A friend of mine used to make fun of a slogan used by a radio station in Phoenix. “We aren’t left. We aren’t right. We are Americans.” My friend used to say, “Yeah, well, you’re 28th in the ratings.” That memory popped back in my head while talking to Bucky Brooks.
The TV, radio, and digital personality has a straightforward view on evaluating talent for the upcoming NFL Draft. Bucky believes that a good scout can’t live in the middle. Strong opinions are required when evaluating players while working for a team, or while working in the media.
It’s one of the reasons Bucky is so good at what he does; he isn’t afraid to have a strong stance while knowing that it’ll be thrown back in his face if he’s wrong. It’s much better than not having a strong opinion in the first place. If you don’t stand out, you’re just going to blend in.
Bucky appears on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft, FOX Sports Radio, and the successful Move the Sticks podcast with Daniel Jeremiah. He also writes for FOX Sports digital and NFL.com. We chat about his transition from scouting to media, why he believes sports radio is the greatest medium, and how doing skull crushers at the gym with Jeffrey Chadiha led to Bucky crushing it as a writer. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When your playing career ended, what was your path like through scouting and then doing media?
Bucky Brooks: The last season that I played, I was in camp with the Raiders in ’99. Didn’t play, then in 2000 I started scouting with the Seattle Seahawks. I was working in the college ranks. I was scouting college players, doing all the stuff for them to help the team get ready for the draft. I did that for three years for the Seahawks. Then I moved on to the Carolina Panthers from 2003 to 2007. In a similar capacity, work in the college ranks, doing all the stuff when it comes to scouting and learning the inner workings of a team.
But I had this desire to eventually transition into the media world. At the time, Pat Kirwan was writing and doing stuff for CNNSI. That stuff kind of appealed to me, like being able to have an opinion, having a voice, and allowing people to hear your opinion. I used to work out at a gym with a guy named Jeffrey Chadiha, who at the time was at Sports Illustrated. He basically took my resume over to SI.com. I started freelancing for them. Chadiha got me over to Sports Illustrated.
I always thought writing was cool. I knew nothing about what I was getting into, but I learned a lot and learned a lot quickly. My degree is in communications, but I didn’t go to school to necessarily be a journalist, so I was learning on the fly. But my goal was just to be respected, to be able to walk into a press room and be respected by those that pour themselves into the craft.
I tried to really work hard at learning the ins and outs of the profession. I tried to be humble enough to ask questions from those who had done it. I had guys who helped me along the way. Jim Trotter, Steve Wyche, and a handful of other guys who helped me understand the process and how you go about it. Then I just kept kind of grinding at it.
The writing enabled me to get my foot in the door when it came to TV and radio and other stuff because when you publish as a writer, you have an instant level of credibility. The way that it was going early in the 2010s, that was the way to get in. That really helped me because my playing career, I wasn’t a gold jacket guy, I wasn’t an All-Pro or Pro Bowler. Writing gave me a way to circumvent not having the accolades and things that most of the people on TV and in the media business had when they transition from being star athletes to broadcasters.
BN: What was the scouting job like for you?
BB: Scouting was great because when I was a player, I was always fascinated by team building. How you build a championship team, how you put it together, what it looks like, those things. As a player, I was really fortunate to have some of the greatest coaches. My coaches were Marv Levy, who’s in the Hall of Fame. Mike Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl. I went down to Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin, who’s a two-time Super Bowl winner. Marty Schottenheimer, who has like 200 career wins. Then I finished with Jon Gruden, who also won a Super Bowl.
I always felt like my centers of influence in the pro ranks were that of championship pedigree, those guys knew how to win, so I saw from that level. Ron Wolf was the general manager for the Green Bay Packers, who was always very helpful. I just wanted to take all those things and see if I could take those lessons learned and find a way to eventually — at that time the goal was to be a general manager.
Jumping in the scouting process, seeing it, learning those lessons, watching how teams were built, being a part of a team that went to Super Bowl 38 with the Carolina Panthers, it was all of that stuff kind of coming together to see how you put the pieces of the puzzle together.
BN: What was the most helpful thing you learned about the scouting process?
BB: Ron Wolf was great. And Rob Wolf, if you know anything about him, he was heavily influenced by the late Al Davis. Watching him put together that team in Green Bay, because I spent part of three seasons with the Green Bay Packers. During two of those years, they went to the Super Bowl. He would always just talk about trusting your eyes. Players who are super productive in college tend to be productive in the pros.
There’s a certain level of prototypes, like in terms of physical dimensions and stuff that you want to adhere to, but he was always about big-school players, playing at a high level. Those guys typically play well at the next level. And so taking those lessons and applying them. More times than not, that basis will lead you in the right direction.
BN: After your playing days, what was the part of your career that you had to learn the most about? Was it scouting, TV, was it writing?
BB: I would say writing and then TV. Writing, just the process of writing, the process of putting it together, the process of storytelling, taking what you know and putting it in simple, concise terms so that the reader can understand what you’re doing while also entertaining them. That part was hard. Writing post-game; being at a game, writing on a deadline. All of that stuff because I was untrained. You have to learn how to do that by doing it.
I would say TV is its own form and medium because now you have to take a lot of knowledge and stuff that you know, but you have to be able to talk in sound bites. How can you take a lot, and whittle it down to the bare, most important parts to get it out to the viewer?
Then it’s the other stuff that comes along with the presentation and the gesturing and that stuff, but really it’s taking a lot of stuff that you have in your head and figuring out what’s the most important part that I want to get out and give it to the viewer in a way that is understandable and entertaining, while also doing the mechanics of TV.
BN: Doing sports radio where you don’t have to speak in those short sound bites, is it almost like creating bad TV habits? When you go back to doing TV and you have to speak in those sound bites, does doing sports radio ever make that harder?
BB: No, I think it all works together. I will say this, if I had to advise anyone who’s young, you want to learn how to be a great writer because the writing gives you a foundation. It gives you an opportunity to learn how to organize your thoughts. If you can organize your thoughts, it’s easier to switch lanes when it comes to doing radio, TV, or podcasting. You now understand how to organize the information.
It’s like ‘Okay, what medium am I on? I’m on TV? Okay, so I need to be quicker. It’s 45 seconds of me being able to say it. Sports talk radio? Okay, now I have more time to vamp’. I can do a little more storytelling to go with what I’m also saying. Podcasting is the same. So yeah, it can be tricky, just making sure you understand where you’re at, but because writing is the foundation, you’re able to navigate all those different worlds.
BN: How did you get hooked up with Daniel Jeremiah?
BB: DJ and I had always known each other when we were on the road as scouts. And when DJ came over to NFL Media, it just kind of became a natural synergy. He had his own podcast, he had started an iteration of Move the Sticks before me. I was working on a podcast with Matt “Money” Smith, and we just kind of came together. DJ and I came together, it gave us an opportunity to have unique perspectives, both coming from the scouting background. And because we had a friendship prior, the chemistry and the connectivity just clicked.
I would say that it has been great because when you’re working with a friend, we could finish each other’s sentences. We’re able to debate and have compare/contrast conversations without it ever being personal. That has allowed us to really, really grow.
I think the one thing that we always have tried to do while we’re working together is to, I guess, keep it real, be very clear about how we see what the league is doing, what this means in terms of the team building process, yet honest assessments when it comes to the players that we’re evaluating. How that could project to the next level, and what teams are doing.
Bringing all those different experiences, mine as a scout and a player, his as a scout, putting all that together. And then still trying to find a way to engage and entertain, while also bringing other things in like leadership stuff, things that we’re interested in a little bit beyond football, still tying all of that stuff together and really having a good podcast. It’s really worked out; the fact that we may be nearing 1,000 episodes, it’s been one of our things to have a level of success that’s really been impressive.
BN: Can you think back on a time when you both disagreed about a particular player, and either he was really right and you were really wrong, or the other way around?
BB: No, the scouting business is always interesting because you always take a stand. The best scouts are not afraid to have strong opinions. That’s what makes a scout good; you can’t live in the middle. And so I think we’ve had instances where we may not see eye to eye on a player, but we’ve come to understand different viewpoints, so it’s not like we keep a scorecard on who said what or whatever. I think we try to attack it where, well, let’s look at it from every angle. And let’s talk about this player and how he could fit in, what he should be at the next level.
The hard part for what we do as media scouts, is we don’t have a team. When you’re not working with a team, the scouting that you’re doing is a little different. Now you have to consider ‘Where would he fit? How would he fit? How can they get the best of him?’. Whereas when you work for a team, you’re thinking about your team, specifically. If he comes for us, this is the role that he will play. This is how we see him in relation to the roster that we currently have. It’s a bit of a different hustle, what we’re doing as media scouts as opposed to scouts that are working for teams.
BN: What are you most interested in finding out about this year’s NFL Draft?
BB: I think everything is about the quarterbacks. How do people really feel about the quarterbacks? There’s been a lot of speculation about the quarterback class, and Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis, and which one is better? Bryce Young or CJ Stroud? I can’t wait until the draft finally comes so we can see where those guys go. Then we can begin to have a feel for how those teams will utilize them and the success that they can have in each of those respective programs.
It’s never about hoping that you’re right or wrong based on your draft grades; it’s more a curiosity about, okay, what do these people think about the player? How are they going to maximize the player? And how is it going to work out? For instance, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, when they came out, both of them were polarizing in terms of their style of play and what they had on their resume.
Then Josh Allen goes to Buffalo. He gets with the right offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, who unlocks his game and he plays at almost an MVP level. Lamar Jackson goes to Baltimore, bottom of the first round, he joins a team that completely revamps and changes everything that they do to accommodate his skill set. And he plays at an MVP level.
So now are more teams willing to do that? How do those experiences now help Anthony Richardson and Will Levis when they go into the league? It’s just looking at the changing dynamics of the NFL game, based on the success that quarterbacks have had in maybe having stuff built around them as opposed to them having to fit into other systems like it used to be in yesteryear.
BN: Is there anything specifically that you’re just tired of talking about at this point?
BB: I think naturally when you’re on the media side, everything is about the quarterback, right? The quarterback drives the interest. I am not necessarily tired of it, but I’m more curious to finally see what people really think about this quarterback class. We have talked about Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson as if they’re going to be the top four picks of the draft.
Last year, we talked about Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, and Matt Corral as if they were first-round picks, but they all went in the third round. So how much of what we’ve done on our side as the media, is really matching what teams think about these players? I can’t wait to see that part of it.
The conversation in terms of Anthony Richardson being the No. 1 overall pick, to me, I think it’s crazy because we’ve never seen a first-round pick with so little production. Great tools, but the production doesn’t match what historically goes as the No. 1 overall pick. Just even having that conversation, that Anthony Richardson could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. I’m just fascinated because there’s never been a player or a prospect that had a resume like his that goes No. 1 overall.
BN: As far as sports radio goes, what do you like most about it, and what do you dislike most about it?
BB: I just love it, I think is the greatest medium. I think it’s so cool to have an opportunity to sit for a couple hours with a buddy and just talk about sports in any capacity. Obviously, we do a lot of talk about football given my background, but just anything. Being able to talk about baseball and basketball and any of the things that come up, because I’m a fan just like everybody else.
To sit with a microphone, have TVs on, talk about what’s going on, and give an opinion on what has happened over the course of the week, that’s what’s great about sports radio. Sports talk radio is outstanding in terms of just giving you an opportunity to share in that regard.
In terms of stuff that I don’t like about it, there’s not much that I don’t like. A lot of it depends on who your co-host is and what they like. Do they like taking callers? Do they like to just vamp on their own without being distracted or bothered by people calling in? For me, I kind of can go both ways.
Sometimes I like hearing from Joe in Kansas City give his opinion and go back and forth. [Laughs] Other times I like to talk freely and just have my own deal where I kind of layout and just talk about, hey, here’s my opinion on this, and if you want to listen to it, great. Sports talk radio is one of the things that I really look forward to doing because it gives you an opportunity to live in so many different lanes.
BN: Mike Mayock once did a lot of media stuff and then became the GM of the Raiders. It was a mixed bag, but it didn’t go great. Do you think that NFL teams would possibly think twice about taking a look at a guy like you or a guy like Daniel Jeremiah, Louis Riddick with ESPN, or any of their draft analysts? Do you think that would have any effect on a team maybe pausing and not going in that direction again?
BB: No, but I think Mike had a unique perspective. He was great at what he did on TV. Mike had only worked in TV; he hadn’t necessarily worked for a team. I think it’s a little different situation. Everybody that you’ve mentioned, for the most part, have worked on teams to understand the business on that side.
I don’t think it would dissuade or discourage people from going after someone who works in TV. I mean, we see it all the time in basketball. You see broadcasters go from the booth to the coaching seat or from the booth into the front office chair. It can be done.
I think, for everything, it’s all about fit and circumstance. You have to go to the right organization that fits you, and then you’ve got to have the right circumstances work out for you so you can have enough time to build it in the vision that you see fit.
But no, that shouldn’t be anything that’s a black mark on guys that sit in these chairs on the TV side or the radio side and talk about team building. Because ultimately, the qualifications come from being able to share your vision, being able to put a plan in place to make that vision come to life. You gotta be able to sell that to ownership.
BN: Going forward, what do you want to do within the next five years? Is it more of the same, or would you like to do anything differently?
BB: I think you always want to expand and build upon some of the stuff that you’re doing. I’m currently working with the Jacksonville Jaguars, doing radio broadcasts. Down the line, I would like to tackle that part of it.
I think being on a broadcast team, doing radio stuff, that has always been something that’s intriguing to me, but continue to grow in all areas of the media business. Being able to continue to grow and become the best podcaster I can be. Being able to take it to another level when it comes to radio.
I think one of the things that we talk about is eventually seeing if you can do a daily radio show. That’s everybody’s dream that works in sports talk radio. Then with TV, it’s just being the best with the opportunities that you’re given.
The more you’re given, making sure that you handle those responsibilities and obligations and make sure you do a great job with that. That comes from the preparation, that comes from the performance. Everything comes from the work, so just putting in the work to be great at whatever you’re given. Then hopefully that’ll lead to more opportunities.
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.