Ramie Makhlouf Knows Sports Radio, Like Comedy, Is About Authenticity
“I think they fit into each because with stand-up, you get that immediate reaction of your material.”
Searching for compelling content or the next great bit is never far from the mind of Ramie Makhlouf. And it really can’t be, seeing as if he’s not thinking about his weekday afternoon drive radio show at Sactown Sports in Sacramento, he’s likely thinking about his next stand-up comedy routine.
Makhlouf’s comedy skill is one of the things that separates him from others in the sports radio industry. He has the unique ability to bring out a more fun and light side to his co-host, all while being the funny guy on the show. There’s no question that doing stand-up has made him a better sports talk radio host over the years, but in what ways has Makhlouf seen the benefit over the air?
“I think they fit into each because with stand-up, you get that immediate reaction of your material,” said Makhlouf. “From that, you can get a sense of what works, you can practice your ability to grab and hold an audience. When you’re talking about radio and not having that immediate reaction and knowing how people are receiving your material and your content, that’s a lot like the writing process in comedy, where you sit down and you’re thinking of a joke and you don’t have an audience to react to it, so I think you’re working that muscle, too, of working to a blank slate and seeing how it will be received.”
Whereas his stand-up career has benefitted his sports radio journey, Makhlouf isn’t willing to say the opposite is as true. Granted, sharing his stories of stand-up has resulted in listeners attending his comedy shows, but there hasn’t been a direct effect on how it’s helped his skill set.
“Maybe one or two jokes that I’ll do here or there, or if it comes up naturally, like if there’s a listener in the audience, that presents a funny in the moment sort of thing,” said Makhlouf. “But my stand-up is something really different from what I do in sports talk. I will say this, there are times where we’ll be talking about something on the air and I’ll stumble into something where I say, this could be a bit. This is something I could do in stand-up. I take that and flesh it out, build on it and make a joke out of it. But it never really works the other way, where I’m putting my job into my routine. It’s a completely different thing.”
On the air, Makhlouf has never shied away from who he is; an unabashed Chicago sports fan that wants to have fun on the air. Whether it’s hosting at The Score in Chicago, SKOR North in Minneapolis, or 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee, he’s never changed his identity on the air. There’s something to be said about that, especially when you consider that the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs aren’t the most beloved teams in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
“I was lucky enough to live out the dream of working in Chicago at The Score during some shifts at night and on weekends and sitting in a few times with Danny Parkins in the afternoons,” Makhlouf said. “If you’re in sports talk radio you want to grow up and talk about your teams, but the majority of my career was an out-in-the-open Chicago fan. Bears, Cubs, Bulls, working in Milwaukee and my approach has always been to just be real. If something is bad, say it’s bad. If something is good, say it’s good. Overall, just create good, entertaining content. Even if people don’t buy in at first, because you’re the Chicago guy, or you came from Milwaukee, you’ll win them over eventually, as long as you’re not trying too hard or trying to be something you’re not. That’s never been the approach I’ve taken. Most of my career has been outside of the markets of the teams I grew up rooting for. That’s not a new thing to me.”
Makhlouf isn’t in the Midwest anymore. He’s two time zones away on the west coast in Sacramento. But his approach on the air has stayed the same as it was in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. The story of how he got to Sactown Sports is almost one of fate, seeing as the seed was planted for his new show just before the pandemic hit. It was two years in the making, but Makhlouf has found a co-host he fits perfectly with.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” laughed Makhlouf. “When I was in Minneapolis just before the pandemic and all the layoffs to SKOR North I was doing a 10-2 show solo. They were looking to hire a co-host for me and we were auditioning people. Nick Cattles was one of the guys we auditioned and I thought he had the best audition and that we had some natural chemistry. And then obviously everything hit the fan and they basically shut down the station. They didn’t hire a co-host and they laid me off. And then two years later, Nick texted me out of nowhere and said, hey man, I’m the PD out here in Sacramento and I’m looking for a new co-host and you’re the first person I thought of. We started talking and I kind of knew already we had that chemistry from that audition but also they brought me out here and showed me what the game plan was and that they were going to be putting some resources into rebuilding this brand. I saw a group of guys that I wanted to work with and a plan I thought was pretty good. I took it. It seemed like a good fit.”
Makhlouf joined Sactown Sports in late June and Cattles and Ramie have already created plenty of buzz in the market. But as well as the show may be going, his move to Sacramento has been a little more difficult.
“Honestly, we’ve made a bit out of it on the air, it’s been a nightmare,” laughed Makhlouf. “I got scammed by a shady moving company. I’ve been living on an air mattress with a TV and a kitchen table and a desk since I got here.”
“Doing stand-up comedy you try to find the joke and the content in everything you do. The funny thing is, before I even knew I was being scammed, they had recorded a bumper coming back for the show that said, “one of these guys is likely to throw furniture, and the other one is still looking for his.” It actually played out that way, which is kind of ironic.”
As much of a pain and hassle that Makhlouf’s moving process has been, there’s always the thought of making it into a bit on the show. It’s content that’s brought out the lighter side of the show and possibly has even made him more relatable to the new listeners in the new market he’s in.
If that hasn’t done it, the yin and yang nature of the show with Makhlouf and Cattles probably is. It’s the perfect mix of strong opinions, mixed with laughter, and fun.
“I always try to look for the more entertaining and funny angle of things and Nick is more of the I have takes guy,” joked Makhlouf. “He told me that when he brought me into the show that he wanted me to bring the fun to the show, bring some more fun out of him and work that yin and yang chemistry that we have. I just think it works. He reminds me of guys that I’ve worked with in other radio stops in the past and the type of person that plays very well off of me. I don’t know if you want to call it the straight man vs. the funny guy, I don’t know if you want to put labels on it but there’s definitely a yin and yang there.”
Certain markets across the country tend to be apprehensive about new hosts that come from outside their city. Sacramento doesn’t feel like a market that’s tough on outsiders, but Makhlouf says he’s not certain that’s the case. Regardless, that’s not something that’s ever bothered or intimidated him. He’s more concerned with finding out what Sacramento truly cares about and the teams it roots for.
“The Raiders probably lost a lot of fans out this way, but it’s mostly 49’ers and football is king,” said Makhlouf. “You go to cities that are nowhere near an NFL market and football is still king a lot of times. I think the 49’ers have grabbed the Sacramento market. I don’t know what it was like before I got here, but the Raiders probably lost some fans around here when they moved to Vegas.”
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.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids. Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and actively shunning the sport.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.