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Bill King Isn’t Following Anyone’s Rules in Radio

Tyler McComas

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Everyone called him crazy. Program directors strongly advised him not to do it. Why would anyone ever try to cover college football recruiting on the radio?

Nobody else was doing it. It had never been done before. There’s no market for it. Nobody cares about it. It’s not good radio.

Those were just a few things that Bill King heard when he decided he wanted to be the first to talk recruiting on his show. Though everyone told him not to, King saw an opportunity that most didn’t. What he knew, is that college football recruiting was going to eventually be a big part of how we cover the sport. He was right. And the payoff was huge success and national notoriety. 

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When King was in college in the early 80’s, sports radio really wasn’t a thing. Not only didn’t it exist, but even if it did, King likely wouldn’t have been interested in pursuing it as a career. In fact, he never took one media class in college. His focus was on biochemistry. Going to medical school was the real prize, but he chose to sit out a year of school after graduating. Naturally, that led King to having to find a new job to make ends meet. 

You can’t always choose your co-workers. King found that out when he realized he was the young guy amidst a whole lot of older adults in the building. They had their system during the day. The radio was always cranked up on political radio, something King instantly disliked. However, being the new guy, he had no choice but to work through it.

WLAC in Nashville was the station he was hearing every day at work, a 50,000 watt signal that boomed all across the southeast. Finally, a sports show arrived at the station and it aired when King was still at work. He became interested in it right away, maybe even more than he suspected he would. Sure, he thought the hosts weren’t up to standard, even though he didn’t have the qualifications to have that opinion, but the show struck him enough to call the station for an internship. He had never considered sports radio as a job, but here he was, about to make the most important decision of his professional career. 

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King didn’t even know if he would be good at sports radio, he just wanted to try it. After going into the station and asking for an opportunity, he was told he’d receive a call.

He didn’t for 6 long months.

All the while, King pondered if to call the station and ask him for an update. Finally, scared to death, he did. WLAC needed someone to come in on Saturdays. No, not to be behind the mic, but to do errands and chores for the regular host that was in on weekends. King didn’t care. He was in the building. That’s all he needed. 

One of the many things that makes King so identifiable now, is the big, booming voice he has. It’s unmistakable and instantly recognizable. But early in this radio career, he was told it was going to be a hindrance. People even went as far to say that it was going to be the reason he would never find himself behind a mic. King didn’t have any sort of background in radio, so he had no idea if they were right or not. How could he? Once again, they were wrong.

Years later, Sirius would tell him how much they loved his voice.

King started off just like every other young broadcaster in the business. He read baseball scores, mundane baseball lists, talked pro sports and more. At the time, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be on the air and was finally getting the opportunity to do so. His 5-8 p.m. show on WLAC bled into 26 different states, which started to get him a whole lot of notoriety across the country. The only problem, was that he was faking that he enjoyed other sports besides college football. He really didn’t. In fact, he cut out the NFL altogether in the early 90’s, wanting to focus way more on the college game that he had a much deeper love for. 

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Every person living has regrets in life, either personally or professionally. Everyone has a moment or two where they wish they would have chosen a different option. The important thing is can you point back to several good decisions you made? Well, Bill King can. 

Today, he’s happy he walked into the radio station for an internship. He’s happy he chose to cover college football recruiting when everybody else said it wasn’t smart. He’s happy he chose to cover the sport he ultimately cares about the most. A lot of good things have happened to the guy that never thought about doing sports radio in college.  

King is still going strong, covering college football on a daily basis at WNSR in Nashville where he recently celebrated his 30th year in the industry (Congrats, Bill!). Previously, he was with Sirius XM from 2005 to 2014. He’s another example that to be successful, you don’t have to attend an esteemed university or have an extensive radio background out of college. All you need is the passion to be great. King has that and it’s just another reason why he became the best in covering college sports on the radio. 

TM: We always talk about coaching trees, but you have a lot of people that have formally been under you to go on and do big things. Is that cool to see so many people work under to go on and succeed, such as Braden Gall, Chris Childers and Jeff Thurn, to just name a few?

BK: Yeah, I mean I think my role there is probably a little overrated. I never sat down to someone and said I’d take them under my wing and that I would get them there, I think these guys are just really talented and made it all on their own. If I had something to do with it just by setting an example, then so be it. But I think my role there is more circumstantial and not so much some guru that gave them all they keys (laughs). Flat out, I just think those guys are really talented, I think I’m fortunate that we were associated with each other. 

TM: What was the decision to tie to ultimately tie yourself so closely to college football? 

BK: I’d say during the 80’s, and I’m an ’84 college graduate, I became very attached to college football and very bored with the NFL. Probably, in the early 90’s, I quit watching the NFL altogether. Other than running into different rooms where it’s on, I never see it.

I just love the Saturday feel and the energy and I’m not sure why that happened. It wasn’t a decision, it’s just where my mind went. I let myself freely go and became enamored with the Saturday game and the energy behind it. You start early and finish late. The time period that cable came about with the opportunity to watch more and more games every week, that’s when I got into radio.

During that time, Florida State and Miami had it going, Alabama won a national title in ’92, Steve Spurrier was just getting started at Florida, all these things were happening and it became incredibly encompassing to me. I just went that direction. 

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TM: Is Nashville the ideal place for you to do the style of show that you want to do?

BK: It is for me. I think that data may say that Birmingham, though that area isn’t as big or booming like Nashville, but you can make the same argument with Birmingham and Atlanta. Atlanta, to me, is really more of a pro sports town. You’ve got to remember, I’m from Nashville, so in my mind it’s here. 

TM: What about on Monday’s during college football season? You’re covering the entire sport as well as a specific region of the country, how do you determine what the big topics are?

BK: I don’t know that I have a process. But I have a couple rules on Monday, one I don’t ever schedule guests. It’s just me and the audience, that’s it. I want it to be free-thinking, free-flowing, I want different opinions and diversity. But Tyler, I swear, I don’t go in there with a note or a script or anything else. The mic is on and I go. It’s a blank canvas and we paint it however we’re going to paint it. That’s how I like it. 

TM: Though you want everyone to come for college football, what about when the Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup? Are you still all college football?

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BK: They only thing local about my show, is that I’m here. The topics are never associated with a local situation. I respect the pro teams here but we don’t spend any time on them. I want to be different. Every town, pretty much has every show and every show is the same drum beat. The hosts are different, everyone has their own style, voices and personalities, but the topics are the same thing. I don’t want to do that show.

I left that style many, many years ago. I don’t think I can do that show, because I don’t think I can fake liking those topics. Right now, this town is going crazy about the Titans and the local shows are spending all their time on them. You know what? More power to them. Good things are happening to the team and it’s a good franchise, same with the Predators. I just can’t fake like I enjoy it every day. I just want to do my own thing and be different. 

TM: What do you look for when you schedule a guest? What do you want them to bring to the show?

BK: I want them to have a PHD in the topic. I want you to own it. I’ll be able to tell if you own it or not. And frankly, sometimes we give people a shot, and with all due respect, they don’t own it, you can tell.

Not only do you need to own it, but you need to sound good doing it. There’s an art form there, where you may know it, but you can’t verbalize it. I need someone that can do it all. That’s another reason why I don’t really care if you’re in the business or not. It’s not a prerequisite, the best Alabama guy I’ve ever had on, is a guy that works at The University of Kentucky. He owns the Alabama topic as well as anyone that I have on about any other topic. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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