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WDAE Was Right In The Middle Of The Rays’ ‘Split City’ Controversy

“ When Mamola called to tell me the story last week, he framed it as a story of how easy it can be to work through controversy when there isn’t an adversarial relationship between the team and its flagship.”

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If you don’t live in Tampa, St. Petersburg or the surrounding area, chances are that you don’t have a particularly positive view of the Rays. Well, maybe you respect how much the organization has done with considerably fewer resources than division rivals in Boston and New York, but the stadium and its plethora of empty seats have almost certainly been the butt of your jokes before.

The Rays will open postseason play on Thursday. While the day will be filled with discussion of whether or not 2021 will be the year the team is more than just a feel good, “Little Engine That Could” story, that wasn’t what had Rays fans talking last week.

On September 25, the second-to-last Saturday of Major League Baseball’s regular season, the team’s president, Matt Silverman, went on WDAE and dropped a bomb on the fans. They already knew team ownership saw value in splitting the team’s home games between St. Petersburg and Montreal. Now, when the team may have the best shot to win a World Series that it ever has, they were going to rub the fans’ faces in it.

“We’re going to add a sign in the rightfield foul territory with a very simple Tampa Bay Montreal graphic,” Silverman said on his radio show This Week in Rays Baseball. “Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it. It will mark the effort subtly and keep the focus on winning.”

Remember, this is on the day the University of Florida beat rival Tennessee and Florida State lost to Louisville to fall to 0-4 for the first time in 47 years. The next day, the Buccaneers lost a game for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend. Still, on Monday morning, all Tampa Bay sports fans wanted to talk about was the disrespect shown to them by their own baseball team.

John Mamola is the program director of WDAE. He told me that the conversation started with his morning show and lasted all day long. The city was pissed. Frankly, I needed him to tell me why. I’m not a baseball fan at all, and even I know that attendance at Rays games is sparse to say the least.

“While the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been a great example as far as attendance in the last decade-plus, their radio and television numbers continue to be some of the best in all of MLB,” he explained. “The residents of this entire community care, and they understand the challenges of the current ballpark situation. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium discussion for many years now has overtaken the conversation of the actual team and the high level of play they’ve shown over the last 13 years, and I think that frustration from the fan base for the situation shows how much their fan base does care about the organization in the landscape of ‘Champa Bay.'”

When Silverman made his statement on Saturday, he didn’t have anything to show or post pictures of on the team’s social media accounts. He wasn’t even able to describe what the banner would look like. Maybe Silverman had a plan, but that is all it was.

The area’s sports fans didn’t care. To even bring up the Rays playing home games in Montreal on WDAE, the market’s only sports station and the team’s flagship station, was a slap in the face.

John Mamola was proud of his staff. “Our guys were insanely honest. They were not shy with their opinions,” he said. I asked him what messages he gave them going into Monday morning. He told me that he kept those conversations pretty straight forward. “It’s as simple as listen to what was said and understand the context before discussing, and then walk through it together.”

Plenty of stations brace themselves for a fight with a team partner. Some of those team partners can be very sensitive to criticism. After all, there is a written contract. The relationship is supposed to be mutually beneficial. Where is the benefit in letting hosts on the station where your games air rip you?

I mean, come on. The timing isn’t an accident. The announcement was made on a Saturday with the following week being Tom Brady’s return to New England.

Mamola says that is not the Rays he knows. As long as he has been at WDAE, the team has been pretty easy to work with. Monday’s shows were probably filled with a lot of criticism the Rays were hoping wouldn’t exist but he wasn’t driving to work planning to spend the day on the phone fighting with the team or even with his bosses at iHeartMedia.

“Our job is to spark opinion and conversation, their job is to win baseball games. Both sides want success for each other, and both sides work well with each other,” he said of the Rays. “We’ve been blessed to have great access within the organization to have some face to face meetings with as much transparency as possible with the upper management of the organization to get a better grasp on where they’re headed and take our questions and feedback. That’s the mark of a great partnership. With that, the organization knows that our talent will not make this a personal attack on anyone or anything within the organization but they also have an understanding that they are as open to criticism as anyone in Tampa Bay when it comes to our passionate hosts on WDAE which speak directly to the Tampa Bay sports fan and Tampa Bay Rays fan/consumer.”

That great partnership played a role in the conflict’s resolution. When Mamola called to tell me the story last week, he framed it as a story of how easy it can be to work through controversy when there isn’t an adversarial relationship between the team and its flagship.

By Tuesday night, Stu Sternberg was on the WDAE airwaves saying he was wrong. The team’s principle owner was on the pregame show ahead of what would eventually be a loss to the Houston Astros to address the plans to hang the “split city” banner and the reaction to the announcement.

“I absolutely should have known better and I’m sorry for that,” he said of Matt Silverman’s announcement. “I’m here to tell the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”

Now, this isn’t a movie. Sternberg didn’t announce that he had been wrong all along and finally understands the true meaning of Champa Bay. He still is planning to pursue that Split City plan when the Rays’ current lease runs out at Tropicana Field in 2028.

John Mamola is fine with that. Forty games in Tampa is better than zero games in Tampa.

“I can imagine that the Rays were preparing on their end for backlash to this plan, but we also have to have an open mind with this plan and not only read the headline.  The Rays have made it very clear after many proposals simply have not worked out, that this split-city proposal (they feel) is their last shot at keeping baseball in Tampa Bay long term although on a short term per baseball season.”

So what about the games left in front of this team in 2021? The playoffs start later this week and for as long as they are alive, the Rays will have home field advantage against American League opponents.

WDAE is always invested in the team and rooting for their success. After being in the middle of a story about fandom and civic pride with the Rays, will Mamola put an added spotlight on their success this postseason?

He says no, because the station doesn’t need to. WDAE is the home of Rays and Lightning games and studio coverage of the Buccaneers. That gives them a powerful place in the minds and hearts of Tampa Bay sports fans. Ultimately, he says that is why he and his staff were the ones trusted to make a difference.

“If fans need a place to share their voice, there is only one choice in the megaphone of WDAE and over the past week or so that has only been re-enforced with the voice of the fan changing the narrative of the majority owner of that said baseball team, and thus receiving an apology from owner Stu Sternberg heard LIVE on WDAE and the Rays Radio Network.   That’s the power of the fan, and shows that the fan still has a voice when it comes to their local sports franchises. I couldn’t be more proud of how WDAE helped shape the discussion both digitally and terrestrially and helped deliver the feedback of the fan directly to those within the organization helping alleviate a very difficult and emotional situation, albeit for only till the next time we discuss it.”

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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