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AJ Hoffman Remembers His Time With Fred Faour, ESPN 97.5 Houston

“…the way that I wanted our show to go, he had to play along.”

Derek Futterman

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AJ Hoffman — Remembering Fred Faour
Courtesy: CultureMap Houston

In the formative years of The Blitz on ESPN 97.5 Houston, program director Dave Tepper could tell the station had discovered a hit. Co-hosts AJ Hoffman and Fred Faour possessed evident on-air chemistry that helped the show rapidly develop a fanbase. Both hosts hailed from Houston and maintained a strong connection with the listeners that rendered the program a staple in afternoon drive. Moreover, they were both focused on the same end goal and sought to put their differences aside to achieve such a resolution. Reaching the acme, however, took sacrifice from the relevant parties.

Amid a pattern of remote broadcasts in which Faour was slowly becoming inebriated and loose, Hoffman had reached what he perceived to be a final outcome. Demonstrating temerity and poise, he approached Tepper and conveyed his intent to leave the show. Essentially, Hoffman informed Tepper that the station would need to make a selection. It was a turn of events that Tepper discerned could harm the outlet, requiring action to prevent a potential nadir, or worse, an all-out collapse.

“I remember vividly Dave telling me, ‘Dude, you’ve got to work through this,’” Hoffman articulated. “We had some success at this point, and he said, ‘It’s very difficult to put together a hit show,’ and he said, ‘If you walk away from this, you’re going to regret it the next time you have a partner because it’s not easy to find chemistry that works on the radio, and you guys have it.’ It’s the best advice Dave ever gave me.”

Rather than walking away from the show entirely, Hoffman and Faour made adjustments that made for a more cohesive, collaborative partnership. About four or five years into the show, they gained a better understanding of one another and were cognizant of their proclivities. Hoffman felt it was valuable to have a partner with that level of comprehension and industry aptitude, leading to a successful end product. In fact, he evinced that Faour gained a level of understanding in which he could complete his sentences, a palpable synergy that catalyzed audience growth and sustainability therein.

“I really think we both understood what we wanted out of the show, and we understood that the best way to get it was for us to put whatever differences we had aside and really not just ignore them, but adapt to the differences that we had,” Hoffman said. “I gave some, he gave some and we just kind of met in the middle.”

Before working in radio, Faour was a newspaper journalist and served as the sports editor of the Houston Chronicle. Hoffman recalls him being wildly astute and content with his lifestyle of being on the air. Early on though, he perceived that Faour did not enjoy when he was being joked about, but he eventually began to lean into it and embrace the self-deprecation and banter that was part of their show.

“He was the perfect sidekick for me because if you resist working with me, it makes things very difficult – and not that we didn’t ever disagree or argue – but the way that I wanted our show to go, he had to play along,” Hoffman said. “He had to be okay with being poked fun at, and he did.”

Hoffman originally attended school to study music recording and audio production, enrolling in the SAE Institute in Nashville, Tenn. In addition to his studies, he was bartending and delivering stand-up comedy, occupations that led him to meet Wally Lynn. It was Lynn who provided Hoffman with the chance to serve as his intern, an occupation that involved writing jokes and imparting other information.

Six months after Hoffman was hired in a full-time role with the Austin, Texas-based outlet, Lynn moved back to Dallas. As a result, Hoffman suddenly had his own morning show in the city, a whirlwind that he never expected. Having never listened to sports radio while growing up, he felt somewhat nonplussed and unsure about how to approach the craft. Hoffman geared his program towards making people laugh, and he found that it resonated with those in the metropolis.

“I didn’t know what I was looking to do, so it was probably just really good fortune that it worked out for me because if I tried to do what I think most people try to do when they get into sports radio, I think I would have probably been a failure,” Hoffman said. “So, it was just me kind of being me on the radio, and it worked out for me.”

Although Hoffman’s journey eventually took him back to his hometown of Houston, Texas, he passed up an opportunity to arrive in the city a few years earlier. ESPN 97.5 Houston wanted him to be the co-host of The Front Page, but he was comfortable in Austin and ultimately decided to remain at the outlet. He did, however, recommend Matt Dean for the job, and he ended up working with Faour during his early stages at the station. Dean departed the outlet a few years later, prompting ESPN 97.5 Houston to approach Hoffman with another offer to join the station and host with Faour in the midday slot.

“I said, ‘You know what? It’s time to make a move,’” Hoffman said. “I was excited; it was the first time that I was, I don’t know, I guess recruited, and I’m very competitive. I wanted to win, and Houston is where I grew up, so it was important for me to have some success there.”

From the onset of the trial shows, Hoffman could tell that he and Faour possessed both chemistry and chemistry issues with a shared determination to crush the competition. The program frequently finished at or near the top of the ratings books and was eventually moved to afternoon drive. Local listeners found that they had a rapport with the program, a sentiment that Hoffman can still deduce in social media comments and feedback on other projects.

“It’s all about entertaining; it’s all about being relatable,” Hoffman said. “Yeah, I think that was always my goal was to be as relatable to the audience as possible. You want people to either side with you or side against you. You want to create an emotional response in people, whether it’s a positive or a negative. It doesn’t really matter to me – there were plenty of people who didn’t like me – but that just meant that they were engaged, and that’s what I was looking for.”

When the program broadcast in afternoon drive, it presented content that was less reactionary, instead focused more on previewing upcoming games and providing compelling, engaging opinions. Hoffman divulged that after a long day at work, many people are searching for a source of reprieve. While Hoffman has never been a great morning person, he made the most of it during the show’s illustrious run that lasted for more than 11 years.

“People are stressed out after a long day of work, and they just want to have some fun,” Hoffman said. “They want to relax a little bit, so I felt like I was able to be a little bit looser. I know most people talk about wacky morning shows or zany sports show, but I don’t know that tier ranking; I don’t know how you do it.”

In 2019, Hoffman was promoted to serve as the outlet’s program director while also continuing to host the afternoon drive show. Faour was in favor of him taking on the extra role, communicating that he felt it would be a great idea. Had Faour felt differently, however, he probably would have not accepted the position because it would have altered the dynamic on the show. Even so, the chemistry on the program remained strong despite Hoffman serving as Faour’s boss. During the show itself, Hoffman thought of himself as Faour’s co-host and tried not to come off as condescending.

“Fred believed that I understood radio on a different level than a lot of other people, and he knew that I was serious enough about the mechanics of things that would help us in ratings that he wanted me to have that job,” Hoffman said.

With his roots in the Houston area, Hoffman emphasized the cultural diversity the city has and how it differs from its counterparts. He presumes that there is a preconceived notion about the area in that it contains a plethora of cowboys and other Western aspects. The reality of the setting though is one that Hoffman believes has been evidently misconstrued, affirming that it is the most culturally diverse city in the world.

“People don’t realize how awesome of a town Houston is if they haven’t been in it, and I think Fred and I both being Houston guys, we wanted to show that to people,” Hoffman said. “When people would be new in town if they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not understanding this or this,’ we always tried to point them [in the right direction].”

The connection he fostered with the people of Houston and the city itself while working in the locale is part of what made the decision to leave extremely arduous and difficult. Although the show was thriving in the Houston marketplace, Hoffman felt an opportunity to relocate to Las Vegas to serve as the executive vice president and director of digital content for Pregame was simply too good to pass up. Before he came to a resolution, he discussed the proposition with Faour. After their discussion, Faour concurred and supported Hoffman in what he had chosen to do.

“I think every show like that, there comes a time when, ‘We could keep doing it, but what are we going to do now; what’s next for us? We don’t want to just come in here and keep collecting a check. How do we keep this thing growing?’ I don’t know if we’d run out of that, but Fred totally understood it was a good opportunity for me to move on and for us to try some new things, and he was very supportive of it.”

Shortly thereafter, Faour departed ESPN 97.5 Houston, but he and Hoffman remained in touch through it all. Faour began contributing to the SportsMap Radio Network and would periodically welcome Hoffman as a guest to discuss football betting lines or the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Upon leaving radio entirely to start a podcast, Faour came to an agreement with Hoffman to have him on as a weekly guest to provide his opinions and analysis.

Last week when Hoffman was preparing to make his weekly Thursday appearance, he realized that Faour had not sent him the recording link. These access links were typically shared within 10 minutes of the scheduled taping, causing Hoffman to reach out to ask for the link. Fifteen minutes later, he tried to call him again and received no answer on the other end. Following another call, he texted him to see if he was okay, fearing that something had gone wrong since it was unlike Faour to forsake such a taping.

“And then maybe 30 minutes later, I got the text that he had passed,” Hoffman said. “It bummed me out because that was our time every week together. I got to spend an hour and 15 minutes basically doing The Blitz with him. The idea that that was the day that we were supposed to do it and I couldn’t get a hold of him, I knew something was off, and obviously it was. I know if Freddie could have held on for 15 more hours or whatever it was, he certainly would have just so we can get one more show squeezed in there.”

Faour had been suffering from health complications in the ensuing years, and his death did not come as a surprise to Hoffman. Throughout their time working together, Hoffman observed that Faour was a heavy drinker and smoker. Moreover, Hoffman reminisced that Faour often put off doctor’s appointments, instead believing that his ailments would pass.

 “I always say the coolest thing about Fred is that he lived every day like it was his last day, but that’s also the kind of life that you live that means you don’t get a lot of days,” Hoffman explained. “When you live like that; [when] you live as hard as Fred did, eventually it catches up to you, so I knew he wasn’t in the best health.”

While the specific nature of his passing is unknown, Hoffman remembers the demeanor that his former partner presented at events and how he went about his daily responsibilities. Furthermore, he was not incredulous at the devastating occurrence; rather, he acknowledged the course of events and final resolution. Hoffman, the ESPN 97.5 Houston staff and many others are in a state of grieving, emitting both dolefulness and excogitating the life that he lived. There is also a sense of regret pertaining to certain aspects of their relationship, but one of many things Hoffman knows they undoubtedly achieved was in being genuine with the audience.

“I think the more open and honest you can be with each other and the more true to what you are you can be, the better that show can be,” Hoffman said. “I think Fred and I both – we push to have the most authentic show we could have – and I think that’s why it had so much success.”

Through these hardships, Hoffman has been receiving daily messages from listeners on social media articulating how much they enjoyed The Blitz and listening to the duo work together in Houston. In the days ensuing since Faour’s passing, Hoffman gained more awareness about the venerability and legacy he left in the marketplace. Through his appearances on Faour’s other projects and off-air conversations, he is grateful to have kept their connection alive.

“When you realize how many people you impacted, it’s fun to get back in there and sort of re-create that magic, and so I’ve always appreciated that,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know that I ever felt closure because I didn’t feel like our relationship had ended; I felt like we were just doing it in a different way now.”

Hoffman is determined to help Pregame augment its presence amid a dynamic content ecosystem, looking forward to what is to come as sports betting continues to be legalized. For now, though, he is in a pensive state as he honors the memory of his former colleague and the relationship they shared. Over a decade later, he is grateful to have taken Dave Tepper’s advice to work through their differences, which ultimately helped cultivate an impactful and enduring afternoon staple.

“The outpouring of how many people that Fred impacted and our show impacted – it really does touch me knowing that what we did mattered,” Hoffman said. “I’ve heard several people young and old say that the show that we did was one of, if not the best sports show that Houston ever had. That’s a good feeling. When you really created something that people will – when they’re making their lists; their all-timer lists – that you’ll be on that. When they’re making their Mount Rushmore of Houston radio shows, I think we’ve got a firm place on it, and that’s a good feeling to have.”

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Seeking Solutions at the NAB Show

“ My hope is that I’ll leave Las Vegas this week, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: NAB Show 2024

I’m writing this while on a flight to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, where I’ll spend the next few days talking and listening to folks discuss the future of the media business. Curtis LeGeyt and his team do a fantastic job with this event. Technology will be on full display, relationships will be extended in hallways and restaurants, and ideas and insights will be shared on stage by many operating corporately, and in local markets.

I’ve always enjoyed attending and speaking at this show because I have access to more information than most. That doesn’t make my opinions or wisdom better, it just means it doesn’t come from one source. I’ll get to share some of my thoughts on Tuesday when I join Fred Jacobs, Mitch Rosen, Rod Lakin, John Mamola and Matt Nahigian for a session titled, “Changing The Game: Creating Unique Sports Radio Programming.” I’ll also be appearing with new RAB CEO Michael Hulvey on the ‘Radio on Main Street’ podcast.

I’m privileged to consult many brands across the country. Most of my focus is on radio, but that’s not the only space I’m in. There are groups I work with that you have no idea about. News is part of my mix too. My access to various companies allows me to stay educated and see things that others only read about.

Because I see and hear so much, and I study brands, content, and audience habits, it drives me crazy hearing folks preach the same things they did a decade ago. Some leaders view the industry through one company lens, and don’t take advantage of opportunities to attend and learn at places like the NAB Show. I’ve never understood that. Why stay the same when opportunities to get better exist? What you believe works and doesn’t isn’t often seen the same by others. This is especially true when comparing the big three (Audacy, Cumulus and iHeart) to smaller groups.

But this isn’t just an executive or corporate issue. It happens with programmers, talent and agents too. I hear a lot of the same complaints but don’t see a lot of proof of a better way forward. Whether it involves discovering talent, measurement, generating revenue, mastering social media, getting talent paid or using artificial intelligence, what are your solutions?

The media business is constantly evolving. Many new brands have emerged, and they see opportunity where traditional outlets don’t, especially in digital. Growing a brand and business requires more than playing the hits, chasing meters, and sharing posts on LinkedIn. It takes adding skills you don’t have, building programming for different platforms, growing revenue beyond traditional ways, and most importantly, getting out of your own way. If you don’t have all the answers, that’s ok. Acting like you do is a bigger issue.

We have never had more real estate to work with to connect audiences and advertisers. However, we don’t take full advantage of it because many aren’t masters of multiple spaces. We also create goals that sound good in conference rooms yet lack the strategy and insight to be executed. I hear this a lot when websites, podcasts, YouTube, social media and newsletters are mentioned.

Because I love this industry so much, I defend it frequently. Print outlets love to portray our business in a negative light. Even the trades prioritize coverage of revenue projections, stock prices, investments in technology, etc., things that matter less to listeners, viewers, content creators and programmers. With so much attention on the industry’s lack of growth, it often looks like we’re steering a ship towards a tsunami.

My hope is that I’ll leave the NAB Show, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed. Optimism is sometimes hard to find in terrestrial outlets, but this is an exciting time for the media industry. Capitalizing requires new skills, a wider focus, creativity, and forward-thinking leaders. Let’s put our time and energy into identifying solutions rather than spewing the same old narratives.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thumbs Up

University of Florida: State of the art equipment, tons of space, on-site operations for the SEC Network, a weather network to cover the entire state of Florida, ownership of Gainesville’s leading sports radio station (WRUF), excellent hands-on training, and students who want to learn, and possess passion and desire to make a mark on the business. It was great to see so many invested on campus in the future of the industry. It’s easy to see why Florida’s track record of developing successful broadcasters is stellar.

Chris Oliviero: Audacy New York’s top boss has always had a sharp programming mind, and when faced with making moves to guide his brands forward, he’s often passed the test with flying colors. He’s doing it again with the naming of WFAN’s new program director. The news becomes official at 9am ET today. Once the name is revealed, I’ll update this space to provide proper attribution. The bottom line, WFAN made a great hire.

Dave Portnoy: Betting on sports often produces losses but Portnoy lately has been on a hot streak. The Barstool Sports owner hit last week on the NCAA Championship game, and again this weekend with the Masters. Over the past four months he’s generated over 5 million dollars in winnings. What’s next, Dave?

Thumbs Down:

NCAA Championship Game Start Time: I understand that the game between UConn and Purdue took place in Arizona, but there’s no reason for a national championship game to start at 9:20pm ET. Given how much TV networks pay, and taking into account the viewing habits of sports fans, losing audience on a Monday night over a late start time makes little business sense. Hopefully this gets figured out in the future.

AEW: Airing behind the scenes footage of an incident involving CM Punk made sense eight months ago. Doing it last week was pointless. Any momentum gained is tied to a talent no longer in the company, and having an arena full of people chanting a former talent’s name does little for anyone on the current roster. Just a strange decision that provided little upside.

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Eavesdropping: Masters Radio on SiriusXM

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping feature with Masters Radio

A tradition unlike any other, indeed. It was yet another mesmerizing Masters tournament this past weekend when Scottie Scheffler took home his second green jacket. The weekend weather was perfect, and the golf was spectacular. I spent a lot of my weekend eavesdropping in on Masters Radio from SiriusXM.

Listening to golf on the radio is a bit sentimental for me. One of my best friends, Jay Randolph Jr., was a PGA Tour Radio broadcaster, and sadly we lost Jay to liver cancer in November 2022. He had worked with many of the voices I was listening to this weekend and in a weird way I felt very connected to him listening to the Masters on the radio versus hearing the audio from CBS.

I can’t say enough good things about the way the Masters is presented on radio. From tuning in early and hearing David Marr III setting the scene for the day along with Craig Stadler and Scott Simpson to hearing the starter introduce Tiger Woods to hearing the crew throughout the day as the leaders worked their way around the course, it was, in a word, masterful.

There are many voices you hear while listening and it’s obvious none of them would rather be anywhere else. That’s the overall feeling you walk away with when listening to the Masters Radio team – they love golf, they love this tournament, and they’re having the time of their lives painting the picture for the audience.

The knowledge of course, is off the charts. Whether it’s little nuggets of statistical information, historical facts or on-course reporters giving reads of a green, the Masters Radio team knows their golf and you walk away a smarter golf fan when listening to what they have to say.

As the players at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday began to tee off, around 2:15 p.m. CT, host Taylor Zarzour had a terrific introduction before turning things over to one of the best parts of Masters Radio, lead voice Mike Tirico.

As the Masters music played in the background, Zarzour said, “From the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, this is the Masters on SiriusXM. Why is it that we love this place so much? Maybe it’s because of its breathtaking beauty…maybe it’s the fellowship at Augusta National, without any electronic devices, you are your most present here. The conversation seems more meaningful. You are where your feet are.

“Or maybe, ‘YES SIR!’ the man that made that collection of words famous is Verne Lundquist, in one of his many calls we will never forget. Verne made it during what I think we love the most, the second nine on Sunday at Augusta. Today is his final assignment in an illustrious career. Wouldn’t it be fun if he had one more memorable call? If so, we will press play on it during this final round broadcast led by Jeremy Davis and his fabulous production team.

“On the air we have some Masters veterans as analysts. I wish you could see Johnson Wagner’s passion when an eagle was made. And if the Masters had an accent, Steve Melnyk would be speaking it. The best on-course commentators in golf are here with John Maginnes stationed at Amen Corner, Brian Katrek in the middle of holes 15 and 16, and the great Maureen Madill is headed over to 17.

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

I planned to write my own description, but I think Zarzour nailed it. Tirico did as well, saying, “Taylor, that’s awesome man, that sets the scene so perfectly and I think shapes the thoughts of so many of us as we drive into the property here on Sunday.”

While the broadcasters were all on their A-game, so too were the producers and sound engineers. As I said before, they don’t miss anything. Whether it be the sound of the club hitting the ball, the conversations between caddies and players, the atmosphere of the birds and the patrons, it is all blended exceptionally well. And when something big happens, the passion of the announcer’s voice along with the noise from the crowd is mixed perfectly.

The broadcasters gave every player at the top of the leaderboard their just do. The more you listened, the more you learned about Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Ludvig Aberg, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau as they made their way around the course. You caught every step of their rounds with Maginnes, Katrek, Madill and Johnson Wagner walking the course with them. And nobody is better at giving you the storylines than Mike Tirico.

Tirico is one of those voices where if you hear it, you know the event is a big one. His voice leading the way on Masters Radio makes it sound even bigger than it is, if that is even possible. He not only gives exceptional commentary, but he is terrific bringing in the other broadcasters in and out of the conversation. And, as one can imagine, he is as prepared as possible, a virtual golf and Masters encyclopedia.

As the leaders got past ‘Amen Corner’ and the tournament started to reach its climax, you could feel the emotion through the microphones.

As Scottie Scheffler led by two and then hit his second shot on 14 to within two feet of the hole, Tirico had an excellent play-by-play call, followed by a very subtle response from Steve Melnyk, who simply said, “There’s a reason he’s No. 1.”

As Scheffler putted out and took a three-shot lead, Tirico added, “He’s that close to a second green jacket in three years.”

At that point in the broadcast, Zarzour took over and Tirico moved to a setup next to the 18th green and as he did Zarzour mentioned it was from there Tirico had called Tiger Woods’ win exactly five years prior.

As Tirico and Johnson Wagner take over the call from near the 18th green at around 5:25 CT, the leaders head to the 16th hole with Scheffler leading by three.

As analyst Steve Melnyk wrapped up his time in the booth, he praised Scheffler for his play and made a statement about second place finisher Ludvig Aberg saying, “Ludvig is the new young face of the golf world.”

Maureen Madill doubled down as she told Tirico that some of the younger golfers who challenged Scheffler this weekend were like a zoom call where they are waiting to come into a meeting. “I think Ludvig Aberg and Max Homa are in the major waiting room,” she said.

As Scheffler started to wrap up his second win at Augusta, Brian Katrek had the call of his putt on the 16th hole: “…On the way, up to the cup and in. There are no more questions, Scottie Scheffler can put one arm in the jacket right now. Birdie at 16, he is 11 under par and he leads by four.”

Tirico was bringing it all home as he described Scheffler and his caddie Ted Scott walking up the 18th fairway. “The crescendo builds as Scheffler gets close to the 18th green,” he said and then brilliantly went silent and let the crowd noise takeover.

As Scheffler pitched to within a few feet, Tirico said, “Scottie Scheffler’s gonna do it again.”

As Scheffler wrapped up his championship, Tirico said, “Scheffler, over the ball, shuffles the feet, Scottie Scheffler the putter back and in! Scottie, Scottie, he’s done it again. Scottie Scheffer, for the second time in three years is the Masters Champion.” He later added, “Only eighteen men now have won multiple Masters and the latest is Texan Scottie Scheffler.”

Golf on the radio is not easy. It’s made even more difficult when you are trying to blend together a number of voices and sounds to truly maximize the coverage. I can’t imagine it being done any better than the way Masters Radio on SiriusXM did it this weekend.

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Eavesdropping: Busted Open on SiriusXM

“If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers. But what you got because of Cody’s victory last night was tears.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping: Busted Open Radio

The day after the Super Bowl, it’s always fun to hear sports radio in the two towns which had teams in the game. In that same vein, I tuned into Busted Open on SiriusXM the day after WrestleMania weekend.

Host Dave LaGreca, who plays the role of the fan on the show, was joined live from WWE World by co-hosts Tommy Dreamer, Mark Henry and Bully Ray. The fan exhibit was not open to the public at the start of the show, but fans entered the picture after the first hour.

The first hour of this particular show went about as fast as a radio show can possibly move. As soon as the show started the hosts immediately got into making fun of Bully Ray, who had been a surprise guest-referee in a match during WrestleMania night two, for how he looked in the referee uniform.

“Allow me to be the very first to admit those stripes don’t look the best on me,” the WWE Hall of Famer replied to the jokes.

Mark Henry jumped in to say, “It was kind of just what WrestleMania needed. To have the ECW influence on the show, great representation for the brand and showing respect to Paul Heyman as well.” Heyman had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during the weekend and was celebrated not only for his WWE contributions but as the creator of ECW, which was based in Philadelphia, where he first worked with Bully Ray who was then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.

“I had people backstage in WWE telling me ‘We have never seen you smile that much in life ever,’ said Bully Ray “…I jumped at the opportunity. Too much fun.  Last night was the first WrestleMania that I got to appreciate…the level of stress that came with [when you are performing in the matches] you’re not able to take it all in…it’s really not fun because it’s so stressful.”

Bully Ray said he could feel the pop as he was introduced and really enjoyed getting to “smell the roses for the first time.”

LaGreca could no longer hold it in. He cut off the talk about his co-host participating in WrestleMania and moved on to the heart of the matter. In the main event the night before, Cody Rhodes had ended the run of Roman Reigns as the Undisputed Universal Champion after more than three and a half years. More importantly to the hosts and fans alike, the story of Cody Rhodes building to this moment was one they all agreed was one of the great moments in WrestleMania history.

Of course, WWE loves surprises and on the second night of this year’s WrestleMania, they had plenty in store. The Rock had already come back to be a part of the WrestleMania 40 storyline and then during the Sunday main event, John Cena and The Undertaker came out as surprises.

Bully Ray gave a great description of what he was doing as the main event was happening. He said he was with Damian Priest, who had earlier in the evening won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and while they didn’t plan to watch the main event live, when it started, they thought they needed to see it. “We ran through the halls and go out into the arena,” he said. “Guys, when the gong hit for The Undertaker, the both of us turned into 12-year-olds…we were jumping up and down…lost it, loved it.”

Mark Henry said, “We reacted the same way. I cannot imagine what that must’ve felt like in person.” Bully Ray replied, “When you can hear the pop in a stadium, you know the pop is big.”

LaGreca said, “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about with night number one, but night two was just hit, after hit, after hit. And that main event, with all the stories that played out and had a conclusion during that match…You couldn’t have played that out to a better conclusion than what we saw last night.”

The hosts then listened to an audio clip from the previous year, where the day after WrestleMania some fans, including LaGreca, were extremely disappointed that Cody Rhodes did not beat Roman Reigns and “finish his story” then. At the time, Bully Ray had said there was a bigger picture story WWE would build that would show Cody fighting hard times much like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes had gone through. Mark Henry agreed.

LaGreca said he was “eating some crow” but then admitted it’s all part of it where the emotion gets so high, and he pointed out that people were actually crying when the main event ended.  “If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers.  But what you got because of Codys victory last night was tears,” LaGreca said. “This is an end of one story, but more importantly the beginning of a new story.”

LaGreca came back from a break and reverted immediately back to what the difference was in Rhodes winning the title in 2024 versus having done it in 2023. “It went from a great moment…to maybe one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time last night,” he said.

There was strong insight given out by all of the former wrestlers at different times during the show, and they also pointed to things a casual fan may not have picked up on. One of those happened when you heard ring announcer Samantha Irvin get genuinely emotional in announcing Rhodes as the new champion.

“We’re not used to hearing emotion in a ring announcer’s voice, so Samantha Irvin brought something special and extra to the table in that announcement,” said Bully Ray.

Tommy Dreamer added, “It was the most perfect imperfection ever and it made that moment even more real…it was something that will be remembered through the annals of time.”

As the hosts continued to talk about the emotion of the night, Henry said, “It felt like WE won.” This gave Bully Ray the chance to sum it all up as he said, “The key word that you just said, WE. Cody made you feel like you were a part of his struggle. You were a part of his story.”

Henry went on to say, “I felt like last night, for the first time, that I could almost cry for Cody. I honestly felt emotional seeing him become the face of this new era, the ‘Triple H’ era….Wrestling is a feel business and if you don’t feel it then it’s not worth really putting on television. I felt that [last night] and I know every fan felt that.”

The hosts continued to give insight as they discussed a gift given to Cody Rhodes by WWE executives backstage and a spot where a table broke before it was supposed to and how smoothly the performers pivoted. Having Henry, Dreamer and Bully Ray on the show allows for a lot of this type of discussion where they can give perspective from having been in the ring.

Later LeGreca is asked if he would rank this WrestleMania up there with WrestleMania 17, widely considered the best of all time. LeGreca said if night number two stood on its own he would say it was better, but perhaps not if you consider both nights. The panel as a whole agreed it was definitely up there as one of the best and Henry noted it will be the highest grossing, so that is one way to judge which was the best.

“There were very few holes in that show,” Dreamer said.

While the first hour was rapid fire and had a ton of great reaction to all of the highlights of the night before, the show took a bit of a turn in the second hour. As the crowd became a part of the show it seemed to change the demeanor of the hosts a bit, especially LaGreca who seemed to be playing to the crowd rather than the listening audience. He yelled out “We did it!” talking about Cody Rhodes winning and then led a “Cody! Cody! Cody!” chant that didn’t go over well to those not on site.

Then there was a very strange guest appearance by WWE superstar Liv Morgan which seemed to bring the show to a halt. Later, Kevin Owens was live on the show and his appearance made a lot more sense as he participated in WrestleMania and had thoughts to share about others who performed and the storylines which were created. Owens helped bring the energy of the show back up and you could tell as a listener how passionate he is about wrestling and what took place during WrestleMania 40.

The programmer in me would remind the hosts not to do the show for their hardcore fans only, as they have to assume people are coming in and out of the show. They had incredible content in the first hour with really strong opinions from their experts, but there was never any resetting or going back to what was talked about, which I thought was a bit of a miss.

With that said, if you are a wrestling fan and you didn’t feed off the energy and excitement the hosts had for what they had witnessed the night before, something is wrong with you. Busted Open Radio was an excellent listen as a follow up to what was a memorable WresleMania weekend.

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