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Mike Ricordati is Grateful for the People That Give Him Their Time

“I thought I would be here for a couple years and then move on, and 20 years later I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere at this point.”

Brian Noe

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A photo of Mike Ricordati and the 97.1 The Fan logo

Mike Ricordati is a radio host at 97.1 The Fan in Columbus. He’s a smart dude. Mike can make intelligent observations about a game or team in his sleep. But what separates Mike from other hosts is his ability to make the audience feel.

Why do we love music and movies so much? Because they make us feel. Whether we hear a song that makes us feel happy or watch a movie that makes us scared, we are going to feel something. That’s why we go back time and time again. People in Ohio have been going back to Mike for over two decades.

Mike speaks openly about his depression. He also gets people to barrel laugh. True connections aren’t built on X’s and O’s alone, they’re built on feelings.

Although 97.1 The Fan has been a very successful station, it was nearly sold last week. Mike talks about the aftermath and current state of uncertainty after Standard General nearly bought the station and other TEGNA assets. Mike also talks about hosting shows when he’s feeling down, having zero desire to leave Columbus, and switching from himself to Common Man on the air. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: What does it mean to you to sign an extension with The Fan [through 2026] considering it’s not a typical run-of-the-mill extension with the station possibly getting sold?

Mike Ricordati: No, it was a tough decision. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. For the first time in a long time, I thought that I was going to probably try something else. 

The good news is that I’ve been doing this a long time. I have a following and a reputation, so there was interest. There was interest in me thinking about doing my own thing. But ultimately, with all the change around the radio station, I felt I owed it to the listeners. I felt I owed it to the staff to come back and see if we can sort of sturdy the ship a little bit.

It was tough because this has been 20 years of my life. It’s not just me that makes that decision. I talked to my wife about stuff. She said, do whatever you have to do, it doesn’t matter. I have to think about other people, not just myself, and how my decisions impact other people. That was a big part of it, trying not to let my family down, my co-workers down. I felt a lot of responsibility with that.

BN: You mentioned that one of the reasons you returned to The Fan was that you felt guilty about leaving. I understand it, but if you put that into more words, what was that feeling like for you?

MR: I wrestled with it because when it comes to listeners — and we have people who listen around the country now with streaming — I’ve always said you can always make more money, but you can’t get more time, and people give me their time every single day. There’s a sense of obligation that comes with that. I feel like I owe them something. I feel like I owe my co-workers something too.

The general manager is going to go out the door for another opportunity. The company is in flux because of a sale that’s pending. I would feel like if I walked out the door, I would let all those people who listened to me down, and I’d let all those people who count on me in that building down. As a younger guy in this business, I always looked at the veterans for stability because as a younger guy, you’re sort of uncertain about things. Now I am that veteran and I want to provide that stability. There’s obligation that comes with that.

BN: The company was nearly sold but the deal fell through at the last minute. What do you think about the way things stand right now?

MR: I don’t know what to make of it. It was just last week when this thing officially died, but it’s been almost a two-year process. Even leading up to this, we were a locally-owned company. It owned the local newspaper, a television station and us. We went from that to this publicly-traded television company that owned no other radio stations. We were thrown in with the TV station locally. They bought us as well.

We are sort of the unknown entity in that company. And then that company is for sale, this public company is going to go private, and that’s subject to all sort of government review. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t go through. 

Now, what do they do with us? They may keep us and we hold hands and sing Kumbaya, or they spin us off to a radio company. I have no idea. There’s still that level of uncertainty there, even though it looks like this sale is completely dead at this point.

BN: You’ve been at The Fan since ’03. How would you describe the run that you’ve had for two decades at the same place, same town, same everything?

MR: It’s been interesting. I thought I would be here for a couple years and then move on, and 20 years later I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere at this point. I had flirted with the idea, I had other radio stations contact me from other markets and I said, thank you I’m very flattered, but I’m not moving at this point. They said, “well, we’ll build you a studio in your house. You don’t have to leave.” I said, yeah, but I wouldn’t feel right doing local radio if I’m not in that local market. This is my home. I embrace this place.

When I first started we were on the AM dial. We were holding celebrations if we got a two share. Even during football season we’d look at those two shares and say, oh, we’ve made it. Now we’re on the FM dial and last ratings period I had a 25 share. We’ve just sort of expanded on everything. When I first started here, we were exclusive to men in their 40s and 50s, and now we’ve expanded to where our female listenership is very high. Our minority listenership is very high.

We have utilized the biggest university in the country right down the street. We’re getting these 18 and 19-year-olds to listen to us. Then when they graduate, get a job and stay in this city, they continue to listen to us. Now I’m that guy, where I’ve got 25-year-olds coming up to me saying, I grew up listening to you, which is weird, but it’s flattering. It’s strange, it almost feels like it’s not 20 years, but it almost feels like it’s been forever too. I can’t really remember what it was like before I was here.

BN: What are a few of the things that you do by design to try to get the younger listeners to be a part of your show?

MR: Really, what I think it is, it’s just open, it’s honesty, it’s letting them know that you’re a real person, letting them know that not everything is perfect. When I first started, it was never let them see you sweat, never admit your mistakes, none of that. If you have a flub up, you just keep going. 

I never understood that because the people that I grew up listening to on the radio, the ones that I wanted to emulate, it wasn’t because they were polished and perfect. It was because I found them interesting as people. That’s what I’ve always decided to do.

Anybody can sit down on the Monday after a big football game and get numbers and break stuff down, but how do you get people on a random Wednesday when there’s nothing going on? If there’s no game going on, they got to tune in to hear you. I think that’s what we’ve transitioned to over the years, it’s personality-based radio. I’ve gotten this far with selling my personality. I think yesterday we did maybe 25% sports talk in a three-hour show. The rest of it was just screwing around. We talked about serial killers for 25 minutes yesterday. A lot of program directors around the country would say that’s terrible, that’s death, you’re going to lose your audience, but what I’ve seen is that it’s the complete opposite.

You gain so many other people from different walks of life. We have so many female listeners because they’ll say “My husband had you on or my boyfriend had you on in the car, and I hate sports radio, but I was laughing the entire time. Now I listen all the time and I need sports.” 

That’s sort of the brand that we want to sell. We’re not selling the sports radio aspect of it, although that is part of what we do. We’re selling the Common Man and T-Bone aspect of it. Nobody gets in their car and says I want to listen to sports radio, they say I want to listen to Common Man & T-Bone. And that’s the important thing.

BN: I saw a picture of you wearing a t-shirt that says I support children’s mental health. I’m curious about how passionate you are about that cause, and just your whole stance as far as that subject goes.

MR: I care a lot. I’m very open and honest about the fact that I’ve suffered with depression for most of my life. I talk about that, and of all the feedback that I get, probably 75% of it is because of that; people saying, “I listen to you, I struggle with that stuff, thank you for being a voice for me.” 

It’s not like I’m going on the air every single day and I’m saying, “Hey, seek help!” I don’t do that. But if I’m having a bad day, I’ll tell you that I’m having a bad day. If I’m having a weird moment, I’ll tell you that I’m having a weird moment and I’ll let you inside my head.

I know as a kid, young adult, when I heard other people were struggling with similar things, it made me feel better because the feeling of isolation is the worst feeling in the world. I try and provide that light, I guess, for other people that are struggling. I think that it’s important to learn about these things and not dismiss them when you’re a kid because that’s when most of this stuff starts. Even if kids don’t understand exactly why they feel the way that they do. Even if it’s just, well, my kid just is very emotional. It’s like, yes, very emotional, that’s good. But does that child need support to deal with those emotions, because that child is going to grow up, life is going to kick him in the face a little bit, and then maybe that emotion grows into something that’s not as healthy.

I think it’s important to sort of break down the stigma because especially in sports radio, you’re dealing with a lot of alpha males and a lot of dudes that say, “I’m not going to talk to anybody about stuff. That’s a sign of weakness. There’s nothing wrong with me because I don’t have a fever. I can’t put a bandage on it.” But the reality is we need help in those areas. If I can be someone who is, “oh, well, if he’s talking about it, if he’s doing it, it must be okay,” then I’m going to do that every day.

BN: What’s it like doing shows when you might feel gray or black, and you’re supposed to be this colorful, engaging host?

MR: It’s playing that character. I’ve always sort of said, when I hit that microphone, the character comes out. That’s Common Man that talks to you for three hours; Mike is much more boring and reserved. I try and get in that mood before the show and when I walk in that studio, I’m kind of a different guy. The way I look at it too is that I’m going to have moments where I do let things get the best of me.

I treat every segment like its own show. If I have a bad segment, I don’t say, well, the show is lost. I say, well, that segment sucked and that segment is over; let me see what I can do better next segment. If I let things bog me down for three hours, man, that’s a dark place. It’s a dark hole that you dig yourself into. If you just say, well, that was a crappy five minutes, or 15 minutes, now let’s get on to something else. I think that’s a better outlook to have.

BN: When you look back on your career, are you satisfied with what you’ve done so far?

MR: Yeah, I think so. I’m always my own toughest critic. My co-host, T-Bone [John Smith], always makes fun of me and says that I hate everything that I do. I’m my own worst critic, and that’s true. There’s always a little David Letterman aspect of me, where I can’t really enjoy things that other people think are good. But I look back and I must be doing something, man, because I don’t know a lot of other people that have been at the same job for 20 years, and sign multi-year extensions, and pretty much can just walk into the office and say, I could write my own ticket at this point. They knew that I had the leverage, they respected that. It’s a good feeling to have that leverage, I must have done something right in my career.

I do sort of look back on how I started things out and I thought, well, when I first start I want to do rock radio in the morning. I did, and I didn’t really like it. I thought I wanted to move out West and work in California. I did, and I didn’t really like it. I thought I wanted to do national radio. I tried it. I did some ESPN Radio weekend stuff and fill-in stuff, and I didn’t really like it. You have these ideas of what you want to be when you start, and as you move on, you realize that, no, that’s the idea that I had in my head of what I thought success was. But really, being in one market for 20 years and having people come up to you saying, I grew up listening to you, and you’re the reason why I want to do whatever I’m doing, that’s a pretty special thing.

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How You Lead a Brand Matters, and KNBR is Finding Out the Hard Way

“How you act as a leader should be different than how you present yourself as a host. You’re no longer just representing a show, you are now repping the brand, company, and staff.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu

Let me start by saying, I don’t enjoy writing columns like this. I love the radio business, and see a lot of good in it. I prefer highlighting great performances and ideas or tackling issues that make people think or help them learn. Calling people out doesn’t excite me, but when someone acts immature, stains a brand’s image, questions my credibility, and costs me hours of time over an uninformed, moronic tweet, I’m going to respond.

I left San Francisco on May 31st of 2015, nearly nine years ago. My four years there were some of the best times of my personal and professional life. The sports scene was electric, the views across the Bay were spectacular, and the list of entertainment options were endless. Living in Walnut Creek remains the best place I’ve ever lived.

Professionally, it was great too. I established a lot of relationships in a competitive sports radio market. 95.7 The Game and KNBR were excellent brands with a lot of talent and quality programming. Each were run by large corporations with strong, executive support. I had a dynamite GM in Dwight Walker, which I felt gave us an advantage. Three years later though, Dwight left the business, and things evened out.

Since then, The Game and KNBR have battled frequently for local bragging rights as the market’s top rated outlet. I have no horse in the local radio race so I don’t spend time thinking about who’s doing better content, who’s producing more revenue or who has a better lineup. I’ll let local folks debate those things.

Based on what I’ve experienced and continue to see from afar, I believe both brands have quality talent and valuable play-by-play partnerships. However, Audacy has one major advantage – local leadership. Matt Nahigian is a strong PD. Stacey Kauffman is a sharp GM. That doesn’t guarantee ratings or revenue success but it assures the brand of not getting egg on its face. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for KNBR.

Last week, I was preparing for our upcoming rebrand on July 15th when a tweet came in to the BSM account. KNBR PD and afternoon host Adam Copeland wanted to know if we’d be reporting KNBR’s ratings win when the sports leader knocked off its counterpart. I was confused because I knew the spring book wasn’t over. Declaring victory over a monthly when there’s still two months left is an odd move, but if the signs are pointing that way for KNBR, good for Adam and all involved. I’m sure the return of Giants baseball is good for station business.

Trying to be professional, I responded to make sure he knew our approach to coverage. I’ve met Adam before on radio row and he’s been cordial. We’ve even featured him and others involved with KNBR on our website. There were zero issues on my end or so I thought.

But rather than moving on, Adam retweeted his initial remarks, and then used a public space to question my credibility. I understand that I competed competitively against KNBR from 2011-2015 but I’ve been fair to both outlets as a publisher since launching BSM in 2015. Hell, the person I worked closest with at The Game (Jeremiah Crowe) became KNBR’s PD for 5 years. The next PD after Jeremiah (Kevin Graham) was also a longtime industry friend. Instead of making an assumption, a simple search of KNBR on the BSM website or on social media would show prior ratings success stories and higher Top 20 finishes.

I have a few simple rules when it comes to ratings reports. First, we do full book reports not monthlies. Bonuses aren’t paid on monthly performance, so calling for media respect after one month shows a lack of knowledge of how things work. Secondly, turn in the Men 25-54 data in on time, and be consistent. Some folks show up in my inbox when the news is good but go into witness protection when it isn’t. Advertisers and media buyers aren’t stupid. They know if your brand is up or down. The people in your building and company know it too. It’s ridiculous to think you’re going to be celebrated when you win but not written about when you don’t.

The reason KNBR hasn’t earned positive ratings stories from BSM lately is because the station hasn’t won the local competition in a while. I feel no joy or sadness over that, those are simply the facts. To be fair, most of those results were before Adam became PD. He was promoted in November, which means he’s only led the station for one full book, the tight winter book loss to The Game. That made the public cry for credit more strange. If this is how you respond after one book and a monthly, what happens after two or three?

After wondering why Adam chose this approach, I looked at the tweet that stirred it up. I was beyond disappointed with other responses I saw. Humor or a sarcastic remark over the air or on the socials is fine. Heck, it makes things more fun sometimes. But insulting everyone who questions or criticizes you, is a bad look. If you just got promoted, and are trying to show you can lead, why would you push your audience away? Do you think people in the company are going to see this and say ‘we’re proud of our PD and the way he connects with our listeners?’

When you’re given the privilege of leading a respected brand like KNBR, the audience is going to tell you what they don’t like. They’ll question your decisions. They may even take a shot at you for things you say or that the company does. It comes with the position. If you act like a businessman, and focus on growing your fanbase and revenue, you’ll be fine. If you act like a host who isn’t thinking like a leader, this is what you do.

How you act as a brand leader should be different than how you act as a host. You’re no longer just representing yourself and your show, you are now repping the entire brand, company, and staff. Advertisers want to feel good about who they’re in business with. Professionals in your building and elsewhere in the market are watching to see how you conduct yourself. Your crew is depending on you to set a good example, and have their backs. You may think that stuff doesn’t matter, but it does.

Most large market stations don’t have success with on-air talent in program director roles. That’s because too often the individuals hired to do both jobs focus on hosting, not managing. GMs tend to look at the potential salary savings from combining roles rather than taking into account the importance of strong programming leadership.

Cumulus employs many great people. Some of them are on the air at KNBR, others like Bruce Gilbert, Dave Milner, Pierre Bouvard, Paul Mason, Dan Mandis, Pete Mundo, and Allison Warren are top notch professionals who I hold in high regard. They don’t operate this way nor would they condone it if it occurred on their watch.

I’ve disagreed with many industry people over the years, friends included. Regardless of the issue, I’m always accessible. My phone number and email address are at the bottom of my emails. I’m also on all social media platforms. A quick call or email is preferred to address issues but taking aim publicly on social media and not reaching out is fine too. Just understand that when you go that route, I will bite back.

I live in New York now but I know what it takes to do the PD job at a high level in the Bay Area. Beating your chest after a good month after two years of defeats, and insulting listeners, isn’t what I’d recommend. I disagree with Adam’s social media approach as a PD, but do consider him a good host, and if KNBR wins future books, and data is provided, we will share their story. I’m not excusing Adam’s poor decisions, but the GM’s office shares some blame here too. Behavior like this reflects on everyone involved with a brand, not just the PD. This didn’t just start last week. That means it’s either not been addressed or isn’t being taken seriously.

Hiring a first-time PD to run three radio stations in a top-5 market, and expecting them to also co-host a 4-hour afternoon show is asking a lot. Issues are going to come up. Bruce Gilbert is in the company, and one of the best human beings and developers of leaders in the business, but if a PD is going to embarrass themselves and the brand on social media, that’s not on him. People have to want to listen and adjust, and internal accountability needs to be prioritized.

KNBR is a great, legendary brand with decades of ratings and revenue success. There’s a standard expected from the station that calls itself ‘The Sports Leader’. Unfortunately, that standard isn’t being met. It’s being replaced by an approach that has people raising questions, and listeners wondering why they’re supporting a brand that doesn’t value them.

Barrett Media is Hiring

July 15th is when we officially change our URL to BarrettMedia.com and begin adding music radio, tech, and podcasting content. The additional content means we need more help. I’m going to add a features reporter to conduct conversations with broadcasters, a few experienced music radio columnists, and an editor to tackle daily news. I’m also planning to feature a few guest columns. If you work in music radio and love to write, send a resume and writing sample to [email protected].

Thumbs Up:

Doug Gottlieb/Fox Sports Radio: Dave and Garrett raised valid questions last week, but when else have we seen a college basketball coach do FT sports radio? We haven’t. That means there’s a chance for history to be made. Doug hosts a 2-hour daily national show. Can he do both well? Time will tell. But if I’m FSR, why wouldn’t I wait and see how it goes before moving on from a key talent? Doug used to work on a 6-hour nightly radio show while balancing TV work, travel, family, etc.. Maybe he’ll fail but he has tons of energy and knows how to engage an audience. I give him props for trying. Given the rise of remote broadcasts, if Gottlieb’s prepared, FSR will be just fine.

Pat McAfee: The level of entertainment from Pat and his team is impossible to not get sucked into. Earlier this week they bought a car through an Indianapolis auction, and on paper, it had nothing to do with anything relevant, but if you were watching, it was impossible to turn away from. It reminded me of Anchorman 2 when Ron Burgundy decides to do stories about America being the greatest country in the world. Sometimes, the entertainment is just really damn good. Last week, that was the case on the McAfee show.

Marc Ryan: How does a host ingratiate themselves effectively to a new city and audience? By leaning into the things that they appreciate. Ryan may be guilty of a Dave Portnoy imitation, but wisely took a simple moment and turned it into a smart, social connection with Detroit fans. Judging by the responses, he’s making new friends quickly. Great to see that.

Thumbs Down

ESPN NBA Broadcast Team: Individually, Mike Breen, Doris Burke, and JJ Redick are talented. Collectively, they lack chemistry. Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson had it, and made NBA playoff games feel big and fun. If solid is the new standard, I guess this is fine, but I expect better from ESPN. The current crew is not on par with the network’s other broadcast teams for big sporting events. Hopefully it gets addressed during the NBA offseason.

NFL: VP of Broadcast Planning Mike North said this week that the league took into account Taylor Swift’s U.S. tour dates when making the 2024 season schedule. Having Taylor at games is good for league business. I get that. But this is the largest, most lucrative professional sports league in America with every television and streaming outlet interested in airing its product. The NFL shouldn’t be working around anyone or anything let alone admitting that publicly.

Google: If you’re not following what’s happening with the company’s plans for search, you need to educate yourself. Read this. The company’s plans are to incorporate AI into search, creating big issues for publishers. If search and social media continue to make it harder to find content, brands better embrace the outlets they own and operate (radio-television) and make sure a direct relationship is established with their audiences or they risk losing relevance.

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Eavesdropping: McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning, JOX 94.5

“Days like today are what social media is made for.”

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Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning

Greg McElroy and Cole Cubelic are two names that are very familiar to college football fans. McElroy led Alabama to a national championship, spent a few years in the NFL and then signed on at ESPN in 2014 and has become one of the top analysts in college football. Cubelic grew up in Homewood, Alabama and was a team captain at Auburn before making a name for himself in sports radio in Huntsville. He joined the Sun Belt Network in 2009, ESPN in 2011 and since then has risen to being one of the top field analysts in college football, working the SEC Network’s marquee matchup on Saturdays with Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers.

Both make several other appearances on ESPN properties throughout the year inside and outside of the college football season, which now extends well beyond the August through January timeframe.

Their weekday mornings are spent together and have since July 2021 when JOX Roundtable signed off and McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning became the new morning show on JOX 94.5 in the college football capital of Birmingham, Alabama. For college football fans, especially in the SEC, this show is the motherload. So, I eavesdropped in on the show as I was curious what it sounds like when there isn’t much going on in college football.

The day I chose to listen happened to be a very unique day and ultimately proved this show is much more than just college football talk. With the PGA Championship going on I expected a little golf talk, maybe some scoring updates. I certainly didn’t expect golf to take up almost the entire first half of the show. However, I nor anyone else expected to wake up to the news that the No. 1 player in the world had been arrested.

Immediately as the show began, they brought the listeners up to speed on what happened and continued to update the story, literally as it happened. Sometimes these stories are difficult to cover as you don’t have a lot of information, but these ‘football guys’ did one heck of a job of covering this breaking news.

As ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington posted a video with audio from the scene, the show turned the audio around quickly and played it as well as what Darlington was saying on SportsCenter. Like most people, McElroy and Cubelic, or ‘G-Mac and Cube’ as they are known, thought this was one of the most bizarre stories and believed a lot of the blame here was on the PGA of America and the golf course.

But they tried their best to look at this from all sides. McElroy pointed out in the video that the police officers were wearing raincoats and looked more like security at an event and also pointed out that due to the tragic accident that had occurred earlier, the people on the scene were most likely on high alert and a bit tense. They mentioned a few times that there was a lot of blame to go around and not to go too crazy blaming any one person or side.

When Scheffler’s mug shot was posted and he was listed as 6 foot 3, 170 pounds, the hosts were able to have some fun with that without losing the seriousness and insanity of what was happening. As the official charges came out, again it was interesting to hear the hosts respond in real-time to what was happening.

“Days like today are what social media is made for,” Cubelic said as he read some of the memes and jokes that were coming across.

As Scheffler was making his way back to the course, McElroy and Cubelic had a hilarious conversation about how now that Scheffler is a father, he has to get used to this kind of golf. “This is true ‘Dad golf’ that he is going to experience today,” McElroy said. “No warmup, no putting green, no breakfast, no stretching, no gym. Welcome to fatherhood, Scottie, this is what golf looks like when you have children.”

The show then brought on James Colgan, a writer from Golf.com who was live at Valhalla. Colgan gave great descriptions about the scene as far as the traffic even before the tragic accident had taken place. He made good points as well about being surprised the traffic was such a problem with Valhalla having hosted major tournaments before. I am always a fan of a strong guest who adds to the conversation, and this was a perfect example of it working out well.

Another great example of how well they covered the story was when Scheffler’s attorney, Steve Romines, was shown and Cubelic saw KSR host Matt Jones post about him on X. Cubelic texted Jones and asked what they should know about the attorney. Cubelic read Jones’ response, “Best lawyer in Kentucky for criminal defense. If I got arrested, he’s the first person I would call.”

As they started to wrap up their coverage of what was happening, Cubelic asked McElroy what his prediction was for Scheffler’s round that day. “Under 67.5,” was his answer. Scheffler would end up shooting 66.

I cannot stress enough how good of a job McElroy and Cubelic did covering a story for almost two hours when driving to the station that morning, they expected to spend most of the time talking about Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s thoughts on taking players out of the transfer portal. Pivoting the way they did and covering the ongoing story at the level they did, shows these guys are true pros. They even used their own experiences trying to get into busy football stadiums and the traffic issues that can arise. Sometimes the best live radio comes from unexpected topics and stories, and this was certainly the case here.

“It’s been absolutely mind blowing,” McElroy said about the show. “I can’t even believe how much there is to even discuss. Never in a million years did I think we were going to talk this much about golf.”

“Just an unbelievable situation,” Cubelic added.

The show would continue to keep an eye on Scheffler and the golf tournament as they moved on to other topics such as the hockey playoffs, which was the second biggest surprise of the day. Cubelic has adopted the New York Rangers as his team, and the guys had a fun discussion breaking down the team as well as all the potential Game 7’s that could happen in both the NHL and NBA.

Finally, they got to what I expected to mostly hear, a discussion about Dabo Swinney’s comments and a breakdown of the Clemson football schedule for the 2024 season. As you can imagine, McElroy and Cubelic talking college football is pure gold. It helps they have excellent chemistry and not many stations can say they have two of the best analysts of a single sport on the air together five days a week.

The show has plenty of laughs and quite a few endorsement ads, which is a sign of a healthy show. I like they do some of the ads together and play off one another. They have fun with the ads and work to tie them into programming.

A fun listen, I look forward to popping back into McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning during the heart of college football season. Hopefully on a day where nobody else ends up in handcuffs.

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Ryan Clark is Ready for ‘The Pivot’ to Grow with Channing Crowder, Fred Taylor and Fanatics

“We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are.”

Derek Futterman

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Ryan Clark
Courtesy: The Pivot

Answering a call from Emmy Award-winning producer Alicia Zubikowsi, Ryan Clark learned of a potential new media venture in a niche space. Zubikowski had produced the I Am Athlete podcast for nearly two years, which rapidly proliferated in size, scope and prominence. A financial dispute among the colleagues, however, led to the departures of Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor from the roster, along with Zubikowski, and they branched out on their own to actualize a new vision. After speaking with Zubikowski, Clark met with Crowder virtually and evinced compatibility that compelled him to become involved in the project.

Less than two years later, The Pivot Podcast has quickly amassed notoriety and prestige within sports media. The athlete-driven podcast contains weekly conversations with contemporaries and luminaries alike, to talk sports, music and entertainment. Clark, Crowder and Taylor possess an evident rapport and retains the audience while encouraging prospective listeners to hear the genuine endeavor.

“We felt like there was some synergy there, we thought we could do some good things and we decided to give it a try,” Clark said. “I had already been doing my own podcast that I was funding myself, editing myself and cutting promos myself just because I understood what the space was and I knew that that’s where a lot of media was going, and at the time I didn’t have a partnership or anyone kind of showing me the way, but I was like, ‘These people have already been successful.’”

Since its launch in the winter of 2022, The Pivot Podcast has amassed over 158 million views and 870,000 subscribers on YouTube alone. The show has welcomed guests across a variety of professions, some of whom have included Caleb Williams, Snoop Dogg, Gayle King and Travis Kelce. During its time in circulation, it has made an indelible impact on the landscape and recently agreed to a multi-year partnership with Fanatics.

Through the deal, The Pivot Podcast will feature Fanatics’ verticals surrounding commerce, betting, collectibles and events, and the Fanatics Sportsbook garnering the title of the “official sportsbook” of the show. Additionally, the program will be part of company events such as Fanatics Fest NYC and its annual Super Bowl party.

“Luckily for us, it’s been such a blessing,” Clark said. “Some of the stories we’ve been able to tell, the people we’ve been able to work with and have as guests on the show, and then obviously now having an opportunity to partner with Fanatics and be a part of Michael Rubin’s team and sort of head their media division, especially when you’re speaking of Alicia and what she’ll be able to do, it just makes so much sense.”

Fanatics itself had inked some deals in the sports media space over the last year, including agreements with Bleacher Report and Overtime, but they were largely under the aegis of merchandising and/or live events. The company also hired Ed Hartman as its chief strategy officer in media, trying to discover content that fits various key business sectors. For The Pivot, retaining creative control and autonomy over the content was essential and being involved in other ventures added more value to the proposition.

“To be a part of those things and bringing those things to the world, but also an opportunity to showcase the athletes and entertainers that are part of the Fanatics family – and I think that’s a different and a bigger opportunity than any podcast has ever had with any partnership, and that is why it was important for us to find the right partnership,” Clark said. “And if I’m being honest, our producer has turned down multiple deals saying that she believed that this was the one before this was ever even a thing that Michael Rubin was talking about.”

Reaching this point required hard work, consistency and confidence that The Pivot would ultimately resonate with audiences and establish a rapport in the space. Luckily for Clark, he had a viable fallback plan in that he was working at ESPN as an NFL analyst, a role he had positioned himself to attain while he was still an active player.

During his career, he had worked on 93.7 The Fan hosting a radio show from a hibachi restaurant in Pittsburgh and also appeared on local television. Clark played 13 years in the NFL as a safety and won a Super Bowl championship as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 season.

Although Clark had been told as a player that he had a chance to thrive in sports media, his formative years in the business broadened his understanding of the landscape and how to achieve success. Upon retiring from the NFL, he signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio shows and additional network programming.

Over the last several years, he has been a consistent part of NFL Live. Clark explained that the show contains underdogs who have crafted chemistry that has coalesced into an on-air product and meaningful friendships. Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes and Adam Schefter work with Clark and blend their football knowledge and expertise with entertainment.

“I could see how much work they all put into their craft, and I respected that, and then once you get that respect and you start to work together, now you get to know the people,” Clark said. “You get to know about their kids, you get to know about their home life, you get to know about what makes them tick and what makes them themselves, and then we care about each other.”

As members of the show watch NFL games every week, they remain in constant communication through a group chat. Additionally, Clark ensures that he is actively listening to what his colleagues say on the air so he can disseminate informed, substantive opinions that play a part in the overall product.

“The smartest of analysts understand what they have to be on each show based on who they’re working with,” Clark said. “I think you just also have to be versatile enough to do that. You have to know when you’re on NFL Live, that show is so heavy X and O; that show is so heavy, ‘Let’s educate – let’s talk about the things that are important in ball, even if they aren’t the most popular things.’”

Starting last season, Clark was added to Monday Night Countdown as a studio analyst as part of a revamped iteration of the program hosted by Scott Van Pelt. Joining Clark as analysts on the show were his NFL Live colleague Marcus Spears and incumbent analyst Robert Griffin III. While there were some memorable moments both in studio and on site throughout the year though, Clark felt that the show struggled to capture an essence on the air.

“I think the show is just hard because it’s sort of like rolled over the entire infrastructure and changed the people, and it happened so late that I don’t think we ever got an opportunity to find our voices on that show, and we tried to work through that throughout the season,” Clark said. “….I think last year was a learning experience where if I’m being really honest, we did bad TV sometimes, which was new for me because I felt like I haven’t done bad TV in a very long time, and it was embarrassing for me because I put so much time into it.”

Former Philadelphia Eagles center and Super Bowl champion Jason Kelce is joining the show and was formally introduced this week. During a charity golf outing this offseason, Clark had a chance to meet Kelce and learn more about him as a person while also answering questions about ESPN and the sports media business.

“I told him to be himself because being himself is what got him here,” Clark said. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, so he has so much knowledge, experience and wisdom that people will crave, and he can give it to them uniquely with his personality, with his honesty [and] with the openness and vulnerability about who he is. Other than that, he’s going to have to learn.”

Akin to Clark hosting The Pivot and working at ESPN, Kelce hosts the New Heights podcast with his brother, and will now be joining Monday Night Countdown on ESPN. Clark anticipates that Kelce will be a huge addition, referring to him as the “hottest free agent ever,” and hopes to grant him longform chances to express himself on the air. Being on the show for a second season, however, nearly was not a reality for Clark amid an expiring contract at ESPN.

“I was gone,” Clark said. “I wasn’t considering – I was done. Normally they extend your contract until it gets done most times. I was out – my contract had ended.”

Clark took part in discussions with other people in the business, some of which included having his own show and organizations starting networks around him. Throughout the process, he was cognizant about the relationships and memories he had built at ESPN and was appreciative for various personalities speaking up for him, including Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith. In the end, Clark signed a multi-year extension with the network that implemented a raise and additional responsibility while also continuing his other projects.

“Obviously my family is the NFL Live crew,” Clark said. “Scott Van Pelt and I probably share one of the most memorable nights in television when Damar Hamlin went down. And so those relationships were things that I didn’t want to leave unless there was a good enough reason to leave, and I don’t think that’s just money.”

Clark started hosting Inside the NFL last season on The CW, a storied sports franchise that presents highlights, analysis and interviews every week during the NFL season. After spending approximately four decades on HBO and subsequent years on Showtime and Paramount+, the program moved to broadcast television for the first time. Clark conceptualizes his role as a point guard who is able to score when necessary and successfully facilitate his colleagues Jay Cutler, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Long and The Pivot co-host Channing Crowder.

“I think that was the hardest adjustment with Inside the NFL initially was like, ‘Okay, how do I set these guys up for success while still doing something I’m really good at, which is analyzing football?,’” Clark said, “and it’s taken some time to really sort of find a space for it, but I think I did find that on Inside the NFL.”

In working on The Pivot, Clark built relationships organically through conversations surrounding strategy, content creation and lifestyle. One episode in particular that stands out to him is when the show interviewed former NBA forward Michael Beasley where he opened up about his mental health struggles and hardships he has endured throughout his life. Furthermore, he talked about struggling to find the right people and explained that everyone stole from him except his kids. Clark, Crowder and Taylor sympathized with Beasley and offered him assistance, underscoring the unscripted, genuine nature of the show.

“Everybody wants The Rock to be able to come on their show and talk about his battles with depression, but we also want Kevin Hart to be able to come on the show and invite him to nudist camp too,” Clark said. “We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s distinctive in effort or goal; I think it’s been distinctive in execution, which, in the end, is what we deliver to people.”

Through the new partnership with Fanatics, Clark looks forward to continuing to take part in candid conversations and storytelling on The Pivot while continuing to thrive in his work with ESPN and The CW. As someone who attained a successful NFL career after signing as an undrafted free agent, he maintains a mentality built on an indefatigable work ethic and resolute dedication towards his professional endeavors. Once the show signed the partnership with Fanatics, it had an opportunity to interview Tom Brady, who discussed topics including his experience being the subject of a Netflix roast and the lessons he learned playing in the NFL.

“Not everybody understands Tom Brady, right?,” Clark said. “Who knows that story? Who has ever lived that, ‘I’m the greatest to ever do something’? But everybody has understood what it’s like to struggle; what it’s like to doubt yourself, right? And so we bring them that story, and in bringing them that story, we talk about the things that Fanatics is doing and the ways that they are now moving in the sports world.”

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