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97.1 The Freak Dares to Be Different

Tyler McComas

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In case there’s even a mild bit of confusion, 97.1 The Freak in Dallas is not a sports talk radio station. Look no further than the station and show names. The morning show is named The Speakeasy and the afternoon show is named The Downbeat. Heck, the station itself is called The Freak. All of it was intentional to distinguish what the station actually is. Do they talk sports? Yes, but when it’s warranted, not required.

The Freak is a station that prioritizes fun and entertaining content, regardless of the genre. They’ll talk whatever they want, when they want. It’s an exciting and unique concept that’s backed by an incredible list of hosts, from DFW legend Mike Rhyner, to Ben and Skin, Jeff Cavanaugh and many other long-time local personalities. 

“It’s absolutely not a sports station,” said Ben Rogers, co-host of Ben and Skin. “When the early reports were, hey I got the scoop. There’s a third sports talk station in Dallas Fort-Worth, we all just laughed. It’s not the third sports talk station, It’s the only Freak. There’s an important distinction there. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want.”

“This is rejuvenating,” said Jeff Cavanaugh, co-host of The Speakeasy.” This is fun.”

The Freak is in its inaugural week after hitting the DFW airwaves on Monday. It was undoubtedly a special moment for Rogers, who had a very heavy hand in the overall concept of the station with Rhyner and Skin Wade. What was once just a fun thought, had finally come true. Rogers and Wade had convinced a legend to return and a talented core of hosts to believe in the idea of helping build the coolest radio station in the country. 

“Basically, what happens is many of these corporations that own radio stations are based on the east coast,” said Rogers. “Many times they have a playbook that they want the radio station to run. On the east coast, there’s a lot of 100 percent sports. In Dallas-Fort Worth, I think there are unique sensibilities and there’s distinctive things about each individual market that make each one special.

“If you forced a Philadelphia style playbook on Dallas-Fort Worth, I think that’s misguided. What city in Dallas-Fort Worth do people dislike the most? It’s probably Philadelphia. What happens is, this playbook is implemented by program directors and they end up being the fun police and they have to micromanage creative people that are trying to do content and they have to say, hey, get back to sports. You need more sports.

“Those hardcore sports mandates make it where a person that has many different interests is stifled and suffocates their creativity. It’s kinda disingenuous to say, this is like hanging out with your friends, but you can only talk about sports. We’ve hired a creative radio station, where it’s like going to a bar with your friends and hanging out. We just talk about whatever we want, whenever we want.

“We don’t have to talk about sports. If it’s the baseball All-Star Break we don’t have to come up with five hours of fake sports talk. This is about sharing experiences, talking about pop culture, laughing and having fun. Because we don’t have those sports mandates, this is the only station I’ve ever heard of that is going to give both hosts and listeners exactly what they want.”

This is a rejuvenating new venture for many of the hosts, including Cavanaugh. His last radio job was at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, where he did five hours of sports talk each day. Having to do the same segment on the Cowboys every day wore on him. So much so, that it was a contributing factor to leaving The Fan earlier this year. 

Cavanaugh realizes he’s built a career on analyzing the Cowboys, but he still wanted the freedom to do more than just constant hardcore sports talk each day. The Freak was the exact thing he was looking for to rejuvenate his love for the business. 

“Just like every human in the world, even people that do sports radio, the vast majority have other interests and things that would be entertaining or interesting to talk about that can appeal to a larger listenership, than people who are just tuned in for sports radio,” said Cavanaugh. “I think specifically the people we got — and this is more a credit to the management we have — are people who can talk sports but are also very likable, entertaining, fun people. Hopefully, that is able to turn into something that brings in a lot of listeners.”

This broad based approach probably doesn’t work if you don’t have an incredible lineup of hosts that can bring an audience to each show. Luckily, 97.1 The Freak has just that. The Speakeasy from 7:00-11:00 AM features Cavanaugh, along with Kevin “KT” Turner, Julie Dobbs and Matt Cather. Ben and Skin host middays from 11:00 AM- 3:00 PM and The Downbeat from 3:00-7:00 PM features Rhyner, Mike Sirois, and Michael “Grubes” Gruber. 

“It just so happened there was a legend out there,” Rogers said. “Mike Rhyner started The Ticket and he filled in for Skin when he was battling cancer and I said ‘oh my God, he’s the same guy I always loved and respected. He’s still got it. It would be like catching a bullpen session from Nolan Ryan and your hand hurts from a fastball in his 40’s. Damn, he’s still got it’.

“He pointed out there’s a lot of people disenchanted with sports talk. People that had left the business entirely to do other things. Mike Sirois had been at The Ticket for 16 years and didn’t have a full-time host job. Julie Dobbs just left because she couldn’t make enough money to make it make sense. Jeff Cavanaugh left The Fan because he just didn’t have fun doing five hours of hardcore sports talk everyday.

“You look around and say, Grubes would come back for the right opportunity and that KT is ready for a bigger role and Christina is ready for a bigger role. We were able to look at the landscape and say, there’s a lot of people disenchanted with our business and they left it and are just sitting on the beach. We could put together a really good cast. The stars could really be aligned for this. I’ll be damned if it didn’t all come together. I honestly think we have an opportunity to have the coolest radio station in the country.”

How about the show names, which include The Speakeasy and The Downbeat? Again, those names were intentional to show they’re not a traditional station. But how did they come up with such unique show names? 

“We found out our afternoon drive show came up with the name The Downbeat for their show,” said Cavanaugh. “I was like, dammit, they came up with a freaking awesome show name. We’ve got a group text going and I threw it out to the other shows, just saying if anybody has suggestions for the name of the show, and Julie Dobbs, who’s on the show, I think she had been drinking, she just typed the words The Speakeasy and I did the thing on the iPhone where you hold down on the message and you hit a reaction with the exclamation point.

“Because when I saw it I said, that’s it. It’s the same thing with the station name. If you’re a sports station, you’re The Ticket, The Fan, The Hub. We initially didn’t do that. There’s no other station, I don’t believe, in all of iHeart, called The Freak. We wanted to do something different and unique. Having that reflected in both the station name and the show names is pretty cool.”

Just about everyone in every working job across the country wants the freedom to be as creative as possible without any micromanagement from bosses. If the point hasn’t already gotten across about what The Freak is, it’s the radio equivalent. A group of people using their creative talent to create the best content and be as DFW as possible. 

“I love it,” said Cavanaugh. “KT and I worked together eight or nine years ago and we were actually told at one point we couldn’t do a Saturday show together because it was too loose and not structured enough. So now it’s like, hey guys, remember that show you couldn’t do? Let people who are creative and talented, like KT is, like Julie is, you just let those people go. If something goes terribly wrong and it doesn’t work, then sure, you have to make adjustments. I love that it’s just hire people that you believe in and let them do what they do.”

The concept of the format is the biggest story, but a legendary DFW signal flipping is equally as important. Ben and Skin realizes the significance of The Eagle flipping to The Freak.

“This is an iconic radio signal and switching formats is a major deal,” said Rogers. “It’s a big thing. It’s one of the biggest things that’s happened in DFW radio. When we went over to The Eagle, we found that creative freedom and we loved it. We basked in it. There was a time, where — when we first got to The Eagle — our ratings were better than all of our competitors combined. It was nuts. We were like ‘Oh my God, this format works’.”

So what’s going to be the core audience of The Freak? Sports fans? Non-sports fans in the DFW metroplex? Rock music listeners? The hopeful answer is yes to all of the above

“The stations in town that we’ve brought people in from are coming from sports stations,” said Cavanaugh think all of the people we have, have their own following, where, sure, people like to hear them talk about sports, but if you really connected with people and they really connect with you, they enjoy listening to you. We’ll do our very best to retain as much of that as we can.”

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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