Ivy Savoy-Smith has been leading Audacy’s Washington, DC cluster since December 2019. That doesn’t mean she is new to the seven-station cluster by any means. The Maryland native has spent virtually her whole life in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) and the majority of her entire career inside the same building.
Being a local is important in the nation’s capitol. It means something different to the people that grew up there than it does to those who relocate there to work in government, defense or the lobbyist industry. If you’re a transplant, DC is built on politics. If you grew up inside the Beltway though, you know shutting out politics is important to maintaining your sanity.
A big part of the success of 106.7 The Fan has been due to the station’s ability to do just that – shut out politics. Ivy told me that it’s a big part of what’s helped the station remain strong when competing for advertising dollars against powerhouse news/talkers like WTOP and WMAL. As strong as The Fan has been, it’s no longer the lone brand inside Audacy DC headquarters. 2020 ended with Audacy adding another weapon to its sports radio arsenal when the company struck a deal with Radio One to acquire Team 980. With two familiar local brands operating under one roof in a city that loves sports and isn’t afraid to spend to be associated with it, Ivy and her team like their chances, even if politics occasionally cause a little chaos.
Demetri Ravanos: You were born and raised in the DMV-area, right outside of DC. I think for those of us from the outside, it’s hard to understand what that is like, because politics is what keeps the town ticking to a certain extent. And because of that, it becomes part of people’s everyday life and everyday conversation because everybody knows somebody that works in that field. With that being the case, how important is it that your sports stations be a pure escape from those conversations? I would imagine that is a real selling point, not only for listeners, but also talking to advertisers too.
Ivy Savoy-Smith: Absolutely it is. Our sports stations are just that. They are an escape from everything. We’re here to engage our listeners with great conversation about what’s going on, to have unbiased content that we’re talking about in the sports world, and to give them an opportunity to then engage with our talent over their thoughts and opinions. Obviously, we dive in sometimes when sports transcends, into other things. You have some athletes that maybe doing something in the music world or in the political world, so we will touch on it a bit, but at the end of the day, we are an escape for people. We want you to come to 106.7 The Fan or The Team 980 to listen and hear great content about your favorite and even your not-so-favorite teams here in the in the DMV.
DR: With it being such a transient area, I would imagine that there are plenty of the hometown teams that some of your listeners hate as well.
ISS: Exactly! I mean that is the awesome thing about sports. We have fans all over for the Junkies. I can’t tell you how many listeners that we have for the Sports Junkies who may have left the DMV and don’t live here anymore, but they have that option of listening to the station and still feeling like they’re right here. It’s just a great opportunity. People can still listen to their favorite sports teams wherever they live with streaming and with so many options that we have that are available now for people that weren’t available years ago.
DR: Whether it’s you or people at various levels on your sales staff, when you’re talking to potential clients, WTOP is the highest billing station in America. It’s right there in your backyard. WMAL is also a legendary news/talk station that is very strong. How do you approach local businesses spending money on those stations and hammer home the idea that it benefits them to buy sports on The Fan or Team 980 in addition to News Talk?
ISS: We’re just efficient and we can show you that. We can show you by the qualitative of our listeners. We can show you the research and I can show you who my listeners are, where they live, how much money they make, how smart they are, and what types of jobs they have. Our time spent listening with our sports stations is high. So again, it’s the quality of the listener and you have them engaged. That also goes a long way with a client’s commercial messaging on our stations. We have affluent listeners. Obviously they’re male-dominant stations that we have right there at that median age of the 48 or 49 year old man, who has been working, who has a disposable income.
So we’re able to deliver that more well-rounded buy than, I would say our competitors can. When you think about a TOP or an MAL, and not to take anything away from those two stations. They’re two good stations for news content, but they’re older-skewing stations. Our median age of who were reaching has disposable income and are spending and are engaged, versus some of our competition. They’re on the older end.
Let’s talk about “qualified.” When I’m talking to clients about that, it’s like, “I’m giving you qualified leads. Who’s going to come into your business? Who has more propensity to purchase than someone who isn’t? Who is set in their way and doesn’t need to purchase your product? Who is already comfortable? Who already has these things? Or do you want the person who is going to buy, is looking to buy, is thinking about buying, and has the money to purchase?” We make sure that we’re having that conversation with each and every client that we’re talking to. It’s a different conversation every time based on, obviously, the client in the category. But yes, we are a viable talk station that has listeners who engage, who listen longer, who have the income to come into your locations, and who are in our key demographics. We’re right here to compete with those other stations, and we do a pretty good job of it – and more efficiently I’ll say.
DR: You used the phrase “different conversations” and that feels like a good way to dive into the city’s two biggest sports radio brands now being inside the same building. Your group added Team 980 and the reconfigured lineup at the moment very much has its own identity. It’s not treated like an afterthought. I do wonder what the long term play is for the station or if you even have thought that far ahead yet. The Fan is such a powerhouse in the sports format, at some point I wonder if it just makes more sense to quit splitting the focus and devote all the resources to the top bread winner.
ISS: Absolutely not. We are committed to Team 980 and we feel like it is a great complement to The Fan. Yes, The Fan is our powerhouse and we take nothing away from that, but The Team is also a viable radio station that is a heritage brand and it has a very loyal base of listeners. We’ve made some changes because we want it to evolve with the marketplace right now and with our listener’s demands.
We want The Team to be a complement to The Fan as a sports station, not a one dimensional station. The demographics are similar, but yet they are different in some key ways. The team has a higher comp of African-Americans. The station does very well in Prince Georges County, an area that is very affluent with African-American males. The Fan does very well in Fairfax County with their key demographics. The station’s mirror each other in the right way. You’re getting all men with both stations as opposed to one brand reaching one type of man and the other station reaching another type of man. By having them both, we’re able to deliver the total demographic with 106.7 the Fan and Team 980.
I believe they’re efficient together and it’s a well-rounded buy. All of the games we carry, they’re going to transcend. So even though one station may carry it, we’re still going to talk about it on the other station. That’s what we’re doing with The Team that hasn’t been done. We’re giving Washingtonians and the DMV options and opportunities to listen to both stations. They’re going to get something different from both stations that we believe they’re going to enjoy.
DR: Is that something that you and Chris Kinard had to talk about with candidates, be it for the hosting roles or producing roles? Did you have to make it crystal clear that Team 980 is important to Audacy because it serves a purpose that The Fan can’t or accomplishes a certain goal that The Fan can’t in order to assuage any fears they may have because it’s an AM signal versus an FM signal and it’s not going to be treated the same way in the building?
ISS: Chris and I’ve known each other for 20 years. He’s been with the company as long as I have. So immediately we knew that we were going to make a few tweaks with the station. Overall, 980 is a heritage radio station. It is a brand that has done very, very well in the marketplace. We just wanted to continue that and also enhance it. But immediately we made sure that it was one team, because when you’ve been on opposite sides and you’ve been competing for years, obviously it’s going to be different that day when you make the announcement that your number one competitor is now in the building. So we wanted to make sure, with both teams, to be as transparent as possible. It is one team now. You both bring valuable assets to the table. It does not have to be one or the other. If we do this right, we complement each other.
So the same conversation that we had with them internally is the same conversation I had with the buying community externally, because it is the same conversation. They complement each other. Does it have to be one or the other? It’s worked really well. I will tell you that I am proud of them. They have worked well together and we do a lot together with them. If The Fan hears of one thing, we immediately let The Team know and vice versa. And that’s because everyone knows their strengths. And when everyone knows their strengths and their value and you’re transparent, I think it goes a long way. That’s the difference maker.
DR: We did a story not too long ago at the site about the uniqueness of 980’s lineup with Travis Thomas and Reese Waters airing back to back. I looked this up to confirm. It is the only station in America where you have solo hosts, both African-American, neither are former athletes, airing back to back anywhere in the country. Was that a conscious choice in terms of the positioning? Like you said, 980 has historically performed better with the African-American community. Or was it just a matter of this is where these two sort of fit in the overall lineup and by happy accident, we stumbled on something unique to sports radio?
ISS: I wish I could take credit for that, but that is not the case. I have to give all credit to Chris Kinard, because he was the one who spearheaded this lineup and was adamant about Travis. We worked with Travis before and thought that he was a great talent and when it made sense we we’re going to put him somewhere. When 980 came up, it was just the perfect time. Reese, the same thing. We’ve worked with Reese Waters for years on different things. Chris has wanted him for some time, even when Reese was at ESPN. So Chris knew a lot of their strengths and the different things that they bring to the table. And he liked that. So those were really the reasons it worked out this way. I mean, it took a little creativity to rework the slots. It just so happened with the timing that when everything came about with Team, it was like, “OK, now we know where we can put these guys and bring them into the Audacy family.”
DR: Speaking of Chris Kinard, he has spent his entire career with the company. You mentioned the two of you have worked together for a long time. What have you seen change in him as he has ascended up the ladder from starting out as a producer to now being considered one of the format’s very best programmers anywhere in the country?
ISS: Oh, he definitely is! As I have evolved at the station, we’ve kind of evolved together. He also handles operations for the entire cluster. Chris is a creative genius, but he will also will get in the trenches with you. His guys respect him because he will work with them and he is very transparent. He does the work and gets in front of things.
I will say from a market manager’s standpoint, he is the best. If he comes to me with an issue, he already has an answer for it. He doesn’t walk into the office and say “we’ve got this problem. What are we going to do, Ivy?”. It’s, “hey, we have this problem, Ivy. And I think I have the answer to the problem,” and that’s something that you don’t get all the time. He’s a team player and he listens, and that’s critical.
Chris is not afraid to listen to what other brand managers and PDs are doing across the country at their sports stations. When he sees that they’re doing something great, he’ll reach out and say, “Hey Ivy, I just saw in Philly, they’re doing this, maybe it’s something we can tweak for DC”. He’s always looking and thinking about what else can he do next.
It goes back to Travis and the Reese. He’s always looking at that bench too and thinking, “who are tomorrow’s up and coming star talents? Who’s going to bring that fresh new energy to the team and the talent that we need?” So, for instance, when all of this happened with Team 980, some of the things that we needed to do were already in his head. To me, Chris is the best in the business.
DR: You mentioned before that you’ve been in the building together for a long time. I would imagine that both of you sort of shared major life moments with one another. But now that you are his boss, was there any sort of difficulty in the transition of the relationship? You know, we have this deep familiarity, we’re friends and peers, but now it’s become technically a boss/employee situation. How does the relationship make it easier to navigate thru that?
ISS: I can’t speak for Chris, but it may be easier for me. There’s a confidence at this level of knowing that I have someone that I can trust. I know his work ethic. I know he cares about what he does. He cares about his work. More importantly, he cares about his staff and he will run through a wall for them. I love that he is that way.
Coming into this role and knowing that I had him as my brand manager over The Fan at the time, and since then promoted him to operations manager. Then of course, we acquired The Team, and I knew it’d work because again, I trust him. I know that I don’t have to worry about anything with Chris.
So the transition has worked fine for us. We sat down and went over how does this role look for me, what are my expectations over what he’s doing? There really wasn’t much to change, but obviously we had a conversation and our relationship changed a little bit. But that’s okay, because guess what, I told him “you’ve been doing a good job even before I sat in this seat. So nothing’s really changing for you. You’re going to continue to do what you’re doing. And if anything, I hope me being in this position just empowers you to do more because, I support you and I have your back.
DR: Audacy has certainly done a very good job of making sure that women are in charge of buildings across the entire landscape. From the smallest markets to the biggest, the company seems to have a real focus on putting women in positions of leadership. Being a black woman in that position, unfortunately, still is kind of a rare thing though. I wonder if that makes you willing and eager to be a mentor for the next generation of black women that want to reach the same spot or if it feels more important to advocate for changing minds and addressing biases that may exist at the top.
ISS: I think it’s both. I would love to have more black women with a seat at the table. I would love more opportunity for that. I mentor women whenever I get a chance. I’m in a couple of women in sales advisory groups and councils where I mentor women as a whole and from all backgrounds. So I’m always excited to mentor and elevate women in any capacity that they want to be in, especially in sales, because it has always been a male dominated industry, not just radio, but just sales in general as well. So that’s important.
I also want to make sure that we are recruiting and networking at historically black colleges and universities. If we’re trying to reach women of color, we’ve got to go where they are, right? I think we have done that in the office with Audacy. We do have a fellowship program that we have partnered with Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta. Part of that is so that we are having conversations and we’re inviting people who are interested in sales into our program so that we can mentor them and to help bring them into the industry because we do want that.
It is very critical and very important because we have to have different voices and different opinions that bring about different conversations. And you have to have an open mind and hear things differently. That’s how you help to create change.
DR: I do want to ask you about the departure of Chad Dukes. I know that had to be a tough situation to manage. You were pretty early in your tenure as market manager. It’s a tough call to make and due to the nature of the offense, you had to show some discretion. You didn’t want to damage anything regarding The Fan as a brand. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the conversations that you had with advertisers after you made that call. I’m sure that some get used to being in business with a particular host and when he’s gone and you can’t give all the answers they’re looking for, it leaves questions.
ISS: Well, that was a very tough decision early on in my career. I mean, I’ve known Chad for years. I’ve known Chad since he started. No decision like that is easy, okay? Not with anyone and especially not one like that, but it was necessary and it’s a part of what we have to do as managers. We have no tolerance with that. Our company doesn’t.
Having that conversation with clients actually wasn’t as difficult because most understand our policy. They have it as well in their workplace. It was just unfortunate because of the climate and because it’s happened in most companies, and it’s happened one too many times. Unfortunately, the familiarity with it was something that they had. So it wasn’t as tough a conversation as you might think with most clients. If anything, I got quite a few clients who reached out to me to say sorry, which there was no need for a client to do that. But I had quite a few clients who actually did.
DR: What about inside the building? Your team had to be looking for answers about their colleague, someone who was with them for a long time. How did you handle it with them?
ISS : This is very personal for a lot of people in our building. I’m very transparent. Chad worked with us for quite a while. Over 12 years. Chad had a lot of friends in the building and still does, and rightfully so. Those are his relationships, and when you work with someone every day, you form friendships and bonds.
It wasn’t something that I looked forward to doing, but again, it was necessary to have those conversations. Anyone who felt that they needed a separate conversation about it, my door was open so that we could talk about it. I will say that did not happen. I do think conversation is the first step to moving forward if you’re feeling any kind of way. That was what I asked of the staff. If you have any issues, please feel free to reach out to me separately and we will have a separate conversation.
DR: I think it’s really interesting with 980 in the building now, because you have The Fan, which is a really strong brand. 980 is a heritage station that you guys have inherited and are trying to reinvent, and it is now on strong footing. If those two stations stayed what they were from now until the end of our existence, nobody would say boo about it because they are both successful. But that’s not our business. Right? So how do you figure out what the next evolution is in terms of overall health of a station? I mean business, programming, branding, everything. And for each one, how do you get there?
ISS: With the Fan, I think we continue to do what we’re doing. We provide the best sports content, the best interviews, the best relationships that we have for our listeners, the best engagement, the best talent that continues to give it 110 percent. I think we continue to do that. We continue to have both stations cross promote each other and to help each other out across the table and listen to what our listeners want. Give our listeners what they want.
They want information. They want content. They want breaking news. They want it first with us because they know that we’re going to give it to them. Our personalities are going to talk about it without any bias. We’re going to say exactly what’s going on in the sports world and with whomever did what. And I think that’s what we’ll continue to do. We just have to stick to that and, continue being first with news and information from the sports world and staying connected to our listeners.
Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?
How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.
But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?
As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.
Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.
Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.
I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.
What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.
As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.
Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.
But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.
Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.
There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.
I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.
Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not
“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”
There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City.
Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in.
A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.
“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”
Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show
“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”
He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.
“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”
For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.
“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”
“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”
So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN.
But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.
“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.
“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”
But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.
“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”
He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.
“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”
Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely.
Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task.
“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”
Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm.
Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success.
Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”
The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.
The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.
Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.
But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.
When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.
There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.
And the fans know it.
The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person.
In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night.
They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.
And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.
I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.
A star is born.
When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”
And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.
Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.
But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.
“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”
He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.
“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”
But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.
“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.
And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.
Resonating with Boston
When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.
It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said.
While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time.
Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.
“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”
But there just may be something else at play.
“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”
The Family Dynamic
Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.
But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?
“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”
“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”
At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?
“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”
Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.