a huddle that Steve Kerr should be ready for a pass that led to a title-winning jumper. “You know all those cameras sitting in the huddle, who they was working for? You know who Michael was speaking to when he said that? That was planned. That was speaking to the camera,’’ Pippen told Dan Patrick on his book-selling tour. “Had John Stockton not came down, trust me (Jordan would have shot). That was building his own documentary because he was controlling the cameras …That was not naturally spoken. That was rehearsed.’’ Pippen once stared at me inside New York’s Plaza Hotel, in an elevator with several relatives, and said, “Why are you such an asshole?’’ He is one of the most unlikable major stars in the history of American sports, but you can’t say he isn’t a fascinating character. Suddenly, I can’t wait for his book.
Marc Stein, Substack — Welcome to the literary freedom train, Marc. Any writer weary of interest-conflicted bosses, editorial suppression, political leanings, corporate b.s., misleading headlines — I could go on — can find a refreshing, liberating experience at Substack, where Stein is joining other big names and leaving behind the mighty New York Times. This is the new place for self-sustaining, business-leery/weary journalists to control their destinies without interference, as the veteran NBA insider said, tweeting to readers, “This was an irresistible opportunity to cover the league I have tracked for nearly 30 years in a fresh and groundbreaking way … thanks to this deliciously blank canvas, total independence and the closest connection possible to you.’’ I’ve been at Substack for a few months, writing columns four times a week. My only regret is not joining sooner as a labor of love. In Stein’s case, he’s looking to cash in, via subscriptions, with his NBA newsletter. There are options in this industry, folks. Don’t get stuck in a race to see who croaks first: you or your newspaper. Or, you or your website.
“The Shop: Uninterrupted,” HBO — Say this for LeBron James and his partner in Hollywood multimedia crime, Maverick Carter: They have a way of making subjects relax and forget they’re on camera, leading to some of the most revealing interviews in sports television. On a studio set of barber chairs and honest banter, Tom Brady opened a side rarely seen, dropping F-bombs and exposing his frustration with an unnamed NFL franchise that rejected him in free agency. “One of the teams, they weren’t interested at the very end. I was thinking, you’re sticking with that motherf—-er?’’ Brady said. Was it the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo? The Bears and Mitchell Trubisky? The Raiders and Derek Carr? Point is, this program always makes news, and while it unfortunately furthers the concept of athletes helping athletes control their messages, we’d rather hear the raw truth than empty nothings.
Trevor Rabin, TNT — So the song sounds like a mashup of an old Western TV theme and a nightly news jingle. For the millions who love “Inside The NBA,’’ the music is effective — and, in a complete shocker, it was created by the former guitarist of the anthem rock band Yes. As profiled by Sopan Deb in the New York Times, Rabin was asked to compose the show theme by Turner Sports executive Craig Barry, who wanted something that viewers “never get sick of hearing.’’ If I still like it after 18 years, the song works. Listen closely, and you’ll hear subtle strains of the Yes classic, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.’’ Host Ernie Johnson, a Yes fan, had no idea Rabin wrote the music. It’s time for panelists Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, after all these years, to publicly thank Rabin, who said, “I remember Shaq saying once he liked the theme just in passing, but no one’s ever acknowledged me. Charles Barkley needs to acknowledge it and give a shout out. Otherwise, I’m never going to support him again.” He was kidding, I think.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Jalen Rose, ESPN — Sometimes, comments are so recklessly misguided that subsequent apologies fade in the stench. My one-time radio partner let racial anger take over his brain when he said Kevin Love, who is white, was named to the U.S. Olympic team “because of tokenism.’’ Said Rose: “Don’t be scared to make an all-black team representing the United States of America. I’m disappointed by that.’’ I’m not defending Love, whose career has plunged into semi-irrelevance, as much I’m challenging Rose to be accurate. Of the last five U.S. men’s basketball teams, four were all-black. It doesn’t appear team boss Jerry Colangelo and his staff have been “scared’’ of much through time. “You know why I’m apologizing right now? To the game. Because I’m what the game made me,” Rose said. He should apologize to his smarter self — and his prime-time audience — for not doing simple research.
Tony Paul, Detroit News — When an active NFL player decides to come out publicly as gay, his request for privacy should be honored. Let Carl Nassib determine when he’ll speak to the media, as seconded by Cyd Zeigler of the LGBTQ+ site Outsports, who tweeted: “I’ve been told by many people that mainstream sports and news pubs are trying to get the first #carlnassib interview. He asked for privacy and many publications are reaching out to talk.And people wonder why I say the media is a huge part of keeping athletes in the closet.’’ His view didn’t sit well with Paul, who is gay himself and fired back, “Ummm, journalists’ job is to try to get the interview and the story. All he can say is no. … Trying to get the story is the definition of journalism.’’ In Nassib’s case, journalists aren’t chasing a scandal or browbeating a politician — or, as Zeigler tweeted back at Paul, “This isn’t the Pentagon Papers.’’ When the man is ready to talk, presumably next month at Las Vegas Raiders camp, we’ll be all ears. Besides, I’m not hearing widespread clamor to hear from Nassib anytime soon, his announcement drowned out by rumors that Aaron Rodgers wants a trade to Vegas.
Chicago Sun-Times — Rocky Wirtz, who owns the NHL’s Blackhawks, continues to supply blood for a dying newspaper with periodic contributions. So it should surprise no one that the Sun-Times, after The Athletic and local radio station WBEZ did the heaviest original reporting, didn’t include Wirtz’s name when it finally got around to covering sexual-assault allegations against former Blackhawks video coach Bradley Aldrich. How convenient to piggyback media reports that “then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary’’ knew about the allegations and did nothing — but to not include Wirtz among the accountable parties or even bother to contact him for a comment. The one column written about the case also failed to mention Wirtz, whose son, Danny, announced the franchise had hired a law firm to lead an “independent review’’ of the matter. You can’t call yourself “the hardest-working paper in America,’’ then stop working to protect the rich, old dude who keeps the staff gainfully employed. Wirtz will shut down the paper at some point anyway, so you may as well go down swinging instead of suppressing news and faking it.
“First Take,’’ ESPN — Stealing from the Charles Barkley hate handbook, hosts Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim Rose took needless shots at the city of Milwaukee for attention purposes. Normally a measured sort, Qerim Rose (Jalen’s wife) was particularly annoying, expressing glee that she didn’t coverSuper Bowl LII in Minneapolis while grouping Milwaukee among her “terrible cities.’’ Now, Smith (and perhaps Qerim Rose) could be spending significant time in the Upper Midwest during the NBA Finals, where the locals will target them and force them to stay in their hotel rooms, which is no way to enjoy a rocking Wisconsin summer. It’s one thing to have fun with a city, quite another to make fun of it.
Eric Shanks, Fox — The CEO of the network’s sports division repeatedly has signed off on digital sites in recent years, only to encounter repeated complications that suggest dysfunctional leadership. The latest iteration of FoxSports.com included a “fully reimagined’’ site and app last summer, but hints of major content hires haven’t happened, and digital boss David Katz is departing in September. Shanks had a chance to enhance his brand with a go-to, all-encompassing site; evidently, he didn’t see a chance for big revenues beyond sports gambling. Let’s hope Fox chief Lachlan Murdoch didn’t re-direct his digital money in acquiring the “Outkick’’ site, which is more a right-wing reflection of Clay Travis’ views than a legitimate sports destination. There’s something hollow about a sports network that pours all its creative might into TV production, then flees from additive fuel. And, yes, I chatted with the site about writing a column, only to be told no after ripping Skip Bayless here for being Skip Bayless. For me, it was a worthwhile tradeoff.
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.