Imagine how you’d feel if an opportunity to audition at your favorite radio station came about. Not just the station you simply enjoy the most; the station you grew up listening to in your hometown; the station you dreamed of working for one day. You might be the opposite of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed — “My hand does not shake. Ever.” This surprisingly was not the experience of sports radio host Ramie Makhlouf when he tried out for 670 The Score in Chicago. He felt at ease the whole time.
The Bears, Bulls, and Cubs fan who was born in Palatine, a suburb on the north side of Chicago, never thought he’d be that comfortable. Ramie talks about his experience at The Score, a series of events at SKOR North in Minneapolis, and his rapport with a man named Mitch that led to him reuniting with 1250AM The Fan in Milwaukee. If you’re scoring at home that’s The Score, SKOR, The Fan and about four moves in two years. Someone get this man a beer.
Ramie has been a stand-up comedian for the past eight years. It’s really interesting to hear how he applies aspects of stand-up to sports radio. Ramie describes what it’s like to have a laugh track in his head. He also talks about the necessity of having thick skin, the horrors of country music, and the meaning of “put a roof on it”. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat and didn’t even once mention that the Cardinals are better than the Cubs.
Brian Noe: How did you get your start in sports radio?
Ramie Makhlouf: When I graduated from college I saw that there was this brand new sports talk radio station starting up in Milwaukee. I had graduated from a small college in Kenosha, Wisconsin — UW Parkside. I grew up listening to two things; The Score in Chicago and the Howard Stern Show. Howard Stern would always say the best place to go especially if you’re getting your start in radio is either a really shitty radio station that was getting no ratings, or a brand new startup station. So I was like man, this is perfect. There’s this brand new startup station right here about 30 miles north. Really just got a foot in the door, man, a really low-level, entry-level job, weekend board up and doing a few things here and there during the week. Just climbed the ladder there over the course of about 14 years. After about seven, eight years I was hosting the afternoon show.
BN: With you being a Stern guy, do you think that sports talk is sometimes too sportsy?
RM: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I think the debate show phenomenon on ESPN and FOX Sports 1 and these networks has made that problem even worse. One of the things that — and not to say that I wasn’t having fun my first time around in Milwaukee, I had a great time my first time around in Milwaukee and couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to work with and to learn from — but when I went up to Minneapolis at SKOR North with Phil Mackey and those guys, there was a real emphasis put on let’s have fun. It was almost part of the job description that we need to have fun when we’re doing these radio shows because if we’re not having fun, then the people listening to us aren’t having fun. Ultimately this is entertainment, man. There’s no reason to take it too seriously. Not to say that you can’t have sportsy sports talk and you can’t get passionate about things, but at the end of the day there’s hardly ever anything going on in our world that needs to be taken that seriously that we can’t find a way to have fun and have some laughs around it.
BN: How does being a stand-up comedian help you build a show or choose content?
RM: I think it helps a lot. I think that they both help a lot. To be honest with you some of my best bits — not that I’m trying new material or running bits on the air, that’s something that I actively try not to do. Once I’ve written something into a joke or into a bit, I try not to recite that later on, on the air. But some of my best bits have just sort of come up accidentally on the air where I’ll be talking about something and just riffing and I’ll notice that the guys I’m working with are laughing or I’ll get a bunch of tweets like hey man that was hilarious. I’ll sort of form that into a joke or a story or a bit that I can tell on stage. It’s helped my stand-up comedy.
On the other end I think you kind of get a laugh track in your head after you do comedy for a while. When you’re going through the process of writing comedy, you can kind of hear where you’re getting the laughs over the course of writing a joke or writing a story. I think the same thing kind of applies. In radio you don’t get to hear their laughs, you don’t get to see how many people are tuning in or tuning out. I think that you do get sort of a sense of, or even a clock, that people are interested or are losing interest in what you’re doing and it’s time to move on.
BN: In stand-up comedy, the crowd is right there and you learn quickly what the crowd responds to. How do you take that and use it toward sports radio?
RM: I wrote a piece for Barrett Sports Media a few months ago and I talked about the similarities of the two and where there is crossover. One thing I talk about in that article, there’s what’s called the 12-second rule in stand-up comedy that you want to get a laugh every 12 seconds of a joke, or a story, or a bit that you’re telling. Otherwise you’re going to lose that crowd. You need to keep them hooked in to what you’re saying and what you’re doing so that they’re not — in our industry turning off the radio — or when they’re sitting in a comedy club losing interest, or talking to the person at their table next to them, or just spacing out and thinking about what they have to do the next day.
While it’s not always a joke or a punchline or a laugh that you’re trying to get when you’re doing the radio show, I think that there needs to be something every 12 seconds, or a handful of times every minute that’s keeping an audience — or I like to think of it as just one listener — that keeps them interested and keeps them hooked in to your radio show. That could be a sound bite. It could be a joke or a punchline where you’re going for a laugh. It could be an inflection or a change in your tone or a pregnant pause. But there has to be something where you’re changing it up and it’s not just you talking for 60 seconds straight. There has to be a handful of things every minute where you’re changing it up and giving the listener something to hook in to and stay tuned in to.
BN: Can you walk me through your timeline with SKOR North? Once the station went away, how did it unfold from there with The Score in Chicago and with Milwaukee?
RM: So I was laid off from SKOR North on May 31 last year. I had been in contact with Mitch Rosen before that. I had applied for jobs in Chicago at The Score and he kind of was coming into The Fan in Milwaukee just as I was on my way out. We had established a bit of a relationship already and a bit of a rapport. A few months after I was laid off in the Twin Cities, he asked me if I’d like to come back to Milwaukee and start doing some fill-in work there. I was doing that for a little bit.
Then the incident with Dan McNeil; one of the afternoon hosts at The Score tweeted some unfortunate things and lost his job as a result. They were looking for a co-host for Danny Parkins. I ended up on the short list. I tried out. It started off with a field of five or six people that they were trying out for that. Nobody told me this but just based on how far I went in the auditions, I think it came down to me and Matt Spiegel, who was already Danny Parkins’ co-host in a previous radio life before Dan McNeil came back to The Score. And Spiegs won it. And rightly so, man.
I got to know Matt Spiegel a little bit in my time working there and worked with him a handful of times. He’s a great dude and a radio professional. He gets this thing as well as anybody gets it. Obviously he and Danny have a lot of chemistry and a lot of history together. I’ve caught their show when I’m not working — we’re on at the same time — and those guys are great together. I’m happy for everybody involved and who knows? Like I said, I’m doing some weekends there so who knows what’s in the future. But I had a great time doing it, man. It was a dream come true being on those airwaves and that team of guys they have working behind the scenes with Danny Parkins and Matt Spiegel, the best in the business. They couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming to me. It was a great experience.
BN: Is there anything about Danny’s approach to radio that differs from other hosts?
RM: I think he puts an emphasis on fun and being entertaining and not taking this thing so damn seriously. Bringing your life on to the air is something that I think Danny puts an emphasis on. It’s something that I put an emphasis on too. If there’s something that can make you relatable and entertaining to the audience that’s about you and outside the world of sports, I think that’s always a good thing to bring to a show. He does that and he encourages the people that he works with to do that.
As a kid growing up in Chicago listening to The Score and getting your shot on that station auditioning for the afternoon job that you always dreamed about having, there’s a lot of pressure with that. It can be a little bit nerve-racking. From day one starting with Danny and down to Shane Riordan and Chris Tannehill, his former producer Nick Shepkowski, and Spiegs when he was in there, all of them just made me feel like part of the team. Like hey, come in here and contribute, do what you do, just act like you’re part of the show and do what you’ve done on every other show that you’ve been on. I can’t tell you how easy that made the whole thing. I felt very at ease the first time I sat in that chair and was working in the shift on the station in the city that I had always dreamed about working with. I never thought I’d be that comfortable and a big part of the reason was because Danny and all those guys were so easy to work with and so welcoming to me.
BN: What do you like most about working for Mitch Rosen?
RM: One thing I love about working for Mitch Rosen — and I can’t say that about everybody who sits in that chair in radio stations across this country — he treats all of his employees like human beings and checks in on you and sees how you’re doing. How you’re doing on the air and with the job and if you need anything from him, he’ll help with that, but also how you’re doing just in general outside of work and in your day-to-day life. That’s a trait I’ve noticed about him in terms of how he handles the people that work for him is the same across the board whether you have the top rated show in the number three market in the country out there in The Score, or if you’re working at the 30th ranked market or whatever we are currently in Milwaukee. He treats all of his guys the same and I love that about him, man. He’s a really good sports radio program director, but he’s just a really good dude, and I appreciate working for a good dude.
BN: You’ve been outspoken about the abuse that Muslim people have faced and continue to face. What’s the reason you’ve been so involved?
RM: I’m not Muslim, but I am an Arab. Many people assume that all Arabs are Muslim, and so I catch blowback. When there’s an issue that has to do with Muslim people or the Muslim religion that might come up in sports or in the news or in pop culture, I get tweets, I get blowback, I get hate.
Just in general I try to push back on that stuff even if it has nothing to do with me. It has become like a personal thing even though it’s not my religion. I’ve caught so much flak for it. If there’s Muslim hate or just general Arab hate out there, I kind of feel like I need to take up for them in a sense. It’s an unfortunate part of people’s ignorance and blind spots that they don’t even know who they’re hating. Somebody told me to go back to Mexico on Twitter one time. I was like man, I’ve never been but I hear it’s nice. [Laughs]
BN: [Laughs] When you get off-the-wall hatred like that, does it ever make it hard to be funny if you aren’t feeling upbeat?
RM: Oh no. Nah, man. I learned a long time ago to let that stuff roll off my back. I feel like I had built-in defenses before I ever stepped on a stand-up comedy stage in terms of people heckling or throwing hate your way because when you work in the public eye, if you can’t handle that stuff and let it roll off your back, it’s going to be a long road to hoe and you probably won’t last long in this business. One of the things I always tell younger people when they’re getting into the business, if they’re dumb enough to ask me for advice, is have thick skin, man. Have thick skin about what’s going to happen in the industry and what people are going to throw your way from outside the industry because that’s just part of the job unfortunately.
BN: I have to ask about your stance that every stadium in the Midwest should have a roof. What’s this about?
RM: Not just every stadium in the Midwest, every stadium that’s not on the West Coast or in a desert should have a roof in Major League Baseball. Especially if it was built in the modern era. It blew my mind when I went to Minneapolis to work at SKOR North that you had a stadium built in 2010, in the northern most baseball city in these United States of America, where it regularly snows into April, and we have the technology to put retractable roofs onto buildings in 2010, and you just chose not to? You just decided, nah we’re good, we’ll play baseball in this crap? It makes no sense. It’s not good for the game. It’s not good for the fans who are sitting in the stands watching the game. There’s no benefit to it.
All you have to do is look however many miles to the east in Milwaukee and see what that stadium has done for the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee in terms of financial and business impact. People flock to the stadium because they know there isn’t going to be a rainout. And they just chose not to do that in Minneapolis and Detroit and in Cincinnati? It makes absolutely zero sense to me, so I started the ‘put a roof on it’ movement when I got to Minneapolis. I was surprised how it caught on. I just went with it because it became a thing that people knew me for. I’d go out to Target Field and people would be like, “Hey Ramie, put a roof on it.” I was like oh, this thing is working. I’m gonna keep going with it.
BN: That’s awesome, dude. It just pops into my head, Miguel Cabrera sliding into second base in Minneapolis because he didn’t know he hit a home run.
RM: He didn’t know! He couldn’t see the ball clearing the wall because there was just a curtain of snow covering the field. It was ridiculous. Why are we doing this?
BN: [Laughs] I have to ask you — your long hair made me think of music — what are your musical favorites?
RM: I’m all over the board. The one thing I can’t do — people think that I’m making this up just to be funny and I do maybe exaggerate a little bit but I have a literal phobia of country music. I have a fear of flying. I have a fear of heights. And I have a fear of country music. I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear Luke Bryan or Morgan Wallen or whoever is today’s hot country music artist. I get the same bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as I do when I feel the wheels lifting up on an airplane and I’m sitting on that thing. [Laughs] I can’t do it.
I do love classic rock. That’s probably something that you would have assumed from the hair. The Beatles are the greatest band of all time and if you don’t believe that, don’t talk to me. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, all the classics from those days. But more recently — the hair probably doesn’t indicate this — I’m more into hip-hop and rap. Kanye, Drake, Run The Jewels, that’s more often what I’m listening to nowadays than anything else.
BN: In terms of goals, is there anything specific that you would like to accomplish in the next few years?
RM: You know, man, to be honest I’ve never been shy about the fact that I want to land in Chicago. Like I said that’s the station I grew up listening to. That’s the city I grew up loving and the teams that I grew up rooting for.
The last few years of my life have been constant change. I think that if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through all of that it’s always be ready for change and be prepared for it and embrace it. I think we all kind of learned that lesson over that last year. A lot of things in my life have changed multiple times over the course of the last two years. That’s probably the case for a lot of people, so whatever comes, I’ll be ready for it.
Landing in Chicago would be great and I’m going to start getting some at-bats out there, but if that doesn’t happen, I’d love to build something great here in Milwaukee. I’m focused on what I’m doing now and whatever comes next I’ll be ready for it.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
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.