Jalen Rose’s playing career was a success story in itself. A cultural icon in college as a member of Michigan’s Fab Five who went on to earn more than 100 million dollars in the NBA, his accomplishments on the court should be commended. Still, for Jalen, his second career has been just as important as his first.
As a featured personality on ESPN’s NBA Countdown, Get Up and Jalen and Jacoby, Rose is just as recognizable for his media career as he is for his playing days. Opinionated and vocal, Rose has been destined for a career behind the mic with or without basketball.
Jalen comes across as a renaissance man. If basketball was never an option, Rose would’ve found somewhere else to make his mark. He “retired” at the age of 34, but Rose had no plans to be removed from the spotlight, creating his own opportunities as one of the hardest working members of the media, while quietly shaping young minds through his charter school.
I had the opportunity to talk with Rose about his media beginnings, current gigs and how his basketball talents would fit in today’s NBA.
Brandon Contes: When did Jalen and Jacoby start? You had already been with ESPN for a bit right?
Jalen Rose: I want to say eight years ago, from 2002 – 2007 I worked for various networks while I was still in the league. I appeared on ESPN with Walton and Snapper, I went on Cold Pizza, but I was mostly working with The Best Damn Sports Show during those years. I even did some things with the NFL Network. In 2007, I started working full-time with ESPN, primarily on NBA Tonight. When I saw Bill Simmons got the green light for Grantland as a subsidiary of ESPN, I was interested.
That year at the ESPYs, I knew where all the suits would be hanging out and I went to the after party and introduced myself to Bill and told him I had an idea for a podcast. Bill said to come by the office and we’ll talk about it. A month or two goes by, I go to pitch the idea and Jacoby is there because he was overseeing the podcasts with Bill. We talked about what I wanted to do and they ask, ‘so who do you wanna do it with?’ I said, well I want to do it with you – and Jacoby said ‘Me?! I’m a producer, I don’t talk on the mic, do television or anything.’
A friend of mine did a lot of research on Jacoby’s background and who he was and then we got to hangout a couple of times and it felt like it would work really well. He went from being a producer who was here 10 years longer than me, to being a personality.
BC: So you went to them before they came to you.
JR: Yea, this was a passion project, it wasn’t in either of our contracts. We did it a few years once or twice a week, depending on studio availability. We didn’t have a spot to do it consistently, it wasn’t being promoted and that’s why I came up with the term ‘pop the trunk.’ The equivalent of an artist that’s not on a major label, so they have to sell their records to the people hand to hand.
BC: I’m thinking back to 2011. Eight years ago, I didn’t listen to podcasts, I can’t remember if I even knew what they were, so for you to be on ESPN and established in the media and still have the foresight to look at this as an opportunity into something that could grow is pretty cool. Now, looking back and seeing what Jalen and Jacoby has become, is this what you envisioned?
JR: Definitely what I envisioned and prior to that, a lot of people don’t realize my major at Michigan was Mass Communications; radio, TV, film. And most of the world doesn’t end up working in the field that they received their major. I was fortunate to do that, so I understand how the landscape works.
As a member of the Pacers, I’m playing in the 2000 finals, scoring 20 plus points a game and then in 2002, I get traded to the Bulls in February and they have nine wins. We’re not going to the playoffs! So I reached out to a contact I had at BET Madd Sports and pitched them the idea to let me cover The Finals for them. It was the Lakers and New JERSEY Nets, to show you how long ago that was.
I got my own footage, clipped and edited it, they liked it and played it. Once they used it, I turned around and pitched it to The Best Damn Sports Show and they hired me while I was still in the league.
BC: You’re on Countdown, Get Up, Jalen and Jacoby – do you have one platform you like more than others?
JR: The best thing about how it worked out is that they’re all different. I get to not only look different, but feel different. The approach is different, the content is different. The things I’m talking about on Jalen and Jacoby is more TMZ type news. When I’m on Countdown, it’s more suited and booted. It’s the biggest stage in basketball. It’s Christmas Day and noon on the West Coast, so there are 4 year olds watching and there are 90 year olds watching, which means the content and jokes are different. Get Up is more like a SportsCenter type show. Being able to express myself in three different ways keeps it from ever becoming mundane.
BC: Jalen and Jacoby feels like a more personal platform – the audience gets to know you more on that show than anywhere else. They’ve seen you, and I’m sure people recognize you from everything, but you probably have a hardcore fan-base that comes from Jalen and Jacoby.
JR: It’s also the longest thing I’ve done. Get Up just started a year ago and I started doing Countdown in 2012. It is a different audience and I’ve been able to distinguish the difference. The 40 and older crowd comes up to me and talks about Get Up and Countdown; 40 and younger wants to talk about J and J.
BC: Was Mass Communications a degree you fell into, or is it something you always had an interest in when you were younger?
JR: I definitely didn’t fall into it. I’ve been very vocal and outspoken for a really long time and I felt like I needed to channel that and be part of the sport I love. I was a McDonald’s All-American and then part of the Fab Five, but you should always be thinking about what you’re going to do next.
To be able to produce a documentary for ESPN, The Fab Five, to be able to have a radio show, a podcast, contributing to Countdown, Get Up, After the Buzzer and Jalen and Jacoby – it’s a juggling act that I was hoping to have and I’m really appreciative of the opportunities.
BC: What did you do with NFL Network?
JR: I was doing breakdowns of the NFL and current events. At the time, I was on with Warren Sapp and Deion Sanders. I know and love football just as much as basketball.
BC: People know you as a basketball player, they look at you as basketball focused and your media career has been mostly focused on the NBA. Do you like that? Or do you prefer talking about a variety of sports and topics?
JR: That’s why I like having multiple opportunities. In high school, I always prided myself academically and not falling into the stereotype of being a dumb jock. It’s the same thing in the media. Closed-minded people will look at a woman and say ‘what is she doing talking about football?’ But that’s their insecurities and that’s them not being open-minded. It’s the same exact thing with me. I knew I wanted to break barriers for basketball players.
If you look at the landscape of Monday through Friday shows, the perception is that football is king, so you see a lot more football players on those shows, Golic, Marcellus Wiley, Michael Strahan, Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe – I’m the only basketball player and it’s been like that for a really long time.
I knew this when I joined Numbers Never Lie a few years ago, because I wanted to be the person to break the barrier for former NBA players to show we can talk about the sport we played, but still have the knowledge to talk about other sports. Again, it’s not for everyone. Just because you played basketball in the league, doesn’t mean you’re a good basketball analyst. Same with the NFL – there are people who didn’t play either sport that are still great at covering it, so I don’t have a lot of those preconceived stereotypes that a lot of people have when they initially see somebody talk about something that they’re not initially famous for.
BC: Right and sometimes we see former players that go and be an analyst for one year, it might not work out, and they go away.
JR: Ohh I like what you did there. [Laughs]
BC: [Laughs] But it is crazy how fans of the NBA will look at a basketball player and if you’re talking about the NFL, they have the thought, ‘what does he know about the NFL?’ Meanwhile, they’re just a fan that assumes they know more than you about the NFL, so why can’t you also be a fan?
JR: Right! You get to talk about every sport, but I only get to talk about the NBA!
BC: It’s crazy that becoming a professional athlete takes away the ability to talk about or analyze whatever sport you want, but I can talk about any sport because I never played. It’s an odd stereotype to have to overcome.
JR: [Laughs] It’s hypocritical, but I’m here to break those barriers. I worked for Top Rank boxing for years, I was doing things with the NFL – you just have to earn the respect of the public and I’ve been able to do that. But that’s why I like having different shows. Because on Countdown the focus is NBA, on Get Up it’s current events and on Jalen and Jacoby it’s whatever we want to talk about, so I have that freedom to talk about more than basketball.
BC: Being a Mass Communications major, if you didn’t make it in the NBA, do you think you would be as successful in media as you are? Was it the NBA that gave you that opportunity? I mean you’re opinionated, you look good and sound good on camera – would media opportunities still have been there without the NBA?
JR: I hope so. It wasn’t because people felt like I was such a superstar that I got an opportunity. I had to work for it. A lot of people that now work in the industry that I see on national platforms, I covered them when they played. As I see them wanting to work in the media, they treat me as someone they want to come to for advice because they see the opportunities I’ve been able to garner. So I’d like to think I would have made opportunities even without basketball.
BC: Was it disappointing the way Get Up transformed so quickly? At first it was going to be Greeny, you and Michelle and it quickly changed. You’re still featured on it, but it’s not what the show was promoted as in the beginning.
JR: Right and that’s the industry. We work in sports. Teams and coaching staffs change all the time. Just because you draw it up one way, that doesn’t mean that’s how it will end up.
The premise of Get Up still got accomplished. The show initially started in April and the NBA Finals were a sweep in June. We all know when it’s the dog days of baseball and there’s no basketball or football in July and August, that’s your chance to rail against a show and everybody took their shots.
There are tiers to it as well. You’re ESPN. You’re the bully on the block. People question it because “you have the nerve to box us out and take more real estate?”.
A lot of the chatter on blogs and social media can also come from competitors and enemies, so it might not be unbiased. The other thing is just the competitive spirit of the industry. People will question, “they’re starting a new show and I’m not on it?” People that are talent for this network and other networks were calling their agents to say they want to be on this show.
Beadle decided with the company to make a change. She felt more comfortable being in LA and they found a way to make that happen. But now all of a sudden in September you go from three hours to two hours, the rating is going to be better. Having a show during football and NBA season, the ratings, again, will be better. Now all of a sudden the show has staying power. For me, it’s just been about learning to ignore the noise.
BC: How about with NBA Countdown and the amount of times it’s transformed since starting in 2002 compared to TNT where they’ve had mostly the same crew for decades. Should Countdown have more stability with personnel on the show?
JR: I think people need to put more respect on Countdown’s name. As the longest tenured person on that show, I’ve seen the dynamics of searching for respect and an identity with the public, to now this year, where whether it’s ratings or social clips, it’s looking eye to eye with Inside the NBA on TNT. That’s an absolute fact. It’s different media. We’re a pregame show that sometimes comes on at noon. They’re late night television. So yeah, they can have their feet up on the desk.
First off, I love them; Ernie, Kenny and Chuck. I actually worked there. I did sideline and studio for them earlier in my career. They are the best. I do love them tremendously and I’m entertained by their show as much as anybody.
They have their lane, they own it and they’re great, but we have our lane too. We have to continue to own it. When you continue to make certain changes, whether it’s on or off the camera, it just gives people the opportunity to say, ‘if they don’t believe in it than why should we?!’ This year’s team was great. I love working with Beadle, Paul and Chauncey. We’ve done just as well, if not better, than any time the show has been on ESPN. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.
BC: As busy as you are in media with all of the different shows on ESPN, you also have the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot in the last year, but I only heard about your charter school after LeBron James started the “I Promise” school.
JR: Interesting. Thank you, LeBron, for making this mainstream. So we’re tuition-free, public charter, open enrollment. I’m the founder of the school, president of the board and we were founded in 2011. We decided to stagger the enrollment to create a culture of learning and at the time, 90% of the students we were getting couldn’t do math or read at a 9th grade level. We have special needs students as well. We’re grades nine through 12 for high school and have 13 through 16 support for all of our scholars, whether it’s college, military or trade school. I’m really proud to have a successful 9 through 16 model where this year, not only did we see another class graduate high school, but also have some scholars graduate college, which really saw the model play out the way we hoped.
BC: What made you start JRLA?
JR: We deal with kids in the inner city of Detroit that obviously have their family challenges, as well as a fiscal dynamic to overcome. We call it bridging the education gap because we have students that get $7,800 from the state, no scholarship money for college, zero state funding for our facilities.
We’re taking that young person and having them compete for the same spot in college and life opportunities as the kids going to suburban public and private schools are afforded. Unfortunately, in our country the quality of your education is not necessarily determined by your skill and will, it’s determined by your zip code.
BC: Were you motivated to start it on your own, or did someone else have the idea and ask you for help?
JR: As a student athlete, I took pride in my academics. I took pride in being a really good student and making the honor roll in high school. In college, as part of the Fab Five, I was proud to make the Dean’s List. I’m proud to be a college graduate and I’m fortunate to be a former player that left school early and went back to get my degree. Education was always important to me.
BC: I’m curious if you have any interest in creating a sports media program for kids to teach them about TV, radio and media. You mentioned wanting to pave the way and break barriers for NBA players, how about doing the same to create more diversity in media? You look around the industry and it’s still white male dominated.
JR: Well the beautiful thing about our school is that’s actually happening. We basically operate as an 11-month school. In July, we created something called “Summer Session.” For students that fail a class, they go to summer school. For every other student, they get a college experience, and/or set up with an internship of their choice.
For example, we’ve had students intern with a friend of mine at Funny or Die, Mike Farah. We’ve had internships at Quicken Loans with Dan Gilbert, internships with the Pistons, Roc Nation.
If you’ve ever heard the word Detroit or seen Michigan on a map, I’ve probably reached out to you for a donation, to get the word out or an internship because the point you made is exactly what I hope to do. We’re doing things that, respectfully, don’t get done in this space with a public school budget and without a corporation standing behind me with a blank check. We need relationships with businesses like Jeep and Puma, because it’s been reported that public education and many schools can be extinct in 20 years. Those relationships and our donors are the heartbeat that makes us tick.
BC: I think it’s really cool to see how involved you are in the school as someone that played in the NBA, was a star player, but still graduated college and emphasizes education. And you’ve used that education to help with a successful second career in the media. I think it helps to improve diversity in itself because kids can see someone who worked hard at it first-hand.
JR: And in the off-season in particular, when I’m in Detroit and I’m doing Get Up or Jalen and Jacoby, I’m actually doing it from the school, JLRA. So I continue to talk to students and show them what it’s like in front of and behind the camera, and expose them to jobs that they don’t necessarily know exist, which is really important to the point you made.
BC: It’s not only difficult for minorities in the industry, but women as well. What did you think about it taking LaVar Ball going on First Take and being disrespectful to Molly for ESPN to back away from using him? Even though this isn’t new for LaVar, we saw him be disrespectful to Christine Leahy on Fox Sports, but continue to be flaunted in the media.
JR: She appreciated how ESPN came out to support her. The one thing about being married to someone, is you have to applaud their strength and trust their ability to handle things, and the way she handled herself on and off camera, I applaud that. My whole context of what was said and how it was said was to first and foremost ask her what she thought and how she felt, because I was watching it live, but I wanted to ask her how she felt about it when she finished work. Once I realized her feelings mirrored how I felt about it, then I respectfully – because I’ve been one of the most supportive people for the Ball family, I even jokingly asked LaVar to adopt me at one point – but after it went down, I did reach out to him via text and tried to call him.
I didn’t want it to leave a stain. I didn’t want Molly to be upset or feel disrespected at her job and feel like she didn’t get the support she needs or deserves, but I also didn’t want LaVar and I to be trending in the wrong way because that’s counterproductive for everyone. He’s a husband, a father, a CEO of a company, so I understand what comes with that and the way you’re expected to carry yourself. I just applaud how Molly carried herself. She’s a veteran in this industry, she’s a professional, she’s strong and that’s what I love about her.
I’m not here to give him advice, but if I was LaVar and I noticed the comment rubbed her the wrong way and was consumed in a way that was unflattering – I understand he’s always been unapologetic, but I still would’ve taken the opportunity to note in my press release ‘for Molly and anyone that was offended.’ But I’ll get a chance to talk with him and we’ll see where it goes from there.
BC: I grew up watching you so I need to ask you about basketball. How would you have fared in today’s NBA? You’re 6’7”, 6’8”, you can play big at the point, shoot the three – how would your talents have translated to today’s NBA?
JR: I was fortunate enough to be one of the best players on a team that went to the NBA Finals. I won Most Improved Player, Player of the Week and I was fortunate enough to walk into a front office where they paid me maximum dollars to play NBA basketball. If I was able to accomplish that in an era where the rules were different and a lot more physical compared to now, you have more three point shooting, load management is a real thing – I think my averages would’ve jumped a bit.
BC: Would you have focused on the three-pointer more?
JR: Reggie Miller, as one of the greatest shooters we’ve ever seen in the game, I think the most three’s he ever took in one game is what James Harden and Steph Curry are taking EVERY game. We came from an era of efficiency – if you miss a couple of threes, you weren’t going to keep shooting. You wouldn’t get the chance to take 15 or 20 threes in a game. Now, the league has become three-point happy with the feeling that a contested three is a better shot than an open two. But we just saw an NBA Finals where a team that didn’t have a lottery pick on their roster, focused on taking the best shot available and they won the championship. I would say that’s how I would still play.
BC: Do you like the way the NBA has changed and continues to modernize every year?
JR: First off, I think the NBA has the best commissioner in sports with Adam Silver. Even moves like changing the lottery odds for teams that were tanking, then the lottery happens, you look up and it’s LA, New York, Memphis and New Orleans as the Final Four. Every conspiracy theorist at that moment knows it’s going to be LA and New York going one and two! Then when it’s New Orleans and Memphis getting the top two picks, the two smallest markets in the league, it’s a method that no longer rewards tanking, so yea, I love the progression of the NBA with things like that.
I like pace and space. I like open floor. Everyone calls it a guard driven league, but the dominant wing ultimately has a say in who wins a championship, and the big man has slowly made a resurgence. You look around the league and you see Giannis, Anthony Davis, Jokic, Embiid – there are some great quality big men in the league right now.
BC: You mention big men making a resurgence, is everything cyclical? Will analytics ever become less important with more emphasis on the eye test? Or do you see the league going even more the way of specialized stats like baseball, even football using it for things like judging where and when you want a running back to attack an o-lineman.
JR: Right now it’s going more down that path of advanced metrics and analytics. Having all of the information is never bad. Knowing how many times a running back can go off tackle or how many times a lineman can absorb a hit, I want that information. I want everything that’s available. But I don’t think the final decision should be based on a metric or number. If I’m buying a car, I wanna touch it, I wanna smell it, I wanna feel it, I wanna get in and out of the car, test drive it, pose by it. I want all of the information that’s under the hood, even though I’m never going to put my head under the hood. But I’m not buying a car online. I’m not making a decision based on only stats or numbers. Numbers can be manipulated. I like when I’m looking at a player and the measurables I see and the comps they remind me of add up with the numbers, not the other way around.
The Houston Rockets have been at the forefront of analytics and I love Daryl Morey. I voted James Harden MVP, I played for Mike D’Antoni. And right now they go into the offseason thinking, ‘how can we make more threes than twos’, but the opposing defense knows that too.
BC: With everything you’ve done and accomplished, you’re a great role model for kids to have goals and work hard, but professional athletes have different views on whether or not they’re role models. Did you always view yourself as that? Because even when I was younger, I didn’t like superheros or Power Rangers, I liked basketball, and they filled that entertainment void.
I rooted for the Knicks, but the Pacers were the antagonist and villains I built in my head. If I saw you, Reggie Miller or Rik Smits walking in the street, I probably would’ve ran as if I saw Shredder from the Ninja Turtles, so you’re naturally going to be viewed as larger than life characters by kids.
JR: [Laughs] Respectfully, I understand it’s just hard enough for us to function as people because we’re consumed by so much information constantly. Some people only want to focus on your backyard, not wanting to accept the responsibility that comes with influencing others in a positive way because you have your own friends and family and kids. It is an extra effort.
But the idea that any person can’t be a role model is naïve. You don’t have to be an athlete or an entertainer. You can be a parent, guardian, teacher, you can just be a leader in your community, and that’s how I was raised. I saw people in my family that always tried to give back and help others, so that was instilled in me and I always felt like if I got in the position to do so, if I was fortunate enough to do so, I would be a role model. And it doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, you just need to care about others and do what you can to influence people in a positive way.
Unusually, one of the things that helped spark it for me, was the realization that so many people were naming their kids Jalen.
BC: Right, you said your mom invented that name?!
JR: Yes, my biological father is James Walker, number 1 pick in the 1967 NBA draft and my uncle Leonard took her to the hospital to give birth. I recall being a young NBA player and people would come up to me that were named Jalen. A couple years ago, I’m watching the NFL draft and you hear Jalen Ramsey, and the NBA draft, Jaylen Brown. It’s taken on a life of its own and people don’t name their kids after people they don’t like or don’t respect, because names are symbols.
BC: What are your future goals? I know Stephen A. Smith has talked about wanting a late night show, we’ve seen Michael Strahan gobble up jobs in the media to where now there are probably some people that watch him every day and don’t even know he used to play football. Where do you see your career going?
JR: I absolutely love what I’m doing right now. NBA Countdown is the biggest stage in basketball. Christmas Day, the whole world is watching, The NBA Finals is on ABC – network television. Jalen and Jacoby and Get Up are both Monday through Friday shows and I’m really fortunate to work on both of them, but I would like to produce more projects.
I produced a Fab Five documentary, I co-produced Jalen vs. Everybody, a project with Nahnatchka Khan. I would like to do more of that, I also love game shows and trivia shows! Family Feud, Jeopardy, Price is Right. I love game shows and would like to host one of those and lastly, to own the Detroit Pistons.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Dave LaGreca
How did Dave LaGreca convince the bosses at SiriusXM to let him talk about wrestling as a full-time job? He didn’t. He tells Jason why wrestling fans are the kind of loyal audience every show and network want.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Evan Roberts, Self-Professed Sports Maniac, Thrives at WFAN
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN.
Evan Roberts made his first appearance on WFAN at just 10 years old, filling in for NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen delivering sports updates on Imus in the Morning. The opportunity came after he sent a letter on a whim to the station asking for a job since he enjoyed listening to the station with his father. Desiring to become a radio host was the result of dynamic career aspirations that transitioned from wanting to work as an architect to trying to become the play-by-play announcer for his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.
“Listening to Mike and Chris, and Benigno in the overnights and Somers – I was like ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Roberts recalled. “….It couldn’t be any more specific when I’m listening to the Fan saying ‘I want to be on the Fan.’ About a decade and a half later, I was able to get it done and I’ve been there ever since.”
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN. As a native New Yorker, Roberts connected with the teams in the area and sought the chance to talk about them for a living on a sports radio station with a storied history in the area.
Since 1989, WFAN has been one of the pillars of New York sports coverage and a place that helped pioneer the sports talk radio format. Getting there, though, required that Roberts had deft knowledge of sports, an ability to connect with fans, and experience that ensured he was ready for an opportunity in the number one media market in the world.
While attending school, Roberts was hosting a radio show called Kidsports on WGBB, a radio station based in Freeport, N.Y. serving Nassau County on Long Island. He then moved to Radio AAHS to host What’s Up With Evan Roberts and Nets Slammin’ Planet, the latter with famed high school basketball player Albert King and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. Aside from being able to refine his hosting skills, Roberts made valuable connections in these roles including one that would help him land his first job out of high school: Danny Turner.
Before he was named the senior vice president of programming operations at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Turner served as the engineer for Roberts’ shows on Radio AAHS. He helped to coordinate the technology associated with broadcasting since the shows were done remotely rather than from out of a studio.
“[He] ended up working at XM Radio and heard one of my tapes as it went on and said ‘I remember him. I like him,’ and then sent it to the right person and they ultimately hired me,” said Roberts. “It was my first real, real job working out of high school, and that was about meeting someone earlier on and remembering who that person was and sending as many tapes as I could.”
As a graduate of Lawrence High School, Roberts quickly made the move from Cedarhurst, N.Y. to Washington, D.C. to begin working at XM Satellite Radio, a place he would stay for the next two years. Then, he made the move down I-295 from D.C. to Baltimore, Md. where he worked at 105.7 The Fan WJFK-AM and had to adjust his sports consumption to align with the interests of those listeners. It taught him the importance of research and preparation, important aspects of working in sports media that he still utilizes to this day.
“When I was in Baltimore, I had to be Baltimore,” said Roberts. “I had to understand what makes the Orioles fan tick; what makes the Ravens fan tick. I didn’t grow up as an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan. The Ravens had won the Super Bowl years earlier. I know nothing about winning Super Bowls; I’m a Jets fan.”
At 21 years old, Roberts made the move back to “The Big Apple” when he was hired by WFAN as an overnight host, a role he stayed in for the next two-and-a-half years. Simultaneously, Roberts was working on Maxim Radio doing a night show on the Sirius Satellite Radio channel. Balancing those two roles, while it may have seemed daunting, gave Roberts the chance to broadcast in his home market and talk about the teams he grew up rooting for; the aforementioned Mets and Jets, along with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Islanders.
Then in 2007, Roberts got his big break when he was named the midday co-host with Joe Benigno on the program Benigno & Roberts in the Midday. Benigno, who got his start on WFAN as a regular caller, had grown a rapport with listeners since joining the station in 1995, making the task for Roberts, a 23-year-old at the time, more difficult in terms of fitting in. Roberts is grateful that Benigno, a host he grew up listening to on WFAN, was accommodating and amicable towards him – plus it helped that they aligned in their rooting interests as Mets and Jets fans.
“He was very welcoming, and he didn’t have to be because I was a lot younger; he had no idea who the hell I was,” said Roberts. “….Right out of the gate, I think he saw my passion [and] my knowledge; he saw a little bit of himself in me, and we were able to bond right away.”
To make a name for himself in the new midday time slot, Roberts stuck to the principles that had been given to him from his early days of radio; that is, to be himself. From the start of his foray into sports media, Roberts and most people around him knew that he was, in his own words, “a sports maniac”, and he needed to maintain that genuine identity on the air. His relatability and passion for the teams as a fan made him an ideal fit for the station synonymous with New York City bearing those iconic call letters and an unbeatable afternoon duo.
“I think as time [went] on and Joe and I developed even more and more chemistry, the audience knew who we were,” said Roberts. “They certainly knew who he was, but they learned ‘Evan’s a die-hard Mets fan. He doesn’t miss a game.’”
While it was important for Roberts to emulate his fandom for the teams he roots for, he quickly developed a cognizance for trying to talk about other teams impartially while on the air. It is a challenge, to a degree, to maintain objectivity daily with intrinsic fandom for certain teams, but being able to understand how other fan bases feel after monumental victories or crushing defeats renders the art of appealing to the listening audience easier. It also upholds WFAN’s commitment to serve as an outlet for all New York sports fans rather than just certain cohorts of them.
“We’re trying to appeal to everybody,” said Roberts. “We want everybody listening. Not just Yankees fans; not just Mets fans; not just die-hard sports fans; not just casual fans. How do you keep every single person wanting to listen to the radio?”
When Roberts first joined the station in 2004, most New York sports teams were rebuilding aside from the Yankees. Today, the preponderance of professional teams in the New York Metropolitan area are contending or at least have the chance to appear in their league’s playoffs, something that is exciting for fans like Roberts but presents a challenge in doing effective sports radio that accurately depicts the emotions of listeners.
“I think what’s going to be a real challenge… is [when] the Mets are in the playoffs, the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Jets look competent, and the Giants look competent, and it’s a Monday,” Roberts expressed. “You’ve got four monstrous fan bases that care about their team. How the hell do you find a way to keep them all entertained?”
To express the true extent of his fandom for niche sectors of the audience, Roberts turns to another form of aural consumption: podcasts. There has been much discussion over the ability of traditional radio and podcasts to coexist in this digital age of media; however, Roberts believes that the two mediums provide a unique combination that was previously nonexistent.
In his opinion, podcasts are a method to delve deeper into topics or teams that do not garner as much time on the radio, specifically those that do not generate as large of a market share or which are not as representative of the interests of the majority of listeners.
“I do a Mets podcast specifically – I called it Rico Brogna because I loved Rico Brogna as a kid and I figured ‘Why the hell not?’”, Roberts said. “…I do an hour breaking down the Mets in a hard-core way that I’m not going to do on WFAN for an hour. I may do it for a couple of minutes. I think those two things work perfectly side-by-side.”
Still, most listeners, according to Roberts, will likely turn to terrestrial radio to get their sports fix, especially if they do not express allegiance to solely one team.
“The majority of people are still going to turn on WFAN and say ‘Okay, entertain me. I don’t know what I want to hear. You just entertain me’,” said Roberts. “I think those two forms of entertainment can work side-by-side. That’s why we do it.”
When Mike Francesa signed off WFAN in December 2017, the station had to make changes in the afternoon drive-time slot which it did with the debut of Carlin, Maggie & Bart. The show was eventually disbanded though when Francesa ended his retirement just over four months later, returning to afternoons. His return to WFAN did not last long though, departing the station again in December 2019. Again, WFAN had to make a change in afternoons, this time moving Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to do a 2 to 6:30 p.m. show renamed Joe & Evan.
For Roberts, the opportunity to host in the afternoon slot that he had grown up listening to Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo make famous with their program Mike and the Mad Dog was an opportunity he did not hesitate to accept. Yet the change in time also required a change in approach regarding topic selection; after all, since the show would be starting later in the day, it was more important to preview the forthcoming action than recap that of the previous day.
“Even though you’re doing the same thing because you’re the same person, you’ve got to realize the audience is thinking about things a little bit differently; they’re not always analyzing what happened last night,” said Roberts. “I always find that interesting [trying to] balance the two [and] it’s almost like a game.”
When Benigno retired from the station in November 2020, Craig Carton made his return to the New York City airwaves pairing with Roberts to form the new afternoon duo Carton & Roberts. Carton had previously been with the station hosting mornings with Boomer Esiason on Boomer and Carton from 2007 until his arrest in 2017. He served time in prison for fraud-related charges, and ultimately sought and received help for addiction related to gambling.
Since his return to WFAN, Carton has been vocal about his struggle to overcome addiction and the lessons learned from his time serving in prison, hosting a special weekend program titled Hello, My Name Is Craig to discuss these issues in-depth. On Carton and Roberts, the duo has experienced immense success, recently topping ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show in the spring ratings book. From the onset of Carton and Roberts working together though, there was some trepidation as to whether their personalities would blend well together on sports talk radio.
“I remember the first time I was told ‘Hey, there’s a possibility of you and Craig together.’ I was like ‘What?,’” Roberts said. “My first reaction was ‘Really?’”
Now nearly two years in, Roberts enjoys working alongside Carton and learning more about his perspectives and thoughts on the radio industry. Following advice he was given from both Russo and Esiason on working with Carton, Roberts has let him take the lead and discover how the show can effectively inform and entertain its vast listening audience.
“Let’s take a step back; don’t have an ego,” Roberts recalls thinking when he started the new show. “Watch this magician figure out how this show is going to work and then lean into it. I think that’s what I did and it has worked, and I feel very comfortable, I know he feels very comfortable and we’ve got a successful thing going on now.”
Roberts views Carton as an informed talent in the radio industry, aware of the changing nature of the medium and the potential it has to serve its audience. Roberts indeed experienced success in his previous roles, most notably when working in middays with Benigno; however, he is always willing to try new things and form new approaches towards jaded industry practices and show formats.
“I know that I have a guy who I’m working with who knows the medium as well as anybody,” said Roberts. “If he has a vision on how this could work with his personality and my personality, I’m going to listen; I’m going to follow along.”
WFAN and SportsNet New York (SNY), the flagship network for the New York Mets and New York Jets, agreed last year to simulcast Carton and Roberts from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. While the move, which has been made with various other WFAN programs over the years including Mike and the Mad Dog and Boomer and Gio puts the radio program on a visual medium, Roberts’ approach to the show did not change.
The thought always was that he would be doing a radio show with the curtain pulled back, giving longtime listeners the chance to see the two co-hosts during their discussions and on-air interactions.
“They’re listening to the radio, and it’s cool sometimes when you get to peek in and say, ‘Oh, look at Craig’s expressions. Look at Evan’s expressions. Look at the way they’re looking at each other. Boy, they hate each other right now,’” Roberts said. “I think it’s people looking in on a radio show, and that’s what I always try to remind myself. It’s on TV – that’s great – but we’re a radio show first, and I think a lot of people kind of like to eavesdrop on that.”
One of the challenges of doing a radio show whether or not it is simulcast is in taking calls, and various hosts and producers have differing opinions when it comes to their value on the air. Still, while the hosts, producers, and caller themselves may enjoy their interactions, it is fundamental awareness is placed on the audience that does not call in and their enjoyment of listening to a caller.
“I think when you’re talking [to] somebody, you’re not just thinking about the conversation you’re having with them,” said Roberts. “You’re thinking about the 98% of the audience that doesn’t call in and if this is entertaining or not; if this is informative or not; what are they getting out of this?…. I love callers – it’s a big part of WFAN – but as I interact with them… I think the thought that I always try to have is ‘How is everyone else listening feeling about this discussion?’”
While Carton and Roberts continues to do well in afternoon drive among the demographic of men 25-54 years old, the way the ratings are interpreted by each person and entity in radio differs. Something the Nielsen ratings do not take into account is the number of people listening to the show on-demand as a podcast or watching its simulcast on SNY. During his time with Benigno, Roberts scrutinized the numbers, looking at copious and exiguous details, similar to how he consumes professional sports.
The difference is that while it may be good to have a complete understanding of show performance, getting caught in the minutiae of ratings and trying to improve in weaker areas can sometimes be, according to Roberts, a means without an end.
“I think I realized as time went on that’s going to give you a headache and it’s not going to really help anything,” said Roberts. “I think I learned a little more that you still look at numbers but maybe with a broader view of things; not as specific. I look at [them] a lot, but sometimes it’s tough. I don’t think you want to alter a show too much based on what you think is a pattern but may not necessarily be a pattern.”
This fall, both Carton and Roberts will be starting new roles in media while continuing to host their afternoon show. Carton is going to begin hosting a new national morning show on Fox Sports 1 with a co-host yet to be determined, a move that will place him primarily on television in mornings against WFAN and CBS Sports Radio’s simulcast of Boomer & Gio. Roberts will continue to stay on WFAN, adding a new Saturday program with his former co-host Joe Benigno beginning on September 10.
“It’s like getting back on a bicycle,” Roberts said of working with Benigno. “It’s always comfortable…. It’s going to be [like] our old show – just once a week on a Saturday.”
WFAN was the sound of Evan Roberts’ childhood, and a large reason he became as invested in professional sports as he considers himself to be today. Throughout his time at the station, he has worked with various hosts and recently welcomed new program director Spike Eskin to the station. He says the contrast between Eskin and previous program director Mark Chernoff is stark – yet they are similar in where it matters most: being able to effectively lead WFAN.
“I think they both very much understand radio, and that’s the most important thing,” said Roberts. “You’re the program director of WFAN; I think you have an idea of what good radio is… [They are] both very, very intelligent radio guys that I trust, but everything else about them is probably polar opposite.”
For aspiring professionals looking to pursue a career in sports media, Roberts advises them to take advantage of the innovations in media and communications especially when it comes to podcasts. With widespread evolution and progression in technology coupled with altering consumption habits and means thereof, putting in the time allows novices to hone their skills and position themselves well in sports media. That and always being willing to learn and study to be the most prepared and informed host as possible – especially when talking to listeners, many of whom have seen teams in their ebbs and flows.
“My wife knows that I’m going to watch every pitch of the Yankees and Mets game,” said Roberts. “I may do it on DVR, and I may do it at 2 in the morning because we need to have a life; I don’t want to get divorced, and I want my kids to love me, but she also knows that I want to be as informed as anybody on the radio and that’s not going to stop.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.
I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.
It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.
Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal.
Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.
The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”
Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market.
There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.
The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter.
As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll.
Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.