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Summer Radio Is the Best Time to Experiment

The point is sports radio is fun and always topical. If you are seeing it on social media, so are your listeners. Remember… fun. Don’t be afraid to wade into the silly either.

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Summer Radio

I love the summer. It has nothing to do wit the sun, most definitely nothing to do with this sinister humidity and the longer days mean nothing to me. I love it because this is the time of the year that sports radio can innovate. Summer radio is the best radio.

Summer is perfect for you, your show and your station to shine. Pun aside, I mean it. There is a heavy temptation to want to show up, clock-in, do your time and clock-out. Sports just aren’t as active in totality like they are between September and Mid-June. There is only so many times we can say “blood-money” and it matter.

Unless you are in a market that is dying on ever MLB team’s pitch or one that feels like position battles are meaningful content in July and August, it can feel like a haul waking up each morning to plan for two, three or four hours of discussion. But friends, it doesn’t have to feel that way. Summer radio is the time to implement experiment radio.

Before I toss some ideas out there, a major tenet of mine needs to preface it. Don’t trash your audience favorites. If you think quarterback battles in July is notable, and you can bring some fire to that discussion, don’t stop. The thing about this format is that its fuel is energy and passion. Don’t do it just to do it, feel it before then feel it on the air. People will be there for you to hear you, to engage with you, to care if you have that in your voice and on your topic. These ideas are for the sprinkling.

My favorite thing to do this time of year is experiment with guests. This one I might get a lot wordy with. I am a big believer in not having a lot of guests on your show. In my world, when I listen to a show, I want the opinions of the folks in the chairs. However, guests do matter and not just because they can give you insight you don’t have. They matter because… they are filler. Not in a bad way, necessarily.

I fully understand you are programming 10-20 hours a week of content. The temptation is strong to book a guest and then ask them to be a standing regular. There’s a place for that, no doubt. But, the summer is THE BEST time to play around with different voices.

It was in the summer that I found some of my favorite guests. In the summer listeners tend to be fewer, they tend to be less judgmental so you have a bit of a leash to broaden your scope. If you stop and consider it, we all listen to a lot of the same experts over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I always knew there was someone else worthy of a shot to impress our audience if I just looked. I never would have found those people if I didn’t stop myself from the routine and investigated further. What’s the worst that could happen? They suck? You control the airtime, baby!

No one wants to say this aloud about radio but here it is: it’s all air. It is literally all air. If a segment is bad, it goes away almost immediately and you get to try again in the next segment or next day (unless it is stupendously bad). I have done bad interviews, really bad ones, more times than I’d like to admit. No one remembers them. No one remembers the good ones either. The ones they remember are the ones that touch the sun for the good and bad. Those are few and far between don’t usually come from regulars.

More idea chatter incoming. There has never been a more popular time than this very one to really get entrenched with sports betting. It’s a longtime part of sports but it’s a longer-time part of our lives. We love our opinions and putting stakes on them. A new study was just released YESTERDAY that said radio listeners are far more likely to be interested in sports betting and its content than television viewers. What’s that mean? It means buy in right now. If you aren’t already diving headfirst into that content stream, go get your suit this summer.

The content can be about finding guests you like that can talk about it, sure. Frankly most of those are trying to sell your listeners a service. What it really should mean is YOU and YOUR STATION getting more comfortable with the topic. If you don’t know the nomenclature, let’s start learning and introducing it into the show slowly. Experiment with ways to make your experience unique for your listeners. For example, on Twitter several weeks ago I started a bit about giving picks via Haiku.

Is it the best idea? I don’t know. I enjoyed the ones I did but I was playing around with the presentation of the same old content. People talk about this all the time. Sports betting, not the Haikus. You need to be with them. Baseball season is a perfect time to get aclimated. There’s still 100 games left for everyone. Do you want listeners to compete with you? Do you want them to compete against each other? Should you introduce a poll at the beginning of the show that decides by the end of the program how you bet a matchup? Don’t stop thinking.

Hey, if you decide to go Haiku on the people, send me a message. You are my kind of people.

Segments based around food are always a fun idea to play with providing you have a little bit of an idea of what the end goal should be. You are probably aware of Barstool’s Dave Portnoy and his traveling rating guide to pizza in New York City (and beyond). He has been going around rating pizzas for years. Well, Matt Chernoff of 680 the Fan in Atlanta aimed for a similar goal, instead opting to look for the best quesadilla in Atlanta. The video is below.

Is it the best content? For me, that doesn’t matter in the slightest. He, and 680 the Fan, tried something. They experimented to see what the appetite for it was amongst their listeners/followers.

Your show could look for the best local “INSERT FOOD HERE”. It could get a jumpstart on the football season and try and find the “OFFICIAL TAILGATE FOOD ITEMS OF YOUR STATION/SHOW”. Blind taste tests have always proven the ability to create good content especially if someone on your staff claims to have a knack for a flavor or even an aversion to one.

Games. I love listening to shows play games. The more audio elements you can add, the better. The amazing thing about sports radio is that it is a lot more versatile than you think. People just want to hear people talking about things they talk about. That’s why it’s so great to create ways to play games that involve what people are talking about right now.

One example is a trend on Tik Tok that has people give a numerical rating to a person (1-10) and then asking another person what that numerical rating would be if they factored in a trait about that person. For example: she’s a 9 but her favorite band is Toto. You’d then tell me what her rating would be factoring the entire equation. You could put a sportsy spin on it if you must and say: she’s a 6 but her favorite player is Jose Altuve.

The point is sports radio is fun and always topical. If you are seeing it on social media, so are your listeners. Remember… fun. Don’t be afraid to wade into the silly either. I won’t judge. I used to impersonate Paul Bearer while predicting football games.

An effective way to try and think of games is to start with something everyone is talking about. Brainstorm all around the topic. Even think of the show name or topic and think about wordplay with it, puns.

One of the finest examples of that is from Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. A few years ago they used the popularity of Game of Thrones to inspire a game called Game of Thrones. Two contestants would be asked to name a certain number of items in a category (like name five works of fiction) and the contestants, standing in bathroom stalls, would wager who could name them in the fewest amount of flushes. It’s incredibly dumb, but incredibly fun. That’s sports radio and that’s how you can create memorable content.

Man on the street bits are the absolute best. I adore these. It’s real audio from real people. The premise is simple: send someone to an event that is going to be well attended, whether it’s a game or a big movie opening or a carnival, and you ask people questions. Then you get to use the good answers on the air. It’s a perfect setup for comedy gold.

You can ask basic sports questions. Maybe you want to ask about the local team specifically. Perhaps you’d like to test their entertainment acumen or get their fresh reaction after a big movie or a team’s win/loss. Now is a magnificent time to get to practicing it. Hint from experience: look for the inebriated ones first.

The grand idea is that this time of year is special. It gives you the chance to reshuffle your cards. You can be a little looser than what would traditionally would be expected during peak rating books. You could also discover an awful lot about you, your show and station and springboard that to creating dominant content in the future. Sports radio is so damn cool that way.

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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