10 Questions with ... Len Weiner
June 24, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
First job in sports radio was at WFAN. As PD, flipped KMPC-LA to sports, giving LA its first all sports radio station. Spent 10 years with ESPN Radio in Bristol working on expansion to 24/7 network, plus two more as PD of the ESPN owned radio station in Chicago…currently PD of Entercom’s 790 The Ticket/Miami.
1. You've been in sports radio since the earliest days of the all-Sports format. How did you get started in sports radio? Did you expect all-Sports to take off and last as long and as successfully as it has?
My entry into sports radio was by luck. The early part of my career was spent in news. I worked at NBC Radio in New York and KYW in Philadelphia and produced and wrote some sports, but mostly hard news. I was producing weekend sportscasts and the NFL on NBC Radio… seems like the only two years WW1 did not have the contract… and when the NBC contract was not renewed, I wasn’t either. A friend of mine from NBC recommended me to WFAN, which had not signed on yet. I went for an interview, and when I arrived home, there was a message for me offering me a job. So I started in sports radio when WFAN signed on as the nation’s first all sports radio station.
2. You're in a very crowded all-Sports market; how do you approach making The Ticket stand out against the competition?
Like everyone who programs a radio station, you have to figure out what makes your station unique. For The Ticket, it’s our personalities and being the flagship of the Miami Heat. We have a former Miami Hurricanes football star and NFL player as a co-host on our morning show, and a former NFL star who has lived in South Florida for more than 20 years, co-hosting middays. We also have Dan Le Batard, a Miami sports icon, who hosts a show with long time sidekick Stugotz. Dan does a local, exclusive, Miami only hour for us before his network show. He has a very large following in Miami, and having him as part of The Ticket is truly special. The Miami Heat have been the most successful of the local sports franchises over the last 10 years, so there is a huge buzz surrounding them, and it helps immensely to air their games. We also have an aggressive event schedule… one big event almost every month, plus smaller events such as watch parties and appearances. All of this goes into making The Ticket a brand, and the number one sports station in Miami.
3. How important is play-by-play to the overall success of an all-Sports station? Is it limited to particular franchises -- is any PBP, even of a team with less local popularity, always better than none?
If you have the right team, it’s great for cume and imaging. The association adds credibility to your brand, and presents all kinds of promotional and event opportunities. When sports radio first started, play-by-play was very important because it helped draw listeners to the station and you could promote the rest of the station during the games. If you have a team that is hot in your market, it builds interest, dialogue and an affiliation with a very recognizable brand. If you don’t have play-by-play, you can still create an image that you cover the team better than anyone else. It just takes a little more work and focus.
4. You've done sports radio in many markets. What are the defining characteristics of South Florida sports radio that are unique to the market, if any? Is it all Dolphins and Heat, or is there any interest in the Marlins or Canes? What's The Ticket's primary focus?
South Florida - Miami - is one of the more diverse markets in the country. There are many different ethnicities and languages, which add to the region’s uniqueness. This is good for The Ticket, because there are many different sports interests among the population. The Heat’s success has made them a big topic of conversation. Lebron James is still loved AND hated in Miami. It adds to the soap opera that sports radio is. The NFL is huge everywhere, so Dolphins talk and coverage is important. The Canes have a legacy, a new coach, an improved stadium and a fan base waiting to explode at the mere sign of success. Marlins and Panthers talk ebbs and flows with wins and losses and news. When we talk about these teams, we tend to spend time on their personalities. Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr from the Panthers… Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez from the Marlins.
5. Having worked on the network side as well as local, and sharing your most prominent show with ESPN, how much national programming can you get away with in a market like Miami? While the Dan Le Batard show still has a distinct Miami flavor and content in its national hours, Dan and Jon still have to talk about national topics, too; do you think that in a competitive sports market, you can run totally nationally-focused network programming (whether ESPN or Patrick, Rome, etc.) during daylight hours and maintain competitiveness?
Our most prominent show from ESPN is Dan and Stu because of their popularity and longevity in the market and the distinct Miami flavor you mentioned. Papi also adds to that Miami flavor. They do a local hour from 9 to 10am, heard exclusively on The Ticket, before the national show, and we replay that from 3-4pm. Dan will always be identified as a Miami guy, he broadcasts his show from South Beach, and we consider his show to be a local show, but we understand when he has to address national topics. Therefore, we view 790 as being a local station from 5:30am-10pm. The tricky part with carrying any national show is, if there’s a big local story, you might not get coverage on that nationally. For example, when the Heat were in the playoffs this past season, there was not a lot of talk about them nationally, but of course it was a huge local topic. I think in a major local market, with four professional teams and a big College Football program, the more local you are, the better. However, our affiliation with ESPN is important, due in part to the names and guests they can bring to our air.
6. Traditional talk radio has seen its audience age and its domain threatened by competition from digital sources like podcasts and social media. Sports radio seems to have weathered the competition so far, but do you see any danger signs ahead? How should broadcast sports radio react, if at all, to the plethora of websites, social media accounts, and podcasts about sports?
You have to be in the space, and you have to learn how to use it properly to drive ratings and revenue. I think stations are still trying to figure out how to tie it all together. You need to utilize, learn about, and maximize all digital sources. It seems as if everyone has a sports website or blog. Providing local content, and promoting it, is extremely important. The network sites like ESPN and Fox are going to do a great job handling the national stories. Local does local best. If I want South Florida news, weather and traffic, I’m going to go to local sites for the information, because of their local resources, not national. Same with sports. It’s not necessarily a danger sign, but stations are going to have to continue to become more aggressive here and need to keep up with all the changes. Five years ago, mobile was nowhere near what it is today. Now it’s a whole new area you need to be in.
7. Where do you find talent these days? What are the best sources for finding fresh talent?
Any place that provides content. It used to be that you would listen to the radio, say “I like that person, I want them to do radio for me,” and go after them. Now it’s podcasts, YouTube, internet shows. Anyone who cranks out content is a potential contributor to your station. You’re still looking for the same traits…there are just more places to choose from, which actually makes the search harder.
8. Of what are you most proud?
Being lucky enough to have had a little role in helping to shape sports radio into what it is today.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without __________.
...listening to music somewhere, somehow.
10. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
I’m still learning, but recognizing that I’m not the only one with all the ideas and involving everyone on your team to succeed.