Winter Meetings Lessons For Radio Talent

Winter Meetings Lessons For Radio Talent

by Tracy Johnson

As a baseball geek, I get excited when the MLB Winter Meetings come to San Diego every few years. It’s a rush to hang out in the hotel lobby and watch the action unfold.

It has even more magic for a radio geek looking forward to meeting some of the faces and voices in sports talk radio, including stars from Sirius XM’s MLB Network. Within a few hours, I learned and relearned radio talent lessons.  Here’s a review.

Winter Meetings Lessons For Radio: Steve Phillips

Steve Phillips is the former General Manager of the New York Mets. In 2005, he became an ESPN analyst and was a regular on Baseball Tonight and Sports Center. Since, he has had various baseball broadcasting positions, including his current role as host of The Leadoff Spot, the morning show on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio (Channel 89).

In the last few years, Phillips has emerged as an outstanding host. He’s naturally likable, warm and friendly, but also adds a strong point of view in presentation. It’s a terrific balance.

But what impresses me most about Phillips is how he navigates talk breaks with cohosts (usually Eduardo Perez, but it often changes) seamlessly. Phillips has learned to get into and out of breaks quickly, and has become highly skilled in teasing and prepromoting content.

I introduced myself during a stop set, and had a few minutes with Steve. Here’s a national star, a former leader in Major League Baseball. Yet he was gracious, humble and engaging. In response to a compliment about his expertise in hosting, Phillips said:

It was hard. Nobody provided any training for this. They put you behind a microphone and leave you to figure it out on your own.

How did he figure it out? Phillips is self-taught. He did it by listening and learning, then applying it to his own skills.

I learned from Mike Francesca. I listened to how Mike and Mike did it and tried to replicate it. The Men’s Room is another show that impressed me. So I just took what I could from as many places as possible and tried to do that.

Winter Meetings Lesson #1 for Radio Personalities: Try to get training (coaching). There’s a guy who can help with that. But if no training is available, teach yourself. Study and learn. It paid off for Phillips.

Jim Bowden

Like Phillips, Bowden is a former GM mover and shaker. his baseball career included the top spot for the Cincinnati Reds and

Washington Nationals. He may be best known for the trade that landed Ken Griffey Junior for the Reds.

Bowden has reinvented his career, leveraging his expertise and contacts with virtually everyone in the sport. He’s a multi-mediastar, including television analyst (ESPN), writing (The Athletic) and Sirius XM (Power Alley mid-morning show and afternoon drive on the Fantasy Alarm Show).

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Bowden is an outstanding radio personality for two primary reasons:

  • He is bold and outspoken. Jim makes strong statements, then backs it up with supporting arguments. In doing so, his opinions and insight are memorable. Whether the listener agrees or disagrees, he’s “sticky” and thought-provoking.
  • Bowden has become a strong interviewer because he asks hard questions most personalities would be afraid of. He fearlessly goes to the heart of what a listener would want to hear, often challenging his guest for a newsworthy answer.

I complemented Bowden on his skills. He was flattered (I think), but immediately pivoted to ask for feedback. Then he wanted my phone number to stay in touch, asking for feedback on how he can improve.


Winter Meetings Lesson #2 for Radio Personalities: Good enough is never good enough. Personalities that are not growing are by default falling behind. Positive feedback is important, but constantly seeking how to improve is more valuable.

Casey Stern

Sports fans recognize Casey most for hosting pregame playoff broadcasts for MLB and NBA games on TBS. Stern is an intelligent, well prepared host that makes every cohost sound better.

The most impressive trait is how well prepared Stern is. Every show is thorough, well planned and he has original observations supported with details.

Almost as notable is how he has clearly prepared specifically for his guests and cohosts. Whether performing with Brad Lidge, Ryan Spilborghs or on TV with stars like Pedro Martinez, Stern always adjusts his presentation specifically for the content in the show at that moment.

In the few moments before launching his Inside Pitch show (11a-2p Eastern on Sirius XM), Casey took a moment to engage. He was kind, considerate and, even though he was in the midst of preparing a hectic show (there were about six guests coming on that day), made this listener feel important.

Winter Meetings Lesson #3 for Radio Personalities: Every chance to meet a listener is important. Just being nice wins points with an audience.

Radio personalities need to embrace the value of meeting the audience personally. It’s powerful. Use it to your advantage.

Ryan Spilborghs

Spilborghs enjoyed a major league baseball career with the Rockies, Indians and Rangers. He then pl

ayed in Japan before returning to the US and becoming a broadcaster a few years ago.

He is a local television and radio host for the Colorado Rockies.

“Spilly” is a terrific storyteller, with a gift of bringing insight as a former player the general public rarely experiences. He also comes off as warm, thoughtful and sensitive on and off the air.

In a brief discussion, I complimented Ryan on these abilities, especially when he pairs with another former player turnedbroadcaster, C.J. Nitkowski. They are on a Sirius XM Saturday morning show called Loud Outs.

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Spilborghs was more interested in how he could improve:

Thanks. That really means a lot to me. But I am great at taking criticism and negative feedback, too! What can I do to improve?

Winter Meetings Lesson #4 for Radio Personalities: This is a bit of a recurring theme. Phillips, Bowden, Stern and Spilly all were more interested in what they can do to be better than hearing how great they are. Ryan is hungry, motivated and dedicated to being the best he can be. It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? That (along with great talent) is how you get to the Major Leagues.

Christopher Mad Dog Russo

Walking through the lobby, I almost passed by Mad Dog. At the last moment, I introduced myself to the loud, fast-talking radio and TV host just as he was about to go on television.

It was a short encounter, but here’s what I’ll never forget: I got a “Good Job” from him. Viewers and listeners know Russo for this catch phrase. It’s even become a feature on his daily TV show on the MLB Network (Good Job/Bad Job).

Winter Meetings Lesson #5 for Radio Personalities: Celebrities are “always on”. Develop benchmarks or memorable moments. Then use each opportunity to reinforce those things you are known for.


Thanks for indulging the baseball stories. For me, the combination of baseball and radio performance are great passions. Combining the two is awesome.

Hopefully, some of these takeaways will make an impression on your show.

Baseball, the Three Run Home Run and Your Radio Station

Baseball & Morning Radio: The Thin Line Between Mediocre & Legendary

What Every Personality Should Know About Using Your Platform

Take the Chicago Cubs 8-Step Plan to Radio Greatness

Are You Strong Enough To Stand Up to Criticism? Be Like Mr. October: They Don’t “Boo” Nobodies

Winter Meetings Lessons for Radio Talent

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