Taking a leap of faith is never easy. No matter what the venture is, putting yourself in a situation with potential failure is one that’s always going to cause a few nerve-wracking moments. But sometimes, it’s the ideas that require betting on yourself that create something truly unique and special. A plan nobody else imagined that revolutionizes an entire industry.
Kevin Jones of Blue Wire is betting on himself and his company to do just that in the podcasting world. A former media member that worked in radio, TV and even for the Cleveland Browns, Jones was certainly talented, but he had a hard time with the realization that nobody was trying to help him grow or develop his talent. So, upon his exit at his last job, KNBR in San Francisco, Jones took a leap of faith with a formula to create successful podcasts unlike anyone else in the industry. Thus, Blue Wire was born.
Jones wants to build an audio space that the young millennial craves. One that can expend across multiple social media platforms into the eyes and ears of the individual that current sports talk radio isn’t connecting with.
“We’re trying to build a radio station for young kids,” said Jones. “In high school I used to talk about the Sports Junkies in Washington DC. I loved sports personalities and we’re trying to be those personalities for the next generation of sports fans.
“We have a bunch of different types of personalities, but the common thread is that we all highly engage communities on social media. I need to know that your followers engage with you. If you have 15,000 followers and your impression rate is really high, I think you can have a successful podcast, because not only do people follow you, they reply to you and you have a little bit of a community here. We’re putting these small communities together and that’s what Blue Wire is.”
A big driving force behind the creation of Blue Wire, was the idea that Jones could help other people grow both their brands and careers. In turn, their success would help grow the start-up company. When the idea came of how to find talent, Jones went with a non-traditional approach. He focused heavily on finding talented people across the internet that, regardless of their experience in radio or podcasting, could have the ability to excel in the audio space.
“I’m taking all really good types of content across the internet, people who are really good at Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, or even writers, and I’m giving them a podcast,” said Jones.
In September of 2018, Blue Wire officially launched. Almost immediately, the network began to see positive results.
“We started growing,” said Jones. “In September we had three podcasts, by October we had six. November we had 10, by December there were 14 and we just kept adding like 5-6 podcasts a month. We’re growing at a pretty high clip right now and downloads are increasing by 30-40 percent every month.”
Ted Nguyen of The Athletic was the first podcaster to sign on with Blue Wire. Nguyen hosts Coffee House Stunt, focused on the Oakland Raiders and NFL film breakdowns. By luring such a relevant talent with the first hire, it gave the network a sense of instant credibility. This would only help Jones’ recruiting pitch to other potential podcasters as more-and-more talent continued to join Blue Wire in the first few months of its existence. Jones’ other selling point is an infrastructure that has held talented creators outside of the podcasting space.
“We edit the podcast for you and teach you how to use the equipment,” said Jones. “People are a little scared of podcasting right now, there’s a barrier to entry and it’s not the easiest thing to do by yourself. We provide that support and infrastructure.”
Blue Wire distributes “podcaster playbook” coaching documents on a monthly basis to podcasters. These include best practices for microphones, optimal times to release podcasts, posting to Twitter and engaging the audience by structuring the podcast a certain way. Jones is self-taught and had his own podcast for three years before launching Blue Wire.
“I can kind of hold their hand and help things get off the ground,” Jones said. “It’s me helping them grow their brand and it’s them helping me grow Blue Wire at the same time.”
Blue Wire is still in its infancy, but that hasn’t stopped the positive results from rolling in. Last week, Real_Sports with Jack Settleman and Abe Granoff was No. 1 on the Apple Podcasting’s Top Charts – topping Barstool’s Pardon my Take and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons Podcast. Top charts measures the number of new subscribers.
The most impressive thing? Neither of the hosts are over the age of 24. Settleman and Granoff run a Snapchat account, also named Real_Sports, which has amassed 1 million followers. They are a new breed of content creator that other outlets aren’t taking chances on.
“What’s really essential for us is the chemistry my co-host Jack and I have,” said Granoff. “We’ve been best friends since we were nine years old and both die hard sports fans. Even without a mic, we’ve been arguing since then, so we thought we might as well throw a microphone into our discussions.”
Real_Sports is exactly what Jones envisioned with Blue Wire. Two young talents that are pulling in the next generation of sports fans to a podcast they can both enjoy and relate to. But what does it mean for the future of podcasting if a 22 and 23-year-old can lead the charts?
“It says no one is talking to Gen Z like Blue Wire,” said Jones. “Their audience for the podcast is like 16-24. We are building the next generation platform that young kids are getting excited about it.
“Jack and Abe, yeah, they grew up talking about sports and they have good chemistry, but it’s the same thing, we’re giving these people an opportunity. A radio station would never take a chance on a 22-year-old kid. We can take chances at Blue Wire that traditional media outlets can’t.”
Settleman and Granoff are just two of 45 podcasters that believe in Jones’ vision of Blue Wire scaling a network of 300+ podcasts and becoming a main stay in the audio space. Jones plans on unearthing more “non-traditional” talent and bringing more influencers from YouTube and Instagram into the sports fold.
And that’s just the start.
Monetizing the Product
There’s a lot of good podcasts out there, but few have figured out how to monetize their content to make it truly worthwhile. Inevitably, Jones was going to have to try to find a way to monetize a network that he wants to see grow into 200-300 podcasts. Obtaining high-level talent was going to be an obstacle, but not like finding ways to make money off his unique game plan. Luckily, along with early success in the charts, Blue Wire has found a way to bring in digital dollars.
“We bundle most of our ads sales together,” said Jones, who partners with Crossover Media Group for ad sales. “We sell as one unit, instead of one individualized show. That way an advertiser can blast out across 25 different markets in the country.”
Harry’s Razors was Blue Wire’s first major brand to sign up for an entire year. The podcasters ran dual podcasting ad reads with a social media post and Blue Wire’s listeners responded with online orders.
“It’s been attractive to investors that we were able to do a deal right out of the gate with Harry’s as a young company for the whole year,” said Jones.
As previously stated, Jones really wants to help develop and grow his talent. That’s more than just lip service from the Blue Wire CEO, as he backs it up by providing the necessary tools for his talents to improve.
“We coach them, for sure,” said Jones. “It’s something we’re trying to get better at. Essentially, this is a startup and I’m the CEO. I oversee the legal and finance side of things, as well as recruiting podcasters, marketing, everything.
“Coaching is one of those departments. We give everyone monthly feedback with really detailed stuff. I have a support staff of 15 people, all who reached out and wanted to join my team, who work in sports across the country and just chipping in part time.”
The talent across the network, such as Jake Burns of Browns Film Breakdown, have been very open and receptive to the coaching given by Jones and the rest of his team
“They’ve been very hands on with teaching both editing and the best podcast practices,” Burns said. “Kevin has always been very easy to communicate with and he makes it easy to understand. His editors make the process seamless and easy for hosts to get quality work done in a timely fashion.”
A few names that are helping build Blue Wire alongside Jones are Director of Operations Greg Mroz, Director of Podcasting Meredith Kain and Executive Producer Charlie Egli. All three reached out to Jones wanting to be a part of Blue Wire.
“We’ve kind of all come together here over one common idea,” said Jones. “We’re building a sports podcasting ecosystem internally to bring creators together. And we’re scaling to try and build a robust audio channel before other sports media outlets do.”
Currently, Blue Wire has 40 different podcasts. The content ranges from a 49ers podcast to a Bulls podcast, to even one that focuses on the play of the offensive and defensive lines. The goal is to grow to around 200-300 podcasts, but along with quantity, Jones will still heavily focus on the quality of each product.
“I think our roster stacks up with any radio station in the country, in terms of talent,” said Jones. “We know how to talk to talk to fans. Pound for pound, our roster stacks up with any radio station in the country.”
Sam Esfandiari of the Light Years podcast was hoping for growth when he joined Blue Wire. Granted, covering the Golden State Warriors never leaves you short for story lines, but Esfandiari and his co-host Andy Liu just needed the right partnership to take Light Years to the next level.
“We were looking for a place to help grow our podcast,” Esfandiari said. “In Blue Wire we found a motivated team who gave us the tools to expand what we were already doing.”
The first nine months for Blue Wire has been about as good as Jones could have imagined. But even he’d tell you there’s a long way to go to accomplish everything he thinks Blue Wire is capable of. Amongst many other things, Jones’ goal is to continue to find the best creators on the internet.
“Audio is only going to increase,” said Jones. “I don’t read as many articles as I once did. I really think audio is the way to deliver news. The Ringer is its own thing, Barstool is its own thing, ESPN is its own thing, but there can be more audio channels. Blue Wire can get to a level of them if we execute our plan properly.”
Blue Wire is on the verge of something special in the audio space. Though the podcasting industry is one that’s tough to break through in, don’t count out Jones and his plan for success to continue to rise up the charts.
“The No. 1 reason I believe Blue Wire can and will be a huge success is because of Kevin Jones,” said Fallon Smith of Keeping it 300 podcast. “It starts at the top. His tireless effort and drive to learn the business, scout talent, meet with venture capital firms to sell his vision and create a podcast sports network for fans across the country has been inspiring to witness.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes
Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.
Stephen Strom can be heard hosting ‘The Sports Talkers Podcast’ for Barrett Sports Media. In addition to hosting here, Stephen works as a broadcasting assistant for the Miami Heat and color analyst for Nova Southeastern. Additional career experiences include working for SiriusXM, performing analyst duties for Princeton basketball, and hosting shows for TalkNorth.com. You can find him on Twitter @SStrom_.
Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game
“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up.
In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.
“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”
Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.
“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?
“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”
Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible.
“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”
Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk.
“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”
To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him.
“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”
I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?
“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”
Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show.
“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”
So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun
“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt
He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.
It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated.
Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY.
A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him.
He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”
Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed.
ROAD TO FOX
After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season.
Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw.
According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”
He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen.
Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.
When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers.
If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision.
Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons.
WHY IS HE SO GOOD?
Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.
While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.
The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst. It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.
In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.