Dan Le Batard is sad about what ESPN Radio has become and he’s having trouble finding people to be sad with him.
Last week, the New York Post reported ESPN Radio was going to drop its morning show featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Max Kellerman and Jay Williams. Considering the show’s mundane following along with the recent layoffs and restructuring at ESPN, the decision is not shocking. But as ESPN Radio has gone from a respected media brand to a revolving door of hosts and shows in recent years, Le Batard was bothered by the news.
“To see what ESPN Radio has become in the last 15 years, as a dinosaur has died in front of us, unable to keep up with changing times, changing platforms, changing audiences, I was made sad in a way that made me want to reminisce about what sports radio used to be and no one wanted to do it with me,” Le Batard said in response to ESPN Radio reportedly canceling its morning show.
“No one was nostalgic or interested in the roots that birthed a cruddy morning show that didn’t have chemistry, that didn’t last very long, that was sort of the last tendrils of here’s ESPN Radio trying to throw some names together to have a lineup, national audience, It’s hard to make this work nationally,” Le Batard continued, speaking about a platform he helped anchor for eight years. “But it’s basically ESPN Radio giving up on radio is what it symbolizes.”
The show launched as Keyshawn, J-Will, and Zubin in Aug. 2020 with Zubin Mehenti as their point guard. Mehenti left after a few months to focus on his health and was eventually replaced by Kellerman who was cast off from Stephen A. Smith’s First Take. Struggling to build chemistry in the middle of the pandemic, on a dying brand and platform, few believed ESPN Radio’s latest morning show iteration was destined for long-term success.
Putting Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Max Kellerman together may have been a valiant attempt at building a show successful in having name recognition, but according to Le Batard, that’s where ESPN’s creativity stopped.
“Nobody knows how to make a hit thing,” Le Batard said of sports media executives. “A lot of people try and fail, but in this industry, which isn’t the smartest of industries, it’s not the big budget thespian industry, ‘just throw a couple of people on the radio, give them microphones and see if it will work.’ The idea that TV or radio executives know how to do that is largely overstated, but they often think they know how to do that and are hellbent on proving to you that you know how to do that even though it’s not actually a skill.”
Unfortunately, perceived shrewd sports media decisions more often feature buying readymade shows or talent rather than developing something new. ESPN has shown they’re willing to invest in talent, making flashy signings to land Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and Pat McAfee. They’re just not willing to make that investment in radio, even with McAfee, whose show used to air on radio.