Carl Dukes Has His Face On A Beer Can
There are a long list of people that helped Carl Dukes get where he is today. He doesn’t want you to forget that. But he also knows he isn’t one of Atlanta’s most successful sports radio hosts by accident either.
Carl and his partner Mike Bell go way back. Their relationship began the way most radio guys from different markets strike up a friendship. They each found themselves showing up at the same events as the other and going out to dinner. They made each other laugh. That turned into texting about stories and ideas, and that finally turned into Mike asking Carl in 2009 if he thought they could have as much fun on air as they do off air.
At the time, Carl was working in Houston. Mike was at the now defunct 790 the Zone in Atlanta and partnered with former Georgia linebacker David Pollack, who obviously turned out just fine.
Carl told Mike they could absolutely make it work on air, but he wasn’t ready to move quite then. He wouldn’t be ready to leave his native Texas for another three years.
It was in 2012 that Carl Dukes’s agent told him about another opportunity in Atlanta. This one was with CBS Radio. The company was flipping Triple-A outlet 92.9 Dave FM to a sports station, and the station already had the Falcons’ play-by-play rights, so they wouldn’t necessarily be completely starting from scratch.
Carl met with all the relevant people and was sold on their vision. He and his family were ready to move halfway across the country, but first he had to make a phone call. He had to tell Mike Bell that he was coming to Atlanta after all, just not how Bell had planned it.
Years later, after a number of lineup changes at what became 92.9 the Game and the eventual dissolve of 790 the Zone, there was an opening for the two friends to FINALLY work together. Carl is thankful it happened the way it did and says that professionally, he has never been happier.
When I was in Atlanta earlier this month, I told Carl to meet me for breakfast at a place called Michael’s Cafe. It’s a truly unremarkable breakfast counter right around the corner from State Farm Arena, where he needed to be for the Hawks’ media day festivities.
We shared so-so eggs and truly awful hash browns while he told me the detailed story of how he came to town, why he now devotes multiple segments a week to soccer, and how he and Bell came to have their faces on a beer can.
DEMETRI: So when did you come to Atlanta?
CARL: 2012. My agent contacted me and said “CBS is looking to do an all-sports station in Atlanta. Are you interested?” And I laughed and said “Come on!” because things were going really good for me in Houston. We had built a really good brand there, so I said “I don’t know,” but he told me to just talk to them.
So, Rick Caffey, who is our market manager here, he runs probably the most prominent urban station in the country, V103. And Terry Foxx, who is our program director now.
D: He was the original PD too, right?
C: Right. The original PD. He had come down from Pittsburgh. He had done a start up for them in Pittsburgh and that was successful, so they were bringing him to Atlanta now.
I’ve done two start ups. This would be my second one. I can guarantee I won’t do another one. For those that don’t understand it or don’t get how tough it is, it is such an uphill battle, especially when you have established stations in the market.
So it’s summer of 2012. I’m talking with Rick. I am talking with Terry. I am talking with Chris Olivero at the time. They were convinced that what the plan was was going to work, but they needed the right people.
I think I came out here two separate times to meet between the time we actually started the station, which was October 24.
D: 92.9 was a Triple A station right? But it had the Falcons as I recall.
C: Correct. And you know the thing there was that they just couldn’t recycle the audience, which is something I think a lot of music stations run into. You have rights to a particular team, it doesn’t matter what team, but particularly with football. You see these huge numbers on a Sunday where people are listening and paying attention. Monday through Friday they couldn’t come anywhere close to the same thing.
Rick was here. I think he is the one that did that deal. That was part of the process. We want to be able to create the number one sports station, not just in Atlanta, but in the South. So when you hear that is the plan, and I met the people I would be working for, it made the decision a lot easier than I thought it would be.
D: Was it just the idea of leaving Texas or was it coming to Atlanta that was your initial hold up?
C: Well, the hardest thing to do in our business is give up brand equity in a market you’ve been in for a long time. When you move to another market, and I say this with all due respect to my friends that have had success and stayed in one market for a long time, but that is the hardest thing is to pick up and leave somewhere you’ve been successful.
So, knowing that, you really have to weigh “do I really want to give up all of that” and knowing you can probably stay forever versus “do I want a new challenge?” For me, it was being ready for a new challenge. I wanted to accomplish something most people thought was unattainable at the time.
You have to remember when we started our radio station, 790 the Zone still existed. There was 680 the Fan, which is still here. Two stations had a nice place in the market at the time. You’re not only coming into a market where they have established talent, but for a guy like myself, you come in to a place where you’re going to be hosting afternoon drive and people are going “Who is this guy? What is he all about?”
The process of the audience becoming familiar with you and liking you, that takes time. We’ve gone from 0 ratings to this month, which I’m very proud of, we’re number one with a ten share. That’s never happened at the radio station. You’re talking about sports. I know you look around the country, Demetri. Go find me a lot of ten shares in sports radio.
I’m very proud of where we are right now and where we’re going to continue to go. Plus, my wife was very behind it. She had a great gig in Texas as well. It was just a family decision, but once we made the decision to come it was all about winning.
D: When you say you’ve got a 10 share right now, what is driving that in Atlanta? Is it the Braves in the postseason, is it the Falcons, or in Atlanta is it still everything taking a backseat to SEC football?
(Carl pauses as he tries to find the right answer)
D: Sorry, I don’t mean for that to sound like I am completely dismissing the possibility that people just like you.
C:No, not at all, but you know, that is part of it. I think we have created a show people want to be a part of and we connect with our audience in a completely different way with our beer, which I guess we’ll talk about in a second.
I think that the Falcons and certainly Georgia’s success, and then throw in what happened this year with the Braves, which is unexpected. It is almost a perfect storm. But I also think the elements of what we do everyday matter. You know, this audience has been building. We’ve seen consistent 6’s and 7’s in the ratings. That’s where we were living, so to see a 10 it’s shocking. I think we were always going to get there, but we never thought we were going to get there this soon.
D: You’re like the Braves, a year ahead of schedule.
D: This probably goes to the elements on the show and also what you are doing off the show. Sure the Braves are good again and the Falcons are good again, but listeners aren’t coming because they want to hear about that. They are coming to your show because they want to hear what Carl has to say about that.
C: Right. I think that’s the essence of all great shows. When you meet your listeners and they say “I had to tune in Monday to hear what you were going to say about that” or “I can’t believe we lost that way and I couldn’t wait to hear what you were going to say,” that’s really what it is all about. That’s the connection!
And the thing is, it’s not about if they agree with you or not. They want to hear you. I think that is a big part of what has been going on for us lately.
D: Do you think you and Mike Bell could have had this same success together if you had come to join him when he first asked you back when he was on 790? The reason I ask is what the situation was. You would have been replacing a Georgia football legend, and I wonder if there might have been some pushback from listeners along the lines of “Hang on, Pollock is our guy. Who is this guy? He’s not a Bulldog. He’s not from the market.”
Is finally getting together at The Game kind of a leg up? Now you’re just two guys talking sports.
C: Absolutely. This is something people may or may not think about, but when you talk about timing, to me that’s the stuff they’re talking about. I don’t know if we would have had this kind of success. I can tell you the chemistry and the way we work together now, that would have been there, but the success we’re having now? I don’t know if we could have done that at 790.
That gets back to understanding “is this the right time for me to make this move?”.
C: Right? Sometimes you want something so much that you want to continue to push forward. It’s why guys in our business take jobs where the timing may not be right. For me, in 2012, the timing was right.
I was ready for something new. I felt confident in Chris Olivera, Rick Caffey, and Terry Foxx, who knew the plan, both what we were going to do and how we were going to accomplish it. And on top of that, they had the commitment. That is a big deal. I’m not coming in and then 18 months later I have to worry about them changing the radio station.
Ultimately, it’s just God’s plan. I come in and here I am working with the guy that we wanted to work with each other for a very long time.
D: Was there ever a concern when 92.9 was going through so many lineup changes, not that you made the wrong decision, but that CBS was going to feel like they made the wrong decision even trying this format?
C: Well, you know, you are never going to know what corporate is thinking, right? So, of course I knew there were going to be struggles. A lot of people told me not to take this job, and every conversation was built on a misnomer.
Atlanta is a great sports market. People here are passionate, and all of the ownership groups are dedicated. You look at Liberty Media. I know they have caught a lot of heat with the Braves, but you go to Sun Trust Park and look at the Battery in Cobb County. It’s really amazing.
A lot of people were telling me “Dukes, don’t take this job. You’re gonna be out of a job in a year.” It was all based on this idea that Atlanta is a bad sports city.
The ironic thing for me is that my mom is from Opelika (Alabama). My dad was born in Griffin, Georgia. We used to visit my grandmother in Griffin, Georgia. I remember going to Fulton County Stadium as a kid when we’d go see Grandma.
It’s ironic, I guess for me to now be in this city having the success that I am, but I am defending this city because being here, being in it, and seeing how people respond to these teams, it’s a great sports city.
So back to people saying “Dukes, don’t take the job,” the argument was they have two sports stations already and they don’t even have the passion.
D: Were either of them, 680 or 790, seen as the unbeatable monster?
C: I would tell you that 790 was more recognized. 680 has been around longer, but 790 was the one with the buzz about it.
They had the 2 Live Stews on at the time. For the size of that station, they weren’t a big station, they were known around the country.
D: So no one was saying “Don’t go to Atlanta because the Zone is there” or “You can’t compete with the Fan”?
C: Well, no, they were, because the idea was that there is no way Atlanta can support three sports stations. Everyone was looking at who is going to be the odd man out.
As far as what corporate was thinking, I don’t know if they were ever looking at us and going “We’re three years in. We need to pull the plug.” That is what I was saying in these conversations. We need three years fo this to work. That’s the time frame. If you have a show you really think can be a winner three years, that is when you’ll start to see a turn.
For a radio station, especially a start up, for me I knew I needed to be out in the community. For Atlanta especially, that is big. They want to see you. They need to love on you. That’s real. That is where their passion comes from.
If you’re a Falcons fan, you’re a Falcons fan through and through. If you’re a Hawks fan, yeah, they’re down, but the passionate fans are there waiting for them to turn it around. Bulldog fans have been waiting forever to see this, to see where they are now and wondering if they can compete for championships year after year.
I’ll tell you this though, one of the weirdest, but greatest things to ever happen to the city is Atlanta United. This has been unbelievable. To see the fandom is nuts.
D: You’re the flagship for the team right?
D: And the flagship for the Falcons too.
D: Okay, so with a vested interest in both, what are you thinking when you hear Arthur Blank go on a radio broadcast and say “Yeah, this is probably a more fun environment than a Falcons game”?
C: (laughing) Well, it is.
D: What kind of topic is that the next day?
C: If you’ve gone to a United game, and I would tell this to anyone around the country, we have the most passionate environment in soccer. I’m not just saying that for MLS. Look around the world. The attendance numbers Atlanta United is putting up compares with Arsenal and Man U. I mean, it’s bananas! If you’ve gone to one of these games, you’ll see it. The supporter groups are incredible.
Big shout out to the supporter groups that have been a part of Dukes & Bell, because we supported this from the jump. A lot of people, like with anything, were “Soccer? Nah nah nah.” It’s been huge!
D: The first time, before I started looking at shots of the crowd for United games, that I realized this was a thing was that episode of Atlanta where Paper Boy goes to the barber shop. There’s an Atlanta United flag hanging on the wall.
I thought “oh, well that’s an Atlanta barber shop with something for every team in town on the walls.” Then, in back-to-back episodes after that, there is someone in the background – clearly a crowd shot – wearing Atlanta United gear. That’s when it kinda hit me that Atlanta is buying into the MLS. It must be a big deal here.
C: It is a cultural phenomenon. The reason is that Atlanta has a lot of transplants. The United is all of ours. It’s not a team moving from another city. It’s not a sport where everyone that moves here is bringing their own allegiance, so they take on United as a second team.
We saw this from the foundation. It’s for everyone. It’s such a kid friendly and family friendly thing, that you’ve got fans in every county. You’ve got people in the ‘burbs, people from Outside the Perimeter. And maybe you know this, but when you have people coming from Outside the Perimeter, that’s huge.
Maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with the question, but it gets back to what Atlanta is and what it has become as a sports city. So, getting back to an earlier question, I never worried about “will the station pull the plug?” or “was this the right decision” as we went through personality changes and lineup changes. You’re always working to get the right mix. Once you find it, you’ll see the spike. I think that is what has happened with sports in this city and as a result what has happened at 92.9.
D: So with United’s success and its place in the Atlanta sports pantheon, is there hard-core soccer talk? How do Dukes & Bell talk about soccer?
C: That’s an interesting question. At first, we were very cautious, because there are going to be a lot of novices that don’t know the sport’s culture and don’t know the lingo. So we started very general and broad, but as we started to see these crowds and the investment in the team, you start realize there are a lot of hardcore soccer fans. It’s not just guys saying “I’ll pop in to see what’s going on.” So, you have to approach it like football, the NBA or college football.
There are topics people want to discuss. They know the players now. It is as much of a conversation as anything else. We have soccer segments throughout the week on the show that people are interested in.
We get a lot of clicks from things we put on the website. We get a lot of reaction from anything soccer-related, which is something that if you had told me two years ago when we were with Arthur Blank for the kickoff party and we were trying to sell “Hey, we’re getting a soccer team,” if you had said then “in two and a half years you’ll be doing soccer segments,” I’d have said “yeah, whatever!”.
D: You would have assumed if that was the case, the team is paying for those segments.
C: Right, but that is what has happened. It has helped us so much. It’s from the standpoint of those fans are a younger demo. They spend money and traditionally they may not have come to the radio station.
They weren’t going to hear us, but now they’re coming to the station and Dukes & Bell are talking about their favorite thing. So it’s “Oh, I’m going to stay here and see what these guys have to say!”.
D: I hate to do the “how long have you been a black quarterback” question, but I do want to ask you about being a Black guy on the air in Atlanta and working for a Black PD.
C: (Laughing). Oh, it matters!
D: Not only does it matter, but was there an appeal of the chance to work for a Black program director?
C: Yeah, absolutely there was.
D: It seems like for Atlanta, that was a very wise move on CBS’s part, because like you said, V103 is this monster station, the make up of Atlantans is very different from the people that move here because they got a job with CNN.
C: Oh sure. There was a certain appeal to come work for a black program director, and for that matter, a black market manager. First of all, those things are rare in our business. That’s just a fact.
We’re all pushing, those of us that are in the positions we’re in, to create this opportunities. I feel like part of our success is to open more doors.
D: Even yourself, it’s amazing that you are in a rare position. You’re a black man on in a major market, behind the lead mic everyday. You’re not a former player. You’re not a former coach. You’re just a really good host. There aren’t a lot of people like that in sports radio.
C: Yeah, that’s correct. That’s the thing. There are a lot of former ballplayers that get jobs and they turn into really good hosts, but you’re absolutely right. This is a rarity.
There was an appeal, but I’ll say this. If Terry wasn’t qualified, he wouldn’t be here. He did the startup in Pittsburgh and took it to number one. He did this startup. Now we’re number one. He does a phenomenal job. The appeal to me was always about working for the right people.
I’ve worked for some great people in this business. Ken Charles put me on The Sports Animal in Houston when it launched. He recognized my talent and wasn’t afraid to take a chance on me. Brian Purdy gave me a shot years ago, and he’s now the market manager and one of the top guys in Dallas. John McGainey, who’s an all-star, Dave Tepper, who just took a job in Denver, Eddie Martini in Houston, and none of those guys are African-American, but they believe in me and believed in what I could do. There’s a uniqueness in that.
Some of those guys were told I wouldn’t work. Some of those people were told “well, Dukes can be on a show, but he can’t be the lead guy on a show,” and so the credit is with the people that understand the broad picture. So, coming to work with Terry and coming to work with Rick is cool. I’ve only ever had the chance to work with Caucasian PDs or Caucasian market managers.
D: It also has to feel good that when you’re trying to fight for what you want the show to be, or explain what the show is, it has to be more comfortable not to be the only Black guy in the room for a change.
D: That’s not to disparage any of your past program directors.
C: Of course not. Not at all, but you’re right. There’s something to be said for that. The other side of that too is, as I’ve said, diversity is good in everything. It’s no different in our business. If you’re sitting in a room and everyone looks like you and they have all had the same experiences as you, you probably are not going to broaden your horizons.
Even with my partner, he’s from New York. I’m from Texas. We talk politics. We talk about all kinds of things. We are so different, but at the core, we are similar and that is why we work so well together.
I say that to say that being around different types of people helped me grow. So the first time I walked into that room and looked around, I did go “Oh, okay!” but that doesn’t make the day-to-day any easier. I think sometimes that is a misnomer.
It’s not any easier. In fact, that puts more pressure to deliver, because what we’ve got here isn’t going on anywhere else around the country.
D: It’s weird to hear you say that people told your PDs that you could be on a show, but you couldn’t lead a show in Houston, of all places.
C: Well, here’s the deal. I started in sports radio in the 90s. I wasn’t even doing sports radio. I was doing news. I was doing music. I didn’t make my transition to sports radio until the late 90s, somewhere around 97 or so.
At that time, all sports radio at that point was on all-news stations. There were very few independent, all-sports stations. So, if you wanted to do sports, you had to do it on an all-news station at night.
When I first got into the business I thought I wanted to be on television. It’s like that for many of us, right? You look at the local sports guy and say “Oh, I want to do what he’s doing.”
But anyway, talk radio was all-news or political talk and all white. So, that was the element. It may sound weird that those things were said, but I’ve been told in my career that I “don’t sound like the station,” if you pick up what I’m getting to. That’s kinda covert racism.
D: (laughing) Well, is it really all that covert?
C: (laughing) Here’s the deal, when you hear “Well, you’re good. You just don’t sound like the station,” and they pat you on the back and don’t give you that opportunity, it tells you that you are less than the other talent that is there.
The reality is what they mean is “you sound black, and we can’t have you sounding black on the air.” Well, what is “sounding black”?
That environment, it was difficult for me, because you’re always trying to do the best you can. But I had people at times telling me they didn’t think that was the right idea.
(At this point a man interrupts our conversation to shake Carl’s hand and tell him how much he loves the show. The man’s name is Duane Johnson. I point out that Dwayne Johnson is the Rock’s name and jokingly ask if the guy was a plant for my benefit. “Hell no,” Carl says. “I’ve never met that brother in my life!”)
D: It had to be frustrating too at that time. You’re striving to get better and there’s always going to be a ceiling when it is a sports show on a news station.
C: Oh sure, and I talk about this all the time when I talk to kids or address folks wherever. They ask me “Hey man, how do I get into the business?” or “How do you get to this point?”. I always point out that there are so many more opportunities than there was.
Now, the biggest difference is you can just put your stuff out there. If you really want to start a show, just start it. There are so many ways to put it out there. If you’re good and you’re interesting, people are going to find you.
My whole thing was, through this process, I have to give credit to my wife. She always reminded me that intellect and dialect are not exclusive. I guess this goes back to sounding a certain way.
I used to meet people all the time that would come up and say “Oh my God, YOU’RE Carl Dukes?”. And you know what they are saying is “Oh my God, you’re black!”. So, our joke always was “Yes, and you’re still going to listen, right?”. So, we had fun with it, but it was part of the process and the growth.
But anyway, what I tell young broadcasters is the key is getting to the point where you can help someone else. This success that I am having, now I am looking and want to know “where’s the next Carl Dukes?”. Where’s that next non-athlete radio guy that can do this job and not be pigeon-held back by the market or whatever the challenges are?
For a lot of folks you’ve gotta see it to believe it. Growing up there were no mes. There were maybe a handful of black guys on sports talk radio. You think about the explosion of sports radio in the 2000s, not just in major markets, but in small markets. When it happened, it allowed the opportunity for people to have a lot more opportunity.
The problem is for a lot of African-Americans that were in music radio that wanted to make the transition, we didn’t know how. I am very fortunate that I had great mentors and great people looking out for me. They saw me and said “not only can he do this, but he can do a lot of stuff”. It is really a testament to those individuals that helped me along the way.
D: Let’s talk about the beer.
C: Hey Man Blonde Ale
D: You know, it really isn’t that long ago that just to have a t-shirt with your name on it in this business you had to be at like Howard Stern-level popularity. Now, correct me if I am wrong. I think Entercom’s rock station in Seattle, their afternoon show has a beer.
C: I know there’s one other. Either Rock or CHR, but no other sports show.
D: I am pretty sure it’s the rock station up there, but either way, it is so perfectly marketed towards who you are talking to everyday. How did it come about?
C: So, our PD came to us and said “I am talking to some people about an opportunity and I need to know if you are interested.” Mike and I were both just like “What is it?” in a very sarcastic way, because you know, so often ideas like this never come to life.
So, he says “I’d like you to meet with these guys from Oconee Brewing Company.” So we come into the conference room, and tell them about the show and how we get to know our audience. They’re like “What do you think about us making a Dukes & Bell beer?” and we’re like “Okay, sure.”
All the right people are in the room at this point. Our marketing director, his name is Dutch, and the sales director, Dave Deemer, are in there. We’re all saying “Okay, now how do we grow this?” So, it went from something I don’t think anyone in the room thought was possible to now we’re going to visit the brewery. It’s in Greensboro, Georgia.
So, Taylor, who is our brewmaster, we see his passion. We see the passion of everyone there. They listen to the show. They love the show and want to be a part of it, and they thought that not only for them, but for us would be an awesome opportunity.
That is when I bought in. We came up with the campaign to say “Hey, we’re gonna do a beer, so what is going to be the name?”
The show begins everyday with us going “Hey Man…” Everything on the show is very…
C: Yes! Very much so. There are some planned things, but a lot of what is happening on the show is just happening. So when we address each other, we don’t say “What’s up?” It’s always “Hey man.”
“Dukes, what’s up?”
It was just one of those in the office things. That’s how it started. So, when Mike and I got together on the show and told the listeners “When you see us on the streets or you see us out it’s ‘hey man!’. That’s how we address each other.”
So that’s where “Hey Man” comes from, but we didn’t know that was going to be the name of the beer. We told the listeners that we have this beer coming, but we need your help. We probably got between 1500 and 2000 names. Many of them were already copywritten, but we got some really creative names.
A lot of it was phrases from the show. It was really cool. You could see the connection between the show and what was going on. “These guys are gonna get a beer and I can name their beer! I want to be a part of this!”
D: Right, so then for the listeners it becomes “we’re getting a beer!”.
C: Exactly! You can see the response starting to ramp up. So, you fast forward from spring to summer. We go out to Oconee and film ourselves tasting seven or eight types of beer. Our goal was to make something that worked for everybody. We wanted the taste for people that really liked beer but nothing so strong that turned away a casual drinker, and of course, you want women to drink it as well.
So, Taylor has us tasing beers. On a blind taste test Mike and I are saying “I like number 3, but can we mix in a little bit of 4 and then add number 9?” and literally, that is what they did.
He tells us he’ll get to work on it right away. “Go home. The process takes a little while.” So I go back out maybe a month later, and he let’s me taste it. It was warm. It wasn’t quite ready but he told me he’d let me taste it warm. I’ll be honest. I was blown away.
Now it’s back to building it up, telling the audience that we have a beer coming. So, we finally tell the listeners that the response to naming the beer has been awesome, but you know “Hey Man” is our slogan, so the name of the beer is going to be Hey Man.
And to be fair, there were a lot of people telling us it should be called “Dukes & Bell Hey Man.” It’s an easy name to remember. People know it, and it made the most sense. So now, the next question is what is the can going to look like.
They came to us and said “we want to put your faces on the can” and we were like “our two fat faces are going to take up the entire can!”. But they were adamant about having our faces on it, so they sent us five different design ideas for the can.
What we ended up with was “Dukes and Bell Hey Man” with our faces on it, opposite the station name, so you know the 92.9 the Game connection. Then there is a backdrop featuring Midtown Atlanta, where the station is located, and it came out great!
We tell listeners the beer is ready and then people are like “when is it coming out?”. I am telling you, they can’t keep it. Stores cannot keep it in stock.
D: Is it on tap anywhere?
C: It is. It’s in about 50 different restaurants in town, but once they canned it and put it in Total Wine and every package store, that was huge. We’re at the resort on St. Simon Island on tap!
I love that they can’t keep it in stores. To me that is the coolest thing. That tells me there is a real connection. It’s people saying “I like these guys. Not only does their show kick ass, but I am going to go drink their beer.”
And now we have another level of connection to our audience. When we’re at tailgates, we’re drinking our own beer. We’re checking on fans. “You got a Hey Man?”
It is a situation that I have never been a part of in my career, and I have done some cool events and trips and things. This for me…again, if you had told me how this would help the show and help the connection to our audience, and help grow the audience, I don’t know that I would have believed it.
D: It’s weird man. I know there is the Marconi for radio stations and broadcasters, but your own beer, that’s your Oscar. That’s your gold medal.
C: It is, man. A few weeks back, I was driving home and that was when the first big order was out and it was selling out everywhere. The beer came out around labor day and not just fans, but stores were asking for the next batch, so Oconee is producing more and more.
So, I said “You know what, I am going into this store by my house to see if they have some Hey Man.” I am in the car and I am filming. I walk into the store. The guy doesn’t know who I am. I walk to the back and there is a huge stack of Hey Man cases!
I grab two six packs and I walk up to the counter filming. I am like “I’m about to go up to the counter and I want to see if I can get a discount for my face being on this beer.” So I get up there, and it’s this young guy working.
I put the beer on the counter and I know this guy is like “why the hell is this guy filming me ring the beer up?”. So I ask how much and he says “twenty bucks.”
So I go “I get a discount right?”. The guy looks at me like I’m nuts and says “For what?”.
So I take the camera, point it at my face. Then I point it at the can, then back on him and I’m like “because my face is on this can! Don’t I get a discount?”.
And the guy freaks out! He says “Oh sir, I’m new here. I’ve only been working here three weeks!”. Everyone behind me is laughing their asses off. Some random lady behind me goes “that must be great beer!”
For me, I don’t care what other sports shows do moving forward, we were the first! And also, is there another black man on a beer can anywhere? I have been asking my friends who drink a lot of brew “have you ever seen another black guy on one of these cans?”.
D: Since the “wasssssup guys“ I don’t know that I can name many others that are even featured in commercials.
C: Yeah, so from a personal stand point it has been beyond cool.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – Bryce Young by the Carolina Panthers; and C.J. Stroud by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.