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It’s Always Football Season At Tide 102.9

“When basketball is a few games into its season and as baseball and softball get started, talks of recruiting and Saban’s coaching staff rule the airwaves in Tuscaloosa.”

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Townsquare Media’s Tide 102.9, “The Home of Alabama Sports,” relies on a rather straightforward business model: feed the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, all the content it can handle surrounding Nick Saban’s juggernaut Crimson Tide football team.

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Sitting at a 212 market size and covering one of the most successful programs in college football gives Tide a prerogative to shatter expectations for a small market by producing original local content direct from the source.

Former national champion Alabama Crimson Tide fullback turned host of The Blitz (weekdays 6 – 7 a.m. CST) Martin Houston said he believes calling Tuscaloosa a small market is a relative term.

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“I look at the fact that we’re in the market with the best college football program, possibly in history,” he said. “So that means there are going to be tremendous eyes on it, not just from a local standpoint but also a national standpoint, especially considering Alabama’s fan base.”

Tide has the advantage of easy access to press conferences, practices and events as the station is just five miles away from campus. Ryan Fowler, host of The Game (weekdays 2-6 p.m. CST), said he can take advantage of his location by recording an interview and running to practice while the interview plays over the air and be back in time to give a report on practice that day.

“That’s what separates us from the competition. We’re here in Tuscaloosa. We’re not trying to pretend to be Tuscaloosa,” Fowler said. “When you mention that word ‘Tuscaloosa’ you get instant credibility. If you mention Tuscaloosa in Seattle, they’re going to know ‘Hey, the University of Alabama.’”

Residents of the city can look to Tide for local coverage as well. Fowler says it’s his duty to the community to present important local coverage of traffic and weather situations when necessary. It helps break up his four-hour solo show in the afternoons and make it feel more about the community.

“I like to say I’m not a caller-driven show, I’m a caller friendly show,” Fowler said. “We invite callers to be a part of the show. We want them to have a sense of ownership.”

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Ownership is a good word, as listeners naturally drive every decision at Tide 102.9, but this audience has shown they have the power to create real change in the lineup. Over time listeners drove ESPN out of the Sunday schedule altogether. Tide once had the Atlanta Falcons games air on Sundays but a demand for a full replay of Saturday’s coverage of the Alabama football game created the change.

It is safe to say Tide 102.9 listeners need Alabama football and not much else.

That presents the question: What does “T-Town” talk about for half the year when Alabama football is resting and preparing for another run at the national championship?

The answer won’t surprise you. It’s Alabama football.

When basketball is a few games into its season and as baseball and softball get started, talks of recruiting and Saban’s coaching staff rule the airwaves in Tuscaloosa.

“Everybody always says the offseason is the most challenging. I agree. It is hard,” Fowler said. “But I’ve seen my biggest growth in the offseason. Alabama fans are so accustomed to looking for football, they find whoever can provide that content. We’re offering something that a lot of people are just not able to do because they’re not in Tuscaloosa. They’re not connected with what’s happening here at the University of Alabama.”

Often times when an Alabama team’s season takes a dramatic turn for the worse, fans in Tuscaloosa shift their focus momentarily to vent their frustrations. Such is the case for the men’s basketball team, which started conference play hot with a victory over Kentucky and a close road game with Tennessee before hitting a dangerous three-game losing streak. That was enough to move the conversation for Fowler’s and Houston’s shows to discuss the future of the program.

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For a more in-depth basketball perspective, fans can catch Inside the Locker Room with Wimp and Barry Sanderson weekdays 7-9 a.m. CST, but even they have to give in to the football conversation to move the needle.

“I think people are hungry for it,” Houston said referring to the prospect of a consistently successful basketball team. He said many of the sports at Alabama struggle to have a loyal fanbase dedicated to their specific sport like football does. He pointed out the example that most Alabama baseball fans are generally going to be even bigger football fans.

That said, a 20-0 start from the No. 5 softball team doesn’t stir a conversation from the locals beyond the occasional on-air shoutout.

The hyper focus on Alabama sports could expect to see a dip in listenership for non-Crimson Tide fans, yet surprisingly the rival fanbase is active for Tide.

Fowler has several callers that back up rival schools, nearly one for every SEC program. Fowler said “sometimes their opinion is valuable and sometimes not so much,” but it is interesting to see things from their perspective.

Townsquare Media market president David DuBose clarified that Tide 102.9 does not split coverage drastically with other schools, that the focus remains on Alabama in every situation. If something were to happen to Auburn that can relate to the Iron Bowl, naturally, it will be discussed. However, the station is not going to create time to talk about Auburn for the sake of it or to be fair, something state competitor WJOX is naturally required to do.

Tide respects the JOX brand out of the Birmingham area, but feels it has the edge in Tuscaloosa.

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Fowler mentioned that Tide was built to fill a gap in JOX’s in-depth coverage of Alabama football. When JOX moves to a syndicated ESPN show or has to talk about other SEC schools, Alabama fans in the Tuscaloosa area have Tide 102.9 to turn to keep the conversation on the Crimson Tide.

For example, Fowler says he often has The Paul Finebaum Show, which broadcasts live on JOX, on the television in his studio and keeps an eye out for opportunities when Finebaum has to cover another school or a lesser sport. “That’s my time to drive,” he said. “I know the listeners are flipping. Alabama fans are not going to hear him talking about South Carolina women’s basketball, Kentucky men’s basketball or Vanderbilt baseball.”

“We think we’re in a sweet spot,” DuBose said. “We keep an eye on what they’re doing, but we concentrate on how we do things here.” That sweet spot is firmly ahead of JOX in the Tuscaloosa market ratings.

“We have a different formula here and I think our formula works for this market,” DuBose added.

The formula includes a focus on pushing digital content.

DuBose said there isn’t a sports station in the state posting the amount of digital content as Tide. The station looks for the local unique visitors across the spectrum of digital services they employ to broaden the reach of its content. Everything from breaking news for Alabama football to each show’s featured interviews are uploaded to the station’s website and media outlets like SoundCloud, Youtube and Twitter.

Tide also streams live with its own mobile app that has close to 20,000 downloads. The app is compatible with Amazon Alexa and has live presentations of every sporting event for the University of Alabama.

Martin Houston takes advantage of the digital age to boost his early morning show and to expand the market size of his audience.

“For me, being on the air, radio airwaves is just a part of what I do. I do my show with Facebook Live every day and then through social media. So I look at it as it’s not a small market, in my opinion, because you have so much opportunity and so much reach because of the team we cover.”

Houston mentioned he knows of fans in Baltimore and Russia who found his show through his digital outreach.

However, the digital strategy of Tide 102.9 will take a slight hit, as will the rest of the station, as up and coming producer Marquis Munson took an opportunity to jump to a larger market when he joined Nashville’s ESPN 102.5 The Game on March 2. In just under two years at Tide, Munson became the program director at the station while serving as the executive producer of The Game with Ryan Fowler.

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“Marquis is a superstar in this business,” Fowler said. Fowler also complimented Munson on his work ethic and for his part in getting the station’s ratings to an all-time high. “He’ll be very successful up in Nashville,” he added.

“He was one of the leaders, and in my opinion, of the paid staffers at 102.9, he was very, very important, if not the most important,” Houston said.

Munson will still be with Tide on a part-time basis, working with the station’s full-time producers and helping with scheduling, especially during the spring sports season where rain delays and cancellations can become a nuisance.

“I’m excited for a fresh new start to my life and I want to thank everyone personally from the bottom of my heart that has rocked with me since day one,” Munson said in a personal statement on Twitter.

In a tearful on-air goodbye, Munson closed out his final moments with Tide 102.9 with Fowler’s signature sign-off.

The next step for Tide 102.9 will be filling the void Munson leaves behind.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. Then came covering the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of Sports Radio’s Worst Weeks

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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