Jonathan Zaslow Is Starting Over With Zaslow Show 2.0
“I told my wife later that day, it was always going to end like this. That’s the way it goes when you’re in radio, right? I shouldn’t have lasted 18 years, nobody lasts 18 years.”
It’s radio. This is a common expression used to describe the uncertainty and unpredictable nature of the radio industry. It’s a phrase used to describe a radio gig that suddenly ends. Unfortunately, it occurs far too often in this business. It happened in late September for Jonathan Zaslow. The Miami sports radio host found out that he was being let go after 18 years and that 790 The Ticket was switching to a Spanish-language talk station.
As you can imagine, the news wasn’t awesome for Zaslow that day. But the guy has rebounded big time. He’s launched the Zaslow Show 2.0 podcast and a YouTube channel while oozing positivity. His upbeat approach is impressive. At first during our chat, I sounded like, “Hey man, I’m sorry your dog died.” That sympathy was met with Tony Robbins-like, motivational speaker excitement from Zaslow. It was pretty cool to hear.
Zaslow talks about his run at the Ticket coming to an end and the exciting new chapter in his career. We also chat about Eddie Vedder, watching the Miami Heat as a fan, and when a host is the most popular. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Were you caught off guard by getting let go?
Jonathan Zaslow: Yeah, totally off guard. I was actually at QAM for the past year, and the previous 17 years before that I was at 790 The Ticket. Last original employee of 790 The Ticket; I have that moniker. Yeah, I was very surprised about all of it. I was told right after a show that essentially this is my last day, so I was very surprised. Obviously, everyone found out a few days later when 790 The Ticket changed format. I guess I got stuck in the middle of that because you can only have so many shows throughout the day.
So yeah, I was totally caught off guard. I did an Instagram Live a few days later. I told everybody — and I mean this — I’m not mad. I know most of the time when someone gets laid off you’re really mad and maybe even someone in my situation — I was there 18 years, it was the first and only job I’ve ever had out of college.
With that said, everyone hears 18 years; 18 years in radio, that doesn’t even make sense. I’m really grateful. I was obviously disappointed but not mad. I was treated really well when I was there, the whole 18 years. There were several different ownerships throughout that span; I always felt I was treated really well.
I told my wife later that day, it was always going to end like this. That’s the way it goes when you’re in radio, right? I shouldn’t have lasted 18 years, nobody lasts 18 years. It was always going to end like this. It was just a matter of when. I also told her that this is the path I chose. I chose radio. I chose being in this business and this is what happens sometimes, so, not mad. Yes, I was caught off guard. Obviously, disappointed at the time, but I got nothing bad to say.
BN: You have the right attitude. You could easily have some bad feelings, but I don’t think that does you any good if you did.
JZ: People were angry. I get the tweets and even text messages. People I know or what have you. I told everyone I said listen, I’m flattered that you’re mad, but if you do have all that angry energy, then all you have to do is you take that energy and you apply it to the next thing that I’m doing.
Now at this point, everybody knows I got Zaslow Show 2.0. It’s available everywhere you get your podcasts. I didn’t necessarily know that at the time when I said that to people, but I was like you just take all that angry and disappointed energy that you have, and if you really feel that way, you’re just going to apply it to the next thing that I do, and everyone’s going to be happy.
BN: [Quarterback] Ryan Tannehill of all people comes to mind because when the Titans lost to the Bengals in the playoffs, he said it put him in a dark place. After 18 years for you, it’s sort of like a big playoff loss to get let go. How long did it take you to get over it, where you’re focused on the next thing instead of looking backwards?
JZ: Well, the first thing that you think about in my position is I got a wife and two kids. Like I said, 18 years, and I’ve never had to see what’s next. So I got a wife and two kids, and the first thing I’m thinking about is, shit, I got real responsibilities. That was the part where you’re trying to figure out, all right, what am I going to do next? I got to do something, I’ve got real responsibilities here, I’ve got people counting on me.
I got a lot of phone calls that day. I talked for a long time. Dan Le Batard, Jorge Sedano, Evan Cohen, Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, my former co-hosts, those two. We really talked extensively because I’m tight with all those people. The information they were giving me; I kind of was able to formulate a plan by talking to all these people. They really made me feel good.
You know what I kind of felt like? You’ve seen the movie Private Parts, Howard Stern. I’m a big Howard Stern fan. I kind of felt like when Howard got fired from WNBC, and he’s all upset, and his agent comes in his office with a bottle of champagne. He goes, are you crazy? This is the greatest thing that could’ve happened. We’re celebrating. This is the best day of your career.
Now, I didn’t necessarily feel it was the best day of my career because it was a really shitty feeling that day, but I felt like after talking to all those people, they really made me feel like, yeah, everything’s going to wind up being all right for you.
BN: What were some of the things that Le Batard, Joy, Amber or anybody else, told you that helped you feel positive about the whole thing?
JZ: I think it was the fact that because I’ve been doing this so long, they really let me know that look, a lot of people out there know who you are at this point. There’s going to be other opportunities out there. They’re going to be opportunities that you never knew were opportunities. You’re feeling shitty, obviously, right when you get the news, but they really let me feel that I’ve been doing this long enough that everything’s going to wind up being okay. I think that was really it, that they were confident in my abilities.
Every version of the Zaslow Show has had success. I was doing Zaslow & Joy, then Zaslow & Romberg, then Zaslow, Romberg & Amber, then Zaslow & Amber. And now for the last year, just Zaslow Show. Every version has had at least some kind of success and the constant was me. The point being, which they were helping explain to me was, whatever you wind up doing next, it’s going to be the same thing.
Granted, people right now aren’t hearing me live on terrestrial radio. But so many of those people were hitting the subscribe button on the Zaslow Show podcast, just under the Audacy banner. What’s stopping them from doing the same thing right now? It’s just under the Zaslow Show 2.0 banner. It’s available in the exact same place they were getting it before be it iTunes, or Spotify, or iHeart, or Google, wherever. Joy and Amber especially, really led me to believe, whatever you do, the audience, they’re going to follow you. That made me feel good.
BN: Tell me about the new show, how many times a week are you doing it? What are some of the things that are different than what you were doing before?
JZ: I’m trying to keep it as similar as possible. I’m trying to bring over the same type of bits that I had before. I do big deal, not a big deal. I’m still doing that here every day. It’s how I’m closing out Zaslow Show 2.0. On Friday, I’m going to do big game, not a big game. Eventually get back into big movie, not a big movie. I’m trying to incorporate all my old bits still into the show now, but it’s the same show otherwise.
We’re focusing on Miami sports, but obviously hitting on all the major topics. We’re still talking about music. I love movies. I’m going to mix in pro wrestling. Some people were asking me earlier today, hey, are you going to start having some guests on? It’s obviously not as necessary, at least right now to have guests because I’m doing Monday through Friday, I’m pumping out an hour a day.
I don’t need guests in an hour. I could roll out of bed and do an hour. I’m of the understanding when it comes to podcast listening, I think people are consuming it in smaller doses. I think that seems like a good length for right now. We’ll eventually start doing interviews and uploading that onto the YouTube page.
Also I debuted last Saturday a wrestling show under the Zaslow Show 2.0 banner. The show is called It’s Still Real To Me. I’m really excited about that. I’ve been wanting to do a pro wrestling show for years now. It’s a passion of mine since I was a little boy. Not only is it such a huge industry, but it’s also turned into something that I’m not embarrassed anymore to admit that I love. There’s a place for it now for me to do a show. I’m really excited about that.
BN: What advice would you give to someone who’s currently on terrestrial radio? Like you said, you felt like you didn’t need to research this stuff because you had your job. Do you look at it differently now?
JZ: The one thing I would say is I wish that I was doing some of this extra stuff while I was still on terrestrial radio. I should have been doing all the extra stuff on Instagram, Twitter. I should’ve had a YouTube page years ago. I was so behind the eight ball in that regard. I don’t know, maybe I got complacent. I don’t know what it is, but I should have had a YouTube channel years ago and been uploading content where instead of starting it last week from scratch, I should have already been knee-deep into all of that. And I just wasn’t.
My advice would be no matter how comfortable you feel, no matter how entrenched you are in the local scene in your market, you got to be doing all of the extra stuff. There’s definitely no harm. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not as complicated as maybe I thought two months ago before I’d done any of that kind of stuff. I would say hey, you’re in a good spot on terrestrial radio? You should still be doing all the other extra stuff. It only helps your brand.
BN: What would you say to someone who pushes back and says, look man, I’m making good money. I do my three or four hour show right now. I don’t need to do all of this extra stuff.
JZ: That was me. I would say hey, listen, no matter how good a standing you’re in, look, my bosses always liked me. I had great relationships with everyone that I worked for. I had a show that was popular, and it could still end the way that it did for me. Things happen. It’s a business. I would say, just make sure you’re doing everything you can.
BN: What are your plans to grow the podcast?
JZ: I’m really grateful that when I announced Zaslow Show 2.0 is coming, I got a phone call immediately for a title sponsor. It’s a local law firm down here Anidjar & Levine. They’re accident attorneys. They wanted on board right away. I was so grateful and just super humbled that they wanted on board. I want you on board is what I told them. I was so grateful for that. I really think that gave me a boost of confidence too.
I got some time here to get my footing and establish the audience and all of that. I’m lucky that I have a built-in listenership. I just need to make them aware of what’s going on right now. But I think that really gave me a boost of confidence that there are people who are going to want to get behind the show. That’s the idea that I have the freedom here to do the show the way that I want, and hopefully I’ll have people supporting me.
BN: You hosted Miami Heat pregame, halftime and postgame shows for 12 years. What’s it like to watch the Heat now that things have changed?
JZ: I went to a game for the first time as a fan in 12 years the other week. I saw the Heat play the Raptors. The Heat won. I remember the last time I was in the stands as a fan was the Heat’s home opener in 2010. It was the first year that LeBron was here. That’s the last game I went to as a fan. They beat the Magic that night. I used to be a season ticket holder; it was a 12-year span between going to games as a fan when I went last week. So that was weird.
I liked being able to watch the game with a drink in my hand. I enjoy that. I hadn’t done that in forever. That was fun. I liked being able to stand up and cheer and be into the game. Most importantly, believe it or not, it was the first time I’d ever been to a Heat game with my son.
That’s crazy. That’s wild. Matter of fact, the first game I’d ever watched with any of my sons was the bubble during COVID. We were broadcasting from home that time. That was the first time I ever even watched a game with my son.
But that game last week, it was the first time I’d ever been to a Heat game with my son; it was always my wife taking my two boys. I was able to take my son and his friends to the game. That was a really cool experience. I’m looking forward to doing that more.
BN: What is it about you just being so positive? I haven’t gotten one little tinge of I’m bent about this. This sucks. Why me? None of that. Why is it so positive for you throughout this whole thing?
JZ: I think I feel good about the reaction. When Amber Wilson started doing the show with me, she replaced Joy Taylor. Some listeners were like, you’re not as good as Joy, I miss Joy, when’s Joy coming back, that kind of deal. I would tell Amber, I said listen, you’re never as popular as you are when you leave. Like, you are never as popular. Look, Joy is fantastic, all right, I love that girl. But she was never more popular on my show than when she left. That’s when everyone gives you your flowers.
I got a little bit of that. [Laughs] It was the first time that I left, so I got a little bit of that where I was getting my flowers and everyone was making me feel good. I had never been more loved than now that I’m no longer around. I got a little bit of that and it made me feel good. I think it reinforced that I think I could do something on my own. I think there’s something there. I have a built-in audience.
Overall, people know who I am down here when it comes to sports talk. I grew up in South Florida listening to sports talk here, specifically 560 WQAM. The legends: Hank Goldberg who recently passed away, Jim Mandich who passed away several years ago. I grew up listening to these guys. Then eventually, I got to be one of those voices here in South Florida. I got to do that for a really long time. That part of my life is not going to go away. I’m really fortunate. I’m really grateful for all that.
BN: For the future, let’s say over the next five years, what would you ideally like to accomplish?
JZ: I’d like Zaslow Show 2.0 to be successful and I’d like to do more play-by-play. I was able to dip my toes into the water the last couple seasons filling in for Mike Inglis on occasion and filling in for Jason Jackson on occasion with the Heat. I did some play-by-play; I have a lot of room to grow, obviously, but I did it at the highest level in the NBA. I’d like to be able to do more of that. I’d like some opportunities there. We’ll see where that goes.
Doing shows nationally, I think there could be a place for me there. Maybe it’s NBA-based because that’s my bread and butter. Or maybe it’s just doing some version of the Zaslow Show. Who knows, maybe it’s getting back together with one of my former partners too, and doing something in that vein. I’d be open to that as well.
There’s a feeling also of excitement. I like the idea of something new. I’d like it a lot more to know that okay, there’s going to be something new and everything’s going to work out. I’d like to be able to add in the last part. I can’t add in the last part yet, but I like the idea of something new. There’s an exciting element to that.
BN: If you could pick any guests to be your first guest — wrestling, sports, anybody — who would be the person?
JZ: I do kind of feel like, all right, it can’t just be someone random. I’ve never talked to him before. I’m obviously a massive fan. I don’t know how this would happen. I got close one time years ago, it just didn’t work out. Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. That’s like the white whale. I’m a massive Pearl Jam fan. Everybody knows that.
I saw them at the Garden two months ago. We flew up, me and my son, it was my 25th time seeing them; not that it’s a competition. But I would love to have Eddie Vedder. If Eddie Vedder were the first guest, if he’s out there, if he reads Barrett Sports Media, I would love to have you on. That’d be great.
BN: [Laughs] It’d be hilarious if that’s what clinched it. Eddie Vedder is just a huge reader of Barrett Sports Media.
JZ: That’s right. I know he’s a huge basketball fan. He’s a huge baseball fan. He loves the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bulls. Maybe he also likes sports media, you know?
BN: [Laughs] For sure. Well, I’m happy for you, man. I’m excited for this new thing you got going on.
JZ: Thanks. Yeah, it’s fun so far. We’re only the first week in, but it’s fun. I feel a sense of accomplishment after it all uploads and everything. I did that. I edited it. I produced that. I added the music. I did that. I do feel a sense of accomplishment where my wife can say what did you do today? And it wasn’t just, caught up on my shows. I watched a little bit of Monday Night Raw. No, now I can actually say I accomplished something and it’s out there in the world for everyone to hear.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. 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.
As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”
Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.
“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”
Costas on the Air
Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.
“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”
When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball.
In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.
“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”
Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.
“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”
Costas on America’s Pastime
Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.
Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.
Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.
“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”
In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.
“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
Costas on Reporting
When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.
“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”
As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”
Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.
When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.
Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.
Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.
“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”
Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.
“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”
Costas on the Gridiron
Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much.
After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.
“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”
The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.
“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”
With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.
“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”
ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal, gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.
“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”
Costas on Modern Media
An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate.
CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.
Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.
While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media.
For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.
“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”
The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.
“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”
There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.
Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.
“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”
In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.
“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”
Costas on the Future
The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.
“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
There is Nothing Old School About a Human Touch in Radio Sales
“Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway.”
We are not dumb or dumber when it comes to buying radio advertising. Being a radio ad sales rep is old school to some advertising buyers. To others, we write the book on how to get advertising done. Find those clients!
The digital automated ad buying platform AudioGo described selling radio ads as old school and wrote that automated buying is smarter. I am sure that is true for some buyers who have grown up with tech and automation, namely programmatic buying, and have changed their view of a radio salesperson. They don’t see the unique value radio sales reps bring to the process.
Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway. Plenty of other local direct clients are not ready for algorithms to automate ad buys. They want a human touch, a helping hand, and the kind of expertise that no algorithm can replace. YOU. Radio salespeople add value to these types of clients. Here is why we do and how we are not the “dumb and dumber” of media of buying.
ONE-ON-ONE PERSONALIZED CONSULT
A radio salesperson offers specific solutions to meet a client’s goals with the right target audience and within their budget. We allow real-time interaction to understand the client’s business better, so we can match up the perfect advertising strategy. We are the ultimate live FAQs page. Building strong client relationships is critical. How can trust, collaboration, and a long-term partnership be created based on algorithms?
EXPERTISE AND INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
Most successful Radio salespeople have invaluable expertise and industry knowledge they picked up through years of experience. Twenty percent of the reps do eighty percent of the business. The vets know all about 6a-8a, 4p-6p, and live endorsement spots.
We get the nuances of radio advertising, like shifting audience demographics, programming trends, and effective messaging strategies. We can advise a client to make a much more informed (and time-saving) decision that can maximize the impact of their ad campaigns. No algorithm can see that.
Automated programmatic buying may offer convenience, but it isn’t too custom of a solution. We tailor advertising campaigns to meet the unique needs of each client. We take in specific target audience preferences, locations, and competitive market trends to produce effective strategies. We listen to real-time feedback and get results. Algorithms rely on predefined parameters and can’t customize.
Buying advertising can be complex, with regulations, industry standards, and market trends constantly changing. Radio salespeople have the experience to anticipate roadblocks and offer proactive solutions. Additionally, we can provide insight into budgeting, negotiation, and buying other media. Algorithms lack intuition and can’t maneuver fast enough to handle the unknown.
While automation and algorithms have their place with certain buyers, remind yourself of the value you offer clients. You provide personalized consultation, industry expertise, customized solutions, and the ability to navigate. You are indispensable to the right buyers. Now find them!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content
“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.”
There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.
Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.
“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”
There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station.
But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members.
“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”
The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story?
“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.
“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”
Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche.
But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it.
“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”
Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week.
The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio.
“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”
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.