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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 29 February, 2020
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Second Captains' Murph and Ken on their new book, podcasting and the UFC phenomenon

They never go home, those boys.

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A SENIOR producer once shared with me  – a then red-raw researcher on a popular national drivetime show — the trick to creating good radio.

Like a soprano focusing on someone in the backrow of an auditorium, so too we should picture a particular audience member — think the guy in his 30s sitting in a Volkswagen Golf on the M50.

Do the Second Captains — a tight-knit team created through a decade on Newstalk’s then-weeknightly Off The Ball programme — imagine some lad on the bus to work in the bank listening to superb Andy Tate mashups when they make their editorial decisions, on air and off?


Source: Second Captains/SoundCloud

“No. Not at all actually,” Ken Early tells The42. “I just try to talk to these people in a way that I might speak to someone I like you know. So the idea is you’re enjoying a conversation that you’re having and hopefully people that are listening enjoy it too. That’s all you can do really.”

That’s probably been a big part of their success – allowing the listener to feel like your eavesdropping on a group of friends talking sport and a lot more over a beer.

The five — Ken Early, Simon Hick, Ciaran Murphy, Mark Horgan and Eoin McDevitt — have capped a busy year by releasing a beautifully-designed and -produced annual.

“The idea of the book is whoever that person is that we enjoy having a conversation with, we would hope it’s of a piece; if you enjoy the podcast, if you enjoy the TV show, then you would enjoy the book. I don’t think any of those things are exclusive to each other,” says Murphy.

The group established their own company after their departure from Newstalk in 2012 and now add this print production to digital platforms like audio and TV. Will the book be… annual?

“We wanted to see if it works. It says Volume 1 on the cover so hopefully it does,” says Early. “If it does we’ll probably do Volume Two.”

“I suppose the idea is,” adds Murphy, “if you do these things well and to your own standards then it’s not a case of diversifying. It’s something that we always wanted to do and we wanted to be in a position to go for it ourselves and produce ourselves and yeah the reaction there has suggested that this’ll be an annual thing.

“As far as the business side of things go, there’s an element of learning on the job but that’s what we did; we set up our company, we just had to very quickly adjust to that reality and for better or worse we’ve muddled along and done alright between the five of us.”

uGWVgNyJEVzCO9duF8IPP4W2AtfmwjNrSkmC-FrQZ5g Ken Early and McDevitt on the set of Second Captains Live.

Early continues: “Everything’s changing very quickly. No one knows what this industry is going to look like in five years even. So if you think you’ve got a good idea you’ve just got to do it and see if it works and just keep doing that.”

At the start of the year the global sports media skyline was populated with skyscraping ventures like the much-loved website Grantland and the record-breaking podcast Serial. One, Grantland, has since been shuttered by ESPN bosses after a spectacular fall out with editor Bill Simmons while Serial has just returned for a second series.

Second Captains very much populate this modern digital landscape spanning, as they do, platforms and being consumed by loyal, internet natives, to use Web Summit vocabulary. Are these global trends something discussed within the Second Captains team?

“We had one particularly colourful meeting with a fan in the early days and he was shouting in our faces ‘you’ve got to be the Irish Grantland!’,” says Murphy. “But again, talking about an industry trying to figure out what the demise of Grantland means. God the amount of think pieces I’ve read about it is ridiculous.

“Can you guys learn the lessons from that? I don’t know that there are. It’s a really specific thing; it was set up by one guy who had a really bad relationship with the guys who were paying the bills. So I don’t know if you can sit down as Second Captains or the The42 and take lessons from it? I don’t know it’s just a totally different thing.”

“After 10 years all together since we did our first podcast on Newstalk, suddenly someone worked out how to do it,” says Early of Serial, the medium’s first truly breakout production. “Someone finally shows the way that podcasts can be really successful and it’s a phenomenon. We were as admiring as anyone.”

2015 saw thousands of Irish fight fans touch down in the Nevada desert for two Conor McGregor fights. Ken Early was amongst them, sending back reports like Louis Theroux with a cageside seat.

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The now-infamous UFC fan event in Dublin’s docklands at which then world champion Jose Aldo was abused by the members of the audience and McGregor was declared ‘the world featherweight of the championship’ by one confused attendee, prompted Early to fire up skyscanner and check the price of Vegas suites.

“It was a huge thing,” he says of the MMA phenomenon. “You’re looking at it thinking this is massive and it’s getting bigger and bigger. Everyone is in to this. I wouldn’t say I started out being into it but it draws you in. You’re watching it and you’re thinking, what’s going on here. And I think that press conference in the Convention Centre was when I said, alright I have to go and see this, this is amazing.

“I thought I can’t miss this like. I looked into it and it was clear I can quite easily get to this. It’s not going to be difficult. I thought it was definitely worth going to see. It was by far the biggest thing happening in Irish sporting terms in July, arguably the summer.

“I think that’s a lot of how the sport has gotten so big. People can watch the stuff online so you don’t have some TV executive wondering if this is a suitable thing to put on TV. John McCain said this is human cock fighting – maybe this isn’t the right thing for our viewers. That’s kind of taken out of the equation and what you get instead is people watching online and suddenly then once TV companies see how popular this is, it becomes, ‘Hang on a second, this is something this is something we should be looking at.’

“They were struggling in the 90s but I think broadband actually is the reason they were able to expand. It took out the squeamishness of TV programmers and just enabled the audience to say that’s what we want to see.”

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There’ll be Second Captains Annual Volume 1-shaped parcels under many Irish sports fans’ Christmas trees this week. Those of us who guessed Eoin McDevitt’s detour to Las Vegas during the show’s San Fran trip was for an Andre Agassi interview will instead read an excellent Jerry Izenberg feature, while Early’s sit down with Damien Duff and a long McGregor piece make sure there’s plenty of down-time reading.

“It was a longer standing but much vaguer idea that we had like probably three or four years ago,” says Murphy of the book. “We’d met with publishers — myself and Mark — but it was very much, ‘Here, we’ve got an idea, why don’t we piggyback on what you have for the purposes of a book?’

“But it just seemed like it was going to be a much more involved process if you got publishers involved. So when we decided we were going to do it this time one of the most attractive things was publishing it ourselves, designing it ourselves. But the process itself was so enjoyable. Really great.”

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