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Is It Time For ESPN To Split Up Mike and Mike?

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Pairing two people together and developing a great show isn’t easy. Turning that show into a mainstream brand is even harder. Sustaining it for nearly two decades is virtually impossible.

Yet ESPN has done that with “Mike and Mike”, their morning show on ESPN Radio and ESPN 2.

To enter a sports fan’s mind for that period of time takes a ton of talent, patience, support, consistency, and whole lot of luck. Yet as we’ve seen many times in sports and the media business, even the biggest stars and shows eventually reach their finish line.

But how can you tell when a dominant program with revenue and ratings success has run out of gas? If the true measure of a show’s success is to deliver ratings, revenue and relevance, and a program is providing it, then isn’t it the role of management to stick with them and get out of the way?

This is the dilemma ESPN is facing with Mike and Mike.

On one hand, the show continues to perform both on radio and television. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic have spent more than 16 years together, and continue to be the face of the ESPN Radio network, and a morning show which many sports fans across the nation take their cues from. Greeny and Golic entered the NAB radio hall of fame this past April, and still sound informed, engaged, and interested in delivering a quality program. They also have one of the strongest guests lists on radio.

But on the other hand, many critics say their act has grown tired and it’s time to turn the page. The common criticism is that the show lacks bold opinions, unpredictability and hasn’t refreshed itself, despite growing competition.

According to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, ESPN is considering breaking up the show and moving Greenberg to a morning show hosting role on television and pairing Golic with his son.

To many in radio circles, that possibility is nothing new. ESPN has made this noise before. In recent years, the network began to tinker with the show, challenging Greeny and Golic to add more opinion, more live reads, more bits, and more contributions from opinionated personalities (First Take, His & Hers). They’ve also experimented with adding Cris Carter as a third voice during football season, and utilized Molly Qerim in a part-time third host role.

There seem to be two trains of thought when it comes to Mike and Mike. You have one group of people who value what Greeny and Golic bring to the air and want to continue letting them operate the way they’re most comfortable. Then you have another faction which feels the show is corny, too safe, and lacks the opinions necessary to make the network a bigger destination each morning.

As I spoke to executives across the country, I learned that many feel the ESPN Radio brand has lost some of its luster. The network previously rolled out popular stars such as Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Scott Van Pelt, and Tony Kornheiser, along with Mike and Mike, and when you start to lose high profile faces and voices, it takes time to develop the next crop of talent.

But therein lies the issue.

Many insiders aren’t convinced that ESPN Radio has found the next wave of superstars. The consensus is that Dan Le Batard is one of those superior talents along with Mike and Mike, but the rest of the shows are viewed a tier below. With more time and opportunity, opinions could change towards those other on-air talents. But when you’re in the leadership position that ESPN is in, and partners are counting on you to roll out programs with recognizable talent in order to help them win and generate immediate revenue, folks are less patient.

Which makes the idea of eliminating Mike and Mike a tough one for some network executives to wrestle with. Do you break up one of your most powerful brands and leave the radio network in a position where it doesn’t have huge star power? Won’t that further add to the narrative that the network is losing many of its best performers? Or do you sit tight and continue the ride while others continue to get better and listener and viewer tastes continue to change?

In talking to a number of executives, the consensus was that ESPN Radio would lose value without Mike and Mike. Some told me it would force them to reevaluate whether or not to continue their affiliation. But it was clear that there was a down the middle split on whether or not to cancel the show. I asked seven decision makers five key questions about Mike and Mike and here are their responses. The names of the individuals who took part in this piece have been kept private for obvious reasons.

What do you believe makes Mike and Mike a great show? 

Executive 1: The chemistry. They have worked together so long that they know each other and how to react to what the other person says. It is also about the resources, every ESPN expert is available to the show to provide insight and perspective that you can only get from those who have the access to the players and coaches from all the sports including the NFL, MLB, NBA and major college. The production staff is second to none and helps keep the Mike’s up to date on what matters most to the audience. The program is also great at covering the big story. No show is as good as Mike and Mike in taking the audience behind the curtain.

Executive 2: Chemistry and tenure. They anticipate each other’s thoughts and words.

Executive 3: It’s authentic. What you hear is what you get. Mike Greenberg is a metrosexual, neurotic, Jets loving fan. Mike Golic is a food loving, family guy, former player. They never pretend to be who they are not, they are themselves. In addition, Greenberg might be the best traffic cop on sports radio. He keeps the show moving at a tremendous pace for morning drive. His teases are the very best in the business. He is incredibly smart with a large vocabulary that he uses well to paint pictures and move seamlessly from topic to topic. Golic is the guy next door, the dude you want to have a beer with. He’s friendly and goofy and reminds us of our brother or uncle that we love. The last thing that makes this show great is ESPN. The strength of ESPN helps the show get the very best guests and top of mind newsmakers. Because they’re on ESPN Radio and TV, Mike and Mike have been able to establish themselves as the show of record for sports fans in the morning.

Executive 4: It’s a great, safe, easy brand to listen to. Continuity has been their biggest asset.  In Radio you almost win by default when you’re together for that long.

Executive 5: Longevity and the chemistry between Greeny and Golic. They are always talking about the right content too.

Executive 6: There is no show that addresses the big stories better. They make the content sound big and land the biggest guests.

Executive 7: Mike & Mike’s chemistry is what has made this show great going all the way back to day 1.  They do a good job tapping into ESPN’s resources creating a well-rounded sports show. It’s an easy and comfortable listen that informs people about the nation’s biggest sports stories.

What do you believe is missing from Mike and Mike’s show? 

Executive 1: Hard hitting opinions. At times the show is probably a little too safe in how they approach certain topics. The show needs to take some chances and push opinionated content that will generate reaction from the audience. Finding ways for the audience to be interactive with the Mike’s is always a good thing that we do not hear enough of.

Executive 2: Localism. They have too wide of net to cover. That is the drawback of a national show.

Executive 3: There isn’t a lot missing. They have access to everything they need through ESPN and their years of credibility and existence. At times the show could use more humor/fun, but it’s not a glaring miss. What it probably lacks the most is a steady fill-in because the two Mike’s are on vacation WAY too much.

Executive 4: The show could benefit from adding a woman to the cast.

Executive 5: Not one thing. I have not been one of those executives who has thought they needed to add to the show. I know the thought processes behind them doing it but I don’t feel it was necessary. Case in point, I tuned out last year during the Cris Carter segments.

Executive 6: For any show that has been successful and wants to stay on top, there has to be a refresh. They need to continue to bring big names into their show on a consistent basis that have strong opinions and can  push the story forward.

Executive 7: There is a level of unpredictability missing from the show. The guys rarely take chances and offer outspoken opinions, and they’ve settled to remain within their comfort zone.

How does the show sound now compared to 5-10 years ago? 

Executive 1: Mike and Mike used to be a radio show on TV. The show is now a TV show on radio. This is an important distinction in terms of what comes out of the speakers. The show is still enjoyable to consume, however the presentation is different because of the focus on television.

Executive 2: They have more experience and are further established. The show has an easy flow and tempo and their years together work in their favor as they are able to recall memorable moments to past shows.

Executive 3: Too cluttered. They have gotten crazy with the amount of live reads in the program.

Executive 4: The show is still very commercial/network, and non local. It’s safe and easy like McDonald’s – you know what you’re getting.  They don’t provide many opinions just the facts.

Executive 5: Just like any relationship that lasts that long, you hope it gets better with age. They understand each other better, they know how to get the best out of each other and push one another’s buttons. One way the show has suffered is that it’s no longer a radio show, it’s a TV program simulcast on radio.

Executive 6: The show has definitely digressed. I think they understood radio and the importance of keeping things moving years ago. They are best when hitting the big stories and reacting to them. For some reason they got away from that and tried to make it more of a morning zoo crew type of show. Play to your strengths, and humor is definitely not one of them, but they continue to try to incorporate it into the show.

Executive 7: The show was at its best ten years ago when it was undoubtedly the sports show of record each morning. As competition has increased, the show has gone the other way. Mike and Mike needed to step up their game and have that same entrepreneurial spirit that made it successful 16 years ago, but they’ve become more stale and predictable. As a result, the “need” to listen has waned. The shtick has stayed consistent, but in my opinion, the guys have lost their fastball. Additionally, the amount of sales clutter and promotion for company initiatives has caused far too many tune-outs.

When you sample their show, do you listen to it on radio or watch it on TV? 

Executive 1: Both. Depends where I am and what I am doing.

Executive 2: Both.

Executive 3: Radio when I’m home. TV when I’m on the road.

Executive 4: I monitor the show as a direct competitor.

Executive 5: Radio 100%. The move to the studio was not without growing pains but it’s an easier listen now.

Executive 6: Mostly on TV now.

Executive 7: A mixture of both. They play way too much to TV which has taken the shine off of the growth potential for the show on the radio.  It often seems they don’t care as much about the audio platform.

If you were in charge of ESPN, would you break up Mike & Mike and install a new morning show? 

Executive 1: It’s all about the big picture and what roles each of the Mike’s will have. Sports radio by nature is locally based and if you are going to have a major national show such as Mike and Mike, the talent must be able to appeal to multiple demographics and in a multi-platform world. Getting the right talent mix moving forward will require creativity and an understanding that the format is focused on serving multiple demos. For now, Mike and Mike is the best nationally syndicated sports show with a strong following. Decisions to change course will be based on more than just what is happening with the radio side of things at ESPN.

Executive 2: I would not bust up an established, successful and tenured show. It is too difficult to achieve a level of success like Mike and Mike have. History has proven this over and over again. Is ESPN’s gain worth the potential risk of the losses of a successful morning show?

Executive 3: HELL NO. They have the very best syndicated morning radio program in the country. No other entity has come close to getting the type of national audience share Mike and Mike has. While I’m a huge proponent of change and evolution, this show is still recognized as the show of record for sports fans in America.

Executive 4: I would blow it up and look to get younger.

Executive 5: Absolutely not, 100% no. ESPN has to remember that they look at Mike and Mike as a TV show that supplies the audio division—but on the ground level this is a key ratings grabber in morning drive on many affiliate stations. You don’t break up a winning show. Mike Greenberg is the glue.

Executive 6: Yes. I think they’ve gotten stale and need to bring in something new to excite viewers and listeners.

Executive 7: The only option at this point is to head in a different direction. If that isn’t possible contractually, then a consistent third voice needs to be added to improve the urgency and relevancy of the content.

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Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

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Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

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Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

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Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

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Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure

“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”

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If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.

When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.

Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.

It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.

In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.

I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.

We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.

Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.

This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.

Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.

Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.

I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.

For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.

That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.

But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.

Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.

How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.

Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.

Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.

You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.

Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.

One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.

Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.

It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.

Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?

I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.

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