Let me tell you about how I was introduced to Brad Carson. I hope it helps you understand why I wanted to speak with him and get inside his head a bit.
Last summer, Brad posted an opening for an executive producer position for one of his shows at ESPN 92.9 in Memphis. I put together a package for him and sent it off. In the cover letter, I mentioned a specific date that I would be following up. On that date, I sent him a silly video about my love of BBQ.
My phone rang right away. It was Brad. He started by telling me that I was not in his plans for the job, but he wanted me to know how impressed he was with my presentation and he gave me a few pointers on how to better position what I do. He told me I was talented and wished me well in my job search. We said our goodbyes and then he hung up.
I mean, who does that? We have all been in the position of sending out resumes and demos and never hearing back. I told Brad when we sat down for this interview that during what was a very lonely time, it felt like someone saying “I see you. You’re a human being.”
Brad and I share a background that includes long stints in music radio and he still has a passion for those formats. While he has turned Entercom’s ESPN 92.9 into one of the highest rated sports stations in the country, he has also looked for shifts he could voice for Entercom music stations around the country.
Just how high are ESPN 92.9’s ratings? Well, here are some numbers for you. In the fourth quarter of 2017, four of the station’s five weekday shows were in the top 3 with Men 25-54. Gary Parrish pulled a 12 share in afternoons. The other two sports stations in Memphis (one of which is also owned by Entercom and programmed by Brad) didn’t pull a 1 share with the same audience.
Our conversation touched on Gary Parrish’s assent to superstardom, how radio shows are similar to sandwiches, and the rivalry between Memphis and Nashville. Enjoy!
DR: What were you able to bring to a sports station because of your experience working in different formats?
BC: We tend to compartmentalize radio a lot. Like you have said “I came from rock radio.” I literally started part-time reading farm reports and obituaries. And you can laugh about that, but people listened like crazy. They were sponsored by local funeral homes. I would do county fairs or go out to the sticks to call a Macoupin County basketball tournament. I think that really helps, but in today’s world so much of these guys’ development is linear. Our new talk hosts and producers were either journalists here or they started here and worked their way up and now they get to stay in Memphis. That used to be really rare.
I’m not saying one or the other is better, but guys like you and I are in a good position. We can do a lot of things. It’s like being left-or-right-brained. Music radio is so much about researching the music, getting the imaging on, doing your best with the talent and if you find someone revolutionary, you can take good to great. Great talk or sports stations have to have people that are good right-brain and left-brain all the time.
When they hired me, I was excited because I didn’t need to hire an imaging director. I could produce opens. I could coach talent. I knew the sound I wanted the station to have. I guess I could have hosted a show if I needed to, but didn’t really want to. All of that prior experience was very helpful.
DR: Correct me if I am wrong, wasn’t Gary Parrish part of CBS’s tournament selection show last year?
BC: Yeah. He was on with Barkley last year.
DR: So he was the first talent you hired and now he’s one of the faces of your station. Have you thought about the contingency plan for when he takes over the world?
BC: I mean it is not something I like to think about, but you always have to have a contingency plan as a program director for all situations or you aren’t thinking the situation through enough. Having said that, Gary has been my consultant since he came on board. There isn’t a thing I do, across the board, that I don’t run by Gary. I think he is remarkable.
I have a lot of respect for him and I think that runs both ways. I have learned a lot from him and Geoff Calkins too. We moved Geoff to a 9-11 show and that helped things a lot with Gary’s travel. It added a new dimension to the radio station and paved the way for us to expand where we have 4 local shows now and we’re the flagship for the Memphis Grizzlies. So, we have that contingency plan but we’re in a good place.
DR: Like the athletic director that keeps the list of five names in his desk in case he unexpectedly loses his football coach.
BC: That’s very true. I’m a Mississippi State fan. They just hired Joe Moorehead, the offensive coordinator at Penn State. I thought it was awesome, because it wasn’t reflexive or “Holy crap, what are we gonna do?” Mullen was leaving. They vetted everyone, hired Moorehead, Moorehead did the press conference and then hit the ground running hiring staff. That is awesome to me. That is impressive management.
DR: You have a lot of Memphis lifers. Is that the number one thing you look for in making a hire? Someone that not only understands the Memphis sports scene, but the town in general?
BC: I think it is really important. I don’t need a lifer per se, but just last year we hired John Martin. He was 24 when we hired him. He had only been doing radio for 2 years, but he was a journalism major at the University of Memphis. He understood Memphis sports. I think that is very important. Now, that’s not everyone. Eric Hasseltine is from California. He does a two hour show for us. He’s the play-by-play guy for the Grizzlies. He adds a different perspective.
The local connection though is so important, and I really got that when we started with just Geoff and Gary. It was the end of Calipari, going into the Pastner era. The Grizzlies hadn’t gone on that 7 year playoff run yet. Those guys would do two straight hours on Tigers basketball and I just would think “this is really good.” It wasn’t what they were talking about. It was how they were talking about it. They had all these stories about the hobos, heroes and street corner clowns, you know? Crazy recruiting stories about runners and agents. Gary would interview Cal while Cal was in the shower.
I would find myself drawn in. People would ask “you’re still a Cardinals fan, right?” and I would have to explain “yeah, but basketball is everything here” and those guys really encapsulated that. Basketball comes first here and football is second and everyone on the air here understands that.
The other thing I like is we have journalists. We have great thinkers on the staff and they are entertaining. That has helped us.
DR: So do the Grizzlies smother everything about sports talk in Memphis?
BC: I think Grizzlies and NBA you can certainly talk about year round because the league has made itself into a year round enterprise. But we’re fortunate that college basketball is also important in Memphis. Right now the Tigers have just gone through another coaching change hiring Tubby Smith. We have so many storylines to work with. They are 1a and 1b frankly.
DR: What is the breakdown between the Memphis Tigers, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Ole Miss Rebels? Not just the way they are covered, but the way they are supported in town?
BC: Memphis is the big cat. When Justin Fuente came in and turned around Tiger football, it changed everything. What we used to have were people that were Tennessee football fans or Ole Miss fans that then LOVED the Tiger basketball program and their attitude was “Oh yeah, I guess they have a football program too,” but then it became “Oh wow! Did you see what Memphis football did?”
DR: The timing of that turn around was weird too, because it wasn’t so long before that Tommy West got fired and was ranting that Memphis as a town would never support football and the administration at the school didn’t understand how to win. It reminds me of Duke when David Cutcliff was hired in the middle of the school going to court to prove they are the worst college football program in the country.
BC: That is a great analogy, but it is so weird here, Demetri, because those fans were so passive. As a city we kind of had a chip on our shoulder, which makes sports talk here fun because it kinda gives things a little more zip. There are passive markets when it comes to sports, right? Like Las Vegas. Very passive sports market. I mean they have the Golden Knights now, and yay. Whatever.
They aren’t breaking down trades or talking about the intricacies of the expansion draft. The conversation here was “How bad was Larry Porter?” and “Tommy West is right” then all of the sudden it was “Wow, we’re in the top 25!” It was a literal 360. But of course, we have a chip on our shoulder, so the topic was also “Oh crap! Fuente is going to leave us,” but then we got another awesome coach and another awesome quarterback. All of that stuff is as fun to talk about as the SEC stuff is.
DR: But not as fun for listeners as talking about basketball.
BC: Well, we have competition here and I tell our guys we have to own every story we cover. To be a success in sports radio, you have to be a whore basically, so Tennessee coaching search, Tubby Smith recruiting, the Grizzlies tanking, we have to own it. So it may be a light day with only two big stories and I will tell my guys “hit those two big things a lot!”.
DR: I’m glad you include the Tennessee coaching search in there. As someone that was in school at Bama when we couldn’t buy a win against Tennessee, that story brought me so much joy.
BC: Oh, it was tremendous radio, and let me be clear. I said Tigers and Grizzlies were 1a and 1b. When you have a coaching search that goes like that, it rockets right to the top of the A list, because it is the state’s team and we’re just the forgotten little city in the corner of the state, but right now we’re the forgotten little city with the great football team. It was like a gift from Heaven. That was a lot of fun. We can do a lot of great radio when we have months like that.
DR: Same with the Ole Miss story and Hugh Freeze I would imagine, given your proximity to the school.
BC: Again, gifts from Heaven. That is a good example of why it helps to have so many local guys. There are all these side stories they know. Hugh Freeze was a coach at a private Christian School here. He was the coach in The Blind Side story, so there was chatter about “What was going on at Briarcrest?” and then the fun of Ole Miss beating Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
All of this is compelling stuff. You can hear it in our conversation and this is what I talk about with other folks at Entercom. In Boston you can talk about the Red Sox or what is going on with the Patriots. Those are big conversations about big franchises, but here, if you know Memphis, you’re really digging into the subculture here. It’s the SEC guts and glory.
DR: So given how focused you are on being a Memphis station, how much air time is devoted to the Titans making the playoffs or the Predators making a run to the Stanley Cup? Are those teams perceived as strictly Nashville teams or is there enough bleed over?
BC: I think there’s some bleed over, but it is like C-level. It is the lettuce in the sandwich.
DR: I guess too, there is a major difference between the NFL and the Titans and the NHL and the Predators.
BC: Certainly. On top of that, there is a major difference between Nashville and Memphis. There’s a rivalry there. Maybe a little more on the Memphis side than the Nashville side.
Memphis is the chip on your shoulder, Memphis vs. everybody mentality. Whereas Nashville is the Los Angeles of the South. It’s “We have the NFL and we have the Predators. Look at all these cranes in the air! We’re building another condo!”. Let me be clear. I think Nashville is a great city, but I think many of our listeners perceive it differently than I do.
Gary Parish and I talk about this a lot. Gary is much more of an open thinker because he has to travel all over the place. People here, they support the basketball teams because they live on the streets of Memphis and they play hoops. Our listeners are invested in this story about Penny Hardaway coaching a high school team in East Memphis. That is a big, local, guts of the city story.
When the Predators are in the Stanley Cup Finals, yeah that’s our state. We do want to bring attention to that. The Titans make the playoffs? Of course we will talk about that. We carry their games. The Titans and the Vols, we carry them. They are worthy play-by-play, but Nashville teams will always be the lettuce in the sandwich.
DR: Can Memphis grow as a sports city? Is there room for a second major, professional league to move in?
BC: As a fan, I’d love for my answer to be yes. I’m just going to be honest as a business person. No, there isn’t room. There isn’t an economic base here to support doing so. Having one professional team here and the Tigers is perfect.
We’re lucky, actually Louisville is lucky Rick Pitino didn’t want the Grizzlies, because they still got the pro arena. Geoff Calkins was such a big part of trying to bring the Grizzlies here using the paper and writing columns about what it would mean. It rallied support for FedEx Arena. People really wanted to get that arena built and they did it and I think it is wonderful.
I think sports-wise the city is exactly where it needs to be. We’re fortunate to have been such a big part of the Grizzlies franchise. Now, let me be clear. We do have other sports things in town. We have a great Triple-A baseball team. We may not talk about them because they don’t have the mass appeal, but they’re there and doing just fine. You asked a good question, but my business opinion though is we don’t need too much more.
DR: Speaking of business answers, tell me as a programmer your thoughts on the change from Mike and Mike to Golic and Wingo.
BC: We’re really excited about it. This has nothing to do with Mike Greenberg, because I think he is great and has an amazing new opportunity, but for us I think things are going to be even better. Trey (Wingo) is very likable and really plugged into football, whether it’s his ties to the NFL or his understanding of college football in the South since he went to Baylor. That can only benefit us, so you combine Trey with Golic’s familiarity and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity that can only go up.
DR: Did you find your listeners were interested in the “palace intrigue” towards the end of Mike and Mike?
BC: Not really. I try as a programmer to look at it from a listener’s perspective and I think in our business, we tend to look a little too much at the guts of this. The truth is, you have to look at it from the perspective of my friend Taylor, who lives in Germantown just outside of Memphis. He’s not in the business. Does it even occur to Taylor that there is a feud between the two morning guys at ESPN? Probably not. All he cares about is that Tim Tebow is on at 7:15 to talk about Alabama and Georgia.
I see this with coaching talent. We get too caught up in details of when we recycle things and controlling narratives. Just put the radio show on and run it.
Landry Locker Takes Something From Everyone
“I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort.”
Sports radio has always been a big part of Landry Locker’s life. When he was growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Grapevine, Texas to be exact — Landry’s dad used to have sports radio on in the house as background noise. How awesome is that? You’ll hear that an athlete like Steph Curry has basketball in his veins. It works the same way with Landry; sports radio has been in his blood from an early age.
Landry hosts In The Loop on SportsRadio 610 in Houston. His program director, Armen Williams, says that Landry digs into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. It’s interesting to hear why audio is so important to Landry’s approach to sports radio.
He also describes the PDs he’s worked for, the lowly Texans, replacing the rush of doing radio, and tapping the brakes on self-criticism. Enjoy!
BN: From listening to sports radio in Dallas when you were a young kid, what have you taken from those years that you still apply to today?
LL: Pretty much everything. Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket started in the mid-90s. My dad was the kind of guy, before my parents got divorced, who would have sports radio on in the house as the background noise. When that started, The Ticket and all of that, that was a big influence just because it was 24/7. It’s always been something that I’ve gotten into whether it’s I want to hear what so-and-so has to say after the game, all of the reaction and all of that type of stuff. It’s always been a big part of my life, especially when The Ticket came around during the Cowboys’ second Super Bowl run.
BN: Is there anything in terms of a host’s style, not that you’re copying it, but you look and say I like what that guy does, and maybe subconsciously, that’s gone into your approach?
LL: I take something from everyone, even growing up, or the people that I’ve worked with in the business throughout my career. I think you take stuff from everybody. Different styles, there’s not really anyone that I try to be, but I think you can learn from certain people. I would say The Ticket, not to take yourself too serious. I think you could learn from guys who are real sports guys, old school, just how to do your research and be on top of your stuff.
I’ve worked with Randy Galloway when I was in Dallas and Ben and Skin. I kind of model myself after those guys kind of being loose; being sportsy and non-sportsy at the same time. Ken Carman and Anthony Lima in Cleveland, I was with them for like five months. I had a brief stop in Cleveland. I think the creativity of those guys I take in. I really just try to take in something from everybody, old school, new school, all that, and just incorporate it into what I do on a daily basis.
BN: Why was the Cleveland stint so short?
LL: The Cleveland thing was just a good opportunity because it was a chance to branch out and I really like Andy Roth, their program director. I think he’s a really, really, really good PD. I like Ken and Anthony. It was when their show first started. When I got there it was more so — and Ken and I are still good buddies — but Cleveland wants you to be from Cleveland. It is 100 percent from Cleveland.
When some jackass from Texas comes in there and is talking about LeBron James or something like that — there are some cities where that works. There are a lot of transplants in Houston and there are a lot of transplants even in New York. Sometimes you can go do that; Cleveland’s not the city for that. No matter how well I worked with Ken and Anthony, the shelf life was kind of limited on how much you could climb up.
Nick Wright actually got his job to go national, so I became the producer of the morning show here. They gave me immediate reps on air. I just took that experience as much as I could, the six months in Cleveland, and brought it here. But you know how it is in Cleveland; you could say the smartest thing in the world, but if they check your ID and they see that you’re not from Ohio, you can basically go to hell. It doesn’t matter what you said. That’s not a knock on ‘em. That’s why it’s so popular there. That’s why it’s one of those cities where you go in the gas station, they’ve got The Fan on there. They’re ready to get it, but I could basically solve the cure for cancer and they don’t give a rat’s butt what I’m saying in Cleveland. I understood that from the jump.
BN: Is Dallas like that at all?
LL: I don’t think Dallas is like that because if you just look at the lineup, a lot of the guys from The Ticket, there’s a guy from Wisconsin in Bob Sturm. There’s a guy from Cleveland in Dan McDowell. There’s just guys from other places. RJ Choppy originally went to college at Tennessee, then he went to New Jersey. Shan Shariff was in Maryland, Kansas City and all that stuff. Houston has a lot of transplants. You do want to know what you’re talking about and you do want to have a grasp of history.
There’s a legendary tale about Nick Wright when he came to Houston from Kansas City that I just always admired, even when I didn’t even know anything about Nick Wright. When he had his job interview with Gavin Spittle, who’s the PD now in Dallas, Nick had like four pages, front and back, basically he’d written out the sports history of Houston. It went from the Oilers to the Rockets, all that, and it was handwritten. It wasn’t just printed out. When I came here, even when I went to Cleveland, I would try to follow that. They are open in Houston and Dallas, but you have to show that you respect the history and have a grasp of it. Then you just have to perform on the air.
BN: You’ve had a few different program directors from Jeff Catlin to Andy Roth and Armen Williams. What are the similarities and differences between those guys?
LL: Well, Jeff’s a hard-ass. Jeff Catlin is an ass-kicker. The one thing that I can take from Jeff is that he’s no nonsense. If you deserve to be cussed out, you’re going to get cussed out. If you screw up, he’s going to let you know. He is going to let your work speak for itself. He’s going to welcome feedback and he’s no nonsense. No nonsense Jeff Catlin. Being the ultimate professional, no nonsense, is something I took from Jeff.
Andy’s just a hard worker who is one hundred percent engaged in programming. Whether you’re on at 6am or 10pm; if you play a sound clip and you don’t credit FOX Sports or you don’t credit ESPN, Andy is going to let you know about it. He’s going to give you feedback and it’s going to be transparent. It can get a little bit intense with Andy, but it’s always going to be honest and he cares about the on-air product. And he’s going to work his ass off.
Armen is a guy who has a lot of the same qualities as both of those guys. It’s kind of like a mix of both. I think the thing that Armen has on those guys is he’s been in radio for life. He’s a guy who was working at radio stations when he was young. He’s a guy who was working in promotions. He’s a guy who was a producer. He’s a guy who went and became a PD. I think Armen is just about that radio life and he’s kind of a combination of all those guys.
Armen’s also very, very good at imaging and very, very good at creating the notion that the station is on the right topic. I think he has that grasp down very, very good to where what do we need to be talking about? Sometimes we’ll go in to commercial and imaging will be so new it’s like dang, how did he flip that so quick? I think Armen is kind of a combination of those two. There’s been a lot of guys I’ve worked with and I’ve picked all their brains and they all provide a little bit of something.
BN: If there’s one thing a talent needs most from a PD, what is it?
LL: I think different talent needs different things. In my case, and I don’t like admitting it, I probably sometimes have needed a little bit of a kick, a little bit of tough love, a little bit of discomfort. I think it kind of depends. I think some guys probably need airchecks a little bit more. I think some guys need to be coddled. I think some guys need to be kicked in the butt.
It’s like when someone asks you what’s the key to a good show, I don’t know because there are so many different styles. But I think different guys need different stuff. I think the most important thing is that you need a PD who’s able to treat people differently, almost like a coach. I think you need a PD that’s going to be able to have a grasp of what each guy needs. I’ve been fortunate to work with PDs who’ve been able to do that.
BN: Working with a highly respected talent like John Lopez, who has teamed with Nick Wright and a few others, what’s one of the main things that you’ve taken from him as a talent?
LL: I’ve been very fortunate to work with John because I think that when you’ve been doing it as long as he has — I call him the OG for a reason — there’s a better chance that guy is going to have a little bit of jerk in him, and he’s going to tell you it’s his way or the highway. John has allowed me to not take over, but put my creative spin on it, and he kind of plays off me. I know a lot of times it can be annoying for him. John is like a unique guy in that he’s been doing it as long as he has, but he’s pretty carefree and as long as you develop his trust, he’s going to play off of you.
There’s immediate credibility that comes with somebody who’s been around as long as Lopez has. The likability, the experience, and just the open-mindedness, I’ve been very fortunate with John Lopez. I’ve seen some guys in his situation who will just lay out. They’re not going to do anything. I could ask Lopez hey, give me a list of 10 blah, blah, blah, and he’ll do it. He’s just a lot more open-minded than a lot of people that have been doing it as long as him have been. He has that credibility. He has that likability.
BN: So the Texans stink as you know. And you’re the flagship station at 610. What’s that like to do a balancing act?
LL: Well, we don’t have to. It’s really actually kind of crazy; they are very, very fair to us. You wouldn’t know that we were the flagship with the way we talk. They understand the situation and they’ve let us criticize them as much as possible, which is rare. I know there are other teams in town that don’t allow that. I’ve seen some teams do it, but they really, really do let us be honest and transparent about it. I haven’t had to endure any walking the line or anything like that.
We’ve talked about anything and everything and they’re very fair. We’ve talked about how bad David Culley is at managing games. We’ve talked about the culture problems. We’ve talked about Nick Caserio not winning trades. I mean I can’t lie.
I want to say something good about them; it’s just there’s nothing. They don’t have any good young players. They’ve traded all their draft picks. They’re the worst team in the league. The coach is making brain fart after brain fart. There’s culture issues. There’s trust issues. I want something, they’re just not giving it to me. I haven’t gotten any calls for things that I’ve said or anything. It sucks to cover a team this bad, but they let us do our job for sure.
BN: Armen told me that you dig into the audio vault more than anyone he’s ever worked with. He said you call it going into the lab. Why is it so important to you?
LL: I think that it’s part of the story. I think especially in NFL-centric cities where it’s a week-long buildup, if David Culley said that he trusts the culture after Week 1, and you can remember that and go back to after you lose eight straight games, I think it’s important. I think it’s part of the story and I think you’re not dependent on a team being good. Audio is a big part of what we do. When someone sends a cut sheet, I listen to every single clip and I’ll trim it. If there’s a Sunday press conference or something like that and they say yesterday, I’ll take out the word yesterday just so that it’s timely.
In Buffalo or wherever, like a good city, they can just depend on breaking down each game. But if you’re building up the story and you’re talking about David Culley said this, or David Johnson said that, or I can remember way back in the day when so and so said this, let’s compare it to that, I just think the build-up doesn’t get old and the story doesn’t die. I have a photographic memory where I’ll remember something that someone said like 15 years ago. I think it adds to the intrigue just what is being said and I’m not dependent on the team being good.
BN: When you finish a show do you look back like, ahh man, I didn’t think about playing this one clip or I didn’t think about saying this one thing? Are you built like that, or are you just kind of like hey man, the show was pretty good, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow?
LL: Sometimes I’ll get done with the show and be like man, that sucked. I’ll be like that was terrible; I should have done this, this, this, this. I think you kind of have to stop doing that at a certain point. I don’t ever think you should do a show and just say it’s over, move on. But I used to beat myself up to where it was basically like you can’t sleep and you think you stink and all of that type of stuff.
I do sometimes wonder if we left some meat on the bone. Other times I’ll think it was good and I’ll listen back, and I’ll be like man, that sucked. That really wasn’t that good. That’s probably the most uncomfortable thing for me is listening to myself, but I have to do it. I’m still kind of my own worst critic, but you do have to kind of tap the brakes a little bit when it comes to criticizing yourself. Still be aware but you do have to tone it down a little bit because I would just beat myself up and not even be able to enjoy the rest of my day.
BN: Do you have any particular goals that you’re working toward?
LL: I think eventually I would like to get in drive time. I like having the midday, but I’d like to get into drive time, try to figure that type of thing out. I just want to continue to build credibility. I want to be the guy that people go to in Houston where if something happens, if Deshaun Watson gets traded, it’s hey we’ve got to hear what Landry Locker has to say about that. That’s really the goal.
As far as going national, stuff like that, I like local radio. I think local radio is the best. This is the second time I’ve quoted Nick Wright; Nick was asked about radio and he said local radio is not going anywhere because it’s really the place that you go to figure things out about your squad. It’s a service, it’s part of the community, so I really like the local thing. I just want to continue to get better, branch out, and be as good at this as possible and expand as the business continues to grow.
BN: When it comes to the most fun you’ve had in all your days of doing radio, where were you and what was it about that situation that was so fun?
LL: Man, I feel like I wish I could just point to one thing, but I get such a rush doing shows, even in different roles, that it’s like I can’t even really answer that question. I had a very fun time when I got my first on-air segment; that was with Ben and Skin back in Dallas. They called it the Locker Room. It was so exciting. The first time you get to host that show, that was fun. Cleveland when the Cavs won the championship and I was with Ken and Anthony. When the Astros won the World Series here. Reaction Mondays are just amazing to me because you’re reacting to the game, the fans are feeding off the energy.
There’s really just not one time that I can point to and say — and I’m not trying to be corny or anything like that — but I just think the full rush of putting together a four-hour show, talking to sports fans which are the most passionate, there’s not really one thing I can point to. I wish I could, but there’s just so many good times. It’s hard to list what the one would be.
BN: I agree with you about local radio, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but let’s just say it did. Or there are cuts or whatever and you’re no longer in radio. It’s almost like an athlete who says what am I doing now that my career is over? What would you do after your radio career to try to get the same rush?
LL: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s one of those things where you just have to have the perspective. I have had that disappointment when ESPN 103.3 got bought out and Catlin said “I think you should try to branch out and figure something else out.” I have tasted it before. I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I’m really good at. I have no idea what I would do without it. I try not to think about it too much but man, a lot of guys have had to answer that question. I’m just blessed to not have to answer that question right now at the very least. It’s a scary thought to think about not doing this.
Even Sports Talk Hosts Have To Make Halftime Adjustments
“Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.”
Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated and the SEC Network didn’t play football beyond high school. Still, he really understands scheme and personnel packages. This past Sunday on his podcast, Split Zone Duo, Johnson said that he had listeners tell him that he could be a coach and he gave a great answer to that.
He said that if you study and if you played football at all, you can probably script an opening drive for a team. That isn’t hard. There aren’t a lot of people on Earth though that can make mid-game adjustments to respond to what the other team is doing. That is something that comes with experience and really, truly knowing football. He isn’t one of those people.
Every walk of life can benefit from halftime adjustments.
We have crossed the halfway point on the NFL season. I reached out to several broadcasters to see how they have adjusted what they do and how they talk about the home team.
The NFL is a league that always throws wrenches at us. Parity allows teams expected to hover around .500 to be in contention for a playoff bye with just a few borderline calls going their way. The violence of football means we are talking about injuries all the time and those injuries can derail even the most promising of seasons. Golden Boy rookies struggle to adjust to the speed of the pro game and fans start to panic. A great local host has to absorb and reflect all of that.
Four hosts in NFL markets told me how their coverage and conversations about the home team have changed from the preseason to now.
ANDREW FILLIPPONI – 93.7 THE FAN IN PITTSBURGH
Our Steelers conversation has focused on the present and future of the quarterback position in Pittsburgh. Initially, it was a referendum on the team’s decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for an 18th season. Then, when the Steelers fell to 1-3, it turned into a look at the external options for the position in 2022: the college draft class and Aaron Rodgers.
Now with the Steelers 5-3-1, there’s more interest in how this team will finish. Will it make the playoffs or not? Will there be another December/January collapse? So I anticipate there will be a lot of discussion about the current team’s performance in the weeks ahead.
JASON MARTIN – 104.5 THE ZONE IN NASHVILLE
Covering the Titans is always a ride, or it certainly has been during the time I’ve had a regular platform to talk about them. The fanbase has been battered and beaten down by mediocrity and disappointment, though under Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson, the hope and optimism is high. The beginning of the 2021 season was different because Tennessee won the AFC South last season, exorcised some of the old Colts demons, and had a legit MVP candidate in Derrick Henry. Add to it big name free agent moves like Julio Jones and Bud Dupree and it grows into an electric atmosphere in the audience and one where they look everywhere for applause for the team they love so much.
That said, it’s also one that has a tendency to get overly defensive whenever any of the optimism is challenged. I’ve found myself on the outs with some people at times, like any local host would, because I’ve been a little more negative, not by design, but just because I don’t feel my own analysis is worth anything if it isn’t objective. If I don’t tell you exactly what I think, if I just go along to get along all the time, why would anything I say have any relevance or weight? It’s just my opinion, but I want it to matter when I say something’s going right, when I offer up praise, or when I say the Titans are one of the best teams in the league. The only way to make that happen is to also be direct when things aren’t going well and when criticism is warranted.
Once Henry was injured, I felt strongly that the chances of winning a Super Bowl dropped off a cliff. I predicted before the season this team would win the big game (I’d never done that before), but had to pivot and say a few weeks ago if 22 didn’t return this season, the playoffs would be the ceiling, not the Lombardi. But, the key is in always keeping a door open until it’s fully closed. I may have learned that a few weeks ago also, because of course, there’s still a chance until this team loses a playoff game. You have to be authentic, but also be willing to listen to a passionate fanbase that educates itself well on the team and cares deeply about the results every season. There’s no reason to be confrontational just for the sake of it. Objectivity with frank discussion and respectful debate is our goal and hopefully we achieve it in the audience’s eyes more often than not. I love our group in the studio and love the Fam (our audience) outside of it. Just like any family, sometimes we argue over dinner, or in our case, since it’s morning drive… over breakfast.
And often, they teach me as much or more than I could ever teach them. That’s why radio is great. The interaction is EVERYTHING.
CODY STOOTS – ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 IN HOUSTON
The Texans are very bad and there are only so many ways to plainly say the Texans are bad. Game breakdowns are less and less useful as the losses pile up. It becomes a focus to critique players and coaches who will be on the team next year. We have to get creative in our approach to talking about the team. An example from last week is we took the temperature of the fanbase by asking for their “fandom injury report” during the show. There were plenty of funny responses and sometimes, with the Texans, you have to laugh to keep from crying.
They don’t have a quarterback for next season and should be loaded with an expected Deshaun Watson trade this offseason. We find ourselves lusting after quarterback situations and also explaining how we would like the Texans to avoid replicating other teams’ mistakes at quarterback. It’s also worthwhile to examine how the Texans found themselves in this situation when something jars our memory and if they have cleaned up the process which led to their failures.
NICK WILSON – WFNZ IN CHARLOTTE
Sports talk adjustments halfway through the NFL season depend entirely on the market and the path of the organization. When Cleveland was winning 4 or less games every year, I knew I had to have my scouting reports for the next quarterback crop ready by early November.
In Carolina, draft talk doesn’t sustain an audience the way it does in Cleveland when teams are bad. You’re left with this moving target of national NFL stories, the start of the ACC basketball season and recently, LaMelo Ball and the Hornets to accentuate whatever day-to-day storylines are available.
This year Carolina 3-0, proceed to lose 5 of their next 6 and then brought back the former face of the franchise, Cam Newton, to save the season. Today our topic was “which p-word are the Panthers closer to embracing: panic or playoffs.” I’m awaiting our Marconi.
Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench
“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”
As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.
Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.
Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.
Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.
Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media.
Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???
One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.
My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”
Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.
Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country.
Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format.
There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.
If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.
I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort.
Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.
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