Maggie Gray Didn’t Know She’d Be Here
“The biggest challenge is the limited amount of time, because there is so much to cover and so much that we want say.”
13 months ago, sports radio in New York underwent its biggest change in 30 years as Mike Francesa departed WFAN’s afternoon drive. Three voices were tabbed to take over, Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray.
From WFAN’s new trio, Gray was considered by many to be the most surprising selection. While her credentials were strong, Gray’s resume didn’t contain Carlin’s WFAN history or Bart’s signature New York sports moment. In an industry where not enough women have prominent weekday hosting positions, Gray is doing it at the top station in the biggest market.
It wasn’t long before Francesa canceled his retirement and returned to WFAN, chopping CMB’s show in half and squeezing them into the midday. After dealing with plenty of criticism and turmoil early, CMB is starting to hit its stride and the two-hour show leaves listeners wanting more.
As she continues to grow in the country’s toughest media market, Maggie Gray’s unfinished story is already an interesting one.
Brandon Contes: Sports Illustrated was your first full-time sports media job?
Maggie Gray: Yeah, it was, which is both funny and telling about the business that I basically got my very first sports internship when I was a senior in high school, but it took going through college and basically the next five years after college before I got a full-time job.
That’s the nitty-gritty nature of the business, because if you start off as freelance – you’re never sure what’s going to happen, season-to-season you’re just trying to make connections, get better and keep moving. I call them lily pads, you’re trying to get across, navigate this lake and you’re going from one lily pad to the next trying to get across. Now that I’m a little bit older and wiser, I realize you actually never make it across, the lily pads just hopefully keep getting bigger.
But getting SI was a huge deal for me because it was the first time I had a full-time gig and it was the first time where I thought, this is something that is a possibility to really grow, because they hired me for a position that I had never heard of, that a lot of people had never heard of, to be a digital anchor – What does that even mean?
It’s not a job that was around when I was in college, I didn’t even know I could aspire to a job like that, but to get it in a place that had the name recognition and prestige of SI, while also doing something that’s cutting edge and totally new, and have the feeling like you created it from scratch, was one of the most unbelievable opportunities, and the people there were so incredible.
BC: That was a digital show and you were on camera, was it daily?
MG: It didn’t start as a daily show, it started as just one-off videos. We would call SI writers and they would say, “Who are you, who is this, why are you calling, what is SI video?” [Laughs]
It was establishing relationships and we would do these one-off things that started to grow. It would become a live March Madness Selection Show and we had a relationship at CNN for the first couple of years where we would use their studios to shoot these sort of roundtable discussions. It started to grow and then finally I had some really smart people around me and they said, ‘We think we can sell a daily variety show, that’s digital.’ The show was built as a half hour show that streamed and it was some news of the day, interviews, crazy stuff, serious stuff. It was just a fun show and it was sponsored from the first day to the very last day, and it’s actually still going on now.
BC: Were you there with Robin Lundberg?
MG: That’s an interesting story because the show started five years ago, I was the host and we had nobody to fill in for me. Even when I got married and went on my honeymoon it was a big deal. One time we were out in L.A. doing the show from Angel Stadium and I got horribly sick on the red-eye home, I went in and did the show the next day and then went home and died. For the next four days it was a mad scramble because there were no backup hosts. They didn’t have a lot of video people at SI because it’s a magazine company.
Years later, after ESPN had their big layoffs, I had been listening to Robin for a while and I sent him an email to see if he wanted to come help with the show and he’s still there now. I’m grateful to him because it made us not so reliant on needing a guest for everything, Robin and I could just talk about it, have that banter and be a little more sports radio-like.
BC: Was radio the goal at that point or was it just to work in any sports media platform?
MG: My first ever sports internship, where I realized I was bit by the sports broadcasting bug, was my senior year in high school. I grew up in Binghamton, there was a minor league hockey team and I asked if I could be an intern even though they only gave internships to college kids, but they said the radio broadcaster needs someone to help out with stats on home games. I sat next to the radio play-by-play guy for an entire season helping him with whatever he needed. The last game of the season, he let me come on-air and read the out-of-town scoreboard, which was probably only a minute, but I got a huge adrenaline rush from it. I don’t know how many people were listening, it didn’t matter, I loved that rush. So when I went to George Washington University, I walked into the radio station my first day on campus and said, ‘Can I be a part of what you guys are doing?’, so I was always interested in radio.
BC: When was the first time you were on WFAN? You did updates early on?
MG: I did do updates which is a small part of having a connection with FAN that goes back really far. I was still putting together a freelance life. I was working at MSG – Ironically – MSG was actually the first to put me on air in New York and I’m forever grateful for my opportunity to work for them. I was at MSG and MLB.com, but I wanted the FAN.
In Binghamton we didn’t get FAN, so I didn’t grow up with it, but when I got an internship at Westwood One in DC, I got to realize what a huge deal WFAN is. The other funny connection is one of my jobs as an intern in DC was to cut and edit this thing called Sports Time with Mike Francesa. It was almost like what the CBS Sports Minute is now and it went out to all the Westwood One radio stations throughout the country.
After college, I decided to come to New York and work behind the scenes for the NBA, but when I realized I wanted to be on camera and I wasn’t going to let the dream die, I knew I had to get the Fan. How do you say you want to be a sports broadcaster in New York and not take a turn at WFAN?
I did an update audition when WFAN was still in Astoria. Actually, I did about five auditions. It wasn’t an easy job to get, I didn’t walk through the door and get a job, it took a while, but I finally got midnight – 6am working Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s eve, the trifecta.
BC: How was the transition of doing a half hour daily show with SI and jumping to four hours a day on radio?
MG: Well I had done radio shows before getting this job. CBS Sports Radio launched in 2013 and I auditioned for Dana Jacobson’s role with Tiki and Tierney when they did the morning show. Dana got it, which she’s amazing so I totally understood that, but then they had a Saturday morning spot open and the Moose and Maggie Show was born, me and Marc Malusis.
I didn’t know Moose very well, we met maybe once or twice, but we had instant chemistry. I was still working at SI during the week where I was asking other people for their opinions and just facilitating conversations about sports with all these really smart people. But then on Saturday morning, it was people asking me what I thought about topics and that was the biggest thrill.
There’s no way I could have this job if I didn’t do that show with Moose for five years. He’s so great at radio and he taught me that you need to bring strong opinions, formulate an argument and back it up. In the beginning, we would argue and I would sometimes back down, but I started to find my voice and realize as long as I’m prepared, have facts and can defend my argument, it’s valid. I was so grateful to him for that. I also started to learn to get thick skin.
At SI, you wouldn’t get huge amounts of criticism, it wasn’t that kind of job. Radio is the intimate medium with callers, listeners and people on social media, so it helped me get thicker skin and realize there are some things you should ignore.
BC: This is obviously a very white male dominated industry, Suzyn Waldman was here hosting middays in the early 2000’s, so there was precedent, but you look around the country and go from sports radio station to sports radio station – there are female reporters and update anchors, but there are very, very few women that are part of a daily radio show. Did you find those opportunities hard to come by?
MG: I don’t know if I can say. I wasn’t looking for the opportunity, the Moose and Maggie Show came to me and this opportunity came to me. I got an email from Mark Chernoff that said I need to talk to you today. My entire life changed within a couple of weeks and it’s been unreal. I think there is a part of you when you’re trying to break into a portion of the industry that you don’t see a lot of people who look like you, there is one part about getting the job and then the other part about keeping the job.
Everyone says you got the dream job, but now what’s the reality of that dream job, what’s the work like and what does it really look like to have your dream job? And for me, it’s better than I could have ever imagined.
Now, I just hope that, not just here, but all around the country the people who are doing the hiring are willing to step out and take the risk, take the risk of hiring someone who is bringing a different point of view because ultimately, there are great women out there doing this, they just need to get a chance, just like Mark Chernoff gave me a chance.
BC: Not only a chance, but you grew up in Binghamton, you didn’t look at sports radio as a viable career option. I’m sure there are other women growing up that see the industry as male dominated and the thought of hosting a sports radio show never even crossed their mind. But now they see you with this prominent job in sports radio and maybe it will inspire others and they can now look at the industry as one that could have job opportunities for them.
MG: I know that seeing other women do it before me, inspired me and I do think it’s really important because as soon as you see someone doing it, you can start to envision the path for yourself.
What I would say for anyone who is a young woman or even a young man and anyone trying to get into the business, this landscape is changing so much. Sports talk radio is this solid rock, it’s going to be here through thick and thin, but think of how the industry is changing. There are just so many more outlets to break into sports broadcasting now, it’s fantastic.
When I was coming out of college in 2005 – and this is 2005, I’m not talking about the 80s and 90s – the 6 o’clock SportsCenter and the 11 o’clock SportsCenter was still the ultimate goal for a lot of people. Now look at all of the outlets and other ways you can be around the sports industry, it’s incredible.
You can start your own YouTube channel and have your own brand by the time you get out of college. It’s really freeing and I think that will help get a lot more women, hopefully people of color and get more diversity into this industry.
BC: It’s similar to the NFL right now where there are so few people of color with head coaching positions. It’s white male dominated and a lot of that is because for the last 30 or 40 years, it was white males that had opportunities to make connections.
That’s not to say Sean McVay was not qualified to be a head coach at the age of 30, but when for 30, 40 years, it was the same demographic working in the industry, he had more built-in connections to move through the ranks quickly. So even though those opportunities that are now available for anyone to break into sports media exist, you still need to create pipelines to help non-white males move up and climb within the industry at an equal pace.
MG: And that’s why I’ll go back to – It shouldn’t be looked at as taking this massive risk to hire a woman, or to hire a person of color, it should be looked at as can the person do the job and especially in this particular industry is the person going to bring a different point of view, that maybe listeners haven’t heard in a while. Is it going to be thought-provoking, is it going to stir conversation? And I’m not saying it has to be controversial, just saying it has to be a different point of view and I think it actually opens up the scope of listeners.
With the NFL, everyone is a fan. From an eight year old to an eighty year old, everyone has a fantasy team. Men, women, every race, and what are they always trying to do? Find new markets. This is why they play in Mexico City and London. You’re always trying to find new audiences, I don’t think you can ever be complacent, even if you’re number one.
You’re always trying to broaden your horizons and that’s something, especially for our show that we have really tried to do. Be loyal and serve the listener of the FAN who has been there for 30 years, but also open up the door for someone who never thought FAN could be for them and welcome them into the conversation as well.
BC: You said early on with Moose, you would back down with your opinions at times, did you ever find yourself needing to have a stronger opinion about something to fit in and seem more credible, especially at WFAN with the local audience?
If it’s not genuine, it’s going to come through as not genuine. I can’t fake that.
One of the big things I learned when I came over from SI, going from a national outlet to a local one is, with national, it’s about the issues because you need someone who’s in Baltimore, Arkansas, Las Vegas, L.A. to all be connected and have an opinion. Here, it’s about the X’s and O’s, it’s about the minutia. It’s about the Adam Gase press conference. You can’t get too specific or granular here and I found that I love that more than I ever thought I would.
But if I don’t think that something is a big deal, or if I think that it’s getting taken to a place that is absurd, I’ll say that too. You have to be honest. Radio is the most honest of the mediums. One piece of advice that I got early on and something I’ve been really grateful for, was Mike Quick who was my boss at MSG and he said, ‘We need more Maggie.’ I thought, really? Are you sure you don’t want more Andrea Kremer? But that was really freeing. You can bring your personality and this is such a subjective business, you’re either someone’s taste, or you’re not. I think the more you let people in on who you actually are, the deeper the connection becomes, and I’m okay sharing a lot with our listeners because I like that having that connection with them.
BC: And that’s how you end up on the floor eating an entire pizza…
MG: [Laughs] On the floor…puking in the Mike Francesa studios…
BC: [Laughs] I was locked into that show because I thought there was no chance you were finishing that pizza.
MG: So many people doubted me that day. I’ll be honest, the doubters did put a big chip on my shoulder. There was a moment where Bart was showing me inspirational videos on his laptop and it was working – we actually crossed that threshold where he’s showing me old Nike commercials, and it was helping me get the pizza down.
BC: Did you know Chris or Bart before getting paired up with them?
MG: Chris and I did a couple episodes of LoudMouths together on SNY, but we didn’t know each other that well. I knew of him and what a great reputation he had, I didn’t know Bart at all. I didn’t really have a relationship with either of them, but now I feel like they’re my best friends.
We just had the one year anniversary of the show this month. It doesn’t feel like a long amount of time, but I feel closer to Bart and Chris than anybody. We’ve really developed a great bond over this last year.
BC: How was the pressure of stepping in for Mike? Obviously it’s an incredible opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, but was there ever that moment of, I’d rather replace the replacement of the icon than replace the icon himself?
MG: You’d be surprised how many people, unsolicited, said, ‘Boy, you don’t wanna be the person to follow the guy.’ That was encouraging! [Laughs] The pressure is what you make of it. If you want to feel that pressure, that insane amount of pressure of following up someone, then it will destroy you.
It’s almost like being mentally tough. You have to take it for what it is, but then realize what the main goal is – to build a new show from scratch and to find your audience. There’s nothing I can do about who I’m following, or when I’m getting the opportunity. The opportunity is presenting itself and there was no way that I was going to pass it up just because of that. The fear of that, like many things, the fear and anticipation is much worse than the reality.
BC: It was interesting from the start because you have three very different personalities getting paired up and thrown into the fire and you guys didn’t really do many practice shows.
MG: No, they didn’t want to do a lot of practice shows and I agreed with that, there’s something different about when it’s for real and when it’s taped so I understood why they wanted to do that.
BC: It almost would have been easier with the transition to just focus on being a call-oriented show, a similar sound to what listeners are used to, but you guys added a lot of creative segments as well.
MG: Yeah, we do still take a lot of calls. The calls are part of the FAN. The interaction with the listeners is one of the backbones of what makes this place go and there was never a thought that we didn’t want to include them in the conversation. They’re always welcome and we always want to know what they have to say because they’re part of the radio station.
The creative segments are more of a natural thing. We thought, what kind of show do we want to do, what makes us, us? We were just figuring that out with trial and error and now I think we’re maybe starting to find our grove a little bit in terms of how much of that creative style to do, the silly stuff, the BS translator and those things. It’s about sensing what the audience really wants and balancing that with what we want to do.
BC: Is it hard now that the show is compressed to two hours that you have the three different personalities, three different opinions and you have those radio bits that you want to try, but you need to squeeze it into two hours and make it a cohesive sounding show?
MG: The biggest challenge is the limited amount of time, because there is so much to cover and so much that we want say. The show now is just a sprint from beginning to end, it’s really fast moving and also the news cycle is so fast moving that if we don’t get to something on Monday or Tuesday, by the time it’s Wednesday, forget it because it might not make sense with what people are actually talking about anymore. It’s been a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. I hate when athletes say this phrase – but it is what it is, so we just make the best of it.
BC: Cross talk segments are becoming very popular on radio stations around the country, you can do 12:30 to 1:00 with Benigno and Roberts and then 3:00 to 3:30 with Mike and now you have three hours.
MG: [Laughs] That would be something, pitch it to Chernoff.
BC: Do you ever go back and listen to old shows?
MG: Oh yeah, definitely, it’s hard because self-evaluation is one of the toughest things to do.
It can be brutal especially when you make mistakes, or things don’t come out the way that you want to, but it’s also necessary. You have to go back and listen because you could be making the same small mistake over and over and over again when there’s no reason to because things can get nipped in the bud so easily. But you have to go back and listen.
BC: I’m sure if you go back and listen to a year ago and then you hear what you’re putting on the radio now –
MG: Oh I don’t go back that far. [Laughs]
BC: But that comfort level between the three of you has increased significantly?
MG: Without a doubt. We didn’t know each other very well and a few months into getting the job, we got thrown a pretty big curveball and you can learn more about people when you go through a little bit of adversity and you get to find out what people’s true colors are. With Carlin, Bart and I, we seem like we have all these very different opinions or that we wouldn’t be three friends who would meet up at a bar and watch a game together, but once we went through that adversity, we realized that we gained strength from each other, we can lean on each other and we saw each other’s true colors. That was incredible because when people get peeled away you see their true self and we all really liked what we saw in each other during that time. It made us trust each other a lot and it brought us really close.
BC: I don’t know if you felt this at all, but I’m sure with three people trying to get to know each other, it can be harder than when it’s just two people. The show went through Mike coming back and then the summer was right around the corner, so now you’re filling in for Mike, but you’re also taking vacations yourselves. So it’s two at a time; it’s Maggie and Bart for four hours, Bart and Chris for four hours, Maggie and Chris for four hours.
As a listener, I felt that when the three of you would come back together over the summer as a full show, each time it was noticeably improved, so you were able to build chemistry by each getting that one on one time together.
MG: That’s a really good point that I hadn’t thought about, but it’s true, the three of us have a relationship, and then I feel like I have a friendship with Bart and I have a friendship with Carlin and they are both different relationships. Even when Carlin is out, I’m kind of driving the bus versus when I’m not so that changes your role a little bit, but you’re right, I didn’t really think about that, but we did have a chance to build relationships, one-on-one, but I do think that our show is at its best, no matter what, hands down, when it’s the three of us.
I think that that might be surprising to a lot of people, inside and outside the building, that the show sounds better with the three of us because that was one of the big question marks about the show when we first got it – Does three people work? And I think our show has proven that it can.
BC: There were also times early on that any kind of debate segments would sound like a roundtable discussion. It’s Carlin setting up the topic and saying, ‘Maggie what do you think’ and ‘Bart what do you think’, followed by ‘here’s what I think’, next topic.
MG: We don’t take turns as much anymore
BC: Right. Last Wednesday, I was listening to the open when Carlin was going all in on Mike McCarthy as the Jets head coach while you and Bart were pushing back, but I thought that was the best segment of radio I heard all week on any show or station.
So how about the ability to improve so much with debate where it doesn’t sound like you’re each trying to avoid stepping on anyone? You’re able to have a more genuine conversation and sometimes know when to step back if two of the hosts are hotter on a topic than the other is.
MG: Thank you, that’s something also that goes on in the pre-production. Because we’re in New York, there are some days where the show writes itself. The topic is exactly what the topic is, it’s what everyone’s talking about and the obvious thing that needs to be addressed because people are tuning into the radio station for that discussion.
But then there are times when there are multiple options and you’re not sure what your lead is going to be. That’s why we sit here for an hour and we talk it out. The things that we naturally seem to have different opinions on or sparks the most conversation in this room, with our producer, board-op and the three of us, that’s what we go with and that’s what should break the tie every single time. Don’t outthink yourself. If we all have different opinions on something, let’s start with that because it’s going be genuine.
BC: What about the producer change, going from Brian Monzo the first couple of months to now Shaun Morash.
MG: Yeah, those kinds of things happen and you just have to roll with the punches. We’re so happy that it worked out the way that it did and I think Mike is happy and Monzo is happy it worked out the way it did. It’s like a good trade in baseball or football, where both sides actually won here. That was seamless and very easy to navigate.
BC: Morash seems to fit the show so well with his contributions.
MG: One thing that we really appreciate with Morash is that he is our listener. It’s like we have a focus group in the room. I mean, he’s got a giant tattoo, he’s on the message boards, he’s a die-hard Yankee fan. We needed that person who not only is professional in this business, but someone who could make himself a little bit removed from that and say I’m the FAN listener in the car today, what do I want? And we needed that, because I’m coming from a journalism background, Bart’s coming in as the athlete and Carlin’s coming from doing this for a long time, being a host and everything that he’s done, it’s great to have that person who is just like you know what, all things being equal, I want to talk Yankees today and we take that into consideration heavily.
BC: What radio shows did you listen to growing up?
MG: I didn’t grow up with a lot of radio being in Binghamton the days before Satellite, but when I got to New York, I actually listened to a lot of Jim Rome. He used to be on in New York and I still listen to Rome. We’re on at the same time, which is crazy, the fact that I’ve gotten to meet Jim Rome a couple of times is a thrill for me. I listened to a lot of FAN, I started listening to Shmooze because that’s when I happened to be in the car the most and NO ONE can do what he’s doing, it’s unbelievable. And I would listen to a lot of Boomer and Carton.
I also listened to Mike and Mike. It helped me with doing the national show at SI to understand what the national conversation is. Dan Le Batard, I think everyone can agree he is probably doing it as best as it can be done right now, and then podcasts.
I listen to a lot of podcasts; SI’s podcasts, Peter King’s podcast, I listen to the Lowe Post Podcast and Bill Simmons. Also a lot of NPR, Fresh Air, Wait…Wait Don’t Tell Me! I listen to all of those shows because it’s as important to me to understand the front pages, as the back pages. You have to be a well-rounded person and aware of what goes on in the world because you never know when it’s going to intersect and it can happen in any moment.
I was reading the quote from Adam Gase where he said, ‘I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Instagram, I don’t use the internet.’ [Laughs]
That’s impressive! You don’t even use the internet, how did you find out what the weather was going to be today? A football coach mentality is not a good mentality for someone in the media business. You have to understand the world around you.
BC: How did you end up working with Artie Lange? Were you a Stern fan?
MG: Oh my gosh – Artie – I loved doing that.
I wasn’t a big Stern fan, we didn’t really get him on the radio up in Binghamton, but I would actually watch him when he was on the E! Network, while I was probably in middle school, so I knew his show, but I didn’t grow up a huge fan.
I met Artie because he was doing a book tour and he came in to SI. Peter King happened to be there that day and I asked Peter to sit in on SI Now. So it was the three of us and we had this fun conversation and a good rapport, so Artie started to invite me on his show. It was amazing that no matter what state Artie was in, because obviously he’s had his battles and I hope he’s well, I follow him on Twitter and send him notes to wish him well, but he was always the funniest guy in the room no matter what. Literally – at one point we were on air, he fell asleep, woke up and said the funniest thing of the entire three hour show. He’s absolutely hilarious and everyone on that show was great to work with. Just getting to know him was great and I appreciated Artie because he said to me, ‘I see what you are, you don’t feel like you have to be this macho person who’s in the frat house to do this.’
BC: I’m a big Stern fan, I go back and listen to older shows of his and content from the cast. I stumbled on you with Artie and I did think it brought a lot of great balance and was really entertaining.
MG: Thank you, they decided to end the show, otherwise I would’ve kept doing it because he is hilarious and a really kind-hearted person, but it was a lot of fun and now I do LoudMouths with Jon Hein on SNY. Jon is a great guy and it’s fun to do the show with him. SNY has been a nice little side thing to do.
BC: Do you expect CMB to be a long-lasting show and relationship or do you take it day by day and not even look towards the future right now, especially with the curveballs that you guys have already been thrown.
MG: I hope it’s a long lasting show. This is the best job I’ve ever had, I love this job, and Carlin and Bart have been the best part about it.
I think there’s even so much more that we have to do. Our end goal of what we want the show to sound like, we’re still trying to get there. I love it and I hope I can do it forever. I understand why this is a dream job, because it is that good.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. 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.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
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.
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