Summer is in full swing, but the season of #HotTakes is quickly cooling off.
Colin Cowherd — already with one foot in the Fox Sports life-raft — fell into steaming, shark-infested waters following the type of xenophobic, bigoted comments about Dominicans that were only a couple doors down from Trump-ian levels of boorishness.
Not surprisingly, ESPN brass ensured those words would be Cowherd’s unceremonious swan song at the network, relieving the lightning rod from storm duty in Bristol. The man who carried mid-mornings by himself on ESPN for a dozen years — no small task, it should be noted — vanished in a cumulonimbus of his own neoconservative foolishness.
While the 10–1 a.m. Eastern block will never be the same, and many would argue that’s a good thing, a rich arsenal of talent is waiting in the wings to pounce on the coveted time-slot. More importantly, however, Cowherd’s unceremonious departure is but another in a series a surprising shifts from sports talk’s blustery past to its brilliant future. In fact, the afternoon, evening and weekend cruise directors aboard the Dread Pirate ESPN Radio are more intelligent, nuanced and cultured than ever — a gradual movement that dates back over half a decade.
Which begs the question: Has any of this been by design?
When the Scott Van Pelt Show debuted in 2009, it represented a gentle breeze that stemmed the hot air bloviating from sports radio for over a generation. With silly segments like “Seven Seconds” and “Pulse of the Nation” interspersed between heartfelt interviews and always, always “One Big Thing,” Scott Van Pelt and — after cycling through a couple capable co-pilots before meeting his match — Ryen Russillo perfectly balanced an inclusive, enlightening dialogue with a snarky tone. It helped that in Scott and Ryen, ESPN had the two backward-hat jokesters shooting spitballs in the back of class who also just happened to be secret bookworms who aced every test.
As that show grew in popularity — particularly among the coveted 18–34 demographic that appreciated sabermetrics and Aqua Teen Hunger Force with equal fervor — SVP & Russillo (as the show was renamed) stood in stark contrast to the “rack ‘em” mongols that elevated Jim Rome into the Kublai Khan of the afternoon sports talk “Jungle.”
With the Duke rapping Wu-Tang and Stanford Steve asking “Who’s the Nerd?”, the two developed a din that was effortlessly brilliant and casually profound. Since SVP left the show earlier this year, the chocolate-baritone Russillo, a veteran late-night radio voice, College Gameday air-traffic controller and NBA salary cap-savant, has carried the torch with a deft touch and a workhorse mentality.
And Russillo isn’t the only friendly voice that cut his teeth soundtracking sleepless nights whose star is rapidly rising.
Freddie Coleman has graduated into quite the mainstay at the Four-Letter, a sturdy pundit with a yeoman’s soul and an everyman’s heart who has carved out a sub-genre somewhere approaching “Quiet Storm Sports Talk.” Coleman may be a warm, welcoming overnight host, but he’s no overnight success. He’s spent a dozen years at ESPN refining his hypnotic voice, understated opinions, subtle enthusiasm, and whip-smart takes.
It’s tough to imagine a polar opposite of Coleman being equally likable, but if anyone pulls off the trick, it’s Highly Questionable Dan Le Batard — the converted Miami columnist, DLHQ O.G., and part-time PTI carpet-bomber who is among the most creative, zany and intelligent minds in sports. Le Batard has never written a check with his hurricane-force loudmouth that his mind couldn’t cash or hasn’t been cosigned by damn near every respected mind in the industry. He combines Caddyshack-era Rodney Dangerfield with Moneyball-era Michael Lewis, hosting the wildest, smartest frat party on radio.
And yet, Le Batard’s Highly Questionable co-host and recent Miami transplant Bomani Jones may be the single most emblematic embodiment of the ESPN Radio paradigm shift. Jones, who’s “The Right Time” sizzles from 9–11 p.m. Eastern, famously admits he’s been fired from almost every job he’s ever had. It sure as hell wasn’t for a lack of talent or hard work.
The son of two college professors, with a degree from Clark-Atlanta and two Masters in economics from Claremont and UNC, Jones seems like an unlikely sports radio star … until you listen to him. He’s unflinchingly smart and you get the sense he’d be just as capable of winning a Nobel Prize as an Emmy. A new media savant who tweets with metronomic precision and frequency, Jones lights up the airways with some of the most reasoned, nuanced positions the sports world has to offer. His most profound segments — including some of the most electric commentary on race this side of Ta-Nehisi Coates — hum like an extended EDM buildup before he drops the beat and the mic and the hammer, often leading to viral notoriety for all the right reasons.
And for as bright as Jones’ evening star shines, the recently knighted beacons of ESPN’s Saturday and Sunday sports talk also radiate with Ivy League brilliance.
Alums (and recovering athletes) of Cornell and Duke, respectively, Sarah Spain and Prim Siripipat spit some of the most feverish game the industry. Spain & Prim made its maiden voyage this year and feels like the kind of polished, comfortable conversation that’s always existed and always will. It’s two women — yes, Fellas, women! — dominating the intersection of sports and pop culture with a wine-drinker’s sophistication and a beer-guzzler’s passion.
Following in the footsteps of the criminally under-appreciated Amy Lawrence, ESPN’s move to finally bring two strong female voices to radio together, where they can be judged by the caliber and charisma of their opinions, is a gift from the programming gods. It’s also a giant leap forward from the longstanding tradition of chauvinist executives typecasting women as sideline lawn ornaments. One can only expect (and cheer for) this show being the beginning of an unprecedented run.
Aside from the (perhaps intentionally) vanilla Mike and Mike morning monolith — which generates huge ratings and even larger profit margins — the ESPN Radio empire has been taken over seamlessly, smartly and soulfully by a new generation of on-air talent.
Someday, we might even look back and realize that the Golden Era of Sports Talk began auspiciously with a snarky Sportscenter anchor named Van Pelt, who kicked down the sports radio door and made it safe for smart people — particularly Millennials — without forcing them to turn the dial to NPR.
And with any luck, we will also look back at Colin Cowherd’s ousting as the final nail in the coffin of the who-wants-it-more “Embrace Debate” era — the end of predictable and lazy commentary tropes like “Count the Rings” and exhaustive explorations of the “Character Issues” that only African-American quarterbacks seem to develop.
With Russillo, Coleman, Le Batard, Jones, Spain and Siripipat, the voices of the Mothership’s next generation are reasoned, analytical, inclusive, hip, brilliant and diverse. (Indeed, only Russillo comes out of “White Male” radio host central casting, and even he comes across as atypical in the industry’s formulaic construct.) ESPN Radio is now stocked with fully-formed, eclectic, diverse people, with passions beyond X’s and O’s, and talents beyond seeing who can yell the loudest to prove their point.
Miraculously, what we may be hearing is a complete overhaul of over-the-air sports as we know it. The prophecies foretold may well have been right, after all. The revolution will not be televised. It’ll air on ESPN Radio.
Credit to The-Caludron.com who originally published this article
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Nick Wilson: Deshaun Watson Press Conference ‘Insulting’ To Local Media
“You — neither Deshaun, his lawyers, or anybody involved in this — get to dictate what those reporters get to say, ask, or think.”
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson met with the media for the first time yesterday since being reinstated by the NFL after the league ruled he was guilty of violating the Personal Conduct Policy due to improper sexual advances towards more than two dozen massage therapists. 92.3 The Fan afternoon host Nick Wilson called Watson’s press conference “trash” and “insulting” to local media.
Watson told reporters he would only answer football related questions from the assembled media members, which Wilson took issue with.
“You can’t bury this story simply by saying ‘I won’t talk about it’,” Wilson said. “It is insulting to the media who covers this team. This is not about Nick Wilson, I promise. This is about the beat reporters who cover this team. It is insulting — intentionally or not — to say ‘You know what, guys? I love y’all, but I’m going to dictate what you ask me’.
“You don’t do that. You dictate when you speak, your opening statement, or how you respond. You — neither Deshaun, his lawyers, or anybody involved in this — get to dictate what those reporters — who work very hard day in, day out covering this organization, covering Deshaun Watson, covering this town — get to say, ask, or think. That was trash.”
Co-host Dustin Fox added the whole job of the media is to bring information to fans, and Watson wouldn’t allow reporters to do that Thursday, and may never do that.
Gregg Giannotti: Biggest Issue With Craig Carton, Jon Jastremski Feud Is “Mole” At WFAN
“The thing that bothers me the most about this is the leak from within the building. Someone here is sending this audio out to a former listener…to cause problems.”
A feud has sprung up between WFAN afternoon host Craig Carton and former WFAN host John Jastremski. Boomer & Gio discussed the spat on Friday morning’s show, with Gregg Giannotti being troubled by a revelation.
During his New York New York podcast, a voicemail left for Jastremski asked about Carton’s comments, but the caller said a WFAN employee sent him the clip of Carton’s criticism.
“So that means we have a mole,” Boomer Esiason said.
“That right there is a problem,” Gregg Giannotti added. “‘We both have a mutual friend that still works over there’ and that person shared a link of Craig talking about JJ (Jastremski). So, clearly, that person is on JJ’s side and they’re still working here. That’s a mole! That’s someone going against the team! And I think know who that is!”
Esiason then asked if he knew the person, to which Giannotti said he did. He then asked if he would be upset by who it was, which Giannotti affirmed as well.
The show then played the final portion of Jastremski’s rant, which included him saying to Carton “I’m not listening to a crook. So you know what? Go take a f—ing hike.”
“Jesus!” Esiason exclaimed. “Good for JJ, though. Standing up for himself.”
“I like both of these guys. I do. I got respect for both of them,” said Giannotti. “Everybody doesn’t have to go to the jail, crook thing with Craig every single time. Do they? It’s low-hanging fruit. Everybody goes there. There’s no way he can defend himself in that way because everybody saying ‘You went to jail’ didn’t go to jail, and it’s not apples and oranges. But the business stuff is apples-to-apples.
“So when I hear that, I’m just like ‘Ok, you went there. Be a little more creative than that’. As far as I listen to legend things, please, nobody has given me worse advice in my life than Mike Francesa did. Nobody. I would still be out in the newsroom cutting Islander highlights if I listened to that guy. And the only reason why Mike liked JJ was because he didn’t feel he was a threat. The only people Mike likes is the people he feels non-threatened by. And that’s where that comes from.”
After concluding Jastremski’s rant was a “little over the top”, Giannotti then turned his attention to the “mole” inside the station.
“The thing that bothers me the most about this is the leak from within the building. Someone here is sending this audio out to a former listener…to cause problems. That — to me — is an issue. The guy on the voicemail said ‘We may or may not have a mutual friend that still works at the radio station’ and this guy just slammed the radio station. And he’s friends with the guy who slammed the radio station and then slammed Craig and this guy’s on their side?! And this guy that works here is on their side?! That to me is a major, major problem.”
Dan Dakich: Craig Carton is ‘The Way Talk Radio Should Be’
“If you’re being critical because you want to be the guy that’s always critical I don’t think you can do that either. I think you gotta be honest. And criticism comes with it.”
Craig Carton has prided himself on being one of those hosts who tells it like it is, especially when talking about New York’s pro sports teams.
That willingness to call a spade a spade and levy criticism on teams like the Jets and Giants, especially when things are not going well on the field, is something Dan Dakich has always seen as a recipe for success in the industry.
Interviewing Carton on Thursday on his Outkick show Don’t @ Me, Dakich praised the WFAN afternoon host for essentially creating a blueprint for how sports talk should be done.
“In Indianapolis I’m the bad guy right, because I say look the Colts stink, this regime is 46-49-1 – why are you telling me the GM is the best in the country – why are you telling me Frank Reich can really coach?” Dakich said. “New York’s different, though, right? I mean, New York they expect you to say look if you ain’t any good then you ain’t any good. Yu don’t sugarcoat nothing, and I think that’s the way talk radio should be.”
Carton noted that what’s key in how you critique a team or a front office, executive or owner is finding a balance. He said you can’t as a host be the ultimate homer and blow smoke up everyone’s behind.
“You have to be able to be critical when it’s warranted,” Carton said. “If you’re being critical because you want to be the guy that’s always critical I don’t think you can do that either. I think you gotta be honest. And criticism comes with it.”
Carton pointed out that the fan bases in both New York and in Indianapolis are ultimately the same, because at the end of the day it’s all about making sure you have competent people calling the right shots. He added that the organizations are the same too because of how sensitive they can be to criticism, which he said if they don’t like it, “too bad.”
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He works full-time as a multimedia specialist at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, while also putting in part-time work for News Radio WRVA and 910 The Fan in Richmond. Additionally, you can find Jordan contributing coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and ABC 8News. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.