The Sports Junkies have been a fixture in Washington D.C. for a quarter-century. The four members of the popular sports radio show are celebrating their 25th year together. Their history off the airwaves goes back even further; three of the members went to nursery school together. The Junkies established a friendship and a bond long before they were ever colleagues. You can hear that chemistry on the air.
My brother-in-law once described my nephews by saying, “They love each other, but they might not always like each other.” The same is true at times for the Junkies. Sure, they butt heads and occasionally try to gouge each other’s eyes out, but in the end it’s a brotherhood. The dust-ups don’t last long. The love and support from your brothers is what really matters.
The Junkies faced very long odds in the beginning. A cable access TV show and a newspaper article led to them being discovered. The radio show began in their hometown, which happened to be in a top-10 market. That’s like winning the lottery. The Junkies have made the most of their opportunities, and after 25 years, they have plenty of stories to share. Below we chat about sleeping in a coffin for two days, beating a women’s professional team in tackle football, and having a fun show that can also handle mature topics. Enjoy!
The four members:
Eric “EB” Bickel
Jason “Bish” Bishop
John “Cakes” Auville
John-Paul “JP” Flaim
Brian Noe: Starting with the cable access TV show, what do you guys remember most about that first show?
EB: The quality was low. Nobody watched it or anything like that, but we took it very seriously. We were excited about it. My future mother-in-law suggested we do a cable access show since anybody in the neighborhood could get a show as long as you were paying taxes. She saw a political show that some other neighbors were doing and she said hey Eric, you and your friends should do a sports show. We went and investigated. They said if you learn how to use the equipment, anybody can do it.
I brought my sister and my future in-laws and other friends and family; they helped us run the cameras and the audio and worked as producers. We dressed all up, treated it like SportsCenter. We were excited about it. It was pretty nerve-wracking for us considering nobody was watching it, but it was something that we took very seriously.
Bish: I remember how nervous I was because we were at JP’s parents’ house in Bowie. We were in the kitchen and we were getting all jacked up to go. We had to be there in 20 minutes to start recording and I said let’s just do a shot. JP said all right, I got some Jack Daniels here. We did a shot of whiskey before we drove over to cable access to do the show. It was only one shot, but I remember I was very nervous, absolutely.
EB: It was low quality, low budget. We’d use spare parts from other shows like their little divider thing, we’re using it as a backdrop. My wife made a sign. It was as homegrown as you can imagine.
JP: But we were having fun. That was the big thing. It was four guys who knew each other, having fun, and it was kind of a light bulb moment for us. It was like holy shit, I’ve got this terrible job — or I was in law school at the time — let’s see what we can do with this thing.
Cakes: I was the one that had the terrible job. I had the 1-seed of terrible jobs working in retail. It was a fun escape for me to do something that I was passionate about because I wasn’t passionate about selling toys.
Bish: Well at least you guys all had jobs.
EB: We thought it was fun and let’s keep doing it. Let’s try to get better at it. And as JP said, let’s go for the one-in-a-million shot that we can make something of it because none of us wanted real jobs. JP was in law school. I was finishing up a master’s in education. Cakes was working already in retail. Jason had odd jobs. None of us really wanted to get real jobs, so let’s shoot for the moon. We’re all sports nuts. We were having so much fun with it. Let’s just see what we can do.
Noe: Where did you get your first break in radio following your cable access show?
EB: What really happened is we did it once a week for about a year. JP would come back from Philly from law school and we’d all get together once a week, knock it out and then go back to our lives. After doing it for about a year we said you know what, this isn’t awful. It’s somewhat entertaining. We should send out tapes to media critics like the Washington Post, the Washington Times, USA Today, and then maybe one of them will write an article about the show, and then maybe a TV station or a radio station will call us.
We sent out three tapes, one to Len Shapiro at the Washington Post, one to Rudy Martzke at USA Today, and one to Dick Heller at the Washington Times. Dick’s the only one that responded really. I spoke to Rudy; Rudy didn’t have any interest. Len never really liked us, but Dick really liked the story. He liked the show and wrote an article about us.
JP: That changed our life. March 25, 1996; that article came out and changed the trajectory of our lives.
EB: It was almost out of a fantasy world. The article came out and within an hour WJFK 106.7 FM called us and asked us if we had any interest in working in radio because they had just acquired the rights to the Redskins. They weren’t a sports station and they needed some talent on the weekends to talk sports. So we said sure, yeah, we’d love to. That was the dream. We went down there and had an interview with them. They were intrigued. They said do you want to come by next week and do a demo? We said sure. They said all right, do you want to go on air? And we said sure. They said all right, that didn’t suck, do you want to come back next week? We said yeah.
Cakes: We showed up at the interview wearing ill-fitting sport coats and ties. We looked like the biggest nerds ever.
JP: We thought you had to dress up for an interview in radio. The first thing that Jim McClure said is you know this is radio, why are you dressed up?
EB: Yeah, because we didn’t know. We couldn’t believe that they were intrigued enough by our story that they would put us on such a massive station. Even though it was on the weekend, we couldn’t believe it, with no experience. And they kept doing it.
Noe: What aspects on the air have you tightened up the most from those early days to where you are now?
Bish: Well we still talk over each other. I know that.
Cakes: Yeah, but not as much as we used to. We used to be really, really bad at that. We would trample over each other all the time where it was almost unintelligible. That still happens from time to time, but I think we have gotten better at that. I think we’ve gotten better at interviewing people over the years as well. I think we get athletes, coaches, whoever, to open up to us a little more than they might to some other people in the media. We don’t present ourselves as journalists. We’ve never been journalists. We’re just fans that got a really good shot, we ran with it, got some good luck along the way, but we’ve never painted ourselves as journalists ever.
EB: We’ve also never painted ourselves as experts. I think that’s kind of been the appeal too is that hey, we’re just fans and we certainly have strong opinions and are knowledgeable in certain areas, but we don’t claim to know everything. I think at the time when we started you had to be a know-it-all to be a sports radio guy. We weren’t that. We were just fans having fun, like guys would be hanging out at a bar or something.
JP: And we’ve never been just a sports show. What I would say we’ve gotten better at, and it’s always a big part of the show, is storytelling. Not the sports stuff; yesterday we spent probably 10 to 15 minutes talking about the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. Eric brought up an experience with like 60 cars in a Chick-fil-A drive-thru. We’re more comfortable moving off of just sports. If you went to our show in 1996 when we were first starting out, we might’ve done an outline for three hours, every segment kind of planned out, and it was all very sportsy. Now it’s just a little looser. I think you get more comfortable over time talking about certain topics.
Noe: If I had told you 25 years ago that hey, you’re going to interview Magic Johnson, or Cal Ripken Jr. is going to talk about the Junkies in your book that’s coming out, what’s the wow moment that you wouldn’t have believed would happen, that actually did come true?
Cakes: You’re going to laugh at me because this is white trash, but I don’t care, through a connection on the show I got to sing on stage with Poison. I was a big hair metal guy growing up. Another guy in radio was like hey man, I don’t want to go on stage and sing with Poison, do you want to do it? I was like are you kidding me? Of course I would do it. I would love to do that. Just opportunities like that. And I got to hang out with Bret Michaels on his tour bus for like two hours after the show. I never thought anything like that would ever happen. I never thought we’d get access to the players and coaches that we’ve been able to over the years. We interviewed two of the members of Metallica when we were back at the alt-rock station at HFS in the early 2000s. I never thought that would happen.
Bish: Here’s another one, Brian. We had Lenny Dykstra on the show. He was promoting a book and he was living in L.A. I just so happened to be planning a trip to L.A. with my family about six weeks after we had him on the show. I said hey Lenny, I’ll going to be out in L.A. with my family, can we hook up? I thought he was going to BS me, he goes yeah sure, just contact my PR guy. I contacted his PR guy and he said yeah, give him my number.
I contacted Lenny when I was out there and he invited me to the Beverly Hills Hotel bar. I met him there. We hung out all night and I was at his apartment. He lived above a garage at a $10,000,000 home in Beverly Hills. I hung out with Lenny Dykstra all night getting hammered until three in the morning. He was telling stories and it was unbelievable. It was just surreal. Pretty fuckin’ cool.
EB: This will sound cocky but this is honestly true, I actually envisioned all of this happening. I knew we had good chemistry. I knew the station very well. I was a huge listener of the station and I thought we were going to hit a home run. I was like oh my God, we’re gonna kill this. I’ll be honest with you, I envisioned all of these things. I’m actually disappointed because there’s one thing that we haven’t done that I thought we were going to do. I swear to God, we’ve been in Sports Illustrated, we’ve been in Forbes magazine or Fortune magazine, one of those…
JP: Barrett Sports Media…
EB: So many opportunities. But I always thought honestly that we would be guests on The Tonight Show or Letterman. I really did. I envisioned that we would be on, that we’d be like
JP: Like Mad Dog. Mad Dog used to do that.
EB: We were nationally syndicated for three years on Westwood and I just thought eventually, maybe after we replaced Stern or something, eventually we would be on with Letterman. So we’ve actually failed. We’re never going to be on.
JP: Jason actually played hoops at Cal Ripken Jr’s place. That’s pretty amazing. I had three posters growing up, Cal was one of them.
Noe: Did you school him?
Bish: I played pretty well. I was a little intimidated when I first got there. He invited a bunch of former college players. Some of the Orioles were there too. I guarded him at least one game. He’s strong as an ox. He would back me in and use his ass and thighs, but I got him out on the perimeter and I was hitting jumpers. It was a very competitive game. I’ll tell you this; Cal, he doesn’t fuck around, man. He’s not out there just trying to have a good time, he was out there to win. It was very competitive and that’s what I liked about it. I went up there twice to play. That was one of the more memorable moments.
JP: Brian, this one blows me away; the four of us, the four Sports Junkies have World Series rings and Stanley Cup rings.
EB: That’s true.
Cakes: We’re Stanley Cup and World Series champions.
JP: I have two championship rings. I can barely skate, Brian, and I have a Stanley Cup ring.
Noe: That’s crazy. As far as the craziest moments from the show, whether it’s playing a women’s professional football team or anything else, what moments stand out to you most?
EB: Well that was obviously one of the highlights; that was just so much fun. We drew like over 8,000 fans. I’ll never forget we outdrew the Georgetown Hoyas that night. That was unbelievable. The buildup to that, it was amazing. The turnout, the execution, it was perfect. We said it was all downhill from here. There’s no way we can do better than that.
Cakes: And it was not 70 degrees and perfect weather. I want to say it was like 40 degrees. It was raining. It was like the worst night and the turnout was unbelievable.
Bish: It was like Friday Night Lights, man. It was the real deal even though we were playing against girls. We had never played organized football before. I just remember how quick it was. There was a play clock just like a regular college game. But once we settled down it was cool.
JP: That ladies’ professional football team was always trying to get on our show. We were like why would we ever have them on the show? We had Clinton Portis and Fred Smoot on at the time. I just pitched the crazy idea, I was like what if we challenge that women’s team to a game, but the twist is it’s not powder puff football, we would challenge them to tackle. Then it blew up into this whole big thing. We just couldn’t believe how many people were in the freaking stands. It was over 8,000 people there to watch us play women in tackle football.
Bish: We killed them. We probably should’ve beaten them by 50, but they were calling all kinds of penalties on us. We had 13 penalties. But it was fun, man.
JP: I remember in our practices the coaches put us in the Oklahoma drill. Again I played high school soccer and high school baseball, okay Brian? I weighed 165 pounds at the time. We would get matched up against these monsters and just run into each other like rams. That hurt more than the actual game.
Cakes: Never again. It’ll never happen again. I’m pretty sure I bruised one of my ribs if not multiple ribs in the practices. I think JP knew a dentist. I was like hey man, can you get me some pain pills from your dentist?
JP: It was all above board, Brian. Remember this is on transcript, Cakes. [Laughs]
Cakes: I got a prescription and I had to pop a few pain pills so I could play in the game. But we couldn’t believe the support and the buzz that that event created.
JP: And that’s one thing you can do in radio, when you create something that people don’t know what the outcome is going to be, and they feel like they have to see it, you can create a big event.
EB: We did something then that we couldn’t do today. JP might be embarrassed about this, but being part of a guy talk station — we got a lot of negative attention — we did a porno swap. The Great American Porno Swap where we had people from D.C. and Baltimore all drop off their old pornos, put it into a barrel, and pull out somebody else’s old porno.
JP: Simple concept, Brian, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Cakes: That was in the Wild, Wild West days of radio. You could never get away with something like that in 2021.
EB: But it was genius. I remember we had protesters, so that was a lot of fun.
JP: But a lot of happy listeners. You can’t contain this genius, Brian. They would put their hands into a pile of VHS tapes and then we would have them read the titles. I used to say they were feeding-the-monster events. We’ve been No. 1 rated in men 25-54. Our monster — the wall of men — they like drinking beer, women, that sort of thing. So we would have these type of events for that.
EB: And some of the various stunts like when Cakes slept in the coffin. That was just such a dumb stunt for Cakes to be in a coffin for two days, which look, I couldn’t do it. It’s not like he was in there for a month, but he was in there for two days and we had TV stations out covering it. It was just insanity.
Bish: To lay in a fucking coffin for two days in a radio studio, I can’t even believe he did it. Just when we were doing the show and we were talking to him, I could tell how uncomfortable he was. [Laughs] Especially the second day. I just couldn’t imagine laying there and just eating beef jerky for two days. I remember if I had to do it how uncomfortable I would be. It was almost like being buried alive. I just couldn’t have done it. No way.
JP: That started because we were talking about David Blaine on the air. At the time most of us were really impressed with David Blaine. Well, Cakes opened up his mouth and was like I could do that, that’s no big deal. I’ve got a bunch of kids. I could be in a coffin; I’d get some rest. We’re like are you crazy? You can’t do it. The next thing you know a listener calls in, offers to build a coffin, it was a makeshift coffin. It was terrible. Then somebody offered $2,500 and boom, the stunt was afoot.
Cakes: I don’t think it was 2,500. I think it was 1,500 if my memory serves.
EB: Way underpaid.
Cakes: Yeah, I was way underpaid for punting away two days of my life lying in a makeshift coffin. It should’ve been at least 5K minimum.
JP: But he did it, which was impressive. He wasn’t allowed to leave, couldn’t go to the bathroom, so he went in there with Gatorade bottles and jerky, right?
Cakes: Gatorade bottle, jerky, gummy bears. Those were the essentials. [Laughs]
Noe: To go from your stunts and fun stuff to mature topics like 9/11 or the D.C. sniper, how do you think you guys have handled those situations?
EB: Well I think that’s actually where we shine to be honest with you because we could get serious. Especially the sniper, that was happening in our backyard literally where we were broadcasting from. There were shootings right around the corner. We were on at the time when these were occurring. I think people have a lot of respect for the way we handled that. We took it seriously.
And 9/11 was mind-blowing for the entire country. We had to get serious. I remember doing hours and hours and hours, maybe for a week we did about 20 hours of broadcasts without commercials. I remember my dad being alive at the same time, he thought that was maybe the highlight of our careers just the way that we shifted gears and handled that.
Bish: I remember people calling up, former military or current military guys, and they were crying on the phone and talking about their kids over there. Dude, it was awful. But I think we handled it, man, because we were just showing people that we cared and we were kind of all in the same boat. No one knew how to react. It was like fuck Al-Qaeda, let’s go get bin Laden. After the first couple of days it started to become kind of like a rally. But back in the early 2000s, we could say shit. We could talk about our opinions and it was different. There was no threat of you getting fired if you shared an opinion, either if it was politically or socially or whatever the topic was. Fifteen, 20 years ago, the world has changed, but radio has really changed.
EB: That’s one thing I think that we’ve been pretty good at is being able to adapt. In today’s culture, cancel culture, with everybody being offended by everything these days, we’ve been able to efficiently navigate the waters and be able to understand sort of on the fly what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been able to survive whereas most of the people we started out with, icons in the industry, don’t work in radio anymore. They weren’t able to navigate the waters, or they had to go to satellite, or they had to start a podcast. I’m proud of the fact that we’re survivors and we’ve been able to navigate the waters. It’s not because we’re super talented. It’s just that we have chemistry. That’s our core, and we’re not as stupid as you might think. We’ve been able to figure it out.
Noe: Is there anything in the future that you haven’t experienced yet that you would love to do together?
Bish: I think podcasting is in our future. I drive 50 minutes into the city, so I’m getting up at four, getting out of the house at 4:30. Bro, that’s brutal. Especially when you’re 51. It’s just harder when you get older to do it. I still want to do stuff with them, I just want to do something where we have a little bit more flexibility with time. Morning radio is just a grind on your body and on your mind. Sometimes I’m not even awake until 7:30, an hour and a half into the show and I’m still fuzzy.
EB: For me just being able to keep doing it. It beats a regular job. You get paid handsomely. We have fun every day. Just being able to keep doing it, provide for our families and maybe eventually cruise into a little easier timeslot because getting up at 4:30 in the morning kills you. It takes years off your life. But just being able to be the four of us and do our thing. We’re not trying to dominate the TV world, we’re not trying to even be nationally syndicated or anything; we love being local radio hosts and being sort of a fixture of this community. I want us to go down as — this is going to sound cocky — but I want us to go down as one of the most memorable morning shows in D.C. history. Maybe we’re halfway there. Let’s hope.
Cakes: Oh, I don’t know if I have 25 more years of doing this in my tank.
Cakes: But we want to keep doing it as long as we can. Look, I’ll be honest, I don’t want to be a crotchety old guy talking like Don Imus. There are some guys that can keep going and going and going, but some guys you listen to on the radio when they get up to a certain age and you’re like ugh; I don’t want to get to that point where people are tuning in and they’re like this guy is passed his prime. You want to find that balance.
EB: You still want to be good, but the way I think of it is you work and then you die. I’d rather keep working to keep living.
Noe: If one of you guys is like man, I’m thinking about hanging it up, how would the rest of the Junkies respond to that?
EB: When one guy rolls out, I’m sure the other three would keep going. Who knows what the future is going to hold? Who knows what the future holds for radio? But I think by and large we’re all on the same page and we want to still keep providing. We know it sure beats work.
JP: Here’s the thing, Brian, we haven’t had that when’s-it-all-going-to-end discussion, but here’s the reality, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old. Eventually, she’s going to go to college. When she goes to college, that bill is going to be hefty. I’ve got a kid who’s at NYU right now. Look up the tuition; it’s hefty. Jason’s got two kids at Virginia Tech right now. Cakes has one in med school. That’s a lot of bills to pay, my friend.
Cakes: Yeah, a lot of bills. So many.
EB: And again, I’m not ready to just die yet.
JP: And really going back to the larger theme, we’ve got a fun job. Think about it; three of us went the nursery school together, and then kindergarten together, Jason since high school, we’re working with friends. The odds of that in life are very low. And then to do something like this, a four-hour show, we’re not digging ditches, we’re not putting on a suit and tie chasing billable hours.
Cakes: But let me also point out, we have not had even close to a Howard Stern level payday.
JP: [Laughs] Okay, that would be a game changer.
Cakes: That has not happened and I’m guessing it’s not going to happen. Now if anything like that were ever the happen, then circle back and talk to us if and when that happens.
EB: If Spotify wants to call and give us 100 million.
JP: Or 10. Ten million would be good.
EB: That would work.
Cakes: That’d be amazing.
Noe: Do you have a flashback moment — whether it’s good, bad, an interview, a stunt — anything from your time together that you tend to think about the most?
Cakes: I don’t have one in particular, but I just think the trips that we’ve taken. Whether it’s to spring training or Super Bowl sites, or to Atlantic City for poker tournaments, there’s something about a road trip element. Those are always touchpoints that you kind of remember events that happened when you’re outside of the norm of being in a studio. You tend to remember a lot of those things that happened on the road trips either when you’re at the venue or on the way to the venue, there’s weird stuff that happens. That stuff kind of sticks with me more than anything.
EB: I just remember beating the divas. I loved that. I said at the time if we didn’t beat them we’d all have to kill ourselves.
Cakes: That’s a little drastic, but it would’ve been embarrassing.
EB: No disrespect to women, I mean we just had to win that.
Cakes: By the way, that’s a one-off. It’s never happening again. We’re all 51 years old now. No way we’re doing that again.
JP: Yeah, when you do it for so long, you don’t think about the big picture as often. It’s day-to-day, it’s the grind. But I do remember that trip to the NFL draft. Our first road trip, that Manning/Leaf draft, when we got there to Madison Square Garden. It was one of those moments where like yeah, he was a manager at Toys R Us. I was in law school. Eric was studying for a master’s. Jason was kind of trying to get a job in sports, but he was working as a courier interning. It was like holy shit, we’re here. We’re here. It’s those cool moments where you look back; we were kids that played on the same basketball team when we were like 12 years old and boom, we’re here at the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis? They are kind of cool moments.
Bish: It’s nothing in particular that’s ever happened on the show, it’s just the fact that when I walk into my house and I go fuck, I can’t believe I have this. I can’t believe I’m able to put my girls through school. I can’t believe I’m able to save the money I am. I can’t believe I can go on vacation and it’s all because we were so fortunate back in the day to have Dick Heller write the article, to start on the weekends, and to just continually grow and grow and grow in popularity. Then our contracts are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and I’m like I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this. And getting paid well.
Even now I just can’t believe — I mean I bitch about getting up at four, it sucks, but we work four hours a day. I can go play golf whenever I want. I spend time with my kids and my family. I can do all that. I don’t have to grind out eight, 10, 12 hours like a lot of guys do. The thing I think about the most is how fortunate we are, to be honest with you.
JP Flaim has written a book about the Junkies’ brotherhood and 25 years on the air together. The book is available at StillBarking.com.
Nothing Is Easy In the Cold, Not Even Broadcasting
The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end!
No matter what you may think, doing play-by-play for any sport is a difficult thing. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. Prep work dominates things leading up to the broadcast, getting notes, nuggets and entertaining tidbits take up time. Then once you’re prepped, some stadiums are better than others to broadcast. Some booths are easier to work than others.
Then there’s the forgotten element, the weather.
How will you handle inclement weather of any kind? Warmth, rain, snow and oh yeah, the dreaded freezing temperature. Before we get into it, here are a few of the less-than-ideal conditions my fellow broadcasters have had to deal with over the years.
THE FOG BOWL
During the 1988 playoffs between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, a dense fog rolled onto the field during the game, making it nearly impossible to play or see. Numerous players complained they couldn’t see 10 yards in front of them. Both teams were forced to use their running game because receivers couldn’t see long passes. The broadcast was called by Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw on CBS.
“We couldn’t see anything—absolutely nothing,” CBS-TV play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist told the Associated Press. “We had to look at the TV just like everyone else.” Lundquist’s color man, Terry Bradshaw, told viewers the game should have been suspended.
THE FREEZER BOWL
At -9 degrees Fahrenheit, the 1982 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers proved to be the second-coldest game in NFL history. It was so cold that Bengals QB Ken Anderson suffered frost bite on his right ear. The temperature was not only -9 degrees, but the wind chill was measured at -58 degrees, by far the worst in league history.
THE ICE BOWL
The 1967 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys became known as the “Ice Bowl.” It remains the coldest game ever played in the NFL, at -15 degrees with a wind chill of -48 degrees. Lambeau Field’s turf-heating system actually malfunctioned before the game, leaving the turf rock-hard. Officials actually had to resort to calling out plays and penalties because when referee Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle, it actually froze to his lips.
The last two are examples of something topical since last week’s “Super Wild Card” game in Buffalo was played in extreme temperatures. At kickoff, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill made the temperature feel like minus-5. A far cry from the above games, but come on, it was freezing cold out there.
The CBS Sports NFL announcing team of Ian Eagle and Charles Davis said Saturday’s game between Buffalo and New England was the coldest work environment they’ve experienced during their broadcasting careers.
“We kept the windows closed in the booth until one hour before kickoff,” Eagle told The Athletic. “When we finally opened them, I had a sense that it would be manageable. I was wrong. CBS rented some industrial heaters for the night, but unfortunately, they were no match for the Western New York frigid air. It really hit me in the third quarter. I started shivering and actually had a few moments where my jaw got locked up mid-sentence. It was by far the coldest I’ve ever been calling a game.”
Davis recalled two games he called at Lambeau Field that were similar, but not as bad as it was in Buffalo.
“It helped that the evening was relatively clear, and the winds minimal, but make no mistake about it, ‘the Almighty Hawk (wind)’ made its presence felt and I kept drawing on one thought — everyone involved was cold, and they were persevering,” Davis explained to Richard Deitsch.
“In addition, we were watching history be made in front of us by the Bills offense — seven drives, seven touchdowns, something that had never been done in the NFL playoffs. Beyond impressive, and it definitely helped us maintain focus. I’m not sure anyone would choose to do a game under those conditions, but there was definitely a sense of pride among our team that we all worked to the best of our abilities on a night that would test all of us.”
Davis said that there was no way not to think about his discomfort. He gave credit to the stage crew in the booth that helped to keep him and Ian Eagle warm. There was also a jacket involved, a familiar one given to Eagle during the game, leading to an excellent exchange between he and Davis just before the third quarter started.
Charles Davis: Where did you get the jacket?
Ian Eagle: What jacket?
Eagle: Oh, this? Yes, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, you might have noticed, wore this a few weeks ago and it hit the internet by storm. Kurt saw that we had this assignment. Kurt now runs a program “Warner’s Warmers,” he just sends the jacket out to whoever needs it. I feel like, I want Jiffy Pop Popcorn. This thing is very warm. This is the same jacket. Kurt sent this to me. Let me tell you, not all heroes wear capes, they wear “Silver Bullet Puffers.”
Davis: Let’s talk about the game for a minute. Kurt, a brother would like a jacket too…
I’ve never really experienced calling a game in that extreme weather, especially after all the years I’ve called baseball games. But being in the Midwest, even those early days in April and sometimes into May, cold temps are a factor.
I think the coldest game I ever called was a game with the Cubs where the temperature at the start was about 31 degrees with a wind coming off the lake. We debated on whether or not to open the windows in the booth. One voted no, one voted yes, so the compromise was the window near the play-by-play guy was cracked open just a bit. Games just sound different with the windows closed. It’s not as clean. It sounds like you’re doing a game in a closet. But sometimes self-preservation comes first. The same goes for extremely warm weather too.
The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your pen isn’t working all that well, and how do you score a game without taking your gloves off? In those conditions, as Eagle was saying, your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end! I know it sounds exaggerated but in the moment, its not.
People sitting at home still want you to call the game. They are looking for the same information you would have given if it were 40 degrees instead of 40 below with the wind chill. It’s a big ask, but the broadcast crew has to find a way to adjust to the conditions and do what they are there to do. It helps when everyone understands that. It’s not to say that you can’t talk about the way things are in the booth or on the field from time to time. But don’t let it dominated the airtime, as tempting as it might be to do so.
Just think, if you’re cold in the booth, what’s life like for the sideline reporter?
Ben And Woods Aren’t Doing a Show For One Person
“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show.”
There’s no confusion about where their allegiances lie. And when it comes to being relatable to the audience, there’s few things Ben and Woods do better than buying season tickets at Petco Park, wearing Padres hats and cheering for the lone professional team in San Diego.
Some hosts choose to never openly root for the teams they talk about on an everyday basis. Steven Woods and Ben Higgins strive to never hide who they are on the air. They’re Padres fans and they’re not afraid to show it.
“I was in music radio before and sometimes it was hard to hide my disdain for some of the music that I played, so I just decided not to,” said Woods. “I just let it out there. People I think appreciate authenticity and if I didn’t like a song I’d tell you. But I still had to play it, right? With the Padres, it’s why I never sit in the press box, because I can’t cheer in there. I bought season tickets so that I can go and scream at the players like I want to. I think it resonates, because there’s fans listening in the car that want to see them do well too.”
“I do believe in journalistic integrity,” said Ben. “But to me that means you have to be honest. You have to be honest in your opinions and you can’t be afraid to be critical. No one is more critical of a team than their own fans. They are the most critical people of all. I don’t wanna be the fan that constantly criticizes, but at the same time, why would you listen to a show that is just relentlessly positive and gives you a white wash version of what’s not really reality? Every team has problems and it’s our job to point them out or nobody’s going to take you seriously.”
When you think of baseball towns, New York, Chicago and St. Louis are probably the three cities that immediately come to mind. But in a football world, San Diego has emerged as a new baseball town with the Chargers recently leaving for Los Angeles.
If you have any doubt that San Diego is now a baseball city, just listen to Ben and Woods on 97.3 The Fan from 5-9 am every weekday morning. The duo has no issues with doing three-plus hours of Padres talk, even during the offseason.
That’s not a new thing. Ben and Woods have always conducted the show the way it is now. They want to talk baseball, but they also want to hit off-topic content that will give the listener a chance to laugh on their way to work.
That’s been the case since the show was at Mighty 1090. Ben and Woods were at the station as the morning show when it folded in 2019. That was an incredibly trying time for both talents.
“It was pretty heartbreaking to be honest with you,” Woods said. “I had a brand new baby and the show was going great. We were on the rise and then it went away. It was shocking. It was also scary. I think uncertain is the best word. We believed in our product and we knew there was a market for it and there was a station that just so happened to need a morning show. The timing was pretty serendipitous.”
“I had been a listener for 15 years before I ever worked at that station for the first time,” Ben said. “And then you get there and you feel like, wow, we’re here and then all the sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t overnight, at some point we lost the signal transmission then we went streaming and it was kind of a slow death over the last few weeks. Ultimately it just ended one day. It was a very strange thing. The fact we got picked up at 97.3 The Fan, got back on the air so quickly was really great.”
Things are going extremely well for Ben and Woods at 97.3 The Fan. They’re thriving in morning drive with a unique show that’s different from any other in the market. Sure, they’ll talk about sports, but their focus is more on the overall entertainment of the show.
“It’s morning drive, you’re there to entertain,” said Woods. “You do have to get really creative. We get very creative, because we have to. We take a lot of risks, more so than people would like. The way I look at it as no one remembers us talking about the NFL Playoffs. But they do remember the time we played a 17-minute Bob Dylan song in its entirety on the radio and sat through it. I remember that and always will. Nobody is ever going to say, ‘man, nobody breaks down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like you guys’. But they’ll remember, ‘holy crap, you guys literally played a 17 minute Bob Dylan song it’s entirety’.”
“When we started it was 95 percent sports and I was afraid to do anything else,” Ben said. ”We started doing segments like Ben reads raps, there was a really good response and I started to warm up on OK we can branch out a little bit. Now, if there was a day we didn’t have a non-sports topic I would say that was a weird show.”
“Rest assured, Opening Day comes, we’re blowing out every bit we have, period,” Woods said ”We’re one of the few shows in town that has no problem doing 3 1/2 hours of just Padres talk. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself a little bit. I always call it punting. It’s an easy thing to say, hey, the playoffs are this week let’s get the local beat writer on from every single team and we’ll interview them. Like anyone here gives a rats ass what the Packers beat writer has to say. There may be one guy, but I’m not doing a show for one guy.”
“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show,” laughed Ben.
One of the reasons the show has the identity that it does, is because of Woods’ background in multiple formats of radio. No, he’s not a sports radio lifer, and in a way, it’s probably greatly benefitted the show. He’s taken his creativity from the music side and perfectly blended it with his love for sports.
“I like sports radio more because there’s a lot more creativity,“ said Woods. “ I didn’t get to pick the music I got to play at all. Not even a little bit. I didn’t have a lot of chances to talk so for me, as a creative person, this is tremendous. We can do whatever we want and our bosses are pretty cool about giving us a lot of leeway. I’ve learned how audiences react. I’ve learned how to keep an audience. It’s energy, it’s being compelling, breaking balls, having fun. Guy’s driving to work in the mornings, he wants to get a snicker or a laugh, he’s not looking for breakdowns of defenses and things like that.”
Ben and Woods is much more than just the two hosts in the chair every weekday. The cool thing is that anyone that listens to the show knows that. Paul Reindl is the executive producer of the show and has a talent and relationship with the hosts that anyone would dream of.
“He’s the worst,” laughed both Ben and Woods. “Paulie is great. We were able to get away this weekend and after we drank like 40 beers and whiskeys, I was like bro, I’m so proud of you and you’re so valuable to the show. But he’s an unsung hero behind the scenes. He has an uncanny ability to bring sound drops almost intuitively. He’s got pages and pages of drops we’ve collected over the years. He’s just an awesome producer.”
Sports Are Learning To Meet Gen Z Where They Are
“The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity.”
Should sports radio be concerned about where audiences will come from in the future? It is an interesting question that we talk about here a lot. It is also something that the New York Times tackled indirectly last week.
A column from Joe Drape and Ken Belson declared this generation of kids “The eSports Generation” and went on to explain just how disconnected from traditional sports they really are.
An alarmist might ask if this is the beginning of the end of traditional sports leagues. Someone a little more level-headed, like Joe Ovies, may want to dive a little deeper to see what leagues are learning and how they are adapting.
Joe hosts The OG in afternoon drive at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. He is always interested in how changes in technology and consumption patterns effect sports and his audience. I saw him tweeting about the New York Times piece last week and asked if he would want to write a little something for us.
“Meet your audience where they are.”
How many times have you heard that phrase in the last 5 years from a consultant, manager, or any number of Barrett Media posts as content consumption trends continue to spread out over a variety of platforms? Turns out the same applies for pro sports leagues, who are fearful that an entire generation of fans will be lost and their traditional business model will crater as a result.
The New York Times recently highlighted what sports marketers are doing to win over Generation Z, which typically applies to kids born from 1997 to 2012. The Times hits the usual beats.
There’s a reference to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, an esports star who is also a traditional sports fan, who the NFL hoped would be a Pied Piper for youth fandom. There are examples of MLB, famously stingy when it came to fans using their content on social media, now working with TikTok influencers. And of course, highlighting the NBA’s wide ranging approach to online engagement and their franchise run NBA 2K esports league. Most of the article was based on a recent SSRS/Luker on Trends report, which conducts regular surveys about sports and society.
The issue for pro sports leagues isn’t that Gen Z kids aren’t “passionate” enough about sports. It’s that Gen Z is more likely to admit they simply don’t like sports.
“Only 23 percent of Generation Z said they were passionate sports fans, compared with the 42 percent of millennials (defined as 26 to 41), 33 percent of Generation X (42 to 57) and 31 percent of baby boomers (57 to 76) who identified themselves as passionate. More striking was that 27 percent of Gen Zers said they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.”The new york times, Jan. 12, 2022
Also factoring into the waning interest in sports from Gen Z is the dramatic decline of youth sports participation. There is a larger discussion to be had about the role of parents and specialization in this decline, but we can address that topic another day. As it relates to pro sports leagues today, the drop in youth participation absolutely impacts the level of interest in kids who might want to watch the best in the world of sports do their thing.
“Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.
On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.”the New york times, Dec. 19th 2021
The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity. Meeting up on the playground or at a friend’s backyard for a pickup game has been replaced with meeting your friends on a Discord server and deciding if you’re going to play Halo or Call or Duty after school.
If you have kids in the age range that I do, none of this should be a surprise. You see it every day and don’t even think twice about it. But if you do stop and think about how frictionless it has become to be online all day with your friends, you start to realize the impact of never being bored or getting dragged to things by your parent because there were no other options.
Watching sports and going to sporting events isn’t frictionless. It’s a pain in the ass. Older generations deal with it because we don’t know any better, it’s just what we do. But Gen Z isn’t about to stop what they’re doing just to watch a game. Why would they? They can get the highlights later.
Gen Z is about dropping in and out of entertainment options whenever they feel like it. In other words, why would they sit around waiting for their favorite song to be played on the radio when they can easily pull it up on YouTube or Spotify.
Pro sports leagues can create all the social content and tout billions of views. They can tout engagement with Gen Z because a bunch of kids bought NFL related skins in Fortnite.
Awareness of their leagues isn’t the problem. It’s getting Gen Z to care enough to watch the game. Take my kids, who are fully aware of what’s going on in the world of sports, but getting them to sit down and actually watch the game is torture. Throw in the increasing cost to attend sporting events, I’ve started leaving them at home because it’s a waste of money given my 13-year-old is just gonna play Clash Royale in that $75 seat.
To be clear — I’m OK with my kids just not being into sports. It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s simply understanding we’ve transitioned to a world of niche communities. You can still thrive within those niche communities. Just look at sports talk radio as an example, where you’re not winning with cume, but with passion around sports. That’s what great sports talk radio stations sell. Pro sports leagues will be fine doing the same.
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