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Heidi Watney is Picking Her Spots on Apple TV+

“I’m not on TV just because I want to be on TV. I love sports [and] telling sports stories.”

Derek Futterman



Heidi Watney FNB
Courtesy: Apple

When Heidi Watney was selected as the reporter for Boston Red Sox baseball on the NESN, it marked the culmination of a long and arduous process to make it to the big leagues. Reflecting back on the fortuitous break, Watney believes she was unqualified for the role, but she quickly proved the network made the right choice. As soon as she was hired, Watney was assigned a stack of books about the history of the team to study – and she had just five days to do it leading up to her first road trip.

For Watney, a Fresno native, her new job necessitated she move to the East Coast for the first time in her professional career. She was learning the role on the fly since she had never been a genuine sideline reporter, and displayed a dedication to the craft from the very beginning. 

“You become a part of the family and you know everything about them,” Watney said. “It was such a wonderful experience. I got to travel on charter flights and stay in these amazing hotels. [As] someone who was born and raised in California my entire life before taking the job at NESN, the whole country was just eye-opening to me and just so much fun and so fascinating.”

From a young age, Watney gravitated to professional sports, often partaking in athletics as a student. Her father, Mike, was the golf coach at Fresno State, and she often attended tournaments and other school events. The football games in particular were invigorating and heightened Watney’s expectations of how college football matchups at the University of San Diego would feel. Unfortunately, she noticed a more apathetic and less engaged crowd, starkly contrasting with her nascent zeal towards competition.

The observation served as an impetus of discovering the extent of her enamorment with sports. Various friends and acquaintances suggested Watney pursue a career in sports media, leading her to consider the best path to penetrate in the industry.

During her formative years in the industry as an intern and professional, Watney learned how to brush off circumstances rather than taking everything personally, and also faced misogyny. Reflecting back on those occurrences, she recognizes the insecurities and internal discomfort that likely caused people to act out, and is glad to see the normalization of women in sports media.

“You learn how to handle and adapt, and I think that’s sage advice for life – adapt and survive – and just learn how to kind of handle things,” Watney said.

When it came time to collect her undergraduate diploma in communication studies, Watney was in the process of searching for her first television job. As is common practice, she had compiled demo reels of her reporting work and sent them to stations around the United States. She was willing to relocate to realize the best opportunity for her to maximize her potential and make inroads in the trade, inexorable in finding a way to succeed.

The competitive industry and fluctuating job market rendered the job search difficult, and it ultimately presented Watney with two choices. She could either move to Amarillo, Texas and work as a weekend sports anchor with a starting annual salary of $17,500; or return to her home in Fresno and aim to find a means of employment at one of the networks. Watney had met with various executives in Fresno, all of whom told her she lacked the necessary experience to work in the market. In the end, and with no guarantee of finding employment, she opted to remain in California, and her persistence and malleability expeditiously paid dividends.

“One of the news directors called me back about a month later and said, ‘Hey, I know you want sports, but we’re starting a morning show,’” Watney recollected. “‘If you’ll do traffic and occasionally weather… then we’ll hire you to do our show.’ The pay was slightly better – not much – but it was my hometown so I could live with my parents as I was making peanuts and starting out in this business.”

Watney was grateful to KMPH FOX 26 for allowing her to pursue sports stories while working as a morning traffic reporter, and she promptly began to make a name for herself in the market. The morning show allowed her to appear on television unscripted for 10 to 15 minutes daily, enabling her to perfect her craft through improvisation and repetition. By her third year, she was named the station’s weekend sports anchor and eventually was named a weekday sports reporter. Additionally, she hosted radio programming on 1430 ESPN Fresno.

After some time passed, the news director of the station suggested to Watney that she should pursue a career in news because of her delivery, knowledge, writing acumen and ability to read off a teleprompter. Additionally, he said she would go further working in news than in sports, but Watney knew sports was what she was most passionate about, and she was not willing to give up on her dream.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not on TV just because I want to be on TV,’” Watney remembered explaining. “‘I love sports [and] telling sports stories. I love covering the excitement and the action of sports [and] love how sports uplifts people. News is bad – I don’t want to talk about people dying,’ so I appreciated his encouragement but I stuck with sports.”

Leaving her hometown of Fresno, Calif. to take the reporting and hosting job with NESN was a seminal moment in Watney’s career. Doing so placed her on an all-sports network for the first time. She learned about the Red Sox amid their quest to remain a perennial contender after winning two championships in a four-year span after an 86-year winless drought.

“I’m not a player on the team; I’m covering the team,” Watney said. “But I was there every single day of the [2011] season and the [three] previous seasons. I felt the crushing blow when I saw the Rays beat the Yankees and knock the Red Sox out of the postseason, basically.”

One of her most memorable moments while working for a regional sports network came in interviewing Jon Lester on the field following his no-hitter. She vividly remembers the disquiet associated with having her voice amplified in front of thousands of fans. 

“I had an interview seminar one time – ‘Is this the best? The most?’ Those ‘-st’ kinds of questions are what’s going to elicit a thoughtful response,” Watney said. “Everyone watches games – I watch games – but I also really watch the broadcasters and I watch the questions they ask and I see what gets good responses.”

The survival of regional sports networks has been an ongoing topic of discussion over the last several years in the sports media business. Diamond Sports Group, owner of the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks, recently declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Sinclair Broadcast Group executive chairman David Smith met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and forewarned that the company would begin to selectively reject contracts if the league did not grant it the valuable direct-to-consumer rights. The rights would help enhance Bally Sports’ DTC offering, but it was a proposition the league immediately shot down, leading to a hearing in bankruptcy court.

After contentious and bitter testimony, the bankruptcy judge ruled that Diamond Sports Group must pay the full value of television rights contracts it previously brokered with teams or renounce the media rights. Moreover, the league reaffirmed how it is prepared to take over regional broadcasts for any of the teams affected, demonstrating as such when Diamond Sports Group chose not to make its right payment to the San Diego Padres. The league positioning itself to make use of the reacquired local media rights while paying afflicted franchises at least 75% of the contract value eliminates blackouts and presents queries about the future of local networks broadcasting professional sports teams altogether. After all, many executives within the industry and consumers alike believe the regional sports network model will not withstand the dynamic, modern media landscape, meaning it is incumbent on sports leagues and networks to pioneer a new age of broadcasting.

“I think that MLB can help start streaming some of the regional stuff so that fans can still have the connections to their team broadcasters, but get it all on streaming content and that’s how these networks are going to survive,” Watney said. “If you’re not getting on the streaming bandwagon, you’re going to kind of go by the wayside.”

It is precisely why Major League Baseball struck a deal with Apple in an effort to bring its product to over-the-top streaming platforms. In addition to Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+, the league agreed to allow Peacock to exclusively present Sunday morning games on MLB Sunday Leadoff. Both deals give the league a sum of nearly $1.8 billion in annual revenue, and it is supplemented by national revenue from Warner Bros. Discovery, ESPN and FOX Corporation.

Watney signed on with Apple TV+ before the launch of its weekly Friday Night Baseball doubleheader package last season as one of two sideline reporters. Yet she had been removed from working at a regional sports network for the better part of a decade, let alone serving as a regular reporter. Instead, Watney transitioned to become a studio host with MLB Network in 2013.

One of Watney’s primary roles with MLB Network was working as the host of the nightly baseball highlight show, Quick Pitch, where she took viewers around the league to get caught up on the previous day’s action. The show presented a blend of information and entertainment, having hosts communicate with the audience in front of a graphic, acting in scripted routines and recurring bits.

She had always wanted the chance to cover the league at a broader level, and ensured that she would continue working regardless whether or not the Red Sox qualified for the postseason. Furthermore, it provided Watney with more chances for respite coming from a 24/7 job during the baseball season.

“I feel like MLB Network was doing games at Fenway once a week – if not every couple of weeks,” Watney said. “I loved my time at NESN, but I didn’t have a day off from the start of spring training to the end of the postseason. I used to joke that I never went on a date because I was just working all the time.”

Streaming outlets likely represent the future of sports media, and Watney is thrilled to be a hallmark on the timeline of broadcast progression. Not only is her work exclusive to the subscription-based platform, but it also encapsulates a new identity for broadcast reporters and their level of involvement in a typical broadcast.

“By being a streaming platform, Apple TV is helping MLB move into the future,” Watney said. “Some of the younger people already had Apple TV+, so it’s really not anything [new] for them. I think even for older generations that aren’t used to streaming… MLB needs to be on any and all streaming platforms if they want to reach youth – and not to mention social media channels too.”

The challenge the job has presented, specifically during the 2023 regular season, has been condensing the in-game reports and insights and effectively discovering pockets conducive for her input. Making the necessary adjustments was necessitated by rule changes instituted by the league to hasten pace of play and boost offensive output.

“At any point with the pitch clock and with the increased threat of stolen bases, there’s going to be more action in the game, so we have to be more concise with our stories,” Watney said. “We have to pick our spots where we can work something where we tell a story versus covering the action because our job is to broadcast the game. My role in that is to add some color and flavor into the game.”

Two days before the weekly broadcast, Apple TV+ holds a production meeting about the approach to take in covering the game. A researcher sends the broadcast team the necessary information, which everyone reviews and selects the most important storylines. Once they travel to the ballpark, the team meets with team managers to obtain information either on background or off the record entirely, but helpful to be aware of in guiding the specific coverage. 

“We’re not necessarily just talking to the diehards,” Watney said. “We’re hoping to reach a larger audience [and] expanding the game of baseball; growing the game of baseball; moving into the streaming world [and] doing more things that people can consume on their phones.”

Apple TV+ airs its MLB Big Inning whiparound show on weeknights and produces additional forums of baseball content through daily recaps, pregame shows and a weekly compilation of standout moments. There are times during the studio programs when elongated versions of Watney’s interviews are aired, and she has been part of conversations about releasing them as standalone pieces of content within the user interface or on social media channels.

“The saddest part about my week is when they’re like, ‘You only have two minutes for your interview,’” Watney said. “I’m like, ‘Why? But I’m talking to Mike Trout; he’s way more interesting than two minutes.’”

Baseball is inherently a team sport where the accomplishments of an individual are arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. In the end, it is the collective play of a unit that determines wins and losses, and personal accolades are not often discussed unless they occur in conjunction with a win. Watney is one of two sideline reporters on Apple TV+’s regular broadcast rotation – the other being Tricia Whitaker, who also works on Bally Sports South’s regional broadcast of the Tampa Bay Rays – and it is the duo’s responsibility to supply compelling storylines on the weekly doubleheader slate and she believes celebrating individuality is what her job requires.

“One of the things that has made baseball so flat in the greater scheme of the sports world that thrives on superstars like LeBron James and Tom Brady and Tim Tebow; these big names – people rally around that,” Watney said. “There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout. That doesn’t take away from his team; that actually brings more eyeballs to the Angels to see what’s going on there.”

Watney’s pursuit of a career in sports media was not entirely clear to her until she was encouraged by people she could trust. The internship she held in San Diego gave her unparalleled exposure and an outlet to discover what areas of the industry she was most interested in, and it is an experience she holds in high regard. As the industry continues to condense operations and streamline processes to cultivate an efficient modus operandi, Watney emphasized the importance of pre-professional experience and displaying an earnest avidity for the work itself.

“Sports happen when everyone’s sitting at home eating their Thanksgiving dinner,” Watney said. “Someone’s out there doing those game broadcasts, so be prepared to work, but it’s also the most rewarding career.”

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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.”

Demetri Ravanos



Meet the Podcasters John Middlekauff

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.

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Taylor Swift Coverage Should Be a Reminder to Sports Radio

The conversation around Swift at NFL games goes back to radio 101.

Avatar photo



Taylor Swift Jets
Courtesy: Elsa, Getty Images

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.

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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.”

Derek Futterman



Matt McClearin
Courtesy: Matt McClearin

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.”

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