A select group of people have been with WFAN since the beginning, witnessing the birth of sports talk radio and all that it’s become. Update anchor John Minko was part of that group from 1987 until earlier this month.
No one would draw it up this way, leaving unceremoniously as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the industry, but Minko departed honorably. Knowing he was planning to retire within the next 12 months, he accepted a buyout from Entercom, hoping to save at least one job for a younger broadcaster.
Considering the buyout “the right thing to do,” is just part of why Minko is so respected by his peers and loved by New York’s sports radio audience. Not many update anchors can generate the fanbase Minko did, and I’m not sure he even realized just how popular he is.
He never used the microphone to broaden his own stature, he just reported the news. But Minko is kind, genuine, a sports radio original and he’s continued to build an impressive broadcasting career.
Brandon Contes: Before the coronavirus pandemic started, did you have a date in mind that was going to be your last at WFAN?
John Minko: Not a specific date, but I knew it was likely within a year. April of 2021 at the very latest – depending on what side of the bed I woke up on.
BC: And the company came to you with the buyout offer?
BC: Were you surprised?
JM: [Pause] I was surprised, but I could sense with the way media companies are making cutbacks, that I could be one of those.
BC: Was there a discussion? Could you have declined the buyout?
JM: I had the choice to stay. If I wanted to stay, that would have been fine with them, but on the other hand, I knew I was likely going to be there for less than a year and if I stayed, somebody else would have lost a job. Having only 48 hours was not the greatest timing in the world, but it was the right thing to do.
BC: It’s surreal how quickly everything transpired, from the coronavirus starting to become a concern in the United States, to sports shutting down March 11, and then three weeks later Entercom is making cuts. It only took three weeks for sports media companies all around the country to make significant changes. Were you surprised they couldn’t withstand more than that?
JM: Yeah, and it’s amazing, I only did updates in my basement for two weeks and I also do St. John’s basketball play by play. I did the last half of the St. John’s Big East tournament game at the Garden with barely anyone in the building. It was basically the last college basketball game in the country. That was an eerie experience.
BC: Were you surprised that game even started? Other conferences canceled their tournaments and it was inevitable the Big East was going to do the same, but here you and Brandon Tierney are at MSG getting set to call that game with no fans.
JM: The coaches found out with five or six minutes to go in the first half that they were going to call the game at halftime. I found that out after the fact, but during the game I noticed coaches weren’t going after the officials. There weren’t many whistles and with about five minutes left in the first half, both teams emptied their benches. For Creighton, there were players I had little to no information about, one player logged two or three minutes the entire Big East regular season. I think the coaches did that because they knew the game wasn’t going to count.
BC: And you’ll still be calling St. John’s games next year as well?
JM: They’ll have to cart me out of Carnesecca Arena. To me, that’s a lifetime job, as long as they want me and I can continue to do it, I’ll be there. Next year will be my 50th year in broadcasting and the 12th game of the season will be number 400 for me with St. John’s.
BC: Is there any concern about being back in a crowded arena?
JM: That’s a long way off. When the day comes, I’m confident they’re not going to rush into anything and will take the proper precautions.
BC: As an update anchor, you became an icon in New York sports radio, are you surprised you were able to do that just by giving sports scores a few times an hour?
JM: The only icon is (WFAN Executive Producer) Dov Kramer [Laughs]. One thing you have to remember, I started at the beginning of FAN, so I’m one of the originals. And the premise of FAN in 1987 was to put Sports Phone out of business. The talk show hosts – Jim Lampley, Greg Gumbel, Pete Franklin and Bill Mazer – the hosts were there to complement the update people because we did updates every 15 minutes. Four times an hour, at least two minutes each, add commercials, and the talk show hosts didn’t do a heck of a lot. It’s amazing.
BC: Do you think updates are still an important part of sports radio? Because now sports radio is more about opinion and unique content than it is giving scores.
JM: And that’s what it should be. But radio is still about immediacy, so I do think it’s important to have those updates. Back in 1987, scores were often two innings late, for a football game, you wouldn’t get a final score until maybe a half hour after the game was over.
BC: What does it tell you about the industry, that you had such an impact without much ad-libbing, you weren’t yelling or saying anything outrageous to get a reaction.
JM: It’s like being a utility player on a real good baseball team. You can’t lose the fact that I was on with Imus, I was on with Mike and the Mad Dog and then just Mike all those years. I worked for the greatest sports radio station in the country and that’s where whatever notoriety I have comes from. It doesn’t come from me, it comes from me being associated with that building – 23 years in Astoria and the last 10 on Hudson Street.
BC: I remember on the old WFAN website, Evan Roberts was trying to create some new content; he posted video from road trips, took pictures of Dov’s lunch and created the Minko Minute!
JM: [Laughs] I vaguely remember that.
BC: You were fielding questions from listeners and giving love advice!
JM: We always had fun in the newsroom, that’s the way it was for 32 and a half years. You know this, we joked and teased each other, that’s the relationship that we all had.
BC: How much are you going to miss that comradery?
BC: Do you have a best friend you made over the years at WFAN?
JM: They were all my best friends. I know that that’s the political thing to say, but it’s true. I love every single one of them.
BC: You’ll stay in touch with many of them?
JM: Absolutely. Since I have plenty of time on my hands, I’ll be working to get phone numbers together because I’m not the most organized person in creation. Especially with this new media, you’ve seen me, I’m technologically challenged. But I was brought up in the old days – when tape editing was actually splicing and reeling tape with a razor blade. Back in the day, it would take the producer 20 minutes to make one of the wraps that we’d run for the top of the hour. Now someone like Eddie Scozzare can do it in 20 seconds. Those were the days and I’ll never forget them.
BC: Did you go to school for communications? What was your goal when you were younger?
JM: The goal was to be a play by play announcer.
My father was a television technician back when there was a need for such a thing. He went to fix one in Norwood, NJ for an NBC executive. I wanted to do this for a long time and thought about Syracuse because it’s what I knew. The person from NBC said don’t go to Syracuse, go to Butler. Butler had a radio and television department, so you didn’t major in communications, you majored in radio and television.
The Butler student station, which they sold several years ago, was 37,000 watts on the FM dial, all run by students. There was no NPR, we didn’t sell commercials, but we were actually on the commercial band. The general manager and assistant general manager were our teachers, but the program and sports directors were students. It was like working at a regular radio station.
BC: And years later, it brought you to the first sports radio station in the country. I know you were never with him full-time, but how was working with Imus?
JM: I got along with him because I recognized that he was Imus. Imus is the smartest person in radio that I’ve ever met. The first day Imus was going to be on WFAN, I got a phone call from our program director Mark Mason at 3am. He says, ‘Sue Guzman is sick, can you come in and write the news for Charles McCord?’
I said, ‘You want me to come in and just write the news?’
I drove into Astoria and went to Charles, a legend and a professional newsman. I said, ‘You don’t know me, I’m in for Sue Guzman, I’ve never done this before, but I’ll do the best I can.’ [Laughs] He was very understanding.
But I would fill in and do updates for Imus and one time I went a little long. After the show, Imus goes over to me by the water cooler. He would never say ‘we need to talk,’ but I knew he wasn’t happy with me. All he said was, ‘Tell. The People. What they need to know. And shut up.’
I built a career on those words. That’s why I’m brief, I tell you what you need to know and that’s it. If the story is big enough, the host will take care of it. Why do they need to hear me do it again?
BC: Did you miss going to the old studios in Astoria?
JM: We loved Astoria and words cannot describe it. The only phrase I have about Astoria is that we worked at the only place where you had to walk upstairs to go to the basement. The basement was upstairs! In the early ‘90s, we had a gigantic storm with a lot of flooding. And how did our studios in Astoria come out of it? Upstairs was flooded, we were fine.
The last week we were there, I brought a camera in and took a bunch of pictures. And every July 1st, I would bring them back into work. There are no people in any of them, they’re all pictures of the facility, the studio, the newsroom, the ceiling where the sewage leaked. I actually needed an umbrella in the newsroom to type my update that day! But I have these so when people ask me about it and say, ‘you’re exaggerating,’ I show them the pictures and say, no I’m not!
BC: Did you have a favorite day at WFAN?
JM: Any day they kept putting me on-air was a good day. Remember, I went through the days when we weren’t doing well. The first year of the radio station was a mess. Everybody was wondering if we’d be there the next day and luckily, I made it quite a few days. But if you wanted to look at one day that I think is significant in FAN history, it’s our first anniversary. Because there are a lot of people who never thought we would make it through that year.
BC: Did you think you were going to make it the first year?
JM: I didn’t know what to think, I was in a fog the first year. I knew we weren’t doing well. We had a lot of commercials, but I don’t know if they paid much money. I had no idea whether it was going to make it or not, but it did. And it did because of Imus. He gave us ratings and revenue and that revenue gave us the ability to let others develop and that’s when Mike and the Mad Dog emerged.
BC: Was it a stranger day at WFAN when Imus was fired, when Russo or Francesa left? Or the day Carton was arrested?
JM: Imus. And remember, I was just a fill in guy for him. The last day, I went in his office and he had his head down and I said, ‘is it okay if I tell you I’m going to miss you?’ He didn’t move his head at first, then it slowly came up and he actually shook hands with me. The only time he ever shook hands with me. And that was the last time I saw him in person.
BC: How was your relationship working with Mike and Chris?
JM: I worked the entire time with Mike. And I think Mike and Dog were 19 years, but we always got along. I recognized, unlike the beginning of the radio station, that it was now about the show, it was not about the update person. I stayed in the background, I never tried to interfere. Who the heck am I? I’m just an accessory and that’s the way I went about it all those years.
BC: I think you sell yourself a little short by saying you were an accessory. I’m sure in the past few weeks you’ve seen how beloved you are and you became such a popular personality even though you weren’t a host. It’s a testament to you, that you could generate a connection with listeners to become more than an accessory.
JM: Thank you. You grow up and you see people leave and retire, but you never imagine that someday it’ll be you.
BC: So what are your plans now that you have more free time once we’re all able to leave our homes again?
JM: First of all, I love doing St. John’s games and all of these years, I needed to use vacation days for those. Now St. John’s becomes the primary focus and I’m extremely happy about that. I would love to do play-by-play for some major college football games, for Westwood One, ESPN Radio or Sports USA. The hard part is I’ve never had an agent. Whether it be play-by-play for St. Johns, when I called Army football, I did some Knicks and Nets – I got all of those jobs on my own.
BC: When things eventually settle and brands begin to hire again, could you see yourself doing updates part-time for WFAN?
JM: I have no idea. You can’t predict what the business will look like. I was very fortunate and I also did afternoons at 1010 WINS. I not only worked for one Marconi station, I worked for two at the same time! You can’t mention FAN without 1010 WINS, they come together. To work with them, professional news people, it was a big thrill.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.