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Q&A with Jon Lunceford

Demetri Ravanos

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If there is one station that has had a greater influence on me than any other, it’s WJOX in Birmingham, AL. When I was in college it was known as 690 the Sports Monster and headlined by Herb Wenches and Kevin Scarbinsky in afternoons. One day when I was driving home from class I heard them talking about a third string quarterback at Alabama who had failed a summer class and would be ineligible for the fall. They then took calls from people that were worried that it would throw off the plans for whichever of the four football coaches Bama had while I was in school there.

That is not what WJOX is today. Now it’s Jox 94.5 and staffed by people that get sports as pop culture. Make no mistake, these guys are still the authorities for all things SEC, but the conversation is just more fun and it is everywhere thanks to the station’s digital strategy.

Jon Lunceford deserves some credit for that. The guy is the perfect embodiment of the idea that the best way to get a paying job in radio is to just keep showing up until someone gives you money. Jon hosts Jox Primetime alongside Tim Melton on Jox 94.5. It is one of the few locally produced night shows you’ll find on a sports station outside of a top ten market.

He started with the station as an intern in 2008, when his college football career was cut short by injury. That one semester official internship unofficially extended for two more. Eventually he went to work for Jox’s now defunct competition 97.3 the Zone and then returned to Jox and Cumulus Broadcasting’s digital marketing department.

In the meantime he started a digital advertising company and a charitable foundation that helps run sports and fine arts programs at Birmingham schools, and he got paid to play video games. He may not be radio’s answer to Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, but the path to where he is now was unconventional, so he approaches the medium in an unconventional way, and I thought his story was worth telling.

DR: Let’s start with Jox Primetime as a brand, because it existed before you and your partner [Tim Melton] took over. It’s rare enough that a station will have a locally produced night show, but then to hand it over to two young guys without a ton of on air experience. That had to be a shock for you. Tell me about your reaction when [Jox PD] Ryan Haney says “let’s do this!”.

JL: Well, obviously I was excited and wanted to say yes when they offered me the show, but the job I was in at the time was really time intensive. So, when they asked “do you want to add another two hours on top of that?” I really had to stop and think if I could. Because I want to do it, but only if I can really dedicate myself to it and do a good job with the show.

I really liked the guys that were here before us, Matt & Scott. I did a lot of work with them and knew what they did well, and I hold Jox 94.5 in such high regard. I didn’t want to pass a show on to the listener that was clearly my third or fourth job.

So I thought about it for a couple of days, but eventually realized that I thought we could build on what those guys had done before us. Plus, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was going to say yes. I just needed to make a plan first.

DR: That idea of everyone having more than one job leads perfectly into my next question. Literally a full day’s worth of sports news and debate goes by before you even crack a mic, so when do you finally sit down and start prepping that night’s show?

JL: I listen to Jox all day long, and then when I come in, I am sitting with two monitors up. One of them is on Tweetdeck. I have literally hundreds of accounts I am looking at trying to follow everything going on, mostly college football focused, but I am looking at sports from high school up through the pros. This goes on all day. I try to start thinking about things from the moment I wake up.

I get to the office around 10 am. I do my digital work until about 4:30 and then switch into show mode at that point. That gives me an hour to really focus on what I have. Tim is a news anchor on our political talk station. He’ll come in around 2:30 and we chat for about a half hour before he goes on air at 3.

Like you said, we come on after most of the discussion has been had. So if something big happened the night before, it’s already been talked about. We literally have three four hour shows on our station that have talked about it before us, but if it’s a big story, you can’t just leave it alone. For example, Alabama won last night in basketball. People will be talking about it all day, so we can’t ignore that. It’s great leading into sports or being live while major sports are on, but it creates a fine line for sure.

DR: I want to talk more about the schedule in a second, because with Jox’s three frequencies, I am sure that creates some interesting work schedules for you, but you touched on Bama basketball. It seems like we know what Auburn is going to do every night. They’re really good. But with Alabama, they were winning games they weren’t supposed to and losing the games they weren’t supposed to. Have you figured out which result keeps people in Birmingham talking?

JL: Yeah, they lose to bad teams during the week and then come out and beat ranked teams on the weekend, so it’s not like they’re bad, but they certainly aren’t good either. It is a weird area right now. Depending on what bracketologist you consult they’re an 8 seed one week and a 10 seed the next. That’s the part that actually makes for great discussion for us.

You have Bama fans that are just happy to get the wins and then really disappointed when they lose. There’s another set that says the fact that they are in the tournament discussion is a step in the right direction. Then you have Auburn, who is across the state, killing it right now. That drives Alabama fans crazy, because Auburn was part of the FBI investigation. Two players couldn’t start the year. Bama had this great recruiting class and Auburn is in the position Bama fans thought they would be in.

DR: So for people that don’t know, Jox is on 94.5 FM. The brand also encompasses 100.5 FM and 690 AM. So you have not only the Alabama games, but also the Auburn games. How often is Jox Primetime getting pre-empted?

JL: We actually have Alabama, Auburn and UAB, but it’s all spread out. Alabama is exclusive to 94.5. Auburn is actually on our talk station, 99.5. It’s another 100,000 watt signal. That format launched about a year ago and Auburn was a part of it. Then we put UAB on what we call Jox 2, 100.5.

So with Alabama basketball, when they play during the week, we’re knocked off for the game plus an hour of pregame. Then there’s the coach’s show on Thursdays. It’s an hour and a half during football season and just an hour during basketball season. So, Thursday’s during football season, we’re doing a thirty minute show.

It can be frustrating, but I hope by next school year, when the show has built some real momentum, maybe Alabama can move to 690. That’s where the whole Jox thing started.

DR: Right, the Sports Monster!

JL: Yup. If we could just move the coach’s shows there and create more consistency in football season, that would be great!

DR: You’re super tied into pop culture and you personally have such a large digital role. As someone that grew up listening to the Sports Monster, the idea that someone like that would ever have a daily presence on Jox seems crazy to me. Tell me about your strategy there. When it comes to social media is it “we put our focus on where the most people are” or “if even one listener is there, we need to be there?”?

JL: What I want to do with everything is just create quality content. So in the digital realm, that means really understanding the ins and outs of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It means I may rebuild the website to look a certain way so that it can highlight a particular kind of content.

The idea is let’s keep the listeners with us all day. So, maybe you only like [Jox’s morning show] the Roundtable. Maybe you don’t like Finebaum. Well, we don’t want you to think there’s nothing Jox can do for you in the afternoon. We want you to know that you can come watch videos or listen to highlights of The Roundtable on our digital platforms even when those guys aren’t live.

We’re really focused on our podcasts. Like you said, it’s something Jox never would have done back in the day. We’ve got a wrestling podcast. I’m part of a show called The Jox Entertainment Crew, where we go see movies and we talk about movies. For instance, we’re going to see Black Panther tomorrow.

DR: It’s pretty dope.

JL: Yeah, I’ve heard. This is why we want to be plugged into pop culture like we are. Tim and I went to go see Star Wars Episode VII when it came out in 2015. We were there opening night, four hours early to save our seats. Remember, there were no reserved seats at that time.

So we’re in the theater and for four hours we’re looking around and seeing guys look at the ESPN app or pull up their fantasy lineups. The stereotype is the guy that is sitting in that theater opening night, four hours early are the super nerds that have never touched a football in their life, and that is just not true anymore. I’m a guy that goes to see these things on opening night, but I also played college football.

Ryan tells us all the time that Jox is a lifestyle station. Yes, we’re focused on sports, but that’s because sports is a big part of our lifestyle. So I want to create good content for every part of your lifestyle.

DR: How often does the opportunity to take some of those podcasts or that digital content and put it on air come up?

JL: So something like Jox Preps, which is a high school sports focused show I do, was really big for us last week with National Signing Day. It gets a spotlight when championship season rolls around and the state championship games are happening for football or the basketball state playoffs.

Jox may have always had a loose connection with college sports where maybe one of our hosts would be pulled in to do play-by-play, but we never had that identifiable brand. Now hosts can say “we’re going to bring in Jon Lunceford from Jox Preps to talk about National Signing Day and don’t forget the podcast is on the website”.

We do that all the time now too with the Jox Entertainment Crew where one of the hosts of that show is also a producer on The Roundtable, so they put him on or bring me in to talk about the new movies, and it turns into them making fun of us, but they plug the podcast and it makes for a good segment. When Wrestlemania comes around, I am sure we will do the same thing with the wrestling podcast. It’s not something you’d dedicate a ton of on air time do, but there are enough of our listeners that care.

DR: Is there an offseason when it comes to college football? Is there ever a time of year SEC football’s biggest storyline won’t be in that 1A block for you guys?

JL: Well, we’re done with signing day, so I think we’re kinda in the offseason here now and that will probably stretch to the NFL Draft.

DR: You live there, so you would know better than me, but this is the time of year where we gossip about transfers, so in that way it never really seems like it is out of Birmingham’s purview.

JL: Well, right. It’s never gone, but I will say, this year more than other years, basketball has really jumped up into that top spot. I mean, Alabama and Auburn, it’s not like one team happened. They both happen to be pretty good. [Auburn coach] Bruce Pearl and [Alabama coach] Avery Johnson are both big names and they give great sound bites.

We’re still going to talk about transfers and assistants moving around, but like tonight we have the Olympics on. Black Panther opens tomorrow. Both Bama and Auburn play Kentucky this week. It’s nice to say “maybe college football can move to the second hour tonight.”

DR: What is Birmingham’s appetite for those national stories? You guys always do big numbers for the NBA Finals. There are fans of more than just the SEC there obviously.

JL: No doubt. Look, Birmingham is a sports town. Even without the major franchises, you put a big event on, and there are a lot of people here glued to their TVs for it. The appetite for the NBA keeps growing here. We had a crazy offseason and trade deadline, and moves always interest people, but I have noticed less comments about it being a two team league from our listeners. People take note of LeBron news when we talk about it.

We have a lot of people here invested in the Celtics because Brad Stevens recruited a couple of Birmingham kids for those two Butler teams that made the Final Four. The Nashville Predators being so good and making the Stanley Cup Finals last year got a lot of people interested in the NHL here for a minute.

Then you’ve got Daytona starting up, and there are a lot of racing fans here. Talladega races are major cultural events in Alabama. So we try to be broad in understanding what is going on and understanding what our listeners want to talk about.

DR: When it comes to the SEC, how much does news about teams not named Alabama and Auburn make it on to Jox Primetime?

JL: A lot of people are interested in Georgia now, since they just played for the championship and then killed it on signing day. Plus, a former Bama coach is their coach. People are interested in Tennessee with another Bama assistant coaching there now. People are interested in if Dan Mullen can save Florida.

I think with football, people watch and follow teams because so much can tie back to Tuscaloosa. With basketball, it all started last year with South Carolina. That was a really fun story with them making it to the Final Four. And now all of a sudden Alabama is good, and Auburn is good, and Kentucky, this team everyone has known as unbeatable for so long is behind both of them in the SEC standings. People want to know how that happened.

Any SEC game Birmingham will probably be in the top 3 in the ratings. Well, any major game or event anyway. People love Alabama and Auburn and I think they are taking a bigger interest now in what the competition looks like in football, basketball and even baseball and softball.

DR: Because there are these loyalties that span generations for Alabama and Auburn, and a wider interest in the conference as a whole now, how much can you talk about UAB? Last year they brought their football program back. It was this national darling of a story, but locally, if you’re looking at a generic programming clock, how much do you feel like you can talk about UAB before you’ve lost the average listener’s attention?

JL: This year and next year are going to be different from each other and different from any previous year. There was probably more UAB talk on our station than before with them bringing the program back and becoming pretty good.

My co-host is a UAB grad. I went to Birmingham Southern, which is a small school here where I played football. I’m not saying we try to force small school stuff on to the air. We are just conscious of the fact that these other schools are out there and deserve to be talked about.

I look at it like this. Alabama and Auburn are always going to be tops, but what else is there in Birmingham that listeners can get invested in? UAB football is something the city was invested in. We know that a lot of that is hype that is going to go away next year. When you only have a two hour or some nights one hour show, you have to go in knowing UAB comes third.

We want to know what is going on with UAB and the other FBS teams in Alabama (Troy and South Alabama), but in terms of listener interest, it is Alabama first, Auburn second, and UAB third. And the other schools even further behind that.

BSM Writers

Does Mike & The Mad Dog Reunion Really Have Broad Appeal?

“My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy.”

Demetri Ravanos

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I know this is an unpopular opinion, especially on a site built on the back of sports radio, but I also know that I am not alone when I say this. I do not get why ESPN is reuniting Mike & the Mad Dog on First Take on Wednesday.

That is not a comment about Mike Francesa or Chris Russo as people. I am not going to sit here and tell you their show was not groundbreaking or pretend that its success did not make it easier for the sports format to spread across the country. They deserve all of the credit and accolades they get from our industry.

My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy. Who outside of New York and/or outside of the broadcast industry feels like this is must-see TV? This feels like some real whiffing of our own farts.

When ESPN writes a press release about the success of First Take, they tend to highlight two demographics. It’s either with men 18-49 or with men 18-34. The age range is important because Mike & The Mad Dog hasn’t been a thing for almost 15 years. Francesa and Russo have had their own success in that time. It is not like they disappeared, but 2008 was a long time ago. Even lifelong New Yorkers in the desired demos may not have a strong connection to Francesa and Russo as a brand.

And then there are those of us outside of New York. We may understand that Mike & The Mad Dog was a thing, but what does it really mean to us? Outside of industry professionals, I would venture a guess that if you say “Mike and the Mad Dog” to someone from the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones, the very best-case scenario is that they would tell you that it sounds familiar, but they have no idea why.

Mike and the Mad Dog is a very specific dynamic, and credit to Stephen A. Smith and his producers, it is a dynamic that is perfect for First Take, but thanks to First Take, it isn’t a dynamic that I can only get from those two guys anymore. Their loud, unrelenting debates were revolutionary in 1989 when the show launched. Since then, the style has spawned so many imitators that I would worry the significance of the reunion will be lost on the average Joe tuning in from outside the Tri-State Area.

Smith is important enough to ESPN that if this is what he wants to do on First Take, then the bosses needed to make it happen. I respect that. But selling this as an event? It seems more exclusionary than anything. To us everywhere-elsers, Wednesday is just going to be an extraordinarily loud episode of First Take.

I have been working for Barrett Sports Media long enough to know the influence that people that are successful on New York radio have across the sports media industry. Why else would FS1 rearrange its schedule to make room for Craig Carton? If First Take were a show dedicated to debating ratings points and the value of digital audiences versus broadcast audiences, then a Mike & the Mad Dog reunion would be a home run. 

But First Take is where sports fans turn to hear discussion of the Cowboys’ most recent playoff failure and the possibility that Nikola Jokic wins a third straight MVP award. Those are topics that cast a wide net – think like the net that commercial fishing vessels drop into the ocean. Using a walk down memory lane with Francesa and Russo as a ratings driver is like trying to catch fish with a pool skimmer.

Well okay, maybe not a pool skimmer. New York is really big, so let’s so it is like trying to catch fish with a laundry basket.

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BSM Writers

Jamie Erdahl Reflects On First Season of Good Morning Football

“I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in.”

Derek Futterman

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Jamie Erdahl, who was named in July 2022 as a new host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network following Kay Adams’ departure from the show, has looked to redefine the role of studio host and shatter the boundaries of being simply a moderator passing the baton to analysts throughout her career in sports media.

“I don’t personally feel that it’s my job to include them,” Erdahl said of her colleagues. “I like to think that this show is the four of us including each other in the conversation, and I happen to be the one that gets us on the air [and] gets us off the air, but everywhere in-between that it’s very much an equal lift if you will.”

Since its inception in August 2016, Good Morning Football has provided football fans unparalleled coverage of their favorite sport through recurring segments, interviews with active players and alumni, live demonstrations and insightful analysis. Aside from Erdahl, the show cast consists of Kyle Brandt, who was the former executive producer of The Jim Rome Show, along with NFL analyst Peter Schrager, former NFL cornerback and Super Bowl champion Jason McCourty.

Erdahl never thought hosting a national morning football show produced by a league-owned media outlet was realistic nor possible in the first place, wherefore she focused her early career endeavors towards covering local teams. In fact, her first exposure to sports media was as a 16-year-old shadowing broadcasters and answering the phones at KFAN Sports Radio in Minneapolis, screening callers who wanted to discuss the Minnesota Vikings among other topics.

After transferring from St. Olaf College to American University, Erdahl was placed into a production internship with ESPN through the Association for Women in Sports Media in a role she refers to as one of her “most formative professional experiences off-camera.” Her principal responsibility was cutting highlights for Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, along with writing scripts for the anchors to recite over the highlights during the broadcast.

“To this day, I don’t think I would be as great or as strong at reading highlights if I had never had that opportunity at ESPN,” Erdahl said. “….I don’t think you can be really good on the air if you don’t have a full understanding of what it takes to get there from a production standpoint.”

Out of college, Erdahl returned to Minneapolis, where she worked as a freelance reporter at Fox Sports North, a regional sports network. In that role, she was a sideline reporter for various high school basketball games and Minnesota Lynx WNBA contests. One year later, she made the move to Boston to join NESN as an on-air anchor and reporter, contributing both to studio coverage and in-person event coverage ranging from the Boston Marathon to Boston College hockey.

Through several years of persistence and determination, Erdahl was afforded more opportunities and chances to continue elevating her skills. During her first year at NESN, she was working on NESN Sports Today as an anchor and reporter while also filling in for Jenny Dell as a field reporter for Boston Red Sox games. By September 2013, she was named the new rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins live game broadcasts where she succeeded Naoko Funayama, an established broadcaster who held the role for nearly six years.

“[Boston], more than any [market] I’ve ever been around, expects the world of you,” Erdahl said. “They expect the world of their athletes; of their coaches; of their organizations; and then of the media that covers the team. They’ll sus you out right away if they have a sense that you don’t know what you’re talking about or if you don’t know their team like the back of your hand like they do.”

Over her season as the rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins games on NESN, Erdahl performed her job well but internally struggled to report solely on the team. In being immersed in the dynamic atmosphere of a professional team, it is entirely plausible that while the storylines may change, much of the quotidian routine is mundane in nature.

Akin to a beat reporter, Erdahl’s job was to focus her work on the Bruins and NHL at large while remaining cognizant of Boston sports. Through it all, she inherently desired something more – a role in which she could cover several teams within a sport rather than just one.

“I am amazed at the people who can do 162-plus baseball games a year,” Erdahl said. “I just applaud them so much. I think your wealth of knowledge is admirable, but I found it so challenging to, let’s say, do 82-plus [games] of hockey because I felt like I wanted more sport variety.”

In 2014, Erdahl signed with CBS Sports as a sideline reporter for the NFL on CBS, traveling every week around the country to uncover stories and perspectives enhancing the game broadcast. She primarily worked with the No. 3 broadcast team of Greg Gumbel and Trent Green, along with director Suzanne Smith, who has served as one of Erdahl’s mentors. The move from reporting in one city to adopting a peripatetic lifestyle helped her with professional development and allowed her to cultivate relationships around the country.

“When you are at the regional [sports network], you’re just answering to that one team,” Erdahl said. “I loved reporting but what I loved about when I got to CBS was [that] you are answering to the broadcast; you are answering to players from both sides. You had to work to make sure that your coverage was fully equal.”

After several seasons covering the NFL, Erdahl was named the lead reporter for college football on CBS Sports, including within its SEC broadcast package. Despite the game being similar in many ways, college football presented challenges to Erdahl, largely due to the size of the rosters and the fact that many SEC on CBS Game of the Week broadcasts regularly included the Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs and Louisiana State University Tigers.

Next season will be the final year CBS will broadcast SEC games before the conference’s media rights agreement with The Walt Disney Company (ABC/ESPN) takes effect: a 10-year deal worth a reported $300 million annually. CBS will broadcast the Big Ten Conference instead, inking a 7-year deal for the second-best rights package worth a reported $350 million annually.

“Here I was back again [asking], ‘Okay, how do I make things new and fresh?,’” Erdahl said. “You can’t talk to Tua Tagovailoa every time on the phone. You’ve got to branch out; you’ve got to tell other guys’ stories.”

In addition to reporting on college football and NFL games, Erdahl was one of the first anchors on CBS Sports HQ, a free 24/7 sports news network available to stream on multiple platforms. She also reconnected with her athletic roots when she provided sideline reporting for CBS Sports’ coverage of March Madness. Her alacrity for the game and proficiency in its vernacular gave her an advantage as a media member reporting on one of the year’s premier events.

“My translation speed, let’s say, of what I hear in a basketball huddle is so much faster to laymen’s terms in basketball than it is for football,” Erdahl said. “That’s just a matter of I played basketball; it is a part of my lifeblood; it is part of my body and soul and upbringing.”

Erdahl eventually moved back into sideline reporting for the NFL on CBS; however it differed the second time around because she had two young children at home and had to leave them from Thursday to Sunday each week. Although she was content with her role at CBS and had the support system in place to make it possible, she wanted to be able to see her children grow up and spend time with them.

At the same time, continuing to cover football was important to her and a reason why she considered a studio-based hosting role. In the end, she was ultimately named the new co-host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network.

“Professionally, I think I was very much honing my skill set to become a really great, strong sideline reporter at CBS,” Erdahl said. “I grasped at the opportunity to become a really great, strong studio host. I’m not there yet – it’s only been six or seven months – but I really wanted this job in particular to get me to a place within the NFL [and] within the industry to be a really good host.”

For 15 hours per week, Erdahl is on television discussing the game of football with Brandt, Schrager, McCourty and Selva, along with a plethora of other guests and industry experts. Entering the role from the perspective of a sideline reporter, she has found many aspects of her previous role permeate into this job, most notably those pertaining to listening to others.

“As a sideline reporter, all you can do is be eyes and ears and you’re just hoping that if you’re not the one saying it on the broadcast, you’re relaying information back to the truck or to the play-by-play guy to make sure that what you’re seeing or hearing on the field is getting on to the broadcast…. I like to take that back into a studio setting. Very easily we could sit around the table and we could each talk for a minute and give our takes, but then you’re not really listening to each other.”

Before landing the job, Erdahl had conversations with Kay Adams where they discussed the role and just what makes it unique. Their discussions left Erdahl energized and eager to get started and disseminate her opinions and points of view to consumers on weekday mornings.

“You get to have your own arc of creativity, no matter what chair you’re sitting in,” Erdahl expressed. “I think Kay did that incredibly well for six years. People loved Kay for all the things that she did – but the job isn’t, ‘Here’s how Kay did it; do it the way Kay did.’ That’s not how it was presented [to] me [and] I don’t think Kay would have wanted it that way.”

Over the years, Erdahl has established relationships with colleagues and competitors alike in sports media, staying in touch and reaching out for advice. She was friendly with many of her colleagues at the NFL on CBS, including Tracy Wolfson, Amanda Balionis and Melanie Collins, along with ESPN/Amazon Prime Video’s Charissa Thompson and NFL Network host Sara Walsh. She also estimates speaking to SEC on CBS analyst Gary Danielson weekly, someone who was instrumental in her development as a broadcaster and learning more about the game of football.

Erdahl and the rest of the Good Morning Football on-air personalities do not simply show up to the studios to broadcast each morning; rather, there is an immense amount of preparation that goes into each and every show beginning the night before.

On a shared document, show producers compile a layout for the next day’s program and Erdahl and the other personalities write notes and perspectives to better inform the rest of the crew as to their individual thought processes. There is a production crew that works overnight to monitor the news cycle and prepare production elements for the next day’s program so by the time 7:00 AM ET comes around, the team is ready to produce three hours of insightful football coverage.

“The information wheel in the NFL is just constantly turning so it’s easier for me just to kind of, throughout the day, remain aware of it so then at night, I can answer all my stuff and then tomorrow, I feel a little bit more prepared,” Erdahl said. “I’m not cramming for an hour before the show…. It’s easy to kind of stay swimming in it.”

As Erdahl reflects on the impending completion of her first full season on the show, she intends to learn from her mistakes, such as relying on certain statistics or storylines as a crutch for extended periods of time, to improve as a studio host. She also aims to augment her creativity, learn more about the history of the game and demonstrate energy for the game – all qualities imbued within Brandt, Schrager and McCourty, respectively – to become a “master of the NFL.”

“I was lucky I got through the season,” Erdahl said. “I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in terms of making sure I don’t have those crutches.”

Viewers of Good Morning Football or other NFL Network programming might be skeptical towards the legitimacy of some opinions because of the oversight the league has on the broadcast outlet. Yet over her time with NFL Network, Erhardt does not feel as if she has been suppressed in editorializing her views.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of the show to balance subjectivity and the maintenance of professional relationships in football with the display of objectivity and proffering of genuine analysis. After all, she believes the league trusts that she is on the air for a reason, and works to ensure the league communicates its storylines in a way discernible to a variety of demographics.

“I haven’t felt the hindrance whatsoever in terms of editorial direction that would make me feel like I shouldn’t do something,” Erdahl said. “I would say mostly on the daily, I get the green light from the things that we try to accomplish as a show.”

There are many football fans across the United States, and it can be safely assumed that many of them have at least thought about potentially covering the game as a media member. Yet very few aspiring media professionals reach the point Erdahl has; in fact, some of her most memorable moments over the years are when she was told she had received certain jobs. Although her skills on the air are evident, her demeanor and team-oriented mindset has separated herself from other candidates and led to sustained success and growth amid a competitive marketplace.

“Sixty percent of being good at this job has nothing to do with being on television, in my opinion,” Erdahl articulated. “I think it’s about a good, honest, ethical person that is nice to people; that is easy to be around; that coaches and athletes in particular want to be around and want to talk to [and] tell their story to. The other stuff will come because you are speaking to something that you went about the right way.”

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Why Do NFL Fans Want More Greg Olsen and Less Tony Romo?

Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down film of offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast.

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Five years ago, Tony Romo retired as an active NFL player, jumped into the CBS broadcast booth, and immediately became the darling of fans and media for the excitement he brought to his telecasts. Romo’s enthusiasm for the game and understanding of modern offense allowed him to predict plays successfully, making him an instant sensation.

Greg Olsen will finish his second season as a full-time broadcaster on Feb. 12 from the NFL’s biggest stage, calling Super Bowl LVI for Fox with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t drawn the must-see buzz that Romo did early in his TV career. No fan likely tuned into Fox’s top NFL telecast, “America’s Game of the Week,” to listen to Olsen’s analysis. His work doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of acclaim.

But the shine has worn off Romo with viewers during the past couple of NFL seasons. Watching a game with Romo in the booth previously felt like sitting alongside a fellow fan, jubilant at fantastic plays or clever strategy, and disappointed at performances that fell short. His energy also elevated Jim Nantz as a play-by-play announcer, bringing him back to life after 13 seasons alongside Phil Simms.

Now, however, Romo’s outbursts — noises in place of words, or outright yelling — seem like a crutch when coherent thoughts can’t be articulated. Where there was once fascinating insight from the analyst position, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback often resorts to clichés and platitudes that don’t add to a fan’s understanding of what’s happening on the field.

Worst of all, Romo sometimes talks merely to talk, filling a quiet space when a broadcast needs to breathe or the images are saying enough on their own. That’s especially awkward when paired with a veteran like Nantz, who’s a master at letting the moment speak for itself rather than trying to punctuate it with unnecessary narration.

On Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, Olsen explained how play-calling changes when an offense intends to go for it on fourth down. He showed an awareness of the strategies that each coach employed to gain an advantage or neutralize what the opponent was doing well.

Early on, he highlighted San Francisco defensive end Joey Bosa holding back on his natural impulse to pursue the quarterback at all costs. Instead, he maintained a position that prevented Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts from running to gain yardage when pass plays weren’t available.

With analysis like this, Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down the film of their respective offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast. He doesn’t appear to be surprised by what he sees because that prep work — watching film, talking to coaches and players — informs him of the eventualities and possibilities that could arise during a game.

The hardcore football fan, those who repeatedly watch highlights and replays, loves that kind of analysis. Such attention to detail feels gratifying because it demonstrates that the person calling the broadcast is as serious about this stuff as the viewer who’s waited all week for the big game.

Yet a more casual fan is also drawn in because of Olsen’s amiable personality and ability to explain things simply and clearly. It’s similar to what viewers enjoy about ESPN’s “ManningCast” for Monday Night Football. Yes, there are jokes and funny moments. But Peyton and Eli Manning both explain strategy and preparation very well.

By comparison, Romo comes off like a broadcaster who’s winging it, letting his personality and enthusiasm fill gaps created by a lack of preparation. That might be a completely unfair criticism. We don’t know what kind of work Romo puts in leading up to a telecast. Maybe he watches as much film as Olsen. Perhaps he talks to everyone available to the broadcast crew in production meetings.

If so, however, that doesn’t show itself on the CBS telecast. Romo’s work on Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game telecast was an improvement over his call of the Bengals-Bills divisional playoff clash. During the previous week, Romo acted as if he didn’t have to provide any insight because this was the match-up fans had anticipated all season and already knew everything about the two teams.

Perhaps in response to that criticism, Romo made a point of highlighting the importance of each team’s defensive coordinator — Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, respectively — in disrupting the performance of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. But rather than demonstrate an actual strategy during a replay, he stated that each defense would come after the opposing QB and create pressure.

Ultimately, the difference between Romo and Olsen seems to be schtick versus knowledge. But it’s also a product of how each analyst reached their position. Romo joined CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team without previously calling any games. (As BSM’s Garrett Searight points out, that immediacy and recent connection to the game fueled what felt like fresh analysis.)

Meanwhile, Olsen called games during bye weeks while he was still an active player and was on Fox’s No. 2 crew with Burkhardt before being elevated to top status following the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN. He’s had to get better out of necessity. Even now, as Olsen establishes himself as his network’s top analyst, he faces the possibility of being bumped from that position when Tom Brady retires and cashes in on the massive contract Fox offered him.

Compare that to Romo, who’s the highest-paid NFL analyst on television. His $18 million annual salary set the bar other top broadcasters are trying to reach. And he has seven years remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with CBS. That is significant job security. Even if network executives (or Nantz) lean on Romo to improve his flaws, how much motivation is there when he’s already been anointed a broadcasting king?

However, NFL fans and sports media are making it clear what they prefer from their football broadcasters. They want insight and substance. They want to learn something from the commentary, rather than just be told what they can see for themselves.

Olsen is providing that and is being rightly lauded as a broadcaster living up to his status. Romo is suffering a fall from acclaim and has become a weekly punching bag. If he and CBS want to change that, he’ll have to bring more to the booth each week. In the meantime, Fox should consider appreciating what it already has, rather than welcome a glitzy name.

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Barrett Media Writers

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