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Walking The Thin Line

Jason Barrett

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One of the toughest decisions for an on-air personality is determining what is fair and appropriate and what is over the line and off limits. Some will say it’s easy and all you need to do is use good judgment but remember that we work in an industry which pushes its personalities to deliver hard hitting emotional opinions on subjects that may not necessarily be comfortable. When our people enter these muddy waters and take on touchy subjects, we’re the first to turn up the volume on our own radio stations and hope for them not to say something that could put the brand in an uncompromising position.

tedrobinsonIn my local market today, I’m watching the situation unfold after 49ers Broadcaster Ted Robinson delivered some commentary on the Ray Rice situation which offended a number of people. Truth be told, I don’t know Ted that well (we met once) but I’ve always found him to be a first class broadcaster and person and I was very surprised when I heard that he had ruffled feathers with his point of view. While his comments were bad and uncharacteristic, everyone has a bad moment in their life and maybe this is his.

That being said, I don’t believe it erases all the good he’s done over the course of his life or broadcasting career and it bothers me when I see others in a hurry to pile on while someone is down. I certainly don’t blame the 49ers either for taking this position because his comments put the team in an impossible situation.

To say I’ve gone through this a time or two would be an understatement. It’s not fun at all. The last thing a programmer or talk show host wants to deal with is the rage of an entire fan base and the loss of money from loyal advertisers. Whether we like it or not though, society today is way more sensitive and quick to respond on social media than ever before and once the storm starts, it’s not easy to get out of.

This isn’t to imply that an on-air host who makes a mistake should have his poor judgment swept under the rug and forgotten about because that definitely isn’t my point. It simply means that an offensive commentary with little substance or concrete fact to support it, puts those involved with the brand in a no-win situation.

dmarcoDuring my time in St. Louis, my former afternoon host D’Marco Farr took a strong position on whether or not Rush Limbaugh should purchase the St. Louis Rams. D’Marco felt that Rush being involved with a team from an ownership point of view would make certain athletes think twice about whether or not to sign as free agents with the team. His opinion was strong and he had a good idea of how players thought, considering that he had spent seven years playing in the NFL but what he lost sight of was how Rush would react and how rabid his audience was.

Once D’Marco’s views were made public, Rush became aware and he went on the offensive, firing haymakers at my afternoon guy and calling on his listeners to stand up and support him and call for D’Marco’s head. Rush felt D’Marco’s position wasn’t accurate and he wanted to send a message to showcase his power. I remember D’Marco coming in to work and telling me “Dude, Jesse F’N Jackson just called my phone….Jesse Jackson…..this is freaking crazy!”. This was foreign territory for him and he was unsure how to handle the situation so we sat down, crafted an opening monologue and discussed the approach we’d take on the show that day.

In the background I handled the phone calls and emails that flew in from Rush’s fans and I alerted my bosses of what we were dealing with so they were informed. I stood by D’Marco because I knew the commentary wasn’t personal and I felt he had an honest point of view. I also knew who he was as a person and I felt he had handled the issue the right way.

grayfitzAs luck would have it, Jim Gray did an interview with Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football broadcast and during his chat, both players admitted that they’d have to think twice about signing with a team owned by Rush. We cut up the audio and used it in D’Marco’s opening monologue and explained that there was no personal ill-will towards Rush or call to action for him not to be able to purchase the Rams, but to understand that his presence as an owner would create concerns with players in the league. D’Marco then closed the book on the issue and after that segment it was never relevant again.

While that particular issue wasn’t offensive to anyone but Rush and his audience, there have been plenty of examples where guys in our industry have went over the imaginary line. From Kirk Minihane in Boston, to Mayhem In The AM in Atlanta to Stephen A. Smith at ESPN to my own guy Damon Bruce in San Francisco, each of these guys have had the displeasure of being suspended or in the public line of fire and there are countless others who have endured the same wrath. Yet many of them draw strong audiences exactly for that same reason.

sasskipSo if the audience is showing up to hear a passionate, honest and uncomfortable commentary from a talk show host who is known to present a polarizing presentation, and your on-air personality is willing to put themselves out there and live on the edge, is that a bad thing? I know plenty of programmers who prefer a less controversial personality and I know executives who want guys who will strike a chord and get the world talking. Whether it’s Keith Olbermann, Jim Rome, Colin Cowherd, Charles Barkley, Bill Simmons, Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless, these guys say things that we take notice of and while it may sometimes bother us, they’re usually also the people who we have the most passionate conversations and opinions about.

It’s easy to react after the fact to what someone says but when you’re in the moment and emotionally charged, it’s not always easy to slow down. It’s like asking a Nascar driver to go from 200 miles per hour to 20 in a split second. I’m not making excuses for any on-air personality because I believe when you step into that studio and get behind a microphone you have a responsibility to be smart with your words and not damage the radio station or your own personal brand, but I also recognize how double-sided things can be.

In every radio station I’ve worked at as a PD, I’ve had the following document printed up and posted inside the studio or on the door entering the room. While some may lose sight of these things along the way or break my balls for it being hokey, it all makes sense, especially the first line. As an air talent, you can go after any individual’s performance. Their results speak for themselves and they’re fair game. We can also criticize decision making because whichever way an organization or individual leans on an important matter, there’s another side to the conversation to be discussed.

Our Commandments

Where I draw the line and will get into a heated exchange with an individual is when it becomes mean spirited and personal. If you don’t like a team, that’s fair. If you want to insult the people on the team though for what they do in their personal lives, that’s got no business in the discussion unless you can show a clear connection to it impacting the team (EX: Ray Rice’s domestic violence issue, Plaxico Burress shoots himself in a nightclub, Michael Vick dog fighting, etc.).

jerryjonesFor example, if you dislike the Dallas Cowboys and the decisions that Jerry Jones makes, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. You can go after the team’s record, roster moves and question whether or not Jerry and his people are effective at their jobs. To suggest though that the reason the team is bad is because Jerry is a drunk and a womanizer, would be an example of something uncalled for and it would lead to a bigger problem for a host on my watch.

If you can’t prove it or show that it has relevance to performance, then it’s wise to avoid it. Otherwise you’ll be swimming alone in an ocean full of great white sharks who want to eat.

clarkslatenI remember last year when former slugger Jack Clark accused Albert Pujols of using steroids and his comments led to the Pujols camp threatening to take legal action against Jack and his employer. Immediately Jack was suspended and then terminated, as was his on-air partner Kevin Slaten. While Jack and Kevin may have had their suspicions, they didn’t have proof and when you enter that arena, it’s a tough one to come out of.

Put yourself in the position of the radio station, are you going to defend the individual on-air who fired an accusation they can’t prove while a multi-millionaire hires the best legal team on the planet to make sure your company is brought to its knees? Probably not! I know this, I’d have done exactly what the radio station did and I personally like Jack who previously worked for me and is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met.

While those are just some examples of things and how they can go wrong, I feel for some of the guys who do this type of work on-air and are known for being strongly opinionated and not afraid to take a stand on difficult subjects. Every day whether they realize it or not, they are risking their careers for the audience’s personal enjoyment. People want to know what our personalities think and they use their points of view to further their own conversations with family and friends throughout the rest of the day and night. Yet one slip and fifteen years of accomplishments can be quickly forgotten.

microscopeSure you could say that it’s not that hard of a job, you get paid to give your opinion on sports and there’s a certain degree of truth to that, but how many people have ever gotten paid to give an opinion and then felt the wrath of a city when the majority have disagreed? In most people’s lives, they say something and a few friends disagree and that’s all there is to it. In our world, one unpopular position can lead to thousands calling for your job, personal attacks being delivered to your personal email or social media accounts, advertisers threatening to harm your employers bottom line if they don’t take action and teams, athletes, media members and fellow colleagues threatening to not do future business with the brand or associate with it due to one person’s involvement. It’s not as easy to handle as some might think.

I’m not here to tell you where the imaginary line is or provide you with the secret ingredients to avoid it. The truth is, every difficult topic presents a challenge for a broadcaster. Some pass with flying colors and some don’t. I personally believe that when you allow your emotions to take over and lead you to a place where your expertise is limited, your chances of falling on your face are enhanced. Yet some hosts can’t help themselves and make that mistake.

Let’s face it, we are not investigators, psychologists, doctors, therapists or members of law enforcement. We’re passionate sports fans who occupy a chair and microphone inside an air conditioned studio and get to pontificate on the world of sports. We don’t expect people in these other professions to step into our shoes and do what we do effectively so why would we think we can do their jobs with any strong degree of success?

religionWhen it comes to decision making I always believe that if you have to ask someone if what you’re about to do is a good idea, chances are it probably isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times a host will run something by me or a producer will ask me if they should include some type of questionable content in a promo and once I ask them if they really think it’s worth it, they nearly always agree that it isn’t.

I also think that sports radio personalities should steer clear from areas that divide and offend an audience. For example, I always tell my hosts to avoid politics, religion and race whenever possible. People come to us to hear us talk about sports, not provide our views on republicans vs. democrats, Jesus Christ or the racial divide in our country. Leave that for news talk outlets.

donaldsterlingI understand that there are times when these issues must be broached. The Donald Sterling story and baseball’s day on capital hill are two stories that come to mind, but unless it connects to sports, we’re not paid for that level of commentary and usually it puts a personality in a bad position and even worse, it costs you listeners.

Remember this, if you’re going to take hard stances and be known as the personality who isn’t afraid to tackle the tough issues, you better have thick skin and some evidence on your side to support your uncomfortable positions. People today voice their opinions more than they ever have and they’re listening and hanging on to your every word to determine whether or not they agree or disagree with you.

The second you slip and leave yourself vulnerable, an avalanche could be coming your way. So protect yourself, be smart, stay in the lane you know best and always bring a shovel because you never know when you may have to use it to dig yourself out of something.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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