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Chris Dimino Wants to Keep Documenting History on 680 The Fan

“We know what hits and what doesn’t; we know what to go back to.”

Derek Futterman

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Chris Dimino
Courtesy: Rodney Ho, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It took him a year-and-a-half to pull it off, but Chris Dimino ultimately achieved his goal of welcoming legendary New York Yankees shortstop and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto to his podcast, Hardball: MLB History In First Person. Former Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford ultimately helped seal the deal, imploring Rizzuto to accept the invitation and share parts of his career with the audience.

A project that originally began as a part of on-air studio programming for Atlanta Braves games on the radio, Dimino launched the podcast in order to have more purview over the style and length of the conversations with iconic figures of our national pastime. There are times when he calls a landline phone that is answered by a family member who helps connect them to the former star of the sandlot. Furthermore, there have been moments where he’s been unsure if a conversation of substance will occur altogether.

One example of such pertains to decorated Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams, someone whom Dimino was informed about beforehand in that he may only be able to appear on the podcast for a few minutes. Entering the conversation, Dimino was hoping that the heart problems Williams was suffering from would subside and allow him to participate. Twenty-seven minutes later, Dimino had spoken to a titan of the sport and recorded a conversation that stands the test of time. According to the wife of Williams’ son, it was the last full-length media appearance Williams did before his death in 2002.

“I think they respect the idea that somebody wants to talk to them,” Dimino said. “I love that [and] I love when you hear that a phone call ends like that [where] somebody is thanking you almost as much as you’re thanking them for their time.”

Dimino is a proponent of audio history, utilizing the breadth of the medium to document stories and occurrences for posterity. Through his daily radio program on 680 The Fan, he has a platform to communicate with listeners in real-time; however, there are certain constraints radio has as opposed to podcasts.

While he understands how fundamental a clock is in radio, it can limit conversations and the full scope of storytelling. There have been numerous occasions where he has been told that he doesn’t respect that stations utilize advertising to help them pay bills. Working for Dickey Broadcasting, an independent media company, his boss is right down the hallway, something he affirms can be both good and bad. Nonetheless, with the dynamic and evolving state of media today, he feels fortunate and grateful to be employed by the entity.

“I certainly know that a lot of the bigger companies are dealing with stuff now, and when you’re dealing with stuff, there’s a chance that things can change pretty quickly,” Dimino said. “We’re not immune to that, but I think there are conversations that might be a little bit different than what you would have in the bigger companies.”

For the last three decades, Dimino has been a fixture on sports radio in Atlanta, achieving profound success in a career path and locale that came together somewhat by happenstance. Originally from the New York metropolitan area, Dimino developed an infatuation with sports from a young age. He was more interested in speaking with adults than many of his other friends and also frequently consumed WFAN, specifically Mike and the Mad Dog, during the afternoon drive daypart.

While he was attending school at Rutgers University majoring in American history and English, Dimino worked as a bartender to garner more money. He frequently took 21 credits each semester in order to expedite his graduation and spoke with New York sports fans about the teams while working.

Dimino went back to the school at the age of 29 thinking that he would become a lawyer until a friend from high school suggested he become a chiropractor. While his friend went to study in Davenport, Iowa, Dimino decided to visit Atlanta and determined that the metropolis could be a viable place for him to live. Immediately after his final exam at Rutgers, he moved to the city with his Jeep on the back of a moving truck and enrolled at Life College the next day.

Even though he moved away from New York City, Dimino continued to listen to sports radio and frequently called into Scott Ferrell’s program on 680 The Fan in Atlanta. One day when program director Mike Thompson expressed that he was looking for a new personality on the air, Ferrell’s producer mentioned Dimino, although they did not have any of his information. The producer vowed that he would get it if he called back, and the outlet eventually hired Dimino to work three days a week in afternoon drive while he was still studying to become a chiropractor.

Thompson made it clear to Dimino that he was being hired and given the opportunity because of the conversation skills he fostered as a bartender. In fact, there were several instances where he reminded Dimino why he hired him and that if he ever forgot it, he would be fired. A few years later, WSB-AM sent him to Atlanta Braves spring training in Florida for seven weeks, which required him to make a decision regarding his future. In the end, Dimino chose to stay with radio and left Life College nine months short of earning his chiropractic degree.

“I used to say that I got to make a left-hand turn closer to the field and court instead of making a right-hand turn going up to the bleachers,” Dimino said, “so I appreciated it, but I didn’t think it would lead to this.”

Dimino ultimately joined 790 The Zone where he worked in mornings with Steak Shapiro and Nick Cellini on Mayhem in the A.M. The program possessed a bar mentality and took a conversational approach, inviting viewers to essentially pull up a chair and listen to the show. There were times when the on-air interactions became confrontational especially when segments were controversial.

In the summer of 2013, Cellini conducted a faux interview with Steve Gleason, a former safety on the New Orleans Saints battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). During the segment, the program utilized a robotic voice to simulate how the interview may sound since Gleason was utilizing a specialized computer that permitted him to type with his eyes and have that writing converted to speech. On the same day this segment aired, all three hosts were suspended indefinitely and promptly terminated from the outlet in a story that gained national attention.

“It’s not a secret – 790, it was, I don’t want to say there were no rules, but we went out,” Dimino said. “We went to games; we drank on the air. It was sort of that.”

Despite being offered a chance to return to the station several months later, Dimino opted to sign with 680 The Fan to join its morning show, Rude Awakening, which he worked on with Perry Laurentino and Christopher Rude. Although he was excited to join the program, he was unable to appear on the air due to a non-compete clause in his previous contract with 790 The Zone. As a result, he began working at the outlet on a part-time basis working in sales and production, along with conducting Braves spring training interviews.

Just a few months after Dimino began appearing on air, Laurentino was let go by the outlet, an opportunity for Cellini to return to the radio airwaves. He eventually became a part of the full-time morning show cast, comprising a trio that worked together for parts of three years before Dickey Broadcasting neglected to renew Rude’s contract. Through it all, he continued to gain an affinity for the marketplace and raised a family who share fandom for the local teams.

“This town is worth defending; it really is,” Dimino said. “There are things like every other town, but if you win people show up.”

Since Rude left the station, Dimino has hosted with Cellini, rekindling a partnership that started at 790 The Zone. Ahead of each show, Cellini diligently prepares by creating show sheets and taking notes about what to discuss while keeping the show on time. While Dimino also prepares for each show, his style is different and impugns the clock. Ahead of each show, he checks the same eight websites in the same order, something he deems to be ridiculous as a person who does not believe in structure. Additionally, he prints out stories and reveals that he has been accused of killing various trees.

“I have a blue book that I write in every day to make sure that I get to make sure that I get to something that I think is important,” Dimino said. “I listen – I think I’m a good listener to not only my partner, but to other things I might hear on the radio to try and put a spin on it.”

In working with Cellini, Dimino sees an evident maturation over the years and his ability to delve beyond the countenance of a story. Anyone can read stats, he affirms, but what remains critical is being able to tell the story behind those numbers. Cellini also continues to anchor characterizations of former athletes, and there are instances where neither of them know it is coming until he begins.

“We believe if we entertain ourselves, somebody else is being entertained,” Dimino said. “That’s sort of the unwritten, unspoken mantra of this show all these years. Let’s entertain ourselves – we have a little bit of an audience on the other side of the glass, and some hosts like that; some don’t. We know what hits and what doesn’t; we know what to go back to.”

Hosting in middays presents a different challenge for the program since most listeners are cognizant of the scores from the night before. The timeslot is also more conducive to breaking news, meaning that both hosts need to be ready to pivot away from the discussion to talk about stories that require real-time attention.

“We joke [that] 80% of what we read going into the door that day will never be talked about but we have it in our back pocket,” Dimino said. “I don’t think that’s changed, but I do think that there’s less hurriedness.”

Understanding storylines is pivotal to keep people interested and entertained by the program, something that is magnified to remaining hyperlocal as a local radio host. Despite it being important to cover what will be front-page news, Dimino also tries to unearth the hidden gems and bring them to the forefront before they become a big story.

“I think you better understand this many years into it what plays,” Dimino said. “Again, Georgia being 9-3 is good, [but] 3-9 and 12-0 is much better than 9-3. The Braves being a fringe team is not as good as them being really good, or even in the down years where you go, ‘What the hell is the rebuild going to look like; what’s the storyline?,’ and I think in this town that’s sort of the way it gets played.”

Always remembering that he was hired for the discussions and confabulations that came from bartending and calling into sports radio programs, Dimino looks to stay true to his identity. At the same time, working in media requires fostering a strong work ethic and remaining persistent. For many people, talking about sports encompasses a dream job, and Dimino always makes sure to treat it with reverence rather than insouciance.

“Autopilot is boring radio and it’s cheap,” Dimino said. “Usually those days of – and I’m not telling you I haven’t walked in hungover – but in 30 years I can tell you [that] I can count on one hand where I’ve probably been more banged up than [I] should have been.”

Being in radio for over three decades, Dimino knows that he has been the sound of various generations of listeners and oftentimes has people who thank him for his work. There are  benefits in having professional rapport with general managers, coaches and players to the point where he can simply pick up the phone and call them, a testament to his longevity in the field. Yet it is the candid, outstanding feedback he receives from listeners that helps him recognize that everything he is doing is worthwhile, elicited by remaining genuine with the audience.

“This is a format that has been around for a long time. People trust you and turn to you because they think they know you,” Dimino said. “People will talk about your kids; that doesn’t happen with TV people.”

Continuing to host the midday program, cover the Falcons and anchor postgame coverage on the air and book and record episodes of his baseball-themed podcast, Dimino has a packed schedule. For as long as he has been in the industry, he has shown few signs of slowing down and is grateful to go to work each day in helping tell the story of Atlanta sports. No matter how mundane the topics of the day may be; or the success or lack thereof for local sports teams, Dimino has an inherent alacrity exuding gratitude and excitement to do his job to the best of his ability.

“I’ve said that if my key card doesn’t work, I’ll go home [and] that will be my indication that I’m sort of done,” Dimino said. “I hope that doesn’t happen for a while [because] I feel younger than I am, and I have no doubt in my mind if nothing else, I know I’m younger than I am because of this job.”

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WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit

“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”

Jason Barrett

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The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.

I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.

Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.

Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.

Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.

I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.

As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.

In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.

Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.

A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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