Sitting in the boss’s seat was supposed to be a temporary thing for Jeff Tyler. He was just going to oversee Capstar Broadcasting’s Madison, Wisconsin cluster for a short period until a new permanent manager was found. He was a programmer. He was supposed to be on the air.
Fortunately, the boss that Jeff eventually replaced was forward thinking enough to see that it could benefit all parties involved if he had his PD involved in sales meetings. That gave Jeff a level of understanding that he needed to make the transition to a more general leadership role and the rest as they say is history.
During his tenure with iHeartMedia, Jeff has overseen many stations, including the company’s marquee local sports brand in Minneapolis, KFAN. After a stint in the Twin Cities, he moved south to Milwaukee to help oversee the launch of 97.3 The Game. As a regional president, Jeff’s worked with established sports brands such as KJR in Seattle, and Denver’s KOA, as well as the ill-fated Orange & Blue 760. iHeart knows they have a leader who understands all aspects of operating a successful radio brand, especially local sports radio stations.
Not bad for a guy that was offered his first GM role while in a hospital bed after knee surgery, right?
In the conversation below, Jeff talks about his rise through the ranks at iHeartMedia, which elements of KFAN’s success could and couldn’t be duplicated when 97.3 The Game arrived on the scene in Milwaukee, and how radio fits into iHeartMedia’s overall business plan.
Demetri Ravanos: You started on the programming side, first as a talent before moving into the PD role. Then came the move into overseeing the entire operation. Let’s start there. What was that feeling or realization like when you became a station manager for the first time? Is there anything that you can remember going through your head as you’re excited about the opportunity yet also trying to figure out the best strategy for convincing people on the sales staff that you are the right guy to be their leader too?
Jeff Tyler: I guess I was preparing without knowing I was preparing for it. It happened in Madison. We were one of the first consolidated markets after the telecom bill. Somebody came in and bought the two big players in town. I think at that time I was on the air and programming Z104 and WTSO in Madison for Midcontinent Broadcasting. Then when it was purchased and they bought LL Broadcasting, all the sticks got put together and I said ‘let’s go’.
The station owner of the three LL Broadcasting stations was put in charge of the cluster at first. That was Capstar Broadcasting. Mary Kwas was the Region President and she was the one to give me my first shot. She did not think the other guy was up to the task. I was having knee surgery, actually from playing too much basketball in high school and college, which that’s about all I got out of it…and an education I guess.
So she called me in the hospital and said, “Hey, would you like to oversee the stations? You have been the de facto station manager.”
Lee (the previous manager) always brought me into sales and had me understand why he was doing things, much to his credit. I said to him, “I’ve never sold.” He says “You sell every day. You just don’t know rates and revenue. But you understand bottom line and expense thinking. You have a good business acumen. So you’ll be fine. And you’re a great communicator.”
So, to his credit, he gave me that exposure. When Mary said, “would you like to run it while I search for a new general manager,” I said, sure. Six months later, she called me and said, “I haven’t had any luck. Do you want the job?”
I said yes of course. As far as the team was concerned, for anybody to elevate within a group, you’re going to go from a pure level to some kind of management level for some people, if not all of them. I went from a peer in programing to a superior just in terms of stature to all of them. The key in those situations is understanding that and knowing how to handle it. If all of a sudden you’re their buddy one day, and the next you’re saying “I’m your boss now,” that’s bullshit and it won’t work. That’s where people trip up. I think I had enough good mentors over the years to teach me that and maybe just common sense.
The key is knowing you don’t know everything, and counting on people that know things that you don’t, being a sponge, being a leader, being a communicator and being someone that will look for the consensus on certain things. At some point, you’re ultimately responsible, but having people in the room that have opinions and viewpoints and history is really important. Any good leader’s got to have that in mind or you’re not going to make it.
DR: Why is your path such an uncommon one now? What are the barriers that top level management sees to the benefits of bringing someone from the programing side into top level management?
JT: I think it’s the perception and it goes back forever, probably. If you look at the programing side and promotions, they spend money, right? The sales side makes money. I think especially in iHeartMedia, we’ve done a good job of bringing a lot of programmers along. The people in our positions now and the leadership in programing understand our business side really well. They understand the need to build content that is a good marketing tool for advertisers. It’s just not this side of the room and that side of the room at odds, which was radio forever and ever.
I think if you have a business mindset and an acumen to understand what’s needed – I mean the modeling, the pricing, and stuff like that is just math. But if you understand how it works and what’s needed, you know you can’t say, “Well, I’m just going to build this for programing and run it without any advertisers involved,” well, that’s just stupid. The consumer doesn’t care anymore. Consumers understand that KDWB and Pepsi are giving you a chance to win ten thousand dollars. They don’t care. No one is in their car saying “Oh, my God! They’re whoring out the station.” Those days are over. Product placement and smart content management with an advertiser viewpoint is really important. For those that have it, there’s no there’s no barrier. You just have to make it known within the building. You have to have that desire and then attach yourself to someone that will mentor you to a position that you want to be in. No one’s going to look around the room and say “Ok, you!”. Make it known. Speak up. Say “I want to be here. What do I need to do to be here?” and be prepared to do that.
DR: What were some of the hiccups along the way once you got into a bigger management role and started running larger and larger entities? What are some of the things you had to learn on the job that were different about a market manager’s role from a regional president’s role?
JT: Every station, every makeup of talent is different. I remember the people that bought Clear Channel at one time, the Bain Capital folks, from what I heard, it drove them crazy because they were an investment company. They looked at it as a math problem. “There’s four FMs and two AMs in this market and there’s four FMs and two AMs in this market. Why wouldn’t it just be the same thing? Why isn’t the same outcome?”
Everything is different, and I think you need to really understand the history of the station, where it sits in the marketplace, where it sits in the minds of the consumer, where the talent is, how new it is, how engaged in the community it is, how long it’s been there, and then not just make random assumptions. You really have to dig in and understand what’s going on and look at the chess pieces you’re dealt.
Let’s say you have six stations. Which ones are the ones you can count on right now? Which are developmental? What do you have to do to position them differently?
That was the biggest thing for me, stepping back and and not looking at programing as “I just want to fix my station”. It’s “what can we do collectively to impact the market?”. Because we were an early consolidator, we tried a lot of things. We we sold three FMs or four FMs and two AMs together. Then we tried a couple of variations. We ended up selling the whole cluster. Why wouldn’t you just have every bullet in the gun?
I still think that’s being figured out. The most current incarnation that we have is you can be so clustered, but within that you may have specialty people that really lean one way, somebody understands say, conservative talk radio or sports talk radio. So it’s those nuances. It’s that fine tuning thing and looking through a different lens. That’s what I had to really learn and and grow with in the more markets I had. It became more dynamic.
DR: When you are talking about looking through a different lens and you are both overseeing an entire region and a cluster in a major market, how do you find the balance? How do you find the time to consciously switch between those lenses that you need in order to do both roles successfully? That seems like a lot for one person to take on.
JT: Well, you can’t. You have to surround yourself with good people. I think my team in Minneapolis is the best I’ve ever worked with, by far. They’re the most professional, the most astute. They like each other. They are on the same page. That was really important, so I could turn my back and look at St. Louis or Seattle and work with that team. I could go into that market and ask them “What do you think? What do we need to do? What’s going on?”.
Certainly I had access to all the numbers and the revenue models and the ratings and personnel. I could see where there might be some potential holes, because sometimes you’re so close to it, you can’t see it. Somebody from the outside may have a different look, but you have to ask them their opinion.
The key for me was being able to take what I knew in Minneapolis and try to help apply it without shoving it down anybody’s throat. I couldn’t go back to Madison and say “You know, in Minneapolis we do this”. They would look at someone that does that and say, “screw you”. When we did have the regional thing for a while, we had more assets in Minneapolis than Eau Claire. We had tickets to concerts, we had tickets to Viking games. We had the Vikings contract. We were able to help them with assets to build their business because we looked at it as one business unit, one enterprise. So we were able to help with our assets. At the same time, smaller markets sometimes do a lot of good blocking and tackling. And you can forget that in big markets.
Kevin LeGrett is one of my favorite people in the world. He runs L.A. for us, and we think a lot alike and have a lot of the same history. He came from Rochester, New York and Chillicothe, and some small markets. And when you get to L.A., there’s a lot of things you can just kind of not forget and implement that really still work in those big markets. That’s important too, to be able to come both ways and not just pontificate from up high.
DR: So when you are in Minneapolis, from a regional perspective, you helped launch 97.3 The Game in Milwaukee. I wonder how much you even let what KFAN is into your mind as a model for what you want The Game to be. While KFAN’s an iconic brand worth replicating, it’s also difficult to expect to catch lightning in a bottle and do that twice.
JT: I’ve had people call me over the years and say ‘how can we do what you’re doing at KFAN?’. You can’t. Gregg Swedberg, who is the head of programing for Minneapolis, was involved in KFAN from an AM to an FM to everything along the way. Chad Abbott is phenomenal as a programmer. They have both said it’s time and talent. They had talent in and it’s evolved over the years. The whole morning show started as interns.
So you find the right people and give it enough time. We’re so quick to pull the string on things that we think didn’t work. They gave this thing time. With talent, it emerges and it becomes very difficult to compete with. It becomes very ingrained in the city.
I think the magic of KFAN is the bit. Maybe you’ve seen that in some of the things about KFAN. When you first listen to it, you may not get the bit. You have to engage a while. Once you do and the talent carries the bit throughout the whole day, it shows sometimes that the talent don’t take themselves seriously, and sports can at times get in the way of what they’re talking about. Honestly, Dan Barreiro, I would trust him if the Twins won the World Series to handle it perfectly or what’s going on right now in the Twin Cities with the racial unrest and the violence against Blacks, he can handle both situations perfectly and that’s rare.
So when we looked at The Game, our programmer (Tim Scott), I brought him into the company in Madison a while back, so he thinks like I do. I said, ‘you know, we can’t replicate KFAN, but we can replicate the concept’. Sports is great, but the average listener doesn’t need the box score. They’ve got their phone. They can get that in two seconds. They want opinion. They want you to reflect what’s going on. They want entertainment. Above all, it’s got to be entertaining! So we looked for guys like that. Steve Czaban was sitting there and he was having huge success across town with his appearances on Bob and Brian for many, many years. He was a logical jumping off point. Ever since then, we built the station with people that have more to say than just sports. Now we’ve got some statewide affiliates that carry much of our programing in Wisconsin, just as KFAN does in Minnesota. Everybody is looking for that same thing. A Wisconsin sports fan is not unlike a Minnesota sports fan. They just they just hate one another.
DR: I guess that’s symptomatic of the entire Midwest. Because they also hate Illinois sports fans and Michigan sports.
JT: Sure. I mean the beauty of KFAN is there’s this thing about Minnesota sports fans and it’s not meant to be derogatory, but over the years, they’ve had a lot of disappointment. No matter how good they are or how good they start off, they can start 5-0. The Minnesota sports fan says, “yeah, we’re good, but somewhere along the line, we’re going to F it up.” KFAN is their shoulder to cry on. The guys tend to sympathize with that and make it entertaining. And I think that’s part of it.
Wisconsin sports fans are near and dear. You could talk about the Packers every day. They bleed red and white for the Badgers. The Brewers are in there, too. The Bucks have become much more of a factor. More so in Milwaukee, where do adult males especially go to to be entertained? Outside of Bob and Brian on the Hog, it’s pretty thin. We’re trying to position ourselves as the group that can take those reins and also acquire other franchises, which we’re working on as well.
DR: I want to ask you about the way sports fans are served in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. KFAN has faced challengers before, but heavy local sports radio competition isn’t available currently. Milwaukee meanwhile has two other sports stations. One airs on two signals (ESPN Milwaukee) and the other previously broadcast on two signals (The Fan). All of the local play-by-play, at least the pro teams, are on WTMJ, a news/talk station that has a major sports presence. Given your experience of working in both markets, is it a matter of Minneapolis being underserved from a local sports radio standpoint or is Milwaukee overserved?
JT: I think Milwaukee might be a little overserved. I mean, just the the oversaturation of certain formats in Milwaukee made people jump to sports. I think there was some foreshadowing of how important content was going to be. You can have a great music station with with dynamic talent and see somebody come into the market and replicate that with a decent level of talent and move listeners in droves. It’s a commodity to them. A good sports talk brand, just like a good conservative news/talk station, somebody that’s got a real strong position in the market can be really tough to overcome.
WSSP tried it. When they went on AM and tried the FM translator, they did a nice job. Entercom at that point did a nice job, but I knew if we could get a 50,000 watt FM going, we’d put them in our rearview mirror. And that’s really where it is now. It’s between us and the other two. TMJ stays in place because of their history, that big stick, and they do have those franchises that impact dayparts and weekends. But I know those things can change.
In Minneapolis we’ve been approached by the other pro teams. That’s why we created KFAN Plus, and maybe that grows into something that’s a little more significant. But digital radio does level the playing field a little bit.
What is in place right now in Milwaukee may change and we just need to grow a platform that’s really receptive for it and appreciated by the consumer. We’ve got all the expertise. We are the the Badger flagship. We’ve run that Badger Sports Network since 1994. So we understand how that works. We know how to sell it, we know how to operate it. We know how to execute a network, so it’s just a matter of time.
DR: That deal with the University of Wisconsin, is it something that iHeart worked out for all of its stations that made sense across the state? Or is it sort of divvied up by market? Because I would think the Badgers have way more brand value in Madison on a Monday morning in the fall than they do in Milwaukee.
JT: When WTMJ had the Packers, Brewers, Bucks and Badgers, the Badgers were always the fourth stepchild. The University knew that was the case when I first talked to Barry Alvarez and Learfield. I had a good relationship there. I told them that we can make the Badgers more high profile in Milwaukee. There’s a lot of alumni in that city, but there’s also a lot of Marquette alumni. So it’s it’s a little bit of a battle. But on football Saturdays, there’s an awful lot of Badger fans there. We just need to reframe it and give it its own home. I think that’s helped a great deal.
The Learfield relationship, they look at every market individually, but we have a good long term relationship with them. The previous CEO, Greg Brown and I were really good friends and understood each other. They trusted me and what we did, and so that translated to Milwaukee eventually.
If we ever got control of a franchise ourselves, if we were say the flagship, yes, we would look at that team for our whole group together. That’s just the new world. In Minneapolis, all of our KFAN affiliates are Vikings affiliates as well. That’s because our relationship with the Vikings, and the kind of agreement we have with them. Same thing with the Wild. The joke between us is that we just never open the contract. You need something? We need something? You know, it’s got to be a partnership. I’ve had people ask me, are you own owned by the same company? And I tell them ‘no, we’re not, but you certainly we know it’s a partnership’. We have to create things that are wins for both sides or it won’t work.
When we did the last deal, we looked five years down the road. What’s this going to look like in five years? This is just a year ago with the Vikings. Software will change. The way the NFL distributes its content, social media’s impact, digital’s impact, it’s all going to change, and we have to be ready for that. So, the next few years are going to be interesting to see how those things play out.
DR: Well, you talked about the future and the likelihood of change, so I want to circle back with you on Steve Czaban. As you mentioned before, he had equity in mornings in Milwaukee with Bob and Brian before you brought him over. He also had a daily afternoon show in DC, something he had been doing for years. Steve is still physically located in the nation’s capital and does the morning show remotely for the Game, but with his afternoon show no longer on 980 in DC, have you discussed with him what it would take for him to relocate to Wisconsin?
JT: I think that’s going to stay between Steve and I. There’s some other factors that are involved in that first for him. So, I don’t want to speak about those. But absolutely, we’ve had a discussion, even originally reversing it where we looked at having him do the show from Milwaukee for DC. You’re aware of the changes that took place there. He doesn’t talk about a lot of it. He was just burned out. He’s really energized by the people around him in Milwaukee, some of the young talent we’ve got, John Kuhn, a former Packer, and Brian Butch, a former Badger. He’s excited about what we do with what we call “five wide” in the last hour of the show. He’s just he’s rejuvenated a little bit with what goes on at The Game.
The eventuality is yes, but how it happens and when it happens, there’s some timing things that have to be figured out. And we’re working on that, respectfully.
DR: You have been with this company from Clear Channel to iHeartMedia and so on and so forth. Sitting in your seat, that day where you find out that the company is going to be rebranded and named after the streaming app and there’s going to be this bigger emphasis put on podcasting, did you have to reevaluate where broadcast radio stood in the company’s hierarchy?
JT: Not really. I would hope you print this because I really, truly mean it. Bob Pittman is a brilliant man. You look at MTV or AOL, he has foreshadowed where things are going. To make that move nine, going on ten years ago to flip to iHeartRadio and iHeartMedia was brilliant. It really set in motion how we would be a catalyst for our advertisers, and for our listeners to stay at the forefront of what’s going on. Audio is being consumed in many different ways. To be out in front of that is exciting. Sometimes it’s clumsy. I mean, as a manager, when you’re leading and trying to push the change, you’re going to trip once in a while. Bob, to his credit, has always encouraged tripping as long as you learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again. He expects people to hit .500 at best.
To not take risks is to not change and not move on. I think the company is pushed the right way. It’s not like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. I truly believe that. I remember being in airports eight years ago and asking people what they’re listening to, and it was “oh, I’m listening to my playlist”. Now, you know, it’s two out of three, “I listen to a podcast”. It’s personal listening.
It’s going to change the way Nielsen is doing things obviously. That’s a clumsy, outdated concept now. I think using iHeartRadio and saying to our advertisers, “we have all this information about the people that are registered users of iHeartRadio, we know as much about them as Facebook does,” well, it’s not a leap to say the people who are listening to broadcast radio are the same people. It’s because they can’t be in the same place at the same time. Qualitatively we can be a much better resource for people.
I’m amazed. It speaks to the dynamic again going back to KFAN. ‘The Power Trip’ morning show, between their show podcast, which is maybe a glean of their best two hours every morning, and their ‘After Party’, which is basically a half hour post show play by play, it gets a little crazy at times. Those two podcasts combine for almost two million downloads a month. That’s phenomenal. That’s New York level. All it says is that the consumer wants more of what they like. They just want it when they need it, when they want it, in their car or whenever they have time to listen.
DR: Let’s end by looking at the industry in that way as opposed to just iHeart specifically. We have seen the news over and over again, that broadcasting revenue has been flat or down for a few years now. Obviously the pandemic made things even worse. How much of that do you feel is the result of advertiser or ad buyer misconception as opposed to listenership actually eroding? I’ve sat in multiple conferences and heard countless managers talk about having meetings with younger agency buyers who reject proposals simply because they don’t listen to broadcast radio and the friends their age don’t listen to broadcast radio. So they assume it has no value.
JT: I think some of that is perception and yes, you’re right, that is something we do run into once in a while. That is a little bit of tunnel vision. I’ll give you two quick synopses here. First of all, time away from radio has always been challenged. In history, there were eight tracks, then cassette players were supposed to kill radio. Then it was CDs and your iPod and all the playlists you could create. All that podcasting did, it just replaced the time that was given to all the stuff that was away from radio. When people want to escape, that’s what they do. They go to a place where they can listen to something that is part of their world and their world only. All that we’ve done is allowed a new technology to take the lead in that area and become a factor. They still come back to radio for companionship and for information and entertainment. I think it’s more of a reporting thing, frankly, for the reasons I brought up about Nielsen. It’s hard to sample where people are truly listening these days, and so perception comes into that.
The other thing is when you talk to somebody about radio and they say ‘I don’t listen to radio anymore’, ask them where their radio is. You’ll hear “I’ve got a radio in my car”. Where else do you have a radio? Is there a clock radio at home? No. Do you have a boombox? No. Do you have an old fashioned tuner? No. Do you have a clock radio under your kitchen counter? No. What do you listen to? “I stream through Alexa.” Well, that’s radio. So shame on us for not trying to educate along the way, but that’s just perception. Then their perception becomes, somebody’s opinion, and that can generate its own legs, so to speak.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.