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Adam Copeland is Thinking About The Modern Audience at KNBR

“I don’t know, that I want to be PD forever, but it’s definitely something that has already been a really cool and fulfilling part of my life.”

Demetri Ravanos

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A photo of Adam Copeland
Photo: Cumulus Media

The Bay Area has watched Adam Copeland grow up. That means more than just spending his entire life in Northern California. Sports fans in the area have literally heard Copeland start and stop phases of his life on air at KNBR.

He started at the station as an intern way back in 2009. Now, 15 years later, he is the boss. He took over as the station’s program director in November.

Kevin Graham left the station two months earlier. Copeland did not immediately view it as an opportunity. He just wanted to make sure the people who would be hiring the next programmer knew what KNBR really needed, so he made it a point to keep Larry Blumhagen, Cumulus’s San Francisco market manager, and Bruce Gilbert, the company’s head of sports programming, informed.

“So after about eight weeks, I pitched an idea about bringing a Warriors show to KNBR. We didn’t have the Warriors. It was just an idea I had and there was no leader,” Copeland said. “So my market manager says, ‘Stop this idea.’ And he takes his glasses off and he goes, ‘Do you want to be the PD?’ It stopped me dead in my tracks. I said, ‘Do I want to be? I don’t know that I want to be,’ I said, I think I’m a good guy for the job. I don’t know that the job is right for me. I don’t know that that’s what I want to do.’”

After a round of formal interviews, which included meeting with another candidate to see if that person may be a better fit, Copeland got the job. It would be a new phase of his career in the one place that has always been his professional home.

From the outside, it’s easy to look at what has gone on with KNBR and Adam Copeland in the last 18 months and think it has been a rocket ride. He moved from the early mornings to afternoon drive in 2022 and by the end of 2023, he was everyone’s boss.

It doesn’t quite feel that way to Copeland. He’s the one that was living every day of that 15-year grind. He learned from his father that there is truth in the old saying “you fake it till you make it.” Maybe that is what he was doing on his way to his current job.

“When I was sitting in this chair a couple weeks ago in my office, I thought, ‘Well, I faked it too hard.’ Like, now I’m here,” he says.

Sure, it feels like an accomplishment, but now Copeland has to watch the teams he grew up rooting for with half of his brain focused on the action and the other working out strategy. Case in point, he is happy to see his 49ers capture another NFC title, but it also means that he is responsible for securing the details of the station’s visit to Radio Row in Las Vegas. And, by the way, he didn’t give up his on-air role. He has to find time to prep for the afternoon show in there too.

“It’s a long day every day,” he says. “It’s a stressful day, but it’s a toy factory. We’re talking sports and we’re hanging with buddies, and it’s a blast, dude, I don’t know, that I want to be PD forever, but it’s definitely something that has already been a really cool and fulfilling part of my life.”

The KNBR staff is filled with names and voices Copeland grew up idolizing and rooting for. They became co-workers and now, they are supportive of him as their boss. Copeland wants people like Greg Papa and Tom Tolbert to be themselves. It’s what made KNBR the legendary station that it is. 

That doesn’t mean change is off-limits though. The station is locked in a ratings battle with 95.7 The Game after all. 

After years of going without phone calls, Copeland says the station is giving a voice to listeners again and the listeners are ready any time the phone number or text line is given out on the air. It’s been a real difference-maker.

Some of the changes have not been as fun. Late last year, cuts across Cumulus hit KNBR particularly hard. Copeland was forced to deliver bad news to FP Santangelo, who was hosting at night, and Paul McCaffrey, who had co-hosted the morning show since 2005. They were out. So was morning producer Eric Engle.

Copeland says breaking the news to those guys was one of the hardest moments of his career. He doesn’t like admitting that though, because at the end of the day, he is still at KNBR. No matter how hard it was for him, he knows it was so much worse for Santangelo, McCaffrey and Engel. It was something he realized before he even had to do the job.

“It was terrible. It was awful,” he says. “The angst around it, the nerves around it, the lack of sleep, the appetite stuff. It was really frustrating and upsetting because I was an intern here. I’ve known a lot of these guys for a long time.”

There were no phone calls to his mentors seeking advice, no long conversations about how to handle the worst part of being a boss. Instead, Copeland talked to each person who was losing a job man-to-man and let them know the situation. He says he is still in touch with all three. 

It wasn’t just the people that would be leaving. The staff still at KNBR needed answers too. Copeland knew that they would want to see that there was a plan going forward, that these weren’t just budget cuts for the sake of saving money.

Several producers got promotions. Copeland made it clear that there was a new vision for the station. KNBR had to evolve from a radio station to a media company that included a radio station.

There was external criticism. He didn’t stop his staff from airing their own feelings publicly. But in the end, he knew there was enough buy-in for his vision to be executed successfully. It’s why he can focus on the future now.

He’s thinking about how to reach the modern audience. Copeland makes it a point to say that he doesn’t talk about reaching a “young” audience, because even his mom is streaming audio from her phone now when she is in the car. It’s something he wants his bosses and his air staff to understand.

“Nobody’s flipping on the radio and saying, “Dude, I like this guy. I’m going to listen every day!’ What happens is they’ve got to see a YouTube clip or something on social and they go, ‘That’s interesting. I’ll follow it.’ Then they check in regularly.”

His other focus is authenticity. He points to Rod Brooks, who he listened to on KNBR at night when he was younger. It mattered to Copeland that Brooks looked like him and lived where he lived. It meant that doing this was possible for Copeland when he got older.

It’s not just trying to find other minority sports talk talent. Copeland wants to find people who are not afraid to be themselves. He knows part of what stood out about him on air is that there aren’t a lot of Black people in the Bay Area who will drop everything to talk about the minutiae of baseball. He will.

It’s not just sports opinions and tastes either. He wants talent that listeners hear their own experiences in. 

“When I’m talking about a pizza place that I went to in my hometown in the East Bay of San Leandro, I mention that pizza place, because then a kid from San Leandro texts you and says, ‘Dude, I’ve been to that place!’ That’s how you gather that community,” he says. “It’s about representing the market you’re in and you’ve got to know where you are in order to do that.”

Maybe Copeland won’t be a program director forever. That’s the job right now though, and he isn’t going to half-ass it. He has given his full focus to every position he has held at KNBR and this one is no different. Was he faking it before? That’s hard to say, but he has made it now, and Adam Copeland is set on doing this his way.

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1 Comment

  1. John Forte

    February 2, 2024 at 12:45 am

    It can be knbr/the ticket or visa versa in sports centric radio, doesn’t mean a thing (to me anyway). The drivel thats broadcast pales to the former stations (sports) here by The Bay. I’m starting my 69th trip around the sun in a week. Thinking I’ll offer my age demographic so anyone who disagrees has a simple target to dissent. It’s okay like me here each person has right for their own view. My beef startd with parent company cumulus media. This group of lost souls have exerted pressure on their competituon through quality and focus to offer the listening public a superior product. Oh darn wrong again they have bought up KNBR (680am/104.5fm),KGO. KSFO, KSAN along with many hundreds of additional outlets across the country. Why invest in local talent and focused energy to earn new listeners. Hell no just buy up any competition. Driving down expectations and quality competition. Hey look we’re snuffing radio look at the station values plummet. BUY MORE! It was far, far better when corporations were not allowed to own multiple outlets in the same market. You want diversity? It existed then, thrived actually. I could go on for quite a while, I think you can follow my drift.

    All I get if I flip between the local market leaders? From The Ticket pre-selected topics and coached (directed POV) done with a seasoning of east coast attitude. Yeah I agree always has sucked! Hosts with such angst and false output and points that I actually can only tolerate short listening times as my blood pressure elevates! On KNBR? If I say what I feel about some of the on air talent I don’t want to associate a good host with good job by cumulus. They suck on their best days. No real investment in keeping on air talent at the microphone. Find a list of the onair talent at knbr 10 or 15 years ago. Getting nearly every local talent on air out their door. Now so much airtime via nationally syndicated east coast broadcasts. I’ll take ONE Pete Franklin over the whole piped in imposters. I better wrap this up my inner Ralph Barbieri and wait for it……GARY RADNICH! Break up the long running morning set then add a new “light” version of the fired host. Fire F. P. Santangelo tell us you’re dumping sportsphone 68. Like the typical lying corporste shill, peeking over your shoulder” you think they bought it?”. Bring it back? WTF? I’m going to ask our local FCC can we please return to the prior 1 atation pee market? Radio will improve so much and so fast that poisonous companies like cumulus can whither on the vine and end up where they belong.

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BSM Writers

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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