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ESPN Paid for Gravitas and Credibility in the Booth With Troy Aikman

ESPN has been changing its broadcast booth for Monday Night Football more frequently than Skip Bayless mentions LeBron James. 

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Do you care who’s on your television while you’re watching Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football?

Most would say yes, but the ratings may suggest otherwise. 

This week, former ESPN headman John Skipper joined Dan Le Batard’s show and questioned whether ESPN reportedly paying Troy Aikman $90 million over five years is really worth it. 

At the beginning of the podcast, Le Batard asked Skipper if he believed that a color commentator is worth $17-18 million per year regardless of how talented they are. Skipper said there isn’t really much evidence that proves that a commentator is worth that much money necessarily.

“I never saw a scintilla of evidence that the people in the booth change the ratings even by a smidgen,” said Skipper. “The race to hire people is mostly about internal pride. We want to present a good game.” 

Speaking like a true executive. 

The reality is that Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, and all NFL fans will watch their team play on 17 Sundays each fall, whether it’s Troy Aikman or Elmo on the broadcast. But the notion that the “face” of the broadcast isn’t worth a fraction of what you pay for that product is an absurd statement. 

Skipper did go on to point out, “It is probably good for your brand. I wasn’t suggesting that it’s a foolish decision, just that it’s not about math.”

But here’s the thing, it is also about math. Let’s explain. 

Last March, ESPN retained its rights to “Monday Night Football” until 2033 in a deal valued at $2.6 billion per season.

Paying Troy Aikman $18 million annually is .7 percent of the total cost of the broadcast for the season. So I’m supposed to believe that it’s not worth it to have a legitimate, highly-respected broadcast booth?

This is your most prestigious and highest-watched sporting event of the year, and you wouldn’t pay literally a fraction of the cost you’re already spending for the broadcast rights to have a voice and face people like, enjoy, respect, and find entertaining? 

This is like buying a Bentley for $200,000 and using conventional oil for your oil change to save $50. 

That’s crazy. And it’s bad business.

ESPN has been changing its broadcast booth for Monday Night Football more frequently than Skip Bayless mentions LeBron James. 

And if ESPN couldn’t develop a star in that position, it also proves how difficult it is to be a great color commentator, especially in the NFL. As someone who has been on the play-by-play side earlier in my career (and wasn’t very good at it), I can confirm that even finding mediocre color commentary is difficult, never mind world-class talent. 

It’s what makes a guy like Tony Romo, who stepped off the field and into the booth and became an instant star with his ability to understand, explain, and be entertaining at the same time, so valuable. Romo also landed himself a deal worth nearly $18 million per season. I hope Skipper didn’t lose too much sleep over this deal. 

But it’s also basic supply and demand. When there is a short supply of something, in this case, very talented NFL color commentators, then demand will skyrocket. And when those who have that demand for these roles (ESPN, NBC, CBS, FOX) are paying billions of dollars per year for their product, then there is absolutely justification for the skyrocketing salaries. And it’s also a good investment. 

In ESPN’s case, they had a chance to land a whale, and they got one in Troy Aikman. 

It gives ESPN desperately needed gravitas and credibility in that booth, which the company has been looking for for a long time. There’s an inherent value in this that will bring respect and stability to their most important product that ESPN won’t regret. 

BNM Writers

Chad Benson Is Changing The Conversation

Benson hosts his morning show on KTAR, and later, he has the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 2-6 p.m. on weekdays.

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He’s not Joe Exotic, but he’s kind of a lizard king. He’s not quite as festooned as Pete Davidson of SNL, but he’s on his way. 

“I love to get ink,” says Chad Benson. With tattoos, he says you’re either in for a penny or in for a pound. “They’re addicting,” he says. “I like to wear my art on the outside.”

He gets his love of ink honestly, as his father had tattoos, and many of his friends have them as well. “If I wanted a new tattoo, friends told me to put the idea in a figurative drawer for a couple of months. If I still wanted it two months later, then I should get it.”

Benson’s left arm tells an entire story. His next tattoo will be an indelible part of him soon.

“I’m getting one of those old-school microphones,” Benson said. “Like the one, David Letterman had on his desk.”

Oh, and the lizard thing.

“If anybody listens to my show, they know I love lizards. I always have.”

If he gets a tattoo of a lizard, he’ll be the happiest guy in the world. His kids love the lizards too. “Some lizards are tough to get and expensive,” Benson explained.

Benson, his lizards, and tattoos are very busy. He hosts his show on KTAR in the morning, and later in the day, he has the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 2-6 p.m. on weekdays.

When he was young, he was also a pretty talented jock, playing some professional soccer in Europe. Benson was signed by the Bristol Rovers, the Falkirk Scotland, and the Portsmouth Football Club.

“It certainly was fun,” Benson said. “I’m pretty certain I went further in soccer because of my drive rather than talent.” He said there weren’t as many Americans in the game when he played; it was a different scene.

After getting hurt a couple of times, he asked himself what career could he go into where he could still wear shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and not tear up his knee. It came down to a choice between beach-bum and radio.

“I came into talk radio in a different way,” Benson explained. “I never wanted to be the ‘next’ Rush Limbaugh; I just wanted to be me. They say you’re the ‘next’ so-and-so just because you’re younger. You’re not really doing anything much different.”

On his shows and in life, Benson said he likes to stay grounded. “I grew up in Los Angeles, and most of my friends are progressives,” he said. “We don’t base our friendships on politics. We just talk. I look around, and we all live in this insane world.” 

Benson said a lot of folks just want to argue over the dumbest things, but all they really want to do is argue. “I’ve got news for you; you’re not always going to get everything we want.”

There’s too much-misinformed emotion in the world, he says. “You can’t start a conversation by calling the other person a piece of shit. I’m a fact-based guy, and I’ll look at the other side.” 

In that manner speaking, Benson’s neighborhood isn’t very crowded.

“I like to say we’re in the ‘exhausted majority,” Benson said. “It’s funny when people say you don’t care about something if you don’t pick a side. Some say you’re wearing a mask to stop a virus, or you wear one because you hate Trump. It’s insane.”

After a bit of prodding, I asked Benson if he thought most News/Talkers believed in most of the stuff they peddle or if it was part of their job. 

“In general, I would say a majority of them are full of it, and they know it,” Benson said. “The scary question is, does the audience know it? I’m friends with several ‘talkers,’ and they’re not over the top in real life. They understand it’s a job, and they have to sell tickets.” He said it goes the other way. Some hosts act like they’re all progressive, but he knows them better.

On-air or off, Benson has some concerns about who we are collective. 

“Yes, we are pretty stupid on the whole,” he said. “We’re no longer coming at things in an honest conversation. We have to win the discussion or argument. It’s about beating the other side, not being right. Most would rather win on something small then you’d have something over others. All they care about is the ‘win’ and did I beat the other side.” 

Benson reminded me that even gladiators didn’t kill other gladiators–it was bad for business. He said part of the argumentative equation is we don’t hold people accountable any longer. 

“People just move on from a situation,” he said. “All that matters is how loud you are. When Radio America syndicated me, they said it was important to change the conversation.” Benson said his show isn’t about being a one-trick pony. Instead, he shoots for a mix, say a goal of 75% politics, and 25% of what everybody else is talking about. 

“We talk about the Johnny Depp trial, Roe vs. Wade. I have a super-young audience, and it really doesn’t skew hard right or left. I have a lot of independent listeners, so we don’t want to pigeonhole our content.”

When he’s not talking about Depp’s wife defecating in their marital bed or the Supreme Court leaks, Benson says he likes spending time with his family. But don’t invite him to a baseball game; it’s not going to happen.

“Baseball is so boring. Pitching changes, what shift is on. Who cares?”

Other than me and Alexander Doubleday, I can’t say.

Benson worked as a producer for Robert W. Morgan in the latter years of the legends’ career. Morgan was a legendary broadcaster who paved the way for Don Imus and virtually everyone else that followed. 

“Imus even talked like Robert,” Benson said. “The last few years at KRTH with Robert W. weren’t always easy. He was a tough SOB. He wouldn’t last a day in today’s era of ‘wokeness’ or with any human resources department.”

Regardless, Benson said Morgan was brilliant. “He pushed us hard to prepare well for the show. There were three of us producers who watched local television for three hours every night to find things to address. After that, we scoured VHS tapes for a couple of hours and pulled things off for his use on the show.” The cuts would often consist of something stupid the mayor said, and they’d gauge the audience’s reaction. 

“If the audience reacted well, we’d use it a couple of times an hour.”

I’d read a very salient message on one of Benson’s websites. He said we can still purchase Mein Kampf in bookstores, but not some Dr. Seuss selections. 

“That’s the kind of weird world we live in,” Benson said. “This world of ‘wokeness.’ Part of the problem is we’ve allowed the extremes to dominate.”

He likened the state of things to a carnival ride. “You know those big swinging rides that go back and forth like a pendulum? Well, sometimes the sweet spot is right in the middle. We never seem to get that.”

Is he getting tired of the grind of two shows in a day? Hell no.

“I’m 51; I have an 11-year-old and a three-year-old,” Benson begins. “I drive an hour to the station and do some pre-production. After that, I do a show from 6-9. When I’m finished with that, I start prepping for my afternoon show.”

He says he still has time to watch Viking-themed shows on television, play with his lizards and get some new ink now and again.  

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BNM Writers

Return Of White House Correspondents Dinner Draws Just Under 2 Million Viewers

“The return of a sitting POTUS gave the telecast a bump up in its audience figures, as it easily topped the most recent pre-pandemic ceremonies from 2018 (1.35 million viewers) and 2019 (0.95 million viewers).”

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For the first time in three years, the White House Correspondents Dinner (WHCD) returned in Washington, D.C. on Apr. 30. The 2022 event was emceed by comedian Trevor Noah.

In his set, the “Daily Show” host cracked several jokes about the news media — especially towards Fox News. In one if the memorable lines of the night, Noah told the dinner audience, “It is risky making jokes these days… I mean, we all saw what happened at the Oscars… What if I make a really mean joke about Kellyanne Conway, and then her husband rushes up on the stage and thanks me?”

The 2022 White House Correspondents Dinner averaged 1.85 million total viewers in the 10-11 p.m. Eastern hour on CNN, according to Nielsen Media Research. The return of a sitting POTUS gave the telecast a bump up in its audience figures, as it easily topped the most recent pre-pandemic ceremonies from 2018 (1.35 million viewers) and 2019 (0.95 million viewers).

President Biden is the first sitting U.S. President in six years to have attended the WHCD — a nugget even he had amusingly quipped, “It’s understandable: we had a horrible plague, followed by two years of COVID.”

Prior to 2018 (but with the exception of 2014), the White House Correspondents Dinner had also been broadcast on MSNBC and/or Fox News Channel, in addition to its regular CNN outlet. For four out of the five-year period from 2013 thru 2017, the event had regularly drawn well over two million viewers combined across multiple networks. Like this year, CNN was WHCD’s lone broadcaster back in 2014, having then delivered just 1.09 million viewers.

The high recent watermark for the WHCD was set in 2016, for President Barack Obama’s final Dinner and which was emceed by then-Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore. That drew 4.9 million viewers, including 3.02 million from CNN alone.

The following is a year-by-year viewership track for the past eight White House Correspondents Dinners (focusing on the ceremony’s final hour):

2022: 1.85 million (CNN)

2019: 0.95 million (CNN)

2018: 1.35 million (CNN)

2017: 2.38 million (1.69 million on CNN, 0.69 million on MSNBC)

2016: 4.90 million (3.02 million on CNN, 1.14 million on FNC, 0.74 million on MSNBC)

2015: 2.60 million (1.18 million on CNN, 0.89 million on FNC, 0.53 million on MSNBC)

2014: 1.09 million (CNN)

2013: 3.24 million (1.49 million on CNN 1.49, 1.11 million on FNC, 0.64 million on MSNBC)

Cable news averages for April 25-May 1, 2022:

Total Day (April 25-May 1 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.497 million viewers; 242,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.686 million viewers; 74,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.541 million viewers; 109,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.193 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.134 million viewers; 31,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.119 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.117 million viewers; 11,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.113 million viewers; 21,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (April 25-30 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 1 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.319 million viewers; 360,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.179 million viewers; 123,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.755 million viewers; 156,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.193 million viewers; 58,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.174 million viewers; 58,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.155 million viewers; 24,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.139 million viewers; 24,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.070 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.048 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.572 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 4/26/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.538 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 4/27/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.498 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 4/26/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.472 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.465 million viewers

6. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 4/28/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.346 million viewers

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/27/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.194 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 4/29/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.128 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/28/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.072 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.884 million viewers

30. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 4/25/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.122 million viewers

41. White House Correspondents Dinner “2022” (CNN, Sat. 4/30/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.853 million viewers

 • Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 598” (HBO, Fri. 4/29/2022 10:00 PM, 58 min.) 0.723 million viewers

 • Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/1/2022 11:00 PM, 35 min.) 0.571 million viewers

 • The Daily Show (CMDY, Mon. 4/25/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.428 million viewers

 • Forensic Files “Disrobed” (HLN, late Sat. 4/30/2022 12:30 AM, 30 min.) 0.424 million viewers

 • Full Frontal with Samantha Bee “Episode 7212” (TBS, Thu. 4/28/2022 10:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.227 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN, MSNBC, HBO and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.639 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 4/26/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.591 million adults 25-54

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 4/28/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.521 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 4/27/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.511 million adults 25-54

5. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 4/27/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.509 million adults 25-54

6. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 4/26/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.490 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.487 million adults 25-54

8. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 4/25/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.478 million adults 25-54

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 4/29/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.456 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 4/28/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.425 million adults 25-54

46. White House Correspondents Dinner “2022” (CNN, Sat. 4/30/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.291 million adults 25-54

55. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 4/25/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.274 million adults 25-54

85. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/1/2022 11:00 PM, 35 min.) 0.237 million adults 25-54

137. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 4/26/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.170 million adults 25-54

147. Forensic Files “Disrobed” (HLN, late Sat. 4/30/2022 12:30 AM, 30 min.) 0.163 million adults 25-54

211. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 598” (HBO, Fri. 4/29/2022 10:00 PM, 58 min.) 0.132 million adults 25-54

 • Full Frontal with Samantha Bee “Episode 7212” (TBS, Thu. 4/28/2022 10:00 PM, 30 min.) 0.073 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

KOA’s Mandy Connell Went From Earning a Living in the Air to On it

Connell said a lot of her life has worked out that way. Serendipitous opportunities have always seemed to come her way. 

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Mandy Connell once earned her living in the air, not on it. This was during an era they served full meals and champagne, not just a bag of crumpled, stale peanuts. You had leg room and didn’t have to kiss your knees from New York to Denver.

“I was still in school at Florida State University,” Connell said. “I met a Delta Airlines flight attendant in a bar, and she said she thought they were hiring.” Initially, the woman at the bar said it might take months to get an interview, but Connell was hired and started training as a flight attendant a few weeks later. 

Connell said a lot of her life has worked out that way. Serendipitous opportunities have always seemed to come her way. 

This next bit of happenstance changed her life–for a second time.

She was mostly on “reserve,” but when holding a rare regular schedule one month, Connell was chatting with another flight attendant about a mid-air fight between passengers a couple of weeks before. “She asked what I did, and I jokingly told her I jumped on the P.A. and gave the passengers a blow-by-blow description for those that didn’t have good seats.”

When she described the fight, there was a gentleman passenger nearby who heard Connell talking.

“The man told me I should be on the radio or television,” she said. “He gave me his card. I thought, ‘Great, this guy wanted to get me on his casting couch.’” On her return trip the next week, the man was again on the flight she was working, this time with his wife.

“He pointed at me and told his wife I was the woman he told her about.”

It turns out this man was Dick Robinson; someone Connell calls a radio legend. 

 “He owned the Connecticut School of Broadcasting,” Connell said. “He still does.”

“One thing led to another, and I was offered a scholarship at Robinson’s Connecticut School of Broadcasting.” She said Robinson’s daughter was about her age, and he sent her to pick Connell up at the airport. “We had lunch at his home. He showed me his office, and there was a wall completely filled with photographs with him and everybody; the Pope, presidents, just about anyone who was anyone.”

Upon graduation from broadcasting school, Connell took an internship in Miami at WINZ. “I was with Clear Channel when they launched the first digital system,” she said. “I was an unpaid intern, and I was helping paid people learn Audiovault.” That led to some promotions. “Then I got a crappy job two night a week from 7 to 3 am, doing weather on the top of the hour. It was a lousy job but a magical experience.”

Like most jobs in radio, you never forget your first.

After that gig, Connell said a solid opportunity came when she was hired as a producer of a radio show on 104.1 in Orlando. “I had a falling-out with the host of the show,” Connell said. “I made some mistakes I won’t do again. Don’t date the host is all I can say..” Connell said that was a huge career lesson for her, but she learned how to run a radio show. 

Self-described as ridiculously honest, Connell said she’s not afraid to upset the rules if they’re bad rules. “I just think living honestly is a good way to live. I’ve taken my work seriously.”

Her show airs daily from noon-3 pm on KOA 850 AM and 94.1FM in Denver. Connell starts her workday by gathering ideas for the show. “I get up at six, take my daughter to school, and I’m ingesting the news all morning. I don’t start my show until noon. I mostly focus on things that strike my fancy.”

She said topics that can drive a reaction from listeners are always in her mind. “We just did a show about a poll about Black Americans and things that mattered to them. We unpacked everything in there. That was super cool.” She said some hosts might take a snippet of that topic, but she quickly discovered it had so much more to offer. 

Connell said she wouldn’t talk about anything on her show unless she got excited about it. “I don’t like taking topics into the next hour. People tend to repeat themselves, and nobody wants to hear that.” At the same time, Connell knows new listeners come along every hour, so it’s a judgment call. 

Her show covers news of the day, ridiculous topics you talk about with your friends, and interviews with newsmakers and shakers Connell finds interesting. “No day is like another, and every day is a potential train wreck. And I mean that in the best possible way.”

When I spoke with Connell, there was a leak from the Supreme Court regarding abolishing Roe v Wade. You’d think that would be an A-list topic for a talk show. That is not the case with Connell. 

“Even though I talked about it on my show, it’s a loser topic. The leak from the Supreme Court would have been the top story on any other day.”

It’s not going to sway people one way or another. They’re already entrenched in their views.” 

The future of radio is something Connell thinks about all the time. 

“For us, we are looking at streaming options as a huge part of the next era,” she said. “I don’t know if the radio industry goes away permanently. It’s like when cable came out in the 70s. Everybody was sure network television was going away. I’m loath to say radio will go away.”

Does she march to a different drummer? Connell thinks so. “I tell my daughter my brain doesn’t work like other people’s brains,” she said. “I think my gift as a talk show host is because I look at things that are disconnected and bring them together. Some people think I’ve lost my mind, but it works for me.” Connell sometimes said her show could be schizophrenic, and she likes that.

On her show, they do a question of the week, and it is often a bit out there. “It’s always a philosophical question, no specific answer,” she said. “Sometimes our answers make us sound like bad people,” she jokes. 

 Connell admits she leads a simple and relatively dull life off the air. 

“I’m a combination of a newshound and introvert. I only read on vacation, but most of it is for the show. I’ve got a stack of books on my bedside table that are mocking me.” Film and television are out too. 

“I hike a lot,” she said. “I don’t ski, golf, but boy, can I walk.” She’s doing this hiking in Colorado. You know, the same terrain dangerous wild animals call home. “I’ve never seen a mountain lion or moose. Those moose can kill you.”

She said while Covid-19 was truly a global tragedy, it wasn’t so bad for her. “I got to work from home. I don’t like running around like a crazy person. I’ve got a full studio in my home.”

“I tell people all the time; Covid was very good for me. I was able to shut down and evaluate what was important in my life.”

One thing is certain. When someone tells Connell to ‘Take a Hike,’ she’s more than happy to oblige. 

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