By R.L. Bynum
In the volatile radio industry, “Adam and Joe” have sustained, flourished
Off-site meetings in the radio business often are ominous.
Their Capitol Broadcasting Company bosses called Adam Gold and Joe Ovies into one of those meetings at a Dunkin’ Donuts in January 2010. Nervous about what this might mean for their careers, that meeting instead led to the “Adam and Joe” show, which has been a fixture in afternoon drive time in the Triangle for nearly nine years.
For around three months, they had been hosts for the morning show on WCMC (99.9 The Fan) that had replaced “Imus in the Morning.”
“They were like, hey, we need to talk to you two, but not here,” Gold said when, at the station’s offices, they first heard about the meeting. “We were driving over there, and I just recall this vividly. I’ve been fired twice. I always knew it was coming. I could feel it coming. I didn’t have that feeling. Joe was nervous. Understandably so. Off-sites are never good.”
Ovies never had been fired and wondered what news Brian Maloney (the vice president of radio at CBC) and Dave Shore (then the programming director) were about to deliver. All he knew was that an intent letter had stated that CBC wanted to do a live morning show, but it never specifically mentioned Gold or Ovies.
Contributing to their trepidation was how the morning show had gone for them after Imus was taken off the air.
“We did something we shouldn’t have done,” Gold said.
“The goal was to do an Imus-like mixture of sports and other talk,” Ovies said. “And then The Fan signed on and that was the swift kick in the ass of actually … maybe, we shouldn’t do that.”
The sighs of relief came quickly that day.
“They didn’t string us along,” Gold said. “ ‘We want you guys to take over the afternoon show.’ Which, now I understand why they had it off-site. We were like, OK.”
They wanted to first talk to their wives since the change would mean a lot more work for them each evening. Once their wives were OK with it, the switch was made. “Mark and Mike” (with Mark Thomas and Mike Maniscalco) moved from afternoon drive time on 99.9 to a morning drive-time sports show on WDNC, and “Adam and Joe” was launched.
The radio business can be cruel, with format or lineup changes suddenly sending announcers/hosts scrambling to find another job.
That’s what makes the sustained success of “Adam and Joe” even more impressive. During their nearly nine years on afternoon drive time, there have been three CBC morning drive-time sports shows. One host (Thomas) lost his job with the first change in summer 2015 and two hosts (Maniscalco and Demetri Ravanos) lost their jobs with the second change in summer 2016.
Ovies says that management understands the importance of sports radio.
“They look at it as being part of the community and the community of sports has always been a fabric of the Triangle,” he said. “They view it as a business development tool. More sports, more companies that want to be here. They see radio and the web as a way of tying that all together. They’re committed to it.”
Gold and Ovies had already developed on-air chemistry. Ovies first worked with Gold as a full-time producer in 2002 on WRBZ (850 The Buzz) for Gold’s show — which, in the spirit of the 850 days that included Buzz Babes, was sometimes nicknamed “The G Spot.”
In 2005, Ovies became a co-host on WDNC (then 620 the Bull) of the “Morning Mojo” with Morgan Patrick. CBC took over all the Triangle sports radio stations in 2009, and Ovies teamed with Gold and Tony Riggsbee in that short-lived morning drive-time show.
Mornings meant it felt like they were off most of the day, and Gold says he was a better golfer when they worked mornings. But he had no doubts that the show would do well.
“The show had already had roots and Joe and I had worked together before,” Gold said. “I never thought about, ‘is this going to work?’ Not for a minute, because Joe and I had a history. It was a different role.”
Gold says the show is successful because they know that the main goal is not to be informative or opinionated about a sports topic, although they also do that.
“Our No. 1 mission? It isn’t the subject matter. It’s to be entertaining,” Gold said. “That’s the No. 1 mission. And, frankly, we would do an entire show and none of it sports if it was entertaining. I mean, some people might complain. But, for the most part, that’s our job.”
Although it is, by definition, a sports talk show, they estimate that only 60–75% of the program is spent on sports or “sports-adjacent” topics.
“It’s not guy radio anymore. We jokingly call it relatable radio,” Ovies said. “For the most part, anybody who tells you they only want sports on their sports talk is lying to you because oftentimes, the shows that you listen to … I listen to enough shows where they aren’t talking about sports. They’re doing relatable topics.”
They never get many “stick to sports” admonitions unless they delve into politics.
“We will not shy away from it,” said Gold, who — unlike Ovies — is a self-proclaimed “political animal” who would rather watch news shows than network shows when not watching sports. “I don’t think either one of us wants to do it as long as we have other things that we can do. If it’s appropriate, we’ll get into it. But not necessarily from a political angle. Once you mention something like this, people get so mad.”
They try to be spontaneous, and that’s made easier by the fact that they rarely talk to each other apart from the six or more hours that they are at the radio station together every weekday. They socialize off the air when the show is on the road. But given that they already spend more time with each other than with their wives during the week, they don’t have a lot of contact away from the station.
“I know what Adam’s prepared for and he knows what I’m prepared for and, oftentimes, we save it for the show because what’s the point in trying to rehearse that stuff?” Ovies said.
They had to fight that point with Jason Dixon, WCMC’s former program director, who is now the director of sports programming at Sirius XM Radio. Dixon insisted that they script their material.
“It takes away from the spontaneity of the show. Where does the conversation go? He was using other shows as an example,” said Ovies, who finally won the argument when he, Gold and Dixon were at an ESPN seminar listening to Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the former co-hosts of “Mike and Mike.”
“Both Mikes were like, ‘no, I don’t tell Greenberg what I have for him and he doesn’t tell me what he has for me,’ “ Ovies said. “ ‘Sometimes, we just want to surprise each other. I have things I know I’m going to spring on him because I want that reaction. You can’t recreate the reaction.’ And I think both Adam and I looked over at Jason, like …”
When one doesn’t know what the other will say, it can be unpredictable. On most days, that’s good. Sometimes, it has also created some heated on-the-air arguments over the years.
“Invariably, if there is a vehement disagreement, that will happen the first time,” Gold said. “It will not happen the second time. And that is the difference between being spontaneous and just reacting in the moment to, all right, I know where the trigger points are, so we might brush them, but we’re not going to hit ’em.
“Because, look, we’ve been through that once,” Gold said. “Neither one of us want to do it. It goes over the line. We were having an argument one time and I said it was like talking to my child. The next time we talked about that topic on the show, it didn’t go there.”
Helping the duo get past those moments that might make some listeners uncomfortable — and possibly highly entertain others — is the ability to easily move on.
“Once we hit the brakes, that’s that. It’s also personality, too. I’m of the personality that I don’t have to win an argument. I’ve worked with people who have to win an argument,” Ovies said. “What I’m saying is I have no problems walking away and I’ve seen instances where people just have a hard time walking away from an argument. In those instances, I’m perfectly comfortable with, ‘OK, the conversation’s over.’ “
Their personalities also have evolved over the years.
“I think we have become more like each other,” Gold said. “When we hit the break, we’re fine.”
There has been little personnel change since the show started. Chris Morris was the producer for the first couple of years, then Shannon Penn (who now is with ESPN Radio) and now Alec Campbell since 2015.
The approach of Gold and Ovies is different than virtually every other sports talk show in North Carolina in two aspects.
First, other than the “Ask Anything” segment (in which callers ask them questions) near the end of their final hour, they don’t generally take listener calls. Second, other than their regular weekly guests (John Forslund, Will Brinson, Chip Patterson, Lauren Brownlow, Wes Durham and Bomani Jones), they generally don’t bring on guests unless it’s an ESPN personality, a head coach or somebody is plugging a book.
“Bringing on a beat writer from another market to preview a game or something like that? Largely you are super-serving a very hard-core niche audience at that point,” Ovies said. “You’re not reaching the widest possible audience, so guests have become people who are part of the show or a head coach. It has to be local, too.”
That’s in contrast to the other non-ESPN show heard weekdays on 99.9, the syndicated statewide “David Glenn Show” and CBC’s morning-drive show “The Sports Shop.” Those hosts take listener calls and bring on sports writers and more guests, as do Josh Graham (the afternoon drive-time host of “The Drive” in the Triad), Patrick Johnson (the afternoon drive-time host on 94.3 The Game in Greenville) and the sports-talk hosts in Charlotte.
“I think it’s a leftover antiquated philosophy of sports talk, of talking to guests for the sake of talking to guests,” Ovies said. “I’m not saying you don’t talk to guests. Some of our most entertaining moments have come from guests. But they have to be a good choice. There has to be a reason to talk to that person.”
Campbell says that the metrics on guests haven’t changed for many years.
“Even when I was in Charlotte, we were told — this is back in 2010 — when you have guests, our listenership goes like this,” he said with his thumb down. “I don’t think it’s unique to this market. I think it’s the same everywhere. It’s just a matter of who’s willing to do it and who’s not. We’ve decided we don’t do it.”
Some of the differences in other shows in the state come down to philosophy. Another possible reason for the contrast is that most of the other shows have one host instead of two co-hosts.
Some radio personalities prefer to be the only host. Pat Mellon (currently an ad executive for The Long Islander Newspaper Group) quit 850 The Buzz in 1998 when management told him he was going from solo host to being paired with Gold. Ovies credits Gold with welcoming him as a co-host after previously doing a solo show.
“It’s hard for people to relinquish that role,” Ovies said. “To allow somebody else to come in and breathe enough to develop their own personality. That’s all Adam. He doesn’t have to. And a lot of people don’t.
Jason Barrett, who runs a national sports media consulting company, says decisions not to take calls vary by show and market.
“They do a better job than most with that approach,” Barrett, via email, said of “Adam and Joe.” “You won’t see that as much in Top 10-20 markets since the population is bigger and the lines are more active, especially in the Northeast. However, in other smaller cities, it’s not uncommon to not take calls and only feature a small amount of guests. Just depends on the host, programmer, the market’s appetite for sports and the passion of callers.”
Ovies says that if they were in the New York or Boston market, they’d be taking calls.
“The New York market is based on people liking to argue and fight,” Ovies said. “Boston’s the same way. Boston’s always looking for a fight. The Triangle’s not like that. We’re just not wired like that, plus we have a lot of transplants in the area, which has changed the dynamic of the show.”
When “Adam and Joe” started in 2010, they not only took calls, but they explicitly asked for and incorporated them into the show.
“It was Pavlovian to just give out the number. You would actually give out the number as a way to reset yourself,” Ovies said.
They have long moved away from that routine that was so ingrained into the show.
“It was not easy to break that habit,” Gold admitted. “Two weeks ago, I just randomly gave out the number. I was like, ‘why the hell did I do that?’ “
Triangle sports radio has evolved quite a bit from the days of 850 The Buzz when the host would often declare a topic at the beginning of the hour. He’d state his opinion, repeatedly give out the phone number and take one call after the another to debate the topic. No other subject generally was allowed for the hour.
“If you were stuck in traffic, you’d be listening to the same damn topic for 40 minutes,” Ovies said. “That was sports talk in 1998. Twenty years later, that’s not sports talk, because of ADD listeners, the availability of other things, how ratings get measured.”
Outside of the “Ask Anything” segment, they haven’t regularly taken calls for more than five years. You haven’t heard the opinions of Joe in Chapel Hill, Shaheen, David in Smithfield or other familiar callers during drive time in the Triangle that you heard for years or may still hear on other shows.
For shows that do take calls, Gold points out that the callers represent a very small percentage of listeners.
“All of the people who are listening in their cars really just want to be entertained, maybe informed about what’s going on and hear your opinion about the thing that they care about,” Gold said. “They don’t care what David in Smithfield says about it. So, I’d rather cater to that 95–99% rather than the 1%.”
Ovies admits that it’s hard to say out loud because they aren’t big on self-promotion and he understands that it can come off as being egotistical. But they eventually figured out that listeners would rather hear the hosts than callers.
“It was kind of the same cast of characters and, over time, as ratings got more sophisticated and people put more time and effort into researching listener habits, you come to find out there’s a reason why shows are called what they’re called,” Ovies said. “It’s ‘Adam and Joe’ because people ultimately are tuning in to hear what we have to say about a variety of various topics. The show is not called ‘beat writer from some other market and Joe in Chapel Hill calling in.’ “
They still can get listener feedback through social media, which also gives them more control.
“That way, if you want to get listener reaction of a major topic, you can pick and choose the reaction from people,” Ovies said. “You get your choice of the good ones. If somebody legitimately added something to the conversation, you’ll read if off of social media. You don’t know what the hell you’re going to get from a particular phone call.
“The goal now is to keep people engaged for more than five minutes, and the way you do that is by keeping things moving. And if you drag a topic, well then people are going to tune out,” Ovies said.
There are always a half-dozen or so regular segments with titles, but they keep them fresh, eliminating some every few months and creating new ones. The longest running one is “What’s Trending,” where Ovies hits on the hot topics of the day at the start of the 5 o’clock hour. Recently, the “90s Rejoin” gave way to “Millennial Rejoin.” Both test Ovies’ knowledge of music.
One segment, which Campbell said was pretty polarizing with listeners, was “Truth Bombs,” in which both shouted opinions on various topics. Stephen A. Smith would have fit right in.
“Either you were in on the joke or you weren’t in on the joke or you didn’t care for the joke,” said Ovies, who would occasionally sing and gave his “takes” much more loudly than Gold.
After doing that segment every Monday for more than three years, it was defused in October.
“The funny thing about it was that we were starting to gut some things and I just kept thinking, I would really like to dump Truth Bombs,” Gold said. “It became too much of a chore. And having done it for however many years we did it, it was the one thing that was never sponsored.”
Every show now starts with the “Big F-ing Story of the Day,” with the other segments including the “Take Factory” and “Stick to Sports.”
Every role in radio has evolved over the years. Just like play-by-play announcers for teams and schools have many more duties these days, the same is true for talk-show hosts. Ovies and Gold both do other podcasts. Gold reports on the Carolina Hurricanes, and Ovies also does “Panic Room” and other videos with Brownlow.
“You spend more time talking hard-core sports on those platforms than you do on the radio show,” Ovies said. He said that there was one listener to his “919 Beer” podcast who was surprised to hear that he also did a sports talk show.
Just a few years ago, the only way to hear their show was to pick up 99.9’s signal on the radio. Now, anybody in the world can watch a video stream of the show, listen to a “best of” podcast from each show and listen to individual interviews in podcast form on WRALSportsFan.com or its app.
They have one hard-core listener who listens every day from Costa Rica. That listener and sports fans in the Triangle are lucky that the 2010 conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t go another way.
Some outlets make excellent use of video analysis
The shift from print to digital gives newspapers the ability to report in ways that were impossible when the only outlet was a print newspaper.
There is, of course, video. Many newspapers now put more videos on their sites.
Brant Wilkerson-New of the News & Record of Greensboro has done a good job of using video analysis within stories to explain strategy or why something isn’t working for a team.
Ahead of UNC’s home game against Gonzaga, he explained some of the matchup problems the Zags presented to the Tar Heels using video in this story. After Michigan did circles around the Tar Heels with pick-and-rolls, Wilkerson-New used video to explain how the Wolverines did it.
On Tar Heel Blog, Jake Lawrence, a former basketball manager at High Point University and former director of basketball operations at Morehead State, also did a good job looking at UNC’s Michigan game issues. Lawrence also has done similar video analysis for football.
Brian Geisinger has also done this on ACCSport.com, including this look at the versatility of Duke’s Zion Williamson.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
In The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, Chip Alexander wrote about how sled hockey can provide a much-needed outlet for veterans who suffer life-altering injuries. Some of them have become champions.
In The Athletic, C.L. Brown took a look at how North Carolina’s Nassir Little is making the adjustment to college basketball amid impatient calls from some fans to put him in the starting lineup.
The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler, as mentioned in an earlier notebook, did an excellent podcast series called “Carruth” on the saga of former Carolina Panthers star Rae Carruth. Fowler found out where Carruth has been living in Pennsylvania since his release from prison earlier this year. He knocked on Carruth’s door, and that led to this memorable story and to an epilogue for the podcast.
There have been many features on Duke freshman Zion Williamson. Here’s a good one that Joe Drape wrote for The New York Times.
There were probably columns written across the state in the aftermath of the state high school football championships. In the News & Record of Greensboro, Ed Hardin nicely painted the picture of Southeast Guilford’s loss full of mud and tears.