Living in Los Angeles isn’t as glamorous when you’re broke and in your early 20’s. Just ask Lance Taylor, who moved west to chase down a dream as an actor right out of college. Taylor had read an article on how Matthew McConaughey was found at a bar in Austin and landed a star role in the movie Dazed and Confused. To him, that made it seem simple. He had a great personality, all he had to do was mingle with the right people and make important connections. Sooner rather than later, he thought he’d be discovered just like McConaughey.
Less than a year later, Taylor was packing up and leaving the west coast to travel back home and look for his next venture. His plan to mingle with the biggest decision makers in Hollywood hadn’t panned out exactly has he had hoped.
What he didn’t realize, was how expensive of a city Los Angeles was. Instead of being out and about most nights, he instead found himself working long hours to try and make ends meet, something many young actors find themselves doing. Taylor’s dream didn’t die because he wasn’t talented enough, in his own words, he was just too naïve to know what exactly he was getting himself into.
With a degree in radio from the University of Alabama, as well as play-by-by experience in the Jayhawk League in Kansas, on his resume, Taylor set out to chase another big passion of his. Like most in the radio business, he wasn’t shy about his ambitions. He wanted to be on the air, no matter the role, and began searching for a way to get behind a mic.
The trouble with having a radio degree, is that it never fully guarantees you a position out of college. Taylor found this out the hard way, as he was only offered a position in sales after sending out his resume to multiple stations. If he was to chase down a dream in radio, he’d have to start off by proving his worth on the sales side.
Though it wasn’t necessarily where he thought he’d have to start, Taylor began his journey at Radio Disney in Birmingham. A 4-test market that included other cities such Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, Taylor actually found out quickly he was pretty good at his new position. Selling came natural to him, despite the fact that Radio Disney didn’t have any numbers at the time.
Soon after he started, he had already built an impressive client base. So much so, that the decision makers at WJOX in Birmingham plucked him away to join the team. The only sports station in Birmingham, Taylor saw it as a golden opportunity to finally make his way on the air.
Though he really found himself excelling at sales, Taylor was begging and willing for any opportunity to jump on the mic. He did so, by hosting random things such as a Monday Night Football show or a one-hour Friday roundtable that mixed and matched various personalities. No show was too small or unimportant for Taylor.
After continuing to sell at a high rate, one of the best, if not the best, radio station in Birmingham approached Taylor with a job offer. A country music format, it would take him away from sports, but the guaranteed offer was just too good to pass up. In his mind, Taylor accepted the offer and soon realized it was a deal he had to take. But sometimes fate takes over, and that’s what happened when he approached the GM at WJOX to inform him of his decision.
Clearly, Taylor had proven his worth both on the sales and talent side. He was a profitable employee that WJOX didn’t want to see walk out the door. The proposal to get Taylor to stay, was simple: He would now to be a co-host of a mid-day show on the station.
That offer was enough to entice Taylor to stay at WJOX. Though it was an un-paid role, he knew that would change after he earned his stripes on the new show. He was right.
After eight months, Taylor went from un-paid to 500 bucks a month. After four more months, the original host of the show was fired, which gave Taylor his own one-hour show. He was now making 1,000 dollars a month, not counting what he was still making on the sales side. His one-hour show turned into two after being extremely profitable. He would have two different co-hosts over the next four years, before finally being promoted to a four-hour show, a position he’s held for the last 10 years.
Today, Taylor is a host of The Roundtable on WJOX from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. every weekday, as well as a sales guy at the station. Amazingly, he’s nearly matched his worth on the talent side with his worth on the sales side. Talk about someone that means a lot to a station, right?
Taylor’s journey into the host seat is one that required him to practically beg to be on the air. But when you’re willing to take advantage of any and every opportunity, people notice and are more willing to give you opportunities.
Hearing Taylor’s story, there’s no mystery as to why he’s been so successful. Sure, it’s helped tremendously that he’s a huge asset on the sales side, but here’s a closer look at the day-to-day operations for someone that specializes in both sides of the radio business.
TM: How easy have you found it to be when you’re selling yourself to a potential client?
JT: I think it’s easy because it’s a popular radio station and the only sports format in Birmingham. We’re kind of a known commodity. With that being said, if I call on a business, not only have they heard of WJOX, they’ve heard of me because I’ve been on the air for so long. At least you get an audience for the decision maker and from there it’s a really good product and kind of sells itself.
Terrestrial radio seems to be dying, because you have so many options out there. There’s so many podcasts, XM, Sirius, the fortunate thing for us is that we’re in a market that’s so passionate about SEC football. Therefore, if you want up to the minute Alabama and Auburn football, you have to get it through us. We’re always going to have, what I would deem, as a base listener show.
TM: Do you think sports radio is harder to sell, than say, a country music or rock format?
JT: It’s much easier to sell sports radio. You’ve got so many options when it comes to music, including regular radio. There’s iTunes, Spotify, XM, Sirius, you can listen to what you want, when you want. Again, with sports talk, you’ve got a captive audience that’s loyal, constantly listening and doing it longer. I’ve always said that the two easiest formats to sell, because they’re passion driven, are sports talk and Christian.
TM: Just about everybody in your market is an Alabama or Auburn fan. Have you ever seen a scenario where a host portrays themselves as more Bama or Auburn sided, you try to sell him to a client, and they reject because of the loyalties they show on the air?
JT: Well, what we have are personalities that actually played at the two universities. I recently just got switched to the morning drive, I had done mid-days for 15 years, and two of our previous hosts in the mornings were a former Auburn kicker and a former Alabama quarterback. You always have to balance and for me as a sales guy, the way I would pitch a client, you don’t want to upset one of the two fan bases, so why not buy from both of them? Why not let both of them endorse your product? That way you’re getting a good balance from both fan bases.
TM: Last college football season is probably a good example for this question: Let’s say both Alabama and Auburn are both having strong years and in the College Football Playoff discussion. Who’s more relevant on a show?
JT: Well, we’re a bigger Alabama community. I would say, if you did an Alabama-Auburn split of our listeners, probably 65 percent are Bama fans. I think that’s an accurate portrayal of what our audience is. Obviously, it’s more important if Alabama is doing well, just from a listener standpoint. You either want the product to be really good or so bad that someone might get fired.
TM: Now that you’ve seen both sides, what do you think is mostly the biggest disconnect between the sales staff and on-air personalities?
JT: For me, it’s the sales staff not knowing the product and not knowing their personalities. To me, I think I’m a guy that could probably sell anything, but I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy selling just anything. I think your better sales people are ones that know the product, inside and out, and the people that are passionate about the product.
I think the disconnect becomes, I’ll see a sales person that I don’t even know, I don’t know their name or anything. I think it’s very important early on, and this is something I took a lot of pride in before I got on the air, I got to know the personalities. I sold them all equally because I thought each of them brought something to the table. Obviously, they had their own shows, so they were a strength of certain day parts. The station knew how important these guys were, well I think they can be important for my clients. So I got to know all the guys and the more I knew about them, the easier selling became. The problem with some of the sales staff is they don’t necessarily know everybody that’s on the air, what we do and I just think that can be a big disconnect.
But that can work both ways. We, as on-air guys, benefit from the sales guys and endorsements. I think it’s also important that on-air staff take the time to get to know the sales staff, as well.
TM: A lot of stations like to do sponsor interviews on the air. What’s your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of having a client on the air during a show?
JT: It’s interesting you ask this, because I’ve seen it from both sides. As a sales guy, I live on commission, so I enjoy getting that, but I think it hampers our product. For example, I’d have a metal roof guy come in that was a buddy and had a great business. The problem, is that there’s only so much of the market that is interested in purchasing a metal roof. When I say that, you’re probably talking about one percent. You’re tuning out 99 percent of your audience talking about metal roofs for five minutes.
Although your station can benefit from that revenue stream, it can also crush your ratings. It’s hard to sell a product without good ratings. If I had to make the decision, I’d say to not have the clients on the air. There are more creative ways to do things that get more for the client.
TM: Is digital that avenue?
JT: Yeah, I think so. It’s hard to explain to a certain generation how important the digital aspect is. But yeah, there’s so many different things you can do with digital. Having banners, pre-roll videos, you can really get creative on that side of things.
For someone that’s a diehard fan of the station and always listening inside their car, it might be harder to sell them that 10-15 percent of our listeners are actually siting in their office and listening on the website. It’s becoming easier to sell digitally, I still don’t know how educated some of our potential clients are on that .
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.