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Going Through Changes

Jason Barrett

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In life, people are creatures of habit. We prefer routine and being comfortable. Everything from when we wake up, shower and grab a cup of coffee, to making our commute into work and listening to a radio show to provide us a mental distraction from the chaos that lies ahead.

IMG_4815While the individual is always in control of their sleep, shower and coffee schedule, the same can’t be promised when it comes to listening to a radio show or working in the radio industry. That’s because the media business is faced with change on a regular basis. It’s not much different than professional sports. Remember, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice all wore different jerseys at some point in their careers.

I raise that example because it’s one of the unavoidable situations that comes up when you work in this business. Anybody who works in programming knows that we’re in the business of generating ratings with the audience. Expectations are set, strategies are created, talent are secured and it’s all done to hopefully generate excitement with an audience and regular tune-ins each day. If all goes according to plan, the ratings will grow and advertising dollars will follow.

change-nothingBut what happens when the ratings don’t grow? Or when they rise for 2-3 shows on your radio station but not for one of your other shows? That’s where the most feared word in media comes into play – “change“!

It’s easy to say “give a show time” and that’s always been my mentality when crafting shows. I believe that most programs need 18-24 months to become consistent with an audience. In some cases I can tell much quicker that the show isn’t going to work but when I hire a show I go in with the mindset that it’ll take some time to win over the crowd.

However, just because you give something time, doesn’t mean it will reach the level that you need your brand to ascend to. If the show isn’t able to perform to the level that you’ve determined is going to be needed to justify continuing it, then at some point whether it’s easy or difficult, you’re going to have to deal with making changes.

changekeyI’ve told some of my producers over the years that if I lose them at some point in their careers, I want to lose them to bigger career opportunities. It feels great to know you’ve worked with someone and helped them grow and as a result, another company wants to invest more in them and give them bigger responsibility. The worst part is having to cut ties with someone because they haven’t performed or delivered the necessary results.

You’d be amazed at some of the situations that come up and require parting ways from people. From people stealing lunches out of the refrigerator to people showing up late and sleeping on the job to people lying and undercutting their peers to countless other stupid things that cause a person to lose respect and opportunity from an employer. While sports radio may be fun and a labor of love for many who work in it, people still are human and poor decision making happens to all of us at some point.

When it comes to on-air talent, the leash is usually longer. A lot of executives will put up with a lot of headaches if a talent is delivering ratings and revenue. Even things that are unacceptable in many other professions often get swept under the rug for someone who can be a difference maker in this industry.

Speaking for myself, before I cut bait with a host or show, chances are given and conversations are had. I’ll go through numerous things from changing the content direction of a show to changing the clock to conducting listener focus groups to asking for feedback from the host(s) about why they believe they’re not delivering ratings and what we can do better to be more successful. Once those avenues are explored, then it’s my job to promote the program and support the people doing it and it’s their job to execute and help us generate stronger audience numbers.

changeisgonnaWhile all involved may have the best of intentions, sometimes even after those discussions and adjustments, shows still don’t connect. When they don’t, nobody beats themselves up over it harder than I do. I’m sure many fellow programmers can relate. The last thing you want to do is tell somebody they have not performed to the level that’s required and as a result a change is necessary. But when you sign on to run a radio station, this is part of the job description. You can’t be a leader and have success if you’re afraid to deal with adversity and change.

When these situations occur, blame goes all the way around. The PD instantly becomes the bad guy and everyone inside and outside the building has their opinions on what’s going on. It becomes the companies fault, the ratings systems fault and everyone else’s fault and listeners will often react negatively due to the fact that a change is happening.

etuYou can’t as a host or programmer blame the audience and ask “why didn’t you listen more“? You can’t blame the advertisers and ask “why didn’t you spend more“? You can’t blame Nielsen and ask “why didn’t you provide more meters to people who like what we do“? You can only do one of two things, pick yourself up off the ground and find the next opportunity and make your last employer regret letting you go or sit in sorrow and blame the world for what happened.

I went thru this myself back in 2008. I programmed a radio station 590 The Fan in St. Louis which had a great thing going on when I arrived in 2006. The Cardinals reaching the WS that year certainly didn’t hurt business either. Over the next few months, budget cuts, employee dissatisfaction and lack of corporate support would lead the radio station down the drain and I’d become the fall guy for it because after all I was the face of the franchise.

changefearIt was hard to accept that back then because I believed in my abilities and my desire to win but in the grand scheme of things, we were beaten before we ever hit the airwaves. I didn’t see that when I accepted the job but I did after I stepped back, removed my emotion from the situation and figured out how I’d learn from it going forward.

When I received my next opportunity as programmer of 101 ESPN in St. Louis, I made sure I knew I’d have better corporate support and a General Manager who believed in me and the confidence that was instilled in me allowed me to focus on what I do best and fortunately thanks to hiring a lot of smart and talented people and supporting them, the station became a smashing success. The product became #1 for sports radio listening in the market and reached a level of being the 2nd highest rated sports station in the country during one particular month in 2010.

Today I sit in San Francisco where I program 95.7 The Game. In this market, my brand is the underdog taking on a heritage sports radio brand that has the Giants, 49ers and Warriors games on their air and they’ve rode the success of play-by-play to the top spot in the market for well over 20 years. When we built this station, we didn’t launch with the expectation that we’d beat our competitor in the ratings in the first couple of years. We launched with the mindset of hiring dynamic talent and building a strong and viable brand that in time could work it’s way up towards the top.

changeSetting realistic expectations is important because you don’t overtake strong brands in 1-2 years just because you’ve arrived and presented talent and a vision that you believe is superior than the competitor. If it was that easy and that formula worked that fast, I’d have already retired. You have to have a strong strategy, know where opportunities lie in the market, create a plan that will consistently show growth and establish what makes you unique to the market. When you go from 25th to as high as 6th in the span of 3 years, that’s a sign that you’re on the right track.

Since I’ve been here, we’ve shown that we will not be afraid to introduce new talent, take risks and change course if things aren’t working. One thing I always enjoy is hearing our current listeners criticize or compliment the work previously done by Brandon Tierney, Eric Davis, Sean O’Connell, Ric Bucher, Aubrey Huff and The Rise Guys. A few years ago these were foreign names to Bay Area sports radio fans and had we not taken a chance to put them on the air and introduce them, people would not have had opinions of them. Clearly they all had tremendous talent and whether the feedback on them was good or bad, it showed that new voices with strong talent, can connect in a market like San Francisco.

While one could play devil’s advocate and criticize us for not being consistent, the fact of the matter is that when you’re in the driver’s seat in a market, it’s your job to keep a winning product consistent and lock up the things that are most important to your success until you’re forced to adapt. In our case, we’ve got to keep growing to eventually cause bigger disruptions and change long-term listening habits. If that requires adjusting as we go, then that’s what we’ll do. During the past 9 months our radio station has had its highest ratings run and had we not made changes I’m not sure if that would be the case. That can certainly be debated but in a business that is judged by results, the numbers don’t lie.

changesextraChange is never easy for people but it’s a part of life (especially the media business) and I often find that I work best when I’ve got my back up against the wall. I think that you learn a lot about people in this business when the pressure is on and decision making is critical. It’s in most people’s nature to try and find a way to return to a place of comfort rather than enter foreign territory but sometimes you’ve got to be willing to gamble and put your ass on the line in order to create bigger opportunities for your brand.

When I look across the sports radio landscape, I see tons of stations who have not been afraid to take risks and as a result, have been rewarded for it. From The Score in Chicago to 710 ESPN in Seattle to 680 The Fan in Atlanta to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in Phoenix. All made changes and continue to perform strongly. The same can be said for 101 ESPN in St. Louis, The Fan in Dallas, WEEI in Boston and The Fanatic in Philadelphia. All of these stations have continued to thrive despite dealing with change and there are plenty of others who could easily be on this list.

stephenabaylessLook at sports television and you’ll see the same. Over the past 5-10 years Monday Night Football switched from a 3-man booth to 2-man booth, First Take went from rotating hosts to using Stephen A. & Skip, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin left ESPN while Chris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis signed on and Football Night in America lost Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis and John Madden but added Hines Ward, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison and Chris Collinsworth.

Some may see making changes as showing a lack of consistency and that’s fair, but some also believe it’s necessary to stay ahead of the curve. From where I sit, I’d much rather take risk and fail trying to be great than stay complacent and wait to be picked off. It certainly seemed to work out ok for Favre, Manning, Rice and Montana!

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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