It’s a unique and challenging time for sports radio hosts. Conducting entertaining sports radio while sporting events are paused indefinitely isn’t something many hosts or stations have experience with. But the average listener is equally impacted by COVID-19 in their own life, so the show must go on.
Many hosts are having to adjust, without being able to depend on last night’s game to drum up passion and create entertaining radio. But if we look at Howard Stern’s interview with Tom Brady as an example, sports fans don’t need an expert of last night’s game to be entertained.
Chad Dukes Vs. The World airs weekdays from 2 – 6:30pm in Washington, D.C. for Entercom’s 106.7 The Fan. Entercom hit a rough patch in recent weeks with two rounds of employee cuts, but Dukes remains focused on what he can control, creating great radio.
Chad has a background hosting on music stations, even working locally on Free FM affiliates in the post-Howard Stern era of terrestrial radio. He hosts afternoon drive for the top sports station in D.C., but Chad Dukes Vs. The World is rarely 100% sports focused. That’s made it easier to transition when forced to create content without last night’s game to discuss.
Brandon Contes: We’ll start with the idea of hosting a sports radio show without live sports. You have a radio background working for stations that weren’t sports focused. Does that give you an advantage when creating content right now?
Chad Dukes: Yes, guy talk or whatever you want to call it, is the format I came from and I feel like I’m adept at it. I try to keep the format as much as possible just because there’s so much content about coronavirus and I want to keep a sense of normalcy on my show. It’s about 50/50 or even 60/40 sports content to non-sports content on my show anyway.
BC: Has that percentage changed at all since live sports stopped?
CD: Because the NFL is so active and free agency has been so salacious with Tom Brady moving to the Buccaneers, we’ve been lucky. Even here in Washington, the Redskins have been doing all sorts of crazy stuff, so I’ve been able to talk about the NFL because it’s busy.
There’s a lot of lame sports talk content right now, where the uptight sports guys are like, ‘give me your Top 10 sports DVDs!’ and it just – [deep sigh] it feels childish to me. I’m trying to operate my show as I normally would, because I just think everyone else is being completely oversaturated with content.
BC: So are you saying you didn’t do a bracket?
CD: No. There’s 10 billion brackets out there. So, no [Laughs]. No brackets for us.
BC: I thought it was interesting once sports came to a stop, there was an adrenaline rush for a lot of hosts. It seemed like they needed a boost, I saw a lot of tweets, ‘this is what separates the great hosts, I’m always creative, I never just fill time, I always entertain.’ Did you get any sense of that mentality?
CD: No, a lot of that’s virtue signaling, especially on social media. I used to do radio with Chris Cooley and he would say “there’s guys who need to have their facemask grabbed or screamed at by linebackers and I’m not one of those guys.” Well I’m not one of those guys either.
I realize with broadcasting, it’s going to be more important because people are listening for different reasons and at different times. My policy is, this is a difficult time for everybody and people are losing their jobs. I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel. I’m trying to do this with as little bombast and virtue signaling as I possibly can throughout this process.
BC: What are some things you look at as filler radio? Some hosts will say call segments are filler or just saying the word ‘steroids’ is filler. Is there anything you try to avoid?
CD: Yea, who’s better, LeBron James or Michael Jordan? There’s too much of that in our business. It’s lazy. You can get people screaming about it any time.
I try to do stuff that everyone can contribute to. I don’t want to say it’s a low brow show, but I try to keep in mind not everyone’s an expert. A lot of people have families and other things going on in their lives. I try to do topics where if I’m going to involve the listeners, it’s something a majority of them can contribute to.
BC: I love radio, but it’s more formatted than the podcast space, which is one of the reasons podcasts grew on me. In radio, there’s a way a show needs to sound to make sure you get your commercials, get your sports updates and sports minutes in. Can the strict formatics and regimen take away from creativity?
CD: I have a lot of live reads during my show and I’m lucky to have those sponsors. But some of that stuff gets repetitive from time to time with commercials and updates and traffic – there’s a lot of crap that’s around. But I gotta be honest, I think it gives radio a leg up on podcasts and it’s why you see so many people still listening to radio, because it’s happening now.
I have a friend, JP Finlay who works for NBC Sports Washington and you’ll see him, ‘We’re going to drop an emergency podcast tonight about Kyle Allen being traded!’ Well I’m talking about it right now on the radio, taking callers, having reporters on that are covering it.
Radio will always be better than podcasts because it’s live as it’s happening, there’s interaction between the listeners and people. A podcast is a static thing that already happened, it’s a rerun. I like them, I do podcasts, but there’s not that interpersonal relationship that you get with live radio because it’s current.
BC: With that interpersonal relationship and without sports, you have an open slate of topics that you can discuss because you don’t need to be focused on what the Nationals did last night. So can bypassing sports make the show even more personal and build a stronger connection with listeners?
CD: I think so. The other day we had someone call in and say you’re not supposed to refrigerate butter. It turned into a 45-minute conversation about condiments and whether or not they should go in the fridge.
The biggest compliments I’m getting right now are people saying “I feel normal listening to your show, you’re not all doom and gloom, I feel like my life is a little bit normal because I turn on WJFK 106.7 The Fan and I’m hearing all my favorite shows do their shows.” I take a lot of pride in that.
BC: Does being in D.C. lead to political conversations on-air? Since you’re in the thick of it?
CD: Not for me. If you talk about politics on sports talk radio, you’re committing career suicide. People on either side don’t want it, I think they want sports. I didn’t do Colin Kaepernick, I didn’t do the take a knee stuff, I didn’t do any of it. Because I don’t want 49% of my listeners to be pissed off about my opinion on it, no matter what it may be. If you want to come find me in a bar, I’ll tell you how I feel about that stuff. I’ve always thought ratings are about getting as many people under your big top as you possibly can and that’s how I look at it, even though we’re right here in the belly of the beast.
BC: Has your segment time and amount of content you produce in an hour changed in recent weeks? Obviously it varies around the country, there are shows that do 33-minute hours and shows that do 50-minute hours, but as advertisers become harder to find, I imagine it will adjust, even in big markets.
CD: My live spot load has diminished slightly. But no, whatever it is they’re doing, PSAs or regular commercials, we’re still pretty lucky that a lot of our people stick with us. A lot of the people I work with are essential, so thus far it’s been a fairly traditional way of doing it.
We did something cool over the weekend. All the part-timers unfortunately aren’t able to get hours, but the salaried hosts joined together for mashup shows. I did a three-hour shift Saturday with Cakes from The Sports Junkies. It’s kind of fun to mix and match midday guys with morning guys.
BC: How do you like working with a PD like Chris Kinard?
CD: He’s the best, man. I’m lucky, I’ve known him since high school. My career took me away from here for a couple years and we figured out a way to get back. He really cares about people and is a tremendous radio mind. He listened and was influenced by a lot of the same shows I was, so he gets where I come from.
He puts up with me being unconventional because I couldn’t do my show in Detroit or Chicago, they wouldn’t put up with my show. He gets it, he gives me a lot of creative freedom and we don’t have many fights. He’s one of the best minds in radio and he just got a big promotion that is well deserved in the company. I think he’s going to be a general manager before he knows it and feel very lucky to have him be my boss for the last 12, 13 years or so.
BC: Do you know if you’re going to keep hosting with someone different on Saturday?
CD: I’m up for anything. I want to be pulling on the rope in the right direction and like I said, don’t want to be the squeaky wheel. So if I need to put some hours in for free, I don’t mind doing that.
I loved working with Cakes and The Junkies. They’re an institution here. They’ve been around for 23 years. They took over for Howard when he went to Sirius and never looked back. I interned for their radio show at 21 and I didn’t believe I could be on radio before that. I used to listen to Stern, I listened to Greaseman and Don and Mike and all these shows and said, well I can’t do that. But when I listened to The Junkies, they make it sound so effortless and I thought I could do it. Luckily, I was correct. Being able to do a show with a guy from the program that meant so much to me in my career, it’s really cool for me. It’s an honor and a lot of fun, I hope we’ll do more shows together.
BC: I want to check out The Junkies right now to hear them do it from home. You’re solo, even if you bring your producer in, you control when that happens. I would imagine having four or more people on one show would be really tough to do that from different locations.
CD: Sure, and they’re on TV. They’re simulcast on NBC Sports Washington and they’re from home and there’s four of them. I can’t imagine what it’s like to put all that together. Their producer, Drab, used to be my producer. He’s now the APD and really coming into his own doing all this in such an arduous process under all these constraints, but they’re pulling it off without a hitch. They’ve really stepped up. It’s been a learning experience for all of us.
BC: Is there concern because there’s already been a lot of changes? You’re working from home, you’re working on weekends because part-timers were cut. It’s only been two weeks since sports stopped and it could be two, three or even six months more. It’s going to continue to impact advertising dollars and such. Are you worried about the industry?
[This question was asked prior to Entercom laying off a significant number of full-time employees Apr. 2]
CD: Entercom wants to make this work. They’re a radio company, they understand radio and we’re lucky that they’ve been very communicative with us. We need advertisers, we need to sell commercials, I understand that, but I also can’t predict that.
I have a tendency – my brain works a lot when I don’t want it to and I found it helps to focus on what you can control. I can’t control any of this right now. What I can control is doing the best radio show I can. Showing up, being available for whatever they ask me to do and that’s all I’m trying to focus on right now.
BC: Are you someone that does a lot of show prep and planning?
CD: No, we have guests, I have four or five guys that I like to talk to and rotate. If there’s an A-topic, we’ll figure out how to revisit it two or three times during the show because the listeners turnover. I might be tired of talking about it, but Ronnie Rockville’s getting into his car to start his commute and wants to hear about Dwayne Haskins taking a selfie, even though I’ve been talking about it for the last 3.5 hours. I’d say the most prep I do goes into taking the biggest topic of the day and trying to address it in different ways throughout the course of the afternoon.
BC: You mentioned you’re a Stern fan, how was the Ian Rapoport scuffle when Howard played that a couple years ago?
CD: Oh man. It’s just unbelievable. I’ve been very lucky. Opie and Anthony, The Junkies, Ron and Fez, and all these iconic shows, I have good relationships with them. Mike O’Meara, I consider a close friend, he did 15-20 years with the Don and Mike Show, the biggest show in D.C. Stern’s been there my whole life and seemed bigger than life, like I’d never be able to interact with him. He’s generally not all that positive about other radio guys.
BC: Especially sports radio!
CD: And he literally said, ‘this is the type of sports talk radio I would listen to.’ And he said that about my show. I can’t think of a greater endorsement.
BC: Is there a specific bit you did on-air that stands out?
CD: The one I’m known for is the Redskins rant after the Monday Night Massacre, where I believe Mike Vick hung five touchdowns on the Redskins. I came in the next day, as a lifelong Redskins fan with only one year or so in sports talk here at that point. I lost it. I was screaming like a crazy person. Now I’m embarrassed by it, but not a week goes by that I don’t have a Redskins fan tell me they go back and listen to it on YouTube and say it’s the greatest rant of all time. I got booked everywhere, [Laughs] Questlove followed me on Twitter after he listened to it. It was my 15 minutes, even though it’s a little embarrassing.
BC: Radio’s been impacted right now, but you’re also a small business owner, which isn’t easy, how’s Commonwealth Dry Goods doing?
CD: It’s tough because they just locked Virginia down. My wife runs the day to day, she does a great job of that and we’re able to do online orders. The great thing is, I’m in D.C. doing radio and I’m from here, so I’ve built a following. People are being very generous and want to support the store. So far, we haven’t been impacted too much. We had to change the way we do business, but sales are fine. I appreciate you asking because owning a small business is a very unique thing to do.
BC: It’s also cool to be a small business owner because it’s something that resonates with listeners, especially now. Everyone that owns a small business is struggling and depending on each other for support. I think the fact that you’re involved with that helps further your connection with listeners.
CD: It does, it gives you a perspective when you’re supporting small businesses, just how much it really means to them. There’s a taco place called Tippy’s that I’d go to back when I was three years old, my dad used to take me. They messaged me the other day that they’re hurting and need customers and I was able to rally people to get there. I’m not getting paid for that, but it makes you feel good to have an impact on a struggling local business that’s been around forever.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different
I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.
With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?
I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?
Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.
It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.
A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?
Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?
Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.
It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”
The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.
It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.
Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.
Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.
Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.
One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?
That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years
Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.
In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.
It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.
“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”
I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.
The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).
The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.
The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.
I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.
Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.
ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.
The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media
Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.