It’s the fourth day of our “5 Podcasts in 5 Days” series, and so far it’s been an interesting experience. I started off reviewing “The Bill Simmons Podcast”. Explored unfamiliar territory by analyzing the “Men In Blazers”. Soaked up the passions of Clay Travis on “Outkick The Show”. And now I’m ready to discover what sets “The Jonah Keri Podcast” apart from the rest.
If you’ve read the other reviews, allow me a few seconds to repeat myself. Having worked in the sports radio industry for twenty years as a programmer, producer, and host, and now as a media consultant, my goal in reviewing these programs is to set a realistic expectation for the audience. I’m curious to see how each show compares to sports radio programs, how they capitalize on revenue opportunities, and what type of content experience they provide for their listeners.
If you’re a fan or critic of these shows, or if one of these programs is responsible for helping you make your next mortgage payment, don’t get too high or low off of the critique. This is the opinion of one person – Jason Barrett. Not the entire sports media universe.
As I offer my insights and opinions on these shows, I’m trying to do so in an honest and objective manner. The praise I provide isn’t paid for, and the criticisms I share aren’t personal. I realize that other podcasts that have been created by the host(s) may be different from the one I’m reviewing, but each show I’ve listened to is recent, and a fair reflection of their work. Whatever exists on other episodes, has no relevance to the ones I’ve spent time listening to.
If you’d like to listen to the episode I’ve reviewed and follow along, click here. Now let’s get down to business.
- TITLE: The Jonah Keri Podcast
- DATE: June 13, 2016
- LENGTH: 36 Minutes 41 Seconds
- CAST: Host = Jonah Keri
- SPONSORS: Lootcrate.com
- PRODUCTION: An excellent open, and short and effective close.
0:00-3:00 – The show begins with Jonah welcoming in the audience and promoting Tom Verducci’s appearance. He then executes a live read for the show’s new sponsor LootCrate.com and promotes his new SI piece, and a recent visit to the Negro League Museum. The voice inflection in the opening three minutes is a little inconsistent and there are times when Jonah sounds like he’s using his “broadcaster voice” rather than addressing things naturally.
3:00-3:30 – The production open hits, and it’s very catchy. It’s the Steve Perry song “Oh Sherrie”, reworked to highlight Jonah’s name and show. Well done.
3:30-11:05 – Jonah welcomes Tom Verducci to the program, and after exchanging pleasantries, they dive into discussing Jose Bautista’s status in the game, and his reputation inside baseball circles. As they maneuver through this topic, the discussion touches on Bautista’s upcoming free agency, his relationship with the city of Toronto, how the Toronto market is viewed by pending free agents, the bat flip incident, his fight with Rougned Odor, and the way teams and players respond in today’s game to showboating.
11:05-36:37 – The next area of focus is on Vin Scully who’s announced that the 2016 baseball season will be his last as a play by play announcer. Jonah explains the feelings that Scully evokes in people, and how he met him for the first time inside of a bathroom. Verducci adds to it by explaining why Vin is the best at what he does. He says that Vin’s humility is real, and his warm and inviting demeanor, and special talents as a storyteller, make you feel like family when you listen. Jonah wonders if it’s even possible for another Vin Scully to emerge or if broadcasters would be better served being themselves rather than trying to replicate what he’s done, and Tom believes that authenticity is key.
This leads to a great story from Verducci. He shares that during high school, Vin and his good friend Larry Miggins shared their dreams. Scully hoped to become a major league baseball announcer. Larry wanted to play in the major leagues. Seven or eight years later, Larry was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals and playing at Ebbets Field while Scully called the game. It was on this day that Miggins would hit his first homerun. Vin got quiet on the call because the moment was personal for him. He says that it’s the one time where he nearly lost it.
Jonah then shares why simplicity is broadcasting can be powerful, and how great announcers like Scully know when to be quiet and let the crowd tell the story. Verducci shares how Scully’s humility plays into the approach. While others may try to interject themselves into the story, Vin takes the opposite approach and believes that it’s a moment that belongs to the team and player, not the broadcaster.
The conversation then shifts to Tom’s transition into the broadcast booth. Verducci points out the importance of doing research and gaining information to help him establish his own identity on the broadcast. He adds that memory recall is also important because you can’t do math during the game. His goal is deliver a point or tidbit that others use in regular conversation. When he’s able to do that then he feels like he’s making a connection with the audience.
Having both worked as journalists, Tom and Jonah discuss the benefits of long-form vs. short-form content, and the approach taken by Sports Illustrated. Tom believes that everybody likes a good, well told story, and that’s the essence of long-form journalism. The appetite of people might have changed in recent times but if the content is great, people will make time for it..
The interview begins to come down the home stretch as Jonah asks Tom to share some of his favorite stories that he’s written during his career. He highlights a piece on steroids, and a couple of stories that included the Blue Jays and Red Sox. Jonah talks about the challenge of being a sports writer and how you can question the importance of your job at times. Tom explains that he used to have similar thoughts but after talking to Bob Klapisch about it, he was reminded of the many reasons why his work does matte. The discussion wraps up with Tom adding how he tries to be himself, speak in his own style, and blaze his own trail as a broadcaster and writer.
A quick creative production close runs after Jonah thanks Tom for being on to signal the end of the podcast.
If you’re a fan of good interviews, and in-depth conversations between established sports media professionals, you’ll enjoy this podcast. The respect Tom and Jonah have for one another is very noticeable, and each question is followed up with excellent substance. That made it easy to listen for a long periods of time. Over the course of thirty three minutes, Jonah asked Tom to weigh in on thirteen different topics and questions, and that helped the discussion explore different areas which kept it interesting.
One simple quality that I enjoyed on this show is that there’s a commitment to include some production value. The “Oh Sherrie” spinoff was creative, and added a little spice to the presentation. Some may find it hokey but as a lifelong radio guy, I appreciate it when shows try to add something extra to their appearance. Even the production close to signal the end of the broadcast was a nice simple touch. It won’t help Jonah add new listeners or stir the emotions of the audience, but it makes the product sound professional.
There are two places where the show can make some improvements. I’ve separated them into two sections to help explain each point.
First, Jonah doesn’t sound as natural and comfortable selling the opening three minutes, as he does during conversation with Verducci. If he can replicate who he is in the interview during his opening introduction, it’ll prevent listeners from skipping ahead to the conversation. Long-form broadcasting isn’t easy. At times we feel like we’re talking to ourselves, and our minds are programmed to think that the audience is stopping by because of the guest list. The guest may add value, and bring people inside the arena, but it’s the host’s name that’s featured on the front of the marquee. One point that came up in the interview was how Vin Scully told an aspiring broadcaster to be himself instead of trying to emulate what he did as a play by play announcer. If Jonah just talks from the heart, and tells people what he’s hoping to accomplish on the upcoming episode, it’ll not only sound better, but it’ll make him feel more confident too.
The second improvement opportunity has to do with the show’s structure in diving into content. Jonah opened up previewing the show, and read an eighty second sponsor read before the production open hits. It takes three minutes and thirty seconds before the show really gets into its best content. If the production open starts the show, and is followed up by the intro, it would allow Jonah to move quicker into conversation which will hook people faster. In a perfect world, the sponsor would be included after a natural re-set or after the interview concludes. I also thought eighty seconds was a very long read. The majority of things promoted during the spot will be forgotten by the audience.
Jonah and Tom have excellent chemistry, and I would listen to them talk about baseball and broadcasting again without hesitation. If your preference for a show includes an outspoken personality who hammers home hot takes and makes front page news, this won’t be your cup of tea. The presentation relies on smart, and insightful conversation, and is more in line with what you’d hear inside of a baseball stadium press box rather than inside your neighborhood sports bar.
In this particular episode, I don’t hear enough of Jonah’s personality which is something I’d like to see more of. His writing is excellent, and his appearances on radio and television shows have come across well, so the ability is there. One doesn’t need to be forceful with opinions to provide good content value, and I think Jonah probably has some stories locked away in his memory cabinet that would be fun for the audience to listen to. If he starts to open himself up more I think it’ll become an even better podcast.
One can question if this podcast is any different from what listeners hear on sports radio on a daily basis. It’s built around an interview just like many local programs. The audience’s interest level depends on their affinity towards Jonah, which is why I mentioned the importance of including a little more of his personality and storytelling skills.
That said, his interview with Verducci is excellent. Tom is engaging, has great energy, listens to the questions asked, and tries to add something of substance to further the discussion. His insights and opinions are well presented, and if you appreciate what he does, I can’t see you turning off this episode. Jonah also deserves credit for moving the conversation forward, asking good questions, and creating an environment which allows the interview to enter some really good content locations.
If Jonah’s team makes a few minor tweaks, and continue to book the same quality guests on future episodes, there will be sports fans who continue to download this program and enjoy it.