A lot of ego exists in sports radio. Many people in the business have inflated opinions of themselves. Bruce Gilbert is not one of these people. He’s one of the most humble individuals you’ll ever meet in the industry.
Bruce could walk around like a peacock as the Westwood One/Cumulus Media Sports SVP and the guy who once hired Colin Cowherd at ESPN. But Bruce still resembles the younger version of himself that was elated to call high school hockey games in Wisconsin for 25 bucks a pop.
The tie-in with hockey makes a lot of sense because Bruce truly does resemble a hockey player. He’s an incredibly hard worker, but when it comes time to receive accolades, he’d rather put his head down as if to say, “I can’t achieve anything without my teammates.” Maybe it’s his Midwestern roots as a kid born in a little town north of Champaign, Illinois. Maybe it’s because Bruce is simply a genuine dude who gets respect because he shows respect.
Bruce is one of the brightest programming minds the business has ever seen. He hasn’t just randomly stumbled onto success; the guy knows what he’s doing. When Bruce talks about what he looks for in a host and stresses the importance of attending conferences like the upcoming BSM Summit, there are a lot of people that can benefit from his views.
We also chat about what the sports radio industry does best and worst, as well as what Bruce would change about his career. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When in your life did you think, hey, sports radio might be what I want to get into?
Bruce Gilbert: Well, I’m so old, Brian, that there was no sports radio when I decided I wanted to get into radio. My dad was in the radio business. I had great parents and a great dad. He would let me come to the radio station. Every radio station he worked at was just magic to me. From the equipment to the announcers to just the activity and the buzz in the building.
I think I was probably about five years old when I was like, this is what I’m doing. I wanted to be a disc jockey, man. I wanted to play records and talk up the intros and be a disc jockey. To me it was like, you get paid for this? You got to be kidding me. I had a destiny that started at a pretty young age.
BN: What was your first radio gig?
BG: My dad was the general manager of a radio station in Binghamton, New York. WNBF. It’s still there. It’s a news talk station. It was owned by Stoner Broadcasting at the time. They were the flagship station for the Binghamton Broome Dusters, which was the minor league hockey team that played there. My first job was board-oping Binghamton Broome Dusters games at the age of 14. I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade.
I prayed that the game would go really fast because if it got over between 9:30 and 10, I got to play a few songs before the network news at the top of the hour. That was my dream. It turns out it’s funny, I ended up in sports radio; I started in sports and ended up in sports. It was awesome. It was the coolest thing ever to be able to do that.
BN: What led to you being on the programming side of the business?
BG: That’s just what I fell in love with. It was probably at that time, being a teenager, it was about the music and listening to music radio. In that part of the country, we were all influenced by legendary radio station WLS. WLS was in 50 states, a huge 50,000-watt Clear Channel AM radio station that played top 40 music. We all wanted to be big-time disc jockeys on WLS.
I think the other thing is my dad was in sales and it just didn’t seem as sexy. Even though he tried to tell me and he was right, he’s like don’t you see all the sales people drive the really nice cars and all the disc jockeys drive the really shitty cars? [Laughs] And I said I don’t care, I want to be on the air. That’s what I want to do. That’s where it all came from.
BN: When you’re evaluating a sports radio talent, what are you looking for and what are you drawn to?
BG: I know this sounds like the cliché answer, but the number one thing I’m looking for is authenticity. With authenticity, I think I would add to that you’ve got to be real, you’ve got to be self-deprecating, but you also have to have a life. By authenticity, it’s not just being authentic in your sports opinions, like I’m going to be authentic in what I think about that coach or that player. You have to be authentic about how you live, where you go, who you talk to, what you’re into, what movies you watch, what television shows you binge, what motivates you, what aggravates you, and all those things.
I guess what I look for, it’s one thing to be authentic, it’s another thing to be openly authentic. I’ve often said that the greatest talk show hosts, regardless of what they’re talking about, are willing to basically perform open heart surgery on themselves every day. I’m going to open it up and just throw it out here. I’m not going to apologize for it because that’s what’s in my gut. That’s what’s in my heart. That’s what’s in my soul.
You can get away with a fake persona or an over-the-top personality that you create that is some sort of alter ego for a little while, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. The only thing that’s sustainable is being you.
BN: When you look at the sports radio industry as a whole, what do you think is working well and what do you think should be a lot better than it currently is?
BG: What’s always worked well, when done right, when sports radio is done effectively and in a compelling and engaging and authentic way, it’s the ultimate escape. We’ve seen that again during these incredibly odd times we’ve been living in, now going on two years.
Like every radio station, we had a dip at the beginning of the pandemic. As sports came back, so did sports radio; 2021 was a really good year for the sports format. I think it’s because people got burned out on all of the negativity and the depressing news stories that were repeating themselves over and over. On top of it, how everything became politicized and the country got more and more divisive.
The only true uniting thing was sports. Sports unites us all. It unites people and galvanizes people in a really tight-knit community kind of way. You and I may be polar opposite politically, but if we end up sitting next to each other at the game and we’re both rooting for the same team, I don’t care what your politics are, I’m high-fiving you when we score a goal, or we get a touchdown, or we hit a home run.
That is what sports radio does best. When it’s in its prime and it sticks to the fun of the games and the storylines of the real-life heroes and villains in sports, it’s the perfect escape from all the madness of life. That’s the positive. I don’t see that ever not being a positive in a really true way. That’s motivating to me and what I love about this format.
Now how did you phrase that; what are we not doing well?
BN: Right, yeah, what isn’t where it needs to be currently?
BG: I know it sounds like I’m programmed to say this and it’s the hip, cool thing to say and everybody’s woke and all that stuff, but sports radio is way too old and way too white in general.
Look, there are people that are doing a great job of bringing in new voices from different backgrounds, but I think it’s problematic. Especially when you look at television sports and how much better they’ve done with female anchors, female reporters, female play-by-play announcers, and we’re just behind.
I think it’s a product of not digging deeper or going wider. It’s also a product of radio maybe not paying as well as television, radio maybe not being as sexy as it once was. But those are just excuses, right? If you look at the audience of the marketplace and you look at the demographics and the ethnic backgrounds of those that participate in America’s most popular sports, I don’t think sports radio is close to being reflective of those constituencies.
It’s incumbent upon those of us that are in this format to make that happen. It is true you want the best person for every open job, but you also just can’t keep recycling the same people over and over. You’ve got to go give some new people a chance. They’re going to have to stumble a little bit and figure their way through it, but if they have the right support, it will make the format more relevant and I think give the format more life moving forward.
BN: The word escape stands out to me. When sports radio dips into a political issue, it can be an interesting conversation, but it becomes less of an escape. Where do you stand on that dilemma?
BG: Yeah, it’s a great point. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how to address that. My personal opinion — and this is based heavily on watching how those things impact research and ratings — is that we can’t be an escape if we go down the political path. Sports radio is most successful when it’s apolitical because being apolitical is one of its true positives. That’s the uniting part. The minute we get political, we’re not uniting anymore, we’re divisive.
As much as you want to be authentic and you want to talk about what people are talking about, I think my experience is saying, and what I’ve seen as I’ve watched it unfold, I would say it’s a mistake to get political or go into those areas that could be perceived as political. We have a small audience to begin with. It’s a niche format. Why do you want to alienate part of that audience by taking one side or the other on a political issue that’s going to actually run people off?
BN: With the BSM Summit coming up, why is it important to be there?
BG: Well, first of all, we all miss each other, right? None of us have been able to see each other because we haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years, and a lot of us know each other and go back a lot of years. There’s a real value in just being able to connect with people.
The side effect of being able to connect with people is I think you learn in those situations that some of the things that you see as obstacles or problems that you’re dealing with, it’s really healthy to talk to other people that are going through the same thing and realizing, oh, I’m not alone in this. They’re having to get over that hump as well. It works in the reverse in a positive way. You see somebody that has come up with a solution or done something unique, that becomes contagious and that drives us forward.
The other reason I think it’s important is because when somebody like Jason takes the time and makes the effort to pull all those people together, and he works his ass off on this thing, I just really respect that. That is a strong message from a person that this is worth our time and worth getting away for a couple of days and shutting ourselves in a room and trying to make it better.
One of the problems with any business, I think, is complacency. If we don’t sit down in a place like that and be honest with each other about what our challenges are and how to address them, then we’re going to become complacent. I think what Jason’s done really well is he’s made it a point to not allow it to be a place where we all just sit around and pat each other on the back and talk about how great we are or live in the past. He’s done a really good job of making it about the now and going forward.
I look forward to that because look, I’ve been doing this a long time; the minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now when you look at video platforms, all the different digital platforms, how to get your things out on social media, the algorithms, all the different things that we never had to deal with that we now need to deal with. You can’t deal with it if you aren’t willing to learn it and understand it and grow.
That’s why I think it’s critical. I think it’s even more critical because of the work that Jason puts in. It’s not just a hey, let’s get together and scratch each other. It’s let’s really, really make this worth our time.
BN: What’s something valuable that you’ve taken away from the Summit before?
BG: I get two really critical things out of Jason’s Summit in particular. One, a lot of affirmation. You’re always experimenting and trying new things. It might be one little thing that you’re doing in one little market and you wonder if that’s the right thing. Then you go there and you hear somebody talk about something similar or maybe even something exactly the same and you’re like, okay, good, I respect that person and that person is trying the same thing or thinks that’s a good idea. There’s an affirmation aspect to it.
The second thing that I always get out of it is just motivation. What comes out in two days with a group of people like that is that most of us aren’t in this for the paycheck — although we all like to get paid — but we’re in it because it’s a passion. I think about outside of my wife and kids, my two loves in life are sports and radio. I get to do them both every day. What happens is you see that passion come out in different ways. Not all of them that are there are radio people specifically. They may be in a tangential business, but that passion is overwhelmingly motivating to me and I find myself recharged, re-energized.
I think affirmation, motivation, and sometimes those two actually drive you to try something that maybe you’ve been thinking about. I know I’ve had this happen where I’ve been thinking about something for maybe years and you go to a conference like that and you’re like, why the hell haven’t I done that? Now I’m going to because I keep putting it off, and if so-and-so can do it, or so-and-so believes it’s a good idea, then I’m going to go forward.
BN: What’s the most gratifying aspect of your job?
BG: That’s easy: Watching other people succeed. When I see someone who I know is busting their ass or has been trying to get something to work for so long and it clicks and it happens, or the ratings finally happen, I totally am driven by that. I love seeing it.
Those are the people I then absolutely want to help as much as I can. By help, I mean help their career, help them grow, help them find the next job or whatever they want to do that’s important to them. That, to me, it’s all about that. It’s about watching people win that really deserve it and earned it.
BN: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
BG: I don’t dwell on the bad stuff but certainly over the past couple of years, the most difficult thing has had to be downsizing our teams. Everybody has been through it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Nobody ever deserves to lose their job, especially if they love what they do. But everybody can’t keep their job. It’s just not realistic. It’s not how it works.
You’ve experienced it yourself, unfortunately, and you’re an extremely talented talk show host that I think is remarkably bright and unique. So if guys like you can lose your job, it can happen to anybody.
I have to admit, I’ve met a couple of people in my career that actually enjoy firing people and I’m telling you those people are either the devil or they’re just not human. There is nothing fun at all about having to tell people that their position no longer exists. It absolutely blows. That’s the worst by far.
BN: Yeah, absolutely. That’s crazy; I can’t imagine someone enjoying that.
BG: There are some people that do. They’re proud of it. It’s like something’s wrong with you. [Laughs]
BN: Put your current job to the side, it doesn’t count toward this question. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had during your career?
BG: Maybe this is nostalgic and we romanticize things, but probably when I was working at my dad’s Wisconsin-owned radio station. I think when I had the most fun was doing play-by-play. I used to do high school basketball and high school hockey, believe it or not. I loved it, man. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The hockey games were outdoors. I was standing in a snowbank with a headset on calling a high school hockey game, freezing my everything off.
I think about those times and I’m like, that was a freakin’ blast, man. It was so much fun. I’m sure I had some worries, but I don’t remember having a single worry in the world then. I didn’t have a family to support yet, so it was just like, make your 25 bucks doing play-by-play and go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and life is good.
BN: [Laughs] Totally, man. For you personally, do you look to the future as far as goals or are you an in-the-now type of guy?
BG: I think for me personally, I’m definitely a here-and-now person. That’s how I was brought up. That’s my Midwest upbringing. My parents were like, as long as you’re getting a paycheck from somebody, you give them 150%. You get up in the morning, you bust your ass and go to work for them, and you do everything to make them look good and smart and make them money. If something else happens to come along, then you consider it.
That’s the reason I say I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of things just organically come my way. I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to fall into those places. I guess a lot of really good people that have helped me and looked out for me, mentors of mine.
But yeah, I don’t get fixated personally. There’s no guarantee. For me personally, I’m all about today being as great as it can be and tomorrow being whatever it’s going to be.
BN: If you could change anything about your career, would you?
BG: No. Not at all. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’ve made some mistakes. I absolutely have made some mistakes. I think I made them with good intentions. Even when I made the wrong step, it all made sense when I did it. That’s not because I’m smart or I did everything right because like I said, I’ve made some mistakes.
But just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you have to have regrets. I don’t regret it. All of those things get you where you’re at now, good and bad. I’ve made some mistakes, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve been extremely lucky, man. Extremely lucky.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Evan Roberts, Self-Professed Sports Maniac, Thrives at WFAN
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN.
Evan Roberts made his first appearance on WFAN at just 10 years old, filling in for NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen delivering sports updates on Imus in the Morning. The opportunity came after he sent a letter on a whim to the station asking for a job since he enjoyed listening to the station with his father. Desiring to become a radio host was the result of dynamic career aspirations that transitioned from wanting to work as an architect to trying to become the play-by-play announcer for his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.
“Listening to Mike and Chris, and Benigno in the overnights and Somers – I was like ‘That’s what I want to do’,” Roberts recalled. “….It couldn’t be any more specific when I’m listening to the Fan saying ‘I want to be on the Fan.’ About a decade and a half later, I was able to get it done and I’ve been there ever since.”
From an early age, Roberts knew that radio was the medium through which he wanted to express his fandom, especially WFAN. As a native New Yorker, Roberts connected with the teams in the area and sought the chance to talk about them for a living on a sports radio station with a storied history in the area.
Since 1989, WFAN has been one of the pillars of New York sports coverage and a place that helped pioneer the sports talk radio format. Getting there, though, required that Roberts had deft knowledge of sports, an ability to connect with fans, and experience that ensured he was ready for an opportunity in the number one media market in the world.
While attending school, Roberts was hosting a radio show called Kidsports on WGBB, a radio station based in Freeport, N.Y. serving Nassau County on Long Island. He then moved to Radio AAHS to host What’s Up With Evan Roberts and Nets Slammin’ Planet, the latter with famed high school basketball player Albert King and NBA insider Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. Aside from being able to refine his hosting skills, Roberts made valuable connections in these roles including one that would help him land his first job out of high school: Danny Turner.
Before he was named the senior vice president of programming operations at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Turner served as the engineer for Roberts’ shows on Radio AAHS. He helped to coordinate the technology associated with broadcasting since the shows were done remotely rather than from out of a studio.
“[He] ended up working at XM Radio and heard one of my tapes as it went on and said ‘I remember him. I like him,’ and then sent it to the right person and they ultimately hired me,” said Roberts. “It was my first real, real job working out of high school, and that was about meeting someone earlier on and remembering who that person was and sending as many tapes as I could.”
As a graduate of Lawrence High School, Roberts quickly made the move from Cedarhurst, N.Y. to Washington, D.C. to begin working at XM Satellite Radio, a place he would stay for the next two years. Then, he made the move down I-295 from D.C. to Baltimore, Md. where he worked at 105.7 The Fan WJFK-AM and had to adjust his sports consumption to align with the interests of those listeners. It taught him the importance of research and preparation, important aspects of working in sports media that he still utilizes to this day.
“When I was in Baltimore, I had to be Baltimore,” said Roberts. “I had to understand what makes the Orioles fan tick; what makes the Ravens fan tick. I didn’t grow up as an Orioles fan or a Ravens fan. The Ravens had won the Super Bowl years earlier. I know nothing about winning Super Bowls; I’m a Jets fan.”
At 21 years old, Roberts made the move back to “The Big Apple” when he was hired by WFAN as an overnight host, a role he stayed in for the next two-and-a-half years. Simultaneously, Roberts was working on Maxim Radio doing a night show on the Sirius Satellite Radio channel. Balancing those two roles, while it may have seemed daunting, gave Roberts the chance to broadcast in his home market and talk about the teams he grew up rooting for; the aforementioned Mets and Jets, along with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Islanders.
Then in 2007, Roberts got his big break when he was named the midday co-host with Joe Benigno on the program Benigno & Roberts in the Midday. Benigno, who got his start on WFAN as a regular caller, had grown a rapport with listeners since joining the station in 1995, making the task for Roberts, a 23-year-old at the time, more difficult in terms of fitting in. Roberts is grateful that Benigno, a host he grew up listening to on WFAN, was accommodating and amicable towards him – plus it helped that they aligned in their rooting interests as Mets and Jets fans.
“He was very welcoming, and he didn’t have to be because I was a lot younger; he had no idea who the hell I was,” said Roberts. “….Right out of the gate, I think he saw my passion [and] my knowledge; he saw a little bit of himself in me, and we were able to bond right away.”
To make a name for himself in the new midday time slot, Roberts stuck to the principles that had been given to him from his early days of radio; that is, to be himself. From the start of his foray into sports media, Roberts and most people around him knew that he was, in his own words, “a sports maniac”, and he needed to maintain that genuine identity on the air. His relatability and passion for the teams as a fan made him an ideal fit for the station synonymous with New York City bearing those iconic call letters and an unbeatable afternoon duo.
“I think as time [went] on and Joe and I developed even more and more chemistry, the audience knew who we were,” said Roberts. “They certainly knew who he was, but they learned ‘Evan’s a die-hard Mets fan. He doesn’t miss a game.’”
While it was important for Roberts to emulate his fandom for the teams he roots for, he quickly developed a cognizance for trying to talk about other teams impartially while on the air. It is a challenge, to a degree, to maintain objectivity daily with intrinsic fandom for certain teams, but being able to understand how other fan bases feel after monumental victories or crushing defeats renders the art of appealing to the listening audience easier. It also upholds WFAN’s commitment to serve as an outlet for all New York sports fans rather than just certain cohorts of them.
“We’re trying to appeal to everybody,” said Roberts. “We want everybody listening. Not just Yankees fans; not just Mets fans; not just die-hard sports fans; not just casual fans. How do you keep every single person wanting to listen to the radio?”
When Roberts first joined the station in 2004, most New York sports teams were rebuilding aside from the Yankees. Today, the preponderance of professional teams in the New York Metropolitan area are contending or at least have the chance to appear in their league’s playoffs, something that is exciting for fans like Roberts but presents a challenge in doing effective sports radio that accurately depicts the emotions of listeners.
“I think what’s going to be a real challenge… is [when] the Mets are in the playoffs, the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Jets look competent, and the Giants look competent, and it’s a Monday,” Roberts expressed. “You’ve got four monstrous fan bases that care about their team. How the hell do you find a way to keep them all entertained?”
To express the true extent of his fandom for niche sectors of the audience, Roberts turns to another form of aural consumption: podcasts. There has been much discussion over the ability of traditional radio and podcasts to coexist in this digital age of media; however, Roberts believes that the two mediums provide a unique combination that was previously nonexistent.
In his opinion, podcasts are a method to delve deeper into topics or teams that do not garner as much time on the radio, specifically those that do not generate as large of a market share or which are not as representative of the interests of the majority of listeners.
“I do a Mets podcast specifically – I called it Rico Brogna because I loved Rico Brogna as a kid and I figured ‘Why the hell not?’”, Roberts said. “…I do an hour breaking down the Mets in a hard-core way that I’m not going to do on WFAN for an hour. I may do it for a couple of minutes. I think those two things work perfectly side-by-side.”
Still, most listeners, according to Roberts, will likely turn to terrestrial radio to get their sports fix, especially if they do not express allegiance to solely one team.
“The majority of people are still going to turn on WFAN and say ‘Okay, entertain me. I don’t know what I want to hear. You just entertain me’,” said Roberts. “I think those two forms of entertainment can work side-by-side. That’s why we do it.”
When Mike Francesa signed off WFAN in December 2017, the station had to make changes in the afternoon drive-time slot which it did with the debut of Carlin, Maggie & Bart. The show was eventually disbanded though when Francesa ended his retirement just over four months later, returning to afternoons. His return to WFAN did not last long though, departing the station again in December 2019. Again, WFAN had to make a change in afternoons, this time moving Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to do a 2 to 6:30 p.m. show renamed Joe & Evan.
For Roberts, the opportunity to host in the afternoon slot that he had grown up listening to Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo make famous with their program Mike and the Mad Dog was an opportunity he did not hesitate to accept. Yet the change in time also required a change in approach regarding topic selection; after all, since the show would be starting later in the day, it was more important to preview the forthcoming action than recap that of the previous day.
“Even though you’re doing the same thing because you’re the same person, you’ve got to realize the audience is thinking about things a little bit differently; they’re not always analyzing what happened last night,” said Roberts. “I always find that interesting [trying to] balance the two [and] it’s almost like a game.”
When Benigno retired from the station in November 2020, Craig Carton made his return to the New York City airwaves pairing with Roberts to form the new afternoon duo Carton & Roberts. Carton had previously been with the station hosting mornings with Boomer Esiason on Boomer and Carton from 2007 until his arrest in 2017. He served time in prison for fraud-related charges, and ultimately sought and received help for addiction related to gambling.
Since his return to WFAN, Carton has been vocal about his struggle to overcome addiction and the lessons learned from his time serving in prison, hosting a special weekend program titled Hello, My Name Is Craig to discuss these issues in-depth. On Carton and Roberts, the duo has experienced immense success, recently topping ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s The Michael Kay Show in the spring ratings book. From the onset of Carton and Roberts working together though, there was some trepidation as to whether their personalities would blend well together on sports talk radio.
“I remember the first time I was told ‘Hey, there’s a possibility of you and Craig together.’ I was like ‘What?,’” Roberts said. “My first reaction was ‘Really?’”
Now nearly two years in, Roberts enjoys working alongside Carton and learning more about his perspectives and thoughts on the radio industry. Following advice he was given from both Russo and Esiason on working with Carton, Roberts has let him take the lead and discover how the show can effectively inform and entertain its vast listening audience.
“Let’s take a step back; don’t have an ego,” Roberts recalls thinking when he started the new show. “Watch this magician figure out how this show is going to work and then lean into it. I think that’s what I did and it has worked, and I feel very comfortable, I know he feels very comfortable and we’ve got a successful thing going on now.”
Roberts views Carton as an informed talent in the radio industry, aware of the changing nature of the medium and the potential it has to serve its audience. Roberts indeed experienced success in his previous roles, most notably when working in middays with Benigno; however, he is always willing to try new things and form new approaches towards jaded industry practices and show formats.
“I know that I have a guy who I’m working with who knows the medium as well as anybody,” said Roberts. “If he has a vision on how this could work with his personality and my personality, I’m going to listen; I’m going to follow along.”
WFAN and SportsNet New York (SNY), the flagship network for the New York Mets and New York Jets, agreed last year to simulcast Carton and Roberts from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. While the move, which has been made with various other WFAN programs over the years including Mike and the Mad Dog and Boomer and Gio puts the radio program on a visual medium, Roberts’ approach to the show did not change.
The thought always was that he would be doing a radio show with the curtain pulled back, giving longtime listeners the chance to see the two co-hosts during their discussions and on-air interactions.
“They’re listening to the radio, and it’s cool sometimes when you get to peek in and say, ‘Oh, look at Craig’s expressions. Look at Evan’s expressions. Look at the way they’re looking at each other. Boy, they hate each other right now,’” Roberts said. “I think it’s people looking in on a radio show, and that’s what I always try to remind myself. It’s on TV – that’s great – but we’re a radio show first, and I think a lot of people kind of like to eavesdrop on that.”
One of the challenges of doing a radio show whether or not it is simulcast is in taking calls, and various hosts and producers have differing opinions when it comes to their value on the air. Still, while the hosts, producers, and caller themselves may enjoy their interactions, it is fundamental awareness is placed on the audience that does not call in and their enjoyment of listening to a caller.
“I think when you’re talking [to] somebody, you’re not just thinking about the conversation you’re having with them,” said Roberts. “You’re thinking about the 98% of the audience that doesn’t call in and if this is entertaining or not; if this is informative or not; what are they getting out of this?…. I love callers – it’s a big part of WFAN – but as I interact with them… I think the thought that I always try to have is ‘How is everyone else listening feeling about this discussion?’”
While Carton and Roberts continues to do well in afternoon drive among the demographic of men 25-54 years old, the way the ratings are interpreted by each person and entity in radio differs. Something the Nielsen ratings do not take into account is the number of people listening to the show on-demand as a podcast or watching its simulcast on SNY. During his time with Benigno, Roberts scrutinized the numbers, looking at copious and exiguous details, similar to how he consumes professional sports.
The difference is that while it may be good to have a complete understanding of show performance, getting caught in the minutiae of ratings and trying to improve in weaker areas can sometimes be, according to Roberts, a means without an end.
“I think I realized as time went on that’s going to give you a headache and it’s not going to really help anything,” said Roberts. “I think I learned a little more that you still look at numbers but maybe with a broader view of things; not as specific. I look at [them] a lot, but sometimes it’s tough. I don’t think you want to alter a show too much based on what you think is a pattern but may not necessarily be a pattern.”
This fall, both Carton and Roberts will be starting new roles in media while continuing to host their afternoon show. Carton is going to begin hosting a new national morning show on Fox Sports 1 with a co-host yet to be determined, a move that will place him primarily on television in mornings against WFAN and CBS Sports Radio’s simulcast of Boomer & Gio. Roberts will continue to stay on WFAN, adding a new Saturday program with his former co-host Joe Benigno beginning on September 10.
“It’s like getting back on a bicycle,” Roberts said of working with Benigno. “It’s always comfortable…. It’s going to be [like] our old show – just once a week on a Saturday.”
WFAN was the sound of Evan Roberts’ childhood, and a large reason he became as invested in professional sports as he considers himself to be today. Throughout his time at the station, he has worked with various hosts and recently welcomed new program director Spike Eskin to the station. He says the contrast between Eskin and previous program director Mark Chernoff is stark – yet they are similar in where it matters most: being able to effectively lead WFAN.
“I think they both very much understand radio, and that’s the most important thing,” said Roberts. “You’re the program director of WFAN; I think you have an idea of what good radio is… [They are] both very, very intelligent radio guys that I trust, but everything else about them is probably polar opposite.”
For aspiring professionals looking to pursue a career in sports media, Roberts advises them to take advantage of the innovations in media and communications especially when it comes to podcasts. With widespread evolution and progression in technology coupled with altering consumption habits and means thereof, putting in the time allows novices to hone their skills and position themselves well in sports media. That and always being willing to learn and study to be the most prepared and informed host as possible – especially when talking to listeners, many of whom have seen teams in their ebbs and flows.
“My wife knows that I’m going to watch every pitch of the Yankees and Mets game,” said Roberts. “I may do it on DVR, and I may do it at 2 in the morning because we need to have a life; I don’t want to get divorced, and I want my kids to love me, but she also knows that I want to be as informed as anybody on the radio and that’s not going to stop.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jake Paul, Betr Pair Micro-Betting With Media
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape.
I’ll be completely honest: I can’t get into TikTok. I’m closing in on 40 years spent on this planet, and it’s simply not my thing. It’s not meant to be, though. The current generation is one with shorter attention spans, the kind that wants a quick highlight of a sporting event so they can shift their focus to something else. When I tell folks a decade younger than me stories about how I–and others of my age group–would sit around and watch an entire SportsCenter, they look at me like I’m crazy. Not sure how they’d look at me if I told them we used to often watch the rerun an hour later, but that’s another discussion.
It’s a big reason why micro-betting is considered the “next big thing” in sports betting. Similar to in-game betting, micro betting goes a step further and focuses on individual events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of a drive, whether a baseball player will get a hit in his upcoming at-bat, or even something such as a coin toss at the Super Bowl. A perfect example of micro-betting is the rise in popularity of betting on whether or not a run will be scored in the first inning of a baseball game. For a generation that wants a quick resolution to their bets, it makes total sense. You place a bet, you find out how it did, and then you move on–whether that’s to another bit of action or something else entirely.
Something else I can’t get into is the whole hoopla surrounding the Paul brothers. Logan and Jake Paul have built an empire for themselves on the back of YouTube, with Jake Paul having more than 70 million followers on social media. For various reasons, I’m not a fan of either individual. Again, though, they aren’t coming after my demographic. Like them or hate them, you have to respect their grind –and you have to admire their business acumen — as they parlay their notoriety and success into sports entertainment by way of boxing and the WWE, as well as a new sports drink company that has already partnered with Premier League side Arsenal.
Monday’s announcement by Jake Paul of a new micro-betting site simply furthers the narrative and does so in a manner that can’t be ignored by those in the sports betting space. Betr, a joint venture between Paul, sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy, and the sports betting company Simplebet, was announced yesterday morning. Backed by a $50 million investment from multiple venture capital firms, the new company is backed by ownership groups of franchises such as the Boston Celtics and San Francisco 49ers, and also has financial backing from current and former NFL players including Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Richard Sherman. Musician Travis Scott has also put his financial backing behind the product.
The other very interesting tidbit from the press release was the announcement of a media company that would feature, among other shows, “BS w/ Jake Paul”. Their new YouTube channel, which already has over two million subscribers despite not a single video being posted as of Monday afternoon, will feature sports-betting content from Paul and other content creators and will focus on micro betting. In an interview with Axios, Levy said that consumers can “expect 10+ videos a day from emerging content creators we’ve brought into the company,” but that things would begin with a focus on “premium content natives, starting with Jake’s show.”
Sports radio and television have long been focused on making their products more appealing to younger generations. Just take a look at ESPN, where they’ve long been doing “SportsCenter” episodes on Snapchat. This could be a game-changer, provided they can help drive micro-betting into a wider market.
There is plenty of potential in the space, a big reason Paul was able to acquire such high amounts of funding. Just last year, JP Morgan estimated that more than $7 billion per year would be wagered on micro bets by the year 2025. And earlier this year, the CEO of Oddisum stated in an interview that micro-betting would account for the majority of wagers placed on sporting events within the next three years. Even DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has talked about plans on how his company expects to embrace the trend.
There are plenty of hurdles, though, that still need to be overcome before this takes over the betting landscape. The biggest one is the delivery of data. As we move more towards a society that streams sporting events and other digital content, the delay between real life and what shows up on your mobile phone can be the difference between placing a wager or not. For some services (I’m looking at you, Peacock) there’s often a delay of more than 90 seconds, which means the play I want to bet on is still two or three plays away from being seen with my own eyes. That makes it difficult to place a bet with any sort of confidence.
The other major obstacle will be getting their gambling service legalized. In their press release, Betr stated they will start as a “free-to-play” app in all 50 states, and eventually they will add real money gambling services as they become licensed to operate within individual states. That’s not going to be so simple, though, as gambling addiction concerns continue to rise and multiple state legislatures are already having discussions regarding the matter.
As addictive as betting on sporting events can be, micro-betting is often exponentially more. A study last year from CQ University in Sydney, Australia indicated that micro bettors are more likely to be younger players and that they usually “have high trait impulsivity”. An author of the report also stated, “there’s a very strong link between micro betting and gambling problems”, and pointed out that the short amount of time between placing a bet and having it resolved leaves little time to evaluate performance or track one’s bankroll.
Whether or not those things are overcome in every state possible is a discussion for another day. The fact is, micro-betting is more likely than not to become a huge growth market for sports betting companies over the next two to three years, and Paul and Levy have become the first big players to jump into the media space. It’s not a question of if, but when, others will follow them into the realm of micro betting sports content, but their announcement on Monday raises the stakes. It also reminds those of us in business, especially sports media, that while we may not fully understand the allure of what the younger generation enjoys, we ignore it at our peril.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.