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Nate Bukaty is On the Road With MLS After 810 WHB Exit

“It was becoming too much, so something had to give, and that was kind of the choice I made.”

Derek Futterman

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Nate Bukaty
Courtesy: Major League Soccer

Over the last several years, Nate Bukaty has earned a plethora of frequent flyer miles through his global travels to call soccer games. Although being away from Kansas City on a regular basis is something he considers to be the most challenging part of his job, he understands that everything comes at a price.

Realizing a sustainable work-life balance is essential in ensuring he can achieve his professional aspirations without sacrificing time with his family, which represents the top priority in his life. Bukaty tries to make his trips worthwhile by doing something unique to the location; in fact, he keeps a map in his basement with pushpins denoting the places he has visited over the years. Aside from his business-related travel, he also tries to take every member of his family on a trip throughout the year.

The amount of travel in sports broadcasting during the season renders it more complicated to remain committed to local Kansas City sports full time. Over the previous year, there had been episodes of The Border Patrol morning show on Sports Radio 810 WHB for which he was absent because of his play-by-play obligations.

On top of that, he is trying to ensure that he is present for his family when he is in town. Bukaty estimates that he is on the road for more than 100 days amid the season, underscored by his role with Apple TV on its MLS Season Pass property. At the end of May, he officially announced his exit from the full-time hosting position on the program alongside co-host Steven St. John and producer Jake Gutierrez, marking a seminal change in the Kansas City sports radio landscape.

“It was very difficult,” Bukaty said. “Talk radio wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to get into in the first place, and honestly if it hadn’t been for the right fit with Steven and Jake and the rest of our staff, I’m not sure I would have ever done it.”

Bukaty considers himself fortunate to have worked in sports talk radio and is remaining with the show as a regular contributor. Moreover, he is focusing on his role calling games for Apple and hosting SCORELINE for the CBS Sports Golazo Network. In moving away from his position on The Border Patrol after 17 years, he finds it hard to believe that all of the time passed by. 

“Just from a time management standpoint, trying to stay up on all of the local sports to the point where I can host a four-hour talk show, let alone the four hours every morning, from a time commitment standpoint cuts into my preparation for getting ready for the games,” Bukaty said. “It was becoming too much, so something had to give, and that was kind of the choice I made.”

Throughout his professional journey, which has been grounded in versatility and consistent adaptation, hosting sports talk radio had long been a constant with an indefatigable mindset rooted in advancement and humility. Part of the reason he decided to make the announcement on his final day rather than doing so ahead of time was that he did not feel it would surprise the audience. St. John, Gutierrez and his colleagues at the radio station were aware of his decision and remained familiar with the process.

“I kept them involved with everything that was happening because I would never want to put them in a situation where I blindsided them because they’ve been so great to me for so long, and I want to stay involved with the radio station because I love the place,” Bukaty said, “so I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything that blindsided them at all.”

Bukaty started hosting The Border Patrol in 2007 upon the departure of Bob Fescoe when he relocated to St. Louis. Moving into a space giving his opinion while trying to remain objective in his other work indicated a new predicament within his work. After providing his authentic thoughts on players, coaches and executives, he would then proceed to cover those personnel shortly thereafter.

“I really loved the opportunity to have access to being on a major league television network and being on a successful morning show, and I loved all those things,” Bukaty said, “but that’s one thing I didn’t like about it was trying to balance two very different jobs at the same time.”

Having worked with St. John throughout his entire time on The Border Patrol, Bukaty regards him as both the funniest and wittiest sports personality in the area. The dichotomy between their personalities and professional backgrounds, he believes, fostered a synergy among the show that facilitated success and captivated the audience.

“We’re not the type of hot-take guys that are going to try to stir up a whole bunch of controversy and get everybody fired up and wound up,” Bukaty said. “We’re more likely to try to make you laugh or put a smile on your face and find a humorous spin on things while still giving people good information.”

Bukaty does not remember having a conversation about the ratings for the show in many years, nor does he believe the station subscribes to the metrics in the first place. In considering competition within local sports radio, including Audacy-owned 610 Sports Radio, he has nothing but respect for everyone at the station. Early in his career, he hosted Bulldog and Bukaty with Fescoe, whom his show has gone up against in morning drive since 2010.

“Honestly, this might sound like B.S. but I swear it’s true, we never spent any time talking about what they were doing,” Bukaty said of 610 Sports Radio. “We just focused on trying to do the show we thought we wanted to do [and] a show that we thought was entertaining, so if we think it’s entertaining, then hopefully the audience does too.”

Rather than measuring success by quantifiable data such as cume, average quarter-hour persons and time spent listening, Bukaty evaluated the performance of the show through the station clientele. While he is not sure it is the right approach, he was interested in ensuring clients received the response from the audience they were looking for. Bukaty always checked in with his clients, who he said felt they were getting a positive return on investment in working with him. An aspect of that success came through their genuine dispositions and candor.

“We have events where we get to meet a lot of listeners,” Bukaty said, “and I think they appreciate we were a couple of authentic Kansas City guys that weren’t really trying to be something that we’re not.”

Starting in the 2015 season, Bukaty served as the lead commentator for Sporting Kansas City within Major League Soccer. A few years later, Bukaty added to his workload by delivering play-by-play for FOX Sports broadcasts of Major League Soccer games and also covered international competitions including the Gold Cup.

“I try to tell my kids all the time, ‘Step outside of your comfort zone – that’s when personal growth happens,’ and I did women’s MMA for a year, for example, and I didn’t have nearly enough education on that at the time and it helped me grow as a broadcaster,” Bukaty stated. “It helped me grow as a soccer commentator by doing that because it caused me to look at things in some different ways.”

Bukaty desires to make an impact beyond the broadcast booth, a principle instantiated by Kansas City Royals play-by-play announcer Ryan Lefebvre. As Bukaty began to experience success, Lefebvre called to congratulate him and then asked what he was going to do with it. After losing a close friend to cancer, Bukaty decided to start the Sean D. Biggs Memorial Foundation to raise money and awareness for cancer prevention research. Throughout the year, the charitable organization hold events and fundraising efforts, along with three scholarships a year for college students to study abroad.

“[The foundation has] also helped me – it was really just a big coping mechanism for me,” Bukaty said. “All the pain I felt when my friend died, it’s not pain anymore. It’s like just this deep sense of gratitude for everything that’s come ever since, which is a nice place to be. I like being in that place better than just being angry.”

Through his play-by-play announcing and hosting ventures, Bukaty is living out his childhood dream and wants to make sure that he does not have any regrets. Yet he also wants to keep learning, remaining attuned to new innovations and aware of what is coming next. He does not subscribe to the common maxim, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” instead asserting that it comes down to whether or not someone wants to learn new things.

“I don’t want to just coast at any point in my life,” Bukaty said. “I just want to keep growing, and that, I feel like, is a good place to be because I think earlier in my career, I probably was a little more focused on, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get this job.’”

Even though Bukaty understands that it will be competitive to earn a spot on the broadcasting roster for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, being selected for the coveted assignment is a goal that he hopes to realize. If an opportunity to return to sports radio on a full-time basis becomes available, he would never rule it out, saying it would depend on the options, family priorities and other circumstances.

“I’m always feeling like, ‘Well, I’m not as talented as everybody else, so I better be willing to outwork everybody and take any opportunities that come my way,’ and I’m glad I’ve done that because the industry changes constantly,” Bukaty said. “It’s constantly evolving, and if you can do more things, then you have a chance of surviving longer and also growing.”

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ESPN and the 2024 ESPY Awards Mix Sports Entertainment with a Great Cause

Serena Williams hosted the special night from Los Angeles which continued to support The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

John Molori

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ESPYS
Courtesy: ESPYS on X

When it comes to glitz, glamour, and gripping stories, the 2024 ESPY Awards which aired live on Thursday, July 11 on ABC certainly did not disappoint. The fanfare took its roots in this year’s host, former tennis superstar and all-around icon Serena Williams. The 2024 ESPYs may just serve as the launching pad for the birth of a new entertainment star.

Hosting a long, involved, and wide-ranging awards show is hard, and Willams was absolutely terrific. We all know that Williams has charisma. She set new trends and was a groundbreaking presence on the court – not only with her play, but with her style, flair, and dramatics. But did you know that she could deliver jokes with dead on timing and even sing?

Williams brought all of this to the ESPY Awards stage. She kept the show moving at a pace that rivaled her own swiftness on the tennis court. For those who were wondering what the heck Serena Williams was doing hosting the ESPYs, she stated, “You may be wondering why I’m doing this. First of all, any opportunity to wear 16 outfits in three hours, I’m going to take it.”

 Of course, there was no shortage of superstar talent to go along with Williams. With nominees such as Jaylen Brown, Caitlin Clark, Coco Gauff, Patrick Mahomes, and Shohei Ohtani, the ESPYs indeed lived up to its moniker as the Oscars of sports.

The vast array of celebrity and sports presenters was equally amazing. Personalities gracing the stage included Quinta Brunson, Nikki Glaser, Rob Lowe, Paige Bueckers, Draymond Green, Lindsey Vonn, and Candace Parker, among others.

The group of names I just mentioned truly defines the underlying essence of the ESPY Awards, namely, diversity. More than any other awards show on television, the ESPYS are all about bringing people from different walks of life together, bonded by a common love of sports.

It has been said many times that entertainers want to be athletes and athletes want to be entertainers. On no stage is this more apparent than the ESPYs. The event is all about gigantic personalities dating back to 1993 and the epic speech by the late ESPN broadcaster and college basketball coach, Jim Valvano.

Valvano was the epitome of showmanship both on the sidelines and on the air, and his emotional 1993 ESPY speech is now the stuff of legend.

 Suffering from cancer, Valvano was brilliant, telling people to laugh, cry, and think every day while making the audience in attendance and at home do all three at once. It was this speech that essentially founded the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the ESPYs charitable arm and an organization that has helped raise more than $200 million for cancer research.

Indeed, the ESPYS are not just about 2024, but about history. The program always brings to mind Valvano as well as the late ESPN superstar anchor Stuart Scott, who gave his own memorable ESPY speech in 2014 just months before succumbing to cancer in January 2015. The images of Valvano and Scott hover over the ESPY stage like angels looking down in satisfaction that the cause continues.

In addition to awards for best athletes, teams, and moments, the 2024 ESPYS also continued the tradition of special honorees. Former New Orleans Saints’ safety Steve Gleason, who has valiantly and publicly fought ALS for years, received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance named after the aforementioned Valvano, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, received the Pat Tillman Award for Service in recognition of his work helping veterans.

Still, it was the Gleason presentation that stood out for me. The Ashe Award is given to individuals whose contributions transcend sports and reflect the spirit of Ashe with strength, courage, and a willingness to stand up for their beliefs in the face of adversity. Many have followed him, but it was Gleason who truly gave a high profile face to the debilitating disease that is ALS.

In response to receiving the honor, Gleason wrote on Instagram, “My aim has always been to see if we can discover peace and freedom with the love of life, in the midst of extreme adversity. Being recognized at the 2024 ESPYs is not just an honor, but a powerful platform to further help and serve others.”

The ritzy Dolby Theater in Los Angeles served as the perfect venue for this star-studded event. Perhaps the best part of the ESPY Awards each year is the mingling of past and present. It’s great to see the likes of ESPN’s Chris Berman and other sports veterans on stage, along with new stars in both athletics and entertainment.

 The award categories were, as always, filled with superstar names, but the Men’s Sports, Best Athlete group is worth noting. This year’s nominees included Patrick Mahomes, Shohei Ohtani, Scottie Scheffler, and Connor McDavid. Honestly, have their ever been four nominees who have so utterly dominated their respective sports in one year? For Mahomes to earn this award was quite a feat for sure.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback was already an ESPY winner before the awards show even aired. He was announced as the winner of the Best NFL Player ESPY on the July 10 edition of ESPN’s NFL Live.

Mahomes has taken the mantle of Tom Brady and is now the most dominant presence in the NFL. With two consecutive and three overall Super Bowl championships as well as three Super Bowl MVP Awards, he has lifted himself into that rarefied air of fame.

The ESPYs have also grown technologically. This year’s show not only aired on ABC, but was live streamed on DIRECTV stream, Fubo, Hulu + Live TV, and Sling. The widespread popularity of the program stems from its unique award categories such as Best Breakthrough Athlete which featured winner JuJu Watkins and nominees Victor Wembanyama, C.J. Stroud and others.

I also liked the Best Record Breaking Performance category with Christian McCaffrey, Tara VanDerveer, Max Verstappen, and the winner Caitlin Clark, who became the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader breaking Pete Maravich’s record.

The ESPYs Best Championship Performance Award went to Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, but the nominee list went beyond the four major sports with Kayla Martello of Boston College women’s lacrosse and Midge Purse the NWSL Championship MVP award winner.

Best Athlete with a Disability and awards for race car driving, UFC fighting, boxing, tennis, and soccer hit home the show’s consistent theme of variety. Speaking of categories and winners, here are a few of my own from the 2024 ESPYs:

Best Speech: Steve Gleason after winning the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage

Best Moment: The Presentation of the Pat Tillman Award for Service mainly because it keeps Tillman’s name alive and eternal

Best Joke: Serena Williams saying to Caitlin Clark, “Caitlin, you are Larry Bird in that you are an amazing player, you have ties to Indiana, and white people are really crazy about you.”

Best Presenters: Jayden Daniels, Livvy Dunne, and Lil Wayne – the ultimate ESPY trio with stardom in sports, social media, and entertainment represented.

With flash and panache, the 2024 ESPY Awards show was a thoroughly entertaining showcase of stardom and success. It was interesting, exciting, and at times, quite moving – truly a home run for hope, a touchdown for triumph, and an ace for accomplishment.

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Sports Radio Advertising vs. Social Media

While social media is essential for specific campaigns, sports radio’s concentrated and loyal audience provides advertisers with a unique opportunity to connect meaningfully with credibility.

Jeff Caves

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Picture of a radio studio with a graphic showing various social media platforms

Increasingly, clients are wondering about the power of radio vs “everybody” on social media. Occasionally, it is a good idea to remind your sports radio advertising clients and yourself of the power your sports radio station has in its audience. While social media is the most popular kid in school, they are not headed for Harvard. You, my sports radio-selling friend, have all the advantages that make you a superior option for advertisers.

Your Audience is Engaged and Loyal

Sports radio listeners in the U.S. are incredibly engaged. According to Nielsen, Americans spend over four hours daily on audio, with a significant portion dedicated to radio. Specifically, sports radio listeners average around 3 hours and 24 minutes per week, as reported by Edison Research for ESPN Audio. Sports radio listeners are loyal, providing your advertiser with a reliable way to reach a dedicated audience who spends plenty of time immersing themselves in the station.

Social Media = Superficial Media

When your clients mention that they are buying social media or that they are impressed with the local influencer who has 50,000 followers, point out the average time users spend on social media platforms per day:

– Instagram: 30 minutes, translating to roughly 9 seconds per account if a person is following 200 accounts (I follow about 235).

– X: About 3.39 minutes per session; with two sessions daily, that’s about 1.35 seconds per account.

– Facebook: 33 minutes, equating to about 13.2 seconds per account if following 150 accounts.

These brief interactions pale compared to the time sports radio listeners dedicate to their favorite hosts and shows. This concentrated listening experience means your clients’ ads are more likely to be absorbed and remembered.

Ad Impact

Unlike social media ads, which can be easily skipped or ignored, endorsement radio ads are seamlessly integrated into programming, making them less likely to be bypassed. Who is paying attention when your favorite Insta model starts pitching another pre-workout drink? Is there ANY credibility? Moreover, the context of live radio commentary, analysis, and discussions enhances the relevance and effectiveness of radio ads, aligning perfectly with the listeners’ interests.

Reliability and Trust

Trust is a vital element where sports radio excels. Radio has long been viewed as a reliable news, entertainment, and information source. This credibility extends to the advertisements heard on sports radio. Listeners are more inclined to trust and act on these ads than social media ads, which often face issues of credibility and trustworthiness. What do we know about social media endorsers besides that they want followers to do ads and make money?

Sports radio’s significant listening time, deep engagement, the impactful nature of radio ads, and the desirable audience demographics all contribute to its effectiveness. While social media is essential for specific campaigns, sports radio’s concentrated and loyal audience provides advertisers with a unique opportunity to connect meaningfully with credibility.

Leverage these advantages when presenting sports radio, especially when you hear that social media advertising is some superior vehicle you can’t compete with. We need to educate the masses!

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How Would Sports Radio Solve the Joe Biden Problem?

“Sports radio is no stranger to this problem. Every station on the air is trying to stay relevant to its listeners.”

Demetri Ravanos

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A photo of President Joe Biden
Photo: Gage Skidmore, C.C. 2.0

Have you watched Jon Stewart’s response to the Democrats demanding that people questioning age and cognitive fitness of Joe Biden for a second term keep their mouth’s shut? If you haven’t, you really should. Not only is it a masterpiece of political commentary, but it really forces the party to confront the fact that it sure sounds like it isn’t taking the threat to American democracy as seriously as every elected official with a D next to their name claims to be. 

I have been saying since 2020 that it’s utterly embarrassing how old and incompetent both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are. Frankly, it’s disgusting to ask me to entrust decisions about my kids’ and my futures to one of two men that will probably be dead before 2028. They are too old for me to believe they either care about or even comprehend modern issues facing the country.

Sports radio is no stranger to this problem. Every station on the air is trying to stay relevant to its listeners. For anyone in a talk format, that requires work and research. When a talent can or will no longer put in the effort it takes to stay relevant, the bosses have a problem. When the stories and references no longer connect with the audience, the bosses have no choice but to address that problem. 

People get older. It’s natural. No one is going to lose a job in radio simply for having a different numeral at the front of their age than they did ten years ago, but if that talent is slowing down as they age and hurting the quality of the on air product, a programmer or GM has to be willing to entertain the possibility that the people around Joe Biden seemingly won’t.

I wanted to get some insight on this. What goes into such a big decision and how do you break the news to the unlucky elder statesman? I gave three program directors anonymity and asked them the same four questions about how a programmer would solve his or her own version of the Joe Biden problem.

While I will not tell you the names of these people, I will give you a description of their credentials, so that you can be assured that they have lived the experience they describe and the advice they give.

PD 1 has a history of running both stations and networks, having found success in many mid-size markets. PD 2 also has network experience as well as experience leading some of the most iconic local brands in sports radio. And finally, PD 3 has decades of major market experience, serving as a PD, producer and host. I appreciate all of them taking the time to answer my questions.

QUESTION 1: What is a sort of sure sign that it’s time to move on from a talent, even if they’re beloved?

PD 1: Results: Ratings and Revenue. If the show is still getting results but isn’t sounding great or fresh, that’s where the PD needs to coach the talent and give ideas to freshen up the show. If results continue to dip and coaching doesn’t fix it, that’s when a change is needed.

PD 2: You can start to notice in their voice, from a technical standpoint and mechanics how they sound in general but the basics, resetting, in and out of breaks, etc…

PD 3: The day to day effort wanes and you can clearly see & hear that the host is not able to engage the audience when there is not a clear headline grabbing topic.  

QUESTION 2: Have you found any way to make the talent you’re moving on from feel better about the decision or do you just have to accept that it won’t be a pleasant conversation and they may stir things up in the press and on social media?

PD 1: If it’s someone who has been an important piece of your radio station, you find a way to keep him or her around in a lesser role. Whether that’s a weekly podcast, a contributor to the station, continuing as an endorser or doing a weekend show or some combination of those. That’s a conversation to have with the talent with the areas you’d like him/her to potentially continue in. If it’s someone you want to have a clean break with, you do that. Be honest. If you’re managing and communicating properly, this conversation shouldn’t come as a surprise to the talent. 

PD 2: Its never easy or pleasant, you try to find an easy landing ie: part time work, weekends, contributor, call-ins, etc…

PD 3: You just have to be honest & direct.  There is no spinning your decision and the talent will always see through your bull**it anyway.

QUESTION 3: What issues are you thinking about having to deal with or questions do you need an answer for after the decision becomes public? 

PD 1: The internal messaging is *most* important. Fans are not going to love every decision you make, neither is your team, but you must explain what is happening and why and answer as many questions as possible from the internal team. They’re the ones that have to move forward from this.

PD 2: Be complimentary, if they have been there a long time you celebrate them, if time is minimal you try to move on as quickly as possible, I’m a firm believer the brand is bigger than the person.  The station is bigger than most personalities.

PD 3: You have to figure out if you are allowing them to do the “farewell show” and say goodbye.  You can’t be honest with your listeners and tell them the host was failing, instead you stress what you’re doing in that hosts place and how exciting it is…expansion of another show, fresh new host, etc.

There’s one important difference between replacing an aging host on your airwaves and replacing Joe Biden as the Democrats’ nominee in the 2024 election. If Biden is pushed aside, the party has just four months to get their voters to buy in.

Politically, there is a valid argument that moving on from an old, uninspiring candidate is a move for the long-term health of the country and party. In radio, replacing a talent that is well past their prime, or even their usefulness, is ONLY about the long term. It probably isn’t fair to think the majority of your base is going to be on board with the new guy or gal from day one.

So with that in mind, I asked our panel how and when they start to evaluate their decision. The answers were wildly different.

QUESTION 4: How much time do you give listeners to come around before you evaluate the new talent/show

PD 1: This answer is going to be very unpopular, but you have to give a new show two years. Yes, two years!! You’re building an audience from scratch in a (likely) important daypart. This gives the host(s) time to make mistakes, learn and grow without fearing the hook. Certainly, I’m listening and coaching but I truly think it takes two years to know what you have in a show. 

PD 2: I believe in Sports it takes at least a year. Radio/Audio is habit forming it takes a while, what does a listener give us that’s most valuable?  Time, I believe, so we have to give them to adjust hopefully like the new host or hosts.  After a year if the ratings are not there, and you as a programmer do not feel it, you have to reevaluate.  

PD 3: You have to give a new show or talent six plus months at least, in my opinion, and a year is even more warranted.  In today’s instant gratification society, that’s not always easy to do though.  

Will Joe Biden get the boot? I hope so. Frankly, I hope Donald Trump does too. This is by far the closest I have ever come to considering voting for a third-party candidate, but that option is a dude that let a worm eat part of his brain and that isn’t even the most upsetting thing about him, so as a voter that would like to see democracy stick around, I am kind of outta luck.

That isn’t the case when a radio station faces the problem of an old, out of touch person on their airwaves. I cannot force anyone in Washington to take the advice of our panel, but unlike anyone representing either political parties, the three people I talked to have a clear plan and vision for dealing with radio’s version of the Joe Biden problem.

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