Matt Moscona is the unlikely king of talk radio in sports-crazy Baton Rouge
By Mark ClementsPosted Feb 20, 2013
Matt Moscona walks into his studio at 9:15 a.m. He has about 45 minutes to begin his prep work before interviewing Maryland baseball Coach John Szefc at 10 a.m. in anticipation of that night’s season opener against LSU.
From there he’ll head over to campus for a press conference to introduce Cam Cameron as the football team’s new offensive coordinator. After that, it’s back to the studio for more show prep before going on-air for three hours from Plucker’s Wing Bar. Then it’s off to Alex Box Stadium, capping the non-stop day with a night of baseball.
Welcome to a day in the life of one of the most popular radio personalities in a city that lives, breathes, and eats sports.
Ten years ago, Moscona would never have pictured himself in the position he holds today. He graduated from LSU with a degree in print journalism after a year at Holy Cross College in Indiana and envisioned himself working in news.
Now his afternoon talk show is on ESPN Radio. After Further Review has become a household name among sports fans, making the plodding drive home from work more bearable each day. In December, Radio Ink Magazine named Moscona to its inaugural nationwide list of the 30 Top Local Sports Talkers in Radio for 2012.
Despite the busy day he had before him last Friday, Moscona still found time to sit down with Dig to talk about how he ended up covering sports, the benefits of the Baton Rouge radio market, and why he loves the endearing “slimy underbelly” of his talk radio audience.
DIG: What was your journey like, getting to where you are now?
Matt Moscona: I never thought I would do radio, and I never thought I would do sports. I always thought I would do news. I was at LSU in journalism school and just wanted experience. I knew, through a mutual contact, the lady who was the general manager of Citadel Broadcasting; her name was Rebecca Breeding. I sent her a résumé, she brought me in for an interview. We talked and she said, “I don’t have anything really, but” – and I’ll never forget this when she told me – she said, “I’ve always been taught that if you have good people, hang to them. Surround yourself with good people.” She said they’ll find something for me to do. So they hired me as a part-time promotions guy. I did everything, from cleaning out the prize closet to dressing up like station mascots. I dressed up like a bee for B-103. Whenever I had opportunities to sit in studio, I would just ask the on-air people questions and just shadow them. That’s how I learned so much is just by asking people questions who were doing what I wanted to do. That kind of becomes infectious, and I got more opportunities and worked my way into a news station. After about three months in radio, I was producing an afternoon drive show on a Baton Rouge news talk station. From there, my radio career went.
DIG: So how did you get into the sports world?
MM: I started in sports in the spring of ‘07. I was debating moving out of Baton Rouge. I had an offer to go build from the ground up a Catholic radio station in Atlanta. I had actually accepted the job, but sort of just in limbo. Matt Kennedy offered me a job board op-ing at 1210 The Score. It was never meant to be me getting into sports. It was just I’ll go run a board for a live talk show, which I’ve done a million times. I’d do that; I’d keep involved with running a live board before I make the move. The opportunity in Atlanta fell apart and so I was stuck, but I kind of had my foot in the door with the sports thing. When they found out I was staying, they offered me a one-hour sort of bridge show from 3 to 4. That’s when I started with a sports talk show. I did that for about three years and then was offered the afternoon drive spot here at ESPN.
DIG: Do you remember the very first show you hosted? Were you nervous?
MM: No, no. I tell people all the time that want to get into any type of mass media – you can get all the education you want, and a lot of times the education will give you a good foundation and give you an opportunity to get you an interview or get your foot in the door, but when the mic is on or the camera is on or you’re up against a deadline, you either can or you can’t. People that are nervous, it’s tough to say that you can if you’re nervous. Maybe I’m just wired different, but that’s always been my philosophy. Regardless of what I’ve done, I’ve never been nervous. It just kind of comes to me.
DIG: What is your favorite part about the job, now that you’ve done it for a while?
MM: I don’t know, man. I could never work a traditional 9 to 5. I could never sit at a desk and do the same thing every day. Some people can, I can’t. I like that every day when I come in – while I have structure and order and I have a framework for my day, how many hours I want to show prep, there are certain guests that are built-in interviews every week on certain days – there’s structure, but there’s also an unpredictability. Any given moment news could break. You change a dime, your day can be thrown around. There’s kind of a controlled chaos involved in radio and that’s the fun part is taking all of these elements and bringing them together to make it sound fluid and make it sound like something someone would listen to.
DIG: You mentioned the show prep. How much time goes into putting together a show, and what goes into making the show every day?
MM: In my opinion, the work is the show prep. Like I said before, if you can or you can’t, if you have talent and you have a working knowledge of how a radio show is put together, when the mic is on that’s the fun part. That’s the easy part. The difficult part, or the working part, is getting to the point to be prepared when the mic is open. For me, my general rule is for every hour I’m on, I prep for two. If I do a three-hour show, I prep for six hours. That means about 9 in the morning I like to be in my chair prepping for my 3 o’clock show. There are some days where that changes, but for the most part that’s my rule.
DIG: Is it a challenge to make the show fresh every day?
MM: No, because I think some people use the time of year as a crutch. They’ll say, “Oh, there’s nothing going on.” That’s crap. There’s always something going on, otherwise there would not be enough content for 24-hour news cycles or for talk shows. The challenge sometimes is finding a story or topic and making it relevant to your audience. That’s sometimes where the challenge comes in. During football season, that’s easy. Monday and 3 o’clock, guess what I’m talking about? I’m talking about how LSU did on Saturday. That’s easy. But the challenge is different in that you know what you’re going to be talking about, but you get so entrenched into the topic, the challenge is making sure you know everything, whereas maybe other times you can have a working knowledge of a topic. It’s just a different challenge. I could talk LSU Football or LSU and the Saints on a Monday in football season for three hours, but making that fresh and finding different angles, that’s the challenge. It’s not finding the topic, it’s finding the angles to keep it fresh.
DIG: Who have been some of your favorite guests on the show?
MM: I definitely loved interviewing Houston Nutt. It’s easy to see why a guy like that could sell himself to any administrator or any family or any kid because he’s just so likeable. He’s just “ aw shucks ol’ country guy” – or at least that’s how he presents himself. It makes for fantastic radio.
Some LSU guys are fantastic, too. Stevan Ridley, Sam Montgomery, if those guys wanted to do media when they’re done with their playing days, they could seamlessly transition into media. They’re thoughtful in their responses, they’re funny, they’ve got great personalities. They stand out when you’re used to programmed responses from athletes. Time and time again, they stand out. Think of it this way: if I generally have three to four guests per day, that means in a five-day week I have 15-20 guests on my show. Over three years, we’re talking about thousands, literally thousands. To stand out among thousands, that’s pretty rare.
DIG: Do any stand out as pretty bad interviews?
MM: I hate to say this because he’s still playing at LSU, but when Anthony Hickey committed – and it’s a challenge sometimes getting high schoolers on the radio because they’re 17 and chances are they’ve never done an interview – but Anthony Hickey … [Chuckles] … he’s so much better now. Last year after he hit the game-winning shot, I think against Mississippi State, he came on the day after that and was a million times better. But so much of that comes with experience and having a microphone in front of your face every day. But as a high schooler, Anthony Hickey when he committed is probably the one that stands out. But by comparison it’s fair to show you just how far he’s come in that realm.
DIG: You use the term “slimy underbelly” on your show. What does that mean exactly?
MM: I refer to the people that text the show as my slimy underbelly, because generally the content I get from the people that text the show tends to be more vulgar and a bit more risqué in nature – and it makes sense why. It’s not an email with your name on it; it’s not a call with your voice going over the air. You’re under a cloak of secrecy. Nobody knows who you are. You’re sending this anonymous message with absolutely no consequences, so people tend to be a bit more risqué. Now, there are times where that’s fantastic. If we’re lampooning somebody or something, it can be hysterical. But there are also times where it can be extremely unfair and very negative, almost like a cesspool. But there’s a place for that. I love that element of my show.
DIG: How would you describe the culture of talk radio in Baton Rouge?
MM: I think sometimes people in media get too consumed with market size. Baton Rouge, I don’t even know where we are exactly in radio market, I think we’re somewhere in the high 70s, but we’re a mid-sized market. From a perception standpoint, there are differences in that. If I wanted to get Tom Brady on my show, Tom Brady probably won’t do an interview in Baton Rouge. He’ll do an interview in L.A. He’ll do an interview in Miami. He won’t do the interview in Baton Rouge. That’s an inherent disadvantage. Although, I may have more listeners in Baton Rouge because I have a bigger market share of a smaller audience than a smaller market share of a bigger audience. I may have more listeners. But one of the fascinating things about Baton Rouge, which is why sports talk in this market is and has been so successful, is because it is a unique market in that not only are people football-crazed and you have LSU Football, LSU Basketball has a history of success. They’ve been to Final Fours, and you have legendary names like Petit and Maravich and Shaq who have come through here, and LSU Baseball is unlike anywhere else in the country in that I can do a show on LSU Baseball. It matters here. That’s not the case not only in the country, but even in the SEC. There are good teams in the SEC, but trying to generate conversation in Nashville about Vanderbilt baseball, that’s not happening even though they’re a Top 10 team. Baton Rouge is unique in that regard, but you’re also an hour from New Orleans and you have so much population and crossover between the two cities. You have LSU fans in New Orleans and people who live in Baton Rouge who are from New Orleans. I can talk Saints; I can talk Hornets as well. I have an NBA team, an NFL team, and I have three legitimate college sports topics, and Southern is just up the road so there’s another segment of the audience. If you look at LSU Football, Basketball, Baseball, Saints, Hornets, Southern, that’s six legitimate programs or organizations that I can pull topics and content from. I’m essentially saying that sports talk in Baton Rouge, even though it’s a smaller market, it works more so than many comparable places because of how unique of a sports town Baton Rouge is.
DIG: So where do you want to go from here? This is a job you love, but do you have bigger dreams in the future?
MM: The way you advance in media is by jumping market size. You go from a mid-sized market to a larger market and then maybe to a Top 10, potentially to syndication. It’s almost like coaching. You see guys go from being a [graduate assistant] to a position coach to a coordinator to a head coach at a small school to a big school. Do you want to live that lifestyle? Do you want to market-hop? I’m married, my family is here, my wife’s family is here, we love Baton Rouge, we love the area, I work for great people, I get to cover teams I love. My only concern is where is my ceiling in Baton Rouge? Where is my ceiling financially? Where is our ratings ceiling? How much more room is there for growth? I love where I am, I love what I do. I’m not actively seeking jobs. If the right one came along, you listen. Before we got married, my wife and I talked and there are a handful of places that we agreed we would go if the opportunity came. I haven’t gotten those calls yet. I am quite happy where I am.