Ryan Brown, Jim Dunaway, Lance Taylor and Sean “Rockstar” Heninger may never host a show on terrestrial radio again. That’s a jarring statement, seeing as the group spent a collective 77 years at WJOX 94.5 FM in Birmingham and hosted one of the most popular shows Alabama sports talk radio has ever seen. But if the group never does another show on the radio dial, it just might mean their new venture turned into a massive success.
The former hosts of The Roundtable are betting big on themselves by leaving one of the most established radio stations in the south and creating their own digital platform. No, they weren’t pushed out of JOX, in fact, the station offered the show an extension. But the crew wanted a new challenge, a new format and a chance to change the landscape of Alabama sports media. Thus, The Next Round was born.
“We’re beyond excited about this,” said Taylor. “There’s just so much we can do with it. We really wanted autonomy, equity and to create our own thing by building a digital platform. We’ve seen very talented people in the industry that are going this route..”
Taylor is right. Talented hosts such as Clay Travis, Pat McAfee, Dan Le Batard and Joe Rogan are doing incredible work with digital platforms and they’re only getting more popular by the day. The Next Round is hoping they’ll be the next to prove you don’t need an AM or FM signal to be a popular sports talk show.
“Obviously we’re light years away from those guys,” said Taylor. “But I’m really good friends with Clay Travis and what he’s been able to do at Outkick has been incredible. I have no idea where this thing is going, it’s truly limitless. But it’s also a little sad, because I spent so much time in radio. The elements of everything were going to do, it’s going to include everything but terrestrial radio. That’s the only thing we won’t be doing.”
Starting in August, The Next Round will air every weekday morning from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm CST. That means they’ll be changing their time slot from morning drive to mid-morning and the middle of the day.
“Part of our desire was to get out of morning drive,” said Dunaway. “Not all of us were big fans of waking up at 3:30 in the morning.”
Several options will be available to both listen and watch The Next Round when the new show debuts next month. Initially, the website, nextroundlive.com, will be the easiest way to listen to the show. However, a mobile app is on the horizon and will give listeners the option to stream directly.
The option to watch the show will also be easy, as The Next Round will stream on YouTube, Twitch as well as Facebook and Twitter.
“We’re going to stream our show 24 hours a day,” said Dunaway. If you’re on the app, we’ll always be on the air. If you want to listen to us from 9 to 1 or 2 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, if you work late nights driving a truck, you can get the app and it’ll be like streaming live with us.”
As exciting as this new venture is, there’s a big risk that’s involved. The obvious question to ask, is why? Why leave one of the most popular radio stations in the south, where each guy had security, a good paycheck and a wildly popular show? Why risk all of that for a massive unknown?
“I was really comfortable at JOX and I had a really good client list,” said Taylor, who also did sales at JOX. “I had a lot of security there but it was the right time, at this stage in my life, we were just ready for a new chapter and a new challenge. I think this digital platform is it.”
“It’s climbing up a new mountain for us,” said Dunaway. “I’ve done 20 years of television and jumped into radio, because it was a different challenge and I love that format. I’ve always liked trying new things and this is the next mountain to climb. I wanted to make sure all four of us are together for the rest of my career.”
This won’t be the first time listeners have been asked to follow the show during a switch. At JOX, the show moved from the middle of the day to morning drive after nine years in the lunch slot. The listeners followed and the expectation is that they’ll do the same thing this time around. The good news for those who loved The Roundtable is that the show will sound very different than it did on terrestrial radio.
“My view is that we’ll continue to focus on Alabama and Auburn,” said Brown “Those are the local teams that the mass majority of our listeners and viewers care about. I think the TV numbers show this, there’s people in Birmingham and all across Alabama that love college football. Alabama and Auburn are going to be the focus, naturally, but college football is going to be the focus, overall. “
The fact the show has worked for so long is what gives the group the most confidence The Next Round will be a success. Granted, Taylor’s ability to sell advertising and Heninger’s understanding of how to produce the show are major pluses, but the chemistry between all four guys is what truly shines.
“We’re basically like brothers, because we mess with each other a lot,” said Heninger. “We’ll comment on each other’s shoes or clothes, really anything. Everyone has something we like to rag on. The chemistry just works.”
Heninger doubles as a musician that plays local gigs in the Birmingham area. Taylor swears he’s the most talented in the group and notes his impeccable timing of often only saying one thing an hour, but making it so funny, it’s often the most memorable thing said the entire hour. Rockstar is truly the comedic relief of the show.
FCC regulations are no longer a worry, due to the show not broadcasting on terrestrial radio. So how might that change things?
“That’s a very popular question,” laughed Taylor. “We have three layers to the show. Brown is very conservative. Very witty, but very conservative. Dunaway is kind of middle of the road and I’m the guy they kind of peg as El Diablo. We’re not going to be dropping F bombs left and right, just to do it. It’s amazing I made it 23 years in the business without ever breaking an FCC violation. Now I just don’t have to have the guard and filter up that much. There’s not a filter but we still want it to be authentic.”
There are some unknowns with The Next Round. Taylor has never sold digital media, product placement or YouTube. There’s also the fact that so many different viewing and listening options could create confusion and/or headaches for the audience, and no one knows yet if the listeners will follow the show to a new platform or just stick to their comfortable routine of listening to sports talk on the radio dial on JOX.
But big rewards come from taking big risks. These guys are well aware of the challenges they’re facing and they’re betting on themselves. If it breaks right, the return could be massive.
“I have complete confidence in the guys I work with,” said Brown. “We all have the same vision and we’re united in it. I have confidence in those who have always followed us. They’re loyal and fans of ours. The people of Alabama love college football and sports. We do that and in an entertaining fashion. That’s what we do.”
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.