Getting to know Mo Egger is a testament to what a small world radio is. Mo got his start producing Jim Scott’s morning show at WLW in Cincinnati. Jim’s son, Scott Fitzgerald (obviously not his real name) has been one of my very best friends in this industry for the better part of a decade. I didn’t know this before I picked up the phone to call Mo, but at the end of our conversation we started swapping stories about this family we both have an emotional connection to.
In his radio career, Mo has moved up at iHeartMedia’s Cincinnati office. He has never moved out, and he doesn’t have any plans to either.
Like so many of his listeners, Mo Egger was born in Cincinnati and he plans to stay in Cincinnati. The Reds and Bengals unite the town’s sports fans, while the Buckeyes, Bearcats, Muskateers, Wildcats, and maybe half a dozen other college teams divide it.
My conversation with ESPN 1530’s afternoon host touched on legendary Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s final season behind a microphone, Mo’s sensitivity to local college basketball fans, how we have each screwed up our kids, and the finer details of making and eating authentic Cincinnati chili.
Demetri: Why do you you think there is no competition for you guys in Cincinnati? I know there are multiple sports stations in the market, but they’re all in your building, right?
Mo: Yeah. It is just sort of the way ownership in the market played out. We happen to own all of the AM sticks here that matter.
When I was in high school and college there was a company called AM/FM I think. They had a sports talk radio station that was really quite good. We actually ended up hiring a lot of their guys. One of them is still with us.
They were on the air from 1994 until like 2000 or 2001. They had a morning show, a mid day show, and an afternoon show. They took the Bengals rights for a while. Then just the way things went down with regulation in the 90s, that station ended up folding.
Then across town Radio One launched a station in 2012.
D: This was the CBS Sports Radio affiliate right? If I remember, weren’t they all national shows?
M: No. They had a local morning show and a local afternoon show. The problem against us is we have the rights to everything. We have the Reds, Bengals, UC (University of Cincinnati), and Xavier. The problem in a market like this is that it’s hard when you can’t get rights to anything.
It’s a weird market. I am on ESPN 1530. WLW is literally two doors down, and a lot of what we do is programmed not to compete with them, but to offset or supplement them. If you want to do sports talk radio, there’s really only one place to go.
D: Does the average sports fan in Cincinnati value the play-by-play more than hosts and shows?
M: Yeah. Maybe. It’s a baseball-centric town and the sport you most connect to radio is baseball. And we’ve always had iconic broadcasters doing baseball in this town, so that branding has always meant so much.
It’s funny, whenever I hear people talk about apathy for the Reds, they can still recite what Marty Brennaman said the night before. It may be a little less so for the NFL because that is such a TV sport. Plus, when you have the rights you have access to Marty and to the Bengals guys and you have a larger degree of access to the teams themselves, which helps the programming.
The Reds are so unique because, he’s retiring this year, but Marty doing a Reds game is almost like another talk show. He is so opinionated. It’s always been interested to me how he kinda sets the tone for what so many people say and think. Not many people have done this the way he does and have a voice that is so authoritative. It’s what makes the broadcast so unique.
D: How much do Reds fans care about that story? The team isn’t competitive this year. Is who will replace Marty Brennaman a subject on your show?
M: I don’t think people care who replaces Marty. I think whoever replaces Marty, people will just complain about him.
Cincinnati is a very parochial town. Sports talk radio, as you know, is very local, but maybe here even more so. It really has to transcend if it happens outside the 275 loop or we’re probably not going to talk about it.
We’ve had a lot of coaching changes here over the last couple of years. Maybe it’s like this everywhere, but the Reds need a new manager and everyone just mentions their favorite former Red. The Bengals need a new head coach and everyone just mentions their favorite former Bengal. There are a lot of folks that consider themselves die hard Reds fans that probably can’t name five other local baseball broadcasters, because they just aren’t paying attention.
They’re using a guy from their Double-A team on broadcasts this year named Tommy Thrall.
D: This is the kid from Pensacola, right?
M: Yeah. I think they are doing the smart thing. They’ve had him work some games with Marty. He is doing their postgame show. I think they’re working him in and saying “here’s our guy” so that when the torch is passed to him the listeners will accept it, but when it was announced, no one knew who he was.
Those are obviously big shoes to fill. If you ask most Reds fans who should take Marty’s place they would say “I don’t know. Thom Brennaman?” or “Why not have Jeff Brantley do the games?”. I don’t think most listeners could really give you a bunch of qualified candidates.
D: So it’s the Dietrich story then that is the obsession night in and night out?
M: Oh yeah. It’s been interesting, because this team has been entertaining and they have had so many of these kinds of personalities. Cincinnati is the world’s biggest small town, but when these big personalities show up, people just embrace them. It makes us feel like “We’re New York! We’re cosmopolitan! We’re cool!”.
I think Derek Dietrich has done that. I think Yasiel Puig has done that. Nobody did that better than Chad Johnson. They just made people not only feel good about Cincinnati but like Cincinnati is cool.
I also think that has framed how people view the team. As we’re talking they’re 27-32. They haven’t been above .500 since opening day. The franchise itself hasn’t advanced in the postseason since 1995, but right now no one wants to hear that because of Derek Dietrich and Yasiel Puig. This team has a certain personality that has hooked people.
Now, you haven’t necessarily seen that translated into ticket sales. That is such an uphill battle for this team that it will take more than a Derek Dietrich to sell some tickets, but they’ve really changed the conversation around here. It’s been fun to talk about something besides “Why can’t they win?” or “Who are they going to trade?”.
D: Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like the Reds have had that situation a lot since like 2010. Maybe the team is not good, but there is one exciting player that you don’t want to miss the highlights from whether it is Joey Votto or Johnny Cueto or now Derek Dietrich.
M: Well Votto is always that guy. He’s been the best player for like a decade. You talked about 2010. No one saw that team coming. They won 90+ games. I cannot remember anything that galvanized Reds vans like that year when he initially didn’t make the All-Star team.
People were pissed. They took that personally. We had the league leader in OPS and he didn’t make the All-Star team? If he was playing for the Yankees or the Cubs or the Mets you can’t tell me he isn’t a shoo in!
The one thing we aren’t used to here is someone making $236 million. Money always changes relationships. We’ve gotten a lot of milage out of that topic. I think it greatly changed the relationship between Joey and this city. Plus, the sport has changed over the last 20 years. It’s more analytically driven and he has been at the epicenter of that.
In 2013 he was in the top 10 I counted in like 19 different offensive categories. I could still do three hours everyday on “Joey Votto is overrated because he doesn’t have enough RBI.” I could say “Yeah, but he leads in on-base percentage, plus they have two other guys with 100 RBI and its largely because of Joey Votto.” No one wanted to have that conversation.
He put together seven straight MVP calibre seasons, with the exception of 2014 when he was hurt, and yet he was the most polarizing guy. I can’t name a whole of other cities where the guy that was clearly the best player was the most polarizing guy. There was just this time where you could not have a conversation about Joey Votto without people mentioning what he was making. That’s interesting to me.
It’s maybe predictable. There’s just been no one like him, and he’s not going away. He’ll be here for the next four years, and he’s still making a lot of money and from a pure baseball standpoint, the numbers aren’t what they have been in the past.
D: What about when you switch over to college sports? What is fandom like in Cincinnati, because Ohio State is this big national brand, but I get the impression that Cincinnati is more of a college basketball town, and when it comes to college basketball, you have two much better teams right there in the city.
M: It’s funny. I try to approach my show knowing I’m a fan. I’m a UC basketball fan. I’m a UC football fan. I grew up a fan of those teams.
The first thing I try to do is say “Okay, if I’m going to talk about the Bearcats, I need to be able to do it in a way that I am not going to lose the Xavier fan, the Ohio State fan, the Kentucky fan, the Dayton fan, the Louisville fan, the Indiana fan, and that’s hard to do. It’s particularly hard when there is a coaching change or any major topic that is specific to one school. I’m really cognizant of that.
I get pushback all the time. “Boy, your show is a three hour UC lovefest,” but I really go out of my way. If we are going to have someone on talking about UC basketball during the season, I am going to make sure we have someone on later talking about Xavier basketball, because I am really sensitive to the perception that you are unfair to one school because you love the other.
Whenever you’re doing college sports in this market, you have to frame things in a way that at least keeps fans of other programs there. You also have to go out of your way to make sure you’re talking about every program objectively and fairly. I don’t pride myself on much, but I have a good relationship with Xavier University. We have their coaches on and we do plenty of topics. We talk about them fairly.
I go back to Cincinnati being very parochial. If I talk about Kentucky basketball, who by the way, we carry their games, I will inevitably get a call. “Why is a Cincinnati station talking about Kentucky basketball? They’re 90 miles away.” Well, it matters to a lot of people in my audience, and I’m always going to serve my audience.
Most times you are going to try to make those topics broad enough to appeal to everybody, but sometimes they are big stories for just one school. A few years ago Ohio State played for the national title in the first College Football Playoff. It used to be they played a BCS game. The run up to it was Christmas and you might not be on the air so then it would just kind of happen. Well, this time you had a College Football Playoff game and then the title game. It lapsed into the new year. Then you had Cardale Jones and the whole quarterback situation. It was a unique situation and it mattered to a large chunk of my audience.
I would still hear from UC people. “Why are we spending so much time on Ohio State?” and it’s like “Look, if UC is playing for a national title, we’ll be there. Ohio State is playing for a national title. That’s not my fault. It matters to a lot of my audience. We’re going to talk about it.”
I think, if nothing else, over time you try to establish enough equity and trust with the audience that they get it. If Mo is talking Kentucky basketball it is because something major is happening, and if they stick around, we will get back to the Bengals or the Reds or UC.
D: You’ve got a pretty young kid, right?
M: I have a 2-year-old.
D: Do you ever wonder about the psychological effects of having a dad in sports talk radio?
M: (Laughing) I wonder about the psychological effects of having me for a dad.
D: (Laughing) My kids are older. They are 9 & 7, but I do sometimes wonder what effect it has, and granted I am not on the air everyday right now, but when I was I would wonder what sort of effect it has on them to turn on the radio and hear someone calling their dad an idiot.
M: Well, her mom does that, so she’s used to it. I’ve never really thought about it from that point of view.
D: Well, you’re welcome for keeping you up tonight.
M: (Laughing) Well, to me I would also worry about the psychological impact of her dad not having a job, so I am glad I don’t have to do that. One thing I do think about, you know this, any host has to be relatable. A large chunk of my audience has kids, so naturally I introduce that into the conversation without her getting shit for it.
I don’t want her feeling like she has no privacy. My life can be an open book, but she didn’t ask for that. I definitely have thought about that, but as for the psychological impact, I could be driving a truck and I would still worry about my psychological impact on her.
D: Speaking of your relatability, I would imagine a huge chunk of the audience grew up in Cincinnati just like you and are now raising their kids there.
M: Oh sure.
D: Is it a “I was born here and so I will die here” kind of place, or do you have a lot of transplants coming in from other cities?
M: It’s mostly insular. I will hear from people that moved here from St. Louis or Pittsburgh. I always enjoy hearing from people that left here but still make time to listen to the show or catch the podcast. It makes me feel good when people tell me the show is a connection to home.
We got a call a couple of weeks ago from a guy who was a Cardinals fan and he grew up in Illinois and then he moved here. He said “Hey, I like your show” and then went on and made whatever point.
I think that’s need. Maybe you aren’t talking about something that matters to them, but I always think it is cool when people embrace whatever their new town is all about.
Let’s face it. It’s 2019. It’s easy for that guy to keep listening to whatever he was listening to before he came here, but he chooses to listen to us. That tells me that what we are doing is at least interesting enough to keep somebody or get someone who maybe isn’t interested in the subject matter. That’s flattering.
Even within the town it’s an insular town. It is segmented between the East Side and the West Side. Then there is Northern Kentucky. It’s the world’s biggest small town. Whenever people what school you went to, they aren’t talking about college. They want to know what high school you went to.
D: When someone that didn’t grow up in Cincinnati or at least doesn’t have a strong connection to the teams tells you they still love the show, do you consider that a personal compliment or is that a tribute to topic selection?
M: Oh, maybe a little bit of both. I certainly don’t think it is because they like me. I mean, why would you?
Look, when you move somewhere eventually you will be interested in what is happening there. You’ll be interested in civic matters or local politics. Chances are your new friends and co-workers will be into the local teams.
We moved away for a while when I was a kid. My dad was still a Reds and Bengals fan even though we were living in New Jersey, but he would still listen to New York sports radio and he has opinions about the Jets and Giants. He cared even though he didn’t root for those teams.
I do think on some level you have to connect with them. You have to be entertaining enough to get someone to sit through hours and hours of Reds and Bengals when maybe they are into other teams. It does make me feel good to hear from those folks.
D: So just how insular is the Cincinnati fandom? Were people there into LeBron coming back to Cleveland because it was still an Ohio story or did you treat it like “that’s a Cleveland story and my listeners don’t care”?
M: I think that was big enough that we could do it.
D: What about the Blue Jackets’ run in the playoffs this year?
M: That one is interesting. You can obviously find pockets of Blue Jackets fans. They have been a perennial playoff team and they won a series this year, so I think you had folks who didn’t have a hockey team that were like “There’s a team a 100 miles from here? Fine, let’s root for them.”
I think a lot of sports fans over the last…however long they’ve been around, have gone up to a game, and it’s a great experience. Because of that, they may not be hardcore hockey fans, but they’ll say “Well, I went to a Jackets game and had a good time, so they’re my team”. Then when they are playing important playoff games maybe those folks are a little more likely to watch.
You know though, what happens here is we are four hours from Pittsburgh and about four hours from Detroit. When the Blue Jackets came to town it took them forever to be good. Meanwhile the Red Wings and Penguins are winning Stanley Cups. The people that were into hockey before 2000 they already had a team. Chances are that team was either Detroit or Pittsburgh, and for the most part those teams gave their fans in Cincinnati little reason to jump ship.
I had John Tortorella on. That was really good. During the playoffs we had their play-by-play guy on, not before every game but there’s certainly enough of a market that it made sense to do some guest driven segments.
D: What kind of support staff do you have for your show? Between doing a show, writing for The Athletic, and doing your occasional TV work I would imagine you need all the help you can get in show prep in order to have a personal life.
M: I need help just getting out of bed.
I’ve actually been really lucky. In our building, I’ve always had the best producer. I think the reason is I did that job. I really understand how important what a producer does is to making a show great. Every producer I’ve had I’ve sat down with and said “Look, these are my expectations and my expectations are high, because I did that job.”
Maybe I wasn’t the world’s greatest, but I understood how a fully invested and engaged, creative producer can help a show. I ask them to do a lot, but I never ask them to do anything I wasn’t asked to do.
From 2009 through the end of last year I only had two different people. That is great consistency. The guy I had has moved on to Cleveland and now I am working someone new in. That can take some time, but I really value that job.
I wish more people in our business valued that job. As an industry, I wish we did a better job of cultivating producers and giving them an idea of what is expected and how rewarding the job can be and what a jumping off point that job can be. I rely on that position.
Sometimes it becomes a little bit of a crutch. When we do go through a change, there is a moment of “holy crap!” and you realize all the things that the guy that just left did for you. Now you have to get the new person conditioned to do all of that. That’s when I start to have a little bit of inner dialogue with myself about “am I being a little too reliant on the producer?”.
It’s a job I put a lot of value in. Every producer I’ve ever had, I always tell them to come with ideas. What is weird now is we’re kind of having the first generation of guys come into this job that didn’t grow up listening to the radio.
When I was a producer at WLW, I was 20 and I had grown up listening to that radio station. I was put on the morning show I grew up listening to, so I knew what it was supposed to sound like. I grew up listening to talk radio, and I got it. Now, nothing against these kids now, they just haven’t grown up listening to a radio station.
D: I was a producer before I started hosting as well. I always debate with PDs about what makes a good producer. My argument is you can build a rolodex. There is no substitute for drive and creativity. I think that can be found in the guys that want to eventually be hosts, and I wonder if these kids that grew up not listening to the radio can give the medium the kick in the ass it needs sometimes to compete with the plethora of other entertainment options that are available in your car or on your phone.
M: Oh, there’s validity to that. I have this conversation with every producer I have ever had, again that is not a lot of them, but it’s “Chances are you are listening to stuff I’m not listening to and consuming stuff I’m not. So bring ideas from that. Use those options and see what ideas you get that fit what we are trying to do.”
I think there’s value there, but you do need basic radio fundamentals. Radio is real time. Podcasts aren’t. So you do need to get people that understand this is happening right now and this is what you have to do.
I am with you in the sense that it helps an industry that is trying to evolve and adapt to have people who’s backgrounds aren’t entirely radio. At the same time, it helps to have people that get how it’s supposed to work. That way you can take what has worked and modernize it based on these other things outside our sphere.
Another thing I agree with you is, my last producer wanted to be a host. The person I was with before him didn’t want to host. She wanted to be a sideline reporter and is doing that for FC Cincinnati now. I think there is a difference between “I want to be on the air” and “I want your job,” because I have seen that one. I have seen the producer sitting on the other side of the glass and stewing, thinking “God! I am better than this guy!”. I want someone with aspirations higher than guest booking, but that version of it? That’s not productive.
D: What is the deal with you people and chili on spaghetti?
M: (Laughing) It’s the best!
M: I will admit that it is an acquired taste. I was walking downtown. I used to live there about four years ago. The Washington Nationals were in town. I’m going to meet a buddy to go to a game and I decided to stop in at Skyline Chili.
I sit down at the counter next to this couple from Maryland. They’re there to see the Nationals. The guy tells me the concierge at their hotel told them they had to check out Skyline. So I say I can help walk them through the menu and tell them what to order. They take one taste and look at me like I have three heads.
It is really, really an acquired taste, but there aren’t a lot of people in Cincinnati that don’t love it. I prefer a coney. That’s a small hot dog with the chili on it as opposed to the 3 way, which is what you’re talking about, but man, just talking about it has made me hungry.
I’m a big Cincinnati chili guy. I understand how that is viewed by outsiders, because it is very specific to this part of the country.
D: To see it on any sort of travel show, the chili does not look unlike the meat sauce my mom used to make with spaghetti, but for whatever reason the mental image of a kidney bean on top of spaghetti grosses me out.
M: Cincinnati chili is almost like a soup. People from other parts of the country think of chili and they picture something really chunky. They think of huge meaty chili. That’s not us.
The beef in Cincinnati chili is cut down really fine. It is almost like a sauce. It really is. It’s good. At least, I think it is.
D: I say this as someone that grew up on the Gulf Coast, sucking the brains out of crawfish heads, you guys eat some gross stuff up there.
M: (Laughing) Fair enough.
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.
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.”
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”.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
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.
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.
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.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at email@example.com.
What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?
“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”
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.
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.