The most iconic network on sports radio just turned 30 years old. It was January 1, 1992 when ESPN Radio first debuted. Since then, the network has been the home of legendary voices and games that live in the annals of history.
ESPN television was already an institution and destination for sports fans in the early 90s when the worldwide leader decided to enter the world of sports radio. The move made logical sense as it provided the company with an opportunity to expand its reach and presence. WFAN in New York had proven that the format could find an audience and stations were starting to pop up everywhere across the country. Even brands that didn’t have a need for 24 hours of sports talk were interested. After all, many news/talk stations aired sports radio programming at night and on weekends back then.
When the network launched, ESPN offered weekend shows and boasted 147 affiliates. Since then, the network has grown into a 24/7/365 operation with over 400 local stations partnering full time with the country’s largest sports brand, and many others picking it evenings, weekends and other select shows.
“That’s a credit to the power of the brand,” says Traug Keller, the former Vice President of ESPN Audio. “The biggest challenge local radio has is ad sales revenue right? It’s how they eat. And if you’re a salesperson in Quad Cities, Iowa or New Orleans or whatever market, it doesn’t matter. You’re coming into a business to sell radio ad time, which is invisible to begin with. You’ve got to get people over the visual part of the value. But as soon as you say those four letters, ‘I represent ESPN radio,’ it takes half the battle off the table.”
Norby Williamson, ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Production, has been with the radio network since the beginning. He said its launch was very different from how ESPN rolled out another one of its iconic brands a little over a decade before.
“We grew SportsCenter and there was always a demarcation point,” he told me. “Whether it was Berman or Dan and Keith or Robin Roberts, the product was always there and it was about the content. The brand SportsCenter kind of became front and center.
“I think with radio it was first and foremost, certainly about sports, but when you think of the great radio voices of the past, there was this sense of credibility and connectivity between the talent and the audience, which then gave the talent the opportunity to go in different directions about different topics.”
The lineup has gone through its share of changes over the years. For many, there was a distinct “golden era” of the network’s prime lineup. It was the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. The mornings featured Mike & Mike followed by The Herd with Colin Cowherd, who joined the network in 2004. Cowherd was then followed by one of ESPN’s biggest names on any platform, Dan Patrick.
Patrick’s star was well-established. The next step for the network was establishing its morning show as a force in the national syndication space.
“The truth is that was just the timing of the situation, it wasn’t necessarily a strategic decision,” Bruce Gilbert told me. He served as the network’s GM until 2007. “Dan Patrick was hugely successful, and really didn’t need any more focus. Meanwhile the network was uncertain about whether Mike & Mike would work together or if they would be better off on separate shows.”
Clearly, Greenberg and Golic belonged together. Gilbert credits not just the hosts, but the entire behind the scenes crew with building what he calls “the show of record for sports fans centered on the newsmakers.”
Calling it “the show of record” implies that Mike & Mike was a stuffy affair, the kind of thing that you respect and learn from more than you actually enjoy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mike & Mike were funny. They had great on-air chemistry. They took the games and the outcomes seriously without losing sight of the fact that their audience, for the most part, will never be invested like the people they interviewed each morning.
“My thought process in the morning because people are driving to work, was maybe I can take you where you can’t go,” Golic told BSM’s Brian Noe last year. “I can take you into a pro athletes’ head, I can take you into their locker room. I can take you onto the field of any sport because as pro athletes you have that mentality, and can I make you laugh a little bit? If I can make you smile and chuckle a little bit on your way to work, I feel like I did my job. So to me the best part of radio is when you went off course and that turned out to be the most fun.”
That is a very particular needle to thread, but the duo and their crew did it. That is why the show became more than just a sports show. It became a huge part of the national sports conversation.
What was the exact moment that happened? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Maybe it started with the show going to television as well as radio. That wasn’t a landmark moment though in Williamson’s eyes. He told me putting Mike & Mike on TV was almost a necessity for ESPN to meet the needs of its audience.
“You’ve got to realize that not that long ago SportsCenter wasn’t even alive in the morning. You know, at one point I said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re doing the show at 1am on the West Coast that re-airs until one o’clock in the afternoon? We’re giving away the entire morning!’”.
For others, it was specific events that proved Mike & Mike was something more than just a sports radio show.
“When we were first invited on Letterman,” Greenberg insisted when I asked about it. “He was someone both Mike and I admired a great deal. That first appearance was among the most exciting nights of my life.”
That appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman happened in October of 2006.
For Williamson, it wasn’t so much about the invitations. He liked the physical proof that Mike & Mike had become a big deal.
“I remember going to a remote, I think in Philadelphia. I can’t remember exactly where. At four o’clock in the morning, people were lined up around the block to get in to see the show. And that’s kind of when it registered for me that these guys had broken through. They’re resonating, and we’ve got something special.”
ESPN Radio wasn’t just a collection of strong talent behind the microphones at that time. Plenty of people in behind the scenes roles went on to successful programming careers in markets of all sizes.
Bruce Gilbert isn’t surprised when he looks back at the members of his former staff that went on to spread their wings and leave their stamp on the sports radio industry. He says that the network was in something of a luxury position: every sports fan wanted to be there, and that meant the talent was stacked from floor to ceiling.
You couldn’t even get in the door without a degree and high scores on one of the hardest sports trivia exams ever developed. This created a competitive environment and a workforce of people that were hungry, passionate and driven to succeed and grow. The other great thing about ESPN were the different paths it offered to professionals. The company was always evaluating talent and working to help them find the right growth trajectory. At ESPN you could grow in audio, move into television, the magazine or digital/web. The opportunities were endless and equally rewarding.”
One of the people that passed that test and earned an opportunity is Freddie Coleman. The longtime host joined the network as part of Game Night in 2005. Coleman is still heard nightly on Freddie and Fitzsimmons.
The network doesn’t currently have a lot of people with Coleman’s kind of hosting tenure. Greenberg would be the other. ESPN Radio went through two major lineup overhauls as recently as last year. That position, a sort of “dean of hosts,” is one Coleman takes a lot of pride in.
“I know how blessed I am to have been a part of the Worldwide Leader for 17 plus years. It’s hard to be ANYWHERE now for 17 minutes. With that pride comes accountability and I never take that for granted,” he told me.”
Some of the most successful talent in the radio industry have come and gone over the years. Each has left his or her mark on a network which has been a key part of millions of listener’s lives. Though change is a part of every business, there’s no doubt that some departures have created larger voids than others.
Tony Kornheiser’s exit from the network’s weekday lineup in March of 2004 fits in that conversation. Replacing a host with his stature was not easy. In fact, Bruce Gilbert says he recoiled a bit at the idea of having to find “the next Tony Kornheiser.”
“My boss and I really wanted a TRUE radio person,” shared Gilbert. “Most of the people on the radio network at that time had come up through SportsCenter or ESPNews. We made a pact to find someone that really understood the intricacies and subtleties of audio and how to connect emotionally and passionately with the ESPN radio audience.”
Remember, this was before radio stations across the country were focused on streaming. Gilbert’s search wasn’t easy. He was calling affiliates and asking how he could listen to their best talents over the phone.
There was one name that Gilbert heard from two trusted advisors. Scott Mastellar and Rick Scott told him to check out this guy in the Pacific Northwest named Colin Cowherd.
“I was a local radio guy, and Tony Kornheiser was amazing,” Cowherd said, reminiscing about the process during a show in 2015. “He’s a brilliant man, brilliant writer, media icon, and he was leaving. And they could have picked a million guys out of New York, or L.A. Chicago, Dallas, many applied, it was a good job.”
“After hearing his show we flew him to Bristol and when Colin came into my office, he never even gave me a chance to ask a question, he basically started doing a show,” Remembers Gilbert of his first meeting with Colin Cowherd. “For 45 minutes straight he entertained the hell out of me and I don’t believe he ever took a breath. I remember telling my bosses he was the guy and they couldn’t understand how I was so sure and I said I just wish you could have been in my office the day he was here and you wouldn’t even ask me that question. There was one executive who said to me, and I quote, ‘What the hell is a Colin Cowherd, and is that even a real name?’”.
Plenty of sports radio fans across the country are happy Gilbert got his way on that one.
A few years later, the network had to replace another icon. Traug Keller remembers Dan Patrick’s decision to leave ESPN as “bittersweet.” He jokes that it worked out just fine for the recently inducted Radio Hall of Famer and ESPN Radio “kept on trucking”.
“We had this collection of 300-plus affiliates that were trusting us. As big of a name as Dan was and him going probably made some of them nervous, they were confident we would figure it out.”
The initial plan was Mike Tirico. Keller says that just as that show was finding its rhythm, the host was tapped for another assignment by the network. He describes the call for Tirico to take over as the voice of Monday Night Football coming just as “you could see the ratings start to pop.”
From there, Scott Van Pelt was given a shot. He and Ryen Russillo established a strong presence in the noon to 3 pm time slot. Van Pelt was well-known thanks to SportsCenter. Russillo wasn’t a national name quite yet, but had established some credibility for himself in Boston, working on 1510 The Zone and WBCN.
The move to ESPN Radio wasn’t exactly easy for Rusillo. Last year, he told Bryan Curtis, his colleague at The Ringer, that his prep process and scope had to change in order to be successful on the national level.
“I always had to know a little about a lot of things, where in local I had to know everything, but only about one thing,” he said in October on The Press Box podcast. “The math is easier on the local side of things.”
Cowherd would leave the network in 2015, but not before calling his time there “the best ten years of my life.” In 2017, it was Greenberg who said goodbye to radio.
That gave ESPN Radio the chance to give its morning show the first overhaul it would receive in nearly two decades. Mike Golic was given two new co-hosts, NFL Live’s Trey Wingo and his son, Mike Golic Jr, who had been working overnights on the network.
The younger Golic told me that he knew from growing up around broadcasting that it was the career he wanted. That didn’t mean he was ready for the spotlight on day 1.
“That’s kind of like being in shape vs being in football shape,” he told me via email. “Growing up around it certainly made me familiar with the names and the environment, but I was still so green when it came to doing the actual job. Everyone gives you the same advice coming in: reps reps reps. And they’re all right. It worked a lot like my football career though, where Dad was able to help me by being an extra set of eyes and ears. I got to watch my high school football tape with a guy who played 9 years in the NFL, and now I was getting feedback from a hall of fame radio host.”
Golic and Wingo lasted for four years on the network. Then it was Mike Golic Sr.’s turn to say goodbye.
His final show has become one of the truly iconic moments in ESPN Radio history. Originating from his home, with his entire family around him, Golic shared stories and insight about how the job had changed his life.
It was Golic Jr. that stole the spotlight though. His farewell to his father was raw. Everyone on the set, and presumably most people on the other side of the screen or speaker, were in tears
“To get to do this with you for the last three years will be the highlight of my professional life and my personal life,” Junior said. “To get to do the thing you always wanted to do with the person you always wanted to be is just surreal.”
I asked Junior about that moment and if he recognized immediately the weight that it had.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I think as long as I live and am with ESPN that and dipping Oreos in mayonnaise will be my legacy.”
Mike Golic Sr. looks back on his ESPN Radio years mostly with fondness. He did tell Brian Noe that there is one thing he would never miss though.
“Getting up sucked, but once you start going and getting to the studio and everybody is there, I loved it. There wasn’t much I haven’t missed outside of that 4:15 alarm, which I swore at every single morning. Every time 4:15 hit, I had a bad word come out of my mouth.”
Changes don’t happen without grumbling at ESPN Radio. Norby Williamson says he is used to that. “Radio and audio is a very personal connectivity,” he says. Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to change people’s minds. The public will just have to wait and form their own opinions.
Affiliates though are a different story. Williamson says that they tend to offer the people making the decisions a certain level of trust. That is what comes with long relationships and a history of performance.
“I think the ESPN brand stands for something, you know? For a lot of years we’ve worked hard to create this brand affinity with our customers to serve sports fans and to gain some credibility with them,” he says. “So I think when you put the ESPN logo on certain things, whether it’s audio, ESPN Plus, etc., there is a very particular expectation by the customer. There’s also a sense of ‘Alright, I trust this group. So maybe I may not like it initially and boy, I really like that old show better, but I understand I’m going to give it a chance and hope.’ We do a great job. I think a lot of our partners approach any new product we offer thinking ‘I’m going to learn it, accept it, and possibly like it maybe more than the old offering.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we aren’t looking to super serve our partners,” says Justin Craig, ESPN’s Senior Director of Network Audio Content. “From paying attention to storylines in key markets to doing our best to have a two way conversation to understand what matters to them, it’s a non-stop focus. We try to be as representative of the largest set of the audience as possible.”
Keeping affiliates happy means giving them help when they want it and giving them an audience when they want that instead.
The network has held regular calls with its affiliates over the years to discuss key issues and ideas that could benefit both sides. Local program directors and executives often join network managers on those calls, which keeps the relationship between both parties in a healthy state. The network has also welcomed representatives from local stations to Bristol to explore ways to work better together, providing tours of ESPN’s studios and making introductions to ESPN Radio talent during those visits to further remind partners of their appreciation for the partnership.
“We work very hard at making sure our talent is accessible to supplement what’s being done with our partners, whether it’s regular appearances, liners or anything else that might be of interest,” Craig adds. “We also operate the other way. If there is a story that matters in one of our markets, we aim to have a host or talent from that market on the network to enhance our coverage. We also continue to provide production elements to everyone through a web based system, so what you hear on the network is easier to duplicate locally. The most important thing is the open flow of communication.”
The older Golic’s exit was the first step towards ESPN Radio’s current lineup, one that features a plethora of voices that weren’t on the radio in Bristol just a few years ago. Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams are not new faces by any stretch. ESPN had already created major profiles for each in the past to go along with what they had established in their playing days.
Tapping them for morning drive radio on a national network though? That was going to be a new venue for both of them.
In August of 2020, I had the chance to speak with Williams and he told me that a big part of the reason he felt up to the challenge was that he had the chance to watch, learn from, and get to know Mike Golic.
“I’ve been with ESPN for a long time. Mike Golic was the first person I saw on there for an extended period of time doing that show. I remember sitting there thinking to myself ‘Wow, that is really cool. Mike Golic Sr. is Mike Golic Sr.’ He’s very comfortable with who he is and he is very comfortable being that person on camera.
“It was the first time in my career that I ever thought ‘I’ve gotta figure out who I am, so I can be who I want to be on air.’ I never thought about who I was. I was too busy running. I was too busy giving my opinions about other things to ever have an opinion about myself.”
Johnson told BSM in 2020 that he was ready for the challenge of establishing a new identity for the network in morning drive, because he was not worried about the old identity. The audience was going to have preconceived notions and set feelings no matter what he said on the first show, so he was just going to focus on Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin instead of worrying about how he compared to Mike Golic.
“There’s nobody else out there that’s me, there’s nobody that’s any of my co-hosts. Everybody has their own opinion on how to do something, how to host a show. You’ll hear people say, ‘they’re not that good,’ and you’ll also hear people say ‘they’re really good.’ Everyone has a different opinion, so I don’t get caught up in the hype.”
When the radio lineup received its first post-Golic overhaul, Zubin Mehenti was part of morning drive. Eventually, health concerns forced him to step away from the grind of morning radio. Max Kellerman, who had been added to the radio lineup in early afternoons would move into Mehenti’s seat in mornings.
Good things that go away have a way of not staying gone forever in the media business. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise that another part of ESPN Radio’s new identity was Mike Greenberg.
He was no longer in morning drive and he wasn’t grinding away for four hours everyday anymore, but Greeny was back on the radio three years after leaving to launch Get Up on television.
His new show #Greeny is heard for two hours every weekday. Now it is on from 10 am until noon, but it started out from noon until 2 pm.
Greenberg told me that he didn’t sit around pining for the chance to be back on the radio during the time he was solely focused on TV, but it is a medium he loves. So when the opportunity to sit behind a microphone again presented itself, he was interested.
“I didn’t actively think about it much because my time was fully consumed with launching Get Up, but I always knew I’d eventually go back in some form,” he said. “There is an intimacy in the relationship you develop with your audience in radio that is unlike anything I’ve found in any other medium.”
Say the words “ESPN Radio” too many times or to the wrong person these days and you are bound to be corrected. It’s ESPN Audio now. The network is creating shows and content with different identities across different platforms.
“Nobody makes decisions in a vacuum,” says David Roberts, ESPN’s Senior Vice President for NBA and Studio Production. “It’s a matter of understanding the markets, analyzing the research, reviewing the ratings, and placing a focus on the importance of cross platform content creators. The days of being just a radio focused brand are long gone. You have to be focused on audio, video, digital. Those are the parameters you have to operate in.”
Roberts played a major role in the overhaul of ESPN Radio’s talent lineup and overall philosophy. Two years ago, he spoke with Jason Barrett and explained that he has faith that diverse voices and diverse technology would be a key to ESPN’s long term success in the audio space.
“I have the utmost respect for our competition. There are some very talented personalities and brands out there. But I’m not focused on what they’re doing. I’m looking at how we can improve ESPN Radio. A key part of our strategy is making sure our platforms are connecting with one another. It’s why you see many of the people on our product today. That underscores the commitment we have to maximizing the strength of the ESPN brand to the depth of talent. That’s integral to our strategy and growth. Any decisions we make are going to be made with that being a key focus.”
Like every other radio venture, ESPN functioned for so long following the rules of what entertainment on the platform was supposed to be. Norby Williamson says that isn’t good enough in 2022. Audiences want options when it comes to entertainment. If you want to stay on their radar, you have to play by the new rules.
“Ultimately the consumer wins,” he says. “I think sometimes, whatever product that you’re making, whether it’s in the media or other things, sometimes we think we know more than we actually know. The consumer will always win.”
Every ESPN Radio show is also a podcast. It has a video feed on ESPN+. Keyshawn, JWill and Max, is on ESPN2 in the morning. On top of that, clips from everyone’s content make their way to ESPN’s and ESPN Radio’s various social media channels.
A multi-platform approach is nothing new really. Remember, going back to the days of Mike & Mike, ESPN Radio was sharing shows with television. Traug Keller says he feels lucky to have been in the business during a time when the options for audio entertainment were blowing up.
When ESPN Radio launched in 1992, there were no podcasts. There was no satellite radio. There was no streaming audio or smart speakers.
It wasn’t just executives. Talent had to earn to work and succeed in the new media environment too. Not every old school radio guy is cut out to start playing “anywhere there’s ears” as Keller puts it. That is why he gives credit to Dan Le Batard.
“Dan was incredibly creative with how he did both the radio show and a TV show. The show works so well as a podcast too without even without a lot of tinkering, just kind of the way Le Batard and his crew down there in South Beach presented it. So, you know, a lot of ESPN’s strategies depended on the different personalities and different shows. But as a general theme we wanted to be what we called ‘Uber Audio,’ right? We just wanted to be everywhere that there was the opportunity for more listening.”
The other piece of the puzzle that makes ESPN Radio what it is are play-by-play rights. Sure, the four letters are valuable to sellers in local markets, but what makes those letters valuable? It is that ESPN is synonymous with the biggest events in sports.
A local ESPN Radio affiliate instantly gets play-by-play rights to Major League Baseball’s Sunday night showcase game and its entire postseason, the biggest college football games each week including the College Football Playoff, and the NBA Finals.
To look at that collection today, one would be forgiven for thinking that ESPN Radio put a premium on accumulating those rights from day one. Bruce Gilbert says that isn’t true and he credits one man for helping change that.
“ESPN Radio was actually behind the curve when it came to the number of live events. We had John Martin – “The Chief” – who was an experienced and extremely talented producer of live audio play-by-play and John was always looking to do more and add more to the ESPN Radio offerings.”
Even if others in Bristol didn’t think it was imperative that the radio network carry actual games, Gilbert says “Chief” kept it at the front of everyone’s mind. This was sports radio after all! Games have been airing on the radio long before they were on TV and even longer before the word “talk” became synonymous with “sports radio.”
Besides, this is ESPN! It’s the biggest name in sports. How could the radio network live up to that standard without the biggest games?
“John understood the drama of live events and the storytelling that brought those events to an even higher level,” Gilbert said. “Like many successful business ventures, the addition of play-by-play was a natural and organic process that elevated ESPN Radio.”
Thirty years is a long time. Plenty of radio networks have come and gone since January 1, 1992 when Tony Bruno, Keith Olbermann, Chuck Wilson appeared on the network’s airwaves, soon to be followed by a trailblazing female host, ‘The Fabulous Sports Babe’ Nanci Donnellan. Plenty of media formats have come and gone too. Remember mini discs?
ESPN’s audio offerings keep expanding and adapting. The executives get the importance of that. David Roberts says the key to continued success is finding and investing in talent that gets that too.
When ESPN Radio launched in 1992, it found success by leveraging the ESPN brand in a new space. Success in 2022 in beyond is about getting both listeners and affiliates to view audio offerings as part of the entire ESPN portfolio.
“If you think otherwise you’re not being realistic,” Roberts told Barrett. “Today, you have to connect in multiple ways. That’s how you build a bigger brand.”
Success in the future will certainly depend on understanding new trends and appealing to the modern listener. But the foundation for success was laid long ago.
“I think there are a few reasons for the sustainability,” says Amanda Gifford, the Senior Coordinating Producer/VP, ESPN Audio and Content Strategy. “One – the ESPN Brand. Nothing says sports like “ESPN,” so when people tune in to ESPN Radio, they know they’ll get high-quality sports talk to keep them informed and entertained about everything going on in the sports landscape. Two – the people. We’ve had such talented people both in front of and behind the microphone over the past 30 years, and because of the aptitude of hundreds of folks who have made an impact on ESPN Radio, we’ve been able to uphold the standards of the World Wide Leader.”
ESPN is the biggest name in sports media. The company has access to some of the biggest events and most unique voices. As long as that is true, no one will worry about whether or not the radio network can survive another 30 years. It absolutely will. The questions are more along the lines of what will it sound like and how will we hear it.
After thirty years of success, it is probably fair to trust that ESPN will figure all of it out.
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.
Programmers Offer Ideas To Refresh The ManningCast in Year 3
Matt Edgar, Matt Fishman, Parker Hills, Q Meyers, Jimmy Powers and Kraig Riley share their thoughts.
Monday night brought the second season of The ManningCast to a close. ESPN’s alternate broadcast of Monday Night Football featuring Peyton and Eli Manning remains a trail blazer. Plenty of other networks and other sports have tried to copy the formula. It just never seems to work as well. There is something about these guys, their chemistry, and their view of football that just works.
Still, the ManningCast missed that feeling of freshness this year. It’s nobody’s fault. We had expectations. That is very different from 2021, when this was a wild, new concept.
The circumstances at ESPN have changed too. In 2021, the network was looking for a crew that could capture the big game feel of the Monday night slot, because it didn’t have it on the main broadcast. Now, it has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, arguably the two voices most identified with big NFL games. That means the Mannings have to do more than just provide a star-powered alternative to the main broadcast.
Going into 2023, the ManningCast will be facing a problem that is pretty common in radio. How do you improve something that works? Reinvention isn’t necessary for the broadcast, but a recalibration would certainly raise the ceiling.
“Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN,” I wrote in 2021. “They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations.”
With that kind of commitment from the network in mind, I asked six radio program directors to answer two questions.
1. Going into year 3, how has your view of the ManningCast changed since its debut?
Matt Edgar (680 The Fan in Atlanta) – I view the ManningCast as the standard of all alternate game broadcasts, nothing really comes close.
Matt Fishman (850 ESPN in Cleveland) – The real challenge is how to be more interesting and entertaining each week. The first year was a great novelty. A real breath of fresh air, especially with some underwhelming games.
Now that ESPN MNF’s main broadcast is the powerhouse of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, you need to be bigger and more unique to get people to check it out.
Parker Hillis (Sports Radio 610 in Houston) – Early on I was skeptical of the ManningCast. I wanted a “two guys hanging out at the bar talking football” vibe that was less formal and more fun. What I got in the beginning was not that. The broadcasts leaned heavily into Peyton’s football IQ, diving way too deep into X and O analysis in real-time and providing more of a distraction than a benefit. The production and pacing felt clunky and awkward, another distraction. And most frustratingly, I didn’t get anything out of Peyton and Eli’s personalities.
Somewhere along the way, as the concept has been refined and Peyton and Eli clearly have gotten more comfortable, they’ve gotten there. Two goofy football nerds with incredible insight and experience seamlessly meshing smart analysis with real football fandom. They’re inviting me in to watch the game with them, not telling me what I need to know about what’s going on, and that is something I can get into and really enjoy.
Q Myers (ESPN Las Vegas & Raider Nation Radio in Las Vegas) – For me personally it hasn’t changed much. I find it entertaining but only in a small serving size. I might pop on for an interview with a guest that I really want to hear from but then tune out. I really enjoy the game being the bigger feature, and I realize for a lot of the games that aren’t that great this could help out a bit.
Jimmy Powers (97.1 The Ticket in Detroit) – It hasn’t really. I’ve enjoyed it from the beginning and thought it was genius when it debuted! I think it has given many sports fans an alternative option to the traditional broadcast, which allows them to get a better understanding of what is going on. In my opinion, the knowledge and entertainment value they bring to the viewer is excellent!
Kraig Riley (93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh) – My view has changed in that, as much as I loved it when it debuted, I questioned the long-term sustainability given how driven it was by the guests they welcomed in. I always wanted more of the Peyton-Eli brotherly relationship part of it. Their breakdowns of the game were good and so were the guests, but what were they going to do to add to that? Since they’ve shown more of their personalities, it stands out more in a way that separates itself from just watching the standard broadcast of the game.
2. As a programmer, what would you do to freshen up this brand next season?
Edgar – You don’t want to get gimmicky or clownish, but I’d love to see them talk with a mic’d up player, similar to what they do on Sunday Night Baseball. They obviously can’t speak with a player between the lines, but what about someone who is in the mix and actually playing, like a linebacker after the defense comes off the field?
Fishman – To me, the biggest “miss” is not having Eli and Peyton in the same place. It creates a certain sloppiness and a decent amount of talking over each other. Some of that gives it the casualness that’s appealing and some of it is just messy. It’s sort of like Zoom calls. They were fine when you needed them during the pandemic, but if you can do it in person, it’s better.
Hillis – It might not be “freshening it up”, but the biggest thing I would do to tweak the Manningcast is limit the interviews. Peyton and Eli can carry the broadcast with their personalities and knowledge alone.
Having big name guests from the NFL, the sports world, and pop culture makes for a great promotion piece to draw in a different audience, but at the end of the day, it’s distracting and pulls away from the game I’m watching and the brand of the broadcast itself. I want to connect with Peyton and Eli… that’s what the brand is built around, so give me more of them.
Myers – I think keeping it a little more tight as far as breakdowns and analysis from the two make it good. A lot of times when it gets off the rails it does tend to be funny, but I don’t feel like I learn a lot from it. It feels to me like a lot of the comedic side of things is forced at times, when it happens organically it just seems better. For example, with Peyton walking off after Maher missed his 3rd kick. That felt like what we all were doing at the time.
Powers – Since they only do a number of games, I would put the two of them together in the same room to view the games. You could still split the screens and have the same look – but it would prevent (or at least limit) the talking over each other because of the delay. That is especially a problem when they bring in 3rd person.
Riley – I would push for more of the content that stands out aside from the game and can be pushed on social. I think the original audience will always need more in order to continue engaging with them over the standard broadcast of the game. That audience knows their broadcast is different, but what about the audience that hasn’t engaged yet or has possibly disengaged?
Serve them up with some breakdowns of the game that only Peyton and Eli can provide. Give them the best clips of the interviews. But super-serve them on the entertainment and personality sides so that the audience knows they’re getting something more than just the game. They can consume that elsewhere.
The ManningCast is not in danger. It’s one of the most influential sports television products of the last 15 years. Even radio is trying to figure out a way to make it work. Edgar’s station, 680 The Fan, delivered a conversational alternate broadcast of the Peach Bowl this year.
Like anything else in pop culture though, the producers always have to think about what is next. How do you tempt fans to come back for more? It’s why we don’t see Spider-Man fight the same villain in every movie. When you know the parameters, the content has to be all killer and no filler just to move the needle.
But this is a product built around live sports. By nature, there is plenty of filler in a football game broadcast. That isn’t the Mannings’ fault, and most weeks, they find a way to make gold in those moments. Going into the 2023 football season though, the novelty of the ManningCast, and frankly of alternate broadcasts in general, will have worn off. Peyton and Eli don’t have to change everything, but re-evaluating where their show stands and where it could go wouldn’t be a bad idea.
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.
Frank Frangie Exudes Jacksonville’s Enthusiasm for the Jaguars on 1010 XL
“You want to be very enthusiastic but that enthusiasm shouldn’t spill over in a way that it takes away from the accuracy and the crispness of the broadcast.”
A Saturday night in Jacksonville in the NFL Wild Card Round. Frank Frangie, the radio play-by-play voice of the Jacksonville Jaguars is on the edge of his seat. He is behind the microphone amid a sellout crowd of 70,250 people at TIAA Bank Stadium with both the game and the season on the line.
The Los Angeles Chargers, led by quarterback Justin Herbert, held a 27-7 lead after the first half – but thanks to spirited play by the Jacksonville Jaguars, that lead has been cut to just two points – the score is now 30-28. Riley Patterson, the kicker for the Jaguars, is playing in his first NFL playoff game and the season all comes down to whether or not he puts a 36-yard field goal attempt through the goal posts.
Frangie proceeds to deliver a call for the ages as the ball sails through and the field goal is marked “good.” At that moment, Jacksonville had secured its first playoff victory since 2017, setting up a second-round matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Fans watching the game on NBC heard the familiar, credible voices of Tony Dungy providing color commentary and Al Michaels supplying the play-by-play announcing. Michaels recently completed his first season broadcasting Thursday Night Football streamed on Amazon Prime Video and returned to NBC to call this game as part of his emeritus role with the network.
Although he has narrated myriad exciting calls over his lengthy career, viewers identified a lack of enthusiasm and excitement from him and his partner, criticism Michaels later called “internet compost” in an interview with The New York Post. Instead, football fans turned to Frank Frangie and the Jacksonville Jaguars radio booth, imparting a more fanatical encapsulation of the moment.
“I do think there’s an accountability and an expectation to make sure you get it right, to make sure you’re crisp and clear [and] to make sure that [the] listener knows exactly what happened,” Frangie said. “You want to be very enthusiastic but that enthusiasm shouldn’t spill over in a way that it takes away from the accuracy and the crispness of the broadcast.”
While Frangie did not hear the NBC broadcast in real time, he knows the matter in which he performs his job vastly differs from that of Michaels. He recalls someone telling him that NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen — when calling a national game — sounds like he has money on both teams. As the Jaguars radio play-by-play announcer, Frangie aims to do the opposite.
“I’m rooting for one team,” he said. “I’m bummed when my team loses and I’m thrilled when my team wins. The job is to combine a crisp, accurate play call so the listener very clearly knows what’s going on and hopefully to blend in our natural enthusiasm because we are rooting for that team as hard as the listener is.”
During the time he was hosting radio shows at WQIK-AM and later WNZS-AM, Frangie began to experiment with contributing to live game broadcast coverage. Because of connections he made as a writer covering sports at the University of Florida for The Florida Times-Union and The Jacksonville Journal, he began working with the Florida Gators Radio Network as a pregame and postgame host.
Additionally, he started providing play-by-play of select athletic events on campus, giving him the opportunity to hone his skills and eventually begin hosting college broadcast coverage on regional sports networks.
1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta recruited Frangie to join Touchdown Radio, a new broadcast network he founded to broadcast NCAA football games and other athletic events. Aside from owning the company, Torretta worked with Frangie on live game broadcasts as the color commentator – and the duo formed synergy through an understanding of each other’s roles
“Shame on me if I talk more than the guy who won the Heisman Trophy. He knows football way better than I do,” Frangie said. “It enabled me – I call the play, then lay out and let him be the star because he was the star.”
While he was calling college football games with Torretta, Frangie had helped launch 1010 XL, the area’s first local sports talk radio station. Since its inception in 2007, which was based on a vision by co-founder and general manager Steve Griffin, it has been recognized as a trusted voice in sports media.
“He’s the leader; he’s the founder,” Frangie said of Griffin, “but there’s a lot of us that have helped Steve grow this thing and I think there’s a real connection.”
Jacksonville has a population of approximately 954,000 people, according to the 2020 U.S. census, making it the 12th-most populous city in the country; yet the most recent Nielsen ratings rank it as the No. 43 media market. Despite it being considered a mid-market radio station, what is now 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio has been able to appeal to its consumers on multiple platforms through live game broadcasts, talk shows, podcasts and other multimedia content.
“I think Jacksonville has a ton of sports fans,” Frangie said. “I think sports really matter to the people of this city…. I would say 1010 XL might be – and I’m biased because I work there – the most important sports media entity that this city’s ever had.”
When the Jaguars arrived on the scene in 1995, it brought all sports fans in the area together by uniting them in their rooting interest in professional football. It also surely helped that the team advanced to the AFC championship game in its second year of existence and made the NFL playoffs for the next three years.
“The Jaguars galvanized everybody,” Frangie said. “Now all of a sudden there’s solidarity among the sports fans because everybody’s rooting for the Jaguars.”
The Jaguars, combined with the plethora of collegiate sports in the area, give radio hosts plenty to talk about over the course of any given day. The station will also discuss national news, but its main focus is on hyperlocal coverage while giving listeners unique, relatable perspectives regarding their favorite teams. Frangie expressed the Jaguars being, far and away, the most discussed topic over the airwaves – but aside from conversing about the team, the hosts also make it a point to be relatable and talk about their lives outside of sports.
“I think sports radio is about life,” Frangie said. “I think it’s about who you bumped into at the movies and ‘What’s your favorite burger?’ I think people like talking about the way they live their life and the way we live our lives.”
Broadcasting in afternoon drive means following three different shows (The Drill, Jaguars Today, and XL Primetime) from earlier dayparts, requiring Frangie and co-hosts Hays Carlyon and Lauren Brooks to bring fresh topics and opinions to the air. The Frangie Show not only seeks to inform its listeners with the latest news pertaining to Jacksonville sports but also looks to accentuate the medium’s factors of differentiation: entertainment, immediacy and relatability.
“My job is, ‘That guy’s had a long day at work. That guy’s tired. He hops in that car at 4:30 or 5 or whenever it is and he’s a sports fan,’” Frangie hypothesized. “‘When he turns that radio on, I need to entertain him. He needs to have fun, he needs to laugh, he needs to enjoy it, (and) he needs to look forward to the next time he’s turning it on.’ If I can keep him in that driveway a little bit longer because he’s enjoying himself… then I’ve kind of done my job.”
Aside from live game broadcasts and sports talk radio, 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio has a selection of original podcasts – some of which are specialized – and video series available to watch on multiple platforms.
Moreover, all of its radio shows are available for replay on-demand as podcasts after the fact, giving listeners the chance to catch up on parts of the show they might have missed. Frangie has always been concerned about the format being replaced by podcasts but surmises it to be a larger issue for music-based formats, validated by the increased usage of music streaming services.
“I think there’s never going to be a time where someone doesn’t pop in the car, want to hit a button and hear [me] or whoever talk about sports,” Frangie said. “As long as it’s that way, we’re going to keep on doing it just the way we do it.”
From the moment Griffin and Frangie met to discuss launching 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio in 2007, they knew they aspired to find a way to one day secure the Jacksonville Jaguars’ radio rights. At the time, the rights were held by WOKV and Brian Sexton, known as the “Voice of the Jaguars,” served as the team’s radio play-by-play announcer.
After a 30-page proposal geared towards helping the franchise grow its fanbase and sell more tickets, the rights were awarded to 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio (WJXL) and Frangie was named as the new radio play-by-play announcer. He called the move “the most important assignment” of his career and has assimilated into the role, now covering the team in roles based on the balance of information and opinion.
Before this run, the last time the Jaguars had qualified for the NFL playoffs was in 2017 when the team fell just one win short of playing for its first-ever Super Bowl championship. The team has the potential to sustain its success with young stars such as quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne Jr. leading the charge. However, broadcasting games for the team over the last nine seasons — no matter the result — has never been burdensome for Frangie.
“Every time I go into that booth – and I mean this very sincerely – it’s the greatest privilege and the greatest honor of my career to sit in that booth and to call an NFL game for my hometown team,” he said. “That will never change [for] as long as I’m doing it.”
This year, though, the games have undoubtedly been more exciting largely due to the Jaguars’ inclination to come back from substantial deficits. The team is riding a six-game home winning streak and has trailed by nine points or more in the previous five contests. Defying the laws of probability and achieving what some may define as impossible is what has persuaded football fans everywhere to take notice of what is going on in Duval County.
“I’m a sports fan,” Frangie stated. “I just want to share the fan excitement with other fans. It’s been unbelievably fun; I can’t wait for the next game.”
Just as the team prepares for its game by drawing up new plays, analyzing film and undergoing physical treatment, the broadcasters never show up to the booth without having done their homework. For a typical Jaguars game, Frangie’s preparation largely consists of intricately learning about the opponent more so than the Jaguars since he follows the team each week.
From Monday to Wednesday, he is gathering information about the other team and ensures he knows how the depth chart is expected to look by game day. Simultaneously, he stays updated on everything occurring with the Jaguars, although he gains more team-specific information during his meeting with head coach Doug Pederson on Thursdays.
Frangie and his broadcast team also have their own meeting every Thursday to elaborate on the forthcoming broadcast, including probing potential storylines related to the game to discuss so they are ready to perform at a high level by the weekend.
“I know our team (and) I know their team a little bit better than I did at the beginning of the week,” Frangie said. “I think the hay’s in the barn by Friday night. By Friday night, if I’m not ready to call the game, then shame on me. There’s not a lot of work to do come Saturday. Most of it is Monday through Friday.”
As a radio play-by-play announcer, Frangie looks to accurately depict what is occurring on the field so listeners can paint a picture of the game in their minds. He also looks to entertain them and is assisted by color commentators Tony Boselli and Jeff Lageman, both of whom formerly played for the Jaguars and possess shrewd insights about the game of football. Frangie knows of their reputations and looks to accentuate their presence to help the broadcast, taking the same approach he previously adopted with Torretta.
“Shame on me if I don’t do everything I can to tee them up and get out of the way [to] let them do their thing,” Frangie said. “I think if you have that point-guard mentality – and that is, ‘Let the stars be stars,’ – then I think you can pull it off and hopefully that’s what we do.”
The fundamentals of play-by-play announcing do not change whether or not the team is competing in the playoffs; that is, in terms of preparation. There is no doubt, though, that the stakes are higher in these matchups and, in turn, a prevalence of heightened emotions are conveyed ranging from euphoric to apoplectic. It was exhibited on Saturday night during Patterson’s game-winning field goal and the video of the Jaguars’ radio call has since gone viral.
“When we called a winning kick last week, we’re jumping around in that broadcast booth and high-fiving… losing our minds – that’s what we do out there,” Frangie said. “We’re all such fans of the team and we’re all such fans of this city and so respectful and appreciative of the fans who have stayed with this team even in some hard times.”
Frangie has had a long career working in sports media both as a play-by-play announcer and radio host, helping to shape the sports landscape in Jacksonville, Fla. Whether it was covering the Florida Gators’ run to the Final Four in 1994; debating about the Jacksonville Jaguars on the radio; or calling game-winning touchdowns at the college and professional level, he is proud to be associated with the city, its teams and its fans. Moreover, he wants to be there to help aspiring industry professionals build careers and find their place in sports media.
“I like to watch some of the young people have the success that some of us that have done it for a while have,” he said. “I’d like to see 1010 XL continue to thrive; we’re very proud of our radio station and what Steve has built – the culture he has built at the radio station where we have sort of this family atmosphere.”
From his formative days in the industry, Frangie has always had a respect for the microphone and the power it garners. The crevasses and inner workings of the device that enable sound to be converted into mechanical energy have given him the chance to promulgate his voice at large and represent those in the area.
As the Jaguars continue their quest for a Super Bowl championship, Frangie aspires to personify the dedication and zeal of sports fans in the city of Jacksonville and, hopefully, call a moment where the team stands alone on top of the football world.
“We get to turn on that mic and whether I’m talking to fans of the team as a play-by-play guy or… talking to listeners driving around town; what a privilege that is,” Frangie said. “It’s not going to be perfect all the time. Work hard; never pass up an opportunity to work and always recognize what a privilege it is to do what we do.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Chase McCabe Embraces the Player/Coach Mentality at 102.5 The Game
“I always used Mike Salk in Seattle as an example of that. I thought ‘if he can do both, why can’t I?’“
He’s referred to as “the suit” by some of his co-workers. It’s a playful way for hosts at 102.5 The Game in Nashville to describe their program director, Chase McCabe. But Chase isn’t only the PD; he’s also a host just like them. He puts on his headphones and does a weekday show from 9-11am with Michelle Knezovic. Then, he puts on his PD hat and morphs into his alter ego, the suit. (I think “the suit” sounds superhero-ish and should be accompanied by face paint and a car that can fly. Maybe that’s just me.)
In our conversation, Chase talks about the rewards and challenges of being a PD and radio host. He’s also open and honest about his thought process regarding job offers from other radio stations. We chat about the voice of the Nashville Predators, Pete Weber, returning to the air after dealing with a brain disorder. Chase also talks about being religious, which of his roles would be harder to give up, and how receiving a McDonald’s breakfast makes him love his station even more. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: So tell me about the changes to the lineup, and how everything’s going?
Chase McCabe: I think it’s been positive so far. It’s something that was not one of those decisions that was made overnight by any means. When I took over, I wanted to feature young and upcoming talent. We had that in Caroline Fenton and Michelle Knezovic, and now we can feature them even more. That was the thought process behind all of this.
I’ve also had this view that, I think you get more out of three-hour shows. It takes a special talent to go four hours and just keep up that same energy level. That’s why we left Jared (Stillman, the station’s afternoon host) at a four-hour show because that’s all he’s ever done in his career. But I think giving people more choices throughout the day was certainly a positive in all of this, and that’s what we’ve done.
Playing the ratings game, I think it’s going to give us a better chance to improve by having more choices throughout the day. I think it’s gone well. I’m excited about it. It’s an opportunity for me to be a player/coach, still be on the air, but only two hours a day, which is definitely helpful with my schedule. It gives me a chance to coach the young talent like Michelle as we go along. I think it’s been really good.
BN: What’s your general approach to handling both the PD side and the hosting duties that you have?
CM: It’s not easy. It’s funny, when I first started in this business, my goal was just to be a host. I had never even thought about programming. As I kind of grew into it, I was a producer. One of my mentors was my old PD. He really saw something and helped me go down that path. But I was always stubborn and wanted to do both. I always used Mike Salk in Seattle as an example of that. I thought ‘if he can do both, why can’t I?’ So it became one of those personal goals of just watch me.
Once I got to the point where I became PD, I decided ‘Well, I’m going to focus on that’. I’ve been APD, but it’s the first time being PD. I stepped off the air a little bit, made some appearances here and there as a fill in, and then when we made some changes, I went back on full time. I realized that it’s a lot, especially doing a four-hour show in the middays.
It’s just really hard to do, but I was disciplined. I’m still disciplined now about it. It’s a big thing of having your schedule, knowing what you need to get done, and now that I’m off the air at 11 AM, it’s a lot easier. I come in, I’m usually in the building by eight o’clock. I’ve prepped the night before for the show. I’ll make some changes depending on what may have happened overnight and in the morning. I jump on the air, it flies by, and then the PD hat goes back on.
It’s made things run a lot smoother because I can meet with clients, I can meet with my GM, I can meet with our partners, with the Predators. I can meet with talent and coach talent. It’s really been much easier to do it that way. It’s a balance, that’s for sure. I think it makes me a more effective PD to be able to practice what I preach. If I’m sitting here telling a member of our on-air team, hey, I need you to go to break on time, this is why. Then I’m turning around and doing it, they have an example of that’s how it should be done. The whole player/coach mentality is one that I have definitely embraced.
BN: Which do you think you would miss more if you had to give up one of those roles?
CM: That is a very good question. I think I’d miss programming. I never thought that I would say that. My goal for so long was being on the air. I had to really scratch and claw to get to that, and I love it, but I’ve realized that I’ve found a role I’m so natural at, and that is being a leader and being the PD, and being able to create.
That was one thing that I miss about producing. I never really loved producing until I wasn’t doing it anymore, and that was the creating. Create the sound of the station, writing promos, building promos, working on a show lineup, helping the show’s plan. That’s really fun for me. I think I’d miss being the PD or as they call me on the air, the suit.
BN: [Laughs] There you go. Do you have any crazy stories about juggling the two roles at the same time?
CM: Yeah, I’m really bad on if I see a text or I see an email. It’s like, oh, that’s really important. Even though it can probably wait a couple hours, I’ll start responding. There’s been times we’ve been on the air and I’m responding to an important email and they go, Chase, what do you think? I just kind of look up and I go, suit duty. [Laughs] Sorry. I’ve gotten better about that. That was really early on, but we all laugh about that.
The biggest thing that happened was honestly about a month ago. We’re in the middle of the show and the Titans fire their general manager. I’m the lead host and I go, we’ve got breaking news. The Titans have fired general manager Jon Robinson. I’m in host mode. I’m talking about getting people on the air to see what they know, and all this stuff.
Then this light bulb goes off. ‘Hey, you idiot, you need a breaking news promo on the air. You need to let this person know. I literally had to wear both hats. Luckily, I had two other hosts on the show with me. One of them is a former player in Derrick Mason, so they could run with it while I got our imaging director a script for the breaking news promo. We had that on the air pretty quick, and everybody that needed to know what was going on was informed. It’s one of those things where sometimes it’s just a reminder ‘hey, you wanted this. You got to wear both hats’. I’ve gotten very good at multitasking. Let’s just put it that way.
BN: I believe it, man, that’s the only way you can do it. What’s the cliff-notes version of your career path?
CM: I started here 11 years ago as an intern. The station had just flipped to sports three months earlier. I had gotten to know Willie Daunic — who ironically became my co-host — and wanted to intern with him. He was at another station. That changed and so he moved over here. I ended up interning with him on the afternoon show. I ended up getting hired about six months later to do part time on the weekends. I was still in college; I was still finishing up at MTSU. My boss had told me ‘Hey, when you walk across the stage, text me.’ So I did. He said ‘Hey, congrats, you got a full-time gig in radio.’ I was like whoa.
I started in overnights. I did overnights for close to a year. But that was honestly really, really crucial because I learned how to edit. I would edit a bunch of stuff from the day and I learned to do sports updates and cutting spots, and just a lot of the little things involved in a radio station. Then I produced various dayparts for several years, did some fill-in work on the air, did a weekend show.
During that time I had gotten a couple of opportunities to potentially go elsewhere and didn’t because ultimately, this was the best fit, and more opportunities would open up here. In 2019, I went full time on the air as part of our midday show while still being the assistant program director. I was promoted to assistant program director in 2017, I believe.
Then when our former PD, Ryan Porth, left for Chicago, I remember thinking ‘Okay, I’m going to be interim.’ I go through this process, they’re going to interview a bunch of people and they did, they talked to a couple. Then I go in one day thinking ‘Alright, this is what the plan is going to be’, and they offered me the job. That was last year. The end of December 2021, I got my first PD gig and here I sit now.
A lot has happened in 11 years. I’ve been very lucky to be in the same place during that time. Anytime something comes along, I go back to our owner walking down the hallway. A quick story and one of the reasons why I love this place so much. When I was doing overnights, I would turn all the lights off because I was the only one in the building and just had a little lamp on. The owner flies a plane and he had landed late at night. He walks in at like 2:30 in the morning. The building is dark.
He walks in and he says ‘Why do you have all the lights off?’ I said ‘Well, I’m the only one here, it saves money. There’s no reason to have all these lights on with just me, so I figured we would just save money.’ He kind of looked at me and goes ‘Huh, okay, appreciate that.’ The next night, around the same time, I hear the door opening. He walks in and he’s got just a bag full of McDonald’s. He says ‘I wanted to bring you breakfast, I appreciate what you do.’ It was that day that I realized what kind of a man Bud Walters is. He’s been very good to me and that’s one reason why I’m here and I love what I do.
BN: That’s really cool, man. What’s your hometown?
BN: Wow, that’s crazy. You grew up in Nashville, went to MTSU, you started at 102.5 about 11 years ago, and you’ve been there the whole time?
CM: The whole time. It’s the only gig I’ve ever had.
BN: I don’t know the best way to ask it, but with other gigs offered, was there ever a time before you became the full-blown PD that you thought, man, maybe I should’ve jumped?
CM: I think it’s hard not to. That’s probably the best way to put it. But I’m religious. I believe in God. I know that everything happens for a reason. I think that I just kind of would look for signs to know the path I needed to take. There’s probably been three really legitimate opportunities that I’ve had to think really hard about. It’s like ‘Hey, this is going to be what you need to do.’ But the thing I come back to is, I want to finish what I started. My goals and my journey here matched up with the radio station, with the company, with Bud, with what they wanted to do. I know that I’ve been an integral part of that, literally, since the beginning that they started.
There are days where it’s like, man, maybe I should have, but then something really good will happen here and it reminds me of why I didn’t. I think that that’s why I just keep the faith. I may not be here forever. Odds are, I won’t. But I didn’t think I’d be here for 11 years at this point.
And I sure as hell didn’t think I’d be program director in 11 years when I started as an intern, but I am. It’s one of those things that I think too many times nowadays we keep thinking what’s next, what’s next, what’s next? When if you take it literally day-by-day, it’s going to work out well for you. That’s what I did. I was impatient at times, but I stuck with it and now I’m just blessed to be in this position where I’m at.
BN: Out of curiosity, which church do you go to over there?
CM: I’m not the best at going to church. I will admit that.
CM: It is one of my goals for this year to kind of get back into that. The thing that’s so tough is a lot of times Sunday mornings, we’re doing shows. We’re doing NFL shows and things. But there’s a couple of places that I’ve found that do some midweek services that I’ve tried to go to. It’s just hard to be consistent, but I’m working on it. I pray about everything and just kind of keep my relationship that way and also trying to just be a good person.
BN: That’s cool. I lived in Nashville for a couple of years and I went to a church called Cross Point.
CM: Yeah, I’ve been to Cross Point quite a bit. The Belonging is another one. Churches like that. I like a church that has a good band. That gets me into it.
BN: There ya go. We need a heavy metal band at one of these churches. I’d go there all the time.
CM: God bless Jesus!!
BN: [Laughs] That’s right. We need that, double bass and everything. Pete Weber, he has a brain disorder, but you’ve been able to continue featuring him on some pregame coverage and some of your other shows. How important was it for you to keep him a part of the broadcasts?
CM: Very, very important. As our imaging says, the voice of the Predators since day one, Pete Weber. That’s him. He was the first. When hockey started here, Pete Weber and Terry Crisp were the voices that you heard. They taught an entire generation about the sport of hockey. I don’t think people realize just some of the elbows that Pete has bumped. He was covering the Bills when they went to four straight Super Bowls with Jim Kelly. He’s been with the LA Kings, covered Gretzky. In fact, I did an interview for our pregame show today with Eddie Olczyk from TNT. The first thing he says is ‘Hey, tell Pete I’m thinking about him. Hope he’s doing well.’
It was important for him to know that, hey, you need to take care of you. I think sometimes you get to a point where it’s like ‘I gotta keep going.’ Sometimes you’ve got to just pump the brakes and take care of you. I wanted him to know that, hey, we got you, your spot is secure. That’s why I’ve filled in on pre and post because, Max Herz, our pre and post host has been doing play-by-play. He’s doing an excellent job filling in for Pete. It’s just important to know that it’s still Pete’s chair, we’re just keeping it warm for him.
I’ve enjoyed the segments with him because he tells stories. I’ve learned more about the team and some things that I didn’t know because he’s just a walking sports encyclopedia. It’s been really cool. Pete’s doing well, he hopes to be back in the booth in a couple of weeks and be better than ever. But like I said, it’s important to all of us for Pete to know that he is the voice of the Predators.
BN: What was that process like to come up with that type of arrangement where he would still be featured?
CM: I called him and I just said ‘Hey Petey, with you not traveling, why don’t you just plan to do that opening segment of pregame with me every time.’ He loved it. I know that’s meant a lot to him. He did an article with the Predators website and said that for him to just feel like he’s still involved on those road games was important. It was important to me because I wanted him to still be on our broadcasts, even if he couldn’t travel. Those segments have been a lot of fun. He had his procedure and he’s feeling great. We’ll pick him up here probably later this week before he returns to the booth.
BN: As far as your future, what do you see in the next five to 10 years? Or is it more day-to-day for you instead of any long-term visions?
CM: It’s a good question. I hope I still have all my hair. [Laughs] Who knows with this job. I’ve thought more about that. It’s kind of funny how this has worked for me; when I started as an intern, and then eventually got hired, I was like, all right, I’m going to do this for three years. After three years, then I’m going to evaluate and see where I’m at.
Then it became, well, if I want to be on the air, I have to move to a small market. I have to go back to go forward. I was going to do that. Finally one day, somebody told me, hey, you need to just slow down and take it one day at a time. Things are going to work out. You’re a hard worker. You do the right things. You’re not a jerk to people. You’ve got a lot of people in your corner. You need to just slow down. So that’s what I’ve done.
Now that I’m older — I’m 35 — I do think about the future and do I want to go to a bigger market? Do I want to climb my way up and be in operations or what have you? Those are things that I definitely think about. It has to be the right fit. That, I’ve learned, more than anything is not always easy to find. I do think I still have more of that day-at-a-time mentality while also knowing that, all right, if I ever had the opportunity to program a station in Atlanta or Dallas or something like that, I’d probably look at it.
I love creating and teaching, so however I can continue to do that, I will. But at the same time, building this station, I’ve been at it for a year. I feel like I’ve just gotten to the point where it feels like mine. Now what is it going to do? I think a lot more about the future than I used to. I know there will come a time where it’s like, I know.
They always say if you meet that special person, when you know, you know. I think I’ll know when it’s time to do something different. But that’s one thing that I’ve definitely tried to instill on our staff. I have a lot of young people that work here. Hey, be thankful. Appreciate the little things and keep working, and then the future is going to work itself out.