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Your Dime, Your Dance Floor: In Memory Of Chet Coppock

“I hope during this difficult time his family can look at the influence he has had on other people’s lives.”

Matt Fishman

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When I was growing up, there were no sports talk radio stations in Chicago. There were stations that had sports shows but mainly at night or on the weekends. There was one show that we could hear every day – Coppock on Sports. The host, Chet Coppock, was larger than life. Every guest introduction was scripted and sounded like it had been written for a movie trailer. All the biggest and best guests were on his show.

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To those of us growing up in Chicago during that time (late 80s and early 90s), Chet and COS was the shit. Chet Coppock died yesterday (April 17th) due to injuries sustained in a car crash in Hilton Head, South Carolina at the age of 70. 

Rather than pontificating further about Chet, his legacy, and the impact he has had on sports talk radio, I thought it would be best to hear from the people who worked with him throughout his career. I’ll start with two of the biggest on-air talents to come from the “Chet Stable”–Dan McNeil and David Kaplan. I spoke to both by phone today:

Dan McNeil Afternoon host The Score/Chicago: 

“Chet was the Godfather of Sports Talk in Chicago before sports radio mushroomed beginning with the arrival of The Score in 1992. There was Chet. He spoke his own language and it was colorful. You knew someone had made the top echelon of Chet’s guests when he gave them the three-name treatment–like Michael Keller Ditka and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.”

I always felt that Chet had a little Ted Knight in him from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. He had this booming voice and spoke from the diaphragm. He was also a large man. Well over six feet tall and he was hard to miss coming out of a Cadillac with dealer plates in his full length fur coat. 

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Chet was without question the most influential person in my career. In the winter of 1988 he scraped me off the street to produce his show on The Loop. I had been let go by the newspaper I was working at and contemplating getting my teaching degree so I could teach High School and coach football. 

Not only did Chet give me the opportunity to produce his show, but he gave me a chance to fill-in as the host on the nights he was off. In no way did I have the skills at that time to follow the legendary “Steve and Garry” on The Loop. But Chet gave me the chance. Plus he gave me the moniker “Dangerous Dan McNeil.” He was one of a kind.

We had our battles. After I moved to the Score in 1992, we ended up going head-to-head with Chet in 1994. (Terry) Boers and I KO’d Chet and his show had only a 0.8 rating. Chet had taught me all about self promotion. In ‘92 when I left his show to go to The Score he left me a shitty voicemail telling me to “get ready for a 0.8.” Needless to say I had saved it and played it when we knocked him out of afternoons. 

Chet and I made amends about 12 years ago and I took him to see the Rolling Stones. I’ve talked to him from time to time and he seemed to be at peace with where he was. Not in the middle of the action anymore but on the periphery. He definitely enjoyed one of his final gigs–working with the Chicago Blackhawks and their alumni. 

My favorite “Chetism” was what he called Old Comiskey Park. He didn’t call it “Comiskey Park” or “Sox Park” He instead called it “The Old Roman’s Diamond Palace.” I had no idea what it meant but it was certainly unique and I got a kick out of it. 

One of my favorite “blooper” memories was when I had booked Byron Sanders, the running back at Northwestern, to be on Chet’s show. Somehow Chet got it in his head that we had Lions superstar RB Barry Sanders on the show.

So Chet goes through his big buildup/lead up which led into his first question which he presumed was for Barry. Barry says, “Hey Chet, this is Barry’s brother Byron from Northwestern.” Without missing a beat, Chet, who was not the world’s greatest ad-libber says, “Well Byron, if Barry were here on the phone how do you think he’d answer that?” 

David Kaplan, ESPN 1000/Chicago 

“I would not be in this business without Chet’s kindness and generosity. No Chance! I’ve never taken a class in radio or broadcasting in my life. Here I was this washed-up basketball coach who decided to start a basketball recruiting newsletter. I printed out the first edition and sent a few copies to Chet hoping for some publicity for the newsletter. That week I get a message on my answering machine, “David, this is Chet Coppock. I got your newsletter here and I’d like to see what kind of chops you have. So come on our show tonight and let’s talk basketball recruiting.”

Then there was one huge moment in 1989 and I remember it was a Tuesday night because it was two days before the start of the NCAA Tournament. One of my best friends in the world is Kevin O’Neill who was an assistant coach at Arizona at the time. He calls me and tells me that Michigan Coach Bill Frieder is going to be the next coach at Arizona State. The story didn’t make sense because Michigan had a great team and a shot to win the national championship. So I had to confirm the story.

Remember, this is 1989–no twitter, cell phones, or internet, but there was Northwest Airlines which had its main hub in Detroit. So I called them as Frieder. Sure enough, Frieder and his wife were on a 630am flight to Phoenix and the tickets were open ended–no return date was set. I also confirmed that the tickets had been paid for by ASU and not Frieder or his secretary. Boom I had a huge story.

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So I called Chet’s hotline and told the producer that I had to talk to Chet immediately. Chet picks up off the air and doesn’t believe the story. I tell him that I have the story confirmed and that I want to break it on his show. He agrees to put me on, with the caveat ‘If you’re wrong I’ll bury you in this town. Do you still want to come on?” I did and it was a huge story and helped me make a name for myself.”

Here are other memories from people who worked with Chet Coppock throughout the years:

  • Weezie Kramer, Chief Operating Officer, Entercom: “Chet was an original….in my mind he really invented the larger than life local sports personality. He was a head turner in his giant fur coat and always a fun listen…He will be missed.”
  • Tony DiGiacomo, PD of WFNZ in Charlotte: “I cut my teeth in this business being Chet’s Executive Producer at Sporting News Radio with Coppock on Sports Saturday and Sunday evenings for the network in Chicago. I am shocked and saddened at his passing. He challenged me to not only be a great producer, but to let my imagination and personality run wild. That’s how you make it in this business. I’ll be raising his favorite drink, a diet coke today in his honor.”
  • Ron Gleason, PD WBBM AM, Newsradio: “Chet was Unique. He was sports talk before sports talk became a giant entity both in Chicago and across the country. His show was different. It wasn’t a caller-driven show. It was guest after guest and every guest was his “good buddy!” He had a ton of unique sayings: “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Your Dime-Your Dance Floor”, “The Straw that Stirs the Drink”(about his EP). My favorite memory was from back in my days covering live sporting events. He would arrive, usually late, to the old Chicago Stadium for a Bulls or Blackhawks game. He was wearing a full length fur coat and would wave to sections of the crowd upon his arrival. They would say something nice or derogatory and he would just wave. He was very flamboyant and quite unique.”
  • Matt Nahigian, PD 95.7 The Game in San Francisco: “Chet is the reason I am in this business. As a kid I wanted to work for Chet and be Chet. He was Chicago sports. One of the best days of my career was when I found out I got an internship and I would be working on his show. The first day I get to the Hancock Building he said hey kid nice to meet you now go to the top floor of the building and get me 12 diet cokes and 6 apples. That was the first thing I did every day. I have 1000 stories, but they can wait. Thank you Chet, for taking me in and showing me the way. I’ll never forget the days I spent with you”
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In conclusion, I hope during this difficult time Chet’s family can look at the influence he has had on other people’s lives. He had a massive impact on sports radio, without really being a “major player” in what we would consider modern sports radio. Instead, he made his mark by influencing, pushing, and encouraging people who were passionate about our business.

Now in Chicago and all over the country there are PDs, talk show hosts, producers who are all in sports radio because of Chet. I never met him, never worked for him, but the influence of listening to his show during my formative high school years can never be understated. As Matt Nahigian aptly put it, we all “wanted to work for Chet and be Chet.” 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

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

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

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

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