In an endorsement of their broadcasting chops, after four years hosting 9am-noon for CBS Sports Radio, cohosts Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney have moved up to 3pm-6pm. In addition, the former top NFL Giants players and sports radio fixture also get a coveted TV simulcast on CBS Sports Network.
Barber and Tierney talked to Inside Radio about how they adapted for the new time slot and TV, what sports radio listeners want to hear, and what they’d want to ask Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter. An edited transcript follows.
You’ve been gaining a following in late mornings. What does the move to afternoon drive and the simulcast mean for you guys and for the show?
Tiki Barber: When we first started here, we always wanted to be on TV. It always felt like there could be a logical tie-in with the CBS Sports Network. We’ve just been biding our time as the show’s gotten better and better, and we’ve gotten more and more comfortable with each other, waiting for an opportunity. When it finally came, we were ready for it.
Brandon Tierney: We don’t want to be on a treadmill. We certainly want to expand to more platforms, bigger platforms with a wider reach and the ability to hit more people.
How has the show evolved and why is it “ready for primetime” now?
Tierney: From a sports element, we needed to hone our editorial sense. I’ve been doing radio a long time and I know what the main topics are. I’ve covered all the sports. Tiki has worked really hard and diligently to become a really big fan and student of the other games, like Major League Baseball. Once all that was established, the key for us was to have fun and to communicate that we’re dads, we’re juggling various things in life like everybody else. To hit a stride and a level of comfort allows us and our natural personalities to project on a daily basis. That was one of the biggest obstacles for us. We were so hell bent on showing people we know what we’re doing and that we’re good and that we’re cohesive, but I think at times the fun element was compromised. And I think we’ve worked hard to change that.
Going from mornings to afternoon drive, the DNA of the show has not changed. The essence of Tiki and Tierney certainly hasn’t changed at all.
What are sports radio listeners looking for and how are you guys different from the other radio shows, podcasts and TV shows out there?
Barber: I think listeners are looking for an opinion. Not just a recap, like ‘the Warriors did this’ or ‘the Thunder did this’ or ‘the Giants did this.’ You can get that anywhere with social media and mainstream media. Listeners want an opinion, something that they can react to, and couple that with a personality that matches theirs. Not every radio listener is made for every sports show. I think you have to have chemistry and also portray a comfort to the audience. Be somewhere they can come and sit and listen and feel like they’re part of the conversation.
Tierney: I believe radio listeners want an edge. They want bite. The way the medium has gone, I think there has been a homogenization of voice; not to say that they’re dull, but I feel as if a lot of program directors and executives almost want a less threatening, less combative sports radio. I need that. I get bored when that’s not around too often. It can’t be contrived. It certainly has to be organic, coming from the right place, but people still react to legitimate passion. If it’s contrived and it’s not believable, that’s bad radio. If there’s not an edge, if there’s not an element of almost uncomfortability, I’m going to get bored and I know the audience will get bored as well. If the host ever gets bored, there’s a pretty good chance the audience doesn’t have a chance.
How much of a game changer is the TV simulcast for you? What are you doing differently?
Barber: We’re still the same radio show. We have to look nice and presentable nowadays. The visual makes it very interesting. We’re both bald and former athletes and so there’s an edge and a competitiveness in our conversation and also a congeniality because we’ve kind of come from the same place. When we get guests in the studio, you can actually see what we’re seeing. One of the best parts of our job is when we have guests in the studio because the conversation just feels more organic and real, and now viewers will get to see that.
The biggest part is that we have a presence in New York. BT is a Brooklyn guy, I’m a Virginian but my professional life has always been in New York. We have strong New York opinions and not a lot of people were hearing them. But now there’s a vehicle for us to be New Yorkers, which is kind of cool.
Tierney: It also reinforces that we are truly a big part of the plan moving forward here. When you have the network TV synergy with radio, that’s an investment by the company.
Your show is available on-demand, but what about podcasting? Do you have plans to host original podcasts?
Tierney: We could do something down the road. If the right sponsor came along, for sure. But I think that if you’re out there almost too much, you can dilute the message or the brand. You’ve got to find that balance. Right now, at least for me and Tiki, our balance is being on the air, the radio, and simultaneously TV three hours a day. Podcasts to me, right now, they’re certainly not on my radar personally.
Barber: Yeah, I would agree. It’s something that we would evolve into. We had Rick Ankiel in today, who’s a former MLB pitcher and a maniac and he pitched drunk. We’ll have him for about fifteen minutes on-air, but his story could go for forty minutes. Not dissimilar to Ryan Leaf, first round NFL bust from Peyton Manning’s draft in 1998 and we talked to him for 15, 20 minutes. Afterwards, BT said: ‘Man, we could’ve talked to that guy for an hour.’ But obviously we don’t have time to on-air. If we keep evolving and growing as a show and keep getting the support behind us, sponsor-wise, then a podcast could make sense when we have guests who are really compelling and have a story to tell.
You’ve both worked in TV in the past. How have those experiences prepared you for the simulcast?
Barber: My TV work goes way back to 1999 when I was hosting the morning sports news on WCBS in New York. My television work helped me become a radio broadcaster. I learned how to interview and get to the core of a conversation with someone. Now we have to take that culture that exists in our studio and portray it through a video lens, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Tierney: There’s got to be an awareness that you’re on camera but it can’t come across as if you are aware that you’re on camera, which is definitely easier said than done. I have always enjoyed the intimacy of radio and just going in with my hat backwards. If you can do good radio, you can do TV. Too many people think, ‘Well, this person’s on TV, let me film them on radio for three hours, they’ll be interesting.’ They won’t be. Because carrying a conversation with no visuals and no other stimulation and talking outside of 45-second sound bites is hard. So I prefer that I had a radio background and then transitioned to TV rather than the other way around. It’s made it easier for me. But I enjoy it. Obviously I’ve grown to love TV. It’s a big part of what I do; it’s fun. It’s become natural.
If you could bring any guest on the show, who would it be?
Barber: We both love golf. We’d love to get Tiger Woods.
Tierney: Tiger’s on my short list. I’d have to know that whomever I chose would give a candid interview. Tiger Woods would be incredibly interesting if he’s not business oriented.
Barber: Like giving the answer before you finish the question.
Tierney: Yeah, if he’s that Tiger, I honestly wouldn’t even really want to waste my time. Now if Tiger’s going to sit down for an hour and really talk where he’s been, his mind, the demons he’s battled on the golf course, that would be something I’d really want to do. But these athletes, so many of them are conditioned to avoid having honest interplay, honest dialogue, that it’s a great challenge.
Barber: Well, I think it’s mostly current guys. Retired players who have had time to reflect, it’s different. They’ve already crafted their narrative. Current players, ‘cause they’re still immersed in it, haven’t done that yet, and so they’re actually harder to talk to, to be honest with you. The retired guys are so compelling, you can dig into them and they’re not afraid ‘cause they’re not being judged on a week-in and week-out or daily basis.
Tierney: Derek Jeter to me is a prime example. I’m sure when the cameras are off, he’s actually pretty interesting, but on-air and on the record, to me, Derek is incredibly boring. And while, yeah, I’d love to sit down and talk to Derek about really who Derek is, I don’t know that you necessarily get that.
So as long as I’m assured that the subject isn’t going to try to wiggle off the hook and he’s not there just to promote a book and say things he’s programmed to say, then I’m interested. They don’t even really need the interviews because they’ve got their own platforms too via their social media.