Over his career in sports media, Mike Greenberg has hardly concealed his favorite teams on the air, most notably his fandom for the New York Jets. As “Gang Green” aims to make a change at quarterback in an effort to compete for a Super Bowl championship, the team seems confident in its chances to land Green Bay Packers quarterback and perennial Hall of Fame inductee Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers did not qualify for the NFL playoffs for the first time in three seasons last year, and it left Rodgers, who had previously pondered over remaining with the franchise, questioning whether it was prudent for him to remain a Packer, request a trade, or retire.
In an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show last month, Rodgers detailed his decision-making process, which entailed a stay at Sky Cave Retreats in Southern Oregon isolated in complete darkness for four days and four nights. He entered the retreat envisioning making a decision to retire from football and emerged content with continuing to play football – and doing so for the New York Jets.
Greenberg has long been a proponent of Rodgers joining the Jets and pledged to embark on the darkness retreat himself if the situation manifested itself.
“I make no secret of the teams I root for,” Greenberg said. “I guess there are some people who think that’s not the right way to go about it, but I couldn’t imagine any other way to go about it. I cover sports because they’re fun. I cover sports because they’re games people play that bring people joy and entertainment.”
Throughout the entirety of his career, Rodgers has donned No. 12 and is statistically one of the greatest players to ever do so. Yet there are other prominent athletes both in and out of football who have called that number their own – including quarterbacks Joe Namath, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, and Tom Brady among others.
One day following Greenberg’s morning television show Get Up on ESPN, he was having a conversation with several others about these storied quarterbacks who wore the number, and then choosing who owned it.
“It was like a lightbulb went off over my head,” Greenberg said. “I’ve always wanted to write a sports book, and I’ve never had a good enough idea. Finally, I had a good enough idea.”
Shortly thereafter, Greenberg called content producer and researcher for Get Up, Paul “Hembo” Hembekides, and pitched him his book idea. After Hembekides agreed to perform research for the book that Greenberg would write, the two formally met to outline the concept and how they would approach the project.
Very quickly, though, Greenberg realized he was about to author a book about sports legends without several distinguished names – such as Serena Williams, Jack Nicklaus, and Jesse Owens – just because they did not wear jersey numbers. It felt wrong to omit athletes who played sports that did not assign numbers; therefore, the premise of the book had to undoubtedly change.
“We realized [that] we had to come up with a creative way to include all athletes in sports and assign numbers for them to own,” Greenberg said. “That process was a lot of fun, and I hope that people will enjoy reading that part of it.”
Greenberg offered the example of Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain, who played 14 seasons in the NBA wearing the No. 13, yet is associated with the No. 100 since he famously set the league record for most points scored in a game. The feat still stands to this day and is known by most sports fans; therefore, it simply made more sense for Greenberg to assign Chamberlain that numeral as opposed to his actual uniform number.
The motivation to write the book was multifaceted in nature for Greenberg, who hosts different types of programs on a variety of platforms for ESPN. He never thought, however, that he would reach this point based on his assimilation into the industry. Yet his unwavering passion, combined with taking advantage of fortuitous opportunities, has brought him to the point of being one of ESPN’s longest-tenured and most recognizable personalities with no signs of slowing down.
From the time he was 5 years old, Greenberg remembers sitting in front of the television at his home and announcing football games, in part after his first idol Howard Cosell. Most conversations in his youth revolved around sports, with both of his parents and brother invested in the local teams. After attending Stuyvesant High School in New York, N.Y., Greenberg made the move to Evanston, Ill. as an undergraduate student at Northwestern University where he proceeded to study journalism.
While a large majority of aspiring sports media professionals often participate in student media outlets and other extracurricular activities, Greenberg partook in none of it. His studies at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism represented the bulk of his experience, and he continues to regret not immersing himself in the school newspaper (The Daily Northwestern) and radio station (WNUR).
Instead, he was more focused on fostering a social life and his work in the classroom and is aware of how lucky he is that the recursivity did not prove precarious in his ability to build a sustainable career. Today, he reflects back on that experience and renders it a warning to others as to what not to do in order to effectuate a viable portfolio to gain genuine experience and the necessary repetitions to land a job in this competitive field.
“You should do the opposite of what I did,” Greenberg advises. “….There’s so much opportunity now with podcasting and all sorts of other outlets that [students] should absolutely be taking advantage of all that, and I absolutely should have been too. Sometimes I’m embarrassed at how little of that I actually did until I got out of school.”
Upon his graduation from Northwestern University, Greenberg joined WMAQ-AM, a station broadcasting in the news format, where he served as a sports anchor and reporter. Over the preceding decade, the station had experimented with a variety of formats, including country and talk, and eventually moved to an all-sports format complete with new call letters by 2000.
Those new call letters – W-S-C-R – began on a different frequency (AM 820), and Greenberg immediately started working behind the scenes hoping to be afforded a chance to cover Chicago sports teams. The situation benefited him in that the station did not hire a full-time anchor to deliver sports updates on the air, giving Greenberg a chance to appear on the air and divulge the latest scores and information about sports teams to an inquisitive audience.
A few months later, the station moved George Ofman into the studio to deliver these updates regularly, someone with whom Greenberg is friendly to this day. Before he was working out of the studio, Ofman had been on-site covering sports teams as a reporter, appearing across programming to discuss news, conduct interviews and draw conclusions based on what he had observed.
With his move to the studio came an opening to serve as a reporter, something station management decided to give Greenberg, who had long been imploring for a way to be around the teams. At the age of 24, Greenberg was covering the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls featuring superstars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, witnessing the team’s quest for a second consecutive championship.
By the time the summer came around, Greenberg was working from Platteville, Wis. covering the Chicago Bears’ training camp, a team that was led by head coach Mike Ditka and quarterback Jim Harbaugh. A few years later, Greenberg augmented his presence in media by writing a weekly column for the Copley News Service, and also began working in television reporting for SportsChannel Chicago, and, eventually, Chicagoland Television (CLTV).
With little to no previous experience reporting, Greenberg was cognizant that he had been bestowed a prime circumstance to cultivate his growth in sports media and jumpstart his career. From covering the World Series and the Super Bowl to appearing on television and radio as a trusted voice in the No. 3 media market in the country, he ensured he worked hard and stood out within the media landscape.
“I don’t even know how to begin to explain all the ways that [it] shaped me,” Greenberg said. “It’s where I learned everything; it was the reason that I was able to go to ESPN; it was the reason I was ready when I got there…. That was an incredibly fortunate series of circumstances that befell me, and it changed my life completely.”
As a beat reporter, Greenberg was around the teams for most days over the span of four years, through which the Bulls captured two NBA championships. In watching Michael Jordan from his perspective, Greenberg drew a connection between his work as a journalist and Jordan’s as a basketball player in what it took to achieve “greatness.” Years after his retirement, Jordan remains a prominent figure and firmly rooted in basketball vernacular, and the debate as to who is the greatest player in league history continues to be amplified.
Contentious, yet astute debate is a hallmark of sports talk, whether it be between hosts on the radio or fans attending a game. It is the basis on which Greenberg authored his newest book, as there is a legitimate conversation to be had over who owns a number, especially when comparing athletes across different sports in different eras.
“No. 21 – should it be Tim Duncan; should it be Deion Sanders; should it be Roberto Clemente?,” Greenberg said. “I gave my opinion. I’m sure many people will agree and others will disagree, and that’s where the debate comes in.”
Three years into his tenure at ESPN, Greenberg began hosting a national radio show alongside Mike Golic, appropriately named Mike & Mike, and it quickly became a hit with listeners and one of the most successful programs of all time.
Before that though, Greenberg had joined the network in 1996 where he anchored programming on the new ESPNEWS channel and eventually was named as a host of the heralded show SportsCenter. Through his formative years on national television, Greenberg meticulously focused on applying and refining what he had learned from reporting in a local market to doing so on a national scale.
Looking back on the day he signed his contract to work for ESPN, the network is hardly recognizable. Although its main focus remains and has always been bringing consumers the latest news, information and opinions about their favorite players and teams, the execution of that goal has shifted with evolutions in technology and dynamic consumption patterns.
When I got to the network, the internet was a brand-new phenomenon,” Greenberg said. “Everything is different and we have adapted and evolved as every industry has with all of the changes in technology. There are a lot of ways that everything has changed, but that’s overwhelmingly the biggest one, and it remains overwhelmingly the biggest challenge going forward – to make sure that we are staying on top of what our audience wants.”
Greenberg co-hosted Mike & Mike with Golic from 2000 until 2017, making it one of the longest-running sports talk radio shows in history. As the show received positive feedback among listeners, it was added to the ESPNEWS television lineup in 2004 and continued to air on ESPN2 until its final episode.
Additionally, Golic and Greenberg contributed across ESPN programming, including serving as the lead broadcast team for the Arena Football League and calling an annual Monday Night Football game with former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka for three years.
Before they began working together, Golic had been hosting The Bruno-Golic Morning Show with sports commentator Tony Bruno for a year; however, the host position became open when Bruno resigned from the network for what was reported as “irreconcilable differences” between him and ESPN Radio management.
The change required Golic and Greenberg to quickly develop chemistry, something that is never guaranteed in creating sports radio shows and composing a sound that would allure listeners in various different marketplaces with broad rooting interests.
“If there’s more than one host, then those people need to have chemistry, and that’s a very elusive quality,” Greenberg said. “It’s usually not something you know until you try, which is why a lot of things don’t ever really get off the ground because it’s not until they actually start doing the show that you realize, ‘You know what? These people really aren’t meant to be together.’”
When Mike & Mike ended, Greenberg ceased hosting a sports radio show and instead began working on the network’s primary channel as the host of Get Up, a new morning show originally featuring Greenberg, Michelle Beadle, and Jalen Rose. The show currently features Greenberg and a rotating panel of analysts, and it recently set viewership records for its most-watched January on record by averaging 445,000 viewers.
Moreover, Get Up combined with First Take, hosted by Molly Qerim featuring Stephen A. Smith, accumulated 100 million views on YouTube, up 2% from the previous year. As the host of a morning program on ESPN, Greenberg views his role as being a facilitator, someone who renders comfort in his guests and accentuates the qualities that allow them to adequately inform and entertain the audience.
“It’s a really fun challenge because we have so many different people,” Greenberg said. “Every day, basically, is a different show. My job is to get to know all these people who are coming on and know how to put them in a position to be the best they can be.”
Greenberg is equipped with a similar task, albeit with a recurring cast, on NBA Countdown, a show that precedes the NBA on ESPN predicated on previewing matchups and discussing the news around the league. Featuring a panel of the aforementioned Rose and Smith, along with longtime sports journalist and co-host of Pardon the Interruption, Michael Wilbon, Greenberg holds himself responsible for eliciting compendious responses from his analysts that precipitate additional conversation and/or spark debate.
Although he never got to the point where he could succeed Walt “Clyde” Frazier as the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, Greenberg in essence plays the position and assists his panelists, and occasionally knocks down a three-point basket by expressing his opinions.
“I try to produce the show from the chair, which is to say [that] I’m trying to think about what is the best for the show in its entirety,” Greenberg said. “….I think all hosts have one thing or another that they’re good at, [and] I think if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s bringing out the best in all the people who are around me.”
Two years into hosting Get Up, Greenberg made his return to the national radio airwaves by adding a new solo program titled #Greeny. The show airs from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST and brings consumers the perspectives and opinions of Greenberg; in basketball terms, he is essentially scoring more than he is passing.
On this show, Greenberg is front and center – after all, the show is eponymously named after his pseudonym “Greeny,” – and he proffers his erudite perspectives on sports, the history of which he learned through his avidity for learning. It is the second reason he decided to write his fifth book and the first that primarily focuses on the progression of sports history and everything he has learned over the years.
“I loved reading sports history books; it’s where I learned everything I know about sports,” Greenberg said. “What I’m hoping is that people who read this, whether they agree or disagree with the choices that we made, will learn [something about] every one of the sports legends in this book.”
Greenberg is in the midst of recovering from a cardiac ablation, a type of heart surgery utilized to correct problems pertaining to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Furthermore, there have been instances over the last year where he has been criticized for being absent from his radio show, with McAfee addressing his audience and entreating him to get back into the studio.
Despite balancing many different roles with ESPN, Greenberg has no plans of altering his schedule and considers himself extremely fortunate to be in his position. He and Golic were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame, along with the National Radio Hall of Fame, and Greenberg himself is a member of the Medill Hall of Achievement at Northwestern University.
Through it all, he wants to remain at the forefront of innovation and seek new ways to reach and expand the audience, the way in which they consume the programming notwithstanding.
“The way I watched sports when I was in my 20s is totally different [from] the way my son and my nephews and others that I watch with consume it,” Greenberg said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m on top of that or I’m going to get left behind. That’s the biggest challenge for me and for all of us in the industry, and I think that will continue to be for the foreseeable future.”
From the very beginning, Greenberg’s goal was to find a way to remain immersed in sports since he did not have the athletic wherewithal to pursue a professional career. Now, he is the lead host of two national television shows, a national radio show, and the network’s coverage of the NBA Finals and the NFL Draft. He hopes his career as a versatile professional inspires others and promulgates captivating ways to ruminate on sports and be distinctive amid a crowded media ecosystem.
“It’s a miracle that this has happened to me,” Greenberg said. “I do it because I love it, to be completely honest with you. I have the best job of anybody I know, and I don’t have any intention of stopping any time soon.”
Got Your Number: The Greatest Sports Legends and the Numbers They Own is available wherever you get your books and is split into 100 short chapters delineating the choices Greenberg and Hembekides settled on, along with the context for each selection. The book is largely sold out, with a select few hardcover copies available at the moment, and is the encapsulation of Greenberg’s enamorment towards professional sports and its ensuing culture.
“Babe Ruth; Muhammad Ali; you name it,” Greenberg expressed. “That’s what the book is. It’s a combination of sports debate and sports history. It’s sort of a new beginning for me, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
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.
Meet The Podcasters – John Middlekauff, The Volume
“I worked in college football and I worked in the NFL, and the reality is you talk about it in those buildings like a fan would talk. ‘Is this player better than the other player?’ ‘This coach sucks.’ I mean, you have the same conversations.”
John Middlekauff is in the right business at the right time. America has never wanted more football talk and what stands out are educated people with unique points of view.
Before his media career began, John was a scout, first in the college football world and then for the Philadelphia Eagles. His insight on the game is informed by experiences on multiple levels. It is no surprise that Colin Cowherd saw Middlekauff as the perfect addition to his podcast network.
Our conversation focuses on the value of authenticity, why it’s good not to be beholden to a team or business and what conversations he has learned his audience wants to participate in. He even answers my question about what is wrong with the Carolina Panthers in the bleakest, most disheartening way possible.
Demetri Ravanos: Can there ever be too much NFL content out there?
John Middlekauff: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s obviously as big as it’s ever been. I think the key is to not just regurgitate. Everyone’s watching the games. Clearly, there are a lot of different NFL podcasts. Everyone talks about the NFL. Every show talks about the NFL because clearly, there is a demand for it. It’s somewhat supply and demand.
I’m 38 years old. When I was a kid, baseball was still huge in the early mid-’90s – Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, [Ken] Griffey Jr. That kind of dipped through Michael Jordan taking the NBA, which was as big as any league, right at his peak. They’ve ebbed and flowed, and obviously, the NFL’s passed them. Now, the NFL was big in the ’90s, but it’s gone to a different stratosphere the last, I’d say 20 years, the [Tom] Brady and Peyton Manning kind of era.
For the foreseeable future, I think, who knows? I mean you can never predict 20 years ahead, but for the next this next decade it feels like it’s going to maintain pretty consistently. So, I would say as of right now, probably not.
DR: As you know, podcasts in general have opened up the door for all kinds of different content. You come at it with an experience that not a lot of people talking about the NFL have with the league. You think about something like the ManningCast, the fact that Pro Football Focus is able to sustain itself with subscriptions. It seems like the appetite for the type of NFL content that the average person wants has certainly changed.
JM: Well, my whole thing is just to try to talk about it like a fan would. I worked in college football and I worked in the NFL, and the reality is you talk about it in those buildings like a fan would talk. “Is this player better than the other player?” “This coach sucks.” I mean, you have the same conversations. You just might be having him with a guy that could fire the offensive coordinator or has the potential to trade the player you’re talking about, but you have the same conversation as the five guys that watch their favorite team at the bar or in their home have. You just have closer access to the people who make the decisions.
I actually kind of pride myself. I don’t get that nerdy on stuff. There are a lot of podcasts that get much more nerdy and analytical on football. I just kind of talk about it like I’ve always talked about it, like I did in the NFL and like I did when I worked with Jason [Barrett] on radio.
You’ve got to make it entertaining, but I just try to talk about it like the fan would. Luckily, that’s just how I talk about it, so it’s been pretty easy for me so far.
DR: What kind of conversations do people want to have with you on social media? Is it just more fan talk or do you find that people do want to figure out, “What is the life of the scout like? What was that experience like for you?”
JM: We have talked about that from time to time, but I think it’s much more specific on, “What the f*** is up with this coach?,” right? “What’s what’s going on with our team?” Or maybe something bigger picture, like, “What should our general manager do? Should our coach get fired? Is this guy really a top player? Who should we draft?” Stuff like that; it’s more on that angle.
No one gives a shit on a daily basis how many players you write up on the road or when you write those reports. I don’t spend any time talking about that really at all unless I get asked and then we will talk about it.
DR: Well, since you since you brought up that that’s the way you talk, I told you I’m here in North Carolina. What the f*** is up with Frank Reich, man? He can’t be this bad at the job, right?
JM: That’s a good example, you know? I mean, working with Colin [Cowherd], it’s such a big, national audience that you get people from all over. Really, the Internet has made it so you’ll get, “Hey, I’m stationed over in Germany and I’m a big Panther fan” or, “Hey, I’m in Australia. I’m a diehard Seahawks fan,” which is cool. It shows you the power. Listen, social media and all this stuff can drive us all nuts and you wish it didn’t exist, but then there are also the positives of it, especially in the business we’re in.
I would say that the one thing I have definitely taken away from Colin is, “You’re going to be wrong on stuff. Just move on.” Colin’s big thing was like, “I’m not in the credit business. You’re right and wrong. Who cares? Just be entertaining.”
I love Bryce Young; I watched him at Alabama. Like most people over the last ten years, I end up watching a lot of Alabama games. I’m a California guy; he’s from California. It took about two preseason snaps to go, “Holy shit, he’s tiny.” Now, he’s always been the same size. But you watch him in the pros and he looks extra small, especially when his team is not good. And you go, “I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
Clearly, the other two quarterbacks, C.J. Stroud, he’s got a really good coach in DeMeco [Ryans], but he just looks like a normal NFL quarterback. Anthony Richardson is like Cam Newton 2.0. So you compare him to little Bryce Young and you go “God, they might want a re-do on that one.”
DR: So not only am I in North Carolina, I’m an Alabama graduate. So like, this is particularly personal and painful to me.
JM: Do you agree? I mean, doesn’t he look really, really tiny?
DR: He does look really small, but I also look at the play-calling, and it seems pretty obvious to me that like, “Oh, this is not the dude Frank Reich wanted.” And I don’t think that Frank Reich is acting out or trying to sabotage Bryce. I just don’t think he has a lot of confidence in Bryce, and I don’t know that that’s necessarily fair, but I also think it’s pretty clear he never really had a plan for the guy.
JM: Well, if that’s true, then it’s all destined to blow up, and that’s the type of stuff we talk about, like when people aren’t aligned – you know, the head coach, the GM, the owner forces stuff, because that happens in a lot of industries. When the owner of the car dealership is mad at the guy who runs the day-to-day business no one outside cares, right? But in this business, those dynamics sink or swim whether you win or lose.
Now Carolina doesn’t have their picks. They trade away D.J. Moore. They’ve got no talent on offense. I don’t see how it gets better for a couple of years, right?
DR: I’m 100% with you on that. Alright, you mentioned Colin [Cowherd], so I do want to ask about what Colin has done with his podcast, and I don’t just mean at The Volume, I mean like his podcast feed for his radio show too. He’s slipping The Volume shows in there all the time. How much has that affected your own audience? Are you seeing real growth from week-to-week whenever you pop up in Colin’s feed?
JM: What makes my show unique is I’ve been doing it well before The Volume started with Colin. I don’t remember the exact date; maybe late 2018 we were going full-time. So I’ve been doing the show and connected to that feed. Obviously it ramped up, I think, with the promotion through The Volume as he built the team around so many different elements. Before I would just do a podcast with no video element.
Obviously, YouTube is big. I go on with him right now during football season every Sunday and we get 150,000; 175,000 people watching a 40-minute show. So there are a lot of different elements that help there, but from the feed specifically? I mean, I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve been going on it now five years probably. It always helped. People would hit me up and say [they] “discovered [me] through him,” so that’s pretty awesome.
It’s like anything in life. You get an opportunity to get a new person listening. Most people in podcasts don’t have to the distribution and the power of being with one of the most powerful guys in the industry in sports, specifically football. It’s been freaking awesome. I take a lot of pride and put a lot of effort into every show I do, because I know that every show, more than likely is going to get new people for the for the first time.
DR: You just threw it out as an example, the amount of people listening when you and Colin do your Sunday show. How much are you paying attention to those numbers? How much are you seeking out the metrics versus how much are you making your decisions based off what is presented to you from the folks at The Volume?
JM: Yeah, we don’t really have those conversations, to be honest. Now, I’m a big market guy, I’m a 49er guy; Bay Area guy. I worked for the Eagles. We will talk all day about anything that’s interesting, right? If something crazy happens – someone gets fired – Matt Rhule gets fired. But I mean, the Cowboys and Niners play Sunday night. I’ve been in this business long enough. I was a consumer of radio. Back when I was in junior high, I used to listen to Jim Rome. I mean, I’ve been a sports talk radio guy since I was really young and KNBR was in its heyday. I know what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned it over time but have a pretty good idea of what to attack and what not to attack.
DR: I know you were on sports radio in the Bay Area for a while. I know you’ve done some TV as well. Coming up in a more traditional media setting, are there things that you had to either unlearn or learn differently to become an effective podcaster?
JM: It’s definitely different. On radio, there are breaks, right? This is a much different medium.
Also, there’s no rules of what I can say and not say. Now, I tend to probably swear on the higher end of people and I’ve learned that while I’m going to have a lot of people in their 20s, I’m also going to have people in their early 40s with young children listening in the car. I try to be cognizant of just being careful, but authenticity, I think, has been a big reason the show works and has had a lot of success. A reason we’re able to make money is because I’m not faking anything. Actually, a lot of our stuff is anti-fakes and frauds and phonies. That really works in 2023.
What people are seeking out is kind of people who aren’t afraid to say whatever they think. Because like I said, back to what we were talking about, about the fans, that’s just how people talk, right? There’s a way people talk about sports, and then you turn on TV and they’re just talking completely different because they’re afraid to offend someone or whatever. It’s not what my show kind of stands for.
DR: I know this is this is not football. This is baseball. But like you have the experience of working at a radio station [95.7 The Game in San Francisco] with a very sensitive play-by-play partner who wasn’t always putting the best product on the field. Certainly, that is a very different element of how you talk about something that people can see with their own arms.
JM: Well, you know, we had the A’s, but we also had the Raiders, and I did the Raiders postgame show and I pissed them off a lot. After Jason had left, they wanted me gone. That was ultimately the best thing that ever happened to me. It led me here, and I pride myself on not being in business with teams. I’m not the type guy that can be a business with teams. I mean, it’s one thing if your team’s like the freakin’ Brady/Belichick Patriots in their prime. That’s pretty easy. But when you’re a lot like the Raiders, what do you say?
It’s really difficult and I think I’m a pretty good voice for people when things are going wrong because I have a lot of respect for how hard it is to play, right? It’s really hard. So I’m hesitant on just missed tackles and stuff like that. I don’t waste my time talking a bunch of shit about every single player, but I think coaching is something where I feel very, very comfortable letting it rip. You know, they’re making a ton of money and a lot of guys, I think, are kind of stealing.
Luckily for the sport of football, the power of the coaches and the power of the coordinators is a thing that a lot of people talk about, which I love talking about, which makes for great just conversation, right? Especially during the season and after games – reacting to what should have happened and what didn’t – we talk a lot about that.
To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
Taylor Swift Coverage Should Be a Reminder to Sports Radio
The conversation around Swift at NFL games goes back to radio 101.
Taylor Swift has set the sports media world ablaze — for better or worse — with her appearances at a pair of NFL games in the last two weeks.
Make no mistake about it: complaining about the amount of coverage she is getting reeks of an inferiority complex.
We love sports. It’s why we do what we do, and why we chose the career field we did. And in our narrow view, no one should be able to come into our stratosphere and take the limelight away from the thing we love, right?
The coverage of Taylor Swift, whether it be from CBS, NBC, or your local sports radio stations, embodies Radio 101: Play. The. Hits.
You know what everyone outside of sports radio spent the summer talking about? Taylor Swift. You know what drives traffic on every single platform? Taylor Swift. You know who the most famous woman — maybe the most famous person — on the face of the planet is? Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift content is the “Is Joe Flacco elite?”, “Is LeBron better than Michael?”, and “Give me your Mount Rushmore for (insert franchise here)” topics rolled into one. She drives traffic, reaction, engagement, and ratings. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?
We’re all after notoriety, publicity, and attention. To say you aren’t is disingenuous. Taylor Swift just happens to embody those things, and for the time being, is spending her free Sundays watching someone she may or may not actually be dating.
Many pundits have been preoccupied with the amount of coverage she has received. Of course the NFL is going to attach itself to her. Quite literally, she’s more famous than the league is. And the ever-hungry corporate beast that is the NFL is always looking for new ways to make fans. Do you know why the NFL let ESPN+ and Disney+ air an alternate broadcast featuring Toy Story characters? It wasn’t because they were bored! They’re (for lack of a better term) indoctrinating your kids to like football!
Of course sports radio hosts and stations are going to talk about her. She’s the most famous person in the world, and she’s dropped her legions of fans and followers at your doorstep. Now, is it likely that you’re going to end up growing a passionate Swifty following for your brand? Hell no.
But what does Radio 101 entail? Play the hits. Capture the moment. Talk about what everyone is talking about.
What is everyone talking about? Taylor Swift. What has a history of driving traffic, engagement, and reaction? Taylor Swift.
I understand if you’re sick of the content. Driving things into the ground until it’s pulverized into dust is what we do, like it or not. I also understand if you don’t want to talk about her, Travis Kelce, seeing her on the broadcasts, or anything to do with her. I totally get it.
But don’t stand in the way or bitch and moan about the people that do. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at [email protected].
Matt McClearin is Not Just Filling a Void at The Ticket
“As much as I dreamt about this opportunity, it’s even more so than I probably could ever have dreamt.”
Norm Hitzges is considered an industry pioneer, helping establish morning sports talk radio in the Dallas area. Spending a total of 48 years in the format, he made an immense contribution to the field. When Hitzges officially retired in June, there were questions surrounding who would move into the midday slot on Sportsradio 96.7 and 1310 The Ticket to work alongside host Donovan Lewis. The station eventually made the decision to bring one of its own home in Matt McClearin, and he has excelled in the assignment since officially taking over in August.
McClearin, a Texas native who grew up listening to Hitzges and other programs on the outlet, is living his dream with the medium he set his sights on from the time he was young. Over the years, he had a chance to be around Hitzges and saw his elite level of preparation and congeniality firsthand.
“One of the kindest humans I think that I’ve ever met,” McClearin said of Hitzges, “especially in this business, and that says a lot, I think, about how to carry yourself. Even when you have success and get to a certain level, [knowing] the right way to treat people and the right way to go about your daily business.”
It is safe to say that Hitzges had an impact on everyone at The Ticket, and it is a legacy that McClearin hopes to further perpetuate. Every time he walks into the studios, it is not lost on him the magnitude of the assignment he has been entrusted with, and he remains focused and driven on realizing his full potential.
Reaching this point took endurance and patience, but the timing ultimately ended up working out in his best interest. Growing up in the metroplex, The Ticket was a fundamental part of the sports sound and represented McClearin’s innate ambition.
McClearin was selected by station management to work in paid positions for two years while attending Texas State University – production director and program director – which entailed 20 to 25 hours per week within the offices and studio. In addition to working on job-specific functions, he also used the time to perfect his editing skills and board operating procedures and gain on-air repetitions. By the time he graduated and sought to apply for a job, he surmised that possessing versatility would engender a larger swath of chances to become immersed in the craft.
“Originally, [I was] kind of practicing the craft as much as [I] could and learning as much as I could,” McClearin said. “I could increase [my] value, I think, of being able to walk into a radio station in Dallas in a Top 5 market and say, ‘I can run the board; I can do production [and] I can do on-air stuff,’ but not just talk.”
By happenstance, he learned that The Ticket was looking for a part-time sports anchor to fill in for various shows, leading him to send his demo reel to the outlet. After some conversations with station management, McClearin officially joined the team and became immersed in refining his on-air skillset with guidance from program director Jeff Catlin.
“He’s very hands-on [by], early on, giving you a lot of constructive criticism and helping you to learn the ins and outs and proper formatics and how to set up each segment correctly,” McClearin said of Catlin. “Doing things like that and having those opportunities [are things] I always enjoyed.”
McClearin eventually began working as a pregame and postgame studio host for Dallas Stars broadcasts. Moreover, he would attend Dallas Cowboys games and collect audio from the players and coaches to edit and send back to the radio station to be used across its programming.
Working hard and going the extra mile helped separate McClearin from his competition both inside and outside of the radio station, ultimately earning him a weekend show with Scot Harrison. His candid assessments of the local teams and ability to delegate on the show, indifferent towards whether or not he is the center of attention, have rendered his hosting abilities conducive to success.
“I’m just a big believer in being who you are and being real and presenting that on the air,” McClearin said, “so no matter what you’re going through or what’s different about you, there are listeners out there that can connect with that and understand that you’re being real.”
The program remained a fixture on the weekends before both hosts were offered the chance to become part of the weekday programming lineup, following sports radio luminary Paul Finebaum. This opening, however, would require McClearin and Harrison to pick up and move to Birmingham so they could broadcast from the studios of Jox 94.5.
Both hosts eventually agreed and spent the next three-and-a-half years on the outlet, growing a new audience and becoming an indispensable part of the evenings in the area. There are certain instances in any business that are fugacious and unexpected in nature though, and the show cancellation in 2016 was an example of such.
McClearin returned to Dallas to work as a part-time radio host on ESPN Radio 103.3 FM, an extraordinary circumstance in that he was in the same building he used to work in with The Ticket. The station was operating under a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Cumulus Media and competing with the very outlet they were sharing the building with, cultivating a professional atmosphere mired by the ratings. The onset of the global pandemic caused the station to shutter.
“It was one of those things where you’ve just got to believe in what you’re doing and believe that there’s an appeal to what you’re doing,” McClearin said. “You get hired for a reason, and you continue to perform and try to grow what we were doing at the time.”
Catlin continued to serve as a mentor for McClearin during his years away from The Ticket, a venerable radio professional who has helped further build the outlet into a local powerhouse. The station frequently posts stellar ratings each quarter, representing a place where McClearin feels he can grow his brand and show to unrealized heights.
“The goal is to be No. 1 in the ratings in our [demographic] and to continue that,” McClearin said. “That’s something that I think drives me every day. When you’re not No. 1, you want to know, ‘Okay, well why aren’t we No. 1?,’ and when you get to that point, the question then becomes, ‘Okay, well how do we maintain this and continue to go and be better and bigger than what we were the previous month?’”
Before he ultimately returned to The Ticket to work with Lewis in the midday time slot, there was a bit of irony in that he, once again, called Birmingham home. When McClearin’s original program was canceled, he felt as if he had assimilated into the city and found his niche. He was disappointed in the outcome and always thought of the area in a favorable light, which then led to his phone ringing with a call from program director Ryan Haney.
As fortune would have it, Haney asked McClearin if he would be interested in returning to the station to host a solo program as part of a refreshed local lineup. Without hesitation, he conveyed that he would be interested in making a comeback in the locale, a full-circle moment filled with feelings of both satisfaction and gratitude.
“I never thought that I would go back to Alabama, much less work for the same station that, five years prior, had made the decision to let, at the time, Scot Harrison and I go,” McClearin said. “….I never wanted to leave in the first place, [so] I was really, really happy and I’m very fortunate that Ryan believed in me and gave me that opportunity to come back.”
The dynamic of the show differed the second time around in that he was the primary host, yet he also had help from John Saber and Conrad Van Order. Being around the Birmingham audience for a second time gave him more chances to talk about college football, basketball and other sports topics dominating the local and national scene.
Moving from one marketplace more focused on professional teams to one that was dominated by college sports, he furthered his abilities and worked to finish at the top of the ratings.
“I say the things that I actually believe in and I talk about the things that I really do to where, yes, sometimes I think I probably do some weird things and I’m a different type of person, but that’s just my personality and I have my quirks and my eccentricities,” McClearin said. “Again, I think if I present that and that is me, then the audience understands that and I think it comes across that way.”
Just as he thought during his initial stint in Birmingham, McClearin was prepared to stay in the marketplace for the long haul and try to further cement his name in the radio airwaves. Being able to reconnect with the audience and discuss meaningful, impactful topics was validating and worthwhile for him, and he was especially steadfast to the outlet. After all, he never had a particular interest in voyaging to television and still, to this day, concentrates his efforts on growing and maintaining the sports radio format.
“My brain just doesn’t think like that in those three-minute little quips that you do,” McClearin said. “TV is just so much more structured and short than radio, where we can have a 15-minute segment and have a real conversation.”
The only way McClearin was going to leave the station was if The Ticket came along, and sure enough, an opening became available concurrent with Hitzges’ retirement. While he enjoyed his time in Birmingham, he doubled down on his commitment to the Dallas-Fort Worth marketplace for the long run in making this move and conceding a solo program for a new co-host.
“When I got the call and went through the process with Jeff Catlin, [it] was a little bit surreal because it truly is a dream coming true,” McClearin said. “I found out that they’re going to put me with Donovan Lewis is kind of when Norm Hitzges decided to retire and I was going to walk in, [and] it’s really such a new show. Donovan and Norm had had such success for a while.”
As soon as McClearin took the air with Lewis for the first time, he felt an instant connection. Just a few months into the program, both hosts know there is plenty of room for growth and consistent improvement to create enthralling and proprietary content that will amplify cume and serve the community.
“We both are just two people, I think, that really care about the listener [and] what we’re putting together each and every day to make it the best that we can,” McClearin said. “So far, it’s been really easy and it’s been just – as much as I dreamt about this opportunity, it’s even more so than I probably could ever have dreamt.”
The Ticket is in competition with 105.3 The Fan in the Dallas-Fort Worth marketplace, along with other media outlets across various platforms. Whereas the Birmingham market releases its ratings through quarterly diaries, Dallas has monthly figures through PPM, but he makes sure the influx of quantitative data does not command his mindset.
“We can all see the ratings that the two main sports stations here have – they’re very healthy ratings and I think there’s a real hunger,” McClearin said. “A lot of that is football-driven – the Cowboys, nationally, are crazy relevant. All the [networks with] NBC and ABC and FOX and everybody; they always want to put them on because the Cowboys drive the needle. Well, they also drive the needle in Dallas very, very much so.”
Understanding and capitalizing on the reach and relevance of the Cowboys helps these local programs gain further traction. Arriving unprepared equates to marketplace malfeasance.
“Prep is very important to me, and I like to try to come into the pre-show meeting that I have with Donovan and our producer Travis every day with my own ideas, but also, ‘Okay, Donnie, what do you think?,’ and then, ‘Travis, what do you think about that?,’” McClearin said. “From that and our own individual prep, we kind of do the show prep together [to present] the in-depth segments that we roll out.”
The majority of content focuses on the Cowboys since they are the team that exhorts the most interest in the area, but there are plenty of other storylines within the landscape. The Texas Rangers are headed to the Major League Baseball postseason for the first time since 2016, while the Dallas Mavericks organization enters its first full season with superstar guard tandem Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. Sometimes, sports fans do not want to solely listen to discussions about the teams themselves but rather hear about other pertinent topics in which they may be interested.
“I like to call them, I guess, lifestyle segments because I don’t think anybody, even the most passionate sports fan, only does sports in their life,” McClearin said. “We all have relationships and we have TV shows that we like to watch, and we went to the store and [some] random thing happened. We incorporate that, I think, into the show, and I think that’s The Ticket itself. It’s a very real station that has real conversations with a focus on sports.”
Everything throughout McClearin’s professional journey has centered on reaching this moment, and he wants to maximize the opportunity he has earned by bringing his best to the air on a daily basis.
From the onset, he knew where he wanted to end up and took the necessary steps to get there, even if it meant enduring some difficult setbacks. By taking advantage of every opportunity in his purview, he has made it in front of the microphone, and he has no plans on going anywhere at any time soon.
“I want to continue to grow the audience and have as many people enjoy doing what I love to do as possible,” McClearin said. “I get a lot of motivation from that [and] just the excitement of driving into the station every day and the excitement of when that light comes on and it’s time for the show. It’s like being on stage to me; it’s almost like you just get kind of high off of that feeling, and I love it.”
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.