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The Mac Attack Isn’t Living In Mayberry

“I’m just grateful to still be here and I know what we have and what’s been established. If someone doesn’t think that’s good enough, that’s on them.”

Brian Noe

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Some people say that sports talk radio is like hanging out with others at a bar. There aren’t many hosts around the country that I’d prefer to spend time with in a bar setting more than Chris “Mac” McClain and Travis “T-Bone” Hancock. They both have a great blend. They’re opinionated without being know-it-alls. They make you laugh but also point out things that make you think. Neither carries himself like, “Don’t you know who I am?” They present themselves as if to say, “Next round’s on us.”

Their friendship and radio partnership began way back in 2005. They’ve been the morning show on WNFZ in Charlotte for 13 years now. It’s interesting how two very different radio paths still led to their successful stint that has lasted nearly two decades. The duo talks about being the constant among so much change within the building. Mac and Bone also describe how the national media drives them crazy at times, how they aren’t hillbillies from Mayberry, and the art of bagging groceries. Enjoy! 

Brian Noe: Where are you guys originally from?

Chris McClain: I’m from York, Pennsylvania originally. Went to college at Towson in the Baltimore area. Bounced around in radio until I got here. I’ve been here now for, shoot, coming up on 18 years. Before that it was the normal radio thing, bouncing around. I got here in 2004, started off on the midday show and T-Bone came in as an intern a year or so after.

Travis Hancock: I’m from a small town in Connecticut called Brooklyn, Connecticut. I grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog with my dad. I certainly wanted to do it growing up. Then I ended up moving down here. I came to broadcasting school in May of 2004. In 2005, I was his intern and then two months later I was his producer and have been with him ever since. Now as a host. We’ve been in the city the same amount of years, he just got a year head start on me.

BN: Would you have ever thought you’d be together as long as you have in the same city?

CM: Hell no. I definitely wouldn’t have thought any place would have me this long. The radio business began for me in Jacksonville, Florida when the whole staff got fired one day because they switched from an all sports station. Somebody that I knew that I’d worked with in radio for years said welcome to radio. You now have officially started, you’ve been fired.

Since then I’ve been lucky to bounce a couple of times on my own but there’s no way, you know how the business is, there’s no way when you go somewhere you’re thinking oh man, I’m going to be blessed to be here for close to 20 years. Then T-Bone, I try to think about how many interns we’ve had. Some of them have actually gone on to do their own shows and really good stuff.

TH: Made a lot of money.

CM: [Laughs] And somehow Bone’s still dealing with me. We went through so many interns. He’s one of my best friends, to think we spend all this time together, to think that he ends up elevating to being the co-host of the show. He’s improved so much, grown up so much — this is kinda awkward — since we started.

TH: I wake up every day and feel more blessed by the day, as cliché as that sounds, because you get older and life happens. He moved around, he bounced around. I’ve had two jobs my whole life. I bagged groceries, went to broadcasting school, and I’ve been here ever since.

To go from intern in May to producer July 1 and to be around ever since, I skipped over so many things. I just got lucky. I’ve been blessed. The more we go along, the more grateful I am that this is not normal to have this bond for this long in one city. I never take it for granted. As I get older I really cherish it a lot more than I used to.

CM: Man, this shit is getting too sappy.

TH: It’s like a Bravo show.

BN: [Laughs] What would you say is your biggest flaw as a radio host?

CM: Probably just getting distracted in a segment. Terry Foxx, our boss, tells us about it all the time, that he can hear when he listens to me that there are eight thoughts popping into my head all at once and try to just stay on one topic. There might be another branch of this topic but don’t just all of a sudden end up back over here. That’s probably the thing because I’ve got just so many things I’m fired up about and I just want to get them all out.

I think in the past, Bone will probably admit this, like just caring too much about phone calls was an early thing for me. But Terry came in and he wanted to make it about us and our relationship on the air. I think that’s helped me as a host because I don’t think I’m so worried about I’m going to get this person mad, or I’ve got to get this person on my side. I think that’s helped me with that. Those are two things that I can admit about myself.

TH: I would say probably for me at times being too concise. I’m not long-winded naturally because my role for so long was that of a producer so I was in and out. I trained myself almost, hey one comment, you’re gone. He’s been talking to himself in a way for years. For me, I’m so used to giving the ball right back. I’m trying to learn how to wrap my mind around making the point longer. It’s not a bad thing to share it, but sometimes they want me to put a little bit more meat on the bone.

Also trying to balance out that I’ve certainly been viewed as a comedic character for a long time, a guy that chimes in with jokes. I sort of have to be more serious now in this role and not as antagonistic and just be down the middle on certain things. Adjusting from my role for 15 years as that other guy to this, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.

BN: Where are you guys with a PD because Terry Foxx is in Texas now, right?

CM: Yeah, I mean he’s still technically in charge. We’ll talk to him throughout the week, but we are in the process of hiring someone else. We’re in that transition. We’ve been dealing with a lot of transitions at FNZ.

TH: We didn’t have a PD from March of 2020 — we went through the whole pandemic without a PD.

CM: Right in the middle of the pandemic and no program director at that point.

TH: Highest ratings ever. [Laughs]

CM: Which is crazy about it. Then we get Terry in here and we’ve gone through an ownership change from Entercom to Radio One. It’s been a lot of uncertainty at the station and that’s one of the things, this team that we’ve got here, man, everybody’s done a great job. All of the shows, guys behind the scenes working their butts off despite the uncertainty.

You know how it is, Brian, in radio anything uncertain like that, we’re paranoid as radio folks anyway. Oh no, what’s going to happen? What did you hear? Then all of these different things, what’s this new boss going to think? And what about this new company? We’ve been through a lot of that stuff and I feel like everybody’s still been putting on good shows, staying focused, but it’s just been a challenge. I’ve realized everybody’s got similar stories in radio. It’s definitely a challenge.

BN: A lot has changed during your time in Charlotte [the station has been owned by CBS, Beasley, Entercom and now Radio One]. What’s it like for you guys to be the constant among so much change?

TH: You want to embrace it. I think also when there’s change whether it’s the ownership or GMs or PDs, because of our longevity and the fact that we don’t cause a lot of drama, the last person is going to tell the next guy hey, these are your guys that are the voices, your leaders, the guys who have been there through everything the last almost 20 years. The word trickles down that hey, these guys are going to do the right thing.

You embrace the fact that when there’s change, we’re going to be at the forefront of it. We’re going to do the best that we can and knowing that we’re respected by the new people most of the time, we’ll see if the next guy does or not, but you know what I mean. They went to us right away because of our longevity and as the guys who know what to do. You just learn to embrace it and adapt and keep rolling.

CM: I definitely feel lucky seeing how much has changed here, being able to be a part of all these different phases of WFNZ. I feel lucky because nothing is guaranteed in this business at all, much like life. I don’t want to do radio anywhere else either, man. That’s why if they don’t have me, it’s going to be an adjustment for me. I just love the city. It’s just perfect. I love the growth of the sports city, but it’s not the big, huge city that’s a little too crazy. It’s perfect for my family. I’m so glad it’s worked out this way for us, but it’s definitely been an entertaining ride as a station without a doubt.

TH: I wouldn’t know how to leave if I tried to leave. I wouldn’t even know what to do. I’d be like, we can leave here? I didn’t know that. I’ve been here the whole time.

CM: Go back to bagging groceries.

TH: That’s a possibility at some point though. For this article, I was the three-time employee of the month for that grocery store. So I did have success before radio.

CM: That’s big.

TH: Yeah.

BN: [Laughs] That’s good, man. I caught your rant about LaMelo Ball, Mac. Building off of that, what else annoys you about the national media and how they cover Charlotte sports?

CM: Man, we very rarely matter. I hate to sound like the small-town local yokel, but Charlotte just doesn’t bring eyeballs to those talking head shows. I understand what they’re doing. Just like we have to talk about the stuff that people here are going to care about, I understand that they have to play the hits: Lakers, the Cowboys, the Yankees and all that stuff. But yeah, you heard me on that one, just trying to take something.

We finally have a nice thing. We finally have a nice thing happening with the Hornets and we finally have this kid who looks like he’s going to be a superstar in two years and they want to snatch him away. That drives me crazy.

What else gets me? I get angry about the small-town thing a lot, don’t I? The lack of airtime even when we’re good. Only Cam Newton got us airtime. I felt even when we had good teams, except in 2015 when the team was just ridiculously good, but I feel like, Bone, there was a while there where we could be good and it didn’t matter. They only wanted to talk about Cam.

TH: It feels like a lot of the national narratives don’t seem to be accurate to what we know here. We’ll hear things that don’t make sense. Shannon Sharpe and Skip going in on Michael Jordan as the GM of the Hornets. He’s never been the GM of the team, he’s been the owner. Yes, he was a guy who was hands-on for a while, but he’s not anymore for the last four or five years. I know that Michael Jordan the name for those shows is of course the marquee. I get it. But you guys are talking about the Hornets with absolutely no knowledge of anything going on.

CM: You know what else gets me too? Now he’s got me. Now we’ve opened it up.

TH: You think we’re on the air here.

CM: The whole freaking thing like we’re hillbillies. Small-town hillbillies. I get it when you’re based up in New York or in Boston, I understand that you look at Charlotte a certain way. This has been one of the fastest-growing cities around in the country for years now in terms of people migrating here. A lot of people coming from the North, by the way, Brian. They want to live down here.

It’s now a media market. The media market size is 22nd so I feel like this thing is growing and it’s no longer Mayberry. We’ve been called Mayberry by so many national media personalities. I’m not insulted by it, there’s a lot of country around here. I grew up in the country actually, but it’s like come on, this is more than that.

TH: Mayberry is actually an hour away to be real about it. So we’re not Mayberry. We’re almost ready for Major League Baseball. NBA, NFL, and soccer is doing tremendous attendance-wise. If you give us one more year, we’re getting there. When you have baseball, basketball, soccer, all that we’re going to have, that’s a real sports city. I think sometimes we don’t feel respected as one of those cities yet. We’re coming, though.

BN: As far as the future goes, what ideally would you like your future to look like over the next five, 10 years? What would make you the happiest?

CM: Getting on FM was huge for us. That had been a goal for as long as we have been at the station. Every boss that has been in charge, everybody we’ve worked with, it’s always been a mission to get that FM signal. We’ve got to tip our cap to Terry Foxx, Marsha Landess, and everybody in charge here at Radio One.

None of the other companies we worked for, and it’s been many, have ever given us that stick. So to be on 92.7 now, that was always one of my goals is I want to be a part of it when we get it. I know it might sound crazy to a lot of people in sports radio, like y’all just got on FM in a city like Charlotte? We had an FM transmitter at one point but never had a full-blown FM. Now that that one’s off the list, I just want to keep getting better at doing what we’re doing.

TH: Yeah, just keep building on what we’ve established already. I think it’s important that when a TV show or radio show goes on for a long time, you’ve got to make sure it never gets stale. It’s why TV shows don’t last unless it’s The Simpsons or something. Sitcoms and all of that, they don’t last usually past 10 years or so. It’s important for us to never get stale, always be creating new things, new characters or new forms of who we are.

We’ve never gotten stale. I think it’s important that we always will be creative and knowing we can’t do the same stuff for 20 years and keep the same people. Always be moving, always be crafty. I think that’s important for us the next couple of years.

BN: With so many ownership changes and PD changes, have you guys gotten to a point now where you feel like hey, we’re established, we feel safe, or is it still like I don’t know, man, you never know?

CM: Yeah, I mean being in radio, man, I never feel totally safe. I think you feel like you should be maybe. [Laughs] You know what I mean?

TH: He’s got a different perspective because he’s been through that before. I don’t. I just keep going about my regular day. I’m not naive to that, but I also know that we’ve established something really great here and if they end it, they end it, but it takes away nothing we’ve already done and will continue to do.

CM: You know what it is, Brian, I’ve just seen, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same sort of things personally and you’ve seen other people, I’ve seen so many rough days in buildings that I’ve worked in. I’ve seen 40 co-workers let go back at CBS SportsLine all at once. Luckily, I survived there. I saw the one I told you about earlier when it was AM 600 The Ball in Jacksonville. Man, we’ve got guys who are now all over the country. We had a really good team.

It was fun living in that city when I was young, but we had a change in ownership. Cox Broadcasting bought us out. Literally put Mickey Mouse, Disney on the air and fired the whole sports station in one day. I’ve experienced that. Then I was at XM Satellite Radio before the merger with Sirius. It was difficult trying to raise capital. I saw 100 people fired in one day and luckily I survived that one.

You see all that stuff so it’s hard to feel – you just know how the business is – it’s hard to ever feel like man, I can’t be that one day. But I know this, man, I try hard to not have that happen because this is where I want to be. This is the city I love. This is the sports town I love. So every day I’m motivated because I don’t want that to happen here.

TH: I don’t worry too much about it because I’m surprised we’re here at this point.

CM: It’s all gravy now?

TH: It’s like soccer extra time. We’re fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m just grateful to still be here and I know what we have and what’s been established. If someone doesn’t think that’s good enough, that’s on them. It doesn’t take away from the last 17 years of what we’ve done.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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