The Denver Broncos are on the clock. The envelope has been turned in to Roger Goodell. The commissioner takes the stage and announces, “With the 5th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select…”
Nobody has discussed who will become part of that sentence more than 104.3 The Fan in Denver. A station that focuses heavily on the Broncos, The Fan has been all-in on this year’s draft, with coverage that’s spanned all the way from The Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL to Josh Allen’s Pro Day in Laramie, WY.
At the center of that coverage, has been Darren McKee, co-host of The Drive with Big Al and D-Mac. Though the draft is always a big storyline in an NFL hungry city such as Denver, McKee realizes this year is different than most. Along with the Broncos owning a Top 5 pick for only the second time since 1992, the team has also been linked to having a strong interest in taking a quarterback. That, in itself, has created a large amount of interest among the fan base, which, in turn, has provided a big ratings opportunity for McKee, program director Armen Williams and the rest of the staff at The Fan.
But with draft day approaching this Thursday, what goes into getting the most out of, quite possibly, the biggest week of sports radio so far this year in Denver? In an exclusive interview with McKee, I asked that question and more to see just what to expect from the market leader during a crucial week.
TM: In this calendar year, would you say this is the biggest week for sports radio in Denver?
DM: That’s a good question. We just had our ratings come in for the month of March and free agency was huge for us. Huge. It was pretty rough after the end of the season, because not only were the Broncos bad this year, but they were bad early, meaning that there was plenty of time to realize how bad they were. It wasn’t like everyone was in up until the last minute, they were out of the playoffs for quite a while. But the intrigue was if they’d keep their coach (Vance Joseph). So after they kept their coach, and they were bad, they did let go of some of their assistant coaches, but nobody cares about that. So we definitely felt a dip. Then free agency came and the Broncos were on the chase for a quarterback, which pumped things back up for us. So, is this week going to be bigger than that? It’s a good question and I’ll be curious to see the results. It’s huge, I mean it’s gargantuan, but at the end of the day, I’ll have to look at the ratings afterwards to see if people really care more about this or if they cared more about free agency. All that being said, it’s hugely important to us and it’s a big, big deal.
TM: Your show is not one that’s centered on getting guests, but is this week different? Which guests are relevant during a time like this?
DM: We have some of our radio contributors in terms of news and information, such as guys like Troy Renck who works for Denver7. We may also reach out to people that develop story lines that we are pushing. For example, I’m big time on the Baker Mayfield wagon and I read that Alfred Breer of Sports Illustrated had a mock draft with Mayfield going to the Broncos. So I’ll probably push to get Breer on the show, something like that, because he’s going to help me out. Now, if it’s not my opinion and I see someone significant that mocked Bradley Chubb going to Broncos and we can track them down, then we may have that person on too. It’s not just my opinion that matters.
Other than that, the time for guests is kind of gone. Even on draft night, itself, we’ve learned that through experience. We’ll be out at a bar and every year we invite someone who was drafted the year before to be on with us. We had Shane Ray the year after he was drafted, we had Justin Simmons the year after he was taken and this year we have Chad Kelly. But we won’t talk to Chad Kelly once the draft gets going. We’ll have him on for maybe 10-15 minutes to touch base, but as soon as the draft starts, we won’t care about what Chad thinks, although, this year might be a little interesting if they take a quarterback with the first pick and he’s sitting right there. Guests to us, just aren’t that big of a deal. We have bought into the feedback that people are listening to our show to hear our opinion. Unless the guest can bring something significant to the table, we don’t feel a big need to add guests.
TM: You mentioned The Fan is having another huge watch party with the listeners this year. Where have you seen the benefit of having such a big event of draft night?
DM: You need to make a big deal about things that are a big deal, as much as possible. It creates an image that something big is going on. When we first did these draft parties, the setting was really great, but nobody was really that into it. It sort of blossomed throughout the years. For example, when Tim Tebow was drafted, Alfred (Williams) wasn’t even at the draft party. He was at the Broncos practice facility and Sandy Clough and I were out at a Buffalo Wild Wings. What we realized is that there was no reason to have Alfred at Dove Valley, or frankly anyone to be at Dove Valley. Nothing happens there until the draft is over when John Elway speaks, and we can just pod up that audio. So, the draft parties have become more of the show. Listen, the big man, Alfred, is a character. Just last year, the Broncos drafted Garrett Bolles in the first round and he walked off the broadcast for about five-straight minutes. Literally, he walked off the broadcast.
TM: What does your audience care about most when it comes to draft coverage?
DM: I’ve realized over the years it’s all about the first round. The more you can bring to the table for that first day, the better it is, because it’s what your audience values about. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in broadcasting is what not to do, what not to waste your time with. You have to just get to the point and focus on what your listeners care the most about. So when we get deeper in the draft, nobody really knows who these guys are in the 3rd, 4rd and 5th rounds. So are we really going to go that deep on the air, day after day and bring these guys up? For what purpose? To bring it up on a Saturday afternoon that you were right? I mean, who cares?
What you want to be is great leading up to the event. The draft is like a big game. Usually you have a game every week, but the draft is one time and you have months to get ready for it, so it’s really extraordinary. But after the draft is over, everything changes. It’s all about the hype leading up to it, and if the only thing people care about is the first round, then bang away at that as hard as possible.
TM: It seems the morning show of Mike Evans and Mark Schlereth, as well as your co-host, Big Al, adamantly disagree with your take on what the Broncos are going to do with the fifth pick. In terms of content, is that a dream scenario for your program director?
DM: Yes and no. I would say yes, to the degree that it creates different points of view, but I’d also say no, because each show still has to exist on its own. Ultimately in radio, it’s about capturing a listener for 15-20 minutes a day. That’s it. If the morning show says one thing about how dumb the afternoon show is, and then I tune into the afternoon show and they’re saying how dumb the morning show is, there’s naturally a back-and-forth there, right? There’s an anticipation to hear what each one is going to say. But, the yes and no part is if one of my shows is so negative about something and they’re saying how stupid the afternoon show is, or vice versa, it’s a little bit of a crap shoot because you could just be pushing people away. If they’re just telling you how moronic everybody is, why would I pay attention? If their opinion really doesn’t matter at all, then why should I listen to them?
I think you have to keep an interesting balance. You have to be critical of each other, while still being respectful of one another. But because I’ve been so strong on the quarterback situation, most of the shows are talking about me. I’m like, woah, it didn’t have to be that way. I mean, there could have been someone else at the station that was strongly pushing for a quarterback. Overall, I’m sure Armen is happy, but if I was him, I’d go to the others shows at some point and ask if it really is possible it could be a quarterback? Because that’s how strong quarterback talk generally is with talk shows. I’ll tell you this, it’s not pre-determined. We didn’t sit around and hash it all out to decide who is going to play what role. It definitely happened organically.
TM: Every Broncos fan in the market has an opinion on what they should do with the fifth pick. How do you handle phone calls during a week like this?
DM: To me, it’s all about pace. I’ll sort of judge it as it comes. Quickly, you know, boom, boom, give your take and move on. Often times, I’ll put them on hold after they give their take, because it’s easier for them to hear our response. A lot of times, I won’t even respond to what they said, I’ll just go to the next caller. It all depends on what segment you’re doing and how long the segment is. I’m not going to say I won’t use callers, but it just depends on what we’re talking about, how we’re talking about it and what I’m looking to get out of the callers.
TM: The draft is your main topic this week. But the Avalanche just went 6 games with the Predators in the NHL Playoffs and the Rockies just played a three-game set at home with the Cubs. How do you sort out this week with what people care about most, to what else is going on in town?
DM: About eight years ago, a company did a survey and they showed what people want to hear about, as well as what types of things they want to hear about. The top thing they wanted to hear about was the NFL and Broncos, along with entertaining talk and inside information. That’s all I needed to know. I saw that eight years ago and it hasn’t really changed. The Rockies were No. 2 on that list and the Avalanche and the Nuggets were way down, so it’s really not that complicated for me. Whenever when one of our other teams is on the front page, not the back page, the front page, okay, let’s go. We’ll take swings on social media saying we don’t talk enough hockey, and that’s fine. What I’ve found is people don’t want you to talk about your team, they want you to praise your team, they want you to be a cheerleader. We’ll touch on the Rockies a little bit this week and wrap up the Avalanche’s season, but if you’re not the Broncos, you better be front page news for us to really dive deep on you.
TM: The Fan doesn’t have a business relationship with the Broncos. How much does that help during a week like this?
DM: I love it. There is a feeling that if we had a partnership with them, we’d have better shows, everyone would sell, but I don’t think we’d have better shows. Maybe there’s a sales aspect that would be beneficial to the company, so I’m not going to say it isn’t important, it’s just not important to me. I have to be very focused on my show. For me, personally, I was thrilled that we never gained the rights to any of the teams and that we didn’t get a business relationship directly with the Broncos, because I think that’s a huge advantage. There are things that you hear on our show and radio station that you won’t hear at other places, because they have ties to the team. I think that makes us unique. What’s also great, is that the pro athletes on our station are older so they don’t have direct ties with the team. Even though they’re friendly with John Elway and other guys, they’re speaking their mind and I think it’s fantastic. I think listeners know it, hear it, and sense it, and when they want to hear real, honest opinions, they know where to come for it.