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1620 The Zone is Omaha’s Escape From Reality

“We’re broadcasters and we’re here for the local community. I could not be more proud of the sellers and how they are fighting through this.”

Tyler McComas




Trying do a radio show from home can be challenging. You can’t see your co-host or producer, there may be a slight delay, and oh, don’t forget about the spotty Wi-Fi or the kids running around the house behind you. All of these factors can lead to a less than ideal situation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come across as relatable to the listener. 

Sure, that may sound strange, but consider this: while you’re fighting through internet problems and yelling at the kids, the father of two who’s listening to you and working from home is dealing with the same issues. During a time like this, the more relatable you can be to the listener, the better. 

A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents

Gary Sharp, host of The Gary Sharp Show on 1620 The Zone in Omaha realizes the importance for both the station and it’s personalities to be relatable, and to their credit, he and his colleagues have excelled in this area during the pandemic. 

“One thing about our radio station is we kind of mirror the city we’re in,” said Sharp. “The way we look, the way we sound on air, the things we do and that we’re involved in, either on the civic side or on the sports side. So when people think sports, they rely on us. But I think we found, through all of this, while doing shows from home, is those people that are listening from home are just like us. And we’re just like them.”

In many small and medium markets, the local sports radio station has become a gathering place to escape the realities of what’s happening around all of us. If only for a moment, listeners can flip the dial and a sense of normalcy will come through the speakers. The Zone has become just that for Omaha. 

“They have basically changed from a sports station to a talk station,” said Mark Shecterle, GM of NRG Radio in Omaha. “We’re keeping as much normalcy as we possibly can for our listeners, because without sports, they’ve had to adapt and change. The response we’ve gotten from listeners has just been incredible, from texts, tweets and emails saying, I don’t know how you guys do it without sports and how you keep talking about things that keep us entertained. People don’t want to hear about COVID-19 24 hours a day. They need an escape. I think The Zone and the guys on the air have done an absolutely phenomenal job with that.”

It’s accurate to say your average listener doesn’t want an overabundance of talk about the pandemic. They can get that anywhere else. But there has to be a balance between entertaining the listener, and still doing your due diligence to the community by keeping them informed. But where’s the line?

“I think it’s to provide entertainment and escape for four hours a day, while also discussing any of the local news,” said Josh Peterson co-host of Unsportsmanlike Conduct. “We have one regular guest who joins us every Monday from a sister station in Lincoln, who works on the news side of things. He’s a big sports fan, so we’ll talk about that a bit, but I’ll also ask what the governor or the mayor said. I think it’s a little bit of a balance of, here’s some actual information on what’s going on in your community and how that can affect you, but also the conversation of, hey, what can we do for the listener to have fun for four hours?”

Unsportsmanlike Conduct | KOZN-AM

If you’re in a small or medium market and not doing everything you can possibly do to help out the local businesses during this time, you’re totally missing the mark. That goes for PD’s, talent and certainly, the sales staff. Shecterle is having his sales team work from home and conducting meeting via Zoom, but the focus is to help everyone in the community, whether they’re clients or not. 

“We started a ‘support local’ initiative, whether it’s with our existing clients that have remained open and whether they’ve canceled or continue to run with us,” Shecterle said. “We’re supporting them as well as potential prospects that have reached out to us as a part of this campaign. We have a dedicated page on all of our station’s websites that are highlighting these businesses that are open. We’re running promos directing people to the station websites to find out who’s open and how you can help.

“We have our talent calling these businesses, doing an interview with them and then we’re cutting those up into 60-second spots. We’re running free spots for these businesses that are absolutely struggling and are trying to stay open. I’m reaching out to all of our business partners on a regular basis, just saying, whatever we can do to help, we’re here for you. The amount of responses we’ve given out has been astronomical but it’s what we do.

“We’re broadcasters and we’re here for the local community. I could not be more proud of the sellers and how they are fighting through this. We’ve kind of held off the cancellations at this point, we’ve taken our fair share, but we are now continuing to look to add revenue and grow our revenue in any way we can by coming up with unique ideas, because this is all going to make us better from a sales standpoint.”

From a content standpoint, this has been an opportunity for hosts to try new things. Peterson and his co-host, John Bishop, have taken this opportunity to experiment with video content. Peterson, Bishop and producer Michael Stibbs do the show via Stream Yard, which allows the trio to actually see each other during the show. It also gives the opportunity for the hosts to communicate with one another during commercial breaks. But most importantly, the show wants to be more visual than it’s ever been.

What is Multistreaming? | StreamYard

“In a way, it’s like we’re hanging out in a room together,” said Peterson. “We try for at least one segment, sometimes two, every show to go up live on YouTube. This gives us the ability to do that. We’ve added a feature on Fridays where we allow a listener to come in and hang out with us for 15 to 20 minutes and we have a bar room conversation. We try to do it with some of our regular guests, as well, because they’re all kind of fun, unique and different in their own ways. It’s another layer that shows, hey, here’s what I look like, here’s what John looks like and here’s what our guests look like. I’ve just been really pleased with it. No matter what happens at the end of this I think it’s something we’re going to use more in the future.”

Just like incorporating more video content with Peterson and Bishop, The Zone has left no stone unturned in its pursuit of great radio. Whether its Sharp getting on the governor of Nebraska or Damon Benning crying on the air during his morning drive slot, the lack of live sports hasn’t negatively impacted the station. In fact, it may have taken it to new heights. 

“We’re the listener’s friends and we’re their brothers and sisters,” said Shecterle. “The guys have just done an unbelievable job to bring out the human element on this whole thing through the radio.”

So for now, you’ll hear content centered on an All-Nebraska football team, the expectations for the Huskers and Hawkeyes in 2020 and everything else centered on college athletics in the area. But regardless if we have sports in one month, three months, six months or a year, The Zone will be ready. 

Iowa vs. Nebraska: Ground Zero of a Real and Underrated Rivalry

The circumstances changed but the game plan never did. As always, it’ll be about providing an escape for the listener and being the best outlet for sports in the market. 

“We’re not scrambling around as much as maybe some of the bigger cities are, who always have a pro sport going on,” said Peterson. “We’re used to July with nothing going on and we’re used to August which truly nothing but practices here and there. The dominating question right now is will football be played? That’s what our market is concerned about and that’s what we’re concerned about. We’ve not been short on topics, even though were a month and a half or two months into this thing. It’s crazy because we have nothing to talk about, but we find stuff to talk about every day.”

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the rest is history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It stinks.

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

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

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

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

Demetri Ravanos




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barrett Media Writers

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