About an hour after the Redskins put the finishing touches on their Week 1 win over the Cardinals, NBC Sports Washington’s J.P. Finlay, Rich Tandler and Mitch Tischler gathered in a vacated news conference room at State Farm Stadium and recorded their thoughts on Washington’s impressive performance.
“You could feel the momentum building as the game was going,” said Tischler, who, as an on-field videographer, is in better position than most to take the pulse of the Redskins on game day. “The guys were getting into it.”
The same could be said of the “Redskins Talk” podcast, which debuted as a two-man operation featuring Finlay and Tandler before the first game of the 2016 season and is fast approaching 300 episodes. The podcast has averaged a 20 percent month-over-month increase in downloads over the past year, according to NBC Sports Washington, and the hosts can feel the momentum building.
“There weren’t that many people listening for a while,” said Finlay, who was in his first season on the Redskins beat when his boss encouraged him to start a podcast two years ago. “It kind of stayed off the radar and we got to build it our own way.”
Finlay handled everything related to the podcast that first season, in addition to his on-air responsibilities. Listeners regularly knocked the podcast’s audio quality, which Finlay admits was terrible. When Tandler would call in from the comfort of his home office to do a show, Finlay put him on speaker on one smartphone and recorded the conversation with a second smartphone.
“Redskins Talk” has come a long way since then. While many episodes are still recorded in the bowels of NFL stadiums, there’s now a podcast studio at NBC Sports Washington’s Bethesda headquarters. The network’s Capitals and Wizards podcasts, hosted by Rob Carlin and Chris Miller, respectively, relaunched this week and will feature new episodes the morning after every game. “Capitals Talk” and “Wizards Talk” will look to build off the success of “Redskins Talk,” which over the last year was the most-downloaded podcast in the NBC Sports Regional Networks’ portfolio of more than 40 shows. That portfolio includes podcasts about the Super Bowl champion Eagles and NBA champion Warriors.
“When you’re on the sideline at a game, you always hear, ‘Hey, cameraman, shoot me’, or, ‘Turn around, NBC Sports, shoot me,'” said Tischler, who started joining Finlay and Tandler for the postgame podcast last season. “Now, instead of that, I’m hearing, ‘Mitch! Mitch! Turn around. Big man! Hockey Mitch.’ People recognize J.P. everywhere we go. It’s kind of crazy.”
NBC Sports Washington social producer Peter Hailey, the youngest member of the podcast at 23 and the target of a disproportionate amount of the good-natured ribbing from his fellow hosts, became a regular contributor to “Redskins Talk” before this year’s NFL draft. At training camp in Richmond, one of his responsibilities was editing and posting what became a daily show. One afternoon, Hailey made the mistake of going out to lunch.
“I open my phone and look at Twitter and four or five people are spamming me, like, ‘Yo man, where’s the podcast? It’s 2 o’clock and it’s not up!'” Hailey said. “I was like, I guess I can’t go to lunch anymore. These people are too maniacal about this thing.”
Every regular contributor to the podcast has an idea for why it’s been well received by fans.
“I think we have good chemistry,” said Finlay, who turned 37 this week. “I think we balance each other out. It’s hardcore Redskins conversation. We’ll do 10 minutes on the sixth cornerback in Richmond, because I think Skins fans love that stuff, but then there’s also jokes and trying to be accessible.”
“There’s nowhere else you can go where you’ve got three guys after a game, where J.P. and I were in the press box, and Mitch was down on the field during the game and in the locker room, to break down what happened,” said Tandler, 63, who also noted the wide range of ages represented on the show. “Just having fun is the key to the whole thing.”
“J.P. has a great way of making everybody feel comfortable,” Tischler said. “Whether that’s the three of us or guests. He has a fun way of making fans feel like they’re a part of everything that we do. We’re not talking at them; we’re talking almost with them. That’s the way this has grown.”
The free alcohol probably hasn’t hurt either. Early on, Finlay adopted a signature sign-off to every episode: “If you made it this far, I owe you a beer.”
“It’s a line I stole from an Eric Church song, to be totally honest with you,” explained Finlay, who worked as a bartender for a decade.
When listeners started asking Finlay when they might collect on his offer, he went to NBC Sports Washington’s sales team and explained that he had promised an indeterminate number of Redskins fans free beers for the past eight months. Was there anything they could do? In April 2017, D.C.’s Penn Quarter Sports Tavern hosted the first “Redskins Talk” podcast party.
“We had maybe 15 people there, and five of them were like my friends from high school,” Finlay said.
Subsequent parties, including one in the FedEx Field parking lot before a game last November and another at Penn Commons during March Madness, drew larger crowds, and guests 21 and over were treated to one free beer. In June, Finlay and scores of listeners took over the Matchbox in Ashburn. Afterward, Tandler took an Uber home, while friend of the podcast Brian Mitchell invited Finlay, Hailey and Tischler to spend the night in the basement of his nearby home. “It was like a very luxurious man cave,” Finlay said. The next morning, they recorded a “hangover podcast” in Mitchell’s backyard.
“We’re who we are on the pod and I think that’s why these podcast parties are so cool for the fans and for us,” Tischler said. “We pick on Pete all the time, whether we’re on the podcast or out having a beer. We’re not personalities for a show.”
“It’s four guys talking about football, BS’ing, kind of giving each other crap,” Hailey said. “We always talk about the football-to-shtick ratio. I’m very pro-shtick, ranking our favorite beers and talking about what we did last night, as opposed to Tandler, who likes talking about the fourth-string guard and why his hand placement is better than the third-string fullback’s.”
“My favorite stuff is the hardcore football talk,” said 31-year-old Redskins fan Jon Nestor, who has attended every podcast party and recommends the show to fellow fans. “They know the team inside and out. They play off each other well. At the end of the day, podcasts are entertainment, so the fact that they have a good rapport and it seems like they all like each other, it makes it fun to listen to even when they’re not talking about sports. … Oh, and they give you beer. I’ve never had another podcast buy me a drink.”
Tandler might be the podcast’s most serious voice, but he attends every party and isn’t above shtick. During NBC Sports Washington’s coverage of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night win over the Giants last season, he donned a turkey hats as a thank you for listeners helping the podcast eclipse 100 reviews on iTunes.
Finlay attributes some of the show’s success to timing.
“The Skins are no longer the Skins of our youth when they dominated the entire town’s sports landscape, but they’re still a massive beast, and now lots of places are catching up,” he said. “The Redskins as a team launched their own podcast. There are a lot more podcasts now, but when we first started really pushing it, there was kind of a hole in the marketplace.”
Before the most recent podcast party, hosted at a Matchbox just outside of Richmond toward the end of training camp, Finlay told Tischler he was worried it would be a dud.
“Every time we have a party, I expect it to be bigger than the one before, and I think for the most part that’s the way it’s been,” Tischler said. “J.P. was saying he was nervous about people showing up; I was nervous we were going to have a big enough space.”
“Mitch was right,” Finlay said.
Tim Meek, a 43-year-old Redskins season-ticket holder living in Indianapolis, flew in for the latest party.
“They make you feel like family,” Meek said. “It’s pretty special for someone like me who lives out of the area. They try to make you feel like you’re a part of the show, part of the team, part of the family. They’re just good dudes.”
Meek told Finlay that “Redskins Talk” should make him its Midwest correspondent, a proposal that led to the creation of the podcast’s ambassador program. The process for becoming an ambassador is as simple as submitting a photo of oneself holding a sign, which is then posted on the podcast’s Instagram page. The entire second half of a recent episode was devoted to the appointment of the podcast’s 83 newest ambassadors, who span the globe. If you made it to the end, you deserve an entire pitcher of beer.
Speaking of, the next podcast party is slated for the FedEx Field parking lot before the Redskins host the Packers on Sept. 23.
“People have already hit me up on Facebook and stuff saying they’re flying in for that game,” Finlay said. “It’s gotten to the point where we’ll say a podcast party is coming in November, on some arbitrary date, and people are trying to plan their trips around it. The podcast is professionally the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Maybe personally, too.”
Read more on the Redskins: