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When It Comes to Serious Conversations, Sports Radio Has Grown

“Coverage of these types of stories used to be reserved for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, but now, these topics are covered daily by local and national radio hosts around the country… I’m just pointing out the fact that it’s happening. And it’s happening at a much more frequent rate and with better quality than I’ve heard in the past.”

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The topic of deeper, more serious conversations in sports radio has been covered in many angles on this site. We all have our own experiences and own opinions on the matter. I’ve written about how I wish we would abandon any and all COVID talk because we are stressing out our audience (which thankfully has simmered down). Most recently, I’ve written about the fact that we need to have important conversations surrounding gun violence. None of these things are the reason we got into the industry. They are not our specialty of subjects to cover, but we are human.

We’re personalities with microphones that are being asked to connect to our local communities. Frankly, things are changing. The way that we communicate with our audience is different now. So yes, I’m going to cover this topic one more time, but I’m going to go about it in a different way. Rather than beat you over the head with whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, let’s just talk about the fact that it is a thing. 

Like it or not, and whether you choose to realize it or not, this past week has shown the growth and maturity in our industry. Coming out of 2020, our ability to carry on heavy, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations has never been more prevalent. Think about the headlines that have made the rounds just in the past seven days:

  • several Tampa Bay Rays players opt not to wear rainbow patches for their Pride Night due to religious beliefs
  • some of the biggest names on the PGA Tour opt to play in a Saudi Arabian financially-backed golf league
  • more details regarding Deshaun Watson’s alleged sexual misconduct case leaks out
  • Jack Del Rio calls the January 6th Capitol riots a “dust up”.

Welcome to 2022, I guess. 

Coverage of these types of stories used to be reserved for ESPN’s Outside the Lines. Now, these topics are covered daily by local and national radio hosts around the country. I’m not here to say whether this is good or bad for our industry, I’m just pointing out the fact that it’s happening. And it’s happening at a much more frequent rate and with better quality than I’ve heard in the past. Yes, there’s still a lot of division out there, but we’re still having conversations that weren’t always common just a few years back. 

There will be many who don’t like it. There are many who resist stepping in it, and I get it. I get if you think that social/political-type issues are overdone, and maybe that becomes your personal brand to not discuss them. That can work for you. I think what’s become more common are shows that find the proper balance. Whether you agree or disagree with these types of conversations filtering into sports talk, you at least have to admit that this is something that was not so easily accomplished in the past. 

Think about it, at some point this week, someone on the radio out there could’ve ran through a bottom of the hour sports report, with copy that looked something like this: 

“Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas says trans-women are not a threat to women’s sports. Meanwhile, in Tampa, five Rays players refused to wear the LGBTQ+ logo citing religious beliefs as the team was celebrating its 16th annual Pride Night. Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is in even more hot water as the New York Times publishes a scathing article detailing some of his alleged transgressions on massage tables in Houston. Also, his attorney, Rusty Hardin claims “happy endings” aren’t illegal while making an appearance on 610AM in Houston. In the golf world, Phil Mickelson explains why he’s comfortable taking blood money from the Saudi Arabian government, as they continue their crusade to “sports wash” via their new LIV Golf League. In the NFL, Washington Commanders assistant coach, Jack Del Rio is fined one-hundred thousand dollars for calling the January 6th riots a “dust-up”. And the Warriors claim game 4 to knot up the NBA Finals. Back to you guys in the Tom’s Heating and Air-Conditioning Studio.” 

Truly incredible. I welcome you again to 2022 in sports talk radio.  

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Brian Murphy is Preparing to Write His Next Chapter at KNBR After Layoffs Ended ‘Murph and Mac’

“I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”

Derek Futterman

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Brian Murphy
Courtesy: Brian Murphy on Instagram

After the morning show signed off at KNBR last Wednesday, co-host Brian Murphy was called into a meeting with Cumulus Media market manager Larry Blumhagen. Although there had been signs of potential changes, Murphy had partnered with Paul McCaffrey for nearly 18 years and survived all of the turmoil.

A simple look around the building represented proof of an alteration, evinced by reductions in the number of stations under its roof. A once powerful news station, KGO-AM, underwent a sudden format flip last year after nearly a century on the air. A few years earlier, alternative rock station KFOG was eliminated from the company’s portfolio as well. KNBR has weathered the storms, but not without alterations to the station’s programming department.

“I would say everything has shrunk,” Murphy expressed, “and that includes sending us on road trips or to Super Bowls, etc.”

Layoffs have reemphasized the importance of the quantitative bottom line, sometimes overshadowing the qualitative utility and widespread impact derived from talent and popular shows. It is partially why the deluge of palpable support after Murphy learned in a short meeting that McCaffrey was being laid off was surprising and reinvigorating. But first came an immediate, jarring feeling surrounding the decision.

“Truthfully numb,” Murphy said regarding his sentiment after learning what happened. “I guess it’s a cliché to say that people go into shock, but to know that Paulie and I wouldn’t be together was something that didn’t register. I mean, it registered, but it didn’t register until fully; the next 48 hours is when it really started to really hit.”

McCaffrey was one of seven laid off at KNBR that day. Morning show producer Erik Engle, former programmer Lee Hammer, host F.P. Santangelo and members of the outlet’s digital department lost their jobs as well. Even the long-running KNBR Tonight evening show, which aired for decades was canceled, and replaced with CBS Sports Radio programming. While Murphy always hoped that the morning show would continue in the iteration before the end of his contract, he is now facing a new reality without his longtime colleagues.

“I think what we were disappointed by was sort of an abrupt and premature end, particularly to our partnership, which I think we’ve learned from an incredible outpouring of social media is way more than we knew,” Murphy said. “We learned our partnership for whatever reason connected to a lot of people for a long time. It’s funny they say radio is dying, but radio sure is personal and effective in many ways baked on what we’re hearing from our listeners.”

During the next two days, Murphy was off the air and contemplating his future. There were moments where he thought about leaving KNBR. However, he knew that he had a contract to fulfill and a family to support. Additionally, the person that he was set to work with on Monday and beyond – Markus Boucher – had contributed to the morning show for nearly four years, rendering familiarity and comfortability.

“There’s a chance that Markus and I could do this for a long time; we’ll see how it goes,” Murphy said. “Maybe things go great and that would be awesome, and I’m definitely leaving that door open. For whatever reason, we recover from the pain of losing my partner for almost two decades and the next chapter works out.”

In 2023, KNBR has experienced two subpar quarterly ratings books. The decrease in performance has affected all dayparts on the outlet. Murphy knows that when the San Francisco Giants do well, it generally leads to KNBR succeeding. The station did improve in its summer and fall books for 2023, but there already were repercussions being felt.

“I just know that that happened and it damaged people’s perception of the station, but I don’t think it was an accurate reflection of all of our listenership at all; I just don’t,” Murphy said. “I know for a fact that we still had a huge audience, and it’s evident by what happened after the news; just so many people reacted and people in the demo too.”

Even though he knows it does not directly relate to his role as an on-air host, Murphy believes that the local advertising market was damaged because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the city. San Francisco was one of several major metroplexes that instituted strict health and safety protocols in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which had an effect on sports talk radio consumption. With more people working remotely and fewer people commuting to the office, the transition to digital content and audio on-demand offerings has hastened in order to realize previous levels of engagement and keep the format alive.

“KNBR is going to have to weather this storm,” Murphy said, “and there’s this feeling of, I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”

The station recently held an all-staff meeting to discuss its direction, which has been somewhat complicated by three program directors at the outlet over the last five years. Following the departures of Jeremiah Crowe and Kevin Graham, Adam Copeland took over the responsibilities last month. The layoffs took place two weeks into his tenure, causing some people to question how involved he was in the decisions and whether or not he advocated for the morning show.

“I think these things come from beyond San Francisco,” Murphy said. “Our headquarters are in Atlanta, and I think something this big – like I said, it wasn’t just Paulie Mac; it was seven people. Paulie Mac is personal for me, but that to me says, ‘Well, that’s obviously a big budget decision that’s being made at a level far above the San Francisco program director.’”

Although Copeland has minimal previous experience as a program director, Murphy is confident that he will be able to effectively lead the station through his energy, youth and passion for the medium. Copeland grew up listening to KNBR and worked at the station over the last several years as a producer and host, eventually earning a spot in afternoons alongside Tom Tolbert. Copeland remains in that time slot, pulling double duty for the radio station. His relatability and familiarity with the craft is something that Murphy views as an advantage.

“I think people are pretty excited that we have somebody who cares as much as Adam Copeland does about KNBR,” Murphy said, “I think if there’s anything to be optimistic about in 2024 that despite this ending to 2023, it’s that we have a program director who’s all-in on the station.”

Thinking about what comes beyond the immediate future though is not within Murphy’s mindset. At the moment, he feels it is too soon to determine if there will be a potential Murph & Mac reunion on a digital platform. Instead, he is focused on being able to continue to serve San Francisco sports fans without his longtime on-air partner. Murphy realizes how fortunate he was to have someone like McCaffrey by his side and valued both his consistency and dependability on a daily basis.

“Every single segment he was the same energetic, relentless, hilarious partner who only wanted what was good for the show – not what was good for him; not what was good for me – he only wanted what was good for the show,” Murphy said, “and it was such a lesson for this newspaper guy to learn, for lack of a better word, showbusiness.”

When Murphy entered the studio Monday to host his first show without McCaffrey, everything felt surreal to him on the air. There was ostensible tension in the room and from listeners about how he would address the news, and share his feelings with the audience. The program ended with a monologue from Murphy regarding McCaffrey, something that he is grateful Boucher did not raise objection to and that he was able to make his statement on the air.

“The 49ers had just destroyed the Philadelphia Eagles, which actually was a huge positive break for us because it allowed everything to happen Monday with the backdrop of great positivity because that was a huge game for the Niners and people were pretty jacked up about that game,” Murphy said. “So I opened the show by saying, ‘I know it’s corny, but that one was for Paulie.’”

The shock and surprise from McCaffrey being laid off is hardly evanescent, but Murphy is now thinking about how to optimize the morning program with Boucher. Predicting what may come next is an arduous task. Murphy considers himself fortunate to have had nearly 18 years hosting with McCaffrey, and he is now thinking about the next chapter of his time at KNBR while having reference for the enduring legacy of Murph & Mac.

“For whatever reason, I’ve never lost my absolute joy and passion for the sports world – sports content; sports stories; sports history; sports media – everything about it,” Murphy said. “And so every morning when my alarm goes off and my feet hit the floor, I’m like, ‘Let’s go! I’m stealing money. This isn’t work.’”

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How Big Noon Kickoff Turned Into a Legitimate College GameDay Challenger

Big Noon Kickoff is like a college football tailgate on TV. Panelists good-naturedly rip each other, toss the football around on a makeshift field, and talk smack whenever possible.

John Molori

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A photo of the Big Noon Kickoff crew
(Photo: FOX Sports)

The best college football pregame show on television emanates every Saturday from a different college campus. It features close-up shots of a boisterous crowd flashing banners and signs and is hosted by an excellent mix of TV pros, former players, and coaches, but it’s not the show you might think. To use college football vernacular, ESPN’s College GameDay is the Granddaddy of them all in collegiate gridiron pregame fare, but FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff is College GameDay on amphetamines.

It has taken the genre to new heights of volume, vigor, and vivacity. The camera shots are more intense, smoke and flashing lights are the order of the day, and the panelists are vociferous, rowdy, and sky-high-pumped.

Veteran host and reporter Rob Stone is the ringleader of this pigskin circus. Brady Quinn, Mark Ingram II, Matt Leinart, and Urban Meyer fill out a crowded anchor desk. In Week 13 of the college football season, both Big Noon Kickoff and College GameDay were live at the University of Michigan in anticipation of the gargantuan matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Wolverines.

FOX’s coverage was on point. Unlike on ESPN, where the mad throng of students and fans are set off a bit by the talents, the crowd on Big Noon Kickoff was right on top of the FOX panelists, and they certainly let Meyer, the former Buckeye head coach, know how they felt about him. He was booed roundly and consistently. Every time he spoke, the jeers would rise to new decibels. It was fun to watch.

On the flip side, Big Noon Kickoff analyst and ex-Wolverine Charles Woodson was greeted by a thunderous ovation. Woodson actually got up close with the crowd and high-fived the fans.

On ESPN, only Pat McAfee elicits such closeness and raucousness from the faithful in attendance. In fact, in my opinion, the emergence of Big Noon Kickoff as real competition is the reason why McAfee was added to the College GameDay roster.

This edition of Big Noon Kickoff featured an electrifying feature story on the fabled Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Also helping the broadcast is the presence of that eminent reporter Tom Rinaldi.

Rinaldi, a former ESPN’er, talked about Ohio State’s preparation for the big game and revealed that Buckeye players were inspired by constantly viewing social media posts proclaiming Michigan’s dominance.

Reporter Jenny Taft chimed in as well, providing important Michigan injury updates. I really like the diversity of the Big Noon Kickoff team. You have a solid host in Stone, a coach’s perspective from Meyer, offensive insight from Leinart, Ingram II, and Quinn, and a defensive standpoint from Woodson.

Leinart stood out from the pack making the point that the game was about more than just a rivalry. It was really about winning a Big 10 title and gaining positioning for the college football playoff and a shot at a National Championship.

Ingram II added that the most physical team would win the game, while Quinn, a Columbus, Ohio native, gave some insight on what this game means to both states and fan bases. It’s a challenge to pass around the airtime when you have six bodies at the desk, but Stone does a good job of laying back in the weeds and letting the analysts analyze.

Perhaps the brightest light on Big Noon Kickoff is the presence of Chris “The Bear” Fallica. Plucked from ESPN, Fallica has been a tremendous addition. He brings serious college football chops and really puts things in perspective.

I always felt that this guy was underutilized on College GameDay. The dude does more than just pick game results. In this episode, he provided a lucid explanation of how 2023 is a watershed year for college football with realignment coming. In addition, he wrote an excellent script for the Leinart feature on the demise of the Pac-12 conference.

Big Noon Kickoff moves at a furious and frenzied pace, and viewers are enthralled to be along for the ride. I actually found myself on the edge of my seat wondering what feature or analysis would come next.

Coming back from a break, the show does not cut right back to the panelists. Cameras pan the crowd and audio goes up so viewers can hear the crowd cheer and sing team songs. This style really brings home the atmosphere of a major college football game.

While the show is mostly about the game being played at the broadcast site, Big Noon Kickoff offers a deep dive into highlights, previews, and analysis of games around the country.

One of the best parts of Big Noon Kickoff is the contribution of FOX’s Joel Klatt a model of excellence and versatility. Klatt excels in numerous venues: live game coverage, interviews, studio shows, guest shots on other programs, and more. His knowledge is unmatched and he always asks the right questions.

This was evident on the December 6 edition of The Joel Klatt Show: Big Noon Conversations where Klatt presented a terrific one-on-one interview with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark. Klatt is always prepared and even-tempered. He listens to his subject and offers pinpoint follow-up questions.

Big Noon Kickoff is like a college football tailgate on TV. Panelists good-naturedly rip each other, toss the football around on a makeshift field, and talk smack whenever possible – pretty much everything short of beer pong.

Stone further added to the fury by encouraging Meyer to flash his Ohio State National Championship ring to the Michigan crowd. And Meyer did it, risking a damn near riot.

Having two former quarterbacks on set is a plus, especially when it comes to analyzing the game’s most important position. You can make the point that both Quinn and Leinart fizzled out in the NFL, but you cannot deny their fine college quarterbacking pedigree. They offered real talk on QB’s Kyle McCord and J.J. McCarthy.

Fallica once again showed his singular insight and was absolutely prophetic stating that without quarterback Travis Jordan, Florida State would not be looked upon as a top 4 team even if they finished undefeated.

In true FOX style, there is never a lack of star power on Big Noon Kickoff. The panel welcomed none other than Michigan native and Wolverines fan Derek Jeter as a guest. Jeter revealed that he actually signed to play baseball at Michigan and took some classes there before joining the Yankees organization.

He also added some humor saying that all ballplayers want to get out of the minors as soon as possible, but he did even more so because he was playing for the Yankees Triple-A team in Columbus, home of the Buckeyes.

Amid all the fanfare, you know if Tom Rinaldi is around, there is going to be a heart-wrenching feature story. His piece on McCarthy and boyhood teammate Ryan Keeler was top-notch.

Keeler would go on to play at UNLV and was scheduled to play at Michigan against McCarthy this past September. Tragically, Keeler passed away from a heart condition in February 2023.

Big Noon Kickoff is always moving, literally. Later in this show, the anchor desk moved from outside the stadium to down on the field in the Big House. The different settings bring variety and an intimate feel to the production.

Former Wolverine and current Detroit Lion Aidan Hutchinson joined the panelists on the field for some commentary. Keep your eyes on Hutchinson. His NFL career has just begun, but this young man has a future and broadcasting. He was at ease, personable, and insightful.

As for the ratings on this November 25 day in Michigan, well as they say, it depends on whom you ask. FOX public relations tweeted that Big Noon Kickoff averaged 2.34 million viewers adding that it was “Saturday’s most-watched college football pregame show on any network.”

Meanwhile, ESPN PR tweeted that College GameDay averaged 2.4 million viewers and was “the top CFB pregame program of the week.” Beyond the numbers, it is the overall feel of the broadcast that sets Big Noon Kickoff apart.

Whether it is the dramatic shots during pre-produced interviews and feature stories, the rapid-fire edits and cuts to of the crowd and players, or the majestic overhead images of both teams taking a pregame knee in prayer, Big Noon Kickoff brings viewers to the campus, on the field, and into the action in a manner that is fast-paced, frenetic, and just plain fun. 

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How Radio Sellers Can Be the Solution For Small Business Owners

In the face of these challenges, putting on a positive perspective can become a guiding light for SMBs.

Jeff Caves

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Confidence, Sales

The landscape for small business owners is rife with challenges, often leading to a cloud of negativity about their future. Radio sellers can be a ray of light.

The September NFIB Small Business Optimism Index reveals that 57% of these entrepreneurs do not expect improved business conditions in the next six months.

Despite improvement in their outlook from last year, this pessimism is still at recession levels. The majority of small-to-medium businesses are concerned with Top of Form inflation and labor shortages. We must get on The Energy Bus and help turn these negatives into positives.

The survey conducted among small business owners laid down the reasons for their negs:

Economic Uncertainty: A significant percentage expressed concerns about the unpredictable economic landscape, making strategic planning and decision-making difficult.

Inflationary Pressures: The rising costs and inflationary trends have worried them about maintaining profit margins and sustaining operations.

Labor Shortages or Quality of Labor: Finding and retaining quality employees amidst the ongoing labor shortage has emerged as a considerable challenge, affecting business operations and growth prospects.

In the face of these challenges, putting on a positive perspective can become a guiding light for SMBs.

See the Concerns and Offer Support

Address Their Worries: Acknowledge their concerns about the uncertain economic climate, rising costs, and labor challenges. Don’t let them drag on and on about it. But make sure to show some empathy and understanding towards their situation. If appropriate, share experiences of other station clients’ challenges and how your solutions or products have helped them navigate similar situations. Watch their ears perk up when they realize they are not the only business having issues.

Be a Partner: Position yourself as a partner rather than just a salesperson. Offer insights and strategies you have heard or read about that can help them navigate through these challenges. Be well-read and a resource for change.

Present Solutions

Highlighting the Power of Radio Advertising: Showcase how your proposal can boost visibility, reach target audiences cost-effectively, and drive sales. Ensure you have a few different price point proposals that fit their budget. Don’t tell them to spend their way to success, especially on credit cards.

Success Stories: Share success stories of businesses similar to theirs that overcame challenges through effective radio marketing. Demonstrate how strategic advertising helped these businesses thrive despite economic uncertainties. This is your most powerful ally, and you must ask all the salespeople to share any success you can pass along.

Instilling Hope and Encouragement

Inspire Positive Vibes:  Share uplifting anecdotes and stories of resilience to inspire hope and instill optimism in small business owners. Emphasize that challenges are temporary and can be overcome with the right strategies and a positive mindset. Recall how you watched businesses go through the same thing 2007-09. Please read up on those stories and pass them along.

Continued Support and Engagement: Maintain regular communication and send them stories you find. Stay engaged and offer hope by consistently being there for them.

The concerns SMBs have are valid. There is no argument there. However, amidst this negativity, we can play a transformative role. Before you go down this road, make sure you find the things to believe about why this business will succeed.

Focus on those positives. You are the person who is on the street dealing with dozens of local SMBs just like them. You are the voice of reason. Your positivity and support can drive their renewed optimism, and you will forever be seen as part of the Solution, not the problem.

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