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Inside The CBS Sports Radio Network

Jason Barrett

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The CBS Sports Radio Network is approaching its fourth year in business. The operation launched in September 2012 with 80 stations clearing the CBS Sports Minute, and once the full programming lineup was introduced in January of 2013, the affiliate base expanded to 150.

Currently, CBS clears network programming on 330 affiliates nationwide. To avoid confusion, that doesn’t mean their shows are available 24/7 on all affiliates. It means that some form of the network’s content is cleared by each of these stations. One component not included in that equation is the network’s distribution through online streaming.

What makes the CBS Sports Radio Network’s situation unique, is that the programming decisions are made by CBS officials, but the content is distributed and sold by Westwood One, who are owned by Cumulus. Having two of the nation’s biggest radio operators team up to develop and grow a national sports network doesn’t happen everyday, but without their marriage, this would be a very different column.

The Beginning:

Before the CBS Sports Radio Network was born, former CEO Dan Mason and Executive Vice President of Programming Chris Oliviero were searching for a way to exponentially grow their business. They felt they were successful at local sports radio but wanted to find an opportunity that would allow them to become difference makers on the national circuit.

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Mason said “We had a lot of great local content and wanted to string it together somehow, but didn’t have the right mechanism. But then Lew Dickey came to visit, and suddenly all of the pieces began to fall into place. With Cumulus providing their support and a great play by play component from Westwood One, and our team offering great talent and high quality content, the fit felt right.”

The involvement of Cumulus was critical to turning CBS’ vision into a reality. The company understood the network sales business from previously partnering with ESPN Radio, and owned and operated hundreds of radio stations across the nation. Upon making the decision to form an alliance with CBS, they announced they would drop 47 ESPN Radio stations in favor of CBS’ new national product. That news alone drew instant attention from the radio industry, and its top advertisers.

With two powerful operators now on the same team, and looking to use their collective muscles to move aside ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio, the questions became – who would run it, where would it originate from, and which personalities would be part of it?

Finding The Right Leader:

The man who received the call to lead the operation was Eric Spitz, the prized protege of WFAN boss Mark Chernoff. During the course of his career, Eric gained tremendous value from learning from the top Program Director in the format. But while he may have been satisfied with the body of work that he had produced, he was also eager to spread his wings and find out if he could fly.

When word trickled out that CBS was considering entering the network space, Eric let everyone know that he was ready for the challenge.

“I had the good fortune of learning from the best programmer in the business, Mark Chernoff” said Spitz. “I enjoyed every moment of my time with WFAN, and I learned a lot, and developed a lot of relationships. But, eventually I wanted to test myself and oversee my own brand, and that wasn’t going to happen with WFAN. Mark built that brand and turned it into the most successful sports radio station in the country and he’s not leaving until he decides it’s time. And he’s earned that.”

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He continued “For myself, the network presented an opportunity to find out what I was capable of as the point man. But, it also provided the best of both worlds because I had the opportunity to remain inside the same building with Mark and Chris Oliviero. That allowed me to be a resource to them, and them to me, and it’s worked out really well.”

Before Spitz was trusted with the assignment, CBS had a lot to consider. Moving Spitz to run the network, meant having to make adjustments with WFAN (where Chernoff was still deeply rooted). The company also had Bruce Gilbert programming a few of their Dallas stations, and his reputation in national circles was popular from his tenure with ESPN Radio and iHeart’s sports properties.

Although conversations took place with Gilbert, it was clear to Mason, Oliviero, and Chernoff that the network needed to operate out of New York. By doing so, they’d present a strong brand image, keep open the line of communication between CBS’ key executives, plus it was ideal for the sales team and advertisers to forge better relationships with the network’s talent and key people. The facilities in New York were also big enough to house the operation.

“We wanted stability with our key people because when you’re starting a new operation it’s important to have everyone under the same roof,” said Mason. “We felt having the brain trust of Mark, Eric, and Chris was a big advantage for what we were creating and being in NY made the most sense to keep things streamlined.”

Another benefit to shifting Spitz over to run the network was that he was already in house, knew the way CBS did business, and had strong relationships with everyone involved. The further the company gave consideration to launching the network, the more clear it became that he was the right person to lead it.

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Oliviero shared the reasons why: “Promoting from within is important to us, and in Eric’s case, he has an incredible operational strength and great temperament. He’s an excellent coach who has a great demeanor with talent, plus he gained some national experience while working previously for Westwood One. We knew we had to hit the ground running and a big reason we were prepared the way we were on day #1 was because we had Eric leading the way.”

Olivero was not alone in his assessment, Mason felt equally as strong about Spitz: “Eric knew the CBS language and playbook. He anticipates everything well and has learned a lot over the years from Mark. His demeanor and ear for good programming gave Chris and I a lot of confidence that he’d do well. His involvement is a big reason for the network’s success.”

Since being charged with running the network, Spitz is happy and feeling professionally challenged. He invests a lot of his time in supporting the Westwood One sales team, and tries to provide the same for many of the network’s programs. One host who has taken notice of the way Spitz manages, and appreciates it, is Damon Amendolara, who hosts “The D.A Show” Monday-Friday from 6p-10p ET.

“Eric is one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, and working with him was one of the biggest reasons I jumped at the opportunity to come here” said D.A. “He trusts me, but reigns me in when I need it. I look at the show as four-hours of an artist’s pad. I figure out what to draw, then I get to decide how to color it. There are rules. I can’t paint on the walls. I can’t draw on the table. It’s got to be in good taste. We touch base regularly, and I bounce ideas off him. He’ll let me know when we need to reel it in, but he doesn’t micromanage me in any way.”

Creating Synergy Between Local Stations and The Network:

While Eric may guide the ship, that doesn’t mean his mentor Mark Chernoff isn’t involved or accessible. Chernoff’s office is within walking distance for Spitz, and often the two men will collaborate on opportunities to bring the local and national brands together.

“We see some of the benefits come into play with the way the CBS Sports Minute’s are incorporated into our local brands” said Chernoff. “We’ve also had some of our network talent like Doug Gottlieb and Gregg Giannotti fill in on shows on WFAN, and some of our markets pick up the national programming during evenings, overnights, and weekends which is nice.”

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He sites one specific example of how the two platforms have come together to create programming that is beneficial to all involved.

“Some people may have noticed that we’re creating more specialized content and carrying it on many of our local stations. For example, Taz is providing a WrestleMania post-show edition of his show on Sunday night April 3rd and WFAN, 670 The Score, The Sports Hub, The Fan in D.C and a number of our other local sports stations are picking it up. We give them the option to do that. They don’t have to take it if they don’t think it fits their radio station, but when they do, it’s because they believe the quality is good and provides a benefit to their listeners.”

Critics point out that the network may have hurt its own growth by not being forceful enough with airing the network’s key programs on the company’s own local stations. However, if you look at the success of brands like WFAN, 98.7 The Sports Hub, WIP, 670 The Score, etc. you can understand why CBS has no plans to change that strategy. It doesn’t make much sense to damage one part of the company’s business, for the benefit of another.

Oliviero says that it’s all a part of the company’s operational strategy: “The vision was to create two channels of programming – the best in local sports radio programming, and the best in national sports programming.  The consistency we’ve had is something I’m proud of. I believe we’ve served the CBS brand well, and delivered for many of our affiliates, and in building this network, we’ve remained committed to our local strategy too which is vital to our business success.”

Adding High Profile Talent: 

As great as the synergy might be, a national product won’t have success without A+ talent. Most in the industry would agree that Jim Rome fits that description. Adding his name to the CBS marquee gave instant credibility to the brand, and allowed the company to enter into some markets that it may have otherwise needed more time to clear.

Spitz talked about the importance of landing an established talent like Rome: “There’s no doubt that Jim’s addition brought instant credibility and awareness to our product. It helped us gain entry into some big markets to establish our legitimacy.”

Chernoff said that the relationship with CBS television helped create that possibility. When the opportunity was presented by TV executives, everyone involved on the radio end agreed that it was a no-brainer. To launch a national product with Rome serving as the face of it was exactly what CBS needed to plant its flag in the ground.

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Since venturing into the jungle, CBS executives couldn’t be more pleased. Spitz explained why: “The one great benefit of working with Jim is that he’s a professional who you can count on to deliver a great program. I don’t need to babysit the show. It’s one of those programs that’s almost like a plug and play because you know it’s going to be good. That allows me to be able to focus my attention in a few other areas that are more pressing to growing the business. If I have feedback or a suggestion he’s open to it and he’s great with our clients too.”

While Rome possessed the largest profile, the remainder of the network’s lineup at launch time was impressive.

In mornings, the original show featured local radio/television personality Brandon Tierney, former NY Giants running back Tiki Barber, and former ESPN Anchor Dana Jacobsen. Middays belonged to nationally recognized author and columnist John Feinstein who hosted a show which served as a lead in for Rome. Completing the M-F 6a-7p picture in afternoons was former ESPN Radio/TV personality/analyst and former Oklahoma State basketball player Doug Gottlieb.

During the evenings, the network featured former ESPN Radio host Chris Moore and CBS College Football Analyst Brian Jones, former local radio and SiriusXM personality Scott Ferrall, and local radio personality Damon Amendolara. A slew of other well established local and national radio personalities rounded out the network’s weekend coverage.

Developing a Different Sound and Strategy:

After getting the lineup in place, the next focus was to establish the network’s identity. From a listening standpoint, there are a few things that CBS does differently than their competitors. If you’ve heard a CBS local sports radio station before, then you should notice the similarities with the network’s jingles and voice talent. Each are distinct and present an alternative sound to what ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio deliver.

Another noticeable difference, is the network’s focus and commitment to taking calls. Spitz said the decision was a strategic one, and one he’s glad they made.

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“We felt that taking calls on a national level would have appeal, and differentiate us from the ESPN’s and FOX’s of the world,” said Spitz. “It’s still important for producers to screen them well, and the hosts to use them properly, but sports stories that are hits are going to draw a reaction everywhere and we encourage our talent to include the audience in their conversations.”

By employing that approach, it’s allowed the network’s hosts to further develop their relationship with listeners, especially in markets where they may not have been previously familiar. Sports radio fans may know Rome therefore it may not be as valuable to him, but for talent like Amendolara who are growing their profile, the ability to connect verbally with the audience and develop a bond has tremendous value.

“The audience is my top priority,” said D.A. “On my show, we have states like Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that are really interactive. Cities like Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle and Atlanta have been amazing for calls, and social media interaction. So many people can listen to the show via our 170+ show affiliates, or our live stream, or the app. It’s an amazing new world in consumption.”

Making Lineup Adjustments:

Despite the buzz and two years of on-air stability, Spitz, Chernoff, and Oliviero reached a crossroads where they felt some adjustments had to be made to take bigger steps forward. It’s sort of like buying a new home. You can love everything about it, but at some point, the walls get painted a different color, a rug gets placed over the hardwood floors, and the furniture gets moved around from one side of the room to the other to give the home a different look.

Luckily for CBS, some of the answers were already inside the company.

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Gregg Giannotti was brought in from The Fan in Pittsburgh, and paired with Brian Jones from the evening program, to host mornings nationally. With “Gio and Jones” in place as the network’s new morning show, “Tiki and Tierney” shifted to middays. The moves left Dana Jacobsen and John Feinstein on the outside looking in (they were given other roles in the company).

The network also made the decision to take Amendolara off of overnights and put him on at 6pm, replacing his overnight slot with Amy Lawrence. That left Chris Moore without a five nights per week opportunity (he still fills in on WFAN).

“We tried some things early on with the lineup and some worked and a few didn’t,” said Spitz. “We’ve since adjusted and think they’re well positioned now”.

Such moves can rattle the psyche of a sports radio personality, but for Brandon Tierney, he tried to find the positive in the situation.

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“If I’m being honest, our style is probably better suited for this timeslot than it was in mornings. Tiki and I have very good on-air chemistry, and we understand what we’re looking to accomplish individually and collectively. I enjoy working with him, and think that the audience can tell that. The switch turned out to be a big positive for us.”

Although the afternoon show didn’t feature a hosting change, it did make a location adjustment. Doug Gottlieb originally signed on to host his program from California, but as the relationship grew with television and radio, it became clear that a move back to the east coast was necessary.

During a recent visit to San Francisco, Gottlieb explained to me how the situation came about, and what the initial challenges were. “When they asked me to move back, at first I was reluctant. But, once I had time to think about it, I realized it made the most sense.”

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He also pointed out that there was one other hurdle still left to clear.

“The only issue we had was that I was going to do the radio show from another studio, not inside the same building with everyone at the CBS Sports Radio Network. The challenge with that is that you feel removed from what’s happening with the company, and you don’t get an opportunity to connect with your bosses much. I asked them, if I moved back could I do the show from the same building that way there’d be better synergy and allow us to further develop our relationship, and they were receptive to it and I think it’s worked out well for all of us”.

If anyone knows what it’s like to make adjustments on a national stage, it’s Bruce Gilbert, Cumulus’ Senior Vice President of Sports. Having led ESPN during a time when Gottlieb, Erik Kuselias, John Seibel and Freddie Coleman were added to the weekday lineup, and Colin Cowherd replaced Tony Kornheiser, Gilbert now has an interesting position of managing Cumulus’ local sports properties, and Westwood One sports, while also working with CBS.

“Whenever you start something new, you begin with a plan and find out at some point that the plan needs tweaking,” said Gilbert. You try to listen to your affiliates and partners and make the necessary adjustments that you believe will bring your brand larger success. CBS came out of the gate with a lot of star talent, and the creation of the CBS Sports Minute was smart and a huge success because it allowed the brand to gain clearance on a lot of powerful local sports radio brands. They’ve since shown an ability to adapt and the internal feeling is very positive because the network has continued getting better.”

Major Market Clearance Issues:

But despite making moves to the lineup that many consider positive, the one challenge that remains is the ability to gain clearance for the network’s key weekday programs in major markets. On the affiliate sheet it may show that the network clears a number of bigger major market brands, but most are picking up the CBS Sports Minute, nights/weekend programming, or the content is being featured on secondary signals in the local market.

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Of the network’s four core weekday shows (M-F 6a-7p), Rome has received the best major market clearance. That was to be expected. However, his show was dealt a blow recently when The Beast 980 in Los Angeles was sold, and its format flipped. The sale caused the show to lose its largest market affiliate. Luckily for Rome, his show is offered on the Mighty 1090 in San Diego, which has a big enough signal to penetrate the L.A area.

The network also hasn’t found a home yet on the New York City airwaves, even though CBS runs the operation out of the concrete jungle, and provides two signals of support for local powerhouse WFAN. CBS executives point out that the network can be heard on HD2, and an affiliation was formed with WFAS in Westchester (which reaches certain parts of the big apple), but while those are indeed options for the audience, they’re not seen the same way by local radio listeners. The one major benefit the network receives in New York, is when WFAN airs the CBS Sports Minute, and picks up select programming.

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Mark Chernoff acknowledges that there’s more work to be done but there are other factors beyond their control: “Sure we’d like to have more major market clearance, and we knew the Los Angeles situation was possible because the radio station had been up for sale for quite some time. But, we can’t let ourselves worry about which cities take us, and which ones don’t. We try to put out a great product and make sure our stations know what’s available to take advantage of.”

He continued “We have to remind people that the programming can be heard on our app, website, and on our HD2 channels. In New York for example, the network comes in very clear on HD2. I listen to it everyday. It’s not just about local signals anymore.”

Spitz, Oliviero, and Chernoff plan to continue analyzing situations to help the network gain entry into larger areas, but they won’t do it at the expense of their local stations. This is why the focus on digital can’t be understated. With listeners flocking to tablets, mobile devices, and desktops to listen, it’s easy to forget how vital it is to be active and effective in the digital audio space. While it may not satisfy the appetite of radio industry insiders who want to see the network’s programming available in larger cities on bigger sticks, if it leads to larger digital numbers, and a stronger interest from listeners in major market cities where the programming isn’t available, I doubt CBS will worry much about industry opinions.

Understanding How National Success Is Measured:

It’s become the norm inside radio circles to knock a network for not receiving enough major market clearance, and to highlight how national programming doesn’t compare in the ratings to local shows. But, what’s misunderstood in the industry is how a national network’s success is measured.

Bruce Gilbert offers his perspective. “There are no two networks where the answer is alike. At ESPN, protecting the brand was the top priority. If an affiliate wasn’t going to present the product the way we felt it needed to be presented, we’d pass on working with them. The brand integrity was too important to the company.”

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He adds, “At CBS, there’s a larger focus placed on generating revenue. Here we have access to some of the best rated local sports radio stations in America through our partnership with CBS, and when you combine that with Westwood One’s distribution, sales team, and play by play, it creates an impressive package for advertisers. The reason it works, is because of the strength of the CBS brand, and the muscle of the WW1 sales team.”

Former CBS CEO Dan Mason says that each business must run on its own and have the right people in place. “In local, sales are a straight rifle shot. In network, sales come in a basket. Both have unique opportunities for clients but are two very different concepts. The key is to have people in place who understand how to utilize both and grow each business without taking away from the other.”

For Chris Oliviero, it’s a matter of gaining repeat business, and seeing growth in the on-air product. “The number of affiliates is important but so is gaining consistency with local stations,” he said. “When an affiliate stays with you for a long period of time, that says that they’ve had other options available, but they believe in your product and enjoy doing business with you.”

Oliviero adds “the second part that’s important is the satisfaction of our sponsors. Are they getting results? Since we launched nationally, our sponsors have grown every year. We’ve seen our platform distribution expanding, and our editorial judgment and collection of radio talent has been exceptional. All of those things factor into the way we analyze the growth of our network.”

Three Things That Deserve To Be Acknowledged:

From where I sit, the CBS Sports Radio Network deserves credit for a few specific things that it often doesn’t receive recognition for.

First, the network isn’t made up of a collection of New Yorkers lacking a national perspective. I have heard that comment numerous times since the network launched, and while there are certainly a fair amount of east coast people on the network, (many with New York roots), that shouldn’t discount the fact that they’ve traveled the world and been involved in many different local markets.

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For example, Brandon Tierney has hosted in Detroit, San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. Damon Amendolara has hosted local shows in Miami, Kansas City, and Boston. Scott Ferrall has worked in New York, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Miami. Amy Lawrence has spent time in Oklahoma City, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. By the way, she happens to be the only female on a national network who hosts her own full time weekday sports talk show.

Need more examples?

Doug Gottlieb has hosted radio shows in Oklahoma City, and Connecticut. Gregg Giannotti has worked in Pittsburgh and New York, and if you look at the network’s weekend lineup, it originates from Cleveland, OH, Atlanta, GA, Houston, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, Hartford, CT, and New York.

To suggest that the network is a New York focused product with personalities lacking a national perspective is simply inaccurate.

What also stands out is CBS’ commitment to building their network with dedicated radio personalities. ESPN has adopted a strategy of utilizing a large number of talent who possess the skills to perform on radio and television. Fox and NBC have done so too, although to a lesser degree. Yahoo Sports Radio would be the closest in comparison to CBS in terms of providing radio-focused on-air hosts.

If you look at CBS’ hosts (weekday and weekends included), they treat radio as their first love. The company believes in using people from their local markets who have the ability to talk sports on a national level, and that approach has helped a number of on-air talent expand their profiles, elevate the image of their radio station’s, and provide a benefit to each of their sales teams.

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The one downside to that approach is that other national outlets pay attention and when they discover talent, they don’t hesitate to strike. Case in point, Fox Sports this week lured away Sports Radio 610 morning personality Nick Wright. He had been with CBS Houston for close to four years.

But despite those potential challenges, Oliviero says he’s not afraid to lose good people. “We want our people to grow and we’re not going to hide them out of fear that someone out there may recognize their talents and steal them away from us. If they have the talent to do a national show and they reach a point where they can’t go higher with us and someone else swoops in with an opportunity to help them take another step in their career, I applaud them.”

Chris continues, “If we help our people expand their profiles, it not only helps them on a national level, but it helps us on a local level. It tells our listeners and advertisers that they’re connecting with someone who has A+ talent. Networks sometimes look for a name or high profile individual to host their shows, but it takes a certain skillset to host a great radio program. At CBS we focus on providing GREAT radio hosts who can deliver dynamic content and are focused first and foremost on being masters at the radio craft.”

The Progress, The Future, and The Sale:

That leads us to the final part of this column, which I’d like to use to focus on the future. The critics will tell you that the network’s lack of major market clearance needs to be addressed. CBS will respond by reminding their advertisers, listeners, and employees how the network has grown from 150 affiliates in 2012 to 330 in 2016. Call it what you want, but I label that as progress. Whether it’s enough or not, depends on who you ask.

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What isn’t disputable though is that CBS is up for grabs. The uncertainty of the future could potentially spell problems for the network, but right now the road is much too foggy to navigate. All we know is that the company is considering its options. Some of the possibilities include selling all or some of their radio stations, trading assets with another media group, or creating an entirely new company and shifting all of CBS’ radio assets over to it.

Regardless of which path they choose, one thing appears set in stone, the current company structure will experience some form of change in 2016.

One network employee who wished to remain anonymous says the potential of the sale has caused concern: “I’m not going to lie, it sucks. CBS has been a great company, and they’ve been a leader in the sports radio business. Not knowing who you’re going to work for is unsettling, but you can’t let it distract you. Hopefully whoever buys the company agrees that the network is on the right track and with some additional support, can help us expand and make it even more successful.”

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I’m certainly no Nostradamus, and I’m not privy to the offers CBS has received to sell its radio properties, but if there’s some solace I can provide to those on the inside looking out, it’s to remember that IF the company sells, and another group spends hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase them, it’ll be because they see value in the brand, its people, and each station’s ability to deliver results.

Former CEO Dan Mason said it best, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen for sure, but if a company is going to spend the money to buy the car, then I don’t think they’re going to want to tear out the seats.”

Assuming that the network continues operating under its current arrangement, the big picture questions become:

  • What must be done to reach 400 affiliates?
  • How much revenue can the network generate?
  • When will CBS gain clearance in larger markets?
  • How long will CBS and Cumulus continue their relationship?
  • Does CBS reach a point where they nationally simulcast Boomer & Carton?
  • Is there a path to overtaking ESPN and FOX as the leader in national sports programming?

For Mason, he feels the network’s growth will come down to two factors. “The biggest challenges are to continue growing talent. Who are the next Boomer and Carton’s and Mike Francesa’s on the national level? The distribution coupled with the brand name of CBS is strong, but talent is key. I also think the production is going to need a fresh coat of paint and need to ascend to a higher level.”

Bruce Gilbert sees the network needing to place a stronger emphasis on improving its digital business. “It’s not all about which sticks we’re on. We’ve got to play bigger in the digital arena, especially with podcast creation. I also think we need to explore developing more events and adding play by play which will help the product and the bottom line.”

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When a company is providing a content experience aimed at serving the entire country seven days per week, twenty four hours per day, there’s always going to be work to do. That’s the type of challenge that keeps an executive like Chris Oliviero up at night.

“If you combine our local stations and the CBS Sports Radio network, we’re churning out almost 300 hours of local and national content each week. That’s massive. For us to maximize those hours, we need to create quality programming, and that can only be done by continuing to invest in A-level personalities.”

In a business where the first thought is to trim expenses, CBS has stuck to its strategy of creating a national sports radio network, independent of its local brands. That’s to be applauded. It’s rare that companies invest in quality content on two platforms without insisting on one being crammed down the throats of local operators.

Whether that strategy will continue or be adjusted remains to be seen, but after spending the past two months working on this project, I’ve come away with a deeper respect and appreciation for the way CBS runs its business. It’s clear that Eric Spitz, Mark Chernoff, Chris Oliviero, and former CEO Dan Mason share a common belief in the future of this network, and the approach, and adjustments made along the way have served them well in their quest to becoming leaders on the national scene.

Here’s to hoping that four years from now we’re able to analyze additional progress made by the CBS Sports Radio Network, and share the next part of their story.

Barrett Blogs

Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, Don Martin, Sam Pines and Amanda Brown to Speak at the 2023 BSM Summit

“All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers and bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room.”

Jason Barrett

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I announced last week that the 2023 BSM Summit will be returning to Los Angeles. We had a fantastic experience in LA in 2019, and I expect our next conference on March 21-22, 2023 to be even bigger and better. But to do that, we need the right people on stage, and I’m excited today to reveal the first six additions to the show.

The 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles is proud to welcome FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 host Colin Cowherd, FOX Sports 1 co-host of the new weekday program SPEAK, Joy Taylor, CBS Sports Radio and CBS Sports Network superstar Jim Rome, FOX Sports Radio and iHeart Sports SVP of Programming, Don Martin, and the brain trust of ESPN LA 710, Senior Vice President Sam Pines and program director Amanda Brown.

All six of these media professionals have enjoyed success throughout their careers. They bring different perspectives, styles, and experiences to the room, and I’m sure those in attendance at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC will enjoy and appreciate learning from them.

We will have more announcements in the future about additional speakers to the 2023 BSM Summit. A reminder that if you work in the media industry and would like to attend the conference, you can purchase tickets and secure your hotel room by visiting BSMSummit.com.

I’d also like to thank last year’s sponsors who have already confirmed participation in our 2023 event. The Summit isn’t possible without their support. For folks interested in sponsorship details for the conference, please email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now here’s some press information about each of our six participants.

Colin Cowherd: He is one of the most thought-provoking and successful sports talk show hosts in the country, and has been a key part of FOX Sports Radio and FOX Sports 1 since September 2015. He is also the founder of The Volume, a digital-first sports media brand which has created an immediate impact in podcasting and on YouTube.

Cowherd’s three-hour sports talk program, THE HERD WITH COLIN COWHERD, airs simultaneously on FS1 and the FOX Sports Radio Network weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET. It is also available on www.FOXSportsRadio.comwww.FOXSports.com and has a dedicated iHeartRadio station, available live and throughout the day. The Herd has been chosen by industry programmers and executives as the top national sports talk radio show an unprecedented six times in seven years as part of BSM’s annual Top 20 series.

Jim Rome: Jim Rome is heard nationwide hosting ‘The Jim Rome Show‘ weekdays from Noon to 3pm ET on CBS Sports Radio. The program can also be watched on the CBS Sports Network. The show delivers three hours of aggressive, informed sports opinions, rapid-fire dialogue, tons of sports smack, and is consistently supported by Rome’s legions of fans otherwise known as the clones.

Rome also delivers his unique take on the day’s sports headlines via the CBS Sports Minute, 60-second commentaries which can be heard hourly on CBS Sports Radio affiliate stations. He also hosts his own podcast, The Reinvention Project, contributes to CBS Sports television, and has previously been seen on ESPN, FOX Sports, and in numerous movies and TV shows.

Joy Taylor: Joy Taylor co-hosts FS1’s new weekday program SPEAK alongside Emmanuel Acho and former NFL running back LeSean McCoy. She has previously worked as a co-host on THE HERD, as the moderator of SKIP AND SHANNON: UNDISPUTED, and as the host of her own podcast, “Maybe I’m Crazy”. She has also hosted programs for FOX Sports Radio.

Prior to joining FOX Sports, Taylor spent five years in Miami radio, including a successful three-year stint at 790 AM The Ticket, where she was co-host for the station’s top-rated morning-drive program, “Zaslow and Joy Show,” after starting with the station as the show’s executive producer. Taylor also served as the host of “Thursday Night Live” and “Fantasy Football Today” on CBSSports.com. She is a Pittsburgh native and the younger sister of former Miami Dolphins star Jason Taylor.

Don Martin: A 27-year veteran of iHeartMedia, Don is currently the SVP of Programming for FOX Sports Radio, the EVP for iHeartMedia Sports, and the SVP of KLAC-AM 570 LA Sports. Additionally, he provides oversight of the iHeartPodcast Network, which includes more than 40 national and 100 local sports podcasts and exclusive podcast agreements with the NFL and NBA. Don has been a featured speaker at prior BSM Summit’s and was recently a guest on The Jason Barrett Podcast. To hear it, click here.

Sam Pines: A fixture with Good Karma Brands since 2000, Pines is now charged with leading ESPN LA 710 since GKB assumed control of local operations. Prior to taking over the Los Angeles sports brand, Pines served as the GM and Sales Manager of ESPN Cleveland from 2006-2022. He has written a sales and leadership series, “Time to Win”, which focuses on coaching relationship-based selling and marketing, and is also involved with numerous boards and nonprofits.

Amanda Brown: Amanda has spent her entire twenty year career in sports radio working for the worldwide leader in sports. Currently responsible for creating and implementing the programming strategy for ESPN LA 710, Amanda has enjoyed nearly twelve years with the LA based brand after spending nearly six years in Bristol, CT producing national shows for the ESPN Radio network. Her career started behind the scenes in Dallas, TX where she worked as a producer at ESPN 103.3.

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7 Years of BSM and The Official Announcement For The 2023 BSM Summit

“Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations.”

Jason Barrett

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Apologies in advance if some of this column feels like I’m giving myself and our brand a pat on the back. I am. When this company launched, many assumed I was just writing a few articles and biding my time until another programming job popped up. I had a number of friends say ‘there’s no future in sports radio consulting‘ and after putting my programming career in the rear view mirror to go home to NY, I wasn’t sure what was in store for me.

What I did know is that my interest in doing the same thing that I just did for the past decade in three different cities was gone, but my interest in working with brands and individuals was still very much alive. I loved creating and programming 95.7 The Game but my choice to come home was driven by personal reasons, not professional. I wrote in great detail about it back in February 2015 so if you’re not aware of my story and want to know more, click the link.

Some of you do know these details already so I’m not going to repeat myself. I also don’t like talking on this website about personal issues because that’s not what brings us together each day. Media news, insight, and opinion does. But when this day rolls around each year, I hope you can understand why I take a moment to celebrate it. I moved home with no job, no plan, and no business but 7 years later, here we are are still ticking.

Launching this company has been the best professional decision I’ve ever made. Erika Nardini just had this conversation recently with Mark Cuban and he said taking a leap when you have nothing is the best time to do so. As crazy as that sounds, he couldn’t have been more right. That said, it’s pretty humbling going from successfully managing a top 4 market brand and earning six figures to being unemployed with no income and not being sure what you want to do. There were many days where I wondered ‘what was this all for?’. I hadn’t been without a job for a long time but I didn’t want to rush into something I wasn’t excited about especially since I knew I had to take care of my son and wanted to set a good example for him.

When I announced I was leaving San Francisco, I said I’d consider staying with the company if a position could be created that would allow me to work from NY and travel to help brands. Entercom back then wasn’t as big as Audacy is now, so that wasn’t an option. That led to small talk about consulting but quite frankly, I had no interest in doing that. I thought consulting was something folks did at the end of their careers or others used as a temporary excuse to explain what they were up to after leaving a job. I was 41 at the time and felt I had two decades left to give to the business, and if I was going to go down that road, I’d do it differently.

As I began to clear my head and think about what was next, I decided I was going to create the position that Entercom didn’t have available except rather than being exclusive to one group, I’d be accessible to all of them. I wanted to make a difference in multiple cities and expand my reach beyond radio. Now I work with brands involved in radio, TV, podcasting, social media, sales, sports betting, etc..

I’m also very entrepreneurial, so the idea of building a digital company that focused on covering the sports media business had great appeal to me. I built my radio career by doing everything early on and saw that as an advantage. Back in 2015, there were outlets covering the radio business, but none dedicated to sports radio. Even the newspapers that wrote about sports TV and other media issues, often examined them with folks who hadn’t been on the inside for quite some time. I had recent experiences programming brands in three different parts of the country, I learned how to build a website, I didn’t mind selling myself, and I wasn’t restricted from writing and sharing my honest and candid opinions. That helped me give BSM life and a voice. I also had one other advantage. I was talking weekly with industry people, going to different cities to work with multiple groups and seeing up close why certain things worked and others didn’t. That helped me tell better stories, build deeper relationships, and assist clients with greater knowledge.

Fast forward to now, and where this thing has advanced to is far beyond my expectations. I’ve been presented with opportunities to work with groups I never expected. I’ve had people reach out to present opportunities, including purchasing the company, that others would be shocked were considered (Btw I’m not looking to sell). Our brand now generates hundreds of thousands in traffic per month thanks to an exceptional team of 20 writers which produces 35-40 pieces of content per day on the sports and news media industry. In fact, August was our best month of traffic this year. We were up 30% year over year. We create 5 podcasts per week, distribute multiple newsletters, consult a strong amount of media brands, sell and work with advertising partners to help grow their businesses, deliver content through social media channels that are followed by thousands of people, and host an annual conference, which is well attended and supported by industry professionals and broadcast companies.

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Which brings me to the next part of this column – the 2023 BSM Summit.

After hosting our last two shows in New York City, I told all in attendance that our next event would return to the west coast. Finding the right city and venue takes time, and this one was tough because there were great options in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but after reviewing the possibilities, I’m thrilled to share that the 2023 BSM Summit will take place in Los Angeles, California at The Founders Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California. The dates will be Tuesday March 21st and Wednesday March 22nd (we didn’t want to do dates that conflicted with the NCAA Tournament). Show time both days will once again be 9a-5p PT.

I couldn’t be happier with this location. The space we have to work with is fantastic, the people involved with USC have been great, and to bring a room full of sports media professionals to the USC campus will be awesome. We’ve also partnered with the USC Hotel which is within walking distance of our venue. Room rates and ticket prices for the Summit can now be found on BSMSummit.com.

I know everyone will start texting, emailing, calling, and DM’ing to ask about tickets, speakers, sponsorships, the after-party and awards show, etc.. I’ll have follow up announcements coming soon about the first few speakers we’ve lined up. Most people attended the 2022 show live, but some checked out the show virtually too. I’m not sure yet if we’re going to make this one available virtually. If we do, we’ll announce it on the site at a later time. Like anything, if enough people want it we’ll find a way to get it done. In the meantime, Stephanie Eads is setting up conversations with former and future conference partners so if you have a sponsorship question, hit her up by email at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

One thing I do want to ask of those who are planning to attend the Summit, email me to let me know what you’re interested in learning about at the show. We’ve been blessed to have some incredibly smart, successful people in the room, but as cool as that may be, I want to make sure folks return to their buildings afterwards with information to improve their operations. This only works if you take the knowledge and use it to help your brands and people. If anything in particular is of interest, please let me know by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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As I look ahead to year 8, I’m extremely bullish on continuing our momentum on the sports media side. We’ve just added Eddie Moran as a new features writer, and if it makes business sense to add more writers or create additional podcasts down the line, we’ll examine those opportunities as they arise. A few years ago it was just Demetri and I running the day to day business. Now we have Stephanie, Andy, Garrett Searight, Arky Shea, Alex Reynolds, and Eduardo Razo involved, and though having a larger staff doesn’t guarantee success, I like how we’re positioned. If anything, our focus now is on doing impactful work not busy work. As much as I’d love to keep everyone and never stop adding, running a business effectively requires regularly examining what is and isn’t working. Having people involved who are passionate and consistently reliable is vital. If they can’t be then it means the fit isn’t right.

Having said that, I believe we can always get better. As we move ahead, I’m counting on my team to find and create more original content, strengthen and increase relationships, gain a stronger grasp of SEO, and collectively, we’ll work on improving our digital marketing to promote our content and develop better affiliate partnerships. One way the industry can help us in return, let us know when you create something on-air that might fit the site. Most of what we gather comes from finding it ourselves yet content gets created daily on sports TV and radio. We’re not going to write stories about sports opinions but if it’s media-centric, a heads up helps. So too does sharing our content on social media.

Though BSM is an integral part of our company’s future growth, I am equally as bullish on building Barrett News Media. We started BNM on September 14, 2020 and our first year was slow. We needed to dip our toe in rather than dive in head first, but over the past 9 months we’ve increased our relationships and our readers are now starting to see what we’re capable of. We’ve assembled a strong cast of news writers, reporters, and columnists, and just added to our team last week with the addition of Joe Salzone. Adding writers and consulting clients remains an ongoing process, and make no mistake about this, I want to help news/talk stations just as I have helped sports brands. Maybe down the line we’ll add a few news media podcasts too, but we have other things to focus on first.

For starters, if you’ve read this website over the years then you’re likely familiar with the BSM Top 20. It’s a series we produce recognizing the best in the sports media industry. It’s voted on by a large number of sports radio programmers and executives, and for 6 years in a row it has been our website’s largest traffic driver. I thought previously about doing a series for the news media industry, but because we had less help, little time, and an unfamiliar brand, I held off.

But that’s about to change.

Later this year, we will introduce the very first BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will include voting participation from news media programmers and executives, with the goal being to showcase the best national radio shows and podcasts, and the top local stations, shows, and PD’s from both the major and mid markets.

It will be a giant undertaking but it’s long overdue for our brand. Though I’m sure the process will be exhausting, I’m looking forward to sharing the results and shining a brighter light on the news/talk media business. When I’m ready to announce the dates and schedule for the series, we’ll reveal it here on the site and across our BNM social media channels. Stay tuned.

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As I bring this column to an end, I’ll end by sharing a few things that have surprised me over the years. First, I’m seeing less interest the past 3 years from younger people becoming programmers than I did between 2015-2019. Is that because of the pandemic? The rise of sports gambling? A lack of confidence in the radio industry? As someone who’s helped 15-20 brands find and hire brand leaders, and talks to more people than most, that’s concerning.

I think sports radio also needs to do a better job of grooming people for these roles and showing them a path to long-term success. PD’s should be more actively championing their people for growth too than they do. If you value someone and want to see him or her reap the rewards for their hard work, you have to look beyond how it’ll affect your day to day duties. Focus on the big picture, not just what makes your life easier.

What should concern executives is the fact that in the past five years, sports radio has lost Armen Williams, Jeremiah Crowe, Joe Zarbano, Adam Delevitt, Tony DiGiacomo, Terry Foxx, Brad Willis, Chris Baker, Tom Parker, Jay Taylor, Kyle Engelhart, Hoss Neupert, and John Hanson. I’m sure I’m missing a few too. That’s a lot of programming experience out the door including some with decades left to give to the industry. Maybe some weren’t built for the job long-term or others were kicking down the door and ready to lead but in most businesses, if you saw that type of change in key management roles, you’d be questioning if it’s an industry you want to be a part of. If the veterans don’t stay or become too expensive, and the leaders of tomorrow aren’t sticking around, where does that leave us?

From the talent end, how are you helping yourself when there isn’t a job to chase? If the only time you contact a PD is to ask about a gig, don’t be surprised when your calls go straight to voicemail. Relationships are a two-way street. Build them when there’s nothing to be gained and you’ll be amazed at how it pays off later. By the way, that goes for me too. I get asked by a lot of people to find time when there’s trouble in paradise but when life is good, crickets. Those who keep in touch and support BSM/BNM whether that’s through a monthly membership or buying a Summit ticket have more success getting a hold of me. I’m not trying to be a hard ass but I’m not an agent, so building your career isn’t my priority. Taking care of my family and business partners is. However, I do help people and make time for many, but it’s got to work both ways. My members and clients know they can ask for something and receive an answer. Others I’ve built and maintained relationships with receive the same. But if you’re counting on me to help you find work and gossip about the business with you, I’m not your guy.

If there’s been a winner the past 7 years it’s been the growth of sports betting. As other categories have produced less, sports betting has emerged as an important growth driver for the sports format. And this has happened with most of the country not even legal yet. As more states give the green light to legalize sports gambling, revenues and content opportunities should follow. We will likely reach a point where consolidation comes into play and certain brands and companies overload their content in a way that makes them insufferable to listen to but for every few setbacks there are far greater reasons to be optimistic. In the past 7 years we’ve seen Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube become big players in sports television. Might FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers, Fanatics, Barstool and others do the same in the sports media space? That’s going to be an interesting follow for sure.

Knowing how everything can change in an instant, I take nothing for granted with BSM and BNM. This could all end tomorrow, and if it did, I’d look back on it as the best days of my professional life. I want to keep growing as a professional, while remaining an asset to my current partners, and finding ways to work with new brands and companies in both sports and news media. I’m also enjoying hosting a podcast again, and if you haven’t checked out The Jason Barrett Podcast, the latest episode with Colin Cowherd is a good one to start with.

The future for sports and news media may change but both will remain viable and important. I love that we’ve been able to be a small part of this business each day for the past 7 years, and I hope to make the next 7 years as fulfilling as the past 7. If I’m able to do that, it’ll mean the 20 years I spent in studios were needed to make a nationwide impact from a home office.

So on behalf of our entire team, past and present, thank you for reading the twenty thousand pieces of content we’ve produced since 2015. None of this is possible without an army of BSM/BNM supporters. I hope to see you in Los Angeles this March for the 2023 BSM Summit.

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The Podcast Movement Conference Made a Mistake Rejecting Ben Shapiro

“If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease?”

Jason Barrett

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I’ve had the pleasure of attending multiple Podcast Movement Conferences over the years. Those involved in putting the event together do a fantastic job creating an action packed agenda full of accomplished speakers, and the visual displays and access to different brands and industry professionals have always been nothing but positive. It’s why I was disappointed this year when my schedule didn’t allow for me to make the trip to Dallas.

So imagine my surprise late last week when I learned the conference took a stance against Westwood One radio host and co-founder of The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro

Shapiro’s company was a sponsor of this year’s show, and according to reports, the well known podcaster and radio host wasn’t registered for the event. He made a brief appearance at his company’s booth, shaking hands and taking photos with fans who stopped by to say hi, and his mere presence at the show led to some protesting his involvement on social media.

After learning Shapiro had stopped by, the Podcast Movement Conference posted a series of tweets which said “Hi folks, we owe you an apology before sessions kick off for the day. Yesterday afternoon, Ben Shapiro briefly visited the PM22 expo area near The Daily Wire booth. Though he was not registered or expected, we take full responsibility for the harm done by his presence.”

The conference added, “Those of you who called this “unacceptable” are right. In 9 wonderful years growing and celebrating this medium, PM has made mistakes. The pain caused by this one will always stick with us. We promise that sponsors will be more carefully considered moving forward. No TDW representatives were scheduled to appear on panels, and Shapiro remained in the common space and did not have a badge. If you have questions, we’re here to talk. Thank you for reading, and we hope you’ll continue to join us from here on out.”

A quick search shows that Shapiro has one of the top performing podcasts on the charts. According to Westwood One, it is downloaded over fifteen million times per month. In addition, his radio program is carried on hundreds of radio stations, he has 13 million followers combined between Facebook and Twitter, and his company, The Daily Wire, adds another 5.5 million supporters to the mix. They also showed they were supportive of the conference by making a financial commitment to sponsor a booth.

Having explained all of that I was stunned that the Podcast Movement Conference took this position. Let me be clear, it was a mistake. Their stance has led to a flood of negative attention over the past 72 hours, and it all could’ve easily been avoided. Though their next event is still a year away, given how much attention this story has received, it could have a carry over effect on future sponsorships and attendance. Only time will tell.

As someone who runs an annual conference, albeit much smaller, I know how hard it is to put an event together. What the Podcast Movement organizers put together each year requires a herculean effort, which is why I’m baffled that they picked sides in this situation. The media industry is large and full of people, brands and companies with different views and approaches to business and everyday life. The second you start judging and making decisions based on personal beliefs and/or social media activity, you’re in trouble.

I’ve long maintained that if someone works in the sports media industry and wishes to learn and share information to help improve the business, they’re welcome at our BSM Summit. We make changes to our schedule each year based on what we feel is topical for the attendees but we don’t discriminate, support one brand over another or allow personal views to dictate if someone can or can’t be present.

Case in point, at our March conference, I had a few people privately upset that I asked Craig Carton to speak. Craig’s prior arrest and time served in jail is well documented. First, I have a ton of respect for what Craig has accomplished, and I believe in second chances, but personal views aside, he’s the afternoon host in the nation’s largest market working for WFAN, a top rated sports radio brand. History has shown that he’s damn good and successful, and more than qualified to speak on the subjects we cover at our event. When a few folks expressed their displeasure with my decision I told them ‘If you’re not a fan of Craig, don’t attend that session. If it bothers you beyond that, I understand if you can’t attend the show.’

Quieting the noise gets easier when you focus strictly on the business. Making everyone happy is impossible when you organize an event, but if you allow multiple viewpoints to be present in the room, you end up in a decent place more times than not.

You also have to remember that social media can make things appear worse than they are. Is the issue you’re dealing with being raised by conference partners and supporters who attend the event each year or from someone who’s not in the building and thrives on creating a social media firestorm for the causes they oppose and fight against?

Some may recall that I dealt with a few headaches in 2019 prior to our LA Summit after folks involved with groups that had no interest or desire to attend our show started trying to create a controversy out of nothing. Though it was frustrating playing defense on Christmas night when individuals from the New York Times, Deadspin and WNBA teams started poking holes in our conference’s flyer, I learned an important lesson. As long as you do the right thing and have the support and trust of your friends, family, attendees, and partners, who cares what others think or say who don’t know you and aren’t in the room for your event.

That’s what I don’t understand here. Is Shapiro not one of the most successful podcasters out there? Was his company not a paying partner of the event? If this is a conference about podcasting, and you have someone in attendance who excels at it, has a massive following, and their company is supporting your event as a sponsor, why are you treating them like a disease? Most would roll out a red carpet for someone with Shapiro’s track record of success not publicly condemn them for showing up and sponsoring the show. I know I would. I’d also do the same for someone who’s equally successful and views the world the exact opposite way.

I can’t help but wonder how folks at Westwood One feel about this incident. Don’t they promote and support this conference and include their people in the event? Think they might object to one of their top personalities being treated this way? Furthermore, how about the talk radio format? It’s no secret that most of the programming on news/talk radio stations leans right. A number of top performing podcasts follow a similar path. It’s safe to say that most in the format are going to support Shapiro, and I don’t think that helps the conference with attracting future business and participation.

To be clear, I don’t listen to Ben Shapiro’s podcast or radio show, and I don’t read The Daily Wire. I only point that out because I don’t want anyone to assume that I’m supporting him because of personal interests or a professional relationship. We’ve never spoke or crossed paths. My opinion is based solely on the facts surrounding this situation, nothing else.

That said, I understand Ben has shared opinions that some take offense to and I don’t blame those folks for not wanting to be around him. But there’s a simple solution, don’t go near him or his booth. It’s the same thing I tell people who don’t like a particular radio station’s hosts or a piece of content on our website; if you don’t like it, don’t read or listen to it. The Podcast Movement Conference takes place in a large convention center. There’s more than enough room to keep everyone separated and happy. Last time I checked, there were attendees in the room who stopped by to meet Ben at his booth. Do they not count?

Look, you don’t have to agree with Shapiro, but this is a podcasting business conference, and it’s something he’s done at a higher level than most. That qualifies him to be there. You can’t get in the middle and start determining who is and isn’t allowed in based on personal beliefs or trying to please agenda driven people on social media. Would Podcast Movement tell Joe Rogan, one of the most successful podcasters out there, that he couldn’t attend if people who didn’t like his views on Covid-19 protested? What’s next, not giving out industry awards to stations and individuals who we don’t like or agree with? When does the insanity end?

Here’s the reality, there are likely other sponsors and attendees in the room who have views that some may consider offensive. Our content and advertisers aren’t just supported by good, honest people. There are thousands, if not millions, who listen and support us who are shady, sick, and morally bankrupt. That’s beyond our control. Our job is to inform and entertain, and make people care enough to come back regularly. If we do that well, sponsors will follow. Keep those things happening, and everyone remains satisfied.

Moving forward, the Podcast Movement Conference has to decide if it wants to be open to all or only to some. I root for the conference to do well. I’ve enjoyed attending previous shows and hope to attend future ones. But if they expect to maintain support and enjoy future growth, learning from this situation is important. There’s much more money in staying neutral than alienating one side of the room.

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