The Sports Junkies have been a fixture in Washington D.C. for a quarter-century. The four members of the popular sports radio show are celebrating their 25th year together. Their history off the airwaves goes back even further; three of the members went to nursery school together. The Junkies established a friendship and a bond long before they were ever colleagues. You can hear that chemistry on the air.
My brother-in-law once described my nephews by saying, “They love each other, but they might not always like each other.” The same is true at times for the Junkies. Sure, they butt heads and occasionally try to gouge each other’s eyes out, but in the end it’s a brotherhood. The dust-ups don’t last long. The love and support from your brothers is what really matters.
The Junkies faced very long odds in the beginning. A cable access TV show and a newspaper article led to them being discovered. The radio show began in their hometown, which happened to be in a top-10 market. That’s like winning the lottery. The Junkies have made the most of their opportunities, and after 25 years, they have plenty of stories to share. Below we chat about sleeping in a coffin for two days, beating a women’s professional team in tackle football, and having a fun show that can also handle mature topics. Enjoy!
The four members:
Eric “EB” Bickel
Jason “Bish” Bishop
John “Cakes” Auville
John-Paul “JP” Flaim
Brian Noe: Starting with the cable access TV show, what do you guys remember most about that first show?
EB: The quality was low. Nobody watched it or anything like that, but we took it very seriously. We were excited about it. My future mother-in-law suggested we do a cable access show since anybody in the neighborhood could get a show as long as you were paying taxes. She saw a political show that some other neighbors were doing and she said hey Eric, you and your friends should do a sports show. We went and investigated. They said if you learn how to use the equipment, anybody can do it.
I brought my sister and my future in-laws and other friends and family; they helped us run the cameras and the audio and worked as producers. We dressed all up, treated it like SportsCenter. We were excited about it. It was pretty nerve-wracking for us considering nobody was watching it, but it was something that we took very seriously.
Bish: I remember how nervous I was because we were at JP’s parents’ house in Bowie. We were in the kitchen and we were getting all jacked up to go. We had to be there in 20 minutes to start recording and I said let’s just do a shot. JP said all right, I got some Jack Daniels here. We did a shot of whiskey before we drove over to cable access to do the show. It was only one shot, but I remember I was very nervous, absolutely.
EB: It was low quality, low budget. We’d use spare parts from other shows like their little divider thing, we’re using it as a backdrop. My wife made a sign. It was as homegrown as you can imagine.
JP: But we were having fun. That was the big thing. It was four guys who knew each other, having fun, and it was kind of a light bulb moment for us. It was like holy shit, I’ve got this terrible job — or I was in law school at the time — let’s see what we can do with this thing.
Cakes: I was the one that had the terrible job. I had the 1-seed of terrible jobs working in retail. It was a fun escape for me to do something that I was passionate about because I wasn’t passionate about selling toys.
Bish: Well at least you guys all had jobs.
EB: We thought it was fun and let’s keep doing it. Let’s try to get better at it. And as JP said, let’s go for the one-in-a-million shot that we can make something of it because none of us wanted real jobs. JP was in law school. I was finishing up a master’s in education. Cakes was working already in retail. Jason had odd jobs. None of us really wanted to get real jobs, so let’s shoot for the moon. We’re all sports nuts. We were having so much fun with it. Let’s just see what we can do.
Noe: Where did you get your first break in radio following your cable access show?
EB: What really happened is we did it once a week for about a year. JP would come back from Philly from law school and we’d all get together once a week, knock it out and then go back to our lives. After doing it for about a year we said you know what, this isn’t awful. It’s somewhat entertaining. We should send out tapes to media critics like the Washington Post, the Washington Times, USA Today, and then maybe one of them will write an article about the show, and then maybe a TV station or a radio station will call us.
We sent out three tapes, one to Len Shapiro at the Washington Post, one to Rudy Martzke at USA Today, and one to Dick Heller at the Washington Times. Dick’s the only one that responded really. I spoke to Rudy; Rudy didn’t have any interest. Len never really liked us, but Dick really liked the story. He liked the show and wrote an article about us.
JP: That changed our life. March 25, 1996; that article came out and changed the trajectory of our lives.
EB: It was almost out of a fantasy world. The article came out and within an hour WJFK 106.7 FM called us and asked us if we had any interest in working in radio because they had just acquired the rights to the Redskins. They weren’t a sports station and they needed some talent on the weekends to talk sports. So we said sure, yeah, we’d love to. That was the dream. We went down there and had an interview with them. They were intrigued. They said do you want to come by next week and do a demo? We said sure. They said all right, do you want to go on air? And we said sure. They said all right, that didn’t suck, do you want to come back next week? We said yeah.
Cakes: We showed up at the interview wearing ill-fitting sport coats and ties. We looked like the biggest nerds ever.
JP: We thought you had to dress up for an interview in radio. The first thing that Jim McClure said is you know this is radio, why are you dressed up?
EB: Yeah, because we didn’t know. We couldn’t believe that they were intrigued enough by our story that they would put us on such a massive station. Even though it was on the weekend, we couldn’t believe it, with no experience. And they kept doing it.
Noe: What aspects on the air have you tightened up the most from those early days to where you are now?
Bish: Well we still talk over each other. I know that.
Cakes: Yeah, but not as much as we used to. We used to be really, really bad at that. We would trample over each other all the time where it was almost unintelligible. That still happens from time to time, but I think we have gotten better at that. I think we’ve gotten better at interviewing people over the years as well. I think we get athletes, coaches, whoever, to open up to us a little more than they might to some other people in the media. We don’t present ourselves as journalists. We’ve never been journalists. We’re just fans that got a really good shot, we ran with it, got some good luck along the way, but we’ve never painted ourselves as journalists ever.
EB: We’ve also never painted ourselves as experts. I think that’s kind of been the appeal too is that hey, we’re just fans and we certainly have strong opinions and are knowledgeable in certain areas, but we don’t claim to know everything. I think at the time when we started you had to be a know-it-all to be a sports radio guy. We weren’t that. We were just fans having fun, like guys would be hanging out at a bar or something.
JP: And we’ve never been just a sports show. What I would say we’ve gotten better at, and it’s always a big part of the show, is storytelling. Not the sports stuff; yesterday we spent probably 10 to 15 minutes talking about the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. Eric brought up an experience with like 60 cars in a Chick-fil-A drive-thru. We’re more comfortable moving off of just sports. If you went to our show in 1996 when we were first starting out, we might’ve done an outline for three hours, every segment kind of planned out, and it was all very sportsy. Now it’s just a little looser. I think you get more comfortable over time talking about certain topics.
Noe: If I had told you 25 years ago that hey, you’re going to interview Magic Johnson, or Cal Ripken Jr. is going to talk about the Junkies in your book that’s coming out, what’s the wow moment that you wouldn’t have believed would happen, that actually did come true?
Cakes: You’re going to laugh at me because this is white trash, but I don’t care, through a connection on the show I got to sing on stage with Poison. I was a big hair metal guy growing up. Another guy in radio was like hey man, I don’t want to go on stage and sing with Poison, do you want to do it? I was like are you kidding me? Of course I would do it. I would love to do that. Just opportunities like that. And I got to hang out with Bret Michaels on his tour bus for like two hours after the show. I never thought anything like that would ever happen. I never thought we’d get access to the players and coaches that we’ve been able to over the years. We interviewed two of the members of Metallica when we were back at the alt-rock station at HFS in the early 2000s. I never thought that would happen.
Bish: Here’s another one, Brian. We had Lenny Dykstra on the show. He was promoting a book and he was living in L.A. I just so happened to be planning a trip to L.A. with my family about six weeks after we had him on the show. I said hey Lenny, I’ll going to be out in L.A. with my family, can we hook up? I thought he was going to BS me, he goes yeah sure, just contact my PR guy. I contacted his PR guy and he said yeah, give him my number.
I contacted Lenny when I was out there and he invited me to the Beverly Hills Hotel bar. I met him there. We hung out all night and I was at his apartment. He lived above a garage at a $10,000,000 home in Beverly Hills. I hung out with Lenny Dykstra all night getting hammered until three in the morning. He was telling stories and it was unbelievable. It was just surreal. Pretty fuckin’ cool.
EB: This will sound cocky but this is honestly true, I actually envisioned all of this happening. I knew we had good chemistry. I knew the station very well. I was a huge listener of the station and I thought we were going to hit a home run. I was like oh my God, we’re gonna kill this. I’ll be honest with you, I envisioned all of these things. I’m actually disappointed because there’s one thing that we haven’t done that I thought we were going to do. I swear to God, we’ve been in Sports Illustrated, we’ve been in Forbes magazine or Fortune magazine, one of those…
JP: Barrett Sports Media…
EB: So many opportunities. But I always thought honestly that we would be guests on The Tonight Show or Letterman. I really did. I envisioned that we would be on, that we’d be like
JP: Like Mad Dog. Mad Dog used to do that.
EB: We were nationally syndicated for three years on Westwood and I just thought eventually, maybe after we replaced Stern or something, eventually we would be on with Letterman. So we’ve actually failed. We’re never going to be on.
JP: Jason actually played hoops at Cal Ripken Jr’s place. That’s pretty amazing. I had three posters growing up, Cal was one of them.
Noe: Did you school him?
Bish: I played pretty well. I was a little intimidated when I first got there. He invited a bunch of former college players. Some of the Orioles were there too. I guarded him at least one game. He’s strong as an ox. He would back me in and use his ass and thighs, but I got him out on the perimeter and I was hitting jumpers. It was a very competitive game. I’ll tell you this; Cal, he doesn’t fuck around, man. He’s not out there just trying to have a good time, he was out there to win. It was very competitive and that’s what I liked about it. I went up there twice to play. That was one of the more memorable moments.
JP: Brian, this one blows me away; the four of us, the four Sports Junkies have World Series rings and Stanley Cup rings.
EB: That’s true.
Cakes: We’re Stanley Cup and World Series champions.
JP: I have two championship rings. I can barely skate, Brian, and I have a Stanley Cup ring.
Noe: That’s crazy. As far as the craziest moments from the show, whether it’s playing a women’s professional football team or anything else, what moments stand out to you most?
EB: Well that was obviously one of the highlights; that was just so much fun. We drew like over 8,000 fans. I’ll never forget we outdrew the Georgetown Hoyas that night. That was unbelievable. The buildup to that, it was amazing. The turnout, the execution, it was perfect. We said it was all downhill from here. There’s no way we can do better than that.
Cakes: And it was not 70 degrees and perfect weather. I want to say it was like 40 degrees. It was raining. It was like the worst night and the turnout was unbelievable.
Bish: It was like Friday Night Lights, man. It was the real deal even though we were playing against girls. We had never played organized football before. I just remember how quick it was. There was a play clock just like a regular college game. But once we settled down it was cool.
JP: That ladies’ professional football team was always trying to get on our show. We were like why would we ever have them on the show? We had Clinton Portis and Fred Smoot on at the time. I just pitched the crazy idea, I was like what if we challenge that women’s team to a game, but the twist is it’s not powder puff football, we would challenge them to tackle. Then it blew up into this whole big thing. We just couldn’t believe how many people were in the freaking stands. It was over 8,000 people there to watch us play women in tackle football.
Bish: We killed them. We probably should’ve beaten them by 50, but they were calling all kinds of penalties on us. We had 13 penalties. But it was fun, man.
JP: I remember in our practices the coaches put us in the Oklahoma drill. Again I played high school soccer and high school baseball, okay Brian? I weighed 165 pounds at the time. We would get matched up against these monsters and just run into each other like rams. That hurt more than the actual game.
Cakes: Never again. It’ll never happen again. I’m pretty sure I bruised one of my ribs if not multiple ribs in the practices. I think JP knew a dentist. I was like hey man, can you get me some pain pills from your dentist?
JP: It was all above board, Brian. Remember this is on transcript, Cakes. [Laughs]
Cakes: I got a prescription and I had to pop a few pain pills so I could play in the game. But we couldn’t believe the support and the buzz that that event created.
JP: And that’s one thing you can do in radio, when you create something that people don’t know what the outcome is going to be, and they feel like they have to see it, you can create a big event.
EB: We did something then that we couldn’t do today. JP might be embarrassed about this, but being part of a guy talk station — we got a lot of negative attention — we did a porno swap. The Great American Porno Swap where we had people from D.C. and Baltimore all drop off their old pornos, put it into a barrel, and pull out somebody else’s old porno.
JP: Simple concept, Brian, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Cakes: That was in the Wild, Wild West days of radio. You could never get away with something like that in 2021.
EB: But it was genius. I remember we had protesters, so that was a lot of fun.
JP: But a lot of happy listeners. You can’t contain this genius, Brian. They would put their hands into a pile of VHS tapes and then we would have them read the titles. I used to say they were feeding-the-monster events. We’ve been No. 1 rated in men 25-54. Our monster — the wall of men — they like drinking beer, women, that sort of thing. So we would have these type of events for that.
EB: And some of the various stunts like when Cakes slept in the coffin. That was just such a dumb stunt for Cakes to be in a coffin for two days, which look, I couldn’t do it. It’s not like he was in there for a month, but he was in there for two days and we had TV stations out covering it. It was just insanity.
Bish: To lay in a fucking coffin for two days in a radio studio, I can’t even believe he did it. Just when we were doing the show and we were talking to him, I could tell how uncomfortable he was. [Laughs] Especially the second day. I just couldn’t imagine laying there and just eating beef jerky for two days. I remember if I had to do it how uncomfortable I would be. It was almost like being buried alive. I just couldn’t have done it. No way.
JP: That started because we were talking about David Blaine on the air. At the time most of us were really impressed with David Blaine. Well, Cakes opened up his mouth and was like I could do that, that’s no big deal. I’ve got a bunch of kids. I could be in a coffin; I’d get some rest. We’re like are you crazy? You can’t do it. The next thing you know a listener calls in, offers to build a coffin, it was a makeshift coffin. It was terrible. Then somebody offered $2,500 and boom, the stunt was afoot.
Cakes: I don’t think it was 2,500. I think it was 1,500 if my memory serves.
EB: Way underpaid.
Cakes: Yeah, I was way underpaid for punting away two days of my life lying in a makeshift coffin. It should’ve been at least 5K minimum.
JP: But he did it, which was impressive. He wasn’t allowed to leave, couldn’t go to the bathroom, so he went in there with Gatorade bottles and jerky, right?
Cakes: Gatorade bottle, jerky, gummy bears. Those were the essentials. [Laughs]
Noe: To go from your stunts and fun stuff to mature topics like 9/11 or the D.C. sniper, how do you think you guys have handled those situations?
EB: Well I think that’s actually where we shine to be honest with you because we could get serious. Especially the sniper, that was happening in our backyard literally where we were broadcasting from. There were shootings right around the corner. We were on at the time when these were occurring. I think people have a lot of respect for the way we handled that. We took it seriously.
And 9/11 was mind-blowing for the entire country. We had to get serious. I remember doing hours and hours and hours, maybe for a week we did about 20 hours of broadcasts without commercials. I remember my dad being alive at the same time, he thought that was maybe the highlight of our careers just the way that we shifted gears and handled that.
Bish: I remember people calling up, former military or current military guys, and they were crying on the phone and talking about their kids over there. Dude, it was awful. But I think we handled it, man, because we were just showing people that we cared and we were kind of all in the same boat. No one knew how to react. It was like fuck Al-Qaeda, let’s go get bin Laden. After the first couple of days it started to become kind of like a rally. But back in the early 2000s, we could say shit. We could talk about our opinions and it was different. There was no threat of you getting fired if you shared an opinion, either if it was politically or socially or whatever the topic was. Fifteen, 20 years ago, the world has changed, but radio has really changed.
EB: That’s one thing I think that we’ve been pretty good at is being able to adapt. In today’s culture, cancel culture, with everybody being offended by everything these days, we’ve been able to efficiently navigate the waters and be able to understand sort of on the fly what works and what doesn’t. We’ve been able to survive whereas most of the people we started out with, icons in the industry, don’t work in radio anymore. They weren’t able to navigate the waters, or they had to go to satellite, or they had to start a podcast. I’m proud of the fact that we’re survivors and we’ve been able to navigate the waters. It’s not because we’re super talented. It’s just that we have chemistry. That’s our core, and we’re not as stupid as you might think. We’ve been able to figure it out.
Noe: Is there anything in the future that you haven’t experienced yet that you would love to do together?
Bish: I think podcasting is in our future. I drive 50 minutes into the city, so I’m getting up at four, getting out of the house at 4:30. Bro, that’s brutal. Especially when you’re 51. It’s just harder when you get older to do it. I still want to do stuff with them, I just want to do something where we have a little bit more flexibility with time. Morning radio is just a grind on your body and on your mind. Sometimes I’m not even awake until 7:30, an hour and a half into the show and I’m still fuzzy.
EB: For me just being able to keep doing it. It beats a regular job. You get paid handsomely. We have fun every day. Just being able to keep doing it, provide for our families and maybe eventually cruise into a little easier timeslot because getting up at 4:30 in the morning kills you. It takes years off your life. But just being able to be the four of us and do our thing. We’re not trying to dominate the TV world, we’re not trying to even be nationally syndicated or anything; we love being local radio hosts and being sort of a fixture of this community. I want us to go down as — this is going to sound cocky — but I want us to go down as one of the most memorable morning shows in D.C. history. Maybe we’re halfway there. Let’s hope.
Cakes: Oh, I don’t know if I have 25 more years of doing this in my tank.
Cakes: But we want to keep doing it as long as we can. Look, I’ll be honest, I don’t want to be a crotchety old guy talking like Don Imus. There are some guys that can keep going and going and going, but some guys you listen to on the radio when they get up to a certain age and you’re like ugh; I don’t want to get to that point where people are tuning in and they’re like this guy is passed his prime. You want to find that balance.
EB: You still want to be good, but the way I think of it is you work and then you die. I’d rather keep working to keep living.
Noe: If one of you guys is like man, I’m thinking about hanging it up, how would the rest of the Junkies respond to that?
EB: When one guy rolls out, I’m sure the other three would keep going. Who knows what the future is going to hold? Who knows what the future holds for radio? But I think by and large we’re all on the same page and we want to still keep providing. We know it sure beats work.
JP: Here’s the thing, Brian, we haven’t had that when’s-it-all-going-to-end discussion, but here’s the reality, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old. Eventually, she’s going to go to college. When she goes to college, that bill is going to be hefty. I’ve got a kid who’s at NYU right now. Look up the tuition; it’s hefty. Jason’s got two kids at Virginia Tech right now. Cakes has one in med school. That’s a lot of bills to pay, my friend.
Cakes: Yeah, a lot of bills. So many.
EB: And again, I’m not ready to just die yet.
JP: And really going back to the larger theme, we’ve got a fun job. Think about it; three of us went the nursery school together, and then kindergarten together, Jason since high school, we’re working with friends. The odds of that in life are very low. And then to do something like this, a four-hour show, we’re not digging ditches, we’re not putting on a suit and tie chasing billable hours.
Cakes: But let me also point out, we have not had even close to a Howard Stern level payday.
JP: [Laughs] Okay, that would be a game changer.
Cakes: That has not happened and I’m guessing it’s not going to happen. Now if anything like that were ever the happen, then circle back and talk to us if and when that happens.
EB: If Spotify wants to call and give us 100 million.
JP: Or 10. Ten million would be good.
EB: That would work.
Cakes: That’d be amazing.
Noe: Do you have a flashback moment — whether it’s good, bad, an interview, a stunt — anything from your time together that you tend to think about the most?
Cakes: I don’t have one in particular, but I just think the trips that we’ve taken. Whether it’s to spring training or Super Bowl sites, or to Atlantic City for poker tournaments, there’s something about a road trip element. Those are always touchpoints that you kind of remember events that happened when you’re outside of the norm of being in a studio. You tend to remember a lot of those things that happened on the road trips either when you’re at the venue or on the way to the venue, there’s weird stuff that happens. That stuff kind of sticks with me more than anything.
EB: I just remember beating the divas. I loved that. I said at the time if we didn’t beat them we’d all have to kill ourselves.
Cakes: That’s a little drastic, but it would’ve been embarrassing.
EB: No disrespect to women, I mean we just had to win that.
Cakes: By the way, that’s a one-off. It’s never happening again. We’re all 51 years old now. No way we’re doing that again.
JP: Yeah, when you do it for so long, you don’t think about the big picture as often. It’s day-to-day, it’s the grind. But I do remember that trip to the NFL draft. Our first road trip, that Manning/Leaf draft, when we got there to Madison Square Garden. It was one of those moments where like yeah, he was a manager at Toys R Us. I was in law school. Eric was studying for a master’s. Jason was kind of trying to get a job in sports, but he was working as a courier interning. It was like holy shit, we’re here. We’re here. It’s those cool moments where you look back; we were kids that played on the same basketball team when we were like 12 years old and boom, we’re here at the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis? They are kind of cool moments.
Bish: It’s nothing in particular that’s ever happened on the show, it’s just the fact that when I walk into my house and I go fuck, I can’t believe I have this. I can’t believe I’m able to put my girls through school. I can’t believe I’m able to save the money I am. I can’t believe I can go on vacation and it’s all because we were so fortunate back in the day to have Dick Heller write the article, to start on the weekends, and to just continually grow and grow and grow in popularity. Then our contracts are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and I’m like I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this. And getting paid well.
Even now I just can’t believe — I mean I bitch about getting up at four, it sucks, but we work four hours a day. I can go play golf whenever I want. I spend time with my kids and my family. I can do all that. I don’t have to grind out eight, 10, 12 hours like a lot of guys do. The thing I think about the most is how fortunate we are, to be honest with you.
JP Flaim has written a book about the Junkies’ brotherhood and 25 years on the air together. The book is available at StillBarking.com.
OutKick 360 Isn’t Just Talking To The South Anymore
“We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and then they email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”
When Jonathan Hutton, Paul Kuharsky and Chad Withrow announced they were leaving 104.5 The Zone in January of last year, no one doubted where they would end up. The show, formerly known as The Midday 180, was clearly bound for OutKick. After all, the three hosts had been friends with Clay Travis for years.
The only real question was how would it be delivered to the audience? OutKick wouldn’t be the first company to re-launch what was once a radio show on a digital platform. That wasn’t enough for the trio though.
At The Zone, Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow had built a loyal following. It showed in the podcast and streaming numbers, something they didn’t think was valued properly, and it showed in the ratings. This show had a future on terrestrial radio. It was just a matter of introducing it to other stations in the geographic footprint that made the most sense.
“The root of the tree for us is Nashville, Tennessee, the southeast, and it kind of spreads from there,” Kuharsky says. “Based on where we did the show for 10 years, where our initial expertise is, where we have the deepest roots and all of that, it just makes sense.”
OutKick isn’t a little mom-and-pop business. Even before FOX bought the site, it had significant backing behind it. It’s not like the crew, now re-branded as OutKick 360, was flying completely solo.
When you are trying to syndicate a sports radio show though, you may as well be on your own if you do not have the backing of ESPN, FOX Sports, or CBS Sports Radio. Hutton said he was going to rely on that regional expertise as the sales pitch. These are guys that know what sports fans in the Southeast want. He was going to make sure Southern programmers knew that.
“On a Monday morning in April, if you wake up, chances are, if you’re listening to the coast to coast radio, they’re leading off with something New York Knicks or Lakers or they’re going to talk Yankees or they’re going to be discussing the New York Giants or whatever it might be,” Hutton pointed out. “But you can talk now, SEC football, coast to coast and people will tune in as well. NFL sells. Ratings prove that. And that’s what we were going to bring. We’re going to play the hits and speak to an audience in the heartland of America that wants to talk football 365!”
Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow have adopted a tag line for their show that makes their priority clear: “bringing sports back to sports talk.” Sure, there may be distractions. FOX Sports suits really got a kick out of Kuharsky talking about how much he spends on Christmas decorations for instance. At their hearts though, these three are sports fans.
That is assumed of all sports radio hosts. When you put the OutKick brand on a show though, people make other kinds of assumptions. After all, the site’s founder Clay Travis has made a hard swerve into the political realm and has made it clear that when he sold the site to FOX, his vision was that it could be “a bridge between FOX Sports and FOX News.”
Hutton says he has a simple message for people that approach the show with preconceived notions: just listen first.
“I would hope they would listen to the show and judge us based on the product. We are the sports branch wherever we have been or will go. And, you know, being agenda-free can be what our show is about when it comes to sports. I don’t care what channel you turn on, there is an agenda there. So our goal is to be agenda-free, and to be authentic in what we’re doing instead of laying down a preconceived line of thinking one way or the other.”
It doesn’t mean that the show is nothing but Xs and Os. Withrow admits that sometimes, the conversation may make you uncomfortable, but just because it might go that direction doesn’t mean it is a political statement.
“If we were to come on and say, you know, ‘this race-baiting episode by ESPN is pathetic,’ well, 95% of sports fans feel that way, but 95% of sports media won’t say it. So when we say it, someone’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, they’re just being political, they’re falling in line’ and I don’t see it that way. I see it as no, this is how sports fans who want sports think.”
Withrow continued, “They think it in black and white, not race. They think in wins and losses, and who’s the better quarterback? So stop infesting everything with some political leaning or just whichever way the wind is blowing. To me, that’s what OutKick was founded on, being fearless and saying what you think, regardless, if it’s going to be popular or not. Certainly what Clay has done has gone into the world of politics, but what we’re doing, if you listen to our show, we really don’t get into politics at all.”
When FOX completed its purchase of OutKick, plenty in the industry wondered what it meant for Hutton, Kuharsky and Withrow. Would FOX want to be in the broadcast radio network business?
Not only was the answer yes, but Withrow says one of the first notes the company had for the OutKick 360 hosts was “think bigger”.
“As Hutton said, we started with a very localized plan with radio stations and we told FOX that’s what we’re going to do. They looked at us like, ‘why the hell not Ohio? Why not Joplin, Missouri? Why not everywhere? You guys are thinking too small’. We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and they’d email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”
So there was the growth plan. OutKick 360 was going to live and die with football, the country’s most popular sport, it was going to be agenda-free in how it talked about the storylines on and off the field, and the hosts were going to be authentic in how they presented themselves to the audience.
There was actually one more ingredient that Hutton wanted to stress. The show was going to sound good.
Back when Covid began and radio shows everywhere had to learn to broadcast from home, it stood out to Hutton just how bad everything on his station sounded. The three asked around and got recommendations for what the right microphone to have was. A friend told them it was the Blue Yeti microphone, so they each went out and got one.
Now, OutKick 360 is broadcast from a state of the art studio and the equipment is upgraded from a $75 podcast microphone. In fact, BSM President Jason Barrett paid a visit to the trio’s 6th & Peabody location during a November business trip, and raved about the setup. He said it was private enough to allow the crew to focus on what was needed for the airwaves, yet also accessible for the hosts to interact with fans and host client events on-site.
Withrow says the location has been a hit and the upgraded technology is important, but in a time when even the biggest shows and networks are getting away with terrible audio quality, the real asset is the people dedicated to upholding a particular standard.
“The advantage that we have is David Reed, our producer, who’s great with audio quality and is a stickler for it. Hutton and David Reed came up in the same school with Titans Radio on audio and quality of the broadcast being paramount to everything. He really carries that with this show.”
OutKick 360 is distributed by Skyview Networks. Just because FOX owns their platform doesn’t mean the show can only do business with FOX Sports Radio affiliates. In fact, Hutton says Skyview has helped “take the show to a completely different level and scope.”
“They provide the horsepower for the OutKick 360 engine, and that allows us to bring advertisers and listeners together with our sports brand. We had several partners and stations already on board, and they were thrilled to learn Skyview was handling the daily distribution for us.”
The trio may have a little more muscle behind them now and the bosses may want them thinking bigger, but Kuharsky says they still have the same attitude when it comes to growing their network.
“It’s certainly open to whatever may come our way or wherever we can get our foot in the door.”
Radio stations interested in adding OutKick 360 can learn more by reaching out to Skyview Networks by clicking here.
Is There A Right Answer To The Olympic PR Problem At NBC?
“NBC is in a no win situation right now.”
Some businesses allow you to operate with a moral compass. You can look at people, companies, or situations and do some quick math on what the blowback would be if you are associated with them and steer clear. Sports media, particularly when it comes to live game rights, isn’t one of those businesses.
NBC is in a no win situation right now. They have to get as many eyeballs as possible on the Beijing Olympics. The network is asking advertisers to spend upwards of $600,000 on a thirty second ad and have made promises about the size of the audience that will see those advertisers’ messages.
At the same time, the network is the focus of public scrutiny for even being in China to begin with. That criticism will be amplified if there is no mention of the many human rights violations the Chinese government has been accused of for decades.
What do you do? You don’t want to give people a reason not to watch. At the same time, you don’t want to give critics ammunition to discredit you as a news organization.
This isn’t just an NBC problem by the way. FOX faced similar scrutiny when it carried the 2018 World Cup, which was played in Russia. It will likely face a lot of the same scrutiny this fall when it carries the 2022 World Cup, which is being played in Qatar. That event in particular has been the subject of some truly horrific stories about the way the people building the new stadiums have been treated.
So what is the path forward? Fans always do some moral calculus when it comes to the ugly side of sports. How much are we willing to tolerate the exploitation of unpaid college athletes? At what point can we no longer tolerate the NFL looking the other way on head injuries?
International sports is a conundrum all its own because you are dealing with laws and customs that may not jive with our culture. Add truly deplorable organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to the mix and NBC, FOX, and other networks don’t have time for moral calculus. They are checking any concept of right and wrong at the door.
NBC dropped $7.75 billion in 2014 on broadcast rights to every Olympics, both summer and winter, until 2032. The financial terms between FOX and FIFA remain a mystery, but the network will carry both the men’s and women’s World Cup through 2026. The price tag may be very similar to what NBC paid the IOC.
Organizations like FIFA and the IOC want that big pay day. That is why long-term deals are negotiated. Between contractual obligations and the need to turn a profit on a huge investment, networks’ hands are tied.
Given all of the backlash, whether it is because the games are in China, skepticism over how necessary it is we do this in a pandemic (remember, NBC isn’t even sending live broadcast teams to the games), or just a general sense of fatigue given this once-every-two-years event just happened eight months go, NBC might like the option to tag out of the 2022 games. And honestly, who could blame the network for feeling that way?
But NBC and the IOC have a deal. FIFA and FOX have a deal. These American networks are pinned in a corner by having to lock in a significant financial commitment to an organization that has no qualms about doing business with international bad actors.
Truthfully, I don’t know what the right answer is for these networks. It is easy to say “Well, China is bad and Russia is bad and Qatar is bad, so don’t do business with FIFA or the IOC as long as they keep going to those places.”
Reality dictates that isn’t going to be the path NBC, FOX, or any other network takes going forward. These multi-week sporting events provide a lot of inventory and bring with them the chance to rack up huge ad buys.
Events like the World Cup and the Olympics also are more than just sporting events to these networks. They are a chance to generate content for news divisions and a free commercial for their upcoming slate of shows. There is a reason networks see the billions of dollars of value in them that they do.
No one wants to take a PR black eye. Right now, for the most part, at least as far as the American public is concerned, those have been reserved for the governing bodies.
How long does that remain true?
NBC is a major partner of the Olympics that brings a lot of attention and revenue to the table. Forget objectionable host countries. What happens in 2028 when the Games are in LA and then suddenly NBC is the face of silencing Americans raising legitimate concerns about what hosting the Olympics can do to a city?
At some point, every company and private citizen has to do moral calculus. The scariest part for these networks is dealing with broadcast partners like the IOC and FIFA requires having to give an answer before all variables can be revealed to you.
Not every big score requires that kind of risk, but not many events offer what the Olympics and World Cup do. Any network that wants to do business with the IOC and FIFA has to decide if it is willing to swim in the swamp with gators. That usually comes with a few bites.
The moral calculus is pretty simple. How many bites can you take from a gator before the ad buys start to take a hit?
Don’t Let Good Content Disappear, Never To Be Heard Again
There were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air.
Good content comes out of the speaker daily from the many talented hosts that work in our industry. Unfortunately, the life span of this content is far too short. It happens and then disappears into the ether.
When something good happens on a show, you need to do more than turn it into a promo. You need to repurpose it.
If you work on the content side of the building, here are some key things I feel you should keep in mind to help give your material more staying power.
SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS EVERY DAY, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
When I was working as a content director, there were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air, never to be heard or referenced ever again.
When a host or guest says something that stands out, blast it to EVERY social media channel that you’re on. Do this consistently, not just on the days following a big story. Get everyone in the habit of believing and understanding that good content is put out there EVERY show and they need to keep their ears open for it.
Don’t use audio clips; remember that social media is a VISUAL experience. If you’re videocasting your shows (and you should), put the video up online. If you’re not, create a cool-looking graphic with the quote (or quotes) of what was said. Create a template for every show, so it’s “plug and play” for producers to upload before they leave for the day.
You’ll be surprised how often you can go viral.
MAKE YOUR CONTENT SNACKABLE
People consume content in small portions. No one has the time or the attention span to listen to an entire show or even an entire segment. Yet we deliver content to them in a primarily longform way.
The solution? Make your content snackable.
Take a page out of what every professional sports league does. They realize that few people actually sit and watch an entire game. So they make a point to run well-produced highlight compilations and even condensed games, and upload them to all of their digital platforms.
Radio stations should do the same.
For on-demand consumption, don’t just load your show audio hour-by-hour. Make sure you’re uploading what you felt were the best parts of the program.
Take it a step further and do the same for ALL of your shows. Create a daily “greatest hits” compilation that consists of the best moments from each show, every day. This can not only be loaded onto apps and digital channels, but can also reside comfortably in the smart speaker space. Imagine a consumer coming home from work after a long day and simply saying “Alexa, play today’s greatest hits from 101 The Fan!” They’d get a highlight real of all the good things that they missed.
Naturally, these can be sponsored, which is certainly another plus and always justifies the extra work that goes into making this happen.
OFFER IT AS MATERIAL FOR OTHER SHOWS
I’ve said this before, some of the best content that I’ve heard was hosts talking about what other hosts said on their shows.
It doesn’t happen often enough, and the biggest reason continues to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for virtually every industry: lack of communication.
Every show should have a written recap of what was discussed and when it was discussed, and that should be sent out to everyone who has a hand in content. (Hosts, producers, board ops, production staff, marketing, etc.)
Go the extra mile and have the actual audio of the good content sent out to the other shows so they don’t have to hunt for it on their own. This was something, even during my days managing stations, I would do on the regular. If I heard something great on the morning show, I would find the audio and send a clip of it to the midday and afternoon shows. Even if they didn’t use it, it would get hosts and producers in the habit of paying attention to what was said on our other programs.
If you have a sister spoken-word station in your cluster, get in the habit of sharing material with them when and where it fits.
Sometimes, the back-and-forth that can go on between shows ends up being legendary. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste.
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