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Shan Shariff Is Learning To Lighten Up

“You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about.”

Brian Noe

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Shan Shariff has been in attack mode since day one. Before the sports radio host landed in Dallas morning drive 11 years ago, he wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster. Shariff scalped a ticket with a friend to go see the Spurs and Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. He used a tape recorder to record himself doing play-by-play of the game. Shariff used the dubbed audio underneath the game footage as his resume tape, which helped him land a job doing color commentating for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning.

From there the American University grad became the sports director at an ESPN affiliate in his hometown. Shariff is from Cambridge, a town along the eastern shore of Maryland. While hosting his own sports radio show, he also interned in Baltimore and later in D.C. All of that hard work helped Shariff land a gig in Kansas City. A successful stint in KC eventually led to a major market opportunity in Dallas.

How many people do you know that would go to an NBA Finals game and record themselves doing play-by-play? How many people do you know that would intern at bigger stations while also being employed as a sports director? The guy is a bulldog.

The interesting twist with Shariff is that although he’s hardwired to be dead serious about sports radio, he’s learned to loosen up and have fun on the air. We also chat about the best and worst parts of hosting in Dallas, butting heads with Ed Werder, and the only rule Jerry Jones has while granting interviews. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: What’s one of the more off-the-wall things you did early in your career to try to get established?

Shan Shariff: I flew out to Bristol to take a tour of ESPN with my mom. My whole plan the entire time was, I’m going to sneak into Bruce Gilbert’s office who was running the radio and hired Colin Cowherd and was in charge of Mike and Mike. I’m like I’m going to slide in here and impress him and sit down and be like I’m your next hire. Because at 20 you think you can do any effing thing in the entire world. You think you’re ready.

I snuck past security in Bristol on the tour, snuck into the office and Bruce Gilbert had just taken the job at 980 in D.C. for Dan Snyder. I’m like dammit. Scott Masteller I believe was the one who had taken his spot. I gave him the whole pitch like I’m here, this is fate, I’m sitting right in front of you, I’m sure no one else in the world has ever thought of this, this creativity. Because you’re supposed to do that with your cover letters and your resume tapes. I’m showing up here. I’m your next hire here in Bristol. And Scott did not hire me. [Laughs] It took a little while longer than I had hoped, but that was part of my grand plan in order to sneak in to ESPN Radio to get hired.

BN: Looking back at your career, what’s something that you should’ve done differently?

SS: It was probably a major mistake early in my radio career in Dallas when I was just trying to be myself, and be honest, and genuine. I let it be known that I was a Washington fan. I sang “Hail To The Redskins” to Jerry Jones after RGIII’s debut. There are listeners who never forgot that, never forgave that. That was a really dumb PR move.

I found at least for me getting older, my die-hard love of my sports teams kind of went away and Dan Snyder in D.C. really made that easier. I left rooting for Washington a long time ago and I root for Cowboys success because it’s better for us and the radio station.

I’m also kind of viewed as the more serious one on the show. Let’s get to the topics. I took broadcasting classes and had an agent and paid for the broadcasting seminars. I really wanted to be a student of it in terms of interviews and resetting and getting to the point of the topic and keeping it on the path. I was probably a little bit too serious with that where my producer and my co-host had been in DFW forever and there’s a lot more light-hearted radio here.

I’m used to D.C. and Baltimore and even when I was in Kansas City for a year. It’s like hey man, it’s a sports show. I would say I’m not going to apologize for talking about sports but that was probably a mistake. It took me too long to lighten up and joke around and get more personal every single day for four and a half hours.

BN: What are the best and worst things about hosting a show in Dallas?

SS: I think it has to fit your sports loves. I’m football first and NFL first. In Dallas, it’s Cowboys obviously. If you’re going to rank it: it’s Cowboys, Cowboys, NFL, then college football, and now it’s kind of morphed over to the Rangers, then the Mavericks, then the Stars. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, so that fits me in the pecking order. I love that I can talk as much football as I want, as much Cowboys as I want.

I know it sounds corny and cheesy but being on the Dallas Cowboys flagship and hosting a morning show and hosting the draft for them on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, that’s a big honor for me. I used to think I want a national show, I want to be on FOX Sports Radio or I want to be on ESPN and then you look up every Tuesday afternoon and your name is on ESPN anyway because Jerry Jones puts you there. You are national basically if you are on the Dallas Cowboys station. Getting the head coach access every single week. Getting Jerry, that would probably be the best part.

Bruce Gilbert took a major chance on me because of the success I had in Kansas City and probably because I stalked him and let him know I could make it work and adjust no matter what. These people in Dallas, for the most part, have accepted me and overlooked the early Washington root for them days and my more brash, aggressive, non-laid-back style. I would say those are the best things about hosting in DFW.

In terms of the worst, I mean early on for me it was a struggle thinking that me talking about my laundry machine blowing up could be half a segment, or a full segment. Troy Aikman called this a winner’s town so it can be tough if you’re not on fire, then you’re running out of some sports topics. The Rangers and Mavericks right now are playing on Bally Sports Network. Bally has had their issues throughout the country in terms of broadcasting their games. We’ve got like 50 percent of the freakin’ metroplex that can’t watch the games. It makes it hard, right?

First off the Rangers have sucked, so you’re talking about a sorry baseball team in a bandwagon town who likes winners. I like to call it LA Light where you have to have something going on. You have to give me a reason. You got things to do here. You’ve got people to see. It’s not Ohio. It’s not Pittsburgh where it’s going to be more diehard sports. You got to give me a reason to watch.

The Rangers haven’t done it. Fifty percent of the people can’t watch the Rangers. Same thing with the Mavericks. Then as I said the Stars, this isn’t a major hockey area so that can be a real challenge around here, which is why we need the Cowboys to give us some non-stop drama all the time, which they do.

BN: I know it depends on the town, but what would your advice be to a sports radio host who’s been drilled: don’t waste time, get to the topic, tease, all that stuff, but sometimes digressing and talking about your weekend badminton game is great. How would you go about telling someone how to feel that out?

SS: Well that’s a great question. Like you prefaced it, I think it matters on the town. If I was going to come here and start over from day one in Dallas, I would say let’s make it 75-25 sports to other. Some might say 70-30. The Ticket might go even heavier than that on the opposite side. I don’t know how it is in Boston. I don’t know how it is in New York.

I heard Mike Francesa the other day say we talk sports, we’re a sports show. But people want to connect. The thing I tell younger broadcasters is obviously work hard, be on top of your shit, and you’ve got to connect with likability and relatability.

If you have a 10-minute segment and you can do a seven-minute sports topic and throw in a great, worthy, three-minute off-topic from sports addition to that segment, then go ahead and do that. That would kind of be a 70-30 mix, 75-25. But learn the market and know the town. One of the guys on the station when I first moved here said here’s a Dallas Cowboy history book. You better know who Tom Landry is, you better know Bob Lilly, you better know Harvey Martin, you better know Drew Pearson because you make one mistake like that around here and you could be screwed. 

Learn the town, ask your boss, and you also have to be funny if you’re going to do that. Know what you’re talented in. If you’re a tremendous storyteller, tell more stories. If your life is chaotic and hectic and you’re willing to open up with it about your dating life or about how wasted you get on the weekends, go ahead and do that, but I would ask your boss the formula and what type of town it is.

BN: Do you ever have a plan with the non-sports stuff where you’re like okay, I could go with falling down while bowling this weekend, or I could talk about the stale sandwich I ate at Subway. What’s your process for picking topics that you think will connect best?

SS: A lot of this in my opinion, it’s about judgment. You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about. You have to know when to go back to the topic. That’s part of the training in terms of play the hits.

What’s your TSL? How often are people tuning in? How often are people tuning out? Then you’ve got to judge if this is a funny enough story. My co-host, RJ, thinks every effing thing he does is funny. He could sit there talking about blowing his nose and that should be half a segment. Well, what’s relatable? What can connect that everyone’s going to talk about? 

Daylight saving was a perfect example. Last week we were complaining about how it sucked that all of a sudden the clock changes. I’ve got a two-year-old. I’ve got to readjust his schedule. It’s awful. Then bam, the political world is talking about passing a Daylight Saving Time change and what’s going to happen with that. We brought it back up again. Everybody can relate to it. I can sit here and talk about how my life is different because of my kid, how all of a sudden dinner time is here, I’ve got to go to sleep it feels like a lot earlier. That’s an example of deciding when something is kind of relatable that everyone can identify with and you can tell your own personal story.

BN: When you’re interviewing Jerry Jones, are there any do’s and don’ts?

SS: Well, we obviously have a relationship with the Cowboys. We’re their flagship. The only rule there’s ever been there with Jerry is don’t get personal. Don’t make it personal. I’m not going to make jokes or comments about Jerry’s looks. It took 10 years for people to finally understand this, we have freedom with the Cowboys to talk about them and sensitive topics that other cities and other teams don’t grant their media, I don’t believe.

Jerry Jones had this story come out a couple of weeks ago about his PR guy that we all worked with for a decade, many people longer, in a voyeurism scandal. Allegedly taking photos of cheerleaders and up the dress of his own daughter. We never got one message about that.

Now, if we stepped over the line and made a joke or said something that you and your buddies may laugh at behind the scenes, maybe we’d get a phone call on that and I think we should. There is a line there. Jerry may have a daughter out there; that just came out. Never got a phone call. Never got a warning because Jerry Jones knows that 99 percent of the time all publicity is good publicity. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s the only rule that there’s ever been with Jerry, don’t make it personal.

One time we got a phone call from Dalrymple the PR guy. After Jerry was on we were doing a follow-up recap and we said do you think he was lying? Was that a lie? Calling him a liar in that instance came across a little bit too personal. They weren’t thrilled about that but other than that, man, I can’t tell you other instances.

If we talk about sensitive issues like Kaepernick, the anthem, COVID, Jerry will let us usually have like a three-week span where we can ask whatever we want. Maybe the suggestion might be like hey, if there’s not another major development in this story, can you ask him about the Salvation Army or other work that he’s doing? Those are the only things that I can remember.

He knows the tough questions are coming. We have to ask the tough questions and I think people now realize that we’re no mouthpiece for the Cowboys because Jerry Jones allows us to say what we want.

BN: You locked horns with Ed Werder recently. What was the general reaction to that?  

SS: General reaction was I would say 98 percent support from our listeners. I like to fight, debate, argue, it’s part of the reason I went into this. Ed had been taking some subtle shots throughout the year about our access to Jerry and other media members not having the same access because Jerry wasn’t talking as much to reporters after games because of COVID. It wasn’t even my show, it was the show after me. I was listening to the interview.

I’ll be the first one to call myself out, our guys out, but if you question the questions that are being asked and act like we’re lobbing up softballs because of the relationship, I take issue with that. That’s why I got really pissed off at Ed.

I didn’t say anything the first few times he did it throughout the year because this is Ed Werder. I grew up watching Ed Werder. He’s been a Cowboy authority. I respect his work and his reports, but man, there’s only so many times I can let you go after the guys that I work with, man. Then we got to get into it. I got a ton of support from the listeners on that, thankfully.

BN: The Ticket recently won a Marconi for Sports Station of the Year and The Musers won a Marconi for Major Market Personality of the Year. What’s it like to go up against that station and a popular morning show when you’re in the same slot?

SS: Well it’s not fun. [Laughs] I was in Kansas City going up against WHB 810. We were the upstart 610. It was me and Nick Wright, Bob Fescoe, my buddy Mark Carman, Robert Ford was on the Royals coverage, he’s now the voice of the Astros, Jeff Passan was our baseball insider. We had a squad. We were hungry. We had a chip on our shoulder and we had a lot of success. 

There were times where I would beat Soren Petro, who was a major powerhouse on the station. I thought when I went to Dallas it’d be the same exact thing. I didn’t care that it was The Ticket. I didn’t care that it was The Musers. Again, I’m however old I was 12 years ago coming off great success. I’m like I might be the youngest morning show or drive-time host in the country in a top-five market. I’m feeling myself.

Then you realize the longevity and the success that they’ve had. It’s been a more challenging fight than I was anticipating, but you’ve got to acknowledge achievements and give respect where it’s due. I still view anyone that’s not on my airwaves as the enemy. I still have that mentality. But they’ve had their reputation I guess for a reason. 

I think they were able to benefit greatly from kind of starting sports radio around here and being one of the first stations throughout the country. Then being here at the beginning of the Cowboys run. One of the things you learn the most from them is longevity and how important that is in terms of keeping your lineup together. Those have been some of the experiences without giving too many compliments because I would never do that.

BN: [Laughs] What’s your reaction to 103.3 going away?

SS: [Waves] Bye. See ya later. That’s some of my Werder bitterness. Tim Cowlishaw decided to chime in so I guess he couldn’t save it with his show on there.

But in all seriousness, it’s kind of a sign of the times a little bit in terms of what’s happening with radio, with sports radio. I’m glad that we outlasted them. You don’t want to see people that you know lose their jobs but in the grand scheme of things, hey one less competitor, so see you later and good luck in the future.

BN: Ideally for your future, what would you want it to look like — you’re still young — what would you like to experience and accomplish?

SS: I would like to get even better ratings in Dallas. I’d like to consistently be number one over The Musers and The Ticket. That hasn’t happened during my overall run here. You’ve got to recognize the facts are the facts. I’d like to have even more consistent success at the top. Then obviously some stability. There are contract questions at this point in time because of COVID and advertising cutbacks. 

A lot of this is luck too. I need the Cowboys to go on a damn run. I need them to get into a conference title game. The most prime city probably during my 10 years here, the glory place to be in sports talk radio was Boston. If you have that Patriots run I think it’s going to be pretty hard for you not to crush it in terms of your sports radio, sports TV success. You’ve seen it with EEI and you’ve seen it with The Sports Hub, which is putting up stupid monster numbers.

My number one wish would be for someone to go — preferably the Cowboys because it’s a football town first — go on a hot run kind of like the Rangers did back-to-back years with their World Series appearances.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jac would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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BSM Writers

Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

Derek Futterman

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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Barrett Media Writers

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