Sirius XM NFL Radio and its associated scams

As the kind of person who constantly experiences mental stimulus in day-to-day life, I often get interested in something based on that stimulus and seek out information on it.  I'd bet I use the Wikipedia app on my iPhone 10 times a day when some random thing gets mentioned, and I want to know more about it.  I’m an intellectually curious person, and the downside of that is that it’s sometimes easy to get distracted by stuff, and pulled strongly in a strange direction, if only temporarily.

I don’t say this to sneer at those who are less intellectually curious than I am, but rather to help you understand where I’m coming from.  A longtime reader claimed last week that all I like to do is talk about which stupid people annoy me on a given day, and I suppose I can see where that comes from.  I think it’s an overly simplistic take, and there’s always a larger point to what I am writing about than simply to criticize somebody, but I sometimes do write more candidly and less collegially than is the norm.

This part of the offseason is kind of a tough time, because nothing very interesting is going on.  I get my information from my eyes, and my eyes can’t see anything right now, you know?  For that reason, I get a bit distracted by other shiny things going on, and rather than write vacuous tripe about nothing going on, like a newspaper columnist has to, I often feel like writing about other stuff.

The way I see it, I’ve got an audience, and I want to benefit and serve that audience the best way I can every time I write - even if they don’t necessarily know what the topic will be on a given day.  Plus, it’s fun to piss off the ninnies and the trolls who flame us via email.  Then, we say, oh yeah, that guy’s an idiot, and we all have a big group laugh at his expense.  (That was my obligatory idiot-calling of the column.)

Today, I want to talk about something from the football media that’s been bothering me.  (Stop me if we’ve been down this trail before, right?)  It’s sort of an ancillary part of the media, though, so as to keep the ninnies from having any exploding aneurisms, I’m going to talk about the part of the media that it surrounds.

I wrote an article a month ago that got people a little verklempt, in which I said that you shouldn’t really listen to radio guys.  It even got the attention of Darren McKee, who I was specifically criticizing, and he invited me to call him to discuss it.  (That’s a losing proposition for me, so I declined to do so.  He’s a talker and I’m a writer, and I’m going to stay in my lane.)  That was actually the second Denver radio guy whose attention IAOFM got, and that’s in keeping with my experience that a lot of these guys are more aware of what’s being said about them than you’d think.

Today, I am going to talk about Sirius NFL XM Radio, because I’ve been a subscriber and regular listener to it for about six of the past eight years.  I’m going to tell you what I think of the content and the personalities, explain what’s been bugging me about the overall presentation, and then give you some ancillary stuff to think about.  Deal?

Mornings – The Opening Drive

This show is usually hosted by Bob Papa and Ross Tucker, but you get some of the other personalities subbing from time to time, and I’ll get to them in the Other Personalities section.  This show is sort of lighthearted and news-focused, and it’s mostly listenable and unoffensive. 

Papa is a huge Giants homer, as he does the radio play-by-play for their games, and he’s one of those Traditional White Suburban Man types, if that makes any sense.  He’s a very competent radio professional, and he’s correctly cast as the straight man, but I highly doubt that he’d be very interesting to chat with while sitting in the bleachers at a kid’s soccer practice.

Tucker is a smart guy, and he has a lot of interesting opinions and insight about stuff, particularly what it’s like to be a fairly marginal journeyman NFL player.  There’s value in hearing from those guys, and you gain bits of knowledge like how when the facility opened for voluntary workouts, he’d always make virtually every one of them, because the $100 per diem he got paid was sufficient that he felt like he was getting paid to work out, rather than pay to use a gym in his hometown.  Tucker isn’t real polished on the radio, and he has some annoying tendencies.  Chief among them is the tendency to bellow “WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA” in the middle of a caller’s point if he doesn’t agree.

In all, the Opening Drive is a solid show, and I listen to it most of the time when I am driving to work, which takes me about 25 minutes.  If Tucker is out, and Solomon Wilcots subs for him, it goes downhill, though.

Midday – The Sirius XM Blitz

This is hosted by my old buddy Adam Schein, and he’s usually joined by Rich Gannon.  The feel of it is really schticky, and kind of overproduced.  (I’ve reparteed on Twitter with the primary producer, Nick Kostos, and besides being a WWE fan, I’ve got nothing bad to say about the dude personally.)  I guess I’m sort of easily bugged by the opening/hourly promo where the voice goes “NEWS… NEWS… NOTES… NOTES… NUGGETS… NUGGETS.”  It makes me wonder when I listen to the show if what I am hearing is News, a Note, or a Nugget.  The word Nugget also reminds me of poop, the Denver NBA franchise notwithstanding.

Schein is also a competent radio pro, but in a totally different way than Papa.  Where Bob is an even-toned straight man, Schein is an excitable fan-proxy type of guy.  He’s a natural provocateur, and he’s pretty fearless in criticizing NFL personalities, which I like about him.  As for his style, and his content, I’m just going to politely say that he’s not my brand of whiskey.  I hit the bejesus out of him on my little/unserious Wordpress site a couple years ago, and it got to him, and he was really gracious about it, so that made me like him more personally than I do professionally.  If you take your football information in the center lane, or at the eighth-grade level that I was recently "educated" about, Schein is your man, like John Madden was probably your man.  It’s radio for Joe Six-Pack.

Gannon is knowledgeable about football, and especially QBs, but I see him as a bit of a personal axe-grinder sometimes, and I think he doesn’t provide as much insight as he could.  Maybe that’s the dumbed-down level of the show that he’s keeping with, or maybe he’s just lazy.

The Blitz does get a lot of big-name guests, and it does accommodate the regulars with a lot of softball questions.  I’ve always kind of felt like if you’re a “friend of the radio program," you tend to generally get more favorable treatment on the show than if you’re not.  I’m cool with that, because I believe in special treatment for friends too, but I wanted to share the observation.

I don’t listen to The Blitz so much, because it’s on at the time of day when I’m mostly not driving, and instead mostly sitting in my office on endless conference calls. But if you’re a Joe Six-Pack type, you should check them out.  It’s not for me, and that’s cool, because I’m not for everybody either.

Afternoons – Movin’ The Chains

This is the best show on Sirius, and it’s among the best audio/visual football content that I’m aware of.  The regular hosts are Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan, and they’ve been working together for years on Sirius, and it shows.  The best thing about this show is that they get into a lot of X’s and O’s, and it seems like their default assumption is that their audience is smart enough to understand complicated stuff, which is the same assumption we operate by here.  (They don’t do any satire, so they don’t have to be frustrated by the fools who don’t get it.)

Kirwan was a longtime coach and front office guy, and he was director of player administration for the Jets in the 1990s.  Since then, he’s been a media guy, and he’s the first real insider I remember to write content on the internet.  He’s not a natural radio guy, but he plays nicely off of what Ryan is doing.  Kirwan is a bit provincial about being a football man, and he said something very stupid a week ago, intimating that only people who have been employed in the NFL should have any credibility in talking about it.  That riled up a lot of Doug Farrars and other commentators.  Of course, there are many smart observers of football who never worked in the NFL.

Ryan played for the Bears as a defensive lineman in the early 90s, and he does color analysis for FOX on game days, alongside Sam Rosen.  He’s gotten really comfortable talking X’s and O’s on the radio, and I think it’s a shame that FOX seems to make him keep it real dumb on Sundays.  (It’s FOX, you know?)

The best thing about this show is that they value and feature guests who may not be big names, but who know what the hell they’re talking about, and can express that knowledge effectively.  Good recurring ones include old friend Greg Robinson, veteran offensive line coach Bob Wylie, and former scout Chris Mattura.  There’s a ton of value that comes from these guests, and Kirwan and Ryan are great at interacting with them and having a knowledgeable football discussion.  I’d rather listen to Greg Robinson talk X’s and O’s 100 times out of 100 than I would some famous player or head coach speaking in generalities on The Blitz.

The downside of Movin’ the Chains is that they have a number of favorite callers, and most of them are excruciating to listen to.  I already cannot stand callers, but Tim and Pat let their favorites prattle on more than I wish they would, and it causes me to change the channel.  Overall, though, this show alone is worth the price of Sirius if you’re a serious NFL fan.

Evenings – Late Hits

This show tends to have a rotating cast of hosts, and it’s not too noteworthy in any manner.  Pick two of the Other Personalities and put them together, and the show tends to take on the personality of those two people.  It used to be hosted by a guy named Bryan McGovern, and it was better when it was, but I haven’t heard him in a while.  Now you might have Alex Marvez hosting, and that’s nothing good.

Weekends – Hot Garbage

Don’t bother.

Other Personalities (In approximate order of the frequency of their appearances)

Jim Miller – Often appears on The Blitz and on weekend programming (which is mostly dreck).  Solid knowledge, but annoyingly accents the first syllable of Deee-troit, like the huckleberry from Michigan that he is.

Gil Brandt – The longtime Cowboys executive has forgotten more football than most people know, but the problem is that he’s forgetting more and more these days.  He’s appropriately called The Godfather, but he’s unfortunately losing his fastball, and is noticeably struggling to remember things more so than in the past.

Alex Marvez – I’m not a fan of this guy, as either a writer or a radio host.  As a writer, he actually writes a pro wrestling column, like it’s something that should be covered journalistically.  As a radio guy, he has a weird, off-putting voice, and he’s constantly saying “go ahead,” which drives me nuts.  Example – “The Cowboys are going to go ahead and win the division.  Peyton Manning is going to go ahead and be ready for training camp.  The Revolting Blob is going to go ahead and sit on his opponent’s head, and accidentally kill him.”  He must say “go ahead” 75 times per show.  Grrrr!

Randy Cross – Cross is more of a natural TV guy, but he’s solid on the radio.  He’s opinionated about a lot of things, and I kind of like people like that.  I also like his offensive lineman’s perspective.

Bill Polian – He’s very smart, and shares a lot of interesting insights, but he thinks and speaks in paragraphs, and that’s weird on the radio.  He’s similar stylistically to how Peter King was on Sirius, but he actually knows interesting things.

Keith Bulluck – A smart, articulate guy who usually gets paired with Schein, so it’s hard to tell if he can communicate anything very insightful about football, given the dumbed-down feel of The Blitz.

Amani Toomer – Similar to Bulluck, and also new to the radio.  He spends a little too much time flexing about being a Michigan Man.  (Yes, I’m kind of anti-Michigan.)

Derrick Brooks – Awful to listen to, mostly because his accent is so thick.  It’s hard to tell what he brings to the table, besides having been a great player.

Howard David – Awful as an NFL talker, but another longtime radio pro.  David is one of those New York guys who moved to South Florida and has the classic annoying vocal inflections of that species.  I have nothing against New Yorkers (ie. Doug or David Singer), but if you’ve ever been to Fort Lauderdale or Boca Raton, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, with the speaking style.  I find David to be unlistenable.

Vic Carucci – A completely boring writer who is somehow more boring on the radio.  Thankfully relegated to crappy weekend shows, like Press Coverage. 

Ralph Vacchiano – He writes for the New York Daily News, which I find to be a lousy publication, and he’s pretty non-noteworthy on the radio.  I get nothing out of listening to him.

I’ve missed some, but the Zig Fracassis and Andrew Bogusches will have to forgive me.  I like Sirius XM NFL radio, and I think it’s worth paying for the service to be able to listen to it.  Like anything, it’s a mixed bag, but I am recommending it to you.

Now…What’s Been Bugging Me

Sirius XM has a programming scheme whereby the music stations have no commercials.  That’s really awesome, and it’s led me to never listen to terrestrial radio anymore.  My favorite music channels, in order, are:

  1. Backspin (Old School Hip Hop – Channel 46)
  2. Classic Vinyl (Classic Rock – Channel 26)
  3. Soul Town (Classic Soul/Motown – Channel 49)

I don’t have a lot of use for contemporary music, beyond a few exceptions, because it gets more vacuous all the time.  CALL ME MAYBE!!!  No. 

Anyway, how Sirius XM gets away with not having commercials on these channels is to commercial the hell out of you on the talk stations.  I would estimate that NFL Radio has commercials about 22 minutes per hour, and it just feels excessive and abusive of the customer’s time.  Of course, the NFL and its TV partners abuse the hell out of us too, so what else is new?

It seems like advertisers who work with Sirius think they’re talking to only two kinds of listeners:

  1. Truckers
  2. Fools

I’m not a trucker, or a fool, so the advertising that I’m subjected to really drives me crazy.  It’s actually kind of shocking to me how many ads Sirius accepts from purveyors of bad deals, which I’ll come right out and call scams, because it's what they are.  I’m going to share some thoughts on two of those scams, which are advertised frequently.

The Gold Coin Scam

Paraphrased ad copy – The New York Mint has recently released a cache of $10 Gold Eagle coins, and they’re available to the American People on a first-come, first-served basis.  These coins were issued between 1907 and 1933, and were lost in a government meltdown.  You can own history by buying these rare gold coins.

This has all the elements of a scamtastic radio ad.  To wit:

New York Mint – This is the name of a shady company, not a part of the U.S. Mint.

$10 Gold Eagle coins – There have been several versions of the Gold Eagle coin, and they’re not all created equal.  See here.

American People – HELLO disaffected white people who listen to Glenn Beck!  You’re all rugged individualists, and everything, but we’re secretly tricking you into feeling a kinship with the other disaffected white people out there!

First-come, first-served – The little man can finally be king!  Isn’t democracy swell?

Government meltdown – The damn government is always messing things up.  (Seriously, this imagery is not at all accidental.)

The price of gold has been going up rapidly over the last decade, driven by speculators and people like Beck, who profit by pitching an apocalyptic vision of the future.  I would say that you’re probably overpaying for gold right now, based on all the speculation, but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue to go up, before the bubble inevitably bursts, like all bubbles do.

The problem with this scam is that you’re not investing in gold, you’re investing in gold coins.  You’re a numismatist who probably doesn’t know anything about collector coins, or the value of them.  There’s a price that suckers are paying New York Mint, and other companies like it, but can you sell the coin on a secondary market for the same price? 

The answer is almost always no, and people have been losing lots of money buying gold coins.  It’s a collector’s item, because the scam artist at the company says it’s a collector’s item.  Beck’s former star sponsor Goldline is now under criminal indictment for fraudulent sales tactics.  New York Mint is another in a long line of companies doing the same scam. 

If you wanted to buy a $10 Gold Eagle today, these would be your prices.

If it appeared in your possession today, and you wanted to turn around and sell it, this is what you'd get on eBay.

If gold is selling for $1,620 per ounce, and you buy a 1998 $10 Gold Eagle coin weighing 1 ounce for $1,678 with a 3% commission, that’s a fine deal, right?  If I can melt down the gold and recover the price, what’s the risk? 

The devil is in the details - that coin only has 0.27 ounces of gold in it, which means that only $433 can be recovered from the gold.  The rest has to be recovered from the intrinsic collector’s value of the coin itself, and good luck with that.  Tell your friends to avoid this kind of stuff.

The Extended Warranty Scam

You can get hit with this anywhere: at a car dealership, or Best Buy, or Sears.  The most egregious versions of the scam are advertised on the radio, though.  If you offer me an extended warranty on something (anything), I know one thing for a fact:

It’s a good deal for you, and a bad deal for me.

Financial products like extended warranties and insurance policies are zero-sum bets, and there will be a winner and a loser.  Who is more likely to be the winner?  The buyer of the product, who has no data to figure out an appropriate price for the policy, or the seller, who has a huge pile of data to price it?

When I say data, I specifically mean two key pieces of information:

  1. What percentage of products sold require repair or replacement during the life of the policy?
  2. How much will it cost to repair or replace the average product?

To keep this more simple than it is in real life, if I know that 5% of policyholders are going to file a claim, and that the average fully-loaded cost to the issuer is $200, that means I have to charge $10 in order to break even.  What I’ll do, then, is charge $20.

As a customer, 10% of the purchase price sounds reasonable, right?  Trust me, it isn’t.  Before I started college for real, I sold treadmills for Sears, and we were pressured mightily to sell maintenance agreements on them.  They were $200 for three years, and we were supposed to tell people that the belt alone cost $200, without labor, and almost always had to be replaced within three years, if the thing got used three times per week.

Here, you’re knowingly playing a trick on the customer, because you know that 90% of the time, that treadmill is going to get used for three weeks, and then it’s going to become furniture, maybe a laundry rack.  The customer is all fired up to exercise, so they’re amenable to buying the agreement and pissing their money down a hole.  I didn’t like to cheat my customers, so I resisted, and I eventually left Sears over the philosophical difference that we had, so that I could go do honorable work, in the form of delivering pizza.

These ads about extended warranties for cars are really bad, and Sirius XM seems not to mind them.  There’s more language games about "due to the decline in the economy, and to help the American people,” and then some more about how a new engine or transmission can cost $5,000, and do you want to pay that out of pocket?

These warranty companies are, of course, free-riding on the factory warranties that come with the cars, many of which are going to cover repair costs (whether bumper-to-bumper or powertrain) five, seven, or ten years into the future.  You pay the warranty company now, or over a number of months or years, and you typically get no benefit for your money until many years into the future.  Chances are good that by the time an engine would need to be replaced, the car is worth less than the cost of the repair, so why wouldn’t you just buy a new car?  If you trade in your car, like most people eventually do well before the doors fall off, the extended warranty is forfeit.

Remember, all financial products are a bad deal for you, even ones you probably should buy, like life insurance, and ones you have to buy, like car insurance.  If they were good deals for you, the company wouldn’t be selling them, because only one party gets to profit.   Remember this fact (and don’t buy gold coins either), and I’ll have done some good here today.

I believe that content publishers should only accept advertising for reputable products and services, and Sirius XM fails my test on that score.  I continue to give them my money, and I still will, for Movin’ The Chains, but it would be great if they’d try to sell ads to better companies and de-emphasize these scams that permeate their airwaves now.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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Ted's Analysis