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JR Jackson Is Starting With A Blank Canvas

“I’m not Mother Teresa healing the world and praying for it in totality, but I’m just trying to do my part with something I enjoy. Entertain folks and give them a platform, that’s extremely important to me.”

Brandon Contes

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Creating great content as a sports radio host is challenging enough right now without the support of live sports. Professional sports leagues are suspended indefinitely and broadcast companies are making budget cuts, but amid the chaos, a new nightly show debuted on CBS Sports Radio.

JRSportBrief, with host J.R. Jackson launched Monday, Mar. 23, taking over the 10pm – 2am timeslot previously held by Ferrall On The Bench. There’s a reason not many national radio shows launch during the MLB All-Star break. But having no sports isn’t a concern for J.R. who’s used to creating his own content.

JR Jackson - Owner - JR SportBrief Productions | LinkedIn

Not a prototypical background for a sports radio host, he built his own brand and succeeded in the digital space at a young age. For J.R., building a sports show without sports to watch isn’t hard. Building a radio show without being able to walk down the street and talk to people during the COVID-19 pandemic is the more challenging part. J.R. is a host that values his listeners and wants to get to know them on a personal level to further the sense of community.

He joins CBS Sports Radio having already been a daily contributor to Entercom with V103 in Atlanta as a morning show host. Even though he’s on nationally until 2am every night, J.R. can still be heard regularly on V103, contributing to The Morning Culture and hosting with The Big Tigger Show in the afternoon

Brandon Contes: You have a unique story, because you built your own brand and did it rather quickly, you didn’t go to a broadcasting school like Syracuse for four years first. What made you want to start creating content?

J.R. Jackson: Entertainment has always been part of my life. My uncle was a radio DJ named Fatman Scoop and I grew up in New York watching him at Hot97. From there, I met my current manager and business partner Charlie Stettler.

I was encouraged to start my own video sports blog by Fred Seibert who ran a company called Next New Networks. It was one of the first internet video production companies and he sold it to Google. He had a lot of different shows – auto, cooking, but he didn’t have sports. He knew I was producing content for other people and said, ‘I know you love sports, if you can start your own sports blog, I would love to distribute it.’ I went home and started JRSportBrief. I kept cranking out content, got a couple million views in the first few years and then I signed a distribution agreement with Fred and continued growing the platform organically. Reaching out to people, building media and athlete relationships. It was literally shaking the hands of sports fans online and on YouTube and going out and doing the same in the community.

BC: Radio has a very hard time figuring out how to track and monetize digital platforms, but you turned it into a full-time job rather quickly, you made it into a business. How do you view the connection between radio and digital?

JR: At the end of the day, content is content, it’s just a matter of how you go about finding it. Every strong brand, every strong personality and radio station, it doesn’t matter if it’s an Instagram page or radio station, it’s built off the content you produce.

We now produce video content at our radio stations that gets distributed digitally. The same content we do on our shows, it goes right out to social media platforms, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in your car, at work, on the subway, you can open up your phone and have it. Digital and radio is very symbiotic. 

BC: Is it difficult hosting and launching a sports show when there are no live sports right now?

JR: Not at all, life is difficult. The people who have to go out and do grunt work and deal with the climate we’re in, that’s difficult work. Me talking for four hours isn’t work. People are looking for familiar voices, they’re looking for diversions and they’re looking for a sense of community.

JR Sport Brief | THE PEOPLE'S STATION V103

My first night with the new show on CBS Sports Radio I wanted to bring on Daymond John from Shark Tank, because he’s not shooting hoops or hitting baseballs, but he can speak about elements that are relevant to everybody, not just athletes or sports fans. There are a lot of stories that are relatable to fans, and radio stations have an opportunity to keep people on schedule, to be familiar and build a sense of community. At the end of the day, sports is a microcosm of life and there are a lot of stories to tell that deal with humanity. I don’t think sports radio is just reciting stats or arguing a point. There’s a big human element to it, so it’s not difficult at all.

BC: You mentioned the importance of building a community and talking to a lot of people, do you like taking calls? Because especially with national shows, there are differing opinions about whether or not they can enhance a show, some hosts do it, but plenty don’t like caller interaction because they feel it can derail a show.

JR: There’s no such thing. The people who listen to you are not derailing anything. It’s community based and I made it clear on my show that the people who listen, this is their show. I go back to when I started on JRSportBrief, the tagline I use is, “by a fan, for the fan.”

I’m not your prototypical sports fan given my relationships and position, but it’s about community. We’re not supposed to be out here shaking hands, we’re supposed to stay six feet apart from each other. But there is no show if the fans don’t listen and you can’t communicate with your people. I more than like taking calls, this is a show for the people. It’s their show. They will have a voice, they do have a voice and that’s me at my core. I want to go out and meet the people who I’m listening to. 

BC: How do you sort through so many different topics and different options? Especially with national radio, there’s already so much you can dive into whereas locally, if you’re in New York on WFAN today, you know you’re talking about Robby Anderson and Noah Syndergaard’s elbow. But without sports, you really have a blank canvas daily, can that be daunting at all?

JR: It’s beautiful to have a blank canvas because you can put something together without barriers. How many of us, every single day can wake up and say I have a blank canvas to go out and do something awesome?

For me, it boils down to having your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Whether it’s local or national, it doesn’t make a difference because I know what’s going on. I can’t do it in this climate with the coronavirus, but I get outside, I love walking around New York, I love walking around Atlanta, I love talking to the security guard, the receptionist, people at restaurants. I love talking and meeting listeners at remotes. Talking to fans, being at the stadium and getting to know managers, agents and players. When you know what’s going on, it’s not hard to tailor that message to the audience. 

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BC: Launching a sports radio show without sports, it might not be the optimal time to build a new show, but as you said, building a successful radio show is so much about creating a community of listeners. Is there anything to the idea that having this freedom to talk about anything you want can help listeners get to know you quicker on a personal level?

JR: Absolutely. My background, as you said, is not traditional. I didn’t go to Syracuse. I didn’t go to a broadcasting school, I learned all elements of this from the ground up. Pure experience. I put myself out there and built the platform.

For me, it’s all about community and I think I have a well-rounded experience from both production and being able to relate to different people. I’m not afraid to be on the lower end of the building hanging out with the security guards, and I’m also not afraid to hack it up with the president or multi-billionaire.  People are people. Some people can only talk about sports, can only recite and regurgitate numbers. I’m a person, I’m a human being, I have varying interests. 

BC: You have the perfect personality for launching a sports show without sports because you clearly have confidence in your entertainment value and the ability to know you can go off the cuff and talk about whatever topic rolls your way. 

JR: This goes beyond sports for me, but it’s a matter of always being ready and always being prepared. I grew up in a military family and there’s not going to be a stone left unturned. There’s not going to be an alternative when you boil things down. You do it, or you don’t, there’s no middle.

There’s nothing I would do that I’m not going to be prepared for. This is not the greatest time in the history of our world. It’s not the greatest time with people passing away and getting sick. But this is also a time to realize our humanity and connect with one another. I’m not Mother Teresa healing the world and praying for it in totality, but I’m just trying to do my part with something I enjoy. Entertain folks and give them a platform, that’s extremely important to me.

BC: It’s too bad you didn’t start your show a week earlier because I kept hearing ‘the only live sporting event right now is the Iditarod’ and I bet not many sports radio hosts have the experience you do of going to Alaska and riding on a dog sled!

Jr: [Laughs] Alaska is beautiful and that’s something I have – that my background is really varied. I’ve been all over the world – India, Alaska, Brazil. It put me in a beautiful spot. I can sit here and say I’ve had conversations with everyone from President Clinton to Young Jeezy. 

I have a unique background in entertainment, but mainly in the people business. When I think about my brand of sports and how I want to approach people, it’s no different than me sitting with you at the bar, or in a friend’s basement having a beer and watching the game. That’s how I want it to come across with listeners. I’m an ordinary guy just like everybody else. I like to throw out my trash, I like to figure out what meal I want to cook. It’s a real community and right now, what we’re doing on radio is allowing people to try and be normal.

BC: You’ve had these great experiences through your JRSportBrief platform, is there one that stands out the most?

Julian “J.R.” Jackson – The Shark Group

JR: Nobody ever believes this answer, but I speak to a lot of classrooms and have for years. It’s always cool on career day when there’s an accountant, a guidance counselor, a lawyer – and then I talk about sports.  Connecting with people is the standout moment. 

It’s not meeting President Clinton, hanging out with Usain Bolt or talking to the late great Kobe. All of those are great moments, but at a point in time they become washed. They’re all people, all human beings to me, but that deep connection is what I value. At the end of the day, the material goods, the money, it doesn’t matter if I’m in a mansion or an apartment. I believe in people and I believe in experience. That’s the best moment, every time I can connect with somebody, because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that.

BC: Who were your biggest media influences growing up?

JR: I watched and paid close attention to everybody. Oprah, Stern, Wendy Williams – the way her show is produced is awesome. Growing up in New York, being able to listen to Mike and the Mad Dog and see how they format. It’s about taking different pieces of how people communicate, how they deliver their message and figure out how you can put it together yourself.

BC: You’ve talked a lot about building a community and involving the listeners, but what about utilizing people who work on the show? Is your show a collaboration?

JR: Absolutely! Anybody who thinks they know everything and can do everything isn’t that smart. I like collaboration and for someone who talks for a living, I like to listen, I like to learn, I like to absorb. I would be dumb as hell if I didn’t take advice. Surprisingly, I do even more listening than I do speaking. So, to have producers and folks who can give me advice and chime in as well, I want that. 

BC: What about from a management standpoint? Who’s helped you the most?

JR: My uncle, Fatman Scoop was my first influence in radio. My current partner and manager Charlie Stettler managed Ed Lover and Dr. Dre and helped get them one of the largest deals early on in hip hop on radio. I’ve had plenty of influences that have helped along the way. Ironically, for someone who started off on YouTube, it’s all a matter of how you push the information out. Whether it’s radio, YouTube, TV, they’re all just different mediums. It’s like going to the buffet and saying what type of pizza do you want? A slice? Sicilian? It’s all pizza at the end of the day, just a matter of how you want to eat it.

BC: You’ve built your own brand, you’ve built a network, you’re a local radio host, a national radio host, what’s the next goal?

JR: It’s connecting with people and wherever that goes is fine by me. That’s always been my goal. Grow and at the same time provide opportunities for other people. It’s pretty cool to see people who have asked me for advice, then come up and do what I’m doing, and I’d be thrilled if they did what I did and went even further.

Redefining Sports Media While Giving Back | Julian "J.R." Jackson ...

At the end of the day, I think legacy is what you do for yourself that makes you happy. It’s also what can you do for other people.  I’ve seen that over the years and I’m very happy. I will continue to connect with folks and lay out the red carpet for people to say, ‘wow, this is a dude who started on YouTube and look what he’s doing.’

I can’t wait to continue to use my own voice to connect with listeners and give them a diversion, but also to encourage other people to build their brand and their businesses. I’d feel like I’m in a silo if I just sat and spoke. I want to see other people win and that’s what I want to continue to facilitate.

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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