When you hear Erroll Reese’s signature phrase “let’s go!” a little after 6 a.m. weekdays on WDNC (Buzz Sports Radio), the station will likely be in exclusive company — possibly on a national level.
“The Sports Shop with Reese & Kmac,” which aired from 10 a.m.–noon weekdays from February until last week and Saturday mornings for nearly four years before that, made its debut Tuesday in the morning-drive slot from 6–9 (on 620 AM, 99.3FM, 96.5FM and 99.9HD2.)
It is believed to be the second local morning drive-time sports-talk show in the country with two black hosts. What was likely the first, “The Man Cave” on ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C. — with hosts Jason Reid and Chris Paul — was canceled after only seven months in 2015. That possibly will make “The Sports Shop” the only current such show.
“That’s what I wanted to change when I first got in here almost three years ago, was to make our sports audio group more diverse,” said Dennis Glasgow, the sports radio operations manager and program director for Capitol Broadcasting Company. “That’s why I added Lauren Brownlow and that’s why I’ve added ‘Sports Shop.’ We’re pretty excited about that and it was the right thing to do as well.”
Most national sports talk shows with at least one black host feature a former professional athlete. That was the case for “2 Live Stews,” a successful former show in Atlanta that included former NFL player Ryan Stewart. That’s also true of CBS Radio’s “Gio and Jones,” featuring former NFL linebacker Brian Jones, which airs on CBC station AM 1550 The Ticket weekday mornings.
Reese (wide receiver at Alabama A&M) and co-host Kevin “Kmac” McClendon (tight end at West Alabama) played football in college but not professionally. Bomani Jones (one of their guests Tuesday), whose ESPN Radio afternoon drive-time show airs from 4–7 p.m. weekdays on WDNC, and frequent ESPN radio host Freddie Coleman, are other examples of black hosts who weren’t professional athletes.
“This is kind of a landmark opportunity, particularly a top-25 market,” said Reese, who was inducted into the Alabama A&M Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. “We embrace this as a first-timer and we want to pave the way for other people who have the potential to follow us.
“The majority of major sports are played by African-Americans and it’s not often that you have African-Americans talking about them, so we thought it was kind of different, we thought that we could fill that void,” Reese said. “When people find out what you’re trying to do with an urban flavor, trying to be more diverse in your guests as well as your message, people kind of gravitate to you.”
The Sports Shop takes the WDNC slot vacated when CBC pulled the plug on “The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri” on June 23 after less than 10 months. Mike Maniscalco and Demetri Ravanos were let go, and Brownlow will return to a role in radio and writing for WRALSportsFan.com after returning from maternity leave.
Both Reese, at right in the photo, and McClendon said that they aren’t surprised with the success of the show.
“I am slightly surprised that we moved fairly quickly to weekdays and now we’re doing morning drive,” said Reese, a Durham resident. “I was surprised at that but extremely happy with the opportunity.”
McClendon, who lives in Raleigh, says being authentic has a lot to do with the show’s success.
“The authenticity and integrity that we like to bring to what we do is kind of respected universally,” McClendon said.
As always, ratings drive decisions, including canceling “The Morning Show” and shifting the “The Sports Shop” earlier.
“It got some of the best ratings on that station in the short time they were on the 10 a.m. to noon slot, so we were very encouraged, even though it’s early in the process for them to do a weekday show,” Glasgow said. “We were very happy to see that early success that they acquired in that time slot. Part of it is luck, part of it is timing and, because the Nielsen PPM panelist list is so small in Raleigh, especially with our demographic of men 25–54, a lot of it is just luck.”
There will be pressure to continue that ratings success on morning drive, although going up against ESPN Radio’s popular “Mike & Mike” show, which airs on sister station WCMC (99.9 The Fan), is never easy.
“They know with this opportunity comes pressure and also that they need to perform, and they’re up for the challenge,” Glasgow said. “The in-car listening will be paramount in morning drive. They need to make sure that they’re sending out the show in small edible bites and then moving on to the next interview or the next bit and the show is moving very quickly and very easily for the listener to digest.”
Glasgow says that they will need to bring in new listeners who may not have heard “The Sports Shop” in its other time slots. Because of that, he’s told them, “to be a little more explanatory when it comes to how the show works and all the different bits that they’re doing on the program and who the regulars are as they get acquainted with the show in the next couple of weeks.”
Other than airing earlier and there being an extra hour, listeners can expect many of the same bits and few changes in the shows.
The lineup of regulars will be familiar, including comedian Terry Tuff on Mondays, UNC basketball great Phil Ford on Wednesdays, the “Dishing It Up” segment with former Virginia basketball player Debby Stroman (a sports business professor at UNC) on Thursdays and Lisa Weistart (who appeared on nearly every show when it aired weekends) on Fridays. W.B. Whitted, better known on the show as “Research,” and another longtime contributor, appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“Definitely don’t see the show changing, doing anything different than we’ve really done in the 10 o’clock slot,” McClendon said. “Having the extra hour probably gives us a little time to play out a few more things. We’re really excited to have the extra hour.”
The Sports Shop Check-in, in which they talk to the proprietors of five or six local barber shops, cigar shops and beauty shops, will still air Fridays, but at 8:30 a.m. During the Final Four, they talked to owners of barber shops in Syracuse and Oklahoma. That feature is at the heart of how the show got its name.
“I think initially when we got started, it was just a really good platform to really talk about sports like we were in a barber shop or a cigar shop, but doing it on the radio,” Reese said. “Then, all of the sudden, people were coming to us and saying that they love the format and thought it was different. We kept working hard and trying to grind and trying to improve. We’re still improving each and every day. We’re not there.”
It’s not every sports talk show that includes a rap competition, but “The Sports Shop” had one in May involving former N.C. State basketball player Chucky Brown, Herald-Sun UNC beat writer John McCann and the show’s producer, Michael Shelton. Shelton easily emerged the winner of the “Sports Shop Rap Battle.”
Big guests sometimes join them in studio, including a recent visit by Howard Lee, Chapel Hill’s first black mayor and a former state lawmaker, to discuss Muhammad Ali. Brothers Kris Jenkins of Villanova and Nate Britt Jr. of UNC were in studio with them a few weeks after the Final Four.
Just since March, guests have included former NBA referee Tim Donaghy; sports agent David Falk, Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds; Chris Broussard, Antonio Davis and Kara Lawson of ESPN; former NBA star Rick Mahorn; former Indiana star Scott May; former Virginia star Ralph Sampson; former UNC stars Antawn Jamison and Walter Davis; former Georgetown star Eric “Sleepy” Floyd; and actor Faizon Love.
Reese says that management doesn’t dictate the content on the show.
“They are very much involved in what we’re doing but give us free rein of how we do it and what we do,” he said. “They intervene from a radio perspective just to help us, but we have free rein on what we’re doing.”
Other than, of course, “From the Press Box to Press Row,” host Donal Ware’s show that airs at 7 a.m. Saturdays on WDNC, you won’t hear a local show that talks about HBCU sports more than “The Sports Shop.”
One of the few similarities between “The Sports Shop” and “The Morning Show” is that, like Ravanos, Reese and Kmac both are big Alabama fans. They both grew up cheering for the Crimson Tide, Reese in Birmingham, Ala., and McClendon in Laurel, Miss. That means a neutral perspective when it comes to Triangle sports, although Reese went to graduate school at UNC.
There are always going to be assumptions, many that are unfair, from some listeners about the kind of show they’ll get with a black host or a woman host. Jones, another black sports talk-show host who also is a former Saturday morning Triangle sports radio host, fought through those perceptions.
“We figure that if people will listen to us and give us a chance, they’ll understand that we talk about sports in an entertaining fashion, and pop culture and comedy are a big part of what we do,” Reese said. “It’s been working so far. If people stay with us and give us a chance, they’ll be entertained and they’ll be informed. If we’ve done those two things, then I think we’ll have them.
“We do research to make sure when we’re out there having a good time that it’s not off the cuff, it’s something that’s really informative,” he said.
Regardless of a listener’s demographic, McClendon is confident that they will enjoy the show.
“Once you listen to us, you understand that we embrace all and everything about sports, all and everything about our environment and our local culture in North Carolina and around the country,” he said. “We really want people to kind of get a feel that we’re really not that much different from the guy you talk to at work or you and your brother who have a conversation.”
It is Reese’s deep connections in sports that helps the show bring in guests who might not otherwise appear on a local show. In the 1990s, urban radio consultant Harry Lyles urged him to go into radio, partly because of those connections and his sports knowledge.
“He told me, ‘you know a lot about sports, you should have your own show,’ ” Reese said. “I thought he was crazy at the time. But 20 years later I have my own show. Harry Lyles is the guy that helped me believe that this is really something that I want to do.”
It wasn’t until one of the summers when Reese was a media consultant for the NC Pro Am that he finally took Lyles advice.
“One day I got asked to fill in for a sports talk show, the ‘Overtime’ show on WJRD,” Reese said of a small Durham radio station at AM 1490. McClendon later joined him on that show. “I went over there and filled in. Never had done it before. Then one thing led to another and they ended up changing formats. Then I got involved in Capitol and they gave me a shot and did a demo and that’s how we ended up over there.”
Over dinner with Reese, George Habel, vice president of the sports group at CBC, became convinced that Reese’s energy would be right for radio, and that led to the Saturday morning version of “The Sports Shop.”
“We wanted to create something that addressed the fan’s perspective and gave the fans a voice, like we’re regular people, we’re not journalists,” Reese said. “We are like people who love sports and that was the impetus of starting a sports show.”
Reese and McClendon are both IT consultants who say that part of their work lives will be easily managed despite being hosts for a show early every weekday.
“One thing’s for sure, we’re going to kick-start their morning at 6 o’clock. I’m so excited about that because I’m a morning person,” Reese said.
McClendon said he became accustomed to rising early during his 10 years in the Army’s military intelligence branch.
“Being up at the PT field at 5 in the morning laying in the wet grass? Being at the studio at 6 a.m. is a lot easier,” McClendon said.
The early alarm clock certainly won’t be an issue.
Raleigh & Co., Buzz Sports Radio (WDNC) and 99.9 FM The Fan are all divisions of Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc.