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Jeff Catlin: No Matter Who Is In Town, The Ticket is the Bar

No matter who’s in town or not in town, or who our competitors are or aren’t, we’ve always felt like our bar is ourselves.

Brian Noe

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Jeff Catlin

Believe it or not, there is a lot of common ground between coaching an NFL team and coaching a radio station. Take this quote for instance; is it from a coach or a programmer? “We have to focus on ourselves and we have to focus on our process and our vision. That’s just to continue to grow, continue to get better every week.” It’s from Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott before he faced the New England Patriots for the first time back in 2017. It sounds an awful lot like Jeff Catlin too.

Catlin is the Program Director at 96.7 The Ticket in Dallas. Like McDermott and many other NFL coaches and teams, Catlin focuses on his building and staff, not the competition. Sure, he politely answers a question about Mike Rhyner, the Godfather of The Ticket, coming out of retirement to join a new crosstown rival, The Freak. But Catlin isn’t distracted by what other stations in town are doing. He makes it clear that his focal point is The Ticket.

Catlin also talks about the most important lesson for a PD to learn, why talking about non-sports topics works for some stations but not others, and The Ticket being nominated for what would be its fifth Marconi for Sports Station of the Year. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?

Jeff Catlin: I’m from Arlington, Texas, USA.

BN: Okay, wow, so you haven’t strayed too far from your backyard?

JC: Yeah, I was the PD of KCMO AM in Kansas City from 2000 to 2003. But otherwise, yeah, I’ve spent the entirety of my career in Dallas Fort Worth, except for those two and a half years.

BN: What were those two and a half years like for you in Kansas City being away from home?

JC: It was great. I love Kansas City. I think Kansas City is a great town, it’s a great place to live. It was a great learning experience. That was my first PD job. I was able to really learn a lot there. It was with the same company I had been working for, so in terms of a move it wasn’t that difficult. It’s not too far away from where I was from. We had family and friends visit a lot and we came back to Texas a lot. It all worked out great.

The main difference business-wise in a town like Kansas City versus a market like Dallas, is there was really just three radio companies working in Kansas City at the time. In a market like Dallas, you have all three of the major companies, and then you have another three or four smaller broadcasters, and then a bunch of mom and pops. There’s a lot more competition here. There’s also a lot more companies doing business, where in Kansas City, it was much smaller.

BN: What led to you becoming a PD in the first place?

JC: When I was here at The Ticket in Dallas, Susquehanna was the company at the time. I was the assistant PD and I was the producer of the afternoon drive show. I knew that I wanted to be a PD. The PD here at the time wasn’t really going anywhere; he was kind of entrenched. I had had this goal professionally that I wanted to try to be a PD before I was 30 years old. When this opening came up in Kansas City, as I mentioned, it was with the same company for KCMO. So I went to my bosses in Dallas and said, ‘Hey, this is something that I want to apply for; it’s something that I really want to do.’ 

It was a different format. It was a news talk format versus a sports format. I thought that was great. It was still spoken word, but it would just give me another opportunity to try something similar, yet different format-wise. They encouraged me and the fact that it was with the same company kind of gave me a safety net because if I got the job, which I did, I would still be working with all the same corporate folks and it would kind of help me along. I thought that was really great and it turned out to be a great.

We had some success when I was there. The station was kind of starting over and it did allow me to learn a lot of different things. I learned some lessons as being a program director there that I still carry with me to this day. Overall, it was just a great experience. When I got there, I never thought I would move back to Dallas again, or come back to The Ticket. That wasn’t my intention.

My intention was to take that job in Kansas City at KCMO and be there and see where it led from there. That was how I approached it. I think that’s the way that you have to approach things, you can’t really approach a job like you’re only going to be there for a year or two because otherwise you’re always looking down the road and you’re not giving that particular station at that particular time your full attention and focus. 

BN: What were a couple of the most important things that you needed to learn back then that you still apply today?

JC: The number one thing for any young programmer is just remember that it’s always about the people. When I was younger and when I got that job I just had a bunch of ideas for the format clocks and service elements and the promos and the rejoin beds and what I want the content to be focused on and all those kind of things. And that’s great. So you write all these notes down on your legal pad. But at some point, you have to be in a conference room, or a studio, or an office with the people that are on the air and running the board and producing those shows and doing the news updates. You’ve got to communicate your vision to them and they have to execute it.

You can have the best sounding radio station playing in your head 24/7, but at some point it’s about the people. It’s about communicating to your team what you want, and what your expectations are, coaching them on the way things are being done that are right, and those that need to be improved, and then getting all those ideas out onto the air. It ultimately comes down to somebody else. I think that’s hugely important to remember as a PD because you have to empower folks to do those things, and you have to communicate at every level in every way to people, what that vision is, how to execute it, and then how to follow up and critique and all those kinds of things.

Everybody’s different. You hear this all the time about people: ‘Well, everybody’s personality is different.’ And that’s so true. Some people want to be told. Some people want to be shown. Some people want to see a memo. Some people need all three. I think that was a big thing that I learned initially was just because you’re the PD and you have an idea and you say something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to make it on the air immediately.

BN: The Ticket strays outside of just hardcore sports. And it’s worked for you guys tremendously. Why does that formula work so well for your station?

JC: I think it’s kind of a misconception among sports radio listeners and programmers and talent is that this is the formula that works, X, Y, or Z. First of all, every city and every market is different. What works on the East Coast is not going to work in Dallas, Texas, and what’s working in Dallas may not work in California, or Seattle, Washington. Every market is different.

Going way back to the early days of The Ticket, and I was part of that, we went several years where all we did was talk about sports. I use this joke all the time; for the first two or three years we were on the air, all we talked about was does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame and who’s better, Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders.

But over time, as you start to develop the radio station and develop a relationship with your audience — and this is super important — without a very strong relationship with your audience based on sports or whatever, they’re not going to really allow you as a talk show host or producer or station to kind of stray from what you’re known for. It’s like listening to a country station and they drop in an oldies record. Well, they’re not going to really be down for that.

You have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish first, build the relationship with your audience second, and you will know at that time based on those factors when it’s okay to stray from sports. The reason we kind of knew it was working for us back then, is that when we would stray off into something more pop culture or more timely or newsworthy, we would hear from our listeners that they liked it and it was memorable for them. It was something they could relate to.

As the years have gone on, we kind of developed — again, in this market with our audience with this radio station — what worked, and what balance was right for us between sports and non-sports segments. Now, I think a lot of sports stations do it and they say they’re copying The Ticket or whatever, but it’s different for everyone.

The other thing here at the radio station is our main talk show talent has been with the radio station, some of them for as long as 28 years, and the newcomers have been here for 15 or 20 years. It’s not like we’re hiring people new coming into town and they’re immediately not talking about sports. That relationship with the audience happens along with a radio station organically and it grows over years. Then you have talent and shows that are working together for years and growing up on the air together and with their audience.

When you’ve been on the air for decades, just think about what happens not just in sports, but in life over the last 20 years. A pandemic, 9/11, different wars, protests, Michael Jackson died, it doesn’t just have to be news things, it can be pop culture things. But as those things happen, that’s what people talk about regardless of sports. Yeah, sure, they’re talking about Aaron Judge too, or they’re talking about the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl or not winning the Super Bowl, but they’re also going home and talking to their family about things that matter to them.

To be a radio station over the long haul in a market going on 28 years like The Ticket, you have to recognize that and really ultimately, that’s what we’re doing. We’re talking about what our listeners are talking about. And 85, 90, 95% of the time on a station like The Ticket, they care about sports. But there’s other times where things are more important in the world than sports.

You have to have that broad understanding of your audience and your station and the growth that you’ve had together and the responsibility and the relationship. That’s what allows you to understand and have the ability and the responsibility to talk about other things outside of sports. It’s not something that happens overnight, or because someone in a programming office says this is the way that we’re going to do it. It just doesn’t work that way I don’t think.

BN: Do you ever hear stations in Dallas or around the country that try to talk about things beyond sports and it just doesn’t go over well?

JC: Every single day.

BN: [Laughs]

JC: [Laughs] End of answer. Every single day.

BN: What do you attribute that to where it either fits and it works, or it’s forced and it’s just lame?

JC: I think it really goes back to the previous answer, which was a long answer but it’s really true. It’s just understanding what your station is about, how it’s being consumed by listeners, what relationship you have with your audience, and what they really will allow you to do based on those factors. I think sometimes it falls flat for any of those reasons, or it falls flat because the topic selection isn’t correct.

In other words, what you’re going off the sports page for isn’t the right topic, or it’s not something that resonates with the audience, or it’s not handled in a way that’s entertaining or informative. Some of those things are kind of like non-negotiables, right? Great storytelling is great storytelling. Having an opinion that resonates with your audience regardless of what the topic is, is universal. I think those are some of the reasons why it falls flat or it doesn’t work.

BN: You mentioned a lot of competition in Dallas. What’s your reaction to Mike Rhyner coming out of retirement after starting The Ticket to join The Freak?

JC: Well, when I first heard the rumors I was so surprised I didn’t believe it. And now I’m just sad about it. I just wish it wasn’t happening. But we’ve faced a lot of competition over the years and we take every competitor in this market, regardless of who’s there and what format they are, very seriously. And that’s what we’ll do in this case too.

BN: Why do you feel sadness about Mike?

JC: Because I think Mike has a home at The Ticket for life. And I thought that if he was itching to get back into radio, this is where he would have come and since he didn’t that makes me sad.

BN: Yeah, totally fair. Whether it’s that station or any other station popping up, does the competition have any impact on the way you approach things at The Ticket?

JC: Regardless of what new stations pop up, or have popped up over the last three years, we’re constantly evaluating the way we do things and changing them. Always. For example, I would say that for the most part, no media outlet, no radio station, no male-targeted radio station does the same content now that we did prior to 2017 and the Me Too movement for just one example. There are certain things that you could get away with saying 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, or five years ago, that you can’t say now. And that’s fine. That’s what we all do.

As a society, we’re all constantly evolving, we’re educating ourselves, we’re learning, and we change with it. I think that goes for The Ticket too. No matter who’s in town or not in town, or who our competitors are or aren’t, we’ve always felt like our bar is ourselves. We’re constantly evaluating what we’re doing. We want to constantly evolve and make it exciting and new for listeners, whether they’ve just moved into town or they’ve been with us for 10 years or since day one. If you don’t do that, I don’t think you make it as long and have as much success as The Ticket would have had if we just stayed the same.

BN: The Ticket is nominated for Marconi Sports Station of the Year again. The station won last year and four times altogether. When The Ticket is honored like that, what does it mean to you and the entire staff?

JC: I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty fun. It’s great. And I love it for the guys. Last year, we won Sports Station of the Year and my morning show won their first Marconi for Major Market Personalities of the Year after having been nominated like eight times. Like, seriously, you don’t have a radio station winning Marconis like The Ticket, and you don’t have a radio station with the ratings success over the years with The Ticket without a fantastic morning show. I think The Musers are the best morning show in the country, regardless of format. That was a completely deserved and well-earned Marconi last year, and I am just so happy for them.

But last year to win both, for the station and for those guys to win, it was a huge day around here for everybody. It matters to everybody, that every person that worked here last year, or have worked here before, has a piece of those things. It goes to everybody. Not just me, it’s not about me, it’s about them. I just get super excited and super thrilled for them because in radio that’s like our Super Bowl. To have four of them sitting in there feels pretty good. It’s fun.

BN: It makes all the sense in the world to get fired up when winning those big awards. Who wouldn’t be excited for that? On a day-to-day basis though, what excites you? You just said that’s like your Super Bowl, what’s like a solid Week 7 win?

JC: Well, first of all, being in the media business, we all understand what our report cards are when they come in every month. That is prime goal number one. That’s what we’re doing this for, so that gets me fired up every day. But what is a random win on a day is I just want us to, number one, have fun, and to be executing to the best of our ability on that day, whatever it is. I want the guys to be in the studio having a great time. I want them to be talking about stuff our listeners care about. I want them to be passionate. I want to laugh. I want to have a good time. I want to have something thought-provoking happening.

It’s all those little things that happen throughout the day that make me excited to come to work. It’s the personal relationships I have with everybody up here and that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a part of this thing and everybody is still so into it and excited about it. That’s what is fun for me. That’s what gets me fired up to come in here every day. That’s how I measure our success on the day-to-day. And then those monthly report cards that I talked about sure are nice too.

BN: If you could write the script, what do you think would make you happiest over the next five years for you and the station?

JC: I think to just continue to have the great success that all these guys have had and we enjoy it together. I think that’s the most important thing that you realize as you do this for a long time with largely the same core group of guys, is we want to be together, and we want to continue to do what we’re doing, and we want to continue to do it at the highest possible level we can for as long as we can. I don’t mean that to be generic. I think that’s as true as it possibly can be.

I want this radio station to continue on long after I’m not working here anymore. If that’s not anytime soon, I just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing with the same group of people that we’ve had. Just enjoy ourselves and to continue to change what we’ve been doing and to be leaders here in town.

I think that’s something that we think about and probably take more seriously than we did 15 years ago because it didn’t matter. Our position in the market now and the way that we can serve the community is just as important as making the community laugh or goofing around or whatever. And that stuff’s fun too, but we just have a responsibility to serve the community. I think that’s important to continue to do that in the best way that we can.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the rest is history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

Derek Futterman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barrett Media Writers

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