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The Talent Vote: Sports Radio Stations

Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Demetri Ravanos

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The BSM Top 20s are generators. They generate clicks, comments, and conversation in our industry. Every year, JB reaches out to dozens of PDs and executives to generate those lists.

I thought it might be fun this year to add a new twist and let talent get in on the conversation. Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Boston and Pittsburgh are the big winners this year. Congratulations to the Sports Hub and 93.7 The Fan! PDs and executives voted them the top stations in major and mid markets respectively. Let’s see what the talent had to say though. What stations do the people that make stations special think are the most special?

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TIM MONTEMAYOR – FORMERLY 1320 KFAN (SALT LAKE CITY), KNBR (SAN FRANCISCO), KTRS (ST. LOUIS), KHTK (SACRAMENTO)

There are a lot of great sports talk radio stations in this country, and I listen to many of them on a daily basis, but the job of naming the best one is difficult at best. For me it is about understanding who you are, where you are, who listens to you, and how they listen to you. 

Major markets are stocked with great sports talk stations, but there is nothing like two titans throwing haymakers at each other all day long. Chicago has ESPN 1000 pushing The Score, in New York, Craig Carton on FAN and Michael Kay on ESPN NY are going head to head, and in Boston 98.5 The Sports Hub recently pulled an 11 share, leaving long time GIANT WEEI in their wake …again. 

But when you want a local radio battle, that involves the single best sports talk radio station in the country, you go to San Francisco! The Bay Area had long been dominated by KNBR 680 – THE Sports Leader. Then came 95.7 The Game, and the new guy on the block stole the Warriors and built a strong local lineup, including a guy I think is the best PD in the business, Matt Nahigian. 

So KNBR gave up right? Just turned off the transmitter and went home? Nope, KNBR is the best sports talk radio station in the country for one reason, they are Bay Area Sports. Murph and Mac are must listen in the morning, especially when big things are happening. Tom Tolbert is Bay Area sports, and Larry Krueger is one of the most underappreciated hosts in the country. 

However, KNBR is the best sports talk station in the country because they know who they are, THE Sports Leader. When a story breaks, they are on it. They know where they are, so they deliver personality driven, local radio, that listeners can count on. Giants, Niners, NFL …it’s KNBR. Steph Curry and the Warriors? How about Tom Tolbert on KNBR. You want it on your phone? KNBR. Online? KNBR.com is easy to navigate and optimized for smartphones. Anywhere you want to get KNBR, it’s there.  

KNBR is the best on air, online, and on mobile …because they are live, local, and listeners know exactly what they are going to get when they turn it on! KNBR uses all of that to leverage their heritage, partnerships, and listeners to drive ratings and revenue, and a lot of both!

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KNBR finished 5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

SCOTT KAPLAN – ESPN 710 LA (LOS ANGELES), THE MIGHTIER 1090 (SAN DIEGO)

For me, the best sports station is ESPN 710 LA. Yes I am a homer, but I have loved this station for as long as I can remember. 

Here’s why I think it is a great station. 710 is owned and operated by ESPN, it has rights deals with the biggest brands in LA sports – the Lakers, Rams and LAFC. It has a heritage show in Mason and Ireland, with reputable, local and credible talent in Jorge Sedano and LZ Granderson.

Obviously with National ESPN programming, you have to figure a way to be local, PD Amanda Brown has found a nice balance with local coverage during the Keyshawn morning show, and the imaging of Chris Morales makes 710 sound totally unique all day.

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ESPN LA 710 finished 5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

ZACH MCRITE – FORMERLY 101 ESPN (ST. LOUIS), 107.7 THE FRANCHISE (OKLAHOMA CITY), KENTUCKY SPORTS RADIO

When this pandemic began and it dawned on many of us drivetime commutes would be, well, mostly commuted. Many thought that the mid-market radio industry–especially sports radio–would take one of the more severe hits. And, while that was true in some cases, the status quo also prevailed in some markets. 

But there were a select few that gained in a pandemic year. Kudos to all of them, but the one that kept getting my attention and gets my number one vote in this category for 2020 is 97.1 The Fan Columbus.

Never mind the surefire gains that the station will receive thanks to the college football Buckeyes’ CFB Playoff title game run, but right in the middle of the 2020 economic nightmare, when others were subtracting, The Fan added a local morning show once ESPN’s national morning show, Golic & Wingo, called it quits. That takes some major cojones.

Even so, and maybe even more impressively, The Fan beat out all other formats and led the way in the entire market in M25-54 during the “dog days of COVID-19,” with massive double-digit shares in their afternoon slots. That’s a pretty rare story in 2020 and worthy of major consideration at the top of the mid-market list.

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971 The Fan finished 6 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

BRADY FARKAS – WDEV (VERMONT)

WGR in Buffalo does a great job at being engaging and active on social media and I think that’s hugely important to the current audience and current marketplace. The Twitter account alone is a great news source for Bills and Sabres content. I think the One Bills Drive from 12-3 is a great show that captures the Bills love of the city and continues to tie the station in with the Bills brand. And in 2020, I think the station did a great job in a unique situation regarding the Toronto Blue Jays. The hosts discussed the Blue Jays move to Buffalo for the season, had game stories online, had video of the first pitch at the stadium that Canadian outlets picked up and I think they made the most of the unique opportunity in a unique year.

I also think that WGR personalities do a good job of making themselves accessible on other stations. I know Sal Capaccio does weekly hits on other radio stations and I think that kind of brand recognition and brand awareness is great for the station, both in the area, and outside the area. Eric Wood, who also does color for the games, is a great analyst who appeared on “The Herd” and I think that altogether, this kind of exposure, and the recognition of how valuable that exposure is, is a big deal.

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WGR 550 finished 5 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

We’re almost done, but I have been promising you all along that we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. There’s one left and it is original sports podcasts.

By the way, just because I didn’t reach out to you to contribute doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Who do you think the best sports talk station in the country is? Feel free to add your comment below.

BSM Writers

The Chiefs & Eagles Have Super Bowl Game Plans, How About You?

“The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either.”

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When it comes to preparation, I usually hold off. I’m a procrastinator’s procrastinator. It sounds better if I say; “I’m driven by deadlines,” but the truth is, I just generally put things off until they absolutely have to be checked off the list. If your goal as a producer is to have a great post-Super Bowl show, don’t be me, you best start working now.

There are many things that complicate booking guests for a Super Bowl reaction show. The obvious is that you have no idea who is winning the game. But, beyond that, you have no way of predicting what will be the biggest story coming out of the game. It could be anything from overtime to a blowout, halftime show debacle, officiating blunder, or even a surprise retirement announcement.

With that in mind, there are some strategies for targeting guests. With these, though, working ahead is paramount. Most anyone that is going to have enough insight to improve your show will be slammed in the hours following the end of the game.

Strategy 1: The Game Participant

This is a big risk, big reward strategy. It is also one that is only available to a select group of shows. If your show is nationally syndicated, in a very large market, or home market for one of the teams, you have a shot here. If not, the odds are not in your favor. The team’s media departments are as busy as anyone during a Super Bowl run. They aren’t likely to help a show they’ve never dealt with during that whirlwind of action.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked as the media relations director for a mid-major basketball team that sprung a huge round two upset and advanced to the Sweet 16. Needless to say, he was swamped overnight with interview requests for his coach. He told me every station led with “ESPN Radio” then mumbled the part about being in Puyallup, Washington. It never hurts to ask, but understand it is a long shot.

Strategy Two: Local Player Not In The Game

This can be a really solid idea for both previewing the Super Bowl and the Monday after the game. If you are in a local NFL market, or if a local college or high school star is in the NFL, consider him as an analyst. Who better knows what happens in an NFL game than an NFL player? Bonus points if he has been a Super Bowl participant in the past.

Don’t underestimate how many NFL players are thinking about life after football. One of the dozens of roles as NFL analyst at a major network is an excellent retirement plan. You don’t have to have a Hall of Fame jacket for those gigs, but you do need to be good on air. You might be surprised by how many players will agree to an interview with that in mind.

Strategy Three: The Trusted Analyst

Every network has all their biggest voices either In Phoenix or in the studio for the game. These are people that know the interview game and have plenty of experience. This strategy comes with some obvious hurdles; it turns out the networks paying the analysts to be on site keep them rather busy. While they might have been happy to join your show the Monday after Week Three, this is a different animal.

One other factor you should consider in this strategy is the fact that Sky Harbor airport will be one of the busiest in the world Monday morning. Many of the analysts will be scrambling home to start their off season as well. If your analyst is on the move, travel delays can wreck your whole plan.

Strategy Four: The Pop Culture Angle

Oftentimes the biggest talking point coming out of the game is one of the things happening outside the actual play on the field. If you watch Super Bowl Twitter, the biggest traffic moments are people joking about a slow starting Star Spangled Banner “hitting the over” or how bad the halftime show is. Regardless of the act, it has become the default position that the halftime show is awful, even when we all think they are pretty good. 50 Cent hanging upside down will forever be a meme.

Commercials are going to be a massive talking point after a game, especially if the game doesn’t quite deliver. Who is the voice that can talk to your audience about everything from Rihanna to a Taco Bell commercial? There is the inherent risk of alienating the “talk more sports” guy with this type of guest so, as you should with any guest, make certain they are entertaining.

The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either. Communication between hosts and producers is critical. Have a plan, work ahead and be on the same page.

Most of all, try to enjoy the game – and take the Chiefs and the points.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Burying ‘Outside the Lines’ Shows Little Regard for Respected Brand

Continuing to use the ‘OTL’ brand is likely a nod to the great work of Bob Ley, Ryan Smith, and Jeremy Schaap.

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Image via ESPN

With the end of college football season and the Super Bowl marking the conclusion of the NFL season, ESPN has air time to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the next six months. In past years, that opened up a window for the network to bring back its prestige news magazine program, Outside the Lines.

However, late last week, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported that ESPN has decided not to bring back the standalone OTL show. The program most recently aired Saturday mornings during football’s offseason, typically from mid-February through August. That timeslot essentially buried a show that was once an important part of ESPN’s Sunday morning programming.

Outside the Lines provided substantive, in-depth sports features, interviews, and discussions on Sunday mornings, when viewers were conditioned to expect important dialogue and commentary with weekly public affairs programs and political talk shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation.

Originally anchored by Bob Ley, OTL was a departure from the highlights, analysis, and quips that made up most of the network’s programming. This was ESPN doing journalism with a capital “J,” reporting and investigating longer-form stories on pertinent issues in sports, usually off the field, and examining trends that developed through a news cycle.

Eventually, the number of stories the OTL staff worked on — and presumably, the appetite for such content from ESPN viewers — necessitated expanding the show to a daily schedule airing in mid-afternoons. After Ley retired in 2019, Ryan Smith and Jeremy Schaap hosted the show and continued its deeper look into topical sports stories.

Producing for a daily schedule probably spread the show too thin, however. Finding important stories that warranted the stronger coverage promised by the OTL brand became difficult, forcing the show to include panel discussions that resembled the sort of debate programming seen throughout the day on ESPN. As a result, OTL content was whittled down and integrated into the noon edition of SportsCenter each day.

OTL also suffered amid the inherent conflict at ESPN from having a news-gathering, journalistic operation while entering partnerships with the sports leagues it was covering. Hard-hitting reports on domestic violence issues in the NFL, particularly in light of the Ray Rice assault scandal, and player safety concerns with the rise in traumatic brain injuries gave the network’s producers and reporters credibility. But such stories also rankled league officials and team owners who sought more positive promotion for their sport.

ESPN would surely balk at the idea that it throttled back on in-depth reporting and scrutinization. But the network’s relationship with the NFL is obviously better than it once was, best demonstrated by getting better match-ups on the Monday Night Football schedule, Wild Card playoff games, and Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN/ABC in 2027 and 2031. Meanwhile, Outside the Lines has been effectively buried among ESPN programming.

Yet ratings ultimately decide what stays on a broadcast schedule and what doesn’t. And OTL hasn’t drawn a good number of viewers in quite some time. Some of that is likely influenced by an early Saturday morning timeslot that drew an average audience of 303,000. But SportsCenter AM attracts 572,000 viewers in the same timeslot, so it’s apparent that fans want quicker, breezier content as they begin the weekend.

Outside the Lines simply may not stand apart in the current sports media landscape, either. Longer-form storytelling and reporting are often found in documentaries now, and we’re living in the golden age of sports nonfiction films. That includes ESPN’s own documentary brands E:60, 30 For 30, and ESPN Films. (E:60, in particular, seems to have replaced news magazine programming or special reports, which were once reserved for monthly specials early in OTL‘s life, at ESPN.)

Shuttering the Saturday OTL fortunately won’t result in anyone losing a job. According to SBJ‘s Ourand, some staffers will be reassigned to other studio programs. And others will continue to work on OTL-branded content that runs on SportsCenter throughout the day, not just at noon, under the “OTL on SC” banner. Additionally, OTL content will run on ESPN’s digital platforms such as the network’s YouTube channel. So the show will go on… sort of.

ESPN obviously values the OTL brand and realizes that it carries respect among fans and media. (The show also penetrated pop culture enough to warrant a parody on Saturday Night Live.) Otherwise, the network might shelve the title entirely. Yet perhaps that’s really a nod to the work of Ley, an ESPN institution, and Schaap, one of the network’s best reporters (with ties to sports media royalty in Dick Schaap).

That may be Outside the Lines‘ true legacy. Ley created a brand (continued by Smith and Schaap) taken seriously enough that viewers knew it meant bolder sports journalism unafraid to explore stories and questions that warranted such attention. The OTL name carries enough weight that ESPN can’t bear to get rid of it entirely, even if it doesn’t hold the place at the network that it once did.

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BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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