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Stugotz Wants You To Understand Something No One Else Does

“Even some people at ESPN don’t get what we do!”

Brandon Contes

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The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “With Stugotz” is always written in a smaller, less noticeable font, like it’s there to give credit, but not attract an audience.

If you listen to The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz for just 15 minutes, you quickly realize Jon Weiner (Stugotz) is not just a sidekick, he’s vital to their success. And if you listen to the show for only 15 minutes, you’re also likely to realize you don’t get the show.

Stugotz's 0-14 streak gets the 30 for 30 treatment | The Dan Le Batard Show  - YouTube

No show is better at creating a community, no show is better at making their listeners feel like they’re part of something special, and no show is better at creating organized chaos. In the last 15 years, they’ve been one of the most successful shows on radio, and Stugotz knows he’s just as important as his co-host of bigger font.

BC: How’d you get your start in radio?

STU: It’s something I always knew I wanted. Growing up with WFAN, Mike and the Mad Dog, I remember driving with my dad and hearing two guys talking sports who sounded like me and you. I asked my dad if they were getting paid for this. And when he told me ‘yes, a lot,’ I said that’s what I want to do.

It was more difficult to break into market one than it is Fort Lauderdale. I moved down here without a plan and stumbled on it, which basically summarizes my entire life. I was working for the Dolphins and Marlins in their sales office. I became good friends with Boog Sciambi who was the Marlins radio voice at the time, and when he started doing middays on WQAM, he helped me get an internship.

BC: And how did you end up helping launch 790 The Ticket without much experience managing a station?

STU: WQAM had no job for me after my internship, so I went back to New York and started working for the Knicks and Rangers making pretty good money. After a year, I got a call about producing for Hank Goldberg on WQAM. It was afternoon drive, major market, that was my foot in the door. I quit my job in New York getting paid six figures to take the job offering me about $4 an hour. But it was executive producer of a big show, if you want to be in this business that’s the type of risk you need to take.

While I was working on Hank’s show, sports radio really started to take off and most major markets were sprouting a second station. I saw an opening in Miami for something younger and hipper, so I put a group together and we leased 790. Paid a hefty price for programming rights and marketing, but we turned it into 790 The Ticket and I’m proud to say it’s still going.

BC: How’d you get Dan to be part of the new station?

STU: Toward the end of Hank’s show, it became a daily ripping of Le Batard and I didn’t even really know who Dan was! I read him in the Herald, but we never met. I figured if he could agitate Hank this much in print, he would be pretty damn good on-air.

We knew Boog Sciambi mutually, so he helped connect us and I told Dan I was starting a new sports radio station, but I’m not doing it unless you’re in afternoon drive. Dan loves being part of an underdog and he was certainly eager to take on Hank and WQAM, a station that hadn’t been very nice to him.

BC: Was the plan for you to be Dan’s co-host from the beginning?

STU: I was going to do the midday show and about a week before we launched, Dan said he didn’t want to do afternoons by himself. He originally wanted Boog as his co-host, but he was doing Marlins games and couldn’t leave QAM. But Boog told Dan I’d be a perfect co-host for him. I ditched the dream of doing my own show and it was the best call I ever made.

BC: Was there instant chemistry when you guys launched?

STU: It was awful. It started off with me interviewing Dan for three hours a day, we had no chemistry. We realized quickly Dan needed to drive the show because I was just guessing what he wanted to talk about.

BC: [Laughs] Were you treating him like he was a guest columnist?

STU: Dan will tell you stories of sleepless nights, riding around his neighborhood on a bicycle trying to figure out how to do the show. We had two different philosophies, I wanted to be Mike and the Mad Dog, Dan wanted to be everything but that. Eventually, we decided rather than me guessing what Dan wants to talk about, he’ll drive the show. That subtle change was huge. The other element that helped came a few months in, when Dan wanted to hire Marc Hochman. He had radio experience, a great sense of humor and was Dan’s best friend.

“I definitely knew the show could have a massive, wide appeal,” said Hochman, who’s in the midst of his own successful tenure hosting afternoons alongside Channing Crowder on WQAM and The Ticket. “We went in for three or four hours every day and just had a great time – and that translated to listeners having a great time. The majority of talk shows when we started, sports specifically, were super serious, even sour. There was no sports show that just felt like a party you wanted to be at. When we were having so many laughs every show, that’s when I knew the show could be a huge hit nationally.” 

BC: The goal of any show is to build a community with your listeners. If you ask people which shows do it best, you start with Stern, Dan Patrick gets mentioned for sports radio and then you guys are in that category equally. At what point did you realize you had that level of show?

ESPN Keeping Le Batard, Stugotz On Air With New Multiyear Deals

STU: Making everyone feel invested and part of the show, building that community was super important to Dan and ultimately became important to me. We wanted the audience to participate and contribute to the content of the show.

About three years in is when I knew we were building this community right. I got the ratings book and looked down toward the mid-teens, which is where we usually ranked for men 25-54. I didn’t see us there. Rather than look up, I scrolled down into the 20’s and still didn’t see us anywhere and thought, ‘shit we didn’t rate, our show sucks.’ I start scrolling back up and finally found us at a strange place – number one. I fell out of my chair.

It was validation, it felt really good to get that number one, and from there, we always stayed in the top-three.

“There isn’t a sports radio show in the country that has more of a loyal following than the Le Batard Show,” said The Ticket’s former morning host Jorge Sedano, who now hosts afternoons for ESPN Los Angeles. “I’ve been to their events and they are unmatched in the industry. Heck, their fans are so into the show – they’ve spawned off their own podcasts that get traction within the community of the Le Batard universe. Many of the people associated with the show, myself included, have made appearances on these off shoot podcasts. It’s truly a unique connection between the audience and that show. Nothing like it.” 

BC: How important is The Shipping Container and the ability to integrate different people, different personalities to the show, was that something you both wanted from the start?

STU: Invaluable. We always wanted as many voices as we could bring to the show, especially to lend to the funniness, wackiness and craziness. But even more importantly, to provide perspective and expertise.

The executive producer was always a major part of our show. But as we grow older, we realize it’s super important for the show to stay younger. The demo we go for is 25-54 and the closer you get to that 54, the more you realize you need to be closer to 25. Dan’s 51, I’m 47, we started incorporating Billy, Chris, Mike, The Shipping Container and other young voices because we love our crew, they help keep us young and keep the audience young.

BC: What about the ‘you don’t get the show’ approach and the ability to make the show something that is inclusive in terms of anyone is welcome to listen, but the content is exclusive to the people that do listen?

STU: It’s the most important thing we do, and it goes back to that community. One of the ways you create a community is by making them feel like they understand something that no one else does. We make the ‘you don’t get the show’ club seem like it’s really small, but it’s massive. 

It can be frustrating because the traditional sports radio listener might only tune in for 15 minutes and they’re probably wondering ‘what the hell is this?!’ But (executive producer) Mike Ryan reminds us about the younger generation and the way they consume content because that’s who we’re going after. My kids listen to podcasts, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, not FM radio.

Even some people at ESPN don’t get what we do! They just took the SportsCenter updates away from me because they said it wasn’t professional enough. But that’s what we were going for! I’ve done everything in sports radio, I promise I can do traditional SportsCenter updates – we were trying to make those funny and the audience loved it. But some of the people at ESPN didn’t realize we were doing it on purpose and that’s frustrating.

You Don't Get the Show | The Official Dan Le Batard Show Merch Store

BC: Knowing the future of radio is digital and where a lot of your audience already is, did it bother you when ESPN took away a terrestrial hour?

STU: Dan looked at it as a demotion. I’m not going to say it felt good. I was upset and our audience was upset, but what happens is the more you push us down, the more emboldened our audience becomes. I know the future is digital. I’m in my car right now, all my apps are on my dashboard, what I don’t see is a radio.

I always wonder how Dan and I would do if we were digital only. The big three in terms of sports and rec podcasts are us, Simmons and Pardon My Take. We’re competing simply by repurposing our radio show into a podcast. How big would our show be if we weren’t already broadcasting it nationally on the radio? So now we’re doing one or two hours a day where it’s digital only and I’m excited to explore that space and see how big it can be.

BC: Do you want the terrestrial and digital hours to sound like different shows? Or do you want the terrestrial listeners to feel like they didn’t get a complete show if they don’t hear the podcast?

STU: Right now, because of Dan’s TV schedule, we’re taping the third hour later in the day. But ultimately, we want the third hour to be an extension of the two-hour radio show. So if you’re listening live, you feel like you have to be part of that third hour.

BC: Do you like the freedom offered with digital? Maybe the Le Batard Show brand is able to distance itself from Mickey Mouse a bit in those hours?

STU: 100 percent. For starters, there are no commercials to interrupt us, we appreciate the sponsors, but they’re placed, not forced in. The time is flexible, we can just keep going. It’s not a big deal, but we can curse. The digital space is more liberating and it definitely gives us more freedom. And Dan likes freedom. [Laughs]

BC: Does ESPN give you guys the freedom to address every issue you want?

STU: ESPN has been great. I know our listeners are upset about us losing an hour because it feels like a shot at us. But ESPN has a digital monster on their hands with our show and that’s the future.

They haven’t just been good bosses, they’ve been great. When Dan and I joined ESPN, we were worried about the concept and them controlling us. They promised us that they wouldn’t and they really haven’t interfered since we joined. If they haven’t interfered on terrestrial, they certainly won’t on digital.

BC: Do you think the pandemic advanced the decision to give you guys a bigger digital platform? I think about my own listening habits, and they’ve changed in recent months. I was always in the camp of wanting a traditional five-hour local radio show, but now I listen to a lot more podcasts and a lot less terrestrial radio.

STU: A lot of industries have learned a lot from these past few months, so it’s possible, but we were likely headed toward this move anyway because our podcast numbers were so strong.

In the last few months, people ask ‘how do you do a show without sports?’ We were waiting for this moment our entire lives [Laughs]. The harder part was getting used to doing the show from different locations. I know our show seems like an unscripted mess, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, a lot of producing on the fly, a lot of eye contact.

Nobody does more research on this than ESPN and I think they’ve stumbled on the idea that a two-hour show has a better chance of getting terrestrial ratings than four hours. Combine it all – the pandemic, shorter shows, the future being digital, it all contributes to what we’re doing.

BC: What’s your show prep? Most shows build a show sheet with segment topics, some bullet points and use that. But how do you create what sounds like organized chaos?

STU: Organized chaos, I like that. A lot of our content is produced, a lot of it also comes from conversations that spill out of commercial breaks.

I’m not sure anyone consumes more ESPN than I do. I love games, I love sports, so Dan can always rely on me to bring that. And when serious topics get put on our desk, there is no one better than Dan at discussing social issues, racial inequality, the president. It gives us credibility to play around with everything else.

We equate Dan to a dad at home trying to get serious work done and we’re the kids trying to prevent that. That’s where I think the organized chaos you mentioned comes from, me just reacting to Dan.

“Stugotz is the on-air glue that holds everything together on the show,” said ESPN Radio program director Liam Chapman. “He can play whatever role he needs to at any moment, he’s obviously more than willing to be the butt of the joke, and he’s shown his ability to give strong opinions, book guests and be much more. It’s a testament to the longevity of the show that Stugotz is willing to play all these roles and keep the chemistry flowing between Dan and the rest of the Shipping Container.”

BC: It’s unrealistic to expect someone can talk on the radio three hours a day for 15 years and not say something that comes out wrong, but has your approach to radio changed as society becomes more politically correct? The interview with Martina Navratilova in 2010, I don’t know if that goes over as well in 2020.

(In 2010, Stugotz referred to Navratilova as a “bitch” after she ended an interview with Le Batard on 790 The Ticket)

STU: Well that interview didn’t go over well then either and I certainly didn’t feel good about it when it happened. I was a father of twin daughters ten years ago, I’m still a father of twin daughters ten years later, I wasn’t proud of that interview then and I wouldn’t be proud of it now. What we’re talking about is have ramifications changed, because sometimes an apology isn’t enough.

I think any host in America would say the same thing, you constantly need to reprogram because if you want to just remain a caveman your entire life, shame on you. And it’s not just society changing, with age comes perspective. I know my character, I know my role on the show, but I do try to be more mature, more thoughtful of peoples’ feelings than I used to be.

Close shaves: ESPN's Stugotz reflects on enduring a "Finebaum," live lie  detector test - ESPN Front Row

BC: Can it be difficult to navigate the line between terrestrial and digital? There are things that can get you in trouble if you’re a play-by-play announcer, but a talk radio host might be able to make the same comment. Similarly, there are things you can’t say on talk radio that you can say on a podcast. There are different levels of what’s accepted, based on your platform.

STU: What you’re saying is fair, there is more leeway in a podcast right now, but that’s not going to last long. For us, we won’t approach it differently from a topic standpoint, it really just allows us to have more time. Dan and I are very aware of how and what we talk about. We don’t set out to upset anyone because we’re always going for funny, but when you miss on funny it comes off as mean. It’s a fine line regardless of where you do the show.

BC: 20-year radio partnerships are really rare and you’re getting closer to that number with Dan. I’m sure you have an ego, you’re competitive, you don’t get to this level if you’re not. Have you had the desire to do something solo?

STU: This isn’t anything Dan doesn’t know, but I think about it all the time. Constantly. But I also know anything I do away from this will never be as good as this at its best. I’m fully aware how important Dan is to me, and Dan’s fully aware of how important I am to him. When you have chemistry in this business, latch on because it’s hard to come by. But to say I never think about what it would have been like 20 years ago to do my own show is crazy.

I don’t know if I’ll ever scratch that itch, but the beauty of digital is, I have my own podcast and there’s no one stopping me from flipping the mic on and doing five episodes a week.

“Stugotz is the secret sauce,” Sedano added. “Dan is brilliant. However, every great radio host needs a foil and Stugotz plays that role to perfection. Stu is also way more relatable. Hence, why he has his own personal fan club named, “The Stugotz Army.” Dan readily admits on-air that the show isn’t the same when any of the components are missing. Their personalities are a perfect combination of discerning versus perfunctory. Hands down, Stu is as important to the show as anyone or anything.”

BC: You might never be able to create something where the product is as good as the show you have right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something equally fulfilling. Chris Russo’s product is not as good as Mike and the Mad Dog, but having Mad Dog Radio might be more fulfilling.

STU: That’s a great point. There is some ego involved. With the Le Batard & Friends network, Mike Ryan told me STUpodity is the highest rated podcast. I got great satisfaction out of that.

Even that six-week hiatus Dan took last year, I knew what we were doing wasn’t as good as what me and Dan do, but we were getting to a place where it started to feel pretty good. And I think digitally, that was the biggest month we ever had, [Laughs] that selfishly felt great! I have enough confidence in myself and I’ve learned enough from Dan that I could create something pretty unique and special.

Even still, I don’t know how long it takes to get into the radio Hall of Fame, but f**k it if I’m not going to the Hall of Fame with Dan Le Batard. 17-18 years of being a pinata, I better be getting a Hall of Fame jacket.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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