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Q&A with 3HL of 104.5 The Zone

Brian Noe

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Some sports talk shows act like you stepped inside the octagon with them as they seek surrender via hot-take submission. Other shows like “3HL” on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Tennessee take a different approach. One of the goals Brent Dougherty, Mickey Ryan, and Dawn Davenport have is to talk with the people, not at them. It’s a refreshing approach that helps the show continuously thrive.

Southern hospitality is a phrase that isn’t always applied correctly. The expression is absolutely valid though when describing “3HL.” I could feel it when I sat down with the cast. You can hear it when listening to their show. It doesn’t mean the trio has a shortage of strong opinions. They just present their views in a way that invites a conversation while keeping the vibe positive and welcoming.

It wouldn’t make sense to root against this approach. It’s nice when the good guys (and girl) win, and when a show that “gets it” happens to be cranking out monster ratings in the process. Check out more on their philosophies and unique career paths below. Find out which host interned for another, the early days of speeding in a Ford Escort station wagon, and doing a show with a meat salesman.

Brian Noe: How long have you had this new trio?

Dawn: August 15th, I think. So not very long. It’s been like six months.

Brent: We broke ground on this version of “3HL” in August.

Dawn: It is just at our six-month mark. We should’ve partied. We made it. We haven’t killed each other.

Noe: What do you think has been the biggest improvement during those six months?

Brent: I don’t know? Have we gotten better?

Dawn: Oh, from day one of me joining? Oh yeah!

Brent: Better?

Dawn: I hope so.

Mickey: I think it’s just more learning each other’s personalities. Brent and I have known each other for over 20 years. He was my intern when I was a television anchor in the ‘90’s in Kentucky. He knows there are certain things he can say and exactly how I’ll react. We’re kind of learning what’s a hot-button topic for Dawn that you can say something and you know what kind of reaction — and she’s learning the same thing about us. To me that’s the biggest thing is just getting to know each other’s personalities.

Brent: But like a week ago, we finished each other’s sentences a couple of times.

Dawn: And it was completely random to where during the break at one point I looked at him and I go, “How the hell did you know I was going to say that?” You like pulled it out of nowhere.

Brent: It’s been fun and Dawn brings a lot to the table too from a female perspective. That’s rare in this country. It’s awesome because we’ve known her for a long time and she’s got that TV background. We watched her on television [WKRN]. We already knew each other when we hit the ground and Dawn joined “3HL.” I feel like we hit the ground running because of that and because I watched everyday, so I already knew kind of what your mannerisms were. I think that helped.

Noe: How would you explain the differences between having a guy and a girl in that chair?

Brent: Man, that’s a good question. I don’t even view it that way. Honestly, she was a collegiate athlete and her entire background in this business is in sports outside of — well, you did the one show.

Dawn: Outside of slummin’ it in morning show news.

Brent: But even the way that y’all did that morning show — it was kind of the way that we do this show. Even though that was news and this was sports. In terms of entertainment, to me it was basically the same.

Dawn: It was less scripted and personality-driven.

Brent: But in terms of having a different vibe of having a woman in the chair in the room — there really isn’t one to me because she’s such a big sports fan and entertainment fan. She’s a really good communicator — that’s what you need — and a good entertainer. That’s the other thing to me.

Mickey: It does give our show perspective though if there’s a case where there’s a sexual assault. If there’s something that involves a female point of view. Instead of us saying, “Well, here’s what we think” or “This is what I read that somebody said,” you actually can get the female point of view, which to me is huge for us because she can break down any sport, but at the same time she can also say, “Hey, as a woman” — like we were talking about the US Olympic hockey team. They had no benefits, were making no money, and when we talked about them winning a gold medal for the first time in 20 years you said, “No no, they’re champions for women’s rights.” You went through all the things that they had done to make things better for the future generation of women’s hockey players. I think that gives us really an opportunity to offer a viewpoint on things that how many shows in the country even have? Very few.

Noe: Dawn, sometimes I’ll hear a female host, and it’s like they’re just trying so hard to prove they know their stuff. Others feel very comfortable and you come across that way — not going over the top. Where does that come from?

Dawn: I think it comes from being around sports for so long. The minute I graduated college I was doing local TV sports. In local TV sports, you do everything on your own. There’s nobody there to help you or hold your hand so you have to know your stuff because you are your producer. You’re your writer. You’re your shooter.

I’ve been around sports doing it for so long. I think that’s where that comfort comes from. Also, because I’ve been in this town for so long, and I started as a weekend sports anchor, so I’m fortunate that I know the history of the teams here. I can pull from, “Oh, hey do you remember back in 2008 this team did that,” so I think from that standpoint I’m comfortable because I do know what we’re talking about so well. Then, when I work with SEC Network I’m very knowledgeable about it because that’s what I do.

I’m also fortunate that the people in this town from the minute I got here welcomed me in and accepted me. I’ve never felt the need to prove that, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about. I can talk sports. I promise.” I feel like this town was very open to having a female in the sports world and that’s helped me because I haven’t had to go overboard to try and prove myself because people have accepted it.

Noe: What type of role does Program Director, Brad Willis play in your show’s maturation? Is he very hands on or does he let you guys work things out?

Brent: His goal with us always has been — ‘cause we’ve made changes with this show before — he’s more into letting things grow and develop. With the three of us, have it grow organically, and that’s kind of where we are with it.

Dawn: Which I think has been great. Instead of him pushing, “Hey, you need to talk more, you need to do this.”

Brent: Yeah, he treats us like professionals. I’ve been doing this for 21 years. We’ve all been doing this so long that you just take some time to know and learn and understand where he can go, where she can go, where I can go. It just kind of organically happens. He’s been completely hands off. Now, if we have questions about something that we’re doing or trying, he’s always available.

Mickey: I think the key for him is he’s there for a resource, but he wants the show to happen organically. It’s like, “Look, if you have something unique, come to me and let’s work it out,” but on a day-to-day basis it’s, “You guys are all three professionals. I hired you to be professionals. Do what you do.”

That was when I joined the show, which is a little over three years ago, after a couple of weeks he pulled me in an said, “I brought you in to talk. So talk. Just give your opinion on things. You don’t have to work your way in.” It was the same thing with Dawn. We told her, “Hey, just give your opinion. You don’t have to be tentative or anything like that. You just jump in. We’re all here to be equal. To have equal time to have equal opinions, so you just jump right in. Don’t feel like you have to warm up to us. Just jump in.”

Noe: How much have you had to deal with comparisons to previous hosts like Clay Travis and Blaine Bishop? Does that happen a lot?

Mickey: When you follow a personality like Clay, obviously there are going to be people who compare things. I’ve gotten to know Clay since I’ve moved to town and we get along great. Anytime I see him we always catch up and kind of talk about how things are going. He’s been great to get to know and it’s been a lot of fun to see all the stuff that he’s accomplishing on a national level.

There were some people who were really unkind in the beginning especially. There’s still a handful of people out there who are hanging onto it. My thing was I just had to be myself. If you like that, you like it. Maybe the nicest thing that people have said to me over the last 3+ years is, “I wanted to hate you, but once I listened to you, I realized I liked you. I thought when the show changed I would hate the show, and hey, I don’t hate you. Matter of fact I kinda like you.”

Literally people have said things like that to me, so I’m winning that way. But I know the dynamic of the show changed. It did. I think it’s okay to like him and like what he does. I think it’s okay to like me and like the current version of the show. That’s all I would ask anybody for the chance to.

Noe: Has there been anything that gets under your skin or you just go home and are like, “Man, I would’ve been better off not receiving that message”?

Dawn: Well, if you work in broadcasting, especially sports broadcasting, you’re always going to get a message where you’re like, “Yeah, well.” (sarcastic laugh)

Mickey: Well, and you [Dawn] were on TV — and women to other women who were on TV — you wouldn’t believe the things about your dress or your hair.

Dawn: Let me tell you, morning news viewer complaints are the worst thing I’ve ever endured in my life. Nothing that any sports person can ever say to me will ever upset me as much as some of the females and Facebook messages I got during morning news.

Brent: Social media is a wild place.

Dawn: It’s a different world nowadays — even from when I first started in the business. If somebody didn’t like you, you got a phone call or a hand-written letter. Now, it’s different because people immediately can facelessly tell you that they don’t like you, but this town is pretty good honestly. You’re always going to have people that don’t agree with what you say.

Mickey: But the feedback is overwhelmingly more positive than negative. But you can say, “I like donuts,” and you have some overwhelmingly negative responses to that. That’s just the world that we live in.

Brent: We live in a world where people just love to hate things. You see that on social media, but doing what we do as she said, we all have a thick skin. You have to or you won’t have success in this business anyway aside from some hater on social media. We don’t pay attention to it necessarily. To get to where we are, you’ve got to be confident in yourself. Sure, we try new things and sometimes we make mistakes and we’re harder on ourselves than anybody could be that listens. I think some mean guy on Twitter or whatever, I think that’s more about him than it is me.

Noe: How much does your role differ from a three-person to a two-person show just in terms of driving it? Not repeating one of their takes or sacrificing your own opinion to just move it forward. Does it differ greatly between the two?

Brent: I look at my job as a facilitator — almost like a scoring point guard. I’m trying to set him up with stuff and her up with stuff, but also trying to take my shot. The way I kind of visualize it in the moment — because I’m watching break time and how long is the break coming up? When do we need to hit that break? Who’s got a live spot coming? What caller needs to go next? I’m trying to balance all of those things while also throwing topics and throwing opinions. To me it’s a fun challenge. The way I visualize that is I’m going down a river with currents and I’m just trying to keep the boat as straight as possible. That doesn’t change whether it’s two or three people.

Noe: Is there anything specific to Nashville regarding topics that surprisingly work? Where you feel like, “Really? That’s what you guys are interested in?”

Brent: It’s kind of meat and potatoes honestly.

Dawn: Daily, there’s something that I’m like, “Wow, people really want to talk about that.”

Brent: Has it been a surprise to you? So, we get out of football and now it’s crazy topics that you can bring up. The response to some of those crazy topics I think surprises you sometimes.

Dawn: Yeah, it really surprises me and when we first started to go on kind of like tangents that had to do with sports but weren’t maybe necessarily specific SEC football talk, I would get nervous over there in the chair. I’m like, “Why are we not talking sports? We gotta go back to talking sports.” They’re like, “Relax. We’ve got a long show. It’s okay. It’s how it works.”

I think what surprised me the most — and I had been on the show with you guys before a couple of times, just sat in for an hour or two hours — what surprised me is some of the random topics that people want to talk about that maybe aren’t necessarily completely sports.

Brent: Here’s an example — yesterday we were talking about the Olympics and the US women had won the gold medal. I watched it. I stayed up and I thought it was the moment of the Olympics. I thought it was awesome. I thought that would get a little bit of traction. These guys started talking about the cross country race, which I didn’t even see. The next thing we know, Mickey finds the audio. We play the play-by-play and it’s one of the best sports calls ever. We go 45 minutes with people calling in about how awesome that was.

Mickey: The one guy said they were three wide like NASCAR and he was in the middle of the night watching it at his house. He felt like he raced the race with them. He felt like he sent them enough America to push them through. People get so emotionally invested in the Olympics ‘cause that’s your flag. That’s your country. They’re representing all of us. Your college football team represents your state or your region, but this is everybody. That was one of the most passionate phone calls we’ve ever had from anybody about anything.

Dawn: Talking about women’s cross country skiing. Like who cares, you know?

Brent: ‘Cause the basics are you’ve got to talk about the Titans every day in this market. You have to. When they suck, they get a 20 share on television. Over the last year and a half the Predators have risen to one of the better teams in the NHL so you need to spend a little time on them. Even though, as good as they are, their regular-season TV numbers are like a tenth of what the Titans are. We pay attention to those things. So it’s Titans, NFL, SEC, college football, and then whatever crazy stories you can find.

Noe: How do you guys balance the local stuff that you know is going to hit, with something that might go beyond Nashville that you know is still going to matter to people?

Mickey: Honestly, you can just look and see at what people are talking about on social media. To me that’s a huge metric because we all certainly follow people in this market and we have people that give us feedback — “Hey, did you guys see this? Do you guys know about that?”

Brent: That helps with what we do. Social media, that changed the game because now you can talk about things immediately as they happen. When I got into the business it was the mid-‘90’s. You didn’t have any of this. We weren’t monitoring these things.

You can get a tweet that pops up — I remember one show we were doing, and we were going to do some Preds guest or something and the Manti Te’o story came out on Deadspin. We sent one of our guys out of the studio to read it because it was so long. One segment went by and he was back in there and we were talking about it. That’s how fast things go and we bailed on the guest. We try to be as current as possible and talk about what people are talking about.

Noe: In terms of things being current — topics move so fast and have a short shelf life — a Vols football game on Saturday, of course you’re going to talk about it on Monday, but how do you have that sense of, “This is a little old. It’s not what people are talking about now”?

Brent: 100% you think about that. You’ve got to figure out a different way to present it. Ask questions because people definitely still want to talk about that. SEC football season? You want to talk about that every day. Like every day.

Dawn: I feel like football transcends that thought. You can talk about a game that happened two weeks ago and people are still interested.

Brent: But you would present it differently in the afternoon than you would on Sunday morning where Jamal Lewis ran for 225 yards. Stuff like that. You’re thinking about different ways to present it.

Mickey: By that time you’ll have different ways where you may analyze it and look at it or maybe what it means more for what’s going to happen ahead of time. This market is just so funny. It’s such a football-centric market. Let’s say we came on today and we talked about Ole Miss football. Vols fan – he’s interested in that. Mississippi State fan — she’s okay with that.

SEC fans, you can talk about any other school or program and they’re okay with that ‘cause they want to know what they’re doing too, right? To me that’s the most interesting thing maybe about living in an SEC-centric market is it doesn’t matter what team or what program or what coach you talk about, there’s just an unbelievable level of interest by every team and every program’s fans about another team’s fans and program.

Dawn: We also have so many alums from all of those schools.

Mickey: It used to be they all moved to Atlanta and Brent says they’re coming here now.

Brent: This is the SEC melting pot. Just downtown condos — this is where the young people that are graduating college in this area are coming. They’re not going to Atlanta. They’re coming to Nashville. This city is growing and the vibe is different and awesome. It’s really exciting.

Noe: When you have high ratings and Brad Willis comes to you with a major lineup change, how do you react to that?

Brent: The first question is who is going to be on the show with us, right? Then when you find out it’s Dawn Davenport, I have zero concern whatsoever. I know that we’re going to keep rockin’ because I know how competitive she is and that’s what I want. I want somebody that’s going to win every day. She’s got that track record. From my perspective I wasn’t concerned at all. I was excited.

Noe: How about you, Dawn? When you’re going into the mix and they’re getting monstrous ratings, do you feel any extra pressure? 

Mickey: No pressure.

Dawn: Yeah, no pressure at all.

Brent: You can relate to that too Mickey.

Mickey: Yeah, no pressure.

Dawn: Radio ratings are different obviously than TV ratings. I got them every day on the morning show.

Brent: And we don’t get them that often. She would ask and I’m like, “I don’t know.” (laughs)

Dawn: I’d ask, “How are we doing? Are we doing okay?” Brad would say, “Oh, we’re doing great!” I’m like, “Okay, well can I see? Do you have numbers from last week or whatever?” I had to learn how it actually worked. I was definitely nervous stepping into a successful show and replacing a former athlete [Blaine Bishop] that people really valued his opinion. I was definitely worried about it, but I had listened to the show enough to know that I felt like it would be a good fit and that we would be okay.

Noe: Do you have a TV background at all, Brent?

Brent: No.

Mickey: You were my intern for one semester.

Brent: Yeah, I needed one class to graduate at UT, the University of Tennessee, and I needed to do an internship. Living here and I was hanging out in Bowling Green. I had some friends at Western Kentucky. I was like, “Well, if I’m going to do an internship, I might as well do TV. I might as well go to WBKO,” which is in Bowling Green — the ABC affiliate there. So, I just knocked on the door and he can tell you more about it, but I just knocked on the door and got that internship.

We went all over South Central Kentucky on Friday nights covering high school football and it was awesome. There were a couple of things that happened along the way where I was like, “I don’t want to do TV.” (laughs) “I don’t want to do TV.” Because you work all day — there is a rush during the news when the stuff you’ve been working on all day is going, but things that you can’t control happen.

Mickey: He saw a couple of times where we went out and shot seven games and brought the tapes back and the tapes got out of order and you didn’t know what highlight you were doing. He saw things like that. Or the tape machine would fail or the teleprompter would go out. We don’t have a tape machine or a teleprompter. They just turn on the microphones and we talk.

Dawn didn’t really know the story — it was either a Saturday or a Sunday night. We had a 5 o’clock news — I was the weekend sports anchor at WBKO. The weatherman walks out. He comes back in and he goes, “There’s some kid outside in the parking lot that wants to ask to be your intern.” I go out and it was that kid right there.

So, it’s been over 20 years ago in the fall of 1996. I come out and here’s Brent Dougherty. He says, “Man, I wanna be your intern.” He starts explaining things and I said, “Look, man, that’s fine. You can just be my intern.” We had great chemistry and we drove a Ford Escort station wagon for several thousand miles that fall covering games.

Brent: At 100 miles an hour.

Mickey: Years later, I wind up moving to Nashville to pursue music. I got out of TV. I just came here and wanted to play music.

Dawn: He’s a heck of a bass player by the way.

Mickey: Well, I like to think so. (laughter) I’ve played 12th & Porter, 3rd and Lindsley. I’ve played in Europe and all over the US. I’ve got a couple albums on iTunes, but you know, no big deal. (laughter) I was driving down Interstate 65. This is a true story. I had my radio on scan. I was scanning FM stations after recently moving to town. I went to hit another button and I hit a bump, and I switched my radio to AM and he was on 1510 AM. It was him talking!

I don’t think I even had a cell phone at this point. I drove to my apartment and called the radio station and left him a message. We had lost touch with each other. He was producing a show for a couple of heavy hitters in town. He said, “They’re going to let me do a show on Saturday. You should come and do it with me.” So for years, I managed a real estate office and played music and I would go on Saturday and do a radio show with Brent and another guy named Russ Berrie, who’s a meat salesman. The three of us did a Saturday show for years and years before we both wound up coming over here to The Zone.

Brent: We used to joke about Russ, he was slingin’ his meat all over the southeast. (laughs) He’s a good dude, that guy.

Mickey: He sells ham. Yeah, great guy.

Brent: Man, you went into the long story like Noe’s writing a book or something. The history of us. This is us and no one’s crying.

Noe: Dawn, these two have known each other for 20 years — is it ever weird where two people know each other so well and you’re trying to learn them as you go?

Dawn: I don’t think so. I haven’t felt that at all.

Mickey: And you don’t get our Fletch references though. That’s the one thing.

Brent: The whole key to knowing us is really simple: watch Fletch. It’s the key to life and to understanding making a friend.

Dawn: The good thing, I knew them prior. Especially you [Brent], I’ve known you since I moved here and we’d run into each other at events and I’ve hopped on their radio show a million times. That’s the good thing. We’ve hung out outside of work too. I’m on a daily text with your wife right now [Mickey]. (laughs) So, I feel like I kind of jumped right in. Obviously I haven’t known them for 20 years, but from that standpoint, have really gotten to know them and I know their families.

Noe: Is there anything from the TV world that translates very well to sports radio and things that just don’t fit whatsoever?

Dawn: Well, the don’t fit is I panicked when I first started. In TV, this block is six minutes and 40 seconds, and you’ve got to hit six minutes and 40 seconds so you can hit clicks and do all of that, and everything is scripted. At least for the morning show, for what I did the last five years, everything is in there. It might not all be scripted — there’s a lot of adlib, but for the most part it’s super organized. You know exactly what you’re talking about, and when, and you know exactly what’s coming.

With sports talk radio? When I started I was like, “So, we’re not going to script out every single segment and know exactly when we’re going to talk about what?” And they’re like, “No, because if somebody calls in and some subject gets going, we’ll stick with that.” I was like, “Okay?” It took me awhile to be okay with — not necessarily spontaneity, but kind of — like a lack of specific, everything is timed out.

Brent: And it’s funny, in my course of doing this job I love the freedom to be spontaneous. I love that. It leads you down a creative space that really is unlike anything else that you could do in this business. I love that part of it. I knew from doing this — after having TV people come in and do an hour every so often, they always would say that, like, “Man, that’s so much fun because I’ve got like two and a half minutes to do my sports and that’s what it is. Here’s the script. I never really have time to give my opinion. It’s really not that kind of place to give your opinion.”

Dawn: That’s where I’ve had to grow because I wasn’t allowed to give my opinion at all. Then as a sideline reporter you have 15-20 seconds to do your report. It’s not an opinion-based job. That was something coming in I’ve really had to work on — learning that it’s okay for me to give my opinion now because you can’t in news.

I think the plus of doing news — especially that morning news show that I was part of — there was a lot of adlibbing. There was a lot of personality conversation and that has lent well to stepping into this job because it’s basically what we did, especially in the 4am hour. It’s what I did for five years really. This is just a different level.

Brent: Early on she would ask me during a break, “Did you know you were going to go into Tennessee-Vanderbilt basketball right there?” And I would say, “No, but that microphone is on, and I’m talking, and that’s what came out.” She’s like, “Okay.”

Dawn: In the beginning, it took me awhile to be okay with it.

Brent: Yeah, and I think that’s part of the organic transition and I think we’re there now. But I learned from her to be a little more structured in terms of what we do.

Noe: Did you do anything to try to draw out more opinions because they weren’t used to it?

Brent: I didn’t really have to necessarily, but she has this notebook of stuff that she keeps. She’s got like, I don’t know, eight-nine pages for today. She knows what the topics are because we kind of text during the day. There’s going to be stuff that we all see that we haven’t communicated to each other. It’s almost better that way to me because then you get more into that spontaneous reaction from Mickey about women’s curling or whatever.

There’s a lot of that, but when I do that — I’ve jumped out of an airplane and I’m flying through the air. I’m going from topic to topic in my head and I go into something — I know that she has researched it and has some notes jotted down. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I’ll talk long enough to let you flip through your papers to get to that topic. It’s a growth process.

Noe: Do you find it more challenging in the heart of football season to hit on everything you want to get in there, or is it now where it’s a lot slower? Which is more challenging?

Brent: Challenging might not be the word, it’s just different. I have fun in — I love football, it’s my favorite thing — but doing what we do, I actually think I have more fun in the non-football area because of the random things that we can talk about. We’re a Nashville show. We love the city of Nashville. We’re going to talk about things that happen in Nashville. It’s not necessarily going to be sports-related.

If I walk over to the Tin Roof and sit down and talk with people, if there’s 100 people in there, what percentage of people just want to talk about sports? That’s all they’re interested in. Four? We think of it in terms of, hopefully, entertaining people every day. We have no fear at all, in fact we love doing it — going off topic. That infuriates stick-to-sports guy, but I don’t care.

Mickey: Four percent of the guys who want only sports. They get infuriated.

Brent: This time of year is really, really fun to me. For example today, we’ve got this college basketball corruption scandal and that’s going to be a healthy part of the show, but we also have one of the top-20 tennis players in the world coming on. We’ve got one of the best hockey players in the world coming on. Guests kind of dictate topics with us.

Noe: In terms of the goals you have for the show, does anything change that mindset when you’ve gone thru lineup changes?

Brent: For me, no. My job is to help our clients grow their business. From there it’s to entertain the guy that’s at a job that he hates, is having an awful day, and is in his car for 45 minutes and wants to be entertained. He wants an escape from whatever it is he’s dealing with and everybody’s dealing with something. Those are the two things I think about. As long as it’s a room full of creative people that like to have fun, I’m good.

Mickey: When we were driving around 21 years ago in that Escort station wagon, I used to tell him, “Look, here’s my goal; I’m going to put as many people’s kids on TV tonight as I can. We’re going to spray the crowd. We’re going to have the band. We’ll have an establishing shot of the cheerleaders and I want to put as many people’s kids and grandkids and neighbors and friends on TV as I can, to give more people a reason to watch.”

Brent: I’ve always thought about that too. I remember him saying that and that really stuck out to me. I think about that all the time.

Mickey: When you go out and you’re in the grocery store and you’re the TV person and they go, “You had my nephew on the other night,” and I say, “Oh, did he score a touchdown?” And she said, “No, you just said how cool he looked. He was the tuba player,” and I’m like, “Oh, I remember him.” But that meant the same thing to her as the kid who scored the touchdown that won the game. That’s her nephew or friend or son or grandson or whatever. To me that was so powerful to do that.

When we go out and people tell us, “Life is going this way and there’s some bad things happening, but I’ll tell you what, I know when I’m in the car listening to you guys, I can forget about it.” That’s the greatest, to me, thing that anybody can say about what we do is you helped me forget my problems for an hour or for 30 minutes, or gosh there are some people who are going to listen to the whole show I guess on their computer at work.

Brent: God love ‘em.

Mickey: Yeah, those are special people, but for somebody to say, “Man, I’m going through this terrible thing, but I know I’ve got a refuge for X amount of time with you guys every day.” That’s one of the main reasons that we do what we do. We love doing it, but we love the interaction with people and knowing that you can actually help somebody have a better day, forget something bad that’s going on in their life.

Even if we come in and things aren’t great for us, we still think, “Gosh, there’s a whole lot of people listening — they have bigger problems, they have bigger things they’re dealing with than we do, not that we’re immune to dealing with things, but let’s just get together. Let’s entertain them. Let’s enlighten them. Let’s tell them what’s going on in the sports world. Let’s have a few laughs. Let’s give them a little kind of place they can go for four hours a day.”

Noe: Do you think hosts lose track of that where it’s “I want to be a hot-take guy” and it gets too far away from wanting to entertain people?

Dawn: Yes.

Brent: Yeah, but everybody has to be themselves and this is who we are, and I love it. I’m so blessed to have been able to do this on this radio station. 104.5 The Zone is one of the best radio stations in the country. I am so blessed to have been able to work with four of the most talented radio people that I could ever be around. I’m so happy with the team we have here with Mickey and Dawn. I’m looking forward to the next however long y’all want to do this. 50 years? 60?

Dawn: Time to retire. (laughing) Seriously this guy, they were like, “Oh, you guys want Presidents’ Day off?” I’m like, “Oh yeah, let’s take it off.” They’re like, “Oh, well are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want to work?” I’m like, “What is wrong with you? I love my job, but you guys are not normal.”

Brent: I mean there’s flame-thrower guy out there, that’s not me. That’s not what we do. That’s not who we are.

Dawn: We don’t have the hot-take, piss-you-off, be-mean-to-you-kind-of person really. Unless you really push our buttons.

Mickey: The angry Chihuahua. One of the first conversations we ever had was let’s just pretend like we’re in a sports bar talking to our friends. Let’s talk to people. We’ve always tried to talk with people and not at people.

Brent: There are times when everybody gets riled up. It’s an opinionated business. We’re paid to have an opinion. That’s the reality of the situation, but I think we’re more into building people up.

BSM Writers

In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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BSM Writers

Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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BSM Writers

No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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