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Replacing Iconic Shows Is a Very Tall Order

“Replacing Francesa is a tall order. He’s arguably the most successful sports radio host to ever work in New York City.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: Anthony Behar of AP Images

It happens in sports all the time. Legendary players treat us to decades of success and heartwarming moments before reaching the end of the line and paving the way for the next crop of superstars. Sometimes teams move on without missing a beat. Other times they go into a funk for a sustained period of time. It’s what separates good and bad organizations.

To prepare for those situations, teams dedicate time and resources to identifying future stars. No matter how much preparation is done though, until the moment arrives and a new talent is on the field, court or rink, you won’t know how mentally tough they are or how effective they’ll be until they face the music.

As a lifelong Yankees fan I was recently reminded of how important planning for the present and the future can be. When Derek Jeter retired, Didi Gregorious stepped in. As Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira moved on, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez became the new faces of the franchise. Coincidentally, the Yankees surpassed expectations and were one game away this season from playing for the World Series. That was a testament to exceptional scouting, talent development, managing and a roster coming together and developing great chemistry.

In radio, the same challenges occur but when they do, it can be difficult for programmers and corporate executives to roll the dice on the unknown. Too often we gravitate towards established commodities because of the instant pressure of sustaining ratings and revenue. Rather than bet on the better long-term play, we’ll flock to someone who can ease the immediate pain. It doesn’t matter if the wound gets reopened next year, if we can put a band aid on the cut, that spares us from having to go to the doctor and deal with potential surgery.

Think about it for a minute as it relates to sports. Two years ago, some Yankees fans would’ve dealt Aaron Judge to land a pitcher who could’ve helped the team contend faster. Can you imagine how badly the franchise would’ve been setback if Judge had been traded for someone like Johnny Cueto? At the time it would’ve sounded good considering that Cueto was an ace and Judge was in Triple A and nowhere near the home run machine we now know him to be. The organization might have won a few more games that season, but had they taken that approach, they would have spent the next 10 years paying dearly for it.

We’re at a point in time where some of the best in the sports media industry are starting to fade away. Over the past few years, play by play legends like Vin Scully, Brent Musburger and Verne Lundquist have moved on. Familiar faces on sports television like Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, John Saunders, Ron Jaworski, Ed Werder, John Clayton, Stuart Scott and Craig Sager have left our screens. In sports radio, local stars such as Terry Boers, John Dennis and Terry Foster have all exited stage left.

Before you know it, Al Michaels, Bob Ley, Dick Vitale, Lee Corso and Bob Costas will vanish. So too will be Angelo Cataldi, Joe Beningo, Norm Hitzges and Gary Radnich. All of these broadcasters have been extremely successful. Some may even stick around longer than expected, but father time remains undefeated and eventually even the best step aside at some point. When they do, that’s when you learn a lot about a brand and its programming team.

In thinking about some of these situations over the past few years, I’ve seen a number of them turn out positively. When CBS moved on from Phil Simms, Tony Romo took the ball and ran with it. After John Madden left Sunday Night Football, Chris Collinsworth moved in and delivered an immediate impact. In fact, NBC has already prepared itself well for Al Michaels’ exit with the addition of Mike Tirico. ESPN also did a fantastic job years ago elevating Buster Olney and Adam Schefter to their top MLB and NFL insider roles continuing the great work done previously by Peter Gammons and Chris Mortensen.

A few others I’d add to the list were FOX Sports’ choice to install John Smoltz opposite Joe Buck on MLB playoffs/World Series broadcasts after previously using Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, and David Ortiz taking over for Pete Rose on FS1’s postseason baseball pre and postgame coverage. Although Skip Bayless created more buzz and made more headlines with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take, you can also add Max Kellerman to this list since he’s played his role well on the show and helped continue the program’s success.

On the radio side, despite losing established stars like Terry Boers in Chicago and John Dennis in Boston, 670 The Score and WEEI in Boston continued to excel. Each station developed future solutions in advance, so when Boers and Dennis left, Jason Goff and Kirk Minihane were ready to take on bigger roles. Both men were familiar to the local audience, and adequately tested before being trusted in bigger positions.

The flipside of this situation has been the reception to the changed strategy of the 6pm SportsCenter on ESPN and Sam Ponder’s ascension to host of Sunday NFL Countdown. Maybe in time fans will come around to both shows but so far the immediate reaction hasn’t been strong. We’ve also seen the Reynolds and Verducci combo fail to deliver for FOX Sports the way Tim McCarver did previously, and CBS Sports’ NCAA Tournament coverage hasn’t created the same level of noise and intrigue as it did when Billy Packer was involved.

I’ve gone down this road because in the next thirty days, both ESPN and WFAN will go thru the biggest adjustments to their brands in quite some time. Both Mike Francesa and Mike and Mike will end their shows, leaving both companies under the microscope. Francesa vacates The Fan after thirty years, twenty eight of which have included hosting afternoon drive. The Mikes sign off after waking up listeners all across the nation on America’s largest sports radio network for the past seventeen years.

In ESPN’s case, Golic will stick around and be joined by longtime football host Trey Wingo. The two men have chemistry from working together on NFL Live and although some may deem the choice as safe or predictable, ESPN isn’t under the same ratings pressure with their radio show the way local stations are. Network officials say Wingo and Golic will be given a chance to ease into the show, find their groove and provide stability. They also take pride in the fact that despite breaking up a highly visible and popular morning show, they’ve only lost one top 20 market affiliate, and it was on a station which was already planning to go local in morning drive.

For WFAN this is a much different conversation. Replacing Francesa is a tall order. He’s arguably the most successful sports radio host to ever work in New York City. For each media member who gripes about his show being outdated, the New York sports radio host’s ratings and revenue have remained strong for nearly three decades. That’s a feat that few can lay claim to.

Making the story even more interesting, is that WFAN will go in an entirely new direction with Francesa’s replacement. According to the New York Daily News, Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray have been selected as the station’s new afternoon show, instantly making them the most scrutinized local program in the entire nation.

The new show will be a complete departure from Francesa’s style. Scott and Gray add an African American (plus former player’s point of view) and female perspective, and the station will feature three hosts in afternoons opposite Michael Kay’s program on 98.7 ESPN NY which also features a three member cast. Adding to the curiosity are the list of names who were reportedly contacted by WFAN and offered the job yet turned it down. Adam Schein, Max Kellerman, Chris Simms and Kim Jones all declined, and Chris Christie, Mike Valenti, and Evan Roberts were given drive time auditions. Prior to re-signing with SiriusXM, Chris Russo had expressed interest in being considered, and former WFAN personality Sid Rosenberg was interested but his contract with WABC prevented that from becoming a possibility.

In Carlin’s case, he returns to the big apple after a solid but short stint in Philadelphia at WIP. When I asked Chris just two months ago if he envisioned pursuing this opportunity and giving up a great gig in Philadelphia, he said he wanted WIP to become his permanent home. To be fair, I’m sure at that time he didn’t expect this job to be offered. Besides, we’re all entitled to change our minds, especially when prime real estate at one’s former station is offered.

After this story broke, I was bombarded with texts, emails and social media messages, most of which felt The Fan had made a grave mistake. From the outside looking in it does feel different, and the odds of it working aren’t as high as the chances of the show being a miss. We’d likely say that though about any show that goes in after Francesa. When you replace a legend, it’s more likely you turn out like David Lee Roth after Howard Stern than Colin Cowherd after Tony Kornheiser.

Having faced these challenges before, Mark Chernoff (WFAN’s programming czar) has shown that when his back is against the wall he usually does his best work. He hit a homerun by rolling the dice on Boomer and Carton after Imus, and when Chris Russo left afternoons, he could’ve installed a new partner with Francesa, especially with the show being over five hours long, but he trusted his workhorse to succeed solo, and that’s exactly what he did.

If Chernoff feels this show can succeed, then he’s earned the benefit of the doubt to try it. If he’s wrong, some will question if Mark still has the magic touch. But considering how many reportedly rejected the opportunity, it does leave a few questions. Is this the move Chernoff really wanted to make? Does he have complete confidence in the show being WFAN’s next big hit? Or is WFAN putting forward its 5th best option and the one they had the best chance at getting a deal done with?

It’s easy to throw darts from the sidelines and blast a radio station for its decision, but unless you’ve walked in those shoes and put your name on a call, supported your choice and dealt with the arrows flying in your direction, you won’t understand how hard it is. These type of moves determine if a station will continue winning or losing and it’s the ultimate test in conviction and measurement of a programmer’s vision and decision making.

Having developed professional relationships over the years with Chris and Mark, and having grown up as a listener to The Fan, I’m rooting for them to succeed. I don’t know if the new afternoon show will excite an audience to tune in daily but it’s their challenge to find a way to do so. We’re in a different world than we were 10-20 years ago and content options are greater than ever before. I applaud The Fan for going outside the box and attempting to freshen up the look and sound of its product. Whether it’s the right call or not can only be determined by the audience. Hopefully additional surgery isn’t necessary in the future.

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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