I admit I was reluctant to read The Handoff, because I know how the story ends – with the untimely death of sports radio’s bigger-than-life ambassador, mentor, friend and programmer Andrew Ashwood. However, I am better for having pushed through.
This is a book about brotherhood, determination, vulnerability, passion, certainty, self-confidence, self-awareness, and one guy’s successful rise from high-octane, motivated, passionate stock broker to high-octane, motivated, passionate sports radio host.
Through his journey of excesses, friendships, and passions, we accompany JT (currently a host on Fox Sports Radio from 1a-6a ET, 10p-3a PT) as he comes-of-age over and over again. The reader witnesses his evolution into a man, a husband, a father, a friend and talk show host. We are there as John transforms into JT and we are cheering with his buddies when he earns the name “Brick.” It’s funny, intense, authentic, emotional and ultimately hopeful.
JT rips his heart open for examination allowing the world to peer into his dreams, doubts, passions, and feelings. From being elected president of his fraternity to moving across country away from his boyhood home and then again when he quits his lucrative stock broker job only to pay his way on the radio – you will be rooting for JT.
Somewhat surprising for a sports host known for his scratchy, bullhorn of a voice and for banging the phones, JT is refreshingly self-deprecating, self-aware, and reflective. Even though I knew how it ended, it was a captivating roller coaster of a journey. The book gives an honest behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to succeed in life and radio. You’ll be motivated by JT’s hustle and moxy, and feel the urge to reconnect with friends from the past.
One of the lessons Andrew passed along was to “make someone’s day.”
Reading this has made mine. Thanks JT.
And I liked it.
Every Wednesday night (10p ET/7p PT), sports radio hosts, producers, board ops, reporters, programmers and fans across the country are turning to twitter to chat about industry trends, new media, good guests, and share good practices, observations and tips.
Hmmm. Let’s sit with that for a second.
There’s a thought: use the power of twitter for good, not evil.
I think it is awesome that there is a weekly gathering of sports radio pros who help build each other up instead of tear each other down. And that is Chadd Scott’s intention behind the sports radio chats (#srchat), which started on May 8 with over 50 people participating.
“I didn’t want it to be a bitch-fest. I didn’t want it be, ‘I wish I had more air time,’ or, ‘this show sucks,’ or, ‘this show should be national’, or ‘this guy doesn’t deserve a show.’ I wanted it to be positive, productive and respectful.” And it has been.
Scott, Assistant Program Director of 1010 XL in Jacksonville and former producer of The Herd with Colin Cowherd at ESPN Radio, told me on the Radio Stuff podcast, “I hope this connects sports radio professionals, brings them together, and serves as almost a fraternal organization or somewhere we can all go to meet each other and exchange ideas.”
Scott hosts and moderates the weekly chats with KIRO Radio producer and “Steal This Idea” blogger Owen Murphy, who lives across the country in Seattle. They use the hash tag #SRCHAT, which you can access for past chats. One of the guys will throw out a question which is labeled “Q1” and anybody can chime in with a response by beginning “A1.”
It’s easy. Here’s a snippet of what went down last night.
Chadd Scott@ChaddScott15h Q1: How important is FM distribution to ratings success in sports radio? #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: FM distribution is huge, but AM shd not be dismissed. FM has much larger potential audience, but AM can win when combined w pxp #srchat
Amanda Gifford@AmandaLGifford15h A1. Certainly doesnt hurt, but people find good content no matter where it is. Ask Rush Limbaugh. #srchat
Chadd Scott@ChaddScott15h A1: FM distribution is CRITICAL to ratings success in sports radio, especially for new stations, especially w/ younger demos #srchat
Ingram Smith@IngramSmith15h @ChaddScott A1: content will always win – but the strength of FM signal, in particular when the sun goes down can not be understated #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: There are some markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. This makes MLB pxp a game-changer if you have AM stick. #srchat
The Gentleman Masher@GentlemanMashr15h @ChaddScott depends on the market. Good content will trump & streaming will eventually make it irrelevant. #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h Hey @AmandaLGifford A1: A station needs marketing budget and q-rated hosts to win quickly on AM, as many listeners never visit #srchat
Heath Cline@heathradio15h @ChaddScott FM’s huge. Competitor loves to tout their AM signal’s strength. Only people hearing it are 50 – we crush them on 40k FM. #srchat
Larry Gifford@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 fm distribution is where 80%+ of the audience is but AM listeners listen 4ever. WFAN will feel pinch when CBS takes AM 660
Sports MBA@SportsMBA15h As a consumer, Im one of those. RT @TalkRadioOwen: A1:markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. #srchat
Larry Gifford@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 content is king, but when majority of audience doesn’t visit AM you’re only the tallest dwarf.
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: As w anything, it’s all about execution, budget and having great pxp partnerships, while poorly planned FM can stagnate. #srchat
Colleen Wall@ColleenWall14h A1: Since quality can be better on FM, that’s attractive to listeners. I tune to ESPN NY more often now that its switched to FM #srchat
Wells Guthrie@WellsESPN105114h A1: In small-mid size markets FM signal is vital. In large markets AM signals are more than enough. #srchat
You can read the entire #srchat transcript here. It’s exciting to me that smart people in radio are joining forces for the power of lifting the industry instead of tearing each other apart. It’s a trend I’m seeing more and more of and liking (see: Hivio. ) And the great thing is that anybody can set up a hashtag and a chat whenever you want. Do it. Invite your peers. Share ideas. Learn from each other. Lift each other up.
This is one of the times of the year when sports radio hosts like to go on the air and tell listeners that there’s nothing much going on in the sports world. I hear hosts calling this a “dead time;” right after the Super Bowl and before March Madness. When hosts do this they are not only turning off listeners and advertisers, they are telling them to go away.
Listeners are tuning into radio, in part, to escape the realities of their everyday life. No one wants to tune in to hear someone whine about how slow their day is going and babble on about nothing in particular. Strange as it is, this idea of a “slow time” only happens in the sports format. You never tune into a talk format and hear Rush Limbaugh droning on about how slow it is in Washington. I’ve never heard a rock DJ say, “boy this is a dead time for music, I really don’t have anything worth playing today.” Think about it this way, if you turned on CNN and they announced, “No real news today to report.” You would turn to another channel. Same goes listeners of sports talk.
Not only will announcing to the listeners that is a slow time for sports make your radio station more of seasonal listen than it already it is, it could also lead to less revenue. Advertisers are looking for the biggest bang for the buck. If I was an advertiser on a station and I heard a host lamenting about how it’s a slow time and there’s nothing to talk about, I would have to reconsider how I invested my ad dollars. I likely would cancel my order and place my commercials on a station that is excited about its content and is compelling fans to listen.
These are the days that hosts earn their money. This is when they prove their worth to a station and company. It’s a host’s job to make fans care about something. Regardless of what’s going on they have a responsibility to be creative, passionate and compelling. It may be a slower sports day than they like, but that is a YOU problem. Hosts need to work harder to find great story lines, tease them, develop them and pay them off.
Programmers, GMs and sales teams need to hold the hosts accountable to help drive ratings and revenue, not drive it away.
Two hours and fifteen minutes. That’s how long ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd says it takes him to actively prep for his show. “I go into a show ready with eight different ways to approach four topics.”
Cowherd talked exclusively with LarryGifford.com about how he prepares each day for his show “The Herd.” His active prep time estimate does not include watching games at night, catching up with SportsCenter in the morning, or all the work that his team puts into the show before he arrives and after he leaves each day.
Colin says he leans on three guys: board operator “Fish” is the ears of the show and in charge of audio; associate producer Tom finds stats, stories and support information; producer Vince is helping Colin with creative writing and content development.
Out of the two hours and fifteen minutes, about twenty minutes is used to write the opening rant. He also previews the available audio and works with his team to develop multiple angles to the big stories of the day.
“You’re writing a sitcom. Everyone is throwing out ideas, and I’m editing saying, ‘Yes! That’s good. Vince that’s a good line.’ We just keep building,” Colin says, describing his 7:15 am meetings. So, when the dust clears and the ‘on air’ light turns red, what’s the goal? “I do believe, going into most segments, you have to take the audience somewhere. Take them somewhere emotionally. I say this often, ‘Make them ‘blank.’ Make them laugh, make them mad, make them annoyed, make them think, make them cry. Make people ‘blank.’ Take them somewhere.”
Armed with the same information about the same teams and games that everybody watched, the same stats and the same audio as every other host in the nation, how does Colin create something new and different that takes his audience somewhere?
Colin explains one of his strategies: “It’s not about the team, it’s about the star player. People like Kobe, not the Lakers. It’s not about the Giants, it’s about Eli. It’s not about the Packers it’s about Aaron Rogers. I get criticized for it and get a lot of attention for it. I take on the athlete. So, I will find a player and I’m with him or against him. I’m on his side or I’m not. It gets really personal. I think everybody in this business talks about the team, but research shows people buy the jersey of the player. I find, the more you talk about a player it’s much more interesting radio. People take sides, there are lines in the sand, it’s a verbal tug-o-war and it’s very compelling.”
He also says he creates a theory or strong opinion for each branch of each topic and writes it down. He refers to this during breaks and then has it in front of him while he’s talking about it so he can refer back to it periodically during the segment and stay on topic.
Colin stresses the importance of playing the hits. “ESPN is very much like the weather channel. When a hurricane hits we all go to the weather channel. When Michael Vick’s in trouble we all go to ESPN. In my business, I’m rooting for dumpster fires. I’m rooting for messes. I’m rooting for controversy, because that’s what my audience loves.”
Listen to the full interview here, including Colin’s revelations on PPM, how personal you should get on the air and how he judges his own shows.
Your listeners are regular guys with regular jobs, regular families and regular problems. They work hard and can’t afford to go to a lot of sporting events. They’ve likely never been court side, walked on a Major League Baseball field or even talked to a pro athlete. You are their ticket inside. They crave local sports information. These guys are smart, more media savvy than you think, and they know what they like when they hear it. They have high expectations for sports content whether it is on TV, radio, the internet or other. They likely know more about at least one local team than you do and certainly believe that to be true. They are passionate about these teams. They don’t want you to rely on the audience to provide your content, they won’t be calling in and they won’t enter contests. They don’t want you to try too hard to be funny, smart or connected. They don’t want you to waste their time. They are listening by themselves and using you as an escape from real life. These guys are tuning in to hear YOU talk about the things that matter most to them. They want to like you, but often times think you are an idiot. They have no loyalty. If you are boring, they will find someone who isn’t. They want you to take a side, have an opinion, provide unique information, explore an angle, or a go in a new direction. Tell them a story. They want to know you, recommend you, rely on you, and trust you. They want you to entertainment them and tell them something they don’t know. They will steal your opinions and use them as their own in front of their buddies. They’re not as sick of Brett Favre, steroids, and BCS talk as you are, even if they say they are. These are your listeners to lose. What are you doing today to win them over?
**UPDATE 05-01-2012: Dave Rothenberg is now hosting 7p-10p on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York City.
Programmers are always asking me “Who’s out there?”, “Where’s the next talent?” So, periodically, here on the blog, I’ll be shining a light on rising stars in radio.
Dave Rothenberg is “who’s next” today. Dave, a New Yorker by birth, has recently picked up some shifts on 1050 ESPN in New York. He’s tells LarryGifford.com that he’s excited for the opportunity, “It means everything. I am a born and bred New Yorker with a crazy passion for the New York sports scene.”
Dave has a familiar story. 13 years ago he started running the board and providing the halftime show on high school football broadcasts on WGCH-AM 1490 in Greenwich. He was a weekly football expert on WALE-AM 990 in Providence, RI. He skipped around with stops at Air America, Sirius, and Cablevision. in October 2007, he moved to Raleigh, NC to help launch 99.9 FM The Fan. He was recently a casualty of budget cuts.
So, how’s a guy who’s laid-off in Raleigh end up on 1050 ESPN in New York?
Dave says, “The key to having any success in this business is perseverance. I have always tried to make good connections and stay in touch with them. The problem with sports talk is there are always decisions made that make you scratch your head. I had the number one sports talk show in a market and lost my job. My last check included my ratings bonus. But, no matter how little sense things make at times, you need to keep positive and look ahead to bigger and better. I set up a meeting on a trip to New York City with Justin Craig, the PD of ESPN New York and I guess impressed him enough to land this great opportunity.”
Networking. Networking. Networking. Should I say it again? Networking.
Dave has a marathon on 1050 ESPN starting this weekend: Sunday, December 5th 7a-9a, overnight Sunday into Monday Midnight to 5am (part of the Jets 24 hour pre-game show), and then overnight Monday into Tuesday. Take a listen (online at www.espnnewyork.com)