Everybody in sports radio has to start somewhere. Often times it’s in a small town like Sioux Falls or Poughkeepsie. There aren’t many hosts that get their start in a top-15 market without having to relocate. Jonathan Zaslow of WQAM in Miami is one of the lucky ones in this regard. He didn’t have to pack his bags for a market in the hundreds. He was able to get his foot in the door at home and talk about the teams he rooted for growing up.
Zaslow has made the most of his opportunities. He’s had a successful run in sports radio and has worked with big names like Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, and Boog Scambi. Zaslow has also covered Miami Heat basketball for the past 12 years and would love to get more play-by-play opportunities in the future. We talk about what Zaslow has learned most from Joy and Amber, how Stugotz played an important role in his career, and how he has evolved from a self-described caveman. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?
Jonathan Zaslow: South Florida is my hometown. I grew up in North Miami Beach and the only time really that I ever left was when I went to school. I went to the University of Florida, but I’m a Miami guy. Most people who want to do sports radio, they want to be a sports radio talk show host; I wanted to be a sports radio talk show host in Miami. So I really limited the playing field as far as what I wanted to do. I just felt like I wanted to be able to be passionate and root for the teams that I grew up rooting for while talking about them every day and with the same type of people who were just like me listening growing up. I’m from here and I guess you never say never, but I don’t have any plans on leaving.
BN: What was it like for you to initially get started in sports radio when you specifically wanted to be in South Florida?
JZ: I got really, really lucky and my path is not one to try and be replicated. I used my last semester at the University of Florida to do an internship down here at the local NBC affiliate in Miramar. Luckily, this was unbeknownst to me, in September of that year right at the end of my summer internship, a brand new radio station was starting up down here, 790 The Ticket. They were starting up to challenge the incumbent WQAM. They had some money behind them and it was for real.
The lead sports anchor at the NBC affiliate was Joe Rose who had been the longtime morning host at 560 and was leaving 560 to be the new morning host at the startup 790 The Ticket. At the end of my internship he said to me hey, you’re looking for a job? Call this guy. This guy, whose name he writes down on a piece of paper, Jon Weiner, I call up the next day. I later on found out okay, Jon Weiner is Stugotz. Stugotz from the Dan Le Batard Show was the general manager of this new startup station. That got my foot in the door.
I was doing all the grunt work of course. I was 23 years old. It also gave me the opportunity where it’s a brand new station and they’re just putting people on the air on weekends. Yeah, I’ll do that shift. I’ve never done it before, I’ll do it. I was in a place where I got to do my first sports talk shows, instead of like in Des Moines where I probably should have been doing them, I was doing them in Miami in the No. 13 overall market in the country where I grew up. I already had a wealth of knowledge about all of these teams. I got my foot in the door, really lucky.
BN: Did it take long for you to get a weekday opportunity?
JZ: While I was doing these weekend shifts I was the weekday producer for the Boog Sciambi Show. Boog of course now is the television man for the Cubs, ESPN, all of that. He was the midday host here. He and I became very close and we’re still very close. We had great chemistry together. He was using me on air a lot. That was helping me kind of find my voice a little bit, also get the audience used to who I am. Then eventually Boog left full-time for the Atlanta Braves. That was probably in ‘07. A slot opened up and I ended up taking over weeknights. I was on 7-10 p.m. Probably about three years in, I was now full-time Monday through Friday 7-10 p.m.
BN: How long were you with The Ticket altogether?
JZ: Our parent company is Audacy. They were rivals for many, many years and then eventually they merged and Audacy has both stations. I was moved about two months ago from 790 The Ticket to 560 WQAM. I was the last remaining original employee of 790 The Ticket. I started with 790 in September of ‘04 several days before they actually launched. Until a couple of months ago, I was always able to say I’m the only remaining original employee — still the longest employee, I was there for 17 years — but I was the last one.
We’re two doors down. People ask me what’s it like, you’re now on 560 WQAM. I’m like yeah, I’m just doing my show. It’s in the same building and I’m just two studios down. It’s really no different for me. But all those years where I would be on the air and I would say, ‘I’m 790 ‘til I die. I’m the only original employee still here. I’m not going anywhere.’ And now I’m on 560.
BN: [Laughs] That’s funny, man. How would you describe what it was like to do a show with Joy Taylor and what it was like to do a show with Amber Wilson?
JZ: Really different. The two of them were really, really different. I love them both to this day very much, but really different. With Joy, Joy and I were doing the show together at a really interesting time for both of us. That worked out in both of our favor. What I mean by that is we were both still really young at the time and trying to get a foothold into this career if you will. We were in on the grind. If it didn’t work out, I don’t know what else I’m doing. And if it didn’t work out for her, she doesn’t know what else she’s doing. We were in it to win it. I knew that she was in that foxhole with me and we are working hard together. That was great. I knew that I could count on her and she the same with me. She’s also a very big personality.
The big difference with Amber is she’s so smart. She is like really, really smart. Joy could do some characters and she could be very over-the-top; Amber is herself. She’s super opinionated, but also coming at it from a really, really intelligent place. She made the show a lot smarter. That’s for sure. She was also really good at poking fun of herself. Amber was really playful. Joy was also, but I would say the main difference was Joy and I were at a unique place in both of our careers and Amber was bringing a really super intelligence quotient to the show that it probably did not have before. Not that it didn’t have it from Joy, it didn’t have it from me.
BN: What would you say are some important things that you’ve learned from any of the on-air partners you’ve had?
JZ: I think probably what I learned from working with Amber, I definitely learned how to listen better. That’s for sure. Not everything that comes out of my mouth is the most important thing. I definitely learned how to listen more because she’s really smart and I was able to lean on her with stuff like that. She was going to be able to express maybe what both of us are thinking a lot better than I was going to. She was really good at that kind of stuff, at explaining serious topics with the audience. I definitely learned how to listen a lot better with her.
What I learned by working with Joy, I think I understood how to make sure that it’s good to bring in the personal stuff. When I was doing shows on my own from 7-10, I was doing a hardcore sports show. Nothing personal was coming on. I didn’t know if that was the way to go. I was like all right, well we’re a sports station so let me just stick with sports. With Joy, I really learned how to get all the personal stuff on the air because she was really good at busting my balls and getting on me. I think that’s probably what I learned from her the most.
BN: The lasting influence from Le Batard and his style in Miami, does the town still feel it to this day?
JZ: Yeah, it’s a major imprint because when it was just 560 WQAM, you had that old guard. It was a much older host. We’re talking about Hank Goldberg, Jim Mandich, Jeff DeForrest, guys who are legends down here, but obviously a little bit older than certainly, I was at the time. It was very hardcore sports and it was a Dolphins town. You got to talk Dolphins. Hurricanes, Dolphins.
Then when 790 started up, the whole idea was they’re going to be younger, they’re going to be hipper, and they’re going to do things differently. The station was centered around Le Batard. He was the original afternoon host and he was all about challenging the way that sports radio operates. All of it. And not just sports radio, but challenging sports media and the way that we cover these teams and the way that we think.
I think most of all what had probably the most effect on me was also we don’t have to do this hardcore sports show. We can totally just have fun and that plays in Miami. We’re not New York, we’re not Philly, we’re not Boston. We get busted on for not having hardcore fans here. That’s bullshit. We have incredibly hardcore fans. I’m one of them. There just aren’t enough of them that are like that. The way that you bring in everybody is you’ve got to add a little bit of fun to it and do all the laughing.
I do plenty of shows where most of the show is not sports-related and I’m just having fun. I’m talking about either movies or music or I’m talking about pro wrestling because I love pro wrestling. I would never have done that at the start until I realized okay, this is something that works down here. That I think it’s a permanent imprint that Le Batard had on the sports radio scene here.
BN: What’s the deal in Florida with sports gambling basically being a go, and now it’s not; what impact has that had on fans and also business?
JZ: It’s a go in regards to sports radio and our show. I’ve always been big into sports gambling. I just checked my Hard Rock app yesterday and it works. The Seminole Hard Rock here in Hollywood, that app works. It seems like they’re just kind of hey, we’re doing gambling now, it’s not legal in the state of Florida, but the Seminole Indian tribe, they’ve got their own — it’s complicated down here. That app seems to work, so I don’t know. I think we’re okay, but we’re not? I don’t know.
BN: [Laughs] It’s kind of like the way it was before it became legal. People gambled anyway, so that’s probably where it’s at in Florida, right?
JZ: Yeah, nothing has changed. The only thing that’s going to change is when it all becomes legitimately 100 percent legal. Otherwise, it’s still business as usual. Everybody either has their site or wherever they go. You’ve got the daily fantasy, all of it. And certainly, Audacy is heavily invested with their BetQL Network because it of course is legalized in a bunch of states, but Florida is not one of them yet. Soon.
BN: Being a huge fan of Pearl Jam, has that taught you anything as far as growing and aging with your sports radio audience?
JZ: You know, it’s funny. I’m a massive Pearl Jam fan and it’s funny because they are not the same band that they were 30 years ago. They have absolutely evolved. Their music does not sound the way that it did before. Certainly, they’ll do things today that their younger version would not have done or would have thought was cheap or maybe even a sellout-type move. In the same vein, I have completely evolved in the way that I do my shows as well.
I’m definitely the guy who would never have wanted to hear a female on sports radio. I never would’ve wanted it. I was definitely a caveman and I have evolved.
I love doing the show with a female. I loved doing the show with Joy Taylor. I loved doing the show with Amber Wilson. My goal is to eventually get back to that. If I do pick up a host again, I do want it to be a female. I think it’s important. I like the inclusivity. I like what a female brings to the show. I get along with females, I always have. I think it’s fun and I never would have been that guy who was not only listening to a female in sports radio, but preferring to do a show with a female. I used to be a caveman. I’ve definitely evolved.
BN: As far as the future goes, what’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience as you go forward?
JZ: I’ve done 12 years with the Miami Heat now on their pre, halftime, and post-game. I love it. That’s a dream come true for me. I grew up a massive Heat fan. They’ve always been the most important team down here to me as a kid. That’s a dream come true. I got the opportunity last year to fill in for the now-retired Mike Inglis. I did some play-by-play and I loved it. I’d like some more opportunities to do that. I think that’s the next thing.
As far as sports radio goes, I love doing local. I’m not going to say never, that I would never move on to something else, but I love doing local. I love Miami. I certainly don’t have any aspirations to do mornings again. I don’t think that stuff matters anymore as far as the time of day because everybody listens on digital, podcasts, you can rewind on the app. That stuff isn’t as important anymore. I love my time slot, but as far as doing extra stuff, I would like to continue doing some play-by-play. I’d also like to do a pro wrestling podcast or radio show. I’m pretty passionate about it, and I’d love to do something in that world.
BN: Is there anything you do to work on your play-by-play chops in case there is an opportunity for you?
JZ: Yeah, the way that I prepared for those games last year, I was recording games and then I would sit in my game room here and I would actually put on headsets just to kind of put myself in that place, and I would call the game. That’s when I kind of realized, I’m like alright. If I keep doing this, I think I might be good at this. It’s funny because a few years ago I was like I’d really like to practice, but if I show up to one of these Heat preseason games and I set up my equipment, Mike’s going to think I’m trying to take his job. I couldn’t do that. [Laughs] I could record games for sure and I could simulate the broadcast. It’s definitely a way to keep practicing.
BN: What’s something about play-by-play where after doing it you were like wow, I didn’t realize that part was going to be tricky?
JZ: That’s a good question. You know what, it seems like such a simple thing, but understanding when they call timeouts and when all the commercials come, that’s not something I ever would’ve thought about. And that stuff comes fast. You have to know all right, is this one of the breaks that we’re supposed to go to commercial here? On my radio show, I’ve got that in my head. I know exactly what I have to do, but here, all right they called timeout, oh the red light came on, that’s going to be a TV timeout. All right, so I’ve got to do this. That kind of stuff is not easy. And that happens fast.
BN: The impact on your body doing mornings for seven years versus middays. How do you explain what your body feels like now?
JZ: It really changed my life. They told me about two years ago that they’re moving me and Amber from mornings to middays. I was shocked of course because another thing I used to be able to hold onto was no one has ever done mornings in 790 The Ticket’s history longer than I did. That record still stands, seven years. I was a little bit shocked. Did we fail here in some regard? That was upsetting at first.
But then I started to think about it and wow, during Heat season, I don’t have to start thinking that if I fall asleep right now, I get a total of four and a half hours. Oh, now if I fall asleep, I get four hours. I don’t have to do that ever again. That weighed on me every night. People can tell you it’s an early wake-up but you’ll get used to it; there’s no getting used to it. You never, ever, ever get used to it. The 4 a.m. wake-up is 4 a.m. every single day. There’s no getting used to it. It’s changed my life.
BN: It’s funny because I think it’s something with sports radio hosts where they almost feel guilty, or have to hide the challenges of it because they’re not digging ditches.
JZ: Oh my God, I was explaining this one time. It was when I was doing the show with Amber Wilson and Brett Romberg. One morning I decided to talk about how tired I am after the show by 10 a.m. The listeners are like you got to be effing kidding me, Zaslow. You’re tired? I’m like it’s tiring. I’m talking for four straight hours and there’s no downtime. My brain is constantly spinning. I’m tired at the end of the four hours. People, they can’t grasp it. I am having fun. I’m not saying it’s not fun. But they can’t grasp the idea that you can still get tired doing a job that’s really fun.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.