ESPN Radio’s new VP for national radio programming and production, Marcia Keegan, is making her first foray into audio. A veteran of ESPN television and human resources, Keegan brings substantial sports media experience to ESPN Radio and will focus on national sports talk content.
Keegan spoke to Inside Radio about why she left TV for radio; what the new “Golic and Wingo Show” might sound like and how ESPN Radio can cultivate new talent, including more female hosts. An edited transcript follows.
What are your experiences as a consumer of radio? What do you listen to, and where do you listen?
Before this job, I was the typical consumer, listening mostly in the car while I was commuting and sometimes in the kitchen. I would listen to ‘Mike and Mike’ in the morning and, coming home, for a while it was Dan Le Batard until he moved to an earlier slot and then it was Bomani Jones. On weekends, I would listen to music or NPR. Now, I listen to ESPN Radio almost all the time and I try to listen a little bit to our competitors.
What inspired you to make the move to radio from TV?
I started out of college in TV at ESPN and, in 1985, I said, ‘This company’s never going to make it. I’m going to go get a real job.’ Of course, I was wrong, but I went to law school. I practiced law for 15 years and ESPN was a client. I did employment law, so I worked very closely with ESPN’s HR department. There was an opening in 2005, and I was intrigued. [In 2007] I was asked if I was interested in coming back to TV, and I did. I spent 10 years in TV, which I really loved, but [senior VP] Traug Keller approached me and it really intrigued me. Radio is a business I can get my arms around and really understand it from soup to nuts. In TV, I understood affiliate
and sales, but I wasn’t really connected to them. I had my own little slice of the television world. In radio, I am working with the affiliate people, the marketing people, the sales people. It’s really interesting to me to understand the complete business and have interactions with all of those people.
What are some of your goals in the position?
On the content side, it is getting the ‘Golic and Wingo’ show up and running and successful; that’s No. 1. On the people side, it would be to continue to find and develop new talent. We have a great team of people and every new person that comes in, I think, tries to look at it in a different way. I think that there are people who could be energized and more passionate and better utilized by putting them in different positions. It’s a great team, but I want to challenge them a little bit more and bring out their passion a little bit more.
Where do you look for new talent? In the local markets or non-sports radio?
We’re looking in local markets, even at our O&Os. We have already found a number of people from TV. One example is ‘The Morning Roast’ on ESPN Radio on the weekend. It has Domonique Foxworth, Mina Kimes and Clinton Yates and they have progressed tremendously. It’s a good example of how we get new, young talent and we put them in an outlying time slot to give them a chance to get comfortable and develop. They have just nailed it and they’re now all on different TV and radio shows. Mina’s going to do the ‘Dan Le Batard Show’ as a fill-in and she does ‘Highly Questionable’ on TV. Domonique Foxworth is all over radio and TV talking about his experience and his opinion. Clinton is getting some of those invitations now as well. To me, that’s an example of finding young, new talent and developing them.
What opportunities do you see to develop more female hosts for ESPN radio?
It’s a priority for me and it has been a priority for radio even before I got there. Sarah Spain, for example, has been around for a while and she has her weeknight regular show. Kate Fagan we use when she’s available. As I mentioned, Mina Kines is an up-and-comer and we also have something called the trifecta on the weekends. That was an espnW collaboration; Laura Rutledge, who is an SEC contributor, has been fabulous on it. It’s important to me to bring women in who can contribute in an organic way to all of our shows, and, eventually, have their own shows. My priority is to get women in in a way that feels natural and it’s not a women’s show. It’s a great show that happens to be hosted by a woman.
You mentioned that the “Golic and Wingo Show” is one of your top priorities. What can we expect from that show?
Yes, the biggest priority is ‘Golic and Wingo.’ We’re still developing the ideas. We meet, we talk about it, we throw things around. It’s informal at this point but we’re going to have to start meeting regularly to make sure that we’ve got everybody on the same page. Part of that is staffing that show. We are not just going to take the ‘Mike and Mike’ staff and move it over. A lot of them are perfect fits and it will work, but we may bring in a few new faces and voices into it so that there’s a new perspective. We want this show to succeed. ‘Mike and Mike’ has a lot of loyal listeners and we want to give them something that is just as good, that’s just as enjoyable, but different. We’re still exploring that. In the last year or two, some people on the radio side were concerned ‘Mike and Mike’ became more of a TV show than a radio show. This is going to be old-time radio. Golic gets very excited when we talk about that, that it’s focused on radio and fun and, as he says, bits. That’s what we call different segments that are fun but they nevertheless inform the listener. It’ll be much more focused on that than video, although we’ll be on ESPNU and we will have video. That will be secondary.
The show’s going to be different based on Golic and Wingo. They go back a long way and they have a fun chemistry. It is going to be a fun, almost old-fashioned radio show. You’re just going to see a couple of guys who enjoy each other’s company, love sports and want to talk about it. There’s certainly going to be guests. We don’t know who is going to be regular yet or who’s going to call in once in a while, but there will definitely be guests to ask to the show. Mike Golic Jr. will also be a regular. The three of them will get into topics and argue or agree or whatever it is, but it will feel very natural.
Sports talk and opinion has become a prevalent format on TV. How do you think sports talk radio has influenced sports TV?
At ESPN, if you look at the strong opinions and personalities that are now being showcased on TV, I think that all started in sports radio. The biggest, highest-rated radio shows have unique personalities with strong opinions. I think that has carried over to TV in the past two years.
How do you think programming sports talk radio will differ from your experiences in TV?
Radio is different than TV and I’m discovering all the intricacies of that. The biggest thing is there’s a lot of time. You have three or four hours and there’s no rundown that you absolutely have to stick to. TV is a little bit more structured. I think what makes radio so much fun and different from TV is that you can take a topic and if the host or hosts really get into it, you can just let them go for long periods of time. You can take a break and have them discuss it again. Radio’s fun. The staff and the hosts really love what they’re doing. I’m not saying that TV people don’t, but it’s the easy flow of it and the less structure.
Across the country, sports has a great deal of local connection. How can you harness that and bring it to a national network?
That’s what we always think about because what’s great about radio is the listeners’ passion for their hometown team. I think we do that. We try to do it on a national basis in a similar way. It’s not the same, but it’s similar. You get a team that gets interest. The Cavaliers and LeBron James, for example, that had national interest and national passion. Everyone’s watching the Lavar Ball saga start to play out, and that’s on a national basis with him and his sons and so forth. Every day there’s a number of stories that can get the nation interested in a way that the same local people get involved with their local teams, I believe.