Tag Archives: ESPN

Radio’s Got a Story to Tell

Sometimes a radio station changes its name, format, or both. Other times it makes a morning show switch—sometimes the talent leaves voluntarily, in other instances not so much.

How do stations usually handle these large-scale changes? On far too many occasions, they move forward in their on-air presentations like it’s “business as usual.”

And that is bad business.

Radio station management often doesn’t think about the brands’ relationship to the audience. When big decisions are made, they avoid telling listeners because there is an underlying line of thinking that radio is “show biz” and therefore explanations are somehow unnecessary. “Talk” to the audience? We don’t actually talk to the audience. We present. We’ll make the change and they’ll get it.

Over the course of doing focus groups throughout my career, I heard from radio listeners that had been exposed to these types of changes, in instances where the station didn’t talk about the changes. The audience never understood. If it was a morning show change, they would ask, “Where did the morning show go?” “Where did these new guys come from?” The way these changes were handled generated a sense of confusion. It also created a sense of disappointment and sometimes anger. The radio station has asked its listeners to build a relationship with its hosts. Now the hosts listeners have built relationships with have been taken away and they don’t get an explanation?

Sounds pretty crappy when you really think about it.

A classic example of how to not handle a change was how ESPN handled Mike & Mike. The hugely successful show that paired anchor Mike Greenberg with former NFL player Mike Golic aired on ESPN Radio for 17 years. Then, all of a sudden in 2017, it was announced that Greenberg would be leaving to host his own show. It was never really explained to the audience why he was leaving. When Trey Wingo was brought on to replace Greenberg, the new show was never clearly defined. Why should the audience care? There were reports of acrimony and bad blood between Greenberg and Golic, and Golic and Wingo ultimately didn’t last three years.

Bristol, CT – February 8, 2016 – Studio F: Mike Greenberg, left, and Mike Golic on the set of Mike & Mike. (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Perhaps the show would not have survived anyway, but in many respects it never had a chance. When you replace a heritage show that features hosts that have undeniable chemistry with a new show that is essentially starting from scratch, you need to let the audience in on the change. By doing so, you are asking permission for them to give you the time needed to develop the new show. When you don’t, when you just expect them to “get it,” their reaction is far more likely to be negative. “They took away my favorite show and replaced it with a worse one.”

Golic and Wingo were simply put in a terrible position.

Bristol, CT – November 27, 2017 – Radio Studio: Mike Golic and Trey Wingo on the set of Golic & Wingo
(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Here’s another example.

YouTuber Stevin John released his first Blippi video in 2014. Wearing a blue shirt with bright orange glasses, suspenders, and a bow tie, John presented Blippi as a children’s entertainer and educator. Blippi has been a massive success in children’s entertainment. Blippi has 13 million YouTube subscribers and an additional 11 million on a Spanish language account. The videos have racked up billions of views. That’s billions with a b.

Five years after launching Blippi (in 2019,) fans attending the Blippi Live tour noticed that Stevin John wasn’t the one playing the Blippi character. It was the same orange and blue clothes, but it was actor Clayton Grimm on stage with no explanation. Audiences were just expected to accept that Blippi was Blippi, no matter who played him. Recently, John launched a new Learn With Blippi series of videos on YouTube, and Clayton Grimm is now also the online Blippi. What did viewers think? The comments are turned off.

(L) Stevin John as Blippi; (R) Clayton Grimm as Blippi

This has resulted in widespread confusion, with online comments that include, “Who’s this??! This ain’t gonna fly with my kids,” while another wrote, “My 3-year-old said, ‘That’s not Blippi.”

If you dig deep enough, you’ll find John addressed the issue in an interview with Billboard before the 2019 tour. “I won’t be on the road, but I am obviously extremely involved with the whole process,” he said. “Blippi is as a character and I’m the creative force behind it, but since YouTube is a monster and all of these platforms are really crazy I can’t go on the road for many weeks or months at a time.”

When you’re trying to deliver a crucially important widespread message about a change to your brand, maybe an industry publication like Billboard isn’t the way to go. This is a message that should have been delivered aggressively through traditional media and social media, and should be clearly front and center on the Blippi website. But it’s not. In fact, the answer to the question “Who is the actor that plays Blippi?” on the FAQ page is Stevin John.

What happens when a radio station changes its name or music?

When a station makes a wholesale change to its brand—a name change, music shift, new imaging, perhaps new air talent—it cannot emerge “fully developed.”

Your station can’t have one name, one music library, one set of DJs, and one imaging package on the air on a Thursday, and suddenly debut all new things on a Friday and pretend like nothing has happened.

This is in part because listeners are not paying close enough attention. They will not pick up on the nuances you expect them to. The result is that the new brand doesn’t get the opportunity to build properly because the audience is confused.

They changed their name from G102 to The Vibe? Why? That morning show I listened to every morning for five years is gone. Why? They’re not playing my favorite songs anymore. Why?

Every brand change needs a story. You cannot just jump in the pool with no explanation.

There was a rock station in Davenport, Iowa in the 80s that ignored their brand fit and followed the music trends. The station started playing popular Top 40 artists like Prince and Madonna. The ratings tanked and listeners were furious. Ultimately, station management realized they had made a mistake and recognized they were damaging the brand. When they corrected their error, they didn’t just take Prince and Madonna off and hope the audience picked up on it. The program director went on the air and apologized. He explained why they did it, why they were changing back, and handled it with some self-deprecation.

The ratings came roaring back.

When E. Alvin Davis was a program director and consultant, he explained the value of having the PD talk to the audience about what they were doing. He would introduce himself in promos explaining new contests. Here’s what it’s called, here’s why we’re doing it, and here’s how to play. Let the audience peek behind the curtain.

Ultimately, that’s the whole point. Let your audience peek behind the curtain. If you tell them why you changed the station (and please, do not insult their intelligence and say, “you told us you wanted it”,) they are more likely to accept it. If you explain why the music has changed, they are more likely to notice (and listen). If you explain why the new morning show is there and why the other one left, they are more likely to give the show a chance.

Show biz is an important part of radio, but sometimes we need to dial it back just a bit. When changes are made, be intimate and honest and don’t pretend the change didn’t happen. If your goal is to build strong bonds with your audience, you’ve got to be willing to share the ride with them, in good times and in challenging times. If you treat the audience like the bond doesn’t exist, the bond will be broken and the change for naught.

Interview With Brent Axe: Coronavirus and the POKE Scale

Tuesdays With ColemanWhat a difference a few weeks, days and hours makes.

Before the travel bans, before sports and concerts cancelled and before schools closed, I paid a visit to Syracuse University for my college radio station’s 35th annual reunion. I returned from that trip just nine days ago.

The keynote of the WJPZ Alumni Banquet featured three SU grads: Jeff Kurkjian, host of Jeff and Aimee in the Morning on 102.7 The Coyote, a Las Vegas Country station; Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio Programming for ESPN and Brent Axe, host of the “On The Block” afternoon show on ESPN Radio/Syracuse and a reporter for Syracuse.com.

Syracuse Sports Journalist Brent Axe

During the session, Brent brought up a principle that guides his show planning, called the POKE scale. As with many others in the industry, his brand stretches across platforms including hosting his own podcast. I wanted to know how Brent is using POKE to build his brand, develop compelling and engaging content and demonstrate differentiation as a reason for listening.

Just last Wednesday, we spent some time on the phone discussing it. Syracuse was set to play the University of North Carolina in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament later that night. While we knew sports would soon be played without fans in the venues, the thought of cancelling them altogether hadn’t yet crossed our minds.

That was six days ago.

Brent and I discussed how POKE plays a role in his daily planning, including the way he covered Coronavirus on his sports talk show up to that point.

Perhaps there’s value now, more than ever, in applying the POKE scale to show prep–certainly in a format (Sports) built around something that currently, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist. In addition, as Brent explains, it is equally important to recognize when to make adjustments.

Read an edited transcript or listen to the entire interview below.

JAY:

When I saw you in Syracuse, you mentioned the POKE scale. Talk about the acronym and what each letter means.

BRENT:

Passion, Opinion, Knowledge and Entertainment. I write my show notes on a legal pad. Every day on the top of the legal pad I write the date of the show and POKE. If you’re accomplishing those four things, particularly in the type of show I do, you’re checking the box.

Let’s start with Passion. The number one thing my listeners say to me is they appreciate my passion. They might not agree with what I’m saying, but they enjoy the manner in which I’m delivering it.

Opinion. Listeners are looking for you to have a defined, clear take. As we speak, Syracuse is getting ready to play in the ACC Tournament. They have to win to go to the NCAA Tournament. The discussion on the show is, “If they don’t win, is it a failed season?” If I don’t think it’s a failed season, I have to explain why.

Knowledge is prepping. And when you work in this industry, you’re constantly prepping. When you’re watching sports, you’re debating with yourself. First it’s, “Am I going to talk about this?” If the answer is yes, then it’s “How?” And how do I keep it entertaining for those that aren’t hard core sports fans?

JAY:   

Are you putting each topic through the POKE filter to determine how each break works within that structure?

BRENT:  

I try to. The other day I talked about Coronavirus and I broke the Opinion rule. I said, it’s my job to have an opinion here, but this is a case where we don’t know enough to have a firm opinion. You can have an opinion, but you have to clarify it sometimes when it’s beyond the scale. This is real life interfering with sports, so I’ll be honest with my listeners. When I came on, I said, I’m not an expert, I know what I know, here’s the information we have, and let’s go from there. That’s where putting it through the filter doesn’t always work. I heard a call from Bob Costas who was talking about sports talk radio and the “First Take” shows of the world and podcasts, and Bob said you can’t possibly be that opinionated about something for three hours a day, five days a week. And he’s right. When I look at the four things in the POKE scale, (I might say) I can’t entertain you today. Coronavirus is a serious discussion. You’ve got to know when to break the rules and let people know that today’s a little different.

JAY:  

So many shows right now are trying to figure out how to handle approaching the Coronavirus. If you had handled it with updates like a hard news station, it would be out of left field and not consistent with your brand.

BRENT:

And that’s where Knowledge comes into play and applies to guests. If I don’t know, get somebody on that does. It’s growing so many different layers. Schools cancelling classes. Events that are being cancelled. What do I do as a fan? Do I go to games? This is not going anywhere anytime soon, so knowledge becomes important. Trusting sources, getting people on the air with you that can explain it. If you’re not knowledgeable about it – in this case it’s Coronavirus but it could be a 2-3 zone defense – get somebody on who is knowledgeable.

JAY: 

Do you think authenticity goes part and parcel with Passion?

BRENT:  

Yes. You can’t control authenticity. Your audience is making that judgement. You’ve got to be authentic and people will appreciate that more.

JAY: 

Many hosts are afraid to give their opinion, whether it be because they fear it will be controversial or taken the wrong way. Do you always say what you believe or do you sometimes take an opinion you feel will be good for the show?

BRENT: 

It’s important to me that my opinion–going back to that word we used a minute ago–is authentic. The opinion I give someone in public better be the same as it is on the radio.

JAY:  

On the topic of brand development, listeners will see through it if it doesn’t match the brand perception of who you are.

BRENT:   

I’ve been doing radio in Syracuse since 1996. My listeners know certain things about me. I’ve had an opinion for years that Pete Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame and nothing has come along to change my opinion. So every time Hall of Fame voting comes around, I hear from people. “You still feel this way?” It can help build a brand and build awareness when people know what your opinion is.

JAY:  

Does the POKE scale work outside of Sports? Like for a morning show on a CHR or Hot AC station, for example?

BRENT:  

Yes. For example, you need to be passionate about the market you work in. That’s essential. Having an opinion and gathering other opinions is important. Knowledge speaks for itself and we’re all entertainers! That’s what I love about the POKE scale. It does apply to just about everything you can do in this business.

 

We send our thanks to Brent for taking the time to share the principles of the POKE scale, and applaud every radio personality going above and beyond to serve their listeners in important, crucial and memorable ways.

What Made Mike & Mike Successful?

Tuesdays With Coleman

On Friday, November 17th, Mike & Mike aired their final broadcast on ESPN Radio. The show’s anchor, Mike Greenberg, will move on to host his own morning TV show in the spring. His co-host for the past 18 years, Mike Golic, will remain in place with a new partner, longtime ESPN staple Trey Wingo.

Golic and Wingo

New ESPN Morning Team Mike Golic and Trey Wingo

A run as long and remarkable as this deserves some reflection as to what made the show work.

Mike and the Mad Dog are rightfully credited with influencing the launch of sports talk radio stations and a generation of sports talk hosts during their time at WFAN/New York; however, both Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo were career broadcasters when they were paired with each other.

Mike and the Mad Dog

While Mike and the Mad Dog could also be described as an “Odd Couple”, the debut of Mike & Mike on January 3, 2000 presented sports talk fans with an odd couple that offered completely different perspectives – a career broadcaster paired with a career athlete.

In fact, the show’s original tag line was “What makes them different makes them great”.

Greenberg and Golic understood their roles extremely well and always presented their points of view from their respective lenses. The plot of the show clearly highlighted these two points of view. They used these roles to create comedic and dramatic tension.

It’s important to consider how good Mike & Mike was considering the challenges it faced as a national show. While there is plenty of passion for sports around the country, sports fandom is almost always hyper local. If there was news about your team that wasn’t noteworthy on a national level, you wouldn’t hear about it on Mike & Mike. On the other hand, a local sports talk show could cover the story in great detail. Many of these local shows that focus on important local content about their local teams beat Mike & Mike in the ratings, but Mike & Mike did very well considering their national perspective.

The principles that guided Mike & Mike are ones that can be applied to any local or national show. These include:

  • Define a clear role for each character on the show
  • Clearly communicate these roles to every member of the show
  • Ensure differing viewpoints are presented in show discussions
  • Encourage the talent to focus on personal relationships, not just the news topics
  • Have the show look for interesting angles on stories that will appeal to casual listeners
  • Make diligent show planning a consistent habit
  • Always aim for high production value

Mike & Mike’s influence will be felt for some time to come. The lessons of what made it work will last forever.