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Chris Bleck & Adam Abdalla Made It Hard For ESPN 1000 to Say No

What Thomas saw in Bleck and Abdalla when he first started at the station is what earned them their spot on-air. What Thomas has seen from them since is what has earned them his praise.

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The Bleck and Abdalla show on ESPN 1000 was destined from the start.  

Adam Abdalla on Twitter: "Aren't we all?… "

Co-hosts Chris Bleck and Adam Abdalla both attended Libertyville High School in Libertyville, Ill., a town approximately 40 miles north of ESPN’s State Street studio in Chicago.

With last names close to each other in the alphabet, Bleck and Abdalla often found themselves sitting next to each other in class or hearing their names called close together when read by a teacher in alphabetical order.

They weren’t friends at the time, but rather friendly acquaintances.

Upon graduating high school, both Bleck and Abdalla stayed in-state for college. Bleck went to Colombia College to study broadcast journalism with a focus on radio, while Abdalla went to business school at DePaul with the goal of starting his own record company.

Abdalla quickly realized that business classes required quite a bit of math, something he didn’t particularly care for. Couple that with a required class on Joan of Arc and Abdalla was looking to transfer schools.

He decided on Columbia College where he planned to study music production but, like most college kids, switched his major for the second time when he learned about the radio department that was just one floor up from the music department.

At Columbia College, Gensler Turns the Atrium Building Inside Out
Courtesy: Tom Harris

“I walked in the first day and Chris is sitting there in one of the production booths during this thing called ‘studio time’ where you’d rent studio time to students so they can work on projects,” said Abdalla.

With shared interests in radio, sports, drinking beer and doing the stupid stuff 20-year-old college students do, the two began hanging out.

“We immediately became friends and it was like we had been friends our entire lives even though we weren’t really friends back in Libertyville,” said Bleck.

The two started doing radio shows together at Columbia’s student radio station WCRX and upon graduating in 2007, both began interning at ESPN Chicago.

When the internship ended, Abdalla was hired full-time while Bleck took a quick detour up Highway 94 to Kenosha, Wis., where he worked at 95 WIIL Rock before being called back to ESPN Chicago full-time in February of 2008.

At that time, Bleck and Abdalla were not only co-workers again, but they were also roommates, living in Wrigleyville, working the worst weekend shifts possible as board ops and as producers, yet having the time of their lives as young adults in a big city.

Having plenty of time to talk and bounce ideas off each other in the late-night hours, the two made a decision that would map out their next 15 years at the station – work hard to get better, get noticed and get on the air.

“We decided at that time, like, ‘hey, if we want to be on the air, we needed to actually do it,’” said Bleck. “Because what I think happens in our industry, is people just want to be on air, but they don’t want to actually practice being on the air.”

So Bleck and Abdalla practiced.  

“We immediately started recording podcasts even though we had no one listening to us and like podcasts at that time were still kind of new, but we made a point to hold ourselves accountable to do a show,” said Bleck.

They pitched an idea to Justin Craig, the program director at the time, and Adam Delevitt, the assistant program director.

“We went to them and we said, ‘hey, we want to do shows, but you’re not going to allow us to do shows, so what if we clip together the best segments throughout the week and it’ll be an hour-long podcast. We’ll introduce in and out of segments and we’ll keep it short, we’ll keep it really short,’” said Bleck.

They were given the green light and from there, “The Best of 1000” was born.

The two would intro clips from “Waddle and Silvy,” “Carmen and Jurko,” “Mike and Mike” – which ran on the station at the time – and any other shows they deemed worthy of being part of that week’s podcast.

For fear of doing or saying something that might jeopardize their opportunity, they kept each intro and outro simple and safe.

“This week, Mike and Mike talked to…”

“…alright, that was Mike and Mike, and this is “The Best of 1000,” and coming up, Waddle and Silvy talk to Charles Barkley.”

Best of ESPN 1000 Show - PodCenter - ESPN Radio
Courtesy: ESPN

As the two got more comfortable over time, the clips got shorter, and their banter got longer. They began to move from what they thought sports radio was supposed to sound like to just doing radio. Eventually, the show earned its own timeslot in the station’s lineup, Saturday at 5 a.m.

While continuing to produce “The Best of 1000” and other podcasts on their own, Bleck and Abdalla also began getting on-air fill-in opportunities for various hosts.

“They were thrown a bone every now and then, you know, to do a weekend show or late-night show or whatever and that was about the extent of it,” said market manager Mike Thomas. “And then they took that, and they parlayed it into a regular weekend show.”

Thomas joined the station in January of 2020, and eight months later, after years of waiting their turn, “Bleck and Abdalla” became its own branded show, airing weekdays from 6-8 p.m. local time.

“We started like in like ’08, ’09 recording stuff and doing ‘The Best of 1000,’ but really, to fill in for people for so long and then to have someone come in and support you means all the world to us,” said Bleck regarding Thomas’ vision for the show.

“They deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and for always kind of trying to get the attention of management and not giving up and going, ‘you know what, I’m a producer in market No. 3 and I should just be happy with that and maybe someday I’ll be able to be on the air when Marc Silverman retires,’” said Thomas. “They didn’t do that.”

It’s important to know that throughout all the years they spent recording their own podcasts, filling in for people and working to carve out opportunities for themselves, they were, and still are, full-time producers at the station, currently producing for “Waddle and Silvy.”

“When I’m in the studio it’s really dedicated to “Waddle and Silvy” and then, you know, we have a quick commercial break in between the two shows and it’s like you just jump out of the plane and then you hope you land every night,” said Bleck.

Being able to balance producing a 4-hour show and then immediately jumping into hosting a 2-hour show goes back to the longevity of their friendship and the chemistry between the two.

“We know each other so well that when the conversation is happening or we’re doing something spontaneous, we just kind of know what the other person is thinking almost before we even say it,” said Abdalla. “Like we’ve known each other longer than we’ve known our wives.”

“I feel like the give and take between the two of us and the ability to kind of take any topic, and like if I said I need you to talk about this for 10 minutes, I feel like the two of us are pretty confident that we could talk about any topic for at least 10 minutes, so with that comfort, I don’t worry about what we’re going to do on the night show,” said Bleck without discrediting the fact that there is definite preparation that still goes into each show.

Part of what industry members have said makes “Bleck and Abdalla” so great, is that they offer fresh, creative ways of talking about things that separate them from other shows, both at ESPN Chicago and other sports stations in general.

“They look at things differently,” said Thomas. “It’s a lot more just guy talk than it is sports talk, and they have a ton of fun every time they do a show. And they’re naturally funny, which is a huge benefit because you can’t teach funny.”

From comparing Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields and head coach Matt Nagy to taking a date to prom, to an ongoing bit about who’s using Abdalla’s hot sauce from the station fridge, it’s not just all sports all the time for the longtime duo.

“Mike has done a really good job of kind of instilling in us that you don’t have to be sports for two hours or four hours or three hours, however long your show is, like people don’t only talk about sports, people talk about what they do in life,” said Abdalla.

What Thomas saw in Bleck and Abdalla when he first started at the station is what earned them their spot on-air. What Thomas has seen from them since is what has earned them his praise.

“I’ll give them the highest praise that I could probably give any show, and that is, I had the huge benefit of working with two of the guys that I think are the most creative guys in this industry and that’s [Fred] Toucher & Rich [Shertenlieb] in Boston,” said Thomas. “And when I listen to Bleck and Abdalla, I can hear some of the same types of creativity that we heard early on from Toucher & Rich.

“That’s extremely flattering because that show is the marquee of his old station,” said Bleck.

No photo description available.

One of the commonalities between the two shows is their willingness to talk outside of sports. To talk about life. To talk about experiences. All of which makes for good radio, which Bleck said has been the duo’s goal from the beginning.

“I feel like that’s kind of the mold of what we want to be because that’s what we all listened to when we were growing up is that kind of creative just talk radio that’s not necessarily set on one segment and isn’t afraid to try things,” said Abdalla. “And when they do try things and if they do fail, they make fun of themselves and that’s funny too.”

To be able to do that, co-hosts need to have chemistry and a genuine friendship, all of which goes back to the halls of Libertyville High School, before they were friends and before they knew they were destined for radio together.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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