You can’t possibly talk about Washington, D.C. sports media without mentioning 106.7 The Fan‘s morning drive radio show, The Sports Junkies. Hosted by lifelong friends, John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop and John-Paul Flaim, The Junkies have been gracing the airwaves since 1995, where the four began their broadcasting career as nothing more than a hobby mixing it up with a 30-minute public-access television cable TV show, before moving to radio the following year.
At the time, the show featured a wide variety of sports banter with sarcastic humor which has served as their foundation all these years later. If it weren’t for a Washington Times reporter stumbling upon four wannabe on-air personalities and choosing to write an article on them, The Junkies may never have taken off the way they did.
“They’ve taken every opportunity they’ve ever had and run with it,” said 106.7 The Fan program director Chris Kinard, who has been with the company since his 1998 intern days.
Three years removed from being freshly out of college and youngsters in the business, The Junkies were named Sports Illustrated’s “Next Big Thing on Radio” in 1999. Fast forward to August 10, 2016. CSN Mid-Atlantic (named NBC Sports Washington in October 2017) announced it would present a live simulcast of The Sports Junkies weekdays from 6am to 10am. This marked the first time the radio show could be seen on television.
The partnership has allowed NBC to feature show content across its TV, online, mobile and social media platforms, including daily highlight and recap videos revolving around the show. Additionally, it’s presented throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia on NBC Sports Washington, NBCSportsWashington.com, and the NBC Sports app.
Kinard maintains the belief that his on-air hosts have adjusted to TV just fine. In fact, the change may not have impacted their approach to the show at all.
“They haven’t changed their ways from radio to TV. They barely remember they’re on TV and it seems to be working. They’re hitting the highest ratings they’ve ever hit in the last year and a half or so,” Kinard shared.
John-Paul Flaim, a native of Bowie, Md. and University of Maryland graduate, considers the change nothing more than a shift back to where it all began for the four radio hosts.
“The format requires shorter takes but it is how we started in 1995 with a cable access tv show in Bowie so it really is a return to our roots. Oh, and I guess you’re supposed to look at the right cameras but I’ve never quite figured that out so I just chat with the hosts of the show and look them in the eye as if we were joking around at a sports bar. That truly has been the theme of the Sports Junkies for more than two decades,” said Flaim.
One aspect that has notably remained the same during this transition is the group’s unique camaraderie.
“Our chemistry and interaction as a unit reminds many of our listeners of their friend groups in high school, college, and beyond. To me, that’s the inherent advantage our show has over every other show on radio…we’ve grown up together, gone to school together, for 40+ years, and that’s something that can’t be faked or replicated,” Auville told me.
It shouldn’t be discounted that the four radio hosts have found a way to be successful year after year in a top-10 market such as the nation’s capital. A market that suffered a major championship drought for over 25 years, until 2018. When the Washington Capitals claimed their first-ever Stanley Cup in June, the D.C. sports “curse” was lifted sending the city into a complete frenzy. For many longtime D.C. sports media professionals, the championship served as a career-defining moment. For Flaim, it was all that and much more.
“It was a moment of elation and satisfaction. We hadn’t seen a major championship since we started the radio show other than the Terps but that wasn’t nearly as big. Oh, and I made sure my wife would go out and get some Stanley Cup gear that night as I watched all the post game interviews. It was an awesome night,” Flaim shared.
Eric Bickel, who attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville before earning a psychology degree from Maryland, weighed in on his own euphoria following the victory for D.C.
“My initial reaction was just one of relief. There was probably a little disbelief, too. But it was just amazing. Reminded me of what it used to be like around here in the 80’s with the Redskins,” Bickel said.
Auville, who goes by “Cakes” on the air, attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School (with Flaim) before furthering his education at Towson University where he studied communications. As soon as the Caps were crowned Stanley Cup champions, Auville simply couldn’t sit still.
“I drove to Dick’s in Gaithersburg with my daughter and bought about $400 worth of Stanley Cup Champions gear at midnight with a bunch of other Caps fans,” Auville admitted.
The fourth and final Junkie is the 6’6” former University of Richmond basketball player Jason Bishop, who goes by “Lurch” on the airwaves. Growing up in Lanham, Md., he also attended DeMatha (with Bickel) and played basketball for the legendary Morgan Wootten, who won 1,274 games for the powerhouse program.
When asked about the Stanley Cup, Bishop put it plain and simply as he so often does on the air.
“Tears of joy!”
The Capitals’ historic victory was obviously huge for long-suffering D.C. sports fans, but you certainly shouldn’t discount what it meant for longtime sports media professionals in the District. This is their livelihood. This is what their careers and lives revolve around. This is what gets them up out of bed in the morning. The win meant and still means everything to them. It was pure jubilation for The Junkies.
But what about the magicians who help make this all happen behind the curtain?
Matt Cahill and Matt Myers serve as executive producer and producer, respectively. Cahill, a graduate of Arizona State University, joined the show in 2012 after a stint with the Big O and Dukes Show. Myers, a University of Maryland graduate, was named show producer in 2009 and is as local as it gets for the market growing up in Pasadena, Md.
Their jobs revolve around booking guests (Cal Ripken and Gary Williams are fans of the show), getting their hosts in and out of commercial breaks, communicating ad reads and most of all, facilitating the show behind the scenes. They are your true quarterbacks who hand ‘it’ off to their four running backs.
I’d like to finish this piece by sharing one recent personal exchange that I feel best illustrates The Junkies and their presence in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
As a 24-year-old freshly out of college and chipping away at student loans, I caddy for extra money at a local country club in Bethesda. During an early August round of golf, I was asked by a member what I do when I’m not caddying.
“I work in NBC Sports Washington’s digital content department right down the road,” I said.
The member stopped in his tracks in the middle of the fairway. “No way. Do you work with The Junkies? Most mornings I just sit in my car listening to the show. They make me late for work,” he told me.
That is the type of impact the show has on its followers. When you provide authentic conversation and chemistry, and a consistent strategy, and combine it with loyal, hungry listeners you’re left with a product that’s been working for over two decades: The Sports Junkies.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.