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How ESPN Radio Has Evolved

Jason Barrett



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.

Listen up.

Credit to who originally published this article

Sports Radio News

Doug Gottlieb: I Would Give Up Radio For Coaching Job

“I’ve told people that for the radio element to — for the right thing — I’d give it up. The (podcast), I’m not giving it up.”





Fox Sports Radio host Doug Gottlieb recently interviewed for the vacant head coaching job at Wisconsin-Green Bay and detailed the experience on his podcast.

“I got a chance to talk to (Wisconsin-Green Bay AD) Josh Moon several times during the year after they had made their coaching job available and my approach to how I’ve done these things — and this is not the first time I’ve gone down this path, but this was a different path,” Gottlieb said on his All Ball podcast.

“This is a low-major, mid-major job, and there’s no connection there. I’ve told people that for the radio element to — for the right thing — I’d give it up. The (podcast), I’m not giving it up. I love doing it and I think there’s a very smart world where if I’m coaching I can still do this podcast and still do it with basketball people all over the country and the world, and it’s kind of like a cheat code.”

He continued by saying that seeing Shaka Smart be successful at Marquette has motivated him to continue to search for the right fit as a college basketball coach.

“That’s what I want to do. And last year when I was coaching in Israel, that also continued to invigorate me…this is something that I would really like to do. It has to be the right thing. It has to be the right AD who hits the right message.”

He continued by saying that a sticking point of negotiations was he wasn’t willing to give up his nationally syndicated radio program for the job. He was willing to take less money for his assistants pool, but also to continue doing his radio show.

Gottlieb did not get the position with the Phoenix, noting that he was a finalist but was never offered the job. The position ultimately went to Wyoming assistant coach Sundance Wicks. Wicks had previous head coaching experience and had worked with Green Bay athletic director Josh Moon at Division II Northern State. He admitted he wasn’t necessarily “all-in” on the job due to the current ages of his children and whether the timing was right to uproot his family to move to Northeastern Wisconsin.

The Fox Sports Radio host does have coaching experience. He has worked as a coach for the U.S. men’s basketball team at the Maccabiah Games, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Olympics.

Gottlieb’s father — Bob — was the head men’s basketball coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1975-1980, compiling a 97-91 record.

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Sports Radio News

Waddle & Silvy: Scott Hanson Told Us to Lose His Number

“We didn’t call him back, so he set out what he wanted to do.”





Aaron Rodgers took immense pride in the fact that he told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter to “lose his number” while discussing his future earlier this week on The Pat McAfee Show. ESPN 1000’s Waddle & Silvy said they’ve experienced similar treatment from guests on their radio show.

While discussing the Rodgers interview with McAfee, the pair admitted that NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson once told their producer to stop trying to book him for interviews on the program.

“I believe the presentation was ‘Do me a favor: lose my number after this interview’,” Tom Waddle said. “So he tried to do it politely. Scott Hanson did. Get out of here. That concept is foreign to me. How about ‘Hey, next time you text me, my schedule is full. I can’t do it, but thanks for thinking of me’. ‘Lose my number?’ You ain’t the President, for Christ’s sake. I’m saying that to anyone who would say that. ‘Lose my number?’ We’re all in the communication business. I just don’t know — why be rude like that to people? What does that accomplish? You know what it accomplished? We didn’t call him back, so he set out what he wanted to do.”

Co-host Mark Silverman then mentioned that the show once tried to book Hansen and NFL Red Zone host Andrew Siciliano together in the same block, with the idea of doing a trivia game to see who the supreme Red Zone host was. Siciliano agreed, but Hansen declined.

The pair also confirmed that an NFL Network personality had told them to lose their number, but couldn’t remember if it was Rich Eisen or not.

Silverman later joked that maybe Hanson was getting a new phone with a new number, and was politely sharing with the producer that he could lose the current phone number because he would share his new number in short order.

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Sports Radio News

Seth Payne: Aaron Rodgers ‘Makes Gross Inaccuracies’ When Calling Out Media

“This is where Rodgers does this thing where he, in calling out reporters for their inaccuracies, makes gross inaccuracies in his accusations.”




Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is always mad at the media for the inaccurate things he says they report, but according to Sports Radio 610 morning man Seth Payne, no one is more inaccurate than the quarterback himself.

Friday morning, Payne and his partner Sean Pendergast played audio of Aaron Rodgers responding to a question about a list of players he provided to the Jets demanding they sign. Rodgers called the idea that he would make demands “so stupid” and chastised ESPN reporter Dianna Russini, who was the first to report it.

“Now to be clear, Dianna Russini didn’t say demands in her tweet. She said wishlist,” Pendergast clarified.

They also played a clip of Russini responding to Rodgers on NFL Live saying that she stands by her reporting and it is her job to reach out to confirm that it is true.

“This is where Rodgers does this thing where he, in calling out reporters for their inaccuracies, makes gross inaccuracies in his accusations,” Seth Payne said.

He added that if Rodgers is being serious, he is doing some serious nitpicking. He claims that he didn’t give the Jets a list, but that he spoke glowingly about former teammates and told the Jets executives that he met with who he enjoyed playing with during his career.

Payne joked that maybe he wrote down the names in a circle pattern so that it was not a list. Pendergast added that he could have had Fat Head stickers on his wall that he pointed to instead of writing anything at all.

In Payne’s mind, this is a case of Russini catching stray frustration. Neither in her initial tweet nor in any subsequent media appearance did she use the phrase “demands”.

“What he’s actually responding to in that instance is Pat McAfee is the one that described it as a list of demands,” Seth Payne said.

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