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Another 10 Talents You May Not Know, But Should!

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One of the rewarding parts of being a sports radio strategist and consultant, is having the time to observe different brands, markets and individuals. Finding the next diamond in the rough or highlighting the work of a talent who makes an impact in their region yet may not earn national attention based on their geographic location is something I enjoy doing.

Last year I scoured the nation listening to numerous sports radio brands and profiled 15 on-air talents who I thought were worthy of some additional exposure. There are hundreds of stations and on-air hosts occupying air time each day who I could easily draw attention to, but the goal with this annual column is to identify a few personalities who you might not be familiar with and explain what they do well, and why they are worthy of your time.

One thing I’ve learned since leaving the day to day grind inside of a radio station is how subjective this business is. Program directors, corporate executives, and on-air hosts have very different beliefs in what qualifies as “good radio”, and what may be appealing to me, may not be as interesting to someone else. The one difference is that I have this online forum to present my views, whereas many conversations of this magnitude are often discussed privately inside the walls of each radio station.

When it comes to the sports format, audiences know who the heavy hitters are. That’s due either to reputation, press coverage, market size or national platforms. Many of these hosts, whether it’s Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Mike and Mike, or Mike Francesa, deserve the attention because they not only perform on major outlets, but they bring a unique style and tremendous skill to the airwaves, which is essential in delivering positive results for their employers.

As you familiarize yourself with some of the individuals I profiled, I remind you that this column isn’t designed to suggest that they are better or stronger performers than those they compete against. These selections also aren’t influenced by any broadcast company. It’s simply a subjective exercise in recognizing a few people who I feel bring different qualities to the airwaves each day, and use those skills to connect with their listeners. Some of them I have previous familiarity with, others I’ve grown to enjoy and appreciate after listening to them perform in recent weeks and months.

When you tune into a sports radio station, it’s usually because you want to be entertained, informed, and emotionally moved. Some shows build their presentation around strong opinions and uncomfortable positions. Others use self-deprecation and humor. The rest may rely on smart analysis, relatable storytelling or a unique attribute that can’t be duplicated by anyone else. In each case, authenticity, relatability, content selection and a willingness to share one’s life on the air comes into play. Those are common threads in the success of most sports talk shows.

In listening to the 10 on-air personalities I’ve highlighted in this column, they possess many of those qualities. I encourage you to give them a listen when time allows to see if they suit your listening tastes too. Most of them provide fifteen to twenty hours of on-air content each week, and their ability to be the sports fan’s companion and tug on their emotions each day are a big reason why they’re enjoying success.

mdr-babchikcohenMike Babchik – SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio – He may not be the headline act on Mad Dog Sports Radio, but make no mistake about it, Mike Babchik is one of the most interesting and important personalities on the channel. He’s the train that’s gone off the track, lost it’s brakes, and you can’t help but watch to see where it ends up.

On a daily basis, you’ll discover that Babchik is a combination of funny, crazy, unafraid, and unfiltered. Everything in his life is fair game for the radio show. What I especially enjoy is how well the show connects to things that are topical and buzzworthy.

For example, the day after Draymond Green kicked Steven Adams in the groin during the Western Conference Finals, Babchik took a kick to the jewels on-air from update anchor Maria Marino. The morning after Laremy Tunsil and Ken Bone became the talk of the nation, the show was not only discussing it, but viral tweets were going out showing Babchik in a red sweater and the Tunsil gas mask.

During other shows, Babchik has been spanked by his personal trainer, shown off his underwhelming physique for attractive in-studio female guests, and shared the embarrassment of being crapped on by a bird. The best praise I can give the show is that it doesn’t matter if you listen in February, the dog days of summer, or on a Monday after the first NFL weekend, when the light goes on, Mike and his partner Evan Cohen are going to have fun and entertain you.

If you’re tuning into “The Morning Men” on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio, and expecting a hardcore sports conversation though, prepare to be disappointed. That’s not what they do. This is a morning show that blends sports, lifestyle, and real life events, while making their callers feel like they’re part of the family. They’ve even branded their hardcore fans as “FALS”, a term they adopted after Chris Russo uttered the word accidentally when attempting to refer to a caller as a pal.

One of Babchik’s other strong skills is the way he uses social media. He shares his most vulnerable moments with the audience and does a great job of being interactive, including retweeting their feedback. The show also films a number of funny short videos, most of them revolving around Babchik or something topical. For example, the day after David Ross homered for the Cubs in the World Series and celebrated by giving his teammates a cup bump, Babchik produced a quick video of what the post-show celebration would be like if the Morning Men adopted the same strategy.

In a nutshell, Mike Babchik is an entertainer. Nothing on-air or on social is off limits or too serious for him. But when he and Evan Cohen team up to host their show, the audience is going to be treated to a whole lot of laughter and disorganized chaos. That’s the secret sauce that makes “The Morning Men” a great listen and the type of show you want to start your day with. To hear the show click here.

bradthompsonBrad Thompson – 101 ESPN, St. Louis, MO – When athletes make the initial conversion to the broadcast business, they’re often utilized in a reactors role. They’re encouraged to share clubhouse stories, on the field experiences, and focus on the sport they’ve played. Many avoid venturing into discussions on other sports due to a lack of depth in those other areas.

In Brad’s case, he’s an exception. When you listen to him weekday afternoons on 101 ESPN, you hear a ton of energy, smart informed analysis, an ability to laugh and bust balls with his partner Randy Karraker, and it doesn’t matter if the conversation revolves around the St. Louis Cardinals (his former team) or the NFL, NHL or a mainstream national story. Regardless of the conversation, he’s invested in it. In many cases, he becomes an even better listen when the topic is not built around St. Louis baseball.

What impresses me even more is that Brad has also learned how to drive a show. Randy has been one of the market’s best drivers of a talk show for the past few decades. His clock management, interviewing, teasing, and topic setting are strong, and Brad has paid close attention because when Randy misses a day or takes a vacation, the show doesn’t miss a beat with Brad in the driver’s chair. That’s rare. In many cases, station’s have a glaring hole when a lead host is out and the number two guy has to move up to the number one position.

When I first heard Brad drive the show I thought it might impact his ability to provide analysis and opinion, the traits which he’s best known for. But to his credit, he’s learned how to use his positions to spark conversation and given his credibility as a former player, and his comfortability with sharing an opinion and providing evidence to support it, he’s become a destination listen for St. Louis sports fans during the afternoon commute home from work.

As of last check, the Fast Lane (101 ESPN’s afternoon show), was the highest rated spoken word program in the market. Listeners have responded favorably to Brad and Randy, and program director Chris “Hoss” Neupert has done an excellent job by surrounding them with a good cast, and giving them the freedom to explore new territory and challenge themselves as on-air personalities. To hear the show click here.

sparkySteve “Sparky” Fifer – 105.7 The Fan, Milwaukee, WI – He’s been described as an igniter, and in observing “The Big Show” on 105.7 The Fan in Milwaukee, that description perfectly suits him. “Sparky” as listeners know him, is outspoken and firm in his beliefs, and his connection to the local market, combined with his energy, opinions, and willingness to tackle all subjects is what helps drive a lot of the conversation between himself, former Packer and Badger Gary Ellerson, and Ramie Makhlouf. Former Packer Leroy Butler also joins the mix a few times per week.

What I enjoy most about Steve’s presentation is his ability to deliver strong informed opinions. He doesn’t say things just to make the audience react. He thinks out his positions, explains them concisely and uses examples to validate his stances. Ellerson and Makhlouf aren’t afraid to challenge him, and their on-air show position of “keeping it 100” means that regardless of how they feel, they’re committed to being real, honest, and open to tackle any topic, regardless of its comfort level.

Most of the conversations on the show revolve around local or national subjects that are of importance to Milwaukee sports fans. While football dominates much of the fall discussion, Steve’s passion for the Milwaukee Bucks also is on display from time to time. As of last check, the ratings for Steve’s show were a full point higher year to year, and ahead of other spoken word stations in the market, including both sports stations and the powerful news talker WTMJ.

Collectively, The Big Show has a full sound. But what makes it work is the chemistry, comfortability and passionate discussions that take place between the group. In many instances, the spark that ignites the room comes from Steve, and when a host has an ability to cut through the clutter and penetrate the mind of a listener with strong provoking commentaries, that’s a quality you can’t teach. To get a feel for Sparky and his contributions to The Big Show on The Fan in Milwaukee, click here to listen.

rosenbergPeter Rosenberg – 98.7 ESPN NY, New York, NY – When I first learned that Peter would be joining the Michael Kay Show on 98.7FM ESPN NY I applauded the station for taking a risk. I enjoyed listening to Michael Kay and Don LaGreca but recognized that a younger perspective with some bite and personality could add a new dimension to the program.

Not many on-air personalities with a track record of success on a hip-hop station make a successful transition to a sports talk show, especially one which includes a talent like Kay who was already established and well respected. It’s also difficult to develop chemistry when you’re joining a show that’s been in existence for over a decade, and offers a strong two-man nucleus.

To Rosenberg’s credit, he found his niche, and has become an attraction to the show. I compare it to a new character joining an already successful TV show (EX: Negan joining the Walking Dead). His success on the show is also a testament to Kay and LaGreca, who kept an open mind, welcomed his arrival, and worked hard to find a new energy for their program.

What I enjoy about Peter is that he’s a natural ball buster. His energy, snarkiness, cockiness, and comfortability with sharing his opinions, often generate good reactions out of Kay and LaGreca. If he flubs on the air, it gets addressed and often becomes funny. If he delivers a strong take, Kay and LaGreca pounce on it. He’s also not afraid to call them out either. As a trio they share different styles and views, but they present themselves as a family that you want to be part of.

One particular quality that helps Rosenberg stand out, especially with younger listeners, is that he’s relatable, funny, and sees the world through their eyes. His ENN (Evening Nightly News) segment has become a staple of the show, and because of his passion for professional wrestling (Rosenberg also hosts a popular podcast called “Cheap Heat”) it’s gotten the program to explore new territory that it may not have in year’s past. One specific example that jumps to mind is when Shane McMahon of the WWE appeared on the Kay show the day after he returned to Monday Night Raw after a seven year hiatus.

It’s no coincidence that since Rosenberg arrived on the show, the response among Men 18-34 has spiked significantly. The show has even beaten Mike Francesa head to head in that demographic, something that didn’t happen in the past. That’s a credit to all three hosts working together to find their collective voice, develop their timing, forming chemistry, and presenting a fun and informative program that’s different in approach from what New Yorkers are treated to elsewhere on the dial. To hear Peter’s contributions to the Michael Kay Show click here.

childersChris Childers – SiriusXM College Sports Nation – When I think of the term “smile with your voice”, I can’t help but think of Chris. Although he can certainly have his moments on the air when he’s being analytical or offering a strong opinion, he also has a natural enthusiasm and genuine love for hosting a sports talk show. His charisma, energy, and joy for talking about sports topics is hard to ignore.

Paired daily with former college football head coach Rick Neuhiesel, Chris does a great job running point on SiriusXM College Sports Nation’s “The Full Ride”. He speaks from a fan’s point of view and understands and embraces his role on the show. He knows that he represents the voice of the fan when sharing opinions and talking to newsmakers from the world of college sports, but also has the responsibility of pulling out quality information, analysis and opinion from Coach Neuheisel, which is important given the experience he’s gained from years of leading multiple college sports programs.

Equally as impressive is Chris’ commitment to the craft of hosting. He tries to frame his topics and make them easy to play along with. He puts work into his teasing and interviewing, listens and follows up off of audio cuts and production, and dives into topics with a serious purpose but also recognizes when a moment has entertainment value and is willing to let it happen.

As an example, two weeks ago after the show bumped in with a song about the Bayou, which was being used to set up a discussion on whether or not Ed Orgeron deserved strong consideration to become the permanent head coach for LSU, Childers said that if Gumbo had a voice, it would sound like the guy singing the song. It was not only a fitting comment but it lightened the mood for a minute before the conversation turned serious about LSU’s future leadership.

Chris and Coach Neuheisel offer different life experience and perspectives, and their contrasting styles naturally make their conversations more interesting. If you haven’t had an opportunity to hear their show and enjoy listening to sports talk built around college sports, I recommend checking them out. You can hear a sample of their program by clicking here.

jaredJared Stillman – 102.5 The Game, Nashville, TN – When you draw the ire of many of the market’s local talents, it’s usually because you’ve tapped into something. In Jared Stillman’s case, he has a ton to say, and it isn’t often comfortable or popular, but it’s what makes him unique to Nashville sports listeners.

Every market has a villain, but not every talent is comfortable in that position. In listening from afar, Stillman seems at peace with his presentation and style, and it’s served him well, helping him make the transition from hosting middays solo on 102.5 The Game, to now teaming up with former Titans GM Floyd Reese in afternoon drive.

Some local folks who I’ve talked to have compared Stillman’s style to a Nashville version of Colin Cowherd. He uses analogies to shape some of his opinions. He welcomes conflict and doesn’t mind being the most unpopular man in the room. And despite being a homegrown talent, he speaks his mind and doesn’t drink the local Kool-Aid even if it might help him generate a few more fans.

As a broadcaster I can appreciate that skillset. Sports radio is a business that’s driven largely by strong opinion, supported evidence, and an ability to strike an emotional chord with an audience. Stillman checks many of those boxes. He may not be invited over to every local host and listener’s home for a Christmas party, but when the group gets together, it won’t be a surprise if the first words uttered are “can you believe what Stillman said today”. To hear Jared’s show click here.

richohrnberger2Rich Ohrnberger – XTRA Sports 1360, San Diego, CA – Six years of NFL experience prepares most players to speak from an expert point of view on the sport they played professionally, but in Rich’s case there’s so much more to his daily performance. After being added to middays alongside radio veteran Mark Willard, the two men have not only formed immediate chemistry, but Ohrnberger’s natural personality has come to life. The show has been in existence for only 4+ months but it sounds like it’s been together for a lot longer.

On most days, you’re likely to be served a heavy dose of self-deprecation and laughter. The former Offensive Lineman and Willard strike the right balance in knowing when to extend the content and when to pull it back. I’ve listened to recent examples of Ohrnberger ad libbing his way into proclaiming himself as the “host with the most”, which then turned into a great back and forth good natured ribbing between the morning and midday shows. I’ve also heard Willard and Ohrnberger spontaneously roleplay as members of the Joey Bosa mob family, which was also great on-air content. That’s in addition to the serious conversations the two men have about the San Diego Chargers and other topical sports subjects which are also excellent.

Considering his playing experience, you’d expect Ohrnberger to speak intelligently and passionately on the NFL. He’s a good storyteller, who is open with his personal and professional life, and isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers with his opinions. But while all of those traits are part of his presentation, it’s his large personality and sense of humor that makes him a required daily listen.

At just thirty years old, Rich is relatively new to the sports radio world. He has a ton of upside and has already hit the ground running, but also has plenty of room to grow. What I noticed immediately is how comfortable he is on the air, regardless of the subject. He’s got great energy, an infectious attitude, and quick wit. Those are natural skills that most personalities need to be successful. I also like how he shapes and supports his positions and delivers them in a confident and precise manner. That tells me that he’s putting time into his preparation. But rather than take my word for it, click here and take a listen for yourself.

drewhoffar2Drew Hoffar – KNBR 1050, San Francisco, CA – There are some voices you listen to that you instantly gravitate to or wish you could duplicate. For example, when sports radio fans hear Paul Turner on CBS Sports stations, his sound instantly grabs you. Well in Drew Hoffar’s case, he’s been blessed with a set of pipes that most personalities in their early thirties would kill for.

Although his voice jumps through the speakers, it’s the personality that goes with it that makes Hoffar a rising star in this format. He delivers his opinions with conviction and passion. He busts balls in a way that instantly gets your attention, and he utilizes descriptive and colorful vocabulary that sticks in the head of an audience (one of his old classic lines was “They’re going loco for Coco at Oco).

But while those are natural traits that he’s always possessed, it’s his maturation of growing into his the position as lead host of “The Audible” on KNBR 1050 that is making the biggest difference. His chemistry with on-air partners Kevin Frandsen (former MLB player) and Rudy Ortiz (Bay Area comedian) has been instant. I also hear a growing confidence in trusting his content decision making, and he’s searching for ways to get the group involved, rather than worrying about his own strengths and insecurities. That growth should not only give Hoffar reason to feel encouraged, but it should have folks at Cumulus San Francisco very optimistic about his future potential.

One area that I’ve especially been impressed with since Hoffar made the conversion from being a FT update anchor and PT host to the leader of KNBR 1050’s morning show is how he’s introduced lifestyle discussion into the daily plan. The show has the ability to debate and discuss sports topics, but it’s their ability to talk about movies, relationship issues, and real life experiences that makes them relatable to local listeners. To get familiar with Drew and his show The Audible, click here to listen.

dannyoneillDanny O’Neill – 710 ESPN, Seattle, WA – Running point on a three man show can be challenging but Danny makes it sound easy each day on the Seattle airwaves. He has a great sense of what’s relevant to the local audience, which is reflected in the show’s heavy focus on NFL and College Football conversation, and is an exceptional listener who’s focused on setting up his teammates and putting the group in position to succeed, rather than satisfying his own ego.

Another strength of Danny’s is his timing. He keeps the pace of the show moving and has a knack for knowing when to advance a conversation or stick with a subject that has deeper content potential. His positive and engaging demeanor is well received by his partners, and there’s a sense from listening that the boys in the room trust his decision making, and know that they’ll be consistently put in position to inform and entertain the audience.

If you tune into “Danny, Dave and Moore” on 710 ESPN Seattle, one thing that probably goes unnoticed by the audience, but is necessary for any good show to enjoy success, is solid execution of the show’s formatics, which Danny does well. He resets, teases, keeps the show’s benchmarks on track, and while those little things may not stand out as much as a brain jarring opinion, they often make a big difference on a talk show’s results.

If a Seattle sports radio listener driving home from work puts on Danny’s afternoon show, they’re likely to hear a good blend of laughs, information, opinion and locally focused content. That combination is a solid formula for success. To hear Danny, Dave and Moore, click here.

lzLance Zierlein – SportsTalk 790, Houston, TX – I’ve long admired Lance’s work because he has an ability to make you think, react and laugh. Each day on his morning show “The Proper Gentlemen of Sports” where he works opposite Matt Thomas, Houston sports fans are treated to a blend of local sports topics, real life discussions, strong informed opinions, and spontaneous laughter.

From a content standpoint, the show places a strong emphasis on NFL conversation. Lance comes from a football family so it’s a sport he has natural interest in. He presents himself in an authoritative manner, and his preparation outside of the show and connections inside the game contribute to his ability to be seen as an informed source and opinion leader. One thing Lance is notorious for is watching a ton of football film. He shares his findings with his audience regularly, and the extra time he invests in studying players has earned him additional exposure on NFL.com and the NFL Network.

In addition to the serious side of his presentation, Lance is also gifted at creating characters. His Phillip Rivers, Stephen A. Smith and Jon Gruden, and original characters Bernie “The Wolf” Wolfson and SEC Guy Karol Kenton Kogslotter are laugh out loud funny. When introduced into a show, they’re impossible to turn off. He nails the cadence and personality of each person he imitates, yet brings a new dimension to each character which leaves you scratching your head and contemplating “is that really him”?

Although he’s been a mainstay on the Houston airwaves for the past two decades, Lance’s profile isn’t as familiar to industry folks outside of his market. However, it’s certainly not due to a lack of talent. He’s well rounded, opinionated, funny, and spontaneous, and those are the type of qualities most stations look for in a morning drive personality.

To hear his morning show on SportsTalk 790 click here. You can also watch a sample of one of his characters (SEC Guy) by clicking here.

OTHER HOSTS WORTH CHECKING OUT:

  • Mike Taylor – The Ticket 760, San Antonio, TX
  • Andrew Walker – 590 The Fan, Toronto, ON
  • Brett Kane – 93.7 The Ticket, Lincoln, NE
  • Mike Evans – 104.3 The Fan, Denver, CO
  • Joe Raineri – 640 Sports, Miami, FL
  • Andi Petrillo – TSN 1050, Toronto, ON
  • Zach Gelb – 920 The Jersey, Trenton, NJ
  • Beanie Wells – 97.1 The Fan, Columbus, OH
  • Josh Cohen – ESPN 106.3, West Palm Beach, FL
  • Nick Cattles – ESPN Radio 94.1, Virginia Beach, VA

Barrett Blogs

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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Barrett Blogs

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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