Everybody in sports radio has to start somewhere. Often times it’s in a small town like Sioux Falls or Poughkeepsie. There aren’t many hosts that get their start in a top-15 market without having to relocate. Jonathan Zaslow of WQAM in Miami is one of the lucky ones in this regard. He didn’t have to pack his bags for a market in the hundreds. He was able to get his foot in the door at home and talk about the teams he rooted for growing up.
Zaslow has made the most of his opportunities. He’s had a successful run in sports radio and has worked with big names like Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, and Boog Scambi. Zaslow has also covered Miami Heat basketball for the past 12 years and would love to get more play-by-play opportunities in the future. We talk about what Zaslow has learned most from Joy and Amber, how Stugotz played an important role in his career, and how he has evolved from a self-described caveman. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?
Jonathan Zaslow: South Florida is my hometown. I grew up in North Miami Beach and the only time really that I ever left was when I went to school. I went to the University of Florida, but I’m a Miami guy. Most people who want to do sports radio, they want to be a sports radio talk show host; I wanted to be a sports radio talk show host in Miami. So I really limited the playing field as far as what I wanted to do. I just felt like I wanted to be able to be passionate and root for the teams that I grew up rooting for while talking about them every day and with the same type of people who were just like me listening growing up. I’m from here and I guess you never say never, but I don’t have any plans on leaving.
BN: What was it like for you to initially get started in sports radio when you specifically wanted to be in South Florida?
JZ: I got really, really lucky and my path is not one to try and be replicated. I used my last semester at the University of Florida to do an internship down here at the local NBC affiliate in Miramar. Luckily, this was unbeknownst to me, in September of that year right at the end of my summer internship, a brand new radio station was starting up down here, 790 The Ticket. They were starting up to challenge the incumbent WQAM. They had some money behind them and it was for real.
The lead sports anchor at the NBC affiliate was Joe Rose who had been the longtime morning host at 560 and was leaving 560 to be the new morning host at the startup 790 The Ticket. At the end of my internship he said to me hey, you’re looking for a job? Call this guy. This guy, whose name he writes down on a piece of paper, Jon Weiner, I call up the next day. I later on found out okay, Jon Weiner is Stugotz. Stugotz from the Dan Le Batard Show was the general manager of this new startup station. That got my foot in the door.
I was doing all the grunt work of course. I was 23 years old. It also gave me the opportunity where it’s a brand new station and they’re just putting people on the air on weekends. Yeah, I’ll do that shift. I’ve never done it before, I’ll do it. I was in a place where I got to do my first sports talk shows, instead of like in Des Moines where I probably should have been doing them, I was doing them in Miami in the No. 13 overall market in the country where I grew up. I already had a wealth of knowledge about all of these teams. I got my foot in the door, really lucky.
BN: Did it take long for you to get a weekday opportunity?
JZ: While I was doing these weekend shifts I was the weekday producer for the Boog Sciambi Show. Boog of course now is the television man for the Cubs, ESPN, all of that. He was the midday host here. He and I became very close and we’re still very close. We had great chemistry together. He was using me on air a lot. That was helping me kind of find my voice a little bit, also get the audience used to who I am. Then eventually Boog left full-time for the Atlanta Braves. That was probably in ‘07. A slot opened up and I ended up taking over weeknights. I was on 7-10 p.m. Probably about three years in, I was now full-time Monday through Friday 7-10 p.m.
BN: How long were you with The Ticket altogether?
JZ: Our parent company is Audacy. They were rivals for many, many years and then eventually they merged and Audacy has both stations. I was moved about two months ago from 790 The Ticket to 560 WQAM. I was the last remaining original employee of 790 The Ticket. I started with 790 in September of ‘04 several days before they actually launched. Until a couple of months ago, I was always able to say I’m the only remaining original employee — still the longest employee, I was there for 17 years — but I was the last one.
We’re two doors down. People ask me what’s it like, you’re now on 560 WQAM. I’m like yeah, I’m just doing my show. It’s in the same building and I’m just two studios down. It’s really no different for me. But all those years where I would be on the air and I would say, ‘I’m 790 ‘til I die. I’m the only original employee still here. I’m not going anywhere.’ And now I’m on 560.
BN: [Laughs] That’s funny, man. How would you describe what it was like to do a show with Joy Taylor and what it was like to do a show with Amber Wilson?
JZ: Really different. The two of them were really, really different. I love them both to this day very much, but really different. With Joy, Joy and I were doing the show together at a really interesting time for both of us. That worked out in both of our favor. What I mean by that is we were both still really young at the time and trying to get a foothold into this career if you will. We were in on the grind. If it didn’t work out, I don’t know what else I’m doing. And if it didn’t work out for her, she doesn’t know what else she’s doing. We were in it to win it. I knew that she was in that foxhole with me and we are working hard together. That was great. I knew that I could count on her and she the same with me. She’s also a very big personality.
The big difference with Amber is she’s so smart. She is like really, really smart. Joy could do some characters and she could be very over-the-top; Amber is herself. She’s super opinionated, but also coming at it from a really, really intelligent place. She made the show a lot smarter. That’s for sure. She was also really good at poking fun of herself. Amber was really playful. Joy was also, but I would say the main difference was Joy and I were at a unique place in both of our careers and Amber was bringing a really super intelligence quotient to the show that it probably did not have before. Not that it didn’t have it from Joy, it didn’t have it from me.
BN: What would you say are some important things that you’ve learned from any of the on-air partners you’ve had?
JZ: I think probably what I learned from working with Amber, I definitely learned how to listen better. That’s for sure. Not everything that comes out of my mouth is the most important thing. I definitely learned how to listen more because she’s really smart and I was able to lean on her with stuff like that. She was going to be able to express maybe what both of us are thinking a lot better than I was going to. She was really good at that kind of stuff, at explaining serious topics with the audience. I definitely learned how to listen a lot better with her.
What I learned by working with Joy, I think I understood how to make sure that it’s good to bring in the personal stuff. When I was doing shows on my own from 7-10, I was doing a hardcore sports show. Nothing personal was coming on. I didn’t know if that was the way to go. I was like all right, well we’re a sports station so let me just stick with sports. With Joy, I really learned how to get all the personal stuff on the air because she was really good at busting my balls and getting on me. I think that’s probably what I learned from her the most.
BN: The lasting influence from Le Batard and his style in Miami, does the town still feel it to this day?
JZ: Yeah, it’s a major imprint because when it was just 560 WQAM, you had that old guard. It was a much older host. We’re talking about Hank Goldberg, Jim Mandich, Jeff DeForrest, guys who are legends down here, but obviously a little bit older than certainly, I was at the time. It was very hardcore sports and it was a Dolphins town. You got to talk Dolphins. Hurricanes, Dolphins.
Then when 790 started up, the whole idea was they’re going to be younger, they’re going to be hipper, and they’re going to do things differently. The station was centered around Le Batard. He was the original afternoon host and he was all about challenging the way that sports radio operates. All of it. And not just sports radio, but challenging sports media and the way that we cover these teams and the way that we think.
I think most of all what had probably the most effect on me was also we don’t have to do this hardcore sports show. We can totally just have fun and that plays in Miami. We’re not New York, we’re not Philly, we’re not Boston. We get busted on for not having hardcore fans here. That’s bullshit. We have incredibly hardcore fans. I’m one of them. There just aren’t enough of them that are like that. The way that you bring in everybody is you’ve got to add a little bit of fun to it and do all the laughing.
I do plenty of shows where most of the show is not sports-related and I’m just having fun. I’m talking about either movies or music or I’m talking about pro wrestling because I love pro wrestling. I would never have done that at the start until I realized okay, this is something that works down here. That I think it’s a permanent imprint that Le Batard had on the sports radio scene here.
BN: What’s the deal in Florida with sports gambling basically being a go, and now it’s not; what impact has that had on fans and also business?
JZ: It’s a go in regards to sports radio and our show. I’ve always been big into sports gambling. I just checked my Hard Rock app yesterday and it works. The Seminole Hard Rock here in Hollywood, that app works. It seems like they’re just kind of hey, we’re doing gambling now, it’s not legal in the state of Florida, but the Seminole Indian tribe, they’ve got their own — it’s complicated down here. That app seems to work, so I don’t know. I think we’re okay, but we’re not? I don’t know.
BN: [Laughs] It’s kind of like the way it was before it became legal. People gambled anyway, so that’s probably where it’s at in Florida, right?
JZ: Yeah, nothing has changed. The only thing that’s going to change is when it all becomes legitimately 100 percent legal. Otherwise, it’s still business as usual. Everybody either has their site or wherever they go. You’ve got the daily fantasy, all of it. And certainly, Audacy is heavily invested with their BetQL Network because it of course is legalized in a bunch of states, but Florida is not one of them yet. Soon.
BN: Being a huge fan of Pearl Jam, has that taught you anything as far as growing and aging with your sports radio audience?
JZ: You know, it’s funny. I’m a massive Pearl Jam fan and it’s funny because they are not the same band that they were 30 years ago. They have absolutely evolved. Their music does not sound the way that it did before. Certainly, they’ll do things today that their younger version would not have done or would have thought was cheap or maybe even a sellout-type move. In the same vein, I have completely evolved in the way that I do my shows as well.
I’m definitely the guy who would never have wanted to hear a female on sports radio. I never would’ve wanted it. I was definitely a caveman and I have evolved.
I love doing the show with a female. I loved doing the show with Joy Taylor. I loved doing the show with Amber Wilson. My goal is to eventually get back to that. If I do pick up a host again, I do want it to be a female. I think it’s important. I like the inclusivity. I like what a female brings to the show. I get along with females, I always have. I think it’s fun and I never would have been that guy who was not only listening to a female in sports radio, but preferring to do a show with a female. I used to be a caveman. I’ve definitely evolved.
BN: As far as the future goes, what’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience as you go forward?
JZ: I’ve done 12 years with the Miami Heat now on their pre, halftime, and post-game. I love it. That’s a dream come true for me. I grew up a massive Heat fan. They’ve always been the most important team down here to me as a kid. That’s a dream come true. I got the opportunity last year to fill in for the now-retired Mike Inglis. I did some play-by-play and I loved it. I’d like some more opportunities to do that. I think that’s the next thing.
As far as sports radio goes, I love doing local. I’m not going to say never, that I would never move on to something else, but I love doing local. I love Miami. I certainly don’t have any aspirations to do mornings again. I don’t think that stuff matters anymore as far as the time of day because everybody listens on digital, podcasts, you can rewind on the app. That stuff isn’t as important anymore. I love my time slot, but as far as doing extra stuff, I would like to continue doing some play-by-play. I’d also like to do a pro wrestling podcast or radio show. I’m pretty passionate about it, and I’d love to do something in that world.
BN: Is there anything you do to work on your play-by-play chops in case there is an opportunity for you?
JZ: Yeah, the way that I prepared for those games last year, I was recording games and then I would sit in my game room here and I would actually put on headsets just to kind of put myself in that place, and I would call the game. That’s when I kind of realized, I’m like alright. If I keep doing this, I think I might be good at this. It’s funny because a few years ago I was like I’d really like to practice, but if I show up to one of these Heat preseason games and I set up my equipment, Mike’s going to think I’m trying to take his job. I couldn’t do that. [Laughs] I could record games for sure and I could simulate the broadcast. It’s definitely a way to keep practicing.
BN: What’s something about play-by-play where after doing it you were like wow, I didn’t realize that part was going to be tricky?
JZ: That’s a good question. You know what, it seems like such a simple thing, but understanding when they call timeouts and when all the commercials come, that’s not something I ever would’ve thought about. And that stuff comes fast. You have to know all right, is this one of the breaks that we’re supposed to go to commercial here? On my radio show, I’ve got that in my head. I know exactly what I have to do, but here, all right they called timeout, oh the red light came on, that’s going to be a TV timeout. All right, so I’ve got to do this. That kind of stuff is not easy. And that happens fast.
BN: The impact on your body doing mornings for seven years versus middays. How do you explain what your body feels like now?
JZ: It really changed my life. They told me about two years ago that they’re moving me and Amber from mornings to middays. I was shocked of course because another thing I used to be able to hold onto was no one has ever done mornings in 790 The Ticket’s history longer than I did. That record still stands, seven years. I was a little bit shocked. Did we fail here in some regard? That was upsetting at first.
But then I started to think about it and wow, during Heat season, I don’t have to start thinking that if I fall asleep right now, I get a total of four and a half hours. Oh, now if I fall asleep, I get four hours. I don’t have to do that ever again. That weighed on me every night. People can tell you it’s an early wake-up but you’ll get used to it; there’s no getting used to it. You never, ever, ever get used to it. The 4 a.m. wake-up is 4 a.m. every single day. There’s no getting used to it. It’s changed my life.
BN: It’s funny because I think it’s something with sports radio hosts where they almost feel guilty, or have to hide the challenges of it because they’re not digging ditches.
JZ: Oh my God, I was explaining this one time. It was when I was doing the show with Amber Wilson and Brett Romberg. One morning I decided to talk about how tired I am after the show by 10 a.m. The listeners are like you got to be effing kidding me, Zaslow. You’re tired? I’m like it’s tiring. I’m talking for four straight hours and there’s no downtime. My brain is constantly spinning. I’m tired at the end of the four hours. People, they can’t grasp it. I am having fun. I’m not saying it’s not fun. But they can’t grasp the idea that you can still get tired doing a job that’s really fun.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.