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When Your Stream and App Matter Most

I may be a bush league columnist, but I am a major league media sampler. This summer, I’ve been driving on highways for hours and hours every week, traveling weekly between Massachusetts and Connecticut. And I’ve been listening. On a stream. On a station’s app. AM. FM. Podcasts. Audio Books. Satellite. MSNBC. Fox. CNN. Sports. News. Even Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I’ve learned two key things during my far-too-frequent two-and-a-half-hour drives: I am so glad I am not doing sports radio right now. Well-executed streaming is essential.

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Let’s begin with the first one.

I began my radio career as a freelancer at ESPN, way back around 2000. First, I talked hockey late night with Todd Wright, who along with Louise Cornetta, gave me my start. Then, I convinced the suits to let me fill in on shows like GameDay and GameNight. I didn’t get near Tony Kornheiser, Dan Patrick, and Mike & Mike, who really carried the network, but I didn’t need to be on the A-List; the rest of the shows were so much fun and were classics in the nascent days where affiliates were picking up ESPN Radio all over the country.

Plus, I was so green and needed to learn.

The teaching came from some of the best, notably Chuck Wilson and Chris Moore at night. One part grumpy guys in the Muppets balcony, one part lifelong sports fans, and all broadcasting professionalism. We were on all over the country, checking in on games, getting players in the locker room post-game, and breaking down whatever we could. My usual four-hour shift went by lightning fast, and those guys were so gracious with me. They knew so much about sports and so much about radio, whereas I had no idea what I was doing. Their lesson on the radio part: Never try too hard and always be your authentic self.

Flash forward 20 years. Tony, Dan, and the essence of Mike and Mike are gone. Local programming has captured so much more of the regional audiences, and as has been well noted, ESPN Radio doesn’t have the same impact as it once did.

Listening to local sports radio as I’ve done quite a bit this summer, especially 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, I am glad to be out of that matrix for one major reason: Redundancy.

I always was told to “play the hits” in sports radio — that it was good to re-set the top stories a lot as the audience turnover was frequent. So yes, we repeated ourselves a lot, but with national audiences, we whipped around so much, and it rarely felt like a hopeless loop. Plus, we could choose from a national menu of stories.

However, when some cities only have one sport going or only have one major story, they either have to talk about it all day long or they delve into the minutiae of things like positions and depth.

They don’t have to play the hits because of audience turnover. They have to play the only “hits” that they’ve got.

Don’t get me wrong, I still listen; but over the course of two-and-a-half hours, it’s not for long. It’s simply too much of the same thing. Of course, everyone deals with redundancy – as do I — but there’s something about specific market sports repetitiveness that makes me happy I’m out of that loop.

Having said that, when something compelling is happening, there’s no better place than a local sports radio station, and that’s where the magic of streaming comes in.

A great recent example was when I was leaving Massachusetts and the news broke that Ezekiel Elliott signed with the Patriots. It’s a big name, and it surprised a lot of people. On top of that, not long after Elliott’s signing broke, news that the rival Jets signed Dalvin Cook also hit the wires.

One of my favorite games as a media watcher is to assess how good a host is at a hot take off a piece of breaking news. How quickly can they reduce it to the most important elements? Will that hot take stand up over time?

Breaking news is fun, and so is the rush to judgment.

That’s where streaming comes into play. I was listening in Massachusetts as Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, and Jim Murray were breaking down the Elliott deal. Usually, the other two simply parrot, complement (complement, too) and cater to Felger, the clear A-chair host, but on this day, they all had some discernable differences of opinion. Not argumentative disagreement of course, but distinctly different nonetheless.

As can happen on terrestrial radio, the signal weakened as I moved out of range, and I could not listen anymore. Since the station’s app is right on my Apple Car Play, I simply popped that on the air and kept listening seamlessly.

It seems so simple, but if it wasn’t one touch away, I would not use it. If the app wasn’t reliable, I would not go back to it.

As media consumers, we often follow the path of least resistance, so media companies need to make it as simple and easy as humanly possible. And without naming names, there are plenty out there who have not been able to do that. So, if your app doesn’t work well, make some news because you will most certainly gain or lose listeners because of it.

Brian Shactman
Brian Shactman
Brian Shactman is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Radio. In addition to writing for BNM, Brian can be heard weekday mornings in Hartford, CT on 1080 WTIC hosting the popular morning program 'Brian & Company'. During his career, Brian has worked for ESPN, CNBC, MSNBC, and local TV channels in Connecticut and Massachusetts. You can find him on Twitter @bshactman.

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