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Maggie Gray Is Thrilled to Thrive On A National Stage

“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small.”

Derek Futterman

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Maggie Gray

Sports talk radio often extends beyond straightforward discussion of teams, players and leagues by accentuating the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of its hosts. Whether it is through their parlance, interaction with callers or means of comprehending a situation, the hosts of sports talk radio show greatly influence the direction of a program. Take Maggie Gray, for example, who recently pied her co-host Andrew Perloff in the face for charity after winning a bet.

Gray is the co-host of Maggie & Perloff, a national program broadcast weekday afternoons on CBS Sports Radio and distributed to various local affiliates. The show extends beyond traditional radio with its presence on YouTube and other digital platforms, following the new paradigm of broadcasting emphasizing multiple avenues of dissemination. The clip of Perloff taking a pie to the face was posted on Twitter and other digital media platforms spawning reach and subsequent engagement.

“You’re still getting the sound and the splat in the face and the reaction,” Gray said of the stunt, “but to be honest, it’s definitely more of a visual gag.”

Radio studios without cameras or some capability to produce visual content are ostensibly behind the curve, with some just now beginning to catch up. Gray and Perloff broadcast their show out of New York City and think about how to serve its total audience, where and how they consume the content notwithstanding. From working as colleagues at Sports Illustrated, they both knew of the growing prevalence of digital content long before hosting this program and, today, aim to catalyze its assimilation into radio.

Gray hosted digital programming on the Sports Illustrated website over the span of eight years, including a talk show titled SI Now. In this role, she covered a variety of different sports at the national level, equipping her with a broader scope of the sports landscape and concomitant early foray into digital media. Accompanied by evolutions in technology and changing consumption habits, the nature of content itself has innovated in order to be conducive to new platforms – and Gray recognized this long before most others.

Yet augmenting reach and engagement comes through the implicit differentiation of algorithms and user proclivities; that is, determining just where certain content works best. It was a lesson Gray learned from Stephanie McMahon, former chairwoman and co-chief executive officer of WWE. For example, Gray says the clip of Perloff being pied in the face works better for platforms compatible with shorter-form content, such as TikTok and Twitter. In this way, fans are given instant gratification of the impetus that compelled them to engage with the content in the first place.

“You don’t just take a one-size-fits-all [approach],” Gray said. “….Maybe understanding that could help you with your audience, and then trying to always engage with younger fans and trying to be where they are, which is a challenge.”

Akin to many others working in the industry today, Gray grew up as an avid sports fan, largely for teams within the New York metropolitan area – except in football. Her uncle, a season ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills, introduced her to the team in the ‘90s, a time when the team had a winning record in most years. The fact that none of those seasons ended in Super Bowl championships, let alone appearances, taught her resilience. Moreover, it helped her develop esoteric knowledge she utilizes today as a national sports talk radio host, although a majority of conversations do not solely revolve around any singular sports franchise.

When she was a high school student in Binghamton, N.Y., she kept statistics for B.C. Icemen play-by-play announcer Jason Weinstein, attending games and becoming immersed in the United Hockey League (UHL). Once the team reached its final game of the season, Gray was given the chance to go on the air to deliver the out of town scores, and became enamored with sports media from that moment on.

“It sort of kept evolving,” Gray said. “I think I got a taste of it kind of early in my life and that set me on this path.”

Gray attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where she matriculated in journalism. She immediately became involved with the school’s radio station, but quickly landed an internship as a freshman with Westwood One Radio. She ended up staying with the broadcast outlet during all four years of college where she earned opportunities to attend marquee events. Some of these included the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and various Washington Wizards games (2003-2005) to work as a stringer and collect locker room sound. She worked in a similar role with The Associated Press in 2005, her senior year of college, during the Washington Nationals’ inaugural season.

“I was able to not only be around professional athletes – be in locker rooms; be in press rooms; be on a press row,” Gray said. “I got to watch all of these other incredible journalists do their work at a young age which kind of got me a little familiar with just the pace of how to cover a game.”

Although much of Gray’s work during college took place off-campus, she still called sporting events on its radio station, in addition to briefly hosting her own show. All of her experiences helped shape her into a versatile rising star in the industry and fostered familiarity about how to conduct herself with poise and professionalism.

Expediting vertical growth immediately after graduation in any industry can be difficult, but Gray’s persistence and motivation kept her focused on finding ways to do so. Her postgraduate journey began at NBA Entertainment (NBAE) as a production assistant and tape logger, working behind the scenes to help facilitate its content. Additionally, she received permission from NBAE to work at another Olympic Games with Westwood One, this time in Torino, Italy during the winter of 2006. She calls the people with both entities, including Westwood One executives Howie Deneroff and Mike Eaby, “instrumental” in facilitating her growth.

Eager to find an opportunity to appear on-camera, Gray was hired by MSG Networks as a sideline reporter for its high school sports, then-broadcast on MSG Varsity. As a broadcaster on the broadcast of a live sporting event, Gray used her journalism skills to discover nuanced storylines and compendiously deliver them to the viewing audience.

“Finding those good stories was a challenge, especially because you’re interviewing teenagers, but also it was great because I think that they appreciated it and it was memorable for them,” Gray said. “When I would do a quick sideline hit about somebody on the team, I think that was a really big deal.”

Through her exposure on MSG Networks, Gray was hired to provide sports updates on WFAN, specifically during holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. She also worked in various roles, including as a reporter and play-by-play announcer, in stints with MLB.com and ESPNU, giving her further exposure throughout the industry. It all led up to being hired at Sports Illustrated in 2010 as an anchor for the company’s foray into digital content creation and programming.

By June 2013, the company launched SI Now, a digital talk show covering the sports landscape with news, opinion, debate and interviews both in studio and from various events. Gray hosted 1,169 episodes of the show while also hosting a Saturday morning program with Marc Malusis on CBS Sports Radio. Whether it was questioning the NFL’s handling of the infamous Ray Rice scandal; interviewing Billie Jean King; or taking calls from listeners, these roles promoted her abilities to effectively work on a national scale. Yet since consumerism is based on opinion, she naturally did not appeal to everyone.

“I stopped trying to win over the people that I knew just weren’t into me – [people who] either didn’t want to hire me or agents who didn’t want to represent me or whatever,” Gray said. “I stopped chasing that and really started to focus on the people who did like what I was doing and were trying to invest in me and were giving me good feedback.”

Additionally, Gray has faced misogyny throughout her broadcasting career and considers herself fortunate to have colleagues she can trust. She follows the advice of an unattributed quote that states, “Don’t put too much stock in an opinion of someone [whom] you wouldn’t ask their advice,” implicitly reminding her to take everything in stride. It also keeps her cognizant of which voices to genuinely value as a media professional.

“I try not to look at social media to get feedback because if you are going to believe the good things, then I think you also have to believe the bad things and that can get really dicey,” Gray said. “It’s basically two sides of a very similar coin.”

When Mike Francesa retired from WFAN in December 2017, media pundits knew he was practically irreplaceable. Francesa had been the co-host of Mike and the Mad Dog for nearly two decades, and then proceeded to have a successful solo career where he consistently finished at the top of the ratings.

Leading up to the decision, Gray had conjectured which direction the station may go in, and eventually was approached to pair with Bart Scott and Chris Carlin. Gray was not the first choice for the job, as Kim Jones and Chris Simms both turned the position down, but she was still grateful for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.

Even though she would still continue broadcasting from New York, the audience was different in that it was based locally. There was an adjustment period and some initial challenges determining which topics would appeal to listeners, metrics that were not solely based on illuminated phone lines. Gray had not previously worked with Scott and with Carlin outside of occasional appearances on SportsNet New York’s LoudMouths, meaning that the broadcast trio needed time to develop chemistry. The difficulty was that the market had grown accustomed to consistency in afternoons spanning nearly three decades and two relatively newer local voices in Gray and Scott.

“It was definitely an overwhelming feeling,” Gray said. “If it wasn’t for Chris Carlin and Bart Scott – the three of us started that show – and if it wasn’t for our great relationship, I think it would have also been very lonely…. It was a big deal for the niche that is sports talk radio, and I’m so glad I had those guys to lean on and we all got to go through it together.”

For the first four months, the show aired from 2 to 6:30 p.m., but received immense criticism and ultimately lost the quarterly ratings book to The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York. It should be noted that the two programs faced off from 3 to 6:30 p.m., as Stephen A. Smith hosted his program on 98.7 FM ESPN New York on weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m.

Part of the struggle might have been a move away from debate-based radio, even though Francesa had been successfully hosting solo programming for many years. Instead of making disputation a hallmark of her style, Gray tries to center her programs around having fun, interacting with her co-host and imbuing laughter.

“I didn’t love doing [argumentative] radio,” Gray said. “I don’t love that – the Mike and the Mad Dog [style] where they’re just arguing with each other all the time; or a Stephen A. Smith-thing where you’re arguing all the time. That’s not generally what I love. It’s great to disagree, but I don’t love it when it’s contentious.”

Less than five months later, Francesa returned to WFAN to host afternoon drive opposite The Michael Kay Show. In his return, which was partially predicated on the launch of the Mike’s On mobile app and online platform, WFAN curtailed the time slot of Carlin, Maggie and Bart. Just a few months later, Francesa defeated The Michael Kay Show in the overall ratings (Q2, 2018), even though men aged 25-49 preferred Kay’s program. Carlin, Maggie and Bart ended up finishing fourth in the New York market during its daypart and began to mesh with listeners.

“I had never really done just New York sports, so that took a little bit to get used to,” Gray said. “….It was all the same challenges that go in with creating any new show; it just happened to be [on] an extremely visible platform where there were a lot of eyeballs on us.”

One year later amid strong ratings, Carlin was fired from WFAN and the show was rebranded as Maggie and Bart. The new show proved ephemeral though, as Francesa’s departure from afternoon drive caused a shakeup in the programming schedule. To begin 2020, the station announced that Gray and Malusis would be reunited to launch a local edition of Moose and Maggie, the show they had co-hosted together for five years nationally on CBS Sports Radio.

“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small,” Gray expressed. “We can talk about the Yankees’ middle relievers; we can talk about the Mets’ closer; or we can talk about who should play third base for the Yankees. That’s a totally good topic and it will resonate with people in New York.”

By the end of the next year, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney moved from CBS Sports Radio, their home for the prior eight years, to middays on WFAN. As a result, Gray, who was “super happy” to transition back to hosting nationally, began her current program with Perloff in afternoon drive. The shift in mindset was facile since she had covered sports from a national perspective for the majority of the preceding decade.

The duo enters each show with a “blank slate,” surmising what topics will resonate with the audience and create compelling on-air content. Working with Perloff, who she became friendly with during her time at Sports Illustrated, made these intricate tasks, in addition to developing synergy, considerably less arduous than they otherwise may have been.

“We knew that we already had chemistry, and so I think it put us on more of a fast-track than other shows that start with people who are meeting as strangers,” Gray said. “We were able to really grow the show, I think, in a great way, and it’s been so much fun doing it.”

On the air, Gray tries to find ways to stand out amid a saturation in audio content. Most media entities vie for shares of attention, parlayed into engagement and fidelity through retention. Gray and Perloff are preceded by Jim Rome, who has successfully built a legion of listeners and followers who interact with his show on a regular basis.

“The shows I like are the shows where you kind of build a universe in the show,” Gray said. “The people who are listening feel like they are a part of it. They get the language of the show; they get the jokes and the inside jokes of the show. You want to be consistent for that audience, and you want to create a world where they can sort of step into it.”

Gray affirms that “this is not journalism with a capital ‘J,’” and fulfills her role in cultivating discussions that keep people listening. Through these, they compel people to call in or comment on the live stream to demonstrate their interest in a topic and espouse opinions to potentially alter the conversation. Gray and Perloff are not mandated to implement the audience by taking calls; however, they find the interaction amplifies the program, especially when a listener understands the show’s vernacular.

The same mindset applies when booking interviews; that is, trying to find the value in having certain guests on the program. Sure, there are people who are more likely to make news with each appearance, such as athletes, executives or other celebrities, but shrewdness regarding what one wants to extrapolate from guests is essential to driving the conversation.

At the same time, spontaneity can prove invaluable in these conversations, which can lead to follow-up questions discerned through actively listening. For example, it was Gray who asked Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs last month about the offense’s relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He proceeded to say that he had never spent time with Rodgers outside of the team’s practice facility, composing a fair share of headlines to say the least.

“That got over [five] million views,” Gray said. “That was not a question I had ever intended to ask him going into the interview; it was just simply by listening to him.”

Hosting an afternoon drive program in particular requires thinking about ways to advance stories that have likely already been discussed in the mornings. Being in the middle of the day, there is a balance of reacting to what happened the night before and anticipating what may happen mere hours later when a majority of games begin. In a way, trying to captivate listeners through topic selection and concomitant opinions is both instinctual and strategic.

“I have a pretty big voice, so I think the sound is big,” Gray said. “I try to be very generous as a host, too. I want to make sure with me and my co-host that we’re finding topics that we both really like; we’re trying to find places maybe where we don’t agree, but I try to be generous with setting him up.”

Part of being able to effectuate that comes in being able to keep people listening, especially following Jim Rome, who has broadcast on CBS Sports Radio for the last decade. Spike Eskin, vice president of programming at WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, recommended Gray and Perloff open their show with hard-hitting opinions. Starting with potent topics and opinions in lieu of a protracted greeting or small talk keeps people engrossed in the on-air product, in turn expanding the show’s reach.

The program then blends information, opinion and entertainment to create a multiplatform product conducive to success, even though they are not measured on ratings. Rather, the show is distributed to a host of local affiliates who may opt to use ratings to guide future decision-making, but even so, Gray does not concern herself as much with those results.

“I never tried to put too much stock in the ratings even when I was personally benefiting from the ratings as far as bonuses and things like that,” she explained. “I still try not to put too much stock into it, but it’s hard because it’s a number, it’s there [and] it feels like a grade.”

The fear of failure keeps Gray going every day, possessing an awareness of the deft responsibility garnered every time she steps in the studio. Simultaneously, she remembers that new cohorts of listeners may be consuming the program, meaning she and Perloff need to make a good first impression.

“There’s no safety net with this,” Gray said. “It’s live – radio and streaming – and I’m being counted on to deliver something that’s entertaining and fun and informative and keeps an audience.”

The key is finding the niche of the industry wherein one can excel – and it differs for every aspiring professional. No matter where that may be though, without a work ethic or a will to succeed, finding and sustaining roles in sports media can be burdensome. There are plenty of fledgling talents willing to do whatever it takes for an opportunity, and it is essential people holding coveted positions refrain from complacency or acting in a sanctimonious manner.

“If you’re not energized by the red light [going] on and it’s you and it’s time for you to deliver, you’re probably not cut out for this,” Gray said. “That should be a charge in and of itself and that should be enough to motivate you to say, ‘How am I going to do my best today?’”

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Day Spent With: Omaha Productions

“We want to tailor it to what we think is going to be the best episode, and that can be anything.”

Derek Futterman

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Day Spent With – Omaha Productions

The fourth edition of BSM’s a ‘Day Spent With’ shifts to the digital world. Derek Futterman spent time in Las Vegas with Omaha Productions shadowing Kevin Clark and the production team to learn what goes into content creation with ‘This is Football.’ During the time that Futterman was on site, Baker Mayfield and Steve Young appeared on the show, each conversation cutting through as a result of Clark’s preparation and strong ability to listen and follow up.

In addition to observing Clark’s pre-show preparation process and talking with him at lunch about a variety of factors related to his program and work, Futterman also spent time with the production team consisting of Anthony Jimenez and Michael Flynn, and Omaha’s Head of Audio, Richelle Markazene. As a digital content brand, the programming isn’t restricted by a programming clock. That allows the hosts to focus on quality, and the production team to be selective. Once decisions are made on which content to amplify, the final touches are made to make sure it’s both compelling and visually appealing.

My thanks to Jamie Horowitz, Richelle Markazene, Kevin Clark, Anthony Jimenez and Michael Flynn for providing BSM with access to capture a day in the world of ‘This is Football.’ Next week, we move behind the scenes to educate readers on what goes into a day of programming at the ESPN Radio network. Derek spent a full day in Bristol with the majority of the network’s programming team and I’m sure you’ll find it to be as interesting as today’s feature.

Still to come are a day in the life of a market manager, social media manager, sports television show and media buyer. We’ve also left one slot open to see which of a few possibilities makes the most sense as we move deeper into the series. If you or your brand wish to be involved and have an idea you want to pitch, please email [email protected].

– Jason Barrett

As Omaha Productions host Kevin Clark prepares for an interview on his digital program, This is Football, he jots down his thoughts and elements of his research on standard yellow legal paper. The notepad does not have developed questions, but rather words or phrases that will prompt Clark to summarily craft a query apropos to the conversation itself.

Being on NFL Media Row for Super Bowl LVIII, he is aware that the content his show generates will be competing for the attention span of a variety of consumers. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas is filled with radio, television, digital and print media outlets all looking to document different facets of the week and disseminate a story to an audience. It is up to Clark to be distinctive and stand out.

While previously reporting for The Wall Street Journal and The Ringer, Clark recognized how essential it is to have a compelling value proposition to urge consumers to interact with his content. Amid an era with dwindling attention spans and imperfect methodologies, storytelling has to adapt to appeal to a wide audience. Although the first interview Clark is preparing for on this day is only scheduled to last for 10 minutes, he has committed several hours to studying previous media appearances by his guest and reading articles divulging different aspects of his career.

“I think the most important thing is getting these guys to tell you the best thing you’ve ever heard,” Clark said. “I used to have an editor who used to say, ‘The lead quote in every story should be, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ because you should literally be giving people something that has never been out there before and hasn’t even been thought of before.’”

Clark recently joined Omaha Productions after a four-year stint with The Ringer, transitioning into hosting his own digital media program in partnership with ESPN. Aside from being able to ask Peyton Manning questions about quarterbacks, he immediately observed that no two days are the same and evinces the many different ventures with which the company is involved.

“My feeling was with the way Omaha was set up and then the ESPN partnership and what I’m able to do with ESPN TV, when this all came together it felt like a no-brainer to me,” Clark said. “I love the Ringer; I still love these people [and] they’re still some of my best friends. Bill Simmons is my favorite media person ever, and I’m so lucky to have had him as a boss for so long and he taught me so much. It just felt like the right time, and there’s nothing but love for The Ringer.”

Omaha Productions recently completed its third year working on the Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli alternate broadcast, which averaged 1.24 million viewers across nine games this past season. In addition to its visual content, which includes iterations of the Places series on ESPN+ and the critically-acclaimed Quarterback series on Netflix, the network has an offering of original podcasts with video components. Knowledgeable and prominent personalities host these shows including Kevin Clark, Mina Kimes, Greg McElroy and Cam Heyward among others, many of whom were on site in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

“I think it’s important for us to have them here,” said Richelle Markazene, head of audio at Omaha Productions, “to have the presence and also just the exposure, and the content that we’re getting here is extremely important for their shows.”

Last year, Omaha Productions received an investment from The North Road, an outside investment firm owned by Peter Chernin, that reportedly valued Omaha at more than $400 million. Omaha’s portfolio continues to grow with various projects and partnerships with companies such as ESPN, Verizon, Caesars Entertainment and PGA of America. Markazene observed the programming throughout the week on Media Row and took notice of various digital outlets on site ahead of the Super Bowl matchup.

“I started in this business in linear years ago and just what I’ve seen over what I consider a few short years is unbelievable,” Markazene said. “In this day and age where content can go out in any way, I think it’s fantastic for content creators, including us, and I love to see all of the new creators here, and for us to be a part of it is amazing.”

Former NFL offensive lineman and current broadcaster Ross Tucker complimented Clark during Super Bowl week, stating that his clips cut through his digital timeline. Rather than asking a few questions, carving time for a product plug and then thanking them for their time, Clark genuinely does not know the direction his interviews could take the show.

Instead of operating with a formulaic approach, he embraces his role as an active listener and is a welcome participant in the interview that sounds more akin to a discussion. There are benchmarks Clark wants to hit when he has a guest on the show, but there are still plenty of opportunities for free-flowing, extemporaneous talk as well, some of which comes through pertinent, direct follow-up questions.

“We have these guys for this set amount of time and can go anywhere with it,” Clark said. “We don’t have to ask them the score prediction [and] we don’t have to ask them what they think of [Patrick] Mahomes, although that could be a great question. We want to tailor it to what we think is going to be the best episode, and that can be anything.”

Going into his first recorded interview of the day, which was with free agent quarterback Baker Mayfield coming off a career-best season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Clark knew that he wanted to mention the unforgettable offensive frenzy in a collegiate game against Patrick Mahomes. Mayfield led the Oklahoma Sooners to a 66-59 win over Mahomes and the Texas Tech Red Raiders in October 2016 by throwing for 545 yards on a 75% completion percentage, attaining a 266.3 quarterback rating in just 36 pass attempts.

Before he broached that topic though and other football-related questions, Clark offered an icebreaker question by asking Mayfield if he was a Vegas guy. In response, Mayfield said that he has had some good and some bad experiences in the city, causing Clark to follow up and ask what happened. This led Mayfield to delineate that when he was 21 years old, he arrived in the city and ran out of money quickly. As a result, he asked his friends for money to buy water, off which Clark handed him a water bottle. Another probing question elicited Mayfield to reveal that he lost his money by playing craps and that he can only handle about three days in the city.

Clark says he has usually had about 10 minutes to speak with NFL quarterbacks throughout his career, necessitating that he is efficient and intentional to best optimize his time. In order to ensure he does not waste a question and crafts an informative, entertaining discussion, preparation is imperative so he can approach a conversation with the necessary background knowledge needed to thrive.

“When someone comes on our show – and it’s a different goal if it’s a writing thing or it’s a journalistic endeavor – but when someone comes on, we just want to have the best hang possible and give people a story they’ve never heard before; analysis they’ve never heard before, and I feel like with Baker we did that,” Clark said. “Talking about how he salvaged his career; the doubt he had last year; how he kind of simplified everything – my takeaway was that Baker was really good for 10 minutes. I really enjoyed it.”

The interview remained close to the plan Clark originally outlined with his producer Michael Flynn, who was keeping detailed notes throughout the conversation sitting alongside the video and audio engineers. The setup in its entirety contained three cameras, several microphones and lights to enhance the quality of the production with wires running to power stations and other computers.

After the interview concluded, Clark and Flynn reviewed the segment and identified topics within the conversation that could work to repurpose into standalone clips. In the end, they determined that Mayfield’s story about losing money in Las Vegas satisfied that criteria. Moreover, they also concurred that Mayfield’s anecdote about reigniting his career would also constitute interest from the audience.

The editing process began almost immediately after the conversation ended with the intent to post the interview as part of a show episode that same day. For Super Bowl Week, Clark recorded new episodes of his show that were released daily.

Generally speaking though, new episodes of This is Football are posted on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the NFL season. He uses the rest of the week to book guests and prepare for upcoming interviews. Clark does not have sentiments of complacency and indifference, retaining ambition that he hopes will allow him to balance the Omaha Productions work with another writing endeavor in the future.

“I want to write – it’s my favorite thing in the world – but if I said, ‘I’m just a writer,’ I never would have gone to The Ringer. I never would have said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this podcast,’” Clark explained. “….You can take storytelling you used to be able to do in writing and bring it to the digital space, and it gives you a unique perspective.”

Although he realizes he does not have the esoteric knowledge about football that some former players do, he can contextualize current situations and relate it back to previous experiences. For example, in his interview with former NFL quarterback Steve Young, Clark acknowledged that he did not know as much as Young. Consequently, he wanted to learn how Young reached a stage in his career where he was content with doing what is necessary to execute a play rather than demonstrate his immense talent at the quarterback position.

Clark took notes as he listened to all of Young’s weekly radio hits with KNBR during the NFL season before the 25-minute conversation at Media Row occurred. The program booked Young in advance, who, like Mayfield, was on a schedule of media appearances on-site throughout the day. Although the interview began 12 minutes late, Clark was not flustered and quickly spoke about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and head coach Kyle Shanahan.

“If you come into a Steve Young interview and say, ‘I’m going to go toe to toe with you on ball talk,’ you’re going to lose, the audience is going to lose respect for you and you’re going to have no credibility in anybody’s eyes,” Clark elucidated. “But if you can come in and say, ‘Hey Steve – I’ve done a lot of leg work; I’ve watched a lot of Shanahan stuff, but what do you appreciate that I would never appreciate?,’ he knows what that means and he can give us a great answer.”

During the interviews, Clark asks a variety of different types of questions while trying to avoid closed and double-barreled constructions. The process of active listening, which is supplemented by facial expressions and salient mannerisms, are demonstrated consistently and indicative of comprehension. At the same time, Clark is comfortable admitting he has less knowledge in certain subject areas and empowers his guests to expound on areas of shrewd acumen.

Clark recorded an introduction positioning the listener for the episode following the interviews, lasting 50 seconds in duration and immediately getting to the hook. There is no close for the show, instead ending on Clark thanking Mayfield for his time. Throughout the rest of the week, he repeated a similar process with guests such as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, ESPN analyst Marcus Spears and Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. While football is the main focus of his current work, he is open to exploring other areas to supplement the sport on the program as well.

“My feeling is to major in NFL always; that will always be the No. 1 thing,” Clark said. “Minor in college football and golf because I’m going to follow those sports and do research on those sports anyway, so I might as well talk about them.”

While Clark is enjoying his new job with Omaha Productions, he aspires to continue to grow the program to reach new audiences. One of those opportunities could be through a regular television slot, something he has yet to attain in his professional career. Clark is presently committed to growing the show with Omaha, and spending time on Media Row with current and former NFL athletes is a step forward in that direction. Just as he prepares for interviews, he ponders over how the show can continue to improve and further flourish with the company.

“The TV thing is very appealing, and I think if we can bring the perspective that we have on the show to bigger TV opportunities, I think we can have a cool thing going. That’s sort of the next year or so – I’m working on taking this show and its perspective; it doesn’t have to be this show – and growing it to new audiences, and a lot of that has to do with TV and a new audience.”

Markazene cannot pinpoint an end destination for the Omaha Productions audio division and is excited to be on the journey as it continues to broaden its reach and expand its notoriety. Clark is part of a deep roster of talented industry professionals poised to achieve stellar outcomes as Omaha Productions looks forward to what is ahead.

“It’s such an exciting place to work and the people are amazing,” Markazene said. “That’s the best part of it, but I think specifically for audio, we are a little bit over a year-and-a-half in now and also very pleased with the growth [and] pleased with the talent that we have with the shows that have been going since launch.”

Omaha Productions aims to create content that uplifts and unifies people, and Clark is already contributing to that mission through his journalistic background, commitment to the craft and passion for the storytelling process. Since the Super Bowl, there have been editions of This is Football previewing the offseason and free agency, and Clark remains invested in the space while continuing to hone his craft.

“I wish I had a better fake laugh because I don’t fake laugh at all,” Clark said. “It’s a problem because I’d be so much better at hosting if I just had a glorious fake laugh, and I’m working on it. It’s my offseason project – that glorious fake laugh.”

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NHL Network Features ‘NHL Tonight’ and a Hat Trick of Other Top Shows For Hockey Fans

In addition to the flagship program NHL Tonight hosted ably by Jamison Coyle, the network offers an eclectic trio of shows with talented on-air personalities who face off every night.

John Molori

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NHL Network

Hockey has become the neglected pup of the mainstream sports media kennel, but with exciting young talent, divisional battles, and sustained physical play that has been pretty much eliminated from football and basketball, it remains a great watch. Nowhere is the NHL better presented than on NHL Network.

In addition to the flagship program NHL Tonight hosted ably by Jamison Coyle or Tony Luftman and featuring analyst EJ Hradek, the network offers an eclectic trio of shows with talented on-air personalities who face off every night.

Top Shelf is a fun entry in the NHL Network lineup. The program showcases amazing shots, acrobatic plays, mind-boggling saves, and all-around uniqueness on the ice. It also provides a look at what’s new on social media including funny player reels and cool takes on the game. The show also specializes in some behind-the-scenes locker room footage. In a recent edition, they ran video of the St. Louis Blues humorously exchanging Valentine’s Day cards and hugs.

The Valentine’s Day theme continued with video of Carolina Hurricanes players offering some questionable dating advice. The guts of the program is counting down the best plays in the NHL from that week’s action. Top Shelf  offers viewers one-stop shopping to catch up on all the plays they may have missed but need to see.

The program is pretty much all video with no studio or on-screen hosts. The voice of Tony Luftman narrated the fast paced action moving from game to game and sequence to sequence. This particular episode highlighted another hat trick for Toronto star Auston Matthews, his sixth of the season.

Breakaway goals and crushing hits are the order of the day on Top Shelf. The video montages are backed by pulsating music and slick production values with quick cuts from one game to another. Voice overs on the action by NHL Network broadcasters such as E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto add to the excitement.

If Top Shelf  doesn’t provide a fix for the NHL junkie, On the Fly might just do the trick. The program provides a recap of the night’s games with star takes, stats, graphics, and high octaneaction. On the Fly features a rotating roster of hosts including Luftman, Siera Santos, Jamie Hersch, Jackie Redmond, Alexa Landestoy, and Erika Wachter among others.

Kudos to the production team for a powerful opening sequence with in-your-face graphics of NHL teams’ logos and images of NHL cities and regions. It actually gets you pumped up for the show. The recent episode I caught was hosted by the sublime Santos, who has made an indelible mark not only at NHL Network, but MLB network as well.

Her stylish demeanor, strong voice, and edginess break through the screen. On the Fly lets  the games do the talking. Santos introduces the highlight, but then it is all action with actual game broadcaster sound. This is a cool way for fans to hear the local broadcasters for each team.

Santos provides excellent information and data leading into the highlights. Prefacing the Stars-Bruins matchup, she noted that the recent Bruins’ skid knocked them behind Florida in the tight East Division. The show also features postgame commentary from coaches and solid analysis. On this episode, Santos was joined by NHL Network personality Mike Kelly, an expert on hockey analytics and player evaluation. Santos and Kelly worked well together, reflecting on the highlights and providing pertinent statistics and historical perspectives.

There is no rest for the weary with On the Fly. The show often briskly moves from one game highlight to another with no studio chit chat. The pacing and content make On the Fly one of the best highlight shows in sports television. You better stay focused or you’re going to miss something.

Each show finishes with the Top Shelf plays of the night followed by Santos’ Top 3 Stars. On the Fly is a like a breakaway up ice – pure speed, flash, and excitement.

While On the Fly takes a look back, NHL Now provides a look ahead. The program gives you a front row seat to the latest hockey news and prepares viewers for an exciting night of NHL game action. Lauren Gardner or Jamie Hersch host the show alongside analyst Mike Rupp and they are joined by a former player analyzing and previewing the slate of games.

I caught a recent episode with host Lauren Gardner alongside analysts Mike Rupp and Scott Hartnell. The look of the show caught my eye. The hosts were casually dressed sitting in leather chairs with hockey bobble heads on tables between them – a real living room setup, like you’re just hanging out getting ready to watch a game.

Hartnell, a 17-year NHL veteran, does an excellent job commenting on the games, and his insight is unique while Gardner and Rupp are two of the strongest swimmers in the NHL Network talent pool. Rupp, an ex-player who scored the clinching goal for the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, has developed into a truly engaging personality.

His gritty experience sets him apart. Rupp is a hockey guy in the truest sense of the word – not a lot of flash and dash, just on the mark insight. Lauren Gardner is one of the most engaging personalities on sports television today. Like Santos and Redmond, she’s an absolute television chameleon moving in and out of various sports with great turns on both NHL Network and MLB Network.

Gardner is total effervescence, but her enthusiasm is tempered with mad skills. More than a vibrant personality, she’s an excellent host who lets the analysts do their thing and interjects her opinion when appropriate. It’s next level hosting and Gardner’s got it. She lives up to her last name, planting the seeds that sow great conversation. Gardner, Redmond, Santos, Wachter, and Hersch are like NHL Network’s version of Madame Web – strong and talented women with powerful sports voices.

Telling graphics, quick-hitting highlights, and no holds barred commentary are the hallmarks of NHL Now, but the talent sets the tone of the show. Rupp and Hartnell are unafraid to ruffle feathers and give straight up commentary.

The Daily Rush segment of the program provides updated NHL news and headlines. Rupp was extremely candid saying that the Vancouver Canucks, currently leading the Pacific Division, are not for real. He cited their lack of playoff experience and stated that they have talent and are fun and entertaining, but not consistent.

NHL Now also features interviews which have become “players only” segments for an, uninterrupted, 15-20 minute chat. On this particular program, they queried Brody Roybal, who has played nine seasons with the US National Sled Hockey team. It’s just another way in which the NHL Network covers the entire world of hockey.

The Tape Room segment of the show featured Hartnell and Rupp offering locker room insight while analyzing game action from a technical and strategic standpoint. Like most of today’s sports shows, NHL Now also offers dialogue on betting lines and prop bets.

Gardner moved the discussion to the recent 2024 Stadium Series featuring Metropolitan Division foes the Devils, Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders. The talk centered on the series’ impact on the standings. It’s an interesting topic because these outdoor games have an exhibition-like atmosphere, but they actually count.

NHL Now expertly combines interviews and information in a chill atmosphere with highlights, straight talk, fun exchanges, and hard hitting action. It’s what every fan needs to get ready for an exhilarating night of hockey.

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Advertising Clients Need to Be Known Before They Are Needed

Should top-of-funnel (ToFu) marketing be a top priority or not?

Jeff Caves

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Marketing and Sales Funnel Chart
Courtesy: EComEngine.com

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with advertising budgets that don’t allow for both digital and traditional broadcast advertising, like radio/TV, have to make a choice. Should top-of-funnel (ToFu) marketing be a top priority or not? ToFu marketing focuses on broad audiences and introduces them to your brand. The goal is to make a company known before they are needed. For example, if a homeowner has a leaky roof, who do they contact? Do they have a roofer they trust by memory, or must they enter ‘roofers near me’ into Google? A good roofer memory is likely because a ToFu strategy puts that roofer in the customers’ minds. Those customers respond to lower-funnel marketing tactics if they search in Google, yelp’s Top 10 roofers, or Angies List for a roofer. A ToFu strategy may still make a roofer jump off the Google page because the customer is familiar with that company. If they don’t know any company, those battles are won by whoever ranks first, has the lowest price, or has the quickest response time. The best roofers do not always win them. ToFu strategies lay the groundwork for future customer conversions. They also take time and money, but the results can be more sustainable. Here’s a closer look at the factors to consider:

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1. Cost Considerations: Traditional ToFu marketing channels, such as consistent monthly radio/television campaigns, print media, and prominent community events, can be outside an SMBs cash flow range. However, digital channels like content marketing, paid social media, email, and paid search can often be effective alternatives for SMBs. HubSpot’s State of Inbound report found that businesses prioritizing blogging are 13 times more likely to achieve a positive ROI than those not. And, if an SMB is a Business-to-Business (B2B) marketer, the Content Marketing Institute reports that 86% of B2B marketers use content marketing to get buzz and new customers.

2. ROI: SMBs should evaluate the potential ROI of TOFU marketing versus other marketing strategies. Some ToFu activities may not directly result in immediate sales, but they contribute to brand recognition and bring customer conversions in the long term.

Target Audience and Competition

1. Understanding the Audience: SMBs should assess whether their target audience is actively searching for their products or services or if there is a need to create awareness from scratch. If the target market is unaware of the brand or solution,  investing in ToFu marketing becomes critical. For example, if you are a breakfast/lunch restaurant with a great breakfast business but need a larger lunch crowd. The customers know you for pancakes, not paninis-ToFu could be for you! 

2. Competitors: SMBs should know if competitors invest heavily in ToFu activities. If competitors are doing ToFu marketing, it may be necessary for SMBs to put money there not to fall behind or be seen as a lesser brand.

 Think Long-Term

1. Brand Building: Early on establishing a strong brand presence can pay dividends in the long run. Even with limited resources, SMBs can leverage blogs, make social media posts, and participate in community events to build brand awareness and credibility. This is a great place to get started with learning how to push content out to get business and how to be involved in your community. The Content Marketing Institute reports that 86% of Business-to-Business (B2B) marketers use content marketing to generate brand awareness and attract new customers.

2. Customer Conversion: ToFu marketing helps fill the sales funnel with leads and pulls them through the bottom of the funnel. While immediate customer conversions may be limited, laying the groundwork for future conversions is vital for sustainable growth. According to a report by Nielsen, 59% of consumers prefer to buy products from brands they recognize. It can pay well to be known before needed.

Be Flexible

1. A/B Testing: Experiment with different ToFu strategies and measure their impact. Ensure the ‘test’ is at least 6-12 months to see if you can change customer behavior.

2. Adapt: While ToFu marketing may not always be a top priority, it’s important to stay on top of shifts in customer preferences and adjust strategies accordingly. Sales Reps who call on SMBs who know the market’s pulse or share local market intelligence have value in creating more customer conversions. Most SMBs don’t get to talk to 10-15 different business owners in their community weekly like they do.

While ToFu marketing is essential for building brand awareness and attracting new customers, SMBs must balance investing in ToFu opportunities and staying on top of other pressing priorities. By evaluating how to allocate budget, knowing the target audience, and using long-term marketing strategies, SMBs can become known before they are needed and influence why customers come to them.

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