Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media fans. Despite the dog days of summer having descended on us, interesting media stories keep trickling in. Please continue to help by sending along your good and bad reads, interviews, and segments. DMs are always open and if you’re reading here then you should be following me on Twitter.


Suggested Listening: London Grammar


Ok, let’s go …


The Big Picture


With the news that Andrew Walker has been chosen to anchor the lead chair in the lead spot on Sportsnet THE FAN 650 this brings to an end months of speculation about whether YVR would draw from YYZ for their new all-sports radio station. The reason we have spent so much time talking about the new station is that this is the first major spate of hiring in sports radio since TSN1050 launched 6 years ago. (Of note: Cybulski was at the centre of both opening day line-ups. No one is ever really fired from radio)


A second reason SN650 has been notable is that this is the second market where Bell and Rogers will go head-to-head for the hearts and minds of males 18-54. Interestingly each network occupies the converse position as in Toronto. TSN1040 is the heritage brand with the old talent that some people can’t stand, and SN650 is the plucky upstart trying to leverage its TV presence to carve off a slice of the dudes in the key demo.


With so much bad news in the industry, radio chugs along as the little revenue engine that could, while print and TV and their bloated budgets take the bulk of the slashes.


I couldn’t possibly give an informed opinion on the strength of the YVR line-ups but we are planning to crowd-source a post on that topic so if you have thoughts, send via DM or email. The more interesting topic for readers is what this means for the line-ups and match-ups here in Toronto. Here are some assorted thoughts:




Solo radio is hard. It is impossible to do well if you don’t have a massive guest budget (see, e.g. Jim Rome). If you are solo you’ll understandably take any chance to have someone else fill some air-time: your producer, an intern, someone hanging out in the hub, a TV talking head on a coffee break, random athletes with nothing else going on or a product to pump, the audience as part of opening the phones or an assortment of gag/themed call-in segments …


I understand that some people like the “guys ragging on each other” vibe this brings but it’s not for me. As a listener I have a hard time listening to a radio show with so few parameters. With that in mind, if the plan is to let Ben step into Walker’s shoes, I don’t expect the result to be great. The messaging to the audience when he joined was botched by keeping it as the Andrew Walker Show (withbenennis). If they keep everything the same and just shift him one seat over he’ll be regarded as a poor man’s Andrew Walker. Not a recipe for success.


Next Man Up?


My hope is management thinks seriously about building a coherent afternoon line-up that leads into PTS. The 1-4 slot has been a write-off for much of my life. Anyone remember Krystal PM or the Jack Armstrong & Doug MacLean show? Ben is a good broadcaster but needs a straight-man or woman to shine. Here are some possible pools Scott Moore could draw from when he decides what to do with afternoons:


A. The Radio Bench: Rob Wong, David Bastl, George Rusic, Dan Riccio, JD Bunkis, Joey Vendetta

B. The Affiliates: Ryan Pinder, Eric Francis

C. The Severances: Dean Blundell, Mike Richards, Matt Cauz, Mike Hogan

D. The Women: Caroline Cameron, Carly Agro, Jackie Redmond, Hazel Mae

E. Other: Eric Smith, Ken Reid


The more I hear Eric Smith on radio as a fill-in the more I think he is perfect for Ben for the next 2 months. He does a lot Raps work on TV but who knows what the long term plan is there. He’s done baseball before (Jays Express) and is as competent on air from a technical standpoint as anyone in the market.


Another option that fits is Joey Vendetta. His guest appearances from LA never made sense but since he has moved back to Toronto that problem goes away. His rolodex is peerless and would bring a different calibre of guest to early afternoons.


A third option is Hazel. She is perfect for her current job but for some reason they have Arash taking some of her time. She’s as smooth as silk on radio and I would love to hear her talk on a wide range of topics. I have no idea if she would be good but there’s only one way to find out.


Lessons from Walker


No one has had more success at a younger age than Andrew. If you bracket people who got into radio via family connections, he stands alone in terms of success. In 5 years in Toronto he went from update guy to 2nd chair in the AM-drive to co-host in the PM dead-zone to solo in the same slot and finally to #1 chair in the PM-drive in a major Canadian market. Compare that career arc to anyone else working in the country. No one has a better conversion percentage on chances given. The way radio works, he will now be a voice in Canadian sports for the next 30 years.


Three quick points:


1) Walker didn’t go to university but went straight to Western Academy in Saskatoon.  This is the same place that trained Dutch, and Dreger and Loubardias. Pretty impressive alumni. Take note if you’re planning your own attempt to break in to radio.


2) Walker managed to crack the Toronto market as an outsider despite being knowledgeable about things Torontonians ignore, like the CFL and CHL.


3) Walker refused to join Blundell’s company and took heat from management for it. Hard to argue that was a mistake now. Think about how things worked out for him compared to George Rusic, Kayla Harris, FaBro, and the rest of the people who went down with Dean’s ship.


 Over to you: Who should join Ben on The Andrew Walker Show? Will The FAN finally hire a woman to be a co-host? 


The Radio Wars


I ran a poll on Twitter about the SN650 vacancies, asking who from Toronto should go west. Here are the results:



With the news that Shannon will be keeping his talents in Toronto, we can turn our attention to the state of the line-ups. We will do our annual report card later this summer but here are a few thoughts in the interim.


This tweet by “Son of Steve” Jeff Simmons caught my attention:



The positive response — 400 likes! — is quite impressive. Hayes has enjoyed a blessed career so far at 640 and 1050, and management’s decision to shift Leafs Lunch into Overdrive has certainly paid off for him. While “Two and a Half Jocks” is not my cup of tea it is hard to argue with its broad appeal. It is also the top radio destination for all of TSN’s TV talent.


The key to Overdrive’s appeal is, in my opinion, the O-Dog. O’Neill is a rare talent: funny, self-deprecating, sarcastic, rich, opinionated … and a pretty good broadcaster as well. He’s the anti-Zaun. Listeners, especially those who love hockey have some great options 4-7. With the FAN’s commitment to supporting all things NHL, TSN1050’s investment in Leafs talk, and the rise of the Maple Leafs under Babcock, Lou, and Shanahan there has never been a better time to be stuck in your car on the QEW.


Moving backwards in the schedule, Scott MacArthur has to be excited about the shuffle at the FAN. He now gets the home-field advantage over The Andrew Walker Show. I have not spent enough time listening to this show to have an informed opinion but if I never hear the words “Uncle Shawny” again that is fine with me. Producer talk is an instant channel-changer. Save it for the breaks.


Scott hits baseball hard as he should. As mentioned before in this space, I wish he would cut the cord with Leafs Lunch and kick their leftovers out of the studio rather than wasting the first hour on hockey talk. (Retracted: apologies, this is not an accurate description of the current show) By contrast, I could see a nice arrangement whereby Hayes comes in early and spends the final hour with Scott. That might alleviate the need for a co-host.


I don’t listen to either of the hockey shows so I can’t comment on those. Mid mornings are not a fight because TSN1050 isn’t fielding a squad. The really interesting thing to watch is the matchup in the morning. Neither show is, in my opinion, anyone’s ideal pairing. TSN’s offering is clearly a stopgap measure while the clock runs out on Landsberg’s TV deal. Who knows what will happen when that expires. While Brady & Price is a new show, the move was forced by the gift that keeps on giving, namely the hiring of Dean Blundell (KGI™). I can’t imagine that re-hiring Brady after paying him to leave and putting with someone in his 60s from out of market was anyone’s dream team. This has temporary move written all over it.


The other big shoe to drop is this: if you skate to where the puck is going then in the next year lots of stuff in play. As we all know, Bob’s million dollar contract is up for renewal at the end of the year. While the co-host situation is better, it is not good. At the same time, Tim & Sid’s TV show is through 3 years. (Here’s a fun video from a simpler time when the show was announced.) Ratings-wise, T&S draws about 50k viewers compared to about 130k for TSN’s Sportscentre. There is simply no way to justify the salaries associated with those results.


To compound the incoherence, these two expensive shows compete with each other on TV. With Bob ready to work less it may be time to end this dumb idea of having two major shows on tv at same time. There are lots of possible moves:


  • Move Tim and Sid back to afternoons 2-5 on radio, shift PTS to 5-7
  • Move T&S to take on Jay&Dan in the late night/comedy timeslot, commit to PTS as your supper hour TV show
  • Move T&S to mornings on tv or radio


Over to you: What is the most pressing line-up change in need of happening? Who watches TV from 5-7pm?


Quick Hits


With the “Everyone Gets Rich” tour in full swing, it has been interesting to watch the response from the media to the Mayweather-McGregor fight. CBC Toronto paid someone to write about the event but neglected to provide any context for the non-sports reader.



Boxing will always have a special place in the heart of a certain kind of older male sports-writer. But clearly not everyone is on board. With recent tour stops featuring gay and racial slurs, some people voiced their displeasure:



Things are going really well for The Athletic. Here’s a recent story on their business model and their expansion plans. James Mirtle also penned a letter to subscribers, current and future, explaining how things are going in Toronto. With so much bad news surrounding journalism, it is hard not to feel great about their success. Congratulations to James and his team, and here’s hoping demand can keep up with supply. There has never been more unemployed sports writers, and they can’t all go work for TSN and SN or the league websites.


Ryan Wolstat of The Sun wrote the story that everyone was talking about this week — sometimes even citing him — about a divided Raptors locker room. As people pointed out on twitter: why was this story not written during the season and playoffs? It’s very frustrating that with so many people covering the team we have to wait until players are on their way out of town before finding these things out.


Rick Westhead and the TSN Originals team went to Cuba to do a story on Jays prospect and recent defector Lourdes Gurriel Jr. You can watch it on TSN’s website here. I reached out to TSN Senior Features Producer Josh Shiaman about the piece. Here are a few questions and his answers.


Q: How do you decide which stories to cover? Is it a group decision? How much do you have to convince your bosses that the expense is worth it?

JS: Upper management at TSN is firmly committed to great storytelling. It is part of who we are as a brand. With that in mind, I’m given quite a bit of flexibility when choosing what stories to produce. The final decision’s really come down to the size, scope and scale of a particular story. Our decisions also must ask whether the story can benefit our core broadcasts, such as CFL, World Juniors, NFL, etc. We also need to ask whether the story matters to our audience. Lots to think about, but ultimately it comes down to, “is this a great story?”  If so, we usually can agree on the details.

Q: After Fox’s decision to cut writing, video is a bad word among journalists right now. Do you see features as a possible outlet for journalists in an era where written stories are valued less? Do you think sports media should be doing more features?

JS: I can’t say I was a big fan of Fox Sports’ decision here. I feel we’re trending towards reading sports stories with 150 emoji’s instead of words. But in a world where “snackable” short form video content is becoming paramount, I do understand their logic. Sports journalism isn’t really in the click-through market anymore. It’s an attention market. Getting a click through online isn’t good enough. It’s far more important to maintain and hold your audiences attention. Bouncing from one, stackable piece of video content to another has proven to be an effective way of keeping that attention. And certainly, most journalists have recognized this trend, which is why you’ve seen so many fantastic print journo’s migrating over to the video side of the business. TSN utilizes quite a few historically print journalists now to tell amazing video features, such as Westhead, Michael Farber, Dave Naylor and others.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • NEW: Congratulations to Hugh Burrill for making his debut on a PTS roundtable. He joins an elite fraternity.


  • I am going to start adding “Intelligent people will understand this” to all my tweets:



  • Bryan Hayes and Steve Simmons discussed all the smart people on TSN The Reporters (July 6, Hour 1 of OD). Simmons: “And then you have Bruce Arthur who is as smart if not smarter than the rest of them …” Hayes: “Just ask him.” It’s nice that colleagues can joke like this.


  • Jays are considering switching  Saturday games from 1pm to 4pm or 7pm. I’m fine with it, but also have no issues with the status quo. Is this something people care about?


  • #BlockedbyBlair has a post on the Jays dance surrounding rebuilding. If you can afford it you don’t need to tear it down to rebuild it. Lots of value in free agency if you’re willing to pay. A hybrid strategy of eating salary to get prospects in return while making room for development in 2018 makes sense to me. That puts you in a position to compete in 2019. Sell!


  • Here’s a solid opinion from Deitsch:



  • Bob rarely mentions his two producers. Deitsch mentions them more as a guest than Bob does as a host.


  • I watched a few clips of PTS this week. None of the other hosts will spend an entire interview playing around on their phone. There is literally no reason to have Shannon on radio as a host. Interview him when Gary has news he wants to share.



  • My pal Dan in Pittsburgh is obsessed with blogs and bloggers.



  • He also wrote a story about trading for Kadri. Give the guy’s blogs some clicks, and be sure to check out the ads from Pittsburgh’s #1 Exotic Club.


  • Best wishes to TSN1050 APD, Overdrive producer, and wife of Noodles Steph Apolito who is going on maternity leave. Tough shoes to fill for her replacement.


  • PR Nightmares, Exhibit A:



  • If outlets want to be taken seriously, the #1 rule should be to give proper credit.



  • This sort of stuff drives me nuts. Journalists should be driving attribution policy, not corporations. What are they going to do? Fire all of you for insisting on a “no stealing” rule. (Nevermind).


  • Stephen Brunt was back in studio briefly this week. What do you do with your premium talent? You open the phone lines of course. No better use of the value he brings than to have him answer questions from callers about why this fight has “garnished” so much interest.


  • I have no idea what TSN sees in Jonas Siegel as a radio host. He is unpleasant, rude, bored, and boring.


  • If you didn’t get a chance to vote in our NHL insider poll, it is still open here. Kelly Hrudy is in last place with 8 votes but is only 3 away from catching up to Cox and Feschuk.



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thanks for reading and commenting,

typos fixed as my editor finds them

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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