Sports talk radio is a largely regional thing. Sure, there are as many stations that carry the format in Boston as there are in Nashville, but those stations don’t sound the same. The hosts talk about different topics and they do it in different ways.
There are a few tent poles of sports talk radio in the South. No one covers SEC football more or better than WJOX in Birmingham. If you want big, gregarious Southern personalities, you tune into 1010XL in Jacksonville. At the forefront of it all in the region is WFNZ in Charlotte.
Sports content first showed up on the 610 AM frequency in Charlotte in 1992. The station was even one of the first employers of a young Michelle Tafoya, who went by Mickey Conley on air.
According to former program director DJ Stout, it wasn’t until Mike Kellog moved from Boston to take over as the station’s GM that “things got real.” Kellog came from WEEI and used some of the strategies that made that station legendary to launch the new sound of sports talk in Charlotte.
“Charlotte gravitated to it quickly,” Stout remembers. He also noted that the city’s sports culture was exploding at the time. “We had an NFL team everyone was super excited about, the Hornets were selling out every night and college hoops and football have always been huge here so we all felt that it was the right time for a real sports station and we were right.”
“It was the perfect time where sports talk radio was the hot new thing and Charlotte didn’t really have it,” recalls SiriusXM’s Mark Packer, who’s radio career started at WFNZ.
Packer remains an influential name in sports talk to this day. His afternoon show at WFNZ, Primetime With The Pack Man, put the station on the map and on the preset buttons of every sports fan in the Queen City.
The show was a ratings juggernaut for the station for years. Part of the reason for that success was Packer’s unwillingness to stick to sports. Primetime became the go to place for anyone with something cool to promote in Charlotte.
“We never knew who the guests were going to be,” he says. “When President Carter was stuck in traffic and called to say ‘Listen, I’m in town to promote a book and I turned on the radio to hear you talking about the Atlanta Braves,’ well then all of the sudden out of the blue you get the former President of the United States talking Atlanta Braves baseball.”
Packer also notes that part of the success came from a station-wide attitude that everything was competition. WFNZ was not going to let being the new kid in town give it any sort of disadvantage.
“We took a lot of pride, I think, in knowing that at that time newspapers were still very important. The Charlotte Observer had a lock on things, and we took the approach that we were the ones that you were going to get your sports news from, not anybody else. We took this broad approach that this was the place to be to find out what was going on with the Panthers or the Hornets or ACC hoops and football.”
The station and Mark Packer divorced in 2010, but his influence was felt long after he left. His former executive producer and sidekick Tony “Hitman” DiGiacomo (who is now WFNZ’s PD) and comedian The QCB both stayed with the station for the launch of the next afternoon show, which featured Taylor Zarzour (now with SiriusXM and the SEC Network) and Marc James (now with WEEI and NESN). The name Primetime returned to afternoons when Zarzour and James left and were replaced by Chris Kroeger.
One of the signature elements of Packer’s show “The Whiner Line,” which allowed listeners to leave a message ripping whatever they wanted, was in use for years after his departure. The carryover never bothered Stout. “I decided to keep the Whiner Line because it did so well for us and was always sponsored. The rest of the cast did a great job so we kept Tony and QCB on the show as well and they fit in great. The show kicked butt over the next 3 years and did great in the ratings. Not an easy task replacing Primetime With The Packman which I think is the best show we ever had on WFNZ and we have had some damn good shows.”
For Packer though, trying to keep elements of his show in place without the full show still on the station never made much sense.
“I was flattered, but I thought it was stupid,” he said. He is complimentary of Zarzour, James, and Kroeger and says that asking them to include elements of his show wasn’t playing to their strengths. “It’s like saying ‘hey Coca-Cola, why don’t you come up with a new formula!’ How did that work? I was flattered but what we did was ours. That’s not an ego thing. It worked because we had a unique cast of characters that loved the work. You can’t reconstruct that.”
Losing Packer came on the heels of losing another staple at WFNZ. “It was 2009 Gary and 2010 Packer” says current morning co-host Travis “T-Bone” Hancock in reference to Gary Williams, who is now on The Golf Channel.
“It was weird,” adds Hancock’s partner Chris McClain. “Two real established bookends, Gary Williams in the morning, who has since gone on to the Golf Channel and is doing great stuff. Then Mark Packer in the afternoons, who is also doing well and did awesome stuff for our station. We were kinda the newbies and trying to make our way. We were in a great lineup where we had protection and were never seeing fastballs, and then all of the sudden man, you blinked an eye and we were some of the veterans at the station.”
According to T-Bone, suddenly becoming the station veterans and eventually moving into morning drive meant that their show had to evolve to meet the needs of its new audience and time slot.
“We had to go right up to the line and even cross it sometimes back then in order to establish ourselves, because we knew what Gary and Jim (Celania, who retired in 2016) were. We knew what Packer was. We had to get attention for ourselves, so you look back at what we did then and think ‘wow, how did we get away with that?’. It was a different world then, but we had to push the envelope a little bit more.”
No matter the lineup, what has really been the key to the evolution of WFNZ is the evolution of Charlotte as a sports town, particularly the Carolina Panthers’ fanbase. Former afternoon host Frank Garcia said a lot has changed since he was playing for the team in its infancy and most people in Charlotte didn’t even consider the new hometown team to be their favorite in the NFL.
“That used to be the big thing. ‘I’m a Cowboys fan, but I root for the Panthers.’ Now it’s ‘I’m a Panthers fan!’ The guys that were listening to the radio back then, the ones that are saying they are Panthers fans are their kids.”
In Hancock’s eyes, there’s one player that can be credited with creating that passion. “I think when Cam Newton got drafted, that took the fan base to a whole other level because he’s so controversial,” he says. “He’s always such a topic and the fans are going to defend him.”
Taylor Zarzour, who took over afternoons from Packer agrees with Hancock and said that he knew the third day that he and Marc James were on air together at WFNZ that something major was happening.
“Andrew Luck decided to stay at Stanford instead of being selected first overall by the Panthers. I have no doubt the team would have taken him, and while he would have thrived here, he wouldn’t have changed the daily conversation. Cam did and still does. If we talked about the NCAA Tournament, the Hornets, or college football we still had loaded lines about Cam. At all times of the year.
“When I started I wondered if the city would be more interested in Duke and North Carolina or college football than the Panthers. Everything else became an afterthought as soon as Cam became an option with the first pick. That was eight years ago and nothing has changed. He still drives the conversation around here.”
Garcia notes that Cam Newton isn’t the only thing that WFNZ listeners are passionate about. Remember, they had a hometown NBA team long before the NFL came to North Carolina, and despite never seeing a consistent winner, Garcia says the city of Charlotte still loves pro basketball.
“The Hornets haven’t had that success. The Bobcats were a disaster. But that’s how life goes. You have to fail and fall on your face miserably before you really succeed. We’ve done that quite a bit as a basketball town. This city is really hungry for a winning basketball team.”
As for what comes next, Garcia’s former partner and current WFNZ afternoon host Kyle Bailey says the city is capable of supporting more pro teams.
“New Panthers owner David Tepper has made it clear he wants an MLS Team in Charlotte. He has the money to make it happen and he’s single-handedly put Charlotte back in the mix for an MLS franchise. So I think professional soccer is more likely to happen first, but Major League Baseball makes a ton of sense too. I think MLB will be in Charlotte eventually. Not having a franchise between DC and Atlanta hasn’t made sense for a long time, and Charlotte makes a ton of sense if MLB wants a greater presence in the Southeast.”
Whatever comes next for Charlotte in the sports world, the WFNZ team feels like they are in the best position to handle it. The station was launched by CBS Radio. It was then acquired by Beasley Broadcasting in 2014. In 2016, it became property of current owner Entercom, and according to DiGiacomo, things have never been better in terms of corporate support.
“The transition to Entercom has been great for us, because what we have now that we didn’t have with Beasley or even CBS is a company that believes in sports talk radio and our ability to make a greater impact.”
That belief has shown itself in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that both major local sports properties call Entercom stations their flagship. The Hornets are on WFNZ. The Panthers are on sister station WBT. Vice president and Charlotte market manager Matt Hanlon says that kind of presence is key to WFNZ’s ability to own the ears and minds of local sports fans.
“WFNZ is known as the dominant sports influencer in Charlotte,” Hanlon said in an email. “Tony and the staff at WFNZ understand that responsibility and absolutely embrace what they do. The connection with the community is authentic and continues to grow and make a difference.”
DiGiacomo notes that part of that responsibility is being honest with the audience. He doesn’t want his staff to feel like they have to be a cheer squad 365 days a year.
“Yeah we have the Hornets contract and we have the Panthers contract at our sister station but you don’t have to kiss their ass.” He says that he wants his staff to do three things whenever they open the mic. “Entertain, challenge, and engage. And I need you to be fair. If you’re going to take a stance on the Hornets be fair about it, be consistent about it, and just don’t make it personal.”
That kind of honesty and consistency is what has allowed WFNZ’s newest additions, Nick Wilson and Josh Parcell, to cut through in mid days. Wilson, a Cleveland native, doesn’t mind that since his arrival in August, he has been painted by some listeners as the voice of the city’s transplants. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that I haven’t lived here and then slowly earn those Charlotte bona fides.”
Parcell hasn’t always been the most popular personality on the station, in part because of his criticism of Cam Newton. That hasn’t made him doubt his positions or his style though.
“Something I told Tony and our bosses was ‘you’re going to get what I think every single day,’” says Parcell. “It may not always be right, but I’m not afraid to give my opinion on a topic no matter how controversial it is. I’m going to be informed about it, but I’m not going to hold anything back as long as I believe what I’m saying and have the evidence to support it.”
Bailey, who just signed a contract extension with Entercom, says that whether it is opinions, comedy, or interviews, what has set WFNZ apart is the ability to cut through and remain relevant even as the number of content choices grows.
“Millennials and Gen-Zers crave content so the consumers are there” shares Bailey. “Just like making delicious food is a baseline requirement for opening a restaurant in a city full of great restaurants, making good content is the minimum requirement to compete in the sports content space with other outlets who pump out good content. How do you stand apart? Because radio, television, print, podcast, etc. are all the same now. We’re all digital content companies fighting for downloads, views, and clicks. How digestible is your content? Are you saying something that matters? Because young people care. Young people also have limited attention spans. Can you cut through the noise and tell a story they want to hear? Can you hold their attention for longer than your competitor? The days of brand loyalty aren’t over, but legacy media can no longer take consumers for granted and the competition for attention is fierce.”
Competition isn’t really something WFNZ has ever really had to think too hard about in the terrestrial radio space. 730 AM carries both the ESPN Radio brand and Charlotte sports radio legend Gerry Vaillancourt. 1660 AM broadcasts a direct feed from Fox Sports Radio aside from one hour of local programming on the weekends. Neither has been able to significantly cut into WFNZ’s audience and they aren’t the first to have tried.
“I think Sports is a big commitment to make if you’re going to be local and relevant,” Hanlon says when asked why he thinks no competitor has had real staying power. “WFNZ is all of that and enjoys the equity of 26 years in format.”
As for DiGiacomo, he says not having a successful competitor in the sports format has brought a different, more unique challenge that makes his job more fun. “While I welcome the competition, I would much rather compete against a music station. With Charlotte being such a music-focused town, it’s cool to be the big dog in town in this format and to challenge yourself to find another ratings point by innovating and being mass appeal going up against something completely different.”
“The cool thing about what took place in the beginning of FNZ was that the city caught fire,” Packer says. The station caught fire right along with it. That noteworthiness attracted the kind of attention that lead to hosts leaving WFNZ to pursue opportunities in bigger markets, national networks, national television, and in the play-by-play world.
Nick Wilson says he never really considered what it would be like to call himself a North Carolinian until the opportunity to come to this particular station presented itself. “So much of the allure of this was the WFNZ brand. I’m a bit of a radio nerd, so I’ve listened to several of the lineups that they’ve had here.”
Hanlon isn’t so much worried about WFNZ’s reputation with radio nerds. He says the kind of influence and acclaim that wins praise from that community will come as long as the station continues to super serve its local audience. “As Charlotte continues to grow and diversify, the interest in professional and big league college sports continues to grow with it. We’re committed to leading that conversation.”
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.
Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best
“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”
Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.
“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”
Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.
“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”
And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.
“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.
Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.
Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.
“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”
Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.
“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything. Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”
Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.
“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”
The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman.
“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth.
From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.
“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.
And the rest is history.
An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.
And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft.
“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.”
An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.
But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.
“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.
Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.
But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.
“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.”
While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.
But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth. “He just works at this stuff.”
Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.
Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.
“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years. I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.
“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”
Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.
Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments. In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.
“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.”
Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.
But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.
“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success
“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.
Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.
From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.
“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”
At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.
Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.
“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.
Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.
“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”
Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.
“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”
By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.
“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”
During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.
“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”
All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.
Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.
“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”
Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.
“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”
Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.
“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”
A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.
“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”
Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.
Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.
“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”
As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.
“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”
Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.
As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.
“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link
His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.
ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.
When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.
Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.
In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.
Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.
One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.
He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.
And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.
But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.
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