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Sports Radio Is Thinking Social But Not Acting It

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Satisfying the wants and needs of the audience is a daily priority for every sports radio executive, host and employee. But when advancing the station-listener relationship beyond the airwaves comes into play, things become much more difficult.

One quote which I’ve grown fond of over the years is from Henry Ford, who said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford was making the point that people fear change, but when you have a vision, you can’t be afraid to take risks and introduce new ideas which might make things better.

In 2017, most sports stations operate over the air, online and on mobile. They also have a Twitter and Facebook account, with some even extending their presence on Instagram and/or Snapchat. Social media platforms are where the audience reside each day, and where brands can further extend their relationships with their most passionate fans.

When you dig into a radio station’s social media account, you often find they post photos or links to stories, and occasionally a piece of audio or video from the station’s shows or hosts. You also discover just how inconsistent and far behind many brands are when it comes to using these platforms effectively.

These issues aren’t any one person’s fault. They’re a reflection of the industry not providing enough manpower or defined strategy to help their brands and people excel in a foreign space. Other companies outside of the radio business not only understand these areas much better, but they’re dedicating people, time, and resources to them, because they see the long-term benefits.

This is a big problem in our industry. When new opportunities arise, we assume that it’s a simple task, and try to solve it by tacking on more responsibility to the people inside our operations. If the audience seeks more written or video content, we just ask the talent to do more. If advertisers want a campaign built around the radio station’s digital and social media assets and our sales team doesn’t grasp the difference of the space, we just arm them with a presentation, and trust that they’ll get in the room and close the deal just as they would any other radio buy.

Except some of our top radio hosts aren’t great writers or equipped to perform on camera. And many salespeople who have spent years, and in some cases decades, selling traditional radio, don’t understand the complexities of selling digital and social media. Some also don’t see the financial upside in selling it. I’ve been in multiple places where it becomes a value added item for a client, or the account executive closes a radio deal and then shifts part of the total earnings towards social and digital so they can satisfy their budgets in those areas and keep their managers happy.

But if this is a space where people are investing most of their time, and advertiser dollars are shifting to it, then that should be enough cause for concern for the radio industry to invest more resources to becoming experts in it.

Here’s a sobering statistic from Edison Research’s 2017 Infinite Dial study. Did you know that 81% of all american’s use social media? That number has grown nearly 30% in the last 5 years, and 57% in less than 10 years. Altogether, an estimated 226 million people currently use social media.

Here’s some other data to digest. According to Michelle Klein, Head of Marketing for North America at Facebook, adults check their phones 30 times per day. The average millennial checks it 157 times per day. Most of each person’s phone time is spent checking their social media accounts.

If you consider that the average person sleeps 8.8 hours per day, that makes them accessible for 15.2 hours per day. This means that your brand has an opportunity to connect with the audience every 30.4 minutes, and a total of 30 different times per day on social media. More than a third of a person’s time is spent on social media, and each time they log on to check their account, your radio station is given an opening to present your content, personalities, promotions, and client messages to them (assuming they’re following your brand).

But now let’s look at the other side of this equation.

Inside most radio stations, people are consumed with the over the air product. They focus on ratings and revenue, and the thought of changing anything makes many uncomfortable, because it could disrupt the brands chances of earning a quarter hour of listening.

But once again, let’s look at some evidence.

First, the average person’s commute time in the United States is 26 minutes per day. This means that if they drive to and from work listening to your station, they will spend a total of 52 minutes per day consuming your content. That’s assuming of course that they never leave their car, make a phone call, play a CD or change the dial to sample another radio station.

Maybe they’ll also listen to your station while at lunch or at at work, but if we’re being realistic, most brands rely on in-car listening, which means that at best, you’ll earn 4 quarter hours of listening during a 52 minute drive. Even if I doubled that number of commute time for larger cities where traffic is heavier, that still only gives the radio station access to the audience for up to 2 hours a day, a total of eight quarter hours.

Meanwhile, the average person spends 50 minutes per day on Facebook, 25-30 minutes on Snapchat, 21 minutes daily on Instagram, and 17 minutes on Twitter. When you look at the younger demographic (18-29), the numbers are even higher. Most people now use a minimum of two social media accounts, and they’re investing more time before, during, and after work on these platforms.

Why should that concern you? Because soon these will be the people you’re trying to reach, except getting them to use your radio station will be as easy as convincing Donald Trump to stop tweeting.

Their parents may have grown up on radio, but they haven’t. That means you’ve got to play by their rules. Your entry point to them exists, except it’s not inside of a vehicle on a dashboard. It’s a place where they’re already established, and you too have a solid foundation. The big difference is that it dominates their life, while you consider it to be an afterthought – social media.

Remember when I wrote the piece last week about the sports format needing to consider eliminating sports updates? Traditionalists took exception because it’s different than what they’ve been used to for the past thirty years. But in this case, change is necessary, and here’s why.

If the average person only hears 2-4 updates per day due to spending 52 minutes of total time in their car, and the reports themselves offer minimal original content and unique value (not to mention they’re often tied to a commercial break which causes further tune out), and we have key areas of our business performing poorly which require greater maintenance and focus, then what are we debating about? We’ve got to take a collective look in the mirror and ask ourselves, why we’re resisting efforts to serve the audience in the places where they’re most available.

We focus our time and energy resisting change to an antiquated update structure, which has a maximum potential of reaching our listeners 2-4 times per day, while the same listeners are engaged and accessible on social platforms 30 times daily and for the same amount of time as their daily commute. If you’re a gambler, would you bet on people spending more time on the radio and less time on social media over the next 5 years? If you answered yes, please email me. I have a bucket of steam, a left handed screwdriver and a wall stretcher that I’d like to sell you.

One of the biggest issues I see is that most sports radio brands don’t have dedicated digital and social media strategists inside of their buildings. Nor do they have a game plan or the knowledge of how to maximize the station’s relationship with the audience and advertisers in that space. They may receive corporate support from time to time, but even those corporate teams with great insights and strategies, are at the mercy of what each brand does on its own. That becomes increasingly difficult when overseeing the strategic efforts of more than one hundred radio stations, many of which broadcast different formats.

To excel in the social space, companies have to be willing to make larger investments to help their brands. This is vital to every station’s existence, relevance, and future growth. Before the company dedicates funds though, they have a right to question each operator about the dollars they’re already spending towards their on-air products. If resources are being used in areas that deliver minimal impact, then it’s worth exploring redirecting those dollars to further improve the brand’s social and digital media strategy and execution.

As it relates to the social picture, I did a study recently of twelve local sports stations to see how active and engaged their brands were on Facebook. The brands I chose for this project were WFAN and ESPN New York 98.7FM in New York, ESPN LA 710 and AM 570 L.A. Sports in Los Angeles, 790 The Ticket in Miami, 620 WDAE in Tampa, 1500 ESPN in Minneapolis, Arizona Sports 98.7FM in Phoenix, Sports Radio 94 WIP in Philadelphia, ESPN 97.5 in Houston, the Mighty 1090 in San Diego and Sports Radio 810 WHB.

I selected these stations for a few reasons.

  • I wanted to feature a number of different corporate groups. For this project, CBS, Entercom, ESPN, iHeart, Hubbard, and Bonneville were all represented.
  • I wanted to examine a few locally operated brands. Gow Media, Union Broadcasting, and Broadcast Company of the Americas all fit that description.
  • I wanted to see how stations executed on both coasts, in the north and south, and in the middle of the country.
  • I wanted to analyze a few stations with strong leaders who I know have thick skin, and who know that I don’t take personal shots and am only interested in helping our business improve.
  • I wanted to profile a few brands that I don’t have deep relationships with because it’s a little uncomfortable and forces me to be thorough and honest.

Over a period of 24-48 hours, I examined how often these stations posted, what time of the day their material went up, which content they featured, and the amount of response they provided to the audience’s feedback. I chose Facebook over the other platforms because it is the most utilized social network on the planet. The others aren’t even close. If you’re unsure about that, check out slides 1, 2, 3 and 4 courtesy of the 2017 Infinite Dial study done last week by Edison Research.

To see my full report for all 12 sports stations, click here.

Something that’s important to understand is that each platform requires different tactics. What you do on Twitter won’t work on Facebook, and what you do on Facebook won’t register on Instagram. You also need to understand which days and times the audience is most available, and capitalize on those opportunities. Fast Company conducted a study to share best practices and I recommend clicking the link to familiarize yourself with it.

An area of frustration for many radio stations is how Facebook uses sophisticated algorithms to limit a brand’s ability to reach their entire audience. But while it may fuel your desires to share a few expletive laced commentaries with Mark Zuckerberg, it’s the platform that delivers the biggest impact, and you can’t afford not to make this your brand’s top social media priority.

One thing you can do to help yourself, is make sure you’re posting material that doesn’t read as an ad. If it comes across as shareworthy content that’s even better. Anytime you attach a video or photograph to your posts, your odds increase of the content being viewed by a larger part of your fan base.

I noticed while researching this story that many stations tend to follow a similar pattern when posting material. They often update social media content during the weekday business hours when everyone is inside the building. However, when people are home from work at night or on the weekend, and actively engaging with a sports brand during a popular sporting event, the content dramatically decreases. They also tend to post content in off peak hours that isn’t as topical, which does little to help the brand.

Another area of concern, one which I consider the worst sin of them all, is the lack of engagement that most sports radio stations provide to their fans on Facebook. This is true for radio stations outside of the sports format too. Tons of comments are being sent to your brand each day, but they rarely get answered. Imagine if your audience kept calling your phone line to talk to your hosts, and sent in a flurry of texts to the air studio, but nobody ever acknowledged them. Eventually the audience would stop engaging. Well, this is the expectation you’ve created in the mind of your audience as a result of being absent on social media.

What happens in most cases on these pages is a one sided conversation. The radio station pushes out the content, hopes the audience clicks a link or gives the brand a like or comment, but rarely do they take the time to acknowledge the listener’s existence. What this tells the audience is that there’s limited upside for engaging with the brand, and they’re better off instead sending a text to the studio, an email to the program director or a tweet to the host. Why? Because in each of those three cases they have a much better chance of receiving a response.

Ask yourself this question, why would my audience engage with my radio station account? What is the upside in the relationship for the listener? Do they gain access to information they can’t get elsewhere by following the page? Are they earning any rewards for liking and commenting on your material? If they never gain a response or benefit, why would you expect them to continue supporting you in the future?

Here’s a few others to think about. If I asked you what your engagement percentage was on your social media accounts, would you know it? Do you know how many posts your band delivers each day? If your CEO called and asked, “how do we grow our Facebook likes by 10,000 over the next 12 months”, do you have a strategy to do so?

The term “social media” implies that you’re entering a public community where others will interact and share ideas, content and information. Except most sports stations aren’t doing that. The term that best describes our approach is “one sided media” because we focus solely on pushing content at people and not participating in the experience with them.

So how do we fix it?

It starts with each company, market manager, and program director taking a good hard look at the way they’re executing, and admitting that it’s a space they need help in. Most brand managers lack superior knowledge and vision in the social space because it’s unfamiliar territory, and still relatively new. But if this is where your listeners are most available, and advertisers continue to spend more on digital and social assets, then that should serve as a motivator to get it right.

Then what follows is exploring deeper ways to educate everyone inside each building. Whether that’s attending a social media conference to learn tricks of the trade, bringing a social media strategist into your building from a company unrelated to radio to share best practices with your crew or studying on your own time how to best use and monetize these spaces, it requires sustained effort and a lot of learning.

After that, each station has to review its internal structure, and figure out who inside their operation can help the brand improve its social media relevance, reputation, and response time. This may require reassigning people to new positions that provide a much bigger payoff for them and the company, and/or hiring non-radio people who are experts in the space to help lead the radio station’s digital and social media efforts.

But to those of you who would be tasked with hiring someone to lead the brand’s digital and social strategy, I want you to consider something. If this is an area you’re not skilled in, how do you know if you’re crafting the right job description, targeting the right candidates, and asking the right questions?

Too often in radio we assume that just because someone designed a website, wrote a newspaper column, or worked inside another media company’s digital department that they’ll be qualified to create the brand’s digital and social media identity and execute the vision to make it matter. But we learn afterwards that they’re not versatile enough. It’s easy to blame the individual for not doing the job, but the process also reveals a lack of strategy in our hiring, and an unwillingness on our end to go outside the box and look in different places for digital/social brand leaders.

When a radio station is hiring a program director, the market manager and corporate team work together to make sure they find a person capable of managing and leading the radio station’s on-air staff, strategy, and execution. In this case, the same line of thinking is necessary. You have to think of this person as the digital/social media programmer of your brand, and that requires a special set of skills. It’s not a job for the person with the least amount of hours in the promotions department or the handful of producers on your shows who are already spread way too thin.

Far too often in our business, there’s a lack of urgency for becoming masters in new areas. There’s this mentality that it’s simply enough to be strong on the air and present in the social space, rather than add people who are experts in it. Well guess what? It’s not enough.

Do yourself a favor today and take a few minutes to read this piece from Lori Lewis, who lists the various things that happen inside of an internet minute. This is what you’re up against every day if you’re not cutting thru the clutter and forming deeper relationships with your audience.

There’s no excuse to be invisible to the audience on your own page. If the audience is taking the time to like or follow your account, and they’re reading your posts, promoting it to their friends, responding to topics, and supporting your advertisers, the least you can do is acknowledge them. This will especially come back to haunt you with younger people who won’t be as patient or as loyal as your current P1’s might be.

If you saw the movie “Moneyball” you may remember the scene when Brad Pitt (playing the role of Billy Beane) tells his entire scouting department they need to think and act differently when replacing a few superstars who were leaving via free agency. Beane understood that the Athletics couldn’t match up against larger market clubs when economics entered the equation, and if they planned to compete, they were going to have to adjust their strategy. His message to the group was that they had a choice, either adapt or die.

Well, we’ve got to do the same if we want to take advantage of the social space.

Sports radio’s social media strategy may not be on the verge of extinction, but if we keep ignoring our fans, bombarding them with irrelevant material at the wrong times, and treating social platforms like an afterthought instead of a critical part of our business, we could miss out on significant opportunities to strengthen our relationships with our audiences and advertisers. Before we end up like dinosaurs, let’s educate ourselves, and make sure we’re positioned to ride this gravy train as far as it will take us.

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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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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