Sports Radio News
WEEI Names New Programming Leadership Team
In recent months, Market Manager Phil Zachary and the Entercom Boston team have been on a mission to identify the right leadership to help maintain and grow WEEI’s position as one of America’s best sports media brands. Former PD Kevin Graham exited the station in July, and with WEEI locked in a competitive battle with 98.5 The Sports Hub, one misstep and bigger problems could’ve surfaced.
While identifying the right leadership for a storied brand such as WEEI is difficult enough, the station also had to tackle a few key on-air issues. Longtime morning host John Dennis left the morning show in August, and Jerry Thornton, who had been part of the afternoon show with Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, exited the afternoon show in November to return to Barstool Sports.
Despite those challenges, which would normally result in a brand taking a step backwards, WEEI actually improved. Strong internal leadership, and a great air staff contributed to a rise in ratings and revenue, and today that hard work has paid off for a few key members of WEEI’s internal staff.
Zachary has announced that after a six-month search for its next program director, WEEI will instead create a new program leadership team from its in-house talent bench.
Current WEEI Assistant Program Director Joe Zarbano has been elevated to Program Director. In his new role, Zarbano will assume direct oversight of all audio content for WEEI-FM, the WEEI Sports Radio Network, the Boston Red Sox Radio Network and ESPN 850. He is a nine-year station veteran who began with WEEI as an intern while a student at Emerson College. He has been overseeing all day to day programming matters for the radio station since July, playing an integral role in the radio station’s growth during that period.
Working in tandem with Zarbano as the station’s new Executive Producer is WEEI Senior Producer Ben Kichen. He joined the station in 2006 from iHeart Media’s WXKS and WJMN and has been lead producer for both the Glenn Ordway and Dale & Holley programs on WEEI. Kichen also produces the acclaimed “Enough About Me” podcast with Kirk Minihane as well as hosting “Soccercast” for WEEI.com.
Carlson Mozdiez, who is currently the Director of Integrated Marketing Strategies for Entercom’s Boston cluster, will assume the new title of Director of Operations for Entercom Boston, with a special emphasis on the company’s digital juggernaut WEEI.com. Mozdiez joined WEEI in 2002 immediately after graduating from Syracuse University, and has held a variety of positions in promotions, marketing and digital operations.
Entercom New England VP/Market Manager Phil Zachary says the search was necessarily long and intensive. “With its massive broadcast reach and associated digital assets, the WEEI brand is arguably among the most influential and complex in all of broadcasting. Many of our outside candidates simply couldn’t get their arms around all of it. As each month passed, it became clear to me that we had the talent right here in Joe, Ben, and Carlson. Plus they each have that inimitable DNA of the true Boston sports fan.”
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.
Sports Radio News
Chris Russo: Immediacy of News Has Hurt Sports Radio
“I mean, if something happens tonight at 7:00 that’s huge, by the time I get out of here 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, people may you might want to hear my take on it.”
Sports radio has changed since the heyday of Mike & the Mad Dog. It was something Chris Russo reflected on this week during an appearance on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast.
Host Jimmy Traina, who grew up listening to Russo and Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York, said that he does not hear as much sports as he used to on sports radio. On Mike & The Mad Dog, talk about subjects outside of sports was a rare treat. Now, those subjects are part of every show every day.
Russo says he has noticed the same thing. Some of that is about the crowded market place for sports talk and athlete and team-owned media limiting opportunities to land headlining guests. Chris Russo says there is another reality that should be acknowledged with sports radio.
“I think a little something to do with it is there may be less, quote unquote, big time sports guys who are big fans doing the shows,” he said. “You’ll remember, I’m a big fan. Mike was a big fan. You’re a big fan. A lot of guys hosting shows across America right now, they like sports, but they don’t live it like some of us do.”
Traina noted that another factor is the changing pace of information. In the 90s, New Yorkers relied on Mike & the Mad Dog for the full story of the previous night’s game or details that had developed on a bigger story. Now, everyone has the internet at their finger tips and on their phones.
“I think the immediacy has hurt the guy doing a regular show,” Russio agreed. “I mean, if something happens tonight at 7:00 that’s huge, by the time I get out of here 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, people may you might want to hear my take on it. I’ll give them a take, but I’m not going to get 4 hours out of it.”
Takes have always been the lifeblood of sports radio. Russo said in an age where everyone has the basic information and fewer people live and breathe sports, radio was bound to change.
“They’re more guy talk. So they bounce around and they do culture as much as they do sports. They do Brady and his ex-wife, instead of talking about Brady and what he did against Green Bay.”
Another side effect of so much access to information is that even the most unique sports take doesn’t always stand out. Chris Russo noted that the only thing a radio show has that is truly unique now is the hosts themselves.
Listeners form a bond with the host and want to hear more about his or her life. He learned that last week when he posted a picture of his son Tim signing a contract to be an assistant basketball coach at the University of Northern Arizona.
“A lot of guys out there who listen on our radio show feel part of a unit. They feel part of a group. They feel part of the channel. They feel part of the crew,” he said. “So as a result, where are they going to get information about Timmy, getting a Northern Arizona job? I’m only one.”
Sports Radio News
Mike Mulligan: Jeff Van Gundy is Terrible & ‘That Broadcast is Bad’
“Unfortunately, my mind turned off when it was his voice.”
Mike Mulligan dislikes everything about Jeff Van Gundy. At the end of Thursday’s edition of Mully & Haugh, the 670 The Score morning man reacted with disgust to audio of the ABC analyst suggesting that an assist should be awarded to a player that passes to a teammate that is fouled if the teammate hits his free throws.
Dan Bernstein, who was in studio for the crossover segment, asked Mully if he really hates the suggestion or does he just hate that it is coming from Van Gundy.
“Unfortunately, my mind turned off when it was his voice,” Mully responded. “So, I don’t even know what we’re talking about.”
Others in the studio suggested that the disdain stems from the fact that Jeff Van Gundy was the coach of the Knicks, a team Mully hates. He disagreed.
“I think he’s terrible, and I think that broadcast is bad,” he said.
Bernstein noted that he is a huge fan of Stan Van Gundy’s work for TNT. He asked Mike Mulligan if his hate covers all of the Van Gundys or did it just apply to Jeff.
“Stan seems like a decent guy,” Mulligan answered. “I don’t adore his brother, but I do like his brother.”
Sports Radio News
Adam Silver: Networks Will Always Focus on Most Popular Players & Teams
“In fairness to them, the ‘Joker’ hasn’t been in the Finals before.”
The first two games of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets have attracted a larger than anticipated audience. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shared with Dan Patrick that he has attended the first three NBA Finals games, and the atmosphere inside both arenas has been electrifying. The same seems to be true from the media angle with comparable ratings to last year’s matchup featuring the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, a pleasantly surprising outcome marking sustainability and viability the league has worked to strengthen over the last decade.
“Probably after last night, we’re going to be up a little bit, which says a lot about the league that you have two midsize markets,” Silver said. “A popular team in Miami, and a Nuggets team that has never been in the Finals, and the fans are responding.”
Silver became the commissioner of the league in 2014, and since then has been a part of the league expanding its digital footprint. The NBA national media rights deal with The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery expires at the conclusion of the 2024-25 season, and speculation has already begun as to which entities will bid to present league games.
Patrick asked Silver how the Association can do a better job in utilizing its national media rights to market superstar players in smaller markets. Prior to the NBA Finals, Nikola Jokić was a two-time recipient of the Most Valuable Player award and a five-time NBA All-Star, but was only ninth in social media views. Over the last 30 days, Jokić has skyrocketed to No. 1 on the list, drawing more than 300 million video views across the NBA’s social media platforms.
“We have some influence,” replied Silver. “It’s interesting. To the networks, they do focus on the teams and players that they think are going to be most popular. In fairness to them, the ‘Joker’ hasn’t been in the Finals before.”
On Wednesday, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and reiterated ideas he has previously stated about modernizing basketball. Some of these ideas included doing away with halftime, offensive goaltending and changing the rules on free throws. Silver heard these remarks before appearing with Patrick on Thursday, and responded to the inquiry with intrigue regarding halftime.
“When we’ve looked to shorten it a bit – because I think you know we changed the format of the last two minutes a couple of years ago to speed the game along – and I think we forget sometimes that the guys really do need the break,” Silver said. “Put aside the programming at halftime; the commercials… maybe you could shorten it slightly. But I think it is meaningful to the players in addition to the coaching that goes on at halftime, [plus] the opportunity to get a breather.”
Silver also commented on the recent merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which has come under scrutiny because of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) owns a majority stake in LIV Golf, and has made lucrative offers to external golfers in an attempt to lure them to the entity. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, along with several other golfers, took the money, and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is coming off as hypocritical after making remarks about how the deal comes off to families of survivors of the September 11 attacks. Silver divulged how the fund has not tried to make an offer for an NBA team; yet even so, the league only permits individuals to buy teams at the moment.
“When the Saudis invest in sports, it gets outsized attention,” Silver said. “I don’t want to complain about that because we want to get outsized attention. On the other hand, somebody could go down the list – they are investors in some of our largest American corporations. Some of the most well-known brands have investments from them…. With a sport like basketball, our Finals are distributed virtually everywhere in the world where the sport is played. It’s an opportunity to bring people together.”