Sports Media’s Present & Future Has The Attention of New York Broadcasters
Sports talk radio has considerably evolved since its inception as a bona fide programming format in the late-1980s. The unique, live, intimate connection the host is able to foster with their listening audience at a dedicated time during each broadcast had been something that no other distribution mediums could initially compete with.
As time progressed, though, the media industry caught up to the once-incipient format – and fast. Thus, the consumer gained, and still holds to this day, freedom over what program they wish to consume; when they want to consume it; and where they wish to do so. With television, radio, print, streaming, podcasting, social media and the plethora of blogs and websites available on the internet, the sports talk format, and all media in general, has had to evolve to meet the demand of the consumer, and stand out among the pack while doing so.
Deep in a potpourri of content within a disquieted marketplace, I asked several personalities across sports media to gather their thoughts on how they see the evolution in the business of sports commentary, and what concerns may lie ahead for the traditional, sports talk format.
Q1: What is the biggest misconception people have about sports radio?
Robin Lundberg (Senior Host, Sports Illustrated): “The biggest misconception people have is that it’s easy and lazy. I think there’s a lot more care and energy put into it than the average person would know. Doing a show of any length, particularly solo, is a challenge in and of itself, as is standing out now-a-days. There are so many different outlets through [which] people can hear things, and distinguishing yourself with a voice or characteristics is a challenge.”
Zach Gelb (Host, CBS Sports Radio): “I would say the biggest misconception is that it’s a dying medium. I just think there’s ways that people need to improve heading into the future, but doing radio locally and nationally, I still think it’s very successful, but there just has to be alterations that are made; you can’t really [hold] an antiquated belief and only do things on the radio. I think you need to have more of a digital presence. The best part about radio is the connection and how personable… it can be from the host to the listener, and also how immediate [it is]. If there is a news story… people [can] voice their opinions right away.”
Jon Rothstein (Host, College Hoops Today): “I think the one thing that a lot of people don’t understand about radio and podcasts is how intimate the connection can be between the host and the audience. It’s a much different medium than television and being a columnist or a reporter and connecting with someone via the written word. It’s just not how it was years ago when the majority of people listening to talk radio were in their cars commuting.”
John Jastremski (Host, The Ringer/SNY): “I think the biggest misconception about sports radio is that your caller [does not] add intellect to a show. I think there are a lot of people out there who honestly believe the callers add nothing. I think that’s so outrageous. Just like anything else… you have good callers and bad callers. By having the [live call] element in there, it shows off their creativity and their wealth of knowledge. No matter how a call may be going, it sets the stage and tone to what you, [as a host], are bringing to the table.”
Alan Hahn (Host, ESPN Radio/MSG Networks): “That it’s all hot takes. I don’t think it’s all that, at least it shouldn’t be. I still think it’s storytelling and interaction with callers.”
Q2: Where do you see sports radio’s biggest opportunity for future growth?
Lundberg: “The media industry right now is the wild west. Everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on, where it’s headed and how to monetize it. When I did an early morning show on ESPN, the one opportunity I saw at the time was to be the first podcast out. As a result, I was second in podcast downloads to the Michael Kay Show — because I was one of the first podcasts of the day. Then, I was told we had to focus on the ‘pizza’ before we made the ‘cannolis.’ I said that’s not a good analogy because [a podcast] is the same product [as a radio show except] with a different delivery method. I would say the biggest opportunity remains expanding [to] other mediums and flexing that presence in that way. In order for a radio show to truly succeed, you’re going to have the base, but if you want to get beyond that, the digital presence has to be there as well.”
Gelb: “I would say in the digital space. I think that there’s a lot of stations that obviously need to make those changes. You still use your content on the air, but once a segment airs or a show ends, there are other ways you can put your content out there, [such as in] certain digital content features that you can put out.”
Rothstein: “You have to always be ready to evolve. We live in a day and age that’s much different than it was many years ago. We’re in a time where people are clicking links off of Twitter if they want to consume written or editorial content; it was not like that 20 years ago. As far as sports radio and podcasts go, constantly being aware of the changing trends are what is going to lead to its long-term growth stability.”
Jastremski: “On-demand content. [The consumer] being able to listen when they want, [and] whenever they want, [along with] the ability of the host to be timely when things are happening. If there’s a trade, you don’t have to wait until your time slot [to talk about it]. It’s the idea of getting your voice out there immediately so that the audience hears from you. Some stories will warrant that more so than others, but I think that’s the biggest change now. When there’s something big going on in your market, you have to be able to react instantaneously.”
Hahn: “The on-demand world. I’ve been all over the place. A lot of people are just looking for your content, so I do think on-demand is going to matter the most. A schedule is still a schedule, but sports radio is also about personalities, and people will find those personalities. Sometimes a podcast isn’t the whole show; you just take bits and pieces. The consumption of a show on-demand needs to be more available in a car just as much as it’s available on a phone.”
Q3: How do you measure your effectiveness as talent and the aggregate success of your show?
Lundberg: “Sometimes it can feel like a popularity contest where you are constantly checking for downloads, views, clicks, listens, etc. I think, in radio in particular, one of the things that’s great about it is that it’s a very intimate medium, so you get that immediate feedback from the audience. The first thing you need is self-belief, and belief within your team that you’re putting out a good product. One person in charge might not like it, and the next person in charge might think it’s the coolest thing ever. The second thing comes from the audience response and the feedback you hear. The third is that you can’t ignore the raw numbers; you have to bring in either revenue or ratings, ideally both. If you’re getting big money, it doesn’t matter what the ratings are; If you’re getting high ratings, the money will eventually come.”
Gelb: “The POKE Scale. Passion; Opinion; Knowledge; Entertainment. For me, if you do a show that’s passionate, that gives opinions, that’s knowledgeable, and that’s entertainment, those are the best shows. Ratings determine that, and being able to make a lot of news. I think it’s establishing that connection with the listening audience and then also behind the scenes, developing good chemistry with co-workers and also just really giving 110% each and every day. There are ways to measure it in terms of ratings, and there’s also ways in terms of a healthy work environment.”
Rothstein: “Consistency, having a plan and sticking to it. The biggest thing I learned from my time at WFAN was the consistency Mark Chernoff had at the station. He wasn’t going to alter the lineup if a big event happened or if there was a big story. He had confidence in the product he was putting on the air and their shows. I think when it comes to my podcast, it’s a certain length each and every week. Over time, that consistency has led to great growth, and I’m proud to say that last year was our best year ever. I’m trying to keep building on that without sacrificing the model that works.”
Jastremski: “The idea of generating reaction. In the radio world, ratings tell the story. I can give you the cliché numbers that we want to have good podcast metrics and we want to have as many listeners as possible — that goes without saying. Getting the interaction; the feedback; the needle moving that way — that’s what I’m looking for more than anything. We recently hopped on a Spotify green room after a Mets game [where] we had 200 people in a room [within] five minutes of starting, and I [took] 15 calls. Generating that reaction within your base is how I’m judging whether or not we are doing what we need to do, whether it’s momentum or traffic. I understand that, from an old-school mentality, it’s all about ratings. Obviously, podcast numbers, downloads and subscribers are gigantic, but I don’t want an inactive listener base; I want an active listener base that’s dialed in, engaged and participating in what I’m looking to do.”
Hahn: “I used to measure it with ratings [when] I was local. That seemed to be the be-all, end-all [and] how you bragged about your success. Feedback has become the more important one. It’s not just feedback from listeners, but also the people at your business and, to be honest with you, I [had] never really considered it before. Being on a national platform, I think what athletes think of the show is [also] important because that also drives the idea [of if you] are talking about what matters. I feel like ratings are so antiquated of a system that there’s no way that’s the [sole] indicator.”
Q4: What do you consider to be sports radio’s biggest area of concern now and moving forward?
Lundberg: “Is hosting a sports radio show enough? As things do change with platforms, we’ve seen podcasts, Sirius XM and digital platforms emerge. The way people get their media has changed rapidly over the last few years. Luckily, sports radio’s steady base has been able to help it survive through it, but if you’re going to be a true crossover star right now, can you do that primarily through radio?”
Gelb: “I would say it would be improvements in the digital space. I think that’s something people really need to focus on. I think companies need to be careful in understanding that Twitter does not reflect [whether you’ve had] a successful show or not. Sure, if you have a host with a bunch of followers, or [put] out a viral video, great — but a lot of the comments on any social media are going to be negative. I think it’s important that radio stations do as much as they can digitally, but I would not let the comments make the program director’s decisions if a show is successful or not.”
Rothstein: “There are so many ways for people to get information. People are not really in the business anymore of consuming things for longer periods of time. People have interest in watching videos on their phone instead of listening to the radio or watching a long-term show. When people are driving, there are so many different options.”
Jastremski: “I think the biggest challenge for any of these sports radio or podcast markets is [determining] how you stand out. There’s so much out there; what makes you unique; what makes you special; what makes you different from a host standpoint, a brand standpoint, a market standpoint. That to me is what I’m kind of looking at down the road as to what might be an obstacle for sports radio; there’s so much out there now. When sports radio started in the late-80s and 90s, they were the only game in town. Now, that’s no longer the case. I think for each talent and or each platform, what makes you different, what makes you unique, what do you bring to the table that somebody else doesn’t. Not just from a program director’s standpoint, I think that has to be the focus for hosts. It’s not that you want to reinvent the wheel and be crazy different, but you want to stand out. If you stick to that, you can have a ton of success.”
Hahn: “Podcasts. Everyone has one now. There’s also a million sports talk radio stations and a lot of shows. Everyone is trying to become the ‘next something’ of this realm. It’s so easy to get lost in that sea; it’s very hard. The oversaturation of sports talk; anyone can do it because the technology is there. That’s a great thing, but the oversaturation just starts to become white noise. There isn’t a delineation of who are the professionals [that] are doing this for a living, who put the time in and who is just regurgitating what they saw on SportsCenter or FirstTake. The saturation of this type of media in the last five years has created a feeling of white noise among content.”
Q5: If there’s one thing upcoming hosts should be prioritizing in order to be successful in the future, what would that be and why?
Lundberg: “I think that comes with knowing what the audience wants. The one thing that doesn’t go away is the instinct of what people care about. The Jordan vs. LeBron debate is the bread-and-butter of what sports talk is: two people arguing about it on barstools. Stories aren’t going anywhere; sports aren’t going anywhere. Knowing how to read what the audience wants and then spin it in a way that is unique to your program is most important.”
Gelb: “You have to have the work ethic. You have to have the reps. And you have to find a way to develop a connection with the audience that makes you stand out differently from the others. Everyone can give an opinion about sports, but can you give an opinion, and can people believe that opinion is authentic, and does it make the person want to come back and stay throughout the show?”
Rothstein: “Authenticity. You hear so much that people want to be the next this person or that person. You have to be the first and version of yourself because there’s only one of us.”
Jastremski: “Watch the damn games — simple as that. I think there’s way too many folks out there who don’t know what they’re talking about. I think it comes across, and it’s easy to point out if you’re a listener. You don’t need to be drooling over the box score of every game that’s played, but in order to formulate the best possible opinions that you can, you have to be dialed in and you have to have a sense of what’s going on around the teams that you covered. That might sound like a real simple answer but in order to have those opinions, you have to watch the games.”
Hahn: “Compelling conversation. You’ve got to be able to not just have a guest, but make it a listenable conversation. I think the most successful people in this business are great at that. Everyone just wants to be the first one to say something or have a crazy reaction to something. To get an athlete or a former player to relax to a point where they can tell you something that can take you into the world that regular people are not privy to makes it a compelling listen. Relaxing the guest and making them feel like they are in a room hanging out is a great conversation. If the guest is boring, it’s your fault [as the host] that they are boring.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Disney Has One Logical Choice For The Future – Jimmy Pitaro
“If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.”
Bob Iger’s latest tenure atop the Walt Disney Company fascinates me. The company begged him to come back to clean up the mess made by his handpicked successor, but it was made clear from the get-go that he has a very limited window to get this right and then go home. That is why, less than six months after Iger returned to Burbank, we are already hearing about who will be the next CEO of Disney.
There is reportedly a shortlist of candidates for the job and it is sports-heavy. Two of the four spots are occupied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. I see the value both men could bring to the job, but I think there is a clear frontrunner and obvious choice.
Jimmy Pitaro is already inside the Disney walls. He has already learned to operate within the Disney hierarchy. He has had to answer investors’ tough questions about budget and direction. If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.
Adam Silver’s tenure as NBA Commissioner is the target of all sorts of criticism, mostly from people that don’t watch the NBA anyway. For all of the pissing and moaning about load management and player empowerment, people are still watching and the league is still as profitable as ever. By the metrics that matter to the people that matter (team owners), he is doing an excellent job.
On a recent episode of Meadowlark Media’s Sports Business, John Skipper made it clear that he loves Silver and thinks he would make an excellent CEO for the Walt Disney Company, but that is a totally different world from the one Silver is currently thriving in.
“My advice would be to stay at the NBA,” the Meadowlark Media boss said. “It’s not a public company. You don’t have to face shareholders. You do have to face 30 NBA owners, but you don’t have activist shareholders. And I think Adam is a committed NBA commissioner. He’s been for a long time.”
The public posturing of Ron DeSantis will always get attention, but it doesn’t always have to be taken seriously. The moment he threatened to dissolve the special district in Central Florida that Walt Disney World operates out of, legal scholars were quick to point out that the proposal would create a major burden on the state and its citizens that no politician wants to be responsible for.
DeSantis wanted his culture war. Disney wanted the problem to go away. The two sides quietly found a compromise that made it look like the governor didn’t lose while Disney got to go on basically with business as usual. That is the kind of corporate policy war whoever takes over for Bob Iger will have to be ready to wage.
Disney needs a salvager in that chair, someone who knows how to diagnose the problems of business relationships and find fixes that hurt each side just enough that both can say the other really took it on the chin. Pitaro is that guy.
Look at ESPN’s relationship with the NFL when he arrived versus where it is now. The company needs someone that makes stars and creators feel like this company is one that it can trust and one that they want to be in business with. Look at what Pitaro has done to bring the Manning Brothers, Pat McAfee, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman under the Disney umbrella while simultaneously finding ways to keep stars like Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones happy with non-exclusive deals that allow them to grow their profile with new opportunities outside of the company walls.
Most importantly, no segment of the Walt Disney Company and arguably, no network on basic cable, has had to answer as many questions about the future of distribution as often as ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro has been asked about a future where entertainment is driven solely by the needs of the audience so many times that he has undoubtedly thought about the ups and downs of the streaming landscape more than just about anyone else on Earth.
Bob Iger will be atop Disney through the end of the year and into 2024. This isn’t a decision that is being made tomorrow. Even when it is made, Iger doesn’t just get to write a name down on a piece of paper, slam down an “APPROVED” stamp and go home.
Everyone on that reported shortlist will be vetted by Iger, his confidants, members of the Disney board, and shareholders. Some may wince at the fact they have no idea how Jimmy Pitaro envisions running theme parks and a cruise line, but the reality is that no one checks all the boxes for any job as big as this one until they have been in it for a while.
When you know the perfect fit for a job doesn’t exist, you go looking for the person that is the best fit. I think Bob Iger and Disney have already found him in Bristol, CT.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Michael Kay Couldn’t Leave 98.7 ESPN New York Just Yet
“I wouldn’t want to leave it the way it is right now.”
When a New York Post report back in January suggested that Michael Kay was “seriously contemplating retiring from his 98.7 ESPN New York show”, maybe he was in a dark room in his home thinking about his future.
In his mind, his days of hosting sports talk shows were pretty much over.
“When that story came out, I thought I was definitely not going to come back,” said Kay during a phone interview with Barrett Sports Media. “I almost appreciated it a little bit when Aaron Rodgers said when he went on the dark retreat that he was 90% retired. Well, I’d say I was even more than that. I was probably 95% certain that I was going to walk away in September when my contract was up.”
But between then and now, Kay had a chance of heart and he announced this past Thursday on his show that he had signed a new contract with 98.7 ESPN New York and that his show would continue for “a good long while”.
The decision to stay was not an easy one and, as it turned out, it was his family that played a big role in staying at 98.7 ESPN New York.
“It was really difficult,” said Kay who is also the television play-play-play voice of the New York Yankees on YES Network.
“The most difficult part of it is that my kids are 8 and 10 so you want to see important things in their life. Even during the winter when I’m off from the Yankees, I’m out of connection from 3:00 to 7:00, so I had to reconcile with that. I talked with my wife and I actually talked with my kids about it, too, and they like me doing it so I decided to keep doing it.”
After initially feeling like it was time to step away after hosting The Michael Kay Show for 21 years, Kay began to reconsider but he also knew that he had to decide with his current contract expiring this September. The sales staff at the radio station needed to know because they had to inform potential advertisers who was going to host the show. Kay also owed it to his co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg to let them know what his plans were.
Everyone at 98.7 ESPN New York needed a decision.
“The radio station has to make contingency plans,” said Kay. “What’s going to happen if I, in fact, do leave? All of those people are impacted.”
Speaking of La Greca and Rosenberg, Kay’s sidekicks played a huge part in his decision to continue doing the show. There’s a tremendous amount of chemistry on the program and Kay wasn’t about to walk away from his radio family.
“Don and I have been together 21 years,” said Kay. “That’s a longer relationship than my wife and I have. We’re really special friends. Peter is for about 8 years and I feel the same way about him.”
Kay also acknowledged the people behind the scenes like Program Director Ryan Hurley, as well as executives from both ESPN and Good Karma Brands.
“They certainly tried to appeal to me to stay and after a while, it got to me,” said Kay. “I said you know what I’m not done yet so I decided to re-up. The pull to stay was stronger than the pull to just kick back and relax.”
These are certainly interesting times to talk about sports in New York.
Baseball season is about to get underway and both the Yankees and Mets are expected to be playoff contenders.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be on his way to the Jets while the Giants are coming off of a trip to the playoffs last season.
The Knicks and Nets are heading toward the NBA Playoffs while the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders could all be going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But all of the local teams’ success wasn’t a factor in Kay deciding to continue talking sports.
“To be honest, it didn’t play any role because sometimes when teams are bad it makes for better talk radio,” said Kay. “The fact that they’re good and they could be playing in postseason, all of them, is intriguing but that didn’t play a role.”
And now that Kay has signed his new contract, he can continue his quest to regain the top spot in the afternoon drive war with WFAN. The show has been losing the ratings battle with Carton & Roberts and it would have been difficult to retire with his show in second place.
It’s not the reason why Kay decided to sign a new deal, but he does now have some more time to become number one again.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t want to leave it the way it is right now,” said Kay. “We had beaten everybody that they put in front of us. We beat Mike (Francesa), and we beat Joe and Evan. People conveniently forget that we also beat Carton & Roberts. Carlin, Maggie, and Bart…we beat them all. Our ratings, for some reason, have not been comparable to what they were before the pandemic hit.”
The ratings aside, Kay is happy with the content he, La Greca, and Rosenberg provide their listeners daily. While they have some catching up to do in the battle with WFAN, Kay is pleased with the product and that his show is good clean sports talk.
In Kay’s mind, business is business but he has his way of doing a show.
“Ratings tell you one thing and that’s how we keep score, but if you listen to what comes out of the speakers, in my opinion, our show is the best sports show in all the country. We not only talk about sports but we treat people with respect. We don’t have to go low-brow. Ratings didn’t have anything to do with (his decision) but it does give you a little more runway now to make up some ground. We have already proven that we can beat them.”
Michael Kay has been a part of 98.7 ESPN New York going back to the launch of the radio station in September of 2001. Just like Aaron Rodgers, he was pretty close to calling it a career…but Kay didn’t want his radio career to fade to black just yet.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Xperi & Joe D’Angelo Are Ready For Radio’s Future
“I want this audience to see how they can leverage the technology that is nine times out of ten already going to be at their radio station.”
In October 2022, Xperi Senior Vice President of Global Radio and Digital Audio Joe D’Angelo hosted the single most impressive radio presentation I’ve ever seen at the NAB Show in New York.
I wrote about my takeaways from the presentation after returning from New York, which essentially boiled down to: Xperi is looking out for the future of radio like no one else is. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. The company is making sure FM radio is in the best place to succeed as the audio space continues to evolve and see more and more emphasis placed on on-demand digital offerings.
D’Angelo will continue the conversation in a panel at the 2023 BSM Summit titled “How Radio Can Compete and Win in the Connected Car” on Tuesday, which will focus on the company’s DTS AutoStage platform. The offering from Xperi will revolutionize broadcast radio as automobiles become more and more technologically advanced.
“So many other platforms are much more crowded — mobile phones, smart TVs, smart speakers — there’s very low barriers of entry to building a brand, and getting content on those platforms,” D’Angelo said. “But broadcast radio has the unique advantage in the car and it’s incumbent on the publishers — the producers of content — to look for every opportunity to sustain and exploit that branding and that relationship with the car driver.
“We also allow and deliver internet-only radio — so streaming services for broadcasters — as well as catch-up content. So if you wanna make yesterday’s morning show available today, we create all the linkages there, as well as podcasts. If you’re creating podcasts, we create those linkages that aid in the discovery of that content and serve it up on your behalf on the dash of the car.”
DTS AutoStage will allow drivers to continue listening to radio stations even after leaving the broadcast range of a station, utilizing the station’s stream to continue a seamless audio delivery. Additionally, it will provide real-time analytics weekly to stations about the time spent listening, and a “heat map” of where your listeners live, work, and travel.
D’Angelo noted that the sports radio space is ripe with opportunity to promote and utilize the technology Xperi has worked on, adding that music has been co-opted by brands like Apple and Amazon to sell you more products, while sports radio is simply looking to share opinions and content with passionate audiences.
“The real opportunities now are accruing to the talk formats and sports is such a ripe opportunity with a passionate audience, and I’ll tell you from personal experience, finding sports programming on a platform like TuneIn is nearly impossible,” D’Angelo continued. “If you’ve ever used it and tried to search for a live event, you’re going to get a catalog of a hundred different things that might related to the team but have nothing to do with the live event.
“I’m coming here because we’re at a unique opportunity where I want to explain to this audience how what they do can benefit from the technology we’ve deployed…clearly, sports programming — live sports, sports talk, sports betting, local sports — is a really unique category for local radio and I want this audience to see how they can leverage the technology that is nine times out of ten already going to be at their radio station.”
At the BSM Summit, D’Angelo will showcase the real-time analytics available to stations who opt to share data with the platform, and will give attendees a look at a sample of what information is supplied to stations and companies by using data gathered by listeners of Washington D.C.’s 106.7 The Fan. BSM Summit attendees will get a first look at the information, before it’s released worldwide at Radiodays Europe on March 28th.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at email@example.com.