It was a full-circle moment that was worthy of a pinch, just in case it was all a dream. But as Kevin Ray essentially sat back and watched his friend take over his job for an entire quarter, he made sure to take it all in. Ray knew it was a special moment he’d never forget.
On April 4th, Phoenix Suns radio play-by-by voice Al McCoy joined the team’s TV broadcast on Bally Sports Arizona for the second quarter of a game against the San Antonio Spurs. McCoy is in his 51st and final season calling Suns games, and used to have his call simulcast on both radio and TV until 2003. So he joined his friend Ray on the TV broadcast as an homage to Suns fans that used to hear his voice on the TV broadcast.
Before Ray took over as the TV play-by-play voice for the team, he was one of the many that used to listen to McCoy. Now he was doing it just inches away.
However, the moment was full-circle for Ray was because of the relationship the two had formed long before that special moment in early April. In fact, you have to rewind the story several years back to the early 90s.
Ray was a young broadcaster that had just moved to Phoenix in search of his big broadcasting break. He was taking a chance on himself in an unfamiliar region of the country, after growing up in the small farming community of Adrian, MO, and graduating from Pittsburg State in the far southeastern corner of Kansas. After graduating college, he was working at a station in Pittsburg, where he would do everything from high school sports, and sales, to working overnights and weekends at the station.
It was shortly after Ray’s first opportunity to broadcast a high school game for the station, that he realized he wanted to pursue play-by-play more seriously. Previously, he had wanted to be a sports anchor. But Ray had caught the play-by-play bug and wanted as much of it as possible.
“One night, one of the gentlemen who was supposed to be calling a game, was unable to and so they needed someone to fill in,” said Ray. “My boss at the time said ‘Hey, I know you love sports and you’ve never done play-by-play, but do you want to give it a shot?’ It was always in the back of my mind, so I had this opportunity to do a high school game one night. I knew just enough to not get too scared or nervous and ended up doing a game. It was at that point I said ‘Ok, I think this is something I want to pursue with a little more focus and intent’.”
So on top of Ray’s full-time duties at KKOW in the small town of Pittsburg, he began to chase his new dream. A big part of the chase was leaving the market. It just so happened that one of Ray’s old roommates at Pitt State was working in Phoenix. The two kept in touch and his friend was constantly telling him how beautiful it was in Phoenix. He even told Ray he had a free place to stay until he got on his feet if he wanted to take a chance in Arizona. So he did. He was ready to take a leap of faith in a new state.
“After about a year, year and a half, post-graduation, I just kind of had that itch,” said Ray. “I knew that I could always turn around and come home if things didn’t work out. I picked up the phone one night and asked him if the offer still stood and he said sure. The next day I cracked open what was then the broadcasting yearbook, which was the size of about three encyclopedias of every TV and radio station licensed by the FCC across the country. I flipped open the state of Arizona and immediately began calling radio stations.”
Ray’s search began in Phoenix and transitioned to all of Arizona. His big break came when he called KVNA in Flagstaff, where the sports director was getting ready to leave. The general manager of the station asked Ray to send a tape and a resume. 10 days after, he was offered the job of sports director. Timing was everything and he was on his way to northern Arizona.
“The intriguing part of it, and where the big break came, was that the radio station also happened to be one of the radio affiliates of the Phoenix Suns, the Arizona Cardinals, and the ASU Sun Devils,” said Ray. “There was an immediate tie to the Phoenix marketplace and those sports teams.”
As a result of Ray’s new job as sports director, it put him in contact with people in charge of the pro teams in Phoenix. He had only been in Flagstaff for a few months, and at the time, the Suns were training at nearby Northern Arizona University. This unique situation is how Ray first met McCoy.
“Some guy named Al McCoy, who was the Director of Broadcasts, reached out and called me and introduced himself and welcomed me to the state of Arizona,” said Ray. “As an affiliate, if I needed anything I could reach out to him. I had my first contact with Al McCoy when I was in Flagstaff. He made an immediate impression on me because of how warm and welcoming he was.”
For a young kid that was just breaking into the industry, McCoy’s kindness meant the world to Ray. It even turned out that McCoy was raised in the Midwest like Ray. A natural bond between the two quickly formed. And there was no doubt McCoy respected the work ethic Ray was showing at an early age with a big title.
“I was a sports director, doing a show and sales,” Ray said. “I would drive back and forth from Flagstaff to Phoenix to cover Suns games about two or three times a week. I would pull out of there after postgame interviews at 10 or 10:30, then drive back up the hill and get back home around 12:30 and get back up around 6 or 6:30 and do it a couple of more times throughout the course of the week. It was a golden opportunity for me to work with a professional sports franchise for the first time in my career.”
Ray was developing all of the important contacts in the Phoenix market and it really helped that they saw him on a regular basis. Those contacts would later help Ray become the play-by-play voice of the Arizona Rattlers, Phoenix Mercury, and opportunities with the Suns as a sideline reporter, as well as pregame and postgame host. In 2017, Ray was named the television play-by-play voice of the Suns. He took a chance on Arizona and made it.
So on April 4th during the second quarter of the Suns vs.Spurs game, there’s a chance Ray reflected on that entire journey. At the very minimum, he reflected on just how much McCoy meant to his career.
“I gotta tell you, in many ways for me, it felt full circle,” Ray said. “Having been in the Phoenix market now for 30-plus years I’ve never actually worked with or done a game with Al. When we had this opportunity, I don’t know who was more excited, me or Al. It gave him a chance to reconnect with so many of the longtime fans that grew up watching him on those simulcasts.
“It was an opportunity for me to sit there and listen to a guy that was a mentor, who’s become more than a colleague, he’s a friend. To get to listen as a fan in some ways. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Ray is currently in the middle of a playoff run with the Suns, and come this fall, he’ll be in his 11th season of doing the national play-by-play call for the Dallas Cowboys on Compass Media Networks. He’s living a dream he first realized in a small Kansas town and doing it in the biggest markets and stages the NBA and NFL have to offer. But there is a point when the end of the NFL season and the beginning of the NBA season overlap. That’s easily the craziest time of the year for Ray when he’s trying to balance both.
“Time management and scheduling,” said Ray on how he balances both. “After doing it for the first couple years, you kind of have a system of how I go about being able to prepare for both. With the NFL it’s just one game a week. I’ll look at the schedules and determine which games I’ll be able to do. I’m fortunate and blessed that the Suns and Compass Media Networks have been wonderful and flexible at working with me on the schedule. In the case of the Cowboys, sometimes arriving an hour or two before kickoff. I’ve had a couple of close calls in the seven years they’ve crossed over.”
During that time, Ray may fly straight from a Cowboys game to a Suns game, or vice versa. Even though he lives in Phoenix and not in Dallas, he’s still keeping up with the Cowboys via social media, the team’s website, and even a subscription to the Dallas Morning News.
“Even though we’re a Cowboys broadcast, we really do try to have a balanced broadcast,” said Ray. “That’s one of the things I like. I’ve always tried to be a fair and balanced broadcaster, even though I’m the Suns TV guy. If the team is not playing well, we communicate that. We don’t do it in an overly critical manner, but the fans are too intelligent to sit there and tell them something that they’re seeing that’s not true.”
But right now, Ray’s sole focus is the Suns pursuit of an NBA Championship. On Thursday night, he’ll be on the call of game three between the Suns and Clippers. Which begs an interesting question: Since preparation is the lifeblood of any broadcaster, is it easier during the playoffs, seeing as you’re seeing the same teams for consecutive times in a row?
“It’s actually a little bit less,” said Ray. “Because you’re seeing the same team in multiple days, your prep work is minimized, in the sense of what normal prep work is. With a playoff series, you have the ability to really look and read more stories, listen to more videos of post-practice sessions. Your stats and everything else are pretty much intact and you’re just updating your game boards with what a player had in the previous game. But preparation never really ends until the game starts”
Ray is one of the more inspirational stories a young broadcaster could read about. It’s a story of how work ethic matters, a story about taking a chance in another market, and even a story about how a mentor can help elevate a career, to just name a few.
“One of the great differences from when I started is the multitude of platforms for young, aspiring broadcasters. There are even incredible high school and college broadcast programs. And they’re not even what you would consider big broadcast schools. I’m not talking about an Arizona State or even a Syracuse. There’s a lot of mid-level colleges who have started streaming services. It’s provided wonderful opportunities, not only for the aspiring broadcasters but it’s a great opportunity for those sports that might not otherwise get covered.
“What I would tell them is to have a sense of what your ultimate goal is. It really is all about reps. Don’t limit yourself to any one single sport. Do as many sports as you can and as many jobs as you can. I constantly remind young broadcasters, even if they want to be in front of the camera, all of the other jobs that entail them being on camera, the more jobs you can do and experience, the better understanding you’re going to have of the industry and the other people you’re going to be working with.It just makes you a more well-rounded broadcaster.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at [email protected].
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 them 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 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 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 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 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 not football. This is baseball. But you had 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, 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 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 of guy that can be in business with teams. It’s one thing if your team’s the 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.