Crafting a unique, on-air sound is something Ryan Hurley has aspired to do since starting his career at 98.7 ESPN New York. A Hofstra University graduate, Hurley was interested in radio from the time he was young, and now is an integral part of the industry that helped shape his interests.
“I grew up a control-room rat,” said Hurley. “I loved the content and creative side of radio; it’s still the most intimate form of broadcasting there is. The relationship you create with the audience keeps me motivated.”
Hurley was initially offered an entry-level marketing and promotion position at 1050 ESPN-AM out of college in 2004, something that, while it was radio-related, he had no interest in. The niche areas of sports radio programming and production were where Hurley’s interests truly lied, and after declining the initial job offer, he was afforded a second opportunity.
“After I hung up the phone, I was immediately kind of kicking myself because everyone tells you to say yes to everything no matter what the position is,” said Hurley. “I got another call a couple of days later, and they took my résumé at programming. I spoke with someone there, and got an entry level production/board operations position.”
Upon starting at 1050 ESPN New York, Hurley produced various talk shows and worked directly with on-air personalities and commentators. Eventually his responsibilities grew as he became the lead producer of The Michael Kay Show. Since his first days at the station in 2004, sports talk radio has drastically changed, something that Hurley had to embrace in order to be successful.
“The platforms have changed especially the way it’s consumed from terrestrially to streaming and digital platforms,” said Hurley. “[Smart devices] are used by many people, especially over this last year-and-a-half, and over the pandemic, we saw that usage increase a ton.”
These changes in consumption habits and platform distribution have had a consequential impact on the ratings system, a primary measurement to determine the profitability and popularity of radio stations. As a program director, Hurley has had to alter the way he qualitatively analyzes the numbers, since they are not currently reflective on all of the methods by which people immerse themselves in sports radio.
“[The] measurement [of ratings] has certainly been questioned over the last years about accuracy in how many people have meters and how much of the audience is represented,” said Hurley. “[Additionally], there is not a way to measure… [consumption] through their phones and devices… so there’s an adjustment made to how that is measured. Ratings still play a big part in our business and how we plan in terms of strategizing with the shows and our sales teams. It’s the same for everyone for now, whether or not people believe it is necessarily measuring [them] properly.”
Hurley acknowledges that sports talk radio has become based more on entertainment than it has on reporting and analyzing the latest scores, stats and news. Targeting the content to the listening audience keeps people engaged and ostensibly-indebted to the shows, institutionalizing it as an essential part of listeners’ days.
“We are here to entertain people and provide content that will keep them coming back,” affirmed Hurley. “When trying to get an audience and develop programming, you want those shows to be like hanging out with your friends every day; you don’t want to miss out on what everyone is saying.”
As a program director, one of Hurley’s jobs is to scout and cultivate air talent, a task that is done both externally and internally. In an age where the demand for quality content is higher than ever before and where people have a plethora of choices as to what to listen to, finding on-air talent that is impressionable and entertaining remains a challenge.
“I have a great deal of people who reach out to me and… send me examples of their work,” said Hurley. “We have also had people on our staff internally come up through the production side, or [do] some part-time hosting that have ended up being on our staff and doing full-time work. Entertaining people is the number one thing I look for, as well as different, unique takes and angles, and the potential to have some inside knowledge and information on things that other people can’t bring to the table.”
Some of these changes occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic, but many were catalyzed by the sudden shift in lifestyle and need for adaptation which occurred after it was declared a national emergency, causing sports, entertainment and much of the industrial world to completely shut down.
“People needed an escape or some sort of outlet from all of the reality of what was going on in the world,” reminisced Hurley. “We had to get creative in the way we programmed in what content we created and what we discussed. On the other end of that, the way we operate also changed drastically; we had to figure out a way to get everyone on-the-air basically from their homes.”
98.7 ESPN New York placed its focus on working together as a team during the pandemic in order to withstand a seminal moment in modern history altogether. It’s something that Hurley is especially appreciative of his staff for being able to do.
“It was all hands on deck during the last year and a half between engineering, production, figuring out ways to make everything work,” said Hurley. “With all that has occurred and changed, it’s been pretty impressive to see what we were able to pull off and keep together for our audience, staff and programs.”
As a result of the widespread financial hardship endured by radio stations through the COVID-19 pandemic, the presence of content driven by sports betting platforms, such as FanDuel, Bet365 and DraftKings became distinctly more prevalent through advertising.
“It’s a huge opportunity to work with different sports-betting companies and clients, as well as for on-air content,” said Hurley. “All around, it’s a big part of what’s going on in the landscape of our industry in not just radio, but television as well.”
During the extended period without sports in the early stages of the pandemic, Hurley and ESPN New York had to work to maintain relationships with professional sports teams they broadcast. Once they resumed play, they had to adapt to new guidelines mandating broadcasts.
“Relationships are key… and working with not only the P.R. staff, but as a team at the station,” said Hurley. “You have to coordinate with programming, team interviews with coaches and players, setting up potential shows, getting liners from players in the pre-season, etc.”
ESPN Radio New York is unique among its competitors, as it has both FM and AM frequencies to which it can broadcast its programming. Those assets allow them to air multiple games at a time. The station currently has relationships with the New York Jets, the New York Knicks, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
“Certain broadcasts will take priority over others,” explained Hurley, “and the good thing is that we have 1050 ESPN that we can use as a place for people to listen if there’s a conflict. It’s crucial to have relationships with teams and people behind the scenes; it’s not just the games that air, it’s a lot of the ancillary stuff as well.”
Another unique aspect of ESPN Radio New York is that it is a part of the ESPN parent brand, something Hurley says helps the radio station attract talent and guests. Moreover, the conglomeration of distribution platforms helps the station facilely produce other sports-related content and air national games, including enticing contests throughout the M.L.B. postseason and N.B.A. playoffs.
“We have good working relationships with the television producers at the networks, and are in communication a good amount,” said Hurley. “There’s been great collaboration between the television and audio side. The ability to have… [the] resources to use and work with… [is] one great thing about our company.”
Through times of extreme challenge and unforeseen hardship, ESPN Radio has endured, and Hurley remains motivated to elevate the station to the next level, even in an age of changing audio consumption.
“I want us to be the greatest station there is,” said Hurley. “To see where we have come from as 1050-AM, to where we are now at 98.7-FM, and the way we’ve grown product, talent, programming and relationships — it’s amazing. Seeing that progress is what keeps me driven.”
Mad Dog Launches Digging Up The Past Podcast
This season of Russo’s podcast focuses on great MLB teams that fell short.
Few people in sports media love Major League Baseball like Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, and that love just got a new avenue for expression from Sirius XM. Russo is hosting a 10-part podcast series with the company that dives into what he believes are the ten best major league teams that didn’t win the World Series.
Digging Up The Past launches a new season with full deep dive episodes for every one of these teams, starting with the 1954 Cleveland Indians, which is available now. Russo and specific guests discuss the magic those teams created throughout the season and what ultimately felled their chances of lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy when it was all said and done.
“Hear Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo for another season of his Sirius XM podcast, Digging Up The Past,” The show trailer states. “Join Christopher for a journey through baseball’s decorated history, for an examination of the best single-season teams that failed to capture postseason glory.”
The show is scheduled to debut episodes on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the coming weeks as the baseball season ramps up for the October playoff push.
“Throughout the decades, Major League Baseball has produced several great teams that fell short of winning the World Series for numerous reasons,” The trailer continued. “Some were taken down by improbable heroes, or hall of fame talent. While others suffered the indignity of bizarre occurrences and self-inflicted wounds. Join Christopher as he tells the tales of these gut-wrenching collapses and heartbreaking losses in a way that only he can.”
The other nine teams slated to be on the show are as follows: 2001 Mariners, 1969 Cubs, 1991 Pirates, 1965 Twins, 1995 Indians, 1978 Red Sox, 1994 Expos, 1977 Royals, and the 1993 Giants. Every one of these tales is available for listening over the coming months on most major podcast platforms.
Study: Easier To Reach Sports Bettors Through Radio Than TV
The study was conducted in Michigan this past winter and then expanded nationwide in the spring.
Westwood One and Cumulus Media have crunched the numbers on reaching sports bettors and found some interesting data.
The company discovered that sports bettors are more reachable through AM/FM radio advertising than television advertising. The study began in Michigan this past February and expanded into all 12 fully legal gambling states in April.
Westwood One commissioned the study from MARU/Matchbox, which surveyed 718 adults over 21 years old in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The study discovered that 71% of adults 21+ are aware sports betting is legal in their state. When the surveyors asked study participants how likely they are to place a legal wager, 23% of adults 21+ said they are very or somewhat interested in online sports betting.
The numbers tailed off the older the participants got. Around half of the adults, 21-34, say they would be interested. Interest drops to 30% amongst adults 35-54. For people 55 and older, there isn’t much interest in online sports betting.
When looking at gender specifically, twice as many men (32%) versus women (15%) say they would be interested in online sports betting.
Advertising is paying off for the brands willing to go all in, namely DraftKings and Fanduel, who have strong brand recognition in this study. Participants selected any sports betting websites they have heard advertising from in the prior month, and those brands dominated.
Among participants, 36% recognized DraftKings, and 32% recognized Fanduel. The next closest brand was BetMGM at 15%, followed by Bet Rivers and William Hill at 8% and 6%.
Every small study can be taken with a grain of salt, but these numbers show that the best way to reach sports bettors is through radio advertising. In a time where money is pouring in left and right from sports gambling, this is welcome data for station managers across the country.
Dan Patrick Appreciates Radio Success More Than ESPN Tenure
“I just kept thinking let me look at what I’m doing wrong instead of what I’m doing right. I really missed an opportunity to just sit back and enjoy it.”
If you watched ESPN from 1990 to about 2007, Dan Patrick’s face is one you most likely saw often on an 11 PM ET edition of SportsCenter. While it seemed like Dan Patrick was having fun hosting SportsCenter with Keith Olbermann, that wasn’t always the case.
Patrick was the guest on a recent episode of The Ryen Russillo Podcast and talked about many different topics. When Russillo asked Patrick what he would consider the best work he has ever done, Patrick had a tough time answering the question and he was more focused on mistakes than the great work he was doing.
“Even when Olberman and I were doing SportsCenter and we were at the top of our game, I just kept thinking let me look at what I’m doing wrong instead of what I’m doing right. I really missed an opportunity to just sit back and enjoy it,” he said.
Although Olberman and Patrick were the faces of ESPN during the early and mid 90s, the SportsCenter legend said there was a time when he thought they would be fired.
“We were dressed down one time and it was really bad because management, I think, thought we were full of ourselves and we might have been. I thought I was going to get fired. To think I had just won a Sports Emmy, I was feeling pretty good. There was talk that Keith and I would host SNL. We’re thinking they got to love us, they didn’t. They worried we were going to be out of control. I think that led to the breaking point with Keith. I tell people Keith is the best teammate you could ever ask for.”
Dan Patrick is more proud of the success he has now with his radio show compared to when he was on SportsCenter. He says that is largely because of how the show was built from the ground up.
“I had guys who I had worked with at ESPN and I asked them to take a leap of faith. We had 12 radio affiliates. I didn’t have any TV partner. I had nothing. We were doing the show in my attic and those guys gave up their jobs at ESPN and they joined me. I didn’t know what I had, but I knew what we could be.”
DP reflected on the growth of the show. He told Russillo that he feels lucky that there was immediate interest from a major market. That emboldened him to make bigger moves that turned the show into the go-to model for radio/TV simulcasts.
“I truly believe if I don’t get on KLAC in Los Angeles, I don’t know if we are anywhere near the success that we are. That helped save me. We were going bankrupt and I told Paulie, my producer, “dude, we’re in trouble”.
“I couldn’t let these guys down. I walked out to the parking lot and I cold-called DirecTV and I called Chris Long (former programming director). I don’t know why I called DirecTV. I just thought they carry sports, but they don’t have any name attached to it. To do that and build this to where it is today, we did that on our own.”
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