The nerves were so high for Chris Tannehill, he couldn’t even stand to look at the Twitch stream. In fact, he was so nervous, he told executive producer Shane Riordan not to tell him how Ice Cube was reacting to the audio open which was an homage to his career. The hip-hop icon was waiting to be patched on air with the Parkins and Spiegel Show on 670 The Score in Chicago.
Tannehill had created countless show and guest opens during his fifteen years at The Score as a senior audio producer, but this guest was an idol of his. So naturally, he found himself incredibly nervous after spending hours on an audio open to welcome Ice Cube to the show.
“Don’t tell me what he’s doing right now, I don’t want to know,” Tannehill told Riordan.
“Nah man. He’s digging it,” responded Riordan, as he was watching Ice Cube’s face on the Twitch stream.
As the open concluded and Parkins welcomed Ice Cube into the show, the rap music icon couldn’t help himself.
“Man, that was a helluva intro,” Ice Cube said. “A couple of hip-hop stations can learn from that.”
This is a small glimpse as to why Tannehill is the best sound guy in sports radio. Granted, it’s not the first time he’s put together an incredible open. He does it every single show, but getting props from one of the greatest rappers of all-time for an audio open is something you never see in sports radio.
“I hate being a prisoner of the moment, but that was the biggest one I’ve gotten recognition for,” Tannehill said. “That was a big deal to me. I grew up in the hip-hop culture and I was a DJ before I did any of this. In hip-hop it’s always about getting respect, so to get respect from someone like Ice Cube, it was amazing.”
Listening to the audio open, you can almost hear all of the years of experience he has with sound. He wanted to add an extra layer to the open, so he broke out the turntables, beat matching, cutting, blending recorder together, he did it all to show respect for one of his idols.
“Your average sports radio listener probably didn’t notice that, but I wanted him to notice that,” Tannehill said. “Ultimately I was just trying to show my respect to Ice Cube.”
Though the moment was cool for Tannehill, the end product of the open wasn’t shocking to anyone that’s a regular listener of the Parkins and Spiegel Show. That’s because every show starts with an incredibly entertaining audio open to kick off the show. It’s the first thing you hear and odds are likely you’re laughing before Parkins even speaks for the first time into the mic. And that’s exactly what Tannehill is after.
But how did he get so good at audio opens? Most people who enter the business aren’t aspiring to be a senior audio producer, so how did he emerge as one of the best to ever do it in sports radio?
“I consumed a lot of movies and TV when I was a kid,” laughed Tannehill. “I was raised on it. My parents exposed me to a lot of cool stuff, in that regard. Over the years you build up your knowledge of different forms of pop culture and you can implement that in your day-to-day production. But as far as the technical aspect, being able to do it so long and so quickly, I’ve got to credit my days as a hip-hop DJ. I used to DJ community radio WLUW At Loyola’s radio station up here on the north side.”
“I would have to make a lot of clean edits for songs. It was mostly underground stuff at the time, so you couldn’t always find a clean version, so that’s when I first started using Cool Edit and Adobe Audition to flip around curse words to get the songs ready for the radio. I probably did around 10,000 radio edits in my life before I even got a full-time gig at The Score. Being quick with Adobe Audition was probably my best asset because I could really flush through ideas pretty quickly.”
Being quick with opens is something Tannehill learned as a hip-hop DJ and even as an intern at ESPN 1000 before he arrived at The Score in 2007. During a typical day on the show with no special guests, he’ll normally spend 30 minutes on the show open that airs at 2-5pm.
“I usually go into it knowing what the topic is going to be the night before,” Tannehill said. ”I’m always asking executive producer Shane Riordan before we leave the show at 6:00, like, ok, what’s our open for tomorrow? What would be funny? I love to start with something funny.”
But if it’s a Hawk Harrelson tribute or an open for Ice Cube, he’ll spend a lot more time.
“I get excited when it’s a topic I’ve never done before,” Tannehill said. “I usually like to make sure it’s the first thing I do in the morning, because that’s when my thoughts are the most clear and I can focus the best. Sometimes that means 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning, sometimes even earlier from my bed when everyone is still asleep.”
“The longer-form stuff like the Hawk Harrelson tribute or when you know someone is retiring at the end of the year, you have the luxury of working at your own pace and knocking out a little at a time. I have a huge audio library of things that I’ve labeled, I am pretty meticulous about it, I have a vast library that I can access pretty quickly.”
If you don’t want to take it from me that Tannehill is the best sound guy and one of the best in production that sports radio has ever seen, take it from The Athletic, who did a recent story on a media survey across Chicago sports media. Tannehill won 52.8 percent of the vote for Best Sports Radio Producer. It wasn’t close. Nor should it have been.
But that’s not the only honor he’s enjoyed over the past month. In fact, on Tuesday, it was announced the Parkins and Spiegel Show has been named finalists for the Marconi Radio Award for Major Market Personality. Sure, Parkins and Spiegel alone are incredible, but they’d be the first to tell you it’s the help of Tannehill and Riordan that puts the show over the top.
When you really look into the four-man crew of the Parkins and Spiegel Show, you’ll find two hosts talented enough to be a finalists for a Marconi, the best sound guy in the industry and an incredibly talented executive producer that brings a ton to the show both on the air and behind the scenes. Essentially, you could argue it’s the sports radio comparison of The Dream Team.
However, Tannehill is no different from everyone else in sports radio, in that he had to learn from someone else. The great thing is that he doesn’t just point to one person on one platform as his influence. He’s taken from several people who aren’t alike from one another.
“People are best formed when they grab from several different influencers,” said Tannehill. “I think that’s what makes for a well-rounded individual. One of my first influences when I was coming up was at ESPN 1000 a guy by the name of Billy Zureikat. He taught me the ropes as an intern from day one and taught me production. When I got to The Score, the main guys that helped me out was John Mamola who showed me what it meant to put the work in. I would see him at night after a Bears game putting in work for the morning show the next day before he goes home. I also learned a lot of technical stuff from him, like how to keep things tight. I also learned a lot from Jason Goff. They’re all different and have different styles, but you take things from each of them and implement them to your own identity.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different
I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.
With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?
I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?
Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.
It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.
A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?
Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?
Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.
It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”
The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.
It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.
Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.
Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.
Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.
One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?
That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years
Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.
In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.
It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.
“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”
I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.
The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).
The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.
The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.
I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.
Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.
ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.
The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media
Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.