Seth Harp knows what many sports radio hosts are going though right now. Harp was laid off by iHeart in January, after more than four years as a host and program director of WFXJ 97.3 The Game in Jacksonville.
Less than three months later, during a difficult time for sports radio and seemingly every industry during this global pandemic, Harp was able to land his next gig. Last Friday, Harp announced he was joining WRUF ESPN Gainesville as a weekday host and program director.
“I wanted to be the face of the layoff,” Harp told me about being let go from iHeart in January. “I wanted everyone to know I was available. On my way home from the layoff, I was already networking. I got home around 10:30am and I bet by the end of the day I sent 40-50 emails and made 200 different phone calls.”
It’s not an easy time for many sports radio hosts, both on-air and off. There are challenges in creating entertaining content without the support of live sports and there are certainly challenges in finding your next opportunity if you were recently laid off. With the coronavirus caused economic shutdown, there aren’t many advertising dollars available to radio stations, and subsequently, there aren’t many media companies looking to hire new talent.
Several times during our conversation, Harp referred back to how lucky he is, but landing a job in the current climate is also a testament to his drive and persistence. It should serve as a source of inspiration to others who may have recently lost a gig. It might take a few months, but other opportunities will be available.
Harp will be back on-air in the next couple of months, the date is TBD. “It will launch when I feel comfortable with everything else that’s going on,” Harp said while noting he doesn’t want to disrupt the station’s rhythm and peoples’ habits right now.
Without launching a show, there’s still plenty of work to be done in his new role as the station’s program director. Harp said he has a lot of big social media plans, some of which were learned at the 2020 BSM Summit, and they’ll start implementing those immediately.
I asked WRUF’s new leader what’s more difficult right now, hosting a show or serving as program director of a sports radio station while sports are suspended, and resources are scarce?
“The amount of creativity you need to have in your bones to make it work and make it sound good right now is enormous. Programming, I just have to make sure everybody’s on the same path and everybody understands what’s going on,” Harp said. “If you’re hosting right now, it’s the biggest challenge of your career because anybody can go through the motions as a host and get away with it, but to be really good at it, it’s a challenge.”
Still, there are challenges as a program director during unsettling times, to offer a sense of stability, reassuring the station will survive and making sure everybody isn’t constantly concerned about their standing. Harp is a great candidate to provide that confidence, because he’s able to speak from experience having just bounced back from a layoff.
“I’m almost like a beta test that we’ve figured out it works,” Harp said. “I was laid off, I interviewed for seven different jobs, most of them are now in hiring freezes for the foreseeable future. Gainesville was the exact opposite, they said we want you here now.”
Harp also referred back to what SVP of sports for Cumulus and Westwood One Bruce Gilbert said at the BSM Summit earlier this year, ‘every orchestra needs a maestro.’ “You need somebody that’s a stabilizing force through all of it,” Harp added. “We’re all in this together, but we’re all alone right now too.”
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Mike Felger: Radio Row Allows Us to Do Something Different
“We don’t do a lot of guests…I don’t like having guests on. Let’s face it. Most guests don’t say anything anyway.”
When you are doing something you love as a job or when it gets very busy at your place of employment, the day can tend to go quicker than usual. While a four-hour show may seem like a long time to talk about sports, it can be the quickest part of the day for others. Mike Felger, the co-host of Felger and Mazz on 98.5 The Sports Hub, was a guest on The Press Box Podcast with Bryan Curtis this week and he said that the show is the quickest four hours of his day and it’s because of the prep that the guys put into the show.
“Quickest 4 hours of my day. It flies. We try to keep it moving, We put a lot into it. I think one of the reasons it goes quickly for me because we are pretty much working the whole time. We sort of map out the whole show before. All 16 segments, they are not scripted, but we will talk about this here, that there. We put something into all 16 segments.
“Mostly, if there is a game the night before, we will either have watched the game or portions of the game, we will have either watched or read the postgame press conferences, we will have read some of the coverage, and the trick there is to find something there that bugs you even if they won. What did you see in the game that you didn’t like? What did someone write that you thought was stupid or off the mark? Did someone say something that bothered you in the postgame? We put effort into the sports part of it and then we grind it out the next day. It goes quickly because we put a lot into it.”
The show is at the Super Bowl this week in Arizona as a part of Radio Row and Felger mentioned it allows the show to do something different since they don’t usually have guests on.
“For us, it’s a chance to get out of the studio, do something different, and talk to a few people. We are kind of a rare sports talk show where we don’t do a lot of guests. I don’t like having guests on. I don’t like phoners, I think it interrupts the momentum of a show, the flow of the show. Let’s face it. Most guests don’t say anything anyway.
“We don’t really do guests. We will go weeks at a time without a single phone guest or someone from outside the show. This sort of forces us to sit down and talk to some other people. It’s also just a change of scenery. We are also simulcast so it’s also a different backdrop, we are out of the studio. It’s just a little something different for us.”
While the show doesn’t have a lot of guests on, they will take a good amount of callers. With that being said, in Felger’s mind, the calls have to be quick and a good point has to be made for the show to have a good tempo.
“I like the way we do them. It’s 30 seconds. You get 30 seconds. At most, if it’s good, we will let you go to 45. It’s rare that a caller is on for a minute. If you suck, we will drop it at 12 seconds. It’s about tempo and pace of the show. I think calls are good if you go from one to the next to the next and they have to be good. If listeners can’t hear you, can’t do it. We have to hear you and you have to have a point. If you don’t have any of those things, I’m sorry, I love you, but you are gone.
“I think calls are valuable for how they pace the show. They bring tempo to the show if you do it quickly and pointedly.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at RickJKeeler@gmail.com.
ESPN 660 Orlando Officially Launches
“ESPN Radio offers the access to play-by-play, nationally known talent, and athletes that cannot be replicated.”
ESPN Radio has returned to Orlando with the launch of ESPN 660 Orlando from JVC Broadcasting.
The shift officially took place this morning, with former “Florida Man Radio” — a “guy-talk” and politics format — being moved to an FM translator.
“ESPN Radio offers the access to play-by-play, nationally known talent, and athletes that cannot be replicated,” JVC Director of Programming Stevie Demann said. “ESPN 660 Orlando will air events like the Daytona 500 and the College Football Playoffs, giving radio listeners long-awaited access to these ‘must listen to’ sports, that previously were not available in Central Florida. We will have the largest selection of compelling sports content on ESPN 660 Orlando.”
The ESPN Radio brand was last seen in the market on 580 WDBO until it flipped to a news/talk format in June 2020.
“I’m thrilled with the partnership our Orlando team put together with ESPN Radio. ESPN 660 Orlando brings the biggest sporting events in the world to the Central Florida radio audience,” said JVC President and CEO John Caracciolo. “A market like Orlando is on the go all the time. This is a great chance for our business partners to reach mobile sports fans across the region and giving radio listeners access to their favorite games on one radio station!”
ESPN 660 Orlando becomes the second sports station in the market, competing with iHeartMedia-owned 96.9 The Game, the flagship station for the Orlando Magic Radio Network.
Toucher & Rich Continue Fake Liner Gag With Super Bowl Players
“There’s always a moment when their about three-fourths of the way down where they kind of look up at you like ‘What’s happening?'”
Super Bowl Opening Night is an eclectic mix of hardworking, serious journalists, mixed with interesting characters. It is safe to say 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich fall into the latter category.
As an ongoing gag, the show asks lower-profile players from the teams participating in the Super Bowl to record liners for their show. However, it isn’t for their show, it’s for fake shows that do not exist, with ridiculous taglines. The show’s Rich Shertenlieb said the premise is quite easy to pull off.
“Everyone is available for interview and only 11 people are at those big important podiums and everyone else just kind of wanders,” Shertenlieb — who is at Radio Row in Arizona while Fred Toucher remained in Boston — said. “You can just go up and speak to them and interview them.”
The first victim of the gag was Grant Calcaterra, a backup tight end for the Eagles. After a quick interview, Shertenlieb asked him to read a liner for a show that doesn’t exist.
“Hey this is Grant Calcaterra, and you’re listening to Captain Fiddlesticks and the Banjo Bandit. All aboard the hot take train. Woo Woo.”
“There’s always a moment when their about three-fourths of the way down where they kind of look up at you like ‘What’s happening?’ and then you just grab it and go ‘Thanks!’ and you walk away and find yourself buried in the crowd and hope they don’t see you again,” Shertenlieb said.
Tyrese Robinson, a rookie offensive lineman for the Eagles, was also recorded by the show.
“Hey this is Tyrese Robinson and you’re listening to Wilford Brimley and the Quaker Oats Kid. Want sports for breakfast? Why not? You’re already obese,” the Eagles rookie said.
“He caught on to your game,” Toucher said.
“By the time he got to ‘obese’, he just handed me the paper and walked away,” added Shertenlieb.
Eagles safety Reed Blankenship was interviewed by Shertenlieb, where he was asked to record a liner reading “Hey this is Reed Blankenship and you’re listening to Nard Farnsworth and Bill the Sad Hobo on 98.3 The Goat. It’s hobo-rific.”
“That is a guy that did not think you were kidding,” joked Toucher.
Another Eagles offensive lineman — Andre Dillard — was quickly interviewed by Shertenlieb. The 98.5 The Sports Hub host asked Dillard to read “Hey this is Andre Dillard and you’re listening to The DA Show. Hope you like feet,” to which Dillard responded “Wait, what?!” while reading the line. “Because DA really likes feet. Foot-tastic.”
One of the higher profile players the show recorded was Eagles backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, who incorrectly pronounced one of the words in the read.
“Hey this is Gardner Minshew and you’re listening to The Syracuse Guys, dudes in suites (sic) with nice teeth. We love lukewarm takes, safe hip hop, and The Bachelor.”