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Lifelong Friendships Fuel The Sports Junkies Success

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You can’t possibly talk about Washington, D.C. sports media without mentioning 106.7 The Fan‘s morning drive radio show, The Sports Junkies. Hosted by lifelong friends, John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop and John-Paul Flaim, The Junkies have been gracing the airwaves since 1995, where the four began their broadcasting career as nothing more than a hobby mixing it up with a 30-minute public-access television cable TV show, before moving to radio the following year.

At the time, the show featured a wide variety of sports banter with sarcastic humor which has served as their foundation all these years later. If it weren’t for a Washington Times reporter stumbling upon four wannabe on-air personalities and choosing to write an article on them, The Junkies may never have taken off the way they did.

“They’ve taken every opportunity they’ve ever had and run with it,” said 106.7 The Fan program director Chris Kinard, who has been with the company since his 1998 intern days.

Three years removed from being freshly out of college and youngsters in the business, The Junkies were named Sports Illustrated’s “Next Big Thing on Radio” in 1999. Fast forward to August 10, 2016. CSN Mid-Atlantic (named NBC Sports Washington in October 2017) announced it would present a live simulcast of The Sports Junkies weekdays from 6am to 10am. This marked the first time the radio show could be seen on television.

The partnership has allowed NBC to feature show content across its TV, online, mobile and social media platforms, including daily highlight and recap videos revolving around the show. Additionally, it’s presented throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia on NBC Sports Washington, NBCSportsWashington.com, and the NBC Sports app.

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Kinard maintains the belief that his on-air hosts have adjusted to TV just fine. In fact, the change may not have impacted their approach to the show at all.

“They haven’t changed their ways from radio to TV. They barely remember they’re on TV and it seems to be working. They’re hitting the highest ratings they’ve ever hit in the last year and a half or so,” Kinard shared.

John-Paul Flaim, a native of Bowie, Md. and University of Maryland graduate, considers the change nothing more than a shift back to where it all began for the four radio hosts.

“The format requires shorter takes but it is how we started in 1995 with a cable access tv show in Bowie so it really is a return to our roots. Oh, and I guess you’re supposed to look at the right cameras but I’ve never quite figured that out so I just chat with the hosts of the show and look them in the eye as if we were joking around at a sports bar. That truly has been the theme of the Sports Junkies for more than two decades,” said Flaim.

One aspect that has notably remained the same during this transition is the group’s unique camaraderie.

“Our chemistry and interaction as a unit reminds many of our listeners of their friend groups in high school, college, and beyond. To me, that’s the inherent advantage our show has over every other show on radio…we’ve grown up together, gone to school together, for 40+ years, and that’s something that can’t be faked or replicated,” Auville told me.

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It shouldn’t be discounted that the four radio hosts have found a way to be successful year after year in a top-10 market such as the nation’s capital. A market that suffered a major championship drought for over 25 years, until 2018. When the Washington Capitals claimed their first-ever Stanley Cup in June, the D.C. sports “curse” was lifted sending the city into a complete frenzy. For many longtime D.C. sports media professionals, the championship served as a career-defining moment. For Flaim, it was all that and much more.

“It was a moment of elation and satisfaction. We hadn’t seen a major championship since we started the radio show other than the Terps but that wasn’t nearly as big. Oh, and I made sure my wife would go out and get some Stanley Cup gear that night as I watched all the post game interviews. It was an awesome night,” Flaim shared.

Eric Bickel, who attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville before earning a psychology degree from Maryland, weighed in on his own euphoria following the victory for D.C.

“My initial reaction was just one of relief. There was probably a little disbelief, too. But it was just amazing. Reminded me of what it used to be like around here in the 80’s with the Redskins,” Bickel said.

Auville, who goes by “Cakes” on the air, attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School (with Flaim) before furthering his education at Towson University where he studied communications. As soon as the Caps were crowned Stanley Cup champions, Auville simply couldn’t sit still.

“I drove to Dick’s in Gaithersburg with my daughter and bought about $400 worth of Stanley Cup Champions gear at midnight with a bunch of other Caps fans,” Auville admitted.

The fourth and final Junkie is the 6’6” former University of Richmond basketball player Jason Bishop, who goes by “Lurch” on the airwaves. Growing up in Lanham, Md., he also attended DeMatha (with Bickel) and played basketball for the legendary Morgan Wootten, who won 1,274 games for the powerhouse program.

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When asked about the Stanley Cup, Bishop put it plain and simply as he so often does on the air.

“Tears of joy!”

The Capitals’ historic victory was obviously huge for long-suffering D.C. sports fans, but you certainly shouldn’t discount what it meant for longtime sports media professionals in the District. This is their livelihood. This is what their careers and lives revolve around. This is what gets them up out of bed in the morning. The win meant and still means everything to them. It was pure jubilation for The Junkies.

But what about the magicians who help make this all happen behind the curtain?

Matt Cahill and Matt Myers serve as executive producer and producer, respectively. Cahill, a graduate of Arizona State University, joined the show in 2012 after a stint with the Big O and Dukes Show. Myers, a University of Maryland graduate, was named show producer in 2009 and is as local as it gets for the market growing up in Pasadena, Md.

Their jobs revolve around booking guests (Cal Ripken and Gary Williams are fans of the show), getting their hosts in and out of commercial breaks, communicating ad reads and most of all, facilitating the show behind the scenes. They are your true quarterbacks who hand ‘it’ off to their four running backs.

I’d like to finish this piece by sharing one recent personal exchange that I feel best illustrates The Junkies and their presence in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.

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As a 24-year-old freshly out of college and chipping away at student loans, I caddy for extra money at a local country club in Bethesda. During an early August round of golf, I was asked by a member what I do when I’m not caddying.

“I work in NBC Sports Washington’s digital content department right down the road,” I said.

The member stopped in his tracks in the middle of the fairway. “No way. Do you work with The Junkies? Most mornings I just sit in my car listening to the show. They make me late for work,” he told me.

That is the type of impact the show has on its followers. When you provide authentic conversation and chemistry, and a consistent strategy, and combine it with loyal, hungry listeners you’re left with a product that’s been working for over two decades: The Sports Junkies.

Bob Trosset is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BobTrossetNBCS. To reach him by email click here.

 

 

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3z9hErM

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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