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What Can Sports Radio Learn From Dave Chappelle?

Demetri Ravanos




Ramie Makhlouf is a multi-faceted entertainer. The former SKOR North and 105.7 the Fan host is also a stand-up comedian. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Ramie about comedy and how he has used being on stage to help him behind the mic.

Ramie Makhlouf - Insult and Batter, March 23rd, 2018 - YouTube

We shared thoughts on our favorite comedians. Both of us like Dave Chappelle. Both of us like Patton Oswalt. We talked about what makes good radio. It was an easy conversation with someone that definitely knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.

I asked Ramie to take a look at Dave Chappelle’s new special from a different perspective and write about his experience with comedy. What can a sports radio host learn from watching a great comedian? Enjoy!

In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and ensuing protests, Dave Chappelle released 8:46 on YouTube; a set largely focused on the Floyd murder and on the movement for social justice we’ve since seen. It’s powerful and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Not only because it’s just great and poignant and timely but also, as Bomani Jones points out, there is plenty you could pick up from Chappelle that will make you better at what you do. 

I’m a sports talk radio host by day and stand-up comedian by night and I can tell you, they’re very different animals. In my time doing both (about 10 years as a host, 7 as a comedian), in fact, I’ve only met one or two radio hosts who I thought should try stand-up comedy, and only one or two comics who I thought could cut it in radio. Only because the element of working with or without a live audience is such a game changer for most performers in both lines of work.

Bomani is right though, and there are plenty of things a radio host could pick up from watching a great stand-up comic, or vice versa, to make them more effective, more entertaining, and more engaging communicators.

You may have heard the “laughs per minute” rule of stand-up comedy. It’s one of the principles that many stand-ups live by that states that you need to draw 4-6 laughs per minute. There’s some science behind it that indicates that’s what you need to do just to hold the attention of an audience. Even if your 5th minute of a five minute set is your strongest material, it doesn’t matter if you’ve lost the audience in minute two.

The same holds true in radio. Obviously it’s not always a laugh that you’re going for, but there better be a handful of attention grabbers of some sort packed into every minute of your show. Whether it is a laugh, a bold or outlandish take, a change in inflection or the volume of your voice, a funny drop, or the use of a highlight or other audio, there has to be something that keeps the audience hooked the whole trip before you do get to the payoff. Speaking of the payoff, don’t waste any time in getting there.

An understanding of word economy is an important tool to have in both the world of radio and stand-up comedy. In other words, use your words sparingly. Obviously you have to talk enough to fill your time on the air or on the stage, but in both radio and comedy you better get to the payoff as quickly as possible. If you watch Chris Rock, he’ll often start a bit with a statement; sometimes it’s unclear what exactly he means, sometimes it seems controversial or something with which you might not agree, but he’s hooked you because you’re asking “what does he mean by that?” or “how could he possibly say that?”. Then the joke is explaining what he just said, and often the punchline is repeating the very statement with which he started! 

Chris Rock talks porn addiction, cheating on wife in Netflix ...

As a host your payoff may be a punchline, or it could be a “hot take”, or a set-up for your co-host, or a question to draw callers and interaction with the audience. Whatever it is, get there with as few words as possible. Maybe even use the Chris Rock method and start with your statement or question! It’s okay if you leave something unsaid on your way to the payoff, especially in radio. Assumedly, a discussion or debate will ensue, and you’ll get the chance to circle around and still get off other points that you may have initially left unsaid. So how do you get to your payoff quickly, but also effectively?

I’ve spent a lot of time watching and listening to Jerry Seinfeld talk about writing comedy. Like…A LOT! Probably too much! It’s just so fascinating! It’s like watching a musician’s creative process, and trying to find just the right note. He talks about the rhythm of words and sentences, and how some words just sound funnier than others, searching for the funniest sounding word to perfectly make his point, using the fewest words possible to say it, and get the maximum effect from those words. 

Stephen A. Smith is probably the best at this in the sports talk world. Yes, he does it by having a vocabulary that would make Webster’s jealous, but also with word selection. It’s not an accident that he has a few go to words or phrases (That’s preposterous! That’s blasphemous! The gall! The utter temerity!). Stephen A. knows there’s something about those words and the way he says them that gets people to react and stay tuned in to what he’s saying.

It’s not just the words themselves either, but the punctuation around the words. Great communicators of all kinds speak with punctuation. When Chappelle or Rock or Stephen A. emphasize something, you can almost see the words come flying out of their mouth in all caps with three exclamation points. If a comedian writes a comma or an ellipses in their material, it means to take a beat or a pause. There has to be an end, or a stop, to your thoughts and sentences.

Run-on sentences don’t work any better in spoken word than they do in writing. They lose audiences. You probably aren’t writing your rants or monologues, and you definitely don’t want to sound like you are, but you should definitely consider the punctuation. Where is a pause required? Where and how does a thought end? Does it end with a period, or is it an exclamation point, or a question mark, and can I tell that just by hearing you speak?

Punctuation Marks List, Meaning & Example Sentences - English ...

The trick to doing all this, whether in radio or comedy, is to make it seem effortless and like you’re not really trying to do any of this at all. Chappelle is the best example of that in comedy. Dan Le Batard is probably the best  example in sports talk. Howard Stern may be the best example in the media, period. All are very meticulous and plotted in what they do, what they say, and how they say it, but you would never know it.

The great ones effortlessly speak the language of comedy or radio, rather than coming off as “performing”. That type of mastery is something we all can learn from, whether you perform on a stage or in a studio.

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




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.






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