The 3 and Out with John Middlekauff podcast has been acquired by Colin Cowherd’s network The Volume. Cowherd’s programming approach is “same sports, different angles.” I typically watch games while standing on my head, but I digress. This isn’t about me; this interview is about the former NFL scout, turned terrestrial radio host, turned podcasting stud. If you want different angles, Middlekauff’s got ‘em thanks to his time in the league. It doesn’t hurt that the Davis, California native is also smart, experienced, and unapologetically opinionated.
Some huge names have had a powerful impact on Middlekauff’s career. You can’t do much better than working with Andy Reid in football and Cowherd in broadcasting. In our chat below, the Cal Poly graduate makes an interesting point that the best advice he’s received was never spoken. Middlekauff talks about how he gauges success in podcasting and the most challenging role of his career. There is also a nod to his Bay Area radio days with Guy Haberman and Jason Barrett as well as some rapid-fire NFL gems. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What was it about Cowherd’s network that convinced you it was the right place for your podcast?
John Middlekauff: I’ve been with Colin since the inception of this podcast on his other network. He’s the best in the business. Any time that a guy like that believes in you and helps you start something and is behind you, I don’t think you can ask for anything more. If Colin says let’s do this, I’m doing it. It’s not a complicated strategy. I just follow Colin’s lead to wherever he’s headed and I’ll be right behind him
BN: What are the things in the podcasting space that appeal to you more than terrestrial radio?
JM: I’ve been doing it now for five years. I worked in terrestrial radio for about three. I would say the things that I like, one, you’re coming for me. If you’re listening to the show, you are seeking me out. A lot of radio shows — now the big ones, you’re going for Colin — but most radio shows if you’re on the station, you might just end up on a show. You may like the guy, you may not, but you’re just stuck. Where in podcasting if you’re listening — it’s why a small percentage of podcasts are making a lot of money — people seek them.
The other thing is for me in radio, you’re partners with teams because you have to be in the big markets. It can be dicey for me. I’m someone that does not hold back. I don’t give a f*** what other people think. I’m not just trying to make things up but the team’s get very sensitive in my experience.
Now I was dealing with the second-rate teams in the area. I can understand dealing with the Yankees, the Cowboys, the San Francisco Giants, the 49ers — I get there’s a balance because they generate a lot of money for you. But the teams I was dealing with were struggling. They got so sensitive. Especially the football team was losing so much. It became very stressful. I’m paid to talk and be authentic. That’s one thing in the podcast space I can truly say whatever I want. I enjoy it a lot personally.
BN: In radio, the report card is the ratings book. What’s the metric in podcasting you look at to gauge success?
JM: Revenue. As long as we’re making money and growing, I feel good about it. I always thought the ratings thing in radio, it’s just made up. It’s based on a couple of meters. I think it’s a sham. You have no clue how many people are listening. Absolutely none. I live in a market with eight million people and it’s based on like 10 meters? It’s insane. If 1.5 million people listen to me in a given month, that’s actual people listening.
One time we had Terrell Owens on when I was working for Jason Barrett in radio. He was still a really big deal. The 20-minute interview did like a 30 share. Our show was number one in the market that month. That was a really big deal for the station. We were all fired up. But the next month we’re doing a sweet show, big guests, and we were maybe like fourth. You’re just playing these games with these meters. I don’t have to play any games with meters now. That’s a major, major difference. There’s no manipulation of it.
BN: Yeah, it matters but it’s so goofy. It’s like stoppage time in soccer where it’s not precise. It’s just ehh, we’re kind of making stuff up as we go along. And you live and die by that. It’s crazy.
JM: It’s wild. It’s like you can control it but you feel like you have no control over it. And then all of a sudden you’re like oh a meter left, and now he doesn’t listen to you anymore. So you just dropped like two points, but you’re like I think our show is better than it was two months ago and now we’re getting our ass kicked. What is going on? That’s the difference in podcasting, again at the higher levels.
This is my business. This is not a passion project for me. This is what I do to pay the bills. There’s no screwing around here. You have that mindset in radio; you approach it like a real job. It’s very serious. I think it helps since leaving you just maintain that mindset and treat it the same even though the meter and the ratings do not exist. That’s a major pressure relieved from your shoulders. You don’t even have to think about it. You got to get people to listen. You got to keep growing. But to me it’s easier to do that than it is to add an extra meter out there and you don’t even know the human or what he even likes.
BN: The knock among industry folks is that podcasting is harder to monetize. What has been your experience as far as that goes?
JM: Yeah, no issues. It was hard at first I’d say three or four years ago. But in 2021, I’ve had a lot of success monetizing. The two podcasts I’m a part of definitely generate revenue. I know that. I’d say the other difference is, as a radio host you don’t get to own the show. As a podcast you potentially get the ability to own your show or be a partner in your show and own the revenue coming in. That’s just something that’s a little different.
Now I would say one major difference is like you said the knock that a lot of podcasts can’t make money. It’s harder to generate; it is more of a hustle. But I’d say most businesses are a little bit of hustle at the ground floor. I argue that terrestrial radio is getting more and more segmented and splitting up. TV stations are cutting budgets. That’s the one thing in the digital space where they’re adding. A company like The Volume; they’re going to try to grow where some of the old-school television shows or a terrestrial radio station, they’re cutting. It’s going to be hard for them to ever add again. They’re probably not going to come back.
BN: When you think about your entire career — we’re talking scouting, radio, podcasting — what do you think has been your biggest break?
JM: It’s probably not one. There are so many influential people that changed my life. I’d say Pat Hill changed my life. Andy Reid changed my life. Once I transitioned into media I could just say I worked for Andy Reid and Howie Roseman. I would say without Guy Haberman I never would’ve gotten into radio. Who knows? Maybe I’d be selling insurance now. And then with Colin, he’s changed my life. It’s just individuals that believe in you, take a chance on you, and then once you’re able to associate with them, they are high-level, well-respected people in their business. Andy is one of the best coaches. Colin’s one of the best ever. Those two guys alone, it changed my life for sure.
I’d say there are always seminal moments. There’s nothing like your parents. Without them none of this is possible. But then once you become an adult you meet different people that can take you on paths that you didn’t know. If you asked me 10 years ago would I be sitting here talking to you, who knows? I get a lot of questions like where do you see yourself in five years? Well, I think that question was a lot easier to answer in like 1996. The world changes at rapid speed. I don’t f***in’ know what’s going to be around. [Laughs] Who knows? I think in this profession it’s borderline impossible to answer.
BN: What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten from the who’s who of people you’ve worked with?
JM: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily like individual advice. I would just be able to say watching their actions. The way they operated. The way they conducted themselves. Starting with Pat Hill and Andy just how friendly and nice, how much ownership they took in everything, and just the way they conducted themselves. Then when you meet all these other famous people that know them and how they revere those guys, it’s just like well I can see why.
Being around Colin, I remember a couple of years ago at the Super Bowl, just the way he treats his staff. He’s probably one of the more famous people I know. You see some of these stories about Hollywood people and you’re like God; he’s the complete opposite. He’s incredible. He really is a unique, authentic individual. It was the way I was raised; treat people well, do the right thing. And if you’re talented hopefully the cream will rise. That’s really something I kind of think about more than any individual advice like get into the break fast or that type of stuff. [Laughs] I don’t really think about that as much.
BN: It reminds me of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Favre didn’t have to say hey, do this and look out for that. But being around a guy like that is helpful. Is that similar to your experience?
JM: I think any time that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be around someone really successful, it was less about getting their words. Because again as an individual it’s hard to just take something someone’s said, but if you can just emulate the things that they do and the way that they treat people if they do it the correct way, I think that is a game-changer in life.
BN: What has been the most challenging role and the most enjoyable role you’ve had throughout your career?
JM: I would say the challenging role was my first year when I got to the NFL. It was just hard. There were just a lot of things going on. You’re fighting for your professional life. You’re basically on a one-year $20,000 contract, just the lowest guy on the totem pole. You’re doing all of these — looking back — trivial tasks, but at the time you feel like I got to pick this player up at the airport. I’ve got to get sandwiches for the coaches. You just feel pressure with everything you’re doing even if it gets up to oh, they’re letting me evaluate some players. That was just really, really intense. Just the pressure obviously going to Philadelphia, it was crazy. But it was good crazy. It was hard, there’s no doubt about it.
I would say doing podcasts now. The impact and seeing people that enjoy it, it’s definitely cool. Some of the sports media stuff can bore me. Just doing your go-to stuff. The clickbait.
I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about. I’m not going to talk about offensive linemen. I’m going to talk about the quarterbacks and the coaches. I’ve got a pretty good idea. I think like a fan. I’m not worried about the practice squad because that stuff kind of bored me when I was in the NFL, but you had to be really focused on it. So I just enjoy doing shows and having people like it.
BN: I’m just curious, man, if you break down your time scouting in the league year by year, what was that timeline for you?
JM: I was with Fresno State for two years. Then I was with the Eagles for three years. Andy got fired my third year. That’s when Chip Kelly came in. At the draft I got let go. I was probably 28. I didn’t know that many people in the league. So I didn’t really know what to do. I tried to get on some other places and I didn’t. It was like should I try to move somewhere? My third year I was able to work on the West Coast for the Eagles for college. I lived in San Francisco. I got to come back west. I was like I don’t really want to move. I want to do my own thing. That’s when Guy had just gotten hired by JB. I got lucky there. If he hadn’t been there who knows? I don’t know what I would have done.
I wasn’t dead set. I think a lot of people — that’s all they were going to do. Being in the NFL, I think that’s the way it is with the NBA, with baseball, these guys are just driven. They’re junkies. I don’t like football that much. I want to go play golf. I have other interests in business and other stuff that I do. There are other things that I want to do and I enjoy watching other sports. You don’t really have time for that sometimes depending on the time of the year. It’s just football in this bubble. It’s crazy.
I’m able to do it now on a much, much lower level than eat, breathe, sleep it 24/7, 365. There are so many players in the league. It takes a lot of time to master the league. And then even once you do, just to keep up and maintain it, it takes a lot of energy. It’s always moving. All of these coaches. I think a lot of fans say I would love to do that. It sounds good in theory and then you find out you make probably way less than you would make doing your job and the hours are insane. Again it’s the football 24/7, 365.
BN: With Guy in San Francisco, how did it come to be where you ended up on a show together?
JM: I think over the summer maybe in July or early August of 2013, he’s hosting the night show and doing the A’s postgame. He’s like bro, come in. Just come in for 30 minutes, you’re an NFL scout, we’ll talk Raiders, Niners, and just around the league. I think I did it a couple of times and JB was a legit boss. I would imagine most bosses around the country ain’t listening to some of the guests that come on the night show, but he was newer and putting the station together. It might have been the first time I went in, Guy hits me up a few days later and was like hey, my boss at the station just heard you and he’s going to reach out. He wanted me to become a part of the station on just like a random contributor type thing. It really all started because Guy had me on for 30 minutes, JB listened, liked it, and it kind of went from there.
BN: I’ve got a couple of rapid-fire NFL questions. What’s the storyline you’re most fascinated by heading into the season?
JM: I’m biased but it’s got to be the 49ers quarterback situation. Maybe just all the rookie quarterbacks. There are five guys drafted in the top 15. With five quarterbacks drafted that high, it’s going to be fun to watch. I’m excited.
BN: Is there anything that’s talked about a decent amount heading into the season that you don’t find very interesting?
JM: That’s a good question. The Deshaun Watson thing has started to bore me a little bit. Just suspend the guy, trade the guy; how long are we going to go on? It feels like it’s not going away because who’s going to trade for him right now. That story is getting exhausting. People just keep acting like he’s tradable. He’s not tradable until we get some clarity on the legal stuff. He’s no longer just Deshaun Watson 2020. He’s got some off-the-field issues that are kind of a big deal right now.
BN: Do you have a best bet for the season?
JM: I like Matt Stafford or Josh Allen to win MVP. I’d probably lean Josh Allen MVP. He might have a sweet season. He might just be unreal.
BN: What are you most bullish about in terms of a team exceeding expectations or being a disappointment?
JM: I think the Patriots are going to be good. Belichick’s just coming off a bad season. You got Mac Jones. They got all of these guys back on defense. Last year’s team sucked and they went 7-9. Jon Gruden, year four, I just think they’re not going to be good. Six, seven wins for $10 million a year. I think that place has a chance to be a disaster.
BN: Who do you think is the best color analyst in the NFL right now?
JM: I enjoy Tony Romo. I just enjoy his energy. I know some people think he’s cheesy or whatever but there are so many analysts that are awful. Let’s face it; there are a lot of broadcasters that are just terrible. You just mute them. Just f***ing throw on some music. It’s bad.
Most national broadcasts in 2021 — maybe it was different 15 years ago, it felt like it was good — it just doesn’t feel like it’s that good anymore. There are so many players, so many injuries, so many moving parts. That’s a tough job for the analysts. I’m not saying it’s easy. So even the guys that suck, it’s hard. I wouldn’t want to do it.
BN: By the way, I get a little bit of a Philip Rivers vibe from you. Just in terms of your energy and cadence.
JM: I appreciate that.
BN: You curse. Phil doesn’t. Other than twang and cursing, I sense some Phil.
JM: No children yet.
BN: [Laughs] Maybe there are like nine on the way for you.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.